Just Me

If I could choose to be

anything in the world,

I’d prefer to stay me,

an ordinary girl.

 

Nothing too special,

simply plain ol’ me;

terribly typical

without mystery.

 

Lacking true beauty

from the outside,

I’ve talents aplenty

on the inside.

 

Reader, writer, singer,

puzzle-solver, too;

teacher, sister, mother,

friend to folks like you.

 

I’ve never had a dream

of golden luxuries.

I’m happy as I seem

floating on a breeze.

 

I yearn for happy days

filled with simple joys,

living, loving, always

playing with my toys.

 

Call me tteach Terry,

call me your best friend,

call me mistress merry,

forever without end.

 

It’s all Relative

Winter’s cold seeps into my bones,

leaving me chilled and shivering.

While in my neighbor’s cozy homes

a fire keeps teeth from chattering.

 

I layer my clothes from inside out

in hopes of staying toasty warm,

but find I have to scamper about

always rapped in a blanket worn.

 

Snow never falls here where I live,

so some will find me most silly,

and many will not to me give

sympathy, a silly nilly.

 

I yearn for spring’s fresh welcoming

when early buds spring forth anew,

when sunshine’s rays come announcing

skies radiantly clear and deep blue.

 

Laugh, if you must, at my cold feet

and shriek when I ever complain.

Remember this, in summer’s heat

I’m cool in ‘Frisco’s foggy rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring woes

Rain drops pound on the streets

below ny hotel room, reminding

me of how lucky I am to be dry.

Winds buffet the windows:

throwing bits of dirt against the screens.

Gusts exceeding fifty miles an hour

blow vehicles into neighboring lanes.

I sit here thinking of home.

My heart reaches out to my cat,

Home alone in possibly a similar storm.

Does he cry for me as I do for him?

I want to go home.

As I stare out my windows I think

Of how far away I am.

I am sad inside yet enjoying

Being inside and warm.

The Visitor

As Stan approached the gravel drive to his Grandpa’s ranch, he noticed an unfamiliar man dressed almost entirely in black standing near the mailbox. Stan stopped, opened his window and asked, “Can I help you?”

The man touched his left hand to the brim of his Stetson hat, saluted, then turned and walked down the road toward town. His knee-length leather coat seemed overdressed for spring, but especially so for a person traveling on foot.

As soon as the man rounded the turn, Stan got out and retrieved the mail. Back in his cab he sorted through the pile, noted nothing amiss, then put the truck in gear and drove home.

As he passed the first paddock, a trio of chestnut colored horses followed him, heads up and tails streaming behind. Stan chuckled. These were rescues, the newest horses on the ranch. Grandpa had bought them at an auction, seeing in them potential to train into trail horses that could be resold to a friend of his.

Initially they were skittish, skinny things. Both Stan and his grandpa spent hours with them every day, approaching with treats, brushing out the mats in their manes, digging clumps of dirt from their hooves. No names yet. Those would come as personalities were revealed.

Stan placed the mail on the table just inside the door, then poured himself a glass of milk. He ate two chocolate chip cookies and then dug three cubes of sugar from a bowl sitting on the counter.

Back outside Stan whistled for the horses, then smiled as almost in unison they nickered. They knew what was coming. But before Stan could offer the first treat, the horses ran to the opposite corner of the paddock, standing with heads held high and backs to the fence.

Looking for what panicked them, Stan saw the man dressed in black on their property, leaning against a fence post. His presence made Stan uncomfortable. Nervous. So nervous that Stan backed toward the house, thinking about unlocking a gun from the cabinet in case it was needed. He hoped that the man didn’t know that Stan an expert marksman.

When Stan stepped out on the porch, the gun held against his chest, the man touched his hat, like before, then disappeared down the drive.

Stan would have liked to lock himself inside, but because this was a working ranch, there were chores to be done. He lead the new horses into the barn, put them in the largest stall, fed them and gave them clean water. After patting each one on the rump, Stan headed out to call in the rest of the herd.

