Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Contrast.
What I really want to ask my mother is this: exactly how many people still owe you money and will you honestly tell me?
Just because Daddy’s dead now does not absolve the moral obligation to pay it back to her, and she could use the money.
She did tell me of at least two people they bailed out of jail who paid back at least a portion. The rest? Nothing.
That’s over with now, and anyone who wants to get anything out of her that she has left will have to come through my brothers and me, and we’re not the doormats our parents were.
Or are we? Is there a thin line between doormat and rescuer? Or is that just co-dependence gone amok?
I saw a reflection of myself during a chat Mama and I had over Christmas dinner. I have, all my life, stepped in to bail people out, to help people, to give them time and ideas and money, to fix other people’s problems because they couldn’t seem to fix them themselves. Much of that I’ve broken in the past couple of years but there are meager remnants and I’ve still been trying to figure out the why of it all. A woman I met in Daytona last May accused me of liking saving people and wanting to rescue everyone. I’d never thought of it as liking to or wanting to. I grew up thinking I had no other choice.
See, my parents were honest, hard-working people who didn’t believe in credit cards or living beyond their means. They sacrificed and scraped to have what they had while others lived more comfortably, at least until going bankrupt. (I’m not pointing fingers at any one person— there are just so very many I could be referring to.)
But they were forever bailing people out of debt, out of jail, out of financial hardship. You would have thought they had money to throw around. They didn’t.
There’s a pastor who lives near me. I don’t attend his church. He doesn’t know how near I live to him. He would if he had any contact with my parents, but he doesn’t need them now and they haven’t received even a Christmas card from him in the past 20 years. They paid for his seminary tuition when he—and they—couldn’t afford it. They did it because they had faith in him and because “somebody had to.”
There were a bunch of snotty teenaged brats in the First Baptist Church in Donalsonville back in 1974 who couldn’t afford the summer choir trip around Florida. My mom ran the three simultaneous slide projectors. I was supposed to go with her on the trip to hold the flashlight so she could see the script in the dark auditorium. When the trip was to be suspended due to lack of funds, my parents paid for the bus trip. They didn’t even do it as a charity donation. Some of the brats complained that I was only 12, not 13, and they didn’t want me going unless their little sisters could go, so we were told I’d have to stay home. I did. The brats went. My parents paid for the trip anyway because “somebody’s got to.”
When Daddy’s father died and his mother was faced with losing the farm and being homeless, my parents borrowed money from my mother’s family—creating some extreme financial hardships—and bought the farm back. They carved out the house and some acreage for his mother and deeded it back to her, carved out some land for his brother, carved out another piece of land that his mother who promptly sold and gave the proceeds to one of her other children—and that piece of land would fetch a pretty price for Mama these days. Of the rest of the land, they farmed it to pay off the debt and had to put up with more idiot siblings calling to demand their “share” of the land my parents bought back to save it from being auctioned off to outsiders. Uh, yeah. But why did my parents go into so much debt and hardship to save the farm and give his mother and brothers a home? “Somebody’s got to do it.” I guess so, since none of his mouthy siblings or judgmental relatives stepped in to help.
But in talking to my mom, I listen as she goes through case after case of bailing someone out of debt, paying their bills and never seeing a positive result from the promises to pay them back. In fact, getting nothing but grief for their good intentions. I am appalled at how many people they have literally bailed out of jail or debts they’ve paid. I’m even more appalled that only two of them showed up for the funeral and one of the two still has not paid a penny back. Not that I would never come to someone’s aid—I have many times—but when she tells me about one woman in particular, I am stunned. This is the first time I’ve heard it.
“She was going to jail for fraud,” I’m told. “She’d spent the money and couldn’t repay it.”
“But she always had the best money could buy when you went without,” I remind her. “Why did you bail her out?”
“Well, somebody had to.”
“No, I mean, why didn’t you just let her go to jail and suffer the consequences of her actions?”
My mother, with an absolute straight face, said, “Somebody had to take responsibility.”
Shannon looked like she was ready to come over the kitchen table. “Yes, Grandma! Her!”
It was just odd listening to how my parents took responsibility and fixed the problems of so many people— to their own detriment. I understood completely how I grew up with the idea of fixing other people’s problems and that it was something I was expected to do.
I still have the same old yearning in my heart to help, but I’m finding that it helps me to step back a little and not volunteer so fast to fix it for someone else, especially when I hardly know them. I’m working harder at just observing and staying neutral, giving others a chance to be responsible for themselves, even if they muck it up and can’t pay their debts and do their jail time. Maybe if my parents had let other people pay for their own debts, of all varieties, then some of these people might have been, well, better people. For certain, my mom wouldn’t have to worry about her financial future had she not spent the past 60 years bailing out so many other people.
At almost 78, she can no longer afford to help anyone but herself. And anyone who shows up on her doorstep asking for handouts will have me all over his ass.