Family Recipe

The day before Thanksgiving I decided to use my Aunt and Uncle’s silver-plate for our holiday meal. I don’t know why, but I have never used the silver-plate though it’s been in my closet for years. I opened the box to see exactly what was inside. Once I opened the box it was obvious to me that the box was not originally made for silverware. I carefully removed the silverware. At the bottom of the box were several envelopes, a deteriorating rubber band holding them loosely together. Save for Rita, in my mother’s hand, is written in the center of the top envelope. I didn’t know what was inside them, but I didn’t open any of the envelopes that day since I had way too many things to do. I couldn’t be distracted.

Today I carefully eased the wooden box from the top shelf of the closet and set it on the floor. It is a beautiful box, really, made of maple, I believe, with a darkened patina of wear and oil. I admire its well-made, solid construction, with its’ close-fitting top and brass hinges. When I open the box, I see that the underside of the lid, lined  with fraying dark green silk, has seven rusty needles still threaded through the fabric. I guess it’s actually a sewing box? My mother was never a seamstress, so it’s not hers. I found the box in Mom’s apartment after she moved to the rest home. I glanced inside, saw the silverware, brought the box home, and stuck it in a closet. But now that I know it was never a box meant for silver, I wonder, where did it come from? My Mom’s mother, Grandma Loverta, was a quilt-maker, so perhaps it was hers, though I don’t recall ever seeing it at her house. But I wasn’t always the most observant kid, so maybe it was there and I just never noticed. Or maybe Mom just liked the box, bought it somewhere, and put the silverware inside after my aunt died. But it just doesn’t seem like something Mom would ever have purchased. She had no use for antiques. Why would she have kept this old box?

I take a breath. It’s been years since I looked inside. After Mom died, I couldn’t bring myself to go through all the stuff she had saved. Since I retired, I have spent time on dreary days looking and discovering. So here I am again, more than sixteen years after her death, with things my mother saved and purposely packaged up to keep. Inside is a series of envelopes, each one with that same message on the outside, Save for Rita. Mom always liked things contained. She always said: a place for everything and everything in its place. After Dad was gone, Mom said that one of the things she liked about being alone was living in an order that no one could mess up. Her dresses were hung in the closet separated by season, color, and sleeve length, her coins sorted into denomination in separate bowls. Her refrigerator was a neat grid of Tupperware, and even the remote control of the TV had its own little basket. I pick up the first envelope from the box, carefully tear open the flap, and spill the contents.

Out comes a rubber-banded set of yellowed index cards, recipes, written in a female hand that is definitely not my mother’s or my grandmother’s, the loops long and fluid. I fan through the cards – Butterscotch Pudding, Mince Pie, Kentucky Mud Cake, Blackberry Buckle, Jenny Lind Cake, and Oatmeal Pie. I can’t help but smile as I am looking at the recipes. Someone else liked to cook and bake as much as I do.

The desserts are a peculiar bunch, unrefined and very dated. I don’t think the recipes could have belonged to my mother, who seldom baked; and though she cooked for her family every day, she didn’t enjoy the task. Her mother, my grandmother Loverta, hated to cook and bake, so I doubt that they are hers. My mother’s oldest sister, my Aunt Loomis, baked every day. But I don’t think the recipes are hers either. The handwriting doesn’t match the writing on the recipes of hers that I have. Intrigued by the antiquated formality of one of the names, Conserve of Lavender, I pull the card out to read the recipe:

Gather petals from bloomed lavender.

Set aside. Put an equal amount of

sugar in a bowl and add only enough

water to moisten. Set in the sun

until the sugar dissolves, then

place over low heat. As soon as the

syrup boils, add the lavender.

Cook and stir gently for ten

minutes, then remove from heat.

Cool, and pack into jars.

Could this mean that my love for lavender is somehow genetic?

Mom kept these recipes for all these years. I guess that I am assuming that it was Mom, but I’m quite certain she never made any of them. If they weren’t Mom’s recipes, whose were they? And why did she keep them? Does that mean something? An artifact without context begs more questions than it answers.

So now I’m hungry for pie. Or at least the making of it, lemon meringue pie to be specific. It’s one of my family’s favorites, always the first one to disappear at family dinners. This Thanksgiving was no exception. In fact, I didn’t even get one bite of it, which is probably part of the reason I huger for it today. Containing butter, eggs, lemon juice and zest, preferably from Meyer lemons; the resulting lemon curd is tart and creamy. I spoon the custard filling into a tender and flaky baked unbleached-flour, butter, and touch-of-sea-salt crust in a ten-inch pie pan. Then, I whip egg whites with sugar, cream of tartar, and a cornstarch and water mixture until they look like cloudy pillows. Then I mound the meringue sky-high over the filling. Finally I delicately brown the concoction in a 350 degree oven until the meringue is kissed golden-brown. Each bite is satisfying with lemony richness and velvety meringue, a marriage of tart and sweet, simplicity and elegance. Making my favorite pie is time-consuming, but totally worth the time and effort.

