Category Archives: Memoir

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Photo by Candace McDaniel

My oldest daughter, Carly, entered kindergarten with seriously advanced reading skills. She was working her way through the Little House on the Prairie series. In school, she was being taught the letters of the alphabet, numbers, counting, and colors. They did have a gifted program, but not for kindergarteners. I fought hard to have her spend part of her day in a first-grade classroom. I was considered a difficult parent.

We lived outside of Trenton, New Jersey, and I began exploring private schools. In nearby Princeton there were schools that catered to advanced students and actively sought them out. I found one that had the resources and experience to work with students like Carly. They offered us a substantial scholarship, and my parents offered to pay most of the rest of her tuition, and that was where she spent the next three years of her education, until we moved to Arizona.

Many of the people who live in the Princeton area are quite wealthy. We are not. It was as though we lived in different worlds.

Parents at the school sometimes threw events at their homes for the parents and/or children in their kids’ classes. You could film an episode of The Crown in their homes. Generations of ancestors looked down on you from the oil portraits on the walls. Birthday parties were elaborate extravaganzas: carnivals, candy hunts, craft parties.

One time I was invited to an “informal reception” in connection with a fundraising drive. Silly me—I saw the word informal and thought it meant casual.

That’s not what informal means in Princeton. At least, not in the late 1980s.

I sewed myself a skirt out of a Hawaiian floral print. I was so happy with the way it turned out. It was bright and colorful—magenta and yellow and green. I paired it with a shocking pink shell and a turquoise over-shirt.

I took three steps into the reception and realized I’d made a horrible mistake.

Everyone was dressed in black, or in black-and-white.

In Princeton, informal is a short step down from formal. So, not ballgowns and tuxedos, but definitely not casual.

And there I was, sticking out like the proverbial neon sore thumb.

I thought about leaving. I thought about bursting into tears. But instead I took a deep breath, smiled, stood up straight, and tried to fit in as best as I could. No one said an unkind word to me. Nobody mentioned my homemade skirt.

For today’s post, I selected an online blogging prompt: Write about a time you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion. This was the first incident that came to mind.

Now it’s your turn. Did you ever show up to an event either over- or under-dressed? Share in the comments below.

Memories of Childhood

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I have a clock that produces bird songs on the hour, and the bird for 7:00 is the robin. I just love that song. It sends me home to my childhood in New Jersey. (The clock also devours batteries, so it’s often silent for months at a time until I feel like feeding it.)

Next to robins and my brother, the thing I miss most about New Jersey is the ocean. We lived about six miles from the Atlantic, and I rarely saw it until I was in seventh grade and was old enough to walk or take the bus to the beach.

When I was very little, we would go to a park with a little beach on the river, and we would swim there. I have a memory of my dad swimming with me on his back while I held on with my arms around his neck. There was a little pier people fished off of (I had a bamboo pole, but I hardly ever caught anything), and sometimes we’d jump into to the water from there.

There was slimy seaweed in the river, and also horseshoe crabs, with a rigid tail which we kids called “stingers.” They creeped me out, and I lived in fear of stepping on one. It was said that if you stepped on a “stinger,” it would go right through your foot.

Photo by Chosovi; used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

We lived around the corner from the public elementary school. (I attended the Catholic school five miles away.) The campus property was part of a former farm. There was a pond there called The Cow Pond because supposedly one of the farmer’s cows drowned in it. During the winter, when it froze, we’d ice skate there. One summer I found a plank of wood and thought it would make a good raft, so I threw it in the pond and hopped on.

It did not make a good raft. I went home in wet clothes and had to explain to my mother why I would do something so stupid as jump onto a piece of wood in the pond.

There was a small wooded area on the school property that we called “the woods.” I spent many hours of my childhood in there. A huge tree stood in the middle of it with thick branches that we all loved to climb. Eventually the woods were cut down and a primary school was built there. I mourned the loss of my climbing tree.

The elementary school had an incredibly smooth sidewalk at the front of the building. That was my favorite place to roller skate. This was in the old days, when you attached your skates to the bottom of your shoes and tightened them into place with a skate key.

Photo by Black Market; used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

It’s funny how listening to the video of the robin brought all these little scenes back to mind. At the time, I thought my town and my life were boring; but now my childhood seems magical.

My First Job

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My parents were immigrants from Germany. My mother’s sister married an American G.I. after World War II, and she and her husband sponsored my parents’ entry into the United States. I was conceived in Germany but born in the United States.

After my parents became American citizens, they sponsored my mother’s cousin’s family to come over from Germany. I knew her as Aunt Lizi and her husband as Onkel Willi. Their three children were Volkmar, Claus, and Gudrun. My dad helped Onkel Willi (a professional baker) get a job in the bakery where he worked. The family lived with us for a short time. I don’t remember that because I was so young, but Claus told me years later he remembered watching Hopalong Cassidy on television with me.

My mother and Aunt Lizi had many fallings out. Some years they wouldn’t even speak. But then they’d forgive each other and start visiting each other again. I have memories of fun times together at their house or ours.

greta-punch-62508Toward the end of junior year in high school, I wanted a real job to save money for college, something other than babysitting (although I continued to babysit through college). My dad talked to Uncle Willi, who now owned a bakery two towns away. He hired me to work in his store. I wore a white uniform and waited on customers. I sliced bread, filled jelly donuts and eclairs, and eventually frosted and decorated cakes.

