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By Marylin Schultz




Marylin on Tricycle, Billy, Francine & Terry in Wagon, Johnny in Rear, No. Hollywood, California, 1944, vintage family photo, scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


When nations form alliances on every continent, it means the lines are drawn and the winds of war sweep across the world, affecting all people, even small children. Two little girls in two very different families find they have been placed in opposite alliances, and this is their story.

The year is 1941. Marylin Biggs was born in New Mexico. She is Caucasian and lives with her parents and older brother. Her mother is expecting a baby in January. On December 7th, America is drawn into the war which is now affecting the entire world. Her father, not wanting to leave his wife with such a young family, is given the choice to work for Lockheed, building war planes, which he accepts. In 1942, the Biggs family moves to California.


In California’s central valley the Nakata family lives on a farm composed of beautiful orchards and vineyards. The children are 3rd generation Japanese Americans.

Little Haruko enters Kindergarten in 1942. One day, out on the school playground, Haruko finds herself surrounded by 6th Grade girls.

“Hold out your hand,” one of them commands. The small child meekly obeys, not knowing what to expect. The girl who spoke, grabs one of Haruko’s hands and begins to twist and twist a tiny finger until it breaks. Although the pain is excruciating, she is afraid to tell any adult at school and runs home. She never returns to that school.

As it turns out, the Nakata family is also about to make a major move. The huge difference is that Haruko’s family does not have a choice. They are ordered off of their land and become internees in a Relocation Camp, far away.


Marylin Biggs with her Cousin, Wiley Oliver, Glendale, California, 1942, vintage family photo, scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.

Marylin and her family settle down in North Hollywood, and her father drives to Burbank, the adjoining suburb of Los Angeles where he works at a Lockheed Aircraft Plant. The whole complex, including the large parking lot, is covered with a huge netting of camouflage. Russell Biggs rivets together the small, fast P-38 Fighter planes, which are designed to keep enemy planes from attacking the large, slower B-17’s, with their heavy cargo of bombs.

His younger brother, Ralph, was a tail gunner on these Bombers. On his last mission, Ralph’s plane was shot down, but he was able to escape, parachuting safely into neutral Switzerland, where he spent the remainder of the war. That country’s policy was to treat all military personnel humanely, but not to release them until the war’s end. Wiley Oliver, a cousin of Marylin’s, made the Army his career, retiring with the rank of Colonel, many years later.


Marylin also entered Kindergarten in 1942. She walked to school with her brother, Earl, who was in the 4th Grade. The children in the upper grades were given decks of cards that had the images of all the military airplanes on them. They were asked to become familiar with the appearances of the planes and to report any enemy planes that they might see. One day, on their way home from school, a small plane flew overhead and Earl shouted, “It’s a Messerschmitt; hit the dirt!” His little sister instantly obeyed, only to realize, at the sound of his laughter, that she had fallen for another of his practical jokes, and no danger was imminent!

Life in wartime held anxious moments for a small child. The wail of air raid sirens meant grownups hurrying to cover windows. There were billboards that asked drivers, “Is this trip necessary?” This due to the shortage of gasoline and tires. Some foods were rationed, meat, sugar and butter. Marylin “helped” by putting the small packet of orange liquid in the bowl of white margarine, which made it look a little more like the butter it replaced. The family had a large “Victory” vegetable garden.

But changes in the life of the Biggs family were insignificant compared to those for the Nakatas.

Haruko and Marylin met while both were students at U.C. Berkeley. They lived in a large old home that had been sanctioned as a “dormitory.” It housed 30 girls.

Marylin had never learned of the Relocation Camps before the two girls became friends. By 1942, Haruko’s family had lived in California for three generations. Their large farm was one of carefully tended orchards and vineyards that produced an abundance of fruit.

The Nakata family, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, were notified of their impending relocation. Each family’s baggage could not exceed 100 pounds. First, the “internees” were held in a gathering place, like cattle in a stockyard. Santa Anita Racetrack in southern California was one of these. The wait, at least a month long, was followed by a train trip into the interior of the country.


Japanese American Internees at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming, 1943, photo scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


The Relocation Center, as it was officially named, consisted of rows of barracks, usually divided in half for two families. The whole camp was hastily built in only three months. Coming from a culture that embraces beauty, order, modesty and dignity, it was a shock to be given only one room for the entire family. Sheets were hung within each space for privacy. There was a coal burning stove for heat, but no furniture. The men gathered scraps of wood left by the carpenters, to make crude tables and chairs. Cooking was not allowed. The meals were prepared for them and eaten in barracks, or “mess halls.” They were unprepared for the bitterly cold winters. With quiet dignity they suffered the shame of living behind barbed wire with armed soldiers on watch.

With about 10,000 internees, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, or “Jap Camp,” as it was called by local residents, instantly became the third largest city in Wyoming. It was located between the towns of Cody and Powell. A school was established for the children, as well as a medical facility. Supervised shopping trips were allowed, and some of the men were hired by local farmers as field workers. There was a shortage of local men, most of whom had been drafted into military service.

Incredibly, the younger Japanese men were asked to serve in the military, and many of them did. Some, though, were incensed by the irony of being imprisoned by their own nation and then asked to enlist. Those who chose to fight for their country did so, wishing to prove their loyalty. Most were in the same outfit, and it was the most highly decorated unit in World War II. Some of those who refused to enlist were actually sent to prison.

Most of the local residents were not prejudiced against these citizens. Boy and Girl Scout troops joined in activities. In fact, former Senators Alan Simpson and Daniel Inouye first met and became friends as young men involved in Boy Scouts, before Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943.

When the war was over, the Nakata family returned to California, to learn that someone else “owned” their farm. There was no explanation or compensation given. They simply had to begin again, which they did. It was not easy, but the family prospered once again, and the children all graduated from college and led productive, successful lives.




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy, a Writing Practice, Kindness, and a memoir piece, Images From The Past.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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Father Love Joy, taken the day before Father’s Day, Casket Arts Studio 318, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 16th, 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Many Father’s Days pass with a card, a note, a phone call. It’s easy to forget that Father’s Day can be somber for those who have lost fathers to war, illness, death or divorce. I don’t know what it is this year, but Father’s Day sticks to my heart. Maybe it’s the letter I wrote to my biological father last year after 50 years of no contact. Or the way my step-dad from South Carolina drove over 600 miles to see me when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother after his liver transplant. Or maybe it’s the way I can feel connected to my step-dad from Pennsylvania by checking in on Facebook when he winters in Puerto Rico.

I’m looking back; I’m looking forward. Back to the things my dads have taught me. Forward to the gratitude I feel that they are a part of my life. Over the years, I related most to the matriarchal side of our family. But the bond between fathers and daughters is inescapable. I ran from it in my twenties; I was trying to stand alone, be my own person. I humbly step back into the circle. It is unbroken. Fathers are the other half of the sky.

Some feel that divorce leaves children alienated and confused. That kids are too young to understand the nature of adult relationships until they have lived through a few of their own. How complicated and emotional and painful they can be. But children are resilient. And the truth is that adults go through many relationships over the course of their lives. Hopefully, insight follows pain. Understanding is born from love and loss. Wisdom comes from forgiveness and learning to love again.

I have a biological father I have not seen since I was six. I have a Southern dad who lives in South Carolina and was a big part of my life from the ages of two through eleven. I have a Northern dad who lives in Pennsylvania part of the year, the other part in Puerto Rico. He was a father figure from the ages of twelve through eighteen. I carry little pieces of each of these men into late adulthood; they are all part of me.