I gather up my grandmother’s recipes and I stack the cards one by one. At the bottom of one, for Lemon Pudding Pie, is a note that reads, Should you ever be able to get any lemons, this pie is the very best! On the  bottom right corner of this note are tiny initials: GK. Stuck to the bottom of this recipe is a postcard. It is a class picture. My class in the year 1911, the year before I married Carl, is written the back, with the long and loopy handwriting that looks just like the writing on the recipes. GK must be Grace, my father’s mother, who died in January of 1921, ten days before my Dad’s eighth birthday. The box, which I am certain now was a sewing box, must have belonged to her. From my grandmother to me, I think. I smile, feeling a sense of rightness in that simple continuum. I run my finger over my grandmother’s writing and set the recipe and the postcard aside. I don’t know what is in the other envelopes. That will have to wait for another day.

Right now, it’s time to bake a pie.

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My Grandmother, Grace, with her class in Nashville, Ohio in 1911.

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Melancholy

Melancholy is defined as a pensive sadness. For me, melancholy begins in November, usually after the first Sunday. The first Sunday in November is the official end of Daylight Saving Time. After we turn our clocks back the darkness seems to move in so much earlier, and so swiftly. Six days ago, on the Sunday that DST ended, the woods and yards were abloom with fall colors. Our windy Wednesday this week stripped much of the foliage. I awoke yesterday to the season’s first snowflakes, followed by another dusting of snow this morning. And now it’s November dreary.

On the Celtic calendar, November is the first month of winter. I kind of like that, mostly because, along the same train of thought, February is the beginning of spring. And I do enjoy winter, but by late February or early March, if often seems that winter has far outstayed its’ welcome. 

Some of my melancholy is due to the end of the gardening season. It’s November, so the garden, of course, is officially finished. But until recently I was still picking dried pole beans to shell. The three-plus inches of rain in 30 hours last week finished them off. As I completed each task of cleaning off the garden, I remembered my enthusiasm when planting those first seeds, the hopes I had for another gardening season, and the excitement of trying something new; I always have to try something new. I also remembered the weeding and watering, the picking and shelling, the slicing, blanching and freezing, all the work.

As part of the final farewell to my gardens, I spent a portion of three days this week raking leaves. One might think of this as a chore, but for me it’s an opportunity to mulch my vegetable gardens, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, asparagus, and flower beds. So now in November my gardens are officially asleep, and the melancholy is here.

November also marks the unofficial beginning to the holiday season. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, which temporarily tempers the feeling. For one thing, it’s the only holiday where my whole family still gathers together. They all come here; I love the confusion, the craziness, the laughter, the rambunctiousness, all the food preparations. But it’s also a time that I remember all the people we have all loved who can no longer share this time with us. But Thanksgiving always ends too soon, and my melancholy returns.

 In the mornings here on Skinner Road, the neighborhood is gripped by the stillness that arrives just after the last of its residents have drifted off to work and school. I will enjoy that stillness on my morning walks. And I will make sure that I notice when rare sunlight streams through my living room window during the late afternoons, and how it slants through the trees during the short evening sunsets. I’m going to sit outside in all sorts of weather and listen to the whisper of the wind through the treetops, and the owls who hoot every night. I will remember the heat of summer days and the cacophony of sounds on summer evenings, mostly from all those bullfrogs around the pond. In a few months I will listen for the sounds of the first spring peepers, and wait anxiously for the ground to warm up and dry out enough to begin the planting season again. And when Spring arrives I will plant the seeds I always do, but I will try a couple of new things, too.And through all the days I will enjoy the complicated pleasure of Todd, as we continue to entertain, challenge, teach, amuse, work, question, and occasionally irritate one another.

November will pass, and my melancholy will, too. In the meantime, I’m going to keep listening to and observing the goings-on in my little corner of the world. Right now I am headed to my kitchen to bake some chocolate chip cookies. After that I am going to have a bowl of the chicken soup that has been simmering on the stove all afternoon. Chicken soup is good for colds and flu, and maybe melancholy too.IMG_8257 (2).JPG

 

 

 

A Ghost Story

Do you believe in ghosts? I have no idea how many people actually believe in ghosts, but nearly everyone I know has at least one story…the one about something that happened to him or her that cannot be explained by logic or reason. I have two such stories. This is the one that still gives me pause.

On the evening of September 21, 2011, I entertained some friends. For over thirty years several of my friends and I have gathered monthly at one of our homes for wine, dinner, and conversation. It was my turn to host on that warm, windy evening. A storm was predicted for overnight, to be followed by much cooler temperatures. I had opened all the windows on the main level of my house, taking full advantage of the late September breezes while the six of us shared stories and laughter over wine and dinner. One friend, Linda, left early, but the rest of us weren’t ready for the evening to end. Todd and our puppy, Yogi, were still outside somewhere in the gathering dusk.

While we sat there talking and eating dessert we suddenly heard someone walking on the roof over us. It sounded like someone had climbed onto the roof over the kitchen window and begun walking from there, continuing toward where we were sitting in the dining room. The noise stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Everyone was looking up, quizzically. Liz said, “What in the world is Todd doing on the roof? It’s getting dark, and it’s too windy for him to be up there.” The other three made almost identical comments.

