The Serving Bowl

I was in my first year of college that Christmas, wondering how I’d ended up where I was. All my life I’d been at the top of the class, teacher’s pet, hi-cap and, I suppose, in general thought of as ‘going somewhere’. 

There was this moment in my senior year, after taking the exams and being accepted for early start in community college, that changed everything. A nerve hit. A perspective shift. A cold cup of reality thrown on my dreams. I didn’t get to go to college early and the reality thing made the whole ‘dreaming of new things’ harder than I could have anticipated. 

No one talked to me about scholarships. Not even the school counselor. First he tried to shoot down my oldest brother’s university goals and then he completely neglected the conversation with me altogether. What WAS his job at that school, anyway?! No one talked to me about money except my parents, who had taken a second mortgage to pay for my oldest brother’s university education and gave my other brother a start in life by gifting him a house to live in. That left nothing for me, not even the money to help me have a car that could safely drive over the horn to get me to that community college’s classes.

My parents didn’t really dream of anything more than a happy little home in a simple place with a simple life. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. They gave us an incredible start to life and a foundation that many wish they had. I can’t complain about their choices. I just wish they would have believed that my dreams were reachable. My dreams. My brains. My intuition. My work ethic. They were all pretty toppings on a cake.

Fast forward a couple of years. I’d taken a year out to work at a bank and put enough money aside to buy a decent little Honda and pay for ONE semester at a cheap little private SDA college. Well, I should qualify that: I had enough money to pay for that one semester – as long as I worked a full time job at the college while I took classes. Because I worked in the business office of the college, every penny of my paycheck went directly to my debt. I never saw a dime. We weren’t allowed to withdraw any cash from our account unless our account was in the black. And mine never was. 

My car broke down just outside the gates the first week of November, and it sat there, unmoved, for nearly 2 years until it was towed away finally. I think I signed the title over to a young couple who thought they could do something with it. It had long since left my mind when they asked for it. 

Having no vehicle to drive felt like prison, even though I didn’t have two dimes to rub together or throw into the gas tank. I no longer had to allow my car to be used for outreach purposes and go through the process of trying to get gas money approved and requisition papers and receipts and all that junk. But I couldn’t leave campus without help, either. 

I ran out of money altogether. 

I used washcloths instead of pads while on my periods because I ran out of those things modern women buy at the store.

Sometimes I would walk over to the gas station across the overpass just to look at the snickers bars, then walk back to the dorm again.

Deprivation became a badge of honor, starvation an addiction. If I skipped the meal time, there was no option for food until the next meal time – no less than 5 hours later. If I couldn’t hold out any longer, I’d go eat, being careful to take less than those around me, leave some on my plate, and vomit every ounce of it up as soon as I could escape the prying eyes of others. As a punishment for my failure, I’d be sure to be out walking during the evening meal time. Sometimes at night I would go and look in the dorm fridge at the food other students kept in there. Food they owned, food they’d bought with their own money and wasn’t subject to only being consumed during the proscribed meal times. I never stole any of it. 

The first week of December I got another job, off campus. It was at a nearby church, doing childcare one night a week. They paid well, at least I thought so at the time, and sometimes the other girls from the college and I would stop at McDonald’s after we got off work and sit in the warmth and eat hot french fries. I would only eat a few, but they were the best french fries I’ve ever tasted. 

The few dollars I earned from the church childcare job were carefully saved for Christmas gifts. But not quite all of them. I walked to the gas station one night and brought back a snickers bar and a liter bottle of Mt. Dew. A friend and I sat up all night in the dorm stitching gifts to give our boyfriends. We made the same gift: a cross-stitched poem that would be fitting for the pastors-in-training we were dating. She stitched fast and sloppy and made a second one for her ‘hopeful’ mother in law. She never gave her gifts; the relationship fizzled out as quickly as the first relationship of the school year had. I gave my gift to the guy I was dating. He probably donated it to the goodwill eventually. I’ll never know.

I made several other gifts for my family members. Small trinkets, hand-stitched sayings and snippets of wisdom in tiny dollar-store frames. With every stitch I wished I had more to give them. All of them. They were such paltry things, and so small. I prayed over each one as I wrapped them, hoping they’d be a blessing in some way and that God would direct me to give each person the one that would be most meaningful. When my mother opened hers and read the tidbit of wisdom and the text that accompanied it, a look of offense crawled over her face and she tossed it aside. I bit my tongue.

