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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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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

I think I'm doing all right getting to Sugarhouse the long way. Upon reflection, I can better tell the tales of later life - for by Sugarhouse, I'd attained the advanced age of six years - by laying all the groundwork first. If the reader doesn't know about us as individuals and know what has gone before, then the stories will have no context. If the reader doesn't know our presumed limitations, the reader won't be able to cheer loudly when we step out of character in a positive way. If the reader doesn't know how well we behaved under normal circumstances, the reader won't know when to be disappointed in us.

Dad got out of the Air Force and we settled into an apartment located a few blocks from Granny-O and Grandpa. Patterns of huge family get-togethers emerged. Two of my uncles married two sisters and they lived in homes side-by-side - a natural weekend gathering place for up to 50 people wandering from one house to the other yard, cousins moving between groups of other cousins, depending upon age, gender and just being like-minded. The uncles all worked in construction trades. There was a bricklayer, a plasterer (like Grandpa), a carpenter. The women were all stay-at-home moms of growing families. It was the early to mid-50s - Ike was president, Howdy Doody and the Mousketeers ruled. I really did love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver became a firm favorite (it still is today!).

My father went to work for Firestone Tire & Rubber at the huge facility in Downey. He worked in their printing department operating a printing press. I'm not sure why Firestone had a printing department or why he was determined to be well-suited to printing, but that is what he did. It seems his work and his judgment were well-regarded. When he recommended friends and relatives for a job, they were usually hired. He seems to have honed his craft over a few years, but he wouldn't run a printing press for very long. My mother continued to be ummm . . . anxious (thank you, Kass) and sensitive to harsh criticism, but now she was surrounded by her mother, sisters and sisters-in-law in whose care I spent a lot of time - weekends or full weeks at a time. By the time I was 3, it was acknowledged that I was bright and quiet, sweet-natured, "good as gold". 1950s children were expected to be good - good was desirable. Without siblings to show me the ropes, I hadn't worked out that maybe I could not do what I was told, or that I could be loud or messy or disobedient. I tended to play quietly or "read" my books or draw, alongside my 'tend friend, Carrie, with whom I had audible conversations. I was so attached to my father, legend has it, I'd run for the door when I heard the car arrive each evening, dropping my mother flat. I think that would have hurt her feelings. Every day.

It should also be noted that by about age 3, my fingernails were chewed down to the skin at all times. I knew how to walk into a room, look silently at my mother and sense the mood. I knew when to stay in a room with her and engage. I knew when to go back to what I was doing and wait for my dad to get home. I knew when to tiptoe, when not to speak, when to smile, when not to make eye contact. I was far too easily shamed, and very willing to accept blame for things I wasn't responsible for. Someone suggested that preschool might be good for me since I was very bright and needed some social interaction with other children each day. It was arranged that I would attend Kitty Kat Nursery School which was a wonderful experience for me.

My mother became pregnant and I have heard for more than 50 years how excited she was because now she would have a child. She apparently had surrendered me to be my father's child, and now she'd get one of her own. Her pregnancy was very difficult as she had the same hyperemesis she'd suffered while pregnant with me. My turn at that misery would come 34 years later. Gary was born in January when I was nearing 3 1/2 and I liked him immediately. I liked him so much that 'tend friend Carrie went away after Gary was born. I didn't need her any more because I had an ally who was a real person. OK, he couldn't talk to me, but they swore he eventually would and I believed them. If one pays attention to the stories, my mother was apparently very happy with her son and exhibited some good mothering skills. I've never heard any "yikes" stories about her caretaking of Gary, and if ever there was some fertile ground for "uh-ohs", it would be on Gary's path.

