This is the last postcard that my Dad sent to my Mum when he left us in 1962. I found it in a folder of old photographs that we have been scanning. Over the years, I had wondered how my Dad returned to the States. As a family we flew from San Francisco to Glasgow via Iceland on KLM in 1961. His departure was rarely talked about in our house because he had asked my mum’s family for money to return but then abandoned us. The money was never returned and it was a source of contention.
The written text on the postcard reveals so much about my Dad’s personality. He was undoubtedly narcissistic. He referenced the minor difficulties of boarding the SS America – ‘WHAT WITH STRIKES’ in unnecessary uppercase. There seemed to be little affection for his only daughter who was just two years old. I contrast this note with letters that my own husband sent over the years. Teddy would have expressed how desperately he was missing his wife and family.
My Dad may have felt trapped by my unwanted impending arrival in 1960. There is no excuse for his behavior but behind it lay a family history of alcoholism with both my paternal grandparents. As I gazed at the image, I wondered if my Dad felt huge relief sailing back to his homeland or regret at leaving his family. Perhaps he had fully intended to send for us and repay the borrowed money. Who knows what vicarious pleasures or habits led him astray?
Then I mused about my mum. Was she longing for him to contact us again or was there cold comfort in his absence? It must have been very hard to endure the mostly silent reproach of her family members. Of all the men in America; why did she have to marry a conman? She worked long hours to support us both until her major mental breakdown in 1971. It touched me that she never threw the postcard away, even after the divorce in 1976. She must have felt bitter about him sailing back to her beloved America on a luxury liner. Interestingly, SS America had a fascinating history of military service ending in destitution which uncannily mirrors my Dad’s life.
Then I found this telegram.
Do I sense some excitement in my Dad’s brief words in the telegram, even if he spelled my name wrong? I was born prematurely, underweight and put in an incubator – it would have been a very stressful time for both parents. My mum, who also had TB during her pregnancy, said that I looked like a skinned rabbit and I really did! If only we could go back in time and ask the right questions, there might be an answer.
Don’t we look adorable? This is my ‘cousin’ Craig and I on the wall of our boarding house (B & B) in Portrush, Northern Ireland. It was my first vacation since we traveled from San Francisco to Europe when I was a toddler. My mum, dad and little Kerry traveled around Europe like hobos before landing in Glasgow at Nana’s house. Dad disappeared back to the USA and that was that. It was hard for my mum, as a separated yet married lady, to get a decent job. She was well qualified but unable to work for a bank (because of her marital status) despite having been a foreign exchange teller in San Francisco.
Eventually she found a strange new career as a Private Investigator for a company that would ultimately be bought out by the Pinkerton Agency. She specialized in corporate retail fraud and was particularly gifted as she could switch accents (from UK to US). She was also as sharp as a whip. At the agency, Mum became life long friends with a lady in a very similar position. She too was separated from her husband, had two young boys and was living with her parents. They bonded immediately with each other and our families. Marie, my mum’s friend, adored my Irish Nana and my mum adored Marie’s mother who was Greek. Ironically both of them found living with their own mothers difficult, which was understandable.
The salary at the agency was below par but they saved up enough money to go to Ireland in 1964. I was 4 and Craig was 5 years old. I think the older brother was 8 years old. We stayed at this lovely three-story house. My mum and I had one room; Marie and the boys had the one next to it. I was at a perfect age; not yet old enough to be intimidated with school and full of exuberant zest. One evening after Marie and my Mum were having a drink in the lounge downstairs, they came up to find me in the middle of the boys’ bed. I am certain they did not invite me…they were well behaved, shy little boys. On another occasion, at the beach, the boys were horrified or amused when I ripped off my swimsuit and rocketed into the waves stark naked. I can remember my mum laughing and chasing me with a towel. This was a regular habit in our house and the phrase my mum used to keep me in line was, “The Moon will catch your bottom!”
