Gym Vocabulary

My blog is all about personal anecdotes, and you may have noticed that lately my blog posts have been a bit sporadic  (if “sporadic” means non-existent).  Blame my whole lack of doing things or maybe blame the folks I’m around for carrying on like normal people are supposed to (“normal” as depicted on television, film, or a Norman Rockwell painting – all great sources of reality, and it’s actually quite mind boggling (dare I say disturbing?) that the people I know are behaving in such a way). Let’s face it, If someone isn’t methodically slamming their grocery cart into the back of mine repeatedly instead of saying, “excuse me” or you know, moving around my cart obstacle, it can be challenging to tease together a blog-worthy story.  (Ok, I suppose that guy never actually made it to the blog, but mostly because I wasn’t bolstered by a pitchfork carrying mob or in the presence of a bruiser of a bodyguard to shout, “get ‘im!”at.)

A few weeks back, a certain mouse suggested a blog post  based off a comment about the gym. I’m going to  run with that idea, since there’s only so much I can tell you about my photo appearing in the local online paper’s “A List” (it’s all about timing and a Santa hat) or going to see Postmodern Jukebox (YouTube video below).

Austin 360 – Conspirare’s Big Sing! Event

Anyway, back to the story about the gym.

Since I started actively going to the gym in August, I’ve learned that my trainer and I have very different understandings when it comes to the definitions of words.  I personally blame her Midwestern upbringing – maybe the harsher conditions or plain living affected her brain adversely.  Who knows? Granted, I realize that people outside of Texas may find this statement ironic or even scoff at the idea that Texans can actually get anything right (insert a few political jokes here), but I contend based on my limited interaction with this delightful Missouri native, that I have a better understanding of words – at least when it comes to adjectives.

On any given weekday I arrive at training dressed in my gym finery with my hair pulled back, holding my water bottle (lest I be stuck drinking spit as she’s suggested before), and exuding my pluckiest, “it’s 5:30am!!!!!” attitude, which may look like I’ve been hit in the face with a door repeatedly, but it’s an exceptionally plucky door.  On a couple of those days, I meet up with my trainer Jenn who always declares, “you’re going to LOVE what we’re doing today; it’s going to be so much FUN!” She somehow manages to deliver this news with a straight face every time.  Clearly, she’s not a person to be trifled with should a poker game break out (as you know they often can do in the middle of a gym).

This is usually where I tell Jenn, as she’s doing a little dance, because “fun” and “love” somehow also involve an impromptu dance or song, that I don’t think she understands the meanings of the words she’s using.  See, her idea of “fun” and “love” usually involve me temporarily losing my ability to move easily out of chairs for a day. On days where things are “super fun”, I lose that same ability to move easily for multiple days – maybe even a weekend.   Pitiful noises including tiny gasps and whimpering echo quietly through the office or house.  I dread “super fun” days. Thankfully, those days occur less often.  In fact, I haven’t had a true “super fun” day in months.  I don’t tell Jenn this in the event she gets worried we’re not having as much “fun” as we could.

Just recently a new word, “chipper,”  was added to her twisted vocabulary.  I wish she’d waited until she was a little more clear on “fun” and “love” before jumping into a brand new word, but what can you do? “Chipper” is very similar to those other words in that its definition is the exact opposite of what a normal person would expect.  You see, upon exploring the topic of a “chipper,” which is used as a noun of all things, I’ve learned you definitely won’t be anything close to “chipper” (the adjective) upon its completion. Instead, you can expect to be sweaty, exhausted, or even a little unsteady, but likely not chipper as what once passed as muscle becomes rubber, and you contemplate how long one can lay on the mat breathing heavily before others become alarmed.   “Chipper,” in her crazy upside down world, describes  a series of events designed to make you cry. I think “they” (the gym “man”) uses it as a way to lure you in – a good old fashioned “bait and switch” technique.  “Here Beth, we’re going to do something “fun”, you’re going to “love” it, it’s called a “chipper.”” A sentence that roughly translates to, “you will probably hate your life, but thanks to your early onset senility you’ll likely do this again and again, because hey we’ve called it a “chipper””.

I think they may be right. As I finished my chipper last week, and went about returning all of the various equipment (you see, a chipper also involves hoarding all loose gym equipment Smaug style, but said like “smog” instead of “sma-ooog” because that’s just silly), I passed by Jenn who cheerfully called out, “how did you enjoy that chipper?”  And I,  being sensitive to her vocabulary challenges, called back, “it was fun! I loved it! It was my favorite!” This prompted her to give me a thumbs up and misuse another word in response, “AWESOME!!”

I then took my “awesome” self back to the locker room ending another “awesome” moment at the gym.  Of course, tomorrow I’ll be back at it for more “fun,” more things I “love,” and ready for another day where I “chipper” my heart out even though the meanings of these words are a bit mixed up.

And now for some Postmodern Jukebox – a GREAT show!  Thanks to Ben for introducing me to them and April for going with me as part of my birthday month silliness.

