Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Words that Stick

      A few  weeks ago I wrote about the idioms in our lives that were left to us. Those that inspired us, kept us going, or truths that help us go through this journey of life.  Many wrote to share their profound inspirations from fathers and mothers.  Today, I m facing those other statements or comments that have trapped us or kept us from growing.  Those that steal our creativity or our self-worth and chain us for a lifetime.  Whether it be a thoughtless remark about our weight, our nose, our profession, or how we decorate, the instant it is said, maybe falling off the back of the one standing beside you, but hits it mark on you; and it plants itself in the middle, germinates from that little negative seed and grows into a mighty oak of doubt and fear.  Most of these remarks were so off-handed or so flippantly made that the speakers probably don’t even remember saying them, but those words settled into the core of our being and shaped us into who we are.  It may have been so internalized that we don’t even know where it started but every incident closely related just intensifies the negative thought, and it grows.
     My issue is money…or  rather the lack of it. I don’t even remember the initial statement that might have caused me to feel that I can't spend my money because a sucker-punched incident will be around the corner, and I won’t be prepared.   I don’t hoard my money. If that were the case, you would see a large bank account or stuffed mattress somewhere.  I would be one of those recluses who when they died, left bajillions somewhere.  NO we live paycheck to paycheck, and I feel a constant struggle to keep on top of every debt, and literally shut the pocketbook before the month runs out.  Trying to plan trips is a nightmare because of the expense.  I don’t enjoy shopping (retail therapy? HA!)  and usually I look at the price tag before I even look at the style or color.  Now this may be considered a blessing to some; I know my husband doesn’t mind his wife’s desire to be frugal, but I am now facing the fact that my issue is not the lack of money, rather that it is me.  When something surprising happens, I want more than anything to erase that initial thought of “Oh God, how much will this cost us?”
      I have a classic picture of my sister and me at a market that shows the vast difference between our way of looking at the world. We are at an open market and Janie is showing me the wares of the booth, so excited to find something for me to pick out. I’m standing right next to her, and the clinched fists along with the look on my face says it all.  How did these two girls grow up under the same roof and be so vastly different?

     We weren’t considered wealthy but we certainly did not do without.  “Money doesn’t buy happiness”  we were told, but I sure would like to do a test drive.  My siblings have all been much more successful financially than I have been and they all seem pretty darn happy.  So what made me this way?  I remember my mother juggling the budget on my father’s feast or famine paychecks that was typical for  most salesmen.  I remember Mom saying,  ”Someone in this family has to be the Scotsman.”  “Don’t hang anything  on the walls in your room; we may have to sell the house soon.”  I remember choosing to stay in town and go to the local state college instead of going to the more private (and expensive) Christian College away from home because it would be cheaper.  I wasn’t told I couldn’t go, but I know it was a relief to hear me say it. Maybe the desire to please is attached to this money issue.  If that’s the case, I may have made a life time of pleasing others and never myself, and it just surfaces as a money issue.  If this is true, I am at least in the beginnings of recognizing it, so hopefully I can begin to work on it. I think I have heard that there is a book out there called Your Money or Your Life.  I think I had better go check it out. Then I can start working on those other past words cramming my head about my lack of decorating talent.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Excised Heritage - Chapter 2