My First Bicycle - Morristown, Tennessee


I am a better person for what I learned from my three dads.

I learned to ride a bike in Tennessee. It was my dad who unbolted the training wheels, held the back of the seat until I was steady, then let go the moment I felt balanced. I learned to slip together model train tracks, drop liquid smoke into the stack to make steam (oh, that smell!), let the transformer cool off after a few hours. On Christmas morning, my dad would get right down on the floor with us and assemble model cars, toy blocks, and Easy-Bake ovens. He gardened, cooked and cleaned when Mom needed the help, tore apart car engines and taught her how to put them back together, and worked two jobs to keep us afloat. From my dad, I learned the meaning of generosity of spirit, of honesty and doing the right thing, of standing up for your beliefs and challenging those who take advantage of others.

In Pennsylvania, I grew old enough to drive. It was my mother who sat next to me in the Buick while I learned the ropes. But my dad who taught me how to slip the clutch on the red Austin-Healey Sprite we towed from my grandparent’s garage. The vintage racer belonged to my uncle and had seen a lot of wear. He said he’d give it to us if we could figure out how to tow it home. That Sprite became my first car. Mom added the shag carpet; my dad fixed up the engine and got the little spitfire running after hours of labor—a great gift to me.

From my dad, I learned to build a scale model guillotine for an 8th grade English project on A Tale of Two Cities. The blade was sharp; Mrs. Juarez was impressed. My dad taught me the first chords on the guitar I received for Christmas that first year of college. He always had a couple of guitars and an amp around the house when we were growing up. I also learned a little about politics and community from his dedication to workers rights through union organizing. I learned that change is possible if you are willing to fight for it.

From my biological father, I learned what a child learns from absence. There is a wondering that goes with a parent who is no longer present, a do I matter to them? I wonder if they ever think about me feeling that stays with you into adulthood. His family was lost to me; his parents, my paternal grandmother and grandfather, were strangers. But I did reconnect with my aunts after 50 years. They welcomed me into their families. From that experience, I have learned forgiveness and unconditional love.

There have been painful moments, too, times of disappointment, times when I felt invisible. But on this day, Father’s Day 2012, I focus on the richness I have gained. To my three dads — thanks for all you have taught me. Most people only have one father. I am blessed with the gift of three.


-posted on red Ravine, Father’s Day, Sunday, June 17th, 2012

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By Bob Chrisman

When I was eight, I received a new robin’s egg blue, girl’s bike for my birthday in May. I had selected that particular bike at the shop in the South End where we lived. I wanted a girl’s bicycle so I wouldn’t hurt myself every time I slid off the seat when I stopped. That always happened on boy’s bicycles and kept me from enjoying riding.

My father looked at the price tag and shook his head. “I don’t think we can afford this much. Let me talk with your mother.”

At eight years old, I had already heard that one phrase, “I don’t think we can afford this much” so often that I knew I would never own the bike I wanted. That’s the way things worked in my family: you didn’t get what you couldn’t afford and we couldn’t afford much at all.

On the morning of my birthday I ate my breakfast and opened my birthday cards. When I asked if I had any presents, my mother rolled the bicycle I’d picked out into the kitchen. “Your daddy and I decided that you were old enough to have this, even though it cost more than we would usually spend for a present. You’ve got to take good care of it. Okay?”

I leapt out of my chair and grabbed the bike before it vanished. Only when I held the handlebars in my own hands was it real. I had the bike I wanted.

Later that morning I opened the screen door and made sure to pull the bike out before the door slammed. I took it down all the stairs to the sidewalk and rolled it down the hill until I reached Ozark Street which was flat and graveled. Only then did I climb on my new bike and pedal along the street with the wind in my face. I felt so happy and so proud.

My friends congregated up the street and I rode my new bike up there to visit with them and show them my birthday present.

When I arrived, one of the boys said, “Hey, Bobby, why you got a girl’s bike? You a sissy?”

“No, I wanted a girl’s bike because it’s easier to get on and off. That’s why.”

“No, you’re a sissy. He’s a sissy, isn’t he?”

Everyone laughed.

Then the kid said, “I want to ride your sissy bike.”

“No, you can’t. It’s brand new. I just got it and I want to ride it for awhile before anyone else does.” I held on tight to the handlebars.

“Hey, sissy, that’s not very nice. But, I don’t want to ride a blue girl’s bike anyway.”

I turned around to ride home. The kids screamed names at me as I rode away. I’d reached the end of the block when a clunk sounded on my rear fender. A cheer went up from the kids. I crossed the intersection and started pushing the bicycle up the hill. When I was out of sight of my friends, I looked at the rear fender. Someone had thrown a big rock and dented and scraped a place on my new bike. I lost it. I couldn’t stop shaking and crying, but I pushed the bike up the hill, up the stairs and parked it on the porch.

My mother came running out of the house. “What’s wrong? Did you fall?”

I couldn’t speak so I pointed at the rear fender. My mother looked at the damage. “So that’s what you’re crying about? For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bicycle.”

No, it was so much more than that.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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My First Bicycle — Morristown, Tennessee, BlackBerry Shot of C-41 film print, Morristown, Tennessee, April 1959, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Do you remember your first bicycle? Did you learn to ride a bike in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s? Were you sporting a Schwinn, Raleigh, or Western Flyer, 24 or 26- inch frame, balloon-tired, single-speed coaster, three-speed, or ten-speed? Whenever I could, I’d steal away on my brother’s Schwinn Sting-Ray with the banana seat. Did your bike have a Wheelie-Bar (check out this cool poster for the WHAM-O Wheelie-Bar)?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, bikes were booming. (Prior to the 1960’s, most bicycles were sold to children.) In 1960, 3.7 million bikes were sold in the U.S., with sales jumping to 15.2 million by 1973. When I took off the training wheels and graduated to a 26-inch frame, I’m pretty sure I was riding high on the Schwinn Fair Lady. Was my brother riding a Tiger? Did my sister have a Sting-Ray Stardust? I remember her bike had a white basket on the front, laced with flowers.

How many times did you fall off your bicycle when you were learning to ride? Did you use training wheels or go out into that brave new world balancing on the head of a pin. Tell me everything you know about your early bicycle experiences. The look, the feel, the wind in your hair. Were there plastic streamers flowing out of the grips, clothes pins snapped to playing cards (could they be Bicycle) and clipped to the frame, chattering over the spokes? Did you ride with “no hands?”

Get out a fast writing pen and a spiral notebook and do an old-fashioned handwritten Writing Practice. Write My First Bicycle at the top of the page and 15 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 13th, 2011

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By Judith Ford


My grandmother, who was Dutch, did an incredible job of spring cleaning, every March, every year she was alive. No object and no surface was spared a scrubbing. Rugs were taken out and beaten within an inch of their threaded lives; walls were washed with a hard brown scrub brush. Curtains taken down and washed. Every closet emptied, every sheet and towel bleached and washed. Everything dried outdoors on a clothesline. In March, Wisconsin is still cold so things froze out there, pillowcases transformed into wrinkled boards. Socks turned into twisted sculptures. She washed every dish and pot and spoon. Then when it was all done and everything set back in its proper place, she’d cover the sofa and chairs and lampshades in the living room with plastic covers. She’d lay a plastic path from doorway to living room couch and into the dining room. When I was around 11, I asked her, finally, who she was keeping everything so clean for and when would she remove the ugly plastic. (I didn’t say the word, ugly, I’m sure). “The plastic keeps everything ready for company,” she replied. “But, “I protested, “Aren’t I company?” I had never once seen her living room without plastic. “You,” she explained, “are family. Not company.” She didn’t need to add that I, being a rather messy child, was one of the reasons she protected her furniture.