Our house has an open plan. The living room is open to the dining room, which in turn is open to the kitchen. I hurried over to the kitchen window, in full view of everyone in the dining room, and looked out to the patio. The patio light was on, but no one was there. I walked back to the table, and before I could say a word, we heard something else. This time the front screen door in the living room, gently opened and quickly closed again. The latch was bad on the screen, so I assumed it was the door opening and closing in the wind. Then we heard someone walking on the roof above the stairs. Bobbie said, “That’s right there above your stairs. It sounded like someone walking up the stairs!” That was exactly what I had thought it sounded like. The sounds stopped again. I hurried to the front door, again in full view of everyone seated at the table, turned on the light, and looked outside. But again, I saw no one. I called Todd’s name, but got no response. However, it was windy, so I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t respond. I walked back to the table, thoroughly confused by this time. Everyone was talking and wondering aloud what in the world my crazy husband was doing on the roof. “Didn’t it sound like someone walking up the stairs?” Bobbie kept asking.

When I got back to the table, our pleasant conversation had been replaced with nervous chatter and quick glances upward and around. Then, right above our heads, over the dining room table, we all heard what we all thought was someone jumping on the roof: bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. The ceiling fan and light shook and swung quickly back and forth for a few seconds. Then the sounds and movements of the light ended as quickly as they had started. At that time I turned and glanced, through the window in the kitchen door, into the garage. There was Todd, standing in the garage, holding a box. He had a strange look on his face.

Everyone else looked out too, and saw him at the same time I did. I hurried to the door, opened it, and asked him if he had been on the roof. He shook his head no, looking confused, glancing down at the box he had been holding.

I turned to find all my friends gathering their purses and book bags. Becky wondered aloud who had been on my roof if it hadn’t been Todd. Liz urged me to get Todd to climb up there to find out who, or what, had been stomping around. She suggested that someone or some critter might have jumped from one of the pine trees growing on the western edge of our property onto the roof. When I explained that those trees were at least twenty feet from the house and roof, and that no small critter could have been so loud, no one had any response. Everyone hurriedly thanked me and proceeded to get the heck out of our house. No one offered any explanation as to what we had just heard, but everyone knew that whatever we’d heard was not Todd. Abandoned pieces of unfinished lemon meringue pie and half-full cups of tea and coffee that we’d been savoring only moments before were the only remnants of our monthly September dinner.

I went out after everyone left and walked around the house with a flashlight, shining it up, down, and all around the house, and saw nothing.

Todd said that he had heard nothing in the garage. And he was, shall I say, very skeptical about what I told him we had heard inside. I dropped the topic and asked him what he had been looking at in the garage. It was a box of mementos from his great-grandfather, David Piddock.

We had closed up his mother’s house over that summer of 2011 when she entered a nursing home. One of the boxes Todd brought home was the box he was examining that evening. It appeared to both of us that it had remained unopened for years.

The next day when I got home from school, over our afternoon coffee, Todd shared with me some of the things he’d discovered about his great-grandpa, David while looking through the box. One of the things he showed me was his great-grandfather’s obituary. In the obit we read that on September 21, 1943, David Piddock suffered a fall down the stairs of the home of his daughter, Mary Roberts, where he had been living. He died two days later.

Sixty-eight years after David Piddock fell down the stairs at his daughter’s house, Todd opened the box of mementos while my friends and I dined. Did opening that box somehow release David’s ghost?

I have asked my friends a few times about what we heard that night, but one of them always steers the conversation in another direction. Right after she suggested, again, that it might have been a squirrel or some other small animal up there, one of my friends told me that sometimes it’s better not to talk about things like that.

We all thought it sounded like someone walking on the roof. Everyone during those few moments made a comment about Todd being on the roof, and asking why he was up there. Seconds later, it sounded like someone opening the front door and walking up the stairs. Then it sounded, to me, like someone jumping right above us. Something certainly made the ceiling fan/light shake and move rapidly back and forth.

Could David Piddock have been reliving his fatal fall down the stairs? Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam….

A few times during the winter that followed this incident, Todd and I happened to be sitting downstairs in the family room when we heard what sounded like someone getting up off the bed in what used to be Drue’s bedroom. The mattress in that room has a bit of a squeak, or maybe more like a groan, when someone gets up from it. The first time Todd blamed it on our cat. The second time, and a couple of times after that, we heard the noise while Figero was perched on the back of the couch where we sat.

The following summer, one August summer afternoon, we were sitting in the family room watching a ball game when suddenly we both smelled the very distinct, pungent odor of pipe smoke. We looked around the house, saw nothing, and checked outside…still nothing. Later, Todd told me that his grandma Mary had told him that her father had always enjoyed his pipe. We’ve smelled that same smell a couple other times, but we’ve never found an explanation.

A couple of other times, during the night, my electronic keyboard has suddenly turned on and begun playing the song demos. The first time, Figero again got the blame. The second time it happened, Figero and I ran into each other coming out of separate bedrooms to see what was causing the ruckus.

And that is the end of my story. I know it wasn’t a scary one. Maybe it can’t even really be called a ghost story since no one ever saw a ghost. What did my friends and I hear on the roof that September evening? Why did we only hear it after Todd opened that box? I know, I know, again with all my questions.

