Monthly Archives: October 2014

Happy Samhain

This is one of my favourite holidays now. As a pagan, I now appreciate the roots of the holiday better than I ever did as a Christian. Growing up fundamental and then transitioning through more liberal churches, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to Halloween, from outright disgust to attempts to adapt around it ala trunk or treat activities and harvest festivals.

When I was a child, we barely even acknowledged that Halloween existed. I remember our school calendar my mother did when we were homeschooling…she would decorate it each month with season-appropriate decorations. When it came to October, though, it was all leaves and harvest stuff. No witches or ghosts or little vampires in sight. We didn’t trick or treat or dress up, which is what really got under my skin the most as I loved playing dress-up as a child, so to me it seemed like I was missing out on the biggest dress-up party of all! I remember going through a store like Wal-Mart or K-Mart and seeing the costume aisle. If I could, I darted down the aisle to look at the costumes. Mostly, I just looked on longingly, internally sighing in frustration that such a fun holiday was deemed off-limits.

Curiously enough, we still carved pumpkins. I remember making the trek up to Dawsonville to visit Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. It wasn’t a short trip, but it was worth it. The air was nice and crisp and there were so many pumpkins lined up and ready for sale, all kinds of sizes and colours available. I remember pictures being taken, of me in a row of pumpkins, sitting on very large pumpkins, sitting next to a scarecrow, riding one of the hay rides. I’m not sure where all the pictures are now, but I remember the farm clearly even without them, just as I remember the little tiny pumpkin my parents bought me. It was so small, it fit well in my hand, even though I couldn’t have been more than 4 at the time. When we got back to the house, we carved the bigger pumpkin we got on the front porch and I was posed for a picture.

When we moved up to International Falls, that October, my parents relented on trick or treating. It was the first and only time I ever got to trick or treat, as my parents put the foot back down the next year. I remember I was so excited to finally get to participate, even though I didn’t have a proper costume. I grabbed an old flannel gown that went down to my feet and put on a long wig I’d bought for dress-up purposes. I wasn’t going for anything in particular, but I liked long dresses and my wig, so it worked. I had to wear a coat, because it was very cold, but I didn’t even notice as a couple of friends and I went from house to house. I don’t remember how long we were out or how many houses we went to, but I got a nice load of candy along with a few homemade treats. I wished it could last forever.

The next year, I had acted out doing something or another, and my parents decided that proper punishment was barring me from trick or treating. I shed many tears and tried my best to act good to try to convince them to let me, but I remember my father eventually admitted that they didn’t want me doing it anyway. I was crushed. That was probably the worst thing I could have heard. If they didn’t want me doing it anyway, then why had they let me the year before? I didn’t know the term at the time, obviously, but today I would call it a dick tease, because that’s definitely what it was. I’m glad I did get to experience one normal Halloween, but the ache of never being able to do it again is not small.

Maybe that seems petty, but it’s how I feel. I missed out on a lot of things growing up, some little, some big. But with every thing I missed out on because I wasn’t allowed to, because of religion and Christianity, it just burns a little more.

When my fiance and I tie the knot and we start having children, I’ll definitely be allowing them to participate in Halloween. I even have costume ideas at the ready for when they’re babies (I’m totally transforming a bear costume into a mini-ewok). When they grow up, if they want to participate less, I won’t force them to still do it. I’ll be grateful that they were given the chance to do it and then decided against it, rather than never having the chance at all. And if they want, I’ll explain the pagan roots of the holiday, and why I’m setting out an extra plate of food and why I won’t talk during dinner. And if they think I’m silly, then they’ll think I’m silly. But if they want to start participating in that with me, then they’ll be more than welcome to.

I think that’s the thing I miss the most in my childhood: choice. Sure, parents need to guide their children into making appropriate choices, but there are quite a few things that they should be able to decide for themselves that I was never allowed to. I never had the option of not going to or participating in church. I never had the option to explore other religions and belief systems for myself to see if it spoke to me. I never had the option to not be a Christian, or accept my parents strict beliefs and and rules regarding their faith instead of searching out what was comfortable to me and spoke to me. If I had, perhaps I would still be a Christian today, on the liberal end of the spectrum. Or perhaps Paganism would have still called to me. Either way, when I have children, I will want to let them think and decide for themselves, without just one option being presented as the only option.

