Freeing the voices in my head

Posts tagged ‘memoirs’

Grandpa’s Wheelchair Game

“…As those caissons go rolling along.”

I was sitting on Grandpa’s lap and turned my head to ask, “Grandpa, what’s a caisson?”

We had rolled down the hall from the living room and across the tiny kitchen.  Grandpa stopped his wheelchair precisely at the back door.  He was in the middle of his grand flourish, swiveling to face Grandma as the song ended.  Grandma glanced at us, her mouth crunched up like she’d just bitten into a lemon.  Ut-oh.  I leaned back against Grandpa’s chest and stared down at my knees, dangling between the stumps of Grandpa’s legs.  He chuckled and we took off again, but he did sing a different song.

“Roll me over in the clover!  Roll me over and do it again!”

“Harry!”  The shout from the kitchen made him laugh.  I had no idea why.

I don’t remember how old I was, had to be between the ages of  six and nine because we moved to the house in Schenectady, NY when I was five and lived six houses down from my father’s parents.  Our house was in the middle of the block, theirs was at the end of the block – a red brick one-story two bedroom with a tiny bath and kitchen but a huge attic and basement.  At some point before my eleventh birthday, both of them had died and we moved to Clifton Park.

They were both really old by the time we moved to the house on Myron Street in Schenectady.  Mom and Dad married after college, a few years after WWII, and didn’t have my brother until 1951.  I missed out on getting to visit my grandpa’s high class Italian restaurant in the city, when they lived in a huge Victorian home off of Route 7.  (That house is still there, hidden behind massive trees.  Last I heard, it was an Assisted Living Home for the elderly.)  I do have a very nebulous memory of sitting at the counter of Grandpa’s diner.  That was located on Erie Boulevard, near the train station.  There’s a faded photograph of me with a soda fountain coca-cola glass that’s so tall it’s as high as the top of my head, but, sorry, the printer’s dead so I can’t scan in pictures.

Grandma and Grandpa were excellent cooks.  They were from the Old Country.  No one’s alive now who remembers exactly when they came over from Italy (someday, I’ll look it up, but the urge to write their stories down has hit, so I’ll do it later), but they embraced the American Dream at full throttle.  They learned English, struggling to remove as much “wop” accent as they could.  They worked hard and fulfilled the dream of owning their own businesses.  Yes, plural.  They had the fancy restaurant, the diner, and, later, when I was little, Grandma’s secondhand store, Treasures & Trash.  That was on Erie Boulevard, too, not far from the big General Electric plant where my daddy worked as an ad writer.

Grandma’s store was crammed full of tables covered in glassware.  Display cases full of jewelry formed an aisle to the back wall where huge pieces of furniture gathered dust.  The best jewelry, the antiques, the real stuff, sat in a display case in my grandparents’ house.  You’d walk in the front door and the first thing you’d see (and make sure you didn’t bump into) was that glass case full of sparkling diamond rings and thick fancy bracelets and necklaces.  We weren’t allowed to open that case or touch anything, but we could look, and we did.  My sisters and I would drool over those pretty baubles, picking out our favorites.  Shortly after Grandpa died, Grandma did open the display case and told us to pick out our favorite piece of jewelry.

My sisters chose big, bold pieces.  I had my eyes on a ring no one else wanted.  “That’s so plain and small, and it’s not real gold,” my older sister sneered.

Grandma smiled and explained, “Yes, it is.  It’s white gold and those two rectangular gems are black sapphires.  The diamond is a half carat, pure and clean.  You have a good eye, Eileen.”  She handed my choice to me and I slipped it onto my ring finger.  It was too loose for my ten year old finger, but it was beautiful.  The diamond sat clutched in six prongs above a delicate filigree cage of tiny vines.  On either side of it, sat the two black sapphires, so dark a blue they did look black until the light hit them and a blue glow woke within.  Grandma wrote down our choices on a piece of paper, put the jewelry back and tucked the paper in a corner of the case.  “When I die, make sure your father gives you these.  This is your inheritance.  Don’t let her steal them from you.”

Yeah, Grandma A and my mom hated each other.  Dad was Gram’s late-in-life baby and her only son.  He was a mama’s boy, a rotund little kid, spoiled by his mother and two older sisters.  He did rebel, finally, and at eighteen, joined the Marines and was sent into the Pacific Arena to fight during World War II.  When he returned, he was a lean and handsome man who immediately dashed off to college to avoid being dumped into the family business.  He had absolutely no interest in working in or owning a restaurant.  He wanted to be a writer and an actor.  Then, he got married.

Married to a woman his mother didn’t approve of, a flighty, vain, wanna-be actress, a woman three years older than him who was also the daughter of the black sheep in her family.  The only thing Grandma could like about Mom was that she was full-blooded Italian and could cook.  Of course, Mom wasn’t as good a cook as a Grandma – no way was she going to leave a pot of spaghetti sauce on the back burner at a low simmer for days, tossing in the dinner leftovers from the week.  Nope, my mom was a modern woman, with a job, and she enjoyed the convenience of canned tomatoes and sauce.  I never had the heart to tell my mother that Grandma’s Sunday sauce was heavenly compared to hers, thick, rich, full of bits of mystery meats and veggies.

