Creating Family

When I was teaching and working with at-risk students, I taught them things like interview skills, how to iron, how to set a table, etc.  We also talked about finding mentors for ourselves.  I shared with them examples of people that I had looked up to and ways I had set a plan for who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life.  “Find someone, or someones, that you respect, emulate them, copy the parts of them you want and disregard the rest.”

My Grandma Patten was a huge influence on me.  Many of her coping skills have become mine: reading, sewing, working outside, baking … Her love and devotion to her grandchildren, I have exceeded at, only because they all live closer to me and I have more freedom and the finances, to travel and have additional experiences with them. Many of these are obvious traits that were developed because of my loving relationship with her.

There was a woman in town, who was a second cousin of my Dad’s.  Valdean was tall and classy.  She was a member of the sorority in NewTown, she and her husband were considered wealthy (they lived in one of the largest houses in town, which would seem normal, by today’s standards) and she was a great hostess.  We, as the poorer side of the family, the country mice as it were, were invited for a few occasions.  I remember a couple of parties and dinners.  I, very carefully, watched what she did and how she handled herself.  I appreciated that when I would talk to her, she appeared to listen, and I think she was curious about how I would turn out.  My love of hostessing was developed because of the confidence I had, from practice and from remembering Valdean and her confidence.  I knew what I wanted my home to look like and the feeling people should have when they walked in.  I was unable to mimic tall, and only on my good days, do I pull off classy.  🙂

It would be unfair and untrue if I didn’t consider the effect of my mom, on me.  We would have very early jazz band practices, and I hated and still do dislike getting up early in the morning.  Mom would make it a treat for me, by getting up and making hot chocolate, before waking me and enticing me up the stairs, for my ride to town.  It was Mom who argued fervently, as I listened through the door, with Dad about why I should be able to be in band.  The saxophone they bought me was expensive enough to be considered an investment.  It was Mom, who stood by the school bus, as I got on to travel to a band trip, who apologized to me because I had cashed in my savings bonds to be able to go.  She took me to 4-H and participated as a leader.  I wouldn’t have learned how to make hospital corners, when making the bed, or  the practice at making kettles of homemade chocolate pudding.  (My Family loved it.)  She loved her kids the best she could, it was apparent she tried and succeeded in getting us to adulthood, before relinquishing us to life.  Mom taught me many things about how to do the best you can, and about surviving.

We watched the “Waltons”, if you don’t remember it, you are missing out. The Waltons were a family that was imperfect: John Boy was condescending, Mary Ellen was a straight up bitch sometimes, the grandparents interfered, the mother was overwhelmed…but they loved each other and protected each other. They were my fantasy family.  I distinctly remembering laying on the floor of our living room, in the semi-darkness, with my family watching the weekly drama unfold.  I’m not sure what the attraction was, or why I thought their family was any more normal or attractive than ours, but they were my ideal.

I was pregnant with my third child when his Dad said he thought we should be done having children.  I was 26 years old and had a tubal ligation.  I wan’t happy about it, I had always wanted a larger family, a Walton’s family.  Life works out; I had a round-a-bout way of forming my family.  It’s not everything I imagined, it’s more.  There has been more sadness, more laughter, more arguments, more fun and definitely more marriages!  Lol.  As of today, (it could change at any moment) I have three children I gave birth two, two I didn’t and a step-daughter from my second marriage, all of whom  I love very much; My step-daughter has three children and I have 6 more grandchildren.  Every single adult child is happy, healthy and in love. I hold my breath……..  Grateful…..

Goodnight John Boy, Goodnight Mama, Goodnight Shanna………

Peace..

 

Not My Family…

Ok, I have to set the record straight right off the bat; I was not adopted.  I wanted to be, sometimes could not believe that my family was really mine!  We had a family member who was adopted and I think I saw how special he was to everyone and wanted to get my parents to admit to my adoption. “Hey, I’m special too!”

I received my name from my parents, because when Mom was about ready to deliver me, she and Dad had gone to one of those beach movies.  Do you remember them?  Everyone was happy and dancing around in those one piece swimsuits that came down mid-thigh..  There were surfboards everywhere and perfect waves, in the water and in their hair?  Luanna Patton was one of the actresses, so I became Luanna.

When I was little I told my classmates the story and they teased me and asked me if John Wayne was my father…I wished!, but in fairness I had told them that the end of a rainbow had ended up in our basement, where I found a pot of gold….so maybe my imagination was a little active..