Recently I was clearing out boxes and found old birthday cards from my ‘cousins’ when I was 5, 6 and 7 years old. Over the years we went on at least one more joint vacation in Dumfries. My mum and Marie often went on two-week work projects, mostly to Aberdeen and Belfast. They must have loved being alone and yet together. After my mum died, Marie confided in me that Mum had already started drinking too much on their trips. Marie would leave my mum alone with her whisky while she went to bed. There was no alcohol allowed in our house except at New Year.
I don’t think I had come across the photo above until I opened an envelope of my mum’s. It could have been sent after her death. If you look closely at our hands, you can see that I am firmly grasping Craig’s hand in my little paws. We were probably told to hold hands so they could get a cute photo. I laughed out loud, looking at the image, vaguely remembering that I snuck into bed with them. If I was young enough for Tinder, I could have tagged myself…warm, affectionate and dominant! That irrepressible Kerry did not reappear until my late teenage years. Below is a photo of Marie and my mum (right) on an evening out in Glasgow.
My friend Ruth, aka rkontheroad, nominated me for Outstanding Blogger Award. I am always honored to be nominated for an award and this one was new to me. Ruth’s blog Musings from the Mountains is full of the most fantastic photography. She has had an amazing life, living around the globe and now settled in Colorado. Our lives have segued in some ways with our love of travel, writing and volunteering. Thank you for the nomination, Ruth!
Ruth’s questions for the nominees
1 Why do you blog?
At first, I created the blog to provide a conduit to my book, Memoirs from Cairo on Kindle. Once I started to connect with other bloggers, I shared travel posts and eventually very personal posts about my mental illness. One friend advised me not to share so much but I felt it was therapeutic not just to me but to my readers who felt less alone with a stigmatized illness.
2. What themes do you blog about?
Generally I blog about travel (fond memories), mental illness, fairy stories, fashion and my ancestry. There is no real rhyme or reason, just following the strange patterns in my head. I enjoy vlogging too, especially during this Pandemic. After a while it feels like other bloggers you connect with are real friends – and they are. We find each other through shared interests, passions or beliefs.
3. What do you like to read?
My favorite genre is fantasy/science fiction. When I was younger, I read most of the books in our local library, even other genres. I have belonged to book clubs over the years and I like that it introduces you to books you would never have chosen. I feel it is my personal mission to introduce people to really good science fiction and fantasy. My choice one year was The Martian and everybody loved it! My illness or perhaps my medication for (OCD, depression and anxiety) sometimes affects my ability to concentrate and read a whole book. It is a real loss in my life but I read other blog posts or article of interest on my laptop make up for that. That’s why I am on/off with blogging – I have to have the muse.
4. Who or what is a person or event that has influenced your life?
I had to think long and hard about that question. In truth, it was my mum. My mum also had a mental illness and a bad relationship with alcohol. Although she has been dead for 18 years, she still affects my every step. I loved her and she loved me but we both resented each other at times. I admired that she had immigrated alone to the States in her early 20s, traveled from east to west. When she returned to Scotland, alone with me, she worked as a private detective for an agency that got taken over by the famous Pinkerton agency. Life was much harder after her major breakdown and it has probably molded me into a caretaking person. She was a beautiful, smart and kind woman whose illness/alcohol use made her narcissistic and critical at times. That contrasted hugely with the funny loving mummy that I lost.
5. What’s one thing that’s important to you in your non-blogging life?
This was easier – my husband. We have been married for over 38 years and had our ups and downs. For the most part we are a very good match and really make each other laugh. He is incredibly supportive of me and I know he always has my back. I always wanted to marry someone who was genius smart, good looking and incredibly funny. He still makes me laugh so much that my body farts without control which makes me laugh louder. Despite that he still thinks I am his baby bunny…albeit with digestive problems.
6. If you could go back and choose a different career, what would you do?
Speech Therapy. I longed to do something in the para-medical field. My family were very insistent that I spoke clearly with a neutral accent. No slang dialect was allowed in our house. At high school I joined drama and debating clubs and realized the pleasure in making your voice heard. I was rather shy as a young teenager and the whole school was asked to write an essay for a Glasgow wide competition. I chose to write about social equity, corruption in the Catholic church and other ambitious topics. My teacher asked me to read it aloud in class and I blushed red. At the end the whole class applauded – it was overwhelming and eye opening. I came second in the school competition to someone who wrote about Scottish Nationalism, a very popular subject at the time. The English principal whispered to me that I should have won. The topic cost me dearly as one of the rigidly Catholic assistant Headteachers refused to give me a referral to college. Our bank manager gave me one. This is why it would have been a joy to help people use their voices to the best of their ability.
