I Am Writing My Autobiography – Before Me

posted in: Books Coming Soon, I'm Writing | 0
CC BY by Armando Maynez

I’ve had a rather unconventional life – with more twists and turns than most. But it has always been devoted to exploring the leading edge—giving words to what’s forming on the horizon. The title is 50 Years to Build the Butterfly Net. What I call the “butterfly net” is the ability to capture the illusive wisps of  Truth, without killing it or distorting it because of my limitations. No small trick, that. So no surprise that it took so long to make it work.

I expect to have the manuscript done before the year is out. What I’ve learned about myself in writing about my life has been monumental! It has shown me very different perspectives from which to view the events of a lifetime. Nothing like old age to grant a measure of perspective.

Here’s a taste

I don’t even get born until Chapter 3. But here’s a bit from that chapter related to my roots.

Before Me

My being born in Alaska in 1944 happened from the convergence of world-changing events that brought my parents together. My birth probably wouldn’t have occurred but for those large-scale occurrences.

  • The immigrant experience bringing Europeans to America (on both sides)
  • The Great Depression that churned up the economic expectations and opportunities of their generation
  • The global events leading to the Second World War

When my parents met, they were both displaced persons—uprooted by the Great Depression. They met at Glacier National Park. My mother, Florence Boldt was a maid working during the summer at one of the resort hotels at the park. My father, Maurice Green was a sergeant in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp based in the area.

Mother worked several summers at the park, and toiled at humdrum jobs in Seattle the rest of the year. Apparently there was a summer-camp-like social atmosphere for the young people working at or near the park. Her stories made it sound like it was a lot of fun, with campfires and recreational outings when they weren’t at work.

After he completed his stint in the CCC, Maurice moved on to Alaska. He tried his hand at mining before he found work on the Alaska Railroad as a car inspector. Maurice sent for Florence to come north, and it wasn’t long before they got married.

I am the first child of a German-Lutheran mother and a Russian-Jewish father. They were not a likely match, but I like to think there was divine orchestration involved.

Both of their families were recent enough arrivals to America that they grew up in communities that still maintained their European traditions. Besides English, Florence spoke German and Maurice could speak Yiddish. My mother’s grandmother, on her mother’s side, came from Germany to Minnesota in 1876.

Maurice was born in New York City, not long after his mother arrived in 1908. His parents came from a much-fought-over area that was sometimes part of Russia, and sometimes part of Poland. The town names known to them don’t even show on today’s maps. His family suffered considerable persecution for being Jews, and they were fortunate to leave the Old Country when they did.

A Matter of Faith

Despite (or because of) their dissimilar religious backgrounds, my parents became Bahá’ís not long after they married. It is called the Bahá’í Faith—hence Faith became one of my given names. Since Bahá’ís accept the central truths of the world’s major religions, I grew up learning the beliefs of many religious traditions.

That early exposure to genuine religious tolerance made me eclectic in spiritual matters and comfortable with “light from many lamps.” That inclusive and tolerant approach to religion allowed me to recognize the common threads they share, without my judgment being biased by a preference for any single religion. I’ve always preferred spiritual voices who weren’t trapped in a dogma framing God in a too-narrow light.

Like my mother before me, I steer clear of those who insist their view of God should apply to everyone. Because my parents shared the same religion, that’s not what eventually broke them up. Distance and cultural differences get the credit for that.

But I think my parents’ main contribution to my spiritual life came from naming me Faith. For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked at what happens me through “faith colored glasses.” So I feel I must comprehend the world through that frame of mind.

But I am also suspicious of blind faith that believes without discernment. Nor should faith only be pulled out during times of doubt or discouragement and ignored the rest of the time. So I feel the need for us to treat faith as a way to challenge and deepen our spiritual awareness, rather than to simply trust without question.

Learning about the many facets of faith is connected to my life purpose. Over the years I’ve probably run the whole gamut of what faith is—and is not.

Immigration on My Mother’s Side

I am the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter (Florence), of an oldest daughter (Anna), of a second daughter, Ida Emma Lieske. Ida was born in Germany in 1849.

Ida Lieske was 16 when her older sister got a job as a maid for a family in Minnesota. The day before Ida’s sister was to depart for the U.S., their father told her: “We love your sister too much to let her go. So we’ve decided to send you to America instead.” The next day was the last Ida saw of them.

Ida came as part of the large-scale German migration to the Midwest. Two years after she arrived, Ida married William Kroll. They had twelve children: six boys and six girls (and two more that didn’t reach adulthood). The area where they lived in Minnesota had such strong German roots the local Lutheran minister exerted considerable influence on the residents of that farming community.

