Hello Everyone, It’s been a while…
When I was a little girl in the 1950’s, my Mom always took care of elderly people that she befriended. She had wanted to be a nurse, nurturing and caring for others, but couldn’t attend nursing school due to the fact that she only had an eighth grade education. Unfortunately, as a result, the nursing program wouldn’t accept her. Her Father had forbade her to go to high school, instead insisting that she stay home to help with her fourteen brothers and sisters.
She had a deep sadness about this throughout her life, so she reluctantly settled for being an nurse’s aid at San Jose Hospital in San Jose, California in her early 20’s. While working at the hospital, she rented a room in a little house directly across the street from the hospital. The little house was owned by an elderly, outspoken woman named Lottie (Sopher) Feliz. We all called her “Ma”. This is where my Mom and Daddy met, ironically, his Army Unit building was directly behind that same little house. But I’m branching off into another wonderful story… so back to Nonie.
My Mom had married Daddy in 1943. When Daddy came home from the war in 1945, they moved into a Quonset behind my Aunt and Uncle’s country home, where my sister was born in 1947. They lived there until I was born nearly seven years later until they realized they would need a bigger place to live. Ma and Jinks (Ma’s blind brother, now living with Ma in their childhood home together), both elderly and in need of care-giving, offered my parents the upstairs part of their old Victorian home. Everyone agreed that my parents would live there rent-free in exchange for my Mom cooking all of Ma and Jink’s meals and she would take care of their every need. In time, the house would be left to my parents when they passed, as neither of them had spouses or children. A living room and a bathroom were added upstairs and this became our home where I grew up and lived until I was 18. The responsibilities of caring for Ma and Jinks seemed to fulfill my Mother’s need to nurture the elderly, and gave my sister and I two people we could entertain in our backyard, presenting shows, singing, dancing, and charging them a penny apiece for the privilege to do so. Ma and Jinks had many visitors to this home, mostly eccentric and odd relatives but they also had a wonderful friend named Nona Campbell who came often to visit. I never learned how they knew her but this is my story and memories of Nonie, the lady who grew so near and dear to my heart.
My earliest memory of Nona Campbell, or Nonie as I called her, was hearing her deep lilting voice and her wonderful but hearty laugh while I climbed up onto her lap to sit. Her piercing blue eyes had softened with age and her charcoal black hair was now snowy white and pulled back from her face into a once-stylish bun. She was a woman of great girth, full-figured and she moved in a slow and graceful way. She was a devout Catholic and had a kind, easy-going way about her. It was clear that she was well-educated; she was up on current events and her love of John F. Kennedy, once he became our President, was evident by a portrait of him she hung proudly on the wall of her studio apartment.
By the time I was six, Mom would allow me to run full speed to the corner of our block and wait there for Nonie’s arrival. Mom stood in front of our house watching me, keeping track while I impatiently paced around. Nonie never learned to drive, something that was very common in those days, for women. So she faithfully and frequently took the city bus and rode the ten-plus blocks to our street, then walked another two blocks to our house. When I spotted her, I would run like the wind and throw my arms around her neck, then joyfully take her hand , swinging our arms while I talked her ear off, all the way back to the house. I often carried her black cloth purse which was nearly as big as I was.
I never remember her going into the upstairs part of the house (stairs were hard for her) where my immediate family lived. She would always come with the pretense of visiting Ma and Jinks who lived downstairs in the main floor of the house. Once she sat, I spent all of my time, climbing up into her lap, trying to settle onto her large and comforting lap, where I was very welcomed. I remember her sitting for hours on end, talking with Ma over the top of my contented head. I close my eyes now and recall her perfumed smells. I remember her flowing dresses, most of them styled from a time much earlier in her life. I remember her black laced shoes, so familiar to me and worn often by elderly women during that time. She was never harsh, never scolded me, never made me feel anything but like the most important person in her life. I believe and hope, in my heart, that perhaps I was.
She never married, never had children of her own.No siblings that I am aware of. I don’t believe she had any surviving family, at least at that point in her life. She must have been into her late 70’s at that time. Mom took her shopping often, with me in tow. Groceries, out to lunch, but Mom and I spent most of our quality time visiting with Nonie at her studio apartment. Housed in an a magnificent golden-colored classic Victorian two-story structure near the bustling downtown part of San Jose, I can see that incredible building in my mind’s eye like it’s standing before me now. I remember the ornate floral pattern of the carpeted stairs, the long dark hallway that we walked down to get to her front door. I sensed how difficult and painful those stairs became for her over time and yet, ever the consummate performer, she never complained.
My awareness of who she was as “Nona Campbell”, was not evident to me until I was around the age of eight or nine. When Mom and I would visit, Nonie would often play her 78 records on an old phonograph, at times, singing along softly under her breath as the three of us sat and listened. “Play it again, Nonie, please!”, I would beg. Not realizing that the deep mezzo-soprano voice on that scratched and tinny sounding record that spun and wobbled, really was, in f, MY Nonie. Stories shared between she and Mom went passed my young ears without much notice. All I knew was that I loved Nonie more than almost anyone else in the world and that’s all that mattered.
I remember she wore dentures and they must have caused her great pain because I never saw her with them in, ever. This never bothered me one bit.
She spoiled me terribly. She hand crocheted two pairs of mittens for me. The first must have been when I was quite young as I have no recollection of the excitement of opening them as a present. They were very small, creme colored and rather plain with a small thumb slot and a solid mitten part for all of my fingers. Even though it doesn’t get real cold in California, she felt a need to protect me from the elements so a few years later, she gifted me with another crocheted pair, these were my favorite by far. They were red (my favorite color), edged with creme-colored trim and had a decorative small creme flower atop the wrist part, which housed three small but brilliant red rhinestones. REAL rhinestones! I loved these so much and remember squealing with delight when I unwrapped the tissue paper and bow, neatly wrapped around them. I wore them every day until my hands would get so sweaty, I would just have to take them off or I would die from something I like to call hand-heat stroke. I have both pairs all these years later, in tact, wrapped securely in a plastic bag that my Mom thought would protect them for eternity. Mom did this with all of my nice things, for that, I am truly grateful.
Another time Nonie gifted me with a beautiful brass colored chain-link bracelet with two brass colored engraved hearts that dangled from the chain. One heart had my name, address and phone number on it, the other said “To Dawn, Love Nonie”. Mom was so worried I would lose it (how could I lose a bracelet with all of my personal information on it?) that she rarely let me wear it, it still sits in a special box in my jewelry box, I take it out sometimes, read the hearts and smile.
Over the years, there were many cards, with her fluid cursive, usually with a little money inside, wishing me a Happy Birthday, Happy Easter or Merry Christmas. Her cursive was distinct and as lovely as she was.
I have fragmented memories of Nonie’s scrapbook, with her in her costumes from an all girls high school, probably in Oakland or San Francisco and later the many operas she performed in, in in the bay area. She would often dress the part of the men in the plays and musicals during school, as her voice was deep and she was a very large boned and tall woman and made a believable male figure on stage. One picture shows her dressed as Robin Hood with a feathered cap and she carried a bow. Her deep mezzo voice, allowed her to comfortably sing the man’s part for each play or musical.
I don’t know much about her career back then except that she was locally well-known in the bay area during that time and her voice, beautiful. She owned an ornate costume dinner ring with three diamonds which was later left to me after she passed. Many years later in my life, I stupidly had the two of three diamonds removed and put into a ring setting for my husband (ex) and I. The jeweler had told me that the larger center diamond and one of the side diamonds were “European cut” which he stated made them much more valuable. All I cared about is that they had belonged to Nonie and were special to me just for that fact. When I asked about the third diamond which appeared cloudy to the naked eye, he said under the magnifier it had been damaged by something that oddly appeared to be cold cream. I smiled at his puzzled expression, and I said, “Yes, I’m sure it is.” Due to the difficulties in my life these days, I had to put those rings with Nonie’s diamonds in hock with a private party, where they remain still. Someday, perhaps, I will have them again.
Life got busy as I grew into a pre-teen and I saw less of Nonie. At age 13, Mom told me that Nonie had been moved to a rest home. When we visited her there, the room was very small and plain with a narrow twin bed that Nonie was reclined on, the room looked nothing like her beautiful studio apartment that I loved so well and Nonie seeming pale and frail to me. She must have been quite sick by that time because Mom asked me to go outside and read a book that I had brought along with me, while she sat and held Nonie’s hand. Reading was impossible so I daydreamed and noticed how sad and angry I was with myself, that I had not been to see her as much and I felt a twinge of guilt and the rush of overwhelming love for her. I didn’t want to think that she might be dying but deep inside me, I knew she was. Sadly, that was the last time I ever saw her alive. I don’t remember a funeral or service of any kind, but I’m sure my Mom set something up through the Catholic church. Nonie would have liked that.
Upon her passing, she had left my Mom several of her costumes that she had worn and a several 78 records of her singing. I have them still. I have the crocheted mittens, the brass charm bracelet and the dinner ring which I had modified, now, with regret. I have amazing memories of the time I spent with her which were always happy and filled with love, always. She loved me unconditionally, and I, her.
Move forward forty-nine years. Several days ago, someone posted a video of a beautiful and talented opera singer, still performing at age ninety. Many people “lose their voice” when they age but this woman’s tone and vibrato was crystal clear and strong as she stood on stage and sang like an Angel and I wept listening to her. Nonie’s face appeared in my mind’s eye at that moment. I wonder. In a spur of the moment I googled Nonie’s name and got two hits, both on EBay.
I was shocked to find and view two beautiful pictures of Nonie posted there for sale, standing on stage in costume. These were photos that I had never seen before, nor were they copies of the one or two small pictures she had given my Mom before she passed. They were listed by a company that specializes in pictures of 1920 opera stars and I was amazed that they had made their way to the state of Texas. The owner had the forethought to take a photo of the back of one of the pictures and there was Nonie’s familiar and lilting script, her flowing cursive was still etched in my mind.
I never knew this Nonie, standing tall on the opera stage. Young, vibrant, strong, her beautiful blue eyes and jet black hair encircling her lovely face in perfection. But it was her for sure. The eyes never change, do they? The kindness there was already evident.
I desperately wanted these pictures! I sent a message to the seller and told him how Nona Campbell had been in my life and that she was like a Grandmother to me. He replied and said that his company was grateful and delighted with the back story (though I made it brief) of how I knew her. I couldn’t wait for those pictures to arrive!
Nonie’s pictures arrived today on this rainy day in Portland. The edge of one picture, which has a thin white border around it has grown brittle and got a bit munched in shipping but the picture itself is fine. I thought I would cry my eyes out when I held these photos in my hands but a very strange thing happened. I became very calm and very quite. As I stared into her eyes, I could hear her gentle speaking voice, her deep comforting laugh, her exquisite mezzo-soprano operatic voice singing softly while I sat comforted in her warmth. I could hear her in my head, thanking me for bringing her back home.