Grandpa was retired by then, probably because of the ice skating accident that took his second leg.  It got infected, developed gangrene, and was amputated at the knee.  No one ever revealed how he lost his first leg.  From Grandma’s reaction to any talk, or songs, from the war, we kids suspected he lost it back then.  Damn, how I wish someone had told us more about them – I don’t even know if Grandpa was in WWI!  The contradiction here was their extreme reaction to their son joining the Marines.  They were completely against it.  If Grandpa was in the first world war, wouldn’t he be proud of his son enlisting in the second one?  Ah, there’s a small mystery we’ll never solve.

The tidbits of stories have been in my family for years.  Helen B. was a young Polish girl who wanted to escape to America (ironic how Grandma was Polish, but wanted her children to marry full-blooded Italians.  Maybe that was to please Grandpa.).  She was in love with Captain Francisco and after one more trip, he would have enough money to take her with him across the ocean.  Her beau never returned from the sea.  As she approached the age of spinsterhood, another man limped into her life.

Harry A. was from a successful Italian family.  Their restaurant was the star of the town.  But Harry wanted more – he dreamed of owning his own business in America.  Was it a marriage of convenience?  Did he marry Helen to help her or to appease his family by being wed before he left them?  I don’t know.  They were cordial to each other, and Grandma took excellent care of him, but they didn’t act like they loved each other.

I remember seeing pictures of Grandpa standing on one leg in the dining room of his restaurant, balanced on two canes, but my memories begin with him in the wheelchair.  Did my older brother and sister ever play the wheelchair game with him?  I know my little sister did.  We’d fight over who would get to ride first.  I was eighteen months older, so I always won.  Christine was lighter and it was better for her to be second – Grandpa would be getting tired by then.

It was wonderful to sit straight down in the middle of Grandpa’s lap and hang on for dear life to the armrests.  I’d wrap my legs around the leg supports he didn’t need, not the least bit squeamish about being tucked between his stumps.  It never occurred to us to think of him as handicapped; he was just Grandpa.  He had strong thighs and they would help keep me from sliding off his lap.

That was important.  He’d dip his head down to whisper, “Ready, ma bella?”  All I could do was nod, for we’d be off!  He’d push away from the front door, his strong arms and hands propelling us down the hallway at top speed.  His chest would thrum as he bellowed out a song.  To the back door, pivot, and race away again.  Three turns each, and then he would have to rest quietly in the living room with Grandma fussing over him.  She would shoo Christine and me up to the attic, where we could play dress up in all her vintage gowns and jump around on a huge old bed…but that’s a story for another day.

Oh, and he never answered my question.  I had to ask it again one day when I heard my father singing the same song.  “Daddy, what’s a caisson?”

It was an ammunition wagon used in World War I.  Maybe Grandpa really was in that war…

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The Muck Inside

First, my apologies.  This will not be a funny or happy blog, and if you are a depressive with suicidal tendencies, be aware that this may be a trigger post for you.

I get so angry at people who judge suicides.  “Oh, how cowardly!”  “Damn, how selfish!”  “How could he do that?  What the hell was he thinking?”

Whoa, wait.  I’m a depressive with suicidal tendencies.  Fortunately, I’m also a dysfunctional depressive – when in an episode, I have no energy to get out of bed, so I have no energy to carry out my suicide plan.  So, I’m here and safe.  And yes, I have a suicide plan.  It’s been worked on and honed to perfection from the age of fourteen.  That’s clue one:  If a depressed person actually has thought out a suicide plan, get them help immediately.

“Oh, but she’s just looking for attention.”  Nope, clue number two:  If a depressive is talking the “I hate my life, I want to die” talk, don’t ignore it, brush them off, or storm about being angry with them.  Get them help immediately.

You ignore us or get angry with us because you are afraid.  You don’t know how to stop us or help, and, the biggie, you are afraid of any talk of Death, so, you react.  Don’t.  Just do your best to get us some help.

Because, you see, we aren’t being selfish or cowardly.  Inside the mind of a depressive, we really do believe you would be better off without us, that we are worthless and therefore, shouldn’t be alive.  Getting angry at us just proves to us that you want us gone.  Since Life is already too horrible, we seek Death.  In our minds, it’s the only way to escape the horror and remove our disgusting presence from your life.  We really are thinking of how our death will benefit you.

That how twisted and crazed we are inside.

In here, the voices of horror are quite often loud and they never shut up.  They tell us how terrible we are all the time and we can’t hear you over those voices.  Every outer influence from bullying to denting your car to breaking a glass is more proof of our uselessness and the voices scream louder.

The expectations of you and the rest of society are too much for us.  We try , try, and fail, again and again.  We’ll never be good enough and you’ll be better off without us.  So, down go the pills, or the knife, or, POP, off goes the gun.

It isn’t easy to put a knife to your arm and start slicing it open.  It fucking hurts.  A lot.  A depressive has to be really done with the mental pain to withstand that physical pain.  Doesn’t sound like a coward to me.