     Suzy felt the vibration of the garage door opening below her and knew that Sam was home.
She waited until he came upstairs to her in her quilting room rather than take a mother-run to see how the in-office surgery went. Only taking a quick glance up to see her son at the doorway, she tried to keep her voice as nonchalant as possible to avoid sounding too smothering to her still growing adult son.
     “Hi, son. How did it go?”
     “Mom, this sucks! I could hear every piece of cartilage crunching under his knife, and I could hear every stitch going in and out my ear; the thread even screeched as he pulled it through. The Novocain was useless, and it still hurts.”
     At that, Suzy couldn’t help but stop her own needlework, and rose to give her son a gentle silent hug.
     “You know the worse thing? Sims said that there is no guarantee that it won’t grow back. I know he was the best, and he knows a lot about keloids.  Been doing this kind of surgery where there have been so many docs that wouldn’t touch ‘em.  But the weird thing is the stuff he told me about them.  He said that they mostly grow on black people. “
     “I had heard that.”
     “Mom, why would we have them then?”
     Suzy shrugged and walked back over to her quilting frame.  Taking the taut sandwich of material into her lap, she picked up the needle once again only glancing quickly at the bump in her own wrist.  “You, know Sam, because you never even knew your grandparents on my side, I have always wanted to get information about them down for you and your sister.  I know so little and no older relatives are around to fill me in. Your dad was the late child with siblings in their 20’s when he was born. Kind of a shameful thing back then.  Dad gave me a few tidbits, and I have made those into stories for you, but I really don’t have much in the fact department.  Besides, I’ve learned that most history is created by the winners not the losers, and the stories will exalt the winners and their families more than give any credit to the downtrodden. Then in recent years, it was cool to create exposés of the inhumanities…  ”
     “Mom, Mom, what are you getting at? You’re not answering my question. “
     Suzy looked up from the tiny handstitching and smiled, “Sorry, son, still in teacher mode, I guess.  What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have any clue because the clues are hidden. Something shameful would never be written down.  A late in life birth would have been shameful, or mental illness, any disability, or possibly some negroid features in a Caucasian family might bring up side comments like “they must have had a Nig…:” Her words choked in her mouth.  “Oh my, I haven’t thought of that phrase in such a long time.”
      Sam looked confused, and she caught his expression. “Growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70s surely makes me sensitive to saying that word out loud, and I remember many heated discussions with my dad about it. I never considered him a bigot, but he was a product of his time.”
     “Mom, you’re trying to nigger aren’t you?”
     Suzy was shocked at her son’s flippant behavior to even say “THE N WORD” out loud.  Even out of context it chilled her to hear it. “Yes, I am. The phrase ends with … in the woodpile…ever hear that?
     “Not really, but I can get the meaning pretty easily.”
     “Well, back to the keloid question, all I can say is that it’s entirely possible. Your grandfather’s, my dad’s family was from Tennessee before moving to Texas at the turn of the century, and I have no way of figuring that out.  The country is a big melting pot and the backdoor stories aren’t in the history books or even family bibles.”
     “Mom, would it make any difference if it was true?
     “I suppose not.  You?”
     “No, but I would like to know. Even with today’s technology and research, I would think it would be easy to find out more. “
     “Believe me I have tried. When Chris died your great uncle gave me a software program to trace my roots.  Kind of a weird sympathy gift I thought at first, but I did start digging.  Then I got hooked and it was an addiction to keep looking.   I eventually had to stop because it was taking up all my time.  I had hit a “brick wall” as they say in the genealogy world.  Along the way I found so many relatives that I felt a connection to. Many times I wondered if they experienced the same feelings that I have felt. That’s when the stories started to flow. “
     “What stories? I didn’t know you had written anything.”
    Oh, my great reader.  Oddly no one in the family seems to care about these so I have just stashed them away until you are ready for them. Probably after I’m gone.   I guess it’s my way of saying, I was here and that  I mattered  - something that I feel all those ancestors deserve, too.  Maybe I’m doing it a little for Chris, too.  So many of those ancestors were young like Chris when they died.  I want to know that they mattered more than what kind of heritage they hold.  What kind of dilemmas, challenges, and heartaches they had like we have had.  Maybe we can learn from them. At least know that the past is nothing to fear any more than the future.  If it helps anyone to stop living in any kind of fear, it’s got to be worth it.”
    "Okay, but I think you need to find out the heritage stuff, too.  Maybe you’ll find out about your hearing loss, or heart attacks, or even the depression issues that seem to run all over this family."
    "Well, if it keeps you from thinking everything that bad happens because of what’s around you than what is in you, then it might be worth the dig. When you're ready to hear more. I'll tell you. What do you say?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Excised Heritage

A shift in another direction to what I hope will be a starting point to pull all my family stories together. My youngest son Sam and his recent experience was a catalyst in trying to find out more about my father's ancestors who had eluded me for so long.