I have a few more post ideas, but I think this will be the only one for today. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Samhain. 🙂

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More on Music

Today, as I fixed an error in my posting (somehow, the music post didn’t have “draft” selected when I wrote it, though I swore I selected it, so it posted when I meant to save it … so when I did post it, instead of posting third in the series, as I had planned it, it posted as the second), I was struck by another memory involving music.

International Falls is a very small town on the American/Canadian border in northern Minnesota. We moved up there in March 1997 so my father could be a pastor to a church up there, but then left a little less than two years later. I turned 10 years old just two months after we moved there. We had a party at the local McDonald’s because they had a pretty awesome play place.

I made a few friends there, though none I’ve kept in touch with. One in particular I used to have quite a few sleepovers with and we enjoyed playing and hanging out. She also helped introduce me to secular music. Her parents went to church, but they didn’t seem to be overly religious as they had no problems with watching TV and listening to a variety of secular music. I also know that her father smoked. I don’t know about other Christians, but in my flavour of fundamentalism, smoking was a big no no. Though, now that I think about it, I don’t remember actually seeing him at church. Perhaps only her and her mother went.

Anyway, I remember holing up in her room and listening to Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and the like. These days, I don’t particularly like pop music in general, but at that time I loved it. It was so different than anything I was usually permitted to listen to. I loved the beats and the different instrumentation. It was so catchy and infectious. Unfortunately, at that time, it was more difficult to copy music than it is today, so unlike with my best friend when I was 14, I was unable to make copies for myself to listen to in private. If I could have, I definitely would have, though.

I had another friend I hung out with quite a bit. We’d ride our bikes to this little park area where there was a small amphitheatre. I remember that we’d take turns suggesting songs to sing, and I was always embarrassed because I had never heard of the songs she was suggesting. I don’t remember any of the titles she would throw out, but I’m sure they were popular songs of the time. We ended up just sort of going along with the other when we traded off lead, because the only mildly secular songs I knew at that point were old country songs and some Elvis, and she didn’t know any of those songs at all. I always wondered if she thought it was weird that I hadn’t heard any of the songs she knew. Then again, I wonder if any of my friends noticed the little fundie differences that came through like that. I wonder if they gave it much thought or just shrugged it off. I honestly couldn’t say. Curious.

Memory Triggers – Songs

This is now the third entry into specific memory triggers of mine (and the last one for today, I promise!). The previous entries have covered one particular scent and phrases. This entry will cover songs, and will probably be longer as there’s more that was coming to me as I was writing. Since there’s a lot to explain in some parts, this might end up a little more ramble-y about music in general, but I’ll start off with the specifics that I first had in mind.

A couple of weeks ago, my fiance started singing this little song that I recognized from my childhood. He had heard it from The Simpsons – who wasn’t singing it exact to the original, simply the melody and a few terms – but of course, I remembered it from somewhere else. While I knew the song as “Rise and Shine”, he simply quoted a line about getting the animals on the “arky arky”, which is a specific term in that song and a theme in every other line to end in a “-y” sound. While the song doesn’t tie to a specific memory – which isn’t surprising, considering it was a pretty common christian children’s song when I was growing up – it does bring back memories of churches I’ve been in, children’s groups, children’s church, even AWANA.

Several different songs like that will take me back, especially old hymns. One in particular – “Just As I Am” – was very popular as an altar call song, but it would always make me groan when I saw it listed in the bulletin. For those who may not know, “Just As I Am” is typically sung very slowly, somewhat softly, and is so boring repetitive that it can be repeated very easily, almost without the congregation noticing. If the pastor wanted to extend the altar call for whatever reason, signaling the pianist/organist was a very simple matter. Just thinking about the melody immediately transports me, usually to a specific church that we attended when living in GA. The layout and everything comes back, even down to where we usually sat: third or fourth row, organ side.

I’ll admit, there were times I would get so bored during a long altar call, I’d go up myself, kneel at the steps, close my eyes and just rest my forehead against the top step. I did so just to give myself a break from standing. I don’t know if anyone else ever did that, but I accumulated little tricks that I now call “church hacks” to make church more bearable for myself. My favourite time was probably mission times, where various missionaries would come through. They’d usually have a little table set-up similar to what you’d expect at a science fair, and I’d love looking at them. Sometimes it was pretty plain with just a lot of writing and some pictures, but my favourite ones were picture heavy and also featured little bits and bobs from the various foreign countries that the missionaries went to. If a sermon or presentation got boring, I’d leave on the pretense of a bathroom break (or water break, though bathroom breaks afforded me a reasonably longer time away) and just wander around the atrium areas where the tables were set up, looking at the ones that really caught my eye.

