Updated: Jun 25
| This is the 499th story of Our Life Logs |
In the year of my birth, 1952, our desolate Texas prairie lured only the wildcatter oil tycoons from the east coast and the hardworking, scruff-of-the-earth oil-well workers in the west who pumped and cajoled the “black gold” from the barren earth. I grew up in the far western part of Texas that holds nary a tree, hill, or lake. My mother and father were west Texans by birth, but with an air of sophistication that was not normally found there. They were determined to raise their three daughters with as much curiosity and creativity as any of us could muster. I was number three, so I got to watch my two sisters figure out the world. They had no more notion of how to do it any more than I, which might have been depressing were I not inclined to make a joke of every single thing. It was the only way that I could get any attention.
With nothing else to do in Midland, Texas, Mother and Daddy used to throw outrageous parties back in the ’50s. I have vivid memories of Mother tiptoeing into my bedroom late at night when the guests were at the height of their drunken fervor to wake me up. Just five years old at the time, my job was to entertain everyone. So, I would shuffle down the hallway in my jammies, stand on the steps above the living room, and do my imitation of “Uncle” Claude, a dear friend of everyone. I have no memory of my schtick, but I know that it must have been hilarious because the “crowd went wild!”
Just about a year later, our family faced devastation. My tall, dark, and handsome 38-year-old Daddy unexpectedly died. I was only six, and six years on the planet does not lend enough knowledge and understanding to deal with death, especially a daddy’s death. I was even scolded by my oldest sister for not crying when we were given the devastating news. But, what did I know? I just figured that one day he was there, and the next day, beyond. He was never there or anywhere ever again. It took time for my young mind to grasp that.
I was, however, keenly aware of my mother’s pain. It was billowing off her. I decided that I would try to lighten her load. I used all my inherent determination to make her laugh, hell, make anyone in our family laugh instead of cry. I learned early on that my facial features could be manipulated, and my lips moved around in such a way as to cause unbridled, spittle-inducing laughter just by looking at me. I became an accidental storyteller, developing the physical attributes and mimicry to become each character…think Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball wrapped into a scrappy, foul-mouthed Texas broad.
Just as I was on the verge of understanding my loss and pain on an intimate childlike level, another change came my way. Less than a year after my Daddy “took his final field trip!” my mother married another man. That’s just what a genteel woman did who was left with three young children to raise and no visible means of support in 1958. By then, I was seven years old, and this new confusion threw me for a complete loop, but again, I thought, what did I know? Mother seemed happy again, so I decided I would be happy too.
All seemed well for several years, and I even grew to call the new man “Daddy.” As Mother seemed to be happier, I switched my humor target to my young friends instead. But I didn’t know then that Mother was still in enormous pain over the loss. On top of that, she lacked true affection for our new “provider Daddy.” I never knew this until I was in my late 20s. Of course, I never knew that my new Daddy was turning into a raging alcoholic either.
I did realize by the time I was 12 that the people around me were hiding their pain. My family seemed happier, but I could tell something was off even though they wouldn’t talk about it. Well, fine—I decided—if everyone else was going to lie and hide their pain, then so would I, dammit! I would cover it with the yummy, sticky maple syrup of comedy.
Oh, and around this time, I also grew eight inches, leaving me a good six or so inches taller than every girl and boy my age. I felt like I was the Empire State Building surrounded by four-story brownstone walk-ups. So, I turned into everyone’s sidekick. I gravitated toward the popular girls to feel included. And, as cruel as tweenaged girls can be, I could imitate all our teachers in a most insulting manner…not to mention the “other” girls outside of our clique. My gal pals laughed and laughed, and I didn’t have to worry about anyone being sad around me. At least not at school.
At home, however, my jokes had more purpose. The more my step-father drank, the more morose my mother became. So, I opened up my trunk of humor to distract her (and me) with laughter. It helped her forget she was in a loveless, debilitating, embarrassing relationship, and me forget the wound of not having known the love and joy of a real Daddy anymore. I never had a comic routine, but the minute my eyes would cross and the Elvis lip would start its way up to the very entrance of my nostrils, it didn’t matter what I said…guffaws would fly around the room. I felt it was my duty to keep everyone laughing around me. And when they were laughing, it was easier for me to find reasons to laugh too.
In my 20’s, I set out to find the perfect love. How hard could it be? What did I know?
