I Turn 30 and Reflect on My Childhood by Telling Stories
Today I walked into my cubicle and was met with this:
I hit the big 3-0 today and if the world doesn’t end tomorrow, then I get to try to lead a better decade than the one I just left. I’m one of those weird people who still loves getting older past the age of 17. The other day I was talking with a co-worker and we both agreed no one could pay us any amount of money to go back in time and be a teenager again. For one thing, I was a super angry 15-year-old. While I still continue to struggle with anger, an inherited curse, I’ve learned many coping mechanisms over the past 15 years that I’m a much happier person- mostly. Unless someone is riding up the left hand side of the elevator instead of walking.
Every year that I’ve lived has only gotten better- except for 2012. This. Year. Sucked.
But I’m excited for new opportunities that lie ahead. I’m looking forward to changes and challenges in 2013 that I feel is necessary for the well-being of the Sagittarius who lives inside of me. I’m looking forward to not only striving to be happier, but being content with where I am in life. Contentment has not been par for the course for me in 2012. I’ve never be content to settle in any aspect of my life. When I find myself settling I ask, ‘What change can I make to step out of that rut and back onto the highway?’ Then I careen about life much like I do on the Wii when playing the racing cow game where you knock over scarecrows and jump over things.
I race like the person on the white cow, though honestly I do manage to pick up a few points even as I run around like a chicken with its head cut off.
*P.S. This is a really long post, I’d apologize, but it’d been insincere. Anyway, that’s why I put a break after the cow video.
*P.P.S. I’ve edited this posting in light of recent of the recent tragedy, but if people still find my story of filming Tangle Tree Island I do apologize.
I actually use to ride cows once upon a time. I grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Did you know there were other places in New York than the City? Most people don’t. Though, I don’t know if ride is the right word. My father’s boss, The Farmer, would swing us up on the oldest most calm cow and we’d sit on its very bony back while he laughed at us until he took pity and helped us down. Sitting on a cow is more akin to straddling a rooftop than it is riding the swayed back of a horse. In other words, it really hurt. And there were no points for knocking over scarecrows.
My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. In fact, I moved twenty-one times by the age of seventeen. Eventually, my family settled down in the Shenandoah Valley, in a pre-Civil War farm-house with acres of land, steer dotting the landscape, and pig manure smells wafting over from our neighbors farm. Here is where I learned to hate chickens, fowls of any kind really. They are terrorists. Roosters can peck through rubber barn boots. And even though our hens laid really cool eggs colored pink, green, and yellow, they also often attacked us when we tried to take those eggs from under their warm bodies.
Growing up on a farm held a lot of horrors actually.
(You may not want to read this next story. It involves dead bunnies. Fair warning.)
One afternoon my sister set six baby rabbits down on some new grass for them to feed, where they hopped around under the top of an old dog cage. Seeing the bunnies hopping around excited our cat Lady, who had a litter of eight kittens every year (I was forced to watch her give birth once by my sister, who wanted me to see the “miracle” as it happened. The memories still churn my stomach. Birthing equals disgusting in my book.), stalked them- circling the cage. As she couldn’t actually get the bunnies, we weren’t worried about their safety.
Did you now bunnies can literally puke up their guts?
Well, they can. I’ve seen it. In the end, my father used his gun to put them out of their misery, as they weren’t really living any more at that point.
(OK, you can read again. If you want.)
Growing up on a farm isn’t as idyllic as it sounds. But I don’t think most childhoods are. The human condition demands horrors, maybe it’s to ensure that we enjoy the great moments we have, but they exist for us all. Mine just happen to be about poor little bunnies. People wonder why I don’t have any animals. Well, it’s because they die. Often. Growing up on a farm means you get to play with kittens every day, but it also means that with every orphaned bird, lamb, and calf you try to nurse back to health, 99% of them died. That is honestly what I took away from growing up on a farm.