As I said, Todd doesn’t believe in ghosts. I didn’t, and mostly I don’t. I always think there should be a logical explanation. But still, I wonder…

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Has anyone ever seen a UFO? Maybe I’ll write about that sometime.

 

 

A Fish Story

In the spring of 1984 Todd and I decided to dig a pond. Our bank was more than happy to lend us the $5000 we needed to do so. A guy we knew with a bulldozer did the job in a couple of days, resulting in a giant hole, measuring about 2/3 of an acre, in our backyard.

By early the next summer the pond was full. It was ready for fish. Todd, his buddy Rod, and our kids headed to the fish farm to buy bluegill and largemouth bass. The guy at the fish farm also recommended we buy some white Amurs, or grass carps, for weed control. The white Amur, native to the Amur River region in Asia, feed almost exclusively on aquatic plants. Their short digestive tract requires grass carp to feed almost continuously when water temperatures are above 68ºF, which means they can eat two to three times their body weight each day. This makes them an excellent biological control of certain nuisance aquatic plants. They were also sterile, so they could not reproduce.

So, in addition to our several dozen bass and bluegill fingerlings Todd bought four white Amurs. They were a little larger, maybe 6 inches long or so. When we poured the bucket of water containing the Amurs into the water, I noticed there were five. Todd said the fifth one was deformed; it had a crooked back and a deformed mouth, so the guy at the fish farm had thrown him in for free.

Over the past thirty-three years the bass and bluegills have thrived and multiplied. We have all sizes now. There are always thousands of teeny, tiny ones, hundreds of bluegills of various sizes, and many, many 2 and 3 pound bass.  And we still have Amurs.

One spring about fifteen years ago we had a big fish kill in the spring. We lost lots of bass and bluegill that year.  We also lost four of the Amurs. By then, the Amurs were large. They grow their entire life, so the ones that died weighed between 40 and 50 pounds. Only one Amur remained, the crooked back one. We bought a few more Amur that spring, They are all still alive, and really large now.

White Amurs are skittish. You don’t often see them in the swimming area. They usually remain out in the deeper section. But one can see them swimming near the surface, often two or three together. When they spot a human, they dive down into the water, making a splash that sounds like a adult human, because they are large animals.

The crooked back Amur was usually alone. But it was always easy to spot him. His crooked back was a dead giveaway. We always watched for him every spring, particularly after the other ones died. And every year he always returned. He never grew as big as the others. You could tell that he was considerably smaller. But seeing him was somehow comforting, if that makes any sense. I guess part of it is because that fish was here while my kids grew up, and then my grandchildren.

Last month we started seeing that Amur on the surface of the water much more often. We speculated that perhaps he was enjoying the sunny late September days, but we also suspected that he might be dying.  He was.

Three weeks ago we got up and saw him at the far edge of the pond near the woods.  Todd pulled him out, put him on a tarp, and we pulled it back to the woods.  We put him beside the stump of the Ash tree that we had had cut down  a few weeks before. We didn’t weigh him, but guesstimated that he weighed about 30 pounds, much smaller than he should have been, given his age. He had plenty of weeds to eat, but never thrived as all the others did, maybe because of his disfigurement. The life span of a white Amur averages between six and ten years. In ideal conditions some can live to be 20 or more. Our Amur lived to be 33, so I would say he had a pretty good run. Todd pointed out that other than he and I, that fish was the oldest animal on the property. Hmm….

Within 48 hours our white Amur had almost completely disappeared. Nature, in the form of  buzzards and other critters, claimed him. It might sound strange, but I shall miss him.

I tried to think of some kind of fish quote to end this blog, but nothing came to mind. So I decided the next best thing would be a quote from a character with a fish name. As one of my favorite fictional characters, Kilgore Trout, said, “And so it goes….”

 

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#MeToo

I was not raped. I got away from him. I was lucky. But I have not forgotten the boy or the details. This is my #MeToo story.

In the spring of 1971, I was a sophomore at BGSU in Ohio. I’ve always felt a little awkward in social situations. Talking quietly to a friend or two has always been far more pleasant for me than attending any sort of party. I did not drink or party or socialize much at all, particularly that year. I had a boyfriend “back home,” so I felt that any socialization would be somehow be construed as being unfaithful to him. I spent the majority of my time studying in the library, reading, and listening to music in my dorm room. Other than hanging with my trio of friends in the dorm, plus an occasional visit from an out-of-town friend or two, it was a lonely year for me.

My roommate dated lots of guys, and my other good friends, the two girls across the hall, both had steady boyfriends on campus. They often urged me to get out and about, but I always demurred. But one Saturday in May our dorm, Ashley Hall, scheduled a picnic/party with the residents of a dorm in the quadrangle a couple of hundred feet from Ashley, Darrow Hall. Back then, Ashley was a girls’ dorm and Darrow a boys’ dorm. It was a sunny, warm Saturday, and everyone from the floor was excited about the party. After a great deal of nagging from my friends, I decided to go to the picnic.

