Monday, April 15, 2024

Your Story Matters, Chapters 13, 14, & 15

Your Story Matters Chapters 13, 14 & 15



You Can't Edit a Blank Page



I was Catholic until I wasn't. That one-month break and the move to Hood River did it. I was a new kid at the Hood River school, and back in Oregon, I was a new kid at the Chenoweth grade school, where I completed the 5th and 6th grades. But we were back in Chenoweth, next door to the Oaks.


The novelist Boo Walker writes a newsletter every so often. In the last letter, Walker Whoopie do'ed about completing a first draft for another novel. "The trouble was," he said," it stank." But he knew he would fill the dull action, spark the dialogue, and add light and activity to his descriptions later. He, too, emphasized you can't edit an empty page. And then, to his horror, he wrote that his wife said his wardrobe was as bad as his first draft, and she was taking him shopping." Nooooo!"


Anne Lamott talks about "shitty first drafts." Don't let anyone see them." She also emphasizes that writing will give you what having a baby will, "It will get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, and wake you up." 


Publishing, on the other hand, will do none of those things. Yet, for many who take writing classes, such as those taught by Lamott and Julia Cameron, their primary goal is to be published. A teacher can go on and on about writing, the skills, the trials of it, and then a student will raise their hand, as though she hasn't been listening, and ask, "How do I get published?"


But think of it this way, while art/being creative sustains you, art not seen is just a picture stuck in a closet.


But first, the first draft.


I'm working on the 150th one at the time of this writing. (Really, I didn't count.)





Green Apples and Salt



I began the first grade when I was six years old.


We had no head start, preschool, or kindergarten. I remember my mother taking me to school that first day and sitting in one of those first-grade-sized desks, looking uncomfortable and silly.


As I said, I don't remember any lessons, we played at the big doll house, and I drew. 


I got sick in class one day, for which the teacher excused me, and I walked home across a field at the end of our street. I'm not still lying in that field, so clearly, I made it.


When not in school, the kids in the neighborhood played together; we ate sour gooseberries that hung over someone's fence and green apples with salt under the apple tree. On summer days, when the ice man came, he gave us shards of ice that were a treat, and on summer nights, we caught fireflies—lightning bugs, we called them. 


We played in the ditches after the rain. We played Kick the Can in the cool evenings until the sun went down, and we couldn't see the can anymore. Do you know how Kick-the-Can works? Someone is it, and he counts while the rest of the kids hide. Whoever can sneak in without being caught is safe if he can kick the can before being tagged.


All this sounds very old-time, and it is, but while we had an out-house and an open well (I shouldn't put both of those in the same sentence), my Aunt Marie, 6 years older than Mom and married before I knew her, lived in an apartment in town with indoor plumbing.


I wasn't entirely a wild child, at least not in Illinois, for someone—one of the three adults—dressed me for church. I had curls that my mother or Grandma rolled around their fingers, making perfect finger curls like Shirley Temple. I liked sitting beside Aunt Marie in Church, for she played with my hair while the Priest conducted Mass in Latin. We got up, sat down, and knelled so often that it kept the congregation awake.


When I went to mass in Oregon, I was older and would sit fixated on the beautiful statues at the front of the Church. The old Catholic Church in the Dalles is an art piece now. They use it only for special occasions like weddings, but when I went to the Catholic School, the school was across the street from the Church, and all services were there. Now, I think seeing a crucifix daily and the stations of the cross every time you go to church numbs the viewer to the horror of it and is not suitable for the eyes of a child or an adult, for that matter. 


We usually went to my Metcalf Grandparents' home for Christmas dinner in Illinois. That was why we always celebrated our Christmas at home on Christmas Eve. (I tried switching to Christmas mornings with my kids, but it never felt right.)


I remember running with the other kids, cousins at Grandma Metcalf's house, laughing, sweating, and running some more. Grandma Metcalf must have allowed kids to run wild in the house, and she kept a box of little toys, figurines, and such that I liked to play with when we visited. 


The parents of a cousin a little older than me would make her stop running, for they didn't want her to exert herself. I thought that odd. She had straight hair and envied my curls. I envied her dolls that had rooted hair. My dolls had glued-on wigs. (Her father was the editor of the town newspaper. I need him now.) 


There was a boy who seemed so grown up to me, maybe about 12, whose parents always told him they carried a hairbrush. (The threat was not to brush his hair.) I didn't understand why they would threaten him with a hairbrush. I thought he was so cool and the funniest kid. I adored him. He would put a flower behind his ear and entertain me. (Hey, maybe my cousin is Jim Carey.)


On Christmas Day, we kids were expected to entertain after Christmas dinner. I remember I sang Jingle Bells.


Aunt Marie and her family still lived in Illinois, and Neil and I spent a spectacular Christmas with them on Christmas break one school year when we lived in Oklahoma. Their daughter, Kathleen, had an early morning paper route, and I would go with her, the two of us slipping down snow-packed streets throwing Newspapers to houses. Marie took us to lunch at McDonald's, the first time I had ever had a McDonald's hamburger. She apologized for it, but I thought it was great. We had a super stacked hamburger with French fries. It was a special treat.


Marie told me that once her husband got sick out of town, and she was at a strange hospital, so she called my dad, and he came and sat with her. It was probably Aunt Marie who gave the pictures of me to my dad.