7. What would you rather be doing right now, instead of writing your answers to these questions?
Despite the pandemic, there is nothing I would like to do other than answer the questions. Scots are like the Dutch – they don’t do anything they don’t want to do! I have kindly demurred many awards, mostly because I have already been nominated for them. This was a new category and I was delighted that Ruth asked me. To be honest, the pandemic has stopped me talking to so many people. I chat briefly at the grocery store but my Scottish accent sounds like Klingon behind a mask. This post has given me the opportunity for a wee gabfest, as they say in the old country. On a final funny note, I phoned one of my neighbors, during our deep freeze in Texas, to ask if I could take out her wheelie bin. In her New York accent, she queried, “What now?” and I had to go through all the alternatives – big green thing for the rubbish, yellow recycling, trash can, garbage. It was hilarious – and that was without a mask…
In my last post, I mentioned that I thought I had mislaid my parents wedding photographs. Once I found them, and breathed a sigh of relief, I sat and looked at them. I never really knew my father – he was a creature of legend both good and bad. When I was young, my Mum tried her best to paint a balanced picture of Dad despite the unpleasant comments from family members. These photographs were never displayed but I had seen them many times. I was fascinated by the glamour of a professional shot and thought they were both attractive. As a youngster I really looked much more like my father with our dark Mexican roots.
As I gazed at the shots, I realized that neither my Mum nor Dad looked happy. They married after a couple of months of meeting but they were in their late 20’s, more than capable of making a sensible decision. My theory is that they were pregnant with me and I know that my dad asked my mum to have an illegal abortion. I had admired these photos for years, longing to have similarly glamorous wedding shots, but had never noticed the lack of happiness in their eyes. The social mores of two Catholics not marrying after a pregnancy were overwhelming. My mum told me that a distant relative offered to adopt me so the circumstances must have been dire. Eventually my mum divorced my dad in 1976 on the grounds of mental cruelty. He had already remarried in the States.
Then I found a photograph of my mum with a previous American boyfriend above. If anyone recognizes him, you might have been my sibling!
My mum had mentioned that he was a really nice guy, Italian American, but that she hadn’t fallen for him. Maybe she wasn’t ready but my mum looked truly happy in this simple photograph. How I longed for a normal father like him when I was young. As the years have passed I have come to terms with my Dad probably having some mental health and addiction issues (as did my Mum). I have so enjoyed meeting members of my Dad’s family – seeing distinct resemblances both in appearance and also personality. My mum’s bridesmaid, who has stayed close to me, told me many times that my Dad had a fascinating charismatic side that I had inherited. To the right is a photograph of Teddy and I signing the register 38 years ago – now that’s a real smile.
As most of you know, I am obsessed with finding new family members. For the most part, they are long since deceased but within the last few weeks a new, and very much alive, cousin has come into my life. Sarah’s great grandmother was my paternal grandfather’s sister (Nelle and Raymond Dellinger) so we are Dellinger 2nd cousins, one generation between us. We have been excitedly sharing information and photographs to help build a picture of our most interesting family. Sarah had never seen a photo of Raymond, or I of Nelle, so that was very exciting. If you look at Sarah’s gravatar image you will see a resemblance in our smiles. To my astonishment, Sarah thought that I look like a Dellinger. As an only child with little connection to my paternal side, this is all manna from Heaven. Curiously, we both have WordPress Blogs and write similarly. Now we are pondering whether the writing gene comes from the Dellinger side…and why do we have so much Swedish DNA???