As the days whittled by and Christmas loomed closer, the one gift that perplexed me the most was for my boyfriend’s mother.  What does one get for a boyfriend’s mother? I was stumped. I didn’t want to risk offending her, couldn’t think of anything that was personal without being too personal. In fact, I could really only think of one thing that she even liked: salad. No, I’m not even joking. She ate a lot of salad. And she looked like salad made up exactly 100% of her diet. 

So I bought her a salad bowl. Not just a Wal-mart plastic dish. It was Pfaltzgraff bowl that I spent pretty much all I had left on. Or, in other words, about $15. It’s lovely, with a teal and violet stripe around the top, pretty but not cutesy, I thought. And then I didn’t know what to put IN the salad bowl. I mean, do you really just wrap up a salad bowl and give it to someone? Does that make it seem cheap or….odd? 

I stared at that bowl for a long time and thought about it far too much. And then I put some potpourri in it and a small, cheap snowball shaped candle in the middle. She could enjoy the holiday scent and candle for a little while, then later wash it and reuse it over and over again.

Four months later the bowl was given back to me. Awkwardly. In exactly the same shape I’d given it: with the candle untouched. It sat in my room at my parents house that way until I got married, not to that boyfriend, and not into that particular family, a few years later, when I finally threw the candle and potpourri into the stove and watched them burn.  

Today the bowl has a place in my cupboard. I hardly think of it, rarely use it. Now and then I pull it out, put some good, rich, comfort food in it, and sit down to eat at a table with my family where I consciously thank God for the food, the warmth, the loving arms of a man who loves me so deeply, and the bounty that He led me to in the life I live now.

Sometimes I forget how dark those days were, how close I was to being consumed by the cold, dark obsessions that chipped away at my soul till it felt old and cold and hopeless. How it felt to think everyone who had ever told me I was smart was just lying. That dreaming was worse than useless. To be told that I was lucky to have a boyfriend who would put up with my ” eating disorder issues”.

It is good. It is GOOD for me to be reminded of where I was, so I can appreciate where I am. So I can remember how futile it is to despise my own journey. To realize again that hating my body is only an outpouring of hating something deeper inside, something I was once desperately afraid of. 

Turns out the bowl wasn’t really a gift for someone else, it was a gift to the future me. 

Maybe one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

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Laundry

When I was little, my mom would always sit down with a basket of clean laundry to fold after everyone was in bed. Us kids would be in bed by 8, my dad asleep by 9. She’d sit on the couch and fold, the house impeccably clean around her, my dad’s lunch packed and ready to go in the morning.

Now and then I would sneak out to the living room, quilted, worn blankie in hand, and lay down on the couch beside her, or on the floor in front of the stove, unaware of how my presence might take away a little of her traditional, peaceful down time. I’d watch her fold socks, roll underwear, and laugh at the Carol Burnett Show on the TV across the room. 

She’d always wake me up when the credits were rolling, and I’d always ask if the Carol Burnett Show was a cartoon. I remember the little animated “janitor” at the end and her mop.

2012: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

There’s really no other way to describe it.

I’ve already blocked half of it from my memory and it surprises me now and then by surfacing in ways and at moments I’m completely caught off guard by.

When did we get old enough to have parents in crisis? Sometime between getting married and having babies and being in a fog of exhaustion and diapers and teaching kids to read and ride bikes, kissing owwies and saying bedtime prayers, our parents grew older while we weren’t looking.

Some things you expect to change, like the little ones in your arms. Some things you expect to stay the same, like the stability of your parents.

Three sets of parents, all in the throws of some crisis or other. One set in the middle of a deep, abysmal personal/spiritual/relational crisis. One in the middle of a physical/financial crisis. And one on the verge of a personal crisis that has yet to fully show itself.

The full fallout of each crisis still remains to be seen in all of our lives. To say it all hasn’t taken its toll on us would be lying. Sometimes I am terrified when I think of the eventual repercussions in my own life.

I won’t comment on the individual situations or steps that led each set of parents down the path they’re on. I haven’t processed it all yet, likely a process that will take years.

This year I’ve seen violence, pain, lying, tears, priorities so messed up you need a maze to find your way through. I’ve seen strong people bowed to the ground with the weight of things they can’t control.

And in return I’ve seen disillusionment rise up in my soul, cynicism take hold, and self-preservation take the wheel.