My mother didn’t do spring cleaning. She did like to open up all the windows on the first day the temperature rose over 50–to air everything out. I always loved that, coming home from school for lunch and finding the windows all wide open, the house looking like a toothless, eyeless caricature of itself, the air sweet and chilly. My mother hated being a housewife and did not cotton to cooking or cleaning. She did the minimums and stuck to the 50’s schedule that most of her friends observed: Monday clean and do laundry; Tuesday iron; Wednesday, volunteer work; Thursday, groceries; Friday, light cleaning (a lick and a promise, is what she called it); Saturday was the night my dad cooked burgers and Sundays we went to my grandparent’s house for dinner. My mother did what she felt she must but mostly without joy and often with many sighs. She did seem to enjoy ironing (which I so don’t get) and would sing while she ironed, in a voice like Ella Fitzgerald. Singing over the ironing and walking in the mountains – those are the times I remember my mother at her happiest. Not cleaning. Never spring cleaning.


Well, it’s sort of spring now and I am sort of spring cleaning. I’ve been putting hours in every week to clean my attic. It has to be done. We’re selling the house and moving to the country.

I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, married husband #2 after living alone here with my daughter for 5 years, moved that husband and his daughter in, had another baby, raised these kids until each one grew their feathers and flew off. Also raised a cockatiel, a parrot, four dogs and numerous gerbils and hamsters in this house. Can you imagine the debris? My attic had become a combination museum, closet (huge closet), and file cabinet. Treasures and cast-offs that have trickled down to me from three generations and two family lines. The leftover objects include outgrown clothes, games, books, and life directions. My very first poem, written at age 10. A couple of Jessie’s baby teeth, nestled inside the newborn bracelet she wore in the nursery: “Baby girl, Marks-Szedziewski, 2-19-78.” An envelope containing a curling wisp of very blond baby hair, Nic’s first haircut, 1988, a battered and faded pink pair of tiny toe shoes (mine, from 1955, I think; although they might be my aunt Jeanne’s). A hair curling iron (great-grandmother Nettie’s, late 1800’s). Aunt Jeanne’s bracelets from the 30’s. So glad I didn’t throw those away. Hundreds of notes from Jessie and from Nic: I Love You, Mommy. Mommy don’t tell anyone but I love you best. Thank you for being my mommy, You are the best Mommy, Next time you go on a trip, take me too. Mommy, I hate camp. Come and get me out of here, please!please!please! Nic’s version of Jingle Bells, written at age 4 with a few backwards letters, words scrawled across the page, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells Jingle all the way, Oh What Fun on Al’s True Ride, On the One on Holken Slay. Jessie’s school trophies, soccer and swimming, her camp and sports t-shirts, Nic’s academic medals for top scores in the state on the ACT and SAT at age 9 and 10, his IQ testing done at Northwestern U when he was 5.

The way I wept when the tester called me and told me the test results.

I wish I had known more back then how to feed his ravenous brain, his wonderful mind. So much I wish I could do over for him.


I will be 63 in a month. The past is truly the past. There are no do-overs and no time left for holding on. Time, instead, for letting go. For boxing up, and throwing away, for going to UPS to send Jessie her soccer and swim team t-shirts, to send Nic his Pokemon card collection. Handing the keepsakes over to my grown-up kids, handing over to them the job of remembering.

In the process of this sorting and cleaning, I’ve had to remind myself again and again to let go not only of the objects but the feelings. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve longed to have my children back in my arms, on my lap, longed for one more night of reading in bed with Jessie at age 7, one more night of long conversation at bedtime with Nic when he was 10. One more chance to see each of them for one hour during each year of their growing-up – one more chance to drink in the sight of them, their wispy hair, freckled faces, braces and missing teeth, to listen to their piping little voices more intently, memorize each one of them even more completely.

I had expected that cleaning out all this old stuff would help me clear the decks for this next chapter of my life, and yes, I guess that’s happening. I had anticipated reminiscing. I hadn’t anticipated the wave upon wave of memories to be so visceral, so wrenching, so expanding and swooping and full of love. I am not only clearing the decks; I am also rejuvenating both myself and the attic. Am going through some kind of death and resurrection here. Turning myself inside out and right side out again. Right side out and I must admit, a little trembly.

Spring cleaning is a piece of cake compared to this.




About Judith: Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with the piece 25 Reasons I Write. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include lang•widge, Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min. Spring Cleaning is based on a 15 minute Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING.

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Centipede Dreams, scar from a benign tumor taken out when I was 12 (37 years ago), September 2010, photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Most people no longer ask about the large blemish I have in the center of my throat, down where my larynx meets my chest. It’s a tracheotomy scar that must be getting lighter the longer I have it. When I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for perfect strangers to approach me in public places and ask, “What happened there?”

I had the tracheotomy at age 18 months after a croup turned to pneumonia. It was an emergency operation, part of my childhood mythology, the small Mexican doctor with wild hair who stabbed open a hole in my trachea so I could breathe. She had a frantic look in her eye, her hair loose and Bride-of-Frankenstein-like, and she held the sharp instrument up in the air before bringing it down to pierce my throat.

That’s the image I hold of her anyway, an image formed out of the seemingly hundreds of times I heard my parents tell the story. It was the kind of improbable drama — the dying child whose life is saved by a small doctor who is both Mexican and a woman — with a happy ending that held friends and relatives rapt year after year. I loved the attention, standing near my parents, Mom nudging me to lift my chin so everyone could see the scar. A few gentle strokes of her fingers on the chamois-soft skin, rubbing as if to say, “See, it’s permanent.”

In each telling I embellished the imagery. When my parents described the moment they decided to rush me to the hospital, how my lips had turned blue and I’d stopped breathing, my mind’s eye pictured the veins and blood from my body shimmering purple through translucent skin. Or when Mom and Dad said that my hair went from straight to curly “just like that” as I lay in the oxygen tent in ICU, I saw it happening as if in time lapse photography. Like the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the West curling after Dorothy removes the ruby slippers, so went my hair, forming into tiny ringlets all over my head.

It must be natural, I think, for a young kid to turn her childhood stories into morbid scenes, but what strikes me is how much staying power those scenes have. I don’t replace them with more reasonable pictures — a modest Mexican woman with hair pulled back in a bun, a ride on the gurney into a stark emergency room at the hospital. No, my scenes involve my parents bursting through a set of double doors, my limp blue body draped across Dad’s arms, them watching in horror as the doctor plunges a knife — or better, a pair of sharp scissors — into my throat. Or my parents watching in awe as my hair springs up in a bouquet of curl all around my head, like an angel’s.

I don’t have such vivid imagery when it comes to the scar on my knee, although being that I got it at the impressionable age of 12, I did manage to fabricate a mythology around that one, too. I developed a crush on the orthopedic surgeon who did the procedure — my parents said he looked like a hippie, which made him all the more intriguing. In my mind, his golden hair flows out from under a light blue surgeon’s cap and he dons a small silver hoop in his ear. I clearly recall him coming to visit me after the operation, carrying the kind of Bell jar used for canning fruit. Inside is my white globular tumor floating in a yellowish brine. I’m surprised it isn’t perfectly round, like a golf ball.

The scar from that procedure resembles a centipede on the inside of my right knee, and once after a real centipede crawled across my leg while I played hide-and-seek in the coat closet, I decided to tell any kid who asked me how I got the scar that it was left there by a centipede that seared itself into my skin. “That’s how centipedes bite,” I told them, “they burn themselves right into you.”