Within seconds of his whistle, there was a thundering of hooves and then amid a cloud of dust the other horses arrived. His grandpa’s favorite stallion, Joe, lead the way with flaring nostrils. Betty, his mare came next, followed by three more mares and a two-year-old colt. They were a handsome mix of horseflesh, each unique in terms of breed, markings and personality.

After stabling and taking care of them, Stan drug four bales of hay down from the loft and oiled the harnesses his grandpa had left out for him.

After all that it was time to concentrate on his schoolwork. This being his senior year, Stan wanted to get perfect grades in order to up his chances for a scholarship. Grandpa Ellis had said not to worry about money, but Stan knew enough about their finances that he felt a need to do all he could to pay his way.

In between assignments he worked on dinner. Tonight would be pulled pork sandwiches. Before going to school Stan had put the meat in a crock pot. It was now so tender that it shredded with the slightest touch.

Expecting Grandpa soon, Stan got a soda and went out to sit on the porch. The man was back, this time much closer to the house. “What do you want?” Stan shouted.

The man pushed back the brim of his hat, revealing a huge scar that ran from ear to chin. It was an ugly red worm, a straight line most likely made by a knife.

“This is private property,” Stan said as he stood. Stan was almost six feet tall, his height often intimidating to those bullies who were smaller. From his best estimate, Stan saw that this man was taller and buffer. Stan’s height would not be a factor in scaring the guy away. Hoping words would work, Stan said, “Leave now or I’ll call the sheriff.”

The man smirked and then silently left. Seconds later Grandpa arrived in a swirl of dust.

“Did you see a strange man?” Stan asked as Grandpa climbed the three steps to the deck.

“Yeah. He seemed a bit familiar, but right now I can’t place him. What’s for dinner? I’m starved.”

As they ate they talked about the training of the new horses. Stan mentioned how easy it was to get them in the stall, especially compared to how it was when they first arrived. And how peculiarly they acted when the man was on the property.

Grandpa said he’d met with Richard, the owner of the nearby dude ranch, and that he was looking for good horses. And if they were trained by Stan, he’d buy them without checking them out personally.

After dinner both men sat out on the deck. It was now dusk. The sounds of crickets filled the air, until there was a hiss, which silenced even the leaves of the surrounding tress.

Grandpa Ellis stood, his hands planted firmly on his hips. “Is that you, Musial? What do you want?”

The man stepped into the glow of the lights emanating from inside the house. “Yeah, it’s me. Why don’t you invite me in for a cup of joe?” He blew out a cloud of smoke, filling the air with the stench of a strong-tarred cigarette.

“Naw, not goin’to happen,” Grandpa said as he nodded Stan toward the door. “We got no business Musial.”

Musial took three quick steps, placing him at the base of the stairs. “Yeah, we do. Them three horses are mine. They was stolen from me, right off my land. I want ‘em back.”

“They was abused. Ribs stickin’ out. Hooves a mile long. Filthy. Standin’ almost knee deep in mud. Plus they was scared.” Grandpa sat back in his rocking chair, crossed his right leg over his left and leaned back, looking as casual as if he was at a Sunday picnic.

Stan watched from the safety of the house, but only after calling 911 and reporting the confrontation to the sheriff.

Musial leaned against the porch railing, staring intently at Grandpa. “I just rescued them myself. Hadn’t had time to fatten ‘em up. Paid good money for ‘em. Want ‘em back.”

Grandpa pulled his pipe out of the pouch he kept on a shelf to the right of his chair, filled it with tobacco and lit it. He blew out a cloud of aromatic smoke. He said nothing. Didn’t look at Musial. Just drew in another lungful of smoke, this time exhaling a perfect ring.

“Are you goin’ to give ‘em to me or not?”

In the distance a siren could be heard, coming closer by the second. Musial cocked his head to one side, then as he turned around, said, “This isn’t over, Ellis. I’ll be back.”

