Frith and the Wolf Sled

sled

Image from Frey Carriage Company-relevant later in post

One of the hearts of the local Witchcraft scene has an absolutely glorious facebook of quotes.  Today, he shared:

“THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS UNTIL THEY HAVE DEFENDED YOU IN YOUR ABSENCE”.

And I thanked him- it has been a topic I’ve been putting off writing on for a while.   However, I need to make the amendment to the sentiment by also saying this applies to blood family as well.  The family who is sweet to your face but venom behind your back is terrible.

This is not a passive-aggressive post, I don’t believe in that.  What I want to talk about is an issue I have been struggling with for several years with my paternal grandparents.  I have nothing to hide and I’m honestly at a loss both intellectually and holistically regarding my perplexing relationship with them.

Both are entirely too German- they aren’t Nazi’s (that was my maternal grandfather who was assassinated in 1979- but he also worked for the Allies, too.) It’s the ethic of what is verbot or not to talk about, to see, and express.

There are so many prohibitions in Pennsylvania Deitsch culture and taboos I am honestly more perplexed by converts to Urglaawe than any other Heathen practice as soon as the novelty of hex signs and cute, pacifistic holiday celebration wears off.   To be raised in Pennsylvania, to be Pa Dutch, and then to be immersed in our culture by being surrounded by others of the same lineage really solidifies the cultural identity of our ancestry.  What credit is due is that being accepted/recognized as Deitsch is pretty easy.  Either a single ancestor or being accepted into any family is usually enough.

We may be cold, emotionless, stolid, joyless people… but we are accepting of good people.

The Pa German ethic as I’ve observed in my family (not reflected in the Urglaawe religion, and hopefully  some never to be incorporated):

1. Keep your problems to yourself, handle it yourself, and if you cannot, you have failed.
2. If an elder decides you have “brought shame” to the family, you have.
3. Hand Tools Need To Be Treated With Respect.  The older the hand tool, the better it is.
4. If someone is sick, hide them.  No one wants to see weakness.
5. Always have several back-up plans.
6. Work hard, play little, die miserable- then haunt your relatives until they die.
7. Your dead relatives are watching you.  Don’t fuck up or they will haunt you regardless.
8. Know how to do every practical task to maintain a home, from cooking to carpentry.
If you don’t know how to do it by the time adulthood begins, you have failed.
9.  Intelligence/Ingenuity uber alles. Dumkopfs verboten es.
10. Respect the dead.  A visit to a cemetery is no less important than visiting the living.

Needless to say, I have utterly and totally discarded many of these 10 basic observations I listed off the top of my head- except for 3,5,7,8, 9 and 10 to various degrees.

However, as grim as this may sound- we also had a story called the “wolf sled”- which seems to be fought over between Olde Germany and countries in the former Soviet Bloc.

The story goes like this, roughly, details change per culture:

The Wolf-Sled

Grandmother (in some stories, grandfather, but women live longer)  was getting on in years and was becoming “troublesome” so Vater (father) called his young son to help him hitch up a special sled in the barn and help him gather granddmother to ride with them.
“What is this sled? I have not seen it before.” asked the son,

Father told him it was called The Wolf Sled and it was used in the family for centuries for a special purpose.  The father showed the son how to attach the horses to the sled and off they went away from all paved roads headed towards the wilderness.

The child asked his father, “Where are we going?”
His father replied, “We are going to the Wolf-woods, grandmother is old and troublesome.  It is our tradition when this happens we take our elders in the wolf-sled to the wood, and the wolves decide if they come back or not.”

Father unhitched the two horses and gave one to the son…together they left grandmother and the sled behind them.

The son asked the father, “But father, what about the sled?  I will need it for when you become old and troublesome.”

And so the story always ends…the father abruptly turned around and retrieved the grandparent and destroyed the wolf-sled when they returned to the village.

It sounds pretty benevolent in the end- how cruel it was that the practice existed to take our elderly into the woods and leave them to be devoured by wolves or to see if they could wander back into town undevoured!

However, there is a hidden subtext to this story that is overlooked:  What exactly do you do when the person you knew as a loving grandparent becomes hateful through dementia?

As in all other forms of Heathenry, reputation is very important as is one’s name and legacy. In modern times, this has translated to shoving our elderly into nursing facilities like a wolf-wood with no escape.

No doubt, there are many good hearted, kind elderly people who are trapped in nursing homes.  Then there are the assholes with dementia who act like possessed gremlins, bite people, and generally cause absolute havoc first on the family then on the nurses they are eventually dumped on.  From observations in my own life, the dementia that causes absolute discord seems to be mostly found in people of some form of German descent..and usually women.

