Recently, Mom and I were talking about the past and about faithfulness to one’s spouse.
Mom has some family history with relatives that for her reinforced how sacred marriage is and that for her laid the foundation of how, as a young girl in the midst of these stories, she would promise to always be true to her spouse once she married. Mom told me about how sad she was about one of the stories.. This one relating to one of her many uncles and his wife in Norway. As a child, Mom had been deeply fond of her aunt. And it made her so sad to hear about what happened between her aunt and uncle. Up until that revelation, all she had thought about her aunt was how beautiful she was and what an amazing smile she had. She was always smiling.
Mom pulls out an old photo album that is filled with these tiny black and white photos mostly faded and some hard to make out. They are all tainted with the sepia tone of time passing, the glue from the pages no longer holds the images as they lie there somewhat scattered on the page under a flimsy cellophane sleeve. A turn of the page and holding the album at a slight angle brings some of them tumbling to the floor. “I have a couple of pictures of her in here somewhere, a nice large one of her” she says. As she turns the pages slowly, pausing on each page to examine faces and ancient places of her childhood, she comments on various characters from her past. “Who’s that Mom?” I ask pointing at a picture that shows Mor Far facing another man, his arm is wrapped around this man’s shoulder and they are smiling at each other like a couple of brothers. “That’s my father and his best friend”. Strange, I think, that Mor Far (Mother’s Father), had a best friend other than the one I knew in later years- Erling. “He just passed away not too long ago”. I don’t ask why we never met this best friend… I just sit there silently watching her take in her past. “Here she is” she exclaims. The picture shows a girl with ivory skin and thick wavy shoulder length black hair, her chin and head are tilted just slightly giving a coquettish glance at the camera. Mom repeats that she always loved her aunt’s smile. This young woman has the tiniest shoulders, her head of hair billowing above her emphasizes her petit frame. One can make out that she is wearing a particularly dark lipstick, typical of the fifties.
Mom moves on to other pictures “There, look- Røseim, we spent so much time up there” she is looking at a photo of the black timbered exterior of a mountain cabin with a porch occupied by several twenty something women and men, some with arms wrapped around each other, all beaming at the camera, marking a ski vacation spent with friends. “Wasn’t she beautiful?” she whispers as she lifts the cellophane cover to a different photo that she retrieves to get a closer look. It is a picture of her mother standing in light culotte shorts with a white blouse while holding Mom’s hand. Mom must be about four or five years old in this picture. Mor Mor sure was a beauty, and so skinny back then. I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of her that slender; not that she was ever large. But in my memory, she was soft to squeeze, not bony. “I understand based on this picture, why you have said he didn’t want her to take you to church alone.. I can better understand his jealousy”. Mom just nods, she is deep in thought as she gazes at the picture. “Yes, he was very jealous” she whispers. Mor Far had forbidden Mor Mor to take my mom to church. He didn’t want anyone having access to Mor Mor without him being present, and he was unwilling to go to church himself. So, mom stopped going to church as a young girl.
Still, she had received enough of a dose and spiritual guidance by then to have fallen head over heels in love with Jesus. She was hooked, and her love for God would never leave her. And as a grandchild, I recall Mor Mor often in her own world in the kitchen, singing Norwegian hymns and love songs to Jesus while cooking or washing up.
Fortunately many years later, almost a year into her overseas life in America, Mom would meet a man named Jack who had a dashing smile, the most kind eyes she had ever seen, and a love for Jesus. Jack did not wear his love or awe for God on his sleeve, he didn’t really speak of it. His beliefs have always been close to his heart and in his view, not to be talked of, but rather to be lived out. However, with Mom he did share what his upbringing had been like. And, Mom knew that Jack’s mother had been a dedicated woman for Christ, involved with many outreach organizations, and that generosity of spirit had transferred to her son.
Jack was a genuinely kind and gentle man. And in short order Mom knew she could never leave him. Over fifty years later, she still talks about how she can’t believe she did it- she left her country for him. Her beautiful country. Back then she offers, she had no idea how incredibly beautiful Norway was until it was gone. At least, gone for her in terms of daily life- a future only of stolen moments – visits to relatives. And her parents over the years, especially Mor Mor – would say to her that she couldn’t believe her sweet Karin had left her for America. This would be a repeated conversation each time we visited them.
