short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Monday, October 5, 2009


That my grandfather died was not troubling. It was a relief. What was troubling was that I let him die deliberately. It was not chance; it was a choice, and the guilt dogged me for more than 40 years.

Pop (the name my grandfather preferred) had a special affection for the girls in the family. In fact, we three older girls in the 8-Pack, my brother's term for the eight children in our family, just whet Pop’s appetite for more. Soon, he was sexually abusing our slightly younger girl cousins, as well.

We girls had only one conversation about the matter, and I remember it clearly even now. My younger sisters, Danielle and Katrina, and I were in the bathroom together. Our parents were asleep. In this conversation, we were comparing notes about what happened when Pop babysat us. It turns out that he had prurient interests whenever he came close to any of us girls. I wanted to tell Ma, but Katrina urged me to say nothing. “How many beatings do you think you can survive?” she asked.

Katrina was always worried about staying alive because Ma was extremely physically abusive and would find highly creative and life-threatening ways of beating us, such as pulling us down the stairs by our hair, coming after us with knives, hitting us with wooden objects, and even at times biting us. I was willing to risk everything and anything for “the principle of the matter,” but in this case, it was clear that the risk would be useless. Just thinking about what might happen, Danielle fainted, her typical ruse to avoid beatings and other unpleasantness. So, giving in to the petrified urgings of my sisters, I said nothing to Ma. Instead, I listened to her extol Pop, her father, with warm heart and misty eyes and tell us how lucky we were that he was willing to baby-sit us when she and Dad wanted to go out.

With Pop, one wore pants, not skirts, and quickly made oneself scarce. Avoiding Pop, however, was not always possible, and wearing pants in a community where girls were expected to wear dresses was not always possible, either. On one visit to my grandparents, it seemed safe to wear a dress since there were ten of us descending upon our grandparents and we were all going to sit around the kitchen and talk. Still somewhat naïve — after all, I was only nine — I mistakenly assumed that there could be no danger in that. However, as soon as we arrived, Grammy said to me, “Elizabeth, go see what Pop is doing in the basement. He made a bureau for you and is painting it. See if you like the color.”

“Oh, Grammy,” I replied. “Whatever the color is, I will like it.” I spoke bravely and strongly but trembled inside, feeling alone in that room of eleven people.

“No, no, go down and look,” Grammy insisted. I came up with a myriad of creative excuses not to go into the basement, each one more lame but more urgent than the one before. Grammy would not entertain them. She thought that there was something “good” for me down there. She did not know that it was a lion’s den, and the lion was lying in wait for me (or for any girl relative who might be innocently thrown to him). Dismissing my pleas to stay upstairs as a childish desire to remain with the grownups, she led me down the stairs and handed me over to the lion.

Perhaps she will stay, I thought hopefully but incorrectly. “Here is Elizabeth,” she announced to Pop. I felt like I was being “served” to him as some kind of entrée. I know that Grammy had no idea what would happen next, what always happened next. After all, we always emerged from the lion’s den healthy on the outside albeit bruised inside. The kinds of mauling we experienced were well hidden under clothes.

I turned to go back upstairs with her, but she firmly turned me over to my grandfather, standing me next to the half-painted blue bureau, saying “Perhaps you would like to help Pop paint.” Painting, I thought, is not what Pop ever has in mind for me.

As soon as my grandmother disappeared, I became numb for an instant. I was once again in the lion’s den alone.

Pop lay down his paintbrush and in one quick movement, deftly slid his paint-covered, rough fingers into my body with a practiced hand. “You are a good girl,” he whispered. “Gram does not let me touch her, but you understand. I need you to understand. It is important that you be a good girl for Poppy.”

As he pulled me closer, I felt the hardening in his pants, something that no 9-year-old girl should know anything about. Although I was physically pinned, my mind was free, and I desperately searched for a way to distract him long enough to get away from him and back upstairs.

“Grammy said she would be right back down,” I said to him, hoping that he would be afraid of getting caught. Grammy was a matriarch of formidable proportions, and she was able to control Pop like no other.

That argument was ineffective, however. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, as he began nuzzling my neck, “we can finish before she comes back. It won’t take long. She won’t know. I just need you to help me take care of this.” With those last words, he rubbed his free hand along the protrusion in his pants, and, growing excited and breathing heavily, he fumbled with his zipper.

