Sunday, March 06, 2011

home, home again

It seems like it was so long ago, almost like it wasn't real. The best times are when you're unaware of the reality of life, when it's all playing games and skinned knees. It's these days that we all miss, the naivete of not knowing how hard life is.

Often, the days were full of playing games, but we could go one place, where we would always be spoiled and always feel as though it were a fairyland.

Granny lived next door, she said naughty words in Dutch that we didn't know, made wonderful cakes, and was a bit hard of hearing, though she definitely picked up more than we thought. To explain her, you must understand a few things. First of all, she had struggled with so many things in life, it had never come easy and yet she didn't expect it to. Not only that, but she definitely expected others to follow her lead on that. To work hard, was given, to see her love was easy. She did things the way people had for many years, and taught many of us to follow. She had a love for food, and a lot of what she had to teach involved her love for food. She not only loved food, but she loved all parts of food. The making of food, the serving, and the enjoyment of eating it with family and friends. She canned a lot of foods. Several of the fruits we ate throughout the winter were made by her very hands. She taught me how to pit peaches with ease and skill, she also slaved during the hottest time of the year in an even hotter kitchen for hours upon hours, helping with not only the fruits but also the ever treasured boysenberry jam. I can see her now, sitting for her break, which while canning is rare, drinking her hot coffee is that sweltering room. She also had a love for coffee that has been passed down through the generations as many of us enjoy our morning brew, but when she was in that chair next to the stove in the dining room, she may as well have been Queen Wilhelmina herself. She was highly respected and loved, especially in that chair.

She had one other spot that is remembered equally to her "throne". He seat on the front porch with her small paring knife in hand. She would send us to the crab apple tree so as to fetch them for her and we would wait to see how ours "turned out". She would slice it down the middle with her paring knife and look at it, very expressively she'd loudly say, "bacci" (I'm aware that is not the correct way to spell it but i spelled it the way she said it, since I can't seem to find how to actually spell it) and toss it on the lawn. We would laugh and laugh, and do it over and over again. I can see an especially unusual California day. It was barely dripping out, but the Central Valley fog hung low and kept it chilly out. It was early in the season and we were bored, we knew we could go over to Granny's house and she would find a way to entertain us, she sat down in her chair and with our coats on we would run back and forth from the crab apple tree and wait to hand her our crab apple so as to see her reaction.

The day I remember most, unfortunately, is the day that I attended her funeral. This seems morbid, even as I write it, but it may have been a bit of a sense of relief. I had never known her husband, my great grandfather, but I have heard many time that he is much like my own grandfather. She missed him, that was obvious, but she also had struggled so many times in life that everyone wanted her to have peace. I realize now, that she had more personal issues, that we as children had no idea about. It may have been guilt from many many years ago, a lost sense of self, a longing for the "old" country, but as the years went on there was a nagging sense that things were not all right though through it all she continued to be a source of comfort and light. It was my first funeral that I can recall, and many followed. She was my caregiver, my friend, and our "queen" Anne.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

get it over with

I didn't know where to put this is, and in fact, I'm not sure now is the right time but I'm not sure where else to put it. So let's get this over with.

So, his name is not important, I'm not sure I want to give him that much credit. He's the father to the three of us and there is not a time that I can remember him really being there for us. The first memory I have of him is at an apartment in Modesto on what I believe was a 2nd story. The apartment had some Elvis paraphenalia, that followed him from place to place whenever he moved to a new apartment or home. He teased me for drinking my milk with my pinky out, something I didn't even realize I did. Jason and Elizabeth were there as well, we weren't there for too long though. This is one of the better memories, I knew that he had just come back from "somewhere" (most likely, rehab or jail) and he "wanted to be a bigger part of our lives." I don't think there was any moment we believed it, but we really wanted to.

We had a very good life, but the times when he popped in and out were hard on all of us. Elizabeth and I had a tough time with it because what little girl doesn't want her daddy there? Jason though, he suffered. It was hard on him in a different way, it seemed as though he felt he needed to take the place of the "dad" figure and still be a big brother and be a kid. It's a difficult balance and he took it very seriously, sometimes we girls hated it. More than once I told him that he "wasn't my dad!" I could tell it hurt him because he tried so hard to really make a difference for us. We knew over time that our father would make promises he could never keep. He would promise to come to Christmas at his parents, or a birthday party, or even graduation.

