Tag Archives: childhood

Whoops/More memory triggers

Already slacking in one resolution. Kind of. I haven’t neglected to write anything last week, but what I wrote I’ve been unable to edit into something I want to post, so I think I’ll abandon it for a little while to let it stew.

Instead, I’ll share a little something else, something slightly more superfluous. I was going to post this earlier this week, but it got really busy at work and I haven’t been able to edit it until now.

I’m a sucker for candles. Really, any good-smelling kind of things, like incense and wax, but candles were my first love as far as good-scented things go. There’s nothing quite like lighting one up and letting it burn, taking in the scent as the flame dances on the wick. So, whenever I walk by a candle aisle, I sneak a peek to see if anything catches my eye. Sometime last week, or perhaps the week before, as the fiance and I were in Target, we walked by an aisle that had a candle set up at the end of it. One in particular – Glade’s “Frosted Cookie Party” – caught my eye, and I grabbed it for a quick sniff. The scent was wonderful, but had a slightly different effect on me than I thought it would. Instead of reminding me of cookies, it reminded me of a certain toy I had when I was younger.

As far as toys went as a child, my tastes were pretty diverse. I’d play rough and tumble with my boy neighbors and their toy guns and wooden horses. I wasn’t afraid of getting too dirty, as I loved playing in the dirt and sand and making mud pies. I had quite the collection of hot wheels. I also had tons of girly dolls and Barbies. One in particular was a collection called Cupcake dolls. They had wide skirts with a rubber base that you could flip up and, along with their hat, make them look like a cupcake. They had no legs, as the rubber was sturdy enough to support their weight when they were in doll form. They had all kinds of accessories that transformed from sweet treats into practical accessories, like a banana split that turned into a vanity.

One of the really cool things about them, though, was the way they smelled. It was a light, sugary, vanilla kind of smell. It smelled exactly like that candle. One whiff and I was transported back to that bedroom in Georgia, transforming treat-looking toys into a vanity and a shower set up and a bed and a kitchen. Days of complex play, setting up chair-and-blanket forts and lining up porcelain dolls and searching for that perfect outfit combination for my Barbies and setting up a city to run my hot wheels through. My room was a magical space. And when I got a play area set up in the basement, I still remember clearly how it was like. It was the lone carpeted area in the section of the otherwise concrete-floored storage area of the basement. It smelled a little musty, but it didn’t bother me. I had a dresser or vanity of some sort that marked the border of the carpet along one end. It had a record player set up there, though I didn’t really use it. I think it was probably just set there at some point. I had a doll house there, probably some Barbie variety. My Polly Pockets, though, I kept in my room, as they were small and I worried about losing them in the vastness of the basement room (this was, of course, back in the day when Polly Pockets could actually fit in your pockets).

When we moved to International Falls, I had to cut down on a lot of my toys. I didn’t have a lot of the expensive variety, but I accumulated a lot (I was the last child my parents had, later in their life, so I had plenty of doting relatives and family friends to fling trinkets my way) and especially with the space I had to work with, it was accepting of a lot. Going from my large room with an alcove plus a basement play room to one small room meant cutting down on a lot. I ended up leaving a bunch of my toys for the children of the family that moved into our house to rent it from us, so the ones left behind were enjoyed.

Over the years, I’ve lost the vast majority of the things from the childhood between moves. Most of the things I don’t really care about, though I have lost a few things I truly regret leaving behind. I become quite attached to certain things. I’m working on letting go, because it causes me anxiety that I really cannot do anything about. Some things still nag at me, but I’m getting better at it. I’ll at least always have the memories, something will always come up that will transport me back to that little slice of magic that was my room.

Camp

Ah, camp. That lovely invention of summer that gives kids something to do during the break and parents a week or so of sanity, rest, and relaxation. I never went to camp as a small child, as I was very clingy and dependent on my parents growing up, besides being immensely shy and awkward. But by the time I was a teen, I decided to give it a try once I found a particular camp.

Northland Camp & Conference Center in Dunbar, Wisconsin, was my summer go-to from ages 13-17. It was a religious camp and my only experience with camp. The schedule was somewhat grueling and included required activities that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but I still liked it enough to request to keep going. I’m not sure if it was the idea of going to camp that I liked so much, or that I just convinced myself that I liked it, as looking back on it, the experience was pretty overrated. Fun, but overrated.