Good things also happened growing up. My four siblings and I built several tree houses over the course of our childhood for example. One we built way back in a field, hiking at least half a mile to get there. We called it the Tangle Tree House. In fact, my siblings, family friends, the kids my stepmother watched, and I produced a short film titled Tangle Tree Island. It was the story of three orphans who wound up on Tangle Tree Island (I don’t remember how) and built a raft. They traveled across the seas and finally found land. Upon discovering an old farm-house they enlisted the help of some kooky old ladies who shouted into an old telephone to call their mother. Meanwhile, believing three of her six children to be lost forever, the mother held a remembrance for them in a different field, wind-blown and perpetually crying. Me? I was the crying mother of course.
I was always the crying mother.
In the scene where the police called my home and told me that my children were missing, I cried. The director, my sister who made me watch kittens be born, decided it was not realistic enough. So she rubbed onions under my eyes. Onions.
Her willingness to force the rest of us go all out for our craft also resulted in a bloody back on my part. Once we reenacted the Easter Story for our relatives, I was Jesus, of course, and she whipped me with a real reed from our Grandmother’s garden. I told her she should just pretend as she was really hurting me, but she claimed it was just the ketchup she had liberally applied to my back and continued to flay my skin. Hours later, after a shower, I stalked down to her and, pointing to the welts on my body, yelled, “I TOLD YOU! YOU WERE REALLY HURTING ME!”
You would think I would have learned my lesson and not let her near me after that. But in my defense, her attack of the onions was just outrageous enough that I was surprised even though I watched her cut them up. To make matters worse, she was proven right in her insanity, as the onions produced the desired effect, and my eyes welled up and grew red and puffy. The four year-old we were babysitting looked worried and said, “It’s OK.” Patting me on the shoulder as I stood there in our kitchen crying on the phone about my other children.
I like to tell people I grew up in an improv troupe where I’ve played many roles. Story time with Grandma for example. Prince Humberdink for another. But mostly I was the crying mother. Every single scene I had in the Tangle Tree Island film I cried. When I got the news of my poor wee’uns, when we held the remembrance, and when they finally arrived home. While I wish some of my roles had not revolved around crying, I loved every single second of filming our stories, and especially Tangle Tree Island, our greatest accomplishment now lost to the ravages of time as the film will no longer play. Nothing was scripted, and it took the entire summer to film, but we had a grand time.
For the past eight years I have been separated from my siblings while living in Chicago. I came here to be near my mother who I saw infrequently as a child. I stayed. To go to law school. Because I’m smart like that. A lot of horrors have happened to me while I lived in the city, including seeing someone pull a knife on someone else on the “el”, my mother’s cat dying in the vet’s office from a stroke, and graduating from law school after racking up an additional seventy thousand in debt in 2009 right when the recession hit. I’ve also been blessed with many great things happening while I lived here too. I’ve met some wonderful people who will remain friends for life, I’ve visited museums and art galleries I would otherwise have never seen, I started taking an improv class and join a troupe every Sunday to live out new stories once again. Thankfully here everything we use is imaginary and there are no onions or reeds to cause me physical harm. Now I spend most of my time yelling at imaginary boyfriends and lovers. I try not to let every scene devolve into a yelling match. I’m just so good at it.
Over Thanksgiving I flew down to Virginia, helped my sister finish packing up her house, and then drove 22 hours across the country with her, my brother-in-law, and my two nieces who are seven and three, and a guy named Chris. Also in the minivan were two cats and a dog, because my siblings have chosen to forget the horrors of owning animals that die. We started out early Saturday morning, hitting the road at 5:30 a.m. and stopping five minutes later to grab gas and coffee, found where we filled up for gas the store was not yet open and had to go to another gas station for coffee. Twenty minutes later we were back on the road.
My sister does not believe in things such as DVD players, deciding instead to go old school on the two day car trip. For four hours we sang Wee Sing Silly Songs including an inordinate amount of bouts of B-I-N-G-O and some ZUMBA ZUMBA ZUMBA ZAAA song I don’t remember any of the lyrics to anymore. I also read, for four hours. Over two days I read 168 pages of A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler with illustrations by Fred Marcellino.