I remember telling my Mom that I wanted to see my birth certificate, so she could prove to me that they were my parents.  She was not happy.  I found the numbers and opened the safe myself.  I was so excited that I was finally going to know the truth!  I snuck into their room, opened the closet door and hunched down.  Three to the right for the first number…two to the left for the second number and one back to the right for the last number, I heard the satisfying click and opened the door.  I opened one of the little drawers and there they were..  I sorted through, found mine and waalaa!  Shoot!  I think I was not saying shit then, or the f word, because I definitely would have said something stronger than shoot.  My dreams were dashed. My parents were my parents…  At least my mother was my mother.

When I became older, and thought I understood sex, I started hoping that she had an affair with someone from the mail route.  Mom regularly took mail down to Mandaree, which was the deeper part of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Indian reservation.  If I went with and saw her visit with a customer, I would wonder, “Is that him, is that my real father?”  I, of course, only considered the good looking ones as serious contenders.  My thoughts were refueled when I read about Lewis and Clark talking about the Hidatsa women’s pot bellies.  Now I at least had proof that I was Hidatsa.  That was about the time I asked my grandma, if there was a chance that there had been an indiscretion in the family, and she glowered….( I have a good friend that I discussed this with that said it was more likely our diet, from poverty, not nearly as cool of a reason.)

Our families, are our families..  I have no fantasy about different parentage now.  The more I talk and listen, I have found there are no perfect families.  Mistakes are made, hopefully are forgiven, and we do the best with what and who we have.

“I yam, who I yam,” said Popeye.   You are who you are!

Peace…..

New Years Resolutions? Every Year Resolution!

I remember the morning I rolled my car.  I was headed in to town for just a short day at school; we were picking up our report cards or something.  I was driving down the road listening to and singing along with:

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die…”

After the morning at school, my sister Lisa and I jumped in my car and started for home.  It was a few minutes later, when my good friend and his buddy came up along side of us and grinned.  I was fourteen and had my license for only a few months. (I was a farm girl and of course the paperwork for me to take my test for my driver’s license was signed off quickly.  The oldest child in the family needed to be driving; the folks were so relieved to have someone to drive kids the four miles to town, so they wouldn’t be on the roads constantly.)  I remember putting my foot down on the gas pedal and speeding up; he sped up too and quickly pulled in front of me.  I remember seeing the speed limit side on the right and thought I was going to hit it, so I over corrected and went across the opposite lane, into the ditch and rolled over on the grassy side hill.

We weren’t wearing seat belts and our eyes were wide, when we landed upside down.  I asked Lisa if she was Ok, and she said she was, but I could see there was some blood on her toe.  Construction workers from the apartments along the road, came down to check on us.  I don’t remember much more about that; I’m sure some sort of shock was going on; I think there was an ambulance, and I know there was trouble.  When we made it to the clinic, I made the phone call and Mom answered.  “Mom, I rolled the car.”  Her first question was if we were both ok.  I answered that we were and she came in to pick us up.

Well, long story short, I was grounded for the summer and then actually there was another accident and I was grounded for the next winter.  Mom and Dad didn’t quite get the driving break they thought they were going to get.  😦  Dad had a buddy who had told me that my Dad had a similar “incident”, I reminded Dad of that and he made some comment about me not needing to be as stupid as he had been.

The best part of that summer is that while Dad decided it was his chance to fence off every side of six quarters of land (160 acres at a time) and have me help him, Mom made us great lunches.  Finally I’m getting to my life resolution.  🙂

I guess we grew up fairly poor.  I didn’t even really realize it until I was in high school.  A friend said to me that I shouldn’t buy something, because I really couldn’t afford it.  I wore lots of hand-me-down clothes and clothes that Grandma had made for me; I got a job when I was 14, cleaning motel rooms, and paid for most of my own things, but with all of that, I never thought of our family as poor.  I mentioned it to Dad one time and he said, “You weren’t poor, I only had one pair of jeans for all week, that was poor.”  I guess it’s all in the perspective lol…

