Archive for the ‘childhood’ Category

a quick trek over 6 decades – almost

August 18, 2012

Tomorrow is my birthday. I was born approximately 1:10pm on a Wednesday, 59 years ago. My older brother was 8 years older than me so there was a big space between babies. In fact, my parents had been trying to conceive for probably a couple years, so my birth was greatly anticipated. I imagine the fact that they then had a girl, after awaiting their 2nd child and already having a son, was also a source of joy. Being born in the middle of summer and a Leo, I have an enjoyment of hot weather (although not so great as my husband’s). Over the years, I’ve had my birthday in quite a few places, such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Natl Park or Mexico, since the family was often on vacation. As a kid, I never got an in-school birthday party, but I did get my birthday in fascinating places!

My thought for this blog is to give some very brief thoughts for each decade of my life. I am not as prolific as I used to be and seem to be much more introspective these days. But this sort of occasion seems to merit some musings.

My childhood home was Indiana. Most of my life, in fact, was spent in this state. I have realized, after living a few other places, that there is definitely a Midwestern culture and a Midwestern value system, and I subscribe to it. What is that, you ask? It has something to do with living through the hardship of Winter and smiling at the snow, appreciating survival, appreciating life, taking precautions against the cold that can literally kill you, and knowing the pure joy of a fire in the fireplace on a cold Winter evening. We have been snowed in with our kids for days, more than once. The first time with children was when our firstborn was a few months old. My husband’s parents lived in the house next door and it took 2 days to get out to them. I have realized over time that this teaches you to work through the tough times. The Midwest and Purdue also have their cultural flavor. Hispanics hit the scene big time much later than the time when I was growing up, but they are part of the culture, part of the landscape now. Asians at Purdue are a large population. I grew up appreciating diversity, seeing diversity through my father’s profession and school, if not so much in our own neighborhood. We entertained my father’s international students many times in our home as dinner guests.

My first decade. Memories, to me, revolve around the houses I’ve lived in. My first 5 years were spent close to Purdue. Being a Boilermaker is literally part of my bones. My father graduated from and taught there, I was taken to basketball games probably before I could speak, and I used to go with him to campus on Saturdays, blissfully exploring the Mechanical Engineering building while he worked in his office. There were all sorts of displays of machines of various kinds. One of them was a weighing machine where my younger sister and I could weigh ourselves. It was a big adventure. My sister was born 2 1/2 years after me. One of my very earliest memories is of myself crawling on the floor pretending to be a baby, with her bottle in my mouth.

At age 5, we moved across the river, still in Purdue country but not exactly in the same town. We moved into a much larger 2-story house with an attic and basement. The attic was hot and full of treasures some people might keep in their garage. We kept them in the attic. The basement was a large circular area with cement floor which we used for roller skating. My younger brother was born literally 8 years after me. This completed my 1st decade, then we moved for one year only, to Michigan.

Fifth grade for me was spent in Michigan. My father took a leave of absence and worked for General Motors for a year. He moved the entire family, wife and 4 children by this time, to Michigan with him for one year. Fifth grade was a blast, I had my favorite teacher of all time, lots of friends, joined Girl Scouts, went camping, and lived next door to a tennis court. It was also the year President Kennedy was shot. I remember it very well.

The next year we left our Michigan home and returned to the same house we left in Indiana. However, by age 13, we were moving again. My father came home one day and said, “Well, where would you like to go, California, or Pennsylvania?” Little did we know, he was looking for a new position and took it from Drexel Institute of Technology, now Drexel University. We moved to a suburb of Philadelphia.

I again made friends, attended schools, living the first year in Germantown PA, and then another suburb. To make a long story short, my life there was drastically changed forever when my beloved father died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 50. My mother, distraught and lost, moved us back to Indiana, the place she knew, the place where my father’s sister lived and my mother’s parents. I was 16.

By age 18, I was getting married. I met my husband, the man I am still married to now after 40 years. This decade ends with our wedding, two years at Ball State University, and his being drafted, another change which through our life goals into oblivion for a number of years. My husband had a deeply felt belief that this war was wrong. He applied for and received conscientious objector status. This meant you still got drafted, but served 2 years in a hospital or some other public service venue. In fact, it was the end of the Vietnam war and hardly anyone was being drafted anymore. But he was. And he was pulled out of college.

