Archive for the ‘Childhood’ Category

Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

Freedom of Peek

March 5th, 2014

With mixed thoughts, I see that MA’s high court ruled today that perverts on the subway can legally take upskirt pix. (The news broke on Universal Hub, here. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision is here.  )

Of course, doing so is intrusive, tacky, and and, well, sort of, some kind of assault.

Sure, you can state the all too obvious — women ought to wear underwear, whether they do or not, they should keep their legs together if they wear a skirt or dress. Most do. Too many don’t. I don’t want to see flashes or swathes of underpants of women or men.

Yet, what is it that seems to excite so many? Why are there websites devoted to upskirt images? Why would anyone watch a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show? Why is lingerie the, if you pardon, butt of so many comedy routines? Why do women as well as men fixate on bras and panties?

Truth be told, I remember in early puberty being turned on by men’s magazines in barber shops and plain old catalogs showing women déshabillé. That was the euphemism for in your underwear. Back then, a movie was really risqué if an actress appeared in underwear, without the dress covering the clothing that in fact covered their prurient parts.

Even today, there cultures and subcultures titillated not by the actual body parts, rather the garments that hide them. For example, Japanese press and literature frequently alludes to men’s fascination with and hope for glimpses of underpants.

As I began dating, I quickly learned to favor and choose the real over the fantasy. Is that all this fetish is about?

Even if the crotch clickers with cellphones don’t grow up and out of their fixation, even it the SJC says that’s legal, you’d hope that the targeted women and the other passengers would at least call them out.  That might stop them…unless they are into public humiliation.

Christie, Ever a Jock

January 17th, 2014

Online big, braying heads from left and right, from pretending to be real news (Fox) to pretending to be pretend news (Stewart), one phrase in NJ Gov. Christ Christie’s saga of a news conference got chuckles and guffaws all around. In his pretense that he knew nothing of the GW Bridge mess before it happened, he started with, “I was done with my workout yesterday morning and got a call from my communications director at about 8:50, 8:55, informing me of this story that had just broken on the Bergen Record website.”

[If you're nitpicky or masochistic enough, you can get the transcript at the WaPo here. ]

The risibility trigger was the single word workout. The underlying justification is that because is visually is such a porker, he can’t really work out, can’t be anything like a jock.

I have no doubt that in his Christie brain, he remains as much an athlete as he was in school. He may weigh twice as much and jiggle like a twerker (except on top) when he moves, but his mind and body remember. He’ll always be a jock to himself.

In fact, he reinforced that in answering a question in the conference about his HS chum David Wildstein, who seems to have done the bridge dirty deed. In trying to distance himself from his until-that-day great buddy, Christie said he didn’t know him much in school, that they ran in different circles, that “You know, I was the class president and athlete.”

Here again, he surely was the only person in the room who considered himself an athlete, but he thinks, says and acts it.

christorsoWe can get into how he might be strong and even quick, despite his rotundity. In his gymnasium (don’t think of the origin of that word as running naked), he could well lift more and run longer at a faster pace on a treadmill than younger, scrawnier sorts. Fat does not preclude fit.

The important aspect is that his being still is that of a jock. His pubescent identity remains and defines him. He has the poise and confidence of a competitor who has been successful an strutted his stuff in front of thousands, in his case as varsity catcher on the baseball team — not bad training for being a politician, confidence, arrogance, accomplishment, control of the situation.

As a disclaimer, I was also an athlete in high school and into college (until a gruesome auto wreck cut that short in the sophomore year). I identify with the benefits of team sports and understand how you don’t outgrow that anymore than you would if you were a cheerleader or even a U.S. Marine.

To worry the cheer leader example a bit (and putting aside that G.W. Bush was one), cheerleaders keep key attributes they had or picked up in the process. The former cheerleaders I know are, well, cheery. They have that people-person persona. They push those around them to succeed…with them. In other words, they make good real-estate agents, PR or marketing types, and other best-food-forward optimists. They smile a lot and many have kept their version of blonde hair. They are still cheerleaders at 40, 50 and beyond.

We all supposed are who our parents were, what we eat, what we wear, and many other nature and nurture background factors. I remain convince though that what we’ve done, particularly in high school and college push its way out of our insides our whole lives.

Much is made of the nerds in high school, the bookworm introverts and such who stay that way. That is even more true for the jocks and cheerleaders. In Gov. Christie’s case, I suspect his crouched glories as catcher have defined him immutably.