My grandmother, Anna, was both the firstborn and oldest daughter of Ida and William. She married William Boldt, a farmer, in 1912. They only had two children—my mother and her brother Gilbert. Florence was born in 1914 and Gilbert a few years later.

My Mother’s War with the Lutheran Church

Florence was always a bit of a rebel, “too smart for her own good,” and not sufficiently beholden to authority. That alone explains why she never felt she belonged anywhere until she ended up in Alaska. The Last Frontier is a magnet for those who cherish their independence.

Florence referred to her lifelong “war with the Lutheran church” with bitterness since its dogmatic stance impacted her life so significantly. In her life, the Lutheran Church represented the abuse of power, and she didn’t intend to knuckle under without a fight. But she paid a heavy price for her defiance.

There were four major skirmishes: her name, the abandonment of her career goal, her father’s death, and the events described in Chapter 5.

Round 1 – The church won. Florence was the first child of Anna and Bill Boldt. Like all proud parents, they thought long and hard about what they wanted to name their child. They decided on Marcella. Before her christening, her parents told their Lutheran minister the name they chose. He didn’t approve of their choice, but didn’t bother to mention the fact. Instead he christened her with a name of his choosing.

Apparently the minister considered Marcella too French a name for a German child. If my mother had been a boy she would have been called Clarence. So he decided that Florence was just about as good. She had two sponsors for the christening: Albertina and Lina, which he granted as a co-joined middle name.

The minister said: “I christen you Florence Albertina-Lina Boldt.” Her parents were so surprised they nearly dropped the baby. And there was nothing they could do about it. Florence had to live from then on with a name which was a constant reminder of that minister’s high-handed pronouncement.

Round 2 – The church won. Florence was a very bright student and was in the top of her graduating class. She was determined to become a nurse in order to help people. After Florence graduated from high school, she went to Minneapolis to attend nurses’ training. As a devoted church-going Lutheran, she chose the program at a Lutheran hospital. Florence was very idealistic when she started, but by the time she left the program her trust in the goodness of man was badly shaken.

This was her first exposure to the world beyond the provincial farming life. As a student nurse, Florence was at the bottom of the hospital pecking order and had to do whatever she was told to do. She was shocked by the way patients were treated, with more emphasis on extracting money from sick people than on healing them. Even worse in her book, patients who were no longer sick were being kept in the hospital for a long time because they could afford to keep paying.

The systematic abuses so appalling to Florence were probably not that different than common practices at other hospitals. But Florence felt that a religious institution should be held to a higher ethical standard. She was the one out of step with reality. But she couldn’t bring herself to be a party to such conduct.

It was a sad day for her when she gave up on her dream of being a nurse. But Florence never forgave that training hospital for being a den of thieves. Those experiences also led to her having a deep distrust of the medical field and the way they used scare tactics on the public. She wouldn’t buy it.

Round 3 – The church won. Florence and her brother grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She was a curious and willful child, so was often at loggerheads with her mother. Apparently there was considerable beating involved in an effort to break my mother’s spirit. Florence was emotionally close to her man-of-few-words father, even though he did nothing to protect Florence from her mother’s abuse. Anna had him cowed as well.

At some point during her visits home, Florence could see that her father’s mental faculties were failing. It wasn’t just a matter of him getting old, but of him having a decreasing will to live. Bill was suffering from depression. My mother attempted to intervene and get him some help for it, but her pleas were dismissed by her mother and other family members. Despite my mother’s best efforts, Florence was powerless to do anything to make her father’s situation better.

In the bitter confrontations Anna accused Florence of causing her father’s problem herself. He’d be O.K. if Florence just left him alone. Florence was “run off” as a trouble maker, and she was no longer welcome at home.

That’s another reason for Florence leaving Minnesota and moving west to Seattle. Years went by as she got on with her life, but they didn’t get any better for her father. When Bill eventually killed himself, his death was duly blamed (in part) on Florence and her interference before they sent her away. It was also the pretext for disinheriting her. But that is not what hurt the most.

So Florence suffered both the loss of her beloved father and from her own sense of failure to head it off. Not only that, since his death was a suicide, the Lutheran Church refused to give him a sanctified funeral.

Round 4 is the subject of Chapter 5 and 6. It is the reason us kids were in a Lutheran children’s home. This head-to-head battle was so costly to Florence that she bore the scars for many years. And my siblings and I still do. How it shook out defined our growing-up behavior. You decide whether the Church or my mother won in the end. It’s still not clear to me, for I cannot find any winners here.

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