When I was a little girl, I was constantly torn between various sides. My parents got along alright, but my dad’s mother was a very strong willed woman and she and my mother went head-to-head on just about every issue. It was a silent war for the most part. My mom was always trying to be respectful, but she also wanted to do right by me and that resulted in a lot of anger and frustration. My dad, ever trying to make everyone happy, was constantly the wounded clown, tap dancing in between us all with a sad smile and a tear or two falling from his eye. To truly understand the situation, I have to break things down for you.
My father was in his late twenties, fresh home from the Viet Nam war where he volunteered to serve much to the disappointment of his mother. He was the oldest of five and was forever falling short of his parents expectations. My dad was a great guy. He was incredibly intelligent, warm, compassionate, physically imposing and blessed with a charm and humor that pleased all of those whom he met. But he was a dreamer and a bit on the lazy side and these two qualities turned him into a buffoon as far as my grandparents were concerned. All of his siblings were fast to do as their parents wished and even more quick to point out my father’s shortcomings. The family home, while warm and welcoming to those on the outside, was like a shark tank to those who resided there. And my dad was forever the bait.
My father, Joseph Czahur, met my mother one night while out drinking. My dad loved only one thing more in life than me and my mom and that was alcohol. I am not ashamed to admit that, it’s simply the truth. My mom was out with some friends and was about to leave when my dad asked her to stay for a drink. My mom, Shirley, was in hurry to bring her friend home, but my dad pleaded. Anyone who knew my mom knew one thing about her, she had a soft spot for people in need. She told my dad she’d be back after she dropped her friend off. And, sure enough, she returned.
Parents try to tell their kids all sorts of proper romantic tales about their courtships. My mom never bothered. She told me from the jump, “Your father said, ‘If you don’t come back I’ll be down on women forever, ‘ and I just couldn’t be the reason this poor guy felt that way, so I went back.”
My mom pretty much laid it all out. My parent’s first date was a pity date. But my dad made up for it. My mom never laughed so hard or felt so protected. My father always knew how to treat a lady and from that point on, at least for the next few years, my parents were in their own little world. Of course, I was expected before they got married. I think that happens more times than not and if your parents try to tell you otherwise you need to do some quick math. It’s really not that big of a deal. But I think there’s some universal promise mom’s have to lie about it at least initially. My parents were the best of friends and they really had a good time together. The main issue between them was my father’s family. My mom was 12 years older than my dad, she had been married for 17 years and had 3 kids before and my prim and proper grandmother just could not get over it. My mom was also Italian and for some reason the Ukrainian and Polish Czahur family thought that meant she was some kind of alien. I never understood that one, but as I got older and saw more racism I at least realized that there is a lot of judgment and hatred in the world and it’s good to know that none of it makes sense.
By the time I was born my father was trying all that he could to make his “mistakes” up to his family. He loved my mom and he adored me, but he wanted his family’s love and acceptance. My poor mother was very understanding. She had a son only 6 years younger than my dad and she could only imagine what she would feel if he came home with someone so much older with so much life experience. She wouldn’t have said anything, because that wasn’t her style, but she knew the worries she would’ve been feeling and for that she gave my grandmother some slack. So when it came time to name me, my father took over and gave my mom no say in the matter. He liked the name Jennifer. So Jennifer it was. And for my middle name? Tecla. The name of his mother. He felt that would be worth something and it was. My grandmother loved me at first sight. They all did. I was the first grandchild in the family and I was adored. And my grandmother was totally thrilled by the gesture of my middle name. My mother didn’t seem to care at the time although later on in life when I talked to her about it she let me know it really did bother her. A lot bothered her, but she kept it all to herself. She tried. My mother tried so hard. All three of these people, my grandmother, my father and my mother all did so much thinking it was the best way to handle the situation and even though so many times I was hurt and left alone, now that I know what I know I am certain that these people were just damaged saints.
I suffer from several mental health issues. Some come from genetics and with some digging I have been able to see that mental health problems run throughout my family on both sides. But between pride, religion and simply the way the world was back then, no one sought help. This not only worsened the situation for the particular family member, but left me to deal with an untreated, sick person off of medication and completely uneducated about their problems and my own. This also led to me not getting help as a child/teenager and being completely alone without family support as I got older. My father passed away because of his addiction issues while I was in my late 20’s and my grandmother suffers from mental health problems now in her late 80’s. She has seen doctors who tell us it’s not Alzheimer’s or dementia. Because of a lack of family honesty about her condition, she lives as she is without further testing, intervention or assistance. I do not see her often because I am, quiet honestly, afraid of her. Seeing her in her mental state is a very severe trigger for my mental health problems and while I am very depressed about the situation, I have determined that I have to do what is best for me since I have no family support in dealing with the baggage of a brake down.
Only my mother was able to see me through my mental health problems. She was older and already incapacitated due to cancer and COPD by the time I was able to bring myself to be honest with her, but she knew the diagnosis, the terminology, all about my medication and hospital stays. She was involved. And she showed me the love and care that I had always longed for. She passed away on September 1, 2012. I feel like we were as honest with each other as any two people could’ve been. We were very close and I feel like we were able to heal with one another. Through our talks, I was also able to better understand my childhood and my father and my grandmother’s role in my mental health and emotional issues.
This blog is titled “Reclaiming Tecla” because I am going to flesh out my relationships with all three of these figures and redeem myself as well as each of them to get back to where we are all true to and for one another and no longer buried under the lies and confusion. I am reclaiming the truth that my mother helped me discover on behalf of all four of us. We really are all decent people, damaged saints. And my love for us all knows no bounds.