Please enjoy this beautifully researched genealogy post below on Sam Houston Dellinger (my great-grandfather) and have a look at Sarah’s blogs – Stories of my Family and A blog dedicated to my love for books
The Dellinger side of the family is full of of fantastic stories. Samuel Houston Dellinger and his wife, Lillie (née Dillingham) were quite the characters and it is not surprising that their independent, pioneer spirit rubbed off on their children (though it manifested quite differently in some of them).
Her bed was an object of degradation. It reeked of alcohol and sweat. Too drunk to make it the bathroom, the bed was stained with urine. Sometimes it smelled of sex and the repugnant odor of her boyfriend. He hated my looks of disgust and barbed comments. It was all too easy for him to look past the sad eyes of a 15 year old girl whose life was falling apart. Mental illness and self-medication had turned her home into a hovel. There was no safe haven.
She had transmogrified from a caring, beautiful, working single mother into a burden for the only person she always loved – me. We went from fairy stories about my missing Prince of a father – handsome but troubled – to the drunken ravings of a mad woman. What made it worse is the ravings were true. My father had asked her to abort the unwanted fetus, me, and if she hadn’t had me her life may have been so much better.
My heart broke into crystalline pieces like a shattered fairy castle. The truth was there and I just chose not to see it. Perhaps I never needed to know all the intimate details of how my father betrayed us. One revelation was that an American relative wanted to adopt me but my mother refused to consider such a possibility. I longed for Aunt Jackie to rescue me but by this stage we were no longer in contact.
Sometimes I reacted with kindness to my mother’s sad life but mostly I became remote with sarcastic comments. After a neighbor asked me to take her home, she was drunk and incapable of walking the few hundred yards, I shoved her into the wall of the house in frustration. She just sobbed and asked me to forgive her. I could not.
In anger I looked at the bed and tore the filthy bedding from it. I recoiled when I realized that it was soaked in urine. Lifting up the mattress to see if it was as bad on the other side, I saw that she had torn open the lining of the bottom divan and it was filled with dozens of mostly empty bottles of whisky. My temper flared and I started pouring the remaining whisky down the bathroom sink to the sound of her plaintive sobbing. She knew that I had been checking to see how many bottles she was drinking. At her worst it was a bottle of whisky a day.
My lovely Antipodean friend, Calm Kate, interviewed me for her new website, “Meet the Bloggers”. It really made me think hard about myself and what I reveal. Now you know almost everything about me… Please go and check out Kate’s site and her other WP blog, Aroused.
Met Chatty Kerry early on and really delighted by her fresh openness on her personal matters. She shares her health issues, voluntary work at the airport, family, travels, thoughts and insecurities .. she is totally herself in a very personable way. She shares great photos of gardens, buildings and scenes both locally and during her exploits into other areas so it’s not surprising that she has published in magazines … must ask her how much they pay? So if you want personal, travel and variety it doesn’t get much better than Kerry!
[Apologies to everyone for my lack of tech skills, Kerry decorated her interview with a delightful collection of photos to illustrate her points but I have no idea how to down load them from PDF or word document … maybe I will work it out and add them later!]
It’s time for some Friday fun! As you know my family are ‘eccentric’ and I have no end of real life stories that would work well in a comedy script. My aunt, who lives in Ireland, married a man in her 40s – he was a little older. They moved from London where they both worked to a newly built bungalow on his family land in County Monaghan. I have no idea why we are a little snotty about coming from County Sligo but they do seem to be a tiny bit less ‘straightforward’ than some of her neighbors. I am really tip-toeing through this so as not to offend any of my Irish followers!
My aunt’s sister in law (her husband from Monaghan’s sister) had gone to join a restrictive French convent near Paris in 1939 and nobody saw her again until the ’70s when they relaxed their rules and allowed her to travel. By this stage she had turned into a strange quasi French and Irish person, uniquely naive and really eccentric. She spoke English with a French accent. So every year she came for a visit and from what I gather…’guests, like poisson, begin to smell after 3 days’. One of the rough straightforward neighbors had been begging to visit while Sister K was there. My aunt was unsure, concerned that some of her regular fecking might upset Sister K.
