Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Happy Birthday"

Everything in first grade was difficult for me.

I didn’t like walking to school, and in nice weather we always walked. I shuffled and whined so much the other kids got behind me and walked hard on my heels. It didn't help. In cold weather we carpooled, but invariably I wasn’t ready when they arrived and Mom had to run out and wave for them to go on and then drive me to school herself.

My teacher was Mrs. Tsetse (pronounced SEAT-see), a thin elderly woman with hair in a bun. Her name terrified me. It sounded a lot like “titties” and I wasn’t entirely sure which was the bad word and which was her name. I had a great phobia of accidentally saying dirty words, so I only spoke her name in the tiniest of whispers. “Lyttie,” she’d scold, ”you need to speak up. We can’t hear you if you don’t speak up.”

They gave us huge pencils to write with, but no erasers. (What hair-brained administrator decided first graders didn’t need erasers?) Sometimes I brought a big eraser from home. Even with this, I made so many mistakes, I ended up rubbing huge holes in the paper.

But not everything was bad. Laura Welch became my friend. You may ask, who was Laura Welch? Only the smartest, most popular girl in class. She was the kind of girl teachers put in charge if they had to leave the room. Amazingly, we always obeyed her, even the boys. (Something about her denoted thoroughbred, like the Kennedy’s.)But she never was smarmy or stuck-up about it. Once she sat at Mrs. Tsetse’s desk and mock-clapped her hands the way teachers do, and everyone laughed. Then we settled down and worshipped her till Mrs. Tsetse got back.

In those days they taught reading by the Sight Method, which meant you had to memorize how each word was spelled. It had been successfully used to teach deaf kids to read and someone apparently decided that if it was good enough for the deaf it‘d work even better for the rest of us. It was a dismal failure, but school districts blindly taught this way for decades. As for me I loved reading and thrilled to learn new words, Sight Reading or not. But my grades were mostly C’s and I always felt second-rate.

Every morning about ten of us would take our chairs to the front of the room and sit in a circle for reading. Mrs. Tsetse held up cards with new words for us to memorize. Then we’d read out loud from our Ginn Basic Readers.

One day she held up a new word and asked us to guess it. Instantly I knew it and raised my hand. Of course, everyone else raised their hands too. Mrs. Tsetse called on one girl; but when faced with giving an answer the kid backed down; she didn’t know it after all. So we all raised our hands again and Mrs. Tsetse called on another kid and then another and another. But nobody knew the word. Finally only me and Laura were left. Obviously wanting to get this over with, Mrs. Tsetse called on Laura. I lowered my hand, disappointed. Laura knew everything; she'd surely get the word. But even Laura Welch sat silent. Then, oh boy, did I raise my hand. When Mrs. Tsetse called on me, I almost shouted, “Birthday!”

“That’s right!” she said. “Now, let’s all sing Happy Birthday.”

Triumph! For the first time in my life, I had bested everyone. I sang LOUD, "Happy Birthday dear Lyttie, Happy Birthday to you!".

Sunday, April 11, 2010

From My Journal This Week

Trying desperately to meet the deadline for finishing my novel. Much anxiety.
I ask myself: What are you so afraid of?

The Great Fear:
If I don't do things just right, everyone will discover what a loser I am. I will wake up one night and find the whole town outside my house with flaming torches and pitchforks. They will attack me, beating me with clubs, and drive me into the desert, where I will be forced to exist the rest of my life alone, cast out, with hungry jackals all around.

But what if I managed to find some way to survive?
Perhaps I could befriend the jackals. (After all, a jackal is just a kind of dog, right? And dogs like me.) This would give me, the Big Loser, enormous power. I might become "The Jackal Woman."

Then because once a society creates Losers and Pariahs it cannot survive without them, pretty soon other people will get banished to the desert. There will develop a whole community of us. The Jackal People.

Need I be so bold as to suggest that this has already happened?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

They All Laughed at Edison and Also at Einstein

Today would have been our cat Prodigal’s 14th birthday. We held a little graveside ceremony. I set out an open can of cat food and we had a few moments of silence.

Then as soon as we were done I called our other kitties over to eat the food. Problem: they were none of them very interested.

So now I worry that flies will be drawn to it and that they will wander into our house.

But wait a minute—I remember an exciting piece of info I've been dying to share in this venue.

I know how to keep flies totally out of your house. I swear this really works:

Fill a sandwich-sized zip-lock bag with water, then tack it over your outside door.

I read this off the internet last summer, tried it, and we had not one fly in the house all year, where we usually have hundreds.

(I can just hear all the kids who bullied me in 7th grade. You think I’m insane, do you? Try it.
Every one of you will be sorry you harassed me. To a man(or woman), you will call to apologize and beg me to sit at your lunch table.)

