I was a middle child, a girl bracketed by two wild and boisterous boys. Is it any wonder I became a tomboy?
I sacrificed for being an interloper. My brothers, when they got BB guns for their birthday, played cowboys and Indian with me. My back got peppered with fiery red spots, like angry pimples, as I ran across the meadow and raced up the mountainside by our summer vacation home.
I received my first black eye from my older brother. He was the rule enforcer when our parents were gone, but they were his rules rather than the family rules, and I did not believe he would actually hit me for changing the television channel. To his credit, he was mortified--or maybe frightened of what our father would do to him when he got home--and immediately retrieved frozen hamburger to put on the swelling and declared I could watch any TV show I wished. The next day I told my classmates I'd run into a door, but my sixth grade teacher saw through the ruse and asked quietly, "Which brother socked you?" I responded with silence, for I'd already learned that sacred tenet of boys: never squeal.
I considered the sacrifices exchanged for the excitement of young male life worthwhile. I still remember our firecracker fights--the acrid smell, the exploding flashes that lit the night, the agonizing screams when a firecracker went off in someone's hand.
Of course life with the boys wasn't all physical violence. I learned to whistle through a blade of grass. I learned to build an Army fort with tree branches and quilts my grandmother made--my mother never forgave us for leaving them out all summer in the humidity until they rotted. I learned to build a pinewood soap box derby car with roller skates for wheels and race fearlessly downhill in front of the college, successfully maneuvering the hairpin curve near the finish line. I learned to cuss. Raw, raunchy, crude. But not within earshot of an adult.
I learned to follow my brothers along Town Creek, from the museum at Sam Houston Park to the gully beside our home. We hid in the culverts and watched dragonflies skim the water and tadpoles scurry like ants just beneath the surface. In the cool shade, we listened to cars and trucks driving by and delighted in our privacy.
At my request, my older brother taught me to smoke. I was fourteen and had just finished the eighth grade. It took me twenty-one years to kick the habit.
I eventually outgrew my tomboy-ness and left behind many of those habits. I can't whistle worth a damn anymore. There is a silver lining, though. I can write with some authority from the male point of view.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Sunday, January 19, 2014
My 50th class reunion is this summer. I’ll go, of course. I look forward to seeing the people I grew up with. We have so many stories to share.
We will remember and retell how we began locking the bathroom door after seeing the movie “Psycho”; how terrified we were during the Cuban missile crisis; how we swooned when Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show; how we cheered when John Glenn went into earth orbit; how grief-stricken we were when President Kennedy was assassinated; how we divided over the Vietnam war.
Fifty years ago, we were imagining our lives after high school. Most of us did not have the life we imagined for ourselves, but many of us can admit we’ve led interesting lives. The members of my graduating class went on to become journalists, military officers, politicians, physicians, judges, ministers, educators, artists, financial wizards, attorneys, a couple of drugstore cowboys, and a rodeo clown. (Okay, I made up the rodeo clown, but the rest is true.)
Among us are also survivors of divorce, alcoholism, cancer, and bad investments. Survivors is the key word in that last sentence—we may have gone a little crazy and howled at the moon, but we did not succumb.
So we have stories to tell.
Interesting stories, and lots of them.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
My friend Maddie died the day after Christmas. For the record, she died sober—she celebrated 28 years in November—but succumbed to cancer.
We had a memorial service yesterday at an AA club that was packed beyond what the fire marshal would have desired—the chairs were filled, no standing room remained in the back of the room, and yet people still crowded in. We all loved Maddie, and we needed to console each other in our grief and share our memories of her.
She was a creative force in our lives, a warrior woman, with a grin that captured our hearts. Surely she would’ve captured yours as well had you ever met her.
We shared hours of stories. Recounting and reflecting on those memories, we began to grasp and appreciate the full impact she made in our lives. As one person put it, heaven received a beautiful angel while earth lost a lovely soul. Through our stories we nurtured our memories, keeping our beloved Maddie alive, in our minds, in our hearts. That is, after all, the power and le raison for stories.
The last time I saw Maddie alive was Dec. 12. She was in remission—or so we thought. She and I dined at a Vietnamese restaurant, sharing shrimp spring rolls and steaming bowls of chicken pho. I showed her photos on my iPhone of the Victorian home I’d purchased in a small town about an hour from Houston. The house is on Church Street, and we agreed I should name the place Church Street Retreat because my vision is to facilitate writing retreats for women there.
Even in death, she inspires me to embrace my vision. We need to share the stories of our lives with one another because in our telling, we will find our strength, our value, and our joy.
This blog is about bearing witness to the stories of people’s lives and reflecting upon the process. I’ll post every Sunday and hope the blog will stir your own memories, so you’ll begin putting your life stories in a journal, notebook, or computer file. In this way, we will begin telling our amazing stories together.
*Just so you know, TOAST is an acronym for Telling Our Amazing Stories Together.