I have searched the Internet the past several days and there is nothing else about her on Google, Ebay, Pinterest or any other vintage opera sites. The chances are one in a million that on the 5th of July, 2016, 49 years after her passing, that I would find these. I feel embraced once again by her love, her kindness and a strange and giddy kind of hope. The odds of me finding her again, after all these years, are quite simply, must be one in a million…just like her.
I post Nonie here, for you all to feel her energy, her love and the joy that she brought to my life. Welcome home, Nonie, welcome home.
I grew up in the fifties and sixties, a time when life was simpler and we were all pretty innocent, perhaps even naive. My family of four was no exception, try thinking of the families in the movie, “Pleasantville”. Yep, that was us.
We were a typical middle-class family. Daddy was a truck-driver(“Honey, I’m home!”), Mom, a housewife, stayed home full time to raise her two children. Daddy had a great sense of humor but he also had a quick temper which flared often. Mom always said, he “got over it” quickly when he would become upset or angry cause he would usually get back to his “old self” right away. He came across as impatient about most things when I was a child, but underneath all of that thick veneer of agitation, lived a true “softy” who I knew adored Mom and us two girls. I do know he loved me. He was friendly to strangers, a hard worker and smart as a whip for someone who only had a fourth grade education. He had very high morals and a common sense about life in general. He was well-respected as an Officer in the Army and well-liked by fellow truckers where he drove for over 30 years. Everyone loved “Mac”. Dependable, strong, funny. I could see why Mom loved him so deeply.
Mom was always the easy-going one. Never raising her voice with us, she was always cool, calm and collected. I have a faint remembrance from very long ago, of her swatting at my diapered butt as I ran past her once, but not much else as far as disciplining us. Our Mom didn’t stand a chance of getting a word in edge-wise in our house, living with two young daughters who never stopped talking. My older sister’s excessive talking seems to have stemmed from a need to cover her natural shyness, mine seems to have been from an overactive mind and burning need to entertain others. I appeared shy at age four but that disappeared quickly when I developed my verbal skills and found great reward in making people laugh. I feel giddy when I know that I am responsible for the catch in someone’s ribs and their face red from laughter. Years later in the darkest moments of my life, my quirky sense of humor and belief that the world is a much too serious place, saved me and my sanity. Mom was definitely my best audience, she always called me her “Clown” even as all the years passed and I became an adult. There is never any situation in life that we can’t find a glimmer of humor (or hope) in it. If I didn’t believe this, I would have given up long ago.
Mom could be very judgmental about others and was prone to gossiping, especially amongst her 14 siblings, about “outsiders” (people other than our own family members). Gossip, she was good at, showing her own feelings, not so much. I think I only saw my Mom cry about 10 times in my whole life. I know she was never allowed to express her own feelings while growing up (info she shared with me while in her 80’s!). As a result, she attempted to raise my sister and I in the only way she knew how, by not allowing us to show OUR true emotions either. The old adage, “children live what they learn” is historically passed on from generation to generation and in our case, that was very true. Not that it was wrong, I just always felt stifled, like I was going to explode if I couldn’t express what I was feeling. No talking back allowed, no outbursts of anger, go to your room, period. No wonder Sis and I always “ate” our feelings for years and we both struggled with our weight off and on over the years as a result. When you can’t express who you really are, food is very comforting. Years later when I became a Mom myself, I made the decision that I would encourage my children to feel their feelings, even if they were not terribly comfortable in doing so. I have three wonderful grown children so I guess I did something right somewhere along the way.
My sister and I were the poster children for the adage “Children should be seen and not heard “, so true for that whole generation. We didn’t know any different because to us, what was occurring was normal. In looking back now, I think one of the reasons we both talked so much was that having a Father who told us to shut up (at least in my case) and a Mom who did not allow us to express our real feelings, we tried to compensate by talking non-stop to cover the pain of not being allowed to express ourselves. I can’t speak for my sister, but for me, it has taken many years and one good therapist recently (thanks, C.O.), to help me come to this realization. Trying to be more real about who I am and ending “The Dawn Show” is something I try to work on now. Not just being real, but being kind to myself and actually feel the feelings that I am experiencing, whether they be good or bad. Believe me, I still struggle keeping that childhood persona at bay and keeping a watch on always trying to be my authentic self. That may take me the rest of my life.
My Daddy never spoke much about his own childhood, his silence was a clear indicator that those memories were either too painful to talk about or he had simply blocked them out as a way of coping. Raised in rural Georgia as the baby of his family, he had a brother who was twenty years older than he and several other siblings in between, two of whom passed away at very young ages. Times were hard and the family was dirt poor. Daddy drove truck from a young age and also took care of his bed-ridden Mother for many years after his own Daddy died. Daddy seems sad when he occasionally talked about his Mom, I don’t remember him uttering a word about his Father.
Marrying later in life, my Father was 44 when I was born and tended to be old-fashioned and terribly strict. I never knew my paternal Grandparents, they had been dead for over 30 years by the time I came around but their rigid form of disciplining came through in my Daddy. On the other side of the coin, my Dad was a wonderful story-teller who’s true life stories were always hilariously funny, very animated and were rarely about his life during his childhood years. Most of these stories, which I heard all the while growing up, were about his time in the Army and time as a trucker. His stories never conveyed the childhood pain which he hid so well, a coping skill I’m sure he developed very early in his life. Yet I never heard him complain even once about his Mom or Dad. There is only one faded black and white photo of them, showing Grampa’s stern face and Gramma’s fragile stature and passive expression. Sometimes one picture really is worth a thousand words.
A true southern Father, my Daddy spanked me with a belt. Not all the time, but often enough that I remember rubbing the welts on the back of my legs and putting my hands across my butt to block the impact as he swung. I remember that thick leather black belt like it was yesterday. My sister told me (being 6 1/2 years older, her memory much clearer than mine) that I cried a lot when I was put in my crib at night when I was very young, around 2-3. As a trucker, Daddy needed to fall asleep fairly early, as he would get up for work at 4:00 AM to drive his rig. My crying and being noisy in my crib was not conducive to him getting his rest. My sister claims that my Father would beat me (her words, not mine) with a belt nearly every night during that time, to get me to finally be quite and go to sleep. She brought this subject up one day out of the blue (I was in my early 20’s) and a very uncomfortable feeling came over me. In fact, I was adamant and flustered, insisting that she was either making it up or exaggerating. In those days, there was a large opening between our bedrooms in the house we grew up in, so she witnessed all that went on in my room first hand. She stood her ground about what had happened, despite my protestations. I don’t have memory of the physical part in my conscious mind but deep down inside of me, I remember. Those memories were so distant and fuzzy, but the moment she brought this subject up, they all came flooding back into my mind. Those feelings are, after all these years, still present. Facing them and processing them, is something I am still working on each day of my life.
In those days spanking was the “acceptable” form of disciplining ones children. Spanking still occurs today in many homes, I realize that. I was never hit on any other parts of my body but my rear end, as some other children have had to endure but it still hurt like hell. What Daddy did was wrong, but it was all he knew. As the years passed, the spankings decreased; although Daddy did try to reach over and swat a my rear-end when I was 13 about a remark I had made. As he reached across to swat my butt I leaped up, turned around (I had been kneeling down playing a game at our coffee table) and I gave him a look that if looks could kill, he would have been dead. He had not spanked me for a long time at that point, and I was sure not going to let him start again… he never did.
Not all of my disciplining was physical. If my Father was around and I was talking too much, he would become impatient and would tell me, “SHUT UP, DAWNIE!!!” His voice and tone very harsh and stern. Those three words have rung in my ears my entire life. It didn’t seem to have much of an impact on me at that time though. Being quiet is not easy for me, so those words really stung. When I close my eyes I can still hear his voice, those three words still vibrating through the very core of me. Those words, in that context, would be considered verbal abuse by most people in this day and age, but I eventually learned to let them roll off me like water on a duck’s back. It’s as if my brain would hear his words and my internal voice would say, “OK, just try to keep me quite, watch me”. As a result, I became active in theater and performed in musical shows and plays from sixth thru twelfth grade and beyond without missing a beat. If I couldn’t express myself at home, I’d go express myself in front of a huge room full of strangers AND my parents, wiggling around uncomfortably in their seats in the audience, unable to control their extroverted and talkative daughter. Childhood revenge at it’s finest.
Interestingly, even now as an adult, if someone tells me to “Shut Up” in a stern voice, even if they are kidding around, I get a funny feeling in my gut that’s equivalent to someone slicing my belly wide open with a fileting knife. Those words bring up two feelings immediately; anger and rejection. Guess some stuff stays with us no matter how much therapy we have or how much forgiveness we have granted.
Sis and I knew how to “play” our Mom. We would bug her and bombard her with stuff we either wanted to do or wanted to buy and she would avoid making decisions by saying these two phrases to our whining; “We’ll see” or “Maybe”. Those two phrases always guaranteed the same two results every time. “Maybe” meant we were going to get our way, cause Mom was calling the shots and she was the Softie parent and would grant our requests. “We’ll see” meant that Daddy would be involved and have the final say and that meant whatever Sis and I wanted, no matter what, the answer was an adamant “NO”. So, naturally, my Sis and I would work on Mom and knew we could get our way about things if we asked her first. If we ever got in trouble (which was pretty rare), she would say that she was going to “wait until Daddy got home” and then we would face our punishment. I remember sweating bullets when I would hear Daddy’s old Chevy coming up the gravel driveway, knowing that Mom would be presenting our wrong-doings to that short fuse of his. In reality, that rarely occurred because by the time he got home, Mom usually softened about whatever event had happened (or she forgot about it) and our evening went on as usual. Sometimes I was glad that Mom was always a bit forgetful.
As the parent of three grown children, I am proud that I allowed my own kids to express their feelings beyond just showing “happiness”. I just wanted them to experience all the various emotions and learn that as human beings, we float through a array of different feelings throughout each day of our lives. Some are good and some are not-so-good. I also have always made an effort to not belittle my children with any name calling. The words that we say to our children will live in their hearts and minds forever. Never forget that.
My childhood memories are happy ones despite being aggressively spanked and often feeling very frightened of my Dad. I loved him. He wasn’t perfect and neither was Mom. They were doing and living what they had each learned growing up in their homes when they were children. If you are a young parent reading this, please know that the expression “Children Live What They Learn” is a huge truth and that is why I chose to share these painful memories of mine. If you too, were abused in any way, you can stop the cycle. Get help through your church or religious organization, see a good therapist, take an anger management class, join a support group. Do something healing for yourself and in the end, for your own children.
