Tag Archives: memory

REMINDERS

There was a time in my young adult life where money was incredibly scarce. It was a time when I argued with the cashier at a grocery store for taxing the cents-off coupon I’d used to help make my money go farther.   It was a time when cornmeal was a staple because, at the time, it was virtually free. It was a time when store-bought cigarettes were for use while out in public. At home, we rolled our own. The brand name was Bugler.

I remember working various low-paying jobs to pay the bills, keep the lights on, and keep gas in the car so that I could get back and forth to one low-paying job after another. I sold sweepers, folded and hung clothes at a discount department store, and sewed seat seams on would-be over-priced slacks in a textile factory using an industrial size sewing machine. I temped at business offices when I could get the work, and mostly we just scraped by.

When I got my current job, nearly 20 years ago, I didn’t have to roll my own anymore. I could buy cigarettes in packs just like everybody else. The grocery bill got higher with the better foods my paycheck could support and my rent was finally paid on time. I had received my last disconnect notice on a utility I’d often wondered how I would survive without.   When that first paycheck came in I was ecstatic. I had a pouch and a half of Bugler left over and wasn’t sure whether to toss it out, give it away, or keep using it until it was gone. Something told me to hang onto it. I decided to keep it as a reminder of just how bad things can get.

Since that first paycheck I’ve left three husbands, moved five times, bought a house, been promoted once, became a grandmother twice, and bought three vehicles. And although the unit that houses it is different, that pack of Bugler is still in my freezer, untouched save for the reminder it provides, sealed in a Ziploc baggie to preserve its original state, and in the door so that it’s the first thing I see when I retrieve my daily frozen meal.

Suffering from empty nest syndrome (not a clinical diagnosis, I know) I picked up a second job at a local restaurant to fill the time. As it was, I got off work on Friday afternoon and then just sat and waited until Monday.  I watched a lot of television and went on randomly circuitous drives. I was in a state of seemingly constant restlessness. It took about six weeks of solitary in my apartment before it hit me what was happening. Complete and utter silence. I also realized that it was the first time ever that I’d lived alone. Throughout all the life changes in my adult history that had me living in many different places, I always had my children with me. I didn’t realize how much company and comfort they provided while they were at home.

Silence really can be deafening.

As soon as I figured out what it was that was bothering me, that something you can’t quite put your finger on but drives you nuts trying to figure it out, I was okay with it. I grew to sort of like the silence. Until I got bored, that is. Which apparently happens pretty quickly in my world. So I picked up the second job to fill some time, to get me out of my apartment, and to put me around other people. With those measures, I believe I have successfully prevented depression from setting in.

I work the second job on the weekends, and maybe one or two evenings during the week. I guess I don’t really need the money, although it does help to have the extra on occasion. Every shift, though, I see my new part-time and incredibly young co-workers struggling to make enough money to pay their light bills, put gas in their cars, keep a kid in diapers, and buy that new tire they need.

I catch myself wondering how they make a life for themselves on such few wages. And then I remember that I used to be them. I come home, bone tired from the extra work, and open the freezer. I reach past the shoulder height pouch and a half of Bugler for an ice cube to cool my Diet Pepsi, and I’m grateful that I don’t have those struggles anymore, that I haven’t had them for almost twenty years.

Sometimes I’m tempted to buy a pack of papers and roll one of those things just to see if the freezer and/or the Ziploc baggie have done their respective jobs to preserve the contents of the little green and black pouches.

Somehow I think that some reminders are best served intangibly, with a side of nostalgia, and garnished with gratitude.

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Fairytales, Fiction, and Truth

Not all stories start out with “once upon a time in a land far, far away.”  Likewise, not all stories that begin that way are fairy tales.  “Far, far away” can be a state of mind, an outlandish attitude, or simply the distance between good friends, whether metaphorical or geographic.

Sometimes it’s merely the gap between our inner and outer selves, the differences between who we are when no one’s looking and the semi false face, complete with manners and dignity, that we put on when out in public.  Or maybe it’s just a matter of upbringing that we behave one way for so long until the world teaches us better, yet undeniable traces of our background still shine through regardless of how much, or how well, we’ve grown.