Kids looked at me with respect after that, but my story fell apart once they began asking all the questions that come with the idea of centipede-as-branding-iron. “What happened to the centipede?” “Well, it dried up and fell off,” I said one time, and then another time, “It dissolved right into the skin, see?, you can still see parts of it here.” Soon I became tired of the technicality of it all, I couldn’t keep the story straight and over time I left behind the centipede saga and kept only the image of my long-haired doctor.

My latest epic scar involves two puncture wounds on the outer bridge of my nose, close to my eyes, that our rooster Lindo gave me when he tried blinding me with his spurs. Lindo and I shared a mutual animosity, he was a beautiful cocky bird who had such an intense hatred that the moment he spied me coming out the door he would strut my way with the intent to fight. I took to carrying a bundle of dried bamboo stalks, which I used to whack him as I made my way to whatever part of the yard I needed to go. He’d come after me again and again until my stalks splintered into pieces, at which point I took off at a full out run.

Ultimately he got the better of me, one evening when I let down my guard. I had gone armed only with a bowl of compost into the bird pen. I bent down to throw a piece of lettuce to the bunny who lived there with the roosters, turkeys, and ducks, and Lindo saw his opening. He flew up at my face, spurs aimed at my eyes. He almost got them, too, and I’m not embellishing when I say that I traumatized my youngest daughter when I stood up screaming, blood streaming like tears down my cheeks.

The strange thing is that no one notices the scars unless I point them out. One time, at a luncheon in China, I sat next to a German man who had the exact same two puncture wound scars near his eyes. All through lunch, I wanted to ask if he, too, had been attacked by a rooster. But I barely knew the man. I tried to imagine every other possible reason he might have carried scars identical to mine. Maybe he’d suffered terrible acne that resulted in two pimples near his eyes. Or perhaps as a teen he wore black leather and sported a purple Mohawk and a piece of bone pierced through the bridge of his nose.

In the end, I couldn’t think of a way to broach the subject without embarrassing us both or drawing attention from the six other European men at the table. However, in my mind, I am certain that the very thing that happened to me also happened to him. Anything is possible.


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Postscript: This essay is based on a 15-minute Writing Practice in response to WRITING TOPIC – SCARS. The details that emerged from my Writing Practice were similar to other times when I’ve done timed writing that led to stories about my tracheotomy (specifically here and here) so I figured it was time to polish the narrative. Plus, since it contains important elements of my life story, especially my earliest years, I wanted to go with the energy, hoping it might turn into something I can weave later into memoir.

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Most people no longer recognize the patch I have in the center of my throat, down where my larynx meets my chest. It is a tracheotomy scar that must be getting lighter the longer I have it. When I was a kid, it was not uncommon for a perfect stranger would approach me in some store where I was buying sunflower seeds or Jolly Rancher apple sticks and ask, What happened there?

I had the tracheotomy at age 18 months after a respiratory virus turned to pneumonia. It was an emergency operation, part of my childhood mythology, the small Mexican doctor with wild hair who stabbed open the hole in my trachea so I wouldn’t die. She had a frantic look in her eye, her hair loose and Bride-of-Frankenstein-like, and she held the sharp instrument up in the air before bringing it down to pierce my throat.

That is the image that came out of those many times I heard my parents tell the story, it was the kind of story they would repeat to relatives and friends, even after we’d heard it for years, and in each telling I would embellish the imagery. Just like when they said that in the oxygen tent in the ICU, where I stayed for days afterward, my hair went from straight to curly, just like that and I can see it happening, in time lapse photography. Like the stocking feet of the Wicked Witch of the West curling and shrinking away under the house after Dorothy removes the ruby slippers, so goes my hair, forming into tiny ringlets all over my head.

It must be natural, I think, for a young kid to turn their childhood stories into morbid scenes, but what strikes me is how much those scenes have stuck with me through the years. I don’t replace them with more reasonable pictures, a modest Mexican woman with hair pulled back in a bun, a ride on the gurney into a stark but clean emergency room at the hospital. No, my scenes involve my parents watching on in horror as they see the doctor plunge the knife into my throat, or watching in awe as my hair springs up in a bouquet of curl all around my head, like an angel’s.

The scar on my knee came at an impressionable age, around 12 years old, and I fabricated a mythology around that one, too. I developed a huge crush on the orthopedic surgeon who did the procedure, my folks said he looked like a hippie, which made him all the more intriguing. Even though this seems unlikely, I clearly recall him coming to visit me after the operation, carrying the kind of Bell jar used for canning fruit, and inside was my white globular tumor floating in a yellowish liquid.

The scar from that procedure resembles a centipede crawling on the inside of my right knee, and once after a real centipede zipped across my leg while I was playing hide-and-seek in the coat closet, I decided to tell any kid who asked me how I got the scar on my knee that it was left there by a centipede that burned itself into my skin. That’s how centipedes bite, I told them, they sear themselves right into you.

Kids looked at me with respect after that, but my story fell apart once they began to ask all the questions that came with the idea of centipede-as-branding-iron. What happened to the centipede itself? It dried up and fell off, I said one time, and then another time, It dissolved right into the skin, see, you can still see parts of it here. Soon I became tired of the technicality of it all, I couldn’t keep the story going and over time I left behind the centipede and kept only the image of my long-haired doctor.

I have two puncture wounds on the outer bridge of my nose, close to my eyes, that our rooster Lindo gave me when he tried blinding me with his spurs. One time, at a luncheon in China, I sat next to a German man who had the exact same two puncture wounds near his eyes. All through lunch, I kept wanting to ask him if he, too, had been attacked by a rooster, but I couldn’t think of a way to broach the subject without coming off sounding like a whacked out American.

Now, in my mind, I am certain that the same thing that happened to me happened to him. Anything is possible.




-Related to Topic post WRITING TOPIC – SCARS and Guest practice, PRACTICE – SCARS – 15min by Louis Robertson

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Louis Robertson


Scars tell a story, some easily remembered, some long forgotten. My oldest “memory scar” looks like the letter C on the webbing between my left thumb and index finger. I remember getting this scar like it was yesterday, although I think I was three at the time, when I accidentally closed a cap gun on it. It was one of those old western style guns that opened on a pivot to load more caps. The experience seemed so surreal with the cap gun hanging off of my hand as I tried to shake it off.

The second scar I remember well is on my left arm about 4 inches below my elbow. I got this one at Grandpa’s house while cutting the grass with the riding mower. Using the riding mower was something I didn’t do often and something Mother reluctantly allowed me to do.

Uncle R had a Great Dane who was allowed outside on a run (a cable run from the barn to a tree with a chain which hooked to his collar). Over time, he would create a sag in the wire and the constant running wore the edge of the cable to a razor sharp edge. I would use a wooden pole to hold up the wire and mow near the pole as I mowed the lawn. On this day I got a little too close to the pole and knocked it over causing the wire to be dragged along my arm.

I remember stopping the mower, walking inside (trying to keep the bloody arm out of mom’s sight) so I could make it to the bathroom to patch it up and keep mowing. Unfortunately, as blood dripped off my arm, Mom’s “mother sense” kicked in and she made me stop so she could see what was going on. By this time, blood was coursing downing my arm and I knew I was done mowing for the day.

My most impressive scar(s) would have to be from my two liver transplants. The first transplant was in 1993, and the second in 2003. The scar starts in the center of my chest and goes down toward my belly for about 4 inches where it meets a scar that is shaped like a lopsided chevron. The left side is about 6 inches and the right continues to my right side. The transplant team calls this my Mercedes but if pressed they will confirm that it is really called a modified chevron incision.

