Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Days 15 & 16

The Beightol Ladies

My Mom's Mom, and my Mom and I are part of a strong genetic code that I imagine stretches back until you could see someone with our face, cooking a fish over a fire in front of a cave while watching a toddler with our face playing in the near-by rocks.

Once I went to the attic in my great grandmother's house and I found a photograph with a woman pushing a wicker baby carriage. I was sure that it was my grandmother Grace until I realized that the writing on the back in faded pencil said that it was "great Aunt Margaret and Orville." so it was my grandma's face, and the one I see increasingly familiar in the mirror, but the baby was my grandmother's brother who was 8 years older than she was.

Then I posed with my husband in a rocky hillside and the photographer shot the picture in black and white film. A few years later my Mom found the picture and studied it with a wrinkle between her eyebrows. "what's wrong, Mom?" I asked. She sighed, "I can't remember ever posing for this picture with your husband." I laughed and assured her that she didn't remember it because it wasn't her, but she was right, I had seen pictures of her that looked just like I did in that moment.

Why am I sure that prehistoric toddler would have been playing with rocks? because all of the women in my family are rock hounds. If we loved being somewhere there is a rock from that place on a bookshelf or in a potted plant somewhere in our home and if there are children and water around, we are throwing rocks in the water, not gracefully skipping stones but making big, splashy cascades of water geyser out at us.

In fact, remember how I said, "Lance couldn't hear for five years? Well, the first word he spoke after surgery restored his hearing was a loud, screaming - "Blood! Blood!" as he ran from the river to the ranch house to get me help when the rock I was throwing at the Greybull River, shattered on a boulder and a chip rebounded and implanted itself in my wrist.
Hearing his voice was plenty worth the 45 minute run into town to get 8 stitches on a Sunday afternoon.


This looks like a happy picture. And it is, but big changes were happening all around us, and only some were good. Some were sad and even the good ones were stressful. Let me take you back to June of 1989.
The last couple years of college had not gone as we planned. We returned from studying in China with only the student teaching component of our degrees remaining. We thought. Then I started student teaching in an English class at the High School in Ashland, OR. Half of the classes I worked with were at risk kids who read at about a second grade level, and ten there was a gifted class who read and thought well beyond High School, and two classes of Sophomore English. I was startled to realize that the at risk kids and the gifted kids were very much the same as far as confidence and social skills. Both groups were very insecure and felt the fact that they were not in the mainstream quite acutely. I was loving working with all the students and only had 5 weeks left when I became violently ill.
I was in agony but for three days I avoided going anywhere. I had had this type of pain 11 months before, just before we left for China. I had rushed into the hospital and then there was a popping sensation and the pain vanished but the hospital bills did not, and as two student teachers making about 5,000 a year combined, we had no insurance. This time the pain only got worse and suddenly my body started shutting down. It was a terrifying feeling to be so weak that I lay there freezing with only sheet over me, a blanket over the foot of the bed and a nurse’s call button by my head and I was too weak to reach either. Then body fluids began pouring out of every opening. Soon I was in emergency surgery for a perforated appendix which I had had all through my time in China and never realized until the poison became too much.

By the time I recovered, that school year was over and the next year ended up adding a severely handicapped credential as I had an extra semester to fill before gradation. I wanted to work with the at risk English students and I didn’t know that if you have a special ed. credential, no one wants to hire you for English. So my path changed.
Graduating at the same time as Greg did, both our families came from Wyoming to the ceremony but my Grandma was very weak and died only a couple weeks later. 
Then we found jobs immediately in a seaside town we loved, because a huge new prison opening there meant the schools were doubling population by December and they needed a lot of new teachers. And we went to an Easter Seals Camp in the Mountains to sleep on the ground by Susanville California, high in the trackless mountains where a jeep posse dumped us and another dozen counselors and a load of wheelchair kids. From Graduating to moving to the coast to Wyoming for my Grandma’s death and funeral. Then to the wilderness and from the camp to teaching for the first time.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Day 13 & 14

Passing the test
When I graduated from High School you might think I would be eager to get away from the town where I had been bullied. But oddly I wasn't. Maybe because I had found school to be filled with a lot of pain and danger, I wasn't eager to see what else was out there. So I went to college as close to home as I could, and that meant I lived at home and rode 25 miles on a Jr. college school bus each morning and came home at five PM
The first semester was a period of more growth than I expected. People smiled at me and said "hi" between classes and I kept looking shyly around to see who they were talking to, and there would be no one but me around. It took time but I gradually realized that I did not have "loser" branded on my forehead and I started looking up beyond my shoes and smiling first.

