I recently read an article by Paul G. Nauta that stated it only takes 3 generations to lose oral family history. Basically, talk to your grandchildren about your grandparents or their stories will be lost.
I like family history, the good-the bad-and the ugly. Most likely because I didn’t have any of my own until I was in my 40’s when I was reuntied with my birth family. Both of my mother’s parents immigrated from Sweden and my dad’s folks had their own, unique stories of tenacious survival. I talk about my Grandpa a lot. He was mostly cool and the times he was rough or mean reflected a motherless upbringing of alcoholic uncles until he and his brothers were placed in a Chicago orphanage until they aged out. That he could display love at all was pretty amazing. My grandma was soft spoken, smart, liked to laugh, interesting, and drank a hi-ball every so often which made her seem super glamorous to me.
My mother’s dad died when she was 12. Before that he was an alcoholic and her stories were never very happy about him. I have memories of her mother, Grandma Carlson. I still have her candy dish that always held candy corn. Grandma Carlson wore beautiful suits that I imagine were the Virginia, Minnesota version of Chanel. I still have her two jewelry boxes filled with beautiful broaches. I love that I have a few memories of Grandma Carlson. We took a train ride with her once, I believe from Duluth to Minneapolis but I don’t remember exactly. She died when I was 6 and my mom was sad, I remember that.
One of my prized possessions is my Grandma Peterson’s dining room table. This table has held hundreds (if not thousands) of Peterson meals, gatherings, holidays, and even funeral luncheons. In fact, one of the last memories I have of Grandma’s table in Grandma’s home was when everyone was gathered for her funeral. All three of her boys drinking beer and laughing at stories they hadn’t thought of in years, sitting around Grandma’s table. Even Grandpa sharing his version of their antics with a smile
I’ve had the table for nearly 30 years (it’s fuzzy on how I got it instead of my cousin Jeff in Madison who was promised it but I’ve since offered it back to him and he graciously declined.) Which means I’ve added 30 years of laughter, food, card games, arguments, scotch tastings, to a table that already had decades of Peterson memories embedded in it. We have two small “living room” areas in the house and yet when people enter they naturally make their way to Grandma’s dining room table.
The first Christmas day brunch we hosted with Matt’s folks after they sold their large family home, the kids and I were up until 5:30am playing games and drinking around Grandma’s table. That was a rough brunch. Heh. Last summer we rescued the table from a garage when my son, who we briefly passed the table on to for his family, left it and other belongings in a woman’s house and we had to pay $400 (money Zac owed her son) and rent a U-Haul to get everything out before she brought it to the dump. Which prompted the conversation that I will have Grandma’s dining room table until I die. I told Matt that y’all can burn the table when I’m gone, I’m not letting it out of my sight before then. And even when I’m gone, there will be memories of good times and not so good times around Grandma’s dining room table.
At the end of the day, memories is what keeps generations alive. Stories, happy and sad. Memories have been like a spring flood this week as I received news that Pastor John was admitted to the hospital last weekend with pneumonia and sepsis and died last night. See, my memories of Pastor John and my childhood have a very distinct line drawn through them. Before Incest and After Incest. Before? He was my daddy. I didn’t get him very often, the church did. But when I did, life was good. I was telling Matt the other night, before the news came in on Pastor John’s condition, that one night my dad and I were sent to the Dayton’s ticket counter after dinner on a weeknight (if you know a Pastor, after dinner on weeknights held bible studies, counseling sessions, catechism, council meetings, and whatever else kept a Pastor away from home.) I was on cloud 9. I got my dad, alone, running an errand, all to myself. Suck it church, he’s mine for 1 hour. Or so I thought.
As we were in line, a church member at the ticket counter turned around and said, “Pastor John!” and then proceeded to talk to him for what seemed like a half hour. It probably was actually about 5 minutes but those 5 minutes belonged to ME! Fucker. I was around 8 or 9 so I probably didn’t say, ‘fucker’ but I can guarantee if I had, I would have said it in that moment. That’s how little time I got with my daddy and this idiot thought it was HIS time just because he was a church member.
I started watching football with my dad, sitting on his lap, just to be with him. I like sports and probably would have found football eventually on my own, but for 2 hours every Sunday I got my dad while we watched the purple people eaters of the Vikings defensive line; Fran Tarkenton, and Bud Grant. I would go to Confirmation open houses in the fall with dad where I got to have car rides alone with him, open house food, cake, and football. Life was grand.
Then my brother raped me,and he spent the next nearly 4 years molesting and raping me. My mother didn’t want anything to do with it so didn’t protect me and I assumed (incorrectly) that she told my dad and he was too busy with the church to worry about his daughter. I assumed (incorrectly) that they told my grandparent’s, my aunt and uncle and they were also too busy to protect me. When I finally told my mother again in a way she couldn’t ignore this time, she had to tell Dad. Afterwards, I received the last full hug from my dad I’d ever get. I was 13. From then, it was side hugs. From then, Juli was the one who tore apart the illusion that Pastor John’s family was everything the church expected us to be. (One of the first things my dad and mom told me was that no one can know about the abuse or dad can lose his job. This wasn’t the last time I was told this.)
See, Jerry felt bad. The narrative was that we had to “hide the guns” so he didn’t kill himself. So Juli was supposed to just get over it, don’t talk about it except to the pastor friend therapist that I had to go to, and we’ll all just move forward. But I didn’t. I was pissed. I had a horrible, self-destructive view that I was a disgusting sexual being, and I valued nothing about my life. Except for sports. I had sports.
I carried the blame of the lack of Peterson harmony into my early 40’s. I believe now that I had to be the constant failure in my dad’s eye in order to avoid shining the light on the fact that he, oh I dunno, completely failed as a father. After his telling me that I, and I quote, “are jeopardizing your standing in the family”, I was out. I accepted those terms. See ya. And you know what happened? I started to kick ass in life. I’ve still struggled. I’ve still failed. But I’m plus a million in the success column and I’ll fucking take it.
Dad and I exchanged a few letters shortly after I was excommunicated, but they revolved around his writing the many ways I was a failure as a daughter and I chose not to play anymore back in 2011. As with my Mother, I knew this day would come. My mother’s death in 2019 brought sadness, mostly for her. I wish her life would have held more happiness but that wasn’t my job to provide it. That was hers and my dad’s job. 0 for 2 there Pastor. My mother’s death also brought out absolutely disgusting behavior from my sister and I hadn’t prepared for that. I’m prepared now.
As I think about how to tell stories of Pastor John & Lynda to my grandchildren, I imagine I’ll talk about the cabin; my love for up north that was instilled by my mom; watching the 1980 USA Mens hockey team beat the Russians and seeing my dad cry for the first time; my dad’s laugh; times he would come home when meetings were canceled on a school night and say, “let’s go to the North Stars game”; mom’s silliness with Auntie Karen; the pranks my dad would play; the fear he instilled when you knew you fucked up; throwing catch in the backyard for hours; his garden; mom’s love for books; their contribution to society, which is huge. Pastor John & Lynda did a lot of good for a lot of people. They also had very real, very flawed human sides to them and left a few people in their wake. I’ll probably keep those stories between friends…with wine.
Stories will be told and most likely, many of these stories will be told around Grandma’s dining room table.
I imagine the Heavenly reunion of mom and dad was nice. Joyful. I like that for them, it makes my heart happy.
Nobody can bring you peace but yourself