Wakeup was always early, because any getting-ready things that needed to be done had to be done by the time all the cabins were to line up for the daily flag raising. Then we had breakfast, followed by cabin devotions. The exact schedule varied day-to-day after that. Sometimes we’d have a cabin activity, or a camp bible session. We always had a morning chapel, at least. After lunch there were sometimes other bible sessions, team game activities (which I loathed, as I hated that kind of thing, but I couldn’t opt out), and then maybe a few hours of free time before dinner and evening chapel. One night a week we’d have an after-dark activity. There was also usually a water day that went along with the team games, but I remember one year it was so cold they almost had to cancel it. There was also a loooooong list of bible verses to memorize. That part wasn’t necessarily required, but it garnered your team lots of points, so it was always pressured.

Even though free time was pretty limited, they had many options with how to spend the time. They had a bookstore and coffee shop on site. There was an archery range. A shooting range. A climbing wall. Many, many trails for walking. A craft shop. A mini-golf course. And, of course, they had a large pond where one could use one part for boating and the other for swimming. I never got a chance to participate in the swimming, because you had to have a buddy with you, and since I never came with anyone (a lot of kids came as part of a church group) and I didn’t make friends too easily, I never had someone to go with. There’s probably other little things that I’ve forgotten about, too, but those are the major ones that stand out in my memory.

When I was 15 going on 16, my mother and I went to a special ladies retreat in Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is a lovely area, and we relished the time we spent on our little mini-vacation. I don’t remember who hosted the event or who was running it, but it featured at least a couple of people associated with Northland’s ministries, because I remember it came up in talking with a couple of women. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but they suggested that I attend the Leadership Camp that Northland offered.

I was immediately hesitant about it, but we said we would think and pray about it. Ultimately, despite my initial hesitation, I ended up attending. Leadership Camp is two weeks instead of one, weekend stay included. The first week is pretty similar to the regular Teen Camp; we participated in all of their activities and are assigned a team, just like them, however we had our own special little sessions and individual counseling with various staff members. The second week was spent being a junior counselor in either the Kid or Teen Camps, along with a regular counselor. We also still had our special sessions and individual counseling sessions. The weekend was fairly open, compared to the week. We usually had a big group trip/activity on Saturday. Sunday we would go to a local church and sing.

The first year I went, when I was 16, I was in a deep denial of myself, my life, and my beliefs. While I had some doubts, I convinced myself of my faith and was in the midst of throwing myself into it with all of my energy. So my first year of Leadership Camp was pretty awesome. I bonded better with the other campers that joined me, probably because they were here purposefully and not just as something to do over the summer. We all had ministry aspirations. We rejoiced in our kindred hearts and drew close together, sharing our burdens and our hearts with each other and praying with one another.

The second year, however, did not go as smoothly. My denial had broken through into major issues for me. I had adopted a more goth-like look in terms of clothes and makeup. I was extremely depressed and stressed in general. I was having trouble dealing with certain traumas in my life that I felt I couldn’t get help for. Despite that, I still went, because I remembered the wonderful time I’d had and I yearned to be around people that were as kind and friendly and wonderful as I’d met the previous year.

While my fellow campers were still very nice to me, the counselors and staff were more stand-offish. I’m sure they likely remembered me from all the years I’d been attending, and my sudden change in appearance was fairly shocking. I still attended all of the sessions, still took copious amounts of studious notes, asked questions, memorized scripture, participated in everything, even if I didn’t want to. But they seemed to treat me differently, based on my looks and regardless of participation.

This became apparent during my first individual counseling session. I met with a lady in the ministry at Northland – a pastor’s wife, no less – and at first it seemed to be fairly the same as the last year. She was a different lady than the year before, but I knew her still, if only from a distance. However, not far into the session, she made a comment about my appearance being “goth”. I replied that I liked black and felt comfortable, which was true. I wasn’t wearing anything extreme, just a black shirt and black pants with thick black eyeliner. Compared to some goth kids I’d seen in the mall, I was pretty tame. But she apparently felt the need to comment on it and make a negative insinuation of it.

I brushed it off, thinking that she was probably just surprised at what would appear to her to be a sudden change. As we talked more and she dug deeper, I did confess issues with depression, especially following sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of a previous boyfriend. I don’t remember everything about the session, but what I distinctly remember is that she asked for as many details as I would give her (I didn’t give her much, as I didn’t feel comfortable doing so) and she simply advised me to be careful upon going home, that I wouldn’t be tempted into immorality with another man.