Then I needed a class only offered I the evening when the bus didn't run. I bravely called a number listed in the schools hot line looking to carpool for evening classes. And In that call I changed my life.

The other student was also a tall, skinny redhead, and would become my life long best friend and partner in everything. My first graceful words to him were rude, "I never met a redhead I liked" but he was funny and gentle and rowdy and confident and he passed the biggest test of all. He loved my brother Lance as soon as he met him and was soon coming with gifts to visit Lance as much as to see me. My grandma adored him, and Mom informed me that if I ever broke up with him, the rest of the family was keeping him.

I never considered breaking up with him though, he made me see myself through his eyes and for the first time ever since my first day of first grade, I loved who I am.

It's a small world after all
Greg and I graduated from our small Wyoming Jr College and then decided we didn't know where we wanted to go, so we stayed and did a third year. Then all signs pointed us to Ashland, Oregon with a summer Job first in the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park in South Dakota. We got married after class ended in May and spent the summer among buffalo and actors and then loaded a pick up and a trailer and moved to Oregon simply because we had had a run of meeting people from Ashland.

Once there we worked for a year in fast food places while earning residency because we couldn't afford out of state tuition. So when we started what should have been our first year after college, we still needed two years of credits. And then we took a ton of classes for fun, including a semester studying in Beijing China. So by the time we graduated in June of 1989 it had taken us 9 years to get a four year degree. But we had loved every moment. Seriously every one. Even once when we were almost dead from the kind of flu that kills whole villages, and both too weak to stand, on about the 16th day of violent vomiting, he looked up and said the most romantic thing.

"I'd rather be this sick with you than healthy without you."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Day 11 & 12

Jr Year in High School

Looking at this picture I can still remember how insecure this girl was. I figured dressing up or getting my picture taken would just make people laugh because they would think I didn't understand how hideous I was. Truly the grade school bullying had stopped by this time but the voices and laughter had been internalized to the point that I never tried to make new friends. I wish I could tell this girl how much better life was going to become in just two years. 16 year old Dixie was lonely and terrified of life but 18 year old Dixie was a college student with friends and my true love and a lot of hope.

I think often that the school experiences I had were bad enough that suicide seemed a hopeful option. Knowing I could kill myself meant that every day I lived through was because I chose to. Somehow that option gave me power and enough of a sense of control that I never gave up. Had I thought there was no escape I think I would have had to stop getting out of bed.

So now I tell kids, whenever you feel sick and hopeless, there comes a morning when you feel better. Suicide is only throwing away that chance to feel better.

Lance And I

The baby we were told would never know who we were, and would never roll over or sit up, became a delightfully happy child who loved to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with his big sister.
Here he is only a year after he regained his hearing. He had just been learning to recognize several words when he was six months old, when he developed a fever and diarrhea and stopped eating. Months of force feeding and Dr visits left him at half his starting weight and deaf. When mom broke down and cried to the Dr that he had to so something or Lance would die, the Dr. Said, "but wouldn't that be best for your family?" Mom's emphatic reaction had him admitting that Lance had picked up Giardia and a dose of antibiotics would cure him. So one shot and he began to recover but was still deaf until surgery to drain fluid and insert tubes when he was five. That was routine surgery soon after, but he was one of the first and it required actually cutting his ear off, general anesthesia, surgery under a microscope and reattaching the ear. Afterward the awakening with a new sense in a recovery bed across the wall from a flushing toilet, and the sound of his own screams and the explosive noise of mom patting his back and murmuring, "it's ok" by his ear all overwhelmed and terrified him and it was years before he could handle the noise of a concert or indoor sporting event.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Days 9 & 10

