Month: November 2019

The big red truck

Dad’s eyes were as bright as the big red International Harvester he pulled into our hard packed dirt driveway.  A new truck.  My brothers and I scrambled to be lifted into its seat, perched well above our eyesight.  Is that the day red became my favorite color?   The sun seemed to shine a little brighter as it rolled into our lives.   I wonder if mom was as surprised as we were.  This was a huge chunk of a hard earned self employed budget, but that didn’t mean it had been discussed.  It was the late 50’s and my father made all decisions about how money was spent.                                                    

     We were a rural family of five brought up on thrift and hard physical labor that barely kept the bills paid.  This extravagant red giant became the heart of our existence, pumping the income that sustained us through the veins of opportunities for its use.  The primary cargo that filled the truck bed was the pulp wood my father spent most of his days cutting.  Well before I left the warmth of my covers he would be off on his tractor, returning late in the day pulling a wooden trailer filled with the wood his chainsaw had felled and then reduced to stackable chunks.  When there was enough wood to fill the truck dad climbed behind the enormous steering wheel and took control of the twenty ton load destined to the paper mill a few hours away.  Each piece of wood was cut, loaded, unloaded, reloaded, and unloaded again by the muscles of his sturdy 5’7” frame. 

            The lore of lumbermen that clear cut acres of trees for fast profit, ruining the landscape and ecology of an entire area, was not part of dad’s story.  His discerning eye selected which trees to cut, knowing this land could provide for his family for generations to come if handled with care.  The tall straight cherry and oak were allowed to grow for decades until ready to be harvested for use in furniture or cabinet making.   The less valued trees, good for firewood or pallet production, were still culled with a plan for the future.  He knew the woods.  They were his home and his livelihood.  He treated them with the respect required to allow them to both provide and flourish; a relationship maybe more nurturing than those he had with the people in his life.  Despite Mother Nature’s rule over the sun and rain and wind, dad still controlled the decisions that brought saw tooth to bark and filled the trailer.   The control of a growing family, empowered with words and actions to resist the sharp edges of his demands and anger, was a different story.

       Other opportunities requiring the capacity of his truck and strength of his body seemed to always be waiting.   He loaded the bright red beast of burden with a variety of items to supplement the flow of cash, including:  stacks of 70 pound wheels of local cheese, ten gallon metal cans of milk from neighbors’ herds and crates of produce headed to the regional farmers market.  Between loads the truck rested in the unpainted oversized garage he had built to protect it.  My brothers and I rode in the truck occasionally, sometimes rising before the sun to accompany dad on an early morning run. I’ don’t recall ever seeing mom by his side there. Most days he navigated the routes of his work in solitude. The big red truck was my father’s domain, as much as the kitchen was my mothers. 

            Dad worked under his own direction for most of his life.  When his body began to struggle against the long days and heavy work he moved to a job at the local saw mill building pallets.  The big truck was replaced with a small red pick-up.  But its cargo of memories, constructed across a long partnership through work and worries, would be carried down the road for many miles ahead.

A home in the woods

            Our small house rested in a clearing surrounded by 37 acres of tall stretching woods, bisected only by the narrow country road that led to the rest of the world.  A push reel mower trimmed the small yard of more weeds than grass that buffered the house on three sides.  Grandma’s trailer, the garden and dad’s sawmill claimed a larger cleared area on the other.  The woods provided the livelihood that delivered warmth and shelter to our family of five.  I did not venture into those woods alone beyond solid sight of the house.  Courage only crept a few yards deeper with my brothers by my side.  Unknowns lurking in the leafy shade and scrambled underbrush kept my feet poised for flight.  Vague and threatening images barred all paths of further exploration.

            The labor on the land provided for meals of meat and potatoes with sides of corn and green beans – fresh in the summer and by way of  Ball canning jars in winter.  A saucer piled high with store bought white bread next to a stick of oleo was mandatory at each meal, along with a container of cottage cheese – my father’s favorite.  Each day mom packed sandwiches of bologna and cheese striped with bright yellow mustard, along with an apple and homemade oatmeal cookies, into a domed black metal lunch pail.   Dad loaded his lunch along with a mason jar of well water and a battered metal thermos of sweetened coffee onto his tractor as he prepared for his daily commute along rough cut trails deep into the woods.  Although my brothers rode with him regularly I don’t ever recall accompanying him into the depths.