I remember being utterly shocked at her reaction. She didn’t necessarily invalidate the abuse itself, but she completely invalidated my feelings about it and my reactions to it (I had a lot of trouble even looking a man in the eye at the time, there was no way I wanted anyone to even touch me). I felt like she didn’t take it seriously, because she didn’t. She threw some bible verses at me, I’m sure, but I was in a haze of shock at the lack of support and empathy.

Despite the staff reaction, like I said, the other campers treated me the same. The group I was with my last year seemed to be a little looser, though still just as fervent. There was even a few regular Teen Campers who noticed my dress, asked if I was a “Christian Goth”, and immediately bonded with me over it. It must not be so bad, I reasoned as I walked to evening chapel with them.

However, that little hope came late in the second week. Before the second week even started, I was pulled aside and told – by the husband of the same lady I met with for counseling – that because of my “personal struggles”, I was deemed unfit to counsel the age group that I would be normally assigned to. Instead, I would be assigned to a younger group and paired up with the counselor I’d been with so far, I’m guessing in an effort for stability through the transition into the second week.

It was a devastating blow to me, especially because despite my struggles, I still had a heart for ministry and was still aching for chances to prove myself. My chin quivered and tears welled up in my eyes as he told me, but I refused to let them fall. I would not give in. I would not give him the satisfaction of confirming that I was indeed “broken” and that their decision was correct.

Later that night, in my bunk, I allowed myself some quiet tears, my face buried in my pillow to quell any sounds that might escape. Again, I refused to show any weakness, to anyone. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had to go it alone, because I was alone. Utterly and completely alone.

That year was the last year for me, as I’d reached the maximum age that they accepted. As I left, I clung desperately to the good memories. Laughing with newly made friends. The smell of the morning mist as it rolled in while we lined up for flag-raising. Sitting in the open courtyard in between rows of cabins, listening to a fellow Leadership Camper strum a guitar and complain about the confiscation of his Grateful Dead CD’s. The instant camaraderie felt by others who weren’t the “norm” as far as appearances went in the conservative Christian community.

However, the good just doesn’t cancel out the bad, as much as I wish it did. While I mostly enjoyed the time I spent there, the blatant condemnation and utter lack of any sympathy still linger. Like a cloud that suddenly appears on a sunny day, the rejection will always be there.

I suppose it’s all for the best, looking back, as it helped loosen some of my ties to the Christian community that was previously very tight. Because of the events that followed, I know I would have ended up leaving anyway, but this subtle bond breaking made it just slightly easier, and I guess that’s all I could have asked for.

So, if anyone who knows me from that camp reads this, if you were one of those who accepted me regardless, thank you. Your love and acceptance were and are greatly appreciated. If you were one of those who judged me instead of offering support, I also say thank you. If not for you, my journey to discover my true self and eventually into transitioning into Paganism would have been rougher, tougher, and more ridden with guilt and anxiety than it already was. Thank you for showing me your true colours, for without that, it would have been harder to show mine.

~Shine on~

Childhood Homes – Part 3

The third move of my childhood had us in the North-central portion of Wisconsin, namely the Wausau area. We initially moved into a rental home in the city of Wausau, then out to a house in a rural area of Mosinee, and then back into the city of Wausau before we left the area for good (my mother excluded, as she returned after leaving my father).

We moved in January of 1999, and it was bitterly cold, but my father apparently just didn’t want to waste any time in leaving. He was never very specific in why he wanted to leave and give up the role of pastor. In fact, my mother begged him to stay as she loved the area we’d been in, but to no avail. His mind was made up and could not be changed.

The rental house was the same house I detailed a little in this post. The attic was nice and spacious and we also had an unfinished basement. The porch area was small, but it was very nicely decorated. I actually have a little trouble sometimes differentiating between our rental house in Wausau and the house that we ended up moving into after Mosinee, as they were right next to each other and were actually owned by the same man. The rental house faced Emerson St, though, so the whole living room/entryway was different, as the other house actually sat on the corner and faced Weston Ave. In the first house, my bedroom was on the first floor and I had windows facing the backyard and our future house. I used to have a daybed, but that was actually a lot of trouble as far as making the bed went, so my parents later got me just a plain ol’ regular bed. I still had trouble remembering to make the bed, but at least it was easier when my parents nagged me about it. πŸ˜› The first floor bathroom, I can’t really remember, and I think I might be getting it mixed up with the other house. They really were pretty similar!