In the 60’s and 70’s in a little canyon that leads out of Cody, Wyoming on the way up to Yellowstone Park, in the triple digit heat of a Rocky Mountain high Desert summer there would be an old man selling Buffalo skulls and Moose paddles and Antelope pronghorns and deer and Elk Antlers off the back of a black “Ford International” truck.  The longhorns were not an all the time offering but pronghorns were and so were at least one curving set of Mountain sheep horns on a skull.
Yes, I know, two different kinds of trucks but it was a Ford cab and an International pick-up box so it said one on the front and the other on the tailgate.
The old man was Lawrence Slack, my Mom’s Dad. He was born there in 1898. The younger man was my Dad and he didn’t really stay out by the truck, he worked for the sawmill at that time. But he was there the day the photo was taken and so was the dog I loved, out hairy “Perp”
My first job was helping my grandpa as an adolescent. I’d saw the deer horns off the skull and scoop out the brains and salt down deer and antelope hides and pull quills from porcupine corpses and skin foxes and bobcats that my grandpa bought from hunters and trappers. I’d stretch beaver skins and pickle jackrabbit skins in formaldehyde and stretch them over a fiberglass head with cardboard in their ears, and screw in small, forked deer horns and glue in glass eyeballs to create the mythical jackalope. It was fun and interesting and it took me through the winter months, but the summer was when I got paid, as we’d sit by the road, and I’d wave in the tourists and convince them they needed the horns for a memento of their Wyoming visit.
Many years later, I got my first teaching job and one of the older, macho male teachers was trying to upset me many times. One day he explained in detail how he was setting of over a three day weekend to kill Bambi. I must admit, don’t hunt, but I took great pleasure in going into the anatomical detail of dissecting the animals that I had done as a child, and he never again tried to, “Get my goat” with one upmanship over who could eat lunch while discussing blood and brains.
It was hot by the road and the truck had no air conditioning or even shade so every summer day of my life mom and grandma went to dairy queen and brought grandpa a milkshake or sundae. Once I was out there with him, that was the high point of the day, I had a hot fudge sundae, or a crème de menthe sundae and left experimenting with other flavors for someone else.

So as I mentioned previously, when I was born, my Mom was 24 and was told that she couldn’t have any more children as she had gone into a very early menopause.  So when I was almost 5 we adopted a 6 month boy and thought the family was complete.  Then when I was 11 my Mom started getting sick and being treated for an ulcer and before we knew it, the Dr. was telling her, “You know that ulcer? Well, It has a heartbeat.”
My parents thought they were dreadfully old to be expecting an impossible miracle, and my Dad joked about now he would be wobbling around with a walker to play catch in the back yard with this one. Mom was “ancient” at 36 and Dad was 40.
The real shock came when the new baby had the same ABO incompatibility I did, but didn’t need a blood transfusion because a newer treatment using light therapy had been developed. Still, the baby boy, born weeks late, with dried skin and scratches from his long fingernails and almost no amniotic fluid, was airlifted to a hospital 100 miles away and my parents sobbed at the sight of the empty crib waiting at home.  Then the diagnosis of being a “Mongoloid idiot” came. It was fought against mentally as mom and dad kept looking for reasons it was a mistake and then the blame came, if only they had not taken ulcer medication, or if they had insisted on the complete blood transfusion.  Education relieved some of the guilt and misunderstandings but not all of them because it was a time when most people with Down’s Syndrome were immediately institutionalized and my parents refusal to do so was met by argument from the professionals, “He will never sit up, or recognize you.  You are being unfair to your other children. He won’t live past 25 and he’ll only ever be a burden.”

Of course none of the predictions were right, and at 39 Lance is still a joy to Mom and Brett and I. But there were a lot of tears and adjustment of dreams and I remember my Grandma saying, “Look at that poor sweet baby, He’s going to have a hard row to hoe.”  Maybe we all have that, and maybe the difficulty only deepens the appreciation of the joy.   I know that as Lance Grew, and learned at a different, but steady pace, he proved to have great gifts. He was socially gifted and developed more friends and extended family far beyond what out family had before.