I always think of Gary as a beautiful baby. Dark hair on a beautifully shaped head, deep brown eyes, translucent skin ~ he looked like a blend of the two parents' families. I think of myself as a clunky-looking baby. Blue eyed, looking exactly like my father and no other person. For the portrait taken on my first birthday, they had to use Scotch tape to attach a bow to my bald head so I'd appear more like a girl. I was a tiny newborn and a kind of scrawny, colicky baby. He was a bigger baby with soft roundness to his cheeks and he seemed contented. His look makes me think of the beautiful paintings of infants by Bessie Pease Gutmann. There are pictures of him at about 3 months in the typical pose, lying on his tummy, resting on his arms. One can see he uses his neck to hold his head up, just the way babies of that age are expected to do. His eyes are dark and shining.

It was Easter and we were going to Mass - mother, Gary and me. My father was willing to take us there and pick us up, but he was not Catholic and did not intend to become one. My mother and her family battled him for two years after I was born to allow me to be baptized. He finally acquiesced. Gary was baptized as an infant - the issue had been settled when I finally was taken to the church at age 2. My mother went to the crib to gather the baby and put a hat on his head. Something was wrong with him. He was stiff and twisted, making terrible noises, shaking. The day did not progress as planned. Most of the cousins hunted Easter eggs with some of the adults in charge, while other adults joined my parents at the emergency room. "Seizure," they were told. "Why?" They didn't get the real answer until 1975. Nineteen years later. Oh, they got answers in the interim. Many answers. Wrong answers. My mother was 21 years of age that Sunday. Many things changed that Easter and were never the same again. A profoundly retarded child throws a long shadow across entire families, and we were about to lose contact with the sun.

There followed a period of learning how to do things. He was seen by doctors in the east and the west and in the middle, for years. There were surgeries that were wonderfully exploratory, but never successful. At first, both parents went to whichever destination for whatever treatment or exam. Ultimately, my mother began to show the very capable person she became (at least as an advocate for Gary). She and a sister or two, maybe a sister-in-law, would travel with Gary to whatever destination, leaving my father home to work/earn income and take care of me, Granny-O being his co-parent. Some relatives, sometimes, offered a $20 bill "to help with travel expenses". It was appreciated. Sometimes an aunt or uncle would announce a trip to Disneyland that would not be complete without Limes in attendance. It was appreciated.

My mother learned the fine points of tube feeding and other specialized care Gary required. My father continued to excel in his job and big things were about to happen for him. We were about to enter our gypsy stage of life, as he got better and better jobs requiring frequent moves. I attended a shocking number of different elementary schools. 'tend friend Carrie returned to my life, as it seemed Gary wasn't ever going to talk after all. I became an even quieter child, as Gary was often ill or just returned home from a surgery or rehabilitation facility.

Gary is a human who has never smiled out of joy or humor, never sat up, walked, held a spoon in his hand, never has spoken a word, probably never has formulated a thought. There is some debate about how he sees and if he sees. His body movements are not purposeful. He does not have the human instinct to suckle for nourishment. There is no doubt that he hears well. One only needs to stand beside the bed and say his name. He quickly turns his head in the speaker's direction. When he is awake, his head turns from side to side constantly, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. He is very beautiful. His skin has not been exposed to the sun or suffered acne. He's never skinned a knee or cut himself. He looks much as he did as that beautiful infant, except he's 6 feet tall and in his 50s. There's a little 5:00 shadow going on, sometimes. One might think there's not much to love here. But there is. We love him.

My parents were young, inexperienced at many things life threw their way, but they did one thing beautifully, seamlessly. They made Gary a part of our life and they made everyone we encountered aware that there were four Nows, not three Nows and a tragedy. There was some set-up for Gary at every relative's home - a crib at Granny-O's, at some aunts' homes just a little pallet on the floor surrounded by a mountain of pillows. That was OK - he'd be safe there. His birthday was celebrated just like all of the other cousins' and he was never left out of Christmas. My parents did so well at fostering Gary's assimilation, I've never been embarrassed about a seizure in public, or diapers on a big boy who didn't seem to be able to stand up or talk. When my mother was the class room mother during my first grade year, other children asked why Gary was in a baby buggy. I told them why, they seemed to accept it, and we went on to enjoy the cupcakes my mother had brought. I don't recall ever once being aware of someone pointing, laughing, jeering, or making me uncomfortable.

