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.

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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…

Childhood Memories · Personal Anectdotes

Camp Grenada Had Nothing on Ferry Beach

pen_pal_0When I was ten years old I was given a penpal from one town over. The reason for this was simple. In the following year I would be attending the district middle school which was a cooperative of two towns. In order to ease this transition we were all given pen pals from the other town. Mine was mental. Like legitimately, why wasn’t she permanently locked in a psych ward, mental. Why this particular individual had been chosen for me, an anti-social bug-loving girl from the back woods, I will never know. I hope it was just a lottery… a bit like Shirley Jackson’s Lottery… but still.

Old VCR tapeI have video footage on VHS tape somewhere of me regaling my class with a particularly entertaining three and a half page letter she sent me after my teacher was daft enough to ask, “Well it looks like you got a nice long letter over there! What does it say?”

“UHM…… well…. it says she got into a fight with her family and she ended up on the roof until the cops came….”

“Is there anything in that letter I should see?!”

“No ma’am.”

happy and success businesspeopleSuffice to say I didn’t make a new friend. This wasn’t unusual. By the time I did make it to middle school the next year I found myself forced into an old tradition… begrudgingly making my way to Ferry Beach. You see a long time ago some of the staff thought it’d be a great idea to make the children from both towns bond with each other sort of like those horrible team building exercises office workers are sometimes forced to endure with coworkers. Does this ever end well??

promotional magic-school-bus-teaching-resources-1 collectionMy brother went seven years before I did and hated it. I was not looking forward to the venture. It felt like hours and hours and hours on the bus before we got there. We were almost immediately given a diary which we had to write our favorite part of the day in. I wrote the obvious, the only thing we did all day, “I enjoyed the bus ride here.” LIES. After this I set about writing my first letter home.

“Dear Mom,

I made it to Ferry Beach. I already hate it here. Please come pick me up.”

murder-mystery-generic-5I was assigned a camp counselor and a group of kids. The group of kids consisted two who were so annoying I had to restrain myself from lobbing them off the seaside cliffs into the ocean. “It was an accident!” I’d claim. But alas, no murders happened. If they did I may have pointed my malcontent at my camp counselor who was way too enthusiastic and responded to everything by yelling, “Sweet!” I thought he must have the IQ of a potato.

bunkbedsThat night I was forced into a dorm room with three other girls, the partner I was left with because no one else would chose to be with me, and two little bitches who would badmouth me when they thought I was sleeping. My partner ended up being a bed wetter which is probably why she didn’t last the week in the dorm.

On Wednesday I was treated to an ice cold thirty second shower as the teachers cheered us on for being good sports and “saving water” with our quick dips. Saving water?! I was saving whatever the female equivalent of shriveled balls was…

On Wednesday I wrote home. “Dear Mom, I know by the time you get this I will probably be on the bus going home. Thanks a lot. I still hate it here.”

squid.pngThe only joy I had was at dinner one evening. Seated at my table was the most gullible girl on the planet and a boy who had a cheerfully devious mind. He convinced her the red skins in our mashed potato were actually left over squid parts from our dissections earlier on in the day (which STILL made the cafeteria reek. Good God does the stench of raw squid guts cling to one’s clothes!) She believed every word and everyone was laughing.

trashbagOn Thursday night I had a fever but none of the staff believed me. Instead of sending me to the nurse they forced me on stage to perform a play with my speshul group of kids, who by the way had all week to plan a play and didn’t. I wore a trash bag and pretended to be an amoeba before slogging off stage trying not to barf.

Friday I wrote in the diary. “My favorite part of today was the bus ride home” SWEET GLORIOUS FREEDOM!

At the end of this trip I made a total of 0 new friends, though I’d like to think I learned a lot about how sometimes life just sucks and you have to deal with it on your own. Perhaps not the lesson I was supposed to learn…

 

 

Animal Tales · Childhood Memories · Personal Anectdotes

When Going to Dive Pet Stores was a Form of Entertainment

Springfield_Pet_ShopWhen I was growing up one of my favorite things to do was to go to little mom and pop pet shops that were scattered everywhere at the time, often in the strangest of places like in people’s homes in the middle of the woods. These were the days before PetCo and PetSmart took over, when each little shop had it’s own charisma and personality, and also back in the days when you generally went to a pet store to buy live pets.

merle_fancy_miceThese tiny establishments often lasted for years on the money they’d earn mostly selling live fish but also hamsters, gerbils, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, parrots, reptiles of all sorts, and on rare occasion purebred puppies or kittens. No one really knew about kitten or puppy mills back then and the sale of live animals was pretty much what kept these places going. It was a time that was both horrible and wonderful. It was horrible because even the dirtiest of places generally got by just fine without any harassment from the law, and wonderful because fanciers could go to a pet shop and find the strangest colors and mutations of common animals. Furless rats, satin mice, pointed gerbils, purple parakeets, you could find them all if you were willing to take a tour. This was a fun game for me.. and sometimes I brought friends along.

flyOnce when I was  brought my best friend to a shop nearby which she had never visited. I had gone to see if they still had bright crimson colored fancy mice as I had seen during my last visit. It was a store at someone’s house, in their basement, which was normal then. The first time I went it was pretty clean but on that day it was the middle of summer, the doors were open, and flies had infiltrated the entire building in great numbers. We hadn’t been in the shop long when all of a sudden my friend started squealing and charged out of the pet shop at great speed. I had no idea what just happened so I followed her out into the parking lot where I found her clawing at her ear.

“IT’S STILL IN THERE!!” She cried with much duress.

