Thursday
Aug112011

Whitlow

Mrs. G. was recently scanning some old family photos and came across this picture. Her mom thinks she was around three when it was taken. Mrs. G. isn’t sure if this is typical but her memories begin around kindergarten. Her parents divorced when she was nearly five and she has no memories of them together. Sometimes Mrs. G. thinks this is normal while other times she thinks it’s because the many parental divorces and abrupt transitions she experienced as a kid didn’t allow enduring memories to gel, to set properly like a decent batch of fudge. And then there are those other times, especially of late, she just thinks her brain, for whatever reason, isn’t equipped to retain small details . Mrs. G, no joke, spends a lot of time with her head in the clouds. Her mind frequently wanders and she has to literally take it by the hand and lead it back to where it should be…like the edge of a curb or the steering wheel.

And then there are those other other times she has discovered that memories are enormously subjective and her family is filled with some tricky ass liars.

Times like in this picture, the picture to which Mrs. G’s rambling mind is now returning.

When Mrs. G. pulled out this picture out of her grandparent’s old suitcase last week, she asked her mom why she was holding her Aunt Wilma’s dog, Whitlow, but was not at Aunt Wilma's house. Aunt Wilma, for those trying to keep up (don’t try too hard—it’s just millimeters from impossible) is Mrs. G’s estranged father’s estranged sister. Mrs. G. would have liked the privilege of being estranged from Aunt Wilma too, but back in her day, there was no correlation between actually liking a relative and being forced to spend one weekend a month at her house because your mom needed some disco time believed in the sanctity of family. It didn’t matter if you begged the whole car ride over not to have to go because Aunt Wilma sucked on Hall’s cough drops like they were Certs or made you go to her church on Sunday, where she introduced you to her all her friends as a “child of divorce.” Which was pretty nervy considering she smelled like a bouillon cube stuffed inside a Kleenex stuffed inside a cardigan pocket.

But let’s circle back to Mrs. G’s question about why her three-year-old self was holding Aunt Wilma’s dog but was not at Aunt Wilma's house.

 “Well, before Whitlow was Aunt Wilma’s dog, he was our dog,” Mrs. G’s mom said matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean he was our dog?”

“He was our family dog until your father and I got divorced.” Mrs. G’s mom has a way of reporting strange and unusual events as if they aren’t strange or unusual. It’s her gift. She went on to explain that the hatred between she and Mrs. G’s father was so thick during their divorce he shipped the family dog off to his sister, whom he despised, rather than keep any ragtag combo of the family intact. Aunt Wilma got custody of the dog. God help Whitlow, the poor bastard—Aunt Wilma probably introduced him to her friends as a “dog of divorce.” It was the seventies. No doubt he was a latchkey dog.

“So you are telling me that I not only had to go to Aunt Wilma’s house and be forced to take generic salt tablets if I so much as walked briskly in her backyard because she thought losing sweat was akin to losing oxygen, but I had to go there and visit my own dog?” Mrs. G. said through gritted teeth. “NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY WHITLOW AND I HAD A VERY SPECIAL BOND! HOW AM I JUST FINDING THIS OUT?”

“It was a different time,” Mrs. G’s mom sighed, “We just hoped you wouldn’t notice and your grandfather bought another dachshund to take Whitlow’s place.”

That would be Schnapps…Mrs. G’s other childhood dog, an unwitting imposter. Damned if it didn't work.

As is often the case, Mrs. G. starts out angry and upon reflection, ends up shaking her head in reluctant admiration because ho-o-ly hell.

Mrs. G. is convinced an interesting life is going to be problematic. She hasn't figured out a way around it.

Sometimes when Mrs. G. daydreams, she imagines her past playing out on some patchy acreage, like one of those off the beaten path Civil War role-playing games where disenfranchised crackers pee in buckets, gnaw on hardtack, and stage tactical battles where they shoot each other for authenticity’s sake, recreating history on a bogus battlefield.

Mrs. G. would be the one on the sidelines trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and then wandering away.

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Reader Comments (24)

Family secrets are always fascinating - when they belong to someone else. May I just say what an adorable child Mrs. G was in these photos. Pets aside, Mrs. G was cute.

And...I meant to email you over the weekend to tell you how much you were missed. I shared afternoon Jack O'clock with Jenn, Kizz & Aaryn. Life was good at BlogHer11. And, obviously we had our priorities straight...

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJCK (Motherscribe)

*Shakes head.* Yes, the parental ability to rearrange things to suit themselves and nobody else is amazing. Your ability to have a sense of humor about it now is even more so. It's a skill I'm starting to try to maybe someday kinda learn.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShe Curmudgeon

You were a cute kid AND you had two dogs and a cat--maybe. What I want to know is if that's really your brother in the bottom pic. I think you've said you're an only child. Are you sure? Eh, don't mind me. I've got my own dubious past I'm trying to sift through and sort.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenni in KS

Jenni, I have a brother but after my parents divorced, I grew up an only child. It was a complicated divorce--read the link. I haven't seen my brother in nearly forty years.

August 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterMrs. G.

