Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is

One of the most exquisite beauties.

Standing in its grass covered valley,

Energized by roaring waterfalls,

My heart expands: incomparable,

Incredible vistas surround me.

Tremendous witnessed awesome power.

Escapist’s vacation location.

Nothing impresses me more than this

Admirable verdant valley, with its

Towering, tree-devoid mountain peaks,

Iconic, historic wood buildings,

On-rushing river, wilderness trails,

Newly blossomed colorful flowers.

All gathered into a preserved spot

Left for generations to enjoy.

Protected from all development.

Absolutely stunning to the eye.

Reminder of the glory of God

Kept as a witness to His power.

A Special Pet

            My mother hated cats and didn’t really like dogs. She believed that cats sucked air from babies, killing them and that dogs would bite the face off children. When a parakeet arrived after a vicious storm, she allowed us to keep it. In fact, she called friends and relatives until she found someone willing to give us a cage. That was our first pet.

            Petey was an incredibly smart bird. I taught him to say a few words. When out of the cage, he’d sit on top on the structure until he wanted to go back inside. He played with toys and sat on your shoulder. That is until my dad and brother built a giant Ferris wheel out of the erector set.

Petey liked to sit in one of the buckets as it went around. It was fun to watch him. I’d lay on my stomach next to the contraption and watch the bird go around and around. My brother got bored of something so sublime and turned up the juice.

Within seconds the speed increased. Not just marginally, but significantly. Petey got scared and flew off. From then on we could never get him to sit on our fingers. Petey would still open the door to his cage and sit on top, but never again could a person touch him.

Not too long after that my dad brought home a beagle puppy. His intention was to teach it to hunt rabbits. He had gone out with friends who had dogs and decided that he would like to take up the sport.

My mom was so angry that she refused to talk to my dad. She would not allow the dog in the house, so my dad built a dog house which he placed at the edge of our backyard and chained the dog to the structure.

The poor thing whined and howled all day and night. My mother finally gave in after three straight days of incessant misery and allowed the dog in the house, for only an hour. That hour turned into fulltime. She named that dog Lady Coco and spoiled her rotten.

Mom warmed canned dog food in a special skillet. She felt that the congealed mass that came from the can was unhealthy.

When we moved from Ohio to California the dog rode in the car with us. During the trip Lady Coco laid next to me in the back seat. My hand was constantly on her, stroking her and cooing softly to her. By the time we had a residence, the dog was mine.

In the early years of my parent’s marriage, my dad had several tanks of tropical fish. No one other than him was allowed to care for them. Every night when he got home from work he’d feed the fish and clean at least one tank. He sold them all when we moved.

Not too long after he bought our first California home, he brought home two large fish tanks. Once again, they were his to care for.

For some reason I decided to get into the fish care business as well. I began with goldfish because they were pretty, hardy and cheap. I kept the tanks in my bedroom. I loved the comforting sound of the filters bubbling away. Watching the fish swim about comforted me and lessoned my anxiety.

When I left for college, I gave my fish and tanks to my dad. It saddened me to let them go, but since I was attending a college many miles from home, there was no way I could keep them.

After graduation I was forced to return home since I had no job. I bought new tanks and started over, first with goldfish and then some tropical ones. Once again, they made me happy.

I got a job, saved money, bought a car, then rented an apartment. My tanks came with me. Of course fish died and new ones took their places, but I was still happy.

When I married, my tanks moved to our apartment, and then later, to our house. By now I was working full time. I was exhausted when I came home from work. It became a chore to scrub tanks, so much so that as fish died, I didn’t get new ones. When the last one was gone, I got rid of all the tanks and paraphernalia.

As a couple, our first dog was a Dalmatian puppy that was not show quality. She didn’t have enough spots and her tail had a funny bump. She was an awesome dog. She loved our son and kept an eye on him to make sure he was safe. If we were working in our front yard, she made sure our son didn’t crawl away.

She trained easily, but was jittery around men. We took her camping with us and she loved it. The one problem was that she got car sick. That was a serious problem until the vet sold us some expensive pills.

After her there were a series of pets, including guinea pigs, hamsters, cats and birds. We borrowed a rat and a bunny from an animal sanctuary. I didn’t love having them around. Eventually I returned to being a bird keeper, beginning with a pair of love birds.

One time a friend invited me to visit animal shelters with her as she searched for the perfect dog. One of the last shelters we entered had a mother and two pups. They were incredibly cute.

I fell in love with the brown puppy and requested to adopt it when it was of age. We called him MacTavish, a name much bigger than he was. Mac, or Mackey, was seriously ill when we brought him home, something we quickly discovered when he couldn’t take more than a few steps without falling.

My friend taught us how to make a special gruel that we squirted into his mouth with a syringe. Because of force-feeding, he got stronger and better. When Mac was able, we taught him to walk on a leash. He could catch frisbees, but not in his mouth, but with his front paws.