I felt compelled to write this blog which is about a very controversial subject, spanking children as a form of discipline. This accounting is to the best of my knowledge, the truth, as retold in parts to me by my older sister and my own childhood memories. I hope it does not portray my Daddy as a child abuser or a monster, he wasn’t and I don’t think of him that way. But the fact remains that at some deeper level, the spankings I endured have definitely impacted me in a negative way. I hope my sharing will convey to other parents to think about and consider the consequences of your actions in your own children’s lives if you should choose to physically or verbally harm them in any way. If I can convince any of you out there to stop spanking and/or verbally abusing your children because of some part of my story, then I will be content. Treat your children well, learn to face and clear your own issues and buried anger, without taking it out on your own kids. Do something healthy and positive, mentally and physically for yourself every day. This was not an easy blog for me to write and share. It took hours and days to make my decision to actually post it. Know that this process moves me further along in my own healing and I thank you for reading it with an open heart and mind.
My best to you all…until next time.
Hey All, Its’ been a while. I am compelled to continue my newest adventures into dealing with the Realm Of My 60th Year. Here goes.
Now at age 60, I sit down to rest (part of my daily life now) if I am weary. I absentmindedly stare down at my now-wrinkled hands. A smirk crosses my face as I see some familiar genetic traits, those of the hands of my Gramma Goularte and my Auntie Eleanor, my Mom’s older sister. Aunt Eleanor’s hands were the truly beautiful, always graceful and poised; in her youth, she had done some modeling and she knew the trick of posing her hands ever so gracefully so they always looked good in photographs. My inherited too-large hands, the over-sized nail beds, the long tapered fingers revealing many of my Mom’s Portuguese roots. Funny how those traits get passed on to us from our family gene pool, whether we may love these traits or abhor them, they are part of what makes us who we are.
Reminiscing, I remember how skilled my hands and fingers once were in my youth as a keyboard musician, who’s well-rehearsed and well-trained fingers flew across the keys with great speed, much ease and dramatic showmanship. How quickly these hands have betrayed me now, weakened by wire sculpting and wracked with pain from over-use. Hands that have now wrinkled up without any warning, without forgiveness. I woke up one day a few years ago and my hands, fingers, feet and all my toes looked as if I had been soaking in a too-long warm bath. This seemed to have happened overnight. I stupidly tried to wipe the wrinkles from the back of my hands, thinking it was just dry skin. Then reality kicked in and I drew my breath in a bit. How can all of these wrinkles be happening so soon? Suddenly 30, 40, 50 years seem to have passed with the blink of my now 60 year old eyes. Funny how that happens.
My wrinkle cure of blobbing on tons of creme doesn’t seem to have helped much; all it’s done is create my slimy footprints across the hardwood floors and made my grip holding onto wet dishes as slippery as snot. Never did like the creme idea anyway.
The wrinkles on my face have taken a bit longer to surface, but when they finally appeared, I twisted and grimaced my face side to side, raised up my eyebrows, open my mouth and dropped my jaw as big as I could, flexing my neck muscles in front of the mirror; all in an attempt to smooth them out, at least temporarily. I am always disappointed and a bit angry when they settle back into their now comfortable places on my aging reflection.
I happened to glance in the mirror the other day, when getting ready to shower, and the words ” YOU LOOK OLD”, shot through my brain and drop down into my mouth, still open in disbelief. Not “Grampa and Gramma old”, I tried to convince myself, just me looking tired in a very wrinkled flesh-colored baggy birthday suit, where there once was a smooth as silk body without a wrinkle or droop in sight. Maybe it’s the mirror, I reasoned. If I clean the mirror, maybe I can wipe away all those years of wrinkles that have gently and slowly crept into the reflection I now see. I am saddened by the reality that I truly am no longer in my prime (can you say cellulite?”). Haven’t been in my prime for some time, actually. Nonetheless, my mind continued to ask the proverbial question, “What happened to the young girl in the mirror?” I was pleasantly relieved when the mirror fogged up again…
Am I not suppose to be wise, at this age? Am I not suppose to have been incredibly successful, endlessly happy and eternally beautiful forever? That’s what the media, magazines and the Internet has told me for so long that I did believe them, once upon a time. I might have hated these wrinkles if given to me at a younger age when I couldn’t have appreciated them but now, at 60, they hold a special place in my heart. They, like my too-large hands, have been passed onto me by my loved ones, in swirling and complex wrinkled patterns, etching childhood memories and family events in my heart, my hands, still crystal clear and very much alive. I haven’t “earned” these wrinkles, as some people like to say, I have inherited them from my family members whom I have loved so deeply and profoundly all of my life growing up, and for that, I have no regrets.
So bring these wrinkles on, 60 year old body. I look forward to your artistic palette of new wrinkle designs, God willing, for many years to come…Night Everyone.
This blog is quite long, just to warn all of you. I just couldn’t justify leaving any of the parts out.
The story you are about it read is true (well, with a few modifications). None of the names have been changed to protect anybody.
San Francisco International Airport July, 1965
San Francisco, California
The moment I entered the portals of the San Francisco Airport for my first-ever flight, I knew I was in trouble both physically and mentally. I was buzzing with excitement but my nervous stomach was already beginning to complain. I got even more anxious when the check-in clerk took my suitcase, weighed it, tagged it and sent it adrift down a slow black conveyer belt to Never-Never Land, and for all I knew never-never to be seen again (didn’t know how true this really was). My family and I began our walk across the miles of slick terminal floors to seek out our gate number. After check-in we entering into a long dark connecting tube that to me, smelled of dirty feet and motor oil. This tube reminded me of the crinkly plastic hose that attached the poofy bonnet to the base unit of Mom’s pink portable hair dryer. Only bigger. Lots of folks were mulling around, wiping tears, hugging, saying good-byes to their loved ones and heading into the pungent tube.
Once inside, a chat-chatty Stewardess with a fake smile was using hand and arm gestures to guide passengers inside that reminded me of the gals who demo the winning prizes on The Price Is Right. Her heavy make-up and over-powering perfume told me that she was probably a hooker in disguise working a second job just to try to make ends meet. More noise from the stomach department as my brain raced trying to figuring out how to back myself out of the mouth of this monster. I was tempted to turn around and run down that giant hair-dryer hose hallway as fast as my brand new shoes could carry me. Maybe I should have tried. Unfortunately, it was too late by then and my whole family got sucked into the innards of that plane. “Tickets, tickets please…”
This trip to Atlanta, Georgia was to visit my Daddy’s family so that they could meet my sister and I for the first time. I found out many years later that Daddy told Mom prior to our flight, that he thought that she and I should go on one plane he and Sissy should fly on a different plane. His thought being that in case either plane crashed, at least two of us would still be alive. I guess it made sense in a protective parent/survival kind of way. If I had known he didn’t trust our Delta pilot any more than I did, I would have faked a high fever (heating pad on my forehead on HIGH works every time) and stayed at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the country. They always spoiled me rotten and fed me Auntie’s endless desserts that she baked, potato chips and Coca-cola; forbidden items in our house. I glanced over and Daddy was twitching and chewing (details about this coming up as this story progresses). At least he had stopped wringing his hands cause now they were gripping the armrests, turning his freckled knuckles white. Shit.
This plane flight was a big deal in our family, so Mom had us dress up like we were going to church. Fancy new dresses, shoes, hats and purses; Daddy miserable in his best suit and tie. When my motion-sickness kicked in, all I could think about was that I was not about to puke on my Sunday best. Maybe if I turned my head, it would land in my sister’s lap. Now that, I might enjoy. It was always hard for me being the much younger ugly-duckling sister of someone who once entered a REAL beauty pageant and besides, my sister always blabbed to people about me sucking my thumb, still, at the age of twelve (well, only in my sleep but she always forgot to tell them that part). Revenge comes in many forms.
I didn’t like the fact that as soon as we squeezed down the narrow aisle way and found our seats, a bell chime sounded and a sign flashed, informing us to sit down and buckle up. Once my motion sickness kicked in, every time I heard that chime from then on, my mouth would begin to water, just like Pavlov’s dogs. I soon discovered the airplane seats all shared a mutual arm rest and I would be subject to touching elbows with a complete stranger. I hoped they didn’t mind that later on they might be sharing an armrest with a talkative twelve year old who might smell a bit like barf or poop, depending on how things progressed. Never known for being able to sit still, I couldn’t imagine staying in that cramped little seat for the next five hours. Whenever I was really at a loss, I would always try praying. “God, please don’t do this to me, I swear, OK, I don’t swear, but I PROMISE that I won’t miss confession or ever sin again if you’ll just get me off of this fucking plane”. Of course, the F word was not in my vocabulary until much later in life but it’s the best word that describes my fears right at that moment. Besides that, God doesn’t appreciate the F word and he will probably move my name onto the Going To Hell list after this whole story anyway.
Many people experience jangled nerves just before their plane begins it’s 500-mile-an-hour-G-Force-that-splays-your-whole-face-back-into-your-hairline kind of acceleration during the take-off process. I had butterflies in my stomach while we sat waiting on the tarmac which seems like an eternity. My heart began to race when all the creaking and popping sounds started inside the cabin as we rolled slowly down the runway picking up speed. The vibrations of the engines nearly shook all of the fillings out of my teeth. When I looked around everyone and everything in that cabin was jiggling like a giant bowl of Cherry Jello. I felt dull pain shoot through both of my ears from the intense pressure (cabin pressure sucked in the 1960’s) and everyone around me suddenly sounded like they were talking through two tin cans and a piece of string. My Dad kept offering me a piece of his gum to “pop my ears” but I was too preoccupied worrying about my rumbling gut, the rumbling plane and my fillings falling out. My damn ears were the least of my worries.
I looked around and all the other passengers were calm and collected, as if they were all heavily sedated. I was really feeling frightened at this point so I reached over for Mom’s comforting hand. I saw her rosary beads in a death grip in her hand hidden under a blanket on her lap. I realized that her lips were moving with no sound coming out. Oh, Dear God, she’s praying the rosary and we’re all gonna die. Now I really panicked. Right when I imagined the whole plane exploding into a million pieces, I felt this eerie lifting sensation happening which then morphed into a downward sinking sensation in the middle of my belly at the same time, as we literally lifted off solid ground. I remember pulling my breath in a little, right as it happened cause it was such a creepy feeling. Is this the same kind of sensation that people get when they die? Some people might relish this feeling, but apparently, I’m not one of them, “Lower this monstrous thing back down on the ground and let me get off!”, my mind raced, “OK, now I’m getting angry… somebody PLEASE open that stupid hole in the side of the plane and JUST LET ME OUT. Mom’s rosary’s were out of sight again but I saw her mouthing the words. “Hail Mary, full of grace…”, I truly believed that I was about to meet my Maker at the ripe old age of twelve.