We see falsehood everywhere.  I wore makeup yesterday, for example, and spent a little extra time with my hair.  I wore the sweater my youngest had given me for Christmas, and I absolutely adored it.  The colors were perfect, it was a garment that was finally long enough for my tall frame, I felt good wearing it, and I felt like I looked good, too.

It wasn’t me, and it’s not like me to fuss that much over hair and makeup.  It felt fake, like I’d stolen someone else’s morning regimen instead of sticking to my own.

Although it probably won’t stop me from repeating the experience at some point.  After all, I will definitely wear that sweater again.

There may be no help for my speech pattern, though.  It reflects a combination of travel, education, and age heavily influenced by the surroundings during my formative years.  The accent gets worse when I’m tired, and slips completely in reverse when I’m angry.

I may never forget that day I was asked to stay after class by my college Communications teacher about twenty-five years ago.  She waited until everyone had left before addressing me.  I was making straight As in her class so I knew there wasn’t a problem with my work.  She began with an apology for keeping me, explained that curiosity had gotten the better of her, and while she didn’t wish to impose any embarrassment, she just had to know.  “How is it that you write so beautifully every assignment I’ve ever given you, but you speak horribly?”

I gave her the answer I’d heard my uncle give when asked that same question.  “I learned to speak at home, but I learned to write someplace else.”

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The Magic of Sticks

My oldest and her two kids had already gone on to other holiday adventures.  My youngest had squirreled herself away upstairs.  Husband had stretched out onto the couch.  Leftovers had been put away and the dishes were drying in the rack.  I put on a jacket and stepped out onto the porch.

It was a cold day, almost bitter.  Snow was still lying on the ground from Wednesday’s showers, and the porch still wet from what had melted there.  I heard squealing in the bottom below the hill upon which we live.  Through the now-barren trees, I could see the flurry of children playing in the remaining snow.   They were on the ground, then they were up and running, laughing, and enjoying their time outdoors, seemingly oblivious to the chill in the air.

One of them stooped to pick up a fallen tree branch.  It was just a stick.  Fairly long but not too thick.  He played with it for a minute and then tossed it aside.  Immediately I was thrown back to the many sticks and branches in my childhood that were not so carelessly tossed aside after only a minute of use.  In his place, I could’ve played with a stick all day.

A stick has all sorts of imaginative properties.  They are fishing poles, guns, hockey sticks, golf clubs, baseball bats, swords, daggers, pole vaults, bows and arrows, magic wands, and many, many more things depending on the kid who has the imagination to accompany them.

It helps if your family is poor and you don’t have all the latest gadgets and toys to distract from genuine playtime.  It also helps if your cousins are boys and they are your only playmates who prefer, like you, to be outdoors regardless of weather conditions.

As I was watching the kid who had tossed aside that magnificent stick, I wondered if he would have as much fun with his toys inside as I, at his age, had enjoyed with a stick outside.  I remembered sharing his agility, his ability to run, his carefree-ness that kept him from getting cold on days like this one.  I pictured myself at his age jumping off the porch and bounding down the hill to chase and be chased, to play with that stick, and enjoy being outside.  I wondered briefly if I still could, and the image of me doing so now, all grown up, flashed through my head.

Then I remembered that I now need to hold the railing when I descend those steps.  I’ve already fallen a couple of times in the last few years, and on one of those occasions I really thought I’d broken a hip.  The memory of it caused me to wince with the pain as if the injury was fresh.

I zipped my jacket up closer to my chin against the wind that threatened to give my elderly body pneumonia.  I shrugged off a chill, and then sighed with the acceptance that I’m now too old to play in the snow and exercise the childhood magic that turns ordinary sticks into any object I want them to be at any given time.

The rocker in the living room invited me warmly from the cold outdoors, and I always take comfort in its embrace.

 

 

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Too Tall to Help

 

I’ve written about my height before, and some of you know from reading my posts that I am six feet tall.  I tell people I’m only five feet twelve inches.  Sometimes they don’t get it right away.  Sometimes I don’t get it myself.  Like that time I was filling out a form at the DMV and in response to the question about my height, I began to write “five feet twelve inches” out of habit.

