4. The Spirit of His Father

The Spirit of His Father

They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother…

Luke 12:53

Mom was a true valley girl. Raised in Woodland Hills, she is the middle of Thayer and Darleen’s three children, Tim the eldest and Mark the youngest.

Thayer was a quiet man who exuded a faint intimidating presence. His short, gray beard met my face on occasion as he exhibited his only playful gesture, roughing up my young, soft skin. He took Austin and I out to breakfast on occasion, barely speaking a word. Sometimes I was alone in the diner with him while the awkward silence was only interrupted by the sound of chewing and sips.

Thayer served in WWII as a B-29 radio operator. His silence made sense. I was too young to know or care, but even if I could probe him with my matured interest I’m doubtful I could draw out many words.

He busied himself in his backyard, carefully tending to his pristine rose garden. Grandpa also cultured tall, leafy grapefruit and orange trees at the most distant edge of his small plot out back and he sprouted a short lemon tree beside the driveway out front. We enjoyed the fruits of his labor by plucking the spherical fruits using hooked cages attached to long, dry, hand splintering sticks. We could hand pick the oblong ones.

Sometimes we explored the small wooden hut in the corner of his yard near the house. Austin pulled out grandpa’s dull reel mower splotched in chipped red paint. The rust made it difficult to propel. He unsuccessfully attempted to trim the parched twigs of grass. I tried as well to no avail.

Darleen was a cheerful, quirky woman. She dyed her hair dark brown with a reddish hue and swirled it in a perpetual perm. She played the organ for many years and never missed her daily dose of Dr. John Vernon McGee, a preacher whose broadcasts never had a sabbath, touring each verse of the Bible every two and a half years. He called it the “Bible Bus Trip.” Grandma never got off the bus.

Her faith was constantly fortified by decades of church attendance and Bible reading. She sat me down one time walking me through Ephesians chapter six, verses ten through twenty, the section entitled, The Armor of God. This regalia includes the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, sabatons of peace, shield of faith and the sword of truth. I was probably twelve years old when she shared this. My spine tingled as she spoke. Something about her lesson gave me joy.

After her morning Bible reading she entered the second half of her daily ritual. She opened bottles filled with capsules and scooped green powders from jars as the smell of earthy remedies filled my nostrils. She owned many supplements — scores of them. She ingested each pill one at a time with a calculated sip, her red lipstick imprinting on the rim of the glass. Somehow she managed to down them all with a single cup of water. She spent at least thirty minutes per day working through her homeopathic goods. When she flew to Washington to pay us a visit, she barely managed to cram them all into her additional checked bag.

Grandma was often socially unaware. Low flying jokes shot far above her head. She would ask the adults to clarify, missing the punchlines of even witless comments. When Tim or dad repeated it slowly to her, she smiled blankly, pretending to understand every word.

Darleen’s interpersonal deficiencies were due to her mental illness. At the age of twenty six, three months after Tim was born in 1954, she was diagnosed with postnatal psychosis and was institutionalized for six months where her condition progressed into unclassified schizophrenia. Mom said that after she prayed to Jesus, her symptoms improved enough to get out. Though she left the institution, she never fully recovered. Dad told me he witnessed Darleen waving her hands in the kitchen fending off demons.

Darleen’s condition sprung up less than two years after Thayer married her. He became resentful because in his mind, he now had a dud of a wife. Darleen couldn’t function in the real world. Her cluelessness permeated every aspect of life, rendering her an incompetent mother and wife. Medications may have helped her hallucinations, but they bogged her down with fatigue, resulting in daily naps lasting up to three hours.

Frequent fights between mom’s parents created constant tension in the Shearin home that destabilized my mother from early childhood through her teenage years. Words of separation could be heard from Thayer’s bitter mouth yelling behind walls at Darleen or muttering under his breath between clashes as he plopped into his recliner in front of the television.

The instability of her home shook mom. She felt abandoned by her absent mother and afraid of her frustrated father. By the time she was ten years old, Thayer’s plea met mom’s ears, “If I separated from your mother, would you come with me?” Something needed to be done in mom’s eyes, but the courage never moved her foot forward until one day in her early teenage years.

Mom and Mark were watching a Disney movie in her room down the hall. Between scenes, their ears caught the creek of the front door followed by a thud. The temperature raised as the volume of two men’s voices elevated.

“Tim must be back,” she said.

“Finally,” Mark replied. “He’s been gone for days!” Then they heard shouts. Mom turned down the television. “Don’t touch me!” Tim yelled. Dull scuffling followed by scrapes across the floor ruffled mom and Mark’s ears as they stared at each other.

“Stay here Mark, I’m gonna go check it out.” Mom cracked open the door and peered down the hall. The increased intensity of the  conflict unimpeded by the door gave her pause.

“Stop it…stop it!” Tim cried. His gasping cry propelled mom forward as she crouched her way down the hall. She peeked around the corner to her left to find her big brother laying on the couch, Thayer half-straddling him with his hands around Tim’s neck.

“Don’t you ever run away again!” he blasted.

At that moment mom realized something had to be done. Her father needed help. Darleen’s condition rendered her oblivious to all the tension ratcheting up in her home. She couldn’t fulfill Thayer’s needs and mom felt the family’s future was likely in jeopardy, so at the next opportunity, she would make her move to keep the family intact.

