Twenty-twelve was a blue ribbon year for me and for many of the people I care about. Milestone birthdays and graduations abounded. There were planned trips to familiar places, and an unexpected vacation to somewhere new. Day trips were enjoyed out and about the city we’ve called home since 1968 and tend to take for granted. A mix and match of family got together for myriad reasons. There were babies, continued good news about a friend’s fight with cancer, new homes warmed for the next phase in lives, and deaths mourned.
There may be an interesting change on my horizon, and as I mulled over the possibility of it while sipping my coffee this morning, I felt the urge to sift back through my writing here — all two years of it. I’ve laughed aloud, winced, and cried all in the span of an hour, wallowing in the memories.
At another point in my life, I’d have needed to sift through old photos kept in boxes, or read entries in dusty notebooks to gain what I’ve enjoyed today just sitting here. Although I’ve been tempted to print the text of my accumulated posts more than once, I know it wouldn’t be the same as being able to read through them here, and to remember what mattered on a given day in February last year, or feel again the angst a particular teacher caused our family the year before. No, the pages would end up in a box somewhere like so many other aspects of our lives we believe matter.
Instead, I’ve decided to make private most of what I’ve written here. I can’t give it up completely, so it seemed the best compromise.
Change is good, isn’t it?
We learn and grow from the decisions we make about our lives and experiences. And you know what is said of rolling stones and moss, right?
It’s been nearly two weeks since the Inauguration of Barack Obama, and I’ve listened. I’ve listened and I’ve watched, and I’ve held my tongue, at times turning off the television or changing the station when the talking heads begin their endless hair-splitting. It’s not because I’m a total Pollyanna, but more that I’d like just a small amount of time to let everything sink in.
I’m not talking about all the pomp and circumstance, or the history, or nauseating Booyah going on about which side won and which didn’t, or why, and what if. It’s more about watching how the new president goes about beginning to dig our way out of the disaster we find ourselves in after nearly a decade. Everyone agrees that it’s a daunting task.
Daunting. What an understatement.
I find myself wanting to rage about Rush Limbaugh’s desperate groveling to secure himself a position for the next many years by being an even bigger ass than he already is. But I don’t. I want to smack the faces of the talking heads on television who just have to sustain talk to earn their paychecks, and I can’t help but sling a few comments at the television, but nothing that would singe anyone’s eyebrows. I read a blog here, and a blog there, beginning to comment, and find that I don’t want to make the effort to express myself, knowing that at this point, only those who truly understand politics or bottom dwelling are filling comment boxes right now. I have no desire to be a deer in the head lights on any of it.
No, I’m a big chicken. A big deer chicken in the headlights. Or an ostrich.
But when I saw Blog: Living on Food Stamps by Sean Callebs on CNN.com/US, I had to say something. I had to acknowledge my reaction to the reporter’s decision to live on $6.28 a day, equivalent to what a single person would be given by the government if he or she qualified for food stamps, or what is currently known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Sean. You know you can’t, and you’re not supposed to because it’s a supplement, but you already know that, too.
If you’ve happened by today thinking, “Oh my. Kelly’s written twice in three days!” and you’re still reading, wondering where this is going, I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I’m not going to wax about how horrible it is that anyone could be expected to live off of that amount of money because they do in other countries all over the world every single day with money earned making products sold in this country. I’m not going to sling aspersions at the reporter who found a good angle for his story — and one I’m now planning on following. No, instead I’m going to sort through my feelings about it all and wonder why it makes me so angry.
Evidently, as part of the Economic Stimulus Package (clearly different than those Dubyah created by padding our wallets with some bucks that our family summarily spent in Italy last summer….) those qualifying for the SNAP program are to get a 13% raise which is sure to send many opposed to the new administration howling over the injustice of it all.
I don’t completely disagree with them, because I’ve had the opportunity to work in places where I can see just how assistance is spent. It’s been many, many years, and I’d yet to have a family of my own to feed, but when I was a cashier at a local grocery store where many of our customers used food stamps and saw just what went in their carts, even the naive young woman that I was knew something was not quite right.
Most of my attitude about this comes from my mother. She had very little growing up and her mother even less. When it came to grocery shopping, my mother went twice a month, and so we had to learn to ration. If we were pigs and ate our portions — risking all kinds of wrath from my stepfather — then we were done until the next trip to the grocery store. There was no such thing as extra food. We ate everything on our plates, period. And no, there was no cola in the fridge, or expensive treats. We ate simple food but our meals were well balanced. Okay, except the nights we had waffles for dinner — but I guess that would be another off shoot of this problem, right? If you want veggies and well-balanced meals, then you do have to have more money. Or a great garden in your yard. Erm — apartment? Yah, right.