After his time of service was over, we moved back to our hometown looking for jobs and no longer in school. During this decade, our 20s, we began having kids. Our firstborn, a daughter, Jasmine, was born when I was age 24. My father’s mother died that same year. Our second, another daughter, Leah, was born 2 years and 3 mos. later. At the end of this decade, I was having our firstborn son, Jamal, at age 29. These years were filled with promise, filled with joy and discovery, and we were the poorest we’ve ever been our entire lives.

The decade of our 30s was the 1980s. Suffice it to say, the economy flopped. Bad. My husband lost middle management jobs more than once. We were managers of an apt. complex, then moved from there into “an old house we thought we would fix up”. It was an absolute wreck, and we lived there for the next 11 years. I had a miscarriage in 1984, then our fourth and last child was born, a second son, Levin. I was 32 years old for my last child’s birth. The boys were both born AT home, with midwives assisting. We’ve always looked for the natural child birth way, and see child birth as a natural life event that, in most cases if there are absolutely NO early warning signs, goes perfectly well. With 4 children and very little money, you don’t go out often, and it certainly would not have paid me to go to work. I was a stay at home mom for 11 years.

In 1995 we started a grocery store business that eventually also flopped. When our youngest was a year old, I went back to work part-time. This eventually became a full time job, at Purdue University Libraries. AL was working various management jobs and also became the high school soccer coach, turning it into a varsity sport and a VERY successful team. He manages youth well, they relate to him well, and he became a soccer coach as well as a father figure and life coach for them as well. We took in two kids as foster kids during these years, each one for a little over a year. The end of this decade has us both working and active in our community, still very poor.

Our 40s. I worked at the library for the next 16 years, actually spending enough time there to earn a little retirement check which they owe me for the rest of my life, by the time I quit. At some point, I went back to school. It was very easy for me to leave the library, attend a class, and return, staying later to make up time missed. Little did I know, this was the beginning of a back to school process that would just continue on until I completed a Phd, 10 years later! I finished my bachelor’s in 1996, at age 43.

That leaves my final decade of life, up to now. Our fifties. I completed my Master’s at age 47, took almost a year off and then returned to complete my PhD classes. In 2006-07, I felt free to take a one-year visiting professor position in northern Indiana. Looking back, this was not wise, because although it earned me the most income I’ve ever earned in a year up to that point, I did not finish my PhD as planned, and had to quit totally at the end of that year, not work, and just write. I sat down to the computer in April 2007 and wrote out the final chapters day after day after day. It is THE hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. People did not expect me to ever finish — except my family. Without my family’s support, I would not have finished. Students I had entered graduate school with had all left. Students who had come in AFTER me had left. My committee and major professor were wondering if I’d ever do it, and were losing faith in me finishing my goal. I knew this was it, I had to do it now, and I was not about to have come THIS FAR and not finish. So I knocked it out of the park. There were so many battles along the way I cannot even explain, but each one was overcome.

In the summer of ’08, I started applying for permanent teaching jobs. I got 3 interviews and 2 solid offers. I took the one that was tenure track. In Fall of ’08, we moved to another part of the country and I started my job. In October, I returned to Purdue to defend my Phd thesis. In Dec. 2008, on the coldest day of the year, I graduated. I got 4 tickets to the ceremony so my husband did not attend so that our four children would be there watching their mom. What a historic day.

Moving to the south away from my daughter and grand kids in Indiana, and son & his wife in WI, was SO difficult, I cannot begin to convey that. However, after looking for a job in Indiana and not finding one, you have to complete the dream and take a job in your field. And that is what I did. My husband was willing to follow me to my job. As of now we’ve been here 4 years and have 4 publications. The biggest heartache of my life is still being so far away from so much family. Our consolation is that one daughter & her family live also in the south. We now live in 5 different states, with each child in a different state and us in a 5th. We try to visit and take one vacation together per year.

In the middle of this 5th decade, in 2007 my mother died. To spend her last 5 days of life with her and watch the change along with my younger sister and brother, was a blessing that can never be taken away. Two years later, I was also blessed to be with my older brother when he passed.

I have to say, looking back, we have come a long way. I cannot imagine that I am close to living 6 decades. We raised 4 children and they each have a college degree. Two are working in the field they studied and two are not. We have four super grandchildren, 3 boys and 1 girl. Looking forward to the future. I see more grandchildren in my future. ūüôā

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Dixieland jazz memory

February 19, 2010

We are still in New Orleans, where I presented at the Race Gender and Class conference in honor of Pres. Obama. Though small in number of participants, it was a mixed group and very interesting sessions. All about where we stand with race class and gender identity at the time of America’s first African American president.

