Caution! Wet Cement and Other Childhood Dangers

Vanessa Kindergarten 003

It was a sunny spring day in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula, Michigan). That doesn’t necessarily mean it was warm, but at least there weren’t several feet of snow piled on the sides of the road any longer. There were no snow pants, boots, hats, gloves and parkas to deal with. Gone (for another year) were the brutal blizzards, hours of snow shoveling, and the need for dads to put a heater under the hood of the car to keep the engine from freezing.

We lived about six blocks from the elementary school on Kincheloe Air Force Base. I was a toe-headed kindergartener and happy to be out of school for the day and walking home. My hands were free – Mrs. Mayo sent no “smiley face” papers home that day. In fact, it was a rare day when I was forced to carry anything more than myself home. This was before the days of heavy backpacks crammed full of books, papers and pencils – before hours of homework cut into evening T.V. watching time. This was kindergarten.

Girls were required to wear dresses. Mine was black and white plaid with a red bow at the white, Peter Pan collar. It had a pleated skirt that fell just above my knobby knees, and I was wearing a white cardigan with only the top button done. I can still see my little feet – white ankle socks inside new black Mary Jane’s. I have three sisters (two younger, who hadn’t started school yet – and one older, who got out of school later in the day) and I walked home alone. I guess there weren’t any other kindergarteners who lived nearby, because after I made the one turn onto Harper Street, I was the only kid around. But that was fine by me. Even at five, I liked my alone time.

Something kept me from noticing when the men began yelling at me – until it was too late.

I may have been counting my steps. Counting things becomes an integral part of my daily life – a way of dealing with stress. I couldn’t control much of what went on in our house, but I could control the counting. Or maybe I was daydreaming again about being an orphan who gets adopted by a mom and dad who don’t drink. These parents are rich and they have a brand new station wagon and they take their kids to Disneyland every summer.

“Hey you – get off of there.”

“Stop! Get off the sidewalk!”

“Can’t you see it’s still wet?”

The urgency of their words finally broke through and I suddenly became aware that I was in some kind of trouble. My heart raced, eyes wide, I stood still in a moment of panic. The same stance I take when I’m awakened in the dark of the night by Mama’s screams. Somehow I’d missed the orange cones blocking the way and had been inadvertently leaving little Mary Jane footprints in a stretch of newly repaired sidewalk. I was petrified that I had made a mistake. I was a good girl. I didn’t do bad things. I always did what I was told and tried to keep the peace. I believed that if I could be good enough, no one would get drunk, no one would fight, and no one would have to cry themselves to sleep, ever again.

But I had bigger troubles than just these men yelling at me. The seriousness of the situation became crystal clear when I looked down and saw the white cement creeping up the edges of my new shoes. Mama was going to bust my butt. She would surely use Daddy’s belt instead of her hand for ruining my new shoes. This could upset the delicate balance and turn the whole household upside down for days. I got off the sidewalk and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me.

I don’t know if those men came behind me and smoothed away my footprints or not. I don’t remember ever looking for them, or telling anyone that this ever happened – at least not for several decades. But I do remember rushing home, pulling off my shoes at the front door, and running up the stairs, my socked feet slipping on the smooth wood. I remember locking the bathroom door and turning on the faucet at the sink. I remember holding one shoe under the water at a time, scrubbing away the drying cement, holding my breath until the last of the evidence was washed down the drain. I remember being very careful not to let the water get inside the shoe because I knew it would stay wet for a while and that might give me away.

After using the hand towel to pat dry my now clean shoes, I exited the bathroom, walked across the hall into the bedroom I shared with my older sister, and placed my shoes in the closet. I’m sure this is when I was finally able to breathe normally again – to exhale and believe that I might have just avoided a disaster. Quickly, I changed into play clothes and went down to the basement where I joined my younger sisters in front of the black and white television just in time for a re-run of Lassie – where she too would save the day.