He was absent, maybe that was the worst part. His life and his time was more important than anyone else's, even his kids'. I remember sitting once in a small room in or near Mt. Hermon, how I knew that I'm not sure- but there was a parrot there, it was a bit dark and I just waited. Waiting for my mom to come. I don't know how old I was (I do know I was very young) or even if it was possible for me to have a memory like this one at such a young age. This is how much of our time with our dad was though. It was us, waiting or hoping to go home and being in a new, different,and sometimes somewhat scary place.

It was easy to see why my mother fell for him in the first place though, he was somewhat handsome and had eyes that were understanding. Little did she and those closest to her know that those eyes understood one thing, people and how to control them. The best word for him is con-man. He tricked people into believing he was something that he wasn't. He had an elaborate story for everything and it was always perfect and romantic. His persona sucked you in, he was charming and always knew how to make an individual feel like they were the only one important to him.

He tried sometimes. When he married his 2nd wife, we were not invited. He said that he would have another wedding, on the beach somewhere and we'd get to come and wear fancy clothes and it would be a very special day. She already had a daughter, one wise beyond her years and though I only met her a couple times, she was always sweet. She died at a very young age during heart surgery, that was what I was told. I still believe that now, amidst all the other lies, this just didn't seem like it could be one of them. It seemed as though once her daughter passed away, she didn't want to be around us either. It may have been just too hard for her or that she simply wasn't interested, but our father used this as an excuse not to see us as well. It didn't help that he didn't have a license but that also was used as an excuse. When we did see him, he seemed not to understand us at all, which isn't all that strange beings that the amount of time we spent with him was so little. We were essentially strangers and like he did with strangers, he tried to impress us. He didn't have much to show for it all, but somehow we always played into it, it was awkward when we didn't. So we just did.

This is simply the beginning. It was the beginning of a life trying to figure things out, and sometimes, I still don't understand. Trying to get it all now would be too much for anyone, luckily we had so many people to support us. We'll be revisting this later. For now, we're blessed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

3 blind mice

We fought. Probably not more than any other siblings did, but we fought. And quite well. I can recall more than once being bitten enough to have severe marks left and once with blood drawn. It was never meant to actually HURT the other person, but we just were very different and so alike at the same time.

Of us all, Jason led the pack, with quiet vigor he knew exactly how it should be done and how it was done. He had eyes on us girls when no one else thought they needed to. Liz (Elizabeth) sat in the middle. She often put us back in line. Quiet in a crowd but watch out when she was in a small group, she really could have a voice. And then there was me. Stubborn, selfish, and LOUD. I used to get paid to not talk during my haircuts. We were three very firm, very bull headed kids. Somehow we all made it out, mostly in one piece.

I don't always know how to explain us as siblings. Jason and Liz look quite a bit alike and both are slower to speak and much more thoughtful. They may not say it, but in every action, you know they love you. I, on the other hand, have many features that are not much like theirs and often have spoken without a single thought. I'm at the point where so many times people have laughed when they realized that I was their sister, that I just laugh along. We also had a blurred line between sibling and cousin sometimes. Since so many of our cousins were around so much of the time, we spent as much time with our cousins as we did our siblings and vice versa. Maybe that's why we didn't have to get to know each other much until we were old enough to all have become different people than others thought.

I remember though that when I needed someone, really needed someone, who understood how I was feeling; my sister would sit on my bed and let me play with her hair and my brother make me laugh when nothing seemed like it was right in our world. They can't be replaced, some have come close, but no one knows exactly what it was like to be there when we were, except us.

Jason was funny. Really funny, in fact. It took me awhile to realize it, and the dryness, like a good wine, sometimes is misrepresented as bitter. I think that when I did come to notice it, I should have laughed a lot harder. From him deciding to put mayonnaise on a girl he barely knew to finding ways to get us believe that tying us to a tree and playing "damsel in distress" would work out well. Even if that meant that he wasn't going to come back for us for several hours. I had a hard time understanding him and his personality and it made it hard on the two of us sometimes. Thank goodness he didn't give up on me, who knows where I would have been now.

Elizabeth was always persistent. She always knew things that the rest of us didn't know. She had a way of hearing things the rest of us always wanted to know. She made sure we knew it too. She would share, but we almost had to beg first. It was funny though, because she always wanted to follow the rules, even when she barely knew better, she wanted to follow the rules. She used to say, "patience is a virtue" every chance she'd get, just to remind us that she (and we) knew better. Thought I never understood her then, I wish I had. She's amazing. One of the best friends anyone could have, always faithful, always true, and honorable. I wish I'd appreciated her then.

