A lot of emphasis was placed on the #MeToo movement a few years back. Thanks to those who came forward with their stories, awareness of the sexual harassment that women face rose in prominence. Voices that previously went unheard or were pushed aside were suddenly important enough to draw the attention of politicians everywhere. Going way back in time, the suffragette movement argued for equal rights for women, especially for the right to vote. Many years later the women’s liberation movement argued for equal treatment in terms of career and education. The time period that impacted me the most took place during WWII when women were called to enlist. So many working-age men actively serving in the military, which left necessary jobs understaffed. In 1943 Norman Rockwell painted a poster to entice women to leave homes in order to help the United States win the war. While the painting might have been the first call for help, it was J. Howard Miller’s depiction of Rosie Riveter, wearing a red bandana and flexing her biceps accompanied by the words We Can do It! that inspired women to take on the traditionally male jobs of welding, riveting and construction.Women entered these fields in unprecedented numbers. According to history.com, more than 310,000 women worked in the aircraft industry and a comparable amount were in the munitions industry. They were needed to fill the ranks, but they encountered many problems, such as men who refused to work side-by-side with women until ordered to do so. A sterling example of the impact of these Rosies is in Richmond, California, at the site of the former Kaiser Shipyards. Rosies helped to produce 747 ships there in Richmond, more than any other shipyard in the United States. The women worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Over 90,000 employees assembled the ships, which were built in sections that were then lowered into place.Women came from all over the United States to learn welding, riveting and various construction skills. The city of Richmond grew from a population of 24,000 to over 100,000 in just a few years. Kaiser himself was a brilliant entrepreneur. He employed his own drafts people, many of them women, to replicate the mandatory designs for Liberty and Victory ships that moved soldiers and materials all over the world. In fact, large equipment such as jeeps were disassembled into segments and then crated. Once at the site, the equipment was rebuilt. In this way the holds could be crammed with materials.He understood that these women were doing the same jobs as men, with the same level of training and under the same working conditions. Because of this, Kaiser paid the women the same wage as the men. He also understood that many of the women had children that needed a place to stay while their mothers worked. To alleviate the problem, Kaiser offered Child Care Centers at their industrial sites run by highly skilled teachers. This was a novel idea, and unfortunately still would be considered such today. Another benefit was health care. Kaiser understood that Americans were dying in Home Front accidents. He also knew that only healthy workers could meet his grueling demands and construction needs. The nearest clinic to the shipyards couldn’t handle the explosion in population needing services. When a worker got injured on the job, many hours of valuable time were lost. To remedy the situation, Kaiser built a field hospital at the shipyard in 1942. He also encouraged prepaid medical care at fifty cents a week. Within two years more than 92% of Kaiser employees were enrolled in the plan, the first of its kind in the nation. There were skilled medical practitioners, a prepayment plan and substantial facilities all at a moderate rate. Another problem was housing. When new workers arrived, there were no suitable places to live. Many slept in the all-night movie theaters and a huge number shared what beds there were. Because there were three shifts to work, someone could be in the bed during the morning shift, someone in the afternoon, and a third at night. Today we would find this unacceptable. The Rosies are slowly dying, with limited recognition of their outstanding service. A push began to earn recognition at the federal level. One of the Rosies began a letter-writing campaign. Every year, beginning during the time of President Clinton, she wrote a letter asking for the government to commemorate the service these women gave to the country. After twelve years of writing, one of the letters arrived in Joe Biden’s mailbox while he was serving as Vice President. He arranged for several Rosies to come to the White House for a private tour. He greeted them with hugs and words that let the nation know how important their service was. During the visit, President Obama dropped in, a surprise for everyone.On a recent tour of the Richmond Museum, four of the Rosies shared their stories. They spoke of the call to serve, the desire to do something for their country. None of them had been employed before, so this was quite an adventure. Two of them became welders which meant overcoming the prejudice of the union that would not allow women to join. Without a union card, they could not work. Kaiser himself intervened and the rules changed.The welders learned to set down seams vertically, horizontally and overhead. Overhead was the most challenging physically. Another problem was that to get to the places where welding was needed, they crawled through eighteen-inch square holes dragging their equipment along. It was dark and hot, but they persevered.Another Rosie learned how to draft blueprints. She knew that if she missed something, an error in the design might occur, making it so that the ship might not be sea-worthy.Because there are so few Rosies left, we felt blessed to hear their stories.If you get a chance to visit the memorial, stop by.
