Tuesday, August 18, 2009

True Love Explained?

When I was a roller girl I didn't like to skate alone. And when Anne, the oldest of the mob, came to visit with her spoil-making husband Brad (married the year I was born) I was in basement heaven. Mom and Leigh and I were living in the duplex by then, our house downsized by divorce. But the duplex basement was better than a finished basement for skating anyway, a good, solid concrete floor was what I needed--forget carpet and couches, a girl needs space.

If I begged, if I pleaded, I could drag Brad down the stairs to sit and watch and talk while I rolled circles around the poles and dipped past the floor drain. Watch me go backwards. Watch me spin around this pole. Watch. Watch. I constantly demanded and his patience complied. He always was my favorite.

We talked. I skated and quizzed him on the various routines of life. He answered without showing rancor. This discourse may have taken an hour, but I was quick to get to the meat of things.

Why did you and Anne get married?

Because we love each other.

Did you always love each other?

And on and on.

I might have left it there, love to float freely among the cobwebs, but kids aren't that way. Dinner is a time for discussion as well as food and I wanted to let everyone know that I too understood.

Brad told me that him and Anne got married because they love each other. There was a general agreement, so I went on. Can anyone get married who loves each other?

Yes, they can.

What if two girls loved each other and wanted to get married, would that be weird? This caused an exchange of glances around the room.

A chuckle. Yes, it would.

I was getting into the swing of things.Would it be weird if two boys loved each other and got married?

More laughing. Yes, that would be weird too.

I sat there content, mulling over the implications in my mind. The world didn't work just any old way.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

If you have ever ridden in the hatchback of a 1979 Chevrolet Chevette you must have been small, and you must have been me. What I remember clearly is someone having a great idea, the kind of idea that takes you places. This is an idea so wonderful it will get all your friends and your kid sister exactly where you want to go, in one teeny, tiny little car--the kid rides in the trunk.

Hey, why not? She's small, right? She'll fit. It'll be fun. Besides, it's a hatchback. I think it was fun, at least at first. Until the trunk closed and I was again in the fetal position, though this time, not wrapped safely and soundly in amniotic fluid. This time I got to see outside my little metal womb. I should have, the glass was practically pressed against my face.

And I was privy to all the action up front--adult talk, cigarettes out the window, a beautiful spring day. It was nothing to me, the going with a big sis and hangin' out with her and her friends. I loved it. Someone would take me to the laundromat and I'd plunk in the coins. At the gas station, I'd happily run in and pay. Trunk-riding was a new game. I rarely complained.

The radio was on and the car was filled with hair and chevron mustaches. We were going to my sister's flat on Cherry St. I spent my fair share of nights there gorging on ice cream and chocolate milk. Her boyfriend taught me how to play backgammon and he probably let me win half the time. It was a happinin' place.

One night, later on, when I was a little older (though not old enough by my current standards) I was spending the night on Cherry St. when the boyfriend called. Did she want to go out? Yes, but her little sister was over. She's old enough to stay by herself. Hmmm. Tempting.

Did I think I could stay by myself? She would call to check up on me. I could eat anything I found in the fridge, watch anything on TV, stay up and have a party. By my self.

In a strange apartment.

Sure, sure. I was fine, would be fine. Terrified. For hours on end. MTV was great. I couldn't watch that at home (I loved Cindy Lauper). There was a window in the kitchen near the refrigerator. Outside that window was a tree with branches scratching and scraping in the wind. Terrified. Awake. Awake. Waiting for the phone.

Was I alright? Of course, fine, fine. She'd be home in a few hours. The ice cream went back in the freezer half eaten, waiting for breakfast.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Penny Jar

This is reposted from my other blog Mama's Experience Initiative where it originally appeared. It is the inspiration for this current project.

As a kid I adored thunderstorms, still do. Something about the charge in the air makes me want to crank up the music and dance like nobody's mother. I have a very vivid memory of thunderstorms as a kid back in our old red house near Interstate 90.

My brother was newly home from the Marines. I guess it was spring or summer and I couldn't have been more than five. Our family, being sizable, constituted a party in sheer numbers. The mood was festive, my brother tall and muscular and commanding in his dress blues. (Mom loved to see him dressed so) He divvied out trinkets he'd gathered from his tour, answered the questions, ate the food, walked the walk.

What I remember so clearly was the descent of the evening storm--how we left the front door open and listened to the thunder rattle the metal screen. It seems there must have been some candles lit or an oil lamp preparing for a fight against the dark.