My friends and I walked to the city park. The weather was perfect. I remember Ashley Hall played Darrow Hall in a rousing softball game, the girls against the boys. Others were shooting baskets, playing tennis, and the rest were sitting on picnic tables or blankets spread everywhere, laughing, talking, and eating hot dogs and chips and drinking sodas. It was the most fun I’d had for awhile. While I was sitting on top of a picnic table watching one of the games early in the afternoon, a boy sat down on the table next to me. He introduced himself, and said he thought he recognized me. Wasn’t I in a class with him that quarter? I was. He said that he was an English Major. Wasn’t I an English Major too? I was.

W e sat on top of that table and talked as if we’d known each other for years. Very early in our conversation he told me that he had a girlfriend back home, said that he wanted to be clear that he wasn’t looking for a date. I happily told him that I wasn’t looking for a date either. I had a boyfriend back home, too. He bemoaned how tough it was to find girls to talk to, that everyone assumed that he wanted to ask them out, and then when he didn’t, they didn’t want to talk anymore. He wanted to remain faithful to his girlfriend. They planned to marry after graduation. I wanted to be faithful to my boyfriend too, so we bonded over that. Most people who weren’t English majors didn’t want to talk about books, or authors, or poets, but he was, and he did. We both liked the same music. He owned a new Cat Stevens’ album, which he promised to bring to class the next week; I could borrow it for a few days. He also made me laugh. I remember feeling that I hadn’t laughed much for awhile.

At one point in the middle of the afternoon, he leaned over and kissed me, which I certainly was not expecting. I quickly pulled away and asked him what he was doing. He immediately apologized, saying that it had been so long since he had just sat and talked with a girl, particularly a girl who shared his interests, that he had simply forgotten himself. I didn’t want to hear it, so I took off and found my friends. He left me alone at first, but a short time later, he approached me and apologized again… and kept apologizing. I was on guard, but finally started to relax. He was so sincere.

He asked me to sit with him for awhile, which I finally agreed to do. He apologized for the kiss several times, and repeatedly told me how nice it was just to be able to sit and talk to someone with whom he shared common interests. Late, late in the evening the party ended. There were only a dozen or so people left. It seemed that everyone who had brought a car had left, so we that were still at the park all headed back toward campus. I recognized the girls from seeing them in the halls of our dorm, but I didn’t know any of them. We all laughed and gabbed during the entire walk back, a couple miles or so.

Back then, BG had curfews in the dorms. Sunday through Thursday the curfew was midnight, but on Friday and Saturday the curfew was 2:00 a.m. After that, the outside doors were locked, and if you weren’t inside, you were in trouble. I had never been late before, never even come close to it. That Saturday evening, by the time we arrived all the way back across campus to our dorms it was around 1:45 or so. When we arrived back at the pond that was situated between our dorms the other girls and I turned left, toward Ashley. All the boys turned right, toward Darrow. We all yelled good night to each other. We had only progressed twenty feet or so when the boy I’d been sitting with yelled to me to hurry over and run up to his room with him so that I could borrow the new Cat Stevens’ album right then. When he told me to run up to the room with him I remember that all the boys laughed. Then he told me to ignore them, that it would only take a couple of minutes. The boy said something to the effect that I could listen to it the rest of weekend, and return it when our class meets again. I told him that I didn’t think there was enough time to go to his dorm and get the album and not be late. He assured me that he knew exactly where the album was, that he would grab it for me, and then I could get back to my dorm in plenty of time. Several of the girls told me to just go on and get it, that I had time.

So I walked to his dorm with him. By then the other guys had gone ahead. By the time we got to his dorm they had all gone inside. I think I remember hearing the sound of a couple of doors closing. He told me to just run up to his room with him; he’d get the album, and I could be on my way. I remember that he said, “Let’s race. Bet I’ll beat you.” So we raced up two flights of stairs.

Outside his room, he put his finger to his lips, and whispered that his roommate was likely asleep, or more than likely passed out. I nodded okay. Then he said that he wouldn’t be turning on the overhead light because he didn’t want to wake his roommate, so he would go in first, in the dark, and turn on a light above one of the desks. I nodded again. I stood in the hallway while he unlocked the door, walked past the closet, over to the desk on the right side of the room, and turned on the small reading light above the desk. He motioned me to come inside, touching his finger to lips, to remind me again, I guessed, to remain quiet. I walked inside and stood next to the desk with the reading light. Across the room, on the left side of the room, was the other desk. Along that wall were a closet, the desk, and two bunk beds. A record player with a stack of albums beside it sat on top of the desk.

Someone, his roommate I presumed, was sleeping in the top bunk. My new friend motioned me to cross over to the stereo, which I did. My back was turned to him. In the meantime, he quietly walked behind me to the door, then quickly closed and locked it. I turned, confused; he grabbed my wrist, whirled me around, and pushed me against the closet. He put his tongue in my mouth and started groping me. I tried to push him back, and said something to the effect of, “Let me out of here.” I don’t know why I didn’t scream immediately. I think the girl who always wanted to please people didn’t want to wake the roommate. And I was so shocked by his completely unexpected behavior.