Tag Archives: Essay about surviving
I loved being alone.
Whenever my father was home, someone was being punished: my mother, most likely, myself, but also my brother. He never yelled at my sister.
I never understood why he didn’t slap her about or smack her with his belt or lecture her on her many faults. Granted she was seven years younger than me and had petit mal seizures, but since he didn’t go after her, she’d become a brat.
I felt sorry for my brother. He was exceptionally bright, a model student, but he had zero athletic skills. He tried to be an athlete, joining one baseball team after another where he never got to play because his lack of skills would have been detrimental to the team. He joined a football team in middle school, but the only purpose he served was to be pounded by the other team’s offensive line.
He took out his frustrations on me. When our mom wasn’t looking, he’d pinch, kick or slap me until he left marks where they couldn’t be seen.
It wasn’t until college that the torture stopped, probably because we were both out of the house, alone, no longer under the critical eyes of our parents.
He was the only son and so he never had to share a room. Me, on the other hand, only had one-half of a room once my sister was out of the crib.
The lack of privacy bothered me. Sometimes, if my sister was out and about (she had friends whereas I did not) I could hide in my room and listen to my favorite music on my little transistor radio. When I was alone, I imagined it always being that way, that I wasn’t sharing a room, had never shared a room, would never share one in the future.
I knew it was only my imagination, but it released the pressure in me that built during the times in between.
College dorm rooms provided no privacy at all. So tiny that only two steps separated my half of the room from my roommates, I was aware of everything she did. I overheard every phone conversation, had to step over her mess, and when her many friends came over, I even lost the privacy of my bed.
And when I returned home during breaks, I felt unwelcome in the room which now completely belonged to my sister. She had taken over the master bedroom so as to have her own bathroom. There was a bed for me, but she had filled the closet and every drawer with her things.
After college graduation I set two goals for myself: to buy a car then to rent an apartment.
I needed the car so as to find a job. My brother had priority using the family car, my mother second. If I needed to go to an interview, my brother drove me if it was on his way, my mother drove as well, but often applied for the same position, at the same time, or my dad would take me. When my dad drove, he’d go inside the business, and if he didn’t like what he saw, he’d grab my arm and pull me out.
I don’t recall how it happened, but I got a job at a chain furniture store. Someone must have driven me there for the interview, then driven me to and from work. Because I was not told to pay rent at home, I was able to save money for a down payment on a car.
Even then, I wasn’t permitted to choose the one I really wanted. I was twenty-one, but apparently not smart enough to pick out a reliable car. I ended up with the ugliest Ford Pinto imaginable, only because that was the car my dad approved.
I now had wheels of my own. When I wasn’t working, I’d take off for the morning. We lived not too far from a reservoir, a forested lake with a paved road that traversed one side. I’d pack myself a lunch, then set off, listening to the radio to my choice of music. I’d sing along, loving the solitude, the ability to do what I wanted, when I wanted.
Being alone was beautiful.
Once I’d saved up more money, I found a studio apartment that I could afford. My parents let me take one of the twin beds and a chest of drawers. Using my discount at the furniture store, I sought the damaged goods that weren’t so damaged that they were unusable.
I didn’t mind the scuffs and dents. What I loved was being alone.
I ate what and when I wanted, watched whatever I wanted on my tiny TV, went to bed when I wanted. For the first time in my life, I was completely in charge of my life. Of my decisions.
It drove my mother nuts.
She thought she could come over without being invited, without permission. Sometimes I pretended to not be home when she rang the bell downstairs. I could feel my blood pressure rising every time this happened: if she discovered I was there and not letting her in, I would have been in big trouble.
