The Next House

The next house was in Ahwahnee. It was the fourth grade for me. And part of the fifth grade.

We were all in the house though, my sister, brother and Mother. This is the last time Grandpa ever visited us. Though I did see him a few more times before he died.

We rented the house from the neighbors. Mother said the woman was a foster parent just to get the money. One of the boys there was Johnny. He was about the same age as me and my sister. The three of us were friends.

This is the last house I saw Smokey. A cat I loved as a child. I have no memory of where or when I got him. On at least a couple moves I spent time upset and scared he wouldn’t make it home for the move. Moving from the house on Road 415 for example. I sat in the yard and called him and called him. If I didn’t cry, I felt like crying.

We don’t know what happened to Smokey.

The house was next to a field. We used to walk across the field and along a trail to the main road. There in the small town we would buy candy. There was a special place along the path. Just some rocks and trees. But for me and my sister it was a magical spot. Someplace cool, quiet and it felt hidden. It felt safe.

It was living in this house I was the closest to my sister. A lot of the time I felt so angry. I’m not sure why now. And to be honest I don’t know if at the time I knew. One time my sister said she hated it when me and Mother yelled. Said you couldn’t understand anything we said. I really thought about what she said and started working to control my temper.

Once I went to throw water at my sister in her room. A drop hit the bulb and it broke. My sister was mad and I felt bad. Of all the people in my life, my sister was the one I cared for more than any.

I did a lot of walking at this house. Like other places I spent a lot of time alone. Walking down dirt roads and ATV paths and thinking. Once I took my bike along a path, I thought it was a path. It went into the woods, and I had to leave my bike for a moment. My plan was to pick it up on the way back. However, I hit a road and didn’t go back the same way. I had mother help me find it later.

This is the house where she learned how to drive. My fourth grade teacher taught her how. Then sold her the car she learned to drive. For the first time we didn’t have to hitch-hike.

After she learned how to drive we took some trips. Once we tried to explore some dirt back roads. Another time we drove to a gate on Deadwood. Then got out and climbed to the top. It was just me and Mother. On the way back we missed a turn, made a wrong turn. We ended up in Coarsegold. A couple of miles away. we stopped at a man’s trailer. He cooked us popcorn with lard.

There are family moments I remember from this house. We played Monopoly. And some kind of game about picking up the most things from the living room floor. It was a mess.

Mother fell in love with the movie Flight of the Navigator. Woke us up in the middle of the night so we could watch it with her. This is a bit of a crazy memory. But it is also the kind of crazy memory I image more people have about their childhood and families. Crazy in an endearing way.

But this is the last time I remember Mother doing something social without us kids. Something adults need. Grandpa was our baby sitter. And not a good one. He sat outside my door and threaten to hit me with his cane if I came out. My bedroom had a door to the bathroom. And then into my sister’s room. We often used her window to leave the house. Silly grandpa.

One time we were discussing something. He told me to go argue with a post. My reply was, “I already am.”

Thinking about what a bitter and emotionless man he was makes me wonder about Mother’s own childhood.  I know he loved us. Sometimes he would talk about what he would do if he had a million dollars. But, even as a child it seemed pointless to talk about such things. My great-aunt though much more caring shared in some ways the lack of emotion. There are few memories of her being affectionate with us children.

She may have mothered us, but I don’t recall many hugs. There is a practice in Buddhism where you picture your parents as children. I go from thinking about my mother as a child. Living with her father and sisters. To thinking about her father, and my great-aunt as a children. Living in a large family, in a new land. They had recently moved from Russia. The Hoff family left Russia as communists took power. Family legend says on the last boat.

Wait, aren’t we German? Yes, German who moved to farm on the Volga river.

We are all wounded people. We give birth and raise wounded people. Though we try our best to heal.

This is the house were we met another family like ours. There will be more to say about them later.

The fourth grade in school was a hard time. Kids at school made fun of me. I never stood up for myself. In the fifth grade the name calling and hazing continued. At one point a teacher asked me to leave and then scolded the whole class. Kids were nicer to me afterwards.

But I was an awkward child. The only time I think I felt cool was once the boy next door tripped me during a game. This was after the teacher’s talk. Many of the boys from the class started to call him names. They were rather mean to him as he left school. And I felt bad, because I knew it was an accident. A part of myself wanted to say something. More of me wanted to savor the acceptance.

There was a big fire in the area once. Ashes hung like large snowflakes in the air. There was a student who was my friend. We would take our play cars to school and throw them at the wall. Of course they broke.  But it looked like real cars after a wreck. It was cool. I was angry.

The school had two main buildings. A gap between them was where we played dodgeball. In the fifth grade I started to feel more accepted than at any other school. Either before or after.

Then there was the girls. One girl, I don’t remember her name. It was my dream to go to her house. Or to take her on a walk and discover a mattress. But nothing ever happened between us. I never tried.

I could almost say I was happy at this house. Another memory is listening to the radio count down the hits. I was bouncing on my bed and singing along. These are the memories other people have of childhood right? I called the station once to request a song. Of course the song was playing at the time and I missed half of it.

“Give me a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain’t got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I’ma goin’ home
My baby just wrote me a letter”

In the fourth grade the Challenger exploded. We were watching it on the news. I went home and watched CNN on a little black and white TV for hours. The local station must have re-broadcasted the news network. I was picking it up from the antennae. It was the first time I felt like I was a part of a bigger world. And the first time I remember the thrill of following a news story as it unfolded.

Then we moved back to my great-aunt’s.

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