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Let’s Try It

When Dad passed away, his archives became available to us. Years of records, a file folder on every child, every property, every pet, every business. Most of my folders included drawings, birthday cards, the occasional award or picture but a fair chunk was dedicated to the history of my education, non-traditional that it was.

I was a parenting experiment. All children before me attended some form of traditional schooling, public or private, skipping a grade here or there. Raoul and Linda both started college at 16 but otherwise the older seven kids were within the range of common. My parents decided to buck the industrial schooling system entirely with me: Total home education. What this meant in the 1980s is that once a year I would go to the local elementary school for a few hours a day one week a year to participate in standardized tests. Providing I performed at or above grade level, the state would allow us to continue home education.

This once-a-year testing event was my only contact with children who didn’t share my genetic makeup. All those experiences you may not even register as experiences were new to me.

The first day of third grade assessment, my mother dropped me off at Mountain View with Miss Fredericks. Mother pressed some money into my hand. “You’ll need this for lunch. Just follow the other kids.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in auto-biographical

 

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Heavy Medal

I’m a committed non-collector. That’s all you need to know about me and my willpower.

But I want to collect, so badly. Disney pins, stamps, coins, letters, postcards, stickers, crushed flowers, spices, pictures, dolls, pieces of lint that look like presidents (that’s a joke…or is it?). The only thing that might make me happier than collecting is organizing the collection into some kind of obscure taxonomy that would make sense to only the most analytical.  Collecting would give me control to create order. It would make me the Larry Page and Sergey Brin of my own little domain.

Speaking of organization, here’s a true story: In my teens, I used to make mix CDs and tapes for my friends. Nothing special there. Prehistoric cave man Grog probably did this for his long-haired Grettahilda using teeth rammed into a barrel and yak whiskers for percussion implements to make a music box filled with “Early Man’s Greatest Hits.” But for me, the art wasn’t just in the selection of songs but in their arrangement. Each song had to be connected to the next in some very precise way. Options included: Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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It Goes On

I lost my first tooth March 17, 1984. I have no memory of that event, but I don’t need to. Dad made note of it for me.

Thanks to Dad, I know when every centimeter of gum released its toothy bounty. I know the exact dates I was hospitalized, every music performance and who in the family attended, every road trip taken until I was 19. He logged his activities and those of whom he was around for every day of his life from January 3, 1974 until February 21, 2012. One page a day, one pad a month, every month. Filed away in chronological order, more than 450 notepads. The aggregation of an old man’s life and of those he touched. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in auto-biographical

 

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One Moment in Time

In 1990, I was 12 years old. But forget that. It’s not really important. In 1990, Ghost was the big movie, the band Warrant released “Cherry Pie,” the chic wore massive hoop earrings and Converse all-stars, Cheers and The Golden Girls were popular, The Young and the Restless was the soap to watch, and slap bracelets were huge. Forget that, too. Not only is it not important but I had to look all that up. I don’t know it first-hand because I was a home-schooled kid who didn’t know anyone and had just relocated across the country with a mother and dad old enough to be my grandparents.

I don’t know how other kids feel about moving but I hated it. Then I loved it. Then I hated it again. Loved it. Hated it. Loved it. The cycles continued but eventually the periods of “loving it” lasted longer and the periods of “hating it” were relegated to days when the pollen count was high. Eventually what pushed me more into the “loving it” zone was the opportunity to pursue two interests: reading historical fiction and biographies side-by-side and hanging out in the jacuzzi at the new house, simultaneously. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in auto-biographical

 

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A Swiftly Tilting Backyard Shed

In the HOA-controlled master-planned country club neighborhood where I grew up, the maximum allowed size for a shed was 4×4 and no higher than the 10-foot cinderblock wall. Ours was 10×14, composed of yellow corrugated aluminum siding and as tall as our house. Ramshackled, unstable, and a few decades old, it was salvaged from an old rental property. For the privilege of having that eyesore in our spacious backyard, my parents were fined $150 a quarter, fees they probably never paid. The shed’s contents were intriguingly and creepily relic, from the decrepit lawnmower to my brother’s abandoned Charlie McCarthy ventriloquism dummy. I was afraid to step foot inside. There were tales of black widow spider nests and the interior of the shed was lined with 5-gallon canisters of propane, kerosene, and gasoline, all kept as back-up supplies by Dad “just in case.” Just in case of what I’m unsure.

