When winter winds roar through the trees
And snows softly fall upon the ground,
I’ll think of you.
When spring rains dance in patchy puddles
And flouncy flowers fluff in color bursts,
I’ll think of you.
When summer sun beats down upon the parched land
And children’s cries chorus in syncopated laughs,
I’ll think of you.
When autumn arrives in sprays of orange and brown
And plump pumpkins prance on Halloween night,
I’ll think of you.
Whenever the sun rises and sets
And stars brighten the skies of my dreams,
I’ll think of you.
Wherever you are.
Whatever you’re doing.
Forever and forever.
I’ll think of you.
When I was a child, my family was poor. We always had food, clothes and a place to live, so we weren’t destitute. Much of what we did have came from relatives. This included everything from furniture to food.
I don’t recall ever being extremely hungry, but I was never full. Apply this to not just the physical sense of lacking food, but to the emotional. I missed something that was wholly mine. Yearned for something that had never been owned, worn, felt by someone before coming to me.
At the time I lacked the words to describe the feeling. There was an emptiness that was never filled. As a consequence, my eyes sought objects that were small, so insignificant that they would not be missed.
My mom frequented the Five and Dime, a general merchandise store that catered to people like us. My mom loved to roam the aisles, feeling this, holding that, occasionally buying the things she came there for: a spool of thread, buttons, a swath of fabric.
Perhaps I learned from her that it was okay to pick up and hold things that you weren’t going to buy. Maybe I was taught to slip things in your purse when the owner wasn’t looking. In later years I learned that my mom often left stores with hidden items. If that was true, then I was an observant understudy.
My sister’s birthday was approaching and on this trip to the Five and Dime my mom needed candles for the cake. In that section there were tiny pink dolls, plastic cribs to match, and paper umbrellas on thin sticks. I wanted them all. One of each size, shape and color.
Something inside of me must have known that it was not okay to pocket too many items, at least not on one trip. My hand reached for a plastic baby on its own accord. It felt smooth and easy to touch. It weighed nothing. It fit perfectly in my small hand and even better in the pocket of my jacket.
I wanted more. The crib, the umbrellas. I trembled and sweat broke out on my forehead. I couldn’t talk. When we approached the register I knew I was going to get caught. My eyes looked down. I feared that the owner could see guilt, could see the inside of my pocket. He said nothing.
On the way home my fingers held that baby, still inside the pocket. At home I buried it in the backyard, hiding the evidence.
One plastic baby didn’t satisfy the want inside me.
The next visit to the store I pocketed a box of six crayons. The problem, I realized once home, was that I couldn’t use them without my mm knowing that she had not paid for them. The crayons joined the plastic baby in the backyard.
By now I was a seasoned thief. I planned my outfit, making sure I had at least one pocket. I knew I had to roam the aisles like my mother did, feeling this, picking up that, examining something else. When mom led us to the trinket aisle I knew what I was going to take: an umbrella. The problem was, which one. I chose the blue. It slid into my pocket just as the other things had done.
By now I wasn’t afraid of looking at the owner. After all, I had stolen before and not gotten caught. With the umbrella secure, I accompanied my mom to the register, stood complacently while she paid, then walked out. Except something different happened.
The owner asked my mom to wait, but not until after I was outside. I don’t know what was said, but when my mom stormed outside and grabbed me by the sleeve, I knew I was in trouble. She dug in my pocket and produced the umbrella. With it held aloft, she pulled me back inside the store. She handed over the umbrella which was now broken thanks to her tight grip.
I was told to apologize. I refused. I had done nothing wrong in my mind. I had seen my mom slip things in her purse over and over. If I had to apologize, then so should she. I didn’t say it, thankfully.
After much prodding I mumbled an apology. The owner then forbade me from ever entering his store again. I thought his punishment was excessive considering it was only a tiny umbrella.
My parents decided I need moral guidance so they enrolled me in a Brownie troop that was being formed at the Catholic School I attended. I didn’t know anyone and had no intentions of making friends with them.
I don’t know how I knew, but I understood that the girls and mothers who ran the troop came from wealthier families. It might have been the newness of the girls’ uniforms versus my faded one from a thrift store. Perhaps it was because the mothers wore necklaces and earrings, something my mother didn’t have. Maybe it was the way they treated me: like an idiot who didn’t understand English.
It wasn’t on the first meeting, but maybe the third, that the mothers had planned a craft activity. It involved the use of colorful rubber bands. I don’t remember what I made, if I made anything at all. What I do recall in vivid clarity was the desire to own the bag of rubber bands.