Selfish?  No, to us, you already hate us every time you criticize us or get angry with us.  There are no lines of “I’m just telling you for your own good; I still love you.”  We aren’t hearing that.  We can’t.  The voices are screaming too loud.  So, since we hurt you so much, we’ll just go away.

I’ll always regret not being more aware for my loved one.  He didn’t reach out, didn’t speak of it, he just spiraled down, and I didn’t even catch the signs.  He drank too much, fought too much, argued all the time, decided we hated him…  If only I had visited his home more often, sat down and really talked to him, told him I knew where his mind was…  If only.

So, don’t blame yourself.  There’s really not much you can do, except try to see the signs.  I saw them and didn’t act on them because I was too deep in my own murk.  If another depressive missed all that, then you can’t be expected to see it.  If you’re lucky, your loved one will toss out a hint or two.  Don’t ignore those clues.  Go get help.

It will be five years tomorrow; I love you, C, and still miss you.

Thank you for reading.  Now, go, hug each other, but most of all:  Listen, listen to each other without reacting.  You might be surprised by what you actually hear when you really listen.

It’s A Doggie-do Life

I’ve been trying to write, but the weather keeps changing.  Every time the weather changes, the dogs go hyper.  They become the ultimate distraction.  I know, I know, I’m not supposed to liken them to human, not supposed to give them human attributes, but, come on, admit it, we all do it.  I do love our dogs, I also hate them.  Whoever said that a dog’s intelligence is almost equal to that of a three-year-old human was pretty close.  Except for the not speaking English part, dogs do remind me of human toddlers.

Our boxer is the one with ADD.  He can sleep for 18 hours and then bounce off the walls for 18.  It’s annoying.  It’s also funny because, yes, he literally bounces.  All four legs ramrod straight, bounce up and down like a child on a pogo stick.  Since he also thinks he should continue to grow and become a Great Dane – his head comes to my waist when he stands on four legs, he’s as tall as me (5’3″) when he stands on two legs – Mr. Pogo Stick can bounce to amazing heights.  This is fine and cute when he’s in our fenced in backyard and bounces up above our four foot high bushes to startle the golfers walking past our fence line (The 16th hole is directly behind us.).  It is not fine or cute when he does this on our walks, wrenching my fingers in the leash, crashing down into me, stomping on my feet.  I really need reinforced steel-toed combat boots…and, possibly, body armor…

I’ve tried to get hubby to come on our walks, help control the 90 pound toddler who has to investigate every movement and sound and fire ant hill, perhaps help protect me from the sometimes odd folk I pass while walking down the road to the pretty little park, spend some time with the wife, ya know?   Instead, he bought me a clip on your belt can of pepper spray…um, okaayyy…aw, hell, it’s kinda sweet, in a weird way….after all, he does know he married a woman who collects blades and keeps her double-headed battleaxe under her side of the bed…

Hubby often lets me fend for myself; I basically grew up in bars and have been a bar waitress most of my life.  Nothing too awful ever happened; and I was off the night one drunk shot up the bar.  Hubby was glad for that.  He could totally see me going for the gun and then pistol-whipping the guy for shooting at MY “girls” if I had been there that night.  He has yet to bail me out of jail and would like to keep it that way.  He did stop me from beating up one drunk bitch who kicked me in the ass when we were playing pool one night.  He said he saw me whip around, pool stick in hand, and the look on my face…well, he grabbed me and “escorted” me out of the bar.  He says I get “crazy angry” and he figures it’s safer to just whisk me away from situations.  And I don’t even drink!  Sheesh!

Our other dog is a mutt, part beagle, collie, terrier; she’s cute in a homely kind of way.  She’s 45 pounds lighter and much smaller than Ranger the boxer and she completely dominates him.  I walk them on a doubled leash, connected together.  They trot slightly ahead of me; the best way to describe it is that it’s like holding the reins to a two-in-hand buggy and I actually have better control with them connected.  Yo-yo is quite well-trained, Ranger, not so much.  If he gets loose, he runs and will not come back when called or whistled for.  Yo-yo will fetch him and try to herd him back, which doesn’t work very well; he’s too fast.  So, with her on the other end of the leash, if I trip and drop it, she will plant herself, all 45 pounds of muscle and barrel chest digging in while Ranger tries to take off for the wonderful busy road with all those pretty fast-moving cars dashing along it.  Yo-yo will lower her head, choking while Ranger pulls for freedom, and glare at me until I pick myself up and grab the leash again.

I am so glad we no longer live in the desert where a clumsy woman walking a dog like Ranger would be a death sentence, or, at the very least, a cactus encounter.  And don’t get me started on what Ranger might have done if he spotted a rattlesnake, scorpion or coyote!  It’s bad enough being yanked into trees or pulled off my feet to be dragged through a fire ant hill…oh, it’s okay, we’re doing much better now.  He’s still distracted by anything, but I’ve learned to stay alert!  Fewer bruises that way.