Yeah, I’m no better than any of them. I didn’t let Jesus take the wheel, of that I’m sure. And maybe self-preservation is just a righteous picture pasted over selfishness. I don’t know. I’m not going to pretend I know.

But it wasn’t all ugly, I think. Some of the ways I’ve reacted have been good…ish. Depends on your point of view, I guess. So this is my list. This is what I’ve allowed myself to do this year. This is my record of how I kept my head above water.

This year I:

* allowed myself to cut my hair. I cut it short. And I take the time to do it every day instead of just putting it up in a pony tail.

* allowed myself to get my nails done. And I’ve kept them up. They’re pretty.

* allowed myself to lose weight. By any means possible. Regardless of the sacrifice needed to make it happen. Forgiving myself for the lack of energy, the afternoon nap some days, and the difficult explanations to my kids that might scar them for life. “No, mommy’s not eating today…again…for the 8th day in a row…”

* allowed myself to drink. I’m not even going to explain that one now. 

* allowed myself to write an entire 50,000 word novel in a month. I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote some more. And it felt SO good.

* allowed myself to travel across the country…ALONE. No husband, no kids, five days. It was not for a vacation, but it was such a huge step for me. Since the moment I conceived my first child nearly ten years ago, I have never been away from all of them for more than a single night at a time, and that only twice before that trip! I was so far away I wasn’t just a quick drive away to be there in a moment of crisis. I was gone, completely dependent on others to care for every need of my babies for 5 whole days. It was agony and it was heaven. It reminded me that I am still an individual. I am still a daughter, a sister, a friend. 

* I allowed myself a hobby. And then I allowed that hobby to become an obsession. And then I allowed myself to dream of that obsession becoming a business. I invested time, energy, passion.. things I’d forgotten I still possessed in any form outside of the four walls of this house and the four children who reside here. 

I love them. I love investing in their lives, their hearts, their minds. But for the past 10 years, despite my best intentions to not be just like my mother, I’ve believed in my soul that to invest in myself is doing them an injustice. That all of my time, energy, and passion must be spent on their growth and happiness or I’m being unforgivably selfish. 

Something changed in 2012. And I’m not sure exactly what it was. And I’m not entirely convinced that I’m not being unforgivably selfish. 

Maybe what I’ve learned is that parents do make mistakes. And that children do forgive them. That we’re all human. That maybe I can still be loved even when I screw up, because the illusion of perfection is more harmful than just trying to do your best and living out loud.

All I can do is wonder what 2013 will bring and keep moving forward. Where we’re all going God only knows.

Nitrous

I was in the 4th grade the first time I broke a tooth. I was sitting in Mr. F.’s class, enjoying someone’s birthday cupcake at the end of the day when I randomly chomped into something hard and spit out a piece of a molar.

I hated going to the dentist. Of course, we went to the SDA dentist and I’m sure my mom dealt with endless warnings about my sugar intake, my brushing habits, and her obvious lack of care when it came to my teeth.

Often when we’d drive away from there I’d chew on my numb cheek until it bled.

At 13 I had chubby, round cheeks scarred all over inside and teeth so crooked they could hardly chew. So I met a new kind of dentist – an orthodontist. I lived with a spacer in my mouth for a year that left a permanent scar across my tongue. Then he put braces on my teeth but took them off early because my teeth were rotting out from under them.

The braces came off when I was 16 and I broke the tooth right next to my front tooth off at the root when I was 18. That was my first root canal. 

The next several years were a blur of root canals, uninsured “just have to live with it for now” misfortunes, and toothaches. When my son was a few months old I had a horrible toothache that wouldn’t go away. Finally went to the dentist and found that a previous dentist had done a root canal but a tiny piece of the file had been broken off and left deep in the shaft of the root. That was the first tooth I had pulled aside from my 3 wisdom teeth. It was a first molar, on top, next to the canine. I didn’t smile much by then.

I got a bridge about 18 months later. For a young woman who was 24/25 at the time, it was a long time to feel dirt poor and ugly with a big gaping hole in her smile.

As of now, I’ve had 7 teeth pulled – 3 wisdom teeth, and 4 that were supposed to stick around a while.

I have 6 crowns and 1 bridge. I’m 33 years old.

Some things are hard to swallow. Like all the judgment that happens when people make assumptions about you based on your teeth.