As this bridge scandal inevitably expands and splatters him, let’ s see how many times he alludes to athleticism and his former glories. Jon Stewart may snort, but there is a jock inside the massive pol who won’t be denied.

 

Mummifying Christmas packages

December 23rd, 2013

Among changes and missing items now our parents are dead are:

  • The sacred cookie rites moved from my mother to my sister
  • We no longer get packages encapsulated, neigh smothered, in tape

2cookies

My mother made superb Scottish shortbread and remarkable bourbon balls. Until her end, she would send us tins of each. The cookie baton immediately passed to my sister. She’s even been tweaking the bourbon ball’s recipe (like Wild Turkey 101 this year) and seems to have improved on it.

For the other, what the devil cultural phenomenon made the WWII generation tape wacky? Many boomers say their parents did the same. Packages large or small, no matter how sturdy the box, no matter who handled the shipment were smothered in tape, sometimes several varieties of clear and opaque, formal packing tape, duct tape, Scotch tape, masking tape…

Oddly their parents did not do this. We don’t do it. Our kids don’t. This fetish is like a secret handshake of what’s let’s call in this instance the Goofiest Generation.

When parcels arrived from any of our parents, we knew to get out the knives. I tended to use my big French chef’s knife. I knew that the carbon steel blade I kept sharp could puncture and cut open the worst they had done. It was precise enough not to slice into presents captured inside.

When I would ask my mother about the tape extravaganza, she’d say she just wanted to make sure everything got there, as though the box might disintegrate in the  delivery truck.That our more relaxed packages arrived whole made no impression on this otherwise extremely rational person.

It was a small, amusing foible, made more remarkable by its widespread, generation-specific nature. I don’t miss it.

 

Little Guides

June 20th, 2013

geminioutlineMy maternal grandmother, Mable, had a few odd yet predictable routines. While she was quite bright, in at least two areas, she went gut and hope.

The closest the eastern panhandle of WV had to a local but city newspaper was the Cumberland Times, from 28 miles away on Route 28. While a silly and slim rag, it had area news as well as comics, advice columns, word puzzles and of course a horoscope.

If you are an astrology believer be aware that I am not and never have been. I looked through my usual combination scientific and experiential lenses. I don’t see any value with the possible exceptions of entertainment and reinforcing what you want to be so.

It’s been many years since I even looked at one, other than the spoofs in The Onion. As yesterday was my birthday, that somehow inspired me to look. The result was:

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY (June 19). In the past, you’ve had fewer options, but now you’ll find yourself in a position to be discerning and selective. What happens in July makes you more interesting and also more interested in others. A certain someone or something enthralls you in August. September brings a self-imposed challenge and a well-won victory. Capricorn and Sagittarius people adore you. Your lucky numbers are: 3, 22, 39, 42 and 15.

That’s vague enough to fit almost anyone. The specifics about my adorant one-sixth of the world was a coincidental nice touch, as in that my long-term wife was born under Capricorn.

Yet come each morning, Mable would read her horoscope and seem to get some satisfaction. As far as I could tell, she remained rational enough that she did not alter her behavior or feel any trepidation.

Later in the day, she also sat solo at the dinner table with her Bible and The Upper Room. That wee weekly magazine has cites some scripture and has a homily on it, along with some pretty specific steps for being cool with Jesus. She’d read and meditate. She was always calm and composed afterward.

We were a Methodist family and she certainly was a believer. Among other credal tenets, heaven was one she fully accepted. She fully expected a personal identity after death, including eternal bliss. Unlike say Presbyterians with there predestination, Methodists were of the good deeds and thoughts got you right with God and in line for a spot in this heaven.

I see anything destructive or particularly negative about Mable’s two foibles. The horoscope did not control her or upset her. The devotional may in fact reinforced positive thoughts and deeds.

Neither was rational, rather emotionally, a.k.a. faith, based. So what?

 

Banks of the Muddy Dan

June 2nd, 2013

Back to key childhood town today via the NYT opinion piece, I recalled Danville, VA. Tess Taylor, likely the age of my eldest son, wrote on how early Civil Rights protests hit even her white, establishment granddad.

In the very segregated setting only three miles above North Carolina, I went to elementary and junior high. Separate black/white schools were the norm. Even Greyhound was the white bus line versus the black Trailways. Some accommodations were not quite blended. I think of the Rialto movie theater, which kind of accommodated black folk, so long as they sat in the balcony. In fact, when I was eight, a friend thought he was tricking me by sending me upstairs with my bag of popcorn. When I noticed that the white people were downstairs and I was among rows of exclusively black people, I wasn’t bothered and watched the double feature (always at least a double and the Rialto had the Westerns and other action flicks). Later I wondered whether anyone in the balcony resented a white kid in their seats. If so, they didn’t let me know. After the movies, my classmate met me and looked chagrined. I think maybe he tasted his own racism and found his joke unfunny.

