Category: Memoir


Five Cats

 

20160604_143655We never intended to have five cats. Rob and I had plans and ideals, and one of those was that the perfect number of feline pets was two. They would groom each other and keep each other company, but not overburden their humans with litter box odor or food costs. We agreed that, as the cats aged, it would be acceptable to add a third pet, a kitten who would keep the older felines on their toes, and provide comfort when the time came that one would pass away.

And so it was, for the first several years of our marriage. Chantilly and Angel moved with us from Wyoming to Vermont in 1996. We were fortunate that we lived with my parents at first, and then in various apartments that allowed us to keep our pets at home.

Around the turn of the millennium, even though Chantilly and Angel weren’t all that old, we drove three hours from home just to adopt our third cat, Loki. We’d been married about five years, and four of those years were spent trying to get pregnant. I was on the kind of drugs that, in addition to helping me ovulate in a timely manner, also played havoc with my psyche and emotions. Loki wasn’t a real baby, but he helped ease the pain of childlessness, being a playful and affectionate addition to the family.

Both Rob and I worked at Vermont Technical College, where we’d earned our Associate’s degrees. The Vet Tech program there took in dogs and cats each year, and before the summer they all needed to find homes. I made the mistake one day of stopping in to visit one of my friends, who was in charge of the lab, and asking her if any of their cats needed some snuggling. She put Finny in my arms, and I was instantly in love. He just wanted to be held and cuddled, something that helped my childless heart bear the pain a little better. We had then been trying to get pregnant for almost ten years, as well as having competed our foster parent training but inexplicably not having a child placed with us. We let him stay in the empty room we’d decorated in preparation for a child, letting the cats get to know each other through the crack at the bottom of the door.

Four cats was too many. But we weren’t done yet.

After eleven years of trying to get pregnant, we finally had a foster daughter and we were enduring the endless trials of waiting for the termination of the birth parents’ rights and her release to finally be adopted. Our daughter, then seven years old, told me there was a kitten on the porch. Although I didn’t believe her (lying was and still is one of her greatest vices) I went to check, and was amazed to discover it was true. Bug-riddled and starving, the kitten waltzed through the front door and never left.

It was late autumn. He’d probably either been born in or abandoned in the woods across the street from our house. It was unlikely he’d survive the winter. I couldn’t stand the thought of taking him to the humane society; here was a helpless furbaby, presented to us without any prompting or begging on our part, while we were praying and hoping that we could adopt our daughter and maybe, just maybe get pregnant before my body was too old to safely carry a child.

We took Simon in. (He’s watching me write this; the other four cats each passed away over the last several years.) His boney ribcage filled out that summer, and human-administered medicine got rid of

the bugs. He and the other cats thrived, and the next Spring we finalized our daughter’s adoption.

And a year after Simon came to us, I finally had a baby girl of my own.

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Without Knowing

Reva, about a year after her adoption was finalized.

Reva, about a year after her adoption was finalized.

Sometime around the turn of the millennium, hubby and I took a long day’s drive to travel from Vermont up to Toronto. My father was born there, and although we had lost track of any living relatives, we did visit the graveyard where many of my ancestors are buried.

One marker caught me off guard. David… my uncle. My father’s baby brother, who lived for only a few weeks. I knew the story. When my father and his big brother were somewhere in their early teens, my grandparents had another baby boy. I think they knew late in the pregnancy that the baby would not survive. Of course it was a difficult time for the family; but by the time I was old enough to know the story, it was ancient history.

Seeing his grave marker gave me pause. Here was someone I knew…sort of. He was my uncle. If he had lived, he would probably have carried me on his shoulders or told me all kinds of stories about my father that I’d never hear from his own mouth. Instead, his life was tragically short. He was and will forever be a baby.

Around that same time, I had the odd feeling that there was another baby I should know…or rather, one that I would know. We had been trying to get pregnant, and I’d hoped to give birth in the year 2000. That didn’t happen. But I did have it in the back of my mind that we could adopt a baby, perhaps even one born in the year 2000. Somewhere, out there in the world, was a child that would someday be mine.