But then he said, “You know why we came up here. You know you want it.”

I sure as hell didn’t want “it”, or anything like it.

Then while holding me with one arm, he dropped his pants with his other hand, and started fondling himself.

I told him I’d scream, at which time he quit fondling himself, clapped his hand over my mouth, and pushed me even harder against the closet.

He told me that I shouldn’t scream; that I’d wake his roommate.

At that point I started to whimper.

He took his hand off my mouth, but still held me against the closet. At that point I started begging, “Please let me go, please…”

He just kept saying, “You know why you came here. You know you want it.”

I continued to beg, “Please, please don’t do this. Please let me go.”

He began pulling me toward the lower bunk. I said, “But your roommate…”

Don’t scream,” he said. “You don’t want to wake him. He might want to join the party.”

Please, please no…. I don’t want to do this… I have a terrible headache…”

This will make you feel better.”

He started pulling me toward the bed. I kept resisting, but by then he was tugging on both my wrists.

Please, please, please don’t do this.” I was crying then. And then, because I couldn’t think of anything else, I said, “I can’t. I’m in my period.”

I don’t care,” he said.

By then he had pulled me awkwardly across the few feet of floor, his pants and underwear around his ankles. He let go of one of my wrists, reached back, and patted the bottom bunk.

When he did that, somehow I managed to jerk my other wrist away, and kick him somewhere in the area of his groin. He fell back onto the bed and let me go, shouting and cursing as he did.

I turned, rushed to the door, unlocked it, and ran for my life; down two flights of stairs, out the door, and toward Ashley.

Unfortunately, though I had kicked him, I had not kicked him hard enough. He had fallen, but he was not incapacitated. He had pulled up his pants, and was chasing me.

It’s probably a couple of hundred feet from Darrow to Ashley, and I ran as though my life depended on it. As far as I was concerned, it did. I screamed “help, help” as I ran.

I could hear him yelling and cursing behind me. I could tell he was getting closer.

Within thirty of so feet from Ashley, I could see a woman locking the door. I kept screaming, and fortunately she saw me. She unlocked the door just as I arrived, and I rushed in. She immediately locked it behind me seconds before the boy arrived, holding his pants up with one hand, and calling out obscenities to me as he arrived.

“Bitch, you fucking cunt!” he kept yelling.

The woman motioned him away as I collapsed onto the floor.

She sat down on the floor next to me and asked me what happened.

Sobbing, I told the story.

She put her arms around me, forced me to look her in the eyes, and told me she wouldn’t write me up for being late, but that she assumed I would never make that mistake again.

I went to my room. My roommate had not returned from her date, but my friends across the hall heard me crying, and came over. I told them the story. I couldn’t stop crying. Finally, the Resident Adviser from our floor came to see what the ruckus was about. I told her the story, too.

I wanted to report it, but my friends and the adviser told me not to. “What good would it do?” they all said.

Nothing really happened,” they said.

But he tried to rape me,” I said.

“You went to his room,” they said. “And it’s your word against his. He’ll just say you changed your mind. Just forget it,” they all said.

I wanted to call the police, at least the campus police. But again and again, all three of them told me that I shouldn’t.” No one will believe you,” they all said. “People saw you sitting with him, talking to him, laughing with him. Some of them probably saw him kiss you. They will just think you led him on, chickened out, and tried to blame him.”

But, if they saw him kiss me, they saw me walk away from him. And… he tried to rape me,” I kept telling them.

But, he didn’t rape you,” they said. “He didn’t even get you onto the bed.”

Finally the RA said she was tired and needed to go to sleep, that I should too. And I should just forget it. “They’ll just say that if he really wanted to rape you, he would have. You said a bunch of people heard you agree to go to his room. They all probably figured you were going to spend the night. Like I said, they’ll figure you chickened out, and want to get him in trouble. People will never believe you. Just forget about it, and move on.”

“No one will believe you…. Just forget about it……” 

He paid no attention to me in class the rest of that quarter, for which I was most grateful. But I did start asking some of the girls in that class questions about him. I learned that the “I have a girlfriend back home, and I want to be true to her,” was his ‘modus operandi’ to get in a girl’s good graces. I do not have any idea what his results were with any other girls. I didn’t ask questions for long. I had no idea what I was going to do if I found out more things about him. I kept busy, and quiet, until the quarter ended a few weeks later.

I still wonder if I should have reported what happened. Would anything have happened to him? What if I could have stopped his attack on someone else? Or would it just have been his word against mine?

My story is similar to thousands of other stories from thousands of other girls. I was not 15, like Dr. Ford. I was 19, legally an adult. But I was naive. I had had the same boyfriend for over four years by then. Before that boy became my boyfriend, I had exactly one date with one other boy. So I was not exactly experienced. As I said, I was naive.

I never even told that boyfriend this story. As I recall, I thought he would have said the same things the others did that night. He would have wondered how I could have misinterpreted the kiss and the ensuing laughter when the guy asked me to “run up to his room with him.” He would also have told me to “get over it.” We broke up a couple of months later.

