Old Friends from Home

I grew up in a town. By some standards, I guess my hometown could’ve been called small, but it never occurred to me to think of it that way–not then and not now. My guess is that all the old small town sayings might have been true back in my grandmother’s day and maybe even at the beginning of my mom’s, but by the time Continue reading “Old Friends from Home”

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Wanted: a church with no strings

I miss my old church. I was a member there for about twenty years before I moved down south, and I was pretty darn involved considering that for the last several years of my membership, I would’ve identified myself as an atheist. Despite what you might imagine, I didn’t give any thought at all to Continue reading “Wanted: a church with no strings”

When we dance

I wasn’t a graceful kid. In fact, Mama rather sarcastically called me “Grace” until well after I entered high school. I had quite the complex for a number of years, and then suddenly, I didn’t anymore. Maybe it was because I watched someone move who truly looked like they shouldn’t and figured I couldn’t possibly do any worse. Or maybe I saw a heavy person dancing and thought they looked great; if they could Continue reading “When we dance”

Inheritance

In my first semester at my out-of-state university, I had an English Literature teacher who was probably five or six years younger than I.  I wasn’t particularly bothered by this.  At the university level,  it’s a fair bet that whoever is teaching the class has had enough education to choke a horse; the woman was more educated than I ever had any intention of being.  I liked her quite a lot, Continue reading “Inheritance”

It’s the four-time-supplier-of-genetic-material’s birthday tomorrow.

Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday, and I’ll tell you the truth:  sometimes, it really pisses me off that I’m the kind of person who can’t refrain from remembering shit like that.  Not that I hate the man, because really, I don’t.  There’s just sort of a void in the place where he should be.  Like…you know how people are always talking about the father-daughter bond?  Well, if it weren’t for my husband’s relationship with his Continue reading “It’s the four-time-supplier-of-genetic-material’s birthday tomorrow.”

Partners

Mama used to say that if only she would’ve had someone to help her pull her wagon, things would’ve been a lot easier for all of us.  She meant another adult, of course, but what she got was a couple of kids.  We weren’t very good pullers, my oldest brother and I, but our hearts were in the right place.  We tried.

Since I starting “dating” my sweet husband in 2015, I’ve thought a lot about that “pulling the wagon” image of Mama’s.  It’s apt, actually.  Those little red wagons aren’t at all easy to pull, particularly if the terrain is rough or if you get it too heavily loaded.  When we were growing up, there were very few patches of smooth ground.  And there were four of us, so the wagon’s burden was never light.  Some of us fell out sometimes.  We got hurt or lost or both.

When Hubby and I got together, his wagon had been stuck in the mud for so long that he’d given up trying to move it.  The kids had taken it over and made a useless mess of it; it was no longer fit to move anything anywhere or to keep anyone out of harm’s way. Indeed, they all had cuts and scrapes from the wagon’s rusty edges, and we worried (and still worry) about infections that never fully go away, that could be life-threatening.

My husband is a hard worker and he brings home a decent paycheck.  He is also a wonderful man with a huge heart, and for several years before I arrived on the scene, he was dad, mom, and sole breadwinner for his three children.  Unfortunately, it was just him trying to do all those things (aside from occasional help from his visiting mom).  Like Mama, he needed serious, permanent help to pull his wagon, and the oldest boy (no matter how good his intentions) wasn’t getting the job done.

When I talk to Hubby about that time, he says there was no opportunity for anything except triage, trying desperately to prioritize on the fly and decide who most needed help.  I can’t imagine how horrific it must’ve been for him to see all his babies in trouble and to only be able to offer temporary help to the one who was bleeding out the fastest. I’m sure his persistent worrying (over a situation he had no power to fix) is to blame for most of his current wrinkles and health problems.

I knew my husband for 25 years before we ever got together, and I think every day about how much different both of our lives would’ve been if it hadn’t taken so long, if we both hadn’t taken so much damage beforehand.  I came in to our relationship with a feeling of worthlessness that was directly tied to how much money I was making.  He came in with the persistent and nagging feeling that he was solely responsible for getting these three little people he’d made into adulthood alive.