We didn't use the living room much. The finished basement served as family room and main entertainment, but this night I was upstairs sprawled on the shag carpet. I counted pennies sprung from a glass jar, wishing money, he had saved for his youngest sister. What a normal, mundane family we felt like then.

They say that when my brother was over seas in Okinawa, I drew him pictures to go with every letter my mother wrote--all line drawings of a single person, naked, with belly-button featured prominently. He hung them on the wall of his barracks. That's what they say.

The pennies rattled together competing with wind, thunder and a room full of people. Something other than a coin rolled from the jar big enough to excite a young girl living through her princess dreams. It could have been a gumball ring, he never said.

I love the memories of my family then. The house was full and moody. I could eat off recollections of camping trips and snow falls. Of course, it changed and sides were chosen, but for my part (the epilogue) I hold to the storms and count and sort like so many pennies in a jar.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thelma J.

The clearest memory I have is of cinnamon apples. My sisters and brothers would say fudge—chocolate, or peanut butter, or maple, but I stand by cinnamon apples. Years ago, I mentioned those apples, how sweet, and crisp and unnaturally red, like pickled beats. Someone said they are sold in cans at holiday time, that Grandma didn’t make them, but bought them and served them whenever we visited. I don’t care. I love the memory of her cinnamon apples.

My paternal grandmother will forever be my idea of what a grandmother is. She was a soft, warm bun of a woman, gray-haired and virtually blind. She lived in a trailer a few hours north-west of where I grew up. Everything about her was homemade.

The trailer's crafted-up interior was filled with afghans and crochet dolls. Her chair sat along side a small table she used to keep her large-print Reader's Digest and over-sized magnifying glass. To get to the bathroom, one had to pass through the kitchen and squeeze past the plant table with its buzzing purple glow and trays of african violets. I loved to visit this place, to poke around. There were so many textures.

Grandma died when she was 74 of a heart attack. I don't remember the year or how old I was. I don't remember my reaction to the news or the funeral and dinner after. And yet, how clear it is, her home, her face, her coke-bottle glasses. I can feel her chubby mama's arms and taste the cinnamon apples.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Yesterday I saw a cat in the window of a resurfaced Victorian house. It had Siamese features but with gray stripes on the legs. Not really a Siamese at all and not a tabby either--someone all together different. Someone familiar.

And I got to talking to my husband about the cat named Animal I had as a kid. Although my dad hates cats, finds them useless, he brought this one home from work to live with his wife and kids. Someone at work, he said, couldn't keep this cat and it needed a home.

It is interesting to me now to consider his brashness. How he walked into the house carrying that cat with a name and a full adult life. How Animal became a part of our home free to torment the dog and lounge across freshly laundered clothes. How Dad made the rules, but didn't tend to them, not as a mother would, not mine.

Oh, how Dad broke the rules with that Animal cat insinuating its place on the couch. A coworker at the plant, he said, couldn't keep him and he needed a home. It wasn't the cat who would answer the phone. The cat would have recognized the voice, "Your husband," it said, "is sneaking around with my wife."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lead me not into temptation

I remember being saved at Dee's house. I was close to 6 years old wrapped fully in the imaginings of the Rapture--the horns calling me home, complete disappearance from this wanton world, harps and angels and bliss forever.

Dee is my sister, the second oldest of our brood, 19 years older than me. I've never known her without religion, and quite honestly, I don't know her now. Our responses to the world are generations apart despite our shared heritage. But when I was a kid, these were some magical times.

The apartment Dee shared with her husband and young children was so different than the ranch house I was raised in. Religious art pronounced itself against egg-white walls. In the morning, there was Christian radio in lieu of the local country and western station. My parents were never much for board games, but Dee and her family would spend the after dinner hours playing Mouse Trap and Uno. And (gasp) they didn't have a TV.

Because I was the youngest and Dee was the first to start having children, the difference in age between her first son and me is only 3 years. I spent a good many nights over at their place and my share of Sunday mornings visiting the Baptist church.

I think it is fair to say now that I have a very separate world view than that of my 6 year old self. Back then, religion was mysterious. How easy it was to become intoxicated with Bible stories and pageantry. It was the story of the Rapture that wound around me that late night entangling me with promises of love and faith. The ideas were so intriguing. Questions bubbled from my lips, "How do I get saved? If I pray today will it last forever? How will I know when the Rapture is coming?"

It was true, they said, I would be one of the few, the lucky, the forgiven.

That night I knelt and prayed by incandescent light. I offered my sin, that of a 6 year old girl, in retribution for the safety of my soul to ascend the golden stairway leading to my eternal life.