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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.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

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

Join us, please, in 1956 and 1957 and 1958. Gary has been born, found to be profoundly retarded, the young parents traveling everywhere with him to seek medical care and advice. My father continued to run a printing press at Firestone. My mother had a more than full-time job caring for Gary's every need. She did not drive and we did not own two cars. Taking Gary somewhere for an appointment involved buses. We were not taxi-cab wealthy. Many members of the large extended family bestowed acts of lovely kindness on all of us Nows, from taking me off for a weekend with the cousins, to collecting Gary's dirty laundry and returning it clean and folded. My job was to go to preschool, then kindergarten and to "be good". "Be good" was repeated so frequently and emphatically, it sounded like a fierce verb to me - lots of action in it. It was said to me so often that I wondered if I wasn't good or if I failed to show goodness in some of my behaviors. I honed the fine skills of being quiet and lying low.

My dad has a good curious mind. He's good with his hands and his head. So it happened something like this: he got the printing job just out of the Air Force. He did it awhile and became very good at it, attracting all manner of positive attention. Once he'd mastered the craft, then he would want to know about how the press worked and what about the inks and how would one fix the whosis if it broke and how does my press compare to others available? He's a knowledge and information seeker, still today. When people would come to work on the presses, he'd learn things from them and then go to the library and learn more. Finally someone, one of those forgotten printing press types, told him of a job opening he'd heard about. Dad went for a round of interviews and was hired to be a salesman of printing presses, working from Salt Lake City, servicing a territory throughout the mountain states. Read this: away from home a lot. Home includes anxious wife, seriously damaged child and the other child. No relatives nearby, no friends yet, as they'd only ever driven through the place, not stayed there.

"Limes, what do you think of moving to Salt Lake City, Utah?" Granny was walking me home from her house. I told her I didn't know about Salt Lake City and it was she who gathered books and magazines showing and describing the Great Salt Lake and the topogrpahy of the place, some of the points of interest like the Capitol Building and the Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle. She showed me a map and it looked way too far from her home. "We'll come often, Honey. You'll enjoy the snow and your daddy has a new, very good job." A whole culture grew up around the words "your daddy has a new, very good job". For that man was upwardly mobile before the phrase was coined, and we were embarking on our gypsy phase that was to last for as long as we remained together as a family. By the time I was 9 years old, I could have driven between Salt Lake and L.A., if only my feet could have reached the gas and brake pedals. I knew the way that well.

But I'm speaking now of the summer I'd turn 6. I'd completed kindergarten in June. My parents had made two scouting expeditions to Salt Lake City and found us a place to live in a nice duplex at 2503 South 6th East [there's the address, Kass!]. I would begin first grade at Columbus School at 3530 South 5th East - one doesn't need to know Salt Lake to understand that school was one block west of home and several blocks south. Easy walking distance. My father wouldn't have to travel for the first 3 months, as he'd be learning the ropes of his new job in the city. Three uncles were gracious about driving ahead with our furniture, so dad could transport the family a few days afterward. Those good uncles also completely set up our home for us. Although I was only 5, when we arrived in Salt Lake and it was time for the uncles to return to L.A., I remember understanding the concern in their good-byes. I understood that they were not certain their sister could handle life and her family.

In the few years between Dad leaving the Air Force and the move to Salt Lake, we were the most rooted we would ever be. It seems there hadn't been any (or at least not many) long driving trips during those years. For we learned to our shock and horror, before we got out of Los Angeles County, that Limes was the most carsick child who ever lived (or died from it). Maybe I'd been sick from time to time on a longish outing a time or two, but there weren't enough of those for anyone to realize how bad it really was. This was the first long, sustained journey in a car and it was to alter us all for the next few years. Because I was a girl who would be sick 3 or 4 times every hour. This had happened maybe 4 or 5 times when I began to get a little fearful of announcing that the next episode was at hand. Although I write with humor and although it's been decades and although it's not the worst assault upon my senses I've ever suffered, it's fair to say those parents traumatized me about getting sick. From my vantage point in the back seat, I saw their heads and necks as broomsticks with volleyballs. I'd start the deep gasping that announced it was almost showtime and those two volleyballs would snap around on their broomsticks like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. "Are you going to be sick?" Well, favored readers, the answer became "No!" Permanently, invariably "No!" Never mind that they could see I was sweating, pale, miserable, obviously about to be sick. Never mind that it happened 50 times or more in a long day of driving. After a handful of "Yes" answers, it became forever "No!" And they were invariably surprised each time happened. As they knew it would. For at least the next 7 years.