At that moment, my eye fell on the paintbrush. A weapon!

“Look, Pop,” I said. “Here is the paintbrush. Grammy wants us to paint. If no more gets painted, she will wonder what happened. I am going to paint.”

I was able to catch him off-guard as his zipper jammed, and I quickly twisted away. I, too, had become practiced at these encounters. Dipping the paintbrush into paint, I quickly began to paint the bureau, putting dark blue where light blue belonged. That distracted him long enough to say, “Stop! You’re messing up the paint job.”

At that point, I handed him the paintbrush, saying “You finish it!” With that, I ran upstairs.

“How do you like the bureau?” asked Grammy.

“It’s very nice,” I answered. Right, nice! I hated that bureau for the next nine years that it stood in my bedroom.

My bedroom, with or without that bureau, was no haven. Whenever Pop babysat us, I never slept. If I did, I would awaken to 250 pounds of Pop on top of me. Sometimes I would hear him coming up the stairs. He was a big man, and climbing stairs caused him to breathe heavily. In those cases, if it were not winter, I would climb out of my bedroom window onto the sloping second-story roof and hide under one of the old-fashioned New England eaves, pulling back against the angle created by the intersection of the eave with the side of the house, hoping that no neighbor would notice that “Elizabeth is on the roof again” and solicitously call my grandfather. With eight children and ten rooms in the house, it could be anyone’s guess as to where I was — or, at least, that was my thinking. Pop could not squeeze through the tiny attic window, anyway.

When he could not find me, he would amble off to Katrina’s and Danielle’s bedroom to tuck them in. Familiar with his special tucking-in routine, I felt like a coward that I watched him leave in relief and did not come to the rescue of my sisters. Of course, my 50 pounds was no match for his 250, so I just crawled farther under the eaves and hoped that the two girls could protect each other.

When I became a teenager, I brought even greater joy to my grandfather, who always expressed delight in seeing me. “Pop really loves Elizabeth,” everyone would say.

“With love like that,” I would think, “let him love someone else!”

One morning, my father dropped me off at my grandparents’ house in the city before school. (We had no school bus in the country and 13 miles was too far to walk.) I was still tired from one of Ma’s late-night beatings and fell asleep while waiting for a friend to stop by to walk to school with me. That was a big mistake. Grammy had already gone to work, and when my friend stopped by, Pop told her that I would be out sick that day.

I woke up to the sound of the bedroom door being locked from the inside. Lying on my stomach and watching through half-closed eyes, I saw Pop remove his pants. I had a very good idea what was coming next and realized that there was no way out because Pop was between me and any exit. Then, nearly immediately he was on top of me, trying first to remove my clothes, then to turn me over. I clung desperately and wordlessly to the sides of the bed. I have no idea where I got my strength because for a young teenage girl to win a strength contest with a former lumberjack and blacksmith was unrealistic, but win I did. Unable to "awaken" me or turn me over, he was pondering his next move when the front doorbell rang.

“Saved by the bell!” I thought, as relief washed over me. “Literally!” Who rang that bell and why? That was a wonderful mystery, but not one I was going to waste any time solving.

As Pop went off to answer the unexpected doorbell, I did not wait to see who, if anyone, was actually at the door but quickly grabbed my school bag, raised the window, jumped to the ground, and ran off to school, having thwarted yet another attempted rape. I arrived at school a little late but elated: I had won a show of strength in more than one sense of that expression. Serendipity had once again protected me.

Serendipity and I had to thwart many such attempts. Ma was constantly putting me in Pop’s charge. Whenever I complained, Ma would hit me. Whenever I suggested an alternative babysitter, Ma would hit me. Whenever I tried to reason that perhaps I was old enough not to need a babysitter, Ma would hit me. And in every instance, Pop would show up with a smile to watch over me.

The greatest opportunity for Pop arose when Ma decided that it was time for me to learn to drive a car and that Pop would teach me. I did not need many lessons; I had been driving a tractor for many years. I imagined being with Pop alone in the car on the isolated roads in our farm community and knew that this opportunity spelled disaster. I refused the lessons. Ma demanded. I still refused. Ma called me a bitch and a brat. I still refused — I was used to being called names, anyway. Ma hit me and spat in my face. I still refused the lessons — and reciprocated Ma's attack with an equally forceful hit-and-spit counterattack. I knew I could win this battle because no one could make me get into the car. I had free will even if free will came with physical and emotional abuse. Both were preferable in my mind to sexual abuse. So, I learned to drive a car only after Pop died.