From the moment of lift-off, my motion sickness went onto auto-pilot. If I thought I got it bad when I was in the car, it was ten times worse in a plane. When we hit that first air pocket, within the first few of seconds of the flight, I felt like the top half of my body was being pulled up to Heaven and the lower half was heading to Hell with rapid speed. Like that feeling you get just as a roller coaster climbs slowly, slowly (clicking mechanical sounds that we all dread) and then wait…wait… and it makes that takes-your-breath-away death drop at fifty miles per hour. That tickle-like-open-stomach-valve-kind of feeling, you know the one. Tickles and hurts at the same time. Kind of like laughing and crying at the same time, something else that I experienced at times throughout this trip. “What was THAT?”, my voice chirped, high and shrill. No answer. Everyone looked at me like I was a lunatic. It then dawned on me that this sensation was an air pocket felt like. Worst sensation I’ve ever felt in my entire life. How many of those happen when your flying? Why won’t anyone answer me?
The distraction from all of this drama was that the cool and calm stewardesses were already coming up and down the aisles with their squeaky little carts, offering passengers food and drinks. I couldn’t get to the john or leave my seat to run, even if I wanted to. When the cart stopped next our seats, my folks thought that some 7-Up might settle my stomach. Wrong. The canned 7-Up was hot and too carbonated and the dry heaves began immediately. The pretty blonde stewardess suggested that I try eating some scrambled eggs. I figured it was worth a try, despite my stomach turning every time I smelled anyone else’s food around me. Scrambled eggs? Lady, are you insane? I’m about to throw up on your expensive high-heeled stewardess pumps and you want me to eat eggs? I think I took about two bites and sunk back down into my seat. The eggs were watery anyway and they failed to stop the dry heaves which I had during the entire rest of the flight. I spent the next five hours spitting saliva into Kleenex and making them into little saliva-soaked balls. So much for having something handy if you needed a tissue. To this day, I still get waves of nausea whenever I have warm 7-Up or watery scrambled eggs. I shudder just writing about it.
I stopped counting the number of air pockets at about two hundred. Flying over the southern most United States usually guarantees some sort of amazing turbulence or multiple thunderstorms. Over the next five hours, I asked myself, how could I have prevented this from even happening? We could have driven to Georgia. Takes a lot longer that’s for sure but I’ll take car sickness over air sickness any day. At least I can get out of the car and throw up in the street or somewhere along the highway but at least I’m still attached to the Earth. Here in the airplane, my only options for becoming sick to my stomach are the little paper bag that tells you the proper way to barf on a plane that Mom handed me, Sissy’s lap or making a bee-line to the bathrooms at the tail of the plane (which were usually “OCCUPIED”). Nothing like thinking about how or where to barf for the next five hours to create those special memories to write about in My Notebook.
Always curious and questioning, I wondered how something so incredibly heavy was able to defy gravity (never worked when I use to try and fly off the front porch while flapping my arms) and force it’s way up into the friendly skies, flying at 30,000 feet with all these passengers strapped into it’s belly trying our damnedest to eat and drink while it fought against the elements to move us from the western US to the southern US as quickly as possible? I pondered this question when I was interrupted by a notification from my stomach, eyes and inner ears that they were about to send me some very important information. They apparently were getting very impatient about this unstable environment and were planning on doing something about it fairly quickly. Lucky me.
I was told years ago that the reason people gets motion sickness, is that our brains gets mixed signals from the eyes and ears and their messages get scrambled (ugh, should have used a different word) when there are lots of physical imbalances going on (like while flying, duh). This creates lots of conflicting information to the brain so that when the brain DOES try to interpret what’s happening, he’s then not real clear in his message to the stomach, who in turn says “Hey, somethings not jiving with the guys upstairs in the balance department” so he creates an upset, literally. When Mr. Stomach doesn’t get the right message he responds with queasy (the word is “quick” and “easy” combined, as in loss your cookies ASAP) and motion sickness conveniently rears it’s ugly head. It’s like when you try riding The Octopus at the County Fair for the first time and within seconds your realize that your corn dog, cotton candy, salt water taffy and three slices of pepperoni pizza that you just ate are probably not going to be getting off the ride at the same exact time that you do. I am an expert on this subject as I have had severe motion sickness my entire life and believe me, it’s not nearly as fun as riding the Octopus. When riding the Octopus, you get a feeling that you’re going to die and/or lose your cookies in between all of your screaming. Kind of the feeling I was having right now on this stupid airplane.
My Mom, proud as a peacock with her whole family dressed for church smiled contently throughout most of the flight. My seventeen year old Sister, looking quite sexy, had dressed like she was planning on having sex on the plane with someone who she would bump into on her way to the bathroom (guess she refused to wear her Sunday best like Mom suggested) and my Dad? I should have known there was a problem when I had first spotted the giveaway clues back in the terminal which were his hyper gum chewing, his twitchy left eye and the twitchy left corner of his mouth both going a hundred miles per hour. He always subconsciously had these tics over the years and they would happen whenever he was really wound up or really pissed off. Before we got on the plane, he had also been pacing around like a caged animal and wringing his hands which he did when he was really antsy or nervous. There was something about this whole process that was not sitting right with him. If my Dad was pacing, twitching and wringing his hands, then I should be shitting bricks (I nearly did later, literally). I think it was right about this time that my bowels seriously began to really cramp up and I knew that in the near future, I was about to experience an untimely sooner-than-later case of nervous diarrhea. Wait, are there only bathrooms at the rear of this thing? Oh yeah, forgot about my sister wanting to live our her fantasy of being a member of the Mile High Club so I know there’s gotta be a really private toilet in here somewhere. If I can just find it. If not, maybe I can use that little paper bag my Mom gave me earlier.
I think Daddy’s anxiety was partly about seeing family that he had not seen in nearly 23 years, and partly his own fear of flying. He had made the decision during World War II to marry a beautiful twelve year younger Portuguese California girl that he met while stationed in the bay area. After the war, he stayed and living the rest of his life away from his loved ones in Georgia, to keep Mom happy and near to her very large and close-knit family. I think he was worried that he would be judged by his own family members for never coming home once the war ended. Never saw my Daddy sweat before, but believe me, the day of that flight he was sweating bullets. Unbeknownst to us, this would be his final trip to Georgia. We could never imagine that five years later we would lose him to cancer. I truly believe that somewhere deep inside of him, he felt he might not live a long time. It was at his insistence that we all make this trip that year. Maybe he had already not been feeling well, I don’t know cause he wasn’t one to complain. After smoking from the age of eleven until his early fifties when he quit cold turkey (took up chewing gum instead), I’m sure those unfiltered cigarettes had already done their damage. As a trucker, at one point, he smoked up to three packs a day. Only vice he ever had and it killed him. He was sixty years old when he passed and it has been forty-three years since he’s been gone. Hard to believe.
Life can be filled with contradictions. My Dad could be a stern disciplinarian at times (can you say the word “leather belt”?) but I always knew he loved me and he was very protective of his “two girls”, as he called my Sister and I. He loved and spoiled my Mom for nearly twenty-seven years of marriage until the day he died. He loved to tease Sissy and I (but in a fun way), swelled with pride when I would play the keyboard for people, loved and accepted people of every color (most unusual for someone raised in the old south), worked hard his whole life, was a good provider and more than anything, he was a great story-teller. Interestingly, I only remember my parents having one argument in their whole married lives and it was over a bunch of dust that Daddy found under the sofa, and he proceeded to chew Mom out about it when we got home from Church. He had the green sofa pulled out into the middle of our living room, a broom in his hand, trying to sweep. Mom ran out and down the back stairs crying, with me on her heels. We jumped in the car, I asked, “Where are we going?”, she cried, “I don’t know!!!” so we turned down a side street and parked there while she sat and sniveled in a tissue. My Mom was not a crier so I was pretty scared. After fifteen minutes, she regained her composure and we drove around the block back into our driveway. Once we got upstairs, she locked herself in the bathroom, sobbing loudly, while Daddy was pounding on the bathroom door, apologizing, telling her to unlock it. When I came down the hallway during this drama, he yelled at me to “go outside and play”, (granted I was about 13 at the time) which really confused me so I went outside and wandered around the back yard. It got quite quickly, so I guess they kissed and made up. That was it. I never knew or heard them argue again in my whole life. Go figure. Thank you, Daddy, for passing on the ability to be a story-teller to me. I’m doing my best with this story but motion sickness and screaming diarrhea are getting in the way and making it pretty difficult. And thanks for only yelling at Mom one time in twenty-seven years of marriage, about crappy dust that she missed picking up with her Hoover vacuum. Guess you were just having a really bad day.
My Mom always talked about becoming a Stewardess, so this flight for her, was a dream come true. She had the looks, the height and weight requirement to become a stewardess but in those days, they had strict standards about who could and couldn’t serve you food and drinks while balancing themselves down a bouncing skinny aisle way up in the sky. They could also specify how much that person should weigh and how tall they should be, so they wouldn’t overload the plane, I guess. They also wouldn’t hire you if you were married. How sexist it that? Her even-temperament and the “let-me-help-you” personality were ideal but she was already happily married and never finished high school so the airline companies wouldn’t even consider her and her dream faded away. I always believed that her life as a stewardess would have enriched her time here on Earth and made her more worldly (no pun intended). Just my gut feeling. Speaking of my gut…
I have always gotten car-sick my entire life. Straight highways and freeways were my best friends while riding in a car but once we hit any loopy hills or hairpin turns, my ears and eyes would tell my gut to get ready to unload its cargo and jump ship. It only took a couple of turns and I would be in the backseat of our turquoise 1957 Chevy turning green. For some reason, my Daddy would always get mad at me whenever I got car sick. I think he figured I was just imagining it, so Mom would patiently move me up front (no seat belts then, remember?) and we would roll all the windows down, I would take some deep breaths and yes, that would help me feel somewhat better. Even though my mouth would still water like crazy, at least I was in my Mom’s lap and that helped a whole bunch. But by twelve years old, I figured that just because I got car sick, didn’t necessarily mean I would get air sick. Silly me, I should have checked with my ears, eyes and stomach before making that assumption. I should NEVER have gotten on that plane.
Gosh, in all of this excitement, I nearly forgot about The Notebook. No, not the movie. My real genuine spiral-bound very own lined notebook which Mom purchased for me to take on the flight. She felt that if I could write about what I was seeing out the window while we flew, then I would have a record of the trip which I could look back on with fond memories and she also kept telling me I should try to sleep. Sorry Mom, no writing or sleeping for this Equilibrium Princess. But when you are motion sensitive, writing in a book or trying to sleep are probably only only two steps below trying to drinking warm 7-Up and eating scrambled eggs on a plane. To this day, when I read what I wrote in that little note book, which was only about 5-6 sentences cause I was too sick to move the pencil much, I wonder what in the hell my Mother was thinking. Because she loved to fly, never suffered with motion-sickness in her life, she had no idea that The Notebook would contribute to my suffering. And suffer I did. Although I never actually got those eggs and that 7-Up back up and out of my mouth, I nonetheless stayed nauseated and had watering saliva glands during that entire a flight. And as a special bonus, the 7-Up and eggs decided to head down and exit my body the easiest way they knew how. Within a matter of hours, they began their descent (like the plane would be doing eventually), I just didn’t want this to happen at 30,000 feet in the air.