Sam Update: We’re Getting Old, Mom

This is more a family post, and of course by “family” I mean “people I’d hug in an airport after having not seen them in a while” or “people I’d give a jovial pat on the back to – of course, from a respectable distance. You know, the ones I’d still have cocktails with while trying to dust the cobwebs out of my memory ‘how is… oh, you know…  him? That guy you’ve lived with for like 15 years'” (aka my “close” friends).  (To my friends: I totally know the names of your significant others except that one friend who switches them out so much that I can’t keep track; I’m just too old  – in your case, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve named the guy of the moment “Jeff” – seems generic enough, and I’m sure .01% of the time I might be right.)

Anyway, the rest of you are welcome to stay (who knows, one day I might hug you in an airport), but the post may get boring in bits.  For the rest of you, particularly Drew (Sam’s favorite long distance uncle), here’s the update:

After surviving 7 years of kitty trauma, a new beast has entered the house.  The smallish ball of fluff and claws goes by Quincy and appears to be easily amused by round things, tubey things, sproingy things, and all things Sam.  Sam is the best!!! Sam would like you to know that despite Quincy’s best efforts to extend the olive branch of friendship (which usually comes in the form of tail batting and Quincy desperately trying to rub his head against her chin) that she is onto his clever ploys and not having it!  Sam has explained in her disgruntled old lady way, on more than one occasion, that she’s wise to Quincy’s motives. He’s a cat. Sam would also like it noted that all of the food is Sam’s – Quincy’s food, the human’s food, food that may not be readily visible or in the house, food that may be a chef’s pipe dream – that’s all hers – move along.  The joys of a furry kingdom.

The not as fun bits – Sam is almost 13 years old, and as all the other pet owners at the vet who ask Sam’s age like to point out as they sigh dramatically, she’s practically at death’s door.  At Monday’s appointment a woman cheerily offered, “well, my friend’s beagle is 17 – of course, she’s blind and miserable – oh hey, good luck at your appointment!” Jay would say at this point, “that’s not exactly what she said,” but I have a blog, and well that was my take away.  Sam was at the vet Monday, because the previous week she had become somewhat listless – she’d completely stopped her peppy runs to get food, or to get snacks, or to see what we were up to (just in case food was involved – paws crossed – hey, she’s a hound).  Instead she walked slowly, face and ears drooped, and tail down. Normally, when she’s slowed down it’s due to a flare up of her arthritis (after two CCL surgeries she has arthritis in her knees as well as her hips and shoulders). I scheduled an appointment so we could get her pain managed – hooray for anti-inflammatories. However, right before we were about to take her in she staggered across the room, her legs went out from under her and she fell; this was a new symptom that was heartbreaking to see.  We arrived at the vet carrying her in a blanket as she shook uncontrollably completely unable to walk.

After her examination, which involved me having to jump in with things like “she had Horner’s Syndrome in both sides of her face, which is why she’s not blinking as quickly for your eye test” and “she’s had surgeries on both her knees, and has arthritis which is why she taking a moment to recover from her paw being folded over,” the vet came back with her diagnosis. The long and short of it is that Sam injured her neck. We’re not sure how, and the vet couldn’t tell us  if she had a spinal injury, a pinched nerve, or if it was muscle strain.  The vet said “to x-ray her I’d need to sedate her and with her kidney issues (she’s old) I’d rather avoid it since what I’m going to recommend is the exact same thing we’d end up doing regardless of what the x-ray showed.  This “exact same thing” equals more meds (steroids, muscle relaxers, and generic Pepcid to keep everything down), cold compresses on her neck, and neck massages.  All of this is added on top of her old lady meds of glucosamine, fish oil, kidney meds, and pain killers.

Sam’s current (daunting) daily med regimen – everything on the top row is just a normal day (minus the AAA batteries). The bottom row represents new additions. Note: “acid” is actually “antacid” – we’re not quite that cruel.

The hardest thing is watching as she tries to get around – she stumbles, her paws cross awkwardly in front of each other as she does her best to remain balanced. Then there are the falls.  She’ll be fine, and then she’ll go over.  Thankfully, she prefers to lay down. The second hardest is her appetite.  She’s a hound! Sure, your dog may have an appetite – that’s cute, but you clearly haven’t met a hound.  Hounds are stomachs with legs and a nose. The vet warned before we left, “these steroids will make her hungrier than usual and extremely thirsty”.  I thought, “ugh, a perfect beagle storm”.  Sam will gladly recount the 2,685+ days that she’s been famished. Hey, what does it take to get some food up in this place?  It turns out the new meds not only have not made her more hungry (that would be too easy), they’ve made it so she now has a strong distaste for all of her food.  This includes all of the pill pockets we typically use to hide away the 100 pills she must ingest daily.  Carrots, which were something we might kill a new kitten over a week ago, are disgusting.  Food that had to be delivered in a slow feed bowl – disgusting.  Green beans, which we loved – disgusting.  In fact, she’s a little curious as to why we seem hell bent on insulting her with this garbage.  Attempts to hide pills in peanut butter (which we loved, but now hate), cheese (which is fine, I suppose, but only if flat and not in a ball which might be secreting a pill), or the Kong bacon/cheese whiz stuff (which used to be super delicious) are met with contempt and a firm patooey.   (Patooey’s always end with a happy wag that says, “you can’t fool me with your poisons! Silly mom!”) Then a light went off, “hey wait a minute, I can pill a 29 lb. dog”.  I mean, I’ve pilled cats and Sam is a lot easier than any of our cats.  Great thought.  Points to me for having it – oh sweet, delightful hubris – but you see when it comes to a neck injury, you can’t get that throat into the ideal position for pilling.  One small whimper reminded me, and we’ve been pilling as a last resort in the least ideal of neck positions.  Least ideal neck positions equal more patooey’s and some unnecessary hurtful comments about the less than ideal flavor of my fingers. Thank God for hot dogs, which still do the trick (most of the time).  As for food, we’ve also discovered that boiled chicken (YUMMMMMY!!!) and rice (meh) work.  They can also be blended, along with glucosamine, into a lovely paste.  How I miss the days I could simply put the glucosamine pill on the floor and it would be lapped up with a wag and a happy, “what else you got?” look.