He disappeared into the darkness as silently as he had come, gone well before the sheriff’s car screeched to a halt next to Stan’s truck.

Stan went inside to read while the men talked. A few minutes later, Grandpa came in and fixed himself a cup of coffee. “I ain’t goin’ to tell you what that’s about,” he said. “Just that Musial is not a nice man. He’s a known thief and liar. As far as we know, he’s not dangerous, so you’ve got nothin’ to worry about.”

When Stan left for school the next morning, the man, still dressed in black, waved to him as he pulled out onto the road. As soon as Stan could pull over safely, he called his grandpa and warned him that Musial was back. Stan told his grandfather that he worried that Musial might steal the horses, but Granpa said not to worry, that he’d already moved them into the back pasture where he’d be working all day and that he had his shotgun with him.

During lunch Stan ate out on the front lawn with his friends. Just as he started telling them about the man, he was there, across the street. Standing with arms crossed on his chest. He nodded at Stan, then touched his brim, and walked away. Goosebumps broke out on Stan’s arms and he shivered.

Stan was so uncomfortable the rest of the day that he had a hard time concentrating on his classes. When the final bell rang, Stan hurried to his truck. The man was leaning against the door.

“Hey, Big Man,” he said. “Tell your Grandpa I won’t give up ‘til I get those horses back,” and then he walked away.

Stan got in his truck, locked the door and sat for a bit, trying to calm his nerves. Once he felt settled, he drove home. He found his grandfather in the kitchen working on dinner.

“This has to stop,” Stan said. “That man freaks me out. Can’t the sheriff make him stay away?”

“I spoke to the sheriff a little bit ago,” he said after swallowing a bite of spaghetti. “So far Musial hasn’t broken any laws. He can warn him, but he can’t threaten him. Sheriff Jim promised, however, that he’d look into Musial’s claim that he had just rescued the horses.”

After dinner Stan did his chores, working with the new horses individually, keeping watch in case Musial showed up. His nervousness affected the horses who were a bit jittery. Even so, all behaved on the long rope, doing whatever Stan asked of them. It helped that he rewarded them with sugar cubes.

After putting all the horses away for the night and closing the barn door, Stan saw the man again. This time he was sitting on the porch in Grandpa’s chair, smoking his grandpa’s pipe. Stan called Grandpa first, then the sheriff and finally locked himself in the barn.

Evening fell while he was there. He sat with Betty, repeatedly stroking her muzzle, more to keep himself calm than to comfort her, but she leaned into his hand, begging for more as if she hadn’t been stroked for years.

His phone rang. Grandpa said all was safe and to come inside. Stan patted Betty one last time, then joined his grandpa in the front room. “What happened?”

“Sheriff Jim arrested Musial for trespassing,” he said as he blew out a stream of smoke.

“Had the sheriff researched Musial’s claims?”

“Yeah. A bit. He verified that Musial was not the original owner, but he couldn’t find evidence of when the transfer took place. The issue of condition, however, has not changed. The horses were knee-deep in mud, there was no clean water and no food at the time they were rescued. So, even if Musial got them half-starved, he wasn’t providing proper care for them.”

The men sat in the dark for a bit, digesting the words. Grandpa rocked as he smoked while Stan stared into the darkness as if looking for boogeymen.

“Do you think he’ll come back?” Stan asked.

“Probably not. The sheriff took him in. It turns out there was an outstanding arrest warrant for him. Domestic abuse. And another for a DUI. Could be why he was always on foot. Lost his license.”

Stan sighed. “Sounds good. It freaked me out. I’ve never liked stories where someone gets stalked. They make me as nervous as the person being stalked feels. Now I know what it’s like and I never want to go through that again.”

Grandpa Ellis patted his grandson’s arm. “It’s finished. Musial will never come back. Now, it’s time for bed.”

The men stood in unision, looked out into the darkness, sighed, then went inside, Grandpa locking the door behind them, something which he’d never done before.