Well, Mister One was a returning Vietnam soldier hero. How perfect! Except…he was also a controlling, serial cheater who would grow suicidal whenever I threatened to leave. I tried my hardest to lift his spirits, even when he was nasty toward me. I finally left after four years, only to bump right into…
Mister Two. I mean, who wouldn’t fall back in love with their first childhood sweetheart whom they hadn’t seen in over 20 years? It was perfect—for about a minute and a half. He thought that he could handle me and turn me into the perfect trophy wife. I tried to be what he wanted at first, but of course that didn’t last. Mother called this marriage “just an episode” after I packed up my belongings and my cocker spaniel, Rosemary, and lit out of there after one year.
Mister Three showed up a mere six months later. He was a native Texan living a very cushy life in midtown Manhattan. Who wouldn’t want to live a cushy life in midtown Manhattan? If only it were that easy. By then, I was in my early 30s and experienced in the pain and humor that had wound its way through my life. But do you know what adult step-children of alcoholics do? They go looking for an alcoholic life partner to “fix” because they weren’t able to change their parents’ behavior. But nine times out of ten, you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change. So naturally, it was “Bye Felicia” after a married decade.
So, alas, I never found that perfection which Mother had spoken of all my life. Instead, I only found flaws and pain. In all my married years, I made those men laugh and laugh while I cried and cried—all three doomed to fail. I set myself on fire just to keep my three husbands warm. I tried to fix their pain and be a savior. But in that time, I wasn’t addressing my own hurting heart. Why don’t we tell the truth about our pain? I knew now. Because du’uh…it hurts!
After leaving Mister Three, I should maybe have made a plan for my life beyond the loss-of-self-esteem quicksand from which I had extricated myself. That would have been smart, but who does that? I just knew that my 50s would hold me in good stead without a man. Besides, by then my looks had shape-shifted into a softer, more wrinkly state, as I drove down the road to invisibility where men my age were concerned. I also realized that if I kept searching for perfection, if I kept looking for people’s pain to fix, I was never going to address my own. I was learning that no one was perfect, no life was perfect, and it was no longer my job to make sure that everyone else in my life was laughing and happy. It was my turn! I had to stay positive.
Since I changed how I viewed my life, I have had the chance to go back to my mother to smoke cigarettes, drink wine, and laugh and laugh through the night about the foibles and mistakes that a life lived can spring on you. We had our own short-hand for the comedic ridiculousness of the choices that we’d made in life.
In my late 50s, my mother became…well, she just got old and ornery and infirmed. My middle sister Sally, who was living in LA, came down to help. A five-year stint as live-in, 24/7-365 caregivers reinvigorated and cemented my relationship with Sal Gal, and we did our best.
Sadly, old age got ahold of Mother. By then I had learned to allow myself to feel the pain while looking for the positives. She has been happily ensconced in Heaven for 12 years now, but the laughter far outweighs any stinging memories of her final years.
After Mother passed away, Sally and I decided to do something bold and brave. We weren’t getting any younger, so a year to the date of my 60th birthday, we arrived in Honolulu, where we decided to live out the rest of our life chapters…why not?
I’m in my late 60s now. I still feel pain…but the pain is mostly in my right knee since I broke my knee cap a few years ago. My sister and I have always been childless by choice and are now husbandless for good reasons. And, not an hour goes by without laughter…the laughter of growing old, the laughter of our perceptions on just about everything, and the comfort and ease that exists between us because we’re not using our laughter now to mask anything. It’s pure and simple and enormously gratifying. It’s only joy.
Even though I faced hardships, I wouldn’t change a single thing, not one moment of pain, not any connection to joy. I’m right where I put myself…ever hopeful and extremely happy with how far I’ve come!
This is the story of Kelly Jackson
Kelly is a writer, author, essayist, audiobook narrator, jester, sister, and baby senior. This is her story of the two most important perceptions in her life…pain and humor. She speaks of the many life chapters that held these two perceptions, and how she learned to stop putting others’ happiness before her own and properly deal with her own pain. She has worked for many years as a senior executive assistant. She is also a certified yoga instructor…with a warped sense of the Ommm, calling her form of instruction Yoga for Smokers, Drinkers, Meat-Eaters, and Non-Believers. Kelly currently lives with her sister, Sally, in Hawaii. Years ago, When Kelly and Sally were caring for their late mother, they wrote about their caregiving experiences in a blog, The Midlife Gals. When their nephew told them that the tiny black square at the top of their computer monitor was a camera, they took that ball and ran off the field with it! You can watch one of their 150+ videos here. The linked video includes their mother, The Ancient One as they call her, as the star. The sisters have this treasured video as a living memory of their great old broad of a mother. Kelly has had a life of parallels and dichotomies, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
This story first touched our hearts on February 21, 2020.
| Writer: Kelly Jackson | Editor: Kristen Petronio |