Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'll get this out of the way first

If I'm going to talk about my family in a book that is read anyone who comes upon it, it will agitate some of my relatives. They will disagree with things. They will not like my own point of view made public. I'll clear things up right away and stress that this is a book of stories, not facts. Chronology, science and majority opinion may run counter to the things I tell, but I am only passing on stories. As in any history, the true facts may never be known. I have invited others to make comments and add recollections. I may or may not use them. True or not, it depends on whether or not they create better stories.

The stories I wish to tell are those that were told more than once. Such stories take on a rehearsed tone and seem to be simply waiting for a cue. Often the story is more fun to tell than to hear.

My mother told me several times about the time she came upon a surprising scene in the bedroom that my infant sister and I were sharing in New Hartford. I was playing on the floor and my sister was in the crib. My sister had reached out and had pulled out all of my hair. There was hair all over the floor. I had very blonde and very fine hair. It grew in rather slowly and, when I was close to one, my father labeled a sled box I rode in "Cathy Express" so that people would know I was a girl. So my folks were probably concerned that all that hard earned hair was gone. (picture of Cathy express)
This story may have stretched over the years, or I have misremembered it, because 1) I have no pictures of me being bald after two and 2) I was a real crybaby and mother would have heard me yelling. This is an example of a favorite family stories - how true or accurate it is will always be debatable. I also have come to distrust the stories of our family, mine own included. But I will do my best to be faithful in recording the lies I am fond of remembering so that they may be passed down through the family line.
(picture of me combing patty's hair) This is the first family picture of my sister. She wasn't born at this size. Like many second children, her babyhood was taken for granted. That table with a chair in the middle was fabulous and it was used 8 years later by my brother. For a short time, it prevented my sister and I from killing each other. But I digress.

Another favorite story of my mother's was when she asked a neighborhood child "Where did you put your turtle?" and the child said "I gave it to Patty". That got my mother busy looking for Patty. She knew that Patty put everything in her mouth. When she found Patty, sure enough, the little tiny turtle legs were sticking out of her mouth.

While Patty was still under four, Mom took her to the Child Guidance Clinic, where they explored why she did things like kick Sunday school teachers, bite other children, and eat turtles.
After a few initial sessions of Mom telling them that her sister Cathy would never do such things, they decided that Cathy was the child they were supposed to be seeing. So they took me to the Child Guidance Clinic. I can remember play therapy where I built bridges with blocks and played with toy people. I've been told that they were anatomically correct people, but I have no memory of that. My father often said, with sadness, that in the good old days before I was five, I was "so well behaved". I guess they cured me. I guess that is more a story about me than about Patty.

Patty tells a story about her difficulties learning to read. She had a great deal of difficulty in primary school.* She says that in grade 3 she could understand whole paragraphs, but her decoding skills were non-existent. Evidently she was a context clues kind of kid, on whom phonics were useless. She says that something "popped" in her head and suddenly she could read. She still loves to read, but her spelling is a source of great amusement for others.

When I was eight and my brother was born, Patty and I once again shared a bedroom. Patty was considered a messier housekeeper than me. My toys lasted years, hers lasted moments. One night I dreamed that we had worked hard with our parents to clean our bedroom. By the end of the dream, the room was neat as a pin. Then I woke up. There was the room in its usual messy state. I tend to get my dreams mixed up with reality, so I could only assume that Patty had gotten up and messed the room up again and gone back to sleep. So I went over to her bed and started beating her up before she had woken up. Patty had a hard childhood and I don't think getting beat up before breakfast was any help.

Patty would have had a different, easier life if it weren't for her sister getting others to gang up on her every chance she got. Once I overheard her telling a bully in the park "I'm going to get my sister and she'll beat you up." and I stepped out from behind a corner and said "I will not". My sister says she got her only black eye from that kid. The nastiest thing I did was when we moved to a new place, I would tell the new kids all the bad nicknames ("witchie", "cooties") she had from where we lived before.

One thing my parents will deny was that they used the expression "son of a bitch" and other words often enough for it to become part of our regular vocabulary. One year, our rural school got a first year teacher who taught grades 6, 7, and 8 and who served as principal as well. At first he was really easy going. He had read Summerhill. He listened to Joan Baez. He drove a VW beetle. He was great friends with our parents. He took my mother and I to see Andre Segovia. But as the year went on he got much more rigid with his students.** One day he announced that students using foul language would have their mouths washed out with soap .. liquid green soap. The first student caught cussing was my sister, who said "damn" having no idea that it was bad language. Mr. Montgomery was quite distressed at having to punish the child of his friends and, to provide an out, asked her to spell "dam" in hopes that she'd provide the homonym. That might have worked but "somebody" called out "Oh Mr. Montgomery. You know Patty can't spell anything." Later, my parents said "we never use that sort of language". Well, they didn't after that.

* Unlike her sister who brought home so many A's that she was thrilled when she got a C in handwriting - hoping in vain that her parents might fuss as they did over Patty. Instead I was greatly disappointed when Dad said "I, too, had bad handwriting when I was your age."

** Once he caught me slapping a student and I had to write "I will not create a disturbance without asking the teacher's permission." 5000 times. That's when I learned that if a teacher is going to make students write sentences they should at least contain something worth remembering. Like: "A fraction is in its simplest form when the greatest common factor of the numerator and the denominator is one."


MissDaisyAnne---Annette said...

Thank you for sharing.
It was relaxing to me to listen to the music, read your story, and smile and laugh!

cathy b. said...

You sure know how to relax, Annette. I'll be posting first drafts. If you ever have editorial comments to help with second and further drafts, I'd love to hear them. Coming from a reader like you, your comments will be especially welcome. Thanks!!

btw if my writing is dull, there's always Tom Lehrer now on my "radio". I've got to learn the song "Polution" to sing to my students in the fall.