Mom was careful with money; when it was pow wow time on the reservation, or close to a holiday, she would be approached on the mail route, and asked if she wanted to buy any commodities.  She would get a box or so of groceries, pretty cheaply, lots of canned vegetables and if we were really lucky, commodity cheese.  It was a large block of yellow American cheese and was delicious.  I ate more cheese sandwiches with homemade rhubarb sauce than I could ever count.  It’s one of my favorites to this day.  We also had a lot of cake with homemade fudge frosting.  Cake mixes were cheap and it seemed we always had one in the cupboard.  Fruit and sandwich meat was always in the fridge, but it was for the men, who worked.  Well the summer I rolled my car, I got to have “man” lunches and it almost made the fencing worth while.  Everyday when I opened up the lunch bag, there was a summer sausage or ham sandwich and at least one piece of fruit, many times two.  It was the only time we were allowed to eat fresh fruit, anything purchased by the lug was made into sauce, although there were fruit pies; peach is still my favorite.

I’m not sure if it was our diet, or genetics, but us kids all struggled with our weight at different times.  I am blessed with a large frame, hands bigger than a field hands, and shoulders, that even when the blades have stuck out, still make a men’s large shirt fit my shoulders and arms the best.  Exercising and learning to eat differently has been my life’s resolution.  A few years ago, I was told I’m pre-diabetic, destined to be truly diabetic.  I got tears in my eyes, when the pharmacist told me that most pre-diabetics become diabetics, even with work and diet, it seems unsurmountable.  I keep trying though…more vegetables….. more exercise.  I started at a gym last week, with a program designed for me.  I did it ahead of the New Year! Ha!  Trying to beat Father Time…

Poverty, eating habits, genetics?  It’s like everything else; we can’t change some things; we can only move forward and do the best we can.  I’m headed out the door; I have some lunges and weights waiting for me….

Peace….

 

 

 

Enjoy Today!!

If you are Christian, you are making dinner, or in the car headed to someone’s house, or church, or you are getting ready to relax and watch a game or read a book.  Hopefully if you are Jewish or Muslim, or Buddhist, or another culture or religion, you are enjoying the day in your way.  The bottom line is enjoy your day! Count your blessings! Praise your God!

I have been in the habit of saying how grateful I am for the blessings I have been given.  I got to thinking about it one day and decided that I am grateful.  I don’t think God intends to bless me more than a homeless person.  There are other things at play; there must be, but I am grateful.  I don’t have what Bill Gates has, or Mark Zuckerberg, but I am grateful!  I am grateful for my health and the health of my family, I am grateful I am alive and I am grateful that there are people I know who respect and care about me.  I am grateful our children pay taxes and love each other.

Thanksgiving is typically the time we give thanks, but we can  and should be grateful every day.

Many of you may be having a tough day, and my gratefulness is nauseating.  My empathy is yours.  It will get better.  Life gets better, and then it gets worse, but it does get better again.  You know me; you read me; life always gets better.

Hopeful you find your joy today.

Peace……

When You See One, There Are Always More….

My Mom and Dad moved back on to the family farm, when I was about four.  Dad had worked in the oilfield, but he wanted to farm.  Grandpa Pat was ready to slow down, and then died.  We moved into the old farm house.  It was a sea foam green two story house, that originally only had an outhouse.  Grandpa and Grandma had taken a porch and made it into a small den, bathroom and enlarged the kitchen area.  It sat on a dirt basement, with a coal burning stove that heated the house, sometimes.  In the coldest days of the winter months, we would all sleep in the living room, with a blanket blocking off the kitchen-half of the house, the door shut to the upstairs, and the furnace full of coal, trying to heat that little bit of house we were sleeping in.  We didn’t mind much; we were warm, and it was “camping out” to us kids.

The only thing we had to worry about on those nights, is that the mice wanted to be warm too.  They would come up from the basement, and risk life-or-death, by running around.  They especially liked to surprise you in the bathroom.  I would be sitting on the toilet, and a mouse, or two would come out and look at me.  We both had our jobs to do-me finishing my toileting and them trying to survive.

Dad would periodically catch a bull snake and release him into the basement, to try and control the population, but never seemed to make much difference.  It only made going down to get canned goods more interesting, as I was terrified, the mouse would survive and I would not.

Dad later gave the house away to the mover, who sold or gave it to someone in the White Earth Valley.  Dad told me in later years they used it for their animals.  We built a new house, whose only infiltrators were salamanders, or a calf or lamb, who were brought in by the humans.