Sometimes we'd share secrets together when we were getting along. There were the secrets that we shared just because we felt as though we were the only ones who understood what it was like to not have our dad around, there were the secrets we had just because we cold. Sometimes, our secrets could hurt. Sometimes, our secrets were silly, like us going to the swimming pool and would go get candy from the Ripon Drug store while Grandma was at Grandma Witt's visiting. We also knew what the others were doing, even if they thought it was a secret. Much like we knew that I'd have candy- I was a candy magnet, Liz would have money- she just did, and Jason would have things torn apart somewhere- even if everyone else thought it was still together.
We honestly did love eachother, just not in the way that I sometimes think siblings should. We did happen to find trouble and we were all similar and very different at once. As we grew up I don't know that we were ever really apart, but we weren't terribly together either. If anything, we were always shadows in the background of eachothers lives, each one of us being the most important in the main picture.

My favorite times are from when we were older, probably because we had learned to accept that there were things we couldn't change. We had the summer of the pubs/bars, where Mom somehow found a pub/bar for us to stop at along our many small journeys for a short break or for a meal. Never intentional, and almost always because there wasn't much else, but it's not forgotten. The nicknames also stick out; Jay Ray Fay, Lizardbreath, and SaraBear (they haven't really left us, we just don't mention them in public anymore.) Also, many a camping trip, down to Sunset, Montana de Oro, or Henry Cowell; all of which also involving Grandpa and Grandma. We were one extended family that overflowed onto the rest of life, kind of like honey- sweet, sticky, and natural. We came naturally to eachother, we grew up naturally together, and now that we're apart, it's not the same. Of course, we appreciate our time together more than ever, but the time is few and far between, it's bittersweet to think back to then, we knew we didn't have it all and we struggled through a lot of it but somehow we were naive to how difficult it really was and what it entailed to keep us all going.

I see it in all of us though, as we raise our children, that our lives are not so different, just in different places.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

pick up sticks and lincoln logs

So much of my first memories involve one or more of our extended family members. Many of those memories took place at Grandma Witt's house. Grandma Witt had a sparkly popcorn textured ceiling, couch that were scratchy and toys hidden in her back rooms. Sunday after church we would gather at her house, which was right in Ripon, along with most everything else back then. We would burst in and expect her amazing chocolate chip cookies, which no one has ever replicated, and knowing exactly where to find the pick up sticks and lincoln logs. We'd eat our cookies and sit down to play a game, at her kitchen table, with the plastic table cloth. Grandma Witt's house had a special smell, it was like nothing else, like cookies and moth balls and just HER.

When we would play games, it was not often but sometimes that a quarrel would break out amongst us, if this did happen, we would get a look saying that we needed to "stop it" or a gentle hand on the main instigators back which was a reminder that we were to play nicely. The kitchen table was near the sliding glass doors to the outside. Just beyond those doors was an aviary, which sometimes had birds in it. The aviary was as tall as the porch ceiling, from floor to ceiling it had small perches and small birds filled the cage. Just a few, but I still am not sure where the birds came from or where they went once she moved to the Bethany home. Further out there was her back yard, sometimes it felt like a magical garden, with trees in the back corner and a lawn that wrapped around the back corner of the house. Funnily, we didn't spend as much time out there as we did in the front yard, which also had a tree and it shaded much of the yard. We always went trick or treating there, it was one of the few places we were allowed to go, but I remember walking up the driveway, dressed as a gypsy, waiting to say "trick or treat"

One of my favorite parts of Grandma Witt's house, was its closeness to the local park, we would walk down there and play on the swings and slide, it was a big park with a huge lawn expanse and just a few toys to play on. We had to use our imaginations to play there, but I think walking over was just as much fun as playing there. We would joke and run and pass the houses, some of them filled with people we knew who would wave as we passed, it's been many years since I've been there, but still now, I think back fondly on the times we had there. Often I have dreamed of the walk there and back and playing at the park, full of good memories and things that never happened but in my mind.

I also enjoyed the fact that Grandma Witt's house was open to all, this meant that other more distant family members would gather there as well, it was from some of them that I learned to not be closed off to new people, or men who had (as I mentioned earlier) scared me. Tim was always friendly, he actually was my mom's first cousin from her mother's side, he had a thunderbird, complete with the bird on the hood, that car always signalled that fun awaited us when we got there. He was a little younger than my aunts and uncles and would play or talk with us, which made us feel important, and he always had a smile. Years later when he married Robin, I was a little skeptical of her, mostly because I assumed that he wasn't going to grow up, he was part of the "kids" in a sense and bridged the gap between adult and child for us. Michael also would come by sometimes and if I remember correctly, had stayed at Grandma Witt's for awhile, he also bridged that gap for us, and made us feel important to the "adults". Most of all, it was a transition place, a place that we were all welcome and all part of the family, truly related or not.

