The Value in All Things

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you think and neither does WordPress and this blog.

I thought I hit the Publish button on this post weeks ago. This is what I get for trying to keep too many new “balls” in the air at the same time. Therefore, time wise, I am a little out of order here, so I hope my estimable, loyal readers will accept my humble apologies.

Despite what happened to me, in the next few years I learned I was fortunate in so many ways.

Whatever success I gained was due to Mom’s loving support and instruction, an open, inquiring mind from reading, and several excellent teachers. I cannot say enough about responsible parenting, good teachers and reading. By loving support I don’t mean letting children do whatever they please. Responsible parenting is teaching children to be responsible for their actions—that every action has a consequence—good and bad. I believe children need to learn the value in all things—from their toys to the money they earn to the family pet.

By having so much less, I valued what I had so much more, and I felt strong when later I earned what I had.

I must admit that the persistence I acquired, and not merely the willingness, but the motivation, to take risks was also partially due to the difficult circumstances in which I grew up, to having to deal with my dad. 

Not only did we have little money, but Dad was anti-social concerning our family. The only socializing we did was with his relatives and a few times with the local volunteer fire department after he became chief. He was adept at presenting himself as a positive role model to others. Except for Mom’s job, we were entirely cut off. At nearly eighteen, I not only had no car, but had never learned to drive, and I needed a job. 

Mary’s folks came through for me. Her father was a manager at Babcock & Wilcox in Barberton, a town nearby.

He recommended me for their secretarial pool and I could ride to work with him. I was grateful for the opportunity.

My excellent typing and decent shorthand skills quickly passed me through B&W’s secretarial pool and into a position as secretary to the Manager of Systems and Procedures. This was the first of a series of job situations that repeated throughout my working career: I enjoyed the challenge of learning something new, but once I knew the job well and it became routine, I became bored. Plus, the Systems and Procedures offices were in the basement. I rose in the dark, never saw the light of day and came home after dark. For a person who loved nature and being outside, this was a nightmare.

The most exciting day was when my boss tossed what he thought was his finished unlit cigar into his metal trash can and the trash caught on fire. Three men running around trying to find the nearest fire extinguisher! I calmly took my trash can and dropped it into the one on fire, smothering it. Silly little female secretary.

I paid Mom and Dad rent while I worked and life was better in the summer, especially weekends.

For the first time I had a little money for clothes and kept a tight budget for everything in a spiral-bound secretarial notebook. I used this method for years. Under budgeted “Entertainment” was music and movies. Sometimes I could get Dad to take me and Mary or me and Natalie to the bus stop and pick us up in Akron after lunch, shopping, or a movie, and we had better not be late. Ever since, I have been an anxious stickler for being on time. We went to the Palace or the Loews Theatre for movies. I dare say: They don’t make theaters like this any more—like entering a beautiful castle with fancy gold coving, ornamental moulding and heavy red curtains.

Loews Theatre, now known as Akron Civic Theatre

Mary and I often bought a few pieces of chocolate at the Fanny Farmer store nearby to take into the movie with us. We even tried chocolate-covered ants from the Polsky’s department store on Main. We saw Mary Poppins, 2001, and a terrible science fiction film. The last was so amateur I recall seeing the zippers on the back of the aliens’ costumes! 

Our favorite lunch was the Tea House Inn, and a couple times the summer after I began college Mom joined us. We three loved Chinese food and the delicious oolong tea they made in a huge pot. That tea got us gabbing away like crazy. 

“Shall I pour again?” 

“Yes, please.”

“When did you start smoking?”

“A few months ago, in school.”

“I wondered. I saw the hole in your sheet.”

“Smoking keeps me awake when I’m studying.”

“You shouldn’t smoke in bed.”

“I know.”

I was buying a pack at the store across the street from campus when I saw a newspaper headline that smoking caused cancer. I put the pack back and never bought another. No way was I going to chance something as unimportant as smoking even remotely end all my future plans and experiences, whatever they might be.

It was late summer before I went to Kent that the following happened.

I planned to go to a movie with Natalie. Dad was going to take me to Natalie’s place above her folks’ bar to pick her up, then on to the bus stop, or maybe all the way downtown, I can’t recall. I was late. I couldn’t help but wonder if I hadn’t been late, it might not have happened, but they say it would have been worse.

You may recall I mentioned it was a good thing that Dad wasn’t around when Natalie was at our house because she was so outspoken. It seems she was that way with her stepdad, as well.

I have written the following from the point of view of a character in one of my manuscripts. It was easier to write that way. This is the first time I have written from my point of view.