Taylor’s piece is on her grandfather’s modestly foolish upbraiding of a racist judge for coming heavy on black protesters for integration. It gives nice background on Danville as well as the perceived praise of her relative.

I’ve written on Danville here before. I lived there longer than anywhere until I moved to Manhattan after college and those were formative years.

Fortunately, my mother was not a racist and we were not infected by the malevolent disorder. She ran the Red Cross chapter, where black folk as well as white volunteered and received such services as blood, transportation, first-aid and home nursing training and such. Black folk were as welcome in our lives as whites. There were a few Jews, including the physician who rented to us, although I don’t recall knowing or even seeing Asians. It was a two-colored world.

Danvillelibrary

We moved to a far more rural Chester — middle of the same state, but not at all a city, before going to Plainfield, NJ for high school. PHS was half black. Plus my classes were a quarter to half Jewish students. I took the bus to Manhattan every chance I got. I experienced intense culture shock, almost entirely in a good way. I did hear and see Yankee de facto segregation and overt racism though, as I did and do during my decades in Boston. The first time I heard anyone openly using the N word was in my first few days in New Jersey. The separation of races in old Danville seems to have minimized open disdain, plus likely the veneer of civility in the South.

Pic note: The building was my public library and had been the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. Danville came with extra baggage.

On a far more prosaic level, I can draw light lines to other cultural transitions. I think of common tools, such as computers. I went from a manual typewriter to an electric one, on to when being a computer user meant bringing your task, like data analysis to a programmer who typed out punchcards and handed them to you to pile into a huge computer for calculation, I went on to batch processing in a shared environment and to paper tape mainframes before dedicated (and very expensive) word processors before workstations and then personal computers.

The improvements in integration and race relations have not been as linear or incessant. Yet integration advances, even in places like Boston, although there’s still a lot of happen. To return to the weak tool analogy, much as occurred in my lifetime and my towns. I think of my wife’s late grandmother, who grew up from the era before electricity and automobiles. Like Mable Thames, I have seen and benefited from much. Keep it coming.

 

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.

Bully (for) You

March 26th, 2013

Humans are bundles of marvels. I think of how much like cars we are in one key way — both have so many systems and subsystems that should any of them malfunction, everything stops, maybe forever, and yet we generally perk along without these single points of failure failing. More broadly, we also react to similar mental, physical or emotional trauma and stress very, very differently.

That latter concept first clarified for me in the 1960s when I volunteered in a veterans’ hospital. While I knew WWI and WWII vets who had lost limbs, gotten holes shot in their heads, were blinded and more in battle, in the hospital, others in seeming better shape remained. They spent most days in bed or sun rooms, too emotionally harmed to function in larger society. Their contemporaries had largely gone on with their lives, marrying, parenting and working. One man’s very painful, very inconvenient maiming was another’s cause for permanent surrender.

Thus it is too with abuse. That may be sexual, physical or emotional, bullying, rape, incest or myriad other forms of cruelty. Most common surely is the sadism that hides under parental discipline, beating your children with hands or objects under the guise of discipline or training, replete with Biblical allusion to a single nasty verse. (Other Proverbs verses riff on this — 22:15, 23:13 and 29:15.)

beltIt no surprise to readers here that I do not approve of parents beating their kids any more than of bigger children bullying smaller ones. I was not hit as a child and did not hit my three. By itself, my parenting proves little, but all three of my young men are polite, considerate, non-criminal and socially functional.

Belatedly it seems and prompted by such as youth suicides, bullying is finally OK to call out. Notably, Emily Bazelon’s Sticks and Stones book has lots of coverage, leading to nationwide chatter.  More personally, my friend who blogs as Uncle postd a series on his own considerable experiences with being bullied.  There’s even related junk science, like attempts to link a mother’s childhood abuse to her having an autistic child.

Truths include though that bullying and child beating are pervasive in our allegedly civilized America. For corporal punishment, most of Europe and Asia as well as Canada prohibit it in schools and in many places it is assault and battery. Here, parents can still take hand, paddle, stick or even belt to their kids legally, so long as they don’t cause massive or permanent damage. Lord love a duck, as my mother used to say in frustration.

