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Posts Tagged ‘things I learn from my family’

 
 

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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By Bob Chrisman



I possess no physical evidence to offer in defense of my father. Family stories and my own fragmented memories comprise what little I know of him. Fifty-seven years have blurred much of what I remembered, but I will bear witness for him.

At a trial, the court clerk would instruct me to raise my right hand. “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I would hesitate before I answered. I don’t know the “truth.” I only know my truth. But the court doesn’t want to hear my doubts. The only answer to the question is, “I do.”


BOB IMG_1781

My Father – 8 Months Old, circa 1914, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.



On February 28, 1914, my father, Len Chrisman, became the first child of H.T. and Annie Chrisman. In September of that same year, H.T.’s gall bladder ruptured. The resulting infection killed him. My father never knew his father, not even from stories, because his mother didn’t talk about the man.

Several men courted the Widow Chrisman. A local banker, my father’s favorite, asked her several times to marry him, but she refused.

When she remarried in 1920, she chose a widower, William Hecker, who had seven children. By all accounts, including some from his children, he was a very angry man. Mr. Hecker stipulated one condition for the marriage. “You must promise that you’ll never favor your son over my children.” She promised, and she never broke a promise.

BOB IMG_1780

My Father In His Baby Carriage, circa 1914, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

My father rarely talked about the mother of his childhood. I remember him saying, “She married him because the children needed a mother. She felt sorry for them.”

The step-daughters resented her. Ruth, the oldest, had already married and left home. Fern and Gladys soon followed their oldest sister’s lead. The remaining daughter, Myrtle, who was my father’s age, loved both her new stepmother and stepbrother. The teenaged stepsons, Ralph and Glenn, took after their father. They hated my dad because he had been an only child with a mother all to himself. The remaining step-son, Everett, died in 1926. My father rarely spoke of him, except to say, “He died too young.”

Early in the marriage they lived in western Nebraska. One day the boys roped my dad and dragged him behind a horse through cactus patches. “I never cried. Mom pulled the needles out of my bottom and back with a pair of pliers. I didn’t cry then either. I never let them have that satisfaction.” His voice remained flat as he told the first part of the story, but cracked when he said. “You know, my own mother didn’t say anything to Dad Hecker or to the boys.”

A high school teacher offered to send him to college and pay his expenses. My father wanted to go. “Mom and Dad Hecker listened politely. The last thing he said was, ‘A brilliant mind like his shouldn’t go to waste.'”

BOB IMG_1782

Widow Chrisman & Her Son, circa early 1900s, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.


“Mom answered as soon as he finished, didn’t even take time to mull it over. ‘None of the other kids went to college. Len doesn’t need to go either.’ It wouldn’t have cost them anything. I left the room because I was so mad at her.”

Her decision doomed my dad to a lifetime of farm labor and blue collar jobs. He worked at a dairy. He worked in a foundry, a meat packing plant, and finally in a grain mill. He never fit in with his fellow workers. He read too much, thought too much.

My father met my mother in the mid-1930’s. She lived down the street from his parents. The two became friends. In the late 1930’s he traveled to Oregon to pick fruit because local jobs didn’t exist. His traveling companions were his future brothers-in law. He wrote letters to my mother. She saved them, called them “love letters” even though they contained no obvious expressions of love, other than “Love, Len.”


I asked my mother why she married him. At that time, he had been bedridden for five years. “Did you love him?”

She dodged the question. “I promised myself that I would marry someone like my dad.”

“Was Daddy like him?”

“No, he was nothing like my father. I felt sorry for Len. He needed me.” I cringed. My heart hurt. She hadn’t loved my father. I didn’t ask any more questions because I didn’t want to know the answers.


BOB IMG_1787

My Father Dressed For A Tom Thumb Wedding, circa early 1900's, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.


In 1942, my sister was born. My father loved her. She was his special child.