There have been several things I’ve wanted to do with this scar, including getting tattoos that incorporate it into them. Since tattoos do not work well on scar tissue, I was thinking about getting a dashed line near the scars with the instructions “Cut here.” Another thought was to make it look like a zipper that is opened at the top. I am not sure where I will go with these, but I have over a year to decide.

Other scars I have found make me say, “Where did that come from?” But that is another story.


Frankenbelly 2

Frankenbelly 2, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, August 2003, photo © 2003-2010 by Louis Robertson. All rights reserved.



-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SCARS

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

Louis has experienced medical challenges since he was a teenager. After his first liver transplant in 1993, his perspective on life became more focused and his appreciation for the little treasures life grants increased. When he learned he needed a second liver transplant, his focus moved to preparing his family and children for a future without him. He now is a candidate for a third liver transplant and lives his life watching for life lessons he can pass on to his children. He shared some of those lessons in his piece on red Ravine: Things I Wanted You To Learn.

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Scar Geography, Burn Scar From An Art Project, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Scars may be an odd topic, I know. But scars, random warrior marks across body (and mind), remind us that we’ve lived a full life. A nick, a cut, a slice. I remember when I was a young girl, my mother sliced her finger open while peeling potatoes; the wound took several stitches and weeks to heal. And when I was about six, my young brother fell off his tricycle while standing on the seat, reaching for a pickle jar resting on the brick window ledge of our carport. There was blood everywhere; it scared me to death.

Scars have a long memory. They follow some kind of trauma in a life. Here is a little scar geography from the years that I have lived:

 

#1 — Index finger in the crease above the knuckle. I was sharpening dental tools in the late 70’s, when a blade caught on a grinding wheel and popped up into the air. I watched in slow motion; gravity took its course and the steel tip landed in my finger. (Occupational hazard of the dental tool sharpener.)  — Montana

#2 — Middle finger, second crease above the knuckle. While performing the perfect high dive at a pool party (showing off for my high school friends) I didn’t realize how shallow the deep end was. Bam! scraped my knuckles on the bottom and came up bleeding. Not cool. — Pennsylvania

#3 — Inside wrist, right side, a burn scar shaped like a lop-sided heart. I was helping an art school friend paint scalding hot bees wax on her senior project, a huge sculpture made of all natural materials. She’d heat up the dark brown bees wax in an old electric skillet her grandmother gave her and slather it across branches of wood. Memories of art school. — Minnesota

#4 — Inside of left calf – a light burn scar shaped like the edge of the tailpipe I brushed against when stepping off the saddle of my uncle’s Honda. I was about 13 and asked if he’d take me on a ride across Pennsylvania back roads around East Berlin. He forgot to tell me the first rule of the road about motorcycles – always step off the side without the 500-degree tailpipe. (Ironically, it’s the same day I fell in love with motorcycle riding.) — Pennsylvania



Do you have scars on your body, the kind of unexpected life happenings that leave a little mark? Or maybe you’ve had surgery under the knife (before the laser) and have a long zipper down your abdomen or across your right knee. My brother has had two liver transplants and I am awestruck by what he has endured, evidenced by the long scars down his chest. He recently became a candidate for a third transplant, and the last time I was home, he joked that he was going to tattoo a dotted line down his chest – – – – Cut Here.

Scars can also be psychological and emotional. Childhood trauma, abuse, post traumatic stress, or scars associated with cultural rites of passage. Stressful life events become markers, cairns on the journey. Scars provide a rich vein of material to be excavated. In your next Writing Practice, follow the scars across your body. They contain deep memories and feelings, a topographical map through the past.

Scars — 10 minutes, Go!

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I had a Writing Practice a second ago. But Mr. Stripeypants wiped his paw across my keyboard and accidentally hit the delete key. What was I saying about doors? Hard to muster the energy to walk through this one. Doors, I remember a door from childhood. Wooden, probably pine, not hollow, real, with a center and windows, three windows, rectangular, and spaced so that one fell a little lower than the next. There was a United Way sticker on the door. I’m reminded that Pants comes to the door to greet me when I get home from anywhere. He hears the car come up the driveway, maybe even the street. Superhearing. There’s something comforting about having someone meet you at the door.

Doors to the past. I tend to open them for a peek. Doors to the future. You can’t count on them. Might not have a future. Now, right now. Still, I make plans, hoping I will see the sun rise. No sun today. The sun rose but was way too gray and rain studded to see. So I suffice with a memory –yesterday’s whopping orange ball over the Jewish cemetery I pass on the way to work. A beautiful mounded hill surrounded by empty land in the middle of a busy city. I like that about cemeteries. They hold space. And they get away with it because most people honor the dead, respect for those who have passed before.

Doorways to another dimension. Do I believe in Spiritual doors? Yes. I do. Thin veils of what has passed. I think about that when I open the Chevy Silverado door, marking time, making my rounds, driving around the bowels of the Twin Cities. Places no one thinks about or imagines, living right beside their neighborhood park or favorite restaurant. I haven’t been drawn to photograph doors. Except for the bowling pin door I ran into in Burnsville. But I’ve always worked with windows. The metaphor of window. It’s different than a door. Windows are lonely, have a longing loneliness about them. Pining to get out. You have to crawl out a window. What wants to blow in? You see vampire movies where vamps slide through windows at night. Never come in the door. Only the windows, flying like a bat out of midnight.

When I was a child, doors felt like protectors. Keeping what was unsavory out. Unless it was a Holiday and the relatives visited. Then we ran to the door to see who it was, to let them into the house. The house seemed so much bigger then. If I went back inside a childhood home, it would be tiny. What about gates? How are gates different than doors? If you think about a gate, you can go under it, over it, around it. A door? You have to want to move through it. Gates, you can see through them, yet still might not be able to trespass forward. Doors are most times closed off to what’s inside. Unless it’s a glass storm door, that thick-paned thermo glass that keeps the heat in and the cold out. I’ve always wanted to be able to afford thick glass windows and doors. Winter hardware.

What about Black Holes, doors to another Universe. Or are they drains, deep black, funneling drains to nowhere. I don’t really know what a Black Hole is. I read about them once but can’t remember how they form. And when I think about a door that huge, it makes me feel small and insignificant, which I am. I am also as big as my Spirit allows me to be. (Can I keep getting out of my own way?) The door is wide open. There are glass ceilings, mahogany frames, hollow doors, lead doors, steel doors. If I had to choose, the door would be red like my glasses. Or yellow like the Sun. You just don’t see yellow doors. Maybe a saccharin shade of bluish purple.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, February 4th, 2009

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DOOR

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Ode To Joy & Christmas Eve, snapshot of my art studio desk, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




savor the small things
the joy of writing haiku
in the dead of night;
the silence of snow falling,
calms the chatter in my mind


circumspect darkness
relative humidity
what matters to me?
seeing clearly with the heart
things invisible to the eye


Holiday blizzard
thank you for braving the storm
following footprints
of those who walked before us —
Joy hides in the strangest places




It’s the dead of night. I’m staring out the window at snow falling on cedars, oaks, and ash. A Holiday blizzard. I’ve always liked Christmas Eve almost better than Christmas. When I was growing up, I’d stay up way past the time when my five younger siblings were in bed, rocking in the leather recliner, bathed in the glow of firelight and candles. Some years the living room would be blue from head to toe, my mother’s favorite color, with a tree dressed in angel hair and the front door wrapped like a package with pine cones and ribbon. Do they still have contests for best door decorations?

