Misconceptions

I believed in Santa Claus. I loved Santa so much that every time I saw one, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wrote him letters as soon as I was capable. I dreamt of him, constructed rituals around his visit and was mesmerized by anything related to him.

I maintained my belief into fourth grade when my brother told me that Santa did not exist. I fought him, argued with him, cried tears in frustration over him. I did not suspend my belief in Santa immediately. However, that was my last Christmas filled with wonder.

Misconception destroyed.

From the time I was a little girl my mother told stories about being Native American. She claimed that her high cheekbones, hair that did not gray and her skin that tanned so easily were all because of being “Indian”. So was her love of bread, gravy and corn.

I fell in love with her story and wanted to learn more about my heritage so I began reading every book in the library that had anything to do with Native Americans, both fiction and nonfiction.

I drew maps. I recorded characteristics and beliefs. I drew pictures of their artifacts. I immersed myself so completely into this study that I truly believed I was Shawnee.

When a powwow was being held near my home, I went. The pounding of the drums resonated in me. I wanted to join in the dance even though I didn’t know the steps. I bought fry bread and loved every bite. I also bought a CD of chanting which I played over and over.

I went to two more powwows, loving the romance of the regalia, the procession, the community. I felt one with the people. I belonged. I had history.

And then my daughter had me take one of those DNA tests as she had been unable to unearth any Native Americans in our history. Guess what? I have zero percent Native American blood.

Misconception.

From the time I understood physical beauty and attractiveness I was told that I was unlovable. I was told repeatedly that I was so fat that no one would ever love me. That I was plain. Ugly. Undesirable. I believed it. When one hears such things for all of their life it becomes part of your identity. Your belief system.

When I went away to college I was asked out by numerous young men. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to date me, for I was a nobody. Worthless. I thought maybe they had spurious interests, that there was only one thing they wanted and I wasn’t about to give them that. But I dated. Quite a bit.

Misconception? At that point I still believed all that my family had told me about myself, so I wasn’t ready to let go yet.

In fact, truth be told, I have never fully dispersed with that belief even though I have a husband who loves me dearly and thinks I am beautiful as I am.

Where I grew up in Ohio there were few people of color. When I was about eight my mom took me to a nearby park that had a shallow pool. I was happily playing in it, enjoying the cool water in the hot sun, when other kids arrived. They were beautiful Dark skin, dark eyes, but their palms and the soles of their feet were much lighter. I was intrigued. The little girls had tons of braids and clips. I wanted my hair done like that.

My mother pulled me out of the pool, saying something like those people had ruined out day. I had no idea what she was talking about, but as I grew older, more and more such incidents occurred.

I finally figured out that my parents were prejudiced against anyone that didn’t look like them. It made no sense to me. I didn’t look at the color of a person’s skin but the color of their heart. If they were warm inside, then I loved them back. If they were cold, then I stayed away.

It wasn’t until my teen years that I learned the meaning of prejudice and how it “colored” a person’s view of others. I understood as I was living with people who personified the definition. For this first time I faltered in my belief in who I was.

Misconception.

I could chronicle more incidents in which my belief systems were challenged, but it isn’t necessary. What is important is that throughout life our perceptions are challenged, over and over, forcing us to rethink who we are and what we believe.

Misconceptions are meant to falter, to disappear, to be clarified. It is part of being human. We can take our beliefs, be exposed to new ways of thinking, and reformulate our identity. This is how we grow. Our experiences allow us to alter established patterns, creating new. It is an important process.

That is not a misconception.

 

Counting Blessings

Every year at this time we stop to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives. I have been blessed in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all.

Every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed I am grateful to be alive. Not everyone is so lucky. Many senior citizens die in their sleep. Truthfully, that’s how I would like to pass: to go quietly without suffering. I am thrilled to be alive and thank the Lord for every day He gives me.

My husband is my biggest gift. He is my rock. He is always there to support me in whatever endeavor I take on. He has never held me back, even when it meant nights away at college while he stayed home with the kids. As we have aged together, our love and appreciation has solidified. We are stronger together than we could ever be apart.

