The Sweater Curse
Chapter Two, page five
After his funeral, I searched for the answer I hoped I would find. In the attic, I opened an old trunk and dug through its contents. There, hidden away from Mother's prying eyes, was my dad's handwritten manuscript, secretly recorded and privately kept. His words comforted me. Not even death silenced his voice.
The memoir was a prayer of yearning for the life he once knew--long summer days, hayfield hearty lunches, lambing. His stories enlivened my senses to the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the farm. He had died of a broken heart. Mother had killed him. And I hated her for it.
Driven to action by rage, I wrote a carefully crafted note in which I called her a greedy, selfish bitch, and thereby, severed our relationship forever.
Is reuniting with Mother the task I must perform? Has she been pining away for me all these years, living blinded by a veil of tears? If I go to her, mend her broken heart, will I be free?
Chapter Two, page four
In our new home, my dad stood out like a piece of straw on a lace tablecloth. He was a little too friendly, a little too open, a little too down-homey. He unnerved our neighbors. His attempts to make friends were ridiculously unsuccessful, as was his tendency to just drop by uninvited.
Soon, he discovered an old solution to his new problem. He turned to the bottle.
He could have sought professional help. Meet with a therapist, join Alocholics Anonymous, but he didn't. He just couldn't. Those solutions were too foreign to him. He was raised to rely solely on his family. The only family my dad had was Mother and me.
"Oh, we are so much happier in this place! We eat out anytime we want to, go the theatre, go shopping. This is the good life. Don't you agree, Kris?" Mother asked.
He grunted his acceptance.
"I've taken us out of the pigsty into the castle."
Mother was in love with our new life. She didn't see how her success emasculated him. Our neighbors called him "Mr. McNamara" and Mother never corrected them.
She spent all her spare time plotting and planning with Grandpapa McNamara. They would stop at nothing to reach their common goal to establish Mother's dominance in the Canadian health care system.
And me, I was a self-centered teenager. I only saw how my dad's behavior affected me, and I promptly abandoned him for my peers.
Dad woke up dry and passed out plastered. He became a suburban joke--the tired, old alcoholic. By his actions, he was crying out. Month after month, no one heard. He finally drank himself into an early grave. A neighbor found him behind the steering wheel, the car wrapped around a telephone pole. That was the rumor. I was sheltered form the harsh reality of his demise.
What was hidden from me, I created. I was haunted by bloody images night after night. My grief was a subject no one wanted to address.
Why did he leave me?
Chapter Two, page three
Tears were shed, hugs were given, but Afi's eyes were dry. His arms folded in front of his chest. His face was an angry shade of red and steam came out of his ears.
"I knew you were bad news the minute I met you. You have no respect for tradition, for our ways," he roared.
Mother roared back. "And you think a woman's place is in the kitchen, in bed, or under your feet."
"Kris, be a man. Control your woman." My dad's face was white; he gulped, but didn't way a word. This battle was between Mother and Afi. "I knew you wouldn't act to defend our ways. You've never had a backbone. Your mother coddled you, and now look at you, you're not a man. You're a mouse. You let this woman walk all over you. You let her rob you of all you have. You don't stand up to her or teach her to mind."
My dad said nothing in his defense, but Mother tried. "Don't talk that way to him. He respects me."
Afi ignored her, didn't even look at her, simply continued his tirade. "You've turned your back on family history, on our way of life, and you've endangered the survival of the family farm." He glared at Mother. "If our ways aren't good enough for you, then you aren't good enough for us. Get the hell off my land. Leave. Now!"
All families operated by a code. Taboos were made clear, if not by words, then by their lack. Afi made the rules. We'd broken them.
If we were Mennonite or Hutterites, we would have had a word for it. We would have called it shunned, but Afi was Icelandic-Canadian. We read our fate on his face and quickly left.
Mother single-handely destroyed my family, crushed Afi, and callously ripped my dad from the land he loved.
My dad, the master of animal husbandry, had no avenue for his calling. Shit, we didn't even have a cat, because he couldn't stand the idea of confining the poor animal. Yet, he endured the hell himself.
Chapter Two, page two
Mother's fame as a talented doctor grew. It got so I couldn't go downtown without someone stopping me.
"I came too close to losing this finger. Without your mother, it would be gone. She's a skilled doctor. You should be very proud." The story was always the same, only the body part varied.
Soon black limousines drove down our lane. One car parked and out climbed a faceless man in an expensive suit. He knocked on our door.
"Is Doctor McNamara at home?" He came to offer Mother a position at his hospital in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and eventually, Vancouver.
I think Grandpapa McNamara's hand was at work there. The Honorable Doctor Alexander McNamara was all-powerful. Tons of people existed only to grant him favors. He pulled strings to get his darling daughter into med school. He would have moved mountains to bring her home to BC. Hell, for all I knew, Mother could have written him sob stories begging him to rescue her. After all, she did hate the farm.
Mom, Dad and I sat as a family in our living room as the man in the suit informed us, "St. Paul's in downtown Vancouver is an acute care, teaching, and research hospital. Excuse me for saying so, but here, your talent is largely wasted. There, you'll be a highly respected member of our world-class team."
The suit left. I went to bed and eavesdropped as my parents continued to talk.
"Oh, Kris, don't you see? I have to go! The offer is just too good to pass up."
I know what Afi would have told her. "You are my woman. Your place is here on this farm with me."
What did my dad say? "Of course, honey, I understand. Wherever you go, I will follow. I love you too much not to." And so we left.
Well, not quite. First we had to say a few good-byes. Most were tearful and heartwarming.
Mother gave her notice at the hospital. Nurses, staff, and patients organized a potluck dinner to send her off in rural-style. They shook her hand and wished her luck.
She glowed, her ego swelled, but she didn't care.
Chapter Two, page one
For many generations, my dad's ancestors worked the soil of Blondous. The Bjarnsons was one of the pioneer families. Dad was expected to claim his inheritance. When Afi--Grandpa--retired, the deed to the farm was to slip from his hands to his sons'. Steini and Kris would devote their lives to working the Bjarnson's homestead. They would ensure it survived and prospered.
However, Afi couldn't foresee the future. He hadn't factored in Mother. Like a cobra, she wrapped herself around Kris. She seduced him, gave birth to me and claimed him. To Mother, my dad wasn't a farmer, merely a beautiful toy she had to have.
Kris Bjarnson became a devoted father. No matter how hard he worked, he always found time for me. When Mother worked late, which was frequent, I curled up onto his lap, and he would regale me with stories. He always began the same way...
"In the land of here and now and right away, lived a little girl named Gwen, or was it Amy?
"He hair was golden blonde or black. Does it matter?
"She was your age? Or was she older? Or a little younger? Oh, you know, it doesn't really matter.
"She lived a humdrum life, in a ho-hum way, but one day, one day..."
He then recounted one of my daily adventures. My dad was a magnificent storyteller. He had a gift for taking the mundane and making it magical. There in his lap, snuggled up close to his flannel shirt, I was rocked to sleep by his words. Soap and water couldn't hide his farmer's cologne--a heady blend of sheep, hay, and soil.
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