That house also had another first for me: hardwood floors! The only other houses I’d lived in previously had some sort of carpet. I was homeschooled at that point, and I did the videos from Pensacola Christian Academy. Oh my gods, I remember some of those videos were recorded as far back as 1989 … when I was but 2 years old! The curriculum hadn’t really changed though, which as I look back and think on it, is kind of sad. Certainly they weren’t ALL that old, but I think the newest video was recorded in 1997, and they tended to run from 1991-1993. I watched the lessons in the living room and did my work at a set up there.

We ended up moving not even a year later … September of 1999, maybe? I can’t quite remember. My school area then changed up a couple of times while I was there. I think it was initially upstairs in the study, but then it changed to downstairs in the finished basement in my dad’s study, as it was quieter and there were less distractions. I was only thus homeschooled the rest of sixth grade, and then seventh and eighth grade. From my freshman to my junior year, I attended a very small Christian school.

The house in Mosinee was in a rural area. We had a pretty large backyard that included a sand volleyball court and a pool (which we rarely used, because it was above ground, there was no heater, and with no heater it was very cold!). We ended up adding a storage shed in the back of the property, and I remember very vividly helping my father set up the steel beams and handing him materials so he could put together the metal building. It was a pretty easy operation, overall. Later on, we also expanded the bathroom into the old pantry for the kitchen, and then moved the sink countertop from a long counter running along the center of the kitchen (that made the kitchen extremely small and was incredibly impractical) and put it against the actual wall so it was just a wide and open space. We also expanded the garage into a three car garage before I started driving (I can’t remember if it was originally a one or two car setup). Of course, it wasn’t long after we did all of the remodeling that we ended up moving. πŸ˜›

We spent the most time in the house in Mosinee. I think my parents liked it because it was a little out of the way, sort of in the country like they’d been used to in Georgia. A big difference though, besides the fact that we weren’t as remote as in Georgia, was that the yard was a lot easier to mow, so we had to keep it kept up. At the house in McDonough, besides being remote, we were at the foot of a hill that made especially our front yard very uneven and almost impossible to properly mow. We had a lot of tree coverage, though, so the grass didn’t grow too much. In Mosinee, though, we didn’t have a lot of trees and it was pretty open, so the grass grew rather well.

For mowing we used a riding lawnmower, because of the size of the yards, and to clean up afterward, we had an attachment that we hooked onto a four-wheeler that we ran to get up all the clippings. Funny, I remember my mother usually mowed the lawn. My father rarely did it, citing allergies … however, as long as I can remember, my mother’s allergies were more sensitive and severe than my father’s allergies. He was probably just a baby. Or lazy. Or both. I’m convinced he has some narcissistic qualities, if not a full-blown disorder, so an inability to see beyond his own problems is par for the course, and I think he only gets worse as he gets older. I remember wondering about the whole allergy thing as a teenager. If it was that obvious to me, even as fully entrenched in our family and naive as I was then, I wonder how many other things slipped under my radar? My guess is quite a bit.

Anyway, sometimes I was allowed to run the four-wheeler to pick up the clippings. I had to wear a breathing apparatus and I couldn’t go too fast, but it was a lot of fun. Hot, sweaty, fun work. I might think it more of a chore nowadays, but when the novelty is all shiny and new, it’s hard to see past it. πŸ™‚

There was also a very large field in the back of our house that was owned by a family down the way. They didn’t mind if we rode our four wheelers (or drove our Ford Ranger around … which I did several times before I got my license and thoroughly enjoyed it!) around in it. It was just an unkempt field. Beyond it was woods. A few trails. Some hunting spots. I used to like to walk around (when it wasn’t hunting season) back there. I sometimes have dreams about walking back there and going even further, like there was something beyond that I never discovered (the furthermost trail I found terminated in a lake, so not sure what would be past it!).

