Pondering the Creative Life

My parents always said that winter will not set in until the creeks and rivers are full. Last Saturday it seemed that Mother Nature was attempting to fill up the Connecticut River all in one day. We had downpours nearly all day long. What she didn't achieve on Saturday she is doing today. We've had another day of constant rain, with torrential downpours part of the time. And winter is about to set in, at least if we get what is predicted.

For the first time in my life, I don't mind this gray, rainy weather (what the Amish call 'dreab'). I realized the other day, as I was sitting on the top story of our home, braiding rugs with the smell of ham and bean soup cooking in the crock pot two floors below, that I feel more introverted in my life now than I ever have before. While my hands move as I practice one of the homespun arts I learned from Mem, I have been pondering my life — first my childhood, then my young adult years out of the community, starting a life with David, and then our parenting years (from expectant parents all the way through the time when our sons went out on their own), and eventually our life as it is now, living together in a home we enjoy. In the autumn of our lives, we no longer feel like we have a whole lifetime ahead of us, so we cherish these days, weeks, months, and years we have together.

This summer I felt compelled to write about my relationship with Mem. That took the form of writing a letter to her. At around page 140, I stopped. I don't know why. And now I seem to be taking a hiatus from my writing, as my creativity is expressed in the form of braiding rugs. I've made four of them in the past three months. And I have two more that I want to make in the next while.

One of the things I had to overcome in order for me to practice this art, is my resistence to sewing on the machine. I need to be able to sew the strands of wool together because sewing them by hand is not nearly as effective or efficient. Before when I would sit down at a sewing machine, my back would begin to ache, and I would feel anxious. Inevitably the machine would not cooperate. And then I would get frustrated, which would add to my sewing anxiety.

Back when I was fifteen, there was a sewing incident that I've always thought was the source of my anxiety. I wrote about this incident in my letter to Mem this summer.

I was aware that many of the young girls would wear their dresses without their aprons. I knew you had no intentions of allowing me to do that. For me to think that I could get away with what I wanted to do was unrealistic. But that didn’t keep me from trying.

One day I was cutting a dress from nice turquoise material. I asked you how to make side-closing dresses. You told me it didn’t matter, since I wouldn’t be making it that way. You insisted I needed to wait until I was seventeen.

Secretly, I figured out how to make a side-closing dress myself. I was proud and pleased with the way it looked on me, as I pinned it in front of the mirror. I turned this way and that, amazed how much it looked like I was wearing an apron when I wasn't. I thought about occasionally wearing my dress without an apron, the way other girls often did.

You insisted on pinning up the hem of my dress, so that you could decide the length of it. That was another point of contention between us. I wanted it shorter; you wanted it longer.

I stood on your sewing chair, so you wouldn’t have to bend over. I made sure I had the apron on, so you wouldn’t see the way I had made the dress. You had several straight pins between your lips, as you made your way from the back to the front. I held one side of the apron up so you could pin my dress. All of a sudden you looked up and jerked up my apron. By the look on your face I knew I was in trouble, but I had no time to react. You punched me in the stomach and sent me flying off the chair and onto the floor. I got a glimpse of you as you still held the pins in your mouth. You took them out and said, “You know better! Now go take off that dress and give it to me!”

It is funny how our minds work, especially around trauma. I still remember getting punched in the stomach, but I don’t remember what it felt like to hit the floor. If I remember right, I think I fell on my shoulder.

I went upstairs and lay on my bed and listened to you pumping the treadle sewing machine. You made even the sewing machine sound angry. When you were done, you had not only moved the seam to the front, but you had taken about four inches of extra material and sewed it in as well. Now there were two seams in the front, one right in the middle, and the other one off to one side. You put no pleats there, so when I wore it without an apron it was downright ugly. It felt like you had made the dress as ugly as you could, just to show me you were boss.

I hated sewing on the machine after getting punched off the sewing chair. I used the sewing machine only when I had to make my own dresses, so that you would not make them for me.        