When the “unfasten your seat belts” sign lit up, I made a dash to one of the tiny rear bathrooms. These little johns were always busy cause this plane was a 747 and it was packed. Mom asked if she should come with me, “No, it’s OK Mom”, I whispered through my watering mouth, “I can handle this by myself”. My claustrophobia about the narrow aisle I was hurrying down would have to take a back seat to my need to use that toilet. I had been waiting forever for the damn carts to be out of the aisles and this was my chance. Once inside with the latch in place, right in the middle of the most important part of my anal explosion, the little neon sign right in front of me lit up, two inches in front of my face flashing the message, “PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEAT”. I tried not to panic and ignored the sign but the plane began to lurch and dip, up and down, side to side, rumble, shake, a few air pockets thrown in just for good measure, all the while as I was trying to wipe my ass and not get shit on anything else but those little squares of white paper. Again and again the sign flashed, “PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEAT” and this time I hear a muffled announcement from the Pilot telling everyone to fasten their seat belts, that it’s roller coaster time (well, he actually said we were going to be hitting a bit of turbulence, same difference). Now, I’m right in the middle of taking the most urgent dump that I’ve ever needed to take in my entire life and I’m being told to go back to my seat. I’m literally holding the paper squares in one hand, hanging onto the edge of the toilet seat with my other hand so that I wouldn’t slide sideways off the damn commode. The saddest part was that I could see my reflection in the giant mirror mounted right in front of my face. Not a pretty sight. Seeing that mirror flashed the thought that I might just be in an episode of Candid Camera, looking right into the lens and I was going to probably be harassed by friends and family about this the rest of my life. My CC fantasy was interrupted by the stewardess who was knocking rapidly on my door, telling me to get up and get out. I felt reluctantly obliged to end this very important bowel movement mid-way, do my paperwork and quickly head back up to my seat. At least she let me wash my hands. I had to buckle my seat belt right away as well which was the ultimate act of denying me any further attempts to relieve my bodily functions, not as long as that bathroom neon warning sign was still flashing. It’s said that people’s bowels stop working if they become extremely frightened or become exceptionally stressed out. I don’t think I pooped again for around four days.
I do remember my Mother attempting to find a way to ease my nausea agony for nearly the entire flight. She discovered that if we kept the little cool-air device above my head blowing right down on my face, I seemed to feel better. Just a side note, what were the aviation engineers thinking, installing those air blowers a mile above a person’s head? We breath through our nostrils which are on the front of our face, not on the top of our heads. They should have installed them on the back of the seat in front of us instead of putting in those useless drop-down trays. The last thing I wanting do was to tip my head back so I could breath that nice cool air right in my face cause then the room would spin out of control but the cool air really did help. To this day, I always like to have air blowing on my face, sometimes during the day but always all night long when I sleep, no matter if it’s 10 degrees outside or 101 degrees. I have this huge fan that blows in my face because I like the noise and I just sleep better with it on. In fact, I can’t sleep without it on. I bet some therapist would have a field day with this one.
Daddy stayed restless in that tiny seat for the entire flight and loosening his tie and wiggled around and cleared his throat. Another nervous habit he had my whole life. The entire five hours, Mom was comforting me the best way she could. I think she felt guilty not being able to ease my pain and discomfort. This was typical of her Mom skills. Like I told you, she would have made a terrific stewardess cause she always loved to help others, especially sick people. She was even a volunteer nurses aid at the hospital during the war. She was that way then, and she was that way with me until the day she passed at age 84 in 2005. It’s not surprising that the hole she left in my heart when she died is as big as that hole in the side of that silly plane. Opp, there’s Sissy coming back from the rear restroom. Why is her face all flushed and she looks like her dress is on backwards? Guess she’s having a nervous stomach too…
My Daddy did have trouble with his inner ears when we had first taken off, and again as we began our descent. He never talked about it until later but I heard him telling my Mom right after we landed that he was really in a lot of pain. It seemed from that point on in his life, he continued to have problems with his sensitive ears and I don’t ever remember him flying again. I, on the other hand, hated that floaty feeling that keep making me feel like I was sliding into the person seated next to me as we began the descent; turning and dropping, tipping, turning and dropping (hang on stomach we’re almost there) until when I looked out the window I could make out tiny cars and miniature people scrambling like ants as the ground grew closer beneath us. When our southern pilot opened the mike to tell us the temperature in Georgia was a humid 90 degrees, I knew I would be on solid ground soon. I was already attempting to unbuckle my seat belt and get the Hell out of there.
When we roughly touched down, I was in the middle of saying a little Thank You prayer to God, when our necks were nearly snapped off as the Pilot hit both of the huge brakes on the plane and we stopped quite suddenly. My face felt like a boucing rubber ball after that but I didn’t care, at least we were all on the ground and in one piece. Everyone on the plane jumped up when the Buckle Your Seat Belt sign went OFF, like they had just announced a blue-light special sale at K-Mart. Passenger began shaking hands, hugging, exchanging phone numbers with strangers who had become their best buds during the five hour ordeal. It’s funny what the fear of flying will alter your brain to say and do when you are scared out of your wits. As we exited the plane and pushed our way out into the Atlanta terminal, my Father spotted his older brother, my Uncle Mac and his wife Aunt Carrie waving their arms at us. We made our acquaintance, hugged and laughed and they scooped us all up and drove us out to their little house in the country about an hour away.
Over the next few weeks I would learn much about them. Uncle Mac had been a distant and emotionally unavailable Daddy to all of their six children. Unlike my Daddy who glowed with pride at all Sissy and I did, my cousins shared how their Dad had been a distant, drunk and hands-off Father. Aunt Carrie was easy-going but spoke so rapidly that I could hardly understand her with her southern-drawl and her funny way of pulling in her breath and making little vocal sounds in her throat between each sentence she spoke. It was not annoying but endearing and I can still hear her vocal pattern in my head as I write this. She had a heart of gold, was a wonderful Mom and cooked southern food to die for. Uncle Mac was quite the character; chewed snuff every day and when he wasn’t chewing he was smoking, drank through out the rest of the day and night, told me funny family stories (yes, he had the gift of story-telling as well) and could recall crazy nick-names for every relative that existed in the entire family. Uncle Mac and Aunt Carrie sadly lost a 21 year old son Robert, to the Viet-Nam war, lost their eldest son Fred, much later, in a terrible auto accident; never had much but a pot to pee in but they seemed to still enjoy each others company and I loved them from the moment I spotted them waving wildly at us all as we came off that god-awful plane. Southern folks are friendly people by nature and they were no exception. As they drove us around and gave us a tour of Atlanta, I kept asking Daddy why strangers kept waving and saying “Hey.” “That’s just the way Folks are here, Dawnie.” It was a whole different world from our lives back in California and I loved how these people loved me, even if they were strangers.
Uncle Mac was an older, grayer, more-wrinkled version of my Dad, much gruffer and rougher around the edges and mean when he was drunk, but he also shined with a wicked sense of humor and a memory like an elephant. I was really glad my Daddy had quit smoking when I was seven. He quit cold-turkey and started chewing gum instead. Unlike my Daddy, Uncle Mac was quite the drinker and gambler in his youth. As a result my Father wouldn’t partake in any card games and hardly ever drank. He wouldn’t even consider playing a friendly game of Canasta with Mom and I over the years, even if we begged him. Mom told me this was from watching his drinker/gambler brother indulge in his vices years before. Daddy never talked much about he and Uncle Mac’s younger days, growing up poor to a stern-looking Farmer Dad and his frail-looking wife, their Mama. I do know that my Daddy took care of his Mama after his Daddy passed and she was bed-ridden for many years. By the time I set foot on Georgia’s deep red soil, my paternal Grandparents had already been dead for over 30 years. The closest I came to knowing them was when I stood at their worn headstones in 100 degree heat, in the old Georgia cemetery where they are laid.
As the days of our visit passed, I became my usual chatter-box self. “Daddy, can I stay here in Georgia so that I don’t have to ride in an airplane again?” “How come when we get up at night to use their bathroom, all the cockroaches scramble out of the way when we shine our flashlight on them?” “How come the bugs outside light up at night?” “How come the lightening strikes right on the ground next to Uncle’s house and the grass sizzles and smokes and the sound is so deafening I can’t hear or see right afterwards?” (nothing like that in California, that’s for sure) “How come this well water tastes so good?” “How come I feel like I’m in a sauna when I walk outside?” “Why does Uncle Mac keep that tin can filled with brown spit along side his recliner chair, Daddy?” “How come Cousin H.M. eats three cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches every day for lunch, Dad?” “When Cousin Harry took us to the “swimming hole”, how come there was a live frog next to me when I came up for air and the next time I came up there was a live human turd floating by my head, Daddy?” “How come Uncle Mac slurs his words when he drinks all those beers, Dad?” “Why didn’t you bring me here before?” “Can we go to that cemetery again and see where your Mama and Daddy are buried again?” I always loved to see my Daddy smile, and this day, he was smiling from ear to ear.
I flew to Georgia two additional times, once in 1970 with Mom, just after Daddy passed away and again in 1983, when I approached my Mom and told her that I woke up one day and felt a sense an urgency to return to Georgia again but unsure why and would she go with me? Never one to shy away from boarding another plane, she happily joined me. Uncle Mac was now in his ’80’s but his mind was still as sharp as a tack. Aunt Carrie still cooked like crazy but now they lived in a mobile home surrounded by feral kittens and a lake right out front where Uncle could fish for Catfish every day. I sat with my notepad and he on his rocking chair as I asked him family history for hours on end, he recalled all the unusual nick-names (something our family was famous for), all the cousins and their families names, all their children’s names, he never missed a beat. And me? I got smart and took Dramamine for this trip.
Mom and I stayed about a month with he and Aunt Carrie, she cooked us okra (when boiled, it slimes down your throat like boogers), chicken and home-made biscuits. The day we left, Uncle Mac insisted that we board the plane with two huge bags with handles, filled with his home-grown tomatoes, okra, zucchini and corn that were all from his enormous garden which he maintained completely by himself. He would wander around in that ungodly heat in his Pith helmet, cut off shorts and no shirt, talking away, up and down the aisles of all those vegetables and fruit for hours on end proudly showing me every ear of corn, every string bean, every nook and cranny of his massive labyrinth. By this visit, cousins had grown up and had children of their own and we rejoiced in meeting them all and watching this family grow since we had last been there in 1970. Mom and I said weepy good-byes and less than six months later Uncle Mac was dead. I was grateful for the intuition I felt that had drawn me there again to be with him and Auntie, collecting important family history that Daddy could no longer pass on to me. I loved hearing Uncle Mac’s voice once again and watching his mannerisms, so much like Daddy’s whom we had lost 13 years before. Oh how I wish he could have returned with us to where he grew up. I think in my heart I knew it was him who sent me the message to have Mom and I return to Georgia again, before the last of his siblings passed away and took all of those wonderful funny names and wild stories with him. Aunt Carrie passed many years later, and I stayed in touch with her over the years.