I know. I’m preaching at this point, but if I don’t just let it rip, then I’ll stop and the next thing I’ll do is hit the delete button — which happens quite a bit now. But the tone comes from quite a bit of conflict. How did I experience a growing up with very little, at times with a single mother, or as part of family with one meager income, and not only make ends meet without assistance, but not realize we were poor?
I have no tragic story to tell about doing without because I didn’t know we didn’t have what others had as far as food went. But you don’t get any press when you don’t have a tragic story to tell that has given you angst in life. That wouldn’t happen in our family because we’re all from the same mold: SUCK IT UP. You may have to do something you don’t enjoy to earn money, or get training to learn a new skill, or give up a few of the things you’ve enjoyed for years, but too damn bad.
Now, it’s completely not politically correct for me to be spewing about this, because what I’m saying with far too many words is that just giving people money doesn’t work. It doesn’t help, it hinders. When you get something for nothing, there’s no intrinsic feeling of accomplishment or motivation to continue to strive to improve. There’s just an outstretched hand and then bitterness and accusation if the hand isn’t filled. There’s animosity for those who have money with no regard for the fact that the money was earned with hard work, and skill that was learned over time with persistence.
Yes, I understand generational poverty. Trust me. Professionally I saw it day in and day out in the children who came to my classroom each day. But I’ll never forget the huge baskets of food in the grocery store, loaded with products our cupboards had never seen and then have to watch the customer pay with food stamps, and worse — assist her to a Cadillac or Lincoln to load them in the trunk.
I’m old enough to know that in those cases, fraud was most likely the reason, but I’ve never forgotten them. And it helps me think about all of this business of “bailing out,” or increasing support to those who are needy.
I could keep raging about this, but won’t.
My cracked wheat bread is done with its second rise and I need to put it in the oven.
Hmmm…I wonder what the difference is between the cost of a homemade loaf of bread and one that has absolutely no nutritional value and is wrapped in plastic?
Definitely a very big soap box today.
Today is my mother and father-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty years is a very long time. I should know because that’s how long my very own bones have been on this planet learning to walk, and run, falling down, then starting again. Relentlessly.
A marriage lasting fifty years is more something to read about in the section of the newspaper that also records births and deaths, engagements and graduations than it is something people I know have accomplished. Sure, my grandparents were married fifty years, but it took my mother’s mother three tries to get it right, and at that point, I think maybe she was just tired.
When I think of my mother and father-in-law, they’re rarely considered separately. They go together like a nicely wrapped present, and if you’d told me years ago that they would matter to me as much as they now do, I would have had trouble believing you. But they matter quite a bit.
I’ve known them for nearly half the time they’ve been married, which is an interesting perspective now that I think of it. And in that time, we’ve shared quite a lot: Thursday night pizza and wine — lots and lots of wine; annual dinners out to celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays all in one big night; old jobs and new jobs; trips and family holidays; mint juleps and phone calls from the Kentucky Derby. It may not sound like anything out of the ordinary to others, but I’m smiling as I think about it all.
I think about my father-in-law’s quiet, positive outlook, and my mother-in-law’s plans of places to go and things to see. I think about what caring grandparents they are, and how good they are at making sure everyone knows that he or she is thought of in a special way.
I guess thinking about all of this today has made me realize that outside of a few stories about how they met, and where they lived, I don’t know all that much about their lives together — except that they raised a remarkably patient man I happen to be married to. I haven’t seen many photos, either, and wonder about them now.
We’re all going out to dinner tonight to celebrate their 50 years together. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to get a story or two out of them, and if I’m lucky, some photos not too much longer from now, just to see.
The MoH and I aren’t quite half way there, but we’ll get there. We’ll get there with bells on, grinning all the way.
I was ugly when I was thirteen. I don’t remember if I thought so then, but sorting through old photos proves it: I went from innocent beauty to zit-ridden adolescent in three short years. Add chubby to that as well, and the image is complete. It was no wonder that Peter McClueless didn’t know I was alive. What boy would be interested in returning the unwavering admiration a fat, ugly girl beamed at him every single day of most of his eighth grade year?
No boy would, except for someone like Paul, who lived across the street. He tried to shove a note at me once while we were in the library in Seventh Grade. He was much shorter than I, weighed more, and had smooth, round cheeks. A year later, I’m sure he was counting his lucky stars that I refused to take his note, relieved that he wasn’t burdened by the stigma of being associated with a fat, ugly girl.
A tow head, I’d had long hair and braids for years but always wanted it cut. The lure of something different was more important than having shorter hair, and it was never a matter of wanting to look a particular way. My hair was thick and more coarse than fine — not quite like a Brillo pad, but similar. There were no glossy curls that bounced when I tossed my head, but uneven waves that turned under on one side, and not the other. When I finally got my hair cut short, it was a relief to not have to worry about it any longer until my father bluntly mentioned that one of his friends had asked if I was his son.