Finally, out of politeness, she had to give in and invited the neighbor along for afternoon tea. Perhaps she thought the occasion might lend some gravitas? All was delightful and both were probably incomprehensible to each other with strange accents. My aunt breathed a sigh of relief, as they went out the front door to see the neighbor to her car. Perhaps I should have mentioned that it was a gloriously hot day for Ireland, a rarity indeed. So, “goodbye, au revoir”, and the neighbor went into her car.
She immediately jumped out shouting, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I have burnt me fucking arse!“. Sister K’s face was a picture, “Mon Dieu!” and my aunt probably muttered, “For Chrissakes…” Ah, every time I tell that story, I burst out laughing and I hope you did too. Here is a clip for a Youtube video of my favorite satirical and hilarious series, Father Ted, about the Catholic Church in Ireland and the reason for the title. Nuns! Reverse!
I wanted to tell you about my mother in law’s funeral service and give thanks to the wonderful Pastor. In the UK we call them Reverend or Minister but Pastor feels more familiar here in Texas. When my father-in-law died almost four years ago, a new Minister, Reverend Lindsey Sanderson, was just being appointed to their church. Both my mother and father in law were faithful members of their church which was built in a new town, East Kilbride, which was developed in the late 1940s. As a result, a retired Minister who knew my father in law personally performed the service.
Later, I reached out to Lindsey, who is a lovely young woman, when we had a previous crisis with Mum to ask if she could visit and pray with her. We couldn’t get flights immediately and it is a two day journey back to Scotland. At that time Nessie, my mother in law, performed her Lazarus trick and completely recovered from the virus. Lindsey continued to visit regularly and would send emails with current photographs that she had taken. She sang familiar hymns to her and prayed with her. This was an immense comfort to both Teddy and I even though we are not religious. We knew that Nessie was and so it would be a comfort.
On January 2nd we got a call from mum’s care home to say that she was suddenly deteriorating and it seemed like end-stage symptoms. She was very comfortable on end of life medications. Despite all our knowledge and 18 years with Alzheimer’s disease, you are always shocked. It was two hours before we were due to have a little drinks party with friends at our house. We looked at each other and decided not to cancel the party; why not celebrate her very long life? As it is a two day journey to Scotland from Texas so we decided to wait a couple of days to see how things progressed. The staff said she was staying stable and then we got the call in the middle of the night (we are 6 hours behind Scotland) to say she had died peacefully in her sleep on the 4 January 2016. The staff had gone into her room to wake her up and she had passed onto the hereafter.
As soon as we heard that she was failing, I emailed Lindsey to ask if she could visit. She went after Sunday services on the 3rd January and blessed her. When she emailed me in return I knew that this was the end. It’s a small town and Lindsey worked with us and the funeral director to create the perfect service. I was astonished at how appropriate and well thought out the service and hymns were. We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to have a relationship with a Minister that truly did minister her flock with love and compassion. Thank you, Reverend Lindsey Sanderson, of The United Reform Church. This is their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/righeadurc
I know, I know – the irony of my previous post Facebook is the work of the devil! Clearly I was wrong and there are angels at work, too. I would also like to thank John Donnelly of Heritage Funeral Services http://www.heritagefuneralservices.co.uk/ (Thank the Good Lord they don’t have a Facebook page…) and all their wonderful staff. We arrived about a week after mum had died and had asked for a closed casket. Then I wanted to see her – I could see that this was unexpected for the staff but they went out of their way to accommodate me. They did whatever they do and she looked like a beautiful ageing fairy. At the last moment Teddy decided to view her too and was glad that we could see that her spirit was gone and all that was left was an exquisite death mask. Just before we left, they asked us if we would like music at the crematorium and Teddy said that she wasn’t really into music. I looked at him in astonishment and said, “She loved the Sound of Music”. As we entered the crematorium ‘Edelweiss’ was playing and as we left, ‘Climb Every Mountain’. During Lindsey’s shorter service there we sang ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ – a perfect hymn.
This is a link to the beautiful service sheet and hymns Click here to see the service Please look at it, especially if you have a relative with Alzheimer’s because you might love the appropriateness of it. May she rest in peace.