I’ve said it before, but I think I was born to be a mother.  As soon as I walked through the door, I started trying to make a safe home for these kids that I really didn’t know at all except through occasional pictures and stories my sister (in-law) told.  At the beginning, hubby gave me $400 a week to buy groceries and the stuff the kids needed.  They had to come to me with their requests instead of to their dad.  I cleaned, went grocery shopping, cooked actual food, and enforced a go-home time for the oldest’s friends.  (Hubby was working midnights, and five days a week, I had to make sure nobody ended up injured, traumatized or dead.)  I bought clothes and school supplies, toiletries and tampons.  I discouraged Hamburger Helper and fast food wherever possible because none of them needed to continue to live that way now that I was there.  Hubby seemed to drop 50 pounds overnight.

My very presence was enough to ensure that within a few months, the kids had new beds and we lived in a nicer house in a better neighborhood.  There was also a new school for the youngest two (the oldest moved away when he hit 18) and car insurance for my husband, who hadn’t been able to round up the extra money to start it while he was busy putting out fires.  This fall he’s going back to school to pursue a dream and to work toward getting the hell out of the factory.

The point of all this is, the experience of marrying my sweet husband and becoming step-mom to these awesome (if occasionally irksome) kids has shown me once and for all what it truly means to be and to have a partner, how it feels to help someone pull their wagon and to know that they are there to help you pull yours, and how sometimes you can help without bringing a single dime of your own to the table.  I would never have guessed.  Seriously.  That was not at all the lesson I’d spent the preceding years of my adulthood learning.

Even more than a year later, it still blows me away when my husband (or my mom or my sister) points out all the ways that the lives of these three people have changed and improved in the time I’ve known them.  I say “I didn’t do anything.  I just showed up.”

My husband says “Baby.  I love you.  You’re so silly.”

*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Partner.

Shimmer and Shine

I was divorced from my first husband for 21 years before I hit the proverbial lottery and managed to get this one to say “I do.”  I was young for that first marriage — awfully, painfully, irritatingly young.  He was a nice guy — a decade older than me — but to this day, I cannot fathom how on earth I ever could’ve been immature enough to find him at all interesting.  I’m also at a loss to explain why I didn’t listen to what my mother had to say on the subject, epic Wise Woman that she is.  The only possible excuse I can muster is that he was pretty cute, and I was 20 years old.  My brain wasn’t yet fully formed.

In the intervening years between the demise of my first marriage and the start of my second, I had occasion to see other relationships up close — both those that seemed built on bedrock and those that everyone in their right minds could see racing toward termination.  I began to notice, of all things, the women’s wedding rings.  Admittedly, it’s more than probable that the highly unscientific study that follows was based solely on my own short-lived and ill-advised first marriage; but it also seems to me that this is the way with all the real-life and common sense knowledge we acquire in our time on the planet, so I’m gonna go ahead and keep talking.

Anyway.  I like shimmer and glitz and shine as much as the next girl, and I had even more appreciation for it as a 20-year-old.  That first wedding ring was cookie-cutter, yellow gold, part of a 3 piece set.  All of the pieces had diamonds, albeit only small ones. The existence of the diamonds in my ring(s) was (at the time) more important to me than their size.  I was insistent on bling to such an extent that I didn’t even make a thing out of preferring white gold.  I detest yellow gold.  It looks horrible against my skin.  But it was what everybody else had, and I was by God gonna keep up with the Joneses.