Grandma Witt, whether at her house or when she was at the Bethany Home, we always seemed to gather there. After school we would go to the Bethany Home and visit Grandma, she would have Bingo on Thursdays and we would help with that and though sometimes we acted like we didn't want to go, we definitely did. It was good, we all got to be together and at the same time, have fun. She always cared, she always knew when your birthday was and no matter what, used proper grammar at all times.
A role model, in so many ways, but mostly she taught us to stick together.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

it wasn't long

It wasn't long before I realized that time with my mother was precious. Being "mom" to three young ones, working and going to school will make free time minimal at best. She was always there somehow though. She would leave us notes, or make sure that she read us a story. All of us piled into her bed to read a story, goodness knows which, books were important and it didn't matter the story as long as we got the point. It was a story, not real, but a story. Somehow, without saying it, it was always clear as to what was and wasn't real. In books they had big birthday parties, fancy dresses, and mysteries. In real life, at least in our house, we had small family parties, hand-me-down dresses, and the mystery of whether you'd get caught reading when you should be sleeping. Bed time was exciting though and exploring those worlds made my reality be whatever I wanted it to be. It was a story and a song, Mom would sing if she were home, and when she did, it was off-key and probably in the wrong pace or pitch, but it was perfect. Swing low, sweet chariot, I am climbing Jacob's ladder, and You are my sunshine topping the list of my favorites. With different seasons would come seasonal songs at times, Silent Night Holy Night and Holy Holy Holy, and in most cases the soft stroking of her thumb on my cheek would lull me to sleep no matter how hard I would fight it, knowing that she would be gone in the morning. If she weren't available, Grandma played a close second in my mind. When I would beg to stay up just a little longer, just so I could see her, to know she was home and safe and that I could sleep without fear that I'd wake up without her there, I knew I could win if I'd just say I missed her. Grandpa and Grandma probably gave into this too much, but how heartbreaking must it be to see a little girl just wanting her mommy? I can imagine the talks after I fell asleep about how they could break me of this habit.

In time, I came to realize that not only was my mother's time precious, but it was filled with her trying to improve our lives. She gave up a social life to work and go to school and raise her children, which is noble, but leaves me feeling that she could have had more. When time went on and new members were added to our family in the way of cousins, I couldn't help but think that one day I might not be the baby, which was a tiring and feared thought. What if a new baby did come someday? How could I possibly be replaced as the baby? I was the princess and would have it no other way. I needed my mom's time and hesitantly shared it with the brother and sister I already had.

When we had our few moments with her, they were treasured. I remember most clearly our "trips", we'd go to the beach for a day, or on a drive, in her cramped little car, always bringing lunch and never realizing that picnic lunches were a necessity, not just for fun.My favorite was the Wilder Ranch. They had a huge tree in the front of their property perfect for climbing, sprawling limbs with dips and curves, intertwining everywhere. It  had grayish brown bark, that was cracked and curling anywhere you looked. Behind it was the old farmhouse, and the stables and barns. In the stables they had huge horses and animals everywhere. There was a huge lawn and a circular driveway. It was not far from the beach and and you could smell saltwater in the air. It was my perfect place. Still now when I think about that day, I think about how that place is where I would love to live.

All-in-all, the woman who has taught me the most, who has given her life to others, and wanted nothing but good for all of us; is my mother. She has been my mentor, my best friend, my hope when I thought all was lost and loved me no matter the circumstance. I want nothing more than to be as much like her as I can. Selfless and loving, she is the most amazing woman I know.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

new beginnings

I can't remember the exact moment. In fact, I don't even remember the exact day. What I do remember is that it was early in the morning and i could smell coffee brewing. My mind had decided it was time to wake up and I knew he'd be there, in his Dickies coveralls sitting in his chair reading the paper before work. He was. I didn't know at that time that he was a heading off to a job working for the Army Depot that he'd retire from one day. All I knew is that he would let me sip his coffee with him in the early hours of that morning if I crept in quietly enough.

I lived within a mile of my grandparents most of my life. In fact, most of my life I lived with them. Grandpa was tough, on all of us but if you caught him with his morning cup of coffee you would have a moment as sweet as the cup of coffee with two teaspoons of sugar that he was drinking. He held his position in the family the same way a pillar would hold a building. He acted as a father to us when one wasn't available and in fact would come to walk more than one of us down the aisle years later.