I know that heads and hearts and psyches sometimes have selective memory, and so do mine. It seems to me that we only traveled on the road in objectionable weather. There might be some circumstantial evidence to support that, because driving for the holidays would put us in snow and moving from one home to another usually took place in the summer when school was out. But I have no recollection of one temperate miserable trip. These were the days before baby wipes and other conveniences that might have helped out. I was a kid. I usually got it all over the place. And have I mentioned that Gary rode in the car on the floor of the backseat in a travel bed they made for him . . . . directly at my feet? "Did you get it on Gary?!?" "No!" Sometimes that was true. So many of these episodes involved cleaning and changing the clothes of not one, but two, little kids in high summer or deepest winter. For 12 hours straight in heat and in snow. The aunts had many ideas: 1) Feed her tea and crackers only; 2) feed her nothing; 3) feed her a regular breakfast; 4) keep her up all night so she'll sleep in the car (I still got sick, although I slept between episodes); 5) don't let her read; 6) try Dramamine; 7) push fluids; 8) don't let her drink a drop of anything. Nothing made any difference whatsoever. I was a delightful addition to car travel until I was in my teens. I think it must have been as terrible for them as it was for me. Each of us trapped in our own personal misery in the tight confines of a passenger car . . .

The first day in our new home, we learned the selection of that duplex was fortuitous, for there lived the Christensens who were a nice complement to the Nows. Lorri was 10 months younger than I, and would be starting kindergarten at Columbus School in the fall. She was a pampered pink poodle of a girl whose parents took parenting in a deeply serious, but calm, common sense kind of way. It was a second marriage for each of them and they each had other adult children. They knew how this was done! Remarkably, to me, Lorri's mother was in her late 40s and her father was at least 55 - they looked like Granny-O and Gramps. These people were wonderful to have on the other side of the wall from where we lived. Built in girlfriend for me, from a family who felt like mine did about what girls should be doing and not doing, and what kinds of other children made acceptable playmates. Lorri's mother was good to my mother, showing her how things were done, and Mother Christensen soon learned all the intricacies of caring for Gary. When I think of the Salt Lake of the day, or maybe it was Sugarhouse, or maybe it was just our duplex and backyard on South 6th East, the words that come to mind are "wholesome" and "clean". It was the summer I broke my arm, but got my bike and it seemed we had landed in a place that was good for us and we were safe.

Special thanks and acknowledgment: To Kathryn Feigal and Glen Werner, she a most fascinating woman and intrepid photographer and he an amateur Sugarhouse historian. I thank them for the use of the picture of Columbus School and in future posts I plan to use some of the photos Kass has generously set out before me.

In my ears right now:

Something that charmed me: I landed on the blog of a really interesting woman that I want to share coffee with every morning. Her blog led me to her other blogs and I came to realize she lives in Sugarhouse. I was flooded with memories and feelings that have long needed to be poured out, and suddenly have begun to be. All I said was, "Kass, I have a Sugarhouse story to tell," and my early childhood began to escape my heart, head, soul and fingertips. I haven't enjoyed every moment of retelling it. Some of it has made me giggle. And I'll keep on. If something resonates with the reader, that's wonderful. But this is really for me. Finally.


  1. I hated moving as a kid, and we moved a lot. Not to a different state, just a different Cleveland suburb. What I hated was the new school, new kids, etc. I think it made me a bit of a nester as an adult, which is NOT a good thing to be. I'll stick with a lousy situation just because I'm afraid any kind of change will be change for the worse. Oddly enough, my sisters and brother aren't like that. Maybe they liked moving more than I did. One advantage, however. All that moving allows me to catagorize my childhood memories, i.e. this memory happened in the Strongsville era, that memory happened in Brook Park era, etc.