He’d chased a ball and bring it to you, but not let go. He loved riding in cars so much that if he was ever out front, you’d have to take him for a ride around the neighborhood before he’d get out of the car.

His early days of illness must have killed some brain cells because he was so quirky. He was quick to housebreak but slow to respond to commands. We never knew where to put down his food bowl. He was supposed to eat in the kitchen, but sometimes he just couldn’t. We’d follow him around, bowl in hand, until he found the right spot.

Mac loved our large backyard. There was plenty of room for him to run and play. If any of us went out back, he had to come. His favorite activity was when my husband yelled, “Squirrel,” and then Mac would go sit under different trees while squirrels chirped at him high overhead.

Mac’s other favorite activity was going to the shed at the end of our yard. My husband would say, “To the shed,” and Mac would take off, loping like and antelope.

Mac was kind and gentle, warm and loving. He brought great joy to our lives. I really miss him.

  Little Red Revisited

Little Red didst blithely skip

in forest deep and dark.

Forgetting all had been warned

laughing as if on a lark

She swung her basket to and fro

not looking through her eyes,

for dangers hidden in the trees

not thinking about a disguise

Upon a hunter meek and mild

Little Red didst soon arrive.

With clear blue eyes she smiled

At him, so sweet, so clear, so alive.

He spoke of peace and gentle things

and she didst fall in love.

He promised not to hurt her heart

and swore to God above.

Red knew him not, but answered yes

despite what she’d been told.

And so struck out on her own

with step both confident and bold.

Ignoring signs of pending doom,

Red whistled as she skipped.

Right up to Grandma’s house

and in the door she slipped.

In bed poor Grandma slept

with fever and with cold.

Red tiptoed up to see her eyes

and Grandma’s hand to hold.

“What big eyes,” Red declared

when Grandma didst awake.

“To see, my dear,” she replied

and took a bite of cake.

“What big teeth,” Red did say

when Grandma opened wide.

“To chew, my dear, these lovely

cakes,” she sneakily replied.

“What furry arms you have,”

said Red, “but I remember not

when didst thou grow such

lengthy hair could be tied in a knot.”

“It keeps me warm on winter’s eve,

and dry during a spring rain.

I’d love to hold you in my arms,

to cradle you once again.”

“No, thanks,” said Red for she did see

that things were not all right.

For Grandma dear was way too dark

even in such poor light.

“I think I’ll go,” Red didst say

and hurried toward the door.

“You shall not go,” Grandma declared

and sprang feet on the floor.

She threw off her cap and gown,

revealing a wolf-like shape.

Red didst scream and run about

attempting to escape.

The wolf didst flash a mighty smile

and throw his arms out wide.

Intending to capture Little Red

without wasting even one stride.

Suddenly there didst appear

a man both tall and strong.

Red ran to him and told her tale

so he could right a wrong.

Listen now for you shall hear

the moral of this tale.

Go careful through yon forest deep

and whilst skipping through a vale.

Rescue might not come your way.

To perish could become your plight.

Unless you’re careful to observe

even on the darkest dark night.

While Little Red didst escape

and her story she soon didst tell.

You must listen and take care,

so for you things will go well.

You cannot walk and prance about,

with head adrift in the skies.

For on you might come, like to Red,

a murderous surprise.

Beware, my child, of strangers met

in forest, field, or glen.

For they might be a dangerous sort,

then we’ll not meet again.

Summer’s Rhythm

Fiery days of outdoor fun

People always on the run

Ice cold drinks relieve the thirst

Swimmers race to come in first

Birds soar high on currents strong

Moms hover yet kids do wrong

Free to jump like squirrels brown

Scream and run all over town

Sleep until sun’s high in the sky

Teens do nothing as days fly by

Dads pray for first day of school

Think their lives will be so cool

Summer’s fun comes to an end

Shopping trips: money to spend

 Mind recalls memories sweet

Hordes of children on the street

Must put summer’s toys away

Shortened  time for kids to play

People once had time to run

Fiery days of outdoor fun

My First Paying Jobs

As a fourteen-year-old, back in the mid-sixties, I was expected to babysit. Considering that we lived out in the country, there were few options for any young person, let alone a girl. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but when my parents told me to do something, I had no choice.

My parents found me my first job. A family up the street from us had a baby. They needed a babysitter and I was volunteered. It made no difference that I knew nothing about babies: they hired me anyway. After a quick tour of the boy’s room, the parents left. As instructed, I fed him a bottle. Thankfully that went okay. Shortly, thereafter, however, things went wrong.

The stink began accompanied by a series of ominous-sounding gurgles. I understood that I had to change his diaper, so I toted him into his room and placed him on the changing table. When I undid the diaper, urine shot into the air. I covered him up, waited, then pulled the diaper away. More urine! And more. When I figured he was finished, I tackled the bigger issue, the poop.