He grew up in the house we lived in. It was an old ranch style that had been remodeled to fit his expanding family. The six girls that grew up there still call it "home" and everyone of us grandkids have lived there, for one night or 18 years. It was our gathering place and one that had enough space for us all to find some sort of mischief.

The farm was home to many and the glue of it all was Grandma. Grandma was slow to speak but always had something to say to make you feel better when you were sad, feel supported when you needed it most, and feel guilty when you were doing something wrong. Grandma had raised girls all her life and was probably tired, but she certainly didn't show it. She pushed us, in more ways than one she was the motivation we all needed. While slaving over the stove or working in her garden she was always present.

She had grown up in Colorado and become a teacher. When she met Grandpa it was by accident through his cousin, but she became a fixture in that small town where she came to teach and stayed because of love. When Grandma spoke, you listened. Not only because you wanted to, but because you had to. It wasn't a choice and Grandpa made sure you were aware of that. In fact, if you didn't listen you might get pulled into the place you needed to be, mentally or physically. She was the end all and be all when it really came down to it and Grandpa backed her up in his actions and words. The two of them together made a great team, individually they were pretty good too, but with the iron fist of Grandpa and the gentle prod of Grandma, it was hard to go too wrong. Though my first memory is of Grandpa, most of my memories are of Grandma.
Not long after that first cup of coffee with Grandpa I remember most clearly the family gatherings we had, the first being of all of my aunts; Cheryl, Sharon, Sheila, and Shar- also my mother, Shellie, and all of my uncles and cousins being together. At the time, we met at Aunt Sheila and Uncle Steve's house, their children at the time consisted of Alan, Janel, and Mark. It had a been a hard few short years of life for me already and I was terrified of men that would be of "father" age, this included all of my uncles so I hid behind the couch. In the background of all the noise made by them talking, I could hear my Uncle Steve's pager going off, calling him in to his volunteer firefighter position with the local firehouse. I'm sure there were other things going on but I just thought "thank goodness, one more is gone." I now realize how silly it was to be scared of men but the short history of life with my father had made it difficult to like, trust, or even want to be around them. My father was abusive me/ntally and emotionally to my mother and brother and sister, and somehow my young mind had wrapped itself around this causing me fear of men around his age and so I just didn't want them around. I was ready to go home, and didn't even care that there was much fun to be had if I would just come out from behind the couch, but I simply didn't care.

Uncle Steve and Aunt Sheila's house was a home away from home for me, since Aunt Sheila would take care of me during the day so that my mom could work. Many days were spent in their "pool" which simply was an above ground pool filled with enough water to cool us off on the hot California afternoons. It was in this pool that I found out enough to know what algae was and to be scared of some of the neighbors. At Aunt Sheila's I also learned what Jehovah's Witnesses were since they came to the house every once in awhile. When this happened we, as children, were instructed to hide in the kids' bedroom until she told me to come out. Somestimes it seemed like forever and sometimes it didn't seem like anytime at all. But the time I remember the most is when we were playing in the living room and when they came, I got scared. So scared in fact that I ran into Aunt Sheila and Uncle Steve's bedroom rather than the kids' room with the rest of them. I sat there thinking I'd be in trouble and also so curious, hoping I could see through the crack in the door to see the Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't know if I was scared of them or just thought I was supposed to be since the adults always made us go into a room away from them whenever they came, I still don't know really why we had to hide. This also was the first time I experienced music outside of church and Grandma singing me to sleep at night. I could see Uncle Steve's guitar sitting there and wanted so badly just to touch it, but much too timid to do so.

When it came down to it, Aunt Sheila's house was exciting, my cousins were there and they had neighbors, something we didn't really have. There were more times than one that I was jealous of their neighbors especially since I wanted to be Janel's best friend and because she had someone to actually play with close by. On the other side of the fence laid a world that I wanted so badly to be part of but could barely touch. I hoped everyday that I would be included and though they did their best, it just wasn't the same as what Janel and Juliana had. As the years have gone by I often wondered if Janel and I would be so close now, if I hadn't kept clinging to that life.

There were many summer days that bled into falls and winters and of dreariness and bloomed into spring that I have , but almost all of them are with at least one family member. I can't imagine it any differently, and don't wish to, but wonder how different they would have been if they'd not been there. This isn't my story, it's our story.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


why is it that people, though well into their twenties and thirties seem to still create and breed drama? It's really pretty annoying and I'm finding that those people are really not people I feel like being around. It's sad though because I feel like I'm losing some of my closest friends. I didn't know that this was highschool all over again.