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!

Stereo dreams

When I was ten years old, Mama bought me a stereo for Christmas.  It was creamy white with a detachable speaker on each side, and it sported a radio, dual cassette decks, and a phonograph that could only occasionally be coerced into working. For a few years after I got the stereo (which was the best gift ever), I had only a couple of pre-recorded cassettes. They weren’t nearly enough, so during this time, I did a lot of waiting for something musical to happen in the world so that I could record it. Mostly, the recordings were confined to what the radio played (e.g., the weekend Top 40 countdown, and most anything between 3-5 pm); however, I also “dubbed” several of my best friend Julie’s records and tapes (she was decidedly rich according to the standards of our hometown).

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But even 30 years later, there remain a few sad little tapes — remnants that (for me) are like walking back in time, sitting on the edge of my lumpy, pink-sheeted twin bed, and staring longingly at the magazine-creased posters of Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, and Kirk Cameron on my wall.  The barely-teenaged dreams that were in those posters and that are musically transcribed on those tapes speak volumes about a girl who wanted more and better and lovelier things, but who truly had no idea what those things might look like or where they might be found.

But it wasn’t just my life that was changed.  It wasn’t just my teenage self that was preserved by the radio.  When my brother, N, talks about knowing way too many Amy Grant songs for a guy who likes Guns ‘N’ Roses, or my brother, T, sings along with “I Huckleberry Me” in the middle of a mostly rap mix CD while he’s driving down the road, it’s solely attributable to the presence of my little white stereo in all our lives. Occasionally, when I clean out boxes or Mom sends me home with accumulations of stuff she’s found that I don’t remember ever having, I’ll discover yet another of the hundreds of tapes I made on that stereo.  The songs are always a little crackly under the surface.  The beginnings are missing the first three or four seconds, and the ends are sometimes reduced in volume so the voice of the radio announcer can be heard.

Life is almost never perfect, but it’s probably even less so when you have to work with so little money and so many unknowns.

I remember laying on the bed reading, waiting for the song I wanted to come on the radio.  I’d be up in an instant — leaping over the rag rug next to the bed (so as to avoid breaking my neck during its inevitable slide), and hitting play and record together with the most practiced and expert maneuver you can possibly imagine.  And the whole complicated feat usually took less than five notes to perform.  (To this day, you’d play hell trying to beat me at “Name That Tune.”)  I wasn’t missing a song if I could help it.  And oh the joy if they played a couple tunes I wanted back-to-back; I usually ended up dubbing these more complete copies onto new tapes…why settle for missing notes when you can have perfection?  To this day, the five or so tapes I managed to cobble together without static or missing pieces still make me think the Universe was on my side.  At least sometimes.  At least for a little while.

I don’t know how much Mama paid for the stereo, but I’m sure it was too much.  Everything was too much back then.  But unlike all the fad gifts I got (and didn’t get) over the years, the stereo stood the test of time.  Without it, I would’ve had no background noise for the composition of thousands of journal entries, at least a couple hundred of which were written in a purple, lockable diary that my little brother had no problem opening without a key and that I still have to this day.  There would’ve been no Beatles soundtrack for the hundreds of times I cleaned my room (which was my only refuge in the world and which never really got messy except when the cat moved her kittens to the bottom drawer of my dresser, and my room temporarily became the hub of activity in the house).  Without the stereo — and my little brother’s purchase of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet — I might never have decided that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t the music of Satan after all (no matter what they told me at the Methodist church camp).

I don’t remember Mama ever telling me to turn the stereo down, not in all the years I had it.  And I’m sure I played it loud because — no kidding — I come from loud-music-lovin’ stock.  I think Mom must’ve trusted my musical tastes to give us all what we needed during our time at home, and I have to figure I did okay if Bon Jovi, Amy Grant, The Beatles, and various showtunes are the worst things my little brothers came away singing.  Somehow, the fact that there was an assumption that everything I listened to was all right makes me feel like it must’ve been “a simpler time,” but it also causes me to wonder if (in some ways) I was more privileged than my own present-day step-kids, whose stereos are forever being shushed to a volume that is conducive to TV watching in the rest of the house.

I hate their music.  Their dad hates their music.  They even hate each other’s music.

It breaks my heart that years from now, Step-son will never amuse us, his wife, or his kids with the singing of showtunes or teenage girl music that he heard hundreds of times blaring from his sister’s stereo, entirely against his will.  It makes me think that we’ve come too far, that we’re too comfortable, that our family could use a little less money and lot more forced closeness.  Mainly, it’s just that I’d like to pull them all back in time with me, and make them appreciate the little things so much more than they do.  They don’t know what their futures or dreams look like any more than I did at their age, but I’d like them to be able to look back at this time in their lives and remember — if nothing else — that there was so much possibility around them and inside of them that it lived in the very notes playing on the radio.