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Growing Up Crazy – a memoir
by Mary Thurman Yuhas
Spring of 1948
How I loved my mother.
I was only four and longed to be exactly like her and do everything she did. This particular warm, spring morning she was in the kitchen cleaning tarnish off the silverware, something women frequently did in the forties. I patiently watched from my chair at our worn, wooden kitchen table as she polished every knife and fork and spoon with silverware polish. Afterwards she placed them into hot, soapy water and next thoroughly scrubbed each piece before moving the now shiny eating utensils into the sink. Pouring boiling water over them was the final step. "Can I help? Can I? Can I?" I begged.
"Pull a chair up to the sink, Mary Kay," she sweetly said as she removed the hissing, black teapot from the stove, steam roaring from its spout.
I clapped with eagerness as she drew near and leaned over to get a better look, placing my hands flat in the sink alongside the silverware when suddenly and without warning both of my hands were covered with scalding water. They felt like they were on fire and I stood there motionless holding my hands in the air not knowing what else to do. After that everything went black.
I will never know if what happened was a lapse of judgment on my mother’s part or a preview of the impending madness that would soon consume her as completely as a spider’s silken shroud covers its kill. At the time my father and I and perhaps even my mother were happily unaware of the monster that was growing inside her, but nonetheless it was, and it was getting stronger everyday. Soon it would be powerful enough to crush and tear away every thread of reason that up to this time had held it at bay.
Back then we lived on the second floor of an old, white clapboard house in Galesburg, Illinois, a railroad town long past its prime. The family who owned it lived below us, a common practice after the War due to the housing shortage. But Mom and Dad didn’t like living with them and assured me this was temporary although at my young age it didn’t matter a whit to me. “We’re building a house and just our family will live in it,” Mom would repeat several times daily, her blue eyes sparkling whenever she talked about it.
Dad was a plumber and in those days I believed there was nothing he couldn’t do. He reinforced that faith as I watched him and his friends’ turn what started out as a mountain of dirt into a house. Our ranch-style, one-story home was situated in the middle of a yard that seemed endless, and it had a front porch so big I could jump rope or skip or play hopscotch on it. And for the first time, I would have my own bedroom. For almost a year as soon as Dad came home from his job, the three of us climbed into our black, Nash Rambler and drove over to the new house so he could work on it. Mom brought along a supper she had packed for us and most nights we sat on the floor of our unfinished house eating what Mom called an indoor picnic. Whenever she could Mom helped Dad work and she said to me, “You help best help by going outside and playing with the other neighborhood kids.”
She promised me, “When we live here, you can run and play outside all day long.”
But the house meant nothing to the monster. It was growing restless and I believe the morning she was cleaning the silverware is when it first showed its hideous face. To this day I cannot remember what happened afterwards and did not even recall the event until years later when I was in high school when from out of nowhere my mother said, “I felt as bad as you did when you burned your hands.”
Those few words ignited my memory and that day flashed through my mind as clearly as if it had just occurred. Most of my life I kept my childhood memories buried as if they never happened and amongst them was my greatest fear. A fear that haunted me relentlessly during my early teen years and filled me with so much terror I dare not give it voice. It was the fear that I would grow up to be exactly like my mother.
After I moved from my parent’s home, I seldom talked about my youth, not even to my late husband, John. My reasoning was that I had lived it once and once was enough. But when my mother died in 1998, something inside of me changed and I knew I didn’t want everything our family lived through to mean nothing. As I opened up, one memory after another clawed its way out and I began writing my story.
This is my life growing up with my mother and the monster whose name I eventually learned…paranoid schizophrenia.