I was lucky enough to have repeat performances of mouse escapades, when I lived in a 12×60 trailer house in an oil camp, in 1978-1982.  I was visiting with my mother-in- law on the phone, when I saw the tinfoil move, that was covering the roast beef on the counter.  I looked again in time to see a mouse pull a piece of beef off the plate, slide it across a bit of counter and take it down behind the stove.  There were times I would be laying in bed nursing my oldest son, and a mouse would come out from his hiding and look up at me, with no fear in his eyes.  We were outnumbered.

When we sold that trailer house, very soon after that, I pictured it going down the road to Billings, Montana; the mice waving goodbye as they began their new adventure.

An interesting insight into my life on the farm?  I have tried to give you a few of them, so you know who I am; based on my experiences you can see when we are similar.  So you can believe me, when I tell you I understand where many of you have been.

I was watching TV one morning, working on a Soduko puzzle.  I’m trying to keep my brain more toned than my body.  The announcement came on that Charlie Rose had been suspended.  I set my puzzle down and tried to take it in; I’m obviously not one of those people oblivious to abuse; I’ve had my share of it, in several different versions, but Charlie Rose…  I didn’t see that coming.  Many of the broadcasters have made the point of saying, how do we balance our feelings for someone we care about, who has done something so wrong.  I don’t care if it’s the Senator from Michigan, or Alabama, or our favorite morning news commentator,  the President, or family member.  It hurts when someone we respect, betrays trust.

How do we balance our feelings?  By lashing out at others?  The women in this case, and there have been men in other cases as well, are like mice…They for whatever reason, have held on for five, or ten, or 40 years.  Their lives were changed, but they survived by doing what they had to do.  Victims are like mice, stories of abuse are like mice…if there is one, there is more.

The stories in the news have been mostly sexual abuse of power, but my analogy can be any form of abuse.  I have thoughts and prayers in my heart right now for people who are physically, emotionally, and verbally abused as well.  Verbal and emotional abuse leave no outward physical scars, but the damage is so difficult to overcome.  Please don’t become so comfortable with it, because of your family, or culture that you don’t pay attention to the mice.

With all of my heart, I wish you..

Peace….

 

 

I Could Teach Classes in Prison, and Start a Book Group.

Sometimes raising kids is challenging.  No one really trains us how to raise our children; of course there was Dr. Spock, and then someone else and then someone else who disagreed with them.  In the 70’s we didn’t swaddle our babies, much to our mother-in-laws chagrin, and now my grandson is swaddled!  Who knew?!  We learned from our parents, who did the best they could based on their parents.  It was either good, or bad or somewhere in between.  We all do our best and hopefully our children survive the job we do.

If we are really lucky, the prize for surviving parenthood is when you get to be a grandparent.  Could we love any one person any more?  I think it’s because they are our second chance; to soften, to say yes more, to hug more, and for a moment of time  to slip back into silliness.

Grandparents tend to be ferociously protective, because we are older and most likely don’t care as much what others think-or maybe it’s because we are wiser and more aware of the dangers that are out there.  I have made it perfectly clear what would happen if someone tried to hurt a grandchild.  I don’t mean helicopter parent protectiveness, where children aren’t allowed to feel loss, heartbreak, or failure.  I mean if someone is stupid enough to try and hurt them physically.

My oldest grandson was having a bit of anxiety and decided to talk to me about it.  He was probably nine.  His mom was newly divorced and for some reason, he was worried someone would come in to the house and take him.  He said, “Grandma, what would you do if someone kidnapped me?”  I said, “I would take every cent I have to hunt them down; we would get you back and then Grandma would kill them.”

He nodded his head, “That’s what Mom said you would say.”

“Feel better now?”

“Yep,” and off he went to play.

What a great feeling for a child to think his grandma would protect him at any cost.  I don’t know if he thought my comment was metaphorical or literal, but I know and so do you.

I would do fine in prison; I could teach classes, start a book group, discuss feelings……

Peace…

Telling the Truth..

This is a story I wrote for a workshop a few years ago.  It’s a memory that makes me smile, for many reasons.  I raised my children and will still say to the grandchildren, “If you tell the truth, the punishment will be less than if I catch you lying.”  Sometimes it works, sometimes I still get a lie…with a smile…  My parents got it right many times…

I walked into the house, and Mom said, “Are you up to something?”

I looked at her as innocence brushed over my face; “What do you mean?”

“Charlene called me today and said that Brian had taken some paint out of the store and when she confronted him, he wouldn’t say anything. She thinks you’re going to paint on the water tower, “Is that true?”