“What’s still in there?!”

“THE FLY! A FLY FLEW IN MY EAR!! AND I CAN STILL FEEL IT!!” She bounced up and down with great excitement, almost to the point of tears.

“I don’t think it’s still in there…” I tried not to laugh. She wasn’t the kind of person who appreciated it when I laughed at these little personal dramas. After all, it’s NOT FUNNY.

“IT IS!! IT ISS!! I DIDN’T FEEL IT FLY OUT!! OH MY GOD WHAT IF I SQUISHED IT IN THERE?! IT’S GOING TO BE IN MY EAR FOREVER!!!”

She was making this not laughing thing really hard. I wasn’t great at consoling her so I just watched, trying not to smile, until she calmed down, which took a great deal of time. Believe it or not this wasn’t the worst pet store I’d been to.

In a previous trip I brought her to a pet store that also doubled as the town shelter. I still don’t know if this was morally dubious or practically ingenious. I mean most pets who end up in shelters come from pet stores, why not make them into furry recycling centers?

germanshepard.pngThe owner of the shop followed us around from room to room,  sure we didn’t steal anything, being teenagers and all. I looked at the three impounded dogs including a German Shepard growling, barking, and trying to rip the door of his kennel off the hinges.

“Don’t try to pet that one!” The man yelled at us.

“Mmmm yeeeeah…. I was so going to try and pet that…. now I will have to leave sad and disappointed I didn’t have my face ripped off…”

sat_argBut even this was not the worst. The worst pet store I ever went to I brought a different friend with me to. It was a pet store I visited many times that had been in existence for decades. It operated out of a barn and home which advertised with two terrifying plywood creatures nailed over the door. One was some sort of freakish octopus and I don’t know what the other was, a folksy Rorschach test probably.  Anyway, this shop was always HORRIBLE, I mean outright disgusting. The smell was like nothing else I have ever encountered and it was dark, dank, and ill-kept. The first time I showed up here I rescued a heavily pregnant furless rat living in squalor with her two brothers. On all the next trips I was merely showing various friends and people how gross this place was. There was a fifty gallon tank on a top shelf that housed a massive colony of satin fancy mice. Their white fur glinted translucently in the few rays of sun that reached this far in and they were like little furry opals, absolutely gorgeous, if not for the fact they were a massive writhing swarm. They stood three or more layers thick on top of each other, writhing and running, with no part of their bedding visible between their frantic little bodies. The glass of the tanks were clouded with gunk.

hospital-bedWith each visit things got worse… At some point I realized all the trailers lining the street were not for human habitation. They had no driveways, but they smelled, and you could hear the barking of hundreds of dogs coming from within them. They all belonged to this one property. She was the first encounter I had with a puppy mill. Eventually the state started cracking down on her operation and just because she’d been there for ever was no longer enough justification to leave her alone. The last time I visited there were no living creatures inside the shop and dead center in the middle of the floor was an empty but set up hospital bed. I didn’t even walk in. The sight of that creped me out so badly I turned around and left. I hear the place is still running… now more than fifteen years since I left it… Sad, I would have much rather some of the nicer pet stores made it but alas, this seems to be the last stand out as PetCo and PetSmart put everyone else out of business.

 

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 Retellings of History · Objects · Personal Anectdotes

Mourning the Death of Microsoft Paint

AOL2I grew up at a strange time right before technology exploded when boom boxes with shiny new CD players were where it was at. It was also an age before home computers were common. Few people had them and my father was one of them. He probably had to have one for his work, you see he was working with this strange new thing called The World Wide Web. I was five and that sounded so deliciously mysterious to me. He tried to explain it to me, saying that he worked with computers – computers that talked to each other. Of course having no concept of the Internet I thought the computers were some sort of sentient beings that gossiped to other computers about their owners. I wondered if they’d be critiquing the scrawling doodles I was making in Microsoft Paint or share the story I was plagiarizing typing in the word program. Now I think about it this is pretty telling of my later social anxieties that instead of making the computers out to  be benevolent creatures they were fiercely critical spies… Huh!

dot-matrix_printer_paperBut anyways… since I didn’t live with my father I didn’t get to learn the computer much. My mother wouldn’t get a computer until I was ten, or maybe even twelve, – a pass down, as was much of our belongings. We were lucky to have it then, most of my other poor peers did not. The only thing it could really do was type and print what you had typed on long sheets of perforated paper. Ripping the “dots” off the sides of the paper was one of the most satisfying activities ever but it had to be saved for after something was printed, otherwise the paper would be useless. It was a cruel trick.

trojanIn these early days of the PC these were fragile machines. Being a kid I crashed them almost every time I had a chance to use them and even completely wiped the hard drive twice. Children have always been the worst virus ever to hit technology but I digress.

Over the years I learned how to use Microsoft Paint. Of course I drew houses like everyone else. It was so easy! Just make a box and a triangle and there you are! A house! A few more boxes and you had a chimney, windows, and a door. The perfect lazy drawing. Only in my teens did I take myself somewhat more seriously but not really… I started drawing comics of Glen the Hookah Smoking Caterpillar. He was the great grandson of the Hookah Smoking Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland… and one of the biggest reasons my bestie at the time would constantly be yelling, “WHHHHY do you have to make everyone think you’re on drugs?!” Glen was fat, rubbery, and made adorable babbling and squealing noises in my head. Recently I considered resurrecting him from the dead only to find Microsoft Paint is no longer being installed on new computers. The horror. The only user-friendly drawing program is dead! RIP Microsoft Paint. I will miss you.

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