  2. You're playing several of my songs at once, Kirk! In the next chapter, I'll start touching on "new kid" - always. I didn't have the personality for it. I'm better now, but was torture when I was young. You mention it didn't affect your siblings as badly. I think it's all about personality. Dad and Granny-O urged me to just walk in and say,"Hi, I'm Limes and I'm new here." I wouldn't have said, "I'm on fire, please throw your glass of milk on me to put it out."

    True story bouncing off of your "nester" comment: Ex and I lived in a house for 16 years. It was tiny, but was OK for two who traveled in their jobs. When Amber was born, we needed baby furniture and paraphernalia. He kept urging me to move - buy the big, fine house. I wouldn't budge until we were going to be called upon to nail the next piece of baby furniture to the ceiling. I held out a long, long time. Amber has lived in one zip code her entire life.

  3. I'm right there with you. I can picture everything. Great writing!

    I'm sorry. I made a mistake in the address of Columbus School. It's 2530 South, not 3530. A little typo. You know, of course, where I'm going tomorrow with my camera. Hope the duplex is still there. I drive by Columbus School every day on my way to my daughter's house. It is now a Community Center.

    Thank you for the acknowledgment and the kind words.

  4. I've been reading through your Sugarhouse musings. So vivid and colorful! You are a most interesting writer. I appreciate your natural, humorous style. So easy to read.

  5. That S.R.V. song was FABULOUS!

  6. @ GJ - thank you! Not the first time you've said kind words about my writing. I surely love doing it. It is doing wonderful things for me. And when someone applauds, WELL - we write some more.

    @ Kass - I love Stevie Ray. We just ate dinner and I played the You Tube. We were cackling at the feather boa going down the back of his hat and all the excess accessories. We figured he was still in his cocaine and bourbon phase. But nobody can take 'Pride and Joy' away from him. I remember hearing that he had died. I didn't care for it much.

    I'm cackling at the typo in the address! It occurred to me that 10 blocks south was a little longer than I remembered. A block west and less than a block south makes more sense.

    I saw on your blog that Columbus School is a beautifully renovated community center. I'm thrilled it's still there. If that duplex exists, I'm sure it would be a dive by now, but I swear it was nice then.

    You and anyone else who allows me the use of their creative property will always get an acknowledgment from me. And I have nothing but kind words for you, my friend.

  7. I was a Navy kid--moving every 2-4 years. The worst was moving back to the west coast after being in the east. Fourth grade and I pronounced "aunt" the east coast way, causing laughter. Already a shy kid, I wanted to crawl under a desk. It helps me empathize with my new students. I'm having to catch up on your blog--lots of writing while I was gone! WV--deleclan. Stories of the clan--the family type. We all have them.

  8. Dooz, welcome back home! Of course, you would have similar agonies, transferring around with the Navy. Although not as extreme as going from one coast to another, in 8th grade we move from Salt Lake (yet again) to north San Diego County to a cool little surfing spot (you'd know it as Cardiff-by-the-Sea). I'd been a cool girl in Salt Lake and was a fish on the sand in Cardiff, at least for awhile. It still stings.

    I WAS writing a lot while you were gone - I am SO moved to tell it. You know, I'm not in any late life crisis, no death sentence medical diagnosis shortening my life expectancy. I think I've just been lightning struck with the strength and freedom to tell it. The need has always been there. A sort of "well, here's how it happened from my perspective and I have never known how to process it, what does anyone think?"

    Deleclan: I like your take on it. Mine might have been something like relatives processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and soy products and then put in the deli case.

  9. ...and there was that brief sojourn in Inglewood, still to come.

  10. Hey, Badge ~ welcome back home and thanks for boarding my bus. Oh, you KNOW I'll be writing about Inglewood, Youthful Badger and Young Limes. Then Pomona, Youthful Badger and Young Limes. Then . . . I've got 10 years to cover in between. But you know I'll get to Inglewood. And I've got pictures to share!

  11. Limes, just posted some pictures for you on 'Old Sugarhouse.'
    WV= suppla - suppla califragalistic, my ex had halitosis, if you say it loud enough, you'll prob'ly have neurosis....

  12. Added a sepia tone version of your house to 'Old Sugarhouse.'