I am blessed to have watched my three “kids” grow up to be amazing adults. They are unique in all ways. Each has chosen the path that makes them most comfortable, most happy. They fill me with pride whenever I talk with them or spend time with them or simply think of them. They each chose wonderful people to share their lives with. One a wonderful gift that is! Knowing that they have a special someone to fill their hours and days and weeks.

My faith is solid. It is a constant in my life. It gives me solace when I am weary or worried. I know that the Catholic Church has offered nothing but suffering to survivors, but I believe in the core values of my church. I believe that it will heal. For this I am grateful.

I am lucky to have friends. I don’t see them as often as I would like, but I know they are there. If I needed them, they would come, just as I would go to them. Not everyone is blessed to have good friends. It makes me sad to think of all those who are alone, day after day. I hope that as I age, I don’t become one of them, but one never knows what circumstances lead to loneliness.

I am lucky to have lived in our home for 43 years. I did not have the luxury of living in one place as I grew up. My parents moved quite a bit. Most of the time the moves brought us into bigger and better houses, but not always. We are blessed to live in a good neighborhood, which even though it is changing, is relatively free from crime. I feel safe here, and for that I am grateful.

I have been given a variety of skills that have fulfilled my life over the years. One constant is music. From an early age I was drawn to song. While I sang silently, inside I pictured myself with a microphone belting out the tunes of the day. Now I only sing at church, but it brings me great joy. I hope that I am not too off-tune and that I don’t seriously mess up the words. I am lucky to have my church choir.

Throughout the years I have exercised different skills. For example, as a preschool teacher I led students in song and dance and came up with art and intellectual activities to enrich their lives. Not everyone can do that. It was fun for a while, but as my own kids aged, I grew tired of snotty hands and soggy pants.

As an elementary school teacher I taught eight different subjects, some better than others. I am lousy at science, so I chose those lessons that I understood and “cheated” on those that I didn’t. I hope that my lack of knowledge of how electricity works never damaged a student!

In high school I became an “expert” in working with special needs students. As time passed, I realized that it was a gift I had been given. Every day I gave thanks for being able to help my students access curriculum that they could never have learned on their own.

I have been blessed to have worked with many kids and adults. Each of them gave me something in return. Each of them touched me in a unique way.

My blessings continue. Today I was able to swim, to drive, to walk, to eat, to socialize. To look out the window and see trees and hear birds and dogs barking. To see people talking and feel happy for them.

I hope that my life will continue to be full of things for which to be grateful. I hope that I never become complacent and assume that the blessings will fall my way. For all these things and countless more, I am grateful.

Fascination with Trees

I can’t recall a time when I was not drawn to trees. They amaze me. Day after day they change. Imagine something that grows taller and wider at such incrementally slow pace that it is invisible to the eye.

They also change with the seasons. Some burst into new life when the sun begins to shine in spring. Tiny green buds sprout forth, signaling the wonders that are to come. Those buds become leaves. All kinds of leaves, in all shapes and sizes and colors.

When I was young I collected leaves. I especially loved the ones that fell from maple trees. Such broad leaves! So green in spring and summer, but when fall arrives they morph into shades from red to orange to brown. I loved them all.

I miss maple trees. They grew in the woods behind our house in Ohio, but not here in California. They had the most amazing seed pods! They were shaped like wings and if you tossed them above your head they would twirl down to the ground. I did this over and over, season after season, never growing tired of the display even into my teen years.

Where we lived in Ohio all trees shed their leaves in the fall and remained bare throughout the cold winters. I understood the winter to be a time of rest, a time to store up energy to be ready to burst into action at the first sign of spring.

So it was for me. In the winter I huddled inside where it was warm, venturing outside only when bundled from head to toe. Even then some days my breath froze on my eyebrows and hair, my teeth chattered and I thought my fingers and toes would crack and fall off.