We pulled up in front of the bar, but there were already two police cars in the parking lot. Dad told me to stay in the car while he got out to talk to the policeman who came out of the bar. I held my hands together and watched him and the policeman. Something bad had happened, but I didn’t know how bad. My heart was pattering. You can actually feel your heart beat at such times. 

Dad got in the car and we pulled away. He didn’t say anything right away, but told me as we drove home. Her mom was there and heard everything. Natalie had argued with her stepdad. He picked up a large knife and stabbed her repeatedly. She was gone.

When we got home I sat on my bed on the top bunk. Took deep breaths and let them out. I had not been as close to Natalie as to Mary, but still. I couldn’t imagine her being gone. I felt bad I hadn’t been closer to her. I was at a loss as to what to do. A few tears came but I didn’t sob. Shouldn’t I feel worse? I imagined how she must have felt when it happened and couldn’t stand that. I sort of went numb. 

Nobody talked about it, except on the news. I didn’t want to discuss it. I went on with my life and my job at B&W. 

I hung in for nearly a year until one night I broke down.

I couldn’t sleep. Mom found me up and sobbing in the middle of the night.

“I can’t stand it,” I said. “I have to go to college. I don’t care if I just start and go for one year. I”ll figure it out, somehow. But I can’t stand my life.” I don’t recall what else I said, but that was the gist of it. She talked to Dad and they would let me save what I earned for school instead of paying them rent as I had been. I applied for a National Defense Teacher’s Loan and got it. I would go to Kent State University because it was a good teacher’s college and it was close enough that Dad could drive me there; and I could afford the first year along with the loan. 

I didn’t mind the job so much when I had a goal—Kent State University in the fall of 1964.

I was thrilled to be in a new environment with new and interesting people, learning new things, living my dream.

I was older than my two roommates in Korb Hall, the freshman dorm. No matter. No matter my English class was pedestrian and huge; I was merely grateful to be there. I was grateful for all of it. 

Korb Hall, today.

I was fortunate to grow up in an area that was all white with all white schools. I say this because no one told me I should fear anyone who was different than me. No one said I should fear or dislike a black or brown or yellow or red person. Consequently, I made up my own mind. I wanted to meet, to get to know everyone and everything that was different from what I grew up with. I read constantly and ached to experience that outside world, including the people. Reading had saved me from becoming insulated—reading and escaping to Kent State.

Kent was an escape from my abusive dad and from the stifling life in which I grew up. The second or third time he brought me home from Kent for a visit we were driving down the highway when he said, “Well, did you get any yet?” 

I wasn’t surprised, merely silent. That same old tight, black feeling—back to that little girl. No words. I could say nothing. Now that I’ve had therapy, there’s so much I would say. Lord, so much.

Here it is: “How can you say that to your daughter? You’re not a father. You’re supposed to protect me, you f*cker! You son-of-a-bitch! What is the matter with you? You sick, sick man!” Whew, I went on longer than that, but I got it out. 

I have no photographs from high school or college. They were all in one album that disappeared in the last move in Tucson—a tough practice in letting go. Those years at Kent were the best years of my life up to that point and I recall those photos better than most taken much later.

I was nineteen years old and for the first time actually began meeting new young people, including boys.

I had my first kiss outside Korb Hall. I recall thinking, “What a disappointment.” I had probably read too much and the guy was a freshman, like me, and a year younger than me. I looked (and probably behaved) much younger than my age.

One roommate I liked, the other cared nothing for being in school except that her boyfriend attended Kent. She lasted one semester before dropping out.

I was ironing my sheets one night in what we called the “fishbowl” because it was in the middle of the floor and all glass on two sides, when it occurred me to wonder why. I was ironing sheets, pillowcases and underwear merely because my mom had. What was the point in wasting my time ironing such things? That was the last time.

I met Dennis through Ski Club, which I joined to learn how to ski and meet people. The first night while hanging onto the tow rope—going up, of all things—I crashed by hitting a rock hidden under the snow. Ending up in the health clinic for a week with a hematoma, my left knee has remained forever weak, which has kept me from downhill skiing, but not from cross-country. 

I don’t know if I would have passed Chemistry without Dennis’s help. Everyone in my Chemistry class was aware the professor was long past retirement. He couldn’t hear and half the time couldn’t remember what he was writing on the board.

Dennis and I played chess in Korb Hall’s  lounge a couple evenings a week. He was a great guy but began talking about love and dating no one else. Though I didn’t want to see him go, I had just begun my new life and wasn’t ready for being more than good kissing friends. 