In 1943 his stepfather died, but not before he secured a promise from his wife to watch over Ralph. My father never understood why she agreed to put up with someone who had treated her so rudely, a man who cussed and swore about everything. Maybe she felt sorry for him because his vision was so severely impaired. Whatever the reason, she took care of him until her death 32 years later in 1975.

In 1952 I arrived. Unexplainably, my mother laid sole claim to me. She excluded my sister and father from taking care of me. I was her child. The possession of my life had begun.

For the first five years I slept next to my parents’ bed in a crib, then on a tiny rollaway bed. Our four-room house didn’t have any extra rooms. My father added two rooms, moved my sister to a new bedroom and moved me into her old room.

He lived his early life abandoned and betrayed by the people who loved him or should have loved him.  He had no protector, no father. Long after he died I complained to my mother about the kind of father he had been. “Don’t be so hard on him. He never learned to be a father because he never had one himself.” My father and I never had a chance to have a normal father-son relationship. That’s all the truth I know for now.




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. This is Part II of a series of three about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 

May 2, 2009 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of my father’s death. He died physically that day, but he had died to most everyone a long time before that. In March 1969 he punched the time clock as he left work. He felt a numbness speed through his left side. He stumbled to a doorway to brace himself and waited for coworkers to find him.

They brought him home because he told them to take him there, not to the hospital. They carried him from the car, up the three sets of stairs and into the front room where they sat him on the sofa. My mother called an ambulance. “I’m going with your father. You drive up later.”

My world crumbled that day when God answered my prayers and struck my father down. I hated him for a variety of unclear reasons. He didn’t love me. He wanted nothing to do with me. He wasn’t good to my mother. Despite all these vague, but strong reasons, the guilt built inside me. I asked myself repeatedly,  “What have I done?”

The doctors ran tests. They diagnosed a relatively small stroke and couldn’t understand why his physical condition didn’t improve. He had retained his mental faculties.

They transferred him to the university hospital in Columbia. My mother took the bus every weekend to visit him…a four-hour ride each way. He improved a little. I saw him one time there. He took his walker and accompanied me down the hall when I left.

When he came home months later, the ambulance people carried him up the stairs to the house and placed him in a wheelchair in the front room. His entire life centered on the front room and his bedroom. In three years he lost his mind.

 
 
He didn’t know me anymore. His son flew an airplane for a living. One day he said, “My son doesn’t come visit. I think you’d like him.” Even though I hated him, I wish he had remembered me. It hurt that he created another son who he admired.

He thought my mother was his mother. His repressed anger at her burst out. She told me the first time it happened. He screamed at her. “You keep me a prisoner in this bed.”

She bowed her head. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I threw back his covers. ‘If you can walk, then get up and walk.’ I stood where he couldn’t see me and watched as he struggled to sit up. He couldn’t. He couldn’t even roll over.” She started to cry.

“I couldn’t bear it so I covered him up. He had that scared look that people get when they realize how bad things really are. I couldn’t look at him. I ran to the back porch and cried my eyes out.”

 

For several months, he visited the circus in his mind. I would sit on his bed and he would ask, “May I have some cotton candy and peanuts?” He would ramble on and on about the men on the trapeze and the elephant.

Next he moved to his paranoid phase. My mother (who he still thought was his mother) had joined a conspiracy against him. “Get the gun. Shoot her. Get the gun while she’s out of the room.”

“Daddy, we don’t have any guns in the house. Never did.”

“Yes, it’s in the second drawer. Now, go get it.”

I looked in the drawer. I carried the drawer to his bed and dumped its contents. “See, there isn’t any gun. We never had a gun.”

“The bitch hid it. They know I won’t stand for her abuse.”

I put the drawer away and left the room. I never told my mother about that incident.

 
 

People forgot him. He became a fixture to me like a piece of furniture that held painful memories. I avoided him, didn’t talk to him for almost 10 years. Why bother?