 

 

The task

It was supposed to be easy.  All Stan had to do was clean out the loft in the barn.  As a young teen, he frequently got assigned the “dirty” work.  Most of the time he didn’t mind, even when it meant mucking out the horses’ stalls.

So, here it was, a steaming day in July, and Stan was  going through the junk in the loft, organizing it, and getting rid of anything that was too broken to fix.

He knew what was up there for he was the one who dragged designated detritus up the steps to be stored.  Over the years, Stan had brought up a rocking chair with a cracked runner, an ancient bed frame that lacked one wheel, and at least five boxes of mismatched glassware.

How did his grandfather define too broken to fix?  He truly didn’t know, and rather than risk making a mistake, he decided to simply go for organization.

It was supposed to be easy.  That’s what Grandpa said, but he was wrong.  This place is a mess.  Where should I begin?  Stan picked a pile of junk just inside the door as a starting place.

There was a cardboard box filled with plastic hangers that no one had used since his grandmother died.  That can go.  Stan carried the box down the stairs and put it in an empty stall.  Back up the stairs again.

Next he tackled an old brown trunk whose hinges were made of leather, and the lock was so badly rusted that it would never latch again.  He lifted the lid, and found a pile of dresses.  Now what do I do with these?  Grandpa must want them, or he wouldn’t have stored them all these years.  Does he ever look at them and think of Grandma? Maybe I should leave them alone.   He gently closed the lid, lining it up as carefully as he could.

In the corner he found several broken tools.  The handsaw was badly rusted and the handle cracked.  The other tools were in equally bad shape, so Stan carried them down.

As the sun rose, the temperature in the loft soared.  It had no windows that opened, and the swamp cooler broke last summer.  Sweat poured down his face, back, and legs.

Stan moved on to Grandpa’s old chest of drawers, covered in dust.  It needed to go, as the back leg could not be repaired, but it was too heavy for Stan to move alone.  I’ll go through the drawers and see what I can get rid of.

The top drawer was filled with county fair ribbons.  Most of them were for prized horses, some for the cows, and a few were for sheep.  They spanned the years from the early 1980s to 1995, when Grandpa quit showing.  That was the year that Nightingale had died.   Grandpa was so devastated, that he almost quit living.  He went days without eating, and refused to work the ranch at all.

I think these can go.  They’re pretty old now.  Stan found a paper bag stuffed behind the dresser, and put all the ribbons in it.

The second drawer had a bunch of colorful handkerchiefs and some rope ties.  Since his grandfather hadn’t worn any of them in years, Stan added them to the bag.

The bottom drawer held photo albums.  Stan gently lifted out the top one.  Its leather cover was faded and frail.  Stan sat on the floor, and put the book in his lap.  When he turned to the first page, he smiled.  There was his grandfather as a young man, standing proudly next to his wife.  Nightingale was dressed in her white leather wedding clothes.  Her hair was braided, and piled on top of her head.  On her feet were the beaded moccasins that her sister had made.

Grandpa wore leather leggings, a buckskin jacket, and rows of beads around his neck.

This is a keeper.  No way would Grandpa ever let this go.  Stan turned a few more pages, and saw photos of Nightingale’s father, who was a chief in the tribe.  Her mother, a shaman, in a different photo.  There were pictures of horses,and people on horses, and the building of the ranch house and barn.

Stan put the album back away.  He really wanted to look at the rest of the photos, but the heat was worse and he was feeling somewhat dizzy.

I’d better go get some water before I pass out.  Stan closed and locked the loft door, then went downstairs.  When he stepped from the darkened barn into the morning sun, the brightness blinded him for a few minutes.  It didn’t matter, as he could make this walk in his sleep.

Across the drive, up the five steps onto the porch, and then through the front door.  The swamp cooler was doing its job, for the house was comfortably cool.  Stan went into the kitchen and fixed himself a tall glass of ice water.  He carried it into the front room, and settled into “his” chair.

Even though he wanted to turn on the television, he didn’t.  Grandpa had rules about when it could be on, how long it could be on, and what type of programs could be watched.  Stan had learned quite young that the risk was not worth the limited enjoyment, so he left the set off.