It’s a book about a rat who grows up in the sewers making things with his paws, (Gasp!) Seurat-like paintings on rat halo sea shells. It’s a lovely book and it kept the girls entertained for long bits of time. I talked until my voice went horse.
I also drove. For hours. My sister and I drove their minivan while my brother-in-law and his friend Chris drove the moving truck. We stopped in a Tennesee welcome center where my sister had her picture taken with such a life-like rendition of Dolly Parton you can barely tell the difference in the photo. We had dinner at a completely out of the way restaurant where we were the only people not from the area and dined on crawfish and marinated chicken breast. At about 9:30 p.m. my sister and I had about had it with driving and entertaining. For some reason the boys were still wired, both physically and literally. They had set up a whole electronics hub in the moving truck and my brother-in-law was walking around talking to my best friend via web chat while Chris filled the van up with fuel. Honestly I was a bit annoyed at this point, because we had one gadget in the van, the charger to my phone, had kept a three year old from fussing over much, and here they were hopping around and chatting on web cameras. My sister was tired so I sighed and reluctantly got behind the wheel, when she asked me if I wanted a break and we could just make the boys drive. I wasn’t all that physically tired, but I was honestly so annoyed that they had played with computer gadgets and watched videos and I hadn’t even had signal except for emergency calls most of the way, so I pursed my lips and said I wanted a break from driving.
I hopped in the moving truck with Chris, and was handed off the computer with live feed to my best friend. I gchatted with her for a while before she had to get stuff done around the house. Then I had an honest-to-god real adult conversation that was not interrupted by singing 20 Bottles of Pop on the wall. I played the music from The Hobbit that had made its way around the internets (see yesterdays post) in surround sound in the truck and talked about the vampire book I was listening to on eaudiobook. Then we hit construction. You know the kind of construction where there are cement blocks on both sides. That kind. I was never so glad I was not driving. We finally arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas after passing over the Mississippi River and pulled into a pet friend hotel. Which was good, since the cat peed on the bed the next morning after scattering litter all over the bathroom floor during the night.
I put the girls in the tub after a vigorous scrub down (of the tub) and finally had us all in PJs. I looked through the curtains to see what was taking my sister so long and saw an overweight black male drive up in a tan sedan before driving away. Oh, dear, I thought. Just what I need to deal with, a panicked sister because of a drug deal. Sure enough, my sister came into the room all unnerved, and whispered that a someone had just driven up and offered her and Chris “goods.” Chris told the man no thanks and he drove off. Twenty minutes later another person pulled in and did the same thing. This time it was a dark colored sedan. When I got up the next morning and was going to take the girls for a “walk” before getting back in the vehicle, my sister hissed that it wasn’t safe outside. I sighed, because it’s hard enough to explain to your sister who has grown up in the country that there would be no drug dealers in the day light without trying to couch it in terms a seven year old can’t understand. So I just smiled brightly, said it would be fine, and walked outside with her still hissing at me. Luckily that is when the cat peed on the bed.
After 22 hours in the car we finally landed at their new house where another of my sisters was waiting as she’s lived in the area for the past eight years. While her four year old and my sister’s two girls ran around the new house, friends from church unloaded the van in record time. It was a relief to be done with the trip and to have a few days to spend with my family that I rarely get to see. We hit the local hot spots, the local aquarium and a huge mall that housed not only a carousel but an ice rink. The aquarium was amazing, spending time with everyone was amazing and felt like coming home.
Back in 1999 my sisters and I were all working as servers at restaurants while going to a community college during the day and we came up with a grand scheme. For the next three years we were to save every penny and then in 2002 we were going to buy an old RV and hit the road for the summer. Our goal was to travel across the country seeing the sights and spending nights camping in the RV. My sisters wanted to leave without a penny to our names and just pick up odd jobs along the way, I disagreed, saying we should just set aside all the money and see how far we got on it. Well, one sister went off to China, another off to the west and we never made RT02 a reality. I stood there staring at all the people unloading the moving van in the dying light and realized that though it was ten years later, we had finally managed an across the country road trip. Only this one included singing songs for four hours, a dog who sat on my feet most of the time, and cats who peed on hotel beds.
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