The DMV doesn’t take kindly to mistakes about one’s height, regardless of how helpless the mistake may have been.

Being a woman of my height and build has its disadvantages, regardless of how awesome it must be to those who are more petite.  Petite means short.  I think the original definition was meant to apply to someone who was also dainty and maybe frail.  But now it just means short.

When I hear shorter women say that they wish they were tall like me, I want to tell them about the scars on my head from cabinet doors, or my fear of ceiling fans.  I want to inform them of the night terrors I experience after every single shopping trip.  I want to tell them what it feels like to be called ‘sir’ or to try to embrace feminism while being built like a quarterback.

I want to tell them about the jokes, the cracks, and the puns.  I’ve heard it all and no nickname is an original.  Jolly Green, “how’s the weather up there?”, etc.

I don’t tell them.  I let them live on in their world of dreams and allow them to wish away something they have of genuine value, something that if I had it I would consider it a prized possession.  Normalcy.

But sometimes, out of the blue, somebody will say something that brings genuine laughter from up here on high, something that makes me feel both welcome and accepted, regardless of how far I’m towering over them at the time.

It happened this way once during the summer back on the farm.  One of the owners was planning a trip to sell hay and vegetables and would be gone for several days.  He asked me to care for his penned cattle during his absence.  I especially liked this owner, because while everyone else was calling me ‘Kat’, he called me ‘Kitten’.  It was a term of endearment that implied smallness, cuteness, and acceptance.

I didn’t mind granting his favor.  It would require some daily chores, some of them in enclosures that could get pretty mucky with cow poop, especially if it rained.  But I didn’t mind.

And boy did it rain.  It rained buckets the whole week that guy was gone.  A penned lot cannot be cleaned while it’s raining, and the cow poop kept getting deeper.  I was wearing hip boots that barely covered my knees in order to wade through the lot to get to the troughs every day.

I was quick to point out this inconvenience to the owner upon his return when he came to check on his cattle.

Me:     “I want you to know that I waded the mud and the muck and the water up to my knees to feed your cows.”

Him:   “Kitten, surely, undoubtedly, if you’ve waded the mud and the muck and the water up to your knees to feed my cows, my calves have drowned!”

 

 

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Bovine Personality

There used to be a law in Ohio that defined who was responsible for hitting a cow on the highway.  I don’t know if the law still exists, but back when I lived there the law stated that the driver was automatically responsible and not the cow’s owner.  The reasoning, as it was explained to me all that time ago, was that cattle are dumb animals and don’t know any better than to stay off the road.

My reasoning tells me that if a cattle owner doesn’t properly maintain the fences to keep them enclosed so they can’t go wandering off into a highway, then it’s the owner’s responsibility for any damage that they may incur.  That’s just my reasoning.

I’m writing this to take exception not to the law as it may or may not be stated in Ohio, but rather to counter the claim that cattle are ‘dumb animals’.  Having lived on a cattle farm, and having worked up close and personal with several members of the herd, I’ve experienced real personality from these creatures.  And I can tell you that they are not dumb by any stretch of the imagination.

They can be crazy, protective, spoiled, cautious, and loving, just like any pet.  Knowing this about them doesn’t keep me from eating beef, by no means.  Nor do I proclaim anything to deter anyone else from eating beef.  I have no feelings one way or the other over whether or not anyone reading this should or should not eat beef.  I state it purely as a fact that I know firsthand, and I would like to give some examples to back up my opinion on the matter.

It’s been almost thirty years since I lived on that cattle farm in Ohio, but I remember clearly Crazy Red.  Her name depicts both her attitude and her color.  When in the pasture, we had to watch out for her.  She didn’t want any human walking on her grass, and she would snort like a bull and run at us to chase us off.  If we drove in with the pickup truck full of silage she was okay.  But if we stepped out of the truck she’d go crazy.  More than once I’ve had to outrun this crazy red cow who was mad at me for being on her grass, feeling the full effects of fear-fueled adrenaline pumping through my body.  Crazy Red didn’t mind sharing her grass with other members of the herd; it was just the two-legged outsiders to whom she took grave exception.