A few years later, hubby and I had graduated from college and bought our first home. We spent months going through foster parent training and certification, just to wait an entire year after that with no child placed in our home. We did respite for several children, but none of them were able to be placed with us permanently.

Then one day my hubby came home with the picture of a grinning, toothless little redheaded girl. She was in foster care and would very likely soon be adoptable. She was not in the private foster system we were registered with; she was a ward of the state. It took time, red tape, and paperwork to resolve that, but our six-year-old daughter (born in 1999) moved in with us in 2005. Two years later her adoption was final, and I gave birth to her baby sister.

It feels somehow fraudulent to claim that I loved two babies without knowing them. I love my Uncle David, though he died long before I was born. I loved my daughter before I knew her.

Love knows no boundaries of time or presence.

Love simply is.

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James, Mary, and the Mustard

I’m participating in a writing group at church. The focus is autobiographical, sharing our own stories. Each week we write a page or two on a different prompt. This one was “What was your family’s life like before you were born?”

James and Mary army uniform 01Neither James nor Mary was a native to Florida. James was a Canadian whose parents had moved to upstate New York when he was a teenager. He met Mary there, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, then said a sad farewell to spend three years in the Army.

Their courtship continued long-distance.

James’ parents, as well as his older brother, had moved to Florida, so when James was discharged that was where he went. Mary’s over-protective parents allowed their daughter to travel down the east coast to visit him, and she came home with a ring on her finger.

Florida became home to the newlyweds, but life was different. Orlando was hotter than Schenectady. They had to give up being Baptists, as that particular denomination is very different between the north and the south. Mary, a nurse, was the breadwinner while James went back to finish college. Lawn-mowing included killing the occasional snake. Frugality was the rule. One tiny jar of mustard easily lasted them several years.

Baby number one arrived, and some things changed while others remained the same. James was still in school, but Mary stopped nursing to stay home with the baby. They still killed snakes with the lawn-mower, but with a crawling baby this duty took on a new importance. In addition to the three nieces they already had, another was born.

James finished school and went to work for Martin-Marietta. Their toddler daughter, destined for great achievements, uttered her first word, Gesundheit. There was church. There was family, some close, some in distant Schenectady. There was a dog. These things would remain the same as the sixties became history and the seventies began.

Other things would soon change. On Florida’s eastern coast, man would no longer blast off to the moon. Another daughter would be born to James and Mary. The brood of nieces would expand to include one nephew. Employment opportunities would take them to places that were neither New York nor Florida.

And that little jar of mustard that usually lasted several years would suddenly disappear in hardly any time at all.

Hmmm… with an ending like that, I’ll have to eventually write a story about the mustard.

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Someone Else’s Wedding

It was someone else’s wedding.

It was always someone else’s wedding.

But this one was different. Not just because the bride and groom were combining several faith-traditions into a ceremony that made them both happy, but because this time, Beth was not alone.

It was a brief, beautiful ceremony, in a picnic shelter at the park, followed by a reception in the same shelter. After going through the line of pot-luck dishes the friends had all brought, Beth found Fredrick over in the corner. She leaned against him, comfortable in that stance even though there were still several seats left on the picnic benches.

It was a new… she hesitated to call it love. Love was special. Love was enduring. Love was something you said to someone who meant something more than a passing friendship.

She’d never said it to him, even though he’d said it to her.

He’d taken all the risks in the relationship. He’d asked her out. He’d kissed her…although he chose a time when their friends’ kids were climbing all over them so that, if he was wrong, Beth couldn’t slap him.

He wasn’t wrong.

But a kiss has to be mutual. Saying “I love you” does not. Fredrick had said the words to her, and it weighed on her that she refused to say them back.

Then she watched the bride and groom. They were happy. They were really, and truly happy.

She could be happy too.

Beth turned in Fredrick’s arms, and looked up into his eyes. “I love you,” she said softly, and at first he seemed not to believe his ears.

Then he said it back. “I love you too.”

