Category Archives: Memories

I’m in Good Company shirt

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At least 28 years ago my friend Rosanne gave me a shirt that, while huge on me, I loved. I think I was supposed to wear it with leggings (which were “in” 28 years ago, along with big hair) or maybe she meant to wear it when I was pregnant.

The front of the shirt has dozens of women’s names on it in an inverted triangle, with I’m in good company in lilac in the middle of the names. The bottom of the triangle (the tip) reads “Me!”

The back of the shirt has an image of a man who resembles the Fallout Shelter guy fishing and the caption reads, “Good Catch!” which I assumed was the name of the company that made the shirt.

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I wore the shirt with pride for many years, until it started getting ragged at the neckline and holes showed up in spots, then I wore it as a night shirt.

At some point I figured out that many, if not all, of the women named on the shirt fell somewhere in the LGBTQ+ community and I wondered if I was telling a lie by wearing it, or could even be accused of appropriation. Nevertheless, I still loved it and wore it with pride.

Sure enough, this shirt can still be bought at the Good Catch website and is called the Famous Lesbians Shirt.

I wonder if Rosanne realized that about the shirt. It doesn’t matter. I still love it, even though it is even too ragged to be worn as a nightshirt.

Letter to my parents and brother from me: August 1981

Dear Mom, Dad and Kevin,

So this is the second letter I’ve written. Letter #1 is stale (and besides, I’ve already told you everything that’s in it) [1].

Like I said on the phone — the apartment actually is livable now. Each room still has a lot to be done, but at least we can move. Today we cleaned out the desks and put some books away. Our next big project is making the shelves for the stereo and albums and remainder of the books. [2]

We have no hot water yet. The plumber never showed up. I guess it’s quite a job. Ask Dick Palmer why he thinks we are having so many problems. :-) (actually I think our landlady is over-worried about $$$$) [3]

My birthday was really special. Dean made me a wonderful breakfast of strawberries and cream, kippers, pink champagne, soft-boiled eggs, bagels and toast (this was all before we knew how poor we were :-)).

The we went to a festival downtown at Point State Park. That’s where the 3 rivers come together. We watched the speedboats and Dean “frolicked” in the fountain.

For dinner, Dean made a roast and Yorkshire putting. It was all very wonderful.

Dean gave me my favorite cologne, a blue rose, peppercorns, kerosene for my lamp, a bottle of wine, and, from a local garage sale, a salt shaker and  pepper mill set, directly (long ago) from Italy [4]. [5]

After dinner and cake (yes, he baked me a cake complete with 25! [6] candles) we took a long leisurely walk around our new neighborhood.

Cinder has settled in very nicely. It’s almost as if no move ever took place.

We still have to thank you properly. I wish I could have said more in the way of thanks when you left, but I was ready to cry at any moment. [7]

Also, we owe you money for gas, etc. That will soon be paid as soon as we can.

Well, take care.

Love,
Dona

P.S. Got the checks today. Thanks for the loan. I feel awful asking for the money — thanks so much. [8]

Hi again —

Enclosed, you have found the two checks. Thanks, but the bank won’t accept it except to go into our account and that won’t be good until the 8th of September. (That’s the $50.00). Then the $15.00 check — it’s not certified. Seems that certified means the bank guarantees the money. We even went to the assistant manager. But luckily we found that the book store takes VISA (Dean needs books) and that leaves us with enough cash to get by — there is $40.00 in my change bottle. I appreciate your help very much. If you can’t get your money back (but I’m sure you can) [9] send me the check back and I’ll be able to cash it and send you back one of our checks.

Don’t worry — my fingers are still pink — not blue. [10]

I called the school district and they are sending applications for subbing. One district (Pittsburgh) isn’t accepting subbing applications until next week. [11]

Love,
Dona

Notes:
  1. Dean and I had just moved to Pittsburgh []
  2. I think my mom was not impressed with our apartment when she and my dad, brother and cousin drove us to Pittsburgh from Elgin []
  3. I’d forgotten about this []
  4. I remember these — the were a rusty-red with a gold crackled finish []
  5. All I can say is WOW! Dean sure knew how to treat a gal back then []
  6. Damn we were just babies! []
  7. Knowing what I know now about the pain when a child leaves town, I know my mother must have been heartbroken []
  8. None of us realized that even though we had money to put in a banking account, we would not see that money for a couple weeks. We lived on change for a week. Never underestimate the value of a change jar. []
  9. It is apparent here that I had no idea how checks worked []
  10. Mom was worried about my Raynaud’s syndrome kicking in because I was stressed []
  11. I’d forgotten I’d applied to more than one school district []