It was awful. And, like the urine, just as I got him cleaned up and a new diaper in place, he squirted out more. And more and more until I’d used up every diaper.

Those parents never hired me again.

My next job had a much better beginning. The kids were in bed when I arrived. I was allowed to watch the color TV, something we didn’t have at home. The one problem was that the only programs I could find were horror shows. Every little creak of the house and scrape of a branch terrified me. I called home and begged my dad to come rescue me. They never asked me to come back.

I met a mother when out delivering papers who asked me tie sit her three boys. Her regular sitter wasn’t available. I was too inexperienced to understand the coded message. The boys were perfect angels until the parents left. All hell broke loose! They refused to comply with anything I told them to do. They threw food, stripped, then ran around the house. When I finally got them into the bath, they splashed water all over the floor, making huge puddles that later I had to sop up. The boys were still up, well past bedtime, when the parents returned. I refused any future job offers.

My last assignment was with a sweet toddler. She was easy to take care of and did everything I asked. She fell asleep almost as soon as I got her in bed. The parents had given me another job: ironing. They had an entire basket full of clothes that were badly wrinkled. I finished around eleven, the time the parents were supposed to have returned.

I turned on the TV and tried to stay awake, but I was exhausted. I woke up with the father looming over me with a scowl on his face. He drove me home without a word until it was time to pay. Instead of giving me the agreed-upon amount, his shorted me by about five dollars, a huge difference in those days. And he never said thanks, even though I had done everything they asked.

That ended my career as a babysitter.

My Story

            The concluding song in the musical Hamilton asks the question, who will tell my story. It got me to thinking about my own story. Certainly, my grown children know me, at last the mother-me that raised them. But do they truly know the adult me that I am now?

            In recent years our oldest son has been including tidbits of praise for who we are and what we have done over our lives. He praises us for being active, for traveling and doing things even as we age. His words touch me where it brings tears and feelings of joy.

            But I wasn’t just a mother. I was a wife, a teacher, an administrator, a writer, a friend and a person who kept busy doing a variety of things. I belong to three writers’ groups and two book clubs. I hike with a friend two days a week. I love movies and the theater. I love how technology has opened my world.

            I am a sucker for sad animal videos. If I had given a dollar to every charity that featured beaten and starved animals in their ads, I’d be broke.

            Books call my name. I will never have the time to read every book in my pile, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more.

            While I am not into fashion, I love to shop for clothes especially after losing eighty pounds. Certain textures and styles speak my name. Colors and patterns as well. If after buying and wearing something it doesn’t make me feel good, then I put it in a giveaway bag.

            I won’t wear torn or stained clothing. That’s because of my younger years when all I had were old clothes an aunt had given my mom.

            I love spending time with friends. Going for a walk or eating out makes me very happy. While I am more of a listener than a talker, hearing someone else’s story keeps me connected to their lives. That means a lot to me.

            When I do get to spend time with my kids, I don’t have to do fancy things. I am content being in their presence. I love sharing a meal with them, strolling through a fair or even a big-box store, taking dogs for a walk, watching their favorite shows or sports teams. Seeing the responsible adults that they have become fills me with joy.

            As a teacher I worked hard. I’d visit my classroom on weekends to change bulletin boards, grade writing journals, correct spelling workbooks and rewrap books whose covers had torn. Before the year began, I’d hit every sale and buy all the supplies my students would need for the year. Even when money was tight, I’d spend mine to make sure my students didn’t have to go without.

            In my early years of teaching, I had to wear conservatively-styled dresses. I was a large woman and found it difficult to find anything in a store, so I made my own. I also sewed my kids’ shorts and a suit for my husband.

            I overcame my years growing up in a dysfunctional and overly critical family. I fought against the stereotypes that women couldn’t study college-level math. I persisted when others gave up.

            Understanding the learning never ended, I returned to college over and over, all in the hopes of increasing my ability to better serve the needs of my students.

            Recently a friend told me that she chooses to focus on the positive things that had happened to her. That simple comment made me reexamine how I remembered my early years. Perhaps instead of focusing on how I was mistreated and misunderstood by my parents, I should recall family trips to a cabin by a lake, playing badminton in the backyard,  eating my mom’s apple dumplings and building tents in the family room with my brother.

            It’s easy to talk about the beatings and foul words directed my way, harder to search for the happy days that I’d conveniently pushed into the back.

            This is my story. This is how I want to be remembered. I just hope that someone will be kind enough to share it after I am gone.

Wished-for Treasure

            My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. We always had a clean place to live, even if it wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods. We always had a car, although never a new one. My mom was a frugal cook, so there was food on the table and while you might feel a bit hungry, you never starved.