As of today, nearly a week out from the vet visit, Sam is walking better, wagging more, and even trotting – maybe not as steadily as she can, but it’s a huge improvement since Monday.  Quincy has seen Sam’s injury as a real opportunity to become best buds,.  Proper bonding involves leaping out at her while she’s trying to get some rest, flopping down and rolling on his back in her path, extra sniffs, and sticking his head in her bowl while she’s eating (and not getting yelled at – at least not by Sam).  This is a super exciting time, and he figures they’ll be cuddling any day now.  Sam mostly pretends that Quincy is a hallucination and does her best to ignore him.

Over the past year we’ve had some serious talks with her about not getting old, but unfortunately she doesn’t seem to want to listen.  Still, despite the chatter of the other vet clients, she’s not at death’s door yet.  She’s just an old lady – a little slow, a little arthritic, but still our happy girl. (And happier each day as she becomes more and more steady.)

I’m Coming Out

I really hadn’t planned on coming out.  At least I hadn’t planned on doing it right away, maybe in 6 months or so, but there I was in the middle of a training session filled with colleagues, and I was glaring threateningly at one of the few people I’d mistakenly shared my secret with.  “Oh my God! She did NOT just out me in front of everyone!” screamed through my brain. I had stupidly trusted her with the information. I thought knowing might help her to realize there was at least one other person out there – a person who “got it” – a kindred spirit who also struggled as she did – something that might help her push through one more day.  And there she was loudly asking me in front of God and everyone else, “Soooo… how many laps did you do?”

“Laps?” I raised my brow, “you mean laps?” as if I’d suddenly forgotten English.

“Yeah, how many laps did YOU do?”

Oh no, she was NOT calling me out in front of a roomful of folks.  I was indignant. They weren’t supposed to know! If I’d wanted them to know, I would have made a t-shirt. I did a quick mental check to confirm I hadn’t been to CafePress recently, which meant  it wasn’t on my agenda to share that information ever.

Since she put it out there for the world, or at least these 10 people,  I’ll go ahead and tell you, too:

I go to the gym.  

I’d been going to the gym daily (or at least each workday) for about 6 weeks, and it wasn’t something I planned on advertising to anyone other than a select few.  I wanted to do my thing without discussion – without status reports, “Hey, how is the gym going? Seeing any results? How do you feel? Feel different? Feel invigorated every time you leave? Don’t you love it? I’m so proud of you!” but since she brought it up in front of everyone, I also wasn’t about to lose in front of my peers.

“Laps?” I repeated, and then I puffed up.  “I don’t DO laps, but if you want to talk about how much I lifted today or maybe how much I pressed, I’d be happy to do that.”  A quiet little  “ooo” circulated through the room.  Smackdown gym style. IN YOUR FACE! That seemed to satisfy her.  She turned around with a smile.

I was relieved that worked.  Had she taken me up on the challenge, I would have had to admit to a very unimpressive and quite wobbly 20 lb. barbell lift over my head while my trainer kept cheering, “you can do it! You got this!” My friends (you know who you are) have long admired my T-Rex like arm strength, and have long speculated on what my little arm appendages might be for – surely, not moving things bigger than cotton balls (hey, a daily face regimen is important and cotton balls aren’t as light as the little cotton ball manufacturers would lead you to believe).  The other things I pull and push may have been a little heavier, but were also equally unimpressive in the scheme of things.  Hey, I know an Olympic-style lifter/trainer.  She could do my routine with her pinky finger. (It’s a super impressive pinky finger! Fear her pinky!). In fact, when it comes to the actual weights I find it’s ok, even preferred, to have one’s glasses off. That way you’re not fighting to keep them up and you also don’t have to see how pitiful you really are – your trainer will make a note.  Thankfully, sans glasses, you also can’t see those notes.  Gyming without glasses makes you immediately stronger!