Their kiss was somewhat inappropriate for an afternoon in the park between two people who were not the bride and groom. It prompted all their friends to cheerfully catcall “Get a room!”

That kiss, and that “I love you” were repeated many times through the years.

And now, twenty years later, the kisses and endearments mean everything and more.

Engagement PhotoThis one is memoir. Yes, I kinda changed the names…

Today is hubby’s and my 19th anniversary. It’s been almost twenty years since that first “I love you” and I expect to have twenty more twice over again and then some.

Choices

“We can go to Wendy’s and get a Frosty, or we can go to the park and play dinosaurs and cave-men.” The therapist was the picture of patience.

Drew squirmed. His mouth turned into the wide grimace that meant he was trying desperately not to cry. He breathed heavily, almost gasping.

His foster mother watched calmly. Decisions were always like this for the boy. Even though both alternatives were fun, some of his favorite things to do, he knew that saying “yes” to one alternative meant that he would not get the other.

If he gave in to his desire for sweets, he wouldn’t get to play dinosaurs and cave-men with John. John was the best at playing dinosaurs and cave-men. If he decided to play dinosaurs and cave-men, he wouldn’t get the frosty, and he knew that if he didn’t eat his dinner he wouldn’t have any sweets at all.

The decision was killing him.

John put a steady hand on Drew’s shoulder. “Take a deep breath, and blow it out. It’s OK. Either way you decide is fine, but you can’t have both.”

Tears were squeezing their way out of both Drew’s eyes. The first breath came out in a shudder. The second was a little calmer.

Drew’s eyes went to the clock. He only had an hour with John. If he took too long to make his decision, it just ate into his time with his friend.

“Dinosaurs and cave-men.” Drew announced.

John smiled and stood. “Great. Let’s go!”

Drew’s face broke into a wide grin, anticipating the fun they’d have in the park. The tears instantly dried, and he happily waved to his foster-mom as he and John headed to the car.

That was what it took. The decision had to be made. It tore him apart, every time, even the little choices. But once he had decided, it was all over. He could relax, and all was well.

This was written in response to the Write On Edge prompt:

In 400 words or less, write a story or memoir which relates to choices and/or consequences. Because of the word limits, you may choose to focus just on the choice, or just on the consequence. Remember to capture a moment using dialogue, action, and reaction.

The concept of being able to write either fiction or memoir has been freeing for me. This one is a fictionalized memoir… there really was a boy who would go through intense anxiety over the simplest decision. Watching him go through this made me realize that we all have choices like this… sometimes we give up one thing we like in order to have something else. It’s not a loss… it’s a choice.

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-j9

A Redhead By Choice

It reeked.

Even though she’d opened a window and cranked up the exhaust fan, the hair dye filled the small bathroom with the pungent odor of chemicals.

I sure hope this covers the gray…

You were supposed to get gray hair from having grandchildren. Or, for those early-achievers, from raising teenagers. She had no children. For ten years, she and her husband had tried. They even had an empty room all set up and ready for a child of any age, and a framed certificate that declared they were qualified to be foster parents.

Waiting for her hair to dry took forever. The chemicals fried her hair enough as it was, and she didn’t want to add to the damage by using a hair dryer. But she wouldn’t be able to see the true color until her locks were completely dry.

Finally, she looked at the results.

Too dark, but otherwise OK. I can’t get lighter unless I dye it blonde first, and I don’t think my hair can take that much abuse.

She wanted to match the color. That perfect, natural red that went with the most adorable freckled face with missing teeth. They were going to have another of their playdates… those outings with the little girl they planned to bring home as their own.

At six years old, the child knew that her “Takes-Care-of-You-Mommy” was going to help find her a forever family. All their playdates so far had been wonderful. The couple was ready to embrace her and the immensely unfair baggage she’d been saddled with. Although the official declaration had yet to be made, the little girl suspected, and maybe even hoped, that these nice people who took her out to feed Cheerios to ducks would become those forever parents the Takes-Care-of-You-Mommy talked about.

And then it happened.

In a crowd of strangers, onlookers seeing the red hair and making the obvious connection.

