Tag Archives: childhood

Destiny

I used to think I had a destiny.

I guess sometimes I think I still do. But not often.

Destiny. A feeling like life is taking you somewhere. But not just somewhere, but an important somewhere.

Adults used to say, “God has a plan for you.” And it was a big plan, for big things. And I thought I would be an important person. I would change the world. People would know who I was, and care.

The typical movie star line is, “don’t you know who I am.” And as a child growing up, I used to think it often. At times and places completely absurd to me in retrospection. I would think, “they don’t know who I am.” As if they would treat me different if they knew “who I was.”

I always thought the destiny the adults around me believed God had for me was religious. And as I grew and moved away from religion I stopped believing. If I wasn’t going to be the great preacher. If I wasn’t going to be a prophet. If I wasn’t going to be the next savior of the world. Then I would be nobody. And I started to believe I was nobody.

When I was still young enough to play. I would sometimes pretend to be a rich man. Walking with leisure around the house. All I had to do was think of what I wanted and it would be mine. Or I would pretend to be a hotel owner. And I would draw up buildings on paper, with a city name underneath.

I would open one in Salt Lake City, and then Reno, and then Sacramento, and then Boston and on and on. This may be where I started to love maps. (But maps also represented a world outside my world, to explore.)

Going to school, not doing well in class and the other kids. Little by little my destiny began to fade. Until I started to think I was destined for something completely different. The adults around me weren’t saying how great I would be anymore.

And I wasn’t thinking it anymore.

But sometimes it is different. There are times of light. Where I think for a moment about my life. And I think all the hard things, all the poverty and problems. I think it was all in preparation for something big. Something in the future where having those lessons will help me. Where knowing hunger. Where knowing hard work. Where having chopped wood and carried water will make me the person I need to be for a great accomplishment.

Sometimes it feels like it is right around the corner. And sometimes it feels like it is miles down the road. A dirt road, which get lost in the rocks and weeds.

Sometimes it feels like it will never happen. My ship won’t come in. I will be laying on my death bed with nothing accomplished in my life. So far I have nothing.

Destiny. It can be the hope to carry on further. A light house in a dark and lonely night. But it can also make the darkness and loneliness so much colder. If instead of being out by yourself on the beach. You should be in the lighthouse. You should be pointing the light. And you’re not. And you’re a failure. You had a destiny. God made you special and you messed it all up.

Disappointed yourself and God.

But destiny also feels more like destiny in hind-sight. When I first moved to Wyoming for a job. I thought it was destiny I had traveled through the same area years before. It made me feel more comfortable. And the whole expedition of traveling gave me confidence. Which I used to step out for my new job. And I got fired. Thanks destiny.

But who knows how the pieces of our lives might come together. You have two friends. One day they meet and find they both know you. One thing leads to another and they become friends.

You take a new job. And you find skills from your old job are useful in ways you didn’t imagine. You find experiences in your life taught you lessons. And for a moment life is a giant puzzle. And each thing you have done in your life is a puzzle. And it created a life which couldn’t have been created by making other choices.

It is your life and you are living it. Maybe this is our only destiny. The greatest thing we can do for the world. By being ourselves we make it easier for other people to be themselves. Courage and conviction spread like the common cold.

But, just in case my destiny is something more. And one day I make it big. Tell me about how you read this now, and I’ll share the wealth.

The Last Transition

From Ahawhnee we moved back to our great-aunt’s for the last time. It was just me and my sister.

What I remember most we had some friends. Where they came from and where they went I am unsure. But they would come to the property and play a game of hide and seek. We played it at night. It started off simple enough. But soon we learned how easy it was to hide in simple shadows. And to move in shadows.

Eventually we didn’t really hide so much as move around and try to avoid being caught. And we played it on much of the 13 acres. I have a clear memory of going down near the river. And my sister once encountered a pack of coyotes, which ran away.

But I still spent a good deal of time alone. This is when I took the long trip up the river and found the canyon. Maybe it wasn’t a canyon, but to us it was grand. On either side of the river was some high rocks. The river was narrow. And in some parts much deeper than near where we lived.

It was a period of transition. When I started school in Coarsegold I was popular. I hadn’t been back at the school since before my brother was born, in the second grade. Most of the students were new to me. Except the girl who broke my arm was still at the school.

Maybe I wasn’t popular. What does the word even mean? But I was the center of attention. At the time there was no difference in my mind. But looking back as an older and wiser person, there is a difference.