From my perspective this happened because I wanted to feel good about the clothes I wore. Perhaps from your perspective it had to do with forcing me to give up my own will. If so, you succeeded. Your will overpowered mine, which added to the feeling that I couldn’t change anything about my life, even though it often felt so senseless and bleak. I didn't even know what to hope for or how I would have changed my life, if I had the power to do so.

Seasons come and seasons go. This summer I needed to write about these expereinces. This fall I must have needed to work out some of these things, and braiding rugs seems to have become that medium. When I took up rug braiding in September, and I couldn't get the machine to cooperate, for the first time ever I actually read the instruction booklet that came with the machine when I bought it back in the 1980s. It was a Singer that was 75 years old back then. And guess what? It worked! Instead of fighting the machine, I started working with it.

This moving meditation has allowed me to do hours of reflecting on Mem's life as well as my own. I realized the other day that I am the age that my mother was when I left home for the first time. At that time, she still had all four of my sisters and my younger brother living at home. Here I am, braiding rugs as she did. Sometimes when I am in the midst of interlacing the braids together, I notice that my hands move just about like Mem's used to. Even the click of the interlacing needle against the table takes me back.

And yet my life is so different than Mem's was. I can practice my craft in the solitude of the finished attic of my house. Mem craved solitude, and by virtue of having had a big family, she could rarely find it. Datt had his when he worked out in the woods, cutting and splitting wood for the house and for "sugar wood" for making maple syrup in the spring. He spent many hours out in his beloved woods.

Solitude and privacy is a luxury that big families cannot afford. I don't think I ever learned how to be alone. For most of my life I was an extreme extrovert, so it didn't seem to matter. Now I wonder if I just never knew what I was missing.

I don't know how much longer I need to work through whatever it is I'm processing. I also don't know how much longer it will take for me to go back to my writing. My guess is that I will have a different perspective when I do. It feels as if I am braiding a strand of forgiveness into my remembrances of Mem. And the product is one of simplicity and beauty.

DSCN0267
My October Creation

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29 thoughts on “Pondering the Creative Life”

  1. As I read about your reflecting on your mother, I am doing a lot of thinking about my mother, the way she treated me and the resulting habits and ways of coping that I’ve had all my life. She physically abused me, but I was so young, I have very little memory of it. I’ve been doing my utmost to avoid anyone’s anger ever since then. I don’t know about deciding to forgive. I think it’s more of a place you come to not by decision, more like a gift. It may be partly a function of understanding what things made my mother the way she was, such as the abuse I am guessing she got in her childhood. But I guess I’m not really sure what forgiveness is, not in this context. Thanks for sharing your journey with your mother, Saloma. The rug you showed here is beautiful!

    1. Johanna, I am so sorry to hear about the abuse you endured. I can imagine the feeling that anger is lethal thereafter.

      I am with you… I have never been able to “decide” to forgive. I either reach that place or not. And I also believe that understanding is very much a part of my process of forgiving. Your idea of coming to a place of forgiveness as a gift is exactly what I feel is happening in my braiding process, but I was not conveying it as eloquently as you did.

      Thank you for your compliment of the rug and conveying your appreciation of my sharing of my journey with my mother. You are most welcome. Many blessings to you.

  2. What a beautiful rug! It almost makes me want to try doing one.

    Wow, you post reminded me of my childhood also. I was adopted by my “aunt” and many times thought it would have been better to be raised in an orphanage. She was physically and mentally abusive also. I lived with “I took you in and YOU OWE ME!!” My adopted dad died two weeks before my second daughter was born. She called me at 1:00 A.M. to tell me that I killed my father! She lived in Illinois and I lived in Wisconsin at that time. She said I wouldn’t let him put up a shelf or work in the garden when they came to visit us – so I killed him!! My dad & I were close, so I at least knew better, but it still hurt. If I could write a book. I brought my grandmother (who was the love of my life) to live with us here in Missouri at the age of 101. My grandmother had skin cancer on her face and I don’t think the radiation got it all. She lived with us for 9 months. When I called Chicago to tell her that her mother died (at the age of 102 in our home) her reply was “What do you want me to do about it – she was an old lady!)