            When we got our first television when I was twelve, I was exposed to commercials for the first time. That’s when I became aware of all that I was missing. There were dolls and soldiers, board games and sports equipment. Sweets of all kinds and varieties of cold cereals that made my mouth water just dreaming about that first bite.

            We watched about an hour of television a day, but it was enough for me to notice what people wore and didn’t wear. They didn’t dress like me in hand-me-down threadbare clothes. They didn’t wear conservative clothes that covered a body from head to foot.

            When a commercial came on for a Barbie doll, I salivated. Oh, how I wanted one! The girl across the street who sometimes played with me had one. It was so beautiful! So fashionable! So desirable!

            One time when we were going to the local five-and-dime, I brought my saved allowance. The store sold Barbie dolls! But they were too expensive. There was a cheap replica which I could afford, so I bought that one. I understood that it was a fake, but it looked enough like a Barbie that I could use the patterns for the real thing to make clothes for this one.

            Every afternoon I carried my sewing supplies out to the backyard where there was a shady place along the back fence. I made my doll skirts, blouses, pants and dresses. When I had what could have been considered an ensemble, I worked up the courage to carry it across the street to the girl’s house.

            I was pretty proud of what I had done. She destroyed me when she laughed at my cheap plastic replica.

            When Christmas rolled around a few months later, all I asked for was a real Barbie. I didn’t get one. But my younger sister did. My parents explained, as I wiped away the tears of disappointment that streamed down my cheeks, that I was too old for a doll.

            I didn’t dream of owning anything else again for a long time.

            A television program came on with a doctor in the lead role. It was a good show, one that was popular with not just my parents, but with my peers.

            One time when we went shopping, a “doctor” blouse hung on a rack. Oh, how I wanted one! School had started by now and many of my peers had them. I knew that I had almost enough saved up to buy one for myself. My mom wouldn’t buy it then even though I promised to pay her back when we returned home. Instead she made me wait until the next trip to the store.

            I don’t recall how much time passed between trips, but when we did return to the store, the blouses had been marked down. I was so happy! I finally got my “doctor” blouse.

            Imagine how proud I was to wear it to school! I pictured my peers recognizing that I was finally wearing something that was popular. But, oh, that did not happen. You see, styles had changed. The other girls had moved on to whatever the newest fad was. That’s when I discovered that things on a clearance rack were there for a reason.

            Around that same time my dad learned of a bargain store a good hour’s drive from home. I had little expectations of finding anything there of interest. I was right. There were car and bike tires, car parts, miscellaneous household goods and clothing that a worker would wear, such as overalls and jumpsuits.

            We returned several weeks later. I remember that it had snowed but the roads were clear. Mounds of snow were piled along the sides of roads and along the perimeter of the store’s parking lot. Once again I knew there would be nothing there that I would want.

            Imagine my surprise when just inside the doors of the store was a circular rack holding a variety of white and black “leather” coats. When I touched the sleeve of one, it felt so soft that I found myself salivating at the thought of wearing it.

            When I showed them to my mom, she informed me that they were not made of real leather. They were fakes. I didn’t care. I still wanted one.

            She told me that I’d only get it dirty, that I’d ruin it by spilling something on it and it was be a complete and total waste of money.

            I didn’t care. I still wanted one.

            My mom refused to buy it for me even when I begged. I promised to work jobs around the house to earn enough money to reimburse her if she bought it right then. She refused.

            I cried all the way home.

            I had never had a new coat or one that mirrored what other girls wore. I had seen girls wearing similar coats, so in my mind I pictured myself walking the halls of my high school wearing that jacket, feeling proud as all eyes smiled with appreciation.

            No matter how much I begged or tried to finagle a way to pay for it, my parents refused to take me back to the store.

            Dreams of that coat haunted me. It was all that I cold think of, all I wanted. My hopes for popularity depended upon having that coat. I sensed its power deep inside.

            The next time we went to the store, the coats were still on the same circular rack, but there were none left in my size. I walked about the store with tear-filled eyes.

            Christmas arrived a few weeks later. My gifts were needed, but boring: underwear, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a new comb and other necessities. Nothing frivolous. Nothing fun.

            After all gifts had been unwrapped, my family gathered around the television to watch a Christmas show. I don’t recall what it was because I was heartbroken.

            We ate dinner. Don’t ask me what it was.

            It was time for bed. I changed into my pajamas, brushed my teeth and came out to tell my parents goodnight.

            My parents demanded hugs, which by then I felt too old for. I hated being wrapped in my mother’s arms, but it was even worse being hugged by my dad. He had a way of giving me the creeps.

            This time, when I approached my dad, he pulled a large present out from behind his chair. He said he’d found it in his closet.

            I sat on the floor, wishing upon wish that it was that which I most wanted. I wanted to rip the paper to shreds, but that would have been a sin. Every bow, every piece of ribbon and paper had to be saved for the next Christmas.