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After The Baby Rabbits Disappeared

2013-10-12 12.46.19

Excerpt from my book, More Than Everything

A year goes by.  A year of life in the fast lane with lots of money, and we finally move out of the rent house in town.  Shane’s paranoia has maxed out.  He is now convinced we are being watched and is sure the cops are listening to our calls, so he finds and leases some property out in the country.  Ten secluded acres in Wise County.  There is an old run-down trailer house, a big barn, a chicken coop, and a huge garden plot.  There is no phone line and Shane likes it that way.  Shane decides that it is secluded enough that we can live there and he can cook his speed there too every few months when we need to make more money.  He and his buddies buy a big, prefabricated barn and put it out there next to the trailer.  We store all of our furniture and boxed belongings in the barn for the time being and live in the old, furnished trailer with the ratty gold shag carpet, a gold crushed-velvet sofa and a heavy, Mexican-style wood coffee table in the living room.  In the kitchen there is a yellow Formica table and two matching chairs that is the spitting image of the one my parents had when I was growing up.  The one that mama would sit at, smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone while she swatted me away like a fly.  One bare light bulb hangs over the center of the table.  One bedroom is empty and in the other one, we throw a double-size mattress on the floor and use a cardboard box for a nightstand.  We stack other cardboard boxes on their sides, so the openings face outward, forming a series of cubby holes, and use them as a dresser for our clothes.

It is great being out in the country, far away from the junkies.  Our dog, a black lab named Dino loves running wild.  A friend brings his dog out there too, also a black lab, and Dino is in heaven.  Those dogs play, run, swim, hunt and have the time of their lives.  For several months it is bliss; just me, Shane and the dogs living quietly, taking long walks in the woods and going fishing.  Shane and I have never spent so much quality time together.  It is nice.  We are relaxed out here away from the city.  Shane actually talks to me and hardly ever yells.  He tells me things I’ve never known about him and I fall in love all over again.  We sit in lawn chairs under the stars and listen to the crickets and the hoot of an owl.  We sleep soundly and make love loudly and shower together every day.  Shane finds an old tiller in the barn and after a day of tinkering on it, has it running like a top.  He tills up the huge half acre garden plot for days and the earth is rich and fragrant; I sit in the big middle of the loose dirt grabbing handfuls and letting it sift through my fingers like all-purpose flour.  We plant every kind of vegetable you can think of and revel at each tiny, green shoot that sprouts from the ground.  We buy rolls of chicken wire and patch up the pens and fill them with chickens, turkeys and geese.  We spend the spring mending fence, planting flowers, and sprucing up the place.

One day I am the only one home and I’m mowing the front lawn barefooted.  I decide to go inside and put on some shoes before I try to mow the backyard where the grass is six inches high.  I turn off the mower, run inside, grab a pair of socks out of the sock cubbyhole, and my tennis shoes from the closet and sit on the edge of the bed to put them on.  As I’m tying the last lace, a large plastic thermos suddenly tumbles down from a shelf in the closet and lands at my feet.  I jump up and look into the closet to see why the thermos would have fallen and I’m eye to eye with a huge chicken snake, as big around as a can of Coke, coiled and stacked on the shelf like a garden hose. Continue reading

How Grammy’s Chickens Found Their Way Home

Chickens

Grammy and I sat in her tiny living room one day after a trip to the ‘Wal Marts’ where I had bought her a new dress (lavender with tiny white polka dots) and a new camera and some ‘films’. Grammy loved to take pictures and had photo albums bulging with family faces on Thanksgiving Day, some eyes closed in anticipation of the flash, random combinations of her seven children, nineteen grandchildren and twenty-four great-grandchildren vying for a spot on Aunt Cookie’s couch.

Shards of sunshine cut through the space between the sheer window curtains and landed on two ceramic chickens on the bottom shelf of Grammy’s bookcase. As Grammy flipped through her Bible, dog-eared creases, penciled notes in the margins, rocking chair swishing with the shifting of her weight, I watched as the chickens seemed to absorb the light and reflect it from within.

“Grammy, did you make those black and white chickens?” I asked, lazily pointing in their direction with my chin.

“No honey, Aunt Lu made those for me years ago. I think she took a class.”

“They’re cute,” I said, sliding off the couch and onto the floor to examine them closer. “It says: ‘LW 1961’ on the bottom. These are nearly as old as I am!” Continue reading

Magic Happens

Magic sometimes happens in my world. At least that’s what I like to call it when the stars line up and make things happen just the way I need them to be, in that moment.

