Childhood Memories · Colorful Personalities · Personal Anectdotes

Built Maine Tough – The Women in my Life

whackRecently I recounted a story of a woman taking out a wife beater with a baseball bat. This anecdote was one of random bad-assery. It had everything you could want in a story – a conflict, a villain, a hero, and an oh-so-satisfying ending. It’s one of the many reasons I adore the woman who told it and so many others.

crossroadsI’m at a strange crossroads in my life – both looking forward with excitement and trepidation, and looking into the past to learn everything it has to tell me. As I do this I recognize that all the women surrounding me through out my early years were intense. They were strong, independent, resourceful, and absolutely inspiring on all levels. Most of these women came from a hard background, uneducated, born into poverty, they managed the best they could and did so with so much courage that I am moved to hear each and every tale.

50'sI guess I can start with my grandmother. She was smart, really smart, although she never thought so. Growing up in a culture that demands women be docile and stupid seemed to have left permanent scars on her psyche. Still, she was probably one of the strongest women I have ever had the joy of knowing. She got married to a drunk in the fifties, and was part of a church I can only classify as extreme and Puritanical. Still, even with this going against her she got a divorce. She even managed to get approval from the church which was not a pleasant process and included proving her husband was unfaithful without a shadow of doubt. She did this. For herself. In the fifties. From here she went on to marry another mean nasty drunk who did nothing for the family. Because of this she pretty much single handedly raised five children, including my mother who was born six weeks premature. The doctors seemed to think this was because she was dragging water from the well, up a hill, and to the house, every day, while eight months pregnant. They didn’t have plumbing or electricity. And when all this wasn’t enough she even found work and started to be the breadwinner as well. Tough as nails this woman was. She’d eventually divorce a second time.

mourningroseHer sister shared in the misery of poverty – where good men are nearly impossible to find. She had five children of her own when her husband came home from church, family in tow ready for Sunday dinner, and shot her and himself killing both in front of several carloads of witnesses. This wouldn’t be my grandmother’s only loss. She persisted, raised her children to adulthood, eventually earned a stable life, but was only broken when two of her adult children died a slow and painful death from an inherited disease. That would have broken anyone.

maxresdefaultMy mother was more stubborn than anything. From her premature birth she struggled to live and survived at a time when premature babies generally didn’t make it. She not only made it but she suffered remarkably few long lasting effects from her early arrival. She grew up with the same backwoods mentality that women do all the work. Maybe this is why she didn’t find having a man was necessary to having a family. She was unmarried when she decided to have kids and she had two of them as a single mother, starting in the 1970’s. When my brother was born the nurse at the hospital took such offense to this abomination she made sure to shame my mother at all opportunities and even started to feed her infant in secret so that she could further humiliate her when the baby refused to eat for its own mother. That was the beginning of a long journey for the both of them and seven years later, when I came onto the scene, I just added to this strange family ahead of their time.

sweatshop_ivyIn those days my mother worked for a sweatshop owned by another women, something absolutely unheard of in a small town in the 1980’s. I have no idea how this happened but I know she did on her own – without the help of a man. The business employed a handful of other women and did well for a while until globalization became a thing and clothes manufacturers realized it was cheaper to send their garments to impoverished third world countries to have children and peasants sew them for a penny an hour… Sadly that’s what broke this woman the rest of the way. The owner of the company fell into a life of alcoholism and died when her liver kicked out a few decades later. An unfortunate end that still doesn’t discount what she managed to accomplish in life.

wt1+k10+rapidfire+log+splitter+electic+new_lRecently I was with a woman in her 60’s who was standing over pieces of a felled tree. She was lamenting how she did have a wood splitter but it was borrowed and needed to be taken back so now she had to resort to taking her chainsaw after the rest to make firewood for winter. She didn’t mean she was hiring some burly dude to do this, she was doing it herself… in her sixties… because she has always done everything herself. Married to a narcissist for more than 30 years, probably closer to 40, she had gotten accustomed to doing everything. She took care of all domestic chores, raised two of her own children and adopted eight more (that’s two other whole families if you’re wondering.) She also had a long career and was a full time breadwinner during all this. So wielding a chainsaw when she should be playing pinochle somewhere… didn’t raise an eyebrow.

