Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Cruel Harvest" by Fran Elizabeth Grubb (2012)


Prepare yourself to be shocked and disgusted by the treatment of Fran Grubb and her sisters at the hands of their father, Broadus, an itinerant farm worker, in this brave and gutsy memoir. I have never been able to understand the concept of the Stockholm syndrome, in which people can be made to withstand the most horrific treatment, yet form sort of a “bond” with their tormentors, or captors. But, apparently this is a real phenomenon and well documented.

The narrative takes place in the late 1950’s and 1960’s; the exact dates are not that important; except that it always shocks me to read of this kind of trauma actually occurs. Ms. Grubb’s father makes a sport of humiliating and beating his wife before graduating to the sexual molestation of his daughters, some as young as 12 years old. Their mother is powerless to protect them from her husband’s alcohol infused episodes of violence. Life is lived on the edge, with everyone in the family always on their toes, lest they do something to trigger their father's rage.

Writing this review is hard, as I cannot even imagine living like the author has. While my own father was verbally abusive, he doesn’t even register on the scale of Ms. Grubb’s father. He seems to thrive on the misery he causes. At one point he even kills his own newborn baby.

The author wonders constantly, as a little girl, what she has done to upset her father, and at times blames her mother for making her father angry. She actually wishes her mother were dead; or her father; either way might break the cycle. The guilt she endures for wishing the death of a parent is wrenching. The only reference I have to this, in my own life, involves my mother being very ill for many years and my thoughts that if she would just die then life would be normal for the rest of the family. This is a heavy burden for a child to carry around, and the guilt lasts a lifetime, even after you have come to terms with the reasoning behind the “forbidden” thoughts.

As the family bounces from one harvest to the next, things just seem to get worse and worse for the family. As each of the daughters comes of age; about 12; their father begins to molest them sexually, often beating them savagely afterwards. Again, their mother seems powerless to protect them, lest he turn his attentions towards her. And that’s the part that baffles me; how can a woman stand by silently and allow her own daughters to be treated in such a way?

To her credit, the mother and oldest daughter do plot to kill him, but after they are overheard by Ms. Grubb, she pleads with them not to kill her “daddy.” She would live to regret that.

When their mother turns them over to the Connie Maxwell Home in South Carolina, the children learn that there are such things as mattresses and clean clothing; not to mention 3 meals a day. They are used to sleeping on cardboard and old army blankets in any deserted farmhouse or sharecropper’s shack that they can find as they travel about, following the harvests. And food is always scarce due to their fathers drinking up all the money the family earns picking cotton and fruits. Ms. Grubb thrives, along with her sister, at the Connie Maxwell Home, but not for long.

When their father shows up with his sister in tow, the children are taken out of the orphanage and on a journey through hell as their father seeks revenge on his estranged wife by taking it out on his children. Along the way they encounter people who realize what is happening to the children, but in those days it was considered unfortunate, and so the abuse continued.

When Ms. Grubb’s father meets a woman named Millie, he charms her and her daughter into traveling with them. Millie is larger than Ms. Grubb’s mother, but no match for the brutal man she has attached herself to. Her daughter soon becomes the target of physical abuse, and Millie does nothing to protect her child. Once again, I cannot even fathom this line of reasoning. Eventually Millie prods the girls to run away, leaving only Fran to be abused. And soon after that, she helps Fran to flee from her father as well.

After a last standoff between her father’s employer and her dad, she is finally free of her horrors, although it would take years to overcome the abuse she suffered at his hands. With the help and guidance of her husband, Wayne; and through their faith; Ms. Grubb comes to terms with all that has happened in her life; and recovers her scattered siblings; finally gaining the family she always longed for.  This was a well written and very important book; but not an easy one to read; and I am glad that in the end the author is able to forgive her father; because I sure as hell can’t. That alone is testament to the power of the author’s words.

No comments:

Post a Comment