            I carefully slid my fingers under the ribbon until it came undone. I rolled the ribbon up into a ball, an expected action that had to happen before moving on. I used a pair of scissors to cut the tape on the paper. When it fell off the plain white box, I folded the paper along its creases.

            The box was taped shut. Once again the scissors broke the tape.

            I slowly removed the lid. Pulled aside the tissue paper.

            It was there! The coat of my dreams was inside that box. I didn’t believe my eyes at first, thinking it was a mirage.

            When reality hit, I pulled the coat out of the box and put it on. It fit over my fat body! I could button it all the way from top to bottom. The sleeves were the right length. It was as soft as I remembered. I was speechless.

            I wore that coat until bedtime. When it was time to take it off, I hung it in my half of the closet.

            Every day I wore that coat, even if we never left the house. I stood taller, held my shoulders squarer and my head higher. I knew that when school began, people would see me for the first time. Instead of being the fat girl who wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes, I’d be the girl in the white leather (fake leather) coat.

            When school began in January, I wore that coat even though it was well below zero and too cold for a thin jacket. I didn’t care even though I was shivering when the school bus finally arrived.

            I smiled as I climbed the three steps into the bus. I nodded to the students already on board. No one returned my smile.

            At school when I walked the halls, I was still smiling. Not a single student or teacher acknowledged my new coat. As each class ended with no change in my status, I seemed to shrink a little bit more.

            By the time I boarded the bus to go home, my new-found confidence was shattered.

            To make things worse, sometime during the course of the day I had encountered something that left a mark on the sleeve of my coat. My mom was right: I wouldn’t be able to keep it clean.

            I had learned important lessons: don’t ask for things, don’t dream of having things, don’t think that owning something would improve my social status.

Sunny, Summer Days

Sunny summer days

Drift along

Taking my lazy ways

Across river deep and wide

Burst-of-color leaves

Silently fall

Calling my soul to grieve

For things unfinished

Speckled blue skies

Fill with migrating birds

Loudly, their cries

Call, inviting me along

I yearn to travel

To see family far away

Concerns, worries unravel

Twisting around my fingers

Earth-bound am I

As winter approaches

Eager eyes look to the sky

Seeking freedom

My Enduring Phobias

            I have always hated spiders. Going way back into my earliest memories, I cannot recall a time when I was ever intrigued by spiders or wanted to observe them or even yearned to know anything about them. To put it simply, they terrify me.

            A scientist might be able to explain all the beneficiary things spiders do to enrich our earth, which is good, but it would not change my mind.

            Spiders, unlike dogs, creep about. They make no sound as the crawl across my ceiling or up my walls. Sometimes when I am sitting on the couch one appears and crawls across my book or, even worse, up my arm. Or maybe on my neck.

            They have the ability to drop on you without any kind of fanfare. One minute there is no spider, next thing you know, there it is.

            My reaction is swift and certain. I sit up in horror as I attempt to brush it away. I might leap (as best as this aging body can do) while brushing away the offensive creature. If it’s anywhere near my husband’s shoes, I will use deadly force by slapping or squishing. Only with his shoe: never mine.

            Some kids are intrigued by spiders and like to make temporary pets out of them. This gives me the willies. I get the same feeling when I visit an animal sanctuary and see spiders of various sizes and shapes in aquarium environments. I want to look yet can’t get away fast enough.

            I have had negative encounters with spiders.

            There was a time when I was a young teen and was taking a bath. I was just about finished when I felt something land between my shoulders. I screamed so loudly that both my parents stormed into the room, assuming that some terrible thing had occurred. I was embarrassed to have them in the room while I was completely naked, but I put that aside in order to be rescued.

            They didn’t save me. They made fun of me.

            Thankfully my dad left while I dried off, but my mother lingered. Perhaps that was a good thing because she discovered a small, round, red spot on my back. And when the tub was drained, a spider remained. My dad was summoned to witness that I had not imagined it, then terminate it.

            There was no lasting damage and I didn’t become ill, but the event solidified my fear of spiders. This was proof that they were out to get me. I knew that this was not the last attack, but rather the first of many to come.

            Many years later, after I was married, I was taking a shower to get ready for work. Suddenly an intense pain began in the little toe of my left foot. I looked down and spotted a brown spider sitting there. It was probably seeking refuge from the water, much like a swimmer finding higher ground during a deluge. I panicked, to say the least.

            There was nothing I could use to smash it, so I shook my foot until the spider fell off. I turned off the water and got out as quickly as I could. I would have gone for my husband’s shoe, but then I realized that it was, in fact, a brown spider. By this time I’d heard of recluse spiders whose bite could make a person quite ill. Thinking that this might just be a recluse, I wrapped myself in a towel, went into the kitchen and retrieved a glass jar.

