Promises Are Made to Be…

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I have a few childhood memories that will always haunt me but one of the worst happened in one single, terrible moment. I must have been 6 or 7 years old and we had been visiting my Grammy and Grampy. I remember that it was a beautiful summer day: we had all gone somewhere – I don’t recall the location now – with the exception of my beloved Grampy, who had opted to stay at home that morning.

Upon our return, as our cars pulled into the long dirt driveway that led to my grandparents’ humble little country home, I was the first to tumble out the car so that I could go find Grampy and excitedly tell him all about whatever amazing thing we had just been doing. He was unusually hard to find: I ran all through the little house, scouring every room for him.

It took awhile, but I finally found him outside, bent on one knee, and he was grimly holding the barrel of his old hunting rifle against his squalling, squirming barn cat. Just as I burst through the outer door of his old garage and into their tiny back yard, he pulled the trigger.

I adored my Grampy. We all did. He was strong and vital and he always smelled of fresh cut wood. He was loving; he was kind; he was generous with his time and he was always, always happy to see us. There was a special drawer – in the old kitchen – that was designated ‘Grampy’s drawer’ and it was filled with sweets of every imaginable variety. It was understood that each grandchild was allowed to open the drawer and take whatever goodie we wanted: he always called it ‘our little secret’. What I remember best; what I used to love; was how Grampy would call me “my little girl” in that French-Acadian accent that was so very dear to me.

Even now, 40 years after he died, I can still recall those loving words in his beautiful accent.

I was a quiet, sensitive child who lived the life of a lost little daydreamer, deeply engrossed in my books or in my meandering thoughts. I grew up in a small town and was not familiar with the things that all country children grow up seeing from infancy: births, deaths, bloody wounds, mice traps, fox traps, hunting guns and how to force a squirming worm onto the tip of a fish hook (which disturbs me still). Seeing Grampy shoot that cat horrified me beyond any words I have to express it.

I don’t remember the terrible minutes between seeing Grampy pull the trigger and sensing him, as well as my Mom and my uncles, surrounding me and trying their best to soothe me as I wailed inconsolably, face-down on the couch in my grandparents’ tiny living room. I remember that Grampy was devasted. I remember understanding that he had not meant for me to see such a thing. I remember that I was completely unable to be angry with him, so great was his distress.

“I’ll buy you another kitten,” he assured me, as I tried my best to stop crying and to undo the awful look of remorse in his eyes. “It’ll be here next time you come to visit.”

“Promise?” I sniffled.

“I promise,” he smiled, as he held me tight.

Grampy never did keep that promise, although – for the longest time – I searched for the kitten every time we came to visit.

As I got older, I came to be very grateful that he broke that promise. Country folk – especially back in the day – didn’t have much use for pets. If you kept an animal around, it was because the animal had a specific purpose: a dog was left outside, for protection; a cat was not coddled or welcomed into anyone’s lap; it was meant to keep the house free of mice; a pig was meant to be fattened up for winter eating. ‘Pets’ were for pampered town folk who wouldn’t be able to survive a day on a farm. For many years, I asked my parents why he killed the cat – that day of all days, while we were visiting – all to no avail. I’m pretty sure he had a good reason: perhaps the cat was sick; perhaps it had caught its paw in an animal trap; perhaps it had the symptoms of rabies.

I just needed to know the reason why, and it haunts me still, but there is no one in my family left alive who would remember the reason, now.

50 years after it happened, I am writing about that day because it made one very fundamental impression on me. Most of us, I think, have what my husband calls ‘power words’ in their vocabulary. These are words that we rarely utter because they carry great weight for us. The words I almost never say to anyone are “I promise,” or “I give you my word.” These are great, significant, important words for me and if I say them, I intend to mean them until I die.

Sometimes, like I did all those years ago with my Grampy, little kids will ask us to promise the ‘unpromiseable’ (and yes, I know that’s not a real word). Because the words are so important to me, I rarely uttered them to my own children when they were little. Instead, I would tell them, “I can’t promise you that because it’s a big promise to make, but I will do everything I know how, so that I can honour what it is you are asking.”