But, if one turned a blind eye to the risk of scary spiders and scent of flammables, and ignored the crunchy-hot quartzite pea gravel and occasional lizard, behind the shed was a great place to hide. Strange? Maybe. But without a treehouse (without trees!) or a quiet place in the house that wasn’t overrun by siblings, pets, or siblings’ children, I had few options. I didn’t know any better and it worked.

Around this time I made the huge leap from Dr. Seuss to ‘real books,’ prompted to do so when I noticed the smile of encouragement on the librarians’ faces turned to an eye-brow raise of skepticism every time I brought my summer reading log to their desk. It wasn’t so much that they doubted my truthfulness as they probably expected a child my age should have advanced beyond books with simple sentences.  Hannah, the stereotypical old maid librarian at the local branch, took action and introduced me to the next age group in books. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in auto-biographical

 

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Make New Friends but Keep the Old

Until I was 10, my best friend was a man 45 years older than I.

We did many of the things best friends would do. Most mornings we’d have breakfast together: He would have a coffee and a cinnamon twist and I would have an orange juice and a cranberry orange muffin from Dunkin Donuts.  We would reach each other’s work: He would critique my homework and I would proofread his rental contracts. In spite of the gender divide, we would allow one to choose clothing for the other: He would pick out my dresses on those rare occasions I received brand new party dresses, always blue or yellow or green, and I would pick out his outfits, always some combination of a neutral short-sleeved cotton button-down shirt and light-colored jeans.

On some nights we’d stay awake until the early morning hours talking about religion, history, books, family. Others, we’d lay a blanket in the yard and stare at the sky. He’d point out the stars and teach me constellations. Occasionally we’d be interrupted by the headlights of a passing car or the orange burn of his cigarette. Sometimes I’d fall asleep and he’d have to take me inside and tuck me into bed. If not, then he would invite me on his bed where he’d read books, passages punctuated by his deep inhalation on a True Blue filtered cigarette.

We spoke to each other about relationships. I would confide in him my frustrations with never having a playmate, with my irritation with my younger sisters or how hurt I was by how I was ignored by my older siblings. He would talk about his childhood with his parents or occasionally about the challenges of being married and how important it is to be understanding of your spouse.

Dad and I were close. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in auto-biographical

 

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Two Forward, Forty Back

There’s a post I’ve been working on for a couple weeks – it’s about my family’s relocation from Arizona to Montana when I was a tween. It’s not a great post but it’s a necessary bridge to get me to where I want to go next. We moved in the summer of 1990, more than 21 years ago and about 40 degrees warmer than today. It’s hard to write about a sunny summer day when this is day four or five of 20-mph winds and torrential rain.

Autumn reminds me of endings. It’s not my favorite season. It doesn’t have the still calm of winter, the hope of spring, or the lazy sanguine properties of summer. Autumn is a year’s worth of family gatherings and eating pressed into weeks, it’s the claustrophobic press of humanity just to save a few bucks on a toy or electronic, it may be a time of thanksgiving but it’s also a time of being inwardly focused – we’re thankful that we have more than the other guy or gal. Thanksgiving is the day we all become the chunky kids at the dinner table eating our dinner because everyone else out there is a starving Ethopian.

For Mother and Dad, though, autumn reminds them of beginnings. It was Election Day that they met when Mother was a late-shift bartender and Dad was a network deejay.  It was the day after Thanksgiving forty years ago when they married. Those two events were three years, one child, and two divorces apart – the chronology of which eluded me until I was in my late teens. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Uncategorized