We moved to California after my ninth grade year. The seasons here are not as differentiated as in Ohio. What we call winter is nothing to people who live in the Midwest, North or East, for there it snows and temps can drop well below freezing. Here I think it’s cold if it is below sixty!

Because our seasons are not as sharply delineated, not all trees go through the autumnal changes. Looking out my window right now, I see some leaves in shades of red, but just as many that are still green. We still have flowers in bloom and low-growing bushes covered with leaves.

In time, all but the fir trees will lose their leaves and be bare. It is a good thing, as even our California trees need to rest, to be still in preparation for the wonderful gifts that are to come.

Trees that produce fruit amaze me. They are so generous, so thoughtful, even when their human caretakers are less then vigilant. Day after day apples and pears and oranges and other wonderful things ripen, all for us. Gifts for us!

Some fruits require a little work to get inside. Some don’t. I tend to love fruit that you can bite into and have your mouth filled with sweetness, the juice spilling out of your mouth and onto your chin. Every time I eat an apple I am thankful that I am blessed with having such a marvelous thing to eat.

When I go walking around my neighborhood and see fruit growing on trees, I want to reach up, pull off just one and take a bite. But I don’t. I don’t know how needy the owners are. Perhaps that apple is their only sustenance of the day. Perhaps the orange is their only access to vitamin C. I would not want to steal that reassure from them. So I walk on.

In our neighborhood there are not as many trees as when we first moved in. Some have died. Some have been taken down by their owners. Some removed by the city because their roots were intruding into the pipes. I miss all those trees, the once grand, sprawling trees that hung out over the road creating a marvelous canopy! So beautiful. Now gone.

We often get to drive through forest on our way north and east and south into the mountains. I love to look at the trees, how magically they grow out of rock and cling to the sides of mountain as if they were meant to be there. When the sun shines on them they are a wonderfully deep green.  They sing with life! And when you get up close enough you can take in their rich aroma, like sticking your head in a cedar chest from long ago.

When they are covered with snow it is a picture straight from Christmas cards. I imagine myself riding on a horse-drawn sleigh under their boughs and having dollops of snow fall on my head as I lean back laughing. I have never done this, but I can place myself in the scene.

When I was young I did not wear glasses. Trees were nothing to me then. They leaned over me, frightening me. I thought each and every one would fall on my head, killing me. In fourth grade my teachers demanded that I get glasses. I remember the bus ride home, looking out the window and seeing that the leaning trees no longer leaned! It was a miracle.

These are the reasons that I love trees. Not only do they defy the passing of time, but they stand tall as a reminder of all that they offer us. Beautiful colors and tasty food. I hope that I will never lose my ability to appreciate the wonderful gift that each tree is.

 

Dreams

I wish that I could say that my mother had loved me.  If she had, I’d tell you about the times she held me in her lap and hugged, so tight, all while crooning soothing words.  I would share the story about when she ran behind my two-wheel bike, holding on to the seat, while I peddled, trying to stay upright.  There’d be stories about long walks in the woods behind our house and working together in the garden.

In the winter, after a good snowstorm, she would have thrown snowballs, built an igloo, and gone sledding down Mrs. Brademeyer’s hill.  In the summer, she would have  taken the hose and squirted water all over me, until my hair drooped like seaweed.  And then she’d give me a towel and a root beer Popsicle.

Maybe when I brought home my report cards she’d checked them over carefully, and then congratulated me on good effort.  And when I was promoted to the next grade, she would have given me a little gift to show how proud she was.

Or there would have been fun-filled shopping trips in which we squeezed into the same dressing room and tried on clothes, laughing hysterically.  Afterwards we would go out to lunch at a restaurant and eat way too much food.  If there was time, we’d go to the movie theater, buy popcorn, and cry all through the love story happening on the screen.

When I played on my high school basketball team, my mother would have attended every game.  When I played well, she would have clapped, demurely, of course.  And when I didn’t get to play in a huge tournament, my mother would have walked right up to the coach and chewed her out.  I can picture her doing that.