            The spider was still in the shower when I returned, so I trapped it. I screwed on the lid and was going to leave it on my husband’s dresser as evidence in case he came home and found me dead. But then I remembered that there would be no air in that jar. Granted I would have smashed the spider if it hadn’t bitten me, but now I wanted to preserve it just in case.

            I carried the jar into the garage and using a hammer and nail punctured several holes in the lid. I kept the spider trapped all day, sitting on the dresser.

            Because I began feeling ill almost immediately, I called in for a sub (I was a teacher) and stayed home. My toe did become a bit inflamed and I thought I saw a red streak going up my leg. I spent the good part of the day with my leg hanging down, trying to prevent poison from getting to my heart.

            This was before the Internet so I had no way to research what type of spider it was nor any side effects of its bite. I acted on impulse, not on fact.

            By the time my husband returned home from work, I was feeling fine and embarrassed. It turned out that it was a common brown spider, it was not poisonous and I had wasted a day of sick leave for nothing.

The next major encounter with a spider was when my husband decided we would head south to the Grand Canyon. I was excited about the trip as I had never been there. After finding a camping spot and setting up the tent, we went to the Visitor’s Center.

            As we followed the path to the entrance, I trailed my hand along the top of a brick wall. Thankfully my hand was on the top and not gracing the side and that my eyes caught something in time for me to withdraw my hand. Nestled in a depression in the wall was a large tarantula. Imagine if I had touched its hairy legs! Imagine if I had brushed its abdomen! The horrors!

            I felt ill just thinking of all the things that might have happened. My young son, however, was intrigued. He wanted to pick it up and let it sit in the palm of his hand. My husband seemed to agree that it would be a great thing to do, but I refused. Even after another visitor did just that. He let the spider sit on his arm and offered it to my son. I shivered as I shook my head. I grabbed my son’s arm and pulled him away, enticing him with the air-conditioned center.

            My first teaching job was at a city-run preschool. Every session I took my classes to the local nature center. I was brave enough to touch the snakes (in order to reassure my students that it was okay to do so) but never the tarantulas. I tried, I really did, but just the thought of doing so made me ill.

            Over the next several years no major spider encounters happened. Yes, one would appear in the bathroom where it would be smashed to death. Yes, one would walk on my arm while I sat on the couch. Yes, sometimes one would have gotten inside my car and have to be dealt with before I could continue driving. But no bites.

            Then my daughter’s family bought a house in Utah that had a serious spider problem. These were not tiny brown spiders or even medium-size spiders. They were gargantuan. They had long legs and thick, round bodies. And they were everywhere.

            You’d spot them walking down the hall or front room. They’d be above your head on the ceilings or coming down a wall. They clustered in windows inside and out. They seemed to be wherever I was.

            One time I was downstairs brushing my teeth, getting ready for the morning. I heard a loud thump behind me, turned around, and discovered that one of them was now sitting on the edge of the tub. The sound I’d heard was it dropping from the ceiling. Put that thought in your mind: a spider so heavy that when it landed it made a thumping noise.

            Add to that the sheer size of the spiders. You couldn’t smash it with a piece of toilet paper or a tissue. It would have needed something the size of a shoe with plenty of applied pressure.

            I had my own shoe handy, but there was no way I’d have spider guts on the bottom of my own shoe. I seem to recall going into the hallway and finding a magazine that had seen better days. I’m pretty sure that I used the magazine to smash that spider so it could never drop down and terrify me again.

            On another visit I was getting ready for bed when a spider came from the ceiling and landed in my open suitcase. I felt nauseous as a shiver shook my body. At first I couldn’t move, couldn’t think. When some degree of rationality returned, I began flinging my clothes, one article at a time, out of the suitcase. As each piece of clothing fell to the floor, I stared to see if the spider emerged.

            I threw socks, t-shirts, pants and underwear, not caring what it was. The spider had to be gone and the only way that was going to happen was if I lifted it out inside my clothes. I got down to the layer on the bottom. I picked up the last pair of panties, shook them, and out fell the spider.

            Relieved that it was gone, I was able to breathe easier. However, it was there, in the hallway, inches from my room. I had to act. Had to do something so that it could never return. The only thing I could find was that same magazine from before. I dropped it on top of the spider then stomped over and over until I was sure it was dead. I didn’t look.

            After my clothes were back in the suitcase, I zipped it up and kept it that way.

            But now I couldn’t sleep. My bed was a foot away from where the spider had dropped from the ceiling. Knowing that the house was infested, I couldn’t sleep. At least with the lights off. So I kept them on. But every time I closed my eyes I imagined spiders dropping. Even though it was warm, I pulled the sheet up over my head, encasing me in cotton. That’s how I got through the night.

            It’s not just spiders that scare me. I am terrified of heights. Back when I was in college in Los Angeles my parents insisted the I fly home every other week. This was back when it cost $14 round trip.