Since no one was ever caught by Crazy Red, we really never knew the consequences.  All we knew for certain was that we didn’t want to find out.

We also had Elizabeth, who was more of a pet than a commodity.  Elizabeth would never be sent off to slaughter.  This decision was for the sake of the child who’d helped heal her when she was born prematurely.  Elizabeth’s mom had died during the calf’s delivery and Elizabeth had almost died, too.  The family took Elizabeth down into their cellar, away from the herd, and nursed her back to health.  When she grew to the point where she could feed from a trough, they took her back outside.  But it was too late.  She’d become spoiled.  And the child of the household had already named her.  Elizabeth never had to live among the rest of the herd; she was housed in the barn with her own personal fenced in part of a yard, and she was visited regularly by members of the human family, who would always greet her with affection.

All these years later, I still marvel at one miraculous event I am thankful I was present to witness.  It was simultaneously tortuous and divine.  It was the adoption of a calf that’d lost its mother to a cow that’d lost her calf.

I watched the cow mourn for her loss.  We think of it as an emotion shared only by humans, but this cow mourned.  I saw it.  And I grieved with her.  When the other cow died during delivery, and it was suggested that the survivors be paired for fostering, I was anxious to see if it would work.

They both delivered on the same day, and both were having difficulty.  It was an ‘all hands on deck’ day, and we were separated by acres of pasture and crops.  I was in the group that resulted in the surviving calf.  The delivery was horrid, and one that I’ll never forget regardless of how long I live or how many of life’s curve balls find their way to my door.  To describe what happened during this particular delivery is just too vivid a picture to paint, and there are no broad strokes I can apply.

After it was over, standing just outside the barn, tired from the exertion of willing everything to be okay when physical assistance was finally over, I watched the nameless cow lift her head off the ground and search for her baby.  I saw the peace steal over her when she had affirmed that her calf had made it.  And then she quietly passed away.  I watched the team of humans cleaning the calf, a job the mother was no longer able to do.  And in all the flurry of activity surrounding the new calf, I was mourning for a cow.

It was then that we’d received word of the still birth some distance away.  The cow was brought to the barn and locked in with the new calf in the hopes of adoption.  I watched every day as the mother went through all the emotions.  At first there was mourning, sadness and rejection.  She knew this wasn’t her baby and she resented its presence.  And then there was caring and compassion.  She cared for the new baby and attempted to feed it from her own milk sack.  And then finally I witnessed acceptance and protection.

It was only then that they were let out among the populace.

For whatever reason, she was unable to nurse her adopted calf and so we bottle-fed it.  Calves are strong creatures, and as big as I am, I was unable to do it without first bracing myself.  I would sit on top of the wooden rail fence and lock my ankles around one of the rails beneath me.  The calf would tug and suck on that calf bottle, at times almost pulling me off the fence.  The adopted mom would stand guard, ensuring that none of the yearlings interfered.  She walked in a semi circle behind her new calf keeping the older calves at bay.  Just in case she broke her resolve, the older calves all stood on the perimeter of the semi-circle she’d drawn, just waiting, and hoping, for an opportunity.

The adoption was successful.  Her resolve in the protection and guardianship of that calf never wavered, even though her eyes always seemed haunted to me.  That neither was given a name to signify their rescue and familial place always saddened me a little.

Bovines do have personality, and I am convinced that ‘dumb animal’ is an incorrect description – regardless of what may or may not be a law in Ohio.

I know better.  I was there.

 

 

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When Granny Got Run Over By a Tractor

It was a hay wagon really, only it was loaded with tobacco instead of hay.  And I didn’t yet have two little people calling me granny.  It was a long time ago.  A long time ago times ten.

It happened when I was sixteen years old.  I had moved out of my grandmother’s home to go live with her sister, my great aunt.  She had a huge farm complete with cattle and acres and acres of tobacco, corn, and hay.  I only spent about a year there, but it’s a time of my life that I remember most fondly.  It was a time filled with hard work, serenity, and a daily sense of accomplishment.

We won’t go into the reasons why I moved there.  Just remember that part of my story that tells you how old I was, compare that with every other teenager you’ve ever known, and use your imagination.  I prefer to call it just another of life’s experiences.  My grandmother referred to it as our ‘difficult times’ without ever going into further explanation, for which I have always been incredibly grateful.