    Sometimes, I think “perfect families” only live in fairy tales. Many times I say I forgive her (I flew to Chicago for the funeral at which people got in shouting matches) and just sat out in the hall and cried my eyes out – NOTHING CHANGED EVEN AFTER SHE DIED. I don’t think the memories will go away until I die. Looking back, I can hardly find any happy memories.

    Sorry for the rant – I’m done now. You may have gotten more than you bargained for in replies! But, I truly enjoy you and your writing. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the good Lord watch over you always.

    1. Kristine, thank you for your compliment on the rug.

      Wow, what a sad story about your upbringing. I am so sorry for you. It makes me realize how important it is for me to cherish the good memories. I have many of them. And that is what has been so hard… reconciling my memories of Mem when she was the nurturing, giving mother, with the memories of her when she was harsh. Sometimes trying to reconcile those very different parts of my mother is so very confusing. I have almost given up trying. At this point I know I have good and bad memories of Mem… simple as that.

      I know, nothing changes after they die. (Mem has been dead for nine years.) Unless we have a way of transforming our experiences into something that works for us. Writing a book sounds like a good idea, even if you don’t publish it. You are not keeping it all a secret, and some of your family members may find it helpful someday. Sometimes I feel as though I’m dealing with grief that has been passed down from several generations.

      How nice of you to take care of your grandmother. So interesting that your aunt didn’t inherit the kindness of your grandmother… maybe it skipped a generation.

      Likewise… may God watch over you always. And may your Christmas and New Years be filled with joy, peace, love, warmth, and light.

  3. What a raw painful post and yet there is beauty coming out of it. Sometimes I wonder if we will struggle with the results of abusive parents all our lives? And if this struggle is the normal, then our parents struggled with their hurts all their life. When I sit and crochet, I think…

    1. Katie, I don’t know that our parents did struggle with the results of the abuse of their parents. I think some of them tried to deny it. I know Mem did. She always claimed she had a happy childhood… and she was never specific about what was happy about it. I always felt she was holding back.

      I can just imagine you sitting and crocheting. And I know what it’s like to think while doing hand work.

      Great to hear from you, Katie.

  4. Saloma, you may not be “writing” in your opinion, but the eloquent honesty of your story is brilliant. If you are willing to be that ‘known’, please consider publishing a book on that kind of subject. I am almost 80 years old and for the last 20 years I’ve been urging myself and my family to be more honest than we have ever been regarding the secrets of my Amish family. My mantra is ‘What are we afraid of!’

    As for “deciding to forgive”, I have mixed thoughts about it. I had an abusive brother and there were times when we literally did not speak for 10 years. However, a few years back as the old year was ending I was finally ready to be WILLING to forgive him- I knew I had not yet done it; I was only willing to let go of the hurt and the anger. I knew also that the person I was hurting most was ME. So I wrote him (he lived a thousand miles away), telling him that I forgave him and asking his forgiveness for my part in it. He wrote back, in its entirety: ‘Gladly. Hope you can do the same.’

    I can still recall the hurtful things he and I said and did to each other for so many years but the sting has gone out of them.

    I don’t braid or sew or crochet or do any other useful thing like that but a couple of years ago I took up water color painting. In its own way, it is meditative and absorbing. And Glory be! I am getting better at it!

    1. Elva, thank you for your kind comments. I don’t yet know what will become of the writing I’m doing concerning my relationship with Mem. Sometimes it is disconcerting to be writing all this without knowing who my audience is… maybe just myself and in future my descendants…. or if I am going to publish some form of my letter to Mem. She left this world nine years ago, but I have five siblings and many cousins and it seems all of them have a different view of Mem.

