We systematically confuse fleeting gratification with real joy or lasting happiness.

I don't know about you, but I see and hear an awfully lot about gift from both children and adults. When Santa Claus, Christmas, and WalMart crushes occur, all in the name of gifts in celebration of a fantasy birthday, I know I want no part of it.

Grasping, clawing, anticipating something isn't what Winter Solstice is to me. What I want from the shortest day of the year is the reflection on the past, imagining a preferred future, and living fully in the present moment.

Snow, cold weather, hot cocoa and apple cider, popcorn, feasts on winter vegetables, cranberry and orange relish a rare delight, pets covered with flakes of ice, cakes soaked in flavorful elixirs, family and friends gathered together, burning a yule log, these are the things I remember about my childhood. 

Gifts weren't a part of our festivities. During WW II, our fathers were off building airfields in foreign lands, our mothers were in Spokane working for Kaiser Aluminum, and we cousins lived with our Whitehead grandparents.

Grandma dressed us cousins up in heavy coats, scarves, gloves and boots, and we trudged through the snow to take winter clothes and homemade quilts to the poor families of Tekoa. They offered us homemade hot cider, coffee and tea and we had a whale of a good time. We also made up packages of heavy clothing and non-perishable foods made with rationed sugar and fats that used up our monthly allotments, to send to our war-torn European families.  Belgium suffered terribly during the war and we knew they were actually starving to death. 

Winter celebrations weren't about us. It was about caring for people we knew who needed help to survive. We made things from old coats, and we knitted and quilted and crocheted all year in anticipation of giving warmth to others. "Do you think Mrs. Mitchell will like this color?" or "Will Lavonne or Evelyn or James be able to use this?" Or "will John and his family, who was on Public Emergency Work, manage with this?" Or "Will Earl, who was a woodman and earned about $110.00 that year, be able to use this?"

Farmhands made about $500 per year, railroad workers about $1,500 to 2,500 per year. Teachers earned $1,350 per year, hardware salesmen earned about $1,500, and Washington Water Power Linemen earned about $1,560 per year, according to US Census 1940 records. It was very common for three or four generations to share one house with one or two earning income. 

We had one bath a week on Saturday night, the entire household using the same water, in the galvanized tub that was used to boil laundry in every Tuesday. In the winter, all laundry was hung from the ceiling on a rope pulley system. The sheets hung down to tickle the heads of the grown-ups and we kids would jump up and touch them, seeing who could touch the highest. Our ice was delivered every week into an ice box. 

These are the things that I remember as a child during those dreadful dark days after the Great Depression and during WW II. Memories of 1940-45 vividly dance through my head, with cardboard boxes cut to fit our shoes that had holes in them, and hand-me-downs of clothes or the material to make clothes for the younger ones. 

We had fun and never felt poor. We had very little and were grateful for what we had. We thought in terms of the welfare of the town and its members. We were required to participate; it wasn't as though we were forced to do any of the tasks, they were just part of belonging to a clan. I feel very grateful for the nurturing environment that my grandmother provided for us. The men were all gone, except for one who worked in the pea warehouse and his was a necessary job for the war effort. In 1945 the men returned, and violence resumed.  

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Interesting point about the peacefulness of a mostly female community.

Yes, I was surprised when I wrote the last sentence and I started to cry. Things did change in 1945. Helpless, afraid, anxious, depressed. That is what I remember after the men came back home. 

You were right to cry, it's so painful to have to go back after someone gives you the love and care you need.

We travelled along the same route. I was almost in a panic when the time came to go back to my parents. But those short spells of loving care taught me how things could or should be: once I grasped the idea I never stopped working towards my ideal.

Blossoms in the snow; a metaphor for surviving and being able to flourish, even in harsh conditions. {{{{Chris}}}}, I send you a virtual hug and know we are not alone in the process of healing wounds inflicted when we were too young to protect ourselves. That is the good news now, we can protect ourselves, reject those who would hurt us, embrace those who support our flourishing.


This string reveals so many of us emerging through the memories into a vision of a better life worthy of living.  

Thanks Joan, and I send hugs for you and for many more people who taught me and warmed me and smiled at me.

Homework for January 7: read Joan's story. I cannot wait to hear their comments!

Joan, I'm interested in your story but am reluctant to ask questions that would seem like prying. Maybe others who have posted with you for some time already understand the dynamics of your early life. Were there healthy, positive females besides your grandmother? Were all the men in your extended family hurtful and violent?

How did religion tie in to all of this? (You did mention Saturday night baths when your Grandmother was in charge which made me think that church attendance might have been a part of those days when the men were gone.)

