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 Daddyâ€™s dead now does not absolve the moral obligation to pay it back to her, and she could use theÂ Â 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.
Thatâ€™s over with now, and anyone who wants to get anything out Â of Â her that she has left will have to come through my brothers and me, and weâ€™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 peopleâ€™s problems because they couldnâ€™t seem to fix them themselves. Much of that Iâ€™ve broken in the past couple of years but there are meager Â remnants Â and Iâ€™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. Iâ€™d never thought of it as liking to or wanting to. I grew up thinking I had no other choice.
See, my Â parents Â were Â honest, Â hard-working Â people who didnâ€™t believe in credit cards or living beyond their means. They sacrificed and scraped to have what they had while others lived more comfortably, Â at least until going bankrupt. (Iâ€™m not pointing fingers at any one personâ€” 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 didnâ€™t.
Thereâ€™s a pastor who lives near me. I donâ€™t attend his church. He Â doesnâ€™t Â know Â how near Â I live Â to him. Â He wouldÂ if Â he Â had Â any Â contact Â with Â my Â parents, Â but Â he doesnâ€™t need them now and they havenâ€™t received even a Christmas card from him in the past 20 years. They paid for Â his Â seminary Â tuition Â when Â heâ€”and Â theyâ€”couldnâ€™t afford it. They Â did it because they had faith in him and because â€œsomebody had to.â€
There were a bunch of snotty teenaged brats in the First Baptist Church in Donalsonville Â back in 1974 who couldnâ€™t afford the summer choir trip around Florida. My mom ran the three Â simultaneous slide projectors. Â 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 didnâ€™t even do it as a charity Â donation. Â Some Â of theÂ brats Â complained Â that Â I was only 12, not 13, and they didnâ€™t want me going unless their little sisters could go, so we were told Iâ€™d have to stay home. I did. The brats went. My parents paid for the trip anyway because â€œsomebodyâ€™s got to.â€
When Daddyâ€™s father died and his mother was faced with losing the farm and being homeless, my parents borrowed money from my Â motherâ€™s familyâ€”creating Â some extreme financial hardshipsâ€”and Â bought the farm back. They Â carved Â out Â the Â house Â and Â some Â acreage Â for Â 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 childrenâ€”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 Â siblings calling to demand their â€œshareâ€ 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? â€œSomebodyâ€™s got to do it.â€ I Â 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 Â of bailing someone Â out of debt, Â paying their Â bills Â and Â never Â seeing Â a Â positive Â result Â from Â the promises to pay them back. In fact, getting Â nothing but grief Â for Â their Â good Â intentions. Â I Â am Â appalled Â at Â how many people they have literally bailed out of jail or debts theyâ€™ve paid. Â Iâ€™m Â even more Â appalled Â 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 Â someoneâ€™s Â aidâ€”I Â have Â many Â timesâ€”but Â when Â she tells me about one womanÂ in particular, Â I am stunned. This is the first time Iâ€™ve heard it.
â€œShe was Â going Â to jailÂ for Â fraud,â€ Â Iâ€™m Â told. Â â€œSheâ€™d spent the money and couldnâ€™t repay it.â€
â€œBut she always had the best money could buy when you went without,â€ I remind her. â€œWhy did you bail her out?â€
â€œWell, somebody had to.â€
â€œNo, I mean, why didnâ€™t you just let her go to jail and suffer the consequences of her actions?â€
My Â mother, Â with Â an Â absolute Â straight Â face, Â said, â€œSomebody had to take responsibility.â€
Shannon looked like she was ready to come over the kitchen table. â€œYes, Grandma! Her!â€
It was just odd listening to how my parents took responsibility and fixed the problems of so many peopleâ€” to their own detriment. Â I Â understood completely how I grew up with the idea of fixing other peopleâ€™sÂ problems and that it was something I was expected to do.
I still have the same old yearning in my heart to help, but Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m working harder at just observing and staying neutral, giving others a chance to be responsible for themselves, Â even if they muck it up and canâ€™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. Â For certain, my mom wouldnâ€™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.