He was reading a Louis L’Amour book called Bendigo Shafter.  It takes place in an area of Wyoming that Stan knew.  What he liked about L’Amour’s books was that he wrote about cowboys and ranchers.  Stan identified with the author, as he also wrote poetry and short stories.

Bendigo had just met the widow Ruth Macken who was both beautiful and crafty.  Wanting to know if the hero would put aside his dreams of finding gold to settle into married life, Stan found his place and began reading.

The afternoon sun came in through the front windows, falling across Stan’s chest and lap.  Soon he fell asleep.  In his dreams, he became the leading man.

Ruggedly handsome, he swaggered up to Ruth’s front porch.  She stood in the doorway, leaning suggestively against the frame. “Howdy, Miss.” Embarrassed by his dusty boots, he wiped the toes against the back of each leg.

“Come in and have some water.  Or would you prefer somethin’ a might stronger?”

Bendigo followed the beautiful woman inside the cabin.  Ruth’s furniture was more elegant than anything he had ever seen before.  Out here, living was rough and fancy goods were hard to come by.

He headed for a stuffed armchair near the fireplace.  It looked strong enough to hold his muscular body. 

“Don’t sit there,” she said.  “That was my husband’s favorite chair.  Come in the kitchen.” Bendigo did as told.  The kitchen was painted a bright yellow.  Sunlight filled the room, and the smell of flowers wrinkled his nose.

 

The table and chairs were store-bought, a might too fancy for Bendigo’s taste.

“Here’s some whiskey.  So what do you want?  Men never just drop in.”

“Well, I was hopin’ that you’d step out at the dance with me.  I don’t dance too good, but I have fun.  Are you gong’ with anyone yet?

“Why would I go with you?  You’re a runt, you don’t own a durn thing except for a beat-up horse and a patch of land with a might small cabin.”

Bendigo shrugged.  She was right about everything.  After downing his shot, he got up and headed for the door.

“I’ll go.”

“What?”

If you really want to take me dancin’, then I’ll go with you.”

Bendigo walked out the front door.  “Seven.  I’ll come by and escort you.”

Stan didn’t hear his grandfather’s old truck pull into the drive, or the angry voices just outside the front door.

Stan awoke, somewhat disoriented.

A shot rang out.  Stan, ran over to the rifle cabinet and pulled out his favorite gun, a Browning cynergy 28-gauge sporting rifle, with a walnut oil finish that he kept well polished.   He liked the feel of the gun, the way it nestled against his shoulder, and the lightning smooth pull of the trigger.  It made shooting easy and accurate.

After closing the cabinet, Stan hustled to the front door, afraid of what he might find.  His Grandpa was a bit of a character.  He frequently “riled” the neighbors, to use Grandpa’s term, by scheming against them in poker games, auctions, and even in drinking contests.

“Git off my land.” Grandpa stood with his hands planted firmly on his hips.

“How am I supposed to do that when you drove me here?”

Stand stepped outside, his rifle held against his chest.  “What’s going on?”

“This dang-gum liar says Rosie isn’t a Mustang.  He won’t pay more’an a hundert for her.”

Stan looked at the man, and recognized Mr. Werner, the principal of his school.  Decked out in jeans, cowboy shirt, and high-top boots.  Mr. Werner was a good guy.  He was fair and honest and liked kids.  Stan lowered his gun and quietly came down the steps.

“Put your gun down, Grandpa.”

“Nope.  Ain’t a gonna do it.  Not ‘til this here cheater is long gone.”

“I’ll take him home.”

“You don’t have a license, do you?”  Mr. Werner knew every student, so there was no use lying.

“No, sir.  I can drive on our land, though.  That’s legal.  I can take you just over the bridge and out to the highway.  From there you could walk home.  It’s only a couple of miles.”