My palms began to sweat. My heart beat wildly. I couldn’t take my eyes off the bag. Whenever a girl took a rubber band from the bag I cringed inside. I wanted that bag so badly that my stomach hurt.
I had to have it. I had to take it home. But how? How could I sneak it home without being caught?
The solution came when it was time to clean up. The bag still sat on the table, all alone. It called my name. I moved closer to it. The desire intensified. I checked to see where the others were. The girls were giggling off to the side. The mothers were in a circle, talking. No one was near me. No one was watching.
The entire bag of rubber bands slid into my school bag. I latched it shut then hurriedly left without saying goodbye.
My mom was waiting outside. We drove the long way home in silence. At home I took my school bag into my bedroom as I always did. I removed the rubber bands and hid them in my underwear drawer. Moved them to under my mattress. Stuffed them in a shoe. Found a hole in the back of my closet and stuck them in there.
When my mom finally asked how the Brownie meeting went, I told her it was dumb and I never wanted to go back. That was a lie. I had had fun. The mothers were kind. I felt safe there, at a time when I needed safety. I feared that the girls and mothers knew I had taken the rubber bands. That was the reason I couldn’t return.
My crime of passion ruined what might have been a good thing.
Love is strongest in its mornings
When first glance, first hug, first kiss
Define its parameters.
Love enriches, embraces, endures
Carrying us through pain, suffering, joy, exuberance.
Love drives the human heart forward,
Giving us sustenance and relief,
When most needed.
Love allows us to stand tall, knowing that
There is support underneath,
even when our beliefs run counter
or when we err on the side of caution.
Love inspires us to reach beyond
Our strongest dreams,
To strive to become something which
Only speaks to us in our hearts.
Love is kind and gentle.
It does not cause pain or injury.
Love guides us, strokes our fires,
All while managing to ground us
To the people who love us most.
Just as he remembered, there was an old leather trunk in the corner, covered with a layer of dust. He lovingly rubbed his hand across the top. He opened the lid, revealing Nightingale’s treasures.
On top was a red velvet shirt with a beaded yoke, a string of yellow flowers attached to a white vine, all hand sown by Nightingale herself. Next was a tiny pair of beaded moccasins, so small that he couldn’t fit his whole hand inside. He found a bandolier of china tubes interspersed with blue glass beads and a pair of white buckskin leggings with a fringed tunic.
“This was her weddin’ outfit,” he thought as he held them up to the light. “She sure looked pretty in these.” He held the tunic to his nose and inhaled, then cradled it to his chest. For many minutes Grandpa sat on his haunches, rocking with eyes closed, remembering the beautiful girl who stole his heart so many years ago. “This won’t do,” he chastised himself as he placed the outfit back in the trunk. He rummaged around some more until he found the item that he had had in mind. After taking it out, he closed the trunk, locked the door, and went back down the ladder.
About the same time Stan came in, leading Sally by the halter. “Guess what I saw up on the ridge?”
“No. Guess again,” Stan said as he led Sally into her stall.
“Little Bear?” Grandpa chuckled at the thought of the creature from lore being spotted at the top of the hill.
“You know better than that,” Stan said. “Give me a real guess. Something that lives up there, but you seldom see any more.” Stan pulled off the saddle and the blanket and hung them over a rail. He picked up a soft cloth and wiped Sally’s damp sides until she glowed.
“You saw a porcupine.”
“That’s it! How did you guess that? I haven’t seen one up there since I was a little boy.” Stan brushed Sally, removing the matted hair from her mane and tail.
“Well,” Grandpa drawled, “I was thinking of a porcupine that crossed my path when I was about your age.”
“Another story, Grandpa?”
“Yep. You keep workin’ and I’ll talk,” he said as he settled onto a three-legged stool just outside the stall. “Years ago, shortly after I met Nightingale, I wanted to give her something that showed how special she was. I had little money to spend, so I figured I’d make something. Now your grandmother always dressed in her traditional clothes. Somehow it felt right to her. None of that modern stuff.
“So I rode up on that ridge, just like you did, thinking maybe I’d see a nice piece of wood for carving. Instead I ran across a dead porcupine. Looked fresh. Maybe died of old age, as I didn’t see any wounds anywhere. Anyway, I got the idea to pull off the quills and make something out of them. The quills are hollow, you know, so it is easy to lace them together to make a necklace or breastplate. Plus they can be died different colors by using berries, roots, or mosses.