While I was there at my aunt’s, my daily routine consisted of going to school, working my part time job after school, and performing various daily chores on my aunt’s massive farm.  This detail alone may provide fodder, so to speak, for many more stories to come.  For now, though, I’m going to try really hard to focus on just this one, because the others are flooding into my memory paths as I write this, trying to take over and hijack my story.

So in case I forget, feel free to remind me later to tell you about my first experience with donut holes or how a kitten was almost strangled by a clothes line.  I’ll be glad to tell those stories, too.

Caring for the tobacco crops seemed to take up most of our time as there were regular and sequential duties that had to be performed.  From starting it in narrow rows under a canopy, to transplanting it to larger rows that took up literal acres of space, to maintaining it thereafter through harvest, hanging, stripping, and baling, it seemed like all we did was eat, sleep, and drink tobacco.

When it grew tall enough, we would have to go through plant by plant and ‘sucker’ it.  There are tiny leaves that sprout between the main leaf and the stalk, and these tiny leaves are called ‘suckers’ because they suck the life right out of the plant.  I don’t know if this definition is accurate, but it’s what I was told at the time.  And it’s fitting.  Anyway, we would have to pull these off and discard them.  Plant by plant.  Row by row.

The next thing was to ‘top’ it.  When the plants had matured, a stem would sprout from the top to grow an ornate flower.  Since this also took strength away from the main plant, we would have to go through and remove these by hand.  Plant by plant and row after row.

My thumb and forefinger had turned a nasty shade of greenish brown from all the picking and plucking from these tobacco plants.  No amount of soap and water would clean that stain off.  By November, though, it had slowly disappeared on its own.  Either it just wore off or it was removed by cow spit, I may never know for sure.

The worst part of dealing with all those tobacco plants was having to deal also with the tobacco worms.  These things are HUGE!  They’re caterpillars in actuality, but they are really, really, REALLY big ones.  And they’re a shade of green that mimics grass, so they’re hard to see.  I never found out what the caterpillars eventually turned into when they broke free from their cocoons, but I always imagined they would be pterodactyls.

When it came time for harvesting, we would attach a hay wagon to the tractor and use it to carry as many able bodied people as we could find out into the fields to chop down the tobacco plants.  The wagon was then used to stack the tobacco for transport back to the barn for hanging.

We worked in pairs; the lead would hold the plant in the middle of the stalk with one hand and then swing a hatchet or machete at the base of the plant with the other.  When freed from its earthy stance, the plant would be handed to the other person for spearing.  For this, a wooden stake was driven into the ground and an aluminum or steel cone with a sharpened point was capped on the exposed end of the stake.  The tobacco plants would be speared through the base of the plant and then pushed down to the bottom of the stake, leaving room for four more plants.  Of course they’d lean with the weight, and the plants’ tops resting on the ground would keep the whole structure from falling over.  One full day of chopping and spearing left the fields looking like they were littered with half erected tee-pees all over them.

Just as soon as we’d chopped and speared it all, which could take a few days to get it all done, we’d go around lifting the five-plant stakes up to the guy on the wagon so he could stack it for transport back to the barn.  They were heavy, and after a while my arms would feel all rubbery and tired.  I managed to build several muscles, though, and in places I didn’t know I had muscles to build.  I miss them dearly; all that’s turned to flab now.

For years and years that family had grown, nurtured, and then harvested their tobacco crops without incident.  Until me, that is.  And here I came along and messed up their perfect record.

On this particular day, after the wagon had been loaded as full as it could get, they left a small space along the front edge of the wagon so the able (yet tired) bodies could ride with the tobacco back to the barn, where it still needed to be unloaded and hung so it could dry properly.  We all piled on, some dangling their legs over the wagon’s edge, some resting their feet up on the tongue of the wagon that was attached to the tractor, and some standing and leaning back against the tobacco stacks.  One or two were even up on the tractor with the driver, sitting on the tire well.  However we were positioned, there was room for all of us and nobody had to walk the mile and a half back to the barn.  We were indeed thankful.