The other kids at school started talking me into doing embarrassing things for attention. Things I would rather no discuss in detail. But, I had no self-esteem. And I would do anything for the vague idea of acceptance or approval. Or just for attention good or bad. I wasn’t a very strong person. And I didn’t have much of a sense of myself, or my own self worth.

It was also the transition of puberty. Which created some touchy changes in my life.

Another memory from this time was of myself talking back to my great-aunt. She had told me something, I don’t even remember what she had said. But I wanted to feel like I had some power, and it was easy to be mean to her because I knew she wouldn’t respond.

At the time a TV show was popular. The show was Bosom Buddies. The theme song was defiant, and I wanted to be defiant so I told her:

“I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life”

This is when I discovered Madonna and became a fan. I would sometimes find a Walkman and listen to the radio. It was pop music. Music which my great-aunt felt was evil. She told a story of the devil going to church. Someone asked the devil, why are you here where we worship God. His reply was they were worshiping him with their music.

And I walked away. She never mentioned it, and she probably understood me more than I did myself at the time. But, it was immature to say the least.

But it is a hard time isn’t it, becoming a non-child. But you still have years before you become an adult. You aren’t even a teenager.

It is during this time I think I first really started to feel alone the most. Not just alone in the singular sense of the word. But alone in the sense of not being understood. Alone in the feeling of people not being aware of me. My struggles, my general being.

This was the last school I attended, aside from going to high school. So my school memories of the time probably over lap with the next chapter. The last move we made was the next house.

There was a girl named Pepper. Yeah, who names their kid Pepper. But I thought she was hot. I wanted to get to know Pepper better, and I wrote her a note and I put pepper in the note. She never responded. Once I picked her some wild flowers. Other kids laughed, and one later pulled some weeds out of the ground and gave them to her. These things feel bad at the time. I don’t know how she felt about me. But we never even became friends. There were no friends in school.

This was also the time period when I was not chosen for a team sport. In PE the two popular kids would be the team captains. They would then choose players one at a time until everyone was on a team. But this time the count was odd. Neither team wanted me. Then they both said I should be on the other team. So I left. These things feel really bad a the time.

Of course it is just school. And the paid goes away over time. We grow up and we learn to value ourselves. We learn to understand the kids are wrong.

There was a girl who gave me a flower one day. I don’t recall her name. It stayed in a vase by my bed for a long time. Then someone else threw it away one day.

This was a short transition. We moved to Hilda’s at the start of summer and moved to our own house during my sixth grade year. The exciting factor was it was a house we owned. Well Mother was making payments to the bank.

 

Discovering words

Anne of Green Gables, she waltzed into my life with Tennyson. Though I didn’t know who Tennyson was at the time.

It was the Lady of Shallot. The words were an escape for Anne. Oh Anne with an E. Who was so strong willed. And I was like Anne. I tried to be strong willed and often felt alone. Felt like I needed an escape.

“She had heard a whisper say…”

Even the poem speaks of the power of words. And it made my excited. Like I knew a secret. A feeling of power at a basic level. Like Anne I had so little power in my own life as a child.

“A curse is on her if she stay…”

I watched the series as a child at my great-aunts. We watched movies with LaVonne who had a huge movie collection. She would rent movies and copy them to tape. She made a catalog of all the movies. There were a lot of them. This was back in the days of VHS and Beta.

In fact I think I recall watching cartoons on a pre-tape video disc/cartridge format.

Anne was the girl of my dreams. And the aspiration of my soul.

“There she weaves by night and day,
a magic web with colors gay…”

I don’t think I was old enough to read books. But there was a part of me which took to heart Anne’s escape.

Anne only reads a short part of the poem in the series. Once at the beginning. When she should be minding other duties. Later in the series she reads it again in a re-enactment of key scene in the poem.

But in neither part is the tragic end made clear. The Lady of Shallot dies. It was only years later when I finally read the full poem.

Movies were an escape for me growing up. I remember watching them with LaVonne, and eating pudding. Often falling asleep during the movies. But it was a safe place. A place where I could rest.

As I have grown books have become more of the safe place. Though when I am tired, I still enjoy a good movie. Sometimes you are just too tired to keep your eyes open. And reading is a serious activity for me.

In later years I met Moriah. She broadened my reading escape. I met the writing of her favorite poet. Leonard Cohen.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

(This was another exercise from the Room to Write book.)