“Red was Nightingale’s favorite color, so after getting as many quills as I could, I searched around until I found some nice berries. I took it all back home, boiled the berries in some hot water, making a nice thick juice. Then I dropped in about half of the quills. While they were cooking, I found some rawhide scraps and cut them into very thin strips.
“Once everything was ready, I prayed to the gods to guide my work. The Blackfoot believe that the quills have religious powers, so I was extra careful not to offend anyone. I had some blue glass beads left over from a necklace I made her as a wedding gift, so I used them too.
“Every evening I came out here to the barn and worked while Nightingale took care of the mother. My fingers were too big and clumsy to make anything real fine, so I concentrated on the larger pieces of quill and the beads with the biggest holes. It took me nearly two weeks, but when I presented her with a sash for her waist, she smiled so big I thought her cheeks would split.
“So, here it is,” he said as he held it up for Stan to see. “I found it in her chest.”
“Grandpa, that’s beautiful!”
“The colors have faded a bit, but Rose might like it anyway.”
“She’ll love it. But won’t her father think we’re engaged?”
“Maybe yes to both. But if you notice, I made a design like antelopes. Blackfoot warriors place a lot of significance in the antelope. Because they run fast, the antelope escape capture more times than not. Curly Bear will remember that and know that this gift isn’t meant to tie Rose to you.”
Stan reverently held the sash up to the light, then ran his fingers along the lines of quills and beads. “This is perfect. Rose doesn’t have a sash nearly this nice.”
“Well, let’s go inside. It’s nigh on to dark. Soon it will be bedtime.”
Stan closed Sally’s stall door, turned off the light, closed the big barn door, then walked with his grandfather back to the house. “One question, Grandpa.”
“If this was Grandmother’s, don’t you want to keep it?”
Grandpa stopped at the top step and turned to face the now dark front lawn. He turned his eyes up to the sky, sighed, and then said, “The materials that went to make that came from the earth. Yes, it was a special gift. A way for me to tell my wife that I loved her. But it holds no power over my memories. Keeping it in that trunk is of no use to anyone. If’n you give it to Rose, every time she wears it, Nightingale will smile. Nope. It’s yours to give.”
Stan laid his right hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “I don’t know what to say, except thanks. This will make the best Valentine’s Day gift. All I need now is a box and red wrapping paper.”
Grandpa nodded. “I just might have some of that upstairs.” With that, he opened the door and led the way inside. “Why don’t you get some studying done while I gather what you need.”
Stan pulled his Government textbook out of his backpack and settled at the wooden desk his grandfather had recently made. The surface was smooth even though it was a bit uneven.
He loved the care that had gone into its construction. In fact, he even knew which tree his grandfather had used. Not too long ago, during a rare windstorm, a walnut tree had blown down. He had helped cut the tree into usable pieces that he had stacked under an overhang on the backside of the barn.
He opened to the chapter on socialism and was just starting to read when his grandfather reappeared, his arms full.
“I found ever’thin’ you need.”
Stan smiled when he saw the red Christmas paper. Rose would laugh when she saw dancing Santas and skipping reindeer. “That’s perfect. Thanks.”
“So,” Grandpa said as he got out his pipe. “Happy?”
Stan nodded. “Once again you solved my dilemma.”
Grandpa opened the front door and just before he stepped through, he said, “Valentine’s is about love. I’d do anything for you because I love you. You know that, right?”
“That I do.” Stan moved the paper and ribbon off to the side of the desk. “So what can I get you for Valentine’s?”
“Every day you gift me with your love.” Grandpa closed the screen door behind him. “That’s all I need.”
Stan Ellis sat before his computer, furiously searching the Internet for a gift for his girlfriend, Rose. He wanted to get her something for Valentine’s Day that said he cared about her, but nothing more. After all, they were both seniors in high school headed for college in the fall.
“That won’t do,” he thought as he looked at diamond necklaces. “I don’t have that kind of money, and something like that spells L-O-V-E.” He checked out watches, rings, hats, and various types clothing, but nothing seemed to fit what Stan thought were in Rose Tailfeather’s taste.
Grandfather Ellis, looking on from the kitchen as he fixed dinner, smiled. He remembered going through the same thing when he wanted to give his wife Nightingale a special gift on their anniversary. He understood how hard it was to find just the right gift.
After putting the casserole in the oven to bake, he stepped into the living room. “Whatcha doing?”