A story I love - I was right on the stage when it was played: Firestone hosted a huge Christmas party each year with multiple Santas and mountains of toys for the children of the employees. The children were asked to line up and come to select their toy. I was in one line, well-behaved, not pushing or making noise. I saw my father get in another line. It was clear he wasn't escorting me into Santa's presence. No, he was by himself in the childrens' line. One of his co-workers spotted him and started a little good-natured teasing. "Hey, Father Now, you planning to select a toy for yourself? I thought they said the kids should line up." My dad responded, "Oh, I'm selecting a toy for my son who can't line up and choose his own."

In my ears right now: Pride and Joy - Stevie Ray Vaughan. I needed some noise and some drive and some throb to write this one, folks. And I'm glad I've completed it. It's needed to be told for a long, long time.

Something that charmed me: We fired Matt yesterday. It wasn't easy and the decision was not easily made, but he left us no options. On the way out the door, he was as decent and good a man as we know he really is. He thanked me for influencing his life. I was in awe of that. That I could influence a life. We wish him well and worry about him.


  1. Just read your comments on Sug Blog. You give good WV. There should be a whole blog devoted to these quips. Now I'm going to go back and read your latest chapter and then comment. Later...

    WV=gueli - Gueli, awe you shue you donwanna be one-a those gueli guels?

  2. You're really good at it, too, Kass! No gueli guel here! By the way, I only recently noticed the WV interactive word play. I didn't notice it when I first began to blog.

    You may need a hankie for this post. But things will get sunnier in the next chapter.

  3. Beautifully-written post about a difficult subject! I have many questions, but perhaps they will be answered in following chapters.

    You are such a wonderful writer, it's difficult to imagine that you haven't formally ever been an author. Have you published anything besides here on your blog?
    WV= rammitep - I leave this one to you. The obvious is too obvious, right?

  4. Thank you, Kass. You may ask questions if you choose. I will answer any questions posed by a reader. After all, I'm writing this because I am pregnant to bursting with it - I HAVE to tell it. And I know that means there may be questions.

    Nothing published other than this blog. I have written all my life, though. Just letters and written pieces meant for personal interaction. But when the Badger comments "you've always been a good writer", he is drawing on personal information dating back to high school in the 1960s. My daughter has also been writing from an age when she dictated the story and I wrote it because she didn't yet know how to write.

    OK, WV = rammitep.

    I'm planning a Thai food buffet for the party. I will serve crab rangoon, shrimp tempura, chicken satay, napa soup, a variety of Napa Valley wines, squid salad and rammitep.

  5. It was about a difficult subject. I feel a little guilty about my "dysfunction happens" comment last week when you first laid the groundwork for for this post, but I assumed you were just going to gripe about the parents and nothing more. Well, you know what Felix Unger said about assuming. Even if it's of little consequence, I hope you'll tell us what you found out in 1975, and whether that still holds true today (I hate to say it as I remember the era so well, but 1975 was a long time ago)

    Sorry to hear about Matt. Hope he makes something of himself in the animie biz.

  6. Hi, Kirk ~ you don't need to feel badly about any comment you've ever posted. Surely by now you notice that I can laugh about most everything, even the most painful things. For me, if I can't laugh and can't cry, then I'm in danger of exploding.

    It is my sincere hope that after I've told everything I need to tell, NO ONE will think I griped about the parents and nothing more. Our story has way too many layers and we all reversed roles all the time, so no writing could be "anything" and nothing more. Sometimes I was the parent. Sometiems I was the co-adult. Sometimes I am able to forgive them when they can't forgive themselves. Sometimes I can't forgive them at all for seemingly slight offenses. But I do not intend to gripe and nothing more. I'm just telling the stories about a small group of those interesting human animals that fascinate me so.

