31 August 2011

Therapy Comes to the 'Hood, #2 in a series

Some of the recent hip-hop artists probably already have therapists. But!--none so insightful as me.

Tonight in men's group, we'll talk about the feelings men sometimes have for other men. 
Who wants to start?

How would you feel about writing her a letter, but not sending it?

I think it's just great that you are so caught up in dance. Do you have any other hobbies, Li'l? I'm sorry--you prefer Wayne.

Let's explore something together. When you say that you are "brothers," what does that mean to each of you?

29 August 2011

Takes a Village, #3

Of all the children who have come into and out of my life, Mariah is the hardest to write about. Oh, Mariah herself is a wonderful child. She was much easier to parent than a lot of children would have been given the circumstances. What makes it hard to write about her hinges on how she came to live with us.

When I was little, I was practically raised with a boy named Drew. His family and my family went on every vacation together. We all crowded into one car each Christmas to go shopping at Lazarus department store. We spent our weekends together in family activities. Drew and I were like brother and sister, or at least first cousins. He was the brightest, funniest, most charming boy: everyone loved him.

We were also each other’s sexual “first.” Our parents were a little late in realizing we were too old to sleep in the same room. Drew and I were always just friends, but with the most comfortable closeness I ever knew in my childhood. We had “casual sex” before it became the national pastime.

Once we grew up, Drew and I had little contact. Our lives were far flung, in lifestyle and geographically. While I was a graduate student, Drew was a laborer. That kind of far flung.

Drew had a little girl with a woman he was later divorced from. The mother was in prison for drugs and Drew had full custody of their daughter. I had a little boy with my partner. Drew and I saw each other’s children only once, when we were all back home for Christmas. The kids were toddlers: my son, Asa, and Drew’s daughter, Mariah.

A few years went by. One day I got a call from my father. He had shocking news. Numbing, nauseating news:

Drew had been charged with child molestation and pandering underage porn. He’d had sex with Mariah’s 14 year old babysitter, and he’d filmed it.

I can still feel the shock and the grief. You know how, when you hear something like that about a stranger, you think that scum, that sub-human, a monster like that deserves to die. Well, let me tell you:  it is a different feeling when you love the person involved. It is waves of confusion and complexity. Denial is the only refuge.

And there was Mariah, 6 years old. She stayed with her grandma, and then an aunt, and then a second cousin. When Drew’s trial was over, I asked if they’d send her to me. I wanted to make sure she heard good stories about her daddy. I figured I had more of those stories than anyone. Drew figured I did, too, and signed the paperwork.

Drew was sentenced to 24 years. I’m not sure what “hard time” means exactly, but that sounds like it to me. While Mariah lived here in Maine, we would fly  to Ohio to visit Drew in prison. I don’t know if I can capture the tension of those visits. We were there for 6 hours. Come in at 9; go through a degrading search; no one out ‘til 3. An open room with fixed tables and chairs. A hundred people with disheartening stories sitting in that stark, gleaming room all day. Mothers trying to keep their children from running around. One of the dozens of rules: Inmates are not allowed to touch visitors in any way... so, no hugging when you see them. Try explaining that to his daughter. You stand feet apart and say, “Hello!” and “I’m so glad to see you!” and he says, “Thanks for coming. Thanks for bringing her,” and starts to cry.

I just realized—that
little thang is wearing
MY jacket!
Mariah was with us in Maine for two years. She had been held back a grade the year she shuffled from relative to relative, but she thrived in a new atmosphere. We didn’t do anything special. I remember thinking, gah, it takes so little to keep a child feeling stable and happy and safe--how come it’s so often not done?

At the end of the second school year here, at age 10, Mariah decided to go back to family and be closer to Daddy. I’m ashamed to admit that I felt released from a heavy burden. 

