The Antecedents of Survival
Richard Gottlieb, MSW, SOB and MBF (My Best Friend), says that what interests him most is how I got the strength to survive all the crap I went through, said crap being twenty-six years of taking psychiatric drugs, which resulted in about fifty hospitalizations, a dozen suicide attempts, a dozen chronic illnesses, and life in a wheelchair with an indwelling catheter (dwelling in me, not the chair). What gave me the strength to survive all that?
That’s a pretty good question to ask. What are the antecedents of survival? Is courage genetic? (Is schizophrenia genetic?) Is there a gene for strong-heartedness? (Is there a gene for depression?) This question isn’t about how I recovered; it’s about how I survived, like you might ask Senator John McCain how he survived the Vietnamese POW camp.
The answer is that I come from a long line of strong women who lived close to God and the land: Anne Woodlen, born of Elizabeth Copeland, born of Mary Hope, and so on back to Hannah Hope and beyond. “Beyond” was an unnamed Hope woman who saw her husband off on a ship to the New World sometime before 1672. They were Quakers and she and the children stayed in England. She had no certainty that she would ever see her husband John again. What kind of woman has the strength to do that? To give up her husband and to support her children in the 1670’s? Maybe a woman of strong faith.
A few years later, she and her children also took ship and went to the new country, where they rejoined John Hope, lived in a two-room log cabin and farmed the land. A couple generations down the line, we come to Hannah Hope, who also had a husband and children, and lived in the same two-room cabin, except that by now more rooms had been added and it had become a farmhouse.
Hannah stood on her front porch with her youngest children, watching while her husband and oldest sons went off to war. The British were coming—in fact, they were twenty miles away. (Imagine that it was World War II and the Germans were in the suburbs of your city.) She and her husband had renounced one of the basic tenets of their church—“Thou shalt not kill”—and they would now bear the consequences: they would be expelled from their church.
Hannah’s husband died fighting. She was left alone to raise the children and continue farming with the boys who did come back after the Revolutionary War. What gave her the strength? Was it keeping close to the land? The generations passed. The Hope women knew that if their husbands did not plant and harvest then they would starve, and the Hope men knew that if their wives did not preserve and cook then they would starve. Marriage was a mutually dependent relationship; they understood it and respected each other as equal but different.
By the late 1800’s it was Mary who was living on the farm with her parents, Sidney and Clarence Hope. The farm had been deeded to John Hope by William Penn and, two hundred years later, the Hope family still lived on it. They were as unchanging as the land, and deeply grounded in it. Sons and daughters were all children, and children were equally expected to work. It was a farm and the cows had to be milked every morning before school.
After completing local school, Mary—my grandmother—went away to school. Whether she went to finishing school or college is unclear, but after one year she refused to go back, saying that she wasn’t allowed to whistle there, and Mary would whistle! She stayed home and got married, saying that her wedding day was the happiest day of her life because she knew she’d never have to milk another cow.
On the farm, you do what needs to be done whether you like it or not. It is not about self-actualization; it is about cows moo-ing with urgency. Mary’s husband, Richard, had been raised on a farm but was working in labor relations at the steel mill. They built a house just down the road from the farm. Every spring Clarence Hope would hitch the plow to the mules, walk them down the road, and plow Dick and Mary’s land for the garden—the garden where Dick would plant and harvest, and from which Mary would can and preserve.
The Hopes were decent, God-fearing Presbyterians by now, and when baby Elizabeth was born, she was properly baptized. Betty lived within walking distance of all thirteen of her cousins until she got married at the age of twenty-two: family was everything. The farm had been divided in two, the Upper Farm and the Lower Farm, which was the original farm. Betty spent her entire life insisting that she did not grow up on the farm, not understanding that one mile down the road hardly qualified as separation from the land.
The Upper Farm had been out of the family for a few decades but had come back in. On the Sunday nearest to the Fourth of July the Hope family would gather on the farm for reunion. Decades later, locked in the state psychiatric center and being served meals on paper plates, I would remember the paper plates at these reunions. Great-grandfather Hope’s Will stipulated that the farm was to be sold at public auction: Dick and Mary bought it.
In middle-age, they went back to the land. Mary, menopausal and frightened, asked Dick if they had done the right thing by buying the farm. He replied, “We won’t know for twenty-five years—if then.” Betty was already married and away, starting her own family with her husband Milton, a teacher. In 1946, I was born.