I was sitting on the front edge of the wagon bed, the farthest to the right, facing the back end of the tractor that pulled us.  I let my legs dangle like the others were doing.

Now this is where things get complicated.  When we chopped the tobacco, we left stubs of the stalks in the ground that were still about two to three inches high.  They had been cut on a slant, making them appear like rows and rows of little spears poking  their little heads up through the ground.  While walking through the fields, we were careful to walk in the blank space between the rows so as not to puncture our feet.

Sitting on the corner of the wagon, directly over the right front wheel, I forgot that people who are six feet tall with thirty-four inch inseams simply cannot behave as others do.  The toe of my shoe got caught on one of these stubs.  Before I could yank free, my right foot was being pulled under the tire.

In what seemed like slow motion, my right foot, followed by my whole leg, was pulled under the wheel and I was on the ground lying on my right side.  My left leg had crossed over my right leg as I fell.  The tire, and all the weight on top of it, had traveled over my foot and up my leg until it rested on top of both knees at that point where they were now crossing each other.  This is how long it took for our screams to climb above the roar of the tractor to be heard by the driver.

At this point, all I could think was “keep going!”  So that’s what I shouted.  They were confused.  Somebody else was shouting “Get an ambulance!” to no one in particular because we didn’t have cell phones back then.  And since the fastest vehicle we had was tethered to the wagon, I don’t think it would have done much good, however well intentioned those in my group may have been.

Nineteen Eighty Five was not a good year to be trapped helplessly under a loaded hay wagon’s tire in a tobacco field miles away from civilization.

They thought they hadn’t heard me clearly.  I explained, rather loudly, from my awkward position on the ground, that only half an inch more would free me and promised it would be the best move – “just go already!”

When the driver finally got it, I felt the tractor get put back in gear, a small jolt, and then watched as the wheel rolled the rest of the way over my knees before smacking the ground with a thud.

I was afraid to move.  I’d seen what the tractor tires had done to the plants’ stubs and I worried what the wagon wheel had done to my poor knees.  It was loaded with God only knows for sure how many pounds of wet tobacco, not to mention various cousins and neighbors, one of whom was at least three hundred and fifty pounds all by himself.  I also worried a little that the jolt of the wagon going forward might cause him to fall on top of me.  It wasn’t looking like the day would end well at that point.

Once freed, I stood slowly and gingerly, tested my foot and ankle, and then began moving more quickly to show them, and myself, that nothing was broken.  Luckily, the ground was soft, and even though it was one of those tough little stubs that had caught the toe of my shoe and pulled me under, I had landed between the rows.  The wagon wheel had served mostly to just push me into the ground and I received very little injury from it.  I only had a bruise on my knees for a few weeks where the wheel had pinched them on its way off of me.  I blame that incident for my bad right knee now since it was my right knee that bore most of the weight of everything on top of me that day.

The ride back to the barn saw me sitting in the middle with both feet resting on the tongue of the wagon, carefully avoiding any moving parts for my own safety as I’d already proven myself a klutz.

Would I do it again if I had it to live over?  Most assuredly.  The memories from that time are just too sweet to not have them at my beck and call.  The things I learned from that one year in my young life have served me well over the course of the rest of it.

But if I had it to do over, I’d remind myself that tall people can’t sit on corners of wagons dangling their legs over wheels that are moving through spear studded acres of farm land.  It’s a specific lesson, I admit, and one I learned well.

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The Child that Is, Yet Wasn’t

As April rapidly approaches I find myself thinking more and more about my middle child.  Some years I don’t realize why I’m thinking about it so much until I realize that it’s the date conjuring up the negative memories.  While most associate the coming of spring with exuberance, rejuvenation, and new life, I associate it with loss.  The feeling always gets worse as April draws nearer.

My friend attempted to diminish my anguish all those years ago by reminding me that it was only a miscarriage and that since I had never met my baby I shouldn’t feel so horrible about losing her. 

Please don’t judge my friend; she had never suffered my loss so she just didn’t understand.  She really was trying to help.  That she was pregnant with her fourth child didn’t help matters any.