Of course, her calling me out led to that day’s class trainer making a gigantic deal about it.  “What time do you go?” 5:30 am.  “How do you find the motivation?” Ummm… the alarm won’t stop making this awful noise unless I get up.  (Although, the truth may involve Starfleet Academy and running through the Kobayashi Maru scenario or maybe it doesn’t. I’m not saying. Look, I don’t judge your motivators.  There’s also an opportunity to go to New Zealand.  Oh ok, now you’re on board? Really?  Starfleet is cool, too. Pffft.)  All of these questions (and there were many) in front of a room full of people who were suddenly very interested in a thing I didn’t want them to know about.  Thanks.  Thanks for that.

The next gym day with the trainer, “I need you to beat someone up.  That’s a thing, right?”  Apparently that’s not a thing.  Hey, it was worth a shot.

Now that you all know, I’ll share with you some of the important things I’ve learned from my trainer.  By the way, her name is Jenn and Jenn is kind of a rock star with an infinite amount of patience especially for my unending shenanigans.  She’s also a great source of Yoda-esque wisdom though she tends to run her words in the right order.

“Beth, I want you to toss that ball up in the air  like you’re throwing it behind you.  Really toss it up there.” For the record, this is a giant 10 lb. ball.  Hey, I mentioned the T-Rex thing; It’s heavy to me.
“What do I do if it’s coming down at me?”
“Oh, most people move, but if you want to take it in the face just stand there.”

Laying on a bench, “Beth, stop lifting the weights over your face.” (pause) “Not over the face, Beth.”

(I like to call this “foreshadowing” for my future accident)

“Beth, you’re not that weak.”
“Are you sure?”

“Jenn, I forgot my water bottle.”
“Well, I guess you’ll be drinking your spit today!”

These are all things  I just wouldn’t get anywhere else. (Ok, maybe from a few/all of my friends.)

Recently I asked:

“Jenn, have you ever fired a client?” (Hey, I accept I’m challenging)
“Yes”
“If you think you’re about to fire me, would you give me a hint? Like maybe say the word “Sasquatch” in the middle of a sentence?”
“HAH! Ok, but I’m not going to fire you as long as you keep trying.” (whew!)
“Deal!”

So, it looks like I’ll be at the gym a bit longer.
Just don’t ask me about it.

LIfe Lessons from the Trailer Park

When last we chatted I believe I convinced you that I had in fact been born (remember that picture of a random baby? surely that was me – I hinted as such), and proclaimed that I “grew up” in a trailer park.  It turns out “growing up” encompasses approximately 3 years; I was a fast grower.

It also turns out (lots of things turning today) you can learn a lot about life in a trailer park in only a few years.  Here are a few of my take-aways:

  • Ponies are angry little equine jerks whose backsides should be avoided at all costs.  Just because you’re little and it’s little, and it has those impossibly big, inviting eyes doesn’t mean there’s a special bond.  The back-kick to the chest is not a love thump or thank you for the sweet sweet weeds picked with tender love and care.  Trailer ponies (a distinct breed) are treacherous, bi-polar, and should be avoided at all cost. Now when I see a pony I make sure to point at my eyes and then to theirs, so they’re keenly aware I’m watching them.  I then nibble on the carrots brought for the more lovely quarter horses (whose hind sides I also avoid) chewing slowly and defiantly.  Thank you pony for showing me the lay of the field when I was 5.  For the record “My Pretty Pony” is a pack of lies!
  • Ice cream men trailer park dwellers are much like ponies, but not as endearing.  You can read one of my first posts about how I tried to kill the neighborhood ice cream man at this age here:  Death to the Ice Cream Man   (trust me, he had it coming)
  • Trailer parks are a great place to discard your fresh deer carcass. Everyone loves driving by a bloody rib cage, and hey the dogs love to romp around with the lower parts of the legs.  I know my dog loved it!  
  • The single older gentleman who lives in the streamline up the way and offers up fudgsicles to you and your friend Rudy (if you’ll only come inside and sit with him a bit) is totally on the up-and-up despite what your mother says. “Don’t go over there anymore” clearly means, “it’s ok as long as I don’t know about it.” Good thing you are a pro at translating “Mom”.
  • The edges of the park are surrounded by mud that will suck the shoes off your feet (and your Mom’s).  Do not attempt to cross without an adult with strong legs and determination.
  • “Why did their trailer catch on fire?” “Insurance” makes absolutely no sense as an explanation when you’re 5.  However, the added words “and you and Rudy stay out of there, it’s dangerous” clearly means, “it’s ok as long as I don’t know about it.” Again, you’re a Mom translating pro!  Sadly, our legs were too short and the steps up to the trailer were removed after the burned-out husk was deposited in the nearby field, but it didn’t stop Rudy or I from looking in that fire gutted place on numerous occasions longingly.
  • People can get freaky about caterpillars (dude, it’s not an asp – I’m holding it my hand), but hey if you agree to throw it in the street, you’ll get a reward like another fudgsicle (assuming you’re not already full on fudgsicles from that friendly/lonely guy in the streamline).
  • Placing a swing set on concrete is a cruel idea.  You’re not a gymnast.  You were told not to play on it without an adult.  It’s best to suck in those tears over your cracked skull, because your Mom is going to be so mad if she finds out. Remember, everything is fair game as long as Mom doesn’t know.  But OUCH!!!!.  Again, I curse kid physics for the oopsie that led to the brain injury, but it does explain so much now.
  • Swarming yellow jackets are only slightly better than trailer ponies, and they’re infinitely better than unapologetic, dog-killing, ice cream men.  It turns out that if you unwittingly jump up and down on a piece of board laid over a cinder block, and beneath the aforementioned board is a yellow jacket’s nest, the occupants of said nest get a bit testy and swarmy.  The best thing to do in that situation is stand still-ish and scream until a parent runs into the angry swarm, scoops you up, and then tries to work through what to do next.  It turns out bleach is an amazing remedy.  Basic science: bases neutralize acid.  Another fun fact: wasp stings are alkaline; however, yellow jacket stings are in fact acidic.  This is also one of the few times you’ll hear me say that I’m glad I wore glasses at an early age. I had yellow jackets protesting the kid induced earthquake in my face, but my eyes were reasonably safe.  Jay recently (last weekend) noted my extreme distaste for yellow jackets when he offered to set a nest on fire, and I didn’t bat an eye.  “Yes, do that!” I cheered him on enthusiastically. Normally setting things on fire from a can sounds extremely dangerous and like something to be avoided at all costs.  I genuinely don’t advocate that kind of thing, but I balanced that against how I really despise yellow jackets (blame them and their early declaration of war on my body).  Anyway, as I said I don’t advocate it until a nest appeared underneath my BBQ pit, and it’s only by pure luck that I noticed it.  I had been thinking “let’s BBQ things! Carbon kissed veggies and meats!”  Had I not seen it, I would have disturbed the nest and Yellow Jacket-a-Geddon Part Deux would have been hosted on my face.  So yeah, burn that thing down. Also try not to let the can explode in your hand, but if that happens well sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good  (Please don’t tell my father. Wasps are useful. They play an important part in the larger ecosystem.  They help with mosquitos?  That’s what their PR worker bee/wasps claim at least.  We love them. Mmm hmm.  Now grab an aerosol can and a lighter.)  