Letter to me from my mother: January 13, 1979

Dear Dona [1],

We woke up to another snow storm [2] . We already have 39 1/2 inches on the ground [3]. (That is accumulation since the first of winter). Snow fell all last night and is supposed to continue today and tonight.

Your dad took the van to get a new windshield this morning. On the way up north we were going under an overpass just as snow and ice fell down on us and cracked the window — also scared the hell out of us.

When I got home from work on Monday there was a note to call your Aunt Pat. She had fallen Sunday night when she took a garbage bag out to the street. I waited til 3 o’clock and picked Kevin up in case I needed help with her. When we got to her house she answered the door. She had a slipper on her foot because it had swelled. At the hospital I couldn’t find a close parking so I dropped her and Kevin by the emergency entrance. They had to walk up a steep ramp (I didn’t know until later that I could have driven right up to the door). Anyway to make a long story short (we were there in the emergency room until 7) she ended up with a broken ankle and will be in a cast from 6 to 8 weeks.

You’re right, Dona, Cinder doesn’t miss you [4]. She spends most of her time downstairs being scratched and petted. She is even friendly with your dad.

There was an article in the Courier News this wee about your friend from Carlson’s Paint Store complete with pictures of him dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster [5].

Our TV burned out last night. The picture went black and it snapped and crackled. I was afraid to touch it. After I turned it off the room smelled like burnt plastic.

Purcell’s address is Box 308, Minocqua Wisconsin 54548.

This has to be short — your dad wants to leave.

Take care — I hope everything is O. K.

Love,
Mom

Notes:
  1. I was student teaching in England []
  2. This was the Chicago Blizzard of 1979 []
  3. I think that’s a little high based on what I just read in the earlier link, and here’s another []
  4. Cinder was my black cat. I don’t remember thinking she wouldn’t miss me, but I guess I must have predicted correctly []
  5. This was someone I knew from the Manor Restaurant where I waited tables. He was a bit of an asshole, but kind to me. He used to wear stilts and dress as Frankenstein’s monster []

Remembering the mute Irish wife

When Dean and I were in Ireland in 1985 for our honeymoon we were slightly alarmed when approached at the ferry depot or train stations by aggressive people who were offering places to stay, but since we had no lodging set up, we often went with them. While they all turned out okay, the accommodations were sup-par but often memorable.

One such “B&B” was in Rosslare where we needed a place to stay one night before taking the ferry to France. The accommodation was on a farm, if I recall correctly, and the family we stayed with had many children. The husband was brutish — Dean suspected he beat his wife because, I think, she had a black eye.

The wife was mute — I think she could hear, but she could not speak. I remember asking her about a particular herb in her garden and she was frustrated that she could not tell me. She had no paper on which to write the name, but we had some playing cards and so she wrote verbeena on a joker card.  I suspect it was lemon verbena and I must have asked her because of the smell. Although comparing the dried plant to photos of verbena online make me doubt my suspicions. I am going to now say it was probably lemon balm and not lemon verbena.

I found the card and a clipping of the plant in a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn when we were in the process of a book purge. I am glad I checked because otherwise I may have forgotten her. I hope Dean was wrong about her husband beating her.

Tropic of Capricorn, dried verbena and a playing card

Ian and Denise

From Back: Ian and Denise and Tobias Bear (their son) in front of a huge Christmas tree. December 9, 1978
Back when I was visiting England a lot, I got to know Ian and Denise. Ian was in a band called Magpie, they had a yellow Citroen Deux Chevaux they called Big Bird, I think. They had a leather couch and once, after an argument in which a tea/coffee mug was broken one of them created art with the broken pieces. I think I liked them because they seemed like the perfect couple.