22528910_10212711967208383_3851655929800286079_oI’m starting to see why I am so independent. I’m in my thirties now and have found my voice. I’m brash, opinionated, adventurous, and I don’t let anything stop me. I ran a farm for a while, raised my own food, and like my grandmother before me, I can slaughter and process a chicken with the best of them. I also travel alone – to destinations unknown, often wandering into the woods by myself when other women warn me of serial killers and bears. I follow my passions and I create. I do so in honor of all those that came before me that made this life possible. My own struggles are unique and at times petty in comparison. My predecessors were married to cruel men. My biggest relationship challenge is I am too independent and American men are more or less afraid of me – or worse disgusted by such a ostentacious display of gender fuckery. A single woman following her passions and speaking her mind is an incredibly dangerous thing after all… but even though this may mean I don’t find the love of my life or settle and have a family of my own, I have slowly learned to accept a few things. 1) Life is never what you expect it to be and 2) The universe provides you with what you need, not what you want, but if you play the right cards they can become one and the same. 3) I am but one of a long legacy of bad-ass women and that will not stop with me, no matter the condition of my womb.

22519542_10212712003289285_3275204858516634061_n

 

 

Advertisements
Childhood Memories · Colorful Personalities · Personal Anectdotes

Say What? My Oh-So French Teacher

telephoneToday a friend of mine lamented that courtesy callers were becoming such an aggravation that she was starting to pick up and pretend she didn’t understand English. The poor SOB on the other end this time around chose French. I immediately knew how to say “I don’t speak English” in French. “Je ne parle pas Anglais.” This isn’t because I know a lot of French, in fact this is just about the only thing I remember from taking four years of classes. So why do I remember this one ironic line? Because it was the first thing my French teacher taught us.

baguettesShe was actually French, and not French Canadian either, legitimately from France. She was tall, slim, and always dressed in black, the absolute stereotype of what Americans think French women are and although she never knew it I adored her attitude. An attitude that started with teaching us the one sentence she hoped we’d retain, “I don’t speak French.” I always had a hard time knowing if she had a sly sense of humor or if she really did just see us as a classroom full of muppets. I think it was a great deal of both and for reason. That’s why I instantly liked her. She was the only other person in the school who had as low an opinion of my classmates as I did. The sad thing is I don’t think anyone else picked up on this… but I sure did!

littlemermaidAt one point she showed us a French movie. I don’t remember what it was but there was a scene in it with an actual glass house, sort of. I always heard the phrase, “Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house” but this was instantly changed in my mind to, “Don’t take a shower if you live in a glass house with no curtains.” That’s what the scene was — a teenage girl showering in what looked like a completely glass bathroom, no curtains, a bunch of other kids gathering underneath giggling and pointing. I have no idea what the cinematic reason for this was but my French teacher’s response to it was to hold up a manila folder over the screen while muttering something under her breath about our parents. After this little mishap we were relegated to watching The Little Mermaid. Apparently actual French movies were just a little too risqué but in all fairness watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid dubbed over in French was oddly hilarious. Since then I have grown up and adore French movies, though I do admit they’re often very “rapey.”

doughnutOne day our French teacher told us how horrified she was to learn what a doughnut was. She said all her friends here were telling her how great they were but she was French, a country known for pastries and fine desserts. Imagine being served an enormous blob of brightly colored lard, as a doughnut can only be seen in such a context. She claimed it was huge and tasted so bad she struggled not to puke, just barely able to swallow one bite. This only endeared me to her more – as that was also my opinion of doughnuts.

hunchbackShe always liked me – I always thought it was because I was quiet, but one day she confessed it was probably because I had a hunched back and hunchbacks in France were thought to be smart. To this day this is the damn weirdest stereotype I have ever had assumed about me but hey! Could have been worse! I’ll take smart over mentally challenged any day!

reportcardMy final memory of her was when she was at the end of her stay at the school. She had met an American man and they were moving back to France to get married. It was the end of the school year so it was time for report cards to be sent out. This is how you know a teacher no longer gives a shit – she gave us our own report cards blank and had us fill them in as she did a public roll call of our grades. We were all so stunned I think everyone filled them in correctly but she didn’t get away with this because on the line left for the teacher’s name we all left it blank. Why? Because none of us knew her name. She had never told us, she had never written it on the blackboard. We only called her “mademoiselle” which is the same as calling someone “miss.” Miss what? Once again she was disappointed by her idiot American students who accidentally ratted her out in doing this because the other teachers did notice the blank field pretty damn quick. Bless.

