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.