       The Novocain had worn off in less than 10 minutes. Sam was beginning to feel every pull and slice of his skin being excised from behind his ear.  Less than 15 minutes before, his first sight was the syringe when he walked into the examining room. Well, I guess this is going to hurt, he said to himself.  The nurse was smiling as if this was an ordinary day, but to Sam, he was about to experience pain that he hoped would not have to be repeated. 
      Earlier the nursing attendant with short spiked hair and gapping teeth instructed him to lie flat on his stomach with his head turned to the side on the pillow. A cloth was placed over his head, and he was shrouded in a blue darkness unable to see what was taking place.  The small hole in the face cloth exposed his ear and every sound seemed to multiply tenfold.  He heard the door close with little more than a mumble from the attendant as she left the room. He was alone.
      He heard  the door open a few minutes later, but he was sure it had been a half an hour. The doctor’s soothing voice of mundane conversation starters did little to relax him, but he played along, answering the irrelevant questions. "So what do you do, Sam? I hear your Dad broke his ankle, just like I did. When are you getting married now? How about that new Broncos Quarterback.?  Do you think he has the right stuff?"
      The clattering on the surgical tray left little to the imagination and then the doctor said, you may feel a little prick but it won’t last long. Little does he know, Sam thought.  A little prick?  He had known a lot of those.  He had really hoped that this time the stupor would take hold, and this great numbing drug would work on him.  The syringe’s needle pierced  his earlobe, not unlike the initial piercing he had done many years before, but this time he could hear the liquid swishing around inside his earlobe as the cold burn entered his head with an evil rush under his skin.  Whatever it was that contradicted the expected reaction in his body, he was resistant to its power.  Novocain was useless after less than the time it took for the doctor to pick up his scalpel.  Sam’s hoping was useless, too.  Even though he didn’t feel this first slice under the keloid scar, the awakening nerve endings started to feel the exposure to the air, and they flashed instant messages to his brain that the violation to their existence was threatened. The throbbing continued as the scalpel was charting its course though the fleshy mass that had grown behind his ear to double the size of the lobe.
       Last year he had decided he could just whack it off himself as it just hung by a small flap of skin. It couldn’t be worse that the piercing itself. After numbing his earlobe with two cubes of ice, he snipped at the attached appendage, and it had easily fallen off. The bleeding was more excessive than any head wound he had ever seen, but with a pressure  bandage applied by Chrissy, it eventually stopped. No big deal and easily forgotten, until two months later, the tiny scar became a welt overnight and within 6 months, the fleshy lobe had morphed into a lump twice the original size of the one he thought he had killed. It looked like a cancerous tumor growing outside his body. There were to be no more self-healing chances, he had to see Doc Sims.
     To ward off the pain Sam talked to the doctor about what he was actually doing, trying to mask each stabbing pain but the evidence was accented in the pitch of his voice.
     “Say Doc, what makes these kinds of scars anyway? I’ve got lots of friends with piercing and tats that don’t do this.” Sam felt the suture needle enter one side and the cat-gut thread singing through the needle-made hole, and the needle hitting its mark on the other side of the wound to draw the skin together for its first stitch.
     “How many black friends do you have, Sam?"  
What kind of bigoted question is that, man?  “What’s that got to do with anything, Doc? The second suture began in making the second stitch.
     “Keloids are predominately an African-American syndrome.  After an initial trauma to the subdural layer of skin, as the body tries to heal itself, it seems to take on a super healing process and grows the scar faster and larger than necessary. “  Needle, screeching thread, tie off number three.
     Sam blinked back the pain induced tears under the blue shroud. “But why me then?”
    “Sam, America is a pretty good melting pot of all cultures and races. I’m sure there was probably a bit of color mixing all along its history. It’s quite probable that there is some black heritage running through your veins.  Ever talk to your folks about it?  “Dr. Sims finished with the 3rd and 4th stitches.
     "Not really, but it sure seems unlikely on my dad’s side. I’ve heard every cowboy, Irish, outlaw story at least a dozen times over.  But my mom has always been pretty quiet about her family. Both her parents died in their 50’s and she and dad had moved to Wyoming . I really only hear a little bit about her folks."
     Five more agonizing stitches later, Sam shook hands with the doctor and headed for home.  He tried to mask the pain from his throbbing earlobe by jacking up the rap on the radio to a deafening pitch.  All that did was to let the pain throb to the music as he tried to take in the information the doctor had just told him. Next stop, Mom's house.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Idioms for a Lifetime

