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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In Sugarhouse ~ Inspired by Feelings that Kass's Blog Stirred Up: Chapter I

I have written Kass an official fan letter and she has written that she has a girl crush on me. We're enjoying each other tremendously. She and her blog post about complex family love make me want to say all kinds of things. When I saw her Sugarhouse blog, I was transported back to Salt Lake City in the late 1950s when I was in the earliest years of elementary school. My Sugarhouse story will be the first to unveil some of the family of origin (except Granny-O, who has already been introduced). Just like everyone else, I was formed and misinformed by parents and close relatives. We've all got stories, but I'd nominate my extended family as the group who put the funk in dysfunctional.

Writing about families is risky business. Readers can misunderstand the writer's intentions and meaning. So here is my preface. I am a tremendously flawed, maladapted person. There are all manner of good reasons for that: intrinsic traits, conditioning and more. I recognize this about myself and try to address some of the more objectionable behaviors that are mine. Some others, I'll live with and bear the shame. I don't think anything that has happened to me in my life gives me a free ticket to act badly.

I want to state emphatically that I think my two parents did the best they could for me with what they brought to the table. Unfortunately, we were like people from three different planets. "Table" to one was "car" to another and "dress" to the third. We never have (and do not today) understand one another, we three. The irony is that we looked so good. Piano lessons and Catholic school. Upwardly mobile father (before that phrase was coined) who provided very nice homes and belongings. Lovely, charming young mother most people seemed to like. But when the drapes were drawn or we saw guests out and closed the door, it was like we took off our human disguises and reverted to whatever forms of alien life each of us actually was. I am truly uncertain that any one of us has ever given any one of the others something they actually needed or wanted. Lots of giving has occurred, but terribly misguided. Woven in with all the sad, miserable threads, one could sometimes find the shiniest, short-lived little glimmering strand of stuff. Do not expect only tragedy or only comedy.

It should be noted that we frequently changed roles in our little opera of three characters. Most times I stuck like glue to my father, but I could break out of that and become the champion of my mother. Each of them alternated between being almost too clinging with me to almost abusive neglect. Sometimes two were unhappy with one and sometimes one was unhappy with two.

My last prefacing statement: I truly don't have to endure tremendous suffering and angst any longer about my family. Believe me, I've suffered, but not any more. Lots of expensive therapy and aging will take care of that. Most of the vitriol is gone. I do, however, have an intense, lingering curiosity about things that happened, the way people behaved, and what it all means. It is this odd upbringing that makes me so avid about connecting with others and truly understanding the fascinating creatures around us who are - supposedly - just like us. I am a true student of people.


My parents are probably the argument for children not having children. They were teenagers when I was born. Both came from large families and my father, who was 17 years older than his baby sister, at least had some working knowledge about babies and children. Although my mother was sandwiched in the middle of 11 siblings, it seemed she had never seen or heard of a baby or child. Nieces and nephews appeared frequently before she and my father married, but I guess she didn't see them. Somehow in the 1940s, she managed to never once have a babysitting job - perhaps evidence that the angels do watch out for little children.

My father was in the Air Force - read this, away from home a lot. They lived in central, coastal California when I was born at Camp Roberts Army Hospital. Granny-O lived hundreds of miles away in Los Angeles, so my mother was a new, teenaged mother with no knowledge and no support system. I grew up hearing her struggles presented in a humorous way, but I've always felt the relatives laughed at her rather than shared a giggle with her. I think she felt highly criticized by mother, mother-in-law, sisters and sisters-in-law. However, if family legend is to believed, she pinned diapers to my abdomen with regularity and dropped me fairly often. She is extremely intelligent and she is not callous. No one ever suggested she enjoyed dropping me or pinning me. No one thought she couldn't learn how to handle a baby with safety. But these things continued to happen. She became very anxious and I imagine she felt a tremendous amount of pressure when she contemplated feeding me or dressing me or taking care of me in any way. And there were the voices of all the women in the large extended family . . . . in those days it would have occurred through letters sent by U. S. Mail. Imagine receiving hurtful comments over and over again.