I was 12 when he was born, and Brett was 8, and from that moment on, our family really was complete.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Day 7 & 8

My Great Grandma, Emma was born in 1875 and died when I was 10 in 1973. She has confused me a bit as she has a lot of relatives on Pine Ridge Reservation, and several of them came to her funeral, but that was the only time I met them. I have seen her family names on a family tree, but they are only names to me and I have no idea of any relatives connected from her family before her generation, only her sons and their children were a part of my life. She married a stage driver in Hot Springs, South Dakota when she was 17 and her father disowned her and she never got to go back to see her mother until her Father died and she herself was in her 50's.  My Mom's Dad was one of her 4 sons, and my Mom is the young girl in the top picture, with an aunt and Great-Grandma Emma.
The middle row is the wedding picture of Emma Lafferty and Frank Slack and a picture from the middle of her life and one about 90
in the bottom row, she is the grainy young mother holding her son, Bill, Then in the middle is a picture of her holding me, and the bottom right she was riding with my grandpa Lawrence and a friend named Bill Anderson, at the Cody, Wyoming 4th of July Parade

She was a feisty woman who drove the stage, danced with Buffalo Bill, (she told me he was so drunk that he fell into the punch bowl) She survived her battle torn younger years which included Custer's Last Stand and the massacre at Wounded Knee and married a white man who gave her a life of adventure and four sons. They ended up on a ranch outside Cody Wyoming for awhile and tun on the banks of the Greybull River in Meeteetse, Wyoming.

She was tiny and I always called her "Little Grandma" but she was strong and determined and fled with love for her great-grandkids.  I remember her singing School Days, School Days" and slipping me peppermint stick candies in the log cabin her sons built - then sleeping in a twin bed in my room when that cabin burned down.

I remember when she died, I was her size and I got a bag of sweaters and long nightgowns and when I wore them they felt like a hug, but also it felt so wrong that this simple cloth should still be around when she was not.

See this girl, awkward yes, different than most of my classmates, true, but not as ugly and stupid and obviously bad as I believed at the time.

True bullying makes you believe everyone else sees the reason you were targeted. It makes you believe there is no escape, that everyone is on the side of those tormenting you, and that those who you could ask for help won't be able to do nothing.  It isolates you and makes you feel like asking for help will only increase the abuse that you must somehow deserve.

Not everyone who bullies you is the primary instigator.  Some will just be almost as weak as you and be afraid that if they speak up the attack will turn on them. It is hard for anyone to willingly volunteer for that kind of abuse and it takes courage and the ability to see that bullies are afraid of groups. There is strength in numbers if other people can join together, which is precisely what the bully wants to avoid.

In grade school I started first grade not really knowing how to relate to other kids. I had a lot of grandparents, great-grandparents, great-Aunts and Uncles, but no siblings until just before I started school. I was severely pigeon-toed and the Dr. ordered dance classes but I failed drastically at dancing when I could barely walk. I was freckled and loud and tried to argue with the teacher who was teaching us to spell wrong, when I had started school already knowing how to read.  The class was using a phonetic program that taught that school was spelled "Skwl" and I knew better.  Cat was not Kat no matter what the teacher said. Not a good candidate for ITA learning!

In grade school, I had a battle every day. My things were stolen and destroyed or passed around from child to child with great drama and screams of "Dixie Fleas! Pass it on!"  They pretended to spray my chair with disinfectant before anyone else would sit there.  I came to believe I really did stink.  I started not doing homework just so I could be kept after school so the kids who threatened to beat me up as I walked home would get bored and be gone.

When I was chased to my house and tried to hide between the screen door and the locked inner door as 4 older girls threatened to kill me, my mom drove up. In sweet voices they told her that "we don't know what is wrong. We came by and she was just crying."  Mom thanked them for trying to help and I claimed I had just had a horrible head-ache.

Once I went to Jr. high it got better, and I had some friends from the other grade schools, but I still had kids who stole my PE clothes or cornered me and smeared raw eggs in my hair and poured cans of soda on me.  Pretty girls would catch my eye and I would stare back, wondering what they knew that made them accepted, that I was missing, then they would snarl at me to stop staring.

I never quite got it right. Once the High School held an anti-bullying assembly with a movie about a boy who tried so hard to be invisible that he stepped off the bus and died of a heart-attack and when the school tried to find his friends, none of his classmates knew who he was.  More kids told me "Hello" after that assembly than ever before but it only lasted a day.  I too was learning to hide, I carried a book and sketch pad and I hid behind them all the time.  I ate lunch in the art room and went straight home after school. I tried to be aloof so no-one would be able to tease me that no-one wanted to be my friend.  

