Sometimes I think there’s nothing I love more than making lists. But then I remember how much I hate hyperbole and how–really–I love all these other things a lot more. Continue reading “Things I Love”
If you were here this morning, I’d tell you that despite my disgust at having no Sixlets this week, I’m nevertheless hella grateful to be drinking my second cup of coffee of the day. Yesterday we were without water for about six hours and today we’re still under a boil order, but–avid water drinker that I am–I had about four gallons pre-filtered, sitting in the Continue reading “Coffee, Something in the Air, and no damned Sixlets anywhere”
I haven’t had a new computer in years. I bought the last one around 2009; it was an open box special, heavily discounted from Best Buy. I remember being ecstatic when I brought it home. It had a brand name. It had stuff pre-installed that I could gleefully mess around with for a while and then gripe about later (“Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the amount of bloatware on that thing!”). But it was a hassle Continue reading “Roxanne”
Since I was a kid, Mom and I have always defaulted to “You Are My Sunshine” whenever we needed to test the tuning on a guitar or get our harmony-singing skills oiled up after a long time of disuse. I love the song probably more than I should given how many times I’ve sung/played/heard it over the years. It never stops being Continue reading “You Are My Sunshine (Sunshine Blogger Award)”
I wasn’t a graceful kid. In fact, Mama rather sarcastically called me “Grace” until well after I entered high school. I had quite the complex for a number of years, and then suddenly, I didn’t anymore. Maybe it was because I watched someone move who truly looked like they shouldn’t and figured I couldn’t possibly do any worse. Or maybe I saw a heavy person dancing and thought they looked great; if they could Continue reading “When we dance”
I’m a solitary person. I crave alone time and silence, and sometimes I’m much happier than I probably should be to indulge in as many hours as I can get. I’ll let the cat into my space, but only because he’s mostly silent and only seems to care about positioning himself on a comfortable lap. Plus, he keeps my legs warm while I read. Continue reading “Solitary”
I am from a tinny-sounding radio on the kitchen counter, a wooden porch swing that occasionally fell down on one end, and Matchbox cars and GI Joes playing with Barbie. I am from a hundred books before age thirteen, soda bottles exchanged for sno-cones, and going down to Farm Fresh for a bag of penny candy or some sour straws. I’m from Dr. Seuss and made up stories, from 4-actor plays and pageants performed on a dining-room chair stage for an appreciative audience of one.
I am from the dilapidated brown-shingled house that used to have porch railing, but gave it up about two years into the third boy, from wooden clothes racks and radiators used to dry clothes after the dryer quit. I am from windows left open at night and screened-in patios in the rain, from mother-hung drywall, partially kid-painted walls, and kicked-in front doors. I’m from the house with the 3-foot deep mudhole “fort” in the backyard, where the mama was better at “catch” than anyone else, where jumping in mud puddles was encouraged.
I am from the daffodils, peonies, irises, poppies, roses and petunias in my grandma’s yard, from the marigolds my Grampa Wendell stuck in my hair, from the purple flocks and tiger lilies that grew sparsely in our neighborhood and that N once tried to sell out of our little red wagon. I am from exotic flower loving stock, but I’m almost positive that the three generations of women in our family would identify themselves as wildflowers if asked. I am from people who grow where they’re planted.
I am from 3am Nintendo games, singing in the truck, and fist fights, from mayo and lettuce sandwiches and fierce loyalty. I am from a flattop Gibson guitar, a flute I buried in the backyard, and jitterbugging in the kitchen. I’m from Music as a Means of Survival, from strangely named psychotic cats and unnaturally smart dogs, from a mother who convinced us we could learn to swim in the water hose, and who made sure we looked better than everyone else on Halloween (even if our costumes were homemade). I am from the rusted-out swingset where we played while Mama hung clothes on the line. I am from Grandma, who taught me to love Tony Bennett and Andy Williams, and who freaked me out with her ability to sit with her legs around her neck at age seventy. I’m from Mama, who makes me laugh every time I talk to her, who always wants to “pick my brain” about something, who tries to show me how to exact Joy from the people around me and from the small every day moments that make up our lives.
I am from the Martins who have weak hearts, the Meltons who lived on religion and passion and very nearly starved to death, and the Hodgeses who have greasy hair, bad teeth, and drinking problems – the first two of which I didn’t manage to escape. But really, I am from the same strong line of “gypsy people” that spawned all the women back to my Grandma Faye, from folks who made their family where they found it and always had a sparkle in their eye.