I can smell Amelia’s fruit cake and rocks, ladles of egg nog, cloves spiking the Christmas ham. It’s the time of year when I count my blessings. I’m grateful for family, friends, and lovers, for blog partners and red Ravine readers, for puffy orange coats and wet mittens. Thank you for walking with us through murky and uncertain waters. Thank you for running through rain. And pausing in the darkness of Winter. There is so much joy in the silence.


Happy Holidays from red Ravine, December 24th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), Poem For The Trees (Keepers Of The Light), A Few Of My Favorite Things, On Eating December Snowflakes, Tamales — A Christmas Tradition, Merry Merry, Happy Happy, A Partridge In A Pear Tree, A Christmas Gift From Dad, On Collecting Pigs Against Your Will

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Most of the things I’ve been accused of, I did do. Not terrible things. Normal, living day-to-day things. I once got into trouble for walking into the larger-than-life, under construction, sky barrel that would later become the water tank for the little subdivision I grew up in. I wanted to hear how it would sound to yell inside the green tank. Would it echo? Fall flat? I must have been only 9 or 10. I got in so much trouble when my parents found out. It scared them to know where I had been, what might have happened. I did it, I did.

I wish I could think of something ruthless or edgy that I’ve been accused of. Or even done. I can’t. I’m mundane, run of the mill ordinary. Yet I’ve done some extraordinary things. I thought about this topic while driving through yesterday’s snowstorm. The 35mph winds nearly blew the pickup off the road. At one point, I had to do three of those turn-into-the-curve corrections when I hit a patch of black ice on a freeway curve. Thank goodness no one was near me.

On a snowy backroad, I started to wonder what kind of people get accused of things they didn’t do. What about the American who recently was found guilty of murder in Italy for a crime she says she didn’t do. Is she guilty? Innocent? Who are we to believe.

What about Tiger Woods. Is he being accused of things he did or didn’t do? Are all those women lying? Or is it his wife. I have to admit, when I heard about the early morning jog off the road, the crash and burn, I immediately thought “domestic situation.” And wondered what he had done. I noticed he seemed angrier this year on the golf course, less focused, throwing his clubs around. No wonder. Who can keep all that pent up inside?

I don’t think I have the kind of thick skin it takes to be accused of things I didn’t do. Maybe it led me to play it safe. It makes me seem boring, even to my own self. Where’s the drama? Like I said, when I was accused of things, I often did them. Have I ever lied about what I’ve done? Yes, on occasion in order to get out of a messy situation. But not as a rule of thumb.

I’ve been accused of being quiet, moody, crabby, over-emotional, shy. I’ve been accused of being fearful. Are those things true? At times. When I was in second grade Mrs. Hamrick took a ruler, bent the palm of my hand backwards so the inside of my hand was taut and facing up, and slapped my palm with a ruler. She did the same thing to my friend Melanie. We were cracking up in class over the word “smelly.” It was the way Melanie said “smelly” that had me in stitches in the middle of class.

Should I have been accused of laughing too hard, too loud, too much? I don’t know. But I was. And the ruler stung. I rarely got in trouble, rarely got a spanking. Why was I so goody two-shoes? Always running down the middle line, playing it safe. I don’t know. I prefer to be accused of being the good guy than the bad. Yet I like the tough guy rebel reputation. That just doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense in the world of false accusations. Nothing makes sense in the world of truth. Everything is subjective, even the way facts are presented. I’ve been accused of being too detailed and long-winded. That’s a good reason to draw this practice to a close.

If I took the time to list all the things I’ve been accused of over the years that I did do, it would fill another writing practice. Most I’m not proud of. I’m flawed, human. I used to be a jealous person. I feel like I’ve dulled down in the area of personal relationships. And that’s where all the drama is. I don’t step in the mire as much as I used to when I was young and trying to figure out what made relationships tick. I crossed boundaries, stepped through quicksand, threw a few tantrums. “Throwing a tantrum.” Where do you throw one. Out the window, across the river, slithering through the psyche of a loved one?

Pitching a fit. That’s an old Southern phrase. I used to say it. I hear it still when I visit the South. “Don’t pitch a fit, Shug.” Or “She’s fixin’ to pitch a fit.” I love that phrasing. There is something more colorful about the Southern dialect. Descriptive and loose. Uncontained, visual. You can not accuse Southern dialect of being stilted or canned.

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Lawdy-mercy, no.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the second of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts:  PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by Bob Chrisman), and PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by ybonesy)

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I have a tracheotomy scar that I got when I was 18 months. Mom said I used to get croup and that this particular time my croup turned into pneumonia. By the time they realized how bad it was, I was turning blue. They rushed me to the emergency room, and Mom says that a little Mexican doctor, a woman, performed the emergency tracheotomy on me. They kept me in an oxygen tent for days, and Mom said that’s when my hair went curly. She said I looked like an angel under the plastic of the tent.

Later, as a young girl, any time I got fever, I would have dreams where it seemed angels were hovering in the room with me. I could hear people talk, my brother and sisters, but it was the underwater sound of voices. And I felt like there were other children with me, except these children were calm and light. Those were the angels who visited any time I was sick, and I often wonder now if they related at all to the time I almost died.

Also, in my mind, I picture that little Mexican woman. The doctor. Mom and Dad had great pride in saying that it was a Mexican woman who saved my life. Mom’s grandmother on her dad’s side was a little dark woman with a long thick braid. Mom talks about how as a child she would go in and see her grandmother, who was sick in bed. Her name was Elena, and Mom said she’d be in a white bed dress, sitting up, her gray-black hair pulled back in a thick braid. Mom says that she thinks Elena had Indian in her, Spanish and Indian, which is Mexican. And somehow, when Mom talks about the Mexican doctor, I often think of Elena as being that woman. She wasn’t, of course, but that’s who I picture saving my life.

The other thing that I picture is the doctor puncturing my throat with a pair of scissors. I don’t know why I see that, but I do, and it’s comical now to think that someone would take whatever object they could find, a good pair of steel scissors with black handles, and poke them into my throat to open up a passageway.

And I see myself under the tent afterward, sweaty from the oxygen and heat that builds up. And then like when the house falls on the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy takes off the witch’s ruby slippers, and all of sudden the witch’s feet curl and retract under the house, this is how I picture my curls happening. Mom and Dad are staring at me in the tent, my hair is wet but straight, and suddenly the entire head of hair starts to curl into ringlets. I picture my parents’ eyes getting big and the two of them looking at each other, incredulous.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my parents to almost lose a child. Mom says that after that, she didn’t like to take me out. She didn’t like it when people with colds came over. She tried to keep me covered and away from germs. Back then we had relatives visiting all the time. And neighbors, too. We were a big family, social. All my sisters’ friends would come to our house to play and hang out. And Mom’s friends, too. On Sundays my Aunt Barbara and her eight kids would often drive up from a town just south of us. Eventually Mom must have just let it go, let me be a normal kid again. What do they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the first of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to PRACTICE: Hair – 15min

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 
 

BOB FATHER & SON 1958 IMG_1798

Father & Son, circa 1958, St. Joseph, Missouri,
photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
On May 3, 1952 I arrived to take part in the family drama. My parents celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary the week after I was born. Dad had turned 38 in February. My sister would turn ten in September, followed by Mom’s 37th birthday the end of November.

As a child I adored my father, but around the age of five I didn’t want him to touch me. I would scream if he came close. He loved to come home from work and rub his unshaven face against my cheeks until they turned red. I hated that. I hated him.