My daughter and I can read each other’s minds. We often finish each other’s sentences, and share each other’s thoughts. But that’s not really magic. I chalk that up to the fact that we are so close. I’m also very close to my sisters. Once, while talking with one of my sisters on the phone, she stopped mid-sentence because what she had been getting ready to say wasn’t really how she wanted to finish that sentence. Then I spoke those very words and asked if that was what she had been about to say. It freaked her out because I’d been right. It freaked me out too, especially since those words were completely out of context and nonsensical. I don’t know if she had been about to say them because I had thought them, or if I thought them because she was about to say them. Either way, it was a very strange moment, but it wasn’t magic.

Another time, my sister had moved and I was driving to her new house but couldn’t remember the address. This was before cell phones. I stopped at a pay phone and dialed what I thought was her new phone number. I recognized the man who answered, but it wasn’t my brother-in-law, it was his brother. Their voices are similar, but I knew the difference. I thought he was visiting and had answered their phone, but that wasn’t the case. I had called him at his office. The phone numbers weren’t even similar.  But he gave me the address and all was well. This was kind of like magic.

The real magic happens less often, and it is striking and powerful and totally unexplainable.

The most recent example occurred on the morning of my daughter’s wedding last summer. Continue reading

Lyle Lovett, How Do I love Thee…

 Lyle, Me

“I’m Lyle Lovett’s biggest fan!” I heard her say to the person she was with.

My ears perked up. My sisters, Mary and Teresa had heard it too and they both looked at me, eyebrows raised, as if to say, “Are you going to let this woman get away with that remark?”

Everyone who has ever met me knows that I am Lyle Lovett’s biggest fan.

It was October, 2007 just outside of College Station, Texas. My three sisters and I were enjoying a raucous sister’s weekend at Big State, a huge outdoor music festival featuring Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, Miranda Lambert, Los Lonely Boys, Dierks Bentley, Kelly Willis, Kevin Fowler, Tim McGraw, and so many others. The sun was setting and we were positioned right up front to enjoy Lyle Lovett’s much-anticipated set.

The Large Band had barely finished the first song when this misguided woman nearby had started with her remarks. She was all like, “Oh, I love him so much. I’ve seen him seven times. I know all the words to all of his songs.”….blah blah blah.

Naturally, it was my duty to set her straight. “Excuse me, but I’m Lyle Lovett’s biggest fan,” I said with a smile. “Oh yeah?” She replied. “What makes you think so?”

My response: “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen him, but this is the third time this week!”

I won that argument real quick. She was quiet after that.

But I also wanted to tell her: Continue reading

#WhyIStayed #WhyILeft

Stop

 

You can learn more about abusive relationships

and reach a trained counselor 24/7 at

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

and 1-800-799-7233.

Too many women, some just girls, are “tricked”, by their abusers, into believing that they have no choice but to stay in an abusive relationship. They are lied to, manipulated through fear, coercion and battery, and find themselves alone and afraid, ill-equipped to make necessary changes to save their own lives. Often times they don’t even realize that what they are experiencing is not “normal”.

I was one of them.

My own story is chronicled in a memoir published in 2013 called More Than Everything. It took me 20+ years to write about my abusive relationship and my voice still falters when I talk about it. For years I struggled with the pros and cons of  “putting myself out there”, with exposing the truth where darkness had lived for so long. It’s not easy laying your ugliest bits and pieces out for the world to see and pick apart.

Finally, I decided that “there is more room on the outside” and maybe I could help someone else in the process. One of my greatest hopes is that through reading my story, women who may be in seemingly hopeless situations can find the courage to get out and stay out.

I am certainly no expert on the topic, I can only speak to my own story, but over the past few days I’ve read many posts on the topic of violence and abuse. Following is one of the best I’ve seen that paints a full picture and helps explain an abused woman’s skewed thought process – posted anonymously. Here is one woman’s story:

Continue reading

Don’t Get Me Started

Like many of you, I suffer from seasonal allergies. In addition to being allergic to most grasses and trees, I am also allergic to cats and dogs – and my husband and I currently share our home with two of the sweetest hairy canines you’ve ever met.

Sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes – are all a constant in my world. As you can imagine, I go through tons of tissues. As you might also imagine, I’m particular about my tissues. Firstly, they must be white. No pretty pastel colors for me. Oh no. White is the only color of tissue for me. Secondly, and most important –  NO POP-UP TISSUES!

Shortly after we married, I had to send my loving husband to the store for more tissues, and probably a bottle of Benadryl and maybe even tampons. I told him what brand to get and that he better not come home with any pop-ups! He had no idea what I was talking about. Continue reading