There you have it,  a few of the  things I learned at an early age in our little corner of trailer heaven.  And people claim nothing good comes out of a trailer park. Hah!  Next up, ghost stories – the one and only time I saw a ghost, and how that started an after-life fight that’s still rages on.

Mr. Illiterate Wrong Tracks and His Jolly Dr. Pepper Spam-Eating Bride: An Autobiography

When I started this blog some 9 years ago (good grief) the main goal was to practice writing. If I could somehow amuse my family and friends then that was a bonus.  If I could force them to continue to read without amusing them (as I’ve managed to do), then that was like a super double bonus plus! Go loyalty! The focus or theme or what have you was to write-up anecdotes using the style I’ve always used – the “style” (I really feel that needs some air-quotes) being how I tend to write letters (now emails) to friends.  I’m all over the place – like this paragraph.  They never minded that bit, seemed to encourage it at times, “you write like you speak,” and thus you suffer. Shake your head at them.

I’ve been waiting for a good anecdote to share, but unfortunately an interesting one hasn’t really risen up.  I suspect it’s because I travel in the wrong circles.  That’s right friends, I’m calling you out – you and your clear lack of “right” circle-ness. There’s a geometry joke in there.  Ok, sure there was the one guy at the Humane Society last week.  His fit-pitching was fairly epic as I waited patiently(ish) to ask about a fluffy sole who was clearly calling to me behind the glass, but again not much of a story since I walked out without being helped. His fit had reached a new exciting blend of frustration and confusion over some fairly simple rules. (For the record, Humane Society rules are just not that hard, guy! You don’t have a permanent place for a cat.  One day you will, but that’s not today.)  I also managed to smash a joint on my thumb on the same day.  I keep insisting it’s purple and at least five times bigger than it was earlier in the day only to be asked by these so-called friends while comparing the thumbs side-by-side, “which thumb is it?” Uh, the big purple one!  (It’s purple on the inside?)  It still smarts – probably nerve damage.  It will likely have to be removed. Sadly, it happens to be the thumb I hit the space bar with. Soon my writing will be devoid of spaces.  Iapologizeinadvance.

So, in light of this writing lull and to keep practicing (because after 9 years there hasn’t been any noticeable progress)  I’ve resolved to write an autobiography of sorts.  I know, right?  Some of history’s most famous and infamous people have them and now we can add famous, infamous and Beth. It’s a literary milestone.

I’ll start off slow.  I don’t want to completely overwhelm you with the life and times of the lower middle-class all at once – the adventures of a monolingual speaker who has barely escaped the borders of their state much less the country.  Hey, there was that time I went to Canada.  Boy, talk about culture shock! Loonies and toonies – where do they come up with that stuff?

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (So I’m reminded in song.)

They claim this is a photo of me, but really it could be anyone. Parents, just because you wrote my name on the back doesn’t prove anything. I’m watching you!

I was born.  At least that’s what I’ve been told, and as proof I’ve been presented various papers and a book with a few photos documenting the event.  It’s all rather convenient and a bit suspicious if you ask me. Some of the photos show these youthful kidults who I can confirm did grow up to be my parents. They look a bit tired in the earlier pictures. I’m told they remained that way for approximately 18 years and then something inexplicable happened that made them look and feel lighter. I’ve never been able to identify precisely what changed, but it must have been fairly important.  Although, I admit I’ve seen the weight return over the years, which oddly corresponded with some big things in my life. Must be some sort of weird symbiotic thing.