I was forced to fly again in 1985 for my job at the time, but never since then. Not surprisingly, I still hate the idea of flying and if I am ever forced to fly again (which I don’t plan on doing, at least in this lifetime) I will take my pills for motion sickness and I will still ask my two pertinent questions: “Where are your air-sick bags and does this plane have more than four restrooms?” Thanks anyway, I think I’ll just keep things simple and stay on the ground.
Oh, and one last thing. The motion sickness? It took my eye doctor recently asking me, after he had run some tests on my eyes. “Do you get car sick, air sick and/or sea sick easily?” “How did you know?”, I asked in surprise. “Well, you failed every eye test I gave you for being able to line things up vertically which is what has caused your motion sickness all these years, but we can fix that within the prescription of your glasses, if you like.” God, where were you about 45 years ago? We tried. Those lenses made me feel like I was on a boat, or a plane or in a car. So my glasses are just regular lenses and I still get motion sickness like when I was twelve. Guess my ears, eyes and stomach never got the message about fixing the problem via the prescription lens so they still do their job and make me as nauseous as they can. I suppose I’ll deal with this all the rest of my days. If that’s the worst thing I have to deal with at age sixty, I’m happy.
As my southern family would say, “Take care, Y’all…”
Our childhood memories are always present in our lives as we become adults. Whether they were good or bad, that childhood environment is often at the core of how we perceive ourselves, it certainly influences who we are.
There were items in our home during my childhood that were visual anchors when I was a inquisitive kid. Ever comforting, always present, like a good friend, these items helped me feel safer and happier just by the fact that I saw them every single day. I am still, to this day, a person who feels better if I am around familiar things.These items were always there during family holidays, boring “regular” days, summer time break and special celebration days. Their presence brought me comfort and a sense of security. With any changes that occurred during my life, these items consistently stood the passages of time, sadness, childhood crisis and in my mind, helped me stay grounded due to their existence in our home and a place in my heart.
One of those items that comes to mind was Mom’s portable sewing machine. She had it as far back as I can remember but it always seemed “new” to me. It was a Singer sewing machine and it was always sitting close by, waiting to be used.
It’s clunky beige case, so immense, so enormous that when I picked it up, it would crash into my leg as I attempted to lift it and help Mom haul it onto our tiny kitchen table, she would scold me and tell me not to pick up something that heavy. The corners of that sewing case became tattered and beaten over time from all the clunking and banging we instilled on it. The leather-like textured beige vinyl exterior became dull and dirty over time. The gold-toned enormous latches that kept the actual machine locked inside the case so that the it didn’t fall out and hit the floor like a brick were loud and hurt my ears when unlatched. They seemed like overkill for such a timid machine. Kind of like too big of a lock on a high school locker. These latches beckoned me to release them and view the intriguing device beneath. I have always been a curious Soul and begged my Mom to let me face this sewing machine Dragon head on. “We’ll see.” she said. That was one of her favorite things to say. “We’ll see” meant that I was going to get my way, eventually. If she said, “We’ll wait until your Father gets home”, usually meant that there was NO WAY that I was going to have my request granted. Funny how these words from my Mom had a unspoken language all their own.
I used to secretly fantasize about owning one of those expensive, gleaming white sewing machines (ours, dull beige just like it’s case), with all the fancy knobs and latest gadget attachments, one that was actually recessed in it’s own separate “sewing table” where it was hidden from view by a panel of wood which you lifted up, which then raised the behemoth unit up from inside the bowels of that table. It emerged like magic from the underworld, ready to create some fabulous costume or sequined dress at the hands of a master seamstress who pushed on the foot pedal skillfully. I wanted that fabulous kind of sewing machine that they gave away on Queen for a Day or Let’s Make A Deal. Not a clunky beige anvil that sat in a bulky matching case gathering dust that never gleamed or created any fancy stitching.
But alas, our sewing machine WAS dull. It sat by itself, alone. It wasn’t recessed in anything but the corner of our dark narrow hallway. It observed everything from it’s hidden nook, waiting patiently for someone to give it some well-needed attention. Sometimes Mom would move it to a new lookout point and there it would remain, again, in solitary stillness. Never complaining, simply observing the lives of our whole family.
As a curious child, I always wanted to unsnap the noisy gold brackets by myself and snoop at what lurked beneath that case. I had seen the machine when Mom had removed it occasionally, but I wanted to experience the unveiling for myself. To me it was exciting, a challenge and a thrill. Let me at it, so that I can release the beast within it and myself taming it to obey my commands!
The funny thing was that Mom rarely, if ever, even used this magnificent machine. That’s right, you heard me. My Mom NEVER sewed anything on that amazing unit except to practice making running stitches on scraps of old white (used) sheets that had been relegated from the rag-bag.
My Auntie Dorothy, one of Mom’s older sisters who was one of my favorite Aunts, was the Craft-queen of our large Portuguese family. She sewed, she baked, she knit, she crocheted. She made matching dresses and shirts for herself and Uncle Joe all of my life (Hawaiian print fabric, of course). But the Craft Fairy seemed to have passed over my Mom without ever looking back. The extent of Mom’s creativity never went beyond stamp collecting. I mean, how creative do you need to be to glue stamps, using a pair of tweezers and magnifier, into a stamp album? That, I will never understand. No offense Mom, but stamp collecting is a far cry from the words craft and creative and all that they entail.
Going to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Joe’s house in the country was heaven because going to Auntie’s was the equivalent of going to Disneyland. She baked cookies, cakes, letting you eat however much you wanted, let you dig through all her drawers in the whole house, took you shopping and bought you whatever toys you wanted, took you out for to junk food restaurants (which we rarely did under our roof) and she could make incredible Faloush (Portuguese donuts) which were to die for, including fingerfuls of raw warm Faloush dough. All that being said, ironically, Auntie never taught me to sew. Crocheting, yes, but sewing was never an option. Maybe she felt that she was overstepping into Mom’s maternal territory at that point, who knows.
When Mom got brave, she would attempt to thread the machine and “practice” sewing, meticulously following the written instructions and diagram on how to do the steps. She would carefully weave that skinny white thread through all of the nooks and crannies that lead to the actual needle itself. This process created the path of tension which made the stitches “even” both above and below that piece of supposed fabric. She diligently wet the end of that thread with her lips, aiming the thread through the needle, from front to back as directed, through it’s narrow and impossible head. I remember hearing her curse under her breath (well, her idea of cursing was words she made up that SOUNDED like cursing because she never cursed in her whole life) during this very tedious process and I observed how soggy that thread would become as time after time, she would again, salivate on the end of that thread and fail to get it to go through that impossible hole. One day she magically found a needle threader in her box of sewing machine attachments. To the relief of us all who witnessed her painful ritual, this little gizmo eased some of her frustrations and saved us from watching her terrible suffering. As she got older, she would call me over and make me do the honors of threading the dreaded needle as her eyes got older. Once it was all set up and ready to go, all she would do is practice those running stitches on those old dreary sheet scraps and glow with pride at her incredible results.
I don’t ever remember us purchasing any kind of material or fabric, ever, during my whole childhood, up until I took my sewing class in Junior High. Mom wasn’t one of those Mother’s who easily sewed matching dresses for herself, my sister and I (like her infamous sister, Dorothy could), on her nifty Singer machine. For that, I am actually grateful because then we weren’t mocked for wearing matching dresses in public. Early on, she actually purchased store bought matching dresses for my sister and I, with us being nearly seven years apart in age, we both looked ridiculous. My sister appeared dressed too young, I appeared dressed too old. If you don’t believe me, just find that picture and look at the expressions on mine and my sister’s faces. Mortified.
Mom would begin her quest by cut those pieces of sheet into manageable smaller sizes on which she could practice sewing more effectively. She would lift the foot release on the machine, slide the old white sheet under the foot, lower it back down and step on the foot pedal that commanded the machine to make the unit come to life. That foot pedal always had a mind of it’s own. It appeared to have a “delay” system built into it like a sticky gas pedal. Attempting to push gently on that pedal to ease into first gear and it would kick in like a high-powered motor in a hot rod. Suddenly that needle was flying through that old sheet and nobody’s hands were on the wheel driving the thing. It always worked that way, no matter HOW gently you pushed on that damned foot pedal.
My Mom always had quirky stuff that she did. God I loved her, but she really had some strange routines that she followed throughout our time as Mother and daughter. One of those quirks was that if there ever WAS anything that needed sewing, she would do it by hand. That’s right, complete with tiny, even stitches all sewn with a regular needle and tread. This process included sewing all of the “runs” in her nylon support stockings. This made for very strange looking scars on her legs when she wore them in public after being repaired (yes, she recycled her support stockings, they were expensive you know) that looked like Frankenstein stitches running up and down her legs. People often thought she had been seriously disfigured due to an accident or trauma but in reality, she was tight with money and didn’t want to spend for another pair of her support hose (Depression-era mentality). Darning is the actual term for the type of sewing Mom did. She would sew anything and everything that had a hole, a tear or rip using this technique. Whether it was large or small, I never once, ever, saw her repair any article of clothing or fabric using that portable sewing machine. She would stick an unused light bulb inside the sock or article of clothing that needed repair (the light bulb technique, I still use to this day) and quickly and quietly thread that needle and patiently sit and sew that thing all by hand for however long it took. Go figure.
By seventh grade I had decided to be brave and sign up for a sewing class. I reasoned, what the heck, we’ve got a sewing machine without a life and somebody should be using it. I had been allowed, once I was at a “certain age” to practice patterns of nothingness on those thin old sheets, over and over again. I learned how to thread the machine, set the tension wheel, wind a bobbin (my favorite part), and handle that out of control foot pedal with the ease of a winning race car driver. I really loved that sewing machine although it never really “spoke” to me like some other crafting skills I learned as I grew older. It was one of the first creative outlets I ever had and besides, it filled many hours of otherwise boring time while growing up in the ’60’s before we had the Internet, Cable TV or cell phones to keep our brains busy.
I truly believe that Mom was completely intimidated by that machine from day one. She never participated in any of the sewing classes they offered for free where she bought it (Sears, I believe). I think it overwhelmed her and somehow she felt less-than and scared of the unknown. Two feelings that followed her for the rest of her life.