“Oh! Grandpa, don’t sneak up on me like that, please.”
“It’s good to know I can still sneak. I thought these ol’ bones made enough racket to wake your long-dead uncles.” Grandpa pulled his pipe from his shirt pocket, stuffed it with tobacco from a hand-tooled pouch hanging from a nearby shelf, tampered it down with his finger, lit it, then inhaled. As he exhaled, he made perfect clouds of smoke rise toward the ceiling. “I asked what you were doin’.”
“Valentine’s Day is coming up and I want to get something special for Rose,” Stan said.
“Go to Draper’s in town and pick up somethin’ there. The old man carries a good variety of things to please a woman.” Grandpa settled into his old, worn recliner, put up the foot rest and got himself comfortable.
After turning off the computer, Stan said, “You don’t understand. Rose comes from a traditional Blackfoot family. If I give her something too valuable, then her father will think I’m proposing. If it’s not something Rose wants, then she will think I don’t care. I’m stuck.”
“Is Rose a nice girl?”
“Of course. You met her before the Winter Dance. I brought her over, right?”
“Is she the one that wore the old-fashioned buckskin dress with blue and white pony beads down the sleeves?”
“That’s the one. Rose is proud of her heritage and wears native regalia almost every day. She’s in my Chemistry and English classes and her grades are always the highest,” Stan said as he fidgeted with his hands.
“Doesn’t her family live outside of town on Little Creek Ranch?”
“I remember her ol’ man, Curly Bear Tailfeather. He believes the people’ll rise and take back the land. He goes to Ghost Dances and parades about like he’s a medicine man. He’s kind of nuts, if’n you ast me,” Grandpa said, inhaling and puffing once more. “You sure chose the wrong girl, Stan.”
A look of shock swept over the young man’s face. “Why do you say that?”
“Because no matter what you do, you’re in trouble. Curly Bear believes in all that ritual stuff. Anything you give Rose is an engagement promise.”
“That’s my problem, Grandpa. Rose may come from a traditional family, but she has modern ideas. She expects a boyfriend to remember her on Valentine’s Day. And not just with a cheap card, either. She wants something in a box covered with bright red paper.”
Just then the oven timer rang. “Go check dinner, Stan, and I’ll think on it for a spell.”
When Stan checked on the casserole, it wasn’t quite done. While it continued cooking, he put together a tossed green salad, set the table, and poured two tall glasses of ice water. His grandfather had some diced potatoes in the frying skillet, so Stan turned on the heat, put in a little oil, onion, salt and pepper, and cooked them until the potatoes had a nice brown color and the onion slices were translucent. After putting the potatoes in a serving bowl and placing them on the table, he pulled out the noodle casserole and centered it on the hot pads his grandfather had spread in the center of the table.
“Dinner’s ready, Grandpa. Come on in.”
“Thanks, Stan. I was so busy figurin’ I forgot about food. I think I solved your problem,” he said as he walked into the kitchen and sat at the head of the table. “Say the blessin’ for us.”
They bowed their heads as the nuns at St. Matthew’s Episcopal had taught both. “God, our Creator and Heavenly Father,” Stan intoned. “Bless our meal and all the people who helped create it. Watch over us as we go through our days. We thank you for all the gifts you have given. Amen.”
“Amen,” echoed his grandfather. “Pass the potatoes. Got to eat ‘em afore they get cold.”
As Stan ate he remembered Grandma Nightingale’s rules about chewing slowly and eating quietly in reverence to the animals and plants that gave their lives in order to sustain the people. When he was finished, Stan said, “So, what idea did you get?”
“Well, if you give Rose jewelry from a store, she might like it, but her father won’t. He hates anything store bought and thinks old man Draper cheats the people.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Plus Rose might read engagement into it, and I don’t want that to happen. We’re still too young.”
“You can’t give her flowers, as Curly Bear’s anger would rise at destroying plants for no purpose. That leaves clothing or food,” Grandpa said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his full belly.
Stan got up, picked up the dirty dishes and carried them over to the counter. He rinsed them off and then placed them in the dishwasher. The leftover casserole went into a refrigerator container. He dampened a paper towel and washed off the table, careful not to disturb his grandfather.
“I’ve got to take Sally out for a ride before it gets too dark,” Stan said. “Want to walk out to the stable with me?”
“Sure,” Grandpa said. “What I was thinkin’ was that what you could give Rose is out there anyway.”
Together they walked across the lush front lawn to the barn. Stan pushed open the large door while his grandfather turned on the lights.