Back to the topic of songs, conversely, certain songs would excite me to see listed on the bulletin. If “I Surrender All” was listed as the alter call song, that would mean that the invitation would be short, and we’d get to go home sooner. When we started attending churches that weren’t as strict with their music and did praise and worship songs, there were certain ones that incorporated simple hand motions or just plain clapping. Anything to avoid just standing there still. I swear I’ve spent years just standing in church. As a teen, it got to the point where I’d over-exaggerate some back problems I really did have just so they would allow me to sit for certain portions of the service that we normally would have had to stand for. Well, perhaps I over-exaggerated, or perhaps I just expressed how I really felt as I did have back problems that I knew would be exacerbated and I wanted to head them off before I actually got into an “ouch” level of pain.

When I was little, no secular music was permitted at all. It was hymns and southern gospel songs only. My parents loved the Gaithers and bought quite a few cassette and vhs tapes featuring their singing. At first, I liked them just because it was different than the hymns we usually had. A lot of songs were more upbeat and “swing-y” (in my terminology only, as a child, it just meant that it was more lively) and sometimes even featured an actual beat! With drums! Haha, I know certain people that would clutch their figurative pearls at the thought of songs with beats. Devil music! But my parents liked it, so it was permitted. Soon enough, though, their songs got so repetitive and similar that it just all blended together for me and I began to dislike it. Whenever I would hear a snippet of a song I would start internally cringing, and I still do to this day.

Later on, my parents loosened the reigns on music little by little. Old country music became okay. When I was a pre-teen – probably 12 or so – I literally had to beg my parents to allow me to buy a Steven Curtis Chapman cassette. I am not exaggerating when I use the term “literally”. Let that sink in. For anyone who doesn’t know who Steven Curtis Chapman is, he’s a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist whose music is pretty much easy listening/light-rock style, but with Christian lyrics and themes. He is not in any way possibly offensive, being a visible family man and not having any songs that are borderline not-Christian (as some CCM artists sometimes have in their repertoire, especially if they were going to cross over into secular music). While I’m sure he is a perfectly nice man, he’s about as vanilla as you can get in the CCM world. I must have spent weeks pestering and badgering my parents to allow me to buy one of his tapes, and I felt incredibly triumphant when they finally relented and okay’d the purchase.

Around the time that I bought it, there was a PC game out that I’d seen advertised. I don’t remember the exact title, but it was a Barbie dance game. I never played it, but the general premise seemed to be stringing together pre-set moves in order to create a dance. I took a few of the moves and started using them to dance along to a couple of the songs on my new tape (in my room, with the door closed, because dancing was not something that was allowed in my family).

When I was 14 and going to a Christian school, I met my bestest best friend in the whole wide world, and she helped widen my horizons as far as music went. Her mother, while religious, allowed secular music, especially if she liked it. She had quite a few CDs lying around of Queen, Styx, Boston, Michael Jackson, artists like that. Classics. I remember the first time I heard a Michael Jackson song, it was amazing. It was “Billie Jean” and I was enchanted. I discretely burned a copy of the CD and listened to it on my Walkman. I did this with several other CDs, compiling playlists of classic rock to be listened to in private. I never labeled them, for fear my parents would find them and I would get in trouble, which is why I also never played them in my regular CD player. I kept them in a CD holder at all times, never leaving it lying around for long. When I started driving alone, I often kept them in the truck so I could blast them while driving to and from school.

Of course, that wasn’t my first exposure to secular music. It’s unavoidable, really, with how many stores play radio stations overhead, but my parents conditioned me to tune it out. The older I got, the more rebellious I got (or felt I got, as my rebelliousness was rather mild on the scale of rebellion…in the Christian world I was in, though, it was still worthy of getting in trouble). When I was 12 and 13, being homeschooled, my mother started going to school herself for Medical Transcription. When she had day classes she left in the morning for, I would turn on the radio to the local popular hit station 95.5 (WIFC, Wausau…I can still hear the call sign being sung) and just listen. I was always very careful to switch it back to an approved station when I was done listening, though. There was one station that came out of Pensacola, FL that we somehow got on our big radio that played some of the most boring music that my parents seemed to love. If I ever used the big radio for my listening, I was always sure to turn it back to that station before I shut it off. I couldn’t have my parents switch on the radio and have Backstreet Boys or Christina Aguilera start blaring. As Jasper Beardly would say, “That’s a paddlin’.”