I remember the project I chose to make for sewing class, a sleeveless “shift” dress, stylish at the time. I picked out a fabric that was so busy and bright it could have lit up New York. Hot pink, crinkly fabric with green, white and yellow floral accents. Ugh. By the time I cut out the pattern pieces, traced the pattern onto the fabric, cut it out, basted it, pinned all the pieces together, sweat bullets sewing it, hemmed it, ironed it and got my descent grade for making it, I HATED that dress. Never did wear it. Think I put it on one time only to show Mom and Dad what I had accomplished and that was it. I knew at that point in my life, that I, too, would never be a seamstress.
What I also learned from that whole experience, is that I was just as frustrated running that silly sewing machine even more than Mom had been. Even with a sewing teacher and a couple of more simple projects I created, I knew that the sewing machine and I would always just be playmates and nothing more. No run-way worthy designer dresses, no costumes, no evening gowns would I produce. Just some squiggly circular designs on old sheets and a one-time fluorescent pink dress would ever emerge from these hands in collaboration with that machine. As time passed, I would discover that the curiosity and creative thoughts that the sewing machine stirred within me, would rise up in Junior High and High School in other creative forms like acting, art, keyboard, singing, gymnastics and dance. And at a much later time in my life, jewelry making, wire face sculpting and coffee filter roses, writing blogs…
During a takeover by other family members in my Mom’s family, the ugly beige sewing machine and it’s bulking case disappeared. I had had it prior to that for many years, letting it sit in a corner of my house, just as it had in the house where I grew up. Mom had kindly loaned it to me until I returned it to her with a smile, when I purchased my own newer model in hopes that a newer unit would spark an interest again in sewing (it never did). But when that old beige machine lived with me I kept it close, let it watch us as the clock ticked and we all grew up and aged and some of us passed. It never has been recovered since it’s disappearance and many other memory-filled items have vanished as well. If I had known, I would have kept it safe in a dark corner of my hallway along with all the other items filled with my memories of Mom, my Daddy and my Sis. Kept it safe from the evil folks lurking within our family domain. People I couldn’t protect her from either.
Interestingly, I never really use my newer more-modern sewing machine much at all, even to this day. But that’s OK. What is symbolizes for me is worth every penny I spent on it and worth every dark corner of space that it has taken up, an honor handed off to my machine by Mom’s reliable beige standby.
I miss your quirks, Mom. I miss your little-used beige sewing machine. Thank you for being who you were and sparking my creativeness with being brave enough to face that beige sewing machine that you never really used or connected with. Thank you for letting me make mistakes on it, wasting spools of thread and messing up the bobbin, thanks for letting me sew circles on the old white sheets, race the foot pedal for no reason and for just letting me create messes and work through that messes with your help. And thank you most of all because I’ve been able to darn and repair clothing by hand my whole life…
Much love, until I see you again, D
My fingers have been itching to type so here goes.
Speaking of itchy, why is it that now that I have hit the big “6-0”, a lot of stuff related to my body and it’s functions have suddenly started changing?
These issues include: tiny lines creeping in around and under my eyes, on my forehead and corners of my mouth, slightly sagging jowls that are just beginning to droop (makes me resemble our high school Bulldog mascot for Heaven’s sake), dark tiny red dots that appear randomly on my face mimicking connect the dot drawings that we did in grade school, the whites of my eyes now red and burning with fuzzy vision staring back at me, missing and discolored teeth, yellowed skin that looks like it’s melting from ultra-violet rays emitted from the bathroom lights that making me look like I have hepatitis, and earlobes that are stretch to my shoulders. My nose appears to be growing ever longer(well, ears and noses actually do continue growing all of our lives but that’s another story…) and my breasts continue their descent into my knee region.
Then there’s the dreaded skin tags, cysts, liver spots, warts, and moles which manifest on my face, neck, shoulders, arms and just about anywhere else on the body that tends to be seen by others. I could do a whole documentary on these age-related bonuses. I thought that whales were the only ones who have barnacles…
Bulging blue veins and purple spider patterns are now making their way across my lower legs and upper thighs. I look down and see blue veined feet, ones just like my Mother’s thin-skinned red-haired friend Millie. She had the veiniest blue feet which always fascinated me. As a kid, I had always wish that I would NEVER have feet like hers. Guess I didn’t wish hard enough.
The cellulite on the front of my thighs that used to be firm is now starting to resemble large containers of melting, curdled cottage cheese, especially my left thigh which seems to have gotten a larger serving of cheese than my right.
That “waddle-thing” that hangs down underneath my upper arm showed up gradually over time. I noticed it one day when I was vigorously waving good-bye to some friends (whom I was happy to see leaving). That waddle makes a a sound unlike anything else, except fat thighs slapping together or two people’s bodies coming together when they are having vigorous, incredible sex. I kind of enjoy thinking about the later part of that sentence.
Droopy breasts that sweat underneath more than my actual armpits do happens nearly every day and the eternal belly-bulge from two C-sections and a hysterectomy, the belly resting on top of my thighs when it is really tired. Should of hit the surgeon up for a tummy-tuck during the last child’s birth, I suppose.
My feet have gotten so wide that they look like Fred Flintstone feet and I am at least two sizes larger in my shoe size. My swollen ankles which were big to begin with are now officially “cankles” making me look like I retain too much fluid 24/7. Doctors don’t understand that they were like this even when I was a kid, No, I’m not retaining fluid, thank you.
I hate my wrinkled feet and toes that overnight, became something akin to the skin on a shrunken head. Seriously, they look like they need to be ironed. Polishing my toe nails which I still manage to do, is now like attempting a contortionistic maneuver. OK, I know it’s really cause I’m fat but I’ll be damned if I’ll give up wearing toe-nail polish, fat or not. So I wrench my back but at least my toe nails look great.
I’m fairly vision-challenged these days until I put on my glasses. Most of the time I have misplaced the glasses themselves and can’t find them unless I have my glasses on to look for them. Can anyone else relate to this? And we’re not just talking one pair here. One pair of glasses are for close-up, one pair for watching TV and one pair for driving. Sorry but I believe that bifocals are for old people and besides, I tried them for five minutes and they made me feel like I was going to throw-up. I’ll stick to the inconvenience of three separate pairs which I rotate through more than a couple of times a day.
I have experienced slower reflexes when driving or when attempting to do any problem-solving either physically or mentally. Everyone younger than me drives like a lunatic and everyone older should get the Hell out of my way. Any technical/computer problems I that I can’t handle get resolved by my computer savvy hubby or son so I no longer have any problems. At lease until five minutes from now.
I’m like a Sloth when trying to get into or out of any vehicle (my impatient son reminds me of how I need to “hurry up” during this process) so even though my brain believes that I’m going faster, my slow-motion movements stay the same. OK, I say, get off my back, Son, I’m moving as fast as I can and for God’s sake, I’m SIXTY. Maybe the rest of the world is happening just to quickly and I can’t keep up. Either way, I’m a day late and a dollar short.
Some days it feels like someone is placing slow-drying adhesive on all of my joints, muscles and bones, just a drop or two every day while I’m asleep, to intentionally slow me down.
This is another interesting thing. The noise of my own breathing, when I am quietly reading a book or attempting to watch TV or even sleep, really gets on my nerves now. It never bothered me in the past when I was 75 pounds lighter and 40 years younger. But now I sound like a bad impersonation of Darth Vader. I know it’s probably the extra weight again but we already covered that, didn’t we?
The Rosecea on my fair-skinned cheeks, nose and chin now makes me look like a completely inebriated drunk (no, I don’t drink, thank you very much) so that in photos I am the person that looks completely shit-faced. Never hard to pick me out in a group photo, I’m the one who’s face is lit up like an electric tomato.
My hair has begun to thin on top and along the hairline (only one side which look fashionable) and you can now see my bright pink scalp where lots and lots of hair used to be. If I tease my hair a lot and spray it with a bunch of hairspray, it will fill in the gaps if I am lucky and the wind doesn’t blow. If I tease it too much, that hair then falls out in my hand making for more pink scalp showing through. I thought only men got bald as they aged, boy, am I naive.
The outer half of both my eyebrows fell off about a number of years ago. The main remaining hairs have spread across my brow-bone like a patch of weeds gone wild with an agenda all their own. I’ve got eyebrow hairs where there was never any eyebrow hairs to begin with. I’m ready to just shave the damn things and pencil them in like Elizabeth Taylor or Whoopy Goldberg. At least I have been blessed and not grown a dark mustache as some women do as they age, mine is pale blonde and sparse and just a few painful plucks from the tweezers and I’m as good as new. For this blessing, I am truly grateful.
I was absentmindedly looking down at my arms the other night, and was horrified to find two separate patches of dark hairs growing on the top part of both of my lower arms, just below where my arm bends, identical to each other. I freaked out and imagined myself being like Jeff Goldblum in the movie The Fly, only these were on my arms, not on my back, where they could be viewed by God and everybody else. All my life the hairs on my arms have always been blonde for some reason, even though I am (well, was) a brunette. So, I (stupidly) took a pair of small dull scissors and went to my giant magnifying lamp that I use during craft projects, and proceeded to cut them all off. Big mistake. I had red painful bumps all over both my arms for days and look like I had a persistent case of mange. And then they itched for days. Guess it’s time to see my cousin who does electrolysis or stop the self-cutting.
I no longer have a waist at all, where cleavage once was, there is a massive cavern and my once perky rear-end now spreads upward, downward and outward; kind of like a melting bowl of Jello, to fill in all the gaps of whatever chair I am attempting to fit into. I suspect my rump now resembles Jabba the Hut’s face when I bend over to towel-dry myself after taking my shower these days. Scary thought, even for me.
I’ve also learned that I need to pee when my brain says its time to pee and I need to make that sooner than later, thank you very much. Sneezing takes on a whole new response from”God Bless You” to “God Wet You”. I need to poop when my brain says it’s time to poop or I won’t poop again for several days, Sphincter-Muscle Revenge is a medical condition all it’s own.
And these things are not just happening to me.
My husband’s back is growing enough extra hair on it to make a full toupee for where he is losing all the hair in the middle of his head. We are truly grateful so that he can finally stop styling his hair with the comb-over technique and hope to transplant the hair soon. Speaking of backs, I have this one spot on my upper back that never, and I mean never, stops itching. Even if someone rakes their nails across that spot, my skin will still stay in a constant state of itch.
Speaking of itching, how can we forget the joy of Rectal Itching (usually, but not always needing relief when you are deep in sleep and you end up dreaming about it or the urge hits you while you are out in public), Va-Jay-Jay Itching (as Oprah calls it), Nasal Itching, Eyes Itching, Ear Itching (Thank God for the forbidden Q-Tips), Scalp Itching, Between-The-Toes Itching, Jock Itching, Bottom Of Your Foot Itching (which always happens AFTER you have put your shoe on). I have a theory that all of this itching happens because everything currently on us is drying up like scabs, getting ready to fall off. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.
We all know that these things happened to our Parents as they aged, but not to us, right? Wrong.