It wasn’t too long after gaining my independence that I got a new job at the IRS. And then only about two years before I transferred to the local IRS office where I met my soon-to-be husband.
Granted, for the past 48 years I’ve never technically been alone. In our early years my husband did spend some time at other offices where he’d have to live in hotels, but once we had kids, he never went away again.
My husband is not demanding, no clingy, not possessive. I’ve never had to ask permission to travel on my own, to attend conferences in far off cities, or to take off across the country to visit family and friends.
Even when we’re both home, there’s no expectation that I be in the same room with him. I can be alone in the front room which serves as my office while he’s in the family room watching TV. We can see each other, talk to each other, yet still be apart.
The most powerful company I’ve had with me throughout my entire life is God. With Him I am never truly alone.
He’s walked with me in my darkest days, He’s been with me during my happiest times and He’s guided me when my mind was awash with turmoil.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized that I am never alone.
At all times I carry the memories of family and friends, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done. More than anything, I carry His love.
Being alone is wonderful, but so is knowing that my shoulders are laden with the wonderful things I’ve done and the people I know.
A Halloween Memory
The only part of Halloween that I ever liked was the endless pursuit of free candy. From the time my brother and I were in middle school, we roamed miles from home. We walked on streets whose names I never knew, knocking on the doors of anyone with lights still on. It took us hours, and at times our pillow case sacks were heavy that we had no option but to go home, empty them out, then head out again.
I hated wearing costumes. Perhaps because I wore glasses, masks blocked my sight. I detested makeup and most of all, despised trying to come up with something to wear that could become a costume. My fallback was that of a hobo as all I had to do to play the part was put on my well-worn overalls.
When I was thirteen my middle school decided that for Halloween, all students had to dress in costume. I immediately panicked. It was bad enough to traverse my neighborhood under cover of darkness, but now I would have to parade about campus under the horrific glare of fluorescent lights.
I stewed over this for days.
I was a painfully shy, the girl who never raised her hand to ask or answer questions in class. I slithered down in my desk seat, my nose skimming the top of my desk, believing that if I couldn’t see the teacher, she couldn’t see me.
Dressing up at school had the potential to sink me even lower on the social scale, especially if I appeared in an unpopular or outmoded costume.
When the day arrived, the only thing I could come up with was my mother’s WAC (Women’s Army Corp) uniform from World War II. It fit a bit snug, but I figured I could tolerate anything for the length of the festivities.
In the morning I squeezed into the uniform, then trudged off to the bus stop. I was used to belittling looks, so the shrugs and smirks had little impact.
However, what seemed like a good idea in the morning, quickly became a terrifying experience at school.
My teacher, thrilled to see the old uniform, made me stand in front of the class and share my mother’s story. Unfortunately, I knew little about her service.
I pronounced that she enlisted because her family was poor, a fact. That she chose the WACs because her older brother was in the Army, also true. I did know, only because of the few black-and-white photos she shared, that she was stationed in Florida where she learned to work on trucks.
I figured that when my time was done, I could slink back into my desk. Not so. To make matters worse, my teacher sent me up and down the hall, into every single classroom, upstairs and down.
I was so terrified that I squeaked out only a few words, and wouldn’t have even got them out if it weren’t for the prompting of every teacher.
As the day progressed, the uniform seemed to get tighter and the heavy wool brought out as much sweat as a humid summer day. Perspiration pooled under my arms and down my face. It soaked the collar and the waistband of the skirt.
When lunch came, I was allowed to change clothes.
It was such a horrible experience that I did not go out trick-or-treating that night and for several years after.
A New Awareness
I’ve always moaned about the travails of being stuck in between my siblings. My mother worshiped my older brother, thought he could do no wrong. That was partly due to how disappointed my father was in having a son who was not athletic and had no aptitude for mechanics. My brother was not the child my father would have chosen. Unfortunately, this led to many incidents in which my brother was forced to spend hours in the garage, hands covered in grease, not enjoying what he was doing and getting yelled at for being incompetent.