      “What are we afraid of?” That is a question that gets at the heart of the issue, doesn’t it? Thank you for sharing that thought.

      I think for me there is still a difference between being willing to forgive and deciding to. Being willing to means that I’m no longer clinging to the hurt and anger, and that is when I can receive the “gift” that Kristine mentioned.

      I have always wished I had the talent for painting. I have an artistic sister, and I’ve always had a hard time not being jealous of her talent. And I consider painting quite “useful.” I treasure the watercolors on my wall as much as I do the rugs on my floor. So glad you are doing them. Do you sell any of your work?

      Thank you again, Elva, for stopping by and contributing to the conversation.

  5. Saloma, what a beautiful, poignant post. I agree with your friends above. You are doing some of your best writing here! I could feel that punch in the gut, and I could visualize your hands, so much like your mother’s, turning wool into a lovely rug. You have been “lying fallow” in a very productive way!

  6. Thank you so much for your post, Saloma. As I have been facing hurtful moments with my own mother during my childhood and especially during this year, the decision to forgive is something I am dealing with daily. I think to forgive (and that is what I want ) is one thing. But I believe that to forgive does not mean you will forget.
    By reading your blogs during this year I have been considering following your path and start to write a letter to my mom as well. (just for myself) And I might be an intention to do that next year.
    Your rug is beautiful. Maybe you can teach me some basics when we visit next year?
    Have a blessed day.

    1. Miriam, it is so good to hear from you!

      I’m sorry to hear about the pain in the relationship with your mother. Given that Mem died nine years ago, this is obviously for me. But words carry power, whether or not the other person reads them. Our feelings for our mothers can be so complicated. Sometimes writing this letter helps me to clarify my own thoughts in a given situation. I hope you find writing to your mother will be helpful to you.

      I would LOVE to teach you how to braid a rug when you visit next year. Mem would be so happy to know that her chosen craft is being passed on to someone from the region where our ancestors come from. That would be something!

      Blessings to you, too, Miriam. I wish you peace and joy this Christmas and throughout the New Year.

  7. Mary Keim Maarsen

    I always look forward to reading what you have to say. Your story about your mother and what happened especially touched my heart. Probably because of the relationship I had with my mother. My mother grew up in an amish home. We were conservative mennonites and not amish but it was my mother who was the primary parent who was verbally responsible that her children walked the straight and narrow. I was the oldest child and I was a daughter and I had a completely different mother than my sibblings. What I want to say is that for all kinds of reasons, I didn’t have a very nice relationship with my mother. I deeply regretted this and grieved about this. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings.
    I moved out of the country and my mother wrote a letter every single week to me. Her letters were filled with all kinds of things I never experienced with her when I was with her. She suddenly passed away at age 59. When I was 59 I was looking through some boxes of things I had saved and I came across all the letters she had written to me when she was 59. This was the most beautiful healing gift I could ever imagine. I think that this was what I needed to get my feelings of what I was carrying with me all the years, put in a good place. I have all the cards and letters that I have received from my family and those of my mother are what I like to think, what she couldn’t say in person, she did in letters. I wish you and David a very blessed Christmas.

    1. Mary, what a heart-warming story about the letters you found. What a gift!

      I know what you mean about siblings having a different mother. I sometimes feel like I had the most complicated relationship with Mem of all her sons and daughters. I also understand what you mean about the complicated feelings for a mother. 

      One of the things I am grappling with is how Mem plugged me into the eldest daughter role, even though I was the second oldest daughter. I carried so much responsibility at such a young age. Even as I got older it was a lot. The expectation was that I was the fixer of problems, and the family conscience all rolled up in one.

      I also have all the letters and cards I received from Mem after I left. This summer I read through them all in a few days. Wow… that sure took me back!

      So glad you stopped by, Mary. I’m wishing you a joyful and blessed Christmas and New Year.