It is hard to raise another person’s child. I don’t mean if you’ve adopted; but when they have a fall-back position, things get sticky. For the child, someone else should be in charge. Not you, who have made an unfavorable decision. And poor Mariah--she desperately wanted Daddy to come back so she could just live with him again. I heard "Daddy would never do that," so many times that I was afraid I'd respond. 

But in the end, we made it through and at the very least, Mariah was away from the small town back home long enough for people not to think of what Drew had done every time they saw her.

Mariah called me after she had been back home a while and said, “Mama, thank you so much for teaching me manners. None of the kids here have any!” I tell that story a lot.

he was such a little guy :(


passed away 29 Aug 2011

We really loved him.

26 August 2011

More Amusing Myself

I was thinking that I'd get a cat and name it Marco. Then I could walk around the neighborhood calling Mar-co!

25 August 2011

Therapy Comes to the Prairie, #1 in a series

I was thinking, what if you could go back to the late 1800s, on the prairie, and introduce modern  counseling and therapy techniques. . . .

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can affect anyone of any age. To counter these feelings in the winter, try taking brisk walks or pursuing a winter sport like snowshoeing or skiing.

Well, I think, Mr. Thorsteinbladenhoffen, that it's important to ask your wife how she feels about having another child.

While spending time alone can be good, watch out for isolation. If you find yourself isolating, get together with some friends who have your same interests, such as cooking, sewing--even washing clothes. Or, you could start a book group!

Next I'd like us to try some "trust falls." I'll explain these in a moment, but first we need to bring the circle in . . . .

Yes, Mr. Gustaffson, I think anyone can change. So long as you really, really want to.

24 August 2011

The Cone of Uncertainty

Weather forecasters are saying Hurricane Irene could hit us clear up here in Maine. However, they don't want to make firm predictions yet because of the "cone of uncertainty."

I'm going to use that a lot!

I can't tell you which way we go next because of the "cone of uncertainty."

Not sure if I can help you move Saturday because of, you know, the "cone of uncertainty."

And:  Sorry, Asa, due to the "cone of uncertainty," I just don't know if you can have a 3rd Mt. Dew.

23 August 2011

The Real Nicknames of Guernsey County, #2

I wrote that post about Funny Clouse the Christmas Window Painter, and realize now that The Real Nicknames of Guernsey County don't all warrant their own post. So here are some nicknames that I recall, with just short explanations--all I know about them.

Not the real Tick-Tock, but that's
how Tick-Tock looked at us.

Let's start with Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock was in his 20s or 30s when I was in grade school. He had some neurological problem, I realize now, that made him swing his upper body and head side-to-side, like a metronome, in rhythm with his walk. He was like a pendulum in a clock, swinging upside down; hence, Tick-Tock.

We used to taunt Tick-Tock as he tick-tocked his way through town, all of us yelling tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The faster he walked, the faster he tick-tocked.

Not the real gas station, but pretty close.
 There were two sisters who lived in a defunct gas station that was situated on a hairpin curve on the road leading out of town. I don't know how it is that the gas station was never taken out by some drunk going too fast around that turn. It wasn't for a lack of drunks.

The gas station is still there to this day, all grown over, but no one lives in it anymore. The Guernsey County Sheriff cracked down some on squatting since then. Whole families used to live in abandoned stores and Post Offices--all kinds of places. You still see it there sometimes.

Not the real Minnie Pearl,
but that's how Minnie Pearl
looked at us.
Now, these two sisters sold beer, illegally, out of the gas station. If you were in the know, you stopped there and bought it. My mom was in the know. I forget what one sister's name was (dammit), but the other one was called Hard-Nip. Because you could see her nipples sticking straight out through her shirt. They had a ratty little mutt that I just loved. Its name was Minnie Pearl.