But tonight, I want to write about a little-known bit of information about me, and probably somewhat unusual for a white girl raised in the Midwest. I grew up on Dixieland jazz. Satchmo, clarinet and saxophone are what I heard as a young girl growing up, on my dad’s record player which he designed and put together himself. I don’t know why, but that was my dad’s favorite music. I personally have never been able to take classical music. It bores me to tears and doesn’t touch my heart. Can’t freaking stand opera! Blues or certain kinds of jazz touch my heart. Motown and soul get me going, makes me want to dance. Dixieland jazz brings back a flood of memories of life with my father.

Tonight we walked Bourbon Street, early in the evening. Bourbon Street is always a trip. Music blasts you from every doorway. People sing, play music and tap dance on the streets for money. You can’t stand around too long, or people come out and bug you to come inside so they can hit you up for a drink. You can’t make eye contact on the street with locals or they see a dollar sign and start giving you a story. My husband even got CAUGHT tonight when a man struck up a conversation with him and challenged him with a joke! He fell for it! The guy ended up shining his shoes, of all things, and my husband handed him the $7. in his pocket! I couldn’t believe it. They’re so quick & then you have a glob of goop on your shoe and then you feel obligated.

We decided to go in and sit down tonight & actually hear some music. So I picked an old style jazz place. It’s ALL live music, bands, singers, this is New Orleans after all! We sat down, the waitress came by, and we each ordered a coke, one by one. She gave us a rather knowing, disgusted look and went to get our cokes (non-drinkers). Then I got into the music. The man sang real old New Orleans tunes. Sitting there brought back a flood of memories of listening to this music with my dad. There was one night he took only me and my mother to downtown Philadelphia. The place was called “The Red Garter”. I remember because it was a little embarassing for this 13-or-14-yr-old girl. We got there so early, they played a set just for US. My dad sat there totally uninhibited that we were the only ones in the crowd, and clapped his hands. He always encouraged me to move however I felt like it to the music. It was a fun night. Sitting at the table in New Orleans tonight brought back that memory. I expected to turn and see my dad sitting at my table. Brought tears to my eyes, it was so strong a memory.

My father died about 2 weeks after my 16th birthday. I still thought he was King of the world. Never did get over it. It’s been so long though, that it is rare that a memory of his presence returns with such clarity. Tonight I remembered being with him, turning and seeing my dad in full enjoyment, clapping his hands to the music, when we were the only customers in the place.

child spirit

November 25, 2009

This time of year takes me back to when I was a child. Very nieve, very sweet, totally vulnerable, unprepared for the world. I think back to those times because it was all pretty much smashed to bits a few years later.

My favorite Christmas piece that came out of a box was a wind-up nativity scene. It played music, and the 3 wise men went around in a circle, in and out of the stable. I used to sit and play with that thing and watch it, for a long time.

Another favorite thing were the bubble-ornaments, that heated up from the lights on the tree and started a bubbling fountain inside the ornament. They were quite something. As I remember, we had a snowman that also held some in his hands. They would light up and do the same thing. We had some ornaments that would spin around with the heat of the lights, as well.

For me, seeing the tree lit up with all the other lights turned off was a true joy. Almost better than presents.

I am thinking of getting a small Xmas tree with beautiful lights of all colors to put in my office this year, just because it is “my space” and I can do it if I want to. May even get a tiny little Nativity scene to sit on my desk. These are parts of my past, connections to the sparks of spirituality that carried me in faith into my future, when I became a Baha’i.

There was a night when I was in the kitchen drying dishes, next to my mom who was¬†washing them. Without thinking, I found myself arranging all the dishes and cups on the table. My mother turned around suddenly and shouted, “What on EARTH are you DOING??” I looked at her, shocked, and then said, “This is Jesus here in the middle. All the cups and silverware are all the people listening to Him.”

My mind has always been imaginative, creative, trusting, nieve. Kind of always “out there” dreaming. I am all grown up now. But I like thinking of myself as¬†that innocent little¬†kid. My child spirit.

Thanksgiving

November 25, 2009

Memories of Thanksgiving

My hair in curls I thought were cute,

Large dining room table and formality,

China we never use any other time of year,

Both my grandmas and my mom in the kitchen,

More food than anyone could ever eat,

my Grandpa saying the Lord’s prayer,

My dad carving the turkey,

mountains of mashed potatoes,

3 kinds of pie,

everyone taking a nap,

football games on tv.