  8. A wonderful post. I was there as I read it. I felt your longings, your tensions and your pain. I’m sorry you had to go through it. Braid on!

  9. For years after I was more than full-grown one of my brothers and I had ongoing conversations on the phone and by letter, exploring our upbringing and the people who were so influential in our lives. He and I were the two youngest in a large family, so we watched from afar some of the drama and trauma that went on amongst our oldest siblings and parents. Our own battles came about in our own turn.

    Our theme was ‘understanding’. We agreed that until the day came that we understood what had made our parents what and who they were we could not forgive. And it did happen. From anger and hurt we progressed to a rueful acknowledgement of events as they were to, eventually, a loving recognition that they too were products of their own upbringing.

    To my mind, the one besetting ‘sin’ that the Amish have in general is ignorance and a willingness to live in it, nay, even a tendency to embrace it, to venerate it. I remember well how scornful my father was of ‘experts’ of all kinds and of college learning in particular. He seemed never to understand that expertise tends to make things easier and more efficient.

    Certainly I cannot include all Amish in this; I can speak truly only of my own family. On the other hand I have dozens of cousins and probably hundreds of more distant Amish relatives. :)

    1. Elva, so good to hear from you. I agree… understanding is so key for me to be able to forgive. And sometimes it is just not possible to understand why someone did what they did. That’s when I have a hard time forgiving.

      There is a tendency among the Amish I grew up with toward scorn for “book learning” also. The fact that the Amish to this day do not educate their children beyond the eighth grade shows there is this proclivity throughout the culture. However, there are exceptions. I know some Amish who educate themselves by reading and being more open-minded.

      I am so glad you eventually got to the place of forgiveness for your parents. It is truly a gift… but one also has to be open to it by being willing to forgive.

      I wish you peace and joy this Christmas season and throughout the New Year!

  10. Saloma, I believe that when one works at a craft like braiding rugs, weaving, or spinning yarn, that person is doing deep inner work. You are doing exactly what you need to be doing and it will be interesting to see where it takes you in your writing. Keep up your good work!

    1. Joan, thank you for your comments. I “feel” this, but there is a certain amount of trust that comes with this process… rather than fighting it and trying to force myself to write instead.

      I wish you all the best in the launching of your memoir. If anyone knows how complicated mother-daughter relationships can get, you do!

      Happy Holidays and good wishes for the New Year!

  11. Saloma, your post and the comments contain valuable insights into the complexity of the human work of making sense of the past. It’s a journey I am in the midst of. One thing I’m learning is the importance of grieving and being honest about the pain. Job and David spoke frankly to God about their grief. I believe God designed us that this is necessary for living wholly. Grief and tears are God’s good gifts for helping us heal. To not do this leaves boulders of inner turmoil in our hearts. Bringing buried things to the surface allows them to be bathed in the healing warmth of Light and Truth.

    Another vital aspect of our journey in dealing with the past is that we can do it on an intellectual level, but not emotionally. We think we have dealt with our past when we come to a place of understanding it/them, but until we have grieved it at a deep places and shed tears, it still lives in our hearts. It takes a lot of courage to do this emotional work. The intellectual is much easier. For me, forcing myself to do the emotional work was life changing in a number of ways. Something supernatural took place that was almost tangible. It still astounds me when I think of it. It is a precious holy gift. I wish others could know the peace and the freedom that raw honest grieving can bring. It is so simple, yet so hard.

    Good courage to you and to your readers in the journey. Jesus spoke hard truth. Hebrews tell us He grieved His suffering with loud cries. He gave us a good pattern to follow.

    1. Ava, it is so good to see you here! Thank you for your kind words about my blog. It is complex to “make sense” of our past as you point out, but it is so important to do the emotional world of grieving the difficult parts of our past. I was in intensive therapy for 3-4 years, and it seemed I would never reach the bottom of my grief. Eventually it didn’t feel bottomless and some time later, I felt like I had dealt with the cumultive grief. I still have times when I come upon a “bump” and realize I hadn’t dealt with that “piece.” But during those intense years, I feel I dealt with the bulk of the grief of my childhood.