My Daddy had bones/joints that popped and made cracking sounds when he would get up to tip toe down the hall to use the bathroom at night. I always knew where he was by the snap, crackle, pop going on out in the dark hallway. No wonder I never slept well when I was young. Now MY joints are doing the same damn thing and it hurts like Hell. Funny, he never complained of any pain with this malady.
As Mom aged, she saved rubber bands and aluminum foil and only showered like once a week. Need I say more???
In the past, I would sometimes forget WHY I came into a room to do something then remember why I was there, and just continue with that task or project. Now I walk into a room and I just can’t remember why I went in there in the first place, period. Scary shit.
My rear end unfortunately now seems to have a mind and opinion all it’s own, so does my bladder. No more skillfully suppressing farts, they just come out whenever they feel like it, with no regard to where I am or who’s around me. Same with taking a leak, one good cough or sneeze and it’s instant pee or fart time. Turned the faucet on about a month ago and it was suddenly like Pavlov’s theory, my bladder heard the command “Let Go” and so it did. Unfortunately I was standing right in the middle of my kitchen at the time. While cleaning up, images of rows and rows of Depends flashed through my mind. Don’t even get me started about bowel changes, we’ll be here all day…
The weirdest thing of all is that my belly-button is no longer in the center of my body. I noticed it in the shower one day. The chiropractor moved my tail-bone back to it’s proper position about six months ago (it had gone south for the winter from a childhood injury many years ago) and when he did this, for some reason, my belly-button resumed it’s place of honor back in the center of my body. Now it seems that it has moved “left” again, on its own apparently, so when I look down at it while in the shower now, it’s not in it’s place in line between my gravity-pulled-earth-bound-three-foot-long-sagging-boobs anymore. It’s extremely left of center and bother the Hell out of me. Back to the chiropractor for another realignment I guess. Who would have guessed that my tailbone had the ability to relocate my damn belly-button?
Now I realize of course, that maybe everyone else who’s 60 doesn’t feel this way or experience these things. I also know that I am not in the prime of my life any longer or the best physical condition (understatement of the year) but overall, I think I still look OK for my age albeit the excess weight. Well, certain parts of me look great but you’ll have to squint your eyes to block out the parts that don’t quite make the grade. Then I look pretty damn good.
At least I can still feed myself, dress myself and take my own showers without assistance (although it is a challenge to reach and clean certain parts on me these days, oh sorry; too much information) but check back with me at 65 and maybe things will have changed. Or fallen off. Or gotten much more saggy. Or wrinkled way beyond recognition. Or I won’t even remember who you are, so I wouldn’t be posting this blog anyway. Oh, 70 should really be a real blast…
See ya later, Alligators…
Well, tomorrow is the big day. Well actually, it’s just a regular day like any other except I will drift from my chronological 50’s to my 60’s one second after midnight tonight, with grace and elegance. Yeah, sure.
When I very young, I never thought I’d live to be 30. Then I couldn’t believe I was making it to 40. Then I realized I was in mid-life and knew for sure I’d never hit 50. But this birthday is different. My Daddy passed away at 60 and so I have all sorts of terror scenes firing off in my brain, as well as so many imagined death scenes that I should get an Academy Award for the roles I have played as the dying heroine in my head.
Time for my brain to scream, “Oh My God, I’m turning 60. What have I done in my life that’s been significant or will make a change in the world? Or fed starving people? Or rescued someone? Or wrote a book that changed people’s lives? Well?????
Well, as of today, I’ve washed my dirty undies, ate a whole box of Rice Crunchers Rice Crackers and watched a couple of episodes of “Cops, Mardi Gras”, of drunk people exposing themselves and getting arrested. But I did it alone. That’s right. No one here but me, myself and I (and Kitten, of course) and I feel pretty good and I feel pretty safe so for right now in the place I am at in my life, that’s everything.
Until tomorrow, think about your Well???? moment as (or if) you are approaching the big Six Zero and know that I’m right there with ya…
Those of you who know me well, know how much I loved my Mom and how close we were. With that said, let’s talk about her cooking. Or lack thereof. Not to disrespect her but cooking was not one of her strengths. She followed a very regimented weekly schedule when it came to our nightly dinners, as well as cooking more bland then the wallpaper in my bedroom of the house we lived in. Maybe it was just that era when life was oh-so-simple and things were plain and sometimes boring. Or due to the fact that she grew up poor and you made do with what you had. Either way, she was no Julia Childs and as a result, neither am I.
We rarely ate out. We (at least Mom, myself and my sister) were Catholics so Friday nights were meatless delights. I am taking a bit of liberty on the particular order of Mom’s given menu which consisted of: lamb chops on Monday, Swiss Steak on Tuesday (breaded in white flour and impossible to chew), Wednesday was usually pork chops or perhaps chicken, Thursday was leftover whatevers. Then there was Friday. The dreaded Friday menu used to cause me such dread that I would break out in hives. Even now, as an adult, don’t mention the words warm and tuna in the same sentence unless you want to see me gag or shudder. Friday was always a celebration of either frozen fish sticks(tasted like hot cardboard), Tuna-Wiggle(tuna with egg noodles cooked in a white, creamy, disgusting sauce) In fact just writing the word Tuna-Wiggle in this blog is giving me the heebie-geebies. Sometimes in desperation to do something different, she would substitute in things like hard boiled eggs, pancakes or the infamous macaroni and cheese.
Once when I was around 6 or 7, she absentmindedly cooked us hot dogs with a side of macaroni and cheese and right in the middle of dinner she hollered out “OH MY GOD!!! IT’S FRIDAY !!!” I nearly choked to death on that piece of wiener, I swear. She quickly began to collect up our tainted plates but fortunately, Daddy (who wasn’t a Catholic) said sternly, “Oh what the Hell’s the difference Lee, let them eat their damn hot dogs.” Sometimes I loved that my Baptist-born Southern Daddy wasn’t a Catholic.
Christmas was always roasted turkey with dressing (her dressing was pretty tasty, actual), Thanksgiving was a ham, St. Patrick’s Day was corned beef and cabbage in honor of my Daddy’s Irish roots. The corned beef that was salty enough to pucker your whole mouth as if you had injested alum. To this day, I won’t touch cabbage nor anything that even looks like coleslaw. Once in a while we even had steak or Cornish game hens, if our budget allowed. Spaghetti and meatballs floated by once in a while and Chicken and Dumplings took their place right along side Tuna-wiggle in my book of repulsions. Those dumplings were like eating white paste that we used in elementary school. Mom’s doughy dumplings held their own against any thick peanut butter sandwich that might choke you to death.
If Sissy and I were sick, it was home-made chicken soup regardless of what ailed you. Now my Mom’s chicken soup had a life all it’s own. The whole chicken was cooked with the entire skin on it, boiled in water, for eternity. No real seasoning but maybe a pinch of salt. Mom rarely threw food away so any vegetables we bought were kept and used forever so that by soup time, they were usually soft and rubbery (she kept stuff forever cause she survived the Depression) so the carrots, celery and bits of onion were extremely old and had no taste whatsoever. Once in a while, there would be some plain white rice in that soup. That was it, plain and simple. I remember the film of fat floating on the top of my steaming bowl, watching the patterns it made. If we were sick, Mom would make up some of her infamous Chicken Soup. Interestingly, that soup always made me feel better somehow. A placebo maybe, or perhaps because it was made with a lot of love, I always seemed to get better after a bowlful.
Mom learned to cook from my Grandmother who grew up and lived in the Azore Islands until she came to America at around the age of 18. Mom learned to cook everything until it was just mush and seasoning was not necessary. Soup was a mainstay and with 15 hungry children, that is how they fed the entire family. Not sure if all Portuguese families cook is way but ours did.
Because my Daddy often brought home damaged canned vegetables and fruits as a truck driver, we had thousands of cans of carrots, peas, corn and slimy creamed corn (Dear God) coming out of our ears. These were all boiled in more water until they they were even mushier than when they first plopped out of those cans. When I was grown years later and discovered fresh vegetables and vegetable steamers, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
But the reality is, Mom never allowed or encouraged Sis or I to cook, maybe because she cooked for those 14 brothers and sisters all her life and cooking made her feel needed. Sure, she would let us hard-boil some eggs or boil some hot dogs, but most of the time she just shooed us out of her kitchen. The fact remains that when Sis and I both married years later, we walked out the doors with pretty much zero knowledge as to how to cook a damn thing. Hence, cooking is not only something I don’t like to do, it’s something I avoid doing like the plague. I’m know as I write this, that my brain is percolating “The (Un) Joy Of Cooking” blog coming down my blogging tunnel.
Bottom line is, my Mom’s did the best she could and we never went hungry. I knew she loved me and so I ate her plain, unseasoned food (except for when I fed it to Fluff our cat under the table) and grew up only being to be able to cook hard-boiled eggs and hot dogs. Love, even in the form of doughy dumplings, will always warm my heart and remind me how much my Mom loved me.
I love you and miss you, Mom. I’d give anything right now for a bowl of your chicken soup…
When you take on the task of blogging, you naturally have a fear of people scrutinizing your use of the English language, how clearly or unclear you write and all of the various rules and regulations related to this subject. I’m not talking about “i before e and not after c” stuff, I’m talking about appropriate commas, semi-colons, sentence structures, no running sentences, prepositional phrases, all that stuff we didn’t think we would use or be important until we faced doing a blog and having people judge us or think we’re complete idiots who slept through our Junior High English classes. How’s that for too long of a sentence? I have always been accused of 1. talking too much (this I know is true, so slap me), 2. Not taking a breath between my sentences when I talk (also true because I do often get light-headed when I talk too long) and 3. writing God-awful running sentences when I write. Well, I can’t help it. That’s just how my hyper-drive brain works inside my head so that’s the way I tend to write and speak, for that matter. And that annoying way I always put “dot dot dot” at the end of my Facebook posts. Ugh. A clear sign that I talk way too much and truly don’t breath. Too many commas is another issue I struggle with. I mean, who remembers all of those boring, dreary rules about commas from when we were in school, when we were flirting instead with cute guys instead like Danny P, Dexter and Richard D??? So maybe my punctuation won’t be perfect and/or my sentence structure will stink or my sentences will be so long that your brain won’t be able to process them without a strong cup of coffee but sooner or later, I’ll make you laugh. Or make my point, or both. So forgive this green newbie blogger and know that how I write and where I go is strictly to tickle your funny-bone and not to have you figure out my grasp (or lack of) the English language and how to write properly. Unlike Toastmasters, I hope you won’t “ding” me every time I write an “ahhh”.
So, go out, into the world…make someone else laugh, or at least attempt it, and, by the way, don’t forget to check, back here, of course, to see if I have picked up any new, or maybe old rules about my days sitting in Mrs. Crockett’s english class at Roosevelt, attempting to learn something I would, or could, retain for the rest of my life…Thew! That was truly painful.