Both of my parents were from Dallas.  Mom from Highland Park and Dad from South Oak Cliff.  If you’re familiar with Dallas, you understand the significance.  If you’re not, then to sum it up – Mom was born on the right side of the tracks (in fact those tracks aren’t even Dallas tracks, they’re tracks in their own city within Dallas) and Dad was born on the very wrong side of the tracks.  I later learned that many of Dad’s (and his family’s) numerous shortcomings had to do with his tracks (those shortcomings multiplied x10 each year post their divorce). I learned from Dad that people from the right side of the tracks (aka “your mother”) tended to marinate Spam in a lovely Dr. Pepper based sauce.  Dad wasn’t particularly good at lobbing insults.

I’m not really sure what initially drew them together.  Mom would say she thought Dad was smart, but was proven wrong; he was only social climbing – tricked her by claiming to read books. Clever guy! Dad said something along the lines of Mom was really nice and fun.  Bless his heart.

I’m personally from a trailer park in West Dallas.  Well, that’s probably not true.  My parents were both attending school when I was born, and I’m told we lived in Arlington.  There are more pictures that they claim  prove we lived there, but we could be any place, and I find these people somewhat sketchy.  I mean can you really trust Mr. Illiterate Wrong Tracks and his Jolly Dr. Pepper Spam-eating bride? (Just think, I am the product of that union; it actually  explains so much about my personality and my humor???)

Quick disclaimer to stop any gasping: I absolutely would tease my parents in this way.  In fact, I’m teasing Dad now.  Dad, you’re welcome!  To post a retort, I guess you’ll need to work on that new blog of yours.  Now you have incentive. You’re welcome, part two.

Next up, the trailer park! (In other words, I’m cutting this short and giving you a small reprieve.  There’s only so much “me” one should be forced to sit through in one day.)  And I’ll leave you with a little Julie Andrews, because I stupidly got this song stuck in my head where it is now firmly lodged.  I only have myself to blame.

Family Myths: More Ancestry

I realize there were a couple of you who started following my blog out of a shared interest in ancestry, and just as soon as you hit that follow button, I managed to hop down every other crazy blogging bunny trail except anything resembling family trees.  This one is for you.

Like every family we have our family myths – among them are:

  • My 4th great-grandmother was the first cousin of Davy Crockett
  • Our family owned a plantation in Georgia
  • The plantation in Georgia was partly used as a basis for Tara from Gone with the Wind
  • A Union soldier took my great-great grandfather’s new shoes when he was a little boy, and threw them down a well.  When the man returned as a carpetbagger years later, my great-great grandfather chased him out of town.
  • There was a secretary (the wooden kind, and by wooden not “stoic” unless you’re anthropomorphizing a desk) used by Gen. Wm. T. Sherman from where he issued the orders to burn Atlanta.  His signature can still be found carved into the desk (he must have been hell on nibs, or maybe the secretary was made from balsa wood).
  • And then the newest one – my great-grandfather worked for a railroad in Chatanooga and killed a man with the ticketing tool, because the man offended him.  My great-grandfather was fired from his job for breaking the tool. He was never punished for the crime, because the man he killed was African American and this was at the turn of the 20th century.

I’m a tad cynical when it comes to any myth, but when it comes to family myths I’m even more so. Deep down, I want these stories to be true.  They’re part of my make-up.  They’re partyly how I’ve always define myself. They’ve occasionally been  the reason I’ve stood toe-to-toe with someone in and shouted, “I am SO his cousin!!” Then as I grew older, and could throw in the occasional smidge of maturity,  would dismissively retort, “I don’t need to prove it to you.  I know what’s true.” It turned out that I eventually needed to prove it to me, too..

With the help of my Mom, I proved that dear ol’ Davy wasn’t my 4th great-grandmother’s first cousin as was depicted in one hand-drawn family tree. (Actually, it was that hinky little line that said “Davy Crockett” that started the investigation.)  Let me just say you don’t exactly get a hero’s welcome when you make that announcement to the family.  No, “hey Beth, thanks for taking away a bit of my identity – that a girl!” I had single-handedly (dual-handedly since Mom helped?) dismissed one of our better family stories.  Go me!  On the bright side, if there is a bright side, we did prove we are related even though it’s quite distant.  That’s a win, right? Still cousins! Everything is ok! Sure, his father and my 5th great-grandfather weren’t brothers, but really whose is? Brothers! Who made that stuff up? Am I right? Really all our findings meant was that dear sweet Sarah (GGx4) was probably not helping Davy kill bears when he was only three, and thus the song was all about Davy. Scene stealer.