It might be a quaint term to use in this day and this age, but to me, my word really is my bond. The problem is, despite our best intentions, life can occasionally get in the way of even the best promises and sometimes, we make a promise before thinking through all the possible consequences. I had to break my word recently. Under the circumstances, I know it was the right thing to do. But I couldn’t help but think back on that awful look of remorse in my Grampy’s eyes.

And while I assume full responsibility for my decision, I know it is going bother me until my dying day.

Patti Moore Wilson ©


Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

19 thoughts on “Promises Are Made to Be…”

  1. Patti – thank you for all of this. I could feel…can feel the sorrow you’ve carried about the scene, the memories. I also appreciate the context around the story, understanding that your grandparents were country folks, and life was lived in ways that worked well given the impracticality of pets, perceptions about animals, generally, and your hoped-for reality that the cat was ill or in pain and that was the impetus for your Grampy’s actions.
    I felt like I took the trip with you as you remembered. But most of all, this: “…words that we rarely utter because they carry great weight for us. The words I almost never say to anyone are “I promise,” or “I give you my word.” These are great, significant, important words for me and if I say them, I intend to mean them until I die.”
    I feel the point you’re making…I think because I’ve often been asked if I can REALLY mean it every time I express affection – for friends new and old and family that I sometimes struggle with. Yep, yep I do…love just as much as it seems. It’s not fake or manufactured. Life is far too short and painful in unpredictable ways to withhold the best of what I can offer — kindness wrapped in love – for those who are in my life. Thank you so much for expressing the magnitude of phrases like “I promise”. We dare not say it if we don’t mean it. Hugs to you today, Patti! 💕💕💕

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well this is the second time today that you made me weep, Victoria 🙏💕 Very good tears, though… Thanks for seeing – and understanding – the context my grandparents lived in. I did want that to come through. And thanks for seeing my ‘hoped for’ reality, as you put it so beautifully. I understand exactly what you mean about struggling with expressing affection for friends new and old. I always hang back, a little, in new friendships. I struggle with chronic low energy and I am always afraid of ‘promising’ friendship, and then not being able to follow through. I only just made the connection with my reticence to promise anything unless I am sure I can mean it, so thank you for that 🙂💕 Thanks as well – and so much – for the follow 🙂💕

      Liked by 3 people

    1. That does not surprise me of you, dear Rosaliene 🙂 As I expect you well know, back in those days, parents didn’t talk about such things. If you didn’t mention it, it didn’t exist. I’m sure my parents had no idea how to respond to my questions and for many years, I just stopped asking. The possible reasons I gave in this post only came to me as I was writing it, and actually brought me – after all these years – much peace of mind. So grateful for your constant encouragement…xo 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Patti, like Vicki, I was THERE with you! My heart was breaking. And I was still hoping to know, all the way until the end, the why.. Such a traumatic thing to witness, particularly at a young age, and by someone you loved so much. And yet, I love how you also gave the only reason you knew in an attempt to absolve.

    Then of course, you’re so very right about the weight of words. Your post was heart-wrenching, but beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this with us! 🤍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh thank you so much for this… I wrote it after much second-guessing. What I didn’t expect, was how HEALING it would feel to write it. Nor did I expect to find a few reasons – the why – that had eluded me, until now. Vicki very recently wrote about ‘the power of expressive writing and reflection’ in her post Write it Out on your blog, The Heart of the Matter. That was DEFINITELY the case for me, in writing this post. So glad you stopped by 🙂🙏💕

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s wonderful, Patti! I’m so glad you found Vicki’s post helpful too! She has a real way with words, and they truly come from the heart. 🥰

        And I know what you mean. I sat down yesterday, meaning to simply jot a few things down, but once I got started… And where I ended up was a totally different place than the place I thought I’d been heading. It’s like you’re able to make connections that you don’t normally. I guess that’s why journaling is good. I’ve never been into it, but I’ve begun to see the benefits. Anyway, so glad to have found your blog, and looking forward to more. Have a wonderful day! 🤍

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What a truly heartbreaking story. It’s amazing how those moments in our lives when something so out-of-the-ordinary happens, stick with us forever. It’s also hard when we have to break a promise, even if its for good reason.

    Liked by 2 people

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