            I hated it. Take offs were terrible, but landings were worse. One time I was waiting to board and so nervous that my entire body was trembling. A man sitting next to me noticed and began talking to me. He told me to keep in mind that the pilots wanted to take off and land as safely as I wanted them to. Just as I wanted to go home, so did they.

            Those calming words spoken over fifty years ago still resound with me today. Because of one kind man I have flown to many different states and countries.

            But I won’t climb ladders. When we first bought our house, my husband needed help cleaning the gutters. He knew I was afraid of heights, so he asked me to just climb high enough to be able to hand him tools. I did it even though it scared me.

            When our kids were young, we bought a blow-up boat. One camping trip we were near the Truckee River. It was peaceful looking, so he decided we would float down the river. As long as the river was smooth, I was happy. When it began getting choppy, I got scared. I rode down the first set of rapids, but from then on, I insisted on getting out just before the rapids began.

            I’d walk back to the truck, drive to the end, pick them up, return to the starting point. While my fear kept me from enjoying the ride, there was a plus: they didn’t have to carry the boat.

            Recently we were on a vacation trip in Colorado. The only excursion option was a raft ride down a class three river. Just thinking about it scared me.

            I can swim. In fact, I am a lap swimmer. So why does the thought of floating in rapids scare me? Because it’s the unknown.

            That’s the way it is with most phobias. We fear the unknown.

            Movies have taught us to be scared of sounds in the night. To be wary of strangers. To not go into the unknown. Bad things happen to characters who break those taboos. They die or come perilously close to death.

            We’ve seen people slide off roofs, fall out of planes, drown in lakes. Boats explode, snakes escape their tanks, lions eat the unaware. Fires consume houses, gasoline bursts into flame and water turns into floods that sweep people away.

            There are infinite possibilities for things to fear. It’s no wonder that we develop long-lasting phobias.

            While I do fly and I did learn to swim, I am still terrified of spiders. I did conquer the river in Colorado and would have gone a second time if the opportunity had arisen. I don’t like ladders of any height, but if my husband needed me, I’d do it for him.

            My phobias will always be there. It’s whether or not I allow them to control my life that makes the difference. And I am determined to live the fullest life possible.

Dreaming of a Different Life

            Do you know what’s like to be trapped in a body that you dislike?  I do.  I had been “fat” my entire life.  My outer body was covered with pudgy layers of rolling fat, while my inner body yearned to be thin, luscious, and downright sexy.

            When I was in fourth grade I attended a Catholic elementary school in Dayton, Ohio.  We were poor, and so I wore hand-me-down uniforms and carried the dog-eared books belonging to a previous student.  Before the school year began, my mother drove me into town for the annual used uniform giveaway.  I hated this ritual.  Because of my weight, we dug through the small pile of plus-size jumpers, most of which had seen better days.  No longer navy blue except where food stains darkened the fabric, these uniforms marked me as “poor” and fat. 

            Fourth grade was a year of becoming aware.  This was the year when my older brother explained that there was no Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus.  This was also when I discovered that others saw me as a fat little girl.

            Sitting in church one morning, a girl next to me reached over and poked me in the thigh.  Her hand “bounced” high in the air, over and over, mimicking playing on a trampoline.  She pulled her skirt down tight over her six-inch wide thigh, measured with both hands, and then held her hands over my much larger thigh.  The difference was startling enough to cause a riot of giggles up and down the pew.

            Not too long after that, one day I had no choice but to go into the girls’ bathroom, something I tried really hard to avoid.  A group of popular sixth graders were lounging against one wall.  En masse, their eyes scanned my plump body as a look of pure disgust erupted on their sophisticated faces.  I quickly locked myself into the nearest stall so as to hide my tears. 

            “Fat people stink.  Don’t you agree?”

            “It’s because they leak urine,” Mary Beth Saunders said.

            “It runs down their legs when they walk,” Sue Anne Watson added.  “It leaves streaks that won’t wash off.”

            “I hate fat people.  They’re disgusting,” Wanda Belter said.

            “If I was fat, I’d hide in my closet and not eat anything until I got skinny,” Mary Beth said.

            “I’d kill myself,” said Sue Anne.

            “Not me,” added Wanda.  “I’d ask my mother to tape my mouth shut and then I’d stay home until I looked better.”

            Eventually they took their comments outside.  Only then did I emerge from my stall sanctuary.  When I got home that night, for what was not the first nor last time I took a long look at myself.  I really, truly was fat.  There was no denying it. Rolls of fat enveloped my abdomen and my thighs quivered with the tiniest of movement.  When I looked down, I couldn’t see my toes, let alone touch them.And because of the horrific things those girls had said, I even thought I saw urine streaks.

Repulsed by what I finally admitted to myself, I fell into my bed and cried for hours.