I am from Sunday afternoon drives in the country and the illusion of getting away, from McDonalds french fries stuck between the cushions of the back seat and Dilly Bars when our ship came in. I am from homemade “bowl” haircuts, apple pies, and sugar cookies; from a mother who didn’t eat vegetables and a Grandma who did, and from a brother who learned to cook steak better than my dad ever could.
I am from “you’re a late bloomer” and “that boy’s got a nice package,” from “that’s…interesting” and “there is no reality, just perception.”
I am from “use your Presbyterian personality,” from “sing in my ear,” and “the hymnal’s too close, I can’t see it.” I am from a family who realized early that the pastor was a yutz; from, during-church note-passers and candy-eaters and squabble breaker-uppers. I am from faith that just is, and from understanding there is something more without needing to define it with doctrines, creeds, or any other follow-the-leader mentality.
I’m from small-town rural Illinois, from ice cream churned by hand on the front porch, from Mom’s macaroni and cheese and bag-boiled mixed vegetables, and from Grandma’s chicken noodles and broccoli.
I am from a woman who reunited with her runaway first husband fifty years later, and a woman who chased her husband down with a large green truck before she found Al-Anon. I am from Oletta and Gwyn, from Juli and Rachel, from Aunt Wuss, Aunt Millis, and Aunt Sylvia.
I am from a stack of unfinished baby albums, from a typed booklet full of the first gazillion wonderful things I said, from a few studio pictures and thousands of snapshots that were far better than they should’ve been given the limits of 110 cameras. I am from Peter, Paul, and Mary, from Simon & Garfunkel, from Judds songs and always singing harmony. I am from the family that always sang, no matter what. It echoes…and remains.
I am from a collection of strong women, from three brothers I love beyond reason, and…from me.
*The “I Am From…” thing made the online journal rounds several years ago; everybody I knew did it at least once. If you’d like to make your own, the template is here. If you do it, leave a link in the comments so I can see!
For quite a few years, there was no steady money coming into our house. When it finally arrived, we went for car rides and ate McDonald’s and Hardees for days on end. Mama didn’t like to cook and didn’t really know how. Plus, she didn’t have a thrifty bone in her body. She had no idea what to do with our occasional bursts of money; certainly, it never occurred to her to stock up on groceries or to prepay bills. But she liked to drive, and we all liked to ride. And it goes without saying that none of the four of us kids had a problem with the fast food diet.
At the times when we were a two-car family, Mama always named the car that was ours. Dad’s car didn’t get a name because we weren’t usually allowed to ride in it. On the rare occasions when we did, it wasn’t fun for any of us, so no one felt compelled to give the vehicle an affectionate nickname. Over the years we had a couple of Monte Carlos, a Pinto, a 9-seater station wagon (aptly named “the goat wagon”) that was a piece of crap before we ever got it, and an extremely ugly and extraordinarily loud green utility truck.
We were a musical family, and I don’t say that lightly. Every single day for all five of us, there was music. Mama played the guitar. We sang in the kitchen while we did dishes. We sang in church on Sundays. We sang on the front porch and didn’t care if the whole neighborhood looked on. We sang as we drove down the road on all of our many weekend drives out into the unexplored middle of nowhere in a fifty-mile radius around our small town. By the time I entered the fifth grade, I sang harmony better than any adult I knew, and my brothers (who at the time ranged in age from four to eight) had no problem picking a part — whether it was Mom’s or mine — and sticking to it. Music was our escape. No matter what bad luck or circumstance threw our way, no matter if we didn’t have heat or electricity or hot water or a decent dad, we always had each other and we always had music.
It was about this time — during the height of our music-filled days — that our old Monte Carlo drew its last breath and Mom (in a single afternoon of used car shopping) stumbled upon the vehicle that stayed in our family until I entered high school. I don’t know where she got it or what she paid for it, but my inclination is to say that it must have come from one of the union guys my dad knew. I can’t imagine anyone else in our little town driving around in a rusty old utility vehicle.