Thank God, Pop did die. Katrina, Danielle, and I were teenagers at the time, and we were the only ones with him when he departed our universe. He was supposed to be babysitting us. He made some popcorn for us, a talent he had that all his grandchildren enjoyed. (Even bad people have some good traits.) Then he sat down, took a deep breath, put his head back, and stopped breathing. I watched with the dawning realization and hope that he was dying. When he did not take a next breath, I told my sisters that something was wrong with Pop. I was pretty sure that they knew what was going on, but they said nothing.

At the time, unspoken thoughts were the safest ones because of the steps I chose to take next. Rather than going into the kitchen after Pop’s heart medication, I walked slowly to a neighbor's apartment. There was a part of me that said this was wrong; any human life should be saved. Another part, however, said that this was right. Nature had determined that Pop's life was at an end, so why should I do something artificial to prolong it, as well as prolonging the abuse of myself and the other girls in the family. My decision was as much a matter of self-preservation as it was a form of protection for others. I would not consider it altruistic. Later, I rationalized that I had not denied Pop his medicine because he had not asked for it. Instead, I had left it in the hands of Nature, and Nature ultimately had given the female side of the family a reprieve.

The neighbor came, determined that Pop was dead, and made all the proper phone calls. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I watched the coroner carefully as he checked Pop, wanting to be sure that Pop was, indeed, dead, very dead, as dead as the chair he was still sitting upright in and would not, like a zombie in a horror movie, suddenly come to life and terrorize us again.

Dozens of town folk showed up at church for Pop’s funeral. He was clearly very popular in town, and, like my parents, he had been an ardent church-goer. As Pop’s immediate kin, my family sat up front and center. We were all decked out in our Sunday-nice clothes. With folded hands, outward demureness, and inward relief, we waited for the final sentence in the last chapter of Pop’s life to be spoken. That sentence shocked all of us victims of Pop’s sexual addictions: “This man has been a pillar of the community and a great example to all of us in his godliness. May all the men in our community follow his example!”

I could only imagine a town gone wild with orgy and wondered where the morals were. How could a minister of the church say such things? Those words were nails not in Pop’s coffin but in mine, in the coffin of atheism that I had been building for myself for 16 years. From that day forward, for me, any concept of God was also dead. I had no idea whom or what the members of the church were serving, but in my mind, if the minister was promoting sexual abuse of children, or equally bad, did not have any idea of my grandfather’s proclivities, I wanted nothing to do with him, the church, or what the church represented. It gave the final impetus to my fateful youth sermon a few months later in which I suggested that an atheistic upbringing was preferable to being raised in hypocrisy, a sermon that ended in my family being permanently expelled from the church. At that time and for many years afterward I did not realize that one cannot judge God by the people who enthusiastically attend church, proclaim their faith in public ways while practicing evil, or really do worship God but suffer from the weakness of the flesh.

The trauma did not end with Pop’s burial. Afterward, I lived with the conviction that I had murdered him. Even though I rationalized that Nature took him, he was not old (64 years old) and could have lived longer had I brought him his medicine. I knew that, and so did my grandmother.

“You are 16 years old,” she admonished me. “You are capable of knowing what was going on, and you knew where his medicine was. Why did you not give it to him?” She looked at me questioningly. I think deep down she knew I had intentionally not given him his medicine, but she had no understanding as to why I would withhold it from him. It was not a question that I ever answered for her. The truth would only have hurt her, and she had done nothing to deserve such hurt.

The instant Pop died I forgave him for his sexual appetite that would not be satiated by someone of his own age and was only whetted by children who were helpless in his grasp. To some extent I felt vindicated that I had taken charge of the situation and "gotten back" at him by not giving him his medicine. Some day I would forgive myself for my helplessness, for my reluctance to tell someone who might have been able to put a stop to it, for taking the coward’s way out and letting Nature deal the death blow. Someday, I would do that, thanks to a divine lesson, but not right away for such a day does not come quickly nor such an act easily.

Excerpted from Blest Atheist, copyright 2009.