The one I’m currently working on, since I can’t disprove shoes being tossed down any wells, is about the secretary.  It’s supposedly still in the family. I had asked if someone could send me a few photos of it. I wasn’t even looking for the story to be a myth. I had only wanted to see the desk of legend, and maybe a close-up of the carved-in name. I figured this would be a rather simple request.  Well, it turns out the person to ask is elderly and may not understand who I am. Then the story became that writing would be out of the question – it would be even more confusing. Oh, and well, we don’t even have her address.  It might be better to conference you in on a phone call. (I should mention here a quirk of mine: I was a telemarketer in college and after for several years  (yes, the bane of your evening routine), and after countless chats over countless years, I do not care to be on the phone for any length of time.  In fact, I chose my particular career path based on limited phone time. It’s actually a screening criteria when go job hunting. The only reason I carry a cell phone is for emergencies (oh, but I did discover the joys of the GPS, so it’s dual purpose – GPS and phone rock in my purse for emergencies), and I never have the ringer on; there’s no point in calling it.  In sum, I kind of have a freakish little phone phobia.  So, when I hear sentences that go “I’ll conference Beth in,” they sound like my perfect idea of a nightmare. I’m sure Dante forgot the phone level of Hell, but I know it exists.) I cheerfully declined and worked on my back-up plan to get the information.  Sadly, it involved two hours of phone time (oh karma, if we ever meet in a dark alley…), but it got the information flowing again.  I contacted a cousin who is part of the particular family branch who supposedly have the secretary. It became its own challenge. Before I could even get him to contact this branch, he insisted on blustering (for two hours – did I mention two hours?) about the censuses of the time, and how our shared relatives didn’t live anywhere near where Sherman had come through and that their property values didn’t support a plantation (there goes a 3rd myth). The conversation was akin to listening to a timeshare pitch in order to win the blow-up cooler. “Before I’ll ask, you must hear me out on why your side of the family are morons.” He actually used the phrase, “Mary Chrstine’s family…” as a way to deride us which “may” have lead to some voice raising on my part since Mary Christine is my great-grandmother. It almost wasn’t worth the blow-up cooler, but I was an hour in and I really wanted my way.  (An only child thing?) Then he asked if I understood logic. (He’s one of those who would jovially describe himself as the smartest person in any room – possibly all the rooms.), and I still insisted, “talk to those people who we think might have the secretary and let me know what THEY say.”  Yes, I understand the logic, but I wanted to hear directly from the source of those who are believed to have the secretary. Maybe there’s some piece of the story we don’t know.  I’m just not in the habit of making assumptions. Yes, I get Occam’s Razor. Yes, this is likely a tall tale, but hey, let’s ask the questions and not summarily discount stories because they don’t neatly line up with a census paper trail.  There’s a reason the story is there.

Well, I finally convinced, him and he contacted the cousin who I was told would know where the secretary was. Unfortunately, she had never heard of the secretary.She also had never heard about any plantation, but she did agree to contact the older relative I was supposed to be conferenced in on.

So, that’s where we stand right now on the secretary.  My best guess is it’s another family myth, but it’s one I would really like this one to be true. I want to look at the picture, see the signature driven into the wood (imagine what the paper looked like),  and I want to have that shared history with Sherman.  I don’t know if I can live in a world where Sherman wasn’t the great defiler of family furniture.  I don’t want to live in that world. :)

Rebels True

I had a plan, a beautiful plan, a plan that involved getting back to the type of writing I think I do best – anecdotes.  Those little stories where I heighten a piece and it turns into one of my goofy, isn’t life just ridiculous? blog pieces.  I really wanted to stick with that plan.  That’s my foreword on this piece.

I’m about a year away from my 30th reunion at a school where I was a “Rebel”.  We flew the confederate flag at our games running it up and down the field, it was emblazoned on the outside of our gym along with our mascot “Johnny Rebel”, we played “Dixie” as a fight song.  If we lost a game, a more dirgeful rendition echoed through the stadium.  When our band returned from a game, as soon as they crossed Town Lake (part of the Colorado River) that divides the city into North and South Austin, the band observed a reverential silence.  When we graduated, Mama Craig, our Government teacher, sat on a stool and sang a mash-up of Dixie and Turn Around.  I can still hear her pure and beautiful voice as it carried throughout the Tony Burger Activity Center.

A group on Facebook was created to prepare everyone for the upcoming event.  People joined, pictures appeared along with  the posts of excitement and disbelief that we’re that much older (only on the outside).  I did my part to drag my friends kicking and screaming into the group with the simple explanation of “misery loves company”.  I admit, I’m not overly excited about attending despite having gone to the 10th and 20th.