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.

I am who I am

Life is a network of influences. To the degree I am a sensitive person. To the degree I am an intuitive person, I point to my history. Life makes us who we are. It makes alcoholics hard to predict. It makes their children more aware. They need to learn to read moods to survive.

It is different for me. Everything in my life was to some degree chaotic. I estimate living in 9 places before the sixth grade. Sometimes living with my mother, sometimes my sister or Hilda. I don’t recall ever feeling like a child. But, I only have my own experience. I don’t know how other children feel. Or feel now as adults.

I can’t count how many people shaped who I am. Kids in school, teachers and relatives. Many of them were positive. Some were not positive. Kids at school called me names. And it wasn’t fun. But I think it gave me an openness and acceptance of others.

There was once a game in P.E. The two popular boys were the captains. One by one they picked their teams. I was the last one. Each team said they in fact didn’t want me. I just walked away. I’m not sure why they would be so mean.

I know I wanted acceptance from others. To be one of the cool kids. This is why I painted my nails with a marker. Later I did embarrassing things for attention. Kids can be mean, without being mean people. This acceptance is what should come from family.

In the sixth grade for a short period I was popular. Well, maybe unusual is a better word. I achieved a lot of attention and it felt good. Overtime it felt empty. Because it was empty. None of them really knew or cared about me. Over time I relied on myself.

I learned to rely on myself. Because I didn’t have anyone else. This meant I couldn’t depend on someone to help me adapt. I had to learn to accept changes. My intuition comes from these lessons. I learned to listen, be quiet and watch. Life has taught me to wait before action. It is often easier and smarter.

I also spent a lot of time alone. Alone walking and thinking about life. One time I decided to see how far I could walk up the river. I walked for what felt like hours. When I found a cool canyon I stopped. Coming back it got dark. I got scared. How would I find where I lived in the dark. We went to the river often. But not at night. I did make it home safe. I took my sister to the canyon soon after.

The property was 13 acres. Most of it was familiar to me. I had walked around it enough to know each piece well. I could find peace in my own head by walking in nature. Being out with the birds and trees and rocks. Just thinking.

Spending time alone is self-perpetuating in some ways. You get used to your own thoughts. And if you don’t share them people around you don’t understand. When you share a little, it feels easier to stay quiet. You know you understand yourself. And the people close to you are not as close anymore.

I interacted with adults a great deal as a child. More so than children. I didn’t try to be an adult. But I watched them and listened. And when I talked to them, it wasn’t as a child. Many relationships may have fine tuned my boundaries. But, the relationships I had were weak. I was the only person I was close to as a child.

All the relationships in my life felt the same. And maybe this is because the people around me were not constant.

People learn to want things in relationships. But as a child I think I didn’t expect much. Maybe this allowed me to be more aware of my world. By not expecting things from people I could see them in a different way. As I grew up I developed more of an emotional need. But I don’t recall one as a child.

Looking back as an adult, I can see how I kept problems to myself. When I had a health issue, I didn’t discuss it. For whatever reason, talking to an adult didn’t seem like the natural choice. I didn’t talk about my feelings. Even as I got older.

For years I didn’t understand missing people. They came and went. But missing is not accepting what is. They are not there. Then they are there. Missing is wanting what isn’t there to be there. I don’t think I ever wanted someone to be there who wasn’t. Again not looking at what isn’t there, helps see what is there.

I am a soft person. And the softness makes people comfortable. I don’t judge. Maybe I just always felt connected to people. I didn’t have the strong bond with a few people. And became more aware of weaker bonds. And the bonds of others too.

But acceptance of people is also a way of not being alone. You can’t afford to reject someone. Because you fear having no one. At times it felt like I lost people going through life. Maybe I felt like I lost my mother. Did I blame myself? She was there, but she wasn’t a mother.

When I got older I lost my sister. She was there but we drifted apart. And sometimes I feel like I even lost myself. Being friends with someone means supporting them. You encourage them and help them be who their best selves. In high school I focused on getting along. I just wanted to survive. I didn’t know how to support and encourage myself and my goals. So, I gave them up.

I’ve been a little lost ever since. If you have ever walked a trail in the dark. You know staying in the trail can be tricky. But if you take it slow, the trail will take you along. Once you lose the trail, you’re chances are slim. You can feel what is and isn’t the trail while on the trail. But without a reference you can’t feel the difference.

