I was the baby in the family, born 11 and 8 years, respectively, after my siblings. Not until just a few years ago did I hear that my mother “farmed out” my sister and brother to strangers. The term usually referred to children who were sent to a relative back in the day, but in my siblings’ case it was an indenture. My brother and sister had to work for their keep, ages six and 11.
They told me these stories as part of my research while writing Wild Violets, a romanticized version of my Mother as a flapper and entrepreneur in the 1920’s in San Francisco. As the family secrets unfolded, the romanticism flew right out the window. And that’s okay; remember what I told you about your story taking hold and telling itself?
But the enormity of my mother’s actions still didn’t really sink in… grab my heart. It happened so long ago, it happened in a different time, it didn’t happen to me, I told myself.
Until… I began to actually write that part of the story. Here were these two little kids dumped at the front door of a farm house by their mother and her current boyfriend. The kids had no warning, no time frame, didn’t even know if they would ever see their mother again. And for no good reason. The family wasn’t destitute… she owned a bar and grill in San Francisco. There were no addiction problems unless you counted our mother’s addition to men.
As I wrote those pages, I finally became invested in what had happened to my brother and sister over seventy years ago. And my heart broke. To finally see why, in part, they became the people they are today. Why, at times, my sister bitterly resented me. Why my brother was an overachiever and obsessed with family.
In my own way, I too was abandoned by our mother. No, she never farmed me out. Nothing so overt as that. But she chose her men over me, time and time again. Her desires always trumped my childhood needs. I was a left-over. A possession that she could put down or pick up again on a whim. Showed off to her current beau or friends and then set in a corner, like an old broom.
And if you, my readers, hear bitterness leaking through my words… it’s not for me and how I was raised.
Because I have overpowered my past and empowered myself to be fierce, tough and resilient. Seeking my talent and achieving my goals. (Yes, I still have abandonment issues)
The bitterness and heartache you hear is for those two little kids dumped at a stranger’s door!