When we moved back into Wausau, we were back in the same area as before, since our house was right next to the rental place we’d had. It was previously lived in by an older couple, and the woman moved out after her husband died. It also had wood floors, which were quite lovely. Before we moved in, we added on to the garage to make it a three car and finished the basement. My room was the basement room, which was quite nice as I was a senior in high school and it was like having a little apartment. When walking into the kitchen entrance, one could just go down the basement steps and into my room, bypassing the entire house. I even had a bathroom in there and I set up a TV and later my ps2 there. The only thing I was lacking was a refrigerator and a microwave; I would have been good to go! Of course, my parents would have rarely seen me. πŸ˜›

By that point, I was homeschooling for the last time in my school career, but I was doing it via a state-wide charter school, which was new for us. They gave us Mac iBook G4’s to use for school (that we unfortunately had to return at the end of the school year) and thus began my relationship with Apple products. I’ve loved them ever since. I set up the laptop on a table in my room, and after the laptop was returned, I set up my desktop computer there and even bought and put together a desk for it (an accomplishment I was quite proud of).

My maternal grandmother lived with us for a spell while we were in Wisconsin. She was actually moved in when we were still in Mosinee (and she was given my room, and I was relegated to a space in my father’s downstairs study, which he rarely used … I didn’t mind, though, it actually afforded me more privacy and gave me more of an escape). She was a hateful, manipulative old woman, and she pulled most of her shenanigans in the second Wausau house. I think my mother just wanted to try to mend things with her and help her one last time, but she ultimately proved that she was beyond help. She was schizophrenic, likely bipolar, a pathological liar and master manipulator. She was a dark cloud that hung around us at the end, but once she was gone, it was like a brand new day.

This was one area that I actually thought would be hard to leave, and it was probably harder than most because my most influential growing-up years were spent there. I met my bestest best friend in the whole wide world (who is quite literally my psychological twin), so that was probably the hardest part, leaving her behind. It’s actually where I would consider “home” to be; above the other places of my childhood, that is where I would really point to as my hometown. It’s also the place I pretty much know the best, navigation-wise (I don’t quite count International Falls as it was so small, it was hard to get lost!). When I was driving there to my mother’s house (well, to the Wal-Mart in Rib Mountain to meet her) when moving from Ohio, I kept thinking about driving “home”. So even my subconscious agrees with me, apparently.

Stay tuned for the house saga! The next entry on homes will be a bit bumpy, as after our family moved to Pennsylvania, things got a bit rocky for me for a while. The memories are a lot more vivid, for the most part, but I feel it’s still good to document them for the future.

And so far on our current place … there’s a few issues here and there, but mostly, fiance and I are glad to be out of my brother’s house and on our own. πŸ™‚ Our cat, Inara, is still adjusting, but she’s much better than the super clingy mess she was at first. One day at a time.

Thanksgiving

Because of the holiday yesterday, I think I’ll take a break from my home series to reminisce on past holidays. ‘Tis only appropriate. πŸ™‚

Thanksgiving was quite the affair, as I’m sure it is for many families. While Christmas dinner varied, Thanksgiving was always the same. Turkey with stuffing, dressing, cranberry sauce, potato salad, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, candied yams, pumpkin pie. Of course, this was back when barely anything was open on Thanksgiving, so if you forgot something, better hope the neighbors have some or you went without that year. My mum was very organized and usually had things together, but there was a time or two she forgot to pick up something small and a recipe had to be modified or we ended up going without.

She was very smart about the dinner making, though. She always made the turkey the day before and had it carved and in the refrigerator for the next day. She started making more and more the day before until it got to the point where everything was ready by lunch time, so we started having our Thanksgiving meal for lunch. I think it worked out much better that way, just go ahead and get the meal over and done with, then relax and hang out, then just heat up leftovers for dinner.

When we were living in Georgia, we were living around our family, and I’m sure we visited them on Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember it very clearly. That or it blurs with Christmas visitations. I do know my maternal grandmother made a caramel cake that was probably one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I finally found a recipe for it last week, so it is on my list to attempt for Yule.

This Thanksgiving was a little lackluster, compared to past ones. Most of our money is tied up in moving right now, so we didn’t have the extra to get special stuff for a Thanksgiving meal. We ended up just eating some lasagna and cheesy garlic toast. But, it was still wonderful all the same, to get to spend it with my fiance. We geeked out a good part of the day, setting up bookings for his wrestling game, then he played some of his football game while I took a quick nap. Then some reading and snuggling time, followed by dinner and a movie. We decided to watch a movie that’s so bad it’s good: No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan. Oh gods, it was terrible. But it was hilarious. One of those movies where it’s fun to snark on as you watch it ala MST3K.

This holiday, for Yule, I intend on doing a little more cooking. Maybe actually have a bird. If a bird is possible, then I’ll definitely be making some of my mum’s dressing. Some candied yams. Mashed potatoes. And at least an attempt at the caramel cake. I actually like being domestic, when I get the chance to be.