What kind of father tells his daughter something like that?
A fat, ugly girl’s father.
None of my girlfriends seemed to notice I was fat and ugly. We were all awkward victims of fashion then, wearing granny skirts and peasant tops, or ribbed sweaters and plaid A-line skirts in brown and ochre, avocado green or rust. Our shoes were clunky and dark — not the best way to end legs without nylons, and often still unshaved. On some days, we donned giant sunglasses with lenses tinted yellow or purple, thinking ourselves cool. We must have seen other girls at school who wore them, because none of us had a clue about what was in and what wasn’t. We didn’t have subscriptions to teen magazines, or older sisters, and outside of what we saw on television, we had no idea about what we should wear. Most of us made our own clothes.
The world seemed just as much in transition as we were, our bodies changing whether we wanted them to or not, and forcing us to think of ourselves differently than we had before. The Vietnam war had three more years of lives to waste before it would end, drug education at school was relentless, and the new Hollywood was no longer a fanciful escape.
I had my head inserted firmly in the clouds, reading books and watching old movies on television, or wasting afternoons with Susy, who lived next door and made me laugh. She was fat, too, but didn’t seem to notice, flaunting her legs in Levi cutoffs with seams split so high, the pocket linings showed. Strutting around in our back yard, she talked about being Racquel Welch, clasping her nonexistent breasts, and pushing up as if to fill her tee shirt, laughing the entire time. She loved vampires and roller derby and would have killed for a boyfriend.
I don’t think I ever told her I was madly in love with Peter McClueless because I knew she was the kind of person to blurt it out during lunch in front of everyone. It wouldn’t have been to hurt my feelings or embarass me because she didn’t know I was fat and ugly either. In fact, I’m not sure anyone knew, but if my secret got out about Peter, then I’d see judgment on their faces, and have to acknowledge it myself.
No, I’d be 15 before I actually thought I was ugly, and 15 was miles and miles from 13 if you were me.
Somehow when we started all of this construction business, I figured it would be fun to post the ups and downs of going through the mess I know is involved. Best laid plans. What seemed like forever was really only about six weeks, so I should have been able to write about some of it, but it’s not like we were renovating the Taj Mahal.
I guess putting up with this most recent mess isn’t such a bad way to live if in the process I can once again discover the joys of good housekeeping. *insert loud snorting and guffawing here* But I tell you, the old body just isn’t what it used to be. Hauling furniture up and down the stairs may sound like a great idea for working the glutes, but I pay for whatever gain I may get with excruciating pain in my arms. Imagine a hot pole being stabbed through your arm every few seconds if you type, or cook, or grip anything. Lovely. I am seriously good at sucking it up, however. I come from a very long line of women who just grin and bear it. Imagine the badges we’ll get when we reach those pearly gates.
But I am enjoying putting things back in order. Having to look at all of it in dusty piles and eliminating a few places I used for storage has forced me to reconsider some of my possessions. If I actually knew how to use eBay and didn’t mind mailing things, I’d have a roaring business ahead of me, but it’s more challenging than that.
When I look at many of my things, I can’t say they have any but sentimental value. For the most part, they remind me of times in my life that were filled with hope and some dreams that never quite came to fruition. When I look at them, I smile, remember, and know that it’s fine that none of it happened, but stuffing it all in a box to sit in the garage doesn’t seem right. So I’m sorting through it all and wondering what stays and what goes. What matters and what doesn’t.
Because when you get right down to it, if I don’t think it matches, it’s outta here. Well, maybe not quite that harshly. There’s more of a routine that goes something like this:
1) Move the item to a spot where it’s less noticeable — like the office upstairs. It’s the “I love it, but there’s no place to put it” graveyard. Nobody ventures up to the land of the Resident Teen but us, so I can put my items up there to sit for a while. A long while.
2) After I’ve given the item all the love and attention it’s going to get, and the layer of dust on it makes it appear somewhat like a chia pet, it goes in a box that’s headed for the closet. Any closet will do. It’s still in the house, and maybe comes out at certain times of the year — maybe — but clearly, things aren’t looking good for it.
3) Once the box is full, it’s moved down to the garage to sit along side other similar boxes. When I walk by the boxes, I’m reminded how much I liked those items, and oh aren’t they cute and I should go through them to decide what will stay and what will go. Later. Much later.
4) When we get tired of not being able to park both of our cars in the garage and actually clean it, I sort through the items, keep a few for old time’s sake and donate the rest.
The time is seriously now for one of those donations. I will wave lovingly from the garage as the truck pulls away with my memories hoping they will find a new home.