I did the same when I was home alone when it came to TV as well. When we had cable when I was a teenager, I’d switch over to the “bad” channels (MTV and VH1) and watch, always careful to leave the TV with two “good” channels (in case my parents used the “last channel” feature on the remote). This was before the days of Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, where reality shows took the place of the music. I watched music videos and documentaries and countdowns and lists and absorbed information like a sponge. These days, since I’m still limited in my music exposure, I get excited when I see a reference to a music video or information about an artist that I saw on one of those channels. Kind of like Steve Rogers in the Avengers … “I understood that reference!”

These days, my tastes in music are extremely diverse, and certainly nothing like what I was raised with. I like just about everything, and even genres I don’t particularly like, there are songs that are exceptions that I enjoy. Music is one of the things I find most soothing and yet energizing to my soul to this day, and while I regret that my exposure to it was so limited growing up, I’m glad I now have the opportunity to explore.

Memory Triggers – Phrases

I guess I shall call this a “series”, though I initially didn’t plan it out that way. I just started blogging about memory triggers and it started to turn into a rambling wall of text that I didn’t want to foist upon any readers that were simply casually browsing blogs. I therefore decided to break it up into a few posts and cut it off where most logical. I will likely revisit this kind of series in the future, but for now I’ll cover what I started on. I covered scent in my last post, specifically cedar. This one is about words. Just hearing this word and I’m back in my childhood again.

The word is actually two words, really: “obedience” and “disobedience”. I hear something about either of those two things and immediately my mind snaps back with the phrase “delayed obedience is disobedience”, a mantra from my childhood. Where it came from, I can’t quite remember yet, but I suspect it came from my family’s brief foray into ATI. It certainly sounds like it could be one of their quips. I hear that phrase in my mind, and I can almost see the study room that was our school room in GA, my mother standing above me and saying it to me. This specific moment in time, I’m not sure what surrounds it. Was she simply repeating it to me so that I would remember? Did I do something that she disapproved of and she was reminding me of this principle? I can’t say for sure. But it is a very strong image that comes back when I hear that phrase in my head.

Sometimes, hearing that, I’ll only get that image in my head. Other times, if I’m not busy or otherwise preoccupied, my mind might wander into the time my family was in ATI. I don’t remember how long we were in it. My mother started homeschooling me starting about K-4, when I asked to start homeschooling after giving a Christian school a try. That is one thing that I will give props to my parents for, is letting me decide how I wanted to learn. If I wanted to try a school, they would get me in. If I wanted to homeschool, they would let me. It gives me an interesting background with a lot of different experiences, some that I’ll always cherish and some that I wish never happened.

Anyway, I’m getting off subject. I believe my mother started homeschooling me when I was around 4 years old. I don’t think it was too much longer after we started that we got into ATI, so I’m guessing I was about 5, 6 at the very oldest when we started, but I’m pretty comfortable with saying 5. We went to conferences (I’m pretty sure my memory is of multiple ones) but I’m not sure which ones. I do remember they were boring as all get out. I also remember playing a telephone game as an exercise in a little kid’s group that I had been put in. I don’t remember how they determined the splitting up of children into groups as far as the age ranges went, but I don’t remember the groups being overly large. When I was there, I didn’t notice this, but looking back, the girl who was leading us seemed rather young. Like, 16-18 years old young. I remember she misspelled my town name as “McDonald” until I showed her my name tag that had it written down correctly as “McDonough”. She had been writing my address on an envelope. Was I supposed to send something to myself? Were they going to send something to me? I don’t remember why we were doing this.

A couple of other clear ATI memories is sitting in a darkened room with a huge group of people and going through a lesson from the Wisdom Booklets. Or maybe we were going over the Wisdom Booklets themselves, as in how to use them and lessons in them. Now that I think about it, that seems to be the more likely case. Character was something that was heavily emphasized, as were the specific character traits that Gothard espoused. Another memory is standing outside during a break, leaning against a rough concrete wall. I remember there was a pathway on the other side of the wall, on a lower level, and I peaked over it several times.