I was horrified when I first saw it; I had to ride to school in that thing. My brothers, on the other hand, all thought it was wonderful beyond imagination. The truck was GI Joe green! It had doors and hatches everywhere, was perfect for climbing, and all four of us could ride cross-legged on top of the roll-out bed cover holding on to the rusty iron bar that rose just above and behind the cab. We were all very careful not to get stuck by any rough metal edges on the sides and bed, and I’m sure Mom was vigilant in her warnings of what would happen if we did get cut by something. Nobody wanted a doctor’s visit and/or a tetanus shot, and yet, over and over, the four of us climbed up from the ground, grabbing each other’s hands and pulling one another into position, little ones in the middle.
Mostly, we rode at night. The heat inside the house always seemed worse as evening wore closer to bedtime, and our nighttime rides were the best kind of reprieve — one last cool off lark before the lights went out.
We cruised the neighborhood at a top speed of ten or twelve miles an hour, but mostly Mom kept it around five or six. Almost unfailingly, a kid from the block ran out to the curb to ask if he could ride, too. Mom wouldn’t let them — not unless they rode in the cab with her. She didn’t want anybody getting knocked down from up there, she said, and it was too crowded on top already. We never asked to let anybody else ride. While we rode, we sang after-dark, less raucous versions of our favorite car songs. But a lot of the time, we were just quiet, listening to the night sounds of the world that was sometimes much too hard in the daylight. We all calmed down on those rides, and maybe none of us had even realized we were wound up until we felt ourselves gradually winding down. For as young as we were, we had a lot to deal with in our lives. We just didn’t really know it because we were singing the whole time.
There was happiness on the roof of that old rusty truck in the summertime, but we were just as happy come that first winter when we realized that with the windows up, Old Green (as we lovingly called the truck) was like singing in a concert hall, despite the fact that the five of us were wedged in pretty tight. No one’s voice got lost and every part could be heard. The acoustics were perfect. We sang all the old standards, awed by the full-bodied noise that almost seemed to rattle our eardrums with its intensity. We sang Christmas carols and the typical kid songs that we had learned at school; we sang Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel and The Judds until our voices were gone and the windows were too foggy to see through. Then we all sat forward in the seat and wiped our mitten hands in messy, uneven streaks across the windshield until it was clear enough for Mom to slowly steer the way back home.
Although I wouldn’t have had the words (or the depth of understanding) to have voiced such an opinion back then, in more recent years, I’ve come to understand that Old Green was not just a rusty old truck any more than my mother was just different without reason. Her difference — and the difference of that old truck — became the great stories of our collective childhood, not to mention the moments that we clung to when (as my colorful mother would say) “the shit came down.” I feel pretty certain that the four of us owe our survival to both of them.
Years later, when we went to sell Old Green, my mother lifted her GI Joe green and rust hood, pulled a six foot tulip poplar through the smoke-blackened machinery from the ground below, walked around to the driver’s door, coerced it open with not a little yanking (and some growling metal protests from the truck), and started her right up.
“She’s a helluva gal,” my mother told the buyer. “She’ll get you where you’re going.” She patted the cracked dash lovingly, half amazed that the truck had started and half wishing that it hadn’t.
Mom would say, ‘People don’t need to know everything about us,’ so she didn’t tell the man that Old Green had great acoustics. She didn’t say that on nights when you were sitting outside a bar with your four kids waiting for your asshole husband to come out, or come home, or give you some grocery money, Old Green was a great place to sing and pass the time. (She also didn’t mention the time that she nearly ran the bastard down in the parking lot of one of these same bars, my brother hysterically screaming at her from the other end of the bench seat: “Mom! What are you doing?!”) She didn’t say that there was an old pullout metal bed cover in back either, or that on sticky nights, four insanely hot children could catch a good breeze from up there, rolling slowly through a neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks. She didn’t say that you could fairly easily damage your twelve-year-old for life by dropping her off at school in the Old Girl — not only as a result of the truck’s appearance, but also because one couldn’t exactly make a silent entrance when driving it. While Mama talked and the buyer stood there nodding, I remembered my daily mortification. In short order, I also remembered what Mama always had to say on the subject: “It builds character, honey. One of these days, you’re gonna be awful glad you aren’t like everybody else.” Turns out, she was right.