She would have followed my bowling team when I played for the junior college, and gone to my badminton matches as well.  She would have carried my gym bag and handed me a towel when sweat dripped into my eyes.  I bet she watched with her fingers crossed, hoping for a strike whenever I released the ball sending it skidding down the alley.

And when I was severely trounced in my first college badminton tournament, my mother would have pulled a crumpled tissue out of her purse and then would have had the good grace to look away in my moment of humiliation.  When I was done feeling sorry for myself, my mother would have offered words of encouragement and then sent me back into the gym to face my next opponent.

Maybe I’d tell about her coming to my high school graduation, and how she got there early enough to sit right up front.  Close enough that I saw her smile with pride as I crossed the stage.  When the principal announced that I had won a state scholarship, she would have stood and applauded louder and longer than anyone.  When we got back home, there would have been a beautifully wrapped present waiting on the dining room table.  Something she thought I’d need for college.

For my college graduation?  She would have flown down to Los Angeles a week early and helped me pick out a new dress to wear.  We would have seen a movie to take off my nervous edge.  And on the day of the ceremony, she would have taken me to a beauty shop for a special treatment.  When I entered wearing my cap and gown, tears would have poured down her face, soaking her cotton dress.

When I moved back home, I’m sure that she would have invited over all the relatives to share in my accomplishments.  What a party that would have been!  Laughter, games, gifts, congratulations.

There would be stories about trying to teach me how to cook.  We could laugh about my “raw” pancakes and the meatloaf that fell into crumbs when sliced.  I’m sure she would have laughed when my first cake didn’t rise as well as over the biscuits that were charred on the bottom.  On the other hand, her face would have lit up when I mastered the infamous green bean casserole and when that green Jell-O mold jiggled, like it was supposed to, when dumped on the serving tray.

I can imagine her smiling when I brought my husband-to-be home for introductions.  She would have immediately fallen in love with him and been happy for me.  She would have shared in my joy, knowing that, at last, I was stepping into adulthood.  That should have made her proud.

It would be nice to speak of the times we shared recipes or of the Tupperware parties that we went to and bought way too many of those wonderful plastic containers.  There would have been birthday parties and anniversaries to celebrate with good food, friends, and lots of laughter.

Yes, I can visualize all of these things.  It’s too bad that absolutely none of them ever happened.

Women Who Serve Their Country

A lot of emphasis has been placed on the #MeToo movement which brings awareness to the sexual harassment that women face in the workplace and beyond. It is a powerful movement becomes it brings to the forefront voices and concerns that previously went unheard.

Before this, women’s voices were heard through the suffragettes and then much later, by members of the women’s liberation movement which most people think began with the outspoken voices of individuals like Gloria Steinman.

During WWII women heard the call and responded. With so many working-age men serving in the military, necessary jobs were understaffed. In 1943 a Norman Rockwell painted a poster that was to entice to women to leave homes and do something to help the United States win the war. While Rockwell’s painting might have been the first, 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 traditionally male jobs such as welding, riveting and construction.

The movement was not embraced wholeheartedly. A wave of 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 worked in the munitions industry. Many men refused to work side-by-side women until ordered to do so.

A sterling example of the impact of these Rosies is in Richmond, California, at the site of Kaiser Shipyards to honor the Rosies who helped to produce 747 ships, more than any other shipyard in the United States. The shipyards worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Over 90,000 employees struggled to assemble the ships, which were created in sections that were then lowered into place.

Women came from all over the United States to learn welding, riveting and various construction skills in order to build ships that were needed for the war effort. The call for help was so successful that the city of Richmond grew from a population of 24,000 to over 100,000 in just a few years.

Kaiser 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. He also realized that many of the women had school-age children that needed a safe place to stay while their mothers worked. To alleviate the problem, Kaiser offered Child Care Centers at their industrial sites that were run by highly skilled teachers. The kids received an excellent education in safe environments. This was a novel idea at the time, and still would be considered such today.