The afternoon of May 2, 1984 he died. By the time I made it home, my mother had removed all signs of his illness…15 years boxed up and carried to the basement. The hospital bed disappeared. The commode vanished. I felt like I had entered a twilight zone. “Where is all the stuff?” I asked.

“Your uncle helped me take it all to the basement. Your father’s dead. No use in keeping those things around.”

People who attended the visitation the night before the funeral acted surprised. Some of them had known my mother for years. “We thought she was a widow. We didn’t know that your father was still alive.” In many ways she had become a widow in March of 1969.

 

We laid him to rest at the cemetery in Gower on a gray, cloudy day. The minister conducted a short, graveside service. I waited for someone to lower the casket into the vault. No one appeared. The mourners left for their cars.

The most profound sadness filled me. Once again he had been abandoned by the people who said they loved him. I hadn’t loved him for years, but I couldn’t leave him all alone. I wanted to stay with his coffin until they lowered it and covered it with dirt.

My mother yelled, “Get in the car. The ladies of the church have a lunch waiting for us.”

I looked at the box that held the body of the man who had been my father. The sadness kept me from leaving.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” My mother pulled on my arm.

“I don’t want to leave him here by himself. Can’t we wait until they lower the coffin into the grave? He must be lonely.” I could barely speak for the tears.

“Don’t be silly. He isn’t here.” She pulled me to the car.
 
My last memory is this: his gray metal coffin rests on a shiny chrome frame, the canopy of the viewing tent flaps wildly in the wind, clouds move across the gray sky and shadows run over the green grass and tombstones. I wish I could say his death ended our troubled relationship, but it didn’t. More of the story remained to be told. I must recall it now to bear witness for my father.

 
 
 

Bob Parents Gravestone IMG_0942 auto

R.I.P, Gower, Missouri, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

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. This is his first piece about his father, Part I of a series of three. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

 

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By Louis Robertson

 
 

This list is a work-in-progress and represents some of the lessons life has taught me. I started it as a “gift” to my children and wanted it to be something they could return to again and again to help put things into perspective and to add focus to their lives. QuoinMonkey, whose opinion I have always trusted, encouraged me to share it with a larger audience. I agreed hoping that the readers of red Ravine may find something in this they can use.

 
 
 

Things I Wanted You To Learn

 
 

1 – As long as you remember me I will stay alive in your memories. You are my legacy, my magnum opus.

 
 

2 – I am very proud of the person each of you has become. Although I did not say it as much as I felt it, you are the source of my joy and pride as a father.

 
 

3 – You can achieve anything! If you can imagine it, you can do it, but it will take hard work. It will not come easy, but if you believe in your ability to achieve, know you have the desire to see it through and persevere, then it can happen. Oh, and a good plan helps.

 
 

4 – Everyone has worth! Even the marginalized — especially the marginalized — have something to contribute to your life. You need to work beyond the visceral feelings, put yourself in their place, and look for the lesson.

 
 

5 – You are constantly being presented with opportunities to learn and grow. God doesn’t give things to you, rather he allows opportunities to be presented to you and it is your responsibility to recognize them, learn from them, and grow.

 
 

6 – Don’t get stuck in the past. What happened, happened. No amount of rehashing, bitching, complaining, or wishing will change the fact that it happened. Look for the lesson and move on, but understand that sometimes it may take years for the lesson to present itself to you.

 
 

7 – When someone has the ability to really irritate you, either by their actions or beliefs, step back! Try to identify what is bothersome and put a new face on it. For example, that person who is always butting into your conversations? Ask yourself, What purpose does this serve to them? Are they lonely, feeling marginalized, friendless, or just trying to get noticed? Then wonder what their self worth may be to have to do this to feel alive, noticed, or a part of something. Maybe even wonder how things must be at home for them. Now ask yourself “How can I help them feel better about their life?” But also remember, sometimes people are just jerks.