I miss my Nana.  She’s far from dead; she still leads a very active social life in her retirement community of tea party elderly folk and has little time for the rest of the family anymore… which may be for the best considering it seems everything she says is intentionally meant to hurt or harm the person to whom she speaks.  Worse, what she says to our faces compares nothing to the cruelty of the words spoken when we are not present.

For the majority of my life she was the most loving, supportive person I had.  We called each other almost daily until I was 26 years old, she was my best friend and my favorite relative.

Then, it all changed Thanksgiving of my second year of college (I returned to college in my late 20’s).  It began with the gravy- her screaming that it was the “wrong color” despite us assuring her it looked great. My grandfather and I helped bring all the food to the table, and we both told her with all honesty it was delicious- she called us liars and other insults.
After the meal was completed, this woman who was renowned as much for her OCD as her intelligence began to just randomly BREAK DISHES because she did not like the water pressure in her elaborate kitchen.  She was trying to carry them to the laundry room (which had no room for such a thing!) and refused help to do so- and yet, with each dish she broke she blamed my grandfather and I.

Pop pop walked me out to my car and said with all sincerity he was “getting her tested” and that he would call me and let me know the results.  The call never came.

In fact, every possible reason and method that could be employed to estrange me was used by my grandfather up to and including telling me I was a failure and a disgrace to the family when I was discharged from the psychiatric hospital for being suicidal.
His exact words: “Mental illness doesn’t exist; you would have shamed the family less if you succeeded in killing yourself”. and “If it is in your mind, then you can correct it.”

He was offended I was diagnosed with the same condition as his close relative (relation yet to be determined- Dad and I call him “Uncle Grandpa” over ambiguity of family stories over when this man was a POW) who was a decorated war veteran.

Instead of realizing and understanding that the predisposition to developing C-PTSD has been proven to be genetic.

My deceased maternal grandfather modified grandma’s house to make the inner walls into hard-to-access rooms.  This reaction to  “shellshock” was not derided and when I explained my condition to my Latvian grandma she understood it immediately and explained how it affected my grandpa.

My paternal grandparents act like I murdered small children or molested goats for their total disrespect and lack of care for all I have worked hard to achieve in life, for my successes, for anything positive at all, really.

I have never addressed this in public before- but knowing positively he tested for Alzheimer’s and Nana’s dementia (or whatever deteriorative neurological condition it may be)…

How would it feel to him if I told him that their brain conditions were “all in their head” and that they “bring shame to the family by not killing themselves,”?

How does it feel to have a condition in YOUR heads?

I am 34 years old and I am discovering that my allergies and genetic conditions most closely resemble those of my Nana who I cannot talk to without her finding something hurtful to say.

A women who was never thin during my time on this Earth apparently refers to me as “fat, useless, and tacky” to other people in the family.  She accused me of being a member of ISIS for studying Irani diplomacy in college and would hear no explanation that Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are entirely distinct countries.

She blamed me for President Obama being elected to office a second term- I didn’t vote that election, and furthermore, SHE voted him in the first election.

In Pennsylvania, most of us are third party voters outside of presidential elections.  Unlike the rest of the country, there is no “divide” between Republicans and Democrats- most of us are everything but those two parties ideologically and only join the parties to vote.

They were always Libertarians- unfortunately, even through the hijacking of the teaparty and modification of the ideals of the party.  I changed to Independent.   The men always go Republican, the women Democrat… without even telling my husband this, he fell right into the same routine.  Our theory is “One on each side votes out the worst each party has to offer”.   ( Hence, why I re-registered after trying my damnedest to stay neutral.)

She told my father she “Would never want to visit my house”… and my father didn’t understand why it hurt me.

This was the woman who was there for all my surgeries in my 20’s and held my hand until they injected me with enough Valium to down a horse.  She fought for me when no one else would when I was a child.  She claimed to love me.  Was the love dependent on a narcissistic view of her expectations for me, or did it die with her mental deterioration?

Their old house was my safe haven where I was always welcome and accepted as myself.  A rare thing for a German pansexual in the puritanical USA.  They drew the line at tattoos and my freaky colored hair- but if that is truly what caused the estrangement, that is a poor excuse indeed.  As is changing my name… Ren is the name I have been called since I was 12- further, I’m married.  I have my husband’s name (and the kindness of HIS family!)