Losing people can  also be self-perpetuating. Relationships change as a part of growth. If you feel like a change is a loss, you may push away. Just a little push. But, one little push for one reason or another is often followed by another. Until, they are gone. Looking back this is what happened with my sister. Again there was a guilt I took on around the loss.

But you can’t go home again. And looking back I can see how home is what we both needed. We both coped. I took one path and she took another. My therapist pointed out she filled her life with people. I let them all go. All or nothing.

I always hated the question. Have you ever thought of killing yourself. For a long time I thought everyone had. I know I thought about it a lot. At times I am sure I wanted death. But something kept me alive. Keeps me alive.

When I drank the cleaner as a young child. I didn’t care about life. When I got lost it scared me. But at the same time I didn’t care. When I tried to overdose on sleep pills. Did I do it knowing it wouldn’t work because they were natural. Or did I do it hoping it would work anyway. And my life wasn’t particularly rough at the time.

We need people to get us out of our head. Sylvia Plath asked, is there no way out of the mind. The way out is relationships. And I still don’t know how.

Time Out!

There is a place I forgot. A house I misplaced in time.

I am pretty sure we lived there after my great-aunt’s and before the house on 415. The house where Ben was born.

The three of us lived in the misplaced house. It was on the same dirt road we lived on when I was in the first grade. The road starts north of Ahwahnee. It runs east and ends north of Oakhurst. The first time we lived closer to Ahwahnee. This time we lived closer to Oakhurst.

If my memory of the timing is right. We didn’t live there long. The drive way had a steep hill. And at least once we had trouble because it got muddy.

What I remember most is the heat. We had to walk several miles to the closest paved road. I got sun burns on my shoulders, a second degree burn. My shoulder developed huge blisters.

It got so hot my sister and Mother took an ice bath to stay cool.

I also remember the house was a mess. One of Hilda’s friends came over and tried to help Mother clean. But it was no use. LaVonne would throw things in the trash. But Mother would take them out when she left.

Our houses were never clean. Or rather they were never neat. For some reason this place sticks out as being worse. Mother was pregnant with my brother for much of the time we lived in this house.

Another reason I am sure it was short stay was my lack of memories. As I got older I retained more and more memories. One of the ones from this place is a discussion about space. Someone said a new planet had been discovered. It was out past Pluto and called Planet X. This of course isn’t true. And I don’t recall believing it at the time.

The house had a porch. And one time me and my sister made a ramp. We said if someone had a wheel chair they could use it to get inside. Of course no one with a wheel chair ever visited us. No one ever visited us.

Ok, let me think about the timeline: Berkeley, Hilda’s, Yellow House, Hilda’s, Red House, Ahwahnee House, Hilda’s; 415 House; Fresno…

Yes, the place behind the pizza place is in there sometime. I am not sure when. The Oakhurst House felt like it wasn’t so close in time to the Ahwahnee house. Which makes me think it was after Fresno. But there was another house, which I thought was right after Fresno. The more I think about it. The more I believe we lived here after Fresno.

Second grade was in Coarsegold. Third Grade was in Fresno. I actually remember starting in Coarsegold, feeling nervous. If my memory is correct it was the beginning of the school year. So we had to have moved almost right from the Ahwahnee House to the Oakhurst House. Or we moved to the second house after Fresno.

Where was my brother during much of this. He must have been there, and just young enough for me not to remember.

Even in the next house. I don’t have many memories of him. But I know he was there.

Why put this all in here. Are you bored. Well, I am confused and there is a point about pieces of our lives and how we track them. Like I said before, it is a puzzle. You have to fit the pieces together and see if they work. Our memories are far from perfect. This may be more true for myself.

At any rate. It is getting to be time to reflect a little. I need to discuss who I was a little more. And who I was becoming. Tie some of the narrative together. Then we can move along.

Move to Fresno

When Ben was born, he had health problems. Not the least of which was his eyes. He was born with glaucoma. More common in older adults. He had a congenital version.

We moved to Fresno. Me, mother and Ben. It was a short move. But my sister only lived with us part of the time.

Fresno was the big city. I was still a country boy. In the five months we lived in Fresno, at five different time someone robbed our house. I lost several bikes. One off the front porch. Mother knew someone was stealing it because she saw the orange flag move through the window.

Someone even robbed the elderly lady who lived next door. Outside of my family she is the only person I remember. Her and Mother were friends.

She smoked a lot. Stayed up late watching television. Mother said being older she needed less sleep.