And I believed every judgment everyone ever placed on me based on my teeth for 30 years. I believed that I was a second-rate citizen, that at some level I was poor, dirty, lazy, disgusting, and incapable of rising above my “white-trash” roots.

And then I stopped.

Not without any pitfalls, mind you, but I don’t buy it wholesale anymore.

There will always be those who choose to believe that stretch marks are the fault of the woman who gets them, who make assumptions on your social worth based on how you look, and who will always drive me a little bit crazy.

I have about as much control over the quality and strength of my teeth as I have over the size of my boobs, the way I get stretch marks, how tall (er…short) I am, the texture of my hair, and the strength of my fingernails.

Can I improve upon each of these things? Yes! To a certain degree I can change the attributes of each in positive or negative ways depending on my behavior. But at the deepest level I cannot change the core value.

I. Cannot. Change. The. Core. Value.

Accepting that fact frees me from the guilt that I don’t need to carry around any more. I’ve carried it long enough.

How ridiculous would it be for me to feel guilty because my hair is straight and not curly? Or to feel guilt because I was blessed with big boobs.. oh wait, maybe that’s a bad example. I’ve dealt with a lot of guilt over that for many years, ridiculous as that may seem!

I have bad teeth. They’re brittle. They have very little enamel. They hurt me more than they’ll ever hurt you to have to look at them. There.

So Kiss. My. Ass.

Imperceptible

It’s been 3 months.

3 months and 4 days, to be exact.

I thought about it all day Saturday, how when this first exploded that three-month mark was both a beacon of hope and a light so far away we could barely see it.

When we squinted.

And looked out the corners of our eyes.

The mark has come and gone. There have been no police cars in my driveway or knocking on my door. And they are somewhere out in the woods enjoying their “healthy sex life”.

The world is a cruel place. I won’t mince words any more.

From the outside, the changes in the past three months have been almost imperceptible. The FAMILY doesn’t even know. 

Rumors are whispered, silences are kept, confidences are not shattered.

And trust is not given. Trust is NEVER given.

Changes in my own soul may seem imperceptible from the outside, too, but from here inside, they feel enormous.

Terrifying.

Confusing.

Revealing.

I feel sometimes like my soul has been laid bare and scrubbed across a cheese grater a few times. I’m all bloody and raw and feel like there’s no sewing this mess up to look presentable again!

In a nutshell, my faith growing up was built on things of this world, oh, not money or prestige, rather GOOD things… parents that loved me (imperfect though they are), a solid home life, religious traditions based on Biblical principles. I can hardly complain, and I’m not trying to. I was blessed. And my faith was never tested.

Now that it has been tested I see my own weaknesses. I see how much I viewed God through my perceptions of other peoples faith. I see how I gathered my sense of standing with God by looking at how others might perceive my walk. As long as I kept up a good appearance, my membership was in good standing and my life couldn’t be openly condemned – then I MUST be doing okay.

Of course it sounds absurd! We all know it from the other side, after the cold, hard facts have smacked us upside the head! If someone had accused me of living my faith-life that way before that point three months ago I’d have argued the heck out of ’em!

This is exactly what it’s about, right? Laying bare, covered in only the muck of your own sin, knowing you have no way to get yourself clean and unstuck? Some days I don’t even want to get unstuck. I’m quite comfortable in denial and still feel justified in my judgment of those who put me in this mess. Some days I just want to keep up those appearances and hope it all straightens itself out before my parents find out or the church finds out. Some days I think about it all and know I have a good knowledge base, and a neglected relationship somewhere in there, but still feel hopeless.

And so, my only prayer is quite simple these days: Lord, please don’t leave me HERE.

He has His hands on me yet. And all He needs is my permission to pull me up out of the muck.

Letter 2

Right now your pride is swinging in full force and you are already planning the rebuttals and refutals inevitably formed with precision and force worthy of a more intelligent opponent than I will ever be, while the actual words I’m saying are seen but not heard.

For no other reason than that I have broken the H coat of arms: Loyalty To Death, Till Death, and Beyond Death, I have massacred my own character on the rocks of pride directly below the cliff I’ve just jumped from.

No, I’m not going to even attempt to convince myself or you that I am intelligent enough to come up with a series of thoughts that pet your egos long enough to make you feel as if you’ve come to the conclusions I want you to completely on your own. I’m not going to beat around the bush, and I’m not going to attempt… EVER… to verbally spar with any of you. As much as you would like to verbally thrash me as I feebly attempt to make coherent sentences flow freely from my unwieldly-tongued mouth, I know my limitations better than you might imagine. I will not be answering phone calls in response to this. My response time to other forms of communication will vary greatly and likely be highly unsatisfying. Deal with it.