Quote

“Beginnings are usually scary and endings are usually sad, but it’s everything in between that makes it all worth living. “

Bob Marley

And so it begins

              If you believe in destiny then mine began the moment I arrived in the backseat of my dad’s new Plymouth, racing to the local Doctor’s home office.  My mother and grandmother were in the back seat attending to a baby that refused to wait.  Upon seeing my quiet body and gray pallor the doctor gravely announced I had not survived.  I had not entered the world with the usual series of squalls, but my mother insisted that I had cried, just once.  The story goes that he swept me away and rubbed my tiny body so vigorously with alcohol that it seemed my skin would come off.  Then I cried again and began to turn the rosy hue of determination.   

            The hesitancy to express my presence that marked those first few moments would be my companion for many years after.  As a young child I rarely made eye contact with anyone outside my immediate family.  I can still feel the solid strength of my mother’s leg as stood clinging to it when we visited more distant relatives.  Recalling my resistance to speaking unless I was required to, returns the knot to my chest that makes it harder to breathe.  I wailed only when I was rubbed so hard the words and emotions I took such care to contain, burst loose.    Finding balance between restraint and release would elude my voice for decades ahead.

Nothing Special

            “What do you have to write about???”  A question I had asked myself over and over; one with enough weight to drag my growing need to write about my life below the surface.  And that was before the words slid past another’s lips in response to my casual revelation that I was writing a memoir. 

            I am a middle aged white woman from a family with two parents and one older and one younger brother.  We were poor but not poverty stricken.  Both parents worked hard as physical laborers to ensure we were never without shelter, food or appropriate clothing.  We even vacationed in tents and make shift campers many a summer weekend.  I have never faced the challenge of a major illness or disability.  When I look at my life from the outside it feels simple and beige.  Nothing special. 

            I first started writing about my thoughts and feelings with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way by my side, a book I almost didn’t buy (I’m no artist!).  But it had been highly recommended and I was looking for an outlet to discharge the growing frustration that seemed to be diming the illusions I had about what my life was supposed to look like.  Maybe writing was the answer.  So I started.  I feel a need to emphasize that I did not just read the book – I worked the book, every exercise and every instruction.  I wrote my morning pages each day – three pages of whatever flowed out my pen.  I made my way through each week’s readings, quotes and activities.  It did not take long before the colors hiding behind the beige façade started to seep through, as if a thousand tiny holes had been pierced with the points of my words.  I used those colors to paint the picture of my life with black and white and every hue in between.

            The writing continued across the years; mining thoughts, emotions and reactions; digging into the next layer as one became exhausted.  I began, slowly, to realize I was special after all.   That my specialness was simply the unique way every person and experience touched and changed my life – the exact same thing that makes each of us special.  The story I share is not about things that set me apart from the rest you. It is about the emotions we share, the commonalities within the day to day details that send us in directions that we either choose (directly or inadvertently) or have little or no control over.  We are each something special.  I hope sharing my story with the discoveries that have emerged from my particular heap of humanness will add new shades of color to your brush as you explore the landscapes of your life.

Just a note:   All thoughts shared here are based on the truth as remembered and processed in my one little brain!  That of course does not eliminate the possibility of different views of the same events observed through different eyes.  That is why it is my story.  I welcome your input and would love to hear other views and observations!

Not All Bears Are Created Equal

Some appear cuddly and entice you to play.<br/> Some bare their teeth and scare you away.<br/> Some follow you silently waiting to prey. <br/> Some offer safety in their own secret way. <br/>

My intense fear of bears lurking in the woods has followed me through my childhood, into my nights, and even into this very moment. But I am forging my path into those woods, one tree at a time, through explorative writing. The words that flow from my thoughts through my pen set the course, often in unexpected directions. I invite you to join me on this journey through the stories of a life. A life filled with the challenges we all face as we discover our unique trail through the shadows in the woods.

Quote and reflection

“What lies behind us and lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I loved this quote the minute I heard it, many long years ago. I wanted to find what was waiting for me within, a place I had seldom been aware of much less explored. There was so much going on ‘out there’. I was working so hard on making my way towards all that was before me: my future career, future home, future relationship that would lead to the family I imagined – so different from the one I had grown up in. That one was now part of what was behind me. The isolation, the fear of making my father mad, the sense of being controlled well beyond what I observed with my friends. Maybe it was this quote that led me to the exploration that followed, and ultimately to begin writing a memoir – and to this blog!