1970s

TOUCHED

I walked into my brother’s shop after class.  I was an adult “non-traditional” student in my early 30s at the local university.  I remember riding in the back seat of our family car as a young girl, and while the campus was a fixture in our small town, it seemed a world away.  I wondered what it would be like, to be one of the young women there and yet miraculously for me,  I   became one of them.

My brother asked “how was class,’ and we exchanged small talk when he began discussing the difficulties his son was having in school:

“You know, Dad and I were talking the other day, and we agreed you and Daniel have a touch of the same thing…”

I was shocked. I didn’t respond verbally.  Silence is my usual response.

Now I can see that even then, I had a lot to prove, though education was for my own sake, for my own desire for learning.  But simultaneously there was a tab to pay, a peg to move one step ahead in effort find myself on home base. Obviously, I am not even in the game, or at least, that is how I felt in that moment.  His words hit a nerve- for all my learning, for all I have overcome, his view of me was incredulous.  Not only that, he and my dad seemed to agree on the fact.

I’ve always admired my brother.  If he had self-doubt, he didn’t show it.  He was always of good humor, level-headed, an intelligent, straight A student and when we were kids, engrossed in sports.  I thought he had the better of things  being a boy, and for a short time, I dressed like him, wanted to play on his ball teams- even one summer I practiced catching ball thinking I would join his all-boys team.   I wanted the acceptance, admiration and success he had. I tried to model myself after him, and he never knew.  We had many fun times together.

(Did he really say that?)

“You know, Dad and I were talking the other day, and we agreed you and Daniel have a touch of the same thing…”

A touch.

A little thing resulting in a great divide.

I am sure he was referring not only to our similar learning difficulties, but also our personalities and behaviors to some degree.  When I was around my nephew’s age, I experienced what the family jokingly refers now as “the dark years.”

I can laugh at that most of the time, but they truly were dark, and back then it wasn’t very funny.  I think his ability to classify it in such creative, dramatic terms is the kicker.  Most of the time I laughed, but one time I responded, saying they actually were very dark and I wasn’t in the mood to laugh about it.

In the back of my mind

As a young girl, shame seemed to overshadow everything: Spilt Drinks, Wallpaper slit in corners, because they weren’t lying perfectly flat; scribbles and smiley faces on bricks and painted walls, piles of papers, coffee-stains missed on washed dishes, the inability to remember…my brother received a stretch Armstrong for Christmas, and after the doll’s newness wore off and it sat dormant, I couldn’t wait to slice it open to see what made him so pliable. I loved deconstructing almost anything to see what it was all about, how it worked, but soon my mind was taking me off to something else, and said items usually sat piled up for another day. I can’t explain it, but there was an overwhelming compulsion to do exasperating, senseless things. On top of that, I rocked most of the time, I couldn’t talk on the phone without pacing and I picked my cuticles incessantly until they bled.

My brother, sister and I enjoyed games together, but the matching game was dreadful. I could not remember where two cards alike were hiding. Meanwhile, my siblings racked up, blasé as they tossed their married cards into piles. I was determined to remember on my next turn- I carefully watched each one turned face-up and quickly flipped, but their memory faded before I had time to store them. For a while I had difficulty telling time, so my father took a flat cardboard box, and on it painted the face of a clock. He made two wooden hands, and secured them with a screw, nut and washer for realistic movement. After supper, he would get the clock out of the utility room, sit in his chair and quiz me each evening. Eventually it became comfortable.

Generally, Numbers have always been a foreign language to me: I would try to absorb them like the match game cards, but I couldn’t grasp them. My dad and I had many showdowns during his attempts to help me with homework. I’m sure many Parents get frustrated when they can’t find the exact words to use when trying to teach something, and after many attempts of explaining the same thing, over and over, exasperation took over. He would end up yelling, I would end up crying. So besides associating numbers with a mysterious dark void, they also seemed to be another means of separation.

My favorite pastime in class was reading the SRAs. They were cards with stories which you later tested yourself on key points. The spoken word was wooden for me, but the written word, was my first love. I relied on the page- while I could not find words to explain things, I found if I could write them down as I spoke, they came alive. The visual was my tool to connect with others, to share common knowledge.

As I ran toward puberty, the learning and social difficulties began to increase.  One day my mom told me my desk would be placed in front of the class, side by side with my teacher’s. “It will help you pay attention,” she said.  This took place casually and nothing was announced or said about it in class.

I never was a girl’s friend, those who immediately connect, share gossip, brush each other’s hair or whatnot.

I had friends, and many laughs, but they weren’t steady. I remember once scanning female classmates, and thinking of them as “otherworldly…” separate. I sensed their experience to be very different from my own. It wasn’t just my weight struggle or my bowl hair cuts, or even my difficulties in school, though I admired their femininity, their long straight hair and their propensity for good grades. It was the right to simply be that I admired, no questions asked.  My proudest moment was winning the class spelling B.

By grace I was passed to the 7th grade,  and my first year at junior high was one of my most difficult of all my school years, just it time for boys, a menstrual cycle, and a changing body.  It probably would have been better had I been held back a year.