Mr. Werner backed away from the cocked rifle.  Step by step, he slowly moved.  Stan pulled open the creaky door.  He kept an eye on his grandfather, whose arms now shook from the effort of holding the gun.  He still glowered, and Stan knew that look.  He had seen it many times when he had disappointed his only living relative.

 

Werner got inside the cab. Stan turned the ignition.  The truck, as always, didn’t catch the first time, or the second.  Thanks goodness it kicked in on the third try, as his grandfather had stalked up even with the truck and was pointing his gun right at Werner’s sweat-streaked face.

“Don’t you never come back unless you offer a fair price.  You ain’t no charity case.  You make more at that school than I do in a good year.  You got no business cheatin’ ranchers that way.  It’s disrespectful, that’s what.”

Werner sat still, staring straight ahead.  His face had a peculiar green tinge around the lips and eyes.  Stan thought the man was going to puke, right there in the cab.

After putting the truck in gear, he turned left and headed toward the bridge.  Just as they pulled into the shelter of the surrounding quaking aspens, a shot rang out.

“He’s old and cranky,” Stan said.  “He hasn’t been feeling too good lately.”

“Humph.”

“He’ll get over it, Mr. Werner.  He works hard on the ranch.  Lots of folks laugh at him, as he never finished school.  He reads some, and is pretty good at math, but he has a hard time writing.  It embarrasses him, ‘cause he feels stupid compared to the college-educated ranchers moving in.   Grandpa’s a proud man, and he does get upset when he thinks someone is cheating him.”

After crossing the bridge, Stan turned off the engine.  “This is as far as I can take you.  There’s a bottle of water in the glove compartment.  It isn’t cold, but it’s wet enough to get you home.”

“Thanks.”  Mr. Werner’s hands trembled so badly that he couldn’t open the bottle.

 

“Let me do that,” Stan said as he reached over and twisted it open.  “I’ll see you Monday.  If you want, you can call me and let me know that you got home safely.  Grandpa never answers the phone.  He says he’s too old for gadgets, yet he owns a pretty good tractor that he maintains himself.  He’s good with his hands.  Did you know that he built the house by himself?  For my grandmother.  It was his wedding gift.  She was the prettiest woman he’d ever seen.”

When Mr. Werner got out, he looked at Stan, as if for the first time.  “Thanks.  I appreciate your help.  That old man had me pretty scared.”

“Next time you want to buy something from him, don’t haggle over the price.  Folks think it’s easy to cheat him, but they’re wrong.  He’s a smart man.  Smarter than most.”

Werner nodded, and then shut the door, the rusty squeak filling the blue skies.  “I’d still like to buy that filly.  Think he’d sell her to me?”

“Give him a few days to calm down.”

Werner patted the truck door, and then stepped away.  Stan watched him amble onto the paved highway and head south, toward town.  As the man’s figure got smaller and smaller, he thought of Bendigo Shafter.  Bendigo might not win the heart of Ruth Macken, but there were lots of other women out there and lots of other battles to fight.  Like Bendigo, Grandpa Ellis was a handsome, proud man, who would pull a gun rather than be thought back down on a fight.

Stan smiled when the engine kicked in on the first try.  He smoothly turned around and headed across the bridge.  Grandpa was standing in front of the barn, with a scowl on his face.

 

“You were supposed to clean out that loft,” he said as soon as the motor died.  “It was an easy job, and you didn’t follow through.”

“It wasn’t easy at all.  You got all kinds of memories stored up there.  I was afraid to throw much of anything out.  Maybe you could help me a bit?”

“Let’s tend the horses first.  Then we’ll go take a look.”

Stan followed his grandfather into the barn.  The horses whinnied at the promise of fresh hay and oats, and maybe an apple or two.  Like Bendigo, Grandpa knew good horseflesh, and only bought and bred the best.  That part was easy for him.

 

Being Me

For the longest time, I really didn’t like myself. I knew, intrinsically, that somehow I was not the child that my parents wanted. That’s a hard cross to bear.

I was not pretty. I was not talented in any way. I took a long time to learn things. My memory was not the best, so I repeated the same mistakes over and over.

