Jean Anderson doesn’t believe in do-overs.
“I don’t spend a lot of time on wishful thinking on how I should have done things differently. I’m not proud of some of the things I’ve done. But I have no regrets.”
“God has a way of turning things around into something better.”
AT FIRST GLANCE it seems Anderson, 70, has lived in an act-first, think-later, manner.
She’s on her fourth marriage and has experienced poverty, physical abuse, abandonment and suffered through two alcoholic husbands.
Today, she’s in her 17th year of a blissful marriage, has no debt, is in sound relationships with her four children and her grandchildren and currently volunteers with Girls Only Club, a high school youth group in her church.
Anderson can relate with today’s youth, she said, “By being there.
“I was going to say by listening. But I don’t hear as I used to and they talk a lingo I sometimes don’t understand.”
Anderson also has a way of understanding people, because “I’ve probably been there, too.”
Anderson was born on her grandparents’ farm in Severy. The rural life always appealed to her, and when times got tough she frequently returned to her parents’ farm in Chase County. “It was a special place,” she said, recalling its bucolic setting.
Anderson was the oldest of five children and was given an inordinate amount of responsibility for their care.
“There was a lot of conflict at home,” she said. Her mother was educated with a college degree in music, while her father worked as a farmer as well as manufacturing.
“Dad wanted Mom to raise us kids as his mom did. Mom wanted Dad to be more focused on a career.”
The two separated, with Anderson’s mother moving the children to Mattfield Green where she took a job teaching music. When she learned she was pregnant with her fifth child – “finally, a son” – the couple reunited.
“But it didn’t last,” Anderson said. “Mom then took us all to Wichita and filed for divorce. She wanted Dad to change.”
Anderson can’t remember what happened to her dad during this time, “But he sent us every dime he had. Between Mom’s job and his contributions she was able to buy a house.”
“To my great shock and dismay, they remarried,” she said.
Between her role of cooking and taking care of her siblings as well as being a high-schooler, young Anderson didn’t need her parents’ drama, she said.
Her saving grace was her parents’ promise they would pay for her college education. Turns out, her father also began college, graduating the year before she did. They both majored in education.
WHEN HER CHANCE came to begin an independent life, Anderson found herself woefully unprepared.
“I was a late developer,” she said. And though she took on a lot of responsibility in domestic duties, her parents weren’t “exactly around,” to impart words of wisdom.
It was the 1960s and Wichita was in the midst of the Civil Rights movement.
In what she views now as a rebellious move, Anderson married a black.
“There was genuine love,” she said, “But both Tony and I married for reasons other than we wanted to spend our lives together.”
He, too, was rebelling against an overprotective mother “who had his life planned for him – even the girl he was to marry – and it wasn’t me.”
“There were multiple motivations for me to marry,” she said. “Many, I wasn’t even aware of at the time.”
Anderson also saw the marriage as “redemption,” perhaps of society’s ill treatment of blacks as well as what she terms her own “past sins.”
The young couple were “an anomaly for Wichita, Kansas at that time.”
When Jean became pregnant with their second child, they moved to Tony’s hometown in Pennsylvania. They had four children altogether.
Tony’s alcoholism, abusiveness and desire to live a “poetic, nomadic” life in New York City brought the marriage to an end.
Anderson found her career as a teacher and her strong faith in God her saving grace – lessons she was to learn repeatedly over the course of her life.
Marriage No. 2 didn’t fare much better. Another alcoholic – “I didn’t catch on” – who needed a mother for his two children.
The family lived primarily in Coffeyville where Anderson taught for 11 years, while her husband hauled cattle and worked in manufacturing.
Anderson says those years she lived a “dual life” of being a “proper teacher and good mother,” but also a drinking partner for her husband.
“I was living an immoral life,” she said. “I know I did not want that kind of life for my kids. I didn’t want them to know me as that kind of person,” she said. “For some reason, they all love me.”
The lifestyle took a toll.
“I hit bottom,” Anderson said. “I kept asking God to get me out of this marriage, but He kept putting a love in my heart for my husband.”
For a while her husband also took up religion, but returned to old habits after he lost a job.