Growing up, I didn’t like dogs.  Granted, there was only one nice dog in our neighborhood – a big loving black New  Foundland.  He was a sweetie.  And Melissa’s dog was okay; he pretty much ignored me and I was cool with that.  But all the other dogs I knew when I was a kid were horrible beasts.  As an adult, I now understand it was their humans who were at fault for not training them properly.  I’m proud to say all our dogs that hubby and I have adopted were all sweet and well-behaved to humans and other animals.  They were not Hurricane Maryann or any type of Poodlepuff for that matter, or Chiayowyowchompers or yappyYorkies or ankle-biting bits of fluff.  We owned DOGS – as in medium to big and we were responsible pet owners who trained such dogs to behave.

Hurricane Maryann was my best friend Nancy’s mother’s dog.  In her defense, Maryann was locked in the basement all day while Gwen was at work and Nancy was at school.  She was a gray poodle who never got any grooming and only wanted attention from Gwen.  Gwen would get home, say hi to us, then close the kitchen door and then open the basement door.  Nancy and I would stay out in the living room.  We could hear Maryann racing up the stairs, barking louder than a locomotive, and then the crazed animal would hit the kitchen door, growling insanely and actually rattling the thick hardwood in its hinges.  She would repeat her attack on the door until something Gwen did stopped her.  I never knew what it was – maybe Gwen would feed her or pet her?  Through it all, we could hear Gwen chattering away or singing while her demented poodle barked and growled and gnawed on the kitchen door.  I rarely saw Maryann, just a glimpse as she charged at my throat before Gwen slammed the kitchen door shut and told her, “Oh, sweetie, that’s Eileen, you know her, now stop that.  Here, have a cookie.”  Yep, not sure who was the truly fruit loop there, but I loved Gwen, she was more a mother to me than my own mom most of the time.  Just had to be careful if Maryann was loose…

Another neighbor had a Standard white Poodle, and white carpets.  Same situation except the guy never locked the dog away when we visited and this dog was silent and deadly.  He could fly across that white carpet unseen and be snapping at your legs, waist or hands before you knew he was on you.  And the owner would say, “Oh, he’s just saying hello.”  Then the dog would happily pee all over us while we dripped blood onto that somewhat white carpet…

One friend owned a Chiayowrat.  Ugly, nasty, noisy rat-dogs.  It never shut up and it loved to bite.  And, again, the stupid owner would just wave off the behavior.  Pardon me while I drop-kick your pet monster into next Tuesday on my way to the Emergency Room…

I was walking to the park with my three year old son one day and a cocker spaniel came charging across the road.  He went straight for my baby.  I scooped up Brian and the dog actually started climbing me to get to my boy.  With Brian on my shoulders, clutching my hair, head, throat, I kicked and screamed at that dog.  Luckily, I was wearing jeans – lots of bruises on my legs, but his teeth didn’t break my skin.  A lady in a bathrobe wandered across a yard and shouted for her poochie to come home.  She didn’t come get him, she didn’t obey my screams to come get him, she just stood there, watching her dog try to rip my jeans off in his attempt to rip open my son’s throat.  Stupid f@cking human…

We were a cat family.  My parents, crazy as they were, loved animals, but especially cats.  So it was a real surprise when they let my little sister adopt a beagle puppy.  We must have been around ten and eleven at the time.  Christine promised all the usual things a kid promises, and, of course, never followed through. And none of us had ever owned a dog, so we didn’t know how to train her.  Heidi was cute as a puppy but a terror.  She chewed up everything.  Our older sister almost killed her by kicking her downstairs after finding the puppy had chewed up all Mary Lou’s fancy high heeled shoes.  She was almost impossible to house-train.  I’d cover the kitchen floor with newspapers and she would still do her doggie-dos in the living room.  Yeah, me.  It fell to me to potty-train the puppy, feed the puppy, get beaten on when the puppy misbehaved…Our parents and Christine loved that dog, me?  Nope, not a lick.

So, yeah, I pretty much hated dogs.

Then, early in our marriage, hubby decided we needed a dog.  He had grown up with dogs and liked them.  He didn’t think he liked cats, but our Missy changed that.  At fifteen, Missy was a furry fluffy tabby grande dame.  Her favorite spot to lounge was around a man’s shoulders, purring softly in his ear.  What man, or sixteen year old boy in hubby’s case, could resist such feminine wiles?  Hubby married me, knowing my cats were part of the deal, but he wanted a dog.

I said okay reluctantly, wishing there was a dog breed that was more like a cat.  And, dear Randy went and found one.  We got a cream-colored Chow Chow puppy.  His official name was Tub’a Cream, but we called him Tubba.  He was adorable, soft, loving, loyal, and he’d groom himself like a cat.  Properly groomed Chows don’t even smell like dogs!  He loved kids, the cats, women, Randy and me.  But woe onto any adult male who came onto our property.  Tubba would lunge to the end of his chain, rarely barking, just softly growling if a strange man approached.  If it was someone I knew and I called to the dog while shaking the man’s hand, Tubba would stand down.  He also knew who exactly could enter the house and the route they would take.

He never lunged or growled at kids, any kid, known and unknown.  Only once: The kids were playing hide-and-seek and the one little girl hid in the garage, or tried to.  She startled Tubba and he snapped at her.  She jumped up on the car to escape him and the bite was actually just a scrape (fast little girl, thank god!), but it scared me.  I kept a closer watch after that, warning the kids away from the dark garage – Tubba was old by then and most likely losing his sharp senses.