What she did tell the man who bought our truck (and whose face I cannot recall) was that in cold weather, the Old Girl needed to warm up for a while, that the side storage cabinets were rusted through and wouldn’t keep anything secure, that the starter was on the floor, the shift was on the column, there weren’t any seat belts, and that the passenger door occasionally opened on a whim and spilled out a passenger or two on the outside of a tight turn. He looked a little shocked at that last bit, I remember, but my mother’s mood was not such that she reassured him about what happened after the people had fallen out.
She didn’t want to sell. None of us did. Old Green brought us joyfully through some of the worst years of our lives. She was part of the family.
via Daily Prompt: Harmonize
This post appeared on Discover in August 2017.
Mama is pretty sure she’s won the son-in-law lottery. She outright says so all the time, but last night, she called needing help with one of her poems-in-progress and asked me to list the qualities that make me describe my husband as the best person I know. I’m not very good at the lists (and let me assure you, this is not the first such request that I’ve received from her over the years), and so I did a lot of hem-ing and haw-ing and stammering around the edges of the subject with no idea in what direction I should go first.
Why is my new husband the best person I know? Basically, she was asking what I loved about him, and anyone who’s ever been asked that question knows that it’s not so easy to answer, particularly without sounding like you’re running for reelection as the mayor of Shmaltztown. Obviously, that’s never been me. I’m also not the girl who oohs and aahs over romantic dinners or flowers on special occasions: In other words, it takes a different kind of man–and a different kind of relationship–to get my attention in the first place, let alone keep it.
I have to admit that it helps that I’ve known the man since he wasn’t a man at all. When I met him, he was a too-tall 12-year-old with Tim Curry lips, an unfailing respect for his mother, and a kindness that is truly unheard of in a kid. Despite a first marriage that began before his teenage years ended, three kids in six years, a given up dream for a job in the medical field, a medical discharge from his second dream job in the Air Force, and disappointment of every sort at every turn, by the time I saw him again in 2013, he was still the person I remembered–how does anyone manage to stay so decent after all that shit? We smiled at one another constantly, and I felt totally at ease with him in a way that I never had with any other person to whom I was attracted. Almost from the start, I wondered how we’d managed to get and stay so far away from one another for almost all of our adult lives.
Our absence from one another’s lives seems particularly farfetched when you consider the following: His sister is my best friend to such a degree that I stopped calling her my friend and started calling her my sister years ago. When I moved back to Illinois from North Carolina at the end of 2014, I moved into his mom and sister’s house. All of this ready-made closeness to his family (even independent of my relationship to him) made us getting together a total no-brainer, especially for me; I had just come from a 14 year relationship wherein I was kept as far outside the family circle of the person I was with as it’s possible to be. In his/our family, I couldn’t possibly feel any more included and loved than I do. Admittedly, he got a little something from the deal as well: he had a ready-made family in need of a mother figure, and I was a mother who had only ever wanted a family to care for. He got someone to take care of him and to help him hold his life together in a real, consistent, and sustainable way, and I got someone who looks at me as though he can’t wait to keep looking at me until (and after) the wrinkles on my face will comfortably hold a ten day rain.
We are quiet together. We read many of the same books and enjoy most of the same music and television shows. We are accomplished car singers with widely varied repertoires. We both detest the president (and liars in general) and want more than anything to run off to a secluded cabin in the woods where we will have so few visitors that whoever finally discovers our bodies will likely only find the bones. We take pointless day trips in the car just so we can share space only with one another. (Sometimes, he takes me cruising through the really bad parts of St. Louis so he can show me how good our life together really is…ha!) He dyes my hair every month without fail, and there’s never so much a hint of griping about it. He amuses me. I mean really. Most of the days we spend together end with me lying in bed massaging the area around my cheekbones, knowing that I’ve once again over-exercised my facial muscles, and I’m going to have to think real hard before I smile the next day, assess whether or not it’s worth the pain.
Mostly, I just can’t believe my luck. How does a person who has made the mistakes I have end up with a man like this? He works hard. He loves consistently and well, without any games or pretense. He is generous and kind, smart and funny, and he’s secure enough to let me be all of the great (and not-so-great) things I am, too. He might be younger than me, but there is sometimes an emotional maturity about him that humbles me right down to the soles of my spoiled rotten feet.
In short, I have no idea how I got him (or really what the heck he sees in me), but I’m keeping him as long as I possibly can.
But I didn’t say nearly all of that to Mom because a) it would’ve made me cry, and b) her poem is for little kids and definitely not that long.