Stan looked around and saw only hay, harnesses, bridles and horseshoes. “What’s out here that I could give Rose?”
“Nightingale’s trunk is up in the rafters. If I recall correctly, there’s something in there that would make Rose smile and keep her father happy as well. You go out for a ride while I climb up and get it.”
“Sure, Grandpa. I’ll be back in an hour.” Stan saddled Sally and headed out toward the distant hills.
After his grandson left, Grandpa climbed up the ladder to the rafters. He walked to the far side where there was a locked door. Pulling out a ring of keys, he found a small, old-fashioned one that fit the hasp lock. Once the door creaked open, he allowed his eyes a moment to adjust before stepping into the dark storage area.
Just as he remembered, there was an old leather trunk in the corner, covered with a layer of dust. He lovingly rubbed his hand across the top. He opened the lid, revealing Nightingale’s treasures.
People of the Sun
welcome the strengthening rays
with outstretched arms, reaching,
bringing in welcome warmth.
New days, new adventures await.
Embracing oneness with the
center of the known universe.
People of the Moon
greet the enveloping night
with folded hands
supplicating needs to the bringer
of creation, initiator of all thought,
pledging undying solidarity
to regulated change.
People of the Stars
dream of what may be,
searching for fantastic future hopes
amid a cacophony of movable dots
whose pinpoint lights pierce the
penetrable darkness, bringing hope,
chances of possibilities.
People of the Earth
stand rock solid
firmly planted in the rich soil
of security, whispering goodness,
wealth, and prosperity in grateful
thanksgiving to the One who
made it all appear.
People of the Water
rock soothingly to and fro
with the tides of change:
flexible, contemplative, measured
waves that crash unheeded against
the known, shaking the very
foundations of belief.
People of the Air
flutter about, touching, grazing,
wisps of joy floating through
life, barely discernible, yet solid
enough, felt, yet not.
Changeable, moody, inconsistent
bringers of soothing relief.
People of the Fire
charge engines, roaring life
into being, siphoning air and fuel
to their own needs, greedy, selfish
consumers taking but seldom giving,
burning those who stand too near
warming hearts and minds.
People of the Spirit
find friends everywhere
prosper in graciousness, spreading
God’s love and goodwill throughout
humankind, lovers of life,
In heaven and on earth
there is room for all
blended salads of goodness.
Riches solidified into countries, cities.
Creators, destroyers, givers, takers
standing under God’s gifts
thankful for life.
After being yelled at once again, I flew into my bedroom and collapsed upon my army-regulation-taut bed. Tears coursed down my cheeks as my fists pounded my pillow, the only allowable outlet for the rage rushing through my body.
The offense? I can’t recall. It most likely had something to do with my sister. I was seven years older but couldn’t see what difference age made in the realm of discipline. She was practically perfect in the eyes of my parents while I was the demon child. Her hair should have been Goldilocks’ yellow and the purity of her heart should have matched Sleeping Beauty’s. I was the Ugly Duckling, the orphan in Dickens’ novel, the Cinderella of the evil stepsisters.
At the ripe old age of thirteen I decided that life at home was unfair and I should run away. At that time, we lived in the small rural community of Beavercreek, Ohio, several miles outside of Dayton. There were more farms than people and the population of cattle exceeded that of the entire town. No buses came near and the closest pay phone was over a mile away at a Chevron gas station.
I had very little money. When I shook out the coins from my piggy bank it totaled almost three dollars. Not enough to go anywhere. Not enough to buy much more than a couple of meals at a burger joint.
As darkness fell, I contemplated my options. Once my parents were asleep, I could sneak out of the house and walk into the woods at the end of our lot. I was confidant that I could find my way out to the main road about a half a mile away. From there I was unsure where I would go, but anywhere had to be better than home.
Stealth would be critical. I pictured myself following the road, hidden from view in the darkened recesses of the woods. If I made it that far there was a major intersection. From there I could go north or south.
If I turned south and could walk that far, I’d end up in Dayton. That would be the logical way to go, except for the fact that I knew little of the city. This was the 1960s, a time of racial unrest all across America. There were parts of town that would be too dangerous for a naïve white girl, and so I ruled out the city.
North would take me deeper into farm country. The land was flat and unbroken by stands of trees, culverts or any other form of natural hideout. I imagined myself sleeping in barns and sheds by day, traveling by dark of night in order to avoid detection. However, I was terrified of horses, cows, sheep, and goats, and so knew I could never share a stall with any of them.