I look back now and wonder what might have happened, if not for Dad. I would never have become serious, but maybe Dennis and I would have gotten closer. On the other hand, I knew nothing about contraceptives and probably Dennis didn’t either, so maybe our breakup was for the best. Particularly considering what happened later. 

In my quest to get to know all sorts of people I joined Internationals Club. Rather socially naive, I went on a date with an Iranian fellow who took me to an expensive restaurant and dance club in Akron, where I thought we were getting to know one another. Every couple was much older than us, and, wow, could he dance. I have a good sense of rhythm and could follow. People actually backed off to watch us. I expect only wealthy young Iranian men were able to attend college in the U.S. I felt like an uncomfortable Cinderella.

Upon return to campus, I had to be clear that at least this American coed wasn’t about to “put out” for one night on the town. Probably Iranian men were told stories about those wild American women. I never saw him again. To my regret I’ve never met a man who could dance like that again.

I had much better luck making friends with a wonderful young woman from India with whom I worked with part-time. I wish we had kept in touch. 

I applied for off-campus housing for the next year, and the following summer I went back to B&W for a horrible summer job. But it paid decently and I knew I would be going back to Kent in the fall. I also applied for a grant. As long as I kept my grades up I would keep the loan.

Please excuse the cliché, but my sophomore year would be beyond my wildest dreams.

Kids Need Truth to Balance Imagination

Mom loved reading, so love of books came naturally to me and Diann. If nothing else was available, I read the backs of cereal boxes at breakfast. We had a collection of Little Golden Books, and many came from Grandma Flavel and Aunt Amy, who was happily married and with a son and daughter of her own. We didn’t have kindergarten, but I read before entering first grade. Mom said she would be working at the kitchen sink and see me going by outside the window with my face in a book—walking around the house. 

Reading saved me; the worlds found in books were my escape when the real world turned too difficult and frightening. Or merely for adventure. In those days (1940s and 50s) only boys had adventures and I wanted desperately to be a boy so I could have them, too. 

I don’t recall Aunt Amy’s oldest boy, Bob, but I received plenty hand-me-downs from her daughter, Norma. I barely recall her husband, “Unca Charlie,” who I was told I loved, as he died when I was little. He and Dad went fishing a lot at “the lakes” as many called Portage Lakes where we lived. “You going fishing at the lakes this weekend?” All summer long you could hear the sound of motorboats speeding up and down Turkeyfoot Lake—about two miles to the end of Pillar Avenue, across the highway, and down the hill from our house.

Aunt Amy was a trip.

After Charlie died and her kids grew up and moved away we saw quite a lot of her. She had a house at the bottom of a steep road and practically on the lake. I used to have nightmares about getting stuck in a car that ran away on that downhill road. As I got older, maybe nine or so, I would walk to the end of Pillar Avenue and meet her because she was afraid of a beagle dog that would run out beyond its yard and bark. I eventually learned the name of that dog, and commanding him with it would stop him in his tracks. He was more bark than bite, thank goodness.

Amy loved to laugh. We had a Little Golden Record about the secret laughing place she loved to play for its funny laugh. She made funny sounds with her lips in her arm, making me and Diann crack up.

She visited us every time a storm was expected. Mom said this was because when she was a small child she had been outside when Grandma was doing the wash during a storm. Thunder and lightning struck just when Amy was splashed with a pot of boiling water. Consequently, Mom always made sure Diann and I had a great time during storms. We both grew up loving a fierce rainstorm. We had some humdinger storms in Ohio. Great, black and blue thunderclouds with driving rains. Fantastic.

Mom was always working at something.

I recall Mom bending over the wood and metal scrubbing board in the furnace room that ran between the kitchen and the garage—rubbing up and down, up and down, scrubbing that laundry clean. Next I followed her outside while she hung the clothes in the backyard on a cotton line with wooden clothespins, one pin  to corners of two overlapped edges of clothing. She said there was nothing like the smell of clothing fresh dried in the wind and sun. I remember holding clothing up to my face and that smell. When I was old enough, she taught me the correct way to hang clothes so as not to get wrinkles in the wrong places and use the least number of pins. 

This was before she received a washer, and years later, a dryer.

Mom was a wonderful cook. She made our birthday cakes, and what cakes they were: one chocolate layer, one strawberry, and one vanilla. In between each layer she lathered fudge frosting, and on the sides and top swirled high melt-in-your mouth crispy-on-the-outside seven-minute white frosting. I have never eaten a cake like that since.

Karen and Diann with birthday cake in front of Pillar Avenue house

Like many children, I became attached to animals of every kind.