Since prior to my birth my family has been rendered apart and forced into needlesss conflict over their will since my Pop pop had an illustrious career as a college vice president and occasional professor despite holding no higher degrees of education himself.

I do not want any part of the money and greed that made my second cousins hate my grandparents, and my great Uncle Barry unwilling to talk to me or my father.  If I am  in the will by some odd oversight, I will gladly sign a notarized letter with the Philadelphia Zoo whenever requested giving them the sole right to all financial conflicts in my name vis a vis my grandparent’s eventual death that I want no part of in my eventual future. (unless they outlive me)

I choose the Philadelphia Zoo because it was always one of their favorite charities, my only request would be for a Tanuki exhibit.  Tanuki need more conservation than I do or any other person in our bloodline.

Tanuki

These are Tanuki, they are from Japan and there are very few of them.  Save the Tanuki.

 

I will not change my name to suit you.  I do not want your checks, and you do not have any financial power over my life as you do others in my family. What do I want?  I want the close affectionate and intellectual relationship I had with you before you decided I was your enemy.  If you do not see me as your enemy or your embarrassment, the extraordinary efforts you have made to insult my existence these last years and distance me from you has been successful.  If you want to “buy” me something, buy a frame for me to hang my BA proudly and hang it in your own house too.  Be proud of what I accomplished despite my difficulties.

I make sure I call you to thank you for your cards when you are not home because you are abusive… but were not always.

Which leads me to this painful thought:  What happens to people with dementia after they die?  Do they revert to the best of who they were before the disease or was the “wolf sled” a way of saving us from watching those we love deteriorate and become hateful, horrible people who delight in stepping on people who they judge unseemly?

My father in law has Alzheimer’s and he is far from “troublesome” in anywhere close to the same capacity or category.  He can still say a kind word and mean it genuinely.  He can drive people nuts, but he has a good heart.  I can honestly say I cannot say with certainty the same for my own paternal grandparents.

What do I lose by this post when for the past 3 years the only positive experience I have of my grandparents is my grandfather approving my home prior to me buying it- but on the phone blasting me for not “walking away” because I did not care that the seller would not reduce the price further?

I wasn’t bargain hunting- I was looking for a place my husband and I could grow old together comfortably.  I love this house and property and it is my joy.  I do not want more than this.

Then… deriding me for asking to learn some carpentry from him only to be told to “watch YouTube” being insulted AGAIN for not buying internet for a house in which I did not yet live in and to hear him insult my uncle and father as suffering “acquired helplessness” from his “help” before…but yet, both my father and uncle are quite adept on their own at home repair (I am assuming about my uncle…again, we are basically strangers but I was impressed he could make a cool cat-tree.)

The last time I visited them in their home I asked Nana just to write a page about Deutsche folkcraft in which she was raised…and now, I fear it is too late.  They both accused me of being in ISIS and claimed I was directly responsible for Obama being in the white house despite the fact I did not vote.  In fact, Nana voted for him the first time around when she had more of her mental facilities intact.  Violent insurgents in Iran are not my “friends” nor anyone I know…and intentionally bringing up things that harmed me is in poorer taste than the tattoos I wear that embarrass you but do not ask what they mean.

I spent 5 hours in an interrogation chamber for my desire to be a diplomat- my Pop pop dodged the draft.  I served in the AmeriCorps which has been derided by them since I successfully concluded my term saying it “ruined the trajectory of my life”, but yet, my fondest memories of all are from living in Tahlequah… I may not be military but I believe I have more in common as far as true patriotism with my dead ancestor than my living family.

It is claimed my student loan debt was the cause of upset- I didn’t ask for you to pay some of them off, but I was grateful.  Now they are entirely dismissed due to my disability which is not just my head, but, ironically also my heart which is defective.

At my wedding, despite years of claiming to “not recall” how to speak German she certainly knew how to criticize the Urglaawe polyglot who performed our beautiful, rustic ceremony.  Not a Mainline extravaganza held in a country club- but an open-invite potluck held in a park closer to the way things were.  I am old enough to recognize the pattern that the more expensive and lavish the wedding, the shorter the marriage.  My wedding was simple because the marriage is more important.  To hear that behind my back it was not viewed positively is a tall order from people married by a justice of the peace prior to falling into wealth.

Not all “advancement” of society is positive- and after a lifetime of hearing about how my grandparents “rose above their family of farmers, machinists, and soldiers”- what I have learned is that the honesty of farmers, machinists, and soldiers is the company I prefer to keep over the pretension of the Nouveau rich.