He proved his loyalty a number of times.  Once in the summer, when we were out on the lawn, kids playing in the little kiddie pool, me lounging nearby with Tubba on his leash under my chair…the mailman pulled up.  Tubba knew him, knew he walked to the mailbox every day, but this time the mailman decided to leave his usual route of going to the mailbox and came over to give me the mail.  One tiny alteration to his usual route…He stepped onto the grass and Tubba exploded out from under my chair to defend his family from the intruder.

One day, I was changing the baby’s diapers and our toddler daughter managed to open the back door.  I came into the kitchen and found her diaper, an open door, no daughter and no dog.  A big gold Cadillac with an elderly couple inside pulled into my driveway as I hurried outside to search.  The man rolled down his window and asked, “Do you own a big blond dog and a little blonde girl?”

“Yes!”

“They’re walking down the middle of the road.  The dog won’t let us near her.  Get in; we’ll take you to them.”

It had only been a couple of minutes and they hadn’t gotten far (we lived in a small town then).  And they were actually on their way back home.  Tubba had turned Jessie around and was herding her back to the house.  There was my two-and-a-half year old daughter, babbling happily to her dog, sauntering along the middle of the road, naked as the day she was born…in tears, I picked her up and got back in the car with both babies, but Tubba wouldn’t get in.  He trotted merrily alongside as that sweet older man took us home.

Tubba died happy, doing what he loved – playing with his kids.  They had hitched him up to the toboggan one New Year’s and he towed them around the yard, down the snow-covered street.  Then they left him sleeping in the snow (which he preferred to his dog house, strangely, he was always quite warm and snug in his snowdrift, I know, cause I checked!) and went in to warm up with cocoa.  The next morning, he was dead.  We think he died of a heart attack; he was pretty old for a big dog by then, over ten years.

But the dog I really fell in love with was Dizzi.  Our daughter was in high school and brought home a pit bull puppy.  I so did NOT want another dog at that point in our lives; things were pretty troubled back then.  But Dizzi was delightful and Jess trained her beautifully.  So did Dodger, my 15 pound silver-tipped tabby cat.  Dodger thought he was a dog – he would play Fetch, he would run to the door when someone came over, and he taught Dizzi all his tricks.  They would chase each other across the house, across the top of the sofa, coffee table, dining room table – which was the funniest and I think Dodger planned it.  He would jump up and race across that long table and Dizzi would be right behind him.  Her nails didn’t have the traction the cat’s did.  She’d hit the table and skitter across it to fall off the end in a clumsy roll.  You could see Dodger laughing his ass off.  Good thing pit bulls are nearly indestructible and impervious to pain.  Dizzi would bounce up and want to do it all over again.

She’s the most intelligent dog I’ve ever met, loyal, sweet, loving…she thinks she’s a tiny lap dog and always wants to cuddle.

Ah, yes, welcome to some of my Doggie-do Life…train them well, love them and, yes, indeed, remember:  They are as human as you, and in many ways, far better people than any human could ever hope to be.

 

 

Eating Alien Breastoids

I can’t sleep, I’m hungry, I miss the kids (I don’t care if they’re all grown into adults, they’re still our kids and I miss them), which woke up memories…including the one where Brian gave a particular vegetable a new name.  Our oldest son is a bit of a clown, fine, a lot of  a clown.  Goofy, charming, generous…wait, this blog is about food.

There are some foods hubby and I don’t like and will not cook.  We refused to be proper parents and force our children to eat such foods.  We were pretty lenient parents and had only a few rules:  Everyone sits at the table as a family for dinner, no phone calls (Telemarketers who often called during dinner were subjected to verbal repartee, depending on who answered the phone and how far dinner had progressed.  Let me mention here, we do not drink alcohol.  The best way to avoid a second call from any telemarketer was to have Brian take over.  He had two spiels: He would ask personal questions, starting with “Hi, how are you?  Do you live in America?  Did you have a bowel movement today?  Did it float or sink before you flushed it…Hello, hello?”  Or, he would simply say, with a trembling voice, “My daddy/mommy is DEAD!  Thank you SO much for reminding me!” Click.), and – where was I?  Oh yeah, the rules: You must at least taste one bite of something before announcing you don’t like it.  We ended up having some interesting times involving food.  And some odd conversations, usually instigated by one of the kids.  Here are some foods I’ve tasted and refuse to allow in my house…

Brussels Sprouts: Who decided these weird green balls were food?  They’re innocent enough until you plop them in water and start to cook ’em.  I’m sorry, but I will not eat something that smells like month-old rancid gym socks that the dog pooped on!

Cabbage:  Fine eaten raw, but when cooked, see reference to Brussels Sprouts.

Escargot: Nope, you can’t fool me with a fancy French name and lots of garlic.  Those are snails, probably the same ones that were crawling on the Cabbage…

Calamari:  Another fancy name – Italian, this time, but these are small squids, dipped in batter so they can be disguised as fried clams.  Strange rubbery texture and I always think those tiny sucker pads are gonna attach themselves to my throat on the way down.  And, of course, I always flash on Kirk Douglas battling the giant squid in that movie…and you wonder why I dislike swimming in murky water?