My oldest daughter, not quite four years old at the time, saw the test stick lying on the bathroom sink.  Always paying close attention to every commercial that came on television, she propped her little elbows up on the sink’s edge, looked at the stick, and repeated happily what she’d heard.  “Pink pregnant, white not pregnant!” she’d said with the same chirpiness that had been conveyed in the original commercial.  She didn’t know what it meant; she was just happy to relate to something that the grownups were doing.  The test area was most definitely pink.

My husband was scared about the pregnancy; I was delighted.  Being married at the time to a man 13 years older than I was had its drawbacks.  While I was fantasizing about a new addition to our family, our future with diapers, bottles, pink cheeks, giggles, and tons of love, he was counting his age at differing milestones.  At 36 for the birth he knew he’d be 41 at kindergarten, 51 before high school, and, he agonized, way too old to enjoy grandchildren if he lived long enough to see them.  When I got pregnant again four years later, with our youngest child, these feelings for him only intensified. 

Parenthetically, and perhaps prophetically, he passed away only a month before our first grandchild was born to our oldest daughter. 

The coming of spring, though, had never affected him the way it did me.  He tried to be supportive after the miscarriage but he just didn’t get it.  He didn’t understand the loss.  It wasn’t a baby to him.  And my behavior during subsequent springs had only served to confuse him.  I think it’s because he’d never met her.  I’m convinced that men fall in love with their children only after they see them.  For women, I’m certain it comes with first knowledge of their existence that has us falling head over heels.

I carried my baby nearly five months before tests revealed something was wrong.  Further tests showed that she had died some weeks earlier.  Devastation came only after denial, belligerence, and blaming.   Acceptance came last.  Yet periodic sadness still exists.

For four and a half months I knew about my baby and I loved her every bit as much as the child I could see.  That she was taken from me before I held her made no difference in the amount of love I continue to have for her. 

My grandmother understood, though.  It happened to her during what would be her final pregnancy.  She never forgot that baby and always believed it to have been a girl, following in the existing pattern of ‘boy, girl, boy, girl, boy’.  Whenever someone inquired as to how many children she had, the answer was always six, but she only got to raise five of them.  She said once that while the months following her own loss were the hardest for her, random thoughts haunted her the rest of her life.

We hadn’t yet picked out any names before we lost her.  Neither did we know for certain the gender of my baby, but in my mind I always think of her as a middle sister to my two living daughters.  During those nights when I have dreams about her, her name is Sara.  And while she didn’t exist in this world outside my womb, she still exists in my heart and soul, and I love her.

Had she survived the pregnancy, she would have been born in early autumn.  And so the coming of spring isn’t the only time, though, that I remember her.  Usually those thoughts at other times are filled, as an alternative, with curiosity about how she would look, what her interests would be, and where her talents would lie.  I catch myself smiling when I think of her sharing her older sister’s talent for the arts, singing, and drawing.  I smile again when I imagine she shares instead her younger sister’s talent for empathy, compassion, and insight. 

There have been 22 of those years in which my mind’s eye has watched my middle child grow from infancy into adulthood.  I’ve spent those years reconciling two opposing facts:  My child exists, yet she does not. 

And spring still remains the most difficult hurdle to surpass.

 

 

 

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I am my Grandmother’s Daughter

I want to write an entire book with this title as its main theme.  It’s a daunting task, I know. 

I even started the book, complete with an index of every article it contains.  Some of those articles are already written and included.  Others still swirl around in my head.  The most beautiful ones are composed while I’m in the shower with no possible way of writing them down.  Dried and dressed with hair still dripping, I sit down at my laptop and try to recapture what I’d just mentally composed under a cascade of hot water and rich lather.

It doesn’t work.  I can’t write it.  At least not with the eloquence conveyed in, and then consumed by, the steam of my shower.

My grandmother’s words often flood into my head while I’m washing the dishes, cooking a meal, or berating a child.  But rarely does the beauty of who she was ever come through on paper.  Maybe her passing is just still too fresh in my mind.  Maybe I haven’t yet let go of the woman who raised me as her own when no one else would have me.

Maybe it’s just not (yet) time for me to revisit, with any real detail, who she was and what she meant to me.

Or maybe I’m just not ready to share her with you. 