But, no matter what happens this holiday season, I’ll do my best not to get caught up with details. I’ll simply enjoy the time I have withΒ  my fiance. After all, we have life, we have each other, and that’s all we really need.

Childhood Homes – Part 2

So, continuing in my series. πŸ™‚ The home in McDonough, GA, was the first home I ever lived in. It was the only home I knew until March of 1997, when my family relocated to International Falls, MN so my father could take over as senior pastor at a church up there.

It was quite the culture shock. Even in March the snow was hip deep on me at 9 years old. We had visited there once before as a family, so I was familiar with snow, but the fact that this was now where we would be living started to set in as a reality.

The house we lived in for almost two years was a rental that was owned by one of the members in the church. It was a two-story (my first and only) with an unfinished basement. I remember being really excited that my bedroom was upstairs. I don’t know what it was, but I’d always had the childhood fantasy of having at least a two floor house and having a bedroom on an upper level. I’m not really sure why. Maybe the allure of the unknown? Nowadays, screw it, let everything be on one level. Fuck stairs. But back then, it was a new experience that I embraced wholeheartedly.

My room actually changed after we were there for a little while. When one walked up the stairs and went down the hall, there was a bedroom at the near end of the stairs, one in the middle, and the end of the hall terminated into the master bedroom. I initially had the middle bedroom, which was smaller but had a closet. I later moved into the other spare bedroom because it was roomier. The middle room was okay, but I really preferred the one on the end anyway. It had a window that looked out onto our postage-stamp sized backyard and garage, the back alley, and then a neighbor’s backyard and further still the neighborhood as a whole. The middle bedroom window just looked across at another house. No real view. The only nice thing was there was a tree beside it where a white-throated sparrow lived. I loved hearing the sound of its call. But I still preferred space and a better view.

The switch meant that the study was moved from the end bedroom and to the middle bedroom. That was where the computer got moved. By this point, we had internet, but I didn’t even know how to use it other than e-mail. And I didn’t know anybody’s e-mail address, so it didn’t matter anyway. We had a family Juno e-mail address but I can’t remember exactly what it was. To me, computers were only good for tetris, pinball, and paint. The most fun thing in paint I did was a basic basket weaving design, going pixel by pixel to create the pattern. I never saved it, I have no real clue why I did it. It was just fun, almost relaxing. I was an odd child. πŸ˜›

The kitchen, while small, had a sliding glass door that opened up onto a back porch. We loved cooking on the grill out there and the door was convenient and also provided a nice view for us. Another first for me, along with window blinds! The house in GA never had any blinds while I was there, only curtains, and I gotta say I really fell in love with blinds after that.

The garage sat directly in the back of the house, separated from the structure by a miniscule yard area (another first, again). There was an attic storage space in the garage, but I was scared to go up there because it was high up and the space between the creaky wooden steps did not help my vertigo. I remember, after a while of living up there, somebody broke into our garage and stole the CB radios my parents had in their cars that we had used for the cross-country move (since nobody in the moving party had cell phones). It was the only crime I was ever aware of living up there, so it was a bit startling, but it soon passed. We never really had any news coverage, so it’s hard to say what the crime was really like, but it was a quiet town with the feel of being stuck in the 50’s. We used to joke that if the world ended, it would take ten years for us to hear about it. At the time, International Falls didn’t even have their own news or radio station, we had to go on a station out of Duluth – three hours away! International Falls isn’t just a small town, it is very remote. But it was lovely.

It was the kind of town where I could ride my bike to the library and back alone with no fear. Or down to the grocery store to run an errand for my mother. I think the only actual grocery store was Super One, and it was about five or six blocks away from where we lived. It was in a plaza with an ice-cream type of restaurant, a sit-down restaurant, and a theatre that had a grand total of three screens, that I remember. Looking it up via google, it looks like they’ve likely expanded to five screens since then, as I honestly don’t remember it being that big. I only remember two or three screens at the most. Slightly aside, but I remember going to see Flubber and the reel messed up about halfway into the movie. We got free tickets to another showing of it for our trouble.

One thing that people probably wouldn’t expect when visiting is the smell. There is a paper factory in International Falls – Boise Cascade – and also another one on the other side of the Canadian border in Fort Frances, Ontario. The smell is … unique. It takes some getting used to. The closest thing I can use to describe it is the smell of cooking cabbage. Once you get used to it, you barely notice it, unless the smell happens to be particularly strong, which happened once in a while.

