I know as children our memories can be distorted based on what we actually remember and know at the time and what we are told about what happened and why. I also thought I had put my own abusive and unstable childhood well behind me at this point but apparently we can still be triggered and not realized it. Like seeing an old toy in the stores and telling my son I used to have one of those this particular memory of one of my childhood homes stood before me like a fresh wound that just happened all over again.
We had made significant progress paying down our mortgage. It became a fun game to pay down large chunks and watch the balance slide down farther and farther, closer to the end. I even boldly set a goal of having it paid off by my birthday this year. We got to a point we could pay it off at any time from our savings too but instead choose to keep paying extra each month to finish it. Then of course I quit my job due to abuse and impacts it was having on my health and needed to reset that timeline goal. We were so close and it was still very manageable to accomplish by year end but that necessity of changing that goal would trigger a memory I thought I had fully dealt with and packed away like most of my childhood. Apparently I had not as this would nag at me to the point I found myself crying over the similarity of what seemed like history repeating itself
I lived in 3 houses by the time I was 4. At first we lived in a cute little pink house on my great grandfather’s horse farm. It was my parents first house, a 2 bedroom one bath old farm hand house painted pastel pink at the edge of the farm. I wouldn’t remember living there only through pictures and from trips when I would drive past it. The second house also on family farmland, this time my dad’s parents dairy farm that connected to my great grandfather’s property. I don’t particularly remember it either other than it burned and then later rebuilt. This third house though I definitely remember and it seems larger than life like most childhood memories can. It was a 3 bedroom one bath home that by today’s standards would be considered very small but it had a small fruit tree orchard in the back and my playhouse that stood on large stilts just in front of the trees. My dad would deliver a dump truck load full of sand for underneath it and I with my brother and sister would play every day there.
My parents would go on to build a barn and garage on the property. We would have horses that my great grandfather would give me as I shared that love with him. One was named Cookie, a tall gray horse that was gentle and friendly. The other Sugar who was a frisky gray-white that liked to nip at you if she didn’t get the first apple. This house was not on family farmland but said in a small town in between my mom and dad’s parents family farms. There was not much more than a small bar, post office, corner market, community park and pall field and library in town. I don’t think there’s still much more than that there still today. Not even a stop light blinked and it wouldn’t be a place tourists passed through even if they took all backroads. It was a town literally no one knew of and yet my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were within miles and we knew everyone in town.
The memory I have though is not those of a small town and the adventures we used to have that triggered things for me. Rather it was the times the three of us kids were sent to the stone walled basement where mom kept her canning and told to be super quiet. We would need to wait forever for the knocking to stop and she would come get us. In preparation we kept books, quiet toys and even blankets down there. At first we thought it was just a game of hide but later I would learn these were bill collectors and the bank coming to get what they could on our debts. At some point in time my dad had stopped sending them money it seemed. He was never home and when he was there was arguing. Lately there had been a lot of arguing and so he was home less and less, apparently also not being home long enough to leave money for the bills.
We always kept a large garden so that between it and the small orchard we always had lots of veggies and fruits to can and preserve. My grandparents would provide meat and milk from the farm but these days our shelves were also running low other than the canned foods. I remember eating homemade mayonnaise and lettuce one summer along with anything that was ripe in the garden or ready pick off the trees. We became hungry a lot of the time as this lack of money started to become normal. There were times too we spent huddled in front of the fireplace in the kitchen at night in a dark house because the power had been cut off. The delivery of sand to the playhouse stopped, my beloved horses sold and it seemed we spent more and more time in the stone walled basement. Being only 7 or 8 I knew something wasn’t right.
The story is my parents were less than 6 months from paying off that house and property. My dad had apparently lost or quit his job, went bankrupt in his side excavating business and never told anyone what was going on. He would spend his days looking like he was going to work just like always but then spend his days three towns over drinking coffee and talking to people. This went on unnoticed until the collectors starting knocking and we were eventually evicted from the house. According to stories I heard, by the time anyone realized how close my parents were to paying off that place and what my dad had done it was too late for the bank to reconsider letting us stay with a loan from family.
This event followed with a divorce, foster care and the remainder of my childhood being a stream of abuse both physical and emotional and trying to grow up so I could get away from it all. I became one of those stories that moved far away, was the first in the family to go to college and my life looked nothing like it did growing up. I was very good with my money and later my own family budget and it was a place of pride for me to see things paid on time all the time and savings grow. I was always a saver and aware of what we spent money on. I liked nice things but took care in ensuring we always had money for the bills. It was never an issue for us but I wasn’t taking any chances either. The lessons of my childhood stuck where this was concerned.
I never even considered this event as the driver behind paying off our own mortgage. We had savings that we could easily pay it off and there wasn’t a real threat to being able to do it even with changing jobs. It was though something that hit and stayed with me as the thought of that memory nipped at me like Sugar used to nip at my shoulder impatient for her treats. I had not even been back to that state in many years. Having parted ways so long ago I didn’t even know where my mom or siblings live and my dad had passed away many years ago. He had remarried and had an entirely new family where he didn’t even bother keeping up with us. I remember being told he only paid one dollar in all the time he should have been paying child support. I have no way of knowing if that is entirely true but I do know there was a significant balance owed on child support when I turned 18 that I never saw anything on.
My life looked nothing like it did when I was a child. I had changed it all and done well in my life. While my career had now reached the point of being an unsatisfying I still worked at it and did well financially. I was also on track to retire early due to the wise choices my husband and I had made over the years. There was also my small business that chugs along and could also be built up to supplement us. We had safety nets in place as much as you can in these days but still something. This memory though nagged at me because I felt at the same place all over again. I felt like that young child hiding in a stone walled basement among the canned and preserved veggies and fruits waiting for the bill collector to give up knocking.
I recently even looked up at that house I grew up in on the realty apps. The barn was still there and the house showed the wear of many years. It had changed colors and owners even being foreclosed on once or twice more since I lived there as a child. Maybe it was the house’s karma started by my parents so long ago. The assessment per the app listing showed I could have easily purchased the home for cash if I cared to. I didn’t and carefully packed away these memories once more, preferring only to fondly remember Cookie and Sugar eating apples from the orchard and the better times. Nature has that way about it though of always reminding you of how far you have come.
That’s the thing about life isn’t it? Always showing you something even when you don’t want to see it. Perhaps this trigger was to show me this isn’t the same situation and I can release what I didn’t even realize I was holding onto. Maybe it’s some longing of a home and family that crumbled and doesn’t even seem like it existed in my life but for some reason I think about from time to time. I prefer to see it as a journey I’ve traveled and how far in not only physical distance I have gone but in all ways. It isn’t necessary for me to hide in my life. I don’t have to fear things like I did as a child. I can do quite well for myself perhaps because of these circumstances I grew up in. Maybe we need that reminder every now and then.
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