Okay, one more pair of nicknames:  my mom's and dad's. For some god-knows-why reason, my mother, whose real name was Mary Belle, got called Gunk by her 11 siblings. I tried to find out why from a couple older aunts on that side. All they could tell me was that their brother, my Uncle Donald, had given it to her. But he wouldn't tell me why; he always just grinned and laughed when I asked him. Then, Uncle Donald up and disappeared one winter. We think he might have caused a car accident and tried to escape, and had climbed down into Will's Creek in the snow and ice to get away, and maybe froze to death or had a heart attack or something. Never did find his body. My mom was real sad for a long time.

Now my dad, whose name is simply Bob, gets called Tice by nearly everyone in town, including me and my mom. The story goes that he dated a girl named Bernice in high school, and his friends started teasing him by calling him Neecy. Then for a while they called him Deecy, then Dice, and then Tice. For some reason it stopped right there and now at 80, he's still Tice to most. I considered naming Asa that, I like the name so much.

16 August 2011

To Amuse Myself

No connection to haiku.
Just one of my favorite things.
I can see myself being buried with this.

Today I will write
ev'ry email in haiku
Annoying, I bet

14 August 2011

13 August 2011

Vintage Horsehide (!) Jacket: eBay Candidate?

I'll be the first to admit: 
I may be aging out of leather.

12 August 2011

Hard to Know What to Do

"Foothills of the Appalachians"--where I'm from.

"Underground mining used to be the lifeblood of the region. It is being replaced by strip-mining, which often entails 'mountaintop removal'--literally blasting the tops off some of the oldest mountains in the world."   
  ~ Jedediah Purdy, WVa native, author, environmentalist

My grandfather looked like this, coming home every night.
He died of Black Lung. My aunt said he was
 lying on the couch and it was like his lung exploded.
I don't know what really happened but that's how she told it.

"That's the only jobs in the area. Factories everywhere is shutting down. What could they put here that would come remotely close to being what coal and the industry of coal is to the people of West Virginia?"   
Linda Dials, wife of 3rd 
        generation coal miner

11 August 2011

The Real Nicknames of Guernsey County, #1

Not the real Funny Clouse artwork.
I couldn't find any as alarming as his; although the
cyclops look on Prancer there kind of hints at it.

Funny Clouse was an old man with white hair and a red, bulbous nose.  He didn't talk--maybe not at all--so I don't know why everybody called him Funny. Actually, everybody called him Funny Clouse. I never heard the names said separately.

Every December, Funny Clouse would come around to the "Byesville Merchants" on 2nd Street and paint Christmas pictures on the windows of the storefronts and bars. He wasn't a very good painter, though. The reindeer were particularly difficult to recognize. The merchants tried to dissuade him from painting anything with a person face because it could turn out pretty scary. No creche scenes.

Even though Funny Clouse wasn't very good at painting, he got hired by everybody in town every Christmas. I asked my dad why once and he said it was because that was the only money Funny Clouse earned all year.

I have to say, I kind of like these. Funny Clouse's reindeer didn't look like this, though.

10 August 2011

How they do grow up!

Asa at Airport Security, age 5

OMG, shirts can catch on fire!
TSA Agent: Do you have anything flammable?

Asa:  Well... shirts....

[They took that as a 'no.']

Asa at Airport Security, age 9

Asa and Unnamed Accomplice
TSA Agent:  Do you have any firearms or flammable items?

Asa [sarcastically]:  Oh sure, we have guns.

[I'm surprised they didn't investigate us more thoroughly. They seemed satisfied with listening to me explain that airports weren't the place for sarcasm.]

07 August 2011

Early Lessons, #2

Mrs. Sharpe's house was like this.

My 5th grade teacher at Byesville Elementary was Mrs. Winnie Mae Sharpe. She was the wife of the mayor, O.J. Sharpe. They lived in the biggest house in town, a large (palatial to us) colonial with green grass in the yard and a garage that was used for putting cars into. This was different from other houses in Byesville.

Whereas our houses were more or less like this.

