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!

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The Brothers Three

I come from a big family, and in case I don’t get around to mentioning it very often, they really are an important part of who I am now and who I grew up being.  While my tendency is to talk mostly about Mama (especially when recounting times past), the truth is, the boys played just as big a part in who I am.

When I say I miss my brothers, I mean I miss all of us together, the way we were as children. There are particular things that I miss most. If you asked Mama, she’d say she missed the singing – all of us piled together in “Old Green” (an army green former utility truck of some sort that came to us already beaten and abused, one of the few things the four of us didn’t have a hand in destroying further), singing song after song from the late 60’s and 70’s and marveling at the acoustics. Or maybe she’d say it was listening to the four of us thump around on top of the truck while she drove the five or six blocks from Farm Fresh back to the house on some unbelievably hot summer night when riding in the open air at 20 miles an hour was the only breeze to be found.

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Strangely, though they’re certainly relevant to who I am, these aren’t my favorite memories. My favorites all occurred on some weekend or vacation when Mom had long since gone to bed and the four of us were gathered around the minuscule television in the living room playing some video game on near-mute and trying to be quiet enough as a group that we wouldn’t wake her. I don’t remember any of us every arguing over who got to play next or longest. We just played. And when we weren’t playing we were watching each other play.  (My love of video games endures to this day. And as it was then, it doesn’t matter a lick to me whether I’m playing or watching.) There were a million things feeding into us having a good time on those nights. First, we weren’t supposed to be up so late, and that alone was cool. Second, we only owned one game ourselves, so usually, any time we were up late playing it was because we’d suddenly gotten some spare change and Mom had agreed to rent us a game. (The renting, by the way, was almost as cool as the playing. Nate and I would spend almost an hour poring over titles and back-of-the-box descriptions, making sure that whatever game we ended up getting wasn’t going to disappoint us in the first ten minutes. There wasn’t another one where that came from and we all knew it.) Third, if there was spare change for a game, then in all likelihood, there was also Coke, chips, and sandwich stuff.  (Food was not always readily available at our house.)  And fourth, Dad was never home any time we stayed up late, which meant our house was a fairly quiet place. After all, there was nothing for the four of us to argue over among ourselves.  That fact alone is an amazement to me–four siblings with nothing to argue about?  But back then, it was true.

No matter how we dressed, no matter how our house looked compared to everyone else’s, no matter what car or beat up old truck Mama drove us to school in, I was always proud of the boys and proud to be with them. Though we always had to watch out for the youngest, J (who had a tendency to suddenly disappear or run headlong into oncoming traffic), most of the time we were the best behaved brood of children that I’ve ever encountered.  Oddly enough, I don’t recall any of us believing that at the time.  I think somewhere in the back of their brains, all children must believe they’re inherently rotten, if not for what their parents tell them, then for the thoughts they think at night, in the quiet darkness of their rooms.

Sometimes I think there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to have us all in one house again. And if I had minutes or years to live over, I’d choose those when we were together every time. There are changes I would make. Maybe I could keep my oldest brother, N, from all the heartbreak and trouble of his mid-teens and early 20s.  Perhaps in a changed and bettered future, it would be possible for all of us to be together in one place without the arguing and ill will that happens now when such gatherings occur. I would have liked very much for all of us to be adults together, for ours to be one of “those families” who stay together, who laugh and play and drink together well into middle age.

I hate that we’ll never be the versions of us that I dreamed we’d be.  And while it’s easy to blame my middle brother, T, or politics, or geography or a million other things, the truth is, I think the blame probably rests with all of us for not remembering the children we were, the things we lived through, or most importantly, that the only reason we made it at all was because at one time we were Angie and the Brothers Three.

**This entry was originally written and posted in 2001.  It has been slightly edited.