            I began dieting at the age of ten and have never quit. 

I convinced myself that trapped inside my obese body was a voluptuous woman yearning to be set free.  That woman wanted to be active and energetic.  That woman made me feel guilty about the cookies and candy that I so loved.

I think she got tired of the struggle and simply gave up for many, many yeaas.

            Because I wore rags and hand-me-downs, I dreamt of being able to go into a store and buy tons of new clothes. When I began working and earning enough to take myself shopping, I felt something stir inside me that has never gone away.

I am a shopaholic.  There is nothing that charges my battery like a mall.  It’s as if a competition is on to find the best bargains, and without fail, I rise to the occasion. 

As I stroll in and out of stores I admire the svelte garments displayed on ultra-slim mannequins.  Sometimes I touch the fabric, pretending that I am seriously considering taking one home. 

Back in my fat days, just as I imagined myself wearing the outfit, reality slammed my forehead and crimson colored my neck and cheeks. At that point I would dash away, off to the fat ladies’ department where I belonged.

            One time I went shopping with a bunch of relatives.  My husband’s sister was getting married, and everyone was in search of a dress to wear.  I trailed along as we went into masses of stores. I watched as they pawed through racks and racks of clothes. I drooled as they spoke about how well the colors of the different fabrics blended together.

            They all found things to try on.  They all believed that they had found the perfect outfit. 

But not me. I never carried a garment into a dressing room.  Why?  We never got close to the fat ladies’ clothes.

            For years I shopped alone.  Without prying eyes I could go into Catherine’s or Lane Bryant or the Women’s section of JCPenneys and not die of embarrassment. 

Except on the rare occasions when I visited a truly great friend who understands what it’s like, because she is also “fat.”  When we were together we forgot about size. We saw the beautiful person underneath. 

When we went shopping, we would try on clothes, and purchase our finds, sharing our good luck.

            There were days when I convinced myself that I looked pretty darn good.  I would be wearing an attractive outfit that hid the lumps under layers of fabric.  I would head off to work feeling happy and proud.  No one noticed.  No one sent even a tiny compliment my way.  It was as if I were invisible.

Most overweight people will tell you that being is not unusual. 

A slim person can walk past an obese person without once glancing her way.  In fact, there can even be accidental contact, one shoulder brushing another, with no apologies offered.  It’s almost as if the skinny individual had touched a ghost.

I have heard thin people say that the obese choose to be that way. That if they simply stopped binging on eating cupcakes and chocolate. They’d lose weight.

What critics don’t process if that genetics and physiology play a part in how easily a person gains and sheds unwanted pounds.  An overweight child is extremely likely to remain overweight into adulthood. 

If you are born into a family of obese individuals, the odds are that you will also be obese.  My paternal grandmother stood a little over five feet tall, but hit the scales at well over two hundred pounds.  I was built just like her.  Added to the familial tendency to put on the pounds was my mother’s belief that a fat baby was a healthy baby. Because she fed me until I had fat wrinkles on my arms and legs, I was doomed from the start.      My mother fed the cellulite, which plumped me up like a marshmallow. I spent years trying to reverse the damage.

Over and over I embarked on one weight-loss program after another. Two years ago I developed a serious health issue that required surgery. Because of being obese, the surgeon wouldn’t operate. That was my motivation.

Over a period of a month, the doctor’s deadline, I lost twenty-nine pounds, plus a few that keep recycling off and then back on again.  After that my motivation skyrocketed. If I could do that, then why not more?

It took ma almost a year, but I lost just under eighty pounds and dropped four sizes in pants and three sizes in tops.   

If I could go back in time and change just one thing, one thing that could forever alter the events in my life, I would have been a skinny child. In my mind, skinny children were happy children. Skinny children had friends. Skinny children were invited to birthday parties and given cards on Valentine’s Day. Skinny children did somersaults and laughed and played.

I would have been one of them. Because I was athletic even when obese, as a skinny kid I would have been chosen first when dividing up teams. I would have attended every birthday party and been invited to sleepovers.

As a teenager I would have goon to school dances with a different handsome beau on my arm.  Cheerleading would have been my passion, and as a dancer I would have reigned supreme. 

Whenever I went shopping, it would have been with friends, giggling as we strolled through the mall.  Fun would have been my middle name.

I would have been hired as a flight attendant, the career of my dreams.  Or maybe the receptionist in the front office. Or the statistician in a major think-tank.

Think how different my life would have been!  Zipping here, there, everywhere, always surrounded by friends.

There are some things that I would never change, no matter what I looked like.  I have a husband who loves me, my children are my pride and joy, and I loved my job.  I have been blesses with grandchildren and significant others in my children’s lives.

I have had a good life.

I wish that society did not disdain the obese.  Unless you have worn that body, you do not know what “trapped” truly means.