Years later, my half-sister, my father's other daughter, who lived in the Midwest, called from Portland. I drove to meet her and found that we were of similar ilk. I couldn't believe she was a biologist—Dad's two daughters were biology majors--and her name was Jan, the same name as my Korean sister. What are the chances? And what about genes? I wonder if I told her our father dissected a Carnival cardboard Tweety bird.


Since Jan, my half-sister, liked the out-of-doors, as I do, I suggested we go to one of my favorite places, Multnomah Falls, a short drive up the Columbia River from Portland. We had lunch at the lodge and hiked the trail up to the bridge that spans the falls. When I first saw that astonishing phenomenon of water falling from an enormous cliff, I was awestruck. Remember, I was born where it was flat, flat. Oregon is mountain mountain. I was like a native seeing a ship for the first time.








Mom grew big, fat, juicy, succulent tomatoes in a little fenced area behind their backyard on Chenoweth Road in The Dalles, Oregon. I never lived there. She and Mike bought the property after I married, but my little two-year-old daughter, Lisa, and I stayed there for a few days when I learned that my mother was terminally ill. 


Her sister, Marie, came from Illinois, and mom cried because we were all under the same roof; her children, there were four, three adopted, two Korean girls and a boy, Bill, the miracle child she thought she couldn't have. Bill was ten years old. 


When I was nineteen out of high school and working for a local dentist as a dental assistant, Mom and Mike drove to Portland to meet the plane arriving from Korea that held several Korean children who had been Proxy adopted, a process my mother helped establish. 


I'm sorry I didn't go that day. I didn't take off work for a dentist depends largely on his assistant. 


Mom told of meeting the plane and how it seemed magical—each child appeared to recognize their new parents. Jan, however, had a meltdown that evening, crying and calling a Korean name we didn't understand. Small wonder that she would be disheartened, for she had flown that day from Korea, rode the 90 miles from Portland to The Dalles and was thrust into a new home where there was a friendly dog she was afraid of. 


Someone later thought the name she was calling was "Grandmother."


Jan spent her life believing her parents had been killed, that she was hidden in a closet, and that she was taken to the orphanage by her grandmother. That was all she remembered from her Korean life. And unlike many Korean adoptees, she never wanted to visit Korea. She was an American.


Jan was a darling and so tiny. We didn't know if she could walk. We were told that she was 3 years old, but later, a dentist determined that she was probably older;  determined from the age her adult teeth erupted. That first night, when Mom set her on the floor, she just stood sobbing. 


The bubble bath in the kitchen sink worked its charm. When mom placed her in it, the smile that broke through Jan's face was like the clouds opening to the sun.


When Jan was dressed and snugly warm, Mom took that sweet little child to bed with her, and it was a love affair that lasted a lifetime—for Jan, Mom, and me. When I was away for the day at work, Jan would wander through the house, asking, "Where Jo?"


On the last August of her life, I feasted on Mom's tomatoes, eating them like apples with salt and pepper. And for lunch, I added a slab of bologna rolled into whole wheat bread. 


Mike had a van, and he chauffeured Mom, Marie, the kids, Lisa, and me on an outing to Lost Lake, one of our favorite picnic places. There are no power boats allowed on the lake, however, they rent oared boats and canoes. If you paddle to the middle of the lake, you see the mountains dip so that Mt. Hood is framed between them. As you sit in a boat in the middle of the lake with the framed snow-capped mountain reflected in the lake you wonder if God had Her sketch pad out the day she created that view. 


It was Mom's last outing. 


Later, with Mom in the hospital, Mike took the kids, Lisa, and me to a drive-in movie, where we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Mike knew someone from the concession and they gifted us with a huge  cardboard box of popcorn. Lisa fell asleep in my arms before the child-stealing thief appeared in the film, so she always had sweet memories of the film. 


Jan was attending a church camp when Mom died, much to her dismay, for she felt, as teenagers often do, that Mom had something more to tell her. I don't think so. Losing her mom was a deep sadness for her. 


About three days before Mom died, I cleaned her house, loaded the kids into their Van, and drove to the hospital to visit her. Walking in the front door, I felt a liquid trickle down my legs and rushed to the restroom. "Oh, no!" I blurted out. 


From the next stall came, "What's wrong?" 


"I'm pregnant, and I'm bleeding!"


A nurse rushed me to a doctor who didn't treat me. Instead, he told me to go home and stay in bed. I did for about a week while my mother-in-law cared for Lisa and me. There, I got a call from the hospital that Mom had died.


Three days later, my doctor back in California said I could get up for the funeral. At the funeral, I held that little 6-year-old recently adoptee's hand. More for me than for her probably, for she never really got to know my mother, as she had come into the family only a year before. But I felt sorry for her that she was losing a mother for the second time. I said I didn't cry easily, but I cried for my mother. 


My mother-in-law felt she could better serve the day by keeping Lisa for me instead of going to the funeral. My favorite memory of those days with my mother is her sitting on the couch talking to my two-year-old. Both talked with their hands and as they spoke, I don't know of what, my picture of them is of hands waving, chatting, gesturing, and talking up a storm. 


At the church, I stood in the pew and mentally declared to the Universe that I was not losing another one, meaning my mother and the child I was carrying.


The Universe complied, and my baby was born healthy. I've always believed that my mom and my daughter met as mom was leaving and my daughter was coming in.