True story: my father was getting out of the Air Force and we were to take a trip to Los Angeles to arrange for an apartment to live in, find him a job, start a new phase of life. I was 11 months old. My mother prepared Granny-O by telling a story up front - Limes had taken a little spill out of the 1950s stroller and had a pretty nasty, very large bump on her head. She only fell from a height of 6-8 inches, but obviously whacked her pumpkin pretty hard. Granny-O generously replied that all children fall from time to time and that she wouldn't let anyone light into my mother for that. We rode for hours on the two lane highways through almost half of California, the young parents commenting on how the usually cranky baby - funny, I fussed a lot - was an awfully good traveling companion this time. [Yes, my ancient stroller did look like that. No, I did not resemble those well-used dolls.]

We arrived in L.A. where hugs were exchanged and my Granny reached into the car to pick me up. She was a little startled. A little concerned. That bump on my head was the size of a plum and I was pretty dazed. This mother of 12 and grandmother of about 15-20 by then, began to ask questions. Going inside, she called for Dr. Greenberg who eventually would know probably 75 of us and deliver 20 or more of our family members. A little trip was made to an emergency room. Fractured skull. That plum on my head was full of cerebral-spinal fluid. My mother kept a pretty low profile for the week we stayed.

{And now a word from our sponsor}

Favored reader, I am no where near Utah, Salt Lake City or Sugarhouse yet. Oh, you may rely upon my getting there, but I intend to take this just a little slower than I might have. We shall have Sugarhouse in chapters! I am finding this piece a bit like baklava ~ a thin layer of anger, a thin layer of forgiveness, a chopped nut of humor, a cup of empathy for a very young couple who struggled very hard to be "right", drenched in the honey of reminiscence. This has been much slower writing than some of my posts. I find it cathartic, but this path is very rocky and I must pick my way carefully. I've set the stage for a view of my earliest life and I will say it never got any more orderly, not smoother, no closer to "just like everyone else's". But it's been a full life of high highs and deep lows and I am glad to have lived it. I'm not finished with it yet.

In my ears right now: Bob Dylan ~ Modern Times. No further details required.

Something that charmed me: I suffered a little over whether to unveil the family. I feel strongly compelled to tell the parts of my story that are family life, but we're definitely not for everyone. I decided to write the prefacing statements and jump into the water. I feel OK. I'm doing OK. "Sugarhouse" won't look the way I originally planned it, but that's OK. I'll get there.


  1. You will get there. You're off to a good start. I tried to start this process but there are so many threads and so many ways to digress. You will get this story told and you will feel good about it.

  2. Wonderful writing. I could have written so much of it. Anxious mother. Layers of pain. Complex love. I'm looking forward to the next installment. Exactly where in Sugarhouse did you live? I hope you get to that. I have posted a lot more pictures on my Old Sugarhouse Blog. You're welcome to any of them. All the new ones are from flickr, but they're the ones that are meaningful to me.

  3. @ Tag - oh, I WILL get there. I just needed to start the journey. I already adjusted my course and that made me feel even sturdier about it. It is my goal, this time in the telling, to say it, examine it and put it away. In the past, I have said it, examined it, and run screaming. I need to get on with life.

    @ Kass - I think many of us share common elements that can relate to era, region, and many other factors.

    I saw the new pics and I thank you for your generosity! I will blog the actual address where I lived, when I get that far. When I saw the address of Columbus School on your blog, I realized how it was possible for me to walk home, eat lunch, walk back to school and play on the playground awhile all in the space of one short hour. We lived that close!

    I wasn't sure my residence address was actually in Sugarhouse for one reason. I remember hearing that we took the bus "to" Sugarhouse. Causing me to think Sugarhouse was "away", somewhere else. Maybe taking the bus to Sugarhouse simply meant taking the bus to J.C. Penney's and other places in the shopping district in Sugarhouse.

  4. You have always been a good writer, but you continue to outdo yourself on this blog!

  5. Well, Badge, with a megalomaniacal "Bwa-ha-ha-ha", I say this: I'm kind of finding my way. I'm finding the words I want to present. I'm finding the strength to look at things long avoided. I'm finding the courage to say things long held back. I'm finding it OK to say exactly what I think, without fear of someone disagreeing with me. Finders keepers, I hope.

    Thank you for telling me I write well. Imagine ~ if only I'd been educated, where would I be now?

  6. Ah, Kirk, in some large groups of rolicking, frolicking Irish Catholics, it's a requirement. Or one will be excommunicated.

  7. It's not unknown among people of Eastern European heritage, either.

  8. I have no doubt about that. I'm just commenting on my own particular familial brand of batshit crazy.