My brother took his frustrations out on me. He teased me constantly, called me offensive names, and when no one was looking, pinched or kicked or punched me, leaving huge bruises on my arms, legs and abdomen.
We had a complicated relationship. I loved sports and would beg my brother to play. Badminton, whiffle ball, sledding, basketball, it made no difference to me. I picked up any sport quite quickly, and so as soon as I was consistently beating him, he found ways to torture me during play. He’d knock me down, through the ball so hard it bruised my palm, dunk me under the water, or let all the air out of my bicycle tires.
Even so, when it was time to play, I’d look toward my brother. For one, we were intellectual equals. We enjoyed complicated strategy games that took days to solve. This meant board games as well as complex was games with dark green army men fighting beneath a sheet tent.
My relationship with my younger sister was always rocky. My mother clearly felt a need to shelter her. This included making me take the blame for anything my sister did or did not do, such as cleaning her half of the room or making her bed. It was my fault if she made a mess anywhere in the house. This led to some interesting behaviors on my part.
One time when I was particularly vexed at her, I asked Mom is my sister could have chocolate pudding, knowing that she’d have to eat it outside because she always made a mess of herself. Not satisfied with the low-level mess my sister would make, I helped make it bigger and better.
I told her to stick her fingers in the container and rub the pudding down her legs and arms. All over her face and neck, and even in her hair. When it was gone, I went into the house to get my mom, expecting my sister to get the beating I would have received.
Not so. My mom got the Polaroid camera and took a picture, enshrining forever the chocolate-mess that was my sister. And to make things worse, my mom laughed. She praised my sister for being so inventive, then commanded me to give her a bath.
Over the years I was blamed for many things that I did not do. My brother accused me of flirting with his friends, none of whom had the brains to interest me. My sister said I’d kicked her and pinched her, which I hadn’t done.
Those were some of the most miserable years of my life.
The torture ended when I left home for college.
I had no escaped my brother, however, as my parents would only let me go to the same college he had chosen. And then they empowered him to watch over me, control me, tell me what to do.
They had not understood how clever I really was and how easily I could fool my brother. I did need his assistance to shop for food and necessities, and I did become a Little Sister to his fraternity, but beyond that, I led my own life. It was my first taste of freedom and I loved it.
Many years later I learned about middle-child-syndrome. The term defined exactly how I felt. It also helped me understand why I took things to hard and why I kept so much of me locked inside.
I used to dream of what it would be like to be an only child, and it seemed heavenly.
Recently I heard a talk-show host talking about how lonely it was being an only child, and that with no siblings to take the brunt of the anger, he was the sole focus of every bit of torture his family could improvise.
That gave me a new perspective. While I clearly was the target most of the time, my older brother was a bit of a cushion from my dad’s anger and disappointment. Because my mother felt a need to hover over my younger sister, it gave me a certain degree of freedom.
This was a profound revelation. Only children have no one to blame if something gets broken or a task is left undone. Only children are the sole focus of parental energy. Only children, when not allowed outside as I was, have no where to go to get away from those prying eyes.
I am now going to have to reevaluate my perspective on being a middle child. Perhaps it wasn’t as awful as I thought, or perhaps being alone could have been substantially worse.
It’s interesting to ponder.
Money was a problem when our kids were young. We had our house, chosen in a price category so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. We never missed a payment as that was a priority, but there were times when the refrigerator was a tad empty.
No one went hungry unless they chose to abstain from whatever was put on the table. Our meals most often consisted of chicken, ground beef and chuck roasts. Pasta, rice and potatoes rounded out the meal. Oh! And canned vegetables.
Part of the problem was that I wasn’t much of a cook. I had a trusty cookbook that relied on canned soups. The recipes were easy to follow and tasted good. On top of that, they were hearty.
When boxed Hamburger Helper came out, they became a staple in our diet. Self-contained meals, simple directions and required adding very little.