ACOAs – Adult children of alcoholics

October 9, 2009

Here is one post where I will try to state what I have learned about adult children of alcoholics (of which I am one).

This is off the top of my head (swoosh!), because I have read a lot of books, gone to a lot of counseling and attended many different meetings of ACOAs and Al-Anon. Counselors can be good or bad. It’s sad but true. I once had a counselor advise me to leave my family for 2 weeks. Sometimes they are idiots. Honestly, I think the most productive, positive group I attended was Al-Anon meetings. They are mostly wives and husbands of an alcoholic, and they are not run by a professional counselor. Those people have figured out how not to be co-dependent. They are very independent-minded, and they understand personal responsibility, and where it stops. Here are some of the most valuable things I learned.

  • Adult children of alcoholics are 40% MORE likely to either be alcoholics themselves, or marry someone who abuses substances. Now, why the heck would that happen?

 (Why this would happen: We gravitate to what we know, especially if we are in denial. It feels familiar.)

  • Children of alcoholics do not know what normal is. They struggle to figure this out the rest of their lives. How do you show love in a relationship? What do you share with others? What is okay to keep a secret? What is appropriate to say or not say? What is a healthy relationship, what is unhealthy?

 

  • They grow up in families where they cannot talk about the elephant in the room. There is an elephant in the room that is hurting everybody. But the person responsible for the elephant refuses to deal with the elephant. The children may, at times, throw the elephant out, but it comes right back. They may draw attention to it, but the person responsible for it keeps saying, “Poor me, poor me,” and remains focused on him or herself and makes you feel guilty. So after awhile, you also deny its existence. (It must not be there.) You even take part in attacking others when they say it is sitting there stomping around the room. This is a learned pattern. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Deny, deny, deny. It is not really there! You are exaggerating! But I love you! It won’t happen again! It’s not that bad. How can you do this to me?? Occasionally you tell other relatives it is there, but they don’t believe you. So you start to think it is something wrong with you.

 

  • You are very self-focused. Sometimes you, as well, get on the “pity-pot” as they say in AA.

 

  • Some children of alcoholics go on “auto-pilot”. They show no emotion, very detached from others, don’t get social cues, and they like it this way. That way they don’t have to “feel” what is truly going on. This is how they get through life.

There are different roles that children of alcoholics take on, related to the patterns above. From the outside, for a long long time you can look like a “normal” family. You keep the secret well.

1. Oldest child – becomes the caretaker. Becomes the parent. Tries to take care of everybody, covers up for the alcoholic parent. Sometimes becomes a super-achiever, doing well in school, doing well at a job, exceling at everything¬†they do. It is exhausting. You overcompensate. Everyone thinks you are a wonderful person, so successful. You don’t drink. You are dying inside.

2. Second child – More likely to drink and abuse alcohol themselves. The partier, they stay away from home and act out exactly what the parent is doing. In trouble at school, etc. Also in total denial. (They are not alcoholic, they are just having fun!)

3. a youngest child usually becomes the family clown. This child gives up on making sense while everyone is acting crazy & they just entertain everybody.

Imagine as a child having to clean up your parent’s vomit and put them to bed. Sometimes you start locking your bedroom door so the parent won’t come charging into your room drunk at night and make outrageous demands, like get up and sweep the floor, it’s dirty, yelling at you in a drunken rage. And nobody outside your home believes what is going on because by this time, you’ve given up. People don’t believe you anyway. You are a child.

Yes, it is totally damaging. Yes, children are affected – for life. Children don’t know why the parent can’t quit their habit for THEM. It’s not about loving the child enough to quit. It’s about being addicted, physically, emotionally, mentally, to a substance. It is a disease, or like a disease. It gets progressively worse and it eventually kills you.

When we took my mother in for treatment, the week my youngest child was born, I had given up. My sister came for the birth of my child, and asked, “How long has mom been this way?” Mom had gone on a 3-4 day drinking binge along with our oldest brother who was living with her at the time. She DROVE HER CAR over to my house, to see the baby. She talked and made no sense and left. I just had a baby. At that point, I had other responsibilities. My sister and youngest brother took it upon themselves to drive her into a treatment facility, and leave her there. It was probably the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. And it saved her life.

