I know there was a lot of division and bigotry in people’s attitudes when I was growing up, but it didn’t seem to translate down to the neighborhood level. At least not in Burkville. At least not that I was aware of.

I experienced a lot of acceptance of people’s differences in my childhood, maybe out of necessity more than anything, as people were likely to depend on each other for various things, including watching out for all the kids in the neighborhood.

I know my parents, particularly my mother grew up with and retained a lot of bigotry in her later years.

My grandparents were always mentioning the Italians that lived next door to them (very large capital I or even a bunch put together IIIItalians ….EYEtalians?).

Later my mother never failed to mention that my cousin was gay every chance she got. “He’s GAY, you know.”  She would say.

Being able to point at another’s supposed weaknesses or failings never failed to give my mother comfort. I think this was because she wasn’t happy with herself. Of course, I can’t see how anyone could be, living her life, but it didn’t seem to deter her. She was comfortable the way she was. I guess she was comfortable with her own unhappiness. She just couldn’t stomach anyone else’s happiness. That was unfathomable and if they were even a small amount of successful, that was threatening to her.

Looking back, it doesn’t bother me, but it did as a child and as a young woman I wanted her approval and support, but of course, it wasn’t forthcoming. It probably wasn’t logical for me to expect, but on an emotional level, I did.

What I got from her was resentment and jealousy.

I see now that it was a function of her disappointment in herself, but at the time I thought it was a reflection of me and I internalized it.

I still don’t know if this was mental illness or a personality conflict (as I quite often thought as an adult) or just a control impulse thing.

I get that mentally ill people DO have impulse control issues, but don’t we all?

Could it be a matter of expectations?

My mother wasn’t expected to control her behavior, so she didn’t. In fact, she felt quite entitled to her opinions and didn’t think too much about what others might think or feel when she expressed them. Even when directed at her children.

Well, I’ll tell you, I thought this made her an uncaring bitch.

So perhaps you could say there was a personality conflict between us. I didn’t think that had much to do with ‘mental illness’. I thought it had to do with my mother’s choices, thoughts, and actions. She didn’t choose to control them and it wasn’t expected of her. This was an easy way out, the way I see it. A path she chose. I think we can learn something from it. I think I have.

Kurt Vonnegut would say we all have ‘bad chemicals’ in our brains. It’s a matter of how we act that is the important thing. We can all make a choice on whether we want to be mentally ill every day or whether we can focus on our mental wellness.

Look, I get that there are people that are outside of this spectrum and there are also emergency situations that can occur. But I’m just saying that having grown up with my mother’s mental illness, I am aware that there is a choice for a lot a people to be well, to be proactive about their health, but they choose illness for whatever reason.

This was my opinion of my mother.

So… she wasn’t happy with herself, right? So.. she didn’t want others to be happy or successful as it was threatening to her, and even though my aunt and uncle were very kind to my mother and they were very good friends growing up, my mother was resentful of their successes and happiness. Therefore she had to mention that my cousin was gay every time his name came up because in her mind this meant that my aunt and uncle weren’t all as happy and successful as we had all supposed.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t have produced a gay child, right?

This was my mother’s bigotry. A product of her childhood, no doubt. But she didn’t fight very hard against it because that would require work, right?

————————————-

As a child, however, I was allowed to play with whoever wanted to play with me and I was grateful for that, even though looking back on it, I’m aware this was also a form of surrogate babysitting.

This was how it was in our neighborhood.

N.K. and I became great friends for a while. Her family was Indian Canadian. Her mother made the most amazing chicken curry with homemade chapatis and she taught N and me how to make them.

This was before this kind of food was generally available as take out.

At least I wasn’t aware of it.

N knew how to make Indian chai and she taught me how, though I also remember drinking copious amounts of Hawaiian Punch at her house with our curry and chapatis.

We loved hanging out in the park across Airport Road.

One summer we set up an impromptu swap meet on the side of the road and sold old books and toys to the passing construction workers to earn extra candy money.

I also remember playing at M.J.’s house (another bestie).

M. had the most amazing and coveted Barbie Dream House. This was a bit surprising as M. and her brother B. were anything but spoiled.

Their parents were divorced but seemed incredibly functional to me. B. lived full-time with his dad and M. with her mom though I remember a lot of visiting back and forth.

Very European (I believe they were Dutch) and sophisticated and functional for all involved.

Every Saturday was chore day at M’s house and I was made to do them along with M if I happened to be hanging around which was fairly often as I recall.

M went on to become a competitive gymnast. She definitely had the petite build for it.

We took some gymnastics together for awhile until I went through a chunky phase and was forced to switch to rhythmics which I loved as well.

One afternoon M’s mom noticed me looking at her copy of The Book of Sex and showed it to me, explaining and answering any questions and was generally very relaxed and open about the subject, much to M’s chagrin.

” Oh, Mom. Come on. Not again!” M said.

Of course, nothing like any kind of regular chores ever went on at our house.

By this time I was relegated to the back office/closet for my bedroom.

This was a room without a door that stood directly across from our back door to the outside. I can remember being terrified that anyone just might be able to come right in in the night and grab me.

Half of this room was taken up by these big cubby type shelves which were to act ostensibly as my closet.

The other half of the room being taken up by a bunk bed that the top level was eventually taken off and turned into a regular bed as I kept falling out of the top level.

Like I said this was essentially a storage room without a door.

So I was supposed to fold my clothes neatly and put them on these cubbies, but what really happened was they were just thrown on the ground and when I needed something I would just root around for it.

All of my friends were very jealous of this as they were made to clean up their rooms, picking up and putting away their clothes and toys etcetera.

I remember M and her mother either picking me up or dropping me off for some function and they visited my room.

M exclaimed, “She’s allowed to just keep it like this!”

I don’t think M’s mom thought that was such a privilege.