Mama and George Washington Could Not Tell a Lie
Yes, here’s to Mama and George Washington, who shared the same trait. They could not tell a lie. So little George, the story goes, admitted cutting down his father’s cherry tree. This also meant, on February 22, Granny always made Mama a birthday cake with cherries and a hatchet on its white frosted surface. Mama, as my book will show, may not have ever told a lie, but if she held a grudge that belied appearances, she finally told the truth, no matter how long it took. I was blessed to hear that last, powerful truth, from her lips.
Right here and right now, life is good, and has more of heaven in it than even I, a devout believer of that gospel, had thought. For I have found at least a handful of my ideal readers for the book I have amassed and am trying to edit, called, My Blue Heaven. You see, dear readers, I had thought my life—or the life of Courtenay Prentice Welles, my memoir name, began when she went off to college at Worthington, a small private college that held such splendors to my adoring heart, that I will not pin it to earth by its real name. However, from the surprising reception on Facebook, to my beginning to describe my unique childhood world, I thought my story might begin with the child inside me now and outside then—and what happened to her. That little person was born with a hole in her heart that caused her to be a “blue baby,” because she could turn blue around the mouth and eyes in those long seconds when her heart failed to pump blood. She came back screaming and fighting in her mother’s arms, creating inside, her first broken self—a victim believing that life was a fight and she had to win it or die.
Even writing this, I discover how a memoir can fulfill its first law: it must be the truth. Not that omniscient and much-shared, objective truth pieced together in the best local, national, and world histories. It must be the truth in the worldview of the narrator, the one that keeps that believer yearning toward her own heaven on earth.
However, it was in terror of that demand for the truth, which as we all know, has a dark side, a fallen side—that I found myself blocked in my tracks. Yes, new and deserving readers, that kind of inner block will send you into the most heartrending procrastinations. I went from learning that one computer game, an inbox, and online “news” could melt precious hours (hours once scrounged for writing, from my loved time with my sons) to re-organizing what is now my tiny, near-to-hoarding, apartment. In this state of avoidance I created the world’s most perfect sock drawer and regularly wrecked my kitchen with cooking attempts,(kitchens are famously safe from guilt and writer demons) and then lost hours cleaning it up. By these means and every other, I avoided writing about the fiercest discoveries I had found in my own history. I have put off choosing chapters and sequence for My Blue Heaven, for fatal-to-book-writing, months. This was a sin against the last of my mother’s money which she left to me, money she had saved by scrimping on light bulbs, toilet paper, and fresh fruit, and amassed because Jimmy Carter or some president, had the country’s interest rate on CD’s at the amazing rate of eighteen per cent. Just under two-thousand dollars of her legacy had held my purchased book-publishing rights at Amazon, for fourteen years.
Did I sit at a desk with a half-lit pipe and a glass of Scotch, like say, Stephen Ambrose, writing away for all those years? No indeed. I wrote while hanging on through every one of psychology’s listed most traumatizing events that can happen in a person’s life. Divorce, Bankruptcy, foreclosure, loss of a forty-years home, loss of a business called Artmakers and Wordfinders, followed in 2012, by the loss of one son to a long illness in which I had been his twenty-years shelter and care-giver, and another son, by the next Christmas day—to suicide. In one of the heavens I was enjoying with my then spouse and our three sons on vacation at Callaway Gardens, I took up yet another book on the writing and publishing I longed to do. Peeking at it while standing in the long line for those sumptious garden vegetables and thin slices of rare roast beef, with fragrant muscadine sauce on the tables, I saw this advice, “Write about what secretly obsesses you.” Oh, dear, oh, my God. Why? How? Well, I would address it very privately and begin. Thus began a writing career based on a fact any male, including God, might think amusing– to their eventual deep sorrow. The fact is that a tender-hearted Christian woman can hold the knowledge of something deeply wrong–a grudge, if you wish–until Hell freezes over.
And I would call that book, “My Blue Heaven.” Heaven on earth was a destination, yet it was also present on my journey, every time I was able to allow it, as I fought my way out of the blue haze into which my brain and my pierced heart, had been born.
That birth defect, not my fair, blonde-haired self, was what made me the constant winner of my father and mother’s attention– to the envy of my two beautiful and brainy younger sisters. It was because, with the help of my grandmother, who rejected the doctor’s prediction that I would not live past six months, Mama and Daddy, by saving my life, had come to think of me as their very own creation. My two sisters, arriving naturally from the hand of God, Diana fourteen months after me and Alexa, fourteen months after her, came far too soon, everyone said. Even the moving man, who, dodging a two-year-old me and a one-year-old Diana, lifted a stack of clothing on hangars off a crib, and gasped to find an even tinier baby under it all, asleep, unfazed by the commotion. My sisters suffered ever after from the sibling fate of birth order. Neither their loving parents, nor I could ease their mistaken view of my share of attention. Because I clung closely and obediently to my parents, ever a help to success in school and life, my sisters could not see the struggle going on inside me. They saw their frail and skinny older sister, “high-strung,” as the saying went. To them she was also the best reward they could get, in her explosive reactions, to some skilled sister-teasing. But to Courtenay, those explosions of outrage were becoming addictive; adrenaline powered up that heart with its ever faulty mitral valve to pump deliciously through her brain and body, making her feel strong enough indeed. Frailty, “nerves,” and good parenting got her success in school, but it got her scorned and mistreated on the playground. My younger sisters would be chosen first for any team: dodge ball in winter, softball in spring. Bored with waiting to be chosen at all, not just last, I would find a friend who believed that with a nice large notebook we could write a book ourselves, and we two would take shelter under a huge overgrown Legustrum bush, like a low-to-the ground, tree. We would print a sentence or two in pencil in the lined pages, and then lapse into long thoughts about what could possibly come next. We didn’t even know how to dream or imagine a happening, and most of all, we didn’t know that most writers have looked around at actual real life, and found that if they changed it just enough, names and all, it could enrich the imagined world of each reader. It could also protect the privacy of the people who had inspired the plot and characters. Like a misty, mysterious photograph or movie scene, a book about one’s journey through darkness to light, can thrill the imagination and lead to courageous resolves, compelling thoughts, and a heart newly opened to life’s glories.
Welcome to My Blue Heaven, and my fight against a betrayal that came before I was born.