The good news is, when I got divorced a year later, it was no problem at all to pawn my rings.  =)

What I began to notice in the years after my divorce was the frequency with which the blingy ringed people got divorced vs. the people who wore simple gold or silver bands.  Also, the folks who had huge, massive-debt-incurring weddings vs. those who were married at a courthouse or in Grandpa’s barn.  Seriously…I know there are exceptions to the rule here (I can think of at least a few of my own friends), but if you really look around, take stock, and ask questions, you’d be amazed at the extent to which this shit holds true.  (Heh…I’ve also seen it where the couple did the big wedding and the blingy rings and then stayed together for 50 years when they absolutely should have gotten divorced ten minutes after they were married because staying together was obviously no good for anyone involved.)  In any case, I saw it often enough that it changed my entire way of thinking about marriage and about weddings in general.  I told anyone who would listen that if I ever got married again, it would be in a courthouse, and we’d both have simple wedding bands.

IMG_0458

Mostly, that’s exactly what I did.  We were married in a courthouse, and our families stood up with us.  Hubby has a simple titanium band.  I, however, ended up re-purposing my mom’s (very shimmery) wedding ring (which she’d had custom made into a dinner ring some years before).  Hubby and I had it fitted with a new, thicker band and plated with white gold to cover the yellow.  I adore the thing.  It makes me happy every time I look at it, but not because of the diamonds.  No…I love it because it’s one of a kind.  It’s like nothing anyone else possesses or has ever seen.

Which coincidentally is exactly how I feel about my husband, my mom, and the family I married into.  Even if it had no shimmer at all, it would still shine.

via WordPress Daily Prompt — Shimmer

I Am From…*

I am from a tinny-sounding radio on the kitchen counter, a wooden porch swing that occasionally fell down on one end, and Matchbox cars and GI Joes playing with Barbie. I am from a hundred books before age thirteen, soda bottles exchanged for sno-cones, and going down to Farm Fresh for a bag of penny candy or some sour straws. I’m from Dr. Seuss and made up stories, from 4-actor plays and pageants performed on a dining-room chair stage for an appreciative audience of one.

242466704_ae95c15787_bI am from the dilapidated brown-shingled house that used to have porch railing, but gave it up about two years into the third boy, from wooden clothes racks and radiators used to dry clothes after the dryer quit. I am from windows left open at night and screened-in patios in the rain, from mother-hung drywall, partially kid-painted walls, and kicked-in front doors. I’m from the house with the 3-foot deep mudhole “fort” in the backyard, where the mama was better at “catch” than anyone else, where jumping in mud puddles was encouraged.

211176922_0f5a98c602_oI am from the daffodils, peonies, irises, poppies, roses and petunias in my grandma’s yard, from the marigolds my Grampa Wendell stuck in my hair, from the purple flocks and tiger lilies that grew sparsely in our neighborhood and that N once tried to sell out of our little red wagon. I am from exotic flower loving stock, but I’m almost positive that the three generations of women in our family would identify themselves as wildflowers if asked. I am from people who grow where they’re planted.

211178406_d8ba09769b_oI am from 3am Nintendo games, singing in the truck, and fist fights, from mayo and lettuce sandwiches and fierce loyalty. I am from a flattop Gibson guitar, a flute I buried in the backyard, and jitterbugging in the kitchen. I’m from Music as a Means of Survival, from strangely named psychotic cats and unnaturally smart dogs, from a mother who convinced us we could learn to swim in the water hose, and who made sure we looked better than everyone else on Halloween (even if our costumes were homemade). I am from the rusted-out swingset where we played while Mama hung clothes on the line. I am from Grandma, who taught me to love Tony Bennett and Andy Williams, and who freaked me out with her ability to sit with her legs around her neck at age seventy. I’m from Mama, who makes me laugh every time I talk to her, who always wants to “pick my brain” about something, who tries to show me how to exact Joy from the people around me and from the small every day moments that make up our lives.

I am from the Martins who have weak hearts, the Meltons who lived on religion and passion and very nearly starved to death, and the Hodgeses who have greasy hair, bad teeth, and drinking problems – the first two of which I didn’t manage to escape. But really, I am from the same strong line of “gypsy people” that spawned all the women back to my Grandma Faye, from folks who made their family where they found it and always had a sparkle in their eye.