If I continued west following the road that paralleled the forest, I would end up in the town of Beavercreek. There was no Post Office, bank, fast food restaurant, or bus station. There was a police station, but I believed that the police would only return me home without listening to my concerns.
My high school was miles outside of town, deep in farm country. There were some houses along that route that could offer hiding places under porches and behind bushes, but I was terrified of spiders and bugs. I pictured myself dashing from house to house, hiding until the coast was clear. Stealth was my new middle name and cleverness clung to my shoulders. Until I remembered that I had no money.
That left turning around and heading east, back past the woods and my housing development. Eventually I would reach the main road that went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Along that stretch was a gas station, A & W, Kroger’s, and a five and dime store. If I got that far, I figured I could get a job at Kroger’s in the produce section, as I knew about fruits and vegetables since we grew all that we ate. But no, that was too close to home.
All night long I planned scenarios that I believed would never work. I was too young, too naïve, too scared of my own shadow, and too paralyzed to take action. My only recourse was to stay in a house where I felt unloved and to make the best of my situation.
As the morning sky lightened to a silvery gray my tears had long since dried and my heart had sealed itself from additional hurt. I made several resolutions that I was determined to keep: never speak to my sister, avoid my mother and father, speak only when commanded to do so, save every penny, seek an escape route, and stay numb. These were perhaps not the best options, but they were all I had.
They stood me well. By not speaking to my sister, I avoided painful spankings. When I was blamed for something she did, a regular occurrence, I took the punishment as bravely as possible. I complied with any orders given without protest even when I knew they were unfair.
By avoiding my parents, I was able to stay out of arguments about preferential treatment. I answered when questioned, in as few words as possible. I did as told, even when my parents increased my list of chores.
I saved money, forgoing new clothes (which I had to buy for myself while my sister’s were provided), no records which I loved and no teen magazines. Slowly my pennies turned into dollars, building into a tidy nest egg.
I kept my grades up, especially once I was told we were moving to California, the land of community colleges. With surprisingly mature long-range vision, I saw that my only way out of the house was through a college education. I set my sights set on earning a scholarship. I chose the hardest classes and spent hours every night rereading text and memorizing facts.
The most challenging promise I had made was to keep my heart numb. I cry way to easily, and my feelings can jump from ecstatic to miserable with the slightest provocation. To keep myself on track I wrote reminders on my calendar. I filled my school bag with notes to myself. I taped signs on the head of my bed, inside my closet door, and on the book covers of my textbooks. Even so I slipped. Over and over I allowed my family to break my heart with their lies, their cruel comments, their physical abuses, and then hated myself for forgoing my pledge.
The struggle was never-ending. At no time could I let down my protective walls, for when I did, a knife slid in and cut my heart. The walls got thicker and taller as I sealed myself into a prison of my own making. I became an expert at repair work, for with each failure on my part, I had to plaster the holes and toughen the exterior of my heart.
After years of doing this, there was no “me.” I was a student with no personality. A friend to none and a silent force without power. An emotional wreck inside, but inhumanly serene on the outside. A plastic face masking tear-filled eyes.
Because of my excellent grades I won a scholarship from the state of California. My parents would not let me leave home that first year, so I enrolled in the local community college. The work was easy. In fact, I was frequently told to transfer out of the easy class into the next level. In this way I prepared myself for my sophomore year when I would be permitted to follow my brother to the University of Southern California, my yearned-for haven.
Off and on I made a friend or two. We partied, talked long into the night, and even studied together, until I discovered that most of these so-called friends were only interested in my brain. I dated a few boys and got serious with two. Both of them walked away when I respectfully declined to participate in recreational activities that required my sacrifice to their enjoyment. I was sexually abused by my brother’s best friend, but didn’t report it for fear of being accused of lying.
During the summer before my senior year I applied for a position as a residence hall advisor. I interviewed and was turned down. When I inquired as to why, I was told that it was too negative, too hard on myself. I got angry. Very, very angry. I walked around with a furrowed brow until I admitted to myself it was true.
I had worked so hard to seal myself off from pain that I had also closed doors to enjoyment. So with the same level of determination that I had applied to keeping myself numb, I turned to joy.
I removed all my self-imposed boundaries and became a party-girl. There were lots of, late-night frivolity which sometimes caused me to take potentially life-threatening chances. Determined to forge a fun-loving personality out of a rock, I took the high road and plunged off a cliff.