 
 

8 – Always remember that you are loved and have a large family to fall back on when things are tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it is not a sign of weakness. It took me 43 years to realize that allowing people to step up and take some of the burden from me is often a gift to them.

 
 

9 – Remember the lesson I taught you as a kid about power. You have a reservoir of power that you control. Be stingy with who you give it to. That kid that knows he can make you mad by calling you fat is taking away some of your power. To get it back you need to be aware of your reaction and change it. This will not only help you with your personal interactions but is essential when trying to break a cycle of reactionary behavior. Once you fall into a pattern, the pattern will repeat itself until something changes. Changing your reaction will make the interaction more real and will cause you to look at it from another perspective. Once you change the pattern it will either fall apart or create a new trigger to a new pattern. Listen to that little voice that says, “Why do we always have the same argument over and over?” and use that pause to look for the pattern, and then change it.

 
 

10 – Make at least one person smile every day. Find something to compliment them on. Do something unexpected for them. Tell them they are important to you. Some days it may be the catalyst that changes their lives or the start of a chain reaction of passing the smile on. When you are given the choice, make a positive impact rather than a negative impression.

 
 

11 – Challenge yourself to be the best person you can be! Don’t settle for okay, strive to be great! Do each task to the best of your ability. Make it a game or a challenge. Don’t just do the job to check it off a list, do it so you can stand back and say out loud, “I did that!”

 
 
 
 

∞ ∞ ∞

 
 
 

About Louis: Louis Robertson (R3) is a divorced father of two teenage children who lives in South Central Pennsylvania. His day-to-day life centers on his children and teaching them about responsible living. He earns a living as a computer systems consultant.

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.

 

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 Let Sleeping Towels Lie! aka Brant's Terrible Towel!, somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by J. All rights reserved.

Let Sleeping Towels Lie! aka Brant’s Terrible Towel!, somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant’s Grandfather J. All rights reserved.



In a few hours, Super Bowl XLIII begins at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida where an estimated 72,500 people will attend the 6:30 EST kickoff of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. The National Football League champions of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) will battle it out for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Can you guess who my family in Pennsylvania will be cheering for?

Liz saw an NFL poll yesterday that showed 55% voting for the Cardinals to win. But I don’t know. I lived my teenage years in Pennsylvania and I know what a powerhouse the Steelers can be! Steelers fans are hardcore.

The Terrible Towel in the photographs is vintage 1976. That cute little guy is my grand nephew, Brant (or is it great nephew?), taking a little rest after one of the play-off games. He’s covered by the Terrible Towel belonging to his Grandmother D. (known to us on red Ravine as alittlediddy).



Abbey Wearing The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.

Abbey Wearing The "Terrible Towel", near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.



D.’s Terrible Towel is a never-been-washed original. It was a Super Bowl gift from her brother in 1976 when she went home to watch Super Bowl X with her family. The game was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys — Steelers won 21 to 17. Her dress attire consisted of black jeans, yellow turtleneck with black sweater, and, of course, yellow earmuffs and black gloves, all the while, waving her Terrible Towel.

We went back and forth about the Towel on a New Year’s Day post on Sunshine Shrimp (which, by the way, would make a great Super Bowl appetizer!). I’m a fair-weather play-off fan; she’s die-hard Steelers. The story of the creation of Myron Cope’s Terrible Towel jumped out at me. When Liz saw a piece about it in The New York Times this week, that was all it took — the Tales Of The Terrible Towel post was born!



Ivory & The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.

Ivory & The "Terrible Towel", near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.



Myron Cope, the Pittsburgh broadcaster credited with creating the Terrible Towel in 1975, (and inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005), died last February at age 79. His daughter Elizabeth Cope watched last year’s Super Bowl with him in his hospital room; she draped his coffin with a quilt that a fan had made out of Terrible Towels.