Liver:  My mother, aunt and older sister were Registered Nurses, yet they ate Liver.  Bile and other nasty body shit passes through or is stored in the Liver (that’s what the child-me believed – I think I spent most of Biology class trying to save the frogs from being dissected and didn’t really absorb much else – anyway, I still believe the Liver is a poop organ).  Pile on all the onions you want, I know there’s liver in there somewhere, nope, never, not gonna eat some critter’s stored poop, thank you very much!

Um, gee, I’m no longer hungry.  There were some strange-looking foods I liked and inflicted upon, er, cooked for my family.  Fried pizza dough – yeah, I know most people call them fritters, but in my birth family (mostly Italian), it was fried pizza dough.  Pull chunks of dough off the main ball and plop them in a deep pan half full of hot oil (We didn’t have deep fryers back then).  When one side was golden brown and the dough had puffed up, you carefully turned it over with tongs to fry the other side.  Only took a minute or so, then you drained them on paper towels, tossed one or two into a paper bag half full of confectioner’s sugar, shake a few times, remove, eat.  Oh, heaven!  Sunday mornings, often at Aunt Harriet and Uncle Fred’s house, eating his homemade bread and her fried pizza dough…odd, I don’t remember eating anything else on those mornings…like eggs or bacon…  Imagine my shock to get a fritter at the state fair, with a tiny bit of butter melting on it?  I was offended and asked, “Where’s the confectioner’s sugar?  It HAS to be covered in it!”  Sacrilege!  I promptly threw it away, uneaten.

There was a dish I loved and it was fun to eat, too!  Stuffed Artichokes.  I decided to introduce my meat-potatoes-and-salad family to this wonderful dish.  Yes, our children ate salad.  When we’d go to Mickey D’s for lunch, they’d get Harpy, erm, happy Meals and I’d get a salad.  Guess who ended up nibbling on fake fried chicken bits (I know they’re fake – even the dog won’t eat ’em!) while the kids chowed down on greens?

I took the artichokes out of the fridge and set them on the counter.  I chopped off the stems as straight as possible so they’d sit nicely upright in the pot.  Across the counter, in the dining area, our two adorable elementary school children and their demonic preteen brother were attempting to finish their homework before clearing the table for dinner.  Brian jumped up and asked, “What are those things?”

“Artichokes.  They’re a vegetable.”  I’m sure some eye-rolling occurred because, like, duh, yeah, they’re GREEN, Mom!

With a gleam in his eyes, Brian grabbed two of them and placed them in strategic positions on his chest.  He danced around the kitchen, singing, “Look, we’re eating Alien Breastoids!”  I hung my head, wondering why I married the class clown, who then imparted HIS weird genes to our oldest son…

That first experiment didn’t go well.  The kids liked the stuffing, but not the whole pull the leaf free, bite down, scrape the surface with your teeth, chew, swallow routine  (You don’t eat the entire leaf, at least not with this dish.).  To them, it was a tedious way to receive a bit of a part of the artichoke, and they refused to touch the heart.  I got to enjoy four artichokes that night, and the kids did at least TASTE the dish, so it was a small success.

Many years later, I decided to cook artichokes again.  Almost adults, the kids now had tasted them elsewhere – in restaurants, at friends’ homes – and liked them.  I giggled and said, “We’re eating Alien Breastoids tonight!”  Silence, blank or mortified stares…not one of them remembered that first experience with artichokes…

I don’t cook much anymore, it’s too embarrassing…

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Stuffed Artichokes

6 whole artichokes
1-2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Snip off the pointed tips of artichoke leaves, and cut off the stems.  Wash and drain.  Holding artichoke firmly by base, firmly rap the top of it on a hard surface; this will open it so it can be stuffed.
In a medium bowl combine breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, cheeses, oregano, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, salt and pepper; mix well.
Press about 1/2 cup of stuffing into each artichoke, trying to fill in each leaf.  Tightly pack stuffed artichokes together in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven.  Add enough water to reach half way up artichokes and add 3 tablespoons oil.
Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, or until leaves pull out easily.

You Did What?!

I’m on my laptop for a few hours here until hubby finishes playing on the desktop.  I’ve been whispering and mumbling to it…Randy (hubby, who is definitely a Mr. Grumpy before his second cup of coffee) is pouring that second cup and notes, “Who are you talking to?”

“My laptop.”  He rolls his eyes and slouches back into the office.  It’s okay – in just a bit, he’ll saunter back out here to the kitchen, lean over the table and share morning kisses.  Oddly enough, I was the grump in the morning for years.  Not anymore and not by my choice; kind of difficult to sleep in when a 90 pound boxer leaps on top of you whimpering to go outside NOW!  Also difficult to be mad about it.  He’s a big, clumsy, goof of a dog and full of joy.  Boxers really are the clowns of dog breeds.