It does not give just cause to throwing everything said out.

Doing so would be a poor excuse for good judgment.

I don’t know what quality it is that drives you all to be incapable of changing the trajectory of your course even a miniscule fraction of a degree until such a time as you are able to see you have reached the very breaking point of a close relationship. It is as if you are as inanimate as a potato launched from a potato gun, flung forward and upward until gravity overcomes thrust and freefall occurs.

You believe you control it, control yourselves, and truly seem to believe that only because you cannot fully control others (who really should be submitting to your micromanagement) does the relationship break occur!

Letters

(Part 1: Draft 1)

 

To all:

It is not my purpose to humiliate or alienate. It is not my purpose to try and convince anyone that I am intelligent or wise or of perfect character. I’m not perfect. I’m not of above-average intelligence, and I am far from being Solomon. And I already believe not a single person over the age of 40 whose life began with the surname H trusts me any further than they can throw me.

I can accept that. I’ve learned to accept that.

Trust is not given. Whether one has been found undeserving of trust is irrelevant in this circle of family. No, trust is not given, ever, and having it “earned” is exceptionally rare indeed.

I find it necessary to include the quotation marks since one’s definition of “earned trust” will vary greatly and distinctly from each other and the generally accepted definition as given by any Joe Smith off the street: unrelated and unaccustomed to the particular verbage and respect requirements within the H family.

Yes, it is with my faculties intact and fully understanding that my own character, morals, and intentions will be questioned to a degree that I will find painful and cruel that I write this letter. My security is not found in the respect of this family, but in knowing without a doubt that even with my sins bare before the Lord I am still Loved unconditionally and that is what must matter most.

I can only hope that, as is the pattern of past relationships with blood relatives in the H family, my husband is forgiven for my actions and accepted with the love and respect that he deserves, despite what I am about to do.

It is my purpose, my hope, that this will open a conversation that will alter a course that is already set in motion. Though I believe the likelihood is very, very slim, and that the only real consequence will be to change your collective opinion of me, I cannot sit in silence.

Qui tacet consentit.

He who is silent consents.

The Hearth

Hold on while I get another cup of coffee so I can be in the proper, cozy, warm-fuzzy frame of mind for this post…

At the corner of the house where the kitchen counter separates the two rooms on the opposite wall from the front door, my father built a small hearth. He used stones from the rock slide areas nearby, ones carefully chosen for their size, color, and flat surface area. The stone placed down in front was the largest, giving a nice, flat surface for chopping wood chunks into kindling with the hatchet. The hearth extended along the backside of the counter all the way to the end, giving room for firewood to be stacked up neatly.

The stove was a pedestal stove, with clear glass in the door for watching the flames, and the chimney went straight up and out a hole my father cut in the roof. The chimney itself did not make any turns or angles, but because of the vaulted ceiling it looked as if it did. Yes, that’s right, a single wide with a vaulted ceiling.

One year at Christmastime I set a stuffed animal on top of the stove as I was singing and dancing around the room to Christmas songs. It was a Kermit the Frog with a holiday vest and Santa hat, one of McDonald’s holiday Happy Meal prizes from 1988. I loved that frog. His seat was singed to nothing, and stuffing fell out here and there, but I still kept Kermit for many years after the stove incident.

At night, in the winter when the Christmas tree was up, I would sometimes sneak into the living room, lay down under the tree, and watch the flames dance through the window. When I’d get cold, I’d lay in front of the hearth listening to the fire crackle and watch the Christmas tree lights. Those were the most magical, dream-inspiring, perfection-achieved moments to me. I would lay there, particularly during the ages of 10-13, and dream of my life someday, in a cabin in the woods of Alaska, with a husband and a house full of kids, living off the land, homeschooling, gardening, guitar music, being snowed in….

In the summer the push for firewood would begin in earnest. Sundays took us to the woods, piled into the truck whether we fit or not, lunch packed in a bag, chainsaw in the back, work gloves in the form of knit winter gloves if we were lucky. We’d usually go to a landing site where Dad knew the leftover logs were set aside to be left to rot and we’d spend the day cutting and splitting, filling the truck, stopping to eat, pulling splinters (for knit gloves did a poor job of preventing them), and sweating in the summer sun.