There are a few reasons I cringe at the idea. 1) Once the class upper echelon took over the planning, it went downhill.  The reunion was no longer inclusive of the entire student body; it’s now the popular kids.  Unfortunately, those kids don’t quite know how to find the other kids. (And we’re all still kids in my mind.) Their phone tree mirrors our football roster. Drill team members, cheerleaders and a few band folks are thrown in for spice.  When you’ve been involved in big event planning, as I have been, it’s hard to watch and not wince, and hard not to  wonder whether it’s their intention to exclude the other 300 people or are they genuinely too inept for the task. I suspect a combination of both. In my past, I’ve brought speakers to my University (Dr. Ruth, who was adorable, and Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers, who was simply incredible to sit and talk to), and I’ve worked on large scale events in previous jobs.  From my experience, event planning takes a lot of work and well… planning.  There’s actually some skill involved that these folks woefully lack and it shows, but hey they like putting it on so what the heck.  That party we threw in ‘85 was hopping! Just add 3 more people and we have a reunion! 2) I wasn’t popular.  I was (am)  nerdy.  I was the President of Orchestra, in NHS, and in the German Club – you get the idea.  The most defiant thing I ever did was sit in the hallway during a time we were supposed to be in our various clubs and look defiantly when we were challenged by a hall monitor while one of my friends said (out loud using words others could hear), “yeah, we’re in a club – the Breakfast Club!” Oy. (She was not impressed and we scurried back to class.)  I loved math and science.  My idea of a great time was coming in early to work on my Chemistry lab work, being nose deep in a book, or working through Geometry proofs.  I was living on the edge.  Combine that with my natural prissiness and being reasonably unattractive and you get a feel for me.  I’m not the girl you invited to the Homecoming dance.

At our school was a group who called themselves the Right Wing Extremist Organization (RWEO) headed up by a little toad named Shannon; the living embodiment of a balding hyperactive rat terrier.  He and his little gang would bully other kids unchallenged.  Any disagreement with them was greeted with insults. If you believe the rumors, they also upended one “liberal” headfirst into a toilet for daring to challenge them or their narrow views. I remember them openly mocking a particular girl in my government class when she recounted a traumatic story of being in a police ride along (something we had the option to do as part of the class). Laughing as tears streamed down her face, because she’d witnessed someone die. How ridiculous she was boo-hooing over a death – liberal, hippie, cry-baby. They’d scrawl their little slogans on our classroom’s chalkboards, and mostly wander the halls acting like pricks.  They’ll be at the reunion, too (well, maybe).

Let me knit this all together

Earlier this week one of our classmates posted his feelings about the confederate flag; it was an impassioned piece explaining why he felt it was time to remove the flag (and I completely agree with him).  He explained that as a black student that imagery bothered him and while it didn’t bother him as a teenager, it certainly bothered him now as an adult.  He wrote about how he’d fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for people’s rights, but that he didn’t fight to support this flag.  A bunch of folks followed-up with their support, and then came Shannon’s post. “You’re wrong.” (Quick aside: Shannon had responded to another classmate’s page and eloquently expressed his disagreement with a well-worded, “you’re a dummy,” and then followed with a brief note about how he was unfriending the aforementioned “dummy.” He’s truly one of the school’s more gifted debaters (sarcasm font)). I won’t get into how someone feels cannot be “wrong,” but the original poster was not “wrong” for how he felt.  Well, that wasn’t enough for Shannon, he then fired back with “[my lacky] and I have decided this reunion has become too political, so we won’t be going”. Nevermind the fact that for four years he turned our school into political theater. Someone saying “I don’t like the flag” was clearly going too far – too political!  He used the tried and true “we’re taking our toys and going home” tactic complete with breath holding. And as we all know, you can’t have a reunion without a showing of the RWEO; the whole thing will collapse.  That table they reserved for 30 of the 364 students will now be reduced to 25.  Chaos will ensue! The reunion will be a complete failure.  What will this say about the 35th? the 40th?  Immediately a post fired back, “{your lacky] and his social secretary will be missed.”  My inner 15 year old chortled gleefully.  I’d never actually seen anyone sass the RWEO guys.  You see, for a long a time one of my dreams has been that someone would shut this guy down publicly, and wow, thanks fairy godmother I’m heading for the ball.  While it wasn’t a complete shutdown or maybe even close to one, it was the closest I’d seen in years.  See, the folks I know while clever and quick-witted are all more akin to a lumbering Great Pyrenees, in contrast to his terrier, and would really much rather sit thoughtfully, pant a bit, get pats and hopefully nap than acknowledge there’s an annoying terrier bouncing around for attention.  It may be the more mature response, but my personal vote is for the thoughtful, well-worded, humiliating smack-down WWF Thomas Paine-style.  BOOYAH!  And since he’s never challenged me on any one of my sites, I’ve never had the opportunity. Plus, I lack the intellectual prowess for a true public shaming.  I’m simply more sass than refined wit.  It’s a shortcoming. We all have flaws.

Anyway, I had to chime in at this point.  I agreed and added that to me the flag and mascot were just symbols and changing them wouldn’t alter my memories, the friends that I made or the education I had.  That you could paint the school hot pink, call us the fighting fluffy unicorns and sing the Barney theme song at the Homecoming game, and nothing about my past would change.  I personally don’t need those symbols to always remain the same; and were they to change, it would have no real effect on me.  And the truth is, it’s time for a change.

What happened next? The original poster acquiesced explaining it was never his intent to prevent Shannon or his friends from attending the reunion.  That instead he would personally not attend so that Shannon would be able to go.  Whew! Here I was worried that the whole thing might be slightly less douchey   The post disappeared along with the OP’s personal high school photos, and he’s no longer in the group.  What a shame, too.

The whole thing makes me sad and re-emphasizes why I will not make this one. I have my memories and my friends from high school without needing to be part of this rather disappointingly exclusive club.