I didn’t “lose my way”. I am using my college degree every day…and there are (amazingly) things more important than wealth- human connection, leaving a positive legacy to one’s friends and community, to keep learning and growing in wisdom and to treasure people who challenge me to be my best self among them.  My value is that which other’s give me as a gift, both positive and negative, not pieces of green paper or numbers on a screen.

One’s “best” is not determined by their net worth.  The Christians did have a point about wealth being an obstacle to “heaven”.   Materialism creates a hell of suspicion and paranoia that those of modest incomes do not suffer so profoundly.

The wolf sled had a purpose, perhaps it is a shame we are so fearful of death in this modern age that we do not recognize that spiritual damage occurs when we allow people to live too long to the point where all their beautiful qualities die in the spitefulness of dementia and fear.

William Theodore Hunsberger – for as much as you look yourself up, are you happy that you found this?  This is how I feel.  This is why I intentionally seek your voicemail to thank you for your cards twice a year for a card with a cheque written to the wrong name always.  I hope Nana passes away before you do because maybe, just maybe there is a chance there is still something salvageable of kindness in you if you ever learn that money didn’t “solve” your problems, it caused them.

Start painting again,  Pop pop.  Plant your own damned gardens because you were excellent  at it, and to talk to me kindly  – that means more to me than money and baskets of junk food or cheques. Of this family, I am the truth teller.  I am the person who exposes everything we are and have been as a family.  I am open about my flaws, my faults, and my failures- which is a first for any of our line.

Before this is downplayed as my “mental illness”- keep in mind this blog is viewed by hundreds of people around the world who find me quite sane,  Furthermore, since I have actually been in an psychiatric hospital- I am one of the few in the world who can claim I am certified “not insane” or I would still be in there.

I cannot say the same for Alzheimer’s patients, now can I?

Wolf. Sled.

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4 Responses to “Frith and the Wolf Sled”

  1. I am also certified not insane… I have the release papers to prove it and have listed those chemicals among my serious medical allergies. If I’d had the guts I’d’ve taken that doctor and pharmacist for all they were worth, since they should damn well have known that a person can have serious psychological reactions to chemicals designed for people with very different problems. Vague comment is vague, but clearly I’m not quite ready to tell that whole story yet.

    I watched dementia take Pop-pop away bit by bit, until it seemed like all the pieces were still there but rattling around loose in a box instead of strung together in a coherent fashion. It was strange and frightening to watch. He died at home about a year after the symptoms became impossible to ignore, probably three years after the first symptoms appeared in hindsight. The last week or so he was in a morphine coma because it was all that the hospice doc would give us to give him. I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way than that complete loss of standing and dignity. I wondered even more as Grandma did the same thing not even six months later. I know that I would prefer a different route to death. Something that doesn’t leave family talking about how hard it is to deal with the burden I’ve become on them as they attempt to feed me, bathe me, and change my diapers before finally giving up and just dosing me into a coma while my body wastes away.

    For a species that talks so much about dignity, we sure don’t act to preserve it.

    Maybe a wolf sled is worth considering.

    • Tyrienne Says:

      I’ve been told I sound “cold” when I speak about death positively.

      Everything dies. If it was so awful, it wouldn’t be unavoidable.

  2. My family on both sides is all secrets and I am very vaguely from overhearing whispered conversations that there are health issues I should know of but have not been told about. I suffer badly from some of them and wonder if they could have been prevented had I been informed of what to look out for in the early stages. Further I know that on both sides, relatives have kept silent on things that have killed them, up to the point of their death beds, even unknown to their spouses and siblings.
    Maybes it is a little bit like they are taking themselves out on a wolf sled because they do not wish to trouble others, or maybes they do not wish others to see them fully.
    I suspect in my family and in the wider world, there is an ingrained culture of obfuscation and hiding away. No one wants to be seen as anything other than average, to the point where it is uncomfortable to be yourself with honesty at all. Anything that threatens to mar the bland idealistic illusion is a trouble to be wiped from our public lives.

    We turn our faces away, because it is easier.

    Thus Death has been made vulgar, monstrous. It is something that is pushed away as if to erase a stain, as if forgetting and ignoring that could stop it effecting the next person. So it is met with confusion and horror. For those passing and those who’s kin have passed from them.

    Yet it should not be taboo.

    • Tyrienne Says:

      Great post! I agree with you completely. If death was truly so terrible, then why must everyone experience it? Everyone experiences birth as well but we celebrate that (usually…)

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