But what’s remarkable about Myron Cope’s story, is the way he has left a legacy of paying it forward. Most of the proceeds from the sale of the Terrible Towel go to Allegheny Valley School (AVS) where his 41-year-old son, Danny Cope, diagnosed with severe mental retardation when he was 2, and later with autism, has been a resident since 1982.

Danny Cope now lives in a supervised group home with four others in a Pittsburgh suburb, shops and goes to sports events, and has a paying job packaging pretzels and snacks on an assembly line. About 80 employees with severe disabilities help fold, tag, and box shipments of Terrible Towels at a workshop in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, similar to the one where Danny Cope works.



Brants Photo Of His Grandmother D.s Original Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.

Brant's Photo Of His Grandmother D.'s Original "Terrible Towel", near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.



You have to applaud the generosity of spirit of Elizabeth Cope, Danny’s sister, who receives none of the proceeds from the Terrible Towel. Her father transferred the trademark in 1996 out of gratitude to AVS, a network of campuses and group homes across Pennsylvania for people with severe developmental disablities. According to the Allegheny Valley School website and the recent NY Times article, President and Chief Executive Officer Regis Champ tells it this way:


Myron Cope was a true friend to Allegheny Valley School and his gift of The Terrible Towel® trademark has created a living legacy to his incredible life. He came into my office, and he had a pile of papers. He threw them down on my desk and said, ‘Regis, I’m giving you the Terrible Towel.’ I said, ‘Myron, I have about 10 of them. I’ll take another one, but …He said, ‘No, I’m giving you the rights, and you’ll be able to get all the proceeds from the Terrible Towels.’ I was speechless.

Before this season, Allegheny Valley School had received more than $2.5 million from the towels since 1996. With the final tab for last year’s Super Bowl at $2.5 billion, isn’t it comforting to know that the proceeds from this year’s Terrible Towel will go to a worthy cause?



The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.



My grand-nephew Brant is 7 years old. Born at the end of June, he’s a Gemini just like his Grandmother D. Brant will inherit his grandmother’s Terrible Towel as part of the family legacy. Along with that inheritance, comes the vision of Myron Cope, the notion that anyone can take a simple idea like a terrycloth towel, and do something good for the world.

If you buy a towel for the Super Bowl, make sure it’s authentic. McArthur Towel & Sports of Baraboo, Wisconsin produced 450,000 Terrible Towels last week, after the Steelers won the A.F.C. championship. And a Steelers Super Bowl victory may lead to orders of at least 500,000 more (one set with the score against the Cardinals, another declaring the Steelers six-time Super Bowl champs). I admit, I usually go for the underdog. But with the stakes so high for Allegheny Valley School, I’m waving for the Steelers.




RESOURCES & READINGS


To read more about the Super Bowl, the history of the Terrible Towel, and Myron Cope, below are links to the resources used in this essay:



The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.  — all photographs used with permisson of the family, parents and grandparents of my grand nephew, Brant. Brant’s camera equipment is Fisher-Price. No animals were harmed in the making of these photographs!    
            



-posted on red Ravine, the 43rd Super Bowl Sunday, February 1st, 2009

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I remember my first car, an Austin-Healey Sprite. It wasn’t new. In fact, it was so used, it wasn’t even running. The car was stored in my grandparent’s barn. It had belonged to my uncle. He said I could have it if we towed it away and did all the repair. I imagined that he had raced it across emerald corn fields and yellow crops of wheat.

My grandparents and uncle lived in a rural area near East Berlin, Pennsylvania. When we moved from the South in 1966, we stayed with my grandparents for a time. I slept in a room with my sister. There was a door leading up to the attic and sometimes we heard bats scraping around the eaves up there.

The Sprite was tomato red, a 1962 or 1963, I can’t remember for sure, and had a black roll bar, 4-on-the-floor, was a soft-top convertible. That Summer and Fall would be one of the bonding moments between me and my step-dad. He worked his butt off repairing the engine, well, even getting that car to run was a miracle.