I was the youngest. And a girl. I hardly lifted a finger at that job until my brothers left home. Then sometimes it was just my dad and I, silently working side by side. Those were quiet years.

The house was, of course, also equipped with an electric heat system. When my dad was home it was always, always turned off. But my mom sometimes turned it up if the rest of the house was chilly.  To her the stove was a means of comfort, not survival.

To her, survival was when a 7 year old, 8 year old, and 11 year old were left to fend for themselves while their father worked in the mine and their mother was absent, having gone off to find work somewhere else and taken the older children to live with other relatives. Survival was eating the only thing available day after day after day after day: oatmeal.  Survival was never, ever, ever getting warm no matter how hard you tried to get mossy, green wood to burn.

My mom was the 7 year old.

While we lived at the trailer park and I was about 6 years old, one of the neighbor ladies died early in the winter. She left behind four children, ages 9, 8, 6 and 3. My mother would watch as the children would get off the bus after school and walk to their trailer 4 spaces down from us. Sometimes their father would wake up from his drunken stupor and let them in. Sometimes he wouldn’t. Then the children would come in out of the snow, stand in front of our stove, and get warm. My mother found hats and gloves for them, mended their coats, and made sure they had hot food in their tummies before walking them home and pounding on the door till they were let in. Some days she would walk over with a pot of soup just so she could see for herself whether the three year old was still alive.

Seeing a child cold has always been something horrible to her, and at times I think brings genuine pain, physically, for her to see.

25 years later, my mom is the caretaker for the 5 daughters of one of those children. Sharing love with someone else’s children seems to leave a deep impression of kindness and caring that never leaves a soul. Sometimes it is the parents who could not provide that feel that gratitude. Sometimes it is the child looking back on a bright spot in a dark space of their life.

 

In the Kitchen

When you came in the front door of our trailer house the kitchen was the first thing you saw. Directly ahead was the end of the counter that my father had cut off when he’d made room for the wood stove. To your immediate left was the dark brown phone cabinet, with doors below the shelf that hid the phone books. Above that, hanging on the wall, was a sort of letter holder with slots and hooks for keys.

In the corner was the dining table. When we first moved in it was a formica table with metal chairs with plastic puffed backs and seats. Super glue loves formica. Over the years and many model airplane builds, my mother went nuts with the leftover glue constantly making love to the table top.

They bought a “kit” table, and six “kit” chairs. They were simple but sturdy, and the set was never completely finished and stained. The table top was finished, but the legs were bare. Two or three chairs eventually had a covering of clear coat, one with a dark stain that had been regretted, the rest stayed naked until one of my brothers inherited the set as an adult and burned them.

Follow the counter straight ahead from the door to the wall, turn left, and there was the stove. A little darker and more orange than the other “almond” appliances, it seemed to darken more with every year that passed. The electric coils on top were accessorized by tin-foil covered catches beneath, faithfully changed out once a week on Friday. Above the stove was the little metal hood, with the switches on top for fanning away the smoke of burning food or turning on an overhead light that never worked.

A tiny stretch of counter top further left separated the stove from the sink. Above the sink was a small window. In the early years it looked out over the empty lot in the park, later it commanded a much better view of the river and mountains. I rarely stood there, looking out over the familiar view, though.

When I was small, we learned how to do the dishes by hand, but it was, again, not a job I was required to do. Later, when we had a dishwasher installed beneath the far left end of the counter, it was my chore to unload the dishwasher and put the dishes in their proper places. I grumbled constantly and hated the job I had to do. Funny how life comes and goes in full circles, isn’t it? Now I have 4 children of my own and have never once owned a dishwasher in my adult life. I stand at the sink twice a day and wash by hand every pot, pan, plate, and percolator that gets used.

My other chore, besides the caretaking of my pets, was to sweep the hallway and kitchen. If I did a poor enough job, my mother would take over and finish it.

I think the only times in my life when I have been perfectly okay with garnering the disapproval of my mother was when it released me from my chores!

Aside from the absolute fluke of learning how to bake bread from scratch, and bake it well, I spent little time in the kitchen. My mother would rather do something herself, and do it right the first time, than teach me how to do it. I am the same way, and it’s something I have to work to overcome. I’m not there yet. I prefer to be in my kitchen alone. Quiet. Peaceful. A kid-free zone.

