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.