My father exploded at odd times. Seemingly benign topics of conversation would cause him to yell and pound the table. Although never physically violent, his fits scared me and made conversation with him unpredictably frightening.

Not a particularly outgoing man, he withdrew more from social interactions. At family gatherings he would collect all the reading material in the house, find a comfortable chair, and read and sleep the afternoon away.

My sister left for college when I was nine. My father grew even more distant. His only ally had left the house.

The first craziness that I remember occurred one Sunday afternoon. My sister had come home. My grandmother had come to town from the farm. Our car pulled up in front of the house and I went to the door.

My mother was yelling. My father, half in and half out of the car, shouted at someone. I looked to see who they were screaming at and realized they were arguing. I had never seen them argue like that. “Sis, come here. You gotta see this.”

From behind me I heard, “What the hell?” She nudged me. “Shut the door. We don’t want them to know we saw.” I closed the door.

Five minutes later, Mom walked into the house and threw her purse on the bed. When she noticed us staring at her, she sighed, “Len will join us later. He has something to do right now.”

Twenty minutes passed before he returned home and sat down at the table. No one said a word about what had happened between them.

 
 
 

Years later my mother said, “Your father got scared when you started to first grade. He knew someone wanted to kidnap you kids. They planned to snatch you at the Frosty Treat.” The Frosty Treat was a popular, after-school, ice cream shop. Without any explanation our parents had forbidden us from joining our friends there. I didn’t think much about it. By the time I started school, I had grown used to these commands. The new order was, “Come home directly from school.” I obeyed.

My mother told me that Dad has accused her of moving the pillows on their bed to make him crazy. “We only had two pillows. I never understood what I had done.” Although these episodes continued through my childhood, she never talked about them.

When I asked about the argument on that Sunday afternoon, my mother swore me to silence. “Your dad said an angel descended into the church and stood next to him during the service. It communicated telepathically and told him to watch himself. The man next to him had been sent to see if he played with himself during church. I told him he was crazy. That’s when he yelled at me.”
 
“Mom, that’s nuts. Did you think of going for help?”

“To whom? God? I prayed for your dad night and day.”

“How about a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

“We took care of our own problems.”

 
 
 

BOB FATHER 1968 IMG_1792

My Father, circa 1968, St. Joseph, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 

Physical problems plagued Dad during the late 1960’s. The grain dust at work irritated his one good lung and caused severe asthma attacks. I can close my eyes and hear the gasping sound as he struggled to breathe. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table, his mouth wide open and his neck muscles strained, as he inhaled.

My mother walked twelve blocks in the dark to the pharmacy to buy the “breathing medicine.” She never asked me, her teenage son, to go. As soon as she left, I crawled under my bed and hid. I didn’t want to hear any calls for help. I’d fail him. I always did.

He underwent hernia surgery in December 1968 and a re-do in January 1969. He stayed off work until March. Two weeks after he returned to work he suffered his stroke.

Chaos erupted. My mother stopped being a mother and became a devoted wife. I resented his stroke because it hadn’t killed him and because it took my mother away.

Somewhere in the years that followed, he gave up. Not that I blame him. His life beat him down. The stroke and residuals destroyed what little will he had left.

It ended any chance I had to talk with him about what happened between us, to ask him questions, to make my accusations, to hear his side of the story. Even if he hadn’t lost his mind, I couldn’t have talked to him, so great was my hatred. On May 2, 1984, he died of old age. A birthday “present” I can never forget.

I’ve always felt incomplete as a man because he didn’t teach me the secrets that fathers pass to their sons. Even now, after decades of searching for that knowledge, which I doubt exists, I still feel inadequate.

 
 
 

Recently a psychic said, “Your father asks you to forgive him for what he did to you.”

Without hesitation I replied, “I have forgiven him. He needs to forgive himself.”

I joined forces with my mother. I disliked the failure I thought he was. I sometimes treated him with no dignity because I thought he deserved my contempt. Perhaps most importantly, I hated him because he didn’t love me enough. But then, I never gave him a chance. Like my father, I must forgive myself for all the things I did and didn’t do in my relationship with him. Only then can I truly bear witness for my father.

 


About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. My Life With Dad is Part III in his exploration of a trilogy series about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August, followed in September by Part II, Bearing Witness.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and The Law Of Threes. He has also published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

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Strange Bird, self-portrait, May 2009, pen and ink on graph
paper, doodle © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
 
 
 
Sitting on a United Airlines flight, San Francisco to Hong Kong, I am relieved to find the middle seat empty as the last passengers take their seats. The plane starts its slow taxi to the runway. I buckle my seatbelt.

This is Economy Plus, a section touted for its extra five inches of leg room, which on a 14-hour flight impress me about as much as the dinner selection of chipped beef or poached fish.

Before the plane lifts from the tarmac, Frank in the window seat asks about my nose. We have already introduced ourselves, and I have already answered his queries about my ethnicity and where I’m from.

“Where’d the nose come from?!”

The question jars. Does he always ask about physical traits of people he’s just met? Are those breasts real? So, how’dya lose your leg?

“It’s Apache,” I say. A lie, although I’ve always thought that my great-grandfather, José Inocencio, looked like Apache chief Geronimo. The bump on my nose, which forms a contiguous line with my cheekbones, definitely comes from José, as does the hook.

I stick my beak back into my journal. I’ve been working on a doodle I started almost two years ago but never finished. One of the side benefits of being held hostage on a plane for 14 hours is that I get to finish what I started and start a bunch of new stuff that I won’t finish.

“Whatcha workin’ on?” Frank asks. For all his annoying questions, he seems genuinely interested.

I open the book so he can see the picture of a fish walking down a city street. Frank is a lawyer, which is about all I know of him. He notices that a sign on one of the buildings in my drawing says the word LAW. I flip the pages to show him other doodles, and when I land on a picture of a bird next to the word Anxiety, I tell him that I did that one for a piece I wrote about Anxiety.

“Do you have anxiety,” he asks.
 
And with that question, I divulged to a man I’d known only as long as it took to reach cruising altitude that I sometimes suffered from anxiety, that my mother was also anxious, and that I tried anti-anxiety pills but weaned myself off of them.

Then I opened a fresh page in my journal and sketched the outline of what would become my next doodle: a half-woman-half-bird sitting in a cage, naked except for a cape of feathered wings. 
 
 
 
 
bird boobs
 
 
 
 
This tendency toward self-disclosure—I’d like to think it’s a positive trait that comes from my mom. Mom was, still is, the kind of person who’s easy to be around. Troubled friends of mine or my brother’s when we were teenagers often sought refuge at our house. Mom fed them tortillas off the griddle or hot rolls with butter. She asked a few questions of the kids; mostly she let them be.

Uncle Henry, who is married to Mom’s sister Erma, used to visit Mom on late afternoons. He taught Drivers Ed after coaching track at an Albuquerque high school. Many times I walked home from the bus stop to find some pimply kid slouched behind the steering wheel of a car in our driveway. Who knows how long Uncle Henry had been inside, drinking coffee or tea, eating a snack, and talking to Mom?

Mom also has a way of telling it like it is. She’s unlike most women I know of from her generation. Rarely private, never proper. She’s our own Dr. Ruth; she’s told some of us, her daughters and granddaughters, that married couples ought to have sex “about three times a week.” I won’t go into why she once received a ceramic jar labeled Mom’s Farts.

Mom can be riotously self-deprecating. For Father’s Day a year or two ago, we all watched Dad open the usual array of gift cards: Lowes, Borders, Barnes & Noble.