I prepared all summer for my upcoming move to a new school. I had blossomed and became more delicate looking in my opinion. I was turning into a young lady as seen in my mom’s old joe weider exercise booklets from the 50s. My brother, sister and I always went for the introductory first volume for a laugh, which featured black and white photographs of the three breast types: Small, large and saggy. The last photograph created laughter like an unexpected punch line, and each time was like the first time. I spent that summer taking Joe’s advice. I practiced walking with a book on my head, doing scissor exercises and used the ornate, powder blue dumbbells included in the exercise kit for my budding breasts. I had learned the popular jingle sang by girls in small groups- with the pumping of elbows it was chanted-

“I must… I must… I must increase my bust-
the bigger the better the tighter the sweater
I must increase my bust!”

I was hopeful about having a social life, making girl friends and doing girl things- meeting boys, and was crazy about clothes. My mom took me clothes shopping on Friday nights, where I bought trendy blouses, slacks, and accessories. She and dad were always generous in buying for us. She took me into her room once to show me all the jewelry she had, including her first pair of gold earrings she bought when she was 17- tiny acorns to wear in her tiny earlobes. I enjoyed the passage into my teen years with enthusiasm, and appreciated all its beauty ritual and accoutrements.

A Good Witness

I rode the ministry bus a few times as a girl.

The church must have called the previous night to arrange it,  because we were dressed and ready before it arrived, and that doesn’t happen on a whim.   As I stepped on board I’d scan for familiar faces.   Sometimes it was packed; other times, it was spotted like bound insects on a web.

A well-dressed Chaperone stood at the front of the bus, balancing himself  with the help of a silver pole when the bus leaned too far on its side, while enthiastically leading us in Christian Song:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

“Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the world.

Red and yellow, Black and White,

They are precious in his sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

“Jesus loves me, this I know,

for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong,

They are weak, but he is strong…”

When I reunited with the Church community as a young adult, the bus ministries had began to wane.  Even when parents had no use for Church, some still found value in sending their kids for whatever reason suited them.  There was a large church in town known for its bus ministry; they owned  a fleet of busses but by the time I reached 19 years old,  the collection had dwindled down to a handful, and even they may not have ran every week.  On any given Sunday, the driver or Chaperone may ask one exiting if they planned to attend the next week.  After receiving a smile and usually an  agreement, they sometimes returned only to find an empty driveway and a quiet home after a few knocks on the door.

Like everything else, gathering people for church is a crap shoot.

Honestly, even in my fresh religious fervour, they were times I didn’t want to go to Church.  But most of  the time it was one of those things I did,  even when I didn’t feel like it.  Then some days, I gave into the flesh and remained huddled in my bedroom away from any unneccessary stimuli.  But with newfound faith came newfound responsibility to be a good witness.  After all, if others see you going and enjoying church attendance, they might be willing to come along for the next service.   If family see you slacking, what impression would that leave about Jesus’ over-all appeal? If I didn’t want to hang around him, why should they?  My dad told us kids that faith was nobody’s business, but in Church I learned immediately that with faith comes responsibility-To God and everyone else.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

The first time I saw the large structure on the hill, the thought occured to me that it was there I should attend, as if I had been supernaturally tapped- though going took a few weeks planning. Saturday would come and go and I already had myself talked out of it.

I turned to my mom to join me- She was very kind and while hesitant, agreed but we set it back another week.

The Big Church was set off on a hill over on Dockery Street.  It was sided with a rustic antiqued wood as if repurposed from a monstrous barn.  The builder’s vision was simple but spacious.  Previous to it’s existence the land  hosted a series of houses that had been swept away by the Tornado of 1974.  My aunt Thelma’s parents lived in the house that once occupied the top of the hill.  The funnel had flattened their home and scalped her sister O.D. Mae. Afterwards, if the sky turned gray and the angels began to bowl,  the sisters who lived together in old age would make their way to the basement as fast as they could go.  There they stored years of paper grocery sacks and newspapers.  Growing up during the depression, they learned the value of stock.  Anyway, if you believe everything happens for a reason, then you could view the tornado as God’s hand making room for yet another sanctuary, even for the likes of me.

As Mom and I entered the Narthex of the church, we were greeted with smiles and handshakes, an inquiry as to whether we were from the neighborhood, and an invitation to make ourselves at home.  Two ladies eagerly greeted us with the same joyful surprise and introductions. I met Diane, a lady who eventually became a mentor, and her friend Jean.  I later learned Jean’s husband had a desire for church, but since he made his living driving a Beer Truck, he couldn’t sit in a pew on Sunday and the driver’s seat of a Beer truck on Monday. So he stayed home.  We stood and sang a few songs from the Red Back Hymnal, passed the plate along while settling in to listen.

In a building that housed maybe 2 to 300, there was only a handful.

It was nice to feel wanted.  I am sure most visitors had been carefully cultivated while we just sprouted out of nowhere.

I was interested in the sermon.  At the time I tried to follow the message though can’t recall any of it now.    I remember leaving with a certainty that my choice of Churches was somehow destined.  I was intended to be there, some how, some way.  But I was a little empty though, too.  I concluded:

“This place is nice.  The people are so friendly, I enjoyed the songs and listening to the minister speak. 

 I am glad I came, but this is NOT what I am looking for.”