This morning, someone on CNBC made a comment about American car customers being fickle. I didn’t recognize him, and that doesn’t really matter. Sometimes, I think the talking heads that flash on and off the television don’t know what comes out of their mouths most of the time, running a bit like someone who is in the throes of intestinal distress and searching for a bathroom.
I immediately disagreed, knowing I would fail to qualify for fickleness. I’ve had a love affair with Hondas since 1975 when I purchased a brand spanking new Civic hatchback with a “Hondamatic” transmission. I was 19 years old. I loved that car and the responsibility of making my $84.75 monthly payment. I think it was the first time I actually began to feel like an adult with something that belonged specifically to me.
There was a period where I was Honda-less, though. I had a Jeep CJ-5 before Chrysler or whomever bought the company turned them into something that only looked like a Jeep. It was fun for a while. I learned how to drive a stick, let some air out of the over-sized tires and blast up the side of a giant sand dune — my hair bandana flapping in the hot breeze, my bikini clad skin darkening by the minute.
I never quite fit the role of desert rat I was introduced to by my first husband, but it was what lured me away from Hondas for a few years. I could talk about things like leaf springs, and 4-wheel drive traction. I slept in a tiny tent in desolate areas, and drove around without doors attached to the side of my Jeep on warm days. I visited shops that smelled of grease and sparkled with chrome rims and exhaust pipes. I also spent time stuck in the middle of nowhere with flat tires, cracked radiators, and broken u-joints. That’s what happens when a vehicle purchased for everyday use is thrashed about on days off and vacations. The two don’t exactly mix.
It was interesting while it lasted, but I sadly divorced the Jeep. The radiator fan finally spinning off its track, I left it in a parking lot where a customer asked if he could buy it for his son. I said yes, and watched as one of the more interesting parts of my life was towed away, its new teen-aged owner grinning ear to ear, leaving me with mixed memories.
And then I bought another Honda.
At that point, my two older boys were about five and six, and because the four-door gently used Civic made a strange noise when it was in high gear and reaching a particular speed, we named it the ST, for “Silver Tornado.” It served quite a few important years getting me to and from work, to SDSU to finish my abandoned degree, and my boys to and from school, and visits with their dad. I have warm memories of our very own type of “car talk” revolving around the world they viewed from their backseat positions: trees, hills, clouds…and water towers. When I think of the topics now, they’re all that can be seen when you’re a small human seatbelted deep into a car. Such very cute little boys.
I miss them now that they’re grown.
After I finished my credentialing program and the MoH and I married, we were able to leave behind our string of cheap apartments and purchase a condominium, creating a new home for our composite family. Having a good monthly salary instead of the once a week check I squeezed while in school soon allowed me to donate the old ST to the local high school auto shop, and purchase a shiny new teal Honda Accord with a luxurious creamy interior and automatic windows. Automatic transmission. A moon roof.
I thought I’d arrived.
Although my two older boys had many years in that Honda, too, it quickly became the RT’s car. His place to drip milk from his car seat, and then drop French fries from Happy Meals in cracks where I’d find them petrified weeks later. His car to sit in more quietly since his brothers were so much older and often not in the car with him. His space to have books and cars, rocks, and odd seeds he’d collect at school, calling them army men. The creamy upholstery slowly began to age, the relentless sun in Paradise scorching it to the point where it would soon tear.
So with a mere 11,500 miles on its not quite 10 year old engine, I sold it to one of my son’s friends and bought another Honda: an Acura 3.2 TL which still sits in my driveway today.
The plan was to give it to the RT when he was old enough to drive, and although that time is rapidly approaching, I’m not quite ready to give up my car. Yes, there are dings in the sides of it from careless people in parking lots and students slinging backpacks over their shoulders in a hurry to get home. The carpet is beginning to wear in spots as well. I tire of the dust showing more quickly than it would on a lighter color, but I like it. I like the idea that its reliability and comfort holds the remaining couple of years of driving my youngest here and there — he with his iPod earbuds in, me forgetting that when I want him to notice something out the window, forcing him to politely pull them out of his ears to listen to his mother.
No, I think I’ll hold on to this the last of my Hondas. It has a few more memories left in it.
And then I’ll talk the MoH into one.
April 10, 2012 — I am now the owner of a light blue MINI Cooper with a white top and the Acura I enjoyed for so many years now resides with the MoH’s parents who I hope are enjoying its comfortable ride. I have to say driving the MINI does remind me a bit of tooling around in my first little Honda Civic — the small one with the hatchback. I suppose this makes me fickle, but I’d say that considering 34 of the 38 years I’ve been driving I’ve owned a Honda, I can’t be too fickle.