When not at home I wandered. Just like in the country. I took long walks, for miles. Alone on city streets, at least a couple times after dark.

But in Fresno is when my memories become clearer. At school I was one of the few white children. And had no friends. I spent my recess walking a line in the playground. A line painted in a spiral. When you got to the middle it led back out again. There was a round one and a square one. I walked these for hours. The other kids played marbles.

Two blocks from our house was a small market. We would buy candy there sometimes. Our favorite show was The Dukes of Hazard. I recall watching the show, and wanting to get candy from the store. Once I ran the two blocks and back during a commercial break.

When my sister was there we explored together. For a short period we had skateboards. Someone had given them to us for Christmas. Much to Mother’s dismay. We never rode them standing up. But until they disappeared we did have fun.

One day we went out and found a grape fruit. We were watching traffic drive by and thought it was a good idea to throw it at a car. We hit a car. Which stopped. The angry lady asked us where we lived. We were blocks from our house. We pointed the wrong direction. But her question was useless. She seemed to understand, and left with a huff.

We lived off Tulare. It was one of the streets we walked on a great deal. Once I walked downtown and found a fountain with its bottom covered in change. I fished some of it out. But in the end I didn’t keep any.

I followed Tulare the other way all to where it ended at Clovis Ave. Mother knew I spent much of my time wandering town. When I got a bike I would ride my bike around. I liked to ride in alleyways. A practice Mother tried to discourage. And I did once hit a car because I was riding in an alley and didn’t see it until too late. I fell of my bike, but the driver wasn’t upset. I wasn’t hurt.

I guess Mother had other concerns. My brother’s health was no doubt a stressful issue. Lost in my own world. There isn’t much in my memory of what happened to my brother, to Mother or even my sister.

In almost all my memories I am alone. The one I have with Mother was riding bikes. We went for a ride. I remember actually riding in traffic and it was so fun. A touch empowering. If not dangerous because it was getting dark.

I lived in Fresno for 5 months. It was more of a long visit. The city didn’t change who I was or who I was becoming. Growing up not far from Fresno, I had been there before. We used to hitch-hike with Mother from Coarsegold to Fresno. There was a gas station where we would buy frozen drinks and push-up ice creams in Fresno. We would stop before walking out to the highway to hitch-hike.

Fresno was much smaller in those days.

Even when I lived there it was bigger. The state put in a new freeway. It used to stress Hilda out to drive on. One of her brothers lived south of Fresno. Where he had a farm, I believe his name was David. We visited a couple times. Once we helped him pick grapes. Well as much as small children can.

David would not sell grapes to the wine companies. He also had a walnut tree in his yard. There is little I recall about him and his house. He and his wife were friendly. They had small yappy dogs.

Fresno wasn’t a place I enjoyed. Saying I didn’t like it would be strong. I simply didn’t care enough not to like the place. At this point in my life I had learned how to accept what was in my world. I felt alone when school started. But I adjusted, and didn’t have friends but was social.

For a short while grandpa lived with us. Again my memories of him are his being bitter. Locking a door and I didn’t even know it could lock. Maybe he had a rough life to be so hard. But I never knew him. I know Mother tried to be loving to him.

My grandfather and great-aunt were German. Family came over on the boat from Russia. They fit the emotionless image many of have Germans.

Mother has sisters. But I never saw them as a child. My first memory of them isn’t until I was an adult.

The crime and the city grew to be too much for Mother, and we moved after five months back to the mountains. Not Coarsegold, but the same area. To this day I still don’t feel comfortable in Fresno. Even much larger cities like New York seem friendlier. But it is just my impression.

Thinking back I don’t know how we made all these moves. We had no car. Mother didn’t learn how to drive until I was in the Fourth grade. Someone must of helped us. But who and why?

 

In the next chapter I need to take a step back.

My great great-aunt

I feel like I am moving too fast. Who was Hilda? My great-aunt.

The truth is I know so little about her personal life. I know she was living with her friends. It is those friends who helped her take care of us.

I know she was religious. The first person I knew who ever listened to James Dobson on the radio. He wasn’t a star like he is now. She used to read Reader’s Digest. Her faith was deep. But it wasn’t the church faith. She and her friends had their own concepts and beliefs. It was Christian.

When we were young she would paddle us when we got in trouble. For a while she used a wooden spoon. But we stole it and hid it in the firewood.