No one believes this either, but it is true, I’ve seen the medical records. My mom was .69 alcohol content when she arrived. She should have been comatose or dead. It took her a full week to get SOBER. It is disgusting in every aspect. But that is the state she had come to. When she arrived, she was TALKING, and ASKING for A DRINK of the nurses!! You can almost laugh about it. I stayed home and made the call that she was coming in. They asked me, “Has she been drinking?” I was so in denial I said, “I think so.”

I think so??  I THINK so?? Yeah, she was nearly dead.

My mom was a classy lady. She had risen in status with our father in his position as university professor of mechanical engineering. She still looked good. She hid bottles in her car, all over her house, and in her purse. She kept a full-time job. She was so good at hiding it, no one ever believed us when we told them. She nearly died and we all were severely affected by the patterns of interaction it set up in our household.

This was all many years ago. My mom, showing her own indeterminable strength and spirit of faith (I truly believe that) never drank again. She stopped cold turkey. Thank God for that. I forgive her for all she did to us. I really do. And I can think of her now with love. She loved all of us, I know that. But she was nasty to me. She would be mad at me no matter how much I did for her. Then she would turn around and accuse me of not coming to see her enough. I have forgiven her for that. Maybe she did the best she could. Who knows? I certainly don’t. She was funny, she loved Purdue basketball, she loved me, I know.

In any case, the question for me is, to what extent do I still show these kinds of patterns. I still don’t know what normal is. From a pattern of keeping secrets, I now find that I can’t keep any information secret. I’m an open book. If someone TELLS ME NOT to pass on something, then I can do that. But they have to tell me.

I don’t do all for everyone anymore. Go to Alanon, you will learn that trick. It’s very hard though. Sometimes I still want to. I want to give my kids and grandkids the world.

My situation was compounded by the loss of my father through early death just before the loss of my mother to alcoholism. From the shock of the 1st loss, I have an innate fear of EVER bringing bad news to my kids. I try to imagine the worst that could happen, and prepare for that. Because that’s what happened to me. And I was in no way prepared for it. So I always think of the worst-case scenario and try to prepare myself for that to happen. Just in case.

My oldest brother died of addictions. Cirrhosis of the liver is what he officially died of. He was on the street, homeless, alcoholic, and I know he did cocaine (I don’t know how much). Spending the last week of his life with him, which is what started this blog, was a very happy time for me. I am so glad we had that week. I hate to think what it would have been for him to be alone the last week of his life. I knew, by intuition, it was time to go. My sister was unable to get away from work to come. She had been in contact with Dan before he became sick enough with the cirrhosis that he could no longer function. Due to their contact, we heard that he was in the hospital.

That week, I could talk with him, bringing back some memories for him, of us as a family. I knew he would soon SEE and BE WITH our dad and mom. I frankly wanted to encourage him to remember them and those times, so¬†he would GO to them when he saw them. My brother in a¬†wheelchair begged me to take him out of the hospital and nursing home. He wanted a drink! Out of it, he even told me he missed that good, cocaine rush. My god. He begged me for an ice cream cone. They kept bringing him this crappy thick-type water, which he hated. That was because he¬†was having trouble swallowing. So I got him a¬†delicious ice cream out of a machine on the patio – TWICE – breaking the rules. I didn’t know for sure, but he only had a couple days of LIFE to GO, when I did this for him! I am so glad I broke the rules. He was so¬†happy too, so appreciative. I was able to spend an afternoon of time saying prayers with him. I asked him if I could read some prayers, and he said, “Sure! Go ahead,” and hung his head. I read prayers while he fell asleep. This was the day I rolled his wheelchair outside onto the hospital patio¬†because he was so cold. We sat in the sun. It was a good time.

I am sad for the state of my family and what all pain it caused. But I am really at peace now, at least within myself. I am happy with things I did for them, in the name of God alone. I have no regrets there. Regrets in other parts of my life and regrets for my extreme immaturity and how long it took me to learn these lessons, yes. But not in my caring for them. It was not for their sake, but in the name of God, as a service. And I did it to the end.