Let's all sing! (to the tune of My Country Tis of Thee)

There ain't no flies on us
There ain't no flies on us
No flies on us
There may be one or two
Great big green flies on you
There ain't no flies on us
No flies on us.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Two Weeks in the Life

A particularly wretched two weeks: sleeping little due to horrid cold, bum knee, and one night about 2 AM discovering a lump on my tongue which I convinced myself was cancer (A rush to the dentist the next morning resulted in the following diagnosis: “I think you bit your tongue.”)

In other news, I found myself overeating horribly, got another rejection letter, tried to tell Trashy how much I enjoyed his sharing but he cut me dead. Set out to fix my laptop's wireless connection and wound up with nonfunctional laptop AND desk top AND printer. (These things should not bother me, but they do.)

On the other hand: I also met with four sponsees (an hour each)and was overwhelmed with what I can only call God’s love. Sitting in the presence of someone who totally trusts you, listening to their deepest darkest secrets without trying to fix them, just mirroring back that they’re normal, OK, just like me, is one of the loveliest experiences God ever gave me.

Last night--Cold gone. After my first full night of sleep in weeks, I got up, had breakfast with a sponsee, then came home and fell asleep like Dagwood on the couch. Three hours later, woke feeling cleansed. Now (My daughter fixed the computers while I was at breakfast) I’m listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Ah…

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Follow Up on Two Previous Stories

Feb 14th Posting: I saw Kelly today. She got over 35 birthday cards. (She didn’t say how much ice cream money.) But she did say it couldn’t have come at a better time since she’s been overwhelmed taking care of her mother who has Parkinson’s.

March 7th Posting: I lied last week; I really wasn't "over" being trashed, but I thought the story needed some kind of happy ending. (Sorry) But this week I went to a meeting and, based on something a sponsee said, I imagined angels surrounding me. Suddenly I thought, “Everyone here loves me, even Trashy.” And I felt all safe again. (Crazy, I know.) Then he gave a beautiful sharing that brought tears to my eyes.
Now I’m really glad I didn’t put nails under his tires.

March 11, 1917

I miss Dad. His 93rd birthday would have been this week.

I imagine my grandmother pregnant with him, her first child. Waddling about in a Mother Hubbard, probably having heart burn, peeing every time she sneezed, breasts leaking. She could feel the baby kick kick kick and had no doubt assembled little sweaters and blankets and diapers.

And so many Unknowns for her: How much longer? How bad would labor be, anyway? And Boy or Girl?

All this amidst the 1917 news: Czar Nicholas overthrown. U.S. heading towards War. Woodrow Wilson inaugurated the second time. (Strange to think that well-read, politically-savvy Grandma wouldn’t have been considered competent to vote yet!)

On March 11th, I had a birthday party for Dad and invited Mom and LPR. JR made a steak with marchand de vin , bay roasted potatoes, and asparagus with Romesco sauce. (Just the kind of gourmet stuff Dad adored.) LPR and I made ice box cake, Dad’s favorite dessert. (Even in old age he resented the time one Stanley Bernstein came to his birthday and ate all it all.) I had two helpings and imagined Dad relishing it too. Then I made sure some was leftover so he (and I) could have some the next day.

Here's the recipe if you'd like a taste of heaven:

Ice Box Cake

1 pt. (2 cups) whipping cream, whipped
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 pkg. (9 oz.) Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers

Add vanilla to whipped cream; stir gently until well blended.
Spread 1-1/2 tsp. of the whipped cream onto each wafer. Stack wafers together, then stand on edge in loaf pan to make a log. Frost with the remaining whipped cream.
IMPORTANT! Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Cut dessert into slices to serve. Keep away from Stanley Bernstein!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Trashed Again

Last week I reminded a guy in Program that we Al-Anons aren't supposed to discuss politics during meetings. I thought he’d say, “You're right. Thank you for your diligent attention to Al-Anon's Twelve Traditions.”

Instead he had a screaming fit and started calling me names. I was able to smile and detach with love until he screamed, “YOU'RE ALWAYS PERFORMING!” Against my will, I felt shame shame shame.(You see, there's an element of truth to that.)

Later I thought of all the things I could have said to give him shame shame shame. Too late.
Now I want to place a big nail behind one of his car tires.

Okay, we won't do that. Instead let's analyze: why did I let him get to me?
Because abuse feels so homelike.

In my family, setting boundaries was never allowed. Once, after I got married, I told my alcoholic dad I didn’t want him to drink in my house. All hell broke out. The whole family was mad at me. Dad said he no longer had any feelings for me whatsoever. Mom called me “self-righteous.” Even my favorite aunt accused me of trying to break up my parent’s marriage. For three months none of them spoke to me.
I ended up apologizing to everyone and letting Dad drink in my home any time he wanted.

But now I'm in Al-Anon, I have tools to deal with this, I think.

Eons ago, when I taught preschool, the kids were always running up to me crying, "Mrs. Poe, Johnny said I was a dummy (or whatever.)" I always said, "He just says that because he thinks HE'S a dummy." and they'd run off, happy.


You know, as I think of it, "Screamer" is always performing.

Isn't life interesting?