My kids didn’t wear new clothes until they were about eight or nine. I was an expert thrift store shopper. I found nearly new onesies, shirts, shorts and pants. Dresses and slips. Coats, sweaters and light jackets. Even rain boots.
They usually had brand-new shoes, unless the hand-me-downs were like new. When they began school, uniforms were new, a huge expense.
I also sewed much of their wardrobes, especially shorts, dresses and anything made out of cotton. The machine was old and not very good. Before I left for college, I bought the cheapest model Sears had. That way, even away from home, I could make me new clothes.
At some point I upgraded, which was a wise decision. The new machine gave greater variety of stitches, which came in handy for seams and hems. It also had a terrific buttonhole maker. My daughter has that machine now.
We always had two cars. Mine was the Ford Pinto my dad made me buy when I really wanted a fancy Mercury sports-type model. Mike had an obnoxious orange Taurus. We drove them until repairs were useless.
We replaced those vehicles with other used cars. Repeated repairs kept them running. I drove the kids to school and ran errands. Mike commuted to work.
We joked that we had bought the mechanic a boat, a luxury car and a vacation cabin. Many times, we’d pay for one car, then turn in the other the next day.
When my kids were a bit older, I got a job teaching preschool for the local recreation department. I think I earned just over two dollars an hour. The biggest advantage of the job was that I only paid half the normal fees for any class offered.
My kids learned to swim at the Plunge. They did gymnastics and my daughter took pottery.
That salary helped keep milk in the fridge and fruit in the house. It paid for camping trips so we’d have vacations. And it gave me something to do other than be a mom.
Teaching preschool led to a career as an elementary teacher and then later a high school teacher.
I remember taking the kids scavenging for aluminum cans. We’d go to construction sites and walk the grounds. We found a lot of cans, and when we were really lucky, dropped dollars. One time I picked up a crumpled bill to discover that it was a twenty! That was a lot of money.
Money might have been a problem, but we were happy.
A Religious Awakening
Fifty years ago, my faith was in doubt. Tired of hearing the hell and damnation homilies of the local parish priest, I tuned out every time he spoke. I knew that I should have been listening, for I feared that I was one of the sinners that he condemned to everlasting fire, and that there was no hope for my salvation.
I did not “do” drugs, proffer myself to men, nor commit crimes against society. I was, however, not a dutiful daughter who accepted her subservient status in a household that held women with little respect. My parents believed that my sole purpose in life was to work for them, as a household servant, and when those jobs were done to satisfaction, then and only then could I pursue an education.
I did not object to assisting with the care and operation of the house. What angered me most was that my siblings were exempted from any and all responsibility, including cleaning up after themselves.
A major part of the problem was that my parents were ultra-conservative and narrow in focus. To them, the duty of an older daughter was to manage the house and to marry young. By young, I mean by the age of fourteen. I didn’t even date at that age, let alone have a serious boyfriend, and I hated housework, so I was a failure in their eyes.
It should be a surprise that I was so affected by what was said for the pulpit, for Sunday worship was not something that my parents faithfully practiced. They went to church when they felt like it, when the weather was good, when there were no sporting events on television. And when they did go to church, it was not at the nearest church, but rather one which held the shortest service.
When I left for college in the summer of 1969, I decided to act boldly: I would not go to church at all. My resolve faded as soon as the first Sunday arrived. Not wanting to anger God, fearful of blackening my soul any further, I found the Newman center on campus. The atmosphere was one of welcome. The music filled me with joy, literally erasing all my negative thoughts and feelings in one fell swoop.
As time passed, my attitude toward the church changed. I believed the good news that I heard over and over during those joy-filled services. I understood that God had not judged me and found me wonting. Instead, I now knew, He was a loving God who cried when one of His souls lost the way. He offered peace and salvation to all who believed. He gave solace, when needed, in times of stress and anxiety. He loved us, no matter what we might have done.
Several months into that first school year, the Neuman Club organized a retreat up in the nearby mountains. I had never done anything this before, but it sounded exactly what I needed.