Mrs. Sharpe was formidable for reasons beyond those trappings, though. She was considered the meanest teacher you could have at Byesville Elementary. (Personally, I favored my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Thorla, in that spot and not just because of the name--Thorla vs. Sharp would be a hard one to call. No, I was going on first-hand evidence from when Mrs. Thorla shut my hand in the classroom door, on purpose.)

Mrs. Sharpe traditionally assigned seats at the beginning of the school year. You were to sit in one of five rows, lettered A, B, C, D, and . . . F. Hm. Mrs. Sharpe explained that the very best pupils in the class would be in the front seat of each row. If you were at the front of A row, then you helped all the A students who sat behind you. And so on. Down to F row. Being in 5th grade already, we caught on almost immediately. Mrs. Sharpe was very careful to explain that the "front-row person" (that was the official title, we were soon to gather) of the F row deserved our respect because it was very hard to help all the F students.

At this point you probably think I am making this up. I am not. This was 5th grade in Byesville, Ohio, in the 1970s. And it's not like these kids weren't already carrying around emotional and intellectual baggage. On top of the fact that they probably didn't have enough to eat. Or warm enough clothes. Or eyeglasses if they needed them.

To the point where American education had progressed in Appalachia by then, no one questioned the schools about anything. Teachers were the only college-educated members of our community. Usually they were clueless first-year teachers who beat it out of there after a year's experience. But there were also a few lifers like Mrs. Sharpe, who became "pillars of the community." What with being all that and the mayor's wife, Mrs. Sharpe could have eaten a kid for breakfast and no one would say 'Boo.'

Dunce by Shadowland-Dreamer
So no one did say, 'Boo.' This was the classroom arrangement for our whole 5th-grade year, and for years before and after. As a front-row person myself, I was delighted and proud and queasy and ashamed. Christ, I was only in 5th grade. If I can't forget that experience, I wonder how many of Mrs. Sharpe's students can't forget their own version of it. The only thing an adult perspective has added to my understanding is that I don't think Mrs. Sharpe was an evil person. I don't think she wanted to hurt kids, really. At least not as badly as she did. But that kind of thinking doesn't mitigate; it just complicates. There's really nothing redeeming to say about it. It's just a melancholy story from the past, in Appalachia.

02 August 2011

Takes a Village, #2

Zolboo and the Mama.
We're on our way to his basketball banquet.
Guess what. I was an exchange student. I was in high school and I went to live in Mexico. It was stressful and lonely, and at times frightening, but I've always been really glad I did it. So when this woman named "Bunny," whom I'd met in the grocery store (making eye contact again), asked if we could host an exchange student, I said Sure!

I asked if it mattered that we were a gay couple with no teenagers, only a 3-year-old boy. Nope, said Bunny. This is America. They're coming here to learn about it. They have to deal with where they end up. (I love Bunny.)

And that's how Ganzolboo "Zolboo" Galbadrakh of Mongolia came to Maine to stay with us. He was 17 and from the capital city of Ulaan Bataar. To become an exchange student, applicants must pass a test to show that they're proficient in English. When Zolboo arrived at Portland International Jetport, I asked (cleverly), How was your trip? And he said, Yes...?

Zolboo was about as miserable as I was as an exchange student. I think he liked living with us, and loved Asa, always reading to him and holding him up high to make basketball shots. But his beginner's English held him back in making friends at school and he wasn't much of a self-starter when it came to exploring the city or finding other ways to meet teens.

Zolboo brought home one friend, another exchange student named Ruslan. He was from Tajikistan. That guy was dangerous and nuts. He got drunk at a party, which embarrassed Zolboo to death but he had to bring him home with him--Ruslan was staying the night. I gave Ruslan a small room of his own. He threw up all over the white duvet cover and it went through to the comforter. We had to throw it all away.

Other than that lapse in judgment, Zolboo was a great guy to have in the family! He calls sometimes. His English is much improved. He lives in Washington D.C. and has some big job with an international corporation there. He is so grown up.