It made me a bad friend to the people who really were trying, because I was afraid it was a trap and then they would laugh, and I was convinced I really didn't deserve a friend anyway.
How did I learn to move on?
First I had to move on.  I could never have become the loving friend and Mom and wife and teacher and writer that I am now, had I stayed in that town.  When I went away, I literally kept my head down and made no eye contact, and could not believe those other kids on the college campus were talking to me when they said "Hi"  It took a lot of them to make me understand that there wasn't some scarlet letter branding me an outcast. Then it took one very confident and loving friend to keep holding on even when I pushed away, and another, and the man who loved me and married me, and kept insisting I was a treasure.  It took seeing my worth in a lot of other peoples eyes before I could see it in the mirror.

It took leaving home and creating my own home. It took living overseas in China for awhile and being in the minority and still making friends

So then I became a teacher of special ed. children and a Mom of loving men, and a writer of novels that are anti-bullying pro-loving and I have made a conscious choice to add to the love in this world

So now school is starting again, and kids will be bullied again. What can we all do?  Love each other, hold a hand, offer a smile and a validation of worth, refuse to be silent audiences any longer. Ask for and offer help.

There is more good than bad people in the world.  That is why the bad ones are the news and the good ones are the norm.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Day 5 and 6

When I was a child I lived in the desert, the high mountain desert of Wyoming, and spent summers at 10,000 feet in snow and tundra. But somehow, I wanted to grow up and be a dolphin. At first I went through a phase of being very angry that my parents had not named me flipper, then when I talked the two of them, who were both so afraid of water that they held on to the towel rack all the way through their bath, into signing me up for swim lessons, I spent hours swimming underwater, pretending to be the mermaid I knew I would grow up to be. And that was years before Disney showed me there could be redheaded mermaids. Ariel came to the big screen the year I started teaching and I took my first class to the theater to see her.

From there I decided that what I needed to become was a dolphin trainer, working with my beloved animals at Marine Land or sea World.  I know that there has been a lot of negativity toward the idea of the marine mammals being trained and kept captive. I am sure that some of those complaints are justified but I firmly believe that humans only save what they care about, and only care about what they know. I don’t think there would be people making films like Blackfish, or Free Willie, or doing things to try to ban the slaughter in the wild of those incredible creatures, if there had not been a place where children like I was, could press out hands to the glass and see the dolphin making eye contact or see the killer whale begging us to play.
So we have learned, and need to change as we grow, but that does not mean we could have ever gotten to the point of caring without the zoos and Aquariums which turned the animals real in the minds of those of us who care, not just about animals in general but about the death of one specific Orca named Keiko and the happiness of a sealion named Red and the friendship of Flipper.
No, I didn't grow up to be a dolphin or a Mermaid or even a dolphin trainer, but I teach children every bit as funny as Flipper and I live by the Sea, and more than once I stood eye to eye with Keiko and shared a glimpse of similar souls

this picture, for my brothers birthday back on August 27 Is the one that made me decide to spend this month with old stories and old family pictures.

My parents were sure that they could never conceive another child after I was born, and then one day asked me what I thought of the idea of a baby in the family. I thought having a little sister would be wonderful and told them so. I hadn't known that the reason I had been having a babysitter once a week was because they were attending pre adopt meetings. At that time adoptions were very secretive things and babies were placed far from their family of birth. So we had to drive nine hours to pick up the six month old baby boy. My brother was adopted when he was 6 months old and I was almost 5. I remember driving clear across the state with my parents to pick up my new brother. Actually I was convinced it would be a girl, and when the social worker heard me ask where the girl was, she pulled out his picture and showed me, and said, "I guess we have to find another home for this boy then" and I remember screaming at her as I stared at the photo, "Don't you dare give my brother away."
 I gave up the idea of a sister as soon as I saw his picture and fell in love.

The worst part for me was that my Dad’s big sister came to see the baby and decided that a new baby and my long hair were too much work for my mom, and gave me a pixie cut. I hated it and soon started school where I became known as Pixie-Dixie but wasn't allowed to grow out my hair for a few years.