The camp was somewhere east of Los Angeles, a rustic setting nestled in a forest. From the time we arrived at the camp, I felt at peace. All of us hurried inside, anxious to claim a bunk in one of the dorm rooms. There was no pushing, no domineering, no one person making others feel worthless.
Having never been camping, I was unprepared for the chilly nights and the crisp morning air. My clothing was not substantial enough to keep me warm, especially when it snowed in the night, leaving about six inches on the forest floor. Nevertheless, thanks to the generosity of those who shared warm mittens and thick sweaters, I stayed warm.
Throughout that weekend, my heart sang. It was as if a giant anvil had been removed. Like a newly feathered chick, I flopped my wings, and took off. Faith came at me from every direction. From the treetops came God’s blessed light. From the ferns sprang His offerings of love. From my fellow participants came God’s unconditional love. From our times of prayer and reflection, came discovery of my love for the God who loved me back.
I smiled until my face literally hurt. I laughed at the crazy antics of my roommates, and joined in the singing in front of the fireplace at night. During prayer times, tears poured down my face, yet I did not have the words to explain why. It was as if someone had reached inside, pulled out all the pain, and filled me with a wholesome goodness.
I do believe that God touched me that weekend. Not with His hands, for I did not feel the slightest brush against my body. What I did experience was the enveloping of His arms, holding me and making me feel safe. He gave the gift of feeling both loved and lovable. He made me feel important, and inspired me to continue to follow His way.
When the weekend drew to a close, it was with deep regret that I packed my things. I hoped to hold on to all that I had experienced.
I would love to report that my life was permanently changed, but it was not. When at home, I continued to feel inadequate. Not one day passed without hearing what a huge disappointment I was. There was nothing that I did that ever pleased my parents, and not once did they give me a single word of encouragement.
When I graduated from college, I moved back to the still stifling environment of my parents’ home. Pulled down by the never-ending criticism of my unmarried state, my unemployment, and by the wasted years at college, I quickly fell into a state of despondency. The local Mass situation had not changed, even if the pastors had. One pastor continued to preach the same old fire and brimstone message about the blackening of our souls. In another, the Mass was so short you could be in and out in less than forty minutes.
It was not until my husband and I moved into the parish that he had known as a teenager, that the glow returned. I rediscovered the God who loved me, who sheltered me from the storms of life, and who walked with me every step of every day.
It was, and continues to be, a community of caring individuals who come together to worship and to pray for each other in times of need. While priests have come and gone, the overall feeling has not. We are the parish, the ones who define the atmosphere that envelopes all who step through the doors.
I know that there is a loving God who helps us walk through life’s challenges. He has blessed my life in ways that I am still discovering.
That is the story of my faith.
Some scars are invisible but powerful nonetheless. Because they can’t be seen, no sympathy is offered, no concerning questions asked.
But what happens when you are told that your scars will be easily seen? Do you have the procedure or not?
That’s the choice I faced when I investigated cosmetic surgery after losing eighty pounds.
The scars on my arms would run down the backside. They might fade with time or they might remain as deep red lines. I didn’t care. I hated the flaps of saggy skin that smacked the water when I swam, so loudly that I could hear the whump, whump as the bags smacked the surface, despite wearing earplugs and a cap.
I believed that if I could hear it that clearly, then so could everyone else.
I hated the way my arms looked in short sleeves: huge bags of quivering flesh. I was embarrassed, humiliated and my self-esteem suffered.
The surgery would remove the bags. I chose self-esteem over scarring.
After recovering from that operation I investigated additional cosmetic surgery to remove the roll of skin that had pooled around my waist. Even though it was always hidden under my clothes, unless I wore an overly baggy top, the bulge was visible.
Once again the surgeon said there would be scarring, most likely a deep red line that encircled my waist. My response? I told her that the only one who would see it was my husband. The benefit of the operation would be clearly visible: no roll of excess skin.
Granted my scars are visible, but the surgery removed the psychological effects caused by extreme embarrassment, by my disgust of my body.
After recovery, every time I looked in the mirror, I was shocked. Who was this woman looking back at me? She had no flabby arms, no roll of skin.