I don’t know where she is today. I still don’t know her name. Even so I hope she is well and found happiness. She deserves it after two years at that school. cough cough. She always told us if we visit France go somewhere besides Paris. Someday I hope to honor her request… They say there’s a peasant eating beast in Gevaudan…

Colorful Personalities

Wife Beater V. Baseball Bat – a Story from the Backwoods of Maine

Welcom-to-Maine-600x400On this particular morning I found myself sitting in a quaint little country café eating an odd little breakfast of stuffed zuchinni bread French toast. Sitting across from me was a woman I have known for a long time, one of the few brilliant minds I found while living up in the boonies of Maine all those years ago. There she was, a petite woman in her thirties, smiling, bright, active. She was chatting to everyone who passed by, all of their faces and names she knew, and by looking at her you’d never think anything other than she’s just an unassuming single woman having breakfast with a friend.

baseball batIt’d been years since we caught up. I knew her in her vibrant and wild youth when she was just as untamed as this crazy backwater place. The story she suddenly made a casual mention of illustrated this perfectly. More than a decade previous she was living in a little house with her boyfriend. Out the front door you could see a large open field and just beyond that, within sight, was the neighbor’s trailer. We were talking about this when in an off-the-cuff sort of moment she mentioned that she’d beaten up one of those neighbors with a baseball bat. OK, I hadn’t heard that story before, so I smiled softly and said with utmost honesty, “He probably deserved it.” “Oh hell yes he did!” but that was all she was going to say until the topic came around again. I waited in curiosity and anticipation.

wifebeaterSo what did happen? Well… the neighbor in question was a complete asshole, had been since birth. I should know, I knew him my entire life. As a child he ran feral, as an adult he was a merciless drunk and an absolute bastard. He was married then with just three children, the beginning of a growing brood. His wife was young, didn’t know any better, and probably grew up in similarly dysfunctional circumstances.

One day my friend heard screaming coming from the neighbor’s yard. She looked out to see the neighbor bashing his wife’s head repeatedly over the hood of the car. “Oh no he isn’t!” She grabbed the closest thing to her, her home’s security system, a baseball bat sitting aside the door, and ran outside, hopped into the truck, as her boyfriend followed and lept into the driver’s seat. In two seconds flat they barreled through that field and she flung herself out the door, baseball bat in hand. In another split second she took one good swing and hit the back of his knees with an audible crack! He went down like a sack of potatoes. His wife turned her anger towards her rescuers, as many abused women often do. “I’m going to call the cops on you! You just hit my husband with a baseball bat!”

whack“Go! Call the cops or I’ll whack him again!!”

And in that second she both became my every day hero and a vibrant reminder why I moved the fuck out of Maine. On one hand the lawlessness and “mind your own business” attitude that prevails around there is wonderfully liberating. Also the idea of community is much stronger – the whole idea that if you’re being a dick a neighbor can take you out with a baseball bat without legal consequence is also… satisfying. Unfortunately it’s also an intellectual wasteland and very hostile to outsiders, anyone who is different in any way, and women. There’s so many disappearances and unsolved murders up there that the police have an active 100% cold case force that is begging the public for their help. I find that far more disturbing than city living. If you’re shot in the streets of a city it’s probably a case of wrong time, wrong place, you get shot and brutalized in the woods of Maine it’s personal.

And with that I took another bite of my French toast, she another sip of coffee, and we continued the conversation as if this whole tale was nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Colorful Personalities · Personal Anectdotes

Never Ask for Directions to the Cracker Factory…

pinkpajamasMEGREflymooseSometimes having very loud and embarrassing friends can actually be pretty funny. Today I speak of a friend who once went to a flea market with me dressed in nothing but bright pink pajamas. This sort of stunt used to mortify me until one day I just snapped and stopped giving a shit, shrugging my shoulders and giving people that look, “Yeah I don’t know, this has nothing to do with me…” or at other times I’ve stepped into that role of being the embarrassing one. That’s always super fun!

But this story is about being lost in the middle of Nowhere Maine – and I mean nowhere – like two hours away from civilization nowhere. We’d stopped at the only business we could find, a gas station aside the highway which we were fairly certain was run by moose. There was a man at the check out and my friend ambled right up to him and asked where she was supposed to be going.

Cracker_factory“Oh well, you’re almost there, just keep going up this road and when you see the cracker factory take a right.”

