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.

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