A few weeks later, mom heard the sound of metal joints and springs clicking louder and louder in the living room. When she rounded the corner of the dining room, she witnessed another conflict. This time though, Thayer fought an inanimate object.

Crouching with his back toward her, he continued jerking at the recliner stuck in its open position. Mom approached him, looking past her dad to the old couch with dented cushions, holes and stains.

She cautiously spoke up.

“Hey dad?”

“What now, Jeannie?” He said as his scowl once directed at the chair now turned in her direction.

“I know you’ve wanted new furniture for a while. Why don’t we go to the store and pick out some new couches?”

Her comments disarmed Thayer with immediate relief now washing away the wrinkles on his forehead. “Great idea Jeannie,” he replied, as he quickly stood up and turned towards her, “let’s go.”

While purchasing furniture, mom noticed light in her father that she’d never witnessed. She realized her dad was a man alone in his own household who needed a companion. They both enjoyed the outing. Mom felt stability. Thayer felt connected.

With his companion no longer the television, Thayer enjoyed more outings and projects with my mother. They renovated the two spare bedrooms, she accompanied him to view potential real estate investments, tagged along with Thayer to browse antique shops and he took her on little outings he called “dates.” From the on, she became Thayer’s functional spouse.

Though voluntary at first, this responsibility slowly broke her. She learned to lie to herself in order to please him. She stuffed her feelings, saying she loved to do the things that Thayer should have done with his wife. She buried her true self into the deepest recesses of her heart as she was forced to be for Thayer what Darleen should have been for him. My mother is still attempting to exhume what remains after this emotional incest some fifty years later.

The emotional morass mom endured caused her to drift through life, never able to fully grasp the present moment. Though Thayer paid for her to go to college, she struggled through a bachelor’s in social work, not knowing what to do with it when she graduated. Confusion in her faith mounted as well, as she attended a legalistic church, full of hypocrisy and extra-biblical rules. These added precepts fabricated by this church and many others like it made no sense.

The dresses she wore must cover their knees and never rise above them, as if a few extra inches of fabric would prevent men from lusting after the ladies’ luscious bodies. She was taught that hymns are good and rock and roll is bad. I guess they believed organs are from Jesus and electric guitars are from Satan. Alcohol was strictly for bidden. Perhaps they believed that when Jesus turned water into wine for the wedding host and guests he was not blessing them but testing them. Why else would he do such a thing, other than to set up a miraculous trap, secretly keeping track of each ungodly soul who sipped the wine, devising the ghoulish ways that he’d be personally tormenting each evildoer in hell? Makes total sense.

Sure, there is wisdom for men and women to often be modest with their clothing and to control their alcohol consumption. There are pitfalls on each end of any moral spectrum. However, the world of the gray is a vast ocean compared to the shores of black and white.

Though mom knew church her whole life, by the time she was in her late teens and early twenties, she had questions of her own. Her faith was rudely shaken as the contrary messages steeped in and beyond her consciousness. The hypocrisy of the leadership began slowly raising the temperature in the back of her mind until it boiled. The supposed doctrine of grace didn’t mesh with the tight knit rules of the community when violators were duly punished.

You need confidence. She heard spoken in her mind. Convinced God told her this, having never known what the word “confidence” meant, she quickly found out she had none. Mom then sought to obtain confidence by doing what anyone in her situation would do: latch on to someone who had it. So, when an attractive, funny, adventurous, guitar playing song singing man walked through her front door, she couldn’t resist his gravity.

Dad was Aladdin to mom. He showed her the world. Everything she missed and was sheltered from in childhood he introduced to her. He brought laughter, levity, creativity, music, and most of all, freedom to his new girlfriend. Dad wanted her to share the same revival he experienced in Labri, knowing that she had similar problems in her faith. He too had more hunger for knowledge, so he convinced her to fly on a magic carpet with him to Labri, seeking wisdom from a genie.

Some years after they returned, dad popped the question. Mom said yes. They married on July 1st, 1984 asking Craig Vick to be the pastor. Less than two years after they honeymooned in Yosemite for a week, Austin was born. A few years later, they made me.

Throughout their time dating and in early in their marriage, Thayer kept his eyes on Dave. He sternly warned mom to never to Mary an alcoholic because of the abuse he experienced first hand from his drunken dad. She knew that Dave drank, but only socially. From time to time a beer or two would emerge at a party or family get together. Though nervous at first due to Thayer’s harsh warnings, she acclimated to his benign swigs.

He never hit her, but at times sent an intimidating glare. He never smelled like booze, but was occasionally clumsy. Dad was a hard worker, but could never hold a job. He was tender to me and my brother, but on occasion snapped with bouts of frustration. We were disciplined with spankings, but one time his blows bruised Austin’s butt. All of these mishaps were overlooked by the understandable naivete of my mother who, in her mind, was certain he was not an alcoholic.

By the time we moved to Washington, having met many bumps in the road, the stress piled up. It was too much. He could not cope. Dad returned to his beckoning companion, ear opened to every word. Dad’s comrade whispered to him…massaged his ego…removed his inhibitions…unlocked the door. Dad’s beguiling friend let loose the spirit of his father.

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