Reflections on a Life

The first time I saw her she was 5-and-a-bit, exactly the same age as I was. We’d just moved out of the apartment on Mountain Street and into our new home on Heine Avenue. I didn’t pay much attention to her at first. She was just there. It wasn’t until the trouble years started that I began to take more notice of her.

The trouble years started when I was about thirteen. I was always a volatile child, at least as far as I remember or what I was told. But once I turned thirteen it got much worse. My parents laughed about it in later years, although the laughter always seemed to be tinged with caution. They never knew when I would fly into a rage, or what would set me off.

I don’t remember what made me go to her that first time, but I remember standing in front of her, talking to her about whatever (seemed) injustice I’d just been dealt. She had stories too. Her mother was demanding (so was mine!), she had few friends (me too), her father didn’t understand why she loved to read so much (same with me).

I’d look past her, though her doorway, into her house and think how much more calm and quiet it seemed. She said the same about mine.

Maybe her mother was not as demanding as mine was. Maybe we could change places, just for a while, just to get away from the anger (our own and the anger that was directed at us). Would anyone know? Would anyone care?

The first time we exchanged places it was like stepping into another world, at least for me. I don’t know what it was like for her. I saw her mother, who looked like my mother, in a different way than I’d ever seen my mother. Maybe it was because her mother was a stranger to me and strangers don’t yell at other people’s daughters.

The house felt brighter, more dimensional, happy, carefree, loving, kind.

That first time, we didn’t stay long in each other’s houses. We looked around, we talked to each other’s mother and young brother then returned to our own homes, refreshed, calmer than before the exchange.

Through the following years we did the exchange/switch scores of times, each time staying longer and longer in each other’s world even if we hadn’t just had a fight with our mothers.

Eventually, gradually, we no longer needed to switch. The fights with our mothers slowed down, our brothers quit annoying us so much. We got jobs, went to college, moved out of the house on Heine Avenue, and moved away from our hometown.

We forgot about each other. We forgot about our trips into each other’s lives. We became adults, married and had children.

One day, maybe 30 years after that first exchange, I was back visiting my childhood home. Something made me remember her (perhaps my own teenage daughter’s presence) and I started thinking about the switches.

Then I told my daughter about my time as a teenager, growing up in the house on Heine Avenue. I told her of the fierce arguments I had with my mother. I told her about the girl in the mirror. I explained how we switched places: the girl and I placing our foreheads together, then our fingertips, then pushing through to the other side.

Had we ever switched back that last time, whenever that last time was? Was I living the wrong life? Was she living the life I should have lived?

I decided to visit her again, to see if she could remember if we ever switched back that last time, if she remembered that last time. I walked to where I always met her…

She was not where I last saw her. I asked my mother where she went. What had she done with her? My mother heard me say, “Mom, what happened to the big mirror in your room? Did it break? Did you get rid of it?”

My mom replied that she’d only moved the mirror to the back of her bedroom door. She seemed to sense panic in my voice, but didn’t ask why.
“Thank God,” I thought, as I went to the bedroom, “she is still safe. I can still see her.”

We still looked alike and her house still looked more real than my own childhood home. She didn’t remember if we’d changed back, and asked if it really mattered. Weren’t we both happy right now?

She was right, I was happy. I had a husband and two children I loved very much. My daughter and I were much closer than my mom and I had been, and while my son had inherited my volatility, he was growing out of that (very long) stage.

Despite being a grown woman, each visit to my mother’s house after that trip included a visit to her bedroom mirror to remember the child, the teenager, the adult who looked just like me but was somehow a better version of me, who lived in a better place than I did.

We never considered changing places again, but I always still wondered what life in that other world would have been like and if it was really my life in there.

After my mother died, I assumed her mother died too; but did she die like my mother did, slowly forgetting words, places, people, how to walk, how to swallow? I hoped for both their sakes they were spared that nightmare.

Six months after my mother’s death I visited the mirror again while gathering memorabilia from my childhood home, but could not look directly at it, could not say goodbye to my friend from fifty-something years ago. I noticed she was absent too.

On the way back to Bethesda, hauling a U-Haul loaded with furniture, boxes of photos and childhood memories, I felt a pang of regret in my gut that I’d not taken the mirror with me. We surely could have found room for it in our house and it would have been safe. It would have been comforting to have her with me all the time. (You might be thinking that she’s in every mirror, but there you would be wrong. She is only in that one mirror. I have never seen her in any other.)