I didn’t do much of the hands-on. But looking back, I wish I had. My brothers were all good at fixing their cars, taking care of them, changing the wheels out, replacing spark plugs (do cars even have spark plugs anymore?), fixing the brakes. Even my mother had helped tear down and put back together an engine once in her twenties. It seemed like there was nothing my family could not do in taking car of their cars.

I learned by osmosis. I stood in the cool garage, watching my step-dad work on the engine, helping him out when he needed an extra set of hands, learning about metric tools. I thought it was my first year of college. But my sister remembers it as being my junior or senior year of high school. I must have been 17. Time becomes fuzzy. It’s good to document with photographs or write things down. I only have one or two photos of the Austin-Healey, and I haven’t been able to locate them. Yet. I wish I had taken more photos. It was once-in-a-lifetime kind of car.

I learned to drive a stick. I’ll never forget the day we took the Sprite out for its first spin. My step-dad was tall, over 6 feet. He hunkered down and slid into the driver’s seat. I am much shorter. I hopped into the passenger side, excited, a little scared. Off we went on the two-lane rural road down to the post office, flying about 80 mph. Did the thing even have seatbelts? I can’t remember. Just the roll bar.

I remember the convertible top was up that day; I think it had metal snaps. But what I remember most about the first time we took the Sprite out is my step-dad teaching me to slip the clutch. He told me racers used that technique to gain speed, and there we were, racing down a slow moving Pennsylvania road, rrrrrummmm, rrrrrrummm, rrrrummmm, every time he changed gears.

My mother got involved, too. She helped to fix up the interior of the car, added carpet where there was exposed glue and rough edges. By the time we were all done, it looked like a million bucks. I can’t say it ran like a dream. It had serious wear and tear from use and abuse by my uncle. But I was so proud to be driving that Austin-Healey. Me and Mary, my girlfriend at the time (she had purple suede boots, flaming red hair, and red tinted glasses to match), would show up at softball games with the top down, hop out with our cleats, gloves, and bat bags, and head over to the dugout. There is something about leaving a convertible parked with the top down. What is it?

I don’t know if I would do that today. There is an overall lack of respect for other people’s property that seems to permeate the greater public. I don’t know if I trust people the way I used to. We live in different times. But my mother wasn’t very trusting of the public back in the early 70’s when I was driving the Sprite either. I remember one thing about that car – the muffler kept falling down in unexpected places at uncommon hours. Once on Interstate 83, it happened again – the muffler fell to the road. Mary and I often would tie it up with a wire coat hanger. This time it wasn’t working.

We got out in the roaring traffic, stared under the car, looked at each other, and decided to hitchhike the 5 or 6 miles home. My mother was furious with us. How could we be so trusting, hitchhiking along a major freeway? Who knows who might have picked us up! Back then, we were coming off the tail end of the 1960’s. It was common for women and men to hitchhike wherever they needed to go. I cringe at the thought in the year 2008. I have to tell you, I’d never hitchhike anywhere today.

Mary and I took one long trip in the Austin-Healey, down to the Washington D.C. area to see a concert. We were going to see the Allman Brothers. It turned out, the Grateful Dead were also playing in that outdoor concert. We weren’t Dead Heads. But now I can say I saw the Grateful Dead play. And don’t tell my mother, but I remember we slept with a blanket on the ground in this open green field with a bunch of other concert goers that night, went to McDonalds for breakfast in the morning, and drove back home on backroads. Wanna-be hippie that I was (even though at the time, I was a jock and as straight-laced as they come), I had the time of my life. I felt like a rebel; a female James Dean.