They had an idea of prayer pillows. Which at its root is not a bad idea. Prayer sessions consisted of beating a pillow with a bat. As a child we each had our own pillows. Sometimes we would sit on the pillows as well. When I got constipation though, they said it was the demon of lust. They tried to pray the problem away. Cast the demon out.

Hilda must have cared about us a great deal. She took us in. She even tried to be our teacher. She fed us, and nurtured us to the best of her ability. She was closer to my sister. I never felt like she didn’t love me. But, I never felt close to her.

I remember her making us pizzas on English muffins. Hot dogs, ketchup and cheese. They were tasty. She cooked them in a toaster oven. When they tried to make us pop-tarts, their regular toaster caught fire.

Hilda and her friend in a good way lived like a cult. They were a family of their own making. Held together by their own beliefs. And LaVonne was the cult head of the group.

She owned the land. And she wrote a newsletter for other people who shared their beliefs. I’ll never know how many people accepted the letter. But I believe she got donations from some of her readers. It was a Christian faith. With a twist. No, no FlavorAid.

My great-aunt seemed old when I was young. How old? I don’t know.

She came from a family with a lot of brothers. One of them was her twin, my grandfather. An example of what I don’t know. I don’t know when was her birthday.

She told a story of being a child. Her brothers were not always kind to her. Someone got some chocolate laxative. The boys didn’t want to share. They ate the whole thing. And suffered. Sometimes she would say she had a hatred for me. She said because of her brothers.

Maybe this is why my sister always seemed to have a closer bond to Hilda. But my sister was also younger. The person I felt closest to as a younger child was LaVonne.

After my brother was born we moved to Fresno. A long way away. And I didn’t see much of Hilda. It was a short move. Whatever relationship was there before the move, was gone. She faded into a friend. And over time even faded as a friend.

As she aged and I aged. She had health complications and I had growing up to do. There are no memories of her saying she missed me. I think she sent me a few letters. Saying she loved me, and filled with messages of faith and blessings. She was always a positive person, rarely speaking a bad word about anyone. Even my mother.

My own changes growing up come later in the story. But I withdrew from a lot of people. She was just one of them. It wasn’t hard. Not for me, but I don’t know how she felt about my sliding away. Once my sister said she had a dream I was falling into a deep hole. It was my teenage years.

She didn’t like my music. Didn’t like my posters. And those were just the things she knew about. Maybe not being the person she wanted me to become made me feel guilty. But I didn’t want to be that person either. The older I got the weak bond seemed weaker and weaker. In high school visiting her became a chore. Not a disagreeable one. But still something I felt like I did out of obligation.

My last memories of her are of her weak health. In the end she walked little. Said her feet would swell so she would raise them. She cut her shoes. The room is dark. We speak but not for long. I don’t recall what we spoke about. She was living in the same house as LaVonne. Who was taking care of her. Hilda was eating little.

As teen I felt like she should be fighting. I both felt like she had given up on life and was waiting for an end. And felt like this feeling wasn’t fair. How many times she would say, “Lord willing.” Meaning nothing happened without the Lord willing it to happen or not happen.

But I suppose the upset feeling was a feeling of loss. And I wouldn’t be feeling loss if I didn’t care about her. While her death didn’t make me sad. I did care for her deeply.

Albert Camus has a character in one of his books say a great quote.

“Everyone at some point wishes for the death of someone they love.”

I thought of my great-aunt. Sometimes you can see how tired someone is and know they are ready for the rest.

After high school comes college naturally. The distance meant I lost track of everyone. Her even more so than the rest. There are many things during these years I still don’t understand.

But, I never saw her again. At the funeral I felt like I was watching a movie, again. A couple months before I called her. There was a part of myself which knew I needed to call her. To tell her I loved her. The words I feared I hadn’t told her before. Words I speak to few people. Even now. I imagine she knew. But I had to tell her anyway.

Hundreds of miles away. And maybe our bond was like gravity. Weak but carrying over long distances. Because something must of pushed me towards knowing the end was near.

In the years since she passed I’ve hardly thought about her. I have a Bible. And when I look at it I think of her. She always insisted the Bible be on a stack of books. I guess the ways she made me who I am are so deep I don’t even see them. But they must be there.

I do think about her from time to time. Wonder what she would think of me now. Even as a child who would tell her, “I don’t care what you say this is my life.” I cared. As a teen with my music and my posters. I cared. If she was still alive today. I would care.