Anyway, my point here is that I don’t write much on my laptop.  The poor thing is over two years old, needs updates that stupid Norton Anti-virus keeps blocking, had a defective battery from day one, is an irregular – great price but when we got it home, we found out why.  The battery for one and the fact that the keyboard is deep bronze-colored while the keys are black.  Impossible to see in most light, and it’s been forty-some years since my high school touch-typing class.  I stuck white sticker letters on it, but half of ’em have fallen off.  Having been a professional proof-reader, I do go through my writings, but if there are mistakes today, I’m blaming the laptop!

Onward!

Last night I mentioned I’m a coward.  Not entirely true.  I can be brave and have been, but there are some things I just can’t face.  My flight impulse kicks in (and my fight impulse kicks me in the butt about it later) and I run or hide.

I enjoy scary movies, rollercoasters, trying new things.  I loved sky-diving – we sat on the floor of a tiny stripped down puddle jumper of a plane, the only seat was for the pilot.  Being total newbies, we all went tandem (strapped to an instructor – I got the hunky six-foot-five Swedish guy, oh my!), except for our son-in-law Charlie.  He was a hot wire power lineman and convinced the instructor to let him jump solo.  That’s a memory I cherish – Charlie, whooping and hollering with glee as he drifted down to a perfect landing.

I loved stepping out onto the strut, feeling the wind trying to whip me away, I loved the free-fall, whooshing faster than I’d ever gone, I loved the incredible view after the chutes opened and we drifted to the ground.  My BODY did NOT love the drifting.  It protested by dry-heaving all the way down.  Swedish guy said, “Tuck your nose into the neck of your shirt so you don’t vomit on us!”

We landed with me laughing between dry-heaves.  Swedish guy swiftly unbuckled my gear and pointed out the bathroom.  I made it there in time.  Hey, better than Brian!  Our oldest son came down laughing, too, looking fine.  He took two steps and graced the desert with his breakfast.

Was that bravery?  I’m not afraid of heights, airplanes, high winds, or hunky Swedes, so I don’t think so, but other people do.

I watch some scary movies, crouched back in my seat, trying to muffle gasps and screams, but fully watching.  Other scary movies are peeked at through the fan of my hands or merely listened to from the floor of the car after I’ve slid down from my seat to hunker under the dashboard.  Just ask Melissa Crandall!  Ah, darlin’, we went to the drive-in, can’t remember the movie.  “It’s Alive?”  Or was it the remake of “The Thing” with Kurt Russell?  Good movie, but lots of parts I couldn’t watch.  I will never watch or even listen to the original “Exorcist” movie again – too disturbing on too many levels, scared the shit outta me!

The first “Alien” movie – awesome!  We walked out to the car laughing and chatting about our favorite parts…and checked every nook and cranny to make sure no “face-huggers” leaped out at us.  I turned on every light in the apartment and left them on, still couldn’t go to sleep.  The phone rang, yep, girlfriend was in the same state of delicious fear.

Now, I have never seen the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and don’t want to.  The trailer freaked me out.  One: Chainsaws – loud, dangerous, noisy, did I mention loud?  Two: deformed, masked, crazy mutant guy.  Three: Women portrayed as blonde bimbos just lying there screaming.  Add the very real childhood memory of having someone leap out of the dark to do god-knows-what to you and, yeah, you’ve hit some of my Fear buttons.

When we first moved to Tucson, AZ, Old Tucson Studios went all out for Halloween.  (My fav holiday, then Christmas, but the rest of ’em, eh.)  By that time, the sound-stage had burned down and the place was mostly an amusement park.  I’m not sure, but I think the last movie filmed there was “Geronimo.”  It was still a wonderful place to experience and the Halloween theme/party of “Nightfall” was a blast!

The three kids were teenagers by then and not used to the desert climate.  In October, it can be hot during the day, but when the sun goes down, it gets cold!  I was the only one with a  jacket because I’m always cold, and I shared it with our daughter – stylishly dressed in the teen girl uniform of short shorts and a tiny tee my mom (and husband!) would have called lingerie!  Our sons were a bit better off in jeans and T-shirts, gallantly doing their best to imitate their father – who seems to have stone skin – but they were rubbing at their arms.

We still had fun; only noticing the cold when we had to stand in line for a show or ride.  Then, one of those rotten, er, sweet kids saw the “Fun House.”

“Let’s go in there.  We’ll take our time and warm up.”

Okay, I could do the fun house; I hadn’t been in one since my own teen years, but sure, I’m game (Husband, wise man that he is, declined and waited outside).  I don’t mind the swaying, dipping floors or the spinning tunnel you have to walk through, and I don’t freak out about spiders and cobwebs.  The crazy mirrors are funny; I like the one that makes me look tall and skinny!  But.  I hate the dark inside buildings, hate flashing lights and creepy fingers brushing across my skin.  I was getting a little freaked.

Then we stepped out of the dark corridor into a wide-open, empty area that looked like the inside of a black canvas circus tent.  It was well-lit, too.  I stepped to the fore with a smile.  “Oh, looks like we’re at the exit.”  Indeed, we could see an open tent flap across the space.  Now, remember, I’ve never been in this kind of “fun” house, and the kids are behind me.  I can’t see the boys smirking and our girl rolling her eyes…

We got to the center of that space and…ROAARRR!!!  “Yarrrgghhh!!!”  From behind a curtain, a screaming masked mutant seven feet tall (Hey, I was scared!) and wielding a huge growling chainsaw leaped at us, at me!  I shrieked, reached behind me, and THREW the first child I grabbed at the monster.  Then, I ran.

