Monday, April 23, 2012


This has been a major issue for me throughout my life. It still comes back to bite me at the most unexpected times.

When I was a baby and toddler, my grandfather was the most important person in my life. That’s because I was the center of his universe. He spent every minute of his time at home with me.

When I was born, my parents lived in a little two-room house behind my mother’s family home. Each night, my grandfather tapped the kitchen window on his way down the driveway to let my grandmother know he’d arrived. Then he headed straight to me. We spent at least an hour together each evening, Grandpa reading me book after book or carrying me around the ‘big house’ pointing out each item and naming it. No wonder I had a fifty-two word vocabulary at a year! (Mom was sure no one would believe it, so she documented all the words in my baby book.)

Grandpa read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (commonly referred to as “’Twas the Night before Christmas”) so often that when I was sixteen months old, he stood me on the dining room table, and I recited the whole poem at breakneck speed for all my grandparents’ friends. (I actually remember looking down at my little patent leather Mary Janes while doing this.)

On the weekends, Grandpa took me everywhere with him. To this day, lumberyards and hardware stores are my favorite places. The smell of freshly-cut wood, the gleam of hardware, and all the intriguing gadgets bring back wonderful memories.

Then one day, Grandpa didn’t come home. Because I was only twenty-six months old, no one told me what happened or talked to me about Grandpa or death. I have vivid memories of standing at the screen door of the ‘little house’ day after day, waiting to hear his footsteps on the driveway. They never came.

Five years later, my dad went to work one day and didn’t return. Because he left for work before I woke and returned after I went to bed, I almost never saw him during the week. On the weekends, he was usually out in the garage or at a neighbor’s house building things. That environment was not considered suitable for anyone of my age or gender. (Hey, Dad, I can take apart and fix nearly anything, so your mechanical skills passed to me. Also to my brother, but he did get to spend some time with you, even though he was nearly three years younger.)

I have fewer memories of my dad than of Grandpa, but the day of his death is etched in my mind as though it happened yesterday. I remember getting off the bus, looking down the street, and seeing lots of cars at my house, some of them unfamiliar. The walk seemed endless as I tried to figure out what was going on. It was a weekday, and Mom should have been at work.

I recall entering the house and seeing my grandfather at the end of the hall with his arm around Mom. This was particularly curious since my paternal grandfather and my mother mutually loathed each other.

I can still hear my mom telling me that my dad was dead, looking at my relatives and the neighbors, and realizing that they were expecting a reaction. My thought was, I guess I should cry. But I hadn’t yet connected any emotion to hearing the news. Always a pleaser, however, I managed some tears. 

My aunt gave me a glass of tomato juice.

I was sent back to school the next day.

Several days later, the funeral was held. I begged to be allowed to attend, but following the best advice of the day, Mom wouldn’t let me. I never missed a day of school following my father’s death. And we never discussed it or grieved together as a family until about fifty years later.

As an adult, I realized that denial was Mom’s method of putting one foot in front of the other in order to raise two small children alone. We owe her such a great debt by choosing the hard path. My grandmother wanted us to move back to the family home. Thank God she chose not to do that! The two women did not get along well, and life with Grandma would have been horrible.

Instead, we stayed in our neighborhood that was truly an extended family. We used to joke that we didn’t dare to do anything wrong because our parents would hear about it before we got home. We had a large support network, but I was an early ‘latchkey kid’ responsible for my younger brother.

As an adult, several of the other parents in the neighborhood told me they would have liked to have done more for us, but mother’s stubborn pride did not allow her to accept any help. As a child, all I knew was that we could count on any of the other parents in case of emergency. And that we were very, very poor. (Dad only left enough insurance to bury him.)

Of course, another reason I’m grateful that Mom chose to stay in Alhambra was that Larry grew up in the same neighborhood.

I felt abandoned first by my grandfather, then by my father, and then by Mom when she went back to work. She was physically present, but was emotionally unavailable to both of us. Again, I understand that it was her coping mechanism, but we both felt very insecure as kids.

All these feelings came back as I wrote Ghost Writer (coming this summer from Oak Tree Press). My protagonist, Nan Burton, feels abandoned when her parents decide to take an extensive trip, just when she’d like to have them available for help. She feels abandoned, but also feels guilty. Just as I did, however, she experiences a sense of accomplishment when she’s able to cope with her problems by herself. 

Have you ever felt abandoned? Are there other childhood insecurities that continue to evoke emotions in adulthood? How do you cope with them? (I write about them.)


  1. Good writing Lorna!! Isn't it great that the Lord can bring us peace and comfort when we experience these feelings and emotions? Miss you! -Kasey

  2. Thanks, Kasey! We miss you, too! Thanks for posting photos of the baby on Facebook. She's adorable!

  3. Wow, that's quite a remembrance. They didn't do death very well back in the day. Not that it's ever easy, but not telling kids or letting them talk about it sure isn't the best way. Looking forward to your book.

    1. Thank goodness the 'authorities' are now more sensitive about children's feelings. But I've been able to use my own experience to help others, and I'm grateful for that.