This is when my friend blurted out, “Cracker factory? Is that where they make all the white people?!” This threw the poor man WAY off as his directions stuttered to a halt and I gave a deep sigh.

“Uhm… no…?”

“It was a joke! You know like they call white people crackers…”

*crickets*

Childhood Memories · Colorful Personalities · Personal Anectdotes

Boy it must have Sucked Being an Openly Bi-Sexual Man in a Small Town in the 1980’s…

biflag1These days my brain has been kicking in and just throwing me completely with random flashbacks of seemingly nothing. Today it was a memory of a man whose name I don’t even know because at the time of this story I was probably only four or five years old.

tiedyetankIt was the late 80’s and this guy lived in a small town in New Hampshire as an openly bi-sexual man. He was… an oddity… in every way. He was also the only man to work making clothes at the sweatshop. This was ironic considering he only wore one shirt — for maybe twenty years. I remember it well. It was a tie-dye T-shirt that had been worn so often that it was literally just rags draped over him, huge slashes and tears, I mean there pretty much was no shirt left, just some tattered fragments of cloth where the seams still clung on for dear life. There was no back to speak of. To this day I have yet to meet a more loved shirt than that one!

noseringMaybe I am remembering him these days out of empathy – I mean holy fuck, that must have been a shit life… an openly bi-sexual man in a small town in the 1980’s?! WOW. He didn’t even get respite at work… the women in the sweatshop were horrible. Never have I met a more bitchy crew than those clucking hens! And if they weren’t bitching about men they were picking on the only dude in the room who had the misfortune of owning a cock and balls. Once he came in with a nose piercing. These lovely squabbling ladies immediately started in on this.

“How do you blow your nose with that thing in?”

“When it’s cold do you get booger icicles on it?”

“It’s like a shiny zit! How do you not pick at it?!”

This went on for a few weeks until the nose ring mysteriously disappeared. Not much later so did this unfortunate fellow. And so ends my story… a tale of both humor and horror. To this day it still sucks to be a minority in a small town, an individual and eccentric, but so long as people like this still flagrantly deny this reality I still have hope. So if by some weird chance this poor guy is out there reading this – I hope you’ve found whatever it is you needed in life. Thanks for giving those biddies something to squawk about!

Childhood Memories · Colorful Personalities

That Day I Stalked Some Random British Guy

balloon wreathWhen I was a tween I remember being forced to work for free invited to a wedding in Maine. To make it worth my while my mother drove me up there with my beastie at the time. We spent two or three days preparing for the wedding by helping prep food, blowing up one balloon less than it takes to pass out on the floor, and taking rides with perfect strangers. We were frenzied and exhausted but still having fun until my mother pitched a plate of pigs in a blanket on the floor. They quickly got covered in cat hair and that whole blanket terminology became all too real.

cameraFinally the day of the wedding came and we were handed cameras. Mine was fancy – and manufactured in the 1970’s so it weighed about thirty pounds. Thank God it had a strap. I hoisted it over my neck and started to wander around like the paparazzi. I wasn’t the only one with a camera. They had “hired” a friend of the bride to be the official photographer. I will never forget his arrival…

moptopSometimes people show up one day and although that’s the only day of your life you’ll ever see them they just leave that big of an impression that you never forget them. That would be this guy. I had heard the mother of the bride talk about him in fleeting moments and I didn’t garner much about him other than he was “a little weird” and British – and not just a little. I mean holy fuck was this guy was British. He was immediately recognizable due to the fact he was running around with the most outrageous mop-top haircut I had seen since 1964. Whhhhhhy?? Of all things! Was that some sort of joke? Like yup, I’m British, let’s dress up as a Beatle. Irony? An ice breaker? Maine’s first hipster? And why was he working at Wal-Mart and living in the shittiest corners of Maine? Punishment for something? I had to know.

Most people use their mouths to ask questions using a serious of noises they call speech yellowsubmarinebut that’s too easy and besides it was much more fun just stalking the guy. He was really socially awkward almost as if he was avoiding people because we were all carrying plague. He seemed utterly lost besides. This was great. I got to watch my own British comedy in all it’s delightful awkwardness unfold before me. My friend was less amused with this than I was.

“Why are we following this guy?!”

“We’re just watching.”

“But WHHHHY?!”