The chainsaw was silenced, allowing a lot of very loud laughter to billow out of that tent.  I cowered behind my husband, only just realizing I had sacrificed my youngest son to save myself.  What kind of horrible mother does that?!  The three of them strolled out of that tent with the unmasked mutant, laughing their asses off.  The man clapped my husband on the shoulder, saying, “That is something I’ve never seen!  Sure wish someone coulda got a picture!”  He walked away while the kids gleefully revealed my terrible sin.  “She just tossed Jim to him!  Good thing there’s no chain on the saw!”  Oh. My. God.  I apologized profusely to my baby boy (who, at thirteen, stood almost as tall as his dad and was built like a football quarterback) and he laughed it off.  I was mortified, shaking, riding the guilt train for the rest of the night, and, hoping, oh dear god, hoping, this incident would NOT be a story repeated for years to come.

But, it is.  They all tell it and the listener always stares at me and says, “You did WHAT?!”  Sigh.  I can laugh it about now and share it, but, yep, there’s your proof — I’m sometimes brave and daring, but I didn’t just run from the monster – I gave him my beloved son to save my own ass!  Yep, so, sometimes, I’m a coward to the core.

Be Aware, Enter At Your Own Risk…

…Nope, that isn’t a typo in the title.  Writers want their readers to enter their worlds with awareness and be lost in what we’ve created.  Long ago, someone (I think it was my older sister) sneered at my stories and declared, “Fiction is lies.”  WHAT?  Non-fiction or fiction, real or imagined, stories and books are actually more truthful than our daily interactions with each other.  We all lie, all the time.  (If you insist you always tell the truth, well, I’ll think you’re lying!)  We need to feel safe among our peers and the truth is never safe.  The only way to safely tell the truth is to write it.

If you want to know my truth, if you want to know ME, you’ll find it in my writings.  I’ve tried to be a nice person, kind, courteous, polite.  Such manners have little to do with Truth.  I grew up in a family fraught with secrets and lies.  If I told the truth, I was slapped around for it, told to shut up, told I was lying.  I learned early on that while lies  – if uncovered – were met with disapproval, or, even better, ignored, telling the truth brought anger, hate and pain.  If I couldn’t lie my way to safety, I ran and hid.  Closets, under the cellar stairs, on the roof of the garage, in the top of the apple tree across the street, and, rarely, to a friend’s house.

After I graduated from high school and escaped, it became easier to tell the truth.  Among my friends, I didn’t need to lie.  If I fell back into it, they often knew it and would call me out.  Most enlightening of all to me was that out in the world, no one beat on me for telling the truth!  But still, something had been broken, a trust betrayed, and I’m still mending it every day.

That’s the reason for the title of this blog.  I promised myself I would tell the truth in my writings.  Essay, story, non-fiction and fiction – the words would be clean and pure, from the heart, my heart, that tattered, shattered pulse I’ve stitched together with the help of friends, husband and children.  No more hiding.  When you read my writings, you are seeing me – in every character, good and bad, there I am, exposed and naked and hoping you’ll like it.  But, first and foremost, a writer writes for herself.  If I can’t be honest with me in my writings, then I’ve let us all down.

So, be aware, dear reader, what I write isn’t always pleasant or funny, and is definitely NOT politically correct (Now there’s a HUGE lie if I ever heard one!).  You might love it, like it, be offended or angry, but at least I touched you in some way.  You’re in MY world now and I’m gonna play with every emotion, show you every facet of my universe, of me – because that’s a writer’s goal: To drag you in and make you LIVE here, and, hopefully, in the end, leave you screaming for MORE!

(There now, I think these intro/teaser blogs have helped me settle in.  Story time is coming soon!)

Testing, is this thing on?

I’ve been peeking in WordPress, browsing through blogs for awhile now.  Reconnecting with a couple of high school friends and reading Melissa Crandall’s excellent blogs helped me settle in to finally try my hand at it.

Why so hesitant?  Ah, humans.  We fear Change.  We fear losing control.  We fear looking stupid.  Pick one, pick anything, and you’ll find Fear.  But I love to write and enough friends have read my stuff to enable me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new – a blog.  If I had kept count of how many times someone said, “You should get published,” or “You should write a memoir,” I’d be rich.  Thanks to the Internet, I believe I’ll give it a shot.

This first blog is a test; I am nowhere near as formal (or sane!) as this.  I’ll learn as I go; maybe even figure out how to post pictures!  To some, blogs are like vanity press – we get to talk about ourselves and you can’t stop us.  To me, they are a wonderful way to reconnect, learn how others live, express thoughts and opinions, share stories – fact & fiction.  I’m throttling Fear in the cargo hold and am taking over the controls.  Shall we plunge in?  Like the lady said, “Fasten your seatbelts, boys.  We’re in for a bumpy ride!”