I can only hope that no more damage comes to my husband, my¬†children or their children in the form of patterns of interaction from the past. My husband’s family is stable and has taught me much. My husband has taught me much.¬†The only way to avoid¬†damage in the future¬†is to face the truth square on, and consult with one another. I pray God that will continue to happen.

my family

September 9, 2009

My nuclear family, the one I was born into, is scattered to the winds. First of all, there are only 3 of us out of 6 who are left in this world. My father died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Aug. 1969. He was 50, I had just turned sweet 16. I adored my father. My mother lived to nearly 85 years, passing of a degenerative heart condition (a faulty heart valve) for which she elected not to have surgery and lived 4 yrs. after that,¬†to late¬†June 2007, 2 years ago. She became an active alcoholic after our father’s death, for the next 16 years, but then recognized her condition and quit cold turkey, never again drinking, immediately after my 32nd birthday and the birth of our 4th & last child. My older brother died this year, at the end of April, 2009. His adult life was consumed with addictions and mental illness. I say all of this to illustrate that our nuclear family has not had an easy time at building relationship. I was able to be with both my mother and brother in their last days in the hospital. Went with my mother (and an early boyfriend of that time) to the hospital with my father when he then passed away in the hospital, quickly.

My younger brother and I have a relationship, thankfully, although we truly don’t know each other well, due to our family’s history. I enjoy his kids on facebook. We live 4 states apart now. My relationship w/my sister is another story. Our relationship has had a difficult time since our mother died. We were talking a little on facebook. Then one day she pulled herself out of my “friends” list and ended talking on facebook.¬†¬†She gave her opinion,¬†said she was ending our facebook relationship,¬†and cut off discussion. She felt facebook was not a relationship, which it’s not, but it’s all we had at the time. To me, this¬†just came out of the blue and was not sending a message of, “Hey I really do want a relationship.” To me, it felt hurtful but I had no way to express this to her. The e-mails I had for her did not work. I have no idea what her current phone number is, but besides that,¬†her action was not one that seemed to open the door to call her in a friendly manner. I have since learned that to her, she felt we should be communicating some other way.¬†¬†

I¬†have decided to say the unity prayer every day, for my family. God can take it wherever it will best serve. My task is to stay focused, look for the 1 good quality, and be detached from the outcome. Perhaps the 3 in the next world can help us here, to resolve whatever we can in this life. Perhaps nothing will ever be resolved in this life. My task is to try to be loving and leave the rest to God. As our mother learned in AA, “Let go and let God.”

O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God, leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their helper, and their Lord.

my mother’s birthday

August 29, 2009

momYesterday would have been my mother’s 87th birthday. She died shortly before her 85th. She kept saying that year, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it to my birthday.” She died at the end of June, 2 mos. before.

Just thinking of some ways to look at her life. She was born in 1922, our father in 1918, at the end of WWI, which her father fought in and spent time behind German lines. Her father, my grandfather, returned home on the day of his brother’s wedding. His jubilant arrival back in town and no one was there to meet him. In fact, it was like the Twilight Zone; he couldn’t find anyone! Someone told him they were at the church, so he found his way there and, as my grandma told it, “People spent more time gathering around him than the wedding couple, at the reception!”

My mother was the oldest of 3 children. Two brothers were born after her, but were quite a bit younger. It seems my mother was truly pampered to the extreme. They were POOR, however, in a 2-bedroom house, my mother got her own bedroom? Bizarre. They lived through the depression and my grandma told about stitching clothes together and re-doing them to make them fit. My grandpa worked tons of different odd jobs, at one point going to work for the WPA, which from the way grandma told it, was rather embarrassing. He worked as a car mechanic, a night watchman at Purdue, and many other jobs. They lived in one house on Morton St. their entire lives, my grandpa putting in the indoor bathroom and building the garage. They always had a beautiful flower garden in one corner of the yard.

My mother remembers taking baths in a tin tub in the middle of the kitchen floor, hot water boiled and poured into it for the scrubbing.

Raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, later named Christian Reformed (but most members, all of whom I was related to, had names like Huizenga, Wierenga, Plantenga, Vanderveen, Vanderwielen, to name a few). My father was raised Baptist, so when the 2 of them got together, to the horror of their parents, they decided to be Presbyterian.

In my mother’s era, a white, middle-class woman quit work when she got married. Though both quite poor growing up, my parents soon fit into middle class professional life with my father’s career in academia the center of their attention. My mother was quite a fast typist, always thinking she might return to that skill to earn some money, when her kids were raised. By the time she really considered it, her skills hadn’t been used in many years and computers soon became the norm.

My mother cooked and cleaned, every day, large, multi-roomed houses we lived in, as my father’s career soared. He ended up in many Who’s Who of Science and Engineering volumes. She kept house, and entertained friends. Many nights I watched my parents laugh and talk with friends, serving small dinners or snack food and many margueritas. My father often played Dixieland jazz, which he loved. On these evenings, he would laugh a lot, letting off steam from the stress of the job and his life. My sister and I would sometimes get asked to dance for their friends, something I never really wanted to do but was too young and immature to say no thanks, I don’t want to. We were shown off, cute little dolls to be paraded past their colleagues.