“Shhhhh…”

I thought I was remarkably well behaved even if I was stalking him. I hadn’t burst out into any random Beatles songs and that was hard not to do.  I mean upon driving in my mind was blaring, “Beep beep’m beep beep yeah!” The rest of the day was no better… at every corner so many opportunity for puns…

deathatafuneralThe wedding party was getting dressed and I was loitering around the living room with my bestie when the photographer made another appearance. I thought to myself, “Oh shit, he doesn’t have the balls to waltz into the back of the house with all that estrogen flying through the air to take any shots of this moment!” I was right. He sat idly in the kitchen watching small children screech by and wondering if he should pursue this further. I watched with intense anticipation. Another child flew by knocking something over with a giant thud which seemed to really disturb the poor guy.

My friend looked at me. I looked at her. Not ten minutes had passed before he yelled, “TIMBER!” I started to giggle. My bestie elbowed me in the side. She did that a lot. “Impeccable timing.” I whispered. I got elbowed again.

A whoosh of commotion. Suddenly everyone was on the move. The photographer made it outside with them. Yeah, whatever, it’s go time!

crosshairsThe ceremony was beautiful and simple. The bride walked down her own porch barefooted but dressed to the hilt otherwise, beaming. A nervous groom. Ten groomsmen and bridesmaids lined up leaving half the audience empty…. and where was the photographer? Shit, I lost him. Where’d he go?! He didn’t Doctor Who it out of here did he?? Oh there he is… five hundred feet away as if he were trying to photograph some sort of shy migratory bird. The audience was about three hundred feet closer. Why is he in the back forty?? With the same lens a sniper might use…. Huh. This guy was getting more interesting by the minute and it was driving me crazy. What was up with him?!

After the wedding I was whisked away to prepare the reception hall and never saw the photographer again. But I did see his photos! The bride’s mother lamented, “The photos you guys took were so much better! Close up! All his shots everyone is TINY. Like ants!” Perhaps he was avoiding people cooties…

 

Childhood Memories · Colorful Personalities

The Strange Case of the Painted Toe

farsideHave you ever woken yourself up from a daydream or a memory by laughing at some image your brain has randomly thrown at you? I do this a lot, probably because my brain never shuts down and it’s really quite sporadic in what it sends my way.

Today it was a memory of second grade – sitting on the floor of the classroom after recess, taking off our snow pants and boots and putting on our indoor sneakers as was the daily ritual. Nothing too odd about that except the kid next to me on the floor. He was a beautifully awkward child, the kind that struggles in these small town scenarios just as badly as I did. Today he was sitting on the floor stocking-footed when he decided to unleash a confession to me – not because I was a close friend, more because I just happened to be there.

“My mother is strange.” This is often how he started conversations – with no segway or reason.

“Why?”

“I probably shouldn’t show you. She told me not to tell anyone.” He said as he unfurled atoepolish sock and stared at his bare feet. “She painted my toe nail.” I looked over and indeed, his big toe was sporting vibrant crimson polish but just the big toe, nothing else. I found myself more annoyed the rest of the toes weren’t painted rather than wondering what possessed his mother to paint his toes in the first place. And being seven years old this is where either conversation ended or my memory of it. Now I’m in my thirties wondering why I am I remembering this now?? And this specific and odd memory?? I have no answers.

mealwormraceIf you’re wondering if this kid ever grew any social finesse the answer is no. My next memory of him was seventh grade science class. This was a class in which smarter students would get their work done in five minutes and spend the next forty finding increasingly strange ways to keep entertained. I was fond of the mealworm races myself. My fellow student of ennui on the other hand… One day he went around class asking every student if he could “borrow” a piece of paper. He showed up at my desk last with a whole stack of badly torn notebook papers and asked the same of me.

“No… but I can give you a piece of paper.” He giggled. Finally someone got the joke! No notebookpaperone borrows paper. I tore a page from my notebook and handed it to him hoping for more of an explanation. He wasn’t hoarding paper for any reason other than to keep occupied with the borrowing joke but now I was talking he made note of how cleanly torn my paper was, a nice sharp edge perfectly ripped at the perforation. There was no reason to have it any other way and yet all the papers he was holding were torn crazy, one was only half a page. We laughed at the half-assed attempts at kindness the other students had put forth. “But you already have paper!!”

osiris_leftThe next day he wandered around class asking each individual if they believed in Osiris…. as in the Egyptian God Osiris…. Blasphemy at it’s best.