I did love having a baby brother. But we hadn't had him long before he ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and children were not allowed in as visitors. I wasn't happy that they took my baby away, and even angrier when mom bought him a stuffed panda. I cried and begged and got her to give it to me. So then she bought another, this one in powder blue and pink to take to him in the hospital. My panda still gives me a twinge of guilt - even knowing that sibling rivalry is common and knowing that little girl was missing her brother and being the center of her parents attention - I still cringe about trying to steal the toy from a sick baby.

When we first brought him home, he became hysterical at night. The social worker only told us it was because he had been used to sleeping in a crib with two other babies. I was never sure if that meant he had been a triplet or merely that there were a lit of babies in his pre adopt foster home

Now 46 years later, and the mom of an adopted boy myself - I can say adoption is a wonderful way to build a family.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Days 3 & 4

So here you see the animal print clothing Mom loved to dress her “little Pebbles” in – although I was rowdy enough at times to remind her more of Bam Bam.  When I was a toddler we lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming and one of the things my parents loved to do was go out hiking. There are a lot of lovely places around there and one of them is the amazing rock formations around Vedauwoo.  I remember riding on my Dad’s shoulders, but I also remember Mom and Dad taking a hold on each of my wrists and telling me to jump, and then they would fly me between them for several yards before lightly landing me on my feet and I’d beg “again.”
I didn’t have any siblings. Mom had a miscarriage 8 months before I was born. And then even though she was only 24 when I was born, she went into early menopause and it looked like my parents would be my only playmates. 
Well I found a playmate in the big Airdale dog next door.  He was a vicious guard dog, who loved me, but if I got over and under his belly, Mom had to wait until his owners returned because he’d threaten anyone else who came near me.
And then when I was 2 we moved back to my Mom’s hometown of Cody, Wyoming to be close to her parents.  It was actually Dad’s idea, because he had so many siblings but mom was an only child and he wanted her parents to be around their only grandchild.
My parents were really good parents, but they were not perfect.  Mom had never been around babies and became depressed and convinced that a child could never love her. She had a rough time for a couple of years, and I grew up both afraid of, and in love with her.  Dad had a sense of play, a great sense of humor and a strong work ethic, but he also was raised in Pittsburgh, PA in a time when racist language and prejudice were not even questioned.  He named our black poodle, that “N word” and balled Brazil nuts “N…..Toes” and told racist jokes about every nationality and race including his own, Polish Jokes, Hungarian Jokes, Mexican, Asian, Black – he was very willing to laugh and tell stereotyped stories about everyone.  You would never hear him doubting the “stereotype that ______ do not value life like we do”

And yet . . . everytime he met a person from another background or culture, he was polite and friendly and then surprised. Everyone he met was an exception to the stereotype – and he never quite realized that by making friends with his diverse co-workers, and telling us, “____is Bad –except this one” he was really reaching us that all stereotypical judgments are not to be trusted and individuals can surprise you in good ways.

My Dad was born on September 4, so today is his birthday. I’d love to bake him a yellow cake with bananas and fudge frosting but he died of esophageal cancer on Feb. 1, 1997.
In this collage there is me, and my Dad with me riding high. Then my Dad in a cowboy hat holding a longhorn and petting our sheep dog as he helped my Grandpa, Mom’s Dad sell horns and Antlers to tourists coming to Yellowstone park from off a black pick-up truck in the summer.  Then there is a much older, Dad/Grandpa reading to my two boys, and two pictures of mom and Dad. Then there is my dad as an adolescent and the curly haired picture his brother Walt tried to destroy because he hated that his baby brother looked like a girl.

Dad was many things in his life, a baseball fan raised close to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A Genius who was so poor he had to go to a technical high school and then into factory work although he could win Jeopardy and know about every subject.  Unlucky, he got drafted and had already lost a brother on Okinawa and had his Dad blinded by mustard gas in service – but also lucky, he became a morse code operator who ever after could type over 100 words a minute and survived his military time to move to Wyoming and marry my Mom.
They were oddly suited to each other, and fought a little but mainly got along very well.  He worked at a sawmill, and fought forest fires and worked in a wall board factory. Always he made little more than minimum wage and benefits only cane at the last job he had, but he provided a happy childhood to my brothers and I.