An oddment to me is that people I have known and read of discussing their beating of their kids invariably say something like, “I was paddled and it never hurt me!” When I hear that, I invariably respond, “Other than leading you to be a child abuser yourself.” And we’re off to the races, as the punisher tries to find some justification for terrifying and physically hurting someone in his (actually more likely her) care.

How is it that some of us and be so bereft of words, so lacking in judgment, so in the control of transient passions that you can communicate your disappoint and anger only in violence?

To circle back to the concept that we differ in our responses to trauma, let’s consider how adults deal with childhood physical abuse like beatings. Some decide never to hit their own children, which I deem a rational and humane response. Others retain vivid memories, recollections/reliving, along with the anger and fear those bring…maybe forever. Others take sticks, hands, belts and such to their subject children in some perverted pay forward, when it is really their parents they should direct their hostility toward.

Quite a few adults have told me how their parents hit them. I don’t see any direct relationship between the level and intensity of abuse, and the resulting long-term response of the adult. What I do conclude is that beating kids is cruel and irrational. It does not teach by example or any reinforcing message. Instead, keeping a grip on your own emotions gives you a lot better shot at teaching and showing proper behavior.

Kids can be infuriating and destructive. The temptation to hit them can appear hundreds or thousands of times in the years you raise and train them.Maybe the key question we should ask ourselves when we are suddenly mad at them is what sort of parents do we want them to be to our grandkids?

That Big Old Why-Me Question

February 22nd, 2013

A good chum, who blogs as Uncle at Scratches, wonders on occasion on such as physical and sexual abuse. His latest was on bullying, rather on who does or does not become targets.

He wondered about the markers, perhaps brain, and other criteria that might lead to being the victim of others. I confessed on his site something he and I have discussed when bar-stool lubricated that I was pretty much out of these common cycles. Much like not overly regretting not having fought in Viet Nam, after hearing many decades of browbeating, bloody-faced, and unwanted sexual contact vignettes, I can’t say I would rather have experience those.

bullyHe did set me to thinking again in his vein though. Why did and do some boys and girls attract verbal, physical, sexual molesters?

Working backwards from my own life, I wondered how it was that I escaped and was not targeted.

Today I’m fairly large, with absurdly big shoulders and chest, and considerable muscularity. I wasn’t that way as a kid though. I was a bit shorter than others. While my Granddad nicknamed me Horse because I was strong, I was not the big, intimidating kid either in body or personality. I grew slowly and behind most other boys. Only at 15 and beyond when I was on the wrestling and then swimming team, did I bulk up.

I was also a scholarly, literary sort. Not only did I read everything and get good grades, I was out of sync with many classic boy pastimes, like stomping, stabbing and shooting small or large animals.

Seems to me that I ought to have been the target of the bad boys and men.

From another angle though, my family life was rather pacific. I have a single sibling, a sister 18 months my senior. She was as close as I came to being bullied, and that was in kindergarten and elementary ages. She’d take my stuff and hit me…what’s a sister for, eh? Our mother who had two younger siblings of her own kept telling her to cool it. The refrain was, “One day, he’ll be bigger and stronger than you.”  As almost always she was both terse and correct. When we reached physical equilibrium we quickly came to peace and have remained so since.

That very same mother did not beat us either. We came from a threesome that did not experience regular violence. My sister and I used to joke with each other as well as as friends who were regularly hit with hands, paddles, belt and sticks that we’d just as soon our mother was violent. Instead, she demanded to know why we had done something destructive or dumb or mean. We had to deal, actually deal, with our shortcomings. There was no catharsis of confession and penance that came with getting smacked around. It was a cerebral, emotional and moral experience.

Likewise, there was no sexual abuse in our home or our maternal grandparents’ where we spent our summers and vacations. Our deadbeat dad who remarried and disappeared was not a factor. Granddad and a set of great uncles delighted in playing the father role, particular to me. I had a gang of stable, long-term married men to mentor and watch out for me. None abused me in any way.

Thinking of my youth though, I do have a triple-sided theory of how I rolled to adulthood without the traumas it seems the bulk have endured.