My parents, though, had true friends. Some of the couples were their true friends. I loved when my dad could relax and just spend time at home, be fun-loving and giving us lots of attention. Home was the gathering place — not some bar or restaurant downtown. My home with my dad was full of music, people, laughter, much of the time. Weekends would be football games and golf tournaments on tv. But my parents were home, enjoying themselves. Many Saturdays and weekday evenings, the dining room table would be strewn with academic papers of all sorts and my dad at one end of the table, working his way through them. He did this in his home, with kids and all of their problems running around him all the time. When I had a problem with homework, it was always okay to take it to him and interrupt his own work. He never refused. Never told me to go away, ever. Looking back now, that is amazing.

We all lost ourselves and who we were after his death. I can’t blame just my mother for the way it affected her — turning to alcohol. We all were completely lost without him and never recovered. But life goes on. And life is good. My mother then went back to work, in a Ponderosa steakhouse, where she wore short shorts and a cowboy hat; and then to a laundromat, where she stayed for 20-some years as the lady at the laundromat. They one day closed the place, with no warning whatsoever, and then she had a nervous breakdown of sorts, and spent a month in the hospital for depression.

In many ways, my mother was a totally amazing person, surviving her husband’s untimely, early death at age 50; overcoming alcoholism (eventually), never taking another drink after treatment; and then overcoming clinical depression to return home and be quite content in her home, with her cat, even when she was on oxygen 24/7 and became winded from walking from her living room to her kitchen. She stayed at home. She made peace with her God, prayed a lot and wrote in her journal — a tool she learned while in the hospital for the depression.

My difficult relationship w/ her was mostly due to her never-ending discontent with whatever it was that I did. When she was hospitalized for depression, I went there nearly every night for the month. But nothing was ever good enough from me, for my mom. For some peculiar reason, I was the one who never satisfied her. And I was the only one in town, my sister and brother having moved away many years before. Because of that, they never had the relationship with her that I did. But I am at peace knowing I did absolutely everything I could and beyond, especially in the last few years. Everything and beyond. I have no regrets.

So they were married 25+ years, then she survived another 35+ years without him. She dated some scuzzball men in those years, partly due to her ignorance of relationships, partly due to her own nievete, and her dependency on needing a man to tell her what to do. To a woman like my mom, a woman was never complete without a man. Men were to take care of women. She always expected that and never felt comfortable running a household without a man. Later this attitude somewhat transfered onto my little brother. It never mattered what I would say, but if JIM told her to do something — then it must be right. Not Jim’s fault but just the way she was. I remember a day she suddenly looked at me and said, “You know, lately I think that I just don’t even NEED a man!” I looked at her and said, “Well that’s good, mom, you are 80 years old.”¬† ūüôā¬†

She loved Purdue basketball and would watch all the games on tv, upset w/ us if we didn’t. She always wanted me to come over and watch a game with her. She also watched the news and had her favorite news casters! She was really quite informed of everything going on in the world, from her own living room. She adored a new car and leased new cars to the end. Near the end of her life when she couldn’t go out for very long¬†at a time, and wasn’t supposed to drive, she would literally get into her car in the garage, open the garage door, back the car down to the end of the driveway, get out of her car and get the mail, and drive it back into the garage. ¬†

So this was a stream-of-consciousness addition to my blog, 2 years after my mother’s passing. 3 of my nuclear family members are now in the next world, 3 of us still here, and one of them has no association with the other 2 of us. But¬†I feel there is nothing I can do about it.¬† marti a week prior to her passing

3 children posed on a tree branch

August 24, 2009

I wrote this poem a few yrs ago. I have the photo that inspired it but cannot find it right now. Will post it soon. (I am the oldest child in the photo.)

3 Children Posed on a Tree Branch

The blonde one sits in the middle,

always framed in centerfold,

her rosy cheeks and blonde highlights

glisten in the sun.

Arms around her baby brother,

she looks carefully to the ground below,

as if to measure the danger,

or judge how to break his fall,

while he, leaning into her,

remains unaware of danger,

his position in the family leaves him

expecting our support.

The oldest sits at the bottom,

squeezed between the tree, and them,

her arms are closed about herself,

the hair pulled back, to clear her vision,

She stares directly into the camera.