Then someone told her “Go ask your Mommy…” and she didn’t hesitate. She didn’t correct them.

She was theirs.

This was written in response to the Write on Edge prompt about a makeover. In a strange twist of fate, although I usually avoid memoir if at all possible, this time the prompt inspired me to write about an actual moment in my life. I did fictionalize it a bit (I’d already been dying my hair red for several years before we met the girl who would become our daughter) but the idea of it is all true.

Now she is a teenager, and giving me even more gray hairs.

And I still dye them red.

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-i1

Fear of Memoir

The end of adolescence. NC Narrator's dorm room at the University of Wyoming, either 1989 or 1990. Once Upon a Time, I had nice legs!

I do not want to remember the awkwardness of my adolescence. I’ve worked hard to forget the embarrassments of my teenage years.

I’ve worked even harder to forget the things I should have been embarrassed about, but wasn’t.

In the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, the main character Emily decides to relive/watch just one day in her life, her 12th birthday. (At this point in the play, Emily has just died, and joined the other dearly departed.) It’s been a very long time since I read the play, but I remember this scene. The other “spirits” were trying to tell her to let go and move on, but Emily insists on looking back.

She quickly discovers how painful such reminiscing can be.

I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like if I could go back and observe certain points in my own life. Even if I couldn’t influence anything… just to remind myself what it was really like… to compare my memories to the real thing…

But I have to learn from Emily’s mistake. There’s a reason time marches forwards. We need to put things behind us.

Those love notes I sent as “Your Semi-Secret Admirer” to a boy who, although he was kind, and a friend, didn’t return my affection? Ouch… I’d rather forget.

The clothes that were so tight that they showed off every bit of fat and flab? Did I really think that they “held me together” and made me look good?

I cringe. I shudder at these memories.

But I learned from those mistakes.

I’m not so graceless anymore.

That adolescent awkwardness has been replaced by… not quite confidence, but the knowledge that whatever life throws at me, I will handle, for better or for worse. If I screw up, I can deal with that and move on.

So why am I still afraid of memoir?

I don’t think it’s fear. I think it’s self-preservation. If I remember, then I’ll have to admit that I did screw up. I did embarrass myself. I should have felt embarrassed, while instead I smiled stupidly like nothing was wrong.

I’ve found my grace. It came with the confession that I am human, and fallible, and that once upon a time I was an awkward adolescent.

But she lives in the 80’s.

And I live in the now.

This was written in response to the Write on Edge Prompt: This week we’d like you to take her words literally.  Think back to your own adolescence. With the perspective of time, try to find the beauty or grace in an awkward adolescent situation, even if there is only a sliver to find. Limit 400 words.

The shortlink to this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-hF

We All Did Not

Image courtesy of stock.xchng

“Hey girl!” came the shout from only inches behind my head. I was not the “girl” in question, I just happened to be in the way. “Yeah, I know! And I’m not even drunk yet!”

I had no idea who either of them was. I didn’t know if, twenty years earlier, we had been friends, or had a class together, or if, like most people in the room, we simply graduated from the same High School at the same time, and only knew each other by name and face.

Faces changed. And for many of the women (and some of the men) so had the names.

I had a drink in my own hand. I don’t usually consume alcohol, but I had traveled from Vermont to Colorado just to attend my 20th reunion, and I wanted to have at least one drink while it was still free. I had just stopped breastfeeding a couple of weeks before, so the drink was even more unusual for me.

I leaned over to Jon-who-knows-everyone, and verified that the woman in question was indeed one whom I only knew by name. And as the evening progressed, she did indeed get drunk.

One thing I find odd when reminiscing with my old friends is how we all have such different memories about what we were all doing. Some think that we all ditched school on Senior Ditch Day. Well, I didn’t. And I do remember the day. Yes, classes were missing more people than usual, but most of us were still there. Apparently we were also all having sex, getting drunk, and experimenting with drugs.

Um, excuse me. No, we all were not. I’d wager not even most of us were.

It amazes me how many people take their own experiences and assume that others experienced the same thing.