After years of trespassing into the land of fun and games, I realized this was not the path to success and freedom from home. In order to get back on track, I resurrected my defenses and kept them in place for many years.
Unless you’ve lived the life of an abused child, you cannot understand the day-to-day struggle to stay safe and sane. As a teacher I’ve come across damaged children who did not build defenses and who were consequently seriously hurt.
I wanted so badly to heal them, there was little I could do to glue together the broken pieces of their lives.
There were times when I felt as if I was down in a deep, dark well, trying to scale the walls into the light. I would get close to the top, make what I considered a friend, have some good conversations, and then slowly sink back into the depths when the friend did not act as an equal partner.
I am sure now that I was deep in the throes of depression. I might have benefited from psychiatric care, but where would the money come from? Time healed me. Through work in a fulltime job I began to see myself as a person of intelligence, a person who succeeded, a person who survived. My defenses disappeared and I found true friends and true love.
My life was a struggle, one that is now thankfully behind me, locked in the recesses of my heart. The struggle made me stronger, more able to confront the difficulties of life.
My history is one of challenges. While I couldn’t overcome them all, I did climb out of the well into the light.
the roads covered with gently
billowing snow looked
comfortably safe, hiding
the icy danger beguiling
hastily moving motorists
on the interstate
into driving casually
at normal high speeds
until time to change lanes
or to turn occurs
the wheels, hanging tenuously
to the road
side to side
and off the road
landing, thank God,
right side up
on an embankment
with hearts pounding
prayers of blessed thanksgiving
piercing the thick
gray cloud covering the earth
embracing God’s protective
love and grateful for
His watch over us all,
His humble servants,
His lowly children
for just down the road
others, not so lucky
tossed by the storm
trapped in an upside down
vehicle much like ours
have gone to meet
Praise be to God
my Lord and Savior
Who traveled with
my daughter, granddaughter,
and me today.
We are lucky to be alive.
When I moved into the graduate student housing at USC, for the first time, I no longer had a meal plan. I was now on my own for all three meals, frightening for someone who didn’t know how to cook.
I quickly figured out how to fry an egg, so fired egg sandwiches with American cheese and mustard became a staple along with cold cereal, toast and jam. Lunches were often bologna sandwiches with pickles, more American cheese, mustard and mayonnaise. On occasion I had the fried egg sandwich for lunch as well.
Dinners usually came out of a can. Soups were the most prevalent choice.
My brother also attended USC. He had a car and so would drive us to second-hand food stores where we could buy damaged goods for a fraction of the normal price. I learned to cook things out of boxes, greatly expanding my repertoire.
I relied on these foods until I got married, when I felt an obligation to become the food provider. By saving and redeeming wrappers from Campbell’s Soup cans I was able to get a cookbook that used some flavor of soup in every meal. The recipes were easy to follow and required simple ingredients. My confidence grew with each recipe I tried.
I bought more cookbooks, some of which are still in our cabinet today. Even with increased options, I tendered to stay with the tried and true.
As a parent I tried to fix a hot breakfast almost every day, reserving cereal for rare occasions. I got good at pancakes and French toast, but I failed at oatmeal. Mine was always a lumpy mess.
My mother canned fruits and vegetables and made jams that were quite delicious. I felt compelled to do the same. I poured through cookbooks until I’d find a recipe that looked doable.
My specialty became applesauce cooked in a crock pot. I’d add cinnamon because my kids liked it that way, and stop the cooking when there were still chunks. We went through lots and lots of applesauce.
I still relied on boxed and packaged foods such as macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper and noodles. Lots and lots of noodles. Canned vegetables were preferable over frozen, probably because I’d turn frozen into mush.
In time I attempted pork roasts, pot roasts, meatloaf and homemade soup. The soup tasted like dishwater, so no more of that. Using soup as an ingredient, I could make tougher, cheaper cuts of meat edible.
What I prepared provided sustenance, but was not creative or even things of beauty. Our family didn’t go hungry unless a child refused to eat.
Considering how my weight skyrocketed over these years, one would have thought that I was an amazing cook. I was not. My skills had improved since college, but I never added an ingredient that wasn’t in the recipe, never altered preparation or cook time. The basics got us by.
So, why did I become obese? I have a love affair with cookies and candy. I was pretty darn good at making cookies, plus they were often on sale, so there was almost always a package or two in the house. I failed at fudge-making: mine came out as soup. Fudge became a special treat, one that I could not resist.