Another benefit was health care.  Kaiser understood that more Americans were dying in Home Front accidents than on the battlefields. He knew that only healthy workers could meet his grueling demands and construction needs.

When workers got hurt on the job, because the nearest clinic couldn’t handle the explosion in population needing services, many hours of valuable time were lost. So Kaiser built a field hospital at the shipyard in 1942 that encouraged prepaid medical care at fifty cents a week. Two years later more than 92% of Kaiser employees were enrolled in the plan, which was the first of its kind in the nation. It featured group medical practitioners, prepayment and substantial facilities at a moderate rate.

Another problem was housing. Workers arrived to find no suitable place to live. Many slept in the all-night movie theaters and a huge number shared beds with at least one other worker. 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.

Rosies are slowly dying, and so there was a push to be recognized at the federal level. One Rosie began a letter-writing campaign. Every year, beginning with President Clinton, she wrote a letter asking for the government to do something to commemorate the service these women gave to the country.

After twelve years of writing, a letter finally arrived in Joe Biden’s mailbox. He arranged for Rosies to come to the White House for a special day. They were given a private tour, received hugs from Biden, and were astonished when President Obama spoke to them.

On a recent tour of the Richmond Park, we met four of the Rosies, who all 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 striking out on this journey was quite an adventure. Two of them became welders after overcoming the prejudice of the union that would not allow women to join. Without a union card, they could not work. Kaiser intervened and the rules changed.

The welders learned to set down seams vertically, horizontally and overhead. They said that overhead was the most challenging. To get to the place where the welding was needed, they crawled through eighteen inch square holes dragging their equipment along. It was dark and hot, but they persevered.

Another Rosie worked drafting blueprints. She enjoyed the work because she knew that if she missed an error in the design, the ship might not be sea-worthy.

Because there are so few Rosies left, we felt blessed to be with them and to hear their stories.

Image6If you get a chance to visit a memorial, stop by. It’s an amazing story.

 

 

Making Do

When I was a kid, I was aware of the fact that money seemed to be a constant concern of my dad’s. He kept a budget that went out several weeks into the future that accounted for every payment, every bit of income, every spare dollar. He used the budget to make decisions that affected our welfare.

For example, we never went on big vacations. Too costly. However, we did visit relatives in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska. Wherever we could find a floor to sleep on, there we went.

While I never felt truly poor, I did understand that there were things I didn’t have, couldn’t have, that other kids did.

Until seventh grade I attended a Catholic elementary school. We wore dark blue jumpers and white blouses. Before school began parents held a sale in which used uniforms could be purchased. Because I was overweight, my choices were limited to those outfits that some other, older fat kid had worn.

My blouses were never truly white and my jumpers were never dark blue. I stood out from the neatly dressed kids with their crisp new clothes.

I survived.

I remember when Barbie dolls hit the market. The girl across the street, my only friend, got a doll. I thought it was beautiful with its svelte body and long ponytail, neither of which I had. The dolls arms and legs moved and the head could turn from side to side.

I wanted on so badly that it hurt. But, according to my dad’s budget, there was no money.

I earned twenty-five cents a week allowance for doing assigned chores around the house. I argued that, if I did more work, all unassigned jobs outside my normal duties, I should be paid more. Guess what? No money in the budget.

I wanted a Barbie so badly that for weeks I saved every penny from my allowance. Thinking I had enough, I stuffed the quarters in my pocket when we went to the store. I beamed with pride and excitement. I was going to have a Barbie!

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the true cost of a Barbie. My coins wouldn’t even make a dent in the cost. I would have to save for months just to get close to having one, and buy then it would be winter when we seldom went outside.

I was incredibly disappointed. In the aisle where they sold cheap plastic toys, I found a look-alike doll. Yes, the plastic was thin, almost opaque, but she resembled the real thing so closely that I thought the neighbor girl wouldn’t notice.