Nothing escapes that penetrating gaze,

She sees it all,

She is aware,

She does not look to either side

but directly and deliberately

observes her world.

my birthday

August 19, 2009

me and momCircumstances of my birth: The year was 1953. I¬†was a baby boomer baby. My father had not returned from WWII, however. He had a physical impediment which kept him from serving active duty. One of his legs was shorter than the other, due to a disease he had as a boy. I know that during WWII, he tested some kind of explosives at Purdue, where he was a grad student and new professor. I have photos of him doing this and I know it affected his hearing the rest of his life. My grandpa on my mother’s side served in WWI overseas and wrote a story about it, “21 Days Behind German Lines,” a story I hope to publish. My Grandpa Agnew I know almost nothing about, so I do not know if he served or not, and why or why not.¬† In any case, there is not the military history in my lineage like there is in some families. Neither of my brothers served, and I don’t remember hearing about many uncles or cousins in the service. My uncle who was married to my father’s sister did serve in WWII, but no others I can think of. I think this gives me a particular distance toward active military service. It is not anti-military at all. It is just an absence of needing that experience, in order to fulfill one’s life. One can be pro-American without being pro-military.

So back to the circumstances of my birth. My father was a new professor at Purdue University. So I have been a Boilermaker since I was in utero. I can’t hardly say those words without adding, “Boiler Up!” I know the words to the Purdue fight song and sang them at my graduation. It’s in the blood. (“Hail, hail to old Purdue, all hail to the old gold and black . . .”)

My older brother was 8 years old when I was born, with no one in between us. Eight years later, my younger brother would be born, so I am smack in the middle of the 2 boys. There was a younger sister born 2 years after me, so it was the 2 girls always in the middle of the 2 extremes (2 brothers who were completely different in personality and hardly knew each other). My parents had tried for a few years to get pregnant for me, so they were jubilant when it did happen. And then I was a girl, so I was always very well received and wanted very much. My favorite picture of my mother and I is the one above. She looks so joyful, and satisfied with me, which was a rare occasion in our relationship as 2 adults.

I was born at 1:10 in the afternoon, weighing 6 lbs, 6 oz. My mother had spent 4 previous days in the hospital, not because anything was wrong, but because her water broke. They finally induced labor. I was born without my mother being knocked out with drugs. This was a new experience for her. She always said, “I knew the MOMENT you were born!” –as if that was a rare thing. She spent something like a week in the hospital after my birth. My mother never breastfed, so it was all bottles from the start. I had 3 grandparents living in town, both my mother’s parents, and my father’s mother.

I then spent 5 happy years at 1704 Summit Drive, and I do have memories of this place, a small brick house with a swingset in the backyard. It was a new neighborhood, with trees and houses being built across the street. My father and mother were intent on building his new career and status. My mother never worked outside the home until after his untimely death at age 50.

In 1953, there were no calculators, cell phones, Internet, home computers, or remote controls. Color tv was a new thing. Cartoons appeared on Sat. mornings only. There were 3 channels: ABC, NBC, and CBS. From what I remember, there was also “Channel 4, Indianapolis”. Children spent a great deal of time outside, running, skipping, jumping rope, riding bikes. We would even take our dolls outside to set them up in the yard and play “house”. We colored old refrigerator boxes and made them into a “fort”.

Eisenhower was President, WWII had ended, Rosie the riveter was returning to the kitchen, people were afraid of communism. My parents had been married 11 years, and were ages 35 and 31 when I was born, 56 years ago today. I have now outlived my father by 6 years, in age. My mother lived to nearly age 85, passing away in June 2007. My older brother passed away in April 2009, and I was able to be with him in his last week. My sister and brother still living no longer speak to one another, and my sister recently broke off contact with me on facebook. And so it goes . . .

perfume

June 29, 2009

roseI have always loved perfume. Scent matters to me. I love roses, red roses especially. My 2nd favorite is lilacs, then hyacinths for flowers. Favorite perfumes currently are Sand & Sable, Candid from Avon, Lily of the Valley, Wind Song. Timeless from Avon reminds me of my mom’s perfumes so I like it as well.

My mother was a saver. She always had 20-25 bottles of perfume, none of which I was allowed to touch. She also had soaps she never used, and about 30 bottles of powder that sat unopened. One of the pure delights for me, since her passing, is inheriting these collections of sweet-smelling things, and being able to open them and use them at will. None of them are worth 2 cents. It is just a joy for me to have and use them.