Maybe more so because I understand life more. And am growing into my own faith. My own spiritual path. Which like her’s isn’t a traditional path.

Welcome Ben

The next house we lived in was on Road 415. It was a long road. Starting in Coarsegold, running south-east. This is the same road my great-aunt lived on.

In the house next to ours was a boy who became our friend. We did the things children do. Smoked, well we didn’t know how to really smoke.

There was a path between the houses. We would walk back and forth. We had a secret place in the woods. Where we smoked. Or did the closest thing kids can do. Until we got caught. He blamed it all on us. Then we weren’t friends.

There was a small orchard. I don’t know if we ever ate the fruit. A barn in the back was a fun place to play. Though it seems like a place we shouldn’t have been in. When not spending time with my sister and our friend. I walked along the back road. It was a dirt road and it ran for miles.

One of our neighbors would give us candy when we visited them. After we got caught smoking. We used to pull out dry grass and pretend they were cigarettes. As an adult I have thought smoking is gross, and I have never done it.

One time my sister, our friend and I came up with a strange idea. We would ride our bikes down the road. Then jump into the grass and roll. It was fun. We would roll with the speed from riding. And as amazing as it seems to me now. We didn’t get hurt. Well, our friend did get a rash from the grass. He was kind of a dork.

But he was first one to tell me the joke most people hear every year. At the end of December. You tell someone. “See you next year.”

Yeah, it was funny at the time. I remember he had a sister. She was older than we were, maybe 12 or 13.

King was with us at this house. We always thought he was so sweet. So clueless. But it turns out when we were not at home, he chased a meter reader off the property.

I was in the second grade. And I wanted to acceptance. One of the cool kids told me to colour my nails with a marker. So I did it. Then people started calling me gay. Because only gay people would wear nail polish. It was the second grade.

But I remember thinking about what they were saying. I never thought they were right. I never thought I should feel shame. I never thought of changing my behavior. What I did think was I would try to fool them. Let them call me names for whatever they wanted to call me. But, all the time they would never know me. I could play like I was gay. And I would know I wasn’t. They would some day have to admit they were wrong, and look like fools. It sounded so logical.

There was a friend I had around this time. His name was Jeremiah. The song is how I recall it so well. “Jeremiah was a bull frog,” my friend hated the song. I can’t blame him. Where did he come from? Where did he go. Because after this house I only saw him ounce. He must have been a relative of one of Mother’s friends. Maybe my brother’s father.

There is a memory. We are at a house in another part of Coarsgegold. There is a building. With two floors and Jeremiah is trying to talk me into jumping off the second floor. He does it, and rolls. He said it was fun. But it doesn’t look fun. It doesn’t look safe. So I don’t jump.

When I think back Mother must have been pregnant most of the time. But I don’t recall the pregnancy in my mind. Also, when we smoked we stole them from her. So, she was smoking while pregnant. In fact there is little I do remember about her during this time.

One of my memories is of a coat. I loved this coat. I wore it all the time. But one time I got paint on it. I felt so sad. It upset me so much I washed it by hand. Trying to remove the paint. The paint came out of the coat. But I don’t have any memory of what happened to it afterwards.

The school we went to was Coarsegold Elementary. A school I attended again starting in the sixth grade.

Aside from the time living with my great-aunt. This was one of my favorite places we lived. It was still country. But closer to people. The kind of place I could see myself living in now. Being happy for the solitude of country life. But knowing neighbors aren’t far. Knowing a drive to town won’t take too long.

I remember waking up. Not feeling sure where I was. The sun filtering through a window. The dust floating. Dancing in the rays of morning light. It felt idyllic. There was a warmth, a comfort. But it was fleeting.

We had a black and white television. It was small. We would watch shows on it. One time Mother’s father came to visit. He thought we may kick the TV stand by accident. And the TV would fall over and kill us. When I offered to let him barrow my radio to listen to music in the shower. He thought it was electrocute him. Which seemed silly to me. It still does.

I have no fond memories of my grand father. And Mother seemed to have no great love for him as a parent. Though I think she tried. He was twins with my great-aunt. And we didn’t have any other family which stayed in touch with us. Mother said it was because we were so poor. And because of problems her father had caused. I don’t know any of them to know if this is true or not.

Other people have cousins. I never had cousins. The first cousin I met was when I went with my dad to see his family in New York. Well, we did have a family reunion. But the two memories of the event for me are eating and getting lost. No, I didn’t get lost. But I did take off and start exploring the rather large church hosting the event.