211180163_a195f5feed_oI am from Sunday afternoon drives in the country and the illusion of getting away, from McDonalds french fries stuck between the cushions of the back seat and Dilly Bars when our ship came in.  I am from homemade “bowl” haircuts, apple pies, and sugar cookies; from a mother who didn’t eat vegetables and a Grandma who did, and from a brother who learned to cook steak better than my dad ever could.

I am from “you’re a late bloomer” and “that boy’s got a nice package,” from “that’s…interesting” and “there is no reality, just perception.”

I am from “use your Presbyterian personality,” from “sing in my ear,” and “the hymnal’s too close, I can’t see it.” I am from a family who realized early that the pastor was a yutz; from, during-church note-passers and candy-eaters and squabble breaker-uppers. I am from faith that just is, and from understanding there is something more without needing to define it with doctrines, creeds, or any other follow-the-leader mentality.

I’m from small-town rural Illinois, from ice cream churned by hand on the front porch, from Mom’s macaroni and cheese and bag-boiled mixed vegetables, and from Grandma’s chicken noodles and broccoli.

I am from a woman who reunited with her runaway first husband fifty years later, and a woman who chased her husband down with a large green truck before she found Al-Anon. I am from Oletta and Gwyn, from Juli and Rachel, from Aunt Wuss, Aunt Millis, and Aunt Sylvia.

211180169_fad22d2c4e_oI am from a stack of unfinished baby albums, from a typed booklet full of the first gazillion wonderful things I said, from a few studio pictures and thousands of snapshots that were far better than they should’ve been given the limits of 110 cameras. I am from Peter, Paul, and Mary, from Simon & Garfunkel, from Judds songs and always singing harmony. I am from the family that always sang, no matter what. It echoes…and remains.

I am from a collection of strong women, from three brothers I love beyond reason, and…from me.

 


*The “I Am From…” thing made the online journal rounds several years ago; everybody I knew did it at least once.  If you’d like to make your own, the template is here.  If you do it, leave a link in the comments so I can see!

The big dog and the blind boy

My mother can be truly tenacious. Many are the times in my life that I’ve been grateful to look behind or beside me and find her there. Always — even when I’ve disappointed her or done something utterly ridiculous — I know she’s there if I need her. She refers to herself as “a big dog”. Not all the time, but like: “I took your grandmother to her appointment today because the doctor wouldn’t answer her questions and she needed a Big Dog.”

Yesterday, I told her that, as a Leo (and the single defining force in our collective universe), she was to blame for all her children being “freaks of nature.” I say this kindly, and in the funniest way possible, but in actuality, I think there’s an element of truth to it. The five of us cannot gather anywhere without being the center of attention. She says “well honey, that’s just because we’re fascinatin!” And there’s truth in that. I’ve never met anyone else like us. We all naturally gravitate toward intellect, learning, and wit. Throw in my mother’s penchant toward creativity and strangeness (regardless of the situation), and well, you got yourself a buncha freaks. Smart freaks who talk about interesting things, but freaks nonetheless. In fact, I’ll bet there isn’t a one of us that wasn’t “different” before the age of three.

As an example, I give you J, my youngest brother. First, the basics: Like his sister, he learns about the things that he’s interested in quickly and is able to apply that knowledge. He’s good at his job and knows it well, he’s intuitive and knowledge-seeking, and he’s excellent at correctly judging situations and people. Now, the kicker: He’s a fucking freak. When I was home last, he did his traditional “humiliate Mama in the grocery store routine.” This has been an ongoing thing with them for years, but this was the first time I actually saw it play out firsthand.

My mother works with developmentally disabled adults. Years ago, when J was in junior high, her job had an in-service on “the proper treatment of blind people.” J just happened to be there that day; he’d gotten out of school early, so he was on the sidelines being uncharacteristically quiet and still, waiting on her to get off work. Now, the in-service was a serious thing. They were having it because their staff was often inconsiderate to the blind people in their care. They’d forget to tell them to step down or they’d steer them too close to objects in their path, and since the blind person’s hand is always on one shoulder or the other (and they’re always on one side or the other) they’d end up getting hurt. So, this in-service involved just the staff, leading each other around blindfolded, trying to learn how to be sensitive to the very existence of the people who were relying on them. J watched all this passively, silently. But somewhere in his little freak brain, he also integrated it. We saw hide nor hair of it for years. Then, some years later, it popped up in the grocery store.