We had a succession of cats, mainly to keep down the mice. Our house was on a hill—our backyard stretched up to my favorite climbing tree, beyond a wire fence to a wide and deep field that eventually led to what we kids called Meyers Woods. This field was a great spawning ground for mice, rats, and other similar critters. 

I don’t remember black Mike the First, though Diann said he would jump out from behind furniture and walls and knock her down, making her laugh. Black Mike the Second would sit on the wood highchair in the kitchen, shake paws and beg for popcorn. After Mike the First passed on we got Tiger, a huge ginger male with wide furry cheeks that followed us kids everywhere. He took no guff from dogs, either. Even the big dogs learned to give him space. Mom said she recalled seeing us kids walking in a line down the street trailed by a couple dogs with Tiger bringing up the rear. We lost him to a poisoned rat and buried the fellow with ceremony in our pet cemetery in the field out back with the other critters we found dead around the neighborhood, including birds. I wish I still had a photo of Tiger, but it was lost with other photos in a flooded basement when I was in college. Tiger was a difficult one to lose.

I got my first puppy, Tinker, when I was a tot. But Tinker turned out to be a big lug when he grew up. So big he knocked me over so Dad got rid of him. I hate to think how, considering the way Dad got rid of most animals. An early project of Dad’s was raising rabbits in hutches in the backyard. I don’t know if the group of rabbits came first or my white rabbit, Peter, came first at Easter. Naturally, I became attached to Peter, the pink-eyed, white rabbit. Perhaps it’s in my imagination that he followed me around. I do recall that Diann and I went to visit our cousins, Sally and Nancy, and when we returned, Peter was gone. All the rabbits were gone. I believe that Mom convinced Dad that having animals for sale around little girls like us was not a good idea since Diann and I could get attached to them. I doubt the rabbits were a good investment anyway.

I was told Peter went to live with our neighbors, but I knew the truth. I knew Dad had got rid of that rabbit with the others. That Peter was likely dead. I think I must have been four or five. What I am saying is don’t tell this kind of story to your kids. Tell them the truth because they instinctively know the truth. I was all that much angrier because I was being told a story instead of the truth.

As adults we tend to forget how attached children get to animals and things. We forget what a different world they live in, how very special and boundless that world is. Everything is of paramount importance. If you love, it is with all your being. Imagination and the mind is as strong as reality. Imagination helps you deal with the world. I recall a painting a young girl did of giant toes on a piece of white paper. “This is me walking in wet grass.”

Kids need the truth to balance their imaginations.

They need to be able to depend on adults for that balance, so their world doesn’t topple over. I’m not saying you can’t play and imagine with your kids. But they need to know where the boundaries of imagination and truth are. Parents must provide a safe, dependable island from where children can go out and explore their world and return.

Dad was big and strong. He would grab your arm and yank to give you a swat and raise a bruise for days. He not only yelled at us or swatted our behinds for the smallest infraction, he began cutting down Mom in various ways, making remarks about what she did or things she said.

My world and my sister’s world became one of constant anxiety. Except when he was out of the house . . . gone. 

Answer Creek by Ashley Sweeney

Short and sweet today as my enterprising and special friend, Ashley Sweeney, has published a wonderful book about a young woman who is part of the infamous Donner party struggling its way to California, and her novel has made its debut this month! What a perfect time to curl up with a good book, a cup of coffee or tea and maybe a warm roll or piece of chocolate and read about someone else’s trials and tribulations . . . and triumphs in the end. There will be triumph, if I know Ashley.

Photo by Ena Marinkovic on Pexels.com

One reviewer states, “Ashley E. Sweeney’s novelization of the Donner Party fuses history, realism, and luminous prosehttps://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/answer-creek/.” My favorite kind, along with depth of character. 

This is Answer Creek, and I hope everyone will take a look. I am anxiously awaiting delivery of mine.

A Loss for Words?

 

Photo by Alie Krohn, Photostream Creative Commons

Photo by Alie Krohn, Photostream Creative Commons

“What the hell kind of people read books about words?”

I love this. I took it from a interview with one of my favorite people who is also an author and a word wizard, Arthur Plotnik. I don’t know of anyone who makes reading about words, or how to “write words better” so much fun.

I don’t know what I would do without his book, Spunk & Bite. Mine looks a bit like a squished porcupine with all the tabs I have added for quick access to all the info.

Take a look at the interview on The Grammarist, if you’ve a mind, and you will not only learn something, but I bet you will smile doing it: http://grammarist.com/nofront/interview-with-arthur-plotnik/