As a legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents; she dreamed of writing something else. Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, so she began working on several creative writing projects, one being a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse. She is among 14 contributors to Loving for Crumbs: An Anthology of Moving On (by Jonna Ivin), which has been released in ebook format on Amazon and the paperback version will follow soon. Sherrey is married and lives with her husband, Bob, in Milwaukie, OR, where they operate a small cottage industry manufacturing artistic music stands. They have three grown children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Their tuxedo cat, Maggie, rules the roost.
When I married my second husband in 1981, I envisioned living out our lives in Tennessee. It was MY home state, where I was born and raised. Other than two years living outside Nashville while in college, I’d never thought of living elsewhere.
I had been well-versed by my mother in the belief that one never “left home” — your immediate family implied here. Her temperamental nature had also been engrained in mine. It was understood that she was the matriarch and hers was the last word.
Fast forward to 1983. A friend of my husband’s called from Oregon and offered him a lucrative opportunity in Portland. We had struggled financially in the intervening two years, and the offer would improve our circumstances. The choice to make a physical move was easy for the two of us. However, there were contingences to be faced.
Moving meant pulling up stakes and not just moving two adults. We needed to consider my son from my first marriage. Craig was 12 and going into middle school next year. His reaction to being uprooted from school and friends was important to the success of this move. For Bob, it meant leaving behind his two children from a previous marriage. And it also meant telling my mother we’d be moving.
Telling Craig turned out to be a joyous occasion. His excitement for the adventure was infectious. Telling my mother was another story, and it’s a story for another day. Let’s just say she wasn’t in favor of our leaving Tennessee and demanded that we stay in the area.
We left Tennessee late June and drove to Oregon. The trip was treated as an opportunity to see this great country of ours as Craig and I had never been farther west than the western border of Tennessee. Bob drove a Ryder truck carrying our worldly possessions and pulling his pickup with our cat carefully ensconced on the seat beside him. Craig and I came behind in our Chevy Citation, back seat down with house plants, suitcases, food for the trip, and two hyperactive dogs behaving badly along the way.
Each day on the road meant I was stepping onto new turf. Places I had never seen. Cultural and regional differences I had not experienced. And farther away from familial influences. What I had not left behind was baggage that wasn’t packed in boxes or suitcases. I carried 36 years of listening to Mama’s controlling and verbally abusive language and her emotional manipulations. It’s how I thought relationships and marriages existed.
As our life together in our new home in Oregon began, I assumed the mantle that had been passed on to me. I demanded. I used controlling language and antics. I tossed a temper tantrum or two or more around when things were not going well.
My husband was, and still is, a quiet and patient man. He allowed my venting and controlling for awhile. But one day, in the midst of some matriarchal moment I was having, he softly said, “Honey, you’re acting just like your mother.”
It was as if someone had yanked me up by the hair of my head. I could not believe what I’d heard! I never wanted to be like her. I had longed for years to be away from her. How dare he say that I was like my mother. I stomped off to our bedroom and slammed the door. Tears stung my eyes and ultimately streamed down my cheeks. Hurt — he had hurt me with his words.
As I sat on our bed reflecting on what had happened, I realized how he must feel in the midst of my tirades and shouting. I realized I had likely hurt him on more than one occasion and surely had tested my husband’s patience. However, I remained ignorant to those facts because I was so steeped in myself and my own behavior of control.
Suddenly, I knew that I could learn from my husband a new way of living in partnership. I began to watch his every behavior. I saw how he acted with Craig. With friends and co-workers, how he interacted with neighbors and fellow church members. Despite his strength of commitment on certain points with Craig, he did it in a way that gained Craig’s respect.
And Bob was the same with me. Patient, loving, kind. How could I become this kind of person? How could I shed the history that had been a part of my entire life? A history of domination and control by unpleasant methods.
I simply began day by day to perform my own kind of meditation, a reflection on the world around me, watching other people’s interactions. The world became my textbook. Casting aside unfavorable behaviors and focusing on those where harmony and love dominated, but also where there was room for discussion, agreeable disagreement between parties, and love and respect were the basis for relationship.
Changing my outlook on life and my relationships didn’t happen overnight. A very gradual process occurred and like any other habit, my temperament would sneak up on me and I’d have a setback. The day I knew I was making real progress was a proud one.
I was on the telephone talking with my mother. Our conversations were often contentious while I listened to her blame Bob for where we were living (i.e. so far away from my family) and her questioning of his treatment of her grandson.
When I didn’t raise my voice as she did and refused to enter into an argument with her, she pointed out that “Bob is changing you.” I smiled into the phone and confirmed her words.
“Yes, he is. His love is making a great difference in my life.”
Silence . . . dead silence emanated from the other end of the phone. I knew I had hit my mark, and Bob had hit his. He had taken the girl out of Tennessee and away from the past, and he had brought a growing and changing woman to Oregon.
I was moving on!
- CHANGE means…making a difference (Belinda Nicoll)
- CHANGE means…turning “what if?” into “why not?” (Eric S. Wyatt)
- CHANGE means…making one decision (David Chislett)
- CHANGE means…missing the smell of safety (Trudi Taylor)
- CHANGE means…being gutsy (Sonia Marsh)
As a writer and personal coach, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life. If you’d like to share a story about what change means to you (or to one of your story characters), contact me to make a guest contribution to this insightful story series.