    Re: 1975 - I actually plan to do one small-ish post about the rest of Gary's life and what has happened during it. He's still alive and will soon turn 53. Part of my story will be about how, in 1975, his illness was finally correctly diagnosed and that diagnosis created yet new angst and pain.

  7. I came to like Matt and his bathroom so I was sorry to hear about his firing. I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision.
    I need to process Gary's story a bit more, In you I see a little girl often lonely but with a tremendous heart. Nice work Limes.

  8. Well, thank you, Tag. Yes - lonely. And alone. Two different things. And I have been accused of having a good heart, still today. Gary's story would be so overwhelming to most feeling people that it WOULD take some time to process.

    That Matt! And this goes to Kirk's comment about him, as well: he is a young man of extremes. He has more intrinsic gifts than the law allows. And he is the hardest hard case I've ever come across. We have learned in the past 24 hours that his inheritance is gone - spent! And now he has no job. And that hurts.

  9. I guess that given the state of medicine in the 50's the doctors might have done more damage to Gary during surgery than was done during the initial seizure. My friend Beans down in Floriday had Brain surgery in the mid 50's and has had life long difficulty with vision because of it. Today the surgery she had is fairly common and usually succesful. I congratulate your Mother on being a strong advocate on your brother's behalf. Still that was attention that you could of used a bit more of.

  10. Well, my friend, you hit all kinds of targets with that! And I had not remembered Beans until mentioned her again just now. Yes, the state of brain surgery at the time was not what it is now. I've always said it in a very crude way: Mostly they just opened his skull and poked around, not really "doing" anything except maybe causing more harm. And then, in 1975, when he was correctly diagnosed, it became clear he never needed any surgeries. No surgery was going to fix his problem (not today's modern surgeries, either). In Gary's youth, my mother was just a good caretaker. It's in his adulthood that she's become a champion warrior advocate, and I'll be writing about that. Yes, I needed more than I got.

  11. I love that you had "Carrie." I had several 'friends' growing up too. Marvel Jewel was the most flamboyant. Fanny Fever was the one I danced frantically all over the living room with. Janet Kirksom was a very distinguished business-like friend. They all helped immensely. I wonder if we were dissociating - if we needed these friends to cope with the harshness of our mothers' disorders.
    WV=comen. Yep, I'ma comen.
    last WV, rammitep - my use in a sentence would have been very crude. Yours is more creative.

  12. Kass, your girls are way more flamboyant than mine - even if measured only by their names! I think you're dead on about us needing those friends. I know I was a child in need. And it got much worse over time. After Gary was born, my Grandpa asked me where Carrie was. You've probably already concluded I was a child who did nothing to attract any negative attention. But there at Sunday dinner, I said, quite flippantly, "Oh, she went to hell in a handbasket." Dead silence. Shock. I wasn't even taken to task for it because it was so startling.

    rammitep - Yes, I caught your take on it and I could go that direction, too. I can be as base as anyone else. But when you put down the gauntlet, I had to rise to the occasion by being very creative. I wonder if it would be a side dish or dessert? And I don't care for Thai food.

  13. I love that you said the 'hell in a handbasket' response. It brings to mind images of your delightful friend being wicker-basket-whisked away and a new Moses-in-the-reeds basket being snatched from the river, taken into your lives, full of Gary's troubles. How precocious you were to make this realization.

  14. Wow, Kass, that is really good imagery. Thank you for saying it in just that way. I love words, and "wicker-basket-whisked-away" just made me sit back hard in my seat. Ooooo . . If you keep reading, you will learn that the "hell in a handbasket" statement was just the first in a series of startlers. I tend to put forth a certain image that makes people wonder if I'd say shit if I had a mouthful of it. And then I let fly some statement. It's a pattern.