With resignation, I used my saved money to buy the imitation. At home I was given fabric scraps to fashion outfits for her. I spent hours in the shade of a tree in our backyard cutting and sewing. Eventually my doll had a variety of things to wear.

I took my treasures across the street.   The girl noticed immediately that my doll was not the real thing. She laughed, a cruel, heartless laugh of superiority. I went home with my face burning from shame.

I continued to play with the doll, but only at home. I made her more clothes, my stitiches getting better with each mew thing I crafted.

I learned an important lesson. While it’s nice to have the real thing, the actual Barbie and uniforms that no one had worn before me, it’s also possible to make do with what you can afford to have.

What I learned as a young girl I took with me into adulthood. When I could get to a markdown store, I bought groceries there for a fraction of the cost in a chain store. The items were just as good, albeit sometimes odd-shaped.

I shopped at thrift stores for clothes for me and for my family. Because of this we were always dressed nicely, even though sometimes the fashions were a bit out of style.

My dad taught me to only spend money that you had; an important lesson that continues to influence my decision-making today.

There is nothing wrong with making do. It’s something that people around the world do every day.

I can be one of those people who spend only what they can afford. But because my husband and I lived with our future in mind, we can also go on vacation to places that we’ve dreamt of seeing.

Making do was the foundation of my upbringing. It taught me to appreciate what I had even when there were things that I dearly wanted. I learned that fashions come and go, items lose popularity and are replaced with new things that everyone simply must have, but financial solvency is more important than going into debt. It has served me well.

 

 

An Embarrassing Moment

In high school I studied Latin and then switched to Spanish when we moved to California. It was an easy change, probably due to the similarities in phonics.

When I enrolled at a community college, I again took Spanish. I started in one level, but the professor had me change to the highest level the college offered. It was still easy.

Next I transferred to the University of Southern California as a math major. For some reason, I had it in my brain that I would need to know Russian in order to read the latest in mathematical thinking.

During my sophomore year, thinking I had a good grasp of Russian after one semester, wanted to go to San Francisco to visit a Russian bookstore. Unfortunately my dad wouldn’t let me go on my own.

In the back of my mind I hoped that he would stay in the car. Nope. He insisted on going in with me. I roamed the aisles looking for something that I could read with little or no help from a dictionary.

While I was doing this, my dad stood by the register keeping an eye on the owners. He didn’t talk to them. Not one word. Instead he gave them the evil eye if they so much as took one step toward me.

Once I realized what was happening, I grabbed a newspaper and bought it. The owners tried to engage me in conversation. I understood what they were saying, I knew the proper response, but I couldn’t get my mouth to form the words. Instead I looked at them with tears forming in my eyes, paid the bill and scurried out.

My dad smirked as we walked to the car. He told me that the trip was a waste of his time and his gas. He said that I couldn’t speak or read Russian. That I had demonstrated that in the store.

I couldn’t blame him because I had behaved like an idiot. It made me mad, however, to hear the tone in his voice and to understand the underlying message beneath his words. It wasn’t just that I had behaved like an idiot, it was that I was an idiot.

When I got home I went to the room I shared with my sister and opened the paper, expecting to be dumbfounded by the words. I wasn’t. Sure, there were some I didn’t know, but for the most part, I could read every article and get the jist of what was being reported.

I flew home with the paper in my lap. Normally my row mates would try to engage me in conversation. Unwanted attention that both humiliated me and threatened me. I didn’t know the purpose of the conversation. Was it to lure me into an unsavory relationship?

The man next to me leaned over, brushing his shoulder against mine, and made some comment that didn’t deserve a response.

I opened my Russian paper, making sure he could see the print, and read. He left me alone.

The next time I flew home, I brought that paper with me and repeated my performance. It worked. In fact, as long as that paper lasted, it freed me from unwanted advances.

Even though I was proud of that paper and the power it held, I never forgot standing in the store, my dad’s smirk and the hurtful words he said on the way home.

While I had many embarrassing moments, this one ranked up there among the highest.