More recently I visited my childhood home for the last time. It was empty, the estate sale agents had done their job well. It was void of everything I knew from my childhood and teen years, from my visits as an adult. It was missing the people I loved, the furniture I sat in, the art on the walls. I walked around, taking pictures for a possible blog post. I went into every room, opened each closet, and peeked into drawers and cabinets. I expected to feel sadness, but instead just felt emptiness.

On the way home, this time on an airplane, I realized that when I was in that empty house, in my mother’s empty bedroom, I forgot to see if the mirror was still there on the back of the door or if the estate sale agents had sold it to someone wanting a sturdy mirror. Either way, someday someone else will look in that mirror. Will they see the shadow of a lonely teenage girl, angry at her mother about this or that injustice? She’s still there, I know it. I just wonder if it is me or her.

Declutter 2017: Needlepoint from Patsy

Teachers get a lot of interesting gifts from their students. I think the most interesting, and inappropriate gift I received was a long, pink nightgown from the child of a Filipino mother. She also gave me one of my best gifts — dinner out (with her) at a fancy restaurant in Arlington. I got a lot of mugs, most of which are broken or given away these 20 years since I last stepped foot in a classroom as a teacher. I already wrote about one of my favorite gifts, my cheeseburger pencil holder. A couple parents gave me things they made themselves and I have one or two of those left, including this needlepoint sampler.

The mother of one of the sweetest children I ever met made this and gave it to me in 1988. Her son, Michael, was probably in first grade at the time. He and his family moved from St. Angelo, Texas at the beginning of the school year because his father got a job at the Pentagon. He was a Marine, and scary as hell, but his wife and son were so sweet and kind.

Michael was in my class because he had a brain tumor when he was very young that caused him to have seizures, so many a day that he had to wear a helmet most of the time to protect his head for when he fell. The seizures mostly stopped when the tumor was removed, but he was still slightly delayed because of the brain trauma. He also had a brain stent to reduce fluids from building up around his brain.

A few years after the family moved to the DC area, the father developed a seizure disorder. I remember talking to Michael’s mom about how unfair it was that both her son and now her husband had seizure disorders and asked her how she stayed so positive and she told me that it is not that God gives you only what you can handle in life, but you learn to handle what God gives you [1].

I last talked to Michael’s mom (and Michael) after I gave birth to my daughter. It was a brief conversation, but it was memorable in that both she and Michael were still very positive people. Michael will be in his thirties now. I hope he is still as cheerful as he was as a child.

 

Notes:
  1. this was a Catholic school, hence the God stuff []

The Life Cycle Library for Young People

As mentioned in the previous post, I partially learned about the birds and the bees from a set of books my mother gave me after being unwilling (embarrassed?) to answer a legitimate question about sperm and eggs.

The Life Cycle Library for Young People is a set of four books whose “Note to Readers” includes:

The story told on the following pages is one of the most fascinating and important ones in the life of every human being. Doctors … are still trying to discover the details of the process by which a tiny cell no larger than a speck of dust grows to be a growing, eating, crying, laughing, loving baby.

It was published in 1969 by The Parent and Child Institute of Chicago.

As I mentioned in that other post, I was not ready to read a set of books about sex. I didn’t open them until one afternoon when my friend, Cindy, was over. I doubt we read the glossary that talked about such topics as “going steady” or “sophistication.”

We probably didn’t think the drawings were dated, since they were what we saw in newspapers and magazines every day.

No, I remember we skipped to Book 3, page 133 and read the section on “Sexual Intercourse” which begins:

The most intimate way for a husband and wife to express their love is through sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is the act which enables the male sperm and female egg to unite to begin the life of a new human being. The primary purpose of sexual intercourse for all other living things is reproduction of the species. For a husband and wife it is also an emotional and physical expression of love.

It goes on to discuss foreplay, erogenous zones, arousal and orgasm [1], then discusses conception.

I’m pretty sure I only ever read that section of the books and maybe the parts about childbirth.

Really, it is not surprising I equated sex with conception after all, is it?

 

Notes:
  1. even the woman’s! []