I have not told many people this story over the years. The few times I have, people usually say something like, “Thank goodness you weren’t raped.” The fact that the boy had that as his intent and tried never seems to merit much mention, which I find curious. And they always ask why in the world I would agree to go to his room with him, even for a minute. There always seems to be a hint of chastisement for my behavior.

I know that the kiss was my warning. And I did walk away from him at the time. Obviously, I should not have even given him the time of day anymore after that. But I made the mistake of believing him after he said he was sorry so many times. He seemed so sincere and genuine. The lady that unlocked the door for me that long ago night was right. Any shining innocence I still possessed that day disappeared like smoke up a chimney that night. And I have never made a mistake like that again.

The only thing that is unique about this story is that it is mine. I wasn’t raped, but I was assaulted. I know that I was lucky. But I have not forgotten about it.

In the Garden with Mom

IMG_8144It’s September 15 and our yearly garden is winding down. I picked the last of the butternut squash earlier this week. The tomatoes are nearly finished; the few remaining ones have lost their bright summer taste. Onions, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, and late peas are hanging in there, but their summer bounties are history. Asparagus, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are distant summer memories. In the vegetable patch only the pole beans and the peppers of all varieties, shapes, colors, and sizes, continue to really thrive. In my flower gardens, the stately Zinnias are still exploding with color, but the Echinacea have dried up and lost their brilliant purple hue, much to the delight of the ravenous Yellow Finches, who scatter seed chaff everywhere in their mad quests for food. I diligently strive for clean, neat garden spaces, but, at this point, the weeds, and let’s not forget the bugs, are winning. Which brings me to the point of today’s post. When I garden I always think of my mother, so the end of the gardening season is more bittersweet. I guess it all begins with our mothers, doesn’t it? My mother died in 2002 at the age of 85. In her last few years she suffered from a form of dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s. Mom was a quiet, shy person. She never felt comfortable in social situations because she always feared she might say or do the wrong thing; though I never understood what she thought might happen if she did make a mistake. She was the opposite of my father, who struck up instant conversations with everyone he met. Mom was always embarrassed when Dad would begin talking to complete strangers when they were out and about. Dad was a born salesman; he had a generous gift of gab. A life-long Democrat, he was also very community-minded, holding positions on the hospital board and county school boards for years. By contrast, my mom stayed home, mostly contentedly I think. The only time in her life she ever held a job was for a few months when my Dad was in the service during World War II. Mom loved music, all kinds of music. I fondly recall singing and dancing with her in the family room while we played records, all kinds of records. She loved the Beatles, but her favorite songs were the standards: Ebb Tide, Moon River and Stardust.A few months ago, I found her 1934 yearbook, which I didn’t even know existed. It was only a few pages long, and it was mimeographed. Mimeograph, I’ll bet that is a word you haven’t heard for some time. The year was 1934, during the Depression. The paper book contained no photos, just short typed articles, and predictions for the future for all eleven seniors in her class. The prediction for my Mom was that in ten years she would be a famous singer; Mom had a beautiful soprano voice. The plan was that she and her best friend, Ruth Mary, would go to New York City after high school, work hard, and someday sing at Radio City Music Hall. Instead, Mom married in October, 1934, at the age of seventeen, four months after she graduated high school. Contained within this yearbook were the results of something called the Annual Holmes County Literary Contest. It was apparently open to county residents as well as any county high school student. There were poetry readings, dramatic monologues, and singing, both solo and in groups. My Mom’s quartet won the Killbuck High School competition in the spring of 1934. The four singers went on to win the town competition. After that, the group won the county quartet competition, which qualified them for state, though they did not place in that competition. The curious thing about that was that under the last statement, the one that said the quartet did not place, was this puzzle: Another girl replaced Mom in the state contest… with no explanation about the reason. And of course, I, as always with my questions, wonder why. Why didn’t my mother sing at the state competition? Was she ill that day? Did she have stage fright? Or was there some other reason? I wish she had shared this yearbook when she was alive, before she had dementia. I certainly would have asked her. Why did she never mention this competition? Was it too painful a memory? My Mom was a nurturer. My girlfriends all loved spending the night at my house. Mom made us pizza and popcorn in the evenings, and when we got up the next morning, she always made everyone a big breakfast, pancakes and bacon, or French toast and sausage, and in season, fresh-squeezed orange juice. My friends used to tease that my Mom spoiled me, which always made her smile. I wish I had known my mother when she was young. When my parents told stories of their youth, the girl and woman they talked about always seemed so unlike the mother I knew. She occasionally mentioned her dream of becoming a singer. But when I asked why she and Ruth Mary had not gone to New York City right after high school, that was the end of the discussion, and the stories. When Mom married Dad, in October of 1934, he was twenty-one and she was just seventeen. She wore a floor length navy blue velvet dress, which now graces my closet. The dress has a fitted bodice, the neckline trimmed in ivory lace. Mom was short, with an ample bosom and a twenty-one inch waistline. I’ve never been able to fit into that dress. Within two years doctors told Mom she would never be able to get pregnant. I have no idea how they determined this in the 1930’s, but that was what their doctor told them. To make my mother feel better, and to help her accept that they would never be sharing their lives with children, Dad decided to take Mom on a trip out west. Neither of them had ever been west. So they headed toward the southwest the winter of 1940. I have a small photo of them standing in front of the Alamo, one of them at the Grand Canyon, and another photo of them taken somewhere in California. Mom and Dad look quite dressed up in all the photos. They were traveling, so that meant looking your best. They drove for six weeks that winter, from mid-January through early March, and camped the entire time. It was the only way they could afford to travel. They always mentioned hearing the coyotes at night out west, particularly in Arizona and New Mexico. When they reminisced about that winter, it always seemed like they were talking about some other person, certainly not my mother. My mother certainly would never sleep outside under any circumstance. My Dad volunteered to join the army in late January, 1943, ten days before his 30th birthday. After basic training his assignment was the South Pacific. A year later, in April of 1944, he came back to attend the Officers’ Training School at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. My mother joined him. For the next few months she managed the cafeteria on the base. In late September of 1944 she headed back to Killbuck. Mom had only been home for a couple of weeks when she realized she was with child. She didn’t find out until after Dad left for Guam. My brother was born in June of 1945. Dad didn’t see him until after his discharge in April of 1946. I came along in 1951, after doctors told Mom that it was completely impossible for my mother ever to have another baby.   When I was nine or so, we were doing the dishes one evening and Mom was talking about that time in Maryland. She slipped and mentioned that she had come home a few weeks earlier than planned because of something that happened there, something that upset both. When I pressed her about what had happened, the conversation ended, and I finished the dishes alone. What was it? (I fancied myself as either a young Nancy Drew or a young Cherry Ames then, so my obsession for a time focused on figuring what exactly it was that caused my mother to leave early. I had as active an imagination then as I do today, so I plotted many scenarios in my head. Neither Mom nor Dad ever revealed what ‘it’ was.) Mom loved to garden, which is where I got my love of gardening. But when I was a kid, I most definitely did NOT love to garden. I didn’t mind planting seeds, but I detested pulling and hoeing weeds. It always seemed such a fruitless attempt; they always came back, and far too quickly. What a waste of time, I always thought. And my mother was a stickler for a neat garden. “If you’re going to have a garden, you need to take care of it” was her motto. I had no choice but to keep pulling those weeds. Mom always said that she felt like her Dad was watching her, guiding her, when she was in her garden. Her sisters had always opted for inside chores when they were given the choice, but Mom always preferred being outside. She always told me that her Dad was the person who taught her to love tending the land. I didn’t understand that at all. He died sixteen years before I was born, so his memory was not in my wheelhouse. She said that I try patience; that I might understand someday. I get it now.  Today I cleaned off the bush beans and the melon and squash vines, cut down the Hollyhocks, and pulled a few thousand more weeds… and I thought about Mom. I wish I had asked her more questions. And how I wish she had answered the ones I did ask. I wish I had known her better, but I’m so glad she was my Mom.  I miss you, Mom.