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GET PROACTIVE

            A few years ago, when my youngest daughter was about thirteen years old, I heard her run across the floor over my head, bound down the stairs, and fly through the open door of my home office.  Out of breath and very excited, she asked, “Mom, will you get proactive?”

            As a Union leader, and someone who was always participating in one demonstration or another, filing somebody’s grievance, or preparing a case for arbitration, I instinctively, upon hearing the request, scooted my chair back from my desk and whatever it was that I had been working on, and rolled up my sleeves while simultaneously answering her with, “Sure honey, about what?”

I did not yet know if there was something going on at school for which she and her friends, or she alone, wanted to take some grand stand for or against, or if something had happened in our community that required attention, but I knew I wanted to help.  And I couldn’t wait to hear the details.  I wondered briefly how often in a parent’s life that a child actually wants Mom to help with something this big.  And I was proud that she had asked.

My oldest daughter, already grown at the time with children of her own, denies that she is an activist.  But just let something go wrong in her community and she is the first one to write a letter or make a phone call with regard to the injustice of whatever the situation may be.  My youngest daughter, though, had participated with me during my years of activism that began before she was born.

So imagine for just a moment my Unionist’s pride.  My little girl, after all those years she’s assisted me in one way or another, has just asked me to assist her.  I didn’t know what had gotten her so excited, but I was grateful that she wanted to get involved. My chest swelled and I sat a little taller waiting for her answer that would surely be delivered just as breathlessly and full of excitement as her question had been.  I reveled in it.

“Mom, will you get proactive?”

“Sure Honey; about what?”

But before she could answer and give me the details in her teenager’s language that I would have to decipher as I listened, I had a brief flash of her history with me.  It was only a fraction of a second, but it was filled with memories from her childhood that had led us to this moment in our lives.  Parents who are reading this will know what I mean; it’s that time when something profound happens and everything else stops peripherally while these memories instantly flash through your mind like a movie reel, and it’s a moment that only you notice because it takes no real time at all.

In that frozen moment before she could answer my question, I remembered my daughter sitting beside me all those years ago at my Local’s Union meeting.  I remembered how the President would call for all those in favor to signify by the sound of ‘aye’ and the raising of hands, and her little two-year old hand would fly toward the ceiling and she would shout ‘aye’, thinking she had done something wonderful to participate in the events.  That she also voted ‘nay’ in the same manner, each time, on every issue, always brought a chuckle from those seated around us.

In that same fraction of a second came the memory of my little girl at about eight or nine years old and very small for her age.  She had accompanied me to a Kerry rally when he was campaigning for election to President of the United States.  She sat on my shoulders waving a small USA flag, chanting with the crowd, “Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!”  When the senator, tall and lithe, loped through the crowd toward the stage and then leapt up on top of it in a singular bound, avoiding the steps altogether, my daughter asked excitedly, “Is that him, Mommy, is that who we want to win?”

“Yes, Honey,” I replied through a smile that stretched as wide as the Kanawha River by which we were gathered, simply awed that she was doing this with me.  “That’s him.”

And in that same frozen moment I recalled just a year or so later when she walked a picket line with me, carrying a sign bigger than she was, during one of those times when I had waged war against an abusive supervisor.  Her sign read, “No More Fear; Stop the Abuse” in hand lettering that she had helped me color with markers and stencils the night before as we and our materials lay sprawled across the living room floor.

Imagine my pride, my little girl, after all these years of standing with me, was now asking me to take a stand with her.

“Mom, will you get proactive?”

“Sure, Honey; about what?”

And as she spoke her answer, to my severe dismay, she pointed a finger to the side of her nose, to the small zit she had just discovered that, in her opinion, was the size of Texas.  Proactive, she informed me with winded excitement, was the facial wash she had just seen advertised on television that promised to clear up all a young girl’s problems.  Just as quickly as she had entered, she blew out of my office and ran back upstairs.

Deflated, all of the air sucked out of the room I still occupied upon her breathless exit, I scooted my chair back up to the desk, unrolled my sleeves, and tried to resume my concentration on the grievance, or whatever else it was, on which I had previously been working.

I then added “Get Proactive” to the next available line of my to-do list.

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