He always loved Babies and wanted to be a grandpa, but his first three grandkids were born in between March 29, 1993 and April 16, 1994 and then he died just a couple years later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Autobiographical Challenge: Days 1 & 2

     My Mom loved the Cartoon about the Flintstones. And in January of 1963 when Wilma announced she was pregnant, so was my Mom. And when Wilma had a red headed daughter in march, my Mom was hanging on every episode and wishing shed would have a red headed daughter too, but her hair was black and my Dad was a brunette, so even though I had redheaded relatives, she didn’t think it would happen.

     I was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming on July 9, 1963 into a world that still had JFK.  My Mom wasn’t due for delivery until the end of August, and the baseball “All Stars Game” was on TV.  It was a Tuesday and my Dad wanted to watch the game, so when my Mom told him it was time to go, he kept saying, “can you wait until the end of the game?”  She did, but by the time the National League won 5-3 she was getting angry.

     They got to the hospital and the Dr. tried to touch her and she screamed at him to keep his hands to himself. She says she knew that the moment she relaxed, it would be over and if he touched her, she would tense up.  I was born within 15 minutes of arrival.

     I was yellow and redheaded and soon my Mom heard a Dr. in the hallway saying,  “kids like that would be better off if someone would line them all up and shoot them.”  But no-one would tell her what was wrong.

     Two days later they wanted to send us home and she kept saying, “No she is too yellow.” But they tried to tell her it was just a redheads complexion. She threw a fit and they did a blood test and freaked out. Suddenly I had to have a complete blood transfusion and my blood was too messed up to type so they gave me 2 ½ times my blood volume of type O-  I had ABO hemolytic disease of the newborn but it had only recently been discovered and no one there had treated it before.  They say I would have died jut a couple years before.

     And yet I lived, and they named me Dixie Dawn.  My Dad had had a dream that he had a daughter name Dixie Anne but he didn’t want my initials to be DAM.  My Mom was happy to have a girl as redheaded as Pebbles and often dressed me in animal print clothing with a ponytail on top of my head.

     My first memory, it is more a blend of sensations than a memory.  I remember something that must have happened over and over, and that I watched repeated with my brothers and my children so that those memories blended with and reinforced my own older memories.  I remember my Dad, young, loud and bearded – with hair I could grab fistfuls of when he lifted me in the air overhead.  I remember that he loved playing with babies and I remember the specific sensation of giggling until I was gasping for breath and my stomach hurt and still begging for more as he made faces and blew raspberries and bounced me on his knee.  I remember him holding both my hands over my head as I toddled and then a few years later I remember gripping his fists and walking up his legs and doing a skin-the-cat through my arms.  I remember holding myself stiff as a board while I lay at his feet on the floor, and he bent over with his hands under my shoulders and raised me to a stand without me ever bending in the middle, and that felt like a victory.  The “planking” win – before “planking” was a thing. I remember him calling me “Charlie and pretending to steal my nose, and pretending to pop out his eyeball to clean it, and making his cheek pop with a quick jerk of his finger or his nose break by making the noise with his fingernails against his teeth.  He knew a hundred ways to entertain a baby but I was never sure who taught him.

     Dad was only 7 when his Mom died of kidney failure, and he was the next to the youngest of a dozen children, and his oldest sister had a couple of her own already but helped raise all the little-uns too. So I know there were a sister and brother-in-law and his Dad, all working hard and pinching pennies, and there were a lot of kids with the responsibility of even younger kids – but someone knew how to do it right and make the very smallest ones feel safe and loved and surrounded by laughter. And my Dad passed that on.

     I remember that every little thing could be a toy, so if there was a piece of string he could cut it in two, tie a knot, sprinkle it with invisible, ground up horse-feathers (wiffle dust) from his pocket and unwrap it to prove it was uncut and the knot had vanished. He would grab a brown paper lunch bag and toss an invisible ball in the air but the bag would pop when he caught the ball in it. He would plunk me in an empty cardboard box and slide it back and forth between my mom and him in the long hallway, and I’d giggle as they played “monkey in the middle,” because I was the monkey and what they were catching.  He had to know how to make toys of nothing because in his childhood, nothing is exactly how much extra they had to spend on toys.
I remember being loved.