Starting this week and continuing for the next several weeks, I will be sharing some excerpts from my autobiographical book, “Growing Old in Newtown.” I have wanted to do this for some time now. I have decided to not start at the beginning of the book, but with some very sensitive and special events and experiences that were significant to my family’s structure and well-being. Perhaps no other events had the effect and impact on my family when I was growing up as the ones I have selected to share with you today.
Chapter 4: The Real Reason Mama Cried
One of the greatest mysteries of my early childhood was the constant crying of my mother. I was too young to understand why she cried all the time. I was too young to understand the reason why she cried but not too young to be emotionally shaken by her distraught state. Who had upset her? What had wounded the most important person in my life? The memory of my mother’s weeping is one of the earliest in my life. In order to get to the root of her grief, I must go back to a time before my own conception. At the time there were but three little Goings children. Marvin was the baby. I must depend upon the reflections of others who were there and shared the story with me. It is a sad, fairy-tale-like story with a tragic ending.
Once upon a time there was an angelic little girl named Vivian Marie, the second child and only daughter of Jim and Marie Goings, a darling, the apple of her parents’ eyes. It is said that she was very intelligent and very mature well beyond her age.
Eventually this little princess, by whom everyone was so enchanted, became ill. Of course at first it did not seem so serious, just a cold that she would quickly overcome through the loving care of her Dr. Mom. However, the cold persisted and even worsened, draining little Vivian of her physical strength and her appetite. My mother had exhausted her efforts and home remedies, and she could not stand to see the child suffer anymore. My father and she rushed their little daughter, infirm and gasping, to the doctor. After the doctor examined her, he brought them the most stunning news of their lives.
“There is nothing I can really do for her now,” he said. “She has an advanced case of pneumonia. If you would have just brought her to me a little earlier, I probably could have saved her.” Already saddened by my sister’s condition, what unimaginable horror these dreadful words must have inflicted upon them! My little sister, whom I would never get the chance to know, died not many days after that belated visit to the doctor. From that moment until many years in the future, my mother would contend with the demons of guilt and grief. She would grieve because she had lost her little daughter, whom she had so desired. What had been given had so swiftly been snatched away. Had it been by an accident or any such occurrence, my mother could have more readily endured the grief. What tormented my mother from the time of my sister’s premature death was guilt. She wrestled with the sense of negligence, the awful thought that if she had acted earlier and taken her to the doctor, little Vivian might still be alive. Though my mother did eventually stop crying, I cannot say when or even if the bonds of guilt were broken. It is difficult to truly know about such a deeply personal matter. It would be many years from the season of her weeping, that I would come to understand. The great mystery was solved. My mother had wept for her daughter, refusing to be comforted because the girl was no more.
Chapter 7: From Turmoil to Triumph: The Birth of My Second Sister
With the curtains closing on one of the most painful episodes of my young life, a new day was dawning for my entire family that would commence with a little apprehension and would be swallowed up by a far greater degree of anticipation.
As only the hand of providence can dictate, my mother became pregnant after that ill-fated night. I did not understand it back then at the age of five and six years old. I could not comprehend why my father was speaking and acting so angrily toward my mother, why his attitude was apprehensive about her pregnancy. Nevertheless, in spite of the demons and doubts with which he was obviously contending, the rest of us were ecstatic. None of our all-boy clan wanted another brother. We desperately wanted a sister, a little girl to hold and spoil. All of my life I had heard so much about my older sister, the one I had never seen, touched, or played with. Oh, how I longed for this baby to be a girl! Ever since my older sister had passed away, my parents had longed for her replacement. They had been disappointed not once, not twice, not thrice, and not even four times, but the last five births had been great disappointments. Not that my parents were disappointed with the blessing of having been given five more sons. Their sadness still stemmed from the loss of their first and only daughter. The day finally arrived for my mother to be taken to the hospital for the new baby, the one whose conception had produced such mixed sentiment in our house. In great suspense we waited for news of the birth of our newest sibling. My father finally arrived and delivered the news that the cycle of male births had been broken. It was a girl! There was jubilation among the brothers. We now had a little sister of our own, our own “sugar, and spice, and everything nice.” Her name, we were told, was Cynthia Joan Goings. I do not know for certain, but I want to believe that one look at my little sister with those beautiful brown eyes and fair complexion along with other very obvious Jim Goings look-alike features destroyed any doubts my father may have had about her paternity. My sister and I were always the two of my mother’s children who looked most like our father. So with the doubt destroyed, my father headed up the celebration and spoiling process that would last throughout my childhood and hers. The one we had so desired and prayed for had finally come. We now felt complete and balanced as a family. It did not matter that she was one among many, a tender little ewe amongst many rough rams.
She was our rose that had blossomed in the desert of our mother’s years of despair. It felt good to have a little sister in the house, somebody who was soft, cuddly, and lovable. She stole each of our hearts and held them captive the rest of her life.