“Everybody has internet these days.”

Well, no. According to the first site that popped up on a Google search, only three in five do. Slightly more than half.

“Nobody gets married in their twenties anymore.”

Sure they do. And some of those marriages last happily every after.

“Everybody’s seen Star Wars.”

OK… that one might be true lol!

But I won’t assume so.

And I won’t assume you have had the same experiences as I have, even if we grew up together.

I won’t assume we all reacted the same way when an experience was shared.

And I won’t assume that what we’re experiencing right now is the same for you as it is for me.

This post was written for a Write on Edge prompt. We could choose from wine, coffee, or chocolate. Odd that I chose one that I hardly ever have… Yes, this is memoir. This did happen. And I wonder if any of my High School friends read my blog… my last name was “Lillie” way back when…

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-fT

Daylight!

It is so very bright, and it has been so long.

I hated being in that box.

Of course, I understand. I’m important. I’m precious. I mean something to her, even though she’s outgrown me…

Look!

She has  little ones of her own now… awww! They’re so cute!

I can see her debating…

She’s wondering. I’ve always been able to read her mind.

“Do I put him back in the box, where he will stay safe forever? Or perhaps on a high shelf, and give the kids a stern lecture about never ever touching him? He’s kinda stinky, actually… he is almost 40 years old. Maybe I should just let him go, and put him in the trash.”

There is one other option… if only she will consider it.

“Or shall I just give him to my girls? Old and fragile and stinky as he is? What use is it to keep him for so long, if he’s always in a box? If I’m thinking about throwing him away, why not just let them play with him and… well, if they aren’t gentle, if they don’t show him the same care and consideration I always did, at least he will be loved.”

Oh please oh please! Let me play with the little girls! I promise I won’t mind if I end up in the bottom of their toy chest with my pom-pom nose ripped off. Just don’t put me back in the box.

This memoir was written in response to the Write on Edge prompt:

  • Do objects have a memory? Does a rocking chair hold the essence of the snuggles it has witnessed? Does a pottery mug remember the comforting warmth it offered a struggling soul?
  • The dictionary defines personification as “the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.”
  • This week, tell a piece of your story from the point of view of an object who bore witness.

Theodore was my beloved teddy bear from when I was just a couple years old, through my teenage years when he sat on a shelf looking cute, through my adulthood when he was in a box with other old cherished memories. When I had kids of my own, I found him in a box and went through the hard decision of what to do with him.

I let my girls have him.

And yes, he ended up in the bottom of the toybox!

The shortlink to this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-dV

The Cube

By Lars Karlsson (Keqs) (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsI was not the only Rubik’s cube at Hygiene Elementary School in 1981, nor was my costume the best-made. I was quite proud of myself for my originality, and for the fact that I glued pieces of construction paper to the outside of the box all by myself.

That was the only year I didn’t Trick-or-Treat with my own parents in my own neighborhood. It was a special treat to go spend the night at Becky’s house after Trick-or-Treating with her.

Becky didn’t live in a neighborhood, she lived on a farm. Trick-or-Treating with her meant climbing into the back of her Dad’s pickup truck (Yes, we did that in those days) driving ten minutes or so to someone’s house, then socializing for a while and enjoying whatever that household had to offer. One friend of Becky’s family repaired pin-ball machines, and we got to play for a half hour or so before moving on. One elderly lady had a long table set out with homemade treats like cupcakes and candy, eager for us adorable costumed children to come so she could spoil us.

Late October in Colorado can be rather chilly, and this night was no exception. As the night wore on, every time we maneuvered my bulky costume into the back of the truck I ended up using it like my own little shelter, pulling in my head and limbs and huddling inside against the cold night air.

I didn’t think it would be my last time Trick-or-Treating, but the next year was the year of the Halloween candy scare when mean people were putting dangerous things into kids’ candy. My parents decided they didn’t want us to go door-to-door that year, and after that I was too old.

I didn’t know then that one of my fondest memories of childhood would be freezing my butt off, huddled in a cardboard box, in the back of a pickup truck.

The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1rMYd-b1