Yes, I would agree that Whitlow appears quite intuitive and is preparing for impending doom. Poor fellow. I would equate this to having my parents send Raggs (Sr.) to live with my dreaded Aunt Mona. They have reality TV shows for that kind of situation now. "Animal Cops: Louisville, Kentucky" would be the name of this particular show. At least Whitlow has photographic evidence that he was truly loved before he became a dog of divorce.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

The seventies, what a phsyco time! I had my children then. I can't imagine ever splitting them up. I am amazed that you don't spend all of your time with your head in the clouds. I didn't have the perfect childhood, always thought I wanted to be an only child of different parents ...but I don't know how I would have handled loosing my brothers. The dog must have been very confused thinking you were going to take him home every time you came to visit. I can't believe your aunt didn't give him back after the divorce. You were an adorable child, Mrs. G and proof that "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger." That being said, you certainly deserved better.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlbug

Even when parents rearrange things to suit the kids it doesn's always turn out as intended. When I divorced my daughter's father I stayed in the area to make sure it would be fairly easy for the two of them to build and maintain a relationship. Didn't quite turn out that way. Now that she has been away at college she asks why I kept us "trapped" in our small town instead of moving to someplace more exciting for her to grow up in. Now she tells me! But I always think of this when I wonder what MY parents were thinking in certain situations of the past. To make things more confounding, even when there is documentation for some event or recollection, various family members will insist it happened differently - according to their memory. It's complicated. Or interesting.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter~annie

I had lost track of you for a while there, Mrs. G, and it's been a treat to find you again. Though perhaps less mysterious than rediscovering Whitlow.

Few memories before 5 here, also. I think it's normal. Falling out of bed once, candy-striped sneakers on my 4th birthday, playing Solitaire at my Grandma's house...that's all I've got.

I LOVED those sneakers, though. They influence my shoe purchasesto this day.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent

@~annie - as far as kids go, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't sometimes. Best to just suit ourselves (within reason) and let the chips fall where they may, I guess...

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent

@~annie (again!) - My father's friend recently told me that her grown kids informed her they were mad she brought them up in a safe middle-class suburban neighborhood with good schools. Didn't prepare them for real life, they claimed...

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent

Ugh. Do parents ever understand life from a child's perspective? I can also ask this to myself since I a parent now.

My mom and I are currently not speaking due to me bringing up my childhood questions and her, matter-of-factly, acting like I was the crazy one (nevermind that she was on her third marriage before I was out of high school).

I know I should just let the past stay in the past, but sometimes memories and feelings continue to boil over for years.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

My parents divorced when I was 3, and I have maybe 3 or 4 dingy memories of when they were married. And I'm not sure if they are actually *my* memories, or memories of pictures...

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeckyb

I am frequently amazed at how much you and others retained from your childhoods - mine is very spotty. Love that you grew up with a dachshund, even if one was sometimes far away from you. But no worries about Whitlow at Aunt Wilma's house. Dachshunds have a talent for revenge...

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrightside-Susan

Family secrets are so fascinating and mysterious, although as an adult, they are frustrating when they continue to not be shared. I have some ideas about family secrets in my family that will never be brought to light, although, I wish they would, as they would answer some questions I have about adult dialogue during a vacation, while I was a child. Maybe it is not important now, but the sharing of these family secrets, particularly when certain events happened within my immediate family occurred while I was a young adult, would have negated much stress for many of us....

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJill

I was thirteen when my grandmother told me my dog (who went to live with her when my family moved to Colorado when I was four) went to live on a farm. THIR-teen.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristy Lee

You're not alone, Mrs. G. My childhood tortoise, Cookie, disappeared mysteriously one November. "She must have buried herself in the yard for the winter," my mother said. "They hibernate, you know". And so, year after year I kept hope that Cookie would find her way back to her comfy cardboard box where I'd feed her fresh lettuce and tickle her neck.

Fast forward many years, and at age twenty-five I realized mom's story didn't quite add up; we're from Mexico, for crying out loud. What winter? What hibernation? Jesus. "Mom, did Cookie really get lost?" "No, the dog killed her."

Damn my eternal search for the truth.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaro

Mrs. G, I thought you and your brother reconnected on fb? Or am I thinking of someone else? Sometimes I wish my mother had lied to me about my pets. We had gut-wrenching, sniveling funerals for all of them in the backyard. My mother cried harder than any of us.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessie

Jessie, we did reconnect on FB months ago but we are just "friends" in the shallowest sense of social networking...it hasn't gone much deeper than that beyond a couple of personal messages I sent. It's something, though.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. G.

Good, I'm glad that was you!

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessie

My earliest memories are five as well and they are just snippets. That's why I waited until the youngest was 6 for a Disney World trip--it was expensive and I wanted everyone to remember it!

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn @ Juggling Life

Oh man!! What a way to find something out! Yeah, I found out I was illegitimate by finding my parents' marriage certificate...AFTER they had both passed away! Crazy, the things we do and do not know!!

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Russell

I have a boring and vanilla past. Which I'm thankful for and which makes stories like yours so darn fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

(My parents did once try to disappear our mean, scratchy cat by taking us all out on a "picnic"--including the cat!--and deciding it was too hard to find the cat when it was time to go. I, however, persisted and brought him back to the car.)

August 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAll Adither

It's definitive. You're f---ing hysterical!

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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