  1. I always reciprocate a visit; what an entry to start with.

    I won't judge based on my own personal prejudices and life experiences; I will simply say that, in my view of this read, you have nothing to forgive yourself for. It's regretful that you had to live your young life like that.

    Your background in education is very evident in your prose. I'll be back to read more.

  2. Firstly, I just want to say that I am sorry. I don't even know you but for what you went through, no one ever should have to endure. I am sorry. Do not ever blame yourself for what happened. You were still a child and even if you did get the medication in time that is no guarnatee that he would have been saved. I pray your heart would be made whole and no guilt would be put on you from anyone in this matter.

  3. Thanks, Skunkfeathers. (Where does that moniker come from?)

    Diane, I had not considered that even with the medication, he might have died anyway. You are right, of course. Thanks for the comment.

  4. What awful memories to have of a grandfather. Don't feel guilty, it's so sad there was no one to protect you and see what was really happening and no one you could confide in. Inspite of your young age, you were able to fend him of in some ways without giving in and suffering it, you had strength. Still you could not completely hate him if you can feel guilt. You have a good heart.
    God Bless

  5. Thanks, Being Me. I think God protected me more times than I knew back then and gave me some insights that I would not have otherwise have that I needed to protect both my body and my psyche. Who rang the doorbell? Where did my unusual one-time physical strength come from? The answer would seem that it came from divine help although I did not recognize it back then. Thanks for the comment.

  6. PS. And no, in spite of everything that has happened to me, there is no hate within me. Hate is counterproductive.

  7. I am sick to my stomach...I don't believe for one minute your grandma didn't know. She was as evil as him. It makes me sick you wasted on moment on feeling guilty...
    I hope he's rotting in hell.
    I have been trying to read your book - its a bit hard. I know my comment seems hatefull and wrong ... maybe i need to stay away for awhile

  8. Oh, my, you have an incredibly tender heart, Grayquill. I will ensure that my next posts are cheerier. Enough lugubriousness!

    BTW, I really, truly don't think my grandmother knew. She was the kind of person who would have walloped Pop had she known. I lived with her after Pop died, and my sister did a year later. We are both quite convinced that she did not know. She was the only truly kind and ethical person in the family, who never hurt us, who never raised her voice to us, who saw that we had what we needed to the best of her ability to provide it. I think we were afraid of hurting her and also perhaps of losing her love and support. When you are in those situations, even though intellectually you know you are not to blame, there is a remnant of self-doubt that says you must have caused it (that emotional response is hard to eliminate). Gram was a mainstay for us, and I do believe she would have protected us, had she known. Except for that one time, when she was upstairs and out of earshot, she was never around when it happened.

    It is possible not to know. Some years ago my cousin walked in on her husband in an incestuous position with her young teenage daughter, a relationship that had been going on for some time. My cousin was shocked. She had not had any suspicions, and the girl had been afraid to tell because she feared what her father would do and she was ashamed (that deluded "my fault" emotion again). My cousin kicked her husband out instantly and as soon as she could, she divorced him and sued him, putting him in jail for quite some time. She and her daughter are still coping with the aftermath, but at least they are coping together.

    Thank you for your words; they may sound hateful, but they show that you care. And that is what is important.

  9. I am sorry for what I said about your Grandma!
    I do understand the "It is my fault" syndrome.
    I am sorry for you cousin and her daughter! Maybe God bless them and keep them safe. I hope they find safe men to be part of their lives.
    You are very gracious!

  10. Elizbeth:
    You are very courageous to share these episodes in your life. I am sorry you had to bear these abuses. Quite possibly the minister didn't know the dark side of your grandfather or your mother.
    It was probably too late for the medicine to work when he died. Sounded like a massive heart attack.

  11. Grayquill, you make me smile. You are definitely a gentle soul!

    Quiet Spirit, thanks for those thoughts. I think the minister definitely did not know. However, the thought never entered my head that the medicine might not have worked. Of course, that makes sense. A couple of readers pointed it out, and, duh!, of course that was a possibility! well, when you're in those situations, you do not always think clearly! (Even, obviously, years later.)

  12. Elizabeth I am so sorry to read this and to know what you had to suffer at the hands of that man.

    You had nothing to feel guilty about and if God had been more on the ball that man should have died a lot sooner than when he did.

    Renee xoxo


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.