I did love that car. Doesn’t everyone love their first car? But my parents made it special for me, a labor of love, a gift. I think I only drove it a year, maybe two. It was already almost 10 years old. And needed too much maintenance and upkeep for me to take it away to college. But the smell of the engine, the chrome, the sporty headlights, the way the knobs were simple flip switches on a carved wooden dashboard, the feel of hopping in under the roll bar, the way it felt to run down the road with long 70’s hair flying in the wind — I never felt so free.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, October 20th, 2008

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS


Post Script: I was excited to see if I could actually find a photo that looked similar to the Austin-Healey I owned. No exact matches. The closest I could find was this 1963 Austin Healey Sprite MK II (HAN7 37761). It’s a cool link because you can see the steps he went through to rebuild and refurbish the car. The Mark II’s were second generation; they made them from 1961 to 1964. You can also read more about Sprite history at Austin-Healey Sprite.

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MoonSet, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

MoonSmear, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

MoonShine, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Moonset, Moonsmear, Moonshine, July Moons over Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




I was on the road for most of the many moons of July. Under the Full Thunder Moon, I traveled to Pennsylvania by plane, with intentions of heading on to Georgia and South Carolina by car. I planned the trip months ago, to drive South to do more research for my memoir, to work with my mother on missing pieces of the family tree. But all did not go as planned.

My brother went into the ICU the day before I left for Pennsylvania. And Mom and I weren’t even sure we should make the trip to Georgia at all. Mom spent a whole week, sometimes 8 hours a day, with my sister-in-law in waiting rooms, visiting at J’s side. His dad drove up from South Carolina and sat with us, too. I watched my parents (only recently connected again after over 40 years) standing side by side together over J’s bed. They never wavered. There were tears. And laughter. Things turned. 

By a miracle and a lot of prayers, my brother is out of the hospital. And though he is not yet out of the woods, he is home and in the arms of family caregivers. A whole new regimen begins, his recovery. It is stressful for family members in a different way. It is through crises like these that you get to see what a family is made of. Each member shows up in the ways that he or she can; it is not the same for everyone.



MoonSlit, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I am back in Minnesota. And in some ways removed. I have always been the one who has lived away from home, miles and miles away (at least 1200 miles have separated me and my family since I was in my early 20’s). It can be a helpless feeling. And I have had my share of guilt. But distance offers a different perspective. It is not something I would have wished, but under the Salmon Moon (Haidi) in the Month of the Fledgling Hawk (Kelmuya), I gained an overview. And realized all that I have shielded myself from by living so far away.

I have great admiration and respect for the members of my family. They really show up for one another regardless of what else is going on between them. They have integrity and grace and humor. And they are crazy and stubborn and flawed, as all families are — as I am. Thank goodness for that. In each member of my family I see my own strengths; and I see my weaknesses. Whatever I see inside them — it’s in me, too.

The trip was a mixed blessing of sadness, fear, laughter and joy. At the Grass Cutter Moon (Abenaki), Mom, Liz, and I visited the islands and towns where my ancestors homesteaded. We walked where they had walked in the 1600’s and 1700’s. Liz flew into Georgia, my dad met us for breakfast, I had a wonderful birthday, and a great time on St. Simons and in Savannah. But there were moments I felt alone, scared, fearful of the future. I was holding it all; my family was holding it all. Because all of this makes up life.

Under the Moon of the Horse (Apache) I accomplished more toward my goals of researching and shaping a memoir. It was different from last June. I was digging deeper emotionally; I had to grow up a little more. Under the Ripe Corn Moon (Cherokee), I ripened, too. Through all of the recorded years of births and deaths, walking marble graves and granite cemeteries with Mom, I am more aware than ever that one day, I will be there, too. So will we all. And we have no idea when that time might come.

 

 Moon Over Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Moon Over Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Three things I learned (again) under the Thunder Moon:

  • Memoir is about the past. The past can be healing; the past can be sad. When you dig into the past, be prepared for what you will find.
  • When you write, you have to be willing to hold everything – past, present, future – grief, sadness, loss, joy. In order to do hold everything, you have to stay present to the moment.
  • Life and death continue on with or without you. Don’t be tossed away.




-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

-related to posts: PRACTICE – Summer – 20min, Thunder Moon haiku (July), winter haiku trilogy

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