My new identity was hard to embrace. Months went by and I still did not recognize myself, did not connect that reflection with who I was now.
Two years later I am still surprised. The scars are there, but they are badges of honor, not of shame.
I wasn’t permitted to have a voice, to express opinions until I went away to college. My father was a bully who saw nothing of value in me except for the possibility of marrying me off to someone with a bit of money. My mother rejected me because I had no interest in being her. My brother was often a friend and playmate, but he could also be cruel. My sister was much younger, and due to some health issues, the apple of my mother’s eye.
When I learned about middle-child-syndrome, at first I believed that I had fabricated the ways my family treated me. That I had exaggerated it all, that none of the punishments and constraints had ever happened.
There is a possibility that my memories are distorted, but not to that extrent. I know that I was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse. Those things happened.
Because of my low position in the family, I felt that I had no voice. That nothing I said or thought mattered. This was reinforced by laughter, taunts and even commands to keep my mouth shut.
And it wasn’t just at home that I felt powerless. My teachers seldom called on me and so when they did, my mouth seized up and no words came out. My classmates laughed each time and my teachers would give me a look of derision. I learned to sit low in my desk and to keep my thoughts to myself.
It wasn’t until a kind high school math teacher saw something in me that no one else ever had that I began to speak. Anytime someone was needed to solve a challenging problem, I was the one he chose. At first he let me work in quite, but after a while, he insisted that I explain the steps.
It was hard, but I spoke.
Because of his support, eventually I began using my voice in my Spanish class. I tried answering questions in my English class when called on, but somehow I never got it right.
There was an incident in Spanish 4. My teacher criticized my ac cent. I responded in a stream of fluent Spanish that got me kicked out of class for a week. After that he called on me with great regularity. By speaking up I had earned his respect.
When I went off to college I was beginning to develop a voice. I could speak up in some classes, but not all. I managed to major In Russian without demonstrating a mastery of the language. I loved to show off in math, but then the department chair told me I was wasting my time majoring in math. He left me both speechless and distraught.
After college I got a job as a customer service rep for a major furniture store. Day after day I had to answer the phone and be polite as irate customers yelled at me. I had a script to follow. Without those written words, I would have been mute.
My next job was with the federal government. I had to go out in the field and knock on doors, demanding back taxes. I was terrified the entire time I held that job. I found excuses to hang out in the office, but I couldn’t do that every day. As time passed, as I gained experience talking to total strangers, my confidence grew.
It was still challenging, but I did what I had to do.
I had dreamed of being a teacher since I was quite small. When I had my first child I had no idea of what to do with him. Our city’s recreation department had an inexpensive parent-child education class that gave me ideas of activities. As a participant, I also had to teach the little kids at least once a week. I enjoyed it! Sitting on the floor with adoring eyes gave me the power to speak, to sing, to dance, to laugh.
From there I earned my elementary teaching credential. When I stood in front of my third-grade class for the first time, I felt at home. I loved being the one helping them learn. I felt a deep responsibility to take them further than the curriculum asked and that meant helping them to find their voices.
Helping them helped me as well. We grew together.
I discovered that I knew things that many of my peers did not. I led workshops and spoke up at trainings. My principal considered me a mentor and I took that role seriously.
Being a mentor at work gave me the strength to take active roles in my church, in my kids’ activities and even to initiate a summer educational program. With each success, my voice grew louder and stronger.
I’d like to report that my voice is freely used, that I have no problems speaking up, but that would be a lie. When in a crowd, I tend to sit back and listen. When with strangers I revert to my childhood silent self. But when I am with friends, I look for opportunities to add something to the conversation.
While my voice is not loud, it does appear in comfortable situations. I am still reserved, but I am no longer afraid of sharing opinions and thoughts. I love hearing what others have to say, but I also want them to know what I have to say.
I found my voice. And I love that.