“You shouldn’t get him gift cards,” Mom chided. “Why didn’t you give him something useful, like a hoe?”

“I already have a hoe,” Dad objected.

“Who, me?” Mom asked, at which point they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

We’re on the look-out now for HO-themed presents: Christmas gifts wrapped in HO-HO-HO paper, and a HO-HO-HO t-shirt found at a store in Denver, which we got for Mom this past Mother’s Day.

My mother (and my dad, for that matter) has always been transparent. As a former boyfriend used to tell me, “Your parents are WYSIWYG.” What you see is what you get.
 



bird boobs




There is such a thing as over-exposure. I don’t always know where to draw the line, although I’ve gotten more discerning each year that passes. I won’t hesitate to pop in the earbuds and keep to myself if I feel the need to stop emitting honesty.

For example, I could have told Frank that besides inheriting her anxiety, I’m also prone to Mom’s tendency to bloat after sitting in one spot for too many hours.

Speaking of which, on the return flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, there was no Frank, but there was an Indian man hopping from foot to foot and doing knee bends in the waiting area near the bathroom.

It was the middle of the flight, shades drawn and the plane completely dark to simulate nighttime. I made my way past sleeping passengers, their legs, pillows, and headphones spilling into the aisle. The toilet was occupied. I looked to the Indian man and asked, “You in line?” He nodded and kept running in place.

We waited for what seemed like a long time, being as how the man wouldn’t stand still. When the door popped open, he hesitated, then looked at me.

“You go next,” he said. He’d finally stopped moving.

“Are you sure??” I asked. Maybe he was about to pee in his pants.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure! I’m going to be a loooong time, and after I’m done you won’t want to go in there.”

“Ah,” I said and made for the door.

I didn’t know whether to thank him at the time, although looking back, I’m really glad he shared.






Disclaimer To Frank, In Case He Ever Sees This

You truly were a nice seat mate, nose question notwithstanding. I should have mentioned that I’m known to write about people on planes. At least I didn’t draw you.

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Less Than 1 Calorie Per Bottle, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Less Than 1 Calorie Per Bottle, outside the Birchwood Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I had planned a post on writing for this sunny Friday afternoon. But the day felt like Summer, and I ran out of steam. So with fans blazing across the studio, and windows still open at 9pm, I’ve opted for something simpler.

I was running back through the photographic archives when this little gem of a bench caught my attention. It reminds me of days gone by, times when we ran slip sliding through the sprinkler, guzzled soft drinks, drank gallons of Kool-Aid, and even flavored garden hose water — anything to keep the sweltering Southern heat at bay.

Drink Clicquot Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Did you have a favorite childhood soft drink? You can’t be from Georgia and not love Coca-Cola (I’m a big Coke Zero fan). My other favorite was RC Cola (Royal Crown). In 1905, Claude Hatcher, a young graduate pharmacist from Columbus, Georgia, began creating soft drinks in the basement of his family’s wholesale grocery business. RC Cola was born (I used to love their jingles).

Diet Rite (an RC product) came along in 1958 and was the first diet soda ever to be sold (in limited quantities). In 1962, Diet Rite Cola was introduced nationwide and rose to #4 in 18 months. Thus began America’s love affair with the diet soft drink.

Izzys At The Birchwod, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The weathered bench in the photograph that boasts “Diet-Rite — Less Than 1 Calorie Per Bottle” is outside the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis. Remember cyclamate and saccharin (my grandmother used to sweeten her coffee with it)? Well, all that’s changed; Diet Rite is now sweetened with 21st Century low-cal Splenda.


Diet-Rite and RC Cola, along with Coca-Cola, remind me of my childhood in Georgia. We used to drop Planters Peanuts into a frosty blue-green bottle of Co-Cola (Southern dialect shortens the word) from the metal vending machine at my Granddaddy’s shop. Forget the can; you haven’t tasted cola until you’ve taken a long cold swig from a glass bottle. I still buy them once in a while during seasonal appearances on the grocery store shelf.

Orange Crush, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


So what’s your favorite summer soft drink memory? Shasta, Bubba Cola, RC, Pepsi, Cherry Coke, Clicquot Club, Schweppe’s, Fanta, Dr Pepper, Orange Crush? Or maybe your parents didn’t let you drink soda. What was their replacement (or their “no sugar” bribe)?


Oh, by the way, (here comes the healthy part of this post) you won’t want to miss the food at the Birchwood, a cool cafe with great ice cream and a wide range of natural and organic foods. The Birchwood was established in 1926 by the Bursch family; the cafe was originally a dairy. It’s not quite Summer yet, but I bet the tables outside the Birchwood were hopping with Good Real Food (and a few natural colas) on this shiny April day!


Good Real Food, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.      Good Real Food, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.      Good Real Food, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Good Real Food, Izzy’s At The Birchwood, Orange Crush, Drink Clicquot Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, April 3rd, 2008

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Roma in the old truck, date unknown, image
© 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Look at her smile.

I knew her smiles. I saw her dimples and I saw her straight teeth, and I saw the dance in her eyes, but I never saw the smile she’s wearing in that photo.

That is the smile of a woman in love. An adoring smile. Look at it.

That is the smile that tells me Roma was a woman and a lover and a friend before she ever became my grandmother.








My Aunt Sophie, the oldest of my grandmother’s children, wrote an essay about her mother. The following are excerpts taken from that piece.


Roma was my mother. I wonder what my grandparents were thinking when they named her Roma. Her family called her Romey, her friends called her Romana, and close friends and relatives called her Romanita.

Her birthday was February 28, 1904. A very special date to be born. It was the day before Leap Year. I can verify that she was special. She was beautiful, she was romantic and adventuresome…She loved deeply, and others loved her because of her friendliness and her ability to reach out to others. She was born of an era when being poor was fashionable; a time when adults told stories to children about caves, trains, owls, witches and demons; it was one way of keeping the children at home in the evenings. Roma was a wonderful story teller. She loved to make up stories and songs and dance and laugh, all in that order.



I like to think about who Roma was before she became a grandmother. She grew up in the mining camps of northeastern New Mexico. She went to public schools with the children of immigrants from Italy, Romania, and Yugoslavia.

She was 16 when she married, a handsome New Mexican who was killed in one of the state’s worst mining accidents. At the age of 18, Roma became a widow with two children, the youngest not even a month old. Then she met my grandfather.

Mom told us about the songs her mother sang, songs she learned in school. Aunt Sophie remembered them, too:


When we were children, Roma sang us songs using the sounds of her childhood. The words did not make much sense, but the melodies live in us to this day.

Hanti-Nanche tu ti maja, mata tu san ches san a ma way.

Another song, a blend of English and Spanish, went like this: Cuando estaba chiquitita me decía me mamá, Pretty Baby, Pretty Baby.



I always wonder who took that picture of her in the truck. How old was she? It’s hard to tell. I imagine it was my grandfather, her second husband. Everyone called him Sandy, even his kids. He was a cowboy.

They lived on a ranch, seven miles from school and Cimarron, the real Wild West. Where pavement ends and Hell begins.

One last thought from Sophie:


I always enjoyed looking at my mother’s profile when I was working with her at some project. She had an abundance of rich, black hair, and depending on what she wore, her eyes were sometimes green and sometimes blue and she had this mischievous smile. Sometimes I wondered what she was thinking, and I wondered too why a woman of this beauty would be living out here where only the cattle roam.





Roma, date unknown, image 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved






-related to posts PRACTICE: My Grandmother – 15min and  WRITING TOPIC — GRANDMOTHERS

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