This is perhaps one of my biggest memory fails, and one I hope to piece together. I remember little to nothing of this area of my life. I know that I was still pretty young, but I have distinct memories that I know reach back further, so I don’t understand why this area is so disjointed. I hope that by blogging more and more that it will come back to me eventually. Until then, I will keep writing.

Memory Triggers – Cedar

So, one post in and I already have followers. I wasn’t expecting any aside from family and friends, but I’m more than happy to share and am grateful. Thank you. 🙂

Last night, I bent over next to my cedar-lined hope chest and got a whiff of the distinct wood. Immediately I was drawn back to the attic of a house my family lived in for a short time. It was Wausau, WI. 1999. I was 11, going on 12 that year. We had just moved there from International Falls, MN, in the dead of winter. I’ll always remember the temperature when we left, though I don’t know why…it was -34, felt like -42. Fahrenheit of course, because America uses the Imperial system. Bad weather delayed the truck in Duluth, so we had to stay at a hotel a day longer than expected. It was bitter cold when were unloading, so cold the men’s beards started forming icicles from the condensation of their breath. I huddled in a back room –  my room – with our dog until it was all over and done with and we could turn the heat on without wasting it.

I ventured up to the attic the first time that day, excited at the prospect of such a space. I’d never lived in a house with a proper attic before, so I was eager to see it. Why, I’m not sure. It just held a certain allure to me. The house in International Falls had no attic, and the only other house I’d lived in – in McDonough, GA – had a little utility attic that was only good for storage, not for doing anything with. I’d spent some time of my childhood wondering what that attic had looked like, what it held. I’d wanted to go up there, but my parents forbid it. It was probably for the best, as I likely could have gotten hurt, but it didn’t stop me from wondering. And now, in that rental house in Wausau, I was finally able to see what I hadn’t seen before, what had previously been verboten.

It was pretty nondescript, as far as attics go. It was just an open space with a built-in cedar closet. I’d never smelled cedar before, and it was very strong to me. Almost repulsive at first, though I eventually learned to like it.

I don’t remember how long I spent up there at first, but it probably wasn’t long. We had just moved in and there was lots of unpacking to do. But I visited the attic in play. At one point, I set up my little microscope kit on a desk. I even had Barbie dolls kept up there, but I’ll go into more detail with that later, as I’m now starting to get off track from the point of my post.

The point being that certain triggers can set off a cascade of memories. All of this came back from simply smelling a scent. Scent is regarded as a strong memory trigger, but there are other things, too. Voices. Songs. Even simple phrases. The more I write and write this post, the more I keep thinking of to write, so I think I will break it off here and put other memories into other posts. There’s so much that comes flooding in, it’s hard to separate everything and concentrate on a category, or even contain the category I’m in and condense it and I don’t want to turn this into a huge wall of text. If you’re still reading, thanks and congratulations for making it this far.

Memories

A lot of people take memories for granted. Names. Dates. Faces. Snapshots in time preserved in the human consciousness.

But what happens when you just can’t remember anymore? Did you really ever remember what happened in the first place, or did you deceive yourself into thinking you were preserving that time and place in your mind?

My childhood is a lot of blur. There are some moments that are crystal clear, others that are muddled, and some points where there doesn’t seem to be anything at all. I know not everyone remembers their childhood with extreme clarity, but I wish I remembered more than I do. I guess that is the point of this blog, to remember, to maybe help me remember. To document random strings of memories and try to connect the dots.

I know a lot of my memories involve church or religion in some way, as I grew up in an IFB-type of religious family. For those not “in the know” as far as acronyms go, IFB stands for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. While my family waxed and waned as far as religion goes, there was a time we were very similar to families like the Duggars and the Bates, as far as values and beliefs went. Even when we weren’t as extreme, we were always conservative and faithful church-goers. So, a lot of my memories involve going to church or church activities.

Other memories involve that of being homeschooled. My education was fairly unique, in that I experienced a whole gamut: homeschooling, christian school, public school, and internet/charter school. I have quite a few memories of that, some very fond, some not so much.

My entries here will consist of trying to remember bits in time as they come. They may be pretty random. They might be long remembrances, or short little strands of thoughts that I want to document before they slip through my fingers entirely. I don’t have a set time frame for updating or posting or anything like that, so I may post frequently at times, and then at times leave it all to sink in and process. Remembering is a journey. Maybe one day, it won’t be as fractured as it is.

~ Elisabeth