Heat Wave Woes
When the temperature rises, when the sun beats down on city streets, people get grouchy. Children whine. Parents yell. Teachers lose patience. Workers stuck in sweltering shops make mistakes. Car drivers honk horns as they swerve in and out of traffic lanes.
The longer it stays hot, the worse things get. Frustrations normally held in check surface. Old hatreds blossom. Minor complaints become major sources of ire.
Environmental problems make matters worse. Fires erupt that, if the wind is blowing, sweep across the landscape, burning houses, schools and businesses. People die, not just because of wildfires, but also because of heat exhaustion.
Crops can’t grow or are burned so badly that the fruit is destroyed. The aquifer, which supplies water to roots, dries up. Plants die. Yards turn brown.
When the lows and highs intersect, tornadoes are born. The high number of fans running taxes the electrical grid. Rolling power cutoffs cause food to spoil. Machines that keep people alive falter.
So many things happen that make life miserable that it’s sometimes hard to find a single positive about rising temperatures.
Ask a kid, however, and you might learn a thing or two.
Sometimes fire hydrants are opened and kids run gleefully through the spray. Backyard swimming pools are blown up. Perhaps it’s only enough water to sit in, but the magic works anyway.
Footballs are put away: baseballs come out. Outings to the beach or lake or river are planned. School is over for nearly three months. Television becomes a major source of entertainment. Kid-friendly movies proliferate.
Cold drinks and frozen treats lift spirits. Water guns and filled balloons cause much running around and shrieking.
Kids get to stay out well past dark. If they live where there are lightning bugs, they might catch one so as to hold the tiny on and off of light in their hands.
Badminton and croquet sets come out. Volleyball, too.
There seems to be so much more to do when it is warm than in the frost of winter.
Just like any season, summer has its plusses and minuses. How you think about it makes the difference.
You can bemoan the heat or step outside and watch the kids zip around, smiles on their faces.
The heat can make us miserable, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just one more thing that nature gives us to deal with as best we can.
When we got married, my cooking repertoire consisted of things from boxes, cans or the freezer. I could fry an egg, but not make a hard-boiled one with any consistency. My grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t too bad as long as I stayed focused and kept it from burning.
My specialty was a fried bologna sandwich. I used only one slice of the lunchmeat, which was cooked in a hot skillet. It had to be turned frequently to keep it from burning. While it was getting hot, in a separate skillet I fried an egg. If I was diligent, the yolk would preferably be a bit soft.
When done, I’d layer the bologna, the egg and a slice of American cheese on two slices of cheap white bread. I loved it.
I knew that my new husband wouldn’t want to come home from work to fried bologna, so when I found an offer for a free cookbook on a soup can label, I sent away for it before our wedding date.
Every recipe looked easy. All relied on some flavor of soup. I had tried a few before our wedding, with mixed results. The meatloaf was excellent but most of the vegetable dishes came out overdone and soggy.
I wanted to impress my husband with a hot meal. After turning page after page in the cookbook, I decided to make a stuffed zucchini casserole. I liked zucchini, ground beef and whatever flavor of soup required.
I followed the recipe exactly. It looked pretty good arranged in the baking dish.
Feeling fairly pleased with myself, when I got home from work the next night, I heated the oven while I changed clothes. When it was ready, I removed the dish from the refrigerator and slid it into the oven. Closed the door. Heard a loud cracking sound.
Imagine my dismay when I saw the damage. The dish had separated into two pieces, evenly divided down the middle. Shards were imbedded into the squash. It was ruined.
I broke into tears. My hopes of presenting my husband with an original homecooked meal were as shattered as the dish.
Not knowing what I could prepare, I searched the cabinets and the freezer. I was still looking when he came home.
Being the good person that he was and still is, when he saw what had happened, he gave me the biggest hug, then proceeded to cook dinner.
I never attempted the stuffed squash again even though my husband had explained what I had done wrong. You see, the dish was not meant to go from refrigerator to oven. A more expensive version would have been capable of handling temperature changes. This was a cheap one. I hadn’t known the difference.
It wasn’t the last cooking disaster, but it had a long-lasting impact.