  1. Always moving. With my absent father who did not keep up his child support (military out of country and irresponsible), my mother took work running Red Cross chapters. The pay was only OK for women (by policy half of what a man would make running the same chapter), but she made it work. The deal though was that we moved every few years to the next chapter a man had hosed that my mother would come in and turn around…at half pay. That meant we were never in a school system long enough to become part of the native cliques. We weren’t stereotyped and thus were not relegated to some out-group that “deserved” ridicule, ostracizing or punishment. We floated until we left. In fact, I was better at that than my sister. I hated not knowing people and had great anxiety, but unlike she, I’d suck it up and pick the people I wanted for friends…and make that work. It did work.
  2. Standing firm. Our mother was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was teaching simple WWII-era virtues. She taught us to be honest and candid and responsible, without fail. If we goofed up, we admitted it and took our lumps. That also meant when someone confronted us or tried peer pressure to get us to behave in their bad ways, we said, “No!” That was always tough, but standing firm always paid off for me. (It still does.) In retrospect, I am surprised that the overbearing, bullying sorts took that from the shorter kid, with the glasses and armload of books. They did though. Resolve intimidates in its own way.
  3. Glibness. I am not an astrology/sign guy. I was always amused though to read that my Gemini house supposedly is a tricksy sign, quick with words and skilled at getting our way. Actually that fits. I had a double talent when I was around folk who might do bad things to me. I was skilled at reading intent and I could almost always verbally defuse situations. When someone was turning one me, I didn’t ignore it, rather if I could not remove myself, I’d whip out my considerable joking and nice-guy skills to get the bully and ideally any hangers-on jolly and harmless. 

I’ll kick it around with Uncle some more. The topic is intriguing, particularly as those types of abuse seem to be the norm for so many. Why is always a good question. Sometimes meaningful possibilities appear.

West Virginia Christmas Right here

December 22nd, 2012

For the life of me, I can’t remember the Christmas tune the white church played in our house. It had music-box works and I enjoyed winding it up, returning it to the cotton “snow” lawn, and grokking the season.

My mother, Wanda, loved Christmas and did it up right. She’s dead, but we have retained much of her joy and rituals.  I’m very sure my sister dumped the oldest fixings and does not decorate as intricately. Here, we almost do.

treemas2012Perhaps like the proverb of dubious provenance, there are no atheists in foxholes,  pleasure in and even obsession with this holiday season may not be limited to Christians. Indeed for me, I was raised as a Christian and was a devoted one when young. I got better. Yet, I generally go to a Christmas eve service, often the old-fashioned New England one, with the fillip of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performing, at the Arlington Street Church. There’s nothing like an apse filled with bald or gray chubby or saggy men in dinner jackets with beautiful voices singing God’s glory to scream, “He is born!”

Wanda though picked up from her father Bill, my Granddad. His often grumpy wife Mable, Baba per my sister’s dubbing as the privilege of the first grandchild (she similarly named the paternal version Bubu) was not such a Christmas aficionado.  Granddad started with the two three-story blue spruce on the front mini-lawn. He festooned them with strands of those gigantic colored bulbs we boomers knew.

Then he and I could get in Charlie Long’s pickup with him — the kind where you had to use a hammer to change in and out of 4-wheel drive by pounding the hub. We’d thump over the fields and across the shallow South Branch of the Potomac to get to his land that had evergreens. I’d pick the tree I liked, as by far the junior man-let in the group and we’d saw it down. They always let me make the last few cuts that caused the TIMBER moment.

Mable never cared for this treasure. It was work to trim, although she was not involved except for huddling, directing and scolding. It always meant she had to haul out the vacuum daily to inhale the needles. It was more trouble to undress, plus shedding seemingly half its tags on the trip out the front door before trash day. Harrumph, indeed.

miltonluminWanda was in Bill’s mode and then some. Most personally obviously, she bought presents, not only many, but exactly what people wanted or would have asked for had they been as perceptive as she. Very much unlike those who wrote checks, gave gift cards, or approximated age-appropriate gifts, Wanda looked to the soul (and lifestyle) of each recipient. She made sure you got what would delight you. Your delight was hers.

Yes, the outside of her house was lit and tarted up with red, green, yellow and white. Inside tough, it as a monument to Christmas traditions. Bookshelves (of which she had many, many and table tops were layered with chorister candles (never burnt, God forbid), creches, scenes of shepherds with angels, ice skaters, lighted model villages and on and on and on.

I loved it all.

We decorate here, replete with a substantial creche molded and painted by my late mother-in-law. My wife does the Martha Stewart deeds of garlands, lights and more. I and one or more of our sons sets out the luminarias. We get a to-the-ceiling evergreen butchered for our pleasure. We as a family and often with a daughter-in-law real or to be, rig it up with three decades of ornaments, chili lights, a porcelain angel topper, icicles and candy canes.

We do Christmas. It seems genetic now.