       Do you have any particular idioms you grew up with that you use constantly? I guess I hang on to the few I have, because I only knew my parents a little less than 30 years. And, if you don't count the first 20 years when we never think our parents know anything, I can only gather from maybe 10 years of their wisdom.
       One such idiom I recall and found myself using all my life was a phrase my dad had placed under the glass of his home office desk. He had this wonderful "office" that doubled as my brother's bedroom on his occasional visits back home from college. The desk was so unique though. It had cinder block legs sprayed black, and the top was a door covered in green felt with a large piece of glass to fit over that. He could rub elbows with the executives sitting behind rich mahogany monstrosities, but his frugal nature and his darling wife created this masterpiece that rivaled any top-of-the-line furniture. He would place precious pictures, quotes, maps, or papers under the glass for safe keeping. I loved going in there to see what new things he had placed there.
   Oh, I'm getting to it -- Here it is

                                WANT TO ENOUGH
I don't think my sister or brothers even remember it, but my initial curiosity transformed into a full blown mantra.  To this day, it answers all my questions about why I may have failed at any endeavor or challenge.

  • When I didn't mend a relationship,
    • I must not have "wanted to enough."
  • When I couldn't lose the weight I needed to, 
    • I must not have "wanted to enough."
  • When I didn't strive for that job advancement,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
  • When I don't clean up, or order blinds for the window, or finish that quilt,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
  • When I don't sit down to write and organize my a family stories,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
  • When I don't share myself, or get out, or contact others; therefore, feeling lonely,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
He had a similar phrase that was much cuter - "Honey, it's your little red wagon. You can push it, you can pull it, or you can just let it sit." But that little 3-word ditty was always my own proverbial slap in the face to realize my actions (or lack of) are mine alone, and I had the choice. I have no one else to blame. 

Now, a caveat is needed here, and I do speak from experience.  As with any lesson I have learned, I need to apply it to myself  -- not try to push it on others and tell  them  "Hey, you just didn't want to enough." oopsey.  I may have turned into my mother like all moms do, and spit out mom-isms on a daily basis, but this one is really just for me. 

Granted, I seemed to use it more in the past tense after I had "failed" so I can explain to myself what went wrong. But I am still hoping that I can use it in the present tense more often so I will  get off my butt, and do what I know is important.  When I do, I amazingly have a better day because I want to enough. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012


     Happy New Year, everyone. I'm sure you have heard that a million times already on TV, from strangers, friends, loved ones. All the good will we can muster has been crowded into the past 2 weeks.  My only wish is that it could last through the next 50 weeks. It seems once the decorations are stored away, the frustrations and short fuses multiply; and, when someone cuts me off, takes too long to get my food order right, makes a rude remark in passing, I begin grumbling under my breath (I'm usually never a vocal madwoman).
      The negativity doesn't just creep in; it implodes destroying within and then billowing out like the old Dust Bowl storms of the 30's. My husband just remarked about watching a particular show and how no one has anything nice to say to each other any more. This was just seconds after he got off the phone berating a contractor for his late billing and complaining how his adult daughter wasn't as nice as she should have been to his men friends. Oddly enough, the show he was watching was demonstrating how a father was losing connection with his family because of his constant complaining, and my dear hubby could not see the similarity at all.  His negativity isn't the focus here. As a matter of fact it's just that it surrounds us in the news, sitcoms, dramas, politics, on the freeway, at work, and sadly at some dinner tables. Trying to make a positive comment gets you an accusation of being a Pollyanna. Or, as with my M.O. stay silent and complacent, which can be just as destructive.
      Even as old as I am, I'm still learning when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up. Definitely,  it's easy to see that the the time to shut up is when I want to complain about something, and the time to speak out is to try to assuage the negativity of others. The HOW and WHAT to say something falls below my tactful radar though.  Oh, one more observation, I can do this pretty easily with strangers. It's practicing this with my dearest ones that is the biggest hurdle.  It's a frustrating balancing act, but I am determined to figure out how to walk that tightrope. Then the biggest challenge is to make it last longer than the weight loss/exercise resolutions that have already begun to wane. I do wish you better luck than I am having in this redo of good will toward ALL. .