My school let out early enough that, even with taking the bus to the bakery, I got there before the nearby Catholic high school released for the day. Many of the students (some of whom had been my classmates in elementary school) stopped in to buy a brownie or a giant cookie before they returned home—the after-school rush. (I enjoyed a certain status by working at a place that was popular with teenagers.) I also worked on the weekends. Sunday morning was another busy time, with parishioners buying crumb buns, cinnamon raisin buns, and hard rolls for breakfast after Mass.ramiro-mendes-371663One of Onkel Willi’s little quirks was that he left the drawer of the cash register open when he closed the store for the night. He wanted to be sure that if a burglar broke in, he wouldn’t destroy the cash register trying to get into it. (Cash registers were expensive.) He left about forty dollars in the machine, reasoning that any less, and the burglar might vandalize the store. He figured forty dollars was the threshold at which the burglar would just take the money and leave. (We’re talking 1969. Forty bucks was a fair chunk of change in those days.)

I worked at the bakery until I left for college. When I came home the first summer, I found a new job at a local dry cleaner, because I wanted a position won completely on my own merits, without my dad’s help.

But I always remember with fondness my very first job at the bakery, where the fragrances of vanilla, butter, yeast, and cinnamon greeted me as I passed through the portal.

Now it’s your turn. What was your first job? Was it a good experience? Share in the comments below.

This article first appeared on Doing Life Together.

Creative Juice #197

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Creative Juice #197

ABC: Art. Beauty. Creativity.

Creative Juice #195

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Creative Juice #195

Lots of beauty this week.

D is for Dachshund

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My Father’s Day present to my husband in 2011 was a dachshund, something he had been begging me for. He and my daughter Erin went to an adoption event at a pet store. He selected a rescued dachshund who had been found in the state forest.

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We don’t really know her back story. The rescue outfit called her Precious. She was about five years old. Greg renamed her Rudi, the same name as the dog his father had owned.

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Rudi’s eyes eventually grew cloudy due to a buildup of cholesterol in her corneas. She lost a lot of her vision. She sometimes scratched her eyes, and had to wear the cone of shame joy.

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She loved to go for walks and would pull you along for the ride.

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She liked to be outside and sit in the sun.

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She was a good companion.

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As she aged, she slowed down. One day, about two years ago, she had several seizures. We took her to the vet right before closing time. The vet ran some tests and kept her overnight. The next morning, she was dead. The vet thinks she had a brain tumor.

It’s hard losing your dear friend, your furry baby. We only had her for seven years. For months, I said “No more dogs.”

But Greg wanted to try again. Before Christmas, we searched the pound for another dachshund. But most of the dogs were pit bulls. Then Greg noticed a little chihuahua trembling in a corner. He needed us.

That’s a whole other story.

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Review of Crazy Brave: A Memoir, by Joy Harjo

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Review of Crazy Brave: A Memoir, by Joy Harjo

 

 

Joy Harjo is the current poet laureate of the United States, the first Native American to hold that position. I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about her.

Harjo is almost the same age as me, which made me like her immediately. However, our life experiences couldn’t be more different.

Harjo starts her memoir with the story of her parents and ends with her young adulthood. Her writing style is musical—even her prose is poetic. The poems included in the book reflect her native culture, which is woven throughout.

As a child, Joy was a good student, an artist who loved poetry, photography, and music.

Harjo’s parents divorced, and her mother married an older white man who physically and emotionally abused her and Joy and Joy’s sister and brothers.

Her stepfather wanted Joy gone, so he suggested sending her to a fundamentalist Christian school. Joy asked instead to be sent to an Indian boarding school, so she would have classmates who looked like her. The family applied through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and she was sent to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She studied art and theater in addition to her academic subjects. When she graduated from the high school program, she was pregnant. The baby’s father promised to send her money to join him, but he didn’t.crazy brave

Joy borrowed bus money from her brother to travel to her baby daddy’s home. They married, but the marriage didn’t last.

With tribal assistance, Harjo entered the University of New Mexico in a premed program. After one semester, she changed her major to studio art. She met a student who wrote poetry. Joy had always loved poetry; she had loved to recite it as a child. She thought poetry had to be in English. This young man wrote poetry about his tribe and his pueblo and his people and their ideals. He changed the way Harjo thought about poetry. She fell in love with the student, and he beat her. She bore him a daughter and named her Rainy Dawn. He was an alcoholic, and she eventually left him. The book ends shortly thereafter, with Harjo pursuing poetry.

This is an excellent book for a white person to read, especially one whose experience with Native Americans is as non-existent as mine. It’s eye-opening.

Creative Juice #166

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Creative Juice #166

Neat stuff found online.

Creative Juice #137

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Creative Juice #137

Inspiration for your creative soul:

Creative Juice #122

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Creative Juice #122

4, 6, and 7 are especially beneficial for the new year.

  1. I’ve read a bunch of these memoirs and found a few to add to my TBR pile.
  2. Natural fashion.
  3. For all the writers. Especially the freelancers. Do you deserve a reward today?
  4. How to be a good father.
  5. I love The Frugal Crafter! Here’s an upcycling project she recently posted. I love the video as well as the instructions.
  6. Ways to put failures and setbacks into perspective. (Warning: the F-word is used liberally in this article.)
  7. Using the Da Vinci Schedule to increase your productivity and prevent burnout.
  8. I think my next quilt project for myself should be a red-and-white Christmas quilt. Some of these done up in Christmas fabrics would work very nicely.
  9. I’d love to see the tools this artist used to cut this lacy octopus.
  10. Why art matters.
  11. I find this sculpture particularly moving.
  12. Your creativity requires structure.