      I wrote a whole piece in my journal one day about the difference between feeling sad and feeling blue. Feeling blue for me is having the pain locked up inside without an outlet. Feeling sad is when I am able to cry and have the tears be a healing balm. When I feel blue, it is actually a relief to become sad and let the tears fall. And to this day, whenever someone in a movie reaches that point, I cry right along with that character (even when I know it’s fiction).

      Thank you for sharing what it was like for you to receive that holy gift. It takes a lot of courage to go down so deep, but oh does it have its rewards!

      May you continue to have the courage to receive holy gifts in this Christmas season and always!

  12. What a gift for you to have those years of intensive therapy. I like your description of feeling blue versus feeling sad. My mother is unable to cry much and wishes she could. Tears are healing in an oddly beautiful way.

    I’m living in central Ohio now since September. It’s the first time I’ve lived outside of my community. I am finding a lot of internal stuff to work through that I had not anticipated.

    1. Ava, I wonder if the geographical distance has something to do with discovering you have internal stuff to work on. I know it was after the second time I left (when I really left home) that I did my most intense inner work. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study about geographical distance from one’s original home and feeling compelled to do inner work.

      Last night I saw a movie called “Lady in the Water.” I found it to be an allegory of what happens when someone pushes strong emotions into the unconscious and tries to keep them there. Some people might write this movie off as cheesy, but if you look at it as an allegory, it works.

      I wish you all the best, Ava.

      1. I worked on internal issues before moving, but more surfaced after moving. It’s very interesting that your most intense work was done after moving. Perhaps there’s work we need to do at both places and neither can replace the other. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

        Thanks for your good wishes.

  13. I am not sure if you will get this so long after you first posted it, but….Wow. Reading your post brought back memories of my childhood, and my mom. Then, as I scrolled down to leave this message, I saw posts from so many others who experienced abuse from their parents.

    I am in the process of forgiving my mother. Fortunately for me, she is still alive, and I see her often. She is older now, and MUCH more mellow, but her crazy side still shows up every once in a while. We try to laugh it off now. Try.

    My family was never Amish, by the way. But there may be some parallels in community and culture. My mom’s family came to the United States from Greece in the 1920s. My grandmother and her five sisters were extremely close-knit and did not approve of my mother having non-Greek friends. My mother rebelled quite a bit, and at one point was actually publicly shamed for breaking her engagement.

    My mother’s mother, my Yia-Yia, was the only grandparent I ever really knew. The rest of them passed before I turned 6. Although I have no doubt that she loved all of her grandchildren, she was a pretty tough person. I remember that when I was a kid, there was this prevailing idea that grandparents were indulgent and affectionate, and I wondered where these grandparents were!

    Anyway, the point is, I know she was very tough on my mother, and that in turn, my mother was tough on me. Only now that I am fully an adult do we begin to really discuss it. But it is helpful.

    I haven’t read your books (though I expect to buy them soon) but it is my understanding from what I’ve read/seen that you attempted to maintain contact with the people from your past. I am very glad, for some reason, to hear that. I guess it’s because I know that it will make everything easier for you.

    I wish you success in your journey.

    Stacy

    1. Stacy, I am so glad you came by and saw this post.

      It is a great blessing that your mother is still alive as you are going through your process of forgiving. I think in any tight-knit culture, the ties can bind in both negative and positive ways. Some people can conform and others cannot. It sounds like your mother could not be as conforming as her sisters.

      Yes, I try to maintain as much of a connection with my siblings as possible, though right now there is only one who is willing to have an ongoing relationship with me. Perhaps that will change at some point.

      Many blessings to you along the roads you travel, Stacy.

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