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Poverty with its multi-faceted violence scours psyches of survivors eking out a living—but not all are left in dust-pommeled gangways—throughways for rats—as recounted in Vivian Gibson’s memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek (2020).

As a pre-teen, she witnessed the 1959 demolition of the historic four-hundred-square-foot neighborhood of twenty thousand underpaid African American workers in St. Louis, Missouri; its benign neglect, for decades, had contributed to the Mill Creek’s “blightedness” that green-lighted government funding for another Interstate for suburban workers, needing faster access to their city jobs. After the quick work of the medicine balls and tractors, Mill Creek’s bombed-out landscape became known as “Hiroshima Flats.”

What could have been a scorching account of disrupted families, churches, and businesses—a viable through invisible community to the world around it—it was told with honesty, humor, replete with wisdom. Life inside those cold-water flats, heated by coal and wood-burning stoves, many with no indoor plumbing, was not without its rules and consequences. Unique patterns of communication developed among families, bonding them for life.

Such experiences had unfolded within the Ross’s 800-square-foot flat in the 2600 block of Bernard Avenue where lived the author’s seven siblings and her parents, their teachers of positive self-regard, resourcefulness, and the value of education and hard work. All moved through daunting hardships—at times—with ease. Detailed accounts jumped off the pages: their Saturday morning “shopping” at Soulard Market, returning home on the streetcar with bags of bruised fruits and vegetables, left on the ground by the farmers. No one was ever hungry in the Ross household.

Vivian Gibson’s unflinching acceptance of her hardscrabble beginnings contributed to the accomplished woman she has become: author, fashion designer, cook, wife, and mother. She has much to teach us in her memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek.

Coils of barbed wire leaf out and produce a nine-petaled orange flower: such is the poignant design on the cover of the memoir The Choice – Embrace the Possible (2017) by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, an Hungarian-American survivor of Auschwitz.

Sustaining this teenager through ever-present death threats for eighteen months was her mother’s counsel, “You’re responsible for whatever you put in your mind. No one can take it from you.” Another factor was her life-plan with soul mate Eric enlivening her imagination, filling it with song and dance.

Yet, after the author’s 1945 liberation from the death camp, narrated within the first sixty-nine pages of this memoir, impenetrable evil continues weighting the balance. No matter what, Eger would be the free woman she was destined to become, without Eric, without her parents and grandparents, without her language, without her country.

But how return to life? What about the residual psychic wound, stalking beneath her ghostly shudders, dreams—this wound repelled by language’s efforts to make sense of it? How live with her senses having been saturated by the gruesome? Even others assault her Jewishness in other countries. Yet, decades of harrowing psychic cleansing empowers Dr. Eger to say to us: “…I would love to help you discover how to escape the concentration camp of your own mind and become the person you were meant to be.”

In my perception, Dr. Edith Eva Eger achieved a depth of psychic freedom few experience in this life. How privileged we are to have her memoir The Choice – Embrace the Possible that shows us how to change.

At 6:A.M., I woke with this corrective dream from my personal unconscious:

It was winter, several inches of snow covered the ground. Headlights from a car swept the corners of my bedroom and turned into my driveway. It was my ride. I stirred under my comforter, anxious. I was supposed to be ready. I dressed hurriedly. Because I had no boots, I grabbed a handful of blue rubber gloves in the box on my dresser to cover my stocking feet. The gloves were mashed together and impossible to separate. My anxiety escalated into rage. Alone, I sat on the floor.  

Winter, several inches of snow covered the ground of my psyche suggesting anger’s stranglehold of my spiritual faculties: Anger of monstrous proportions distorts each image in the dream. 

My ride corresponds to my actual helper, well schooled in my needs, daily, since last September. In this dream, though, she does not appear but her taking care of me suggests the loss of my independence. I still don’t like it, even after these months.

My having no boots suggests an unsuitable foundation upon which to stand: I was off balance, dizzy. Desperate, I sought a substitute, anything to protect my feet from the snow-covered driveway.

The blue rubber gloves in the box on my dresser used by my helper when tending to my personal needs and the preparation of meals come to mind. In the dream, I grab a handful of the gloves but fail in separating them. It did not occur to me to ask for help, a lifelong pattern that ill-serves me, even now.

Despite frequent blogs alluding to acceptance of my terminal illness, this anger dream reveals another scenario unfolding within my depths. Only denial keeps me at bay from its full terror, and that’s as it should be, for now. Occasionally, however, breakthroughs do occur that wash over me until the next one, usually in the evening.

I still plead with the Psalmist, “Create, O God, a clean heart within me!”

Available on Amazon

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