I grew up alone. In many ways I raised myself. I wonder how I would be different if I had felt like I was a part of a family. If there had been a network of people. A community of caring around us to support us. Who would I be?

I guess I have to accept everything in my past. Because it has made me who I am.  On most days I like myself. For the most part. A different life would have created a different me. And I don’t know I would be happier being another person.

This is the house where my brother Ben was born. Well, not in the house itself. We lived here, when he was born.

After he was born we moved to Fresno. The first and only time I lived in a city until I went to college. Also this is a bit of a watershed period of my life. I felt older. No, I never felt like a child. Maybe it was because I brother. Maybe because I was older. Maybe living in the city made me feel more experienced.

 

Chapter 4

So Chapter 4 and I still am not in school. Is this going the be the slowest book ever?

We got some education in the years living with my great-aunt. First grade is when I started school. We had moved to Ahwahnee. Two miles down a dirt road. We lived with a rooster. And across from a nudist.

All day he sat and watched traffic on the road. He was friends with mother. Don’t ask, I don’t want to know. Sometimes he would give us a ride to the main road, or into town. But, I have memories of walking the two miles. At least once alone. There was a berry patch along the road. We would stop and pick berries.

The rooster attacked my sister once. Maybe this is why she didn’t want to live with us. Or maybe there were other reasons.

I remember more of what people told me about first grade. Other kids said I used to pee my pants in class. The school was a couple small buildings. I went to the Fourth grade and part of the fifth grade at the same school.

Math is something I remember. Not because it was hard. It was boring. Why go over and over the same numbers. But I did my homework. I cared about my education still.

Naturally there weren’t friends so far away from people. But I had my sister. One time we got in a dirt clog war. They burst like bombs when you throw them. Sometimes the dust is like smoke. We got pink eye.

We may not have lived at this house long. My memory of the time is so sparse. Memories of mother are even more so. The house was a mess. Life couldn’t have been easy for a single woman, alone, two kids. Not to mention living two miles from civilization with no car. We didn’t have a car until I was in the fourth grade.

Growing up mother would say she couldn’t afford new clothes because of us kids.

I know the next year, I was in the second grade at a new school. Living back in Coarsegold. Also we lived at my great aunt’s for a short time. This is when mother knew my little brother’s father.

Ahwahnee is a small town. Just a few buildings, a school, a bar and a post office. The town itself was about two miles down the paved road. Then two miles on the dirt road was our place. Why would someone think to live in such a place? With two kids? No car?

Whatever length of time we lived there, the next stop was my great aunt’s. We lived down in the trailer. My sister and I spent our time going to the river, often alone. There was a tractor on the property and small road to the river. Sometimes my great aunt’s friends gave us a tractor ride.

My sister once tried to get me to eat a puffball. Not something which seemed like a good idea at the time. The property now had a small eucalyptus grove. After the rain I would shake the trees. The scent in the air, the moisture as it fell from the leaves was wonderful.

This was the last time we lived in the trailer. To mother’s credit our housing improved as we grew. We started the second grade in a new house. But it will be a new chapter.

The area I grew up in is south of Yosemite. The core town is Oakhurst. North of which on highway 49 six miles was Ahwahnee. South of Oakhurst 11 miles on Highway 41 was Coarsegold. Students from all these towns went to the same high school.

The whole area was rural. Slightly racist. Conservative and religious country. The big event in Coarsegold was the rodeo. There was a lot of ranch land. Also many people worked in Fresno, an hour south on 41.

Taco Bell came to town while I was in high school. Soon after the first traffic signal. It was at the corner with the Talking Bear. A large plastic figure. When you pushed a button it spoke about bears. Of course all the real bears were gone.

Our family was never accepted in the community. Later a school secretary told our neighbors, “oh you live by the dump.” This isn’t the place to explore white flight. But the shoe fits. People didn’t understand us.

Maybe they felt like we children needed help. Sometimes they called CPS. Or Child Protective Services. Mother had a big job, with two and then three kids. Were we in danger? Not physic danger. We ate. We weren’t hit.

We did have friends. They were few. I can’t remember most names and faces. With one exception, they were not lasting.

We can view our lives through so many lenses. The people we know and knew. The places we are and were. The things we did and do. My life has been full of places and people and things. It feels a little like a drawer of mis-matched socks.