I was not girly. I wore dresses only because that’s what my mother gave me to wear. I wanted to wear pants and shorts and t-shirts because that’s what my brother wore.

I hated long hair. It took too much time to brush it, and then what I got older, it was difficult to style it because I had no skill in that area. I wanted short hair cut in a “boy” style. When I finally did get it sheared off at shoulder length, it angered my father so much that he called me foul names.

In terms of academics I was not my brilliant brother. He excelled in science. I excelled in nothing. No, there was one thing that I could do better than him! I could write beautiful cursive.

I was so slow to learn that I spent most lunches in a tutoring room, supervised by a strict nun who offered no support. I hated the room in the summer as it was sweltering. In the winter, however, it was shelter from the cold.

In high school I discovered that I was good at math and languages. I was still awkward. I was still not pretty. I was still not girly. I was now able to wear shorts and jeans at home, but had to wear dresses to school and church. I felt fat and dumpy. When I sat, the width of a single one of my thighs matched the width of both of anyone else’s combined.

I discovered that I had a talent for bowling and badminton, so played on my high school teams. I was not the best, but I held my own. This gave me something to crow about. I held my head higher and walked prouder.

When a young man asked me out, I felt desired. Not at first, but as he continued to date me, I accepted his amorous fumblings with positive regard. Because of him I began to understand that beauty is not defined by what you see on television or in magazines, but what others see when you walk by.

Once I was in college I realized that my skills in math and languages were appreciated by my professors. My heart swelled with pride.

When contacts came on the market, I entered a trial program on my campus to wear them. Without my glasses I didn’t feel as old-fashioned or as clumsy. I dated several men at the same time! Wow! Imagine how it felt to be popular for the first time!

I smiled when I walked about campus. I greeted casual acquaintances and sat with people I barely knew. I worked in the bookstore and found myself a valued employee. I was a good roommate and a good friend.

As my circle of friends grew, so did my self-esteem. By the time I graduated, I must have had at least fifteen friends! A record number for me.

After college I had no choice but to return home, back to the environment in which I was less-than my siblings. I was subjected to cooking lessons which I never mastered. I was forced to clean house every day, including my sibling’s rooms which I felt was grossly unfair. I was little more than a servant.

To make matters worse, I could not find employment. I applied wherever I could. I was rejected over and over because potential employers didn’t like that I was a college graduate with no office skills. I wasn’t even hired to distribute cards from store to store! What skills would that require?

The longer unemployment went on, the lower my self-esteem plummeted. At home I was that unhappy, unfeminine little girl. I was worthless because I lacked domestic skills and had no desire to learn. My activities were monitored, so I was not allowed to be social. I could only go out when my activities were chaperoned by an adult.

I was an adult! I was twenty-one. I could drive and vote and drink legally.

When I finally got hired at a now defunct furniture store, I was out of the house forty hours a week. I bought a car. I rented a studio apartment. I was free! And once again I began to like myself.

From there I slowly became who I am today. It was not an easy road. I spent hours alone, but I also went skiing, saw movies, ate out with colleagues. I saw Joan Baez in concert. I went camping in the Santa Cruz mountains. I took a class in hiking and went with the group. It was tough! My backpack was canvas on a metal frame. By the time it was packed and on my shoulders, I feel over backwards! But I went.

The rest of my story, my story of learning to like myself, was like climbing a ladder. Each rung up taught me that I could do things, that I could succeed, that I had value.

When I look back and I realize how long I struggled to overcome those early restrictive years, it’s amazing that I emerged as me. I wish I could spare all girls the struggle. What I can offer is my life as example.

No matter where you are in life, never give up on yourself. Fight against whatever forces hold you back. Find something that you do well. Anything. It doesn’t have to be academics. It doesn’t have to lead to career, but it could.

Believe in yourself. No matter how others treat you, no matter those who try to hold you back, know that in you, there is value. You have much to offer the world.

Like yourself. Be you.