Girlfriends

When I was young and life was less complicated, my girlfriends were the center of my existence. Oh, the girls I called friends changed over the years, mostly because our interests changed. But we were all pretty similar. We were all sheltered white children living in a very small town in Ohio in the 50’s and 60’s; most of our Moms stayed home while our Dads worked.

When the requisite boys peaked our interest in Junior High, my girlfriends and I depended on each other to listen to what happened, or didn’t, at the dance. In High School, my girlfriends and I spent hours on the band bus talking about a myriad of things. But the things we talked about mostly consisted of what we were going to do after high school, how many kids we wanted to have, Vietnam, of course, and boys.

It was in high school that I first realized that there were girls who were less interested than I in having girlfriends. I remember one telling me that she would like to hang around with us, become part of our close-knit little group. But within weeks, or maybe days, she got a new boyfriend and we were history. That’s when I realized that for some girls, girlfriends were only a poor substitute until a guy came along.

Likely because of my sheltered small town childhood, I thought girlfriends had to be mostly the same, circular pegs fitting into circular holes. It wasn’t until I went to college that I figured out that there are friendships between people who are quite different, and who might fill in the unoccupied spaces in each other’s characters. Sometimes the square peg can fit into the round hole, or at least comfortably adjacent to it. As I have moved through life, I have realized that some were friends of proximity. I made friends with women in my local La Leche League group when I was a young mother. Later, when I went back to work, I became friends with some women employed at the same school as I. When the proximity faded some of the friendships did too. And now, after retirement, I have formed some new bonds of friendship. And these friends still love rock-and-roll as much as I do. 

Friendships ebb and flow in our lives. As we get older, we weed out our friendship circles they way we weed our gardens. But the friendships that have stuck with me are the ones in which one area overlapped with another. We trust our friends to tell us what we need to know, to shield us from what we don’t need to find out, and to have the wisdom to know the difference. Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings, and to realize that sometimes being nice is more important than being honest. Instead of a therapist, if we’re lucky we have a few true friends. By this stage of life, if we’ve been fortunate, we’ve found friends who “stuck”. We have listened, counseled, cried with them in their moments of crisis. And they do the same for us, unquestioningly. Girlfriends, particularly ones we’ve had for a long time, not only love us; they know us.