I have to remind myself that my big-picture goal is to raise children who know how to do more in the kitchen than boil water for Ramen.

We had birthday dinners in that kitchen. Most of the birthday pictures of me as a kid have a background of hideous brown, orange, yellow, early 80’s, kitchen-themed wallpaper. It really was awful.  We ate Sabbath dinners there, and weekday dinners. I rarely remember sitting around that table at lunches or breakfasts. To me, the idea of each and every meal being a sit-down eat-together, proper-manners sort of production was foreign when I married into this family. Going home to the more relaxed approach also feels odd now, too, though. I am somewhere in the middle, feeling that both sides of the coin have their proper place, I guess.

Entertaining was about as common as date nights. Most of the time our only visitors were family members. Church members were invited from time to time, more often than not they didn’t come. I can’t really blame them. Single wide trailer in a park doesn’t scream “Welcome to Our Sabbath Retreat”! 

Hiking was our social media in that time and place. Endless opportunities for exploring, kids running wild without driving anyone nuts, and no noisy, partying, crass neighbors to make your church friends question the friend-worthiness of your children.

El Baño

Well, what can I say about the bathroom? It was a bit bigger than the bathroom I now possess and had a garden tub. Granted, it was one of those plastic almond-colored one-piece mobile home units, but my mother wanted a garden tub and a garden tub she got.

For some reason that eludes me now as much as then, one of the very first things my mother did was replace the brown linoleum in the bathroom with dark green carpet. She bought a matching double-curtained shower drape and hung a straw hat she’d decorated with ribbons and plastic flowers above the toilet.

The shower curtain was always closed. No one could leave the bathroom after showering without putting their wet towel in the laundry basket by the door and closing the curtain. Ever.

Which was, naturally, the rule in my own household when I had my own apartment, and later when I was first married. Until the day Carl was murdered. I don’t think my shower curtain was ever closed again (especially at night) for at least 7 years. Well, right about the time his murderer died, come to think of it. NOW the curtain can be closed and I can sleep.

The corner sink unit had a large under-sink cabinet and the sink itself was, of course, almond colored and plastic with cheap clear knobs with a red “H” and blue “C” on the tops.

I sat on that counter with my feet in the sink when I was ten and wanted to shave my legs. I had my father’s shaving cream slathered on and my mom’s razor all set and ready to go when my mom caught me. They’d been on their way out the door to go on an extremely rare dinner date. Everyone had a good laugh, my mom took some pictures, and I never again thought of shaving my legs until the day in my freshman year of high school I was teased about my hairy legs by a boy.

I sat on the counter several times over the years learning to stitch up the myriad wounds my father came home with. I learned to use a razor and carefully shave away the remnants of broken fingernails from the nail bed, how to use horse sutures to stitch someone’s hand back together, and how to keep my head when my big brother passed out after having an incident with the “canon” on the 4th of July. They brought in a lawn chair for him to sit on and keep his head down while my dad finished stitching and I sopped up the blood.

In all those times of profuse bleeding and passing out and such, I don’t remember a single drop of blood staining that green carpet.

I do remember, though, the year my cousin Lisa came to visit from California and left a permanent bleach mark on the bathroom carpet. She listened to New Kids on the Block on her walkman on the Sabbath and bleached her hair blonde while the grown ups were at church. She was 13. I was 9.

After that there was a green rug that lived directly on top of that bleach spot in front of the sink.

Above the sink there was a three-paneled mirror cabinet where the neosporin, betadine, rubbing alcohol, and bandages were kept. There were very rarely any prescriptions in our house, and never kept in the cabinet.

The towels were neatly stacked beneath the sink in the cupboard, beside my mother’s makeup bag and the ace bandages. Behind those, in the back corner, my mother kept her boxes of tampax and pads. After her hysterectomy when she was 34 (I was 8) she saved the remainder for when I would someday need them. Of course, I inevitably did, though I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the sentiment.

I remember going through a brief time of total water paranoia when I was 4. Though I’d always liked baths and water and swimming at the river, I must have seen some Jaws or something because I was suddenly terrified to get in the bathtub and tried to convince them that I’d ALWAYS been terrified. I remember my mom making a mark on the side of the tub with her eyeliner to show how deep the water would get and no deeper. It was about 4 inches from the bottom of the tub. I cried hysterically. And then I got a smack on the seat of my pants. And I took a bath with only minimal hyperventilating.

 

 

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