I could make a moist cake from a box mix, so there were lots and lots of cakes. I didn’t need a special occasion such as a birthday: I made a cake because I wanted one.
My mom had made a tapioca pudding that I loved. I bought a box of tapioca and cooked it up. It came out pretty good, so now we had pudding. Jello as well.
A pattern emerged. I could make sweets better than I could provide healthy dinners.
About twenty years ago my husband took on the job of cooking dinner. Things improved greatly with one caveat: he loved sauces and gravies. Almost every meal he made contained at least one of those two. He was also not a fan of most vegetables, so they were often missing from our plates. We never went hungry, I was relived of cooking duty, and so I was happy.
My relationship with food is mixed. As a child I was often punished for not cleaning off my plate. I spent hours crammed into an old high chair in front of the stove, condemned to be there until I ate every last remnant of cold food.
I knew the old sayings about starving children, but I didn’t care. If I didn’t like something, I wasn’t going to eat it. Period.
My childhood diet was carb-heavy. My mother believed that a fat child was a healthy child and so she worked hard to keep me fat. I was doomed from the start. Years of putting on weight created a situation in which it would take years to get it off. Over and over and over again.
When I first decided to end the cycle I enrolled in a course at Kaiser. I learned about nutrition, about balance, about control. I lost thirty pounds over twelve months. When they told me I couldn’t repeat the course for a fourth time, I forgot what I had learned and the weight returned.
I joined a gym. I exercised almost every day, after work, and both days on weekends. I lost some weight. It came back when I had a knee replaced.
Walking in water was supposed to be good for my knee, so I found an indoor pool a twenty-minute drive away. Every morning I was there, bright and early at six in the morning. When I got the okay from my doctor I switched to lap swimming. I had put on weight after the surgery: I lost a bit of it.
After seeing commercials on television I turned to Weight Watchers. I returned to the practices I’d learned at Kaiser. I lost some weight, put it back on, over and over.
My obsession with food, with sweets, was powerful and pulled me down. I’d swear I wouldn’t eat a cookie and then I’d consume three or four. I wasn’t going to have ice cream, but then I’d have a bowlful.
As time passed health issues derailed efforts to lose weight. Another knee replacement kept me from the gym. Then I fell and broke my ankle. I chipped my elbow removing my laptop from the trunk. I fell going down steps and fractured the bone below my knee replacement. Another six months of limited exercise put on the pounds.
Mu love affair with sweets was hard to tamp down. I tried, really I did, but the call was too great and my willpower too weak. I loved food, loved to eat, loved the socialization around eating, loved sitting at a table waiting for food to arrive. Much of my childhood had been spent being hungry, so it was as if I was making up for it, over and over again. No amount of self-ridicule or negative self-talk curbed the appeal of food.
I am grateful that my husband learned to prepare low-calorie foods. He changed the way he cooked in order to help me. No more were serving dishes set on the table. No more were meats drowned in sauces.
Meals now included fruits and vegetables. Carbs were limited in frequency and size of serving. He grilled more, stewed less. He still prepares food that I don’t like, but less often.
I’d like to report that food no longer takes center stage: it doesn’t. I can be satisfied with a tiny bit of rice, a scoop of mashed potatoes or a half-cup of noodles. There are a lot of meats that I prefer not eating, but I make sure I have the correct portion anyway.
I discovered a love of fresh fruits and vegetables, two things we seldom had growing up. No longer do I drink hot chocolate or egg nog when it’s in season. Instead I consume water and other calorie-free drinks.
All the changes I’ve made, all the miles I’ve walked, all the obsessions I still struggle with, continue to be a burden. I understand that sweets will always call my name, so when I hear a cookie speaking, I reach for a banana. When I yearn for ice cream, I turn to grapes.
It’s interesting to me how child who hated eating as much as I did, managed to get as fat as I was. Because of this I understand that the same child is still here, still dreaming of sweets, still hearing their call. And if I succumb, that obese me will make a comeback.
French silk wrapped up memories
Gently formed from softened clay
Whispers blown upon the breeze
Moved by ocean’s lasting spray
Wrinkled fingers in soft caress
Rightful place upon the cheek
Erases sin and duress
Lovingly, in praise they speak
Houses lit by morning sun
Reflect a heavenly force
Flocks of angels golden spun
To guide humanity’s course
Compassion lights people’s eyes
Understanding the command
Love another is the prize
When offered by loving hand
Feelings moved by ocean’s spray
Carried home by mountain breeze
Fresh nurtured by softened clay
French silk wrapped up memories