But back to her aunt. This aunt had tortured her husband with a torrid affair that had started when she went on a trip to Russia without him. She had met someone on that trip and on return to Norway, she had continued the romance and even got ready for dates with this lover in front of her husband. And mom shares how shocked she had been on learning of her aunts behavior, because she had really liked this aunt and loved her uncle and she couldn’t imagine what might have gone wrong to cause her to behave in such a way.
In my own life, I have endured pain through two broken marriages. I know what can go on behind closed doors that might cause a once passionate love flame to blow out. What others see from the outside is very rarely the truth of what is going on within the privacy of the home. I know how a fervor of not getting to the presence of your lover quickly enough can turn into wanting to be as far away from that same soul as possible. Often it has to do with expectations. Unreasonable and unfounded expectations. And, it can have a lot to do with blinders, like those worn by a horse. Thoses blinders force you to look straight ahead and prevents you from seeing distractions along the side that could take you off course. When one is in love, one welcomes the blinders because we want to believe in the romance and the fairytale. We want to be a part of the great symphony called love. We want our part of the miracle of connecting with another soul. And maybe we put on those so called “Rose Colored Glasses”. Those glasses exist and many a lover has put them on and kept them on right up through to the alter and the vows and perhaps even through to the first weeks and months- I daresay, even the first few years of a marriage. And, then the glasses come off. And somehow, life isn’t the romance ending within which we had imagined ourselves.
For my mother’s aunt, something along the way went wrong enough for her to consider the option of setting herself up with an affair. You see this is not an option for most people who are in love with their spouses. I do not believe that someone who loves, truly loves their spouse- can be unfaithful. Some might disagree with me but it is my view that the vast majority of people do honor the sacred vows of marriage until they have reached a tipping point. Something happens that breaks the soul a bit, creates a wound that needs a bandaid and perhaps some ointment. And then, that wound properly tended to needs time to heal. Most people don’t allow the healing part to take place after having been emotionally wounded by another person.
For me, my wound kept getting picked at so that a scab couldn’t even really form. Oh don’t worry, I never did have that affair. I never let it get that far because I planned my escape early on- at least that is the case with husband number one. I stayed faithful until I just couldn’t take it anymore and until I figured out how I would exit stage left. Then I acted on my plan and I left. In each case, not going back. My first marriage was fairly short lived. I was smart enough and had enough self preservation in me to know that the slowly escalating acts of violence would one day mean a very bad ending.
The control nature of my first husband with his reprimands for how I incorrectly transferred the eggs from carton to egg holder in the fridge door, and how I didn’t remove them from the fridge properly- from right to left – never randomly as I did… there was an order on how one was meant to take the eggs out of their holder. Or the way that my cans were not turned properly to show their labels from the cupboard. After my marriage was over, I recall being in shock watching that movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” with Julia Roberts- because some of the behaviors of her character’s husband mirrored my ex. Then, towards the end of the marriage, there was that time when his moodiness during a visit from his seven year old daughter on one of his every other parental rights weekends ended up with a hole in our kitchen wall because of his anger directed towards me. On that same weekend, I came home to find dozens of little pieces of telephone all over the dining room floor because I had excused myself to go for a drive to get away from the tension. I had asked his daughter for forgiveness as I gathered my purse to leave, I told her I had to go run some errands. I fled the apartment and went for a drive. I recall feeling directionless that day- I just drove randomly up this street, down another with tears streaminng down my cheeks and blurring vision, which made it necessary for me to finally pull over. There were no cell phones back then, so I found a pay phone and tried to call him. I wanted so desperately to try to connect with him on that level we use to have together. But I had no success. Instead, the phone just went dead in my hand. On my return to the apartment, I understood why the phone was dead. It was broken in pieces; weeks later I was still finding the odd opaque button with letter 4 or 7 along the baseboards in the dining room- buried in the plush carpet. All this anger in the presence of his daughter. His poor sweet daughter. And now over twenty years later, I wonder how their relationship is now? Do they even have one? And how is her ability to have healthy relationships with men? She might be married now. She might have kids of her own. I would never know the outcome because I escaped within six months of that episode and was divorced from him within that year. And, we did not keep in touch. It was one of those marriages that almost feels like it never really happened. Like it was one of those nightmares that I wake up from that feel so real and thankful that it was just a dream. Except that it was real. And it forms a layer in my psyche.
So I think about my Mom’s aunt and her uncle. What are their stories. Why did she go to Russia? Who was her lover? And her uncle, what of him? What are their back stories? One thing I do know, theirs is a universal story of disappointment, of lost love, of sadness and of shame.