My mind moved quickly; do I lie; do I tell the truth; how much trouble will I be in? “Yes,” I said defiantly.

“Dad is down summer fallowing on the Blatherwick quarter; you need to go talk to him.”

“Oh my God,” I thought.

“Ok,” and I turned out walked out through the garage, where my yellow Volvo was parked outside. My car, my freedom, was going to take me to talk to Dad, who would imprison me. It was a hot and dusty drive down the gravel road, the three miles south, where Dad was going around in circles, on his big tractor, tilling the earth, with nothing much to think about.. yet.

I turned left off of the road and onto the approach, driving across the freshly tilled field to a place where I could intercept Dad. He saw me and all of my dust coming towards him; stopped the tractor, came down the ladder and stood waiting for me, with his hands on his hips and an expectant look on his face.

“Hi Dad!” I said, with all of the “I just drove down here to say hi friendliness I could muster.”

“What’s up?” he said.

“Umm, Mom just thought I should come down and talk to you about something.”

He waited…

“ Well, four of us decided to go up and paint the water tower tonight and Mom found out, and thought I should come and tell you.”

Painting the year of your high school graduation was a time-honored tradition in my home town. It had been done for years and Marci, Colin, Brian and I had decided it would be us this year.

 I waited; he was thinking and you didn’t want to interrupt him on the wrong side of his thinking. He was going back and forth in his head about what he was going to say, weighing all the possibilities, and how we all would react to his decision. You didn’t want to stop him at the end of the “maybe I should ground her for the rest of the summer” pause in his thoughts (I had learned that one from experience). I was hoping for the “hey, I was a kid once too” place in his thinking.

Finally he said to me, “If I say no, you’re probably just going to do it another night?”

“Yea, probably,” I said honestly.

We were raised to tell the truth. Mom and Dad always told me, if I told the truth the punishment would be less than if I were caught in a lie. It wasn’t the first time, or the last, that I was counting on that being their truth.

He shook his head and thought again, for a while.   “What if we do this; you call me before you go up, and you call me when you come down, so I know you’re safe.” “Can you do that?”

“Yep.” “Thanks Dad.”

“Just be careful up there.”

“We will.”

I picked up Marci and we drove to meet the boys. All of us had last names that ended in H, so we thought it was a great idea for the four of us to take this project upon ourselves. We hadn’t asked anyone else’s opinion on that, but it was going to be our night. We were well prepared. We had silver paint to repaint a huge portion of the water tower to make sure the black H and the 77 would be easily read from the ground below.

I recounted my “visit” with Dad to the rest of them, as we drove up to the water tower. (I had already called the folks from Colin’s house.) The water tower was a typical small town water tower; sitting on four long legs, it was painted silver. There was a cage on the bottom of the ladder, with a lock and chain on it. The boys scouted the tower out ahead of time and had brought along the proper tools to “disengage” the chain from the cage and ladder.

Fortified with a couple of beers to steel our nerves, we one by one, propping, pushing, and pulling, climbed up the ladder to reach the top. There was a small widow’s walk and railing around the perimeter of the storage tank that held the water. We started off by tackling the silver paint first. We deftly covered up the 76 from the year before, about the time we noticed a lot of traffic showing up and driving by. The silver swath widened to cover an area as high up as we could reach and wide enough to give us room for the real artistic work.

We were starting into the black paint, when there were a couple of honks, and hollers from the cars below. The class of 76 hadn’t left for college yet and apparently felt we were usurping their class.

“Fuck them.” One of said and all of us felt.

Word was apparently passing quickly, we hurriedly painted on the 77 and then the H appeared a foot or so away. We looked at it, felt a lot of pride that we were pulling this off, and brazenly decided to paint on our first initials, so a L, M, C, or B appeared in each corner of the H. We stood there and it was decided we needed to celebrate before we went down.

We sat on the walk, our butts on the grate, and our feet swinging in the air. A joint was passed around and we shared a couple of quick beers all the time teasing each other about who had spilled the beans to the others driving around below us, who’s idea was it for me to wear a white sweatshirt, and how cool were we to have pulled this off.

We quickly descended the ladder, jumped in the car and planned what we were going to do next.

“Colin,” I said. “We need to run back to your house quick; I have a call to make.”

“Dad, we are done.”

 

Peace…. 🙂