Oh yes, I have been chewing on my story for several years on Atheist Nexus (AN) trying to sort out the good from the bad, and creating a healthier way to live. The old timers on this site have made this journey with me; they confront me when I think in circles, or challenge my assumptions that are not true. They give me ideas and prompt me in helpful ways. Always gracious, and clear, my journey is becoming easier. 

As to the men in my family, I didn't realize what happened all those years ago and how those events shape how I view men and my relationship with them. 

OK, old timers, you have read all that follows, so you can stop reading here. 

Writing this piece I wrote, "In 1945 the men returned, and violence resumed."  It hit me like an ocean wave: my father beating my mother and uncles beating their wives, an uncle throwing my aunt to the floor and beating her with his fists until she was unconscious, uncles picking me and my cousins up by our ears and laughing as we writhed in pain. Men smoking Camels cigarettes, taking in a deep drag and blowing directly into our faces, grabbing our noses and twisting until we cried, and blood ran. When anyone objected, child or mother or aunt, or grandmother, we all suffered. To me, a man is a thug and brute and children are innocent victims and women submit out of fear for all our safety. 

That is, until this lovely group of men on AN started rejecting such barbaric behaviors and supporting me and other women in their struggle to get free of the trauma of violence in the home. Some of the men grew up in violent homes and many of them had more serious injuries than I did. They, too are victims of violence in the home. It was something no one talked about, many rebuked those who objected, and blamed the victims, whether female or male child. 

I turned to the institutions of my culture for safety. I talked to my family members, for example and an aunt told me she knew what I said was true but "we don't talk about it". I talked to ministers and was given what I call "The Passive Gospel" yield, pray, obey, turn the other cheek, crucify myself daily in imitation of the crucified christ, and rejoice in my crucifixion. I talked to my medical doctors and they seemed unwilling or unable to help me. Thankfully, professionals have to report abuse now, and that came about as awareness grew of the incident rate and long range consequences of family violence.

"Among the subdued and academic but still revolutionary events of 1962 was the publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association of the article "The Battered-Child Syndrome," which completely transformed the way we think about children in our society."

~ The Battered-Child Syndrome: 50 Years Later 

The Battered Wife Syndrome, a theory developed by Lenore Walker in the 1970’s that is now associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)," and is now called the "Battered Person Syndrome". 

Battered Person Syndrome

I wrote a masters' thesis, "Toward a theory of family violence"  in 1977 and a doctoral dissertation on "A splendid heresy" in 1979 in which I discovered the role of religion in maintaining and perpetuating family violence. 

My goal now is to confront religious dogma that makes solving family violence problems so much more difficult. The ultimate goal is to develop training materials for women making a decision to take responsibility for their own safety and happiness. I experiment with how to write my story with strategies for getting free on AN and get outstanding feedback from those who follow my story. Little by little, my effort to get it into book form is happening. 

Thanks for asking.

I was thinking just that when I read that last line Joan wrote. It sort of startled me, then it made me sad.
Thank you Joan for sharing this, and for the wonderful way you tell your stories. It makes me feel like I am there, just like a good book that draws the reader in.
What a wonderful way to celebrate, and what a neat Grandmother you had. I had one too. I am missing her tonight.

Mindy, thanks for your support for all these months. You have always been able to hear and understand that I am trying to bring about positive change in the area of family violence. I notice I have been writing in a lighter mood recently and for that I am grateful. I think having cancer made me pay attention to what is important, and right now, being happy is a great motivator. 

How is your son's strep throat and diabetes? Any new developments with your daughter's new friend? I hope all of you are able to be really healthy and happy. 

Hi Joan!  You are welcome for the support and thank YOU for always being supportive.  That's what friends do!  I'm so glad that you are happy.  You are an awesome person Joan, and AN is even more terrific for having you and your wisdom here.

My son's strep is getting better, but he stayed home one more day, as he is weak from not eating much, and his job is physical.  He is not completely better, but getting there!  His type 1 diabetes is fine.

My daughter, however, is suffering from a deep depression.  She was unable to start her job this morning. I feel very helpless to help her.  She is going to take a couple of classes next semester at the local community college in order to start working her way back to the university (one that's closer to home.)  She is also going to volunteer at our local no-kill animal shelter, because animals bring her joy.  We told her to not worry about money, that is not the only thing that makes a person productive.  Working towards her ultimate goal, and helping helpless animals are both productive things to do.  This morning she asked if she, my mom, and I could go to breakfast, and of course we said yes!  If she wants to get out of bed I'm all for it! 

Thanks for listening my friend! xo Mindy

Your daughter volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter sounds like a good idea. The animals that are so vulnerable, and her care and concern for them may get her mind activated and focused on trying to place unwanted animals. If she is anything like I am, she will bring them home to nurture. 

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