The story goes, Mom was in a bad mood. Some bitch did something to her at work, and she was walking around with the “don’t fuck with the big dog” face. I hear it’s a Leo thing. Anyway. So J puts his hand on her shoulder. Now, we’re a somewhat affectionate family. I pat/pinch the boys’ asses being stupid, they put their arms around both me and mom when they think we need it. So Mama didn’t really notice the hand on her shoulder – not until she realized that she was garnering stares from everyone she and J passed in the aisles of the supermarket.

J was pretending to be blind. And so far, she’d walked him into a couple endcap displays and a wall of Coke products. He’d stumble for a moment, pat his way around, and walk with his hand out at the right level till he “found” her again. When she looked up and over her shoulder at him after she noticed people staring (J’s about 6’4), she saw that his eyes were sort of heavy-lidded, fixed on some invisible point ahead that never changed. He was doing the perfect imitation of a blind person. So, she punched him in the stomach (and this woman’s playful punches are NOT painless) and told him to stop it. And naturally (after he gave her a visual demonstration of what he’d been doing), she couldn’t stop laughing, which was J’s objective from the beginning.

Now, I had the privilege to see some of this when I was home last, though by now Mom has learned to immediately smack J’s hand off her shoulder when they’re in a public place. To compensate for this, J has adapted a vocal routine to go along with the physical. “Mom? Mom! Where are you? You’ve left me again. Has anyone seen my mom? Hi! (touching a stranger) I’m a blind person, can you help me find my mom?” And he’s standing stock-still in the middle of the aisle with his hand uselessly reaching into the air around him. Now, I don’t know who you think I am, but I do not have the ability to keep a straight face in the presence of The Funny. (My middle brother, T, has it, and I’m totally envious. It makes him a terrific joke-teller.) So I’m laughing my completely loud and distinctive laugh, Mama’s moving quickly down the aisle trying to pretend she doesn’t notice or know the blind person who’s very loudly asking for his mother, and T and N are shaking their heads and following her, chuckling to themselves. It takes me a moment to realize that I look a little cruel, standing five or six feet away from a blind person in a supermarket laughing my ass off. When I do, I walk up to J and put my arm around his significantly-higher waist and we walk off smiling to find Mama.

Normal people – nay, even just fascinating people – do not do these things. These are the actions of freaks. Once again, I use this term with all possible humor; I certainly wouldn’t have my family any other way.

ADDENDUM: I called Mom at work to read her this story, knowing she a) probably needed cheering and b) thinks I’m far too distant from my family nowadays and needs to know I’m still the same person. She said, and I quote: “Yes, but you’ve said nowhere that I’m actually a very nice person, small and petite of frame, and generally a delight to be around! You talk about the ‘big dog’ and people are going to think I’m a big woman. Why can’t you use the nickname you gave me? ‘Mamasita’ makes me sound so cute.” This, from a woman who yanked people from car windows when I was a child, and parked behind people who stole her parking place so they couldn’t leave in recent years. Naturally, I mentioned these behaviors, to which she said “well, what do normal people do when assholes steal their parking place?” I said, “we cuss, loudly, from the confines of our car.” She said, “well that’s not healthy. That’s bottling up your anger; it’s passive/aggressive behavior. You know I don’t believe in passive/aggressive behavior.”

This is exactly my point. I love my family, but freaks we are, and ever shall be.

This entry was originally posted in May 2005 when I was living 1650 miles away from home and missing my family. I’m reposting it today in honor of Mama’s birthday and her continuing role as Big Dog and Freak-in-Chief.