While I was up there, there was a lovely little store that I loved to go to. I can’t remember the name of it, unfortunately, and from what I hear it was closed down years ago. It had a wonderful variety of things from all kinds of winter wear, supplies, a large wall stacked to the brim with moccasins, and various and a sundry little toys. I got most of my beanie babies from there as well as my first pair of moccasins. I’m not sure why, but the way they are made make them excellent for warm house footwear, which is very useful when anything over zero Fahrenheit is considered a heat wave.

That was obviously the biggest difference between Georgia and Minnesota: the weather. We had to learn how to layer (and learn fast!). As southerners through and through, we really didn’t understand the concept of layering for warmth. Long underwear? Unheard of, except in maybe movies or the like. And at that level of cold, gloves and a hat are a must, not a maybe. I’ve also lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and while it gets cold in the winter, hats and gloves aren’t required winter wear. In Minnesota, they definitely are.

There are also little differences that one probably wouldn’t expect. A “casserole” is a “hot dish”. Milk is available in bags. It’s customary to ask someone if they want something three times. And, of course, the long Minnesota goodbye, where guests and hosts can spend literally hours preparing to leave each other. There’s a German/Polish/Eastern European influence in International Falls that just isn’t quite present in rural GA, so the cuisine can offer different things as well. We had pierogies for the first time (and loved them). If one ate fried fish, it was a good chance it was walleye (which has a very good taste to it and is a plenty in Northern Minnesota). Brats and sauerkraut was a thing. Jell-o salad was a go-to for gatherings. Soft drinks were referred to as “pop” and not “coke” as they are commonly referred to in the Atlanta area of Georgia.

Overall, it was a wonderful place that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the freedom I was allowed and the places I could go just all on my own. I loved the large and spacious library that was mere blocks away. I loved the little park area that I could visit and where the Fourth of July festivals were held. I loved the quaintness of the town. I’m not sure I would like to live in a town that remote again, the kind where almost monthly trips to a city three hours away to do any decent shopping are required. But I have lovely memories of it and it certainly has quite a few high spots, despite our short stay there. It was my first glimpse into the world outside of the house on the little dirt road, and I was fascinated.

Childhood homes – Part 1

I haven’t written a blog post in a minute as I’ve had several things come up and just haven’t had the time nor inspiration for it. However, rather randomly, I thought I would go through remembering each home I grew up in. A couple of homes, we didn’t end up staying in for long, so I might condense those, but at least this one I will devote one full post to, as it’s the first home I lived in.

The first home I ever lived in was in McDonough, GA, out in the boonies. Go down one particular main road, make a turn off to a road in between two cow/horse pastures (whose cows and horses were only there briefly while I was growing up…where the owner lived and what happened to them, I have no idea), make a left at the end of that gravel road onto another gravel road, and we were the last house down that way. We only had two neighbors. Nowadays, developments have bought up all the surrounding property and housing is being put in, so it’s nowhere near as isolated as it used to be. But back then, it seemed like we were a world unto itself.

We had a nice bit of property stretching all around us. Our very large front yard was dotted with trees, but our smaller backyard was more cleared. The land was uneven, as there was a hill on one side that went up to one of our neighbors, and so our lawn was not the manicured perfection one might see in suburbia. I certainly couldn’t go out barefoot as we didn’t really know what all was out there (I did once, that I remember, and got a rusty bit of wire lodged deep in my foot for my trouble). I remember, next to the pathway that went from the driveway to the front porch, there was a dogwood tree. It was there that we had a bird bath setup, and I enjoyed watching the birds sometimes.

I also got a swing set in the front yard, with a couple of swings, a little swinging device that sat two kids on either side (I’m not really sure what it was called…you didn’t really need two on either side, but it was just normally meant that way), and also a slide. It wasn’t an elaborate setup, but I enjoyed playing around on it.

Between what I would call our main front yard and the road, there was just an open field of grass. I remember my dad had taken me out there to try to teach me how to use a baseball bat, but I was woefully unsuccessful at picking up the proper hand-eye coordination. We still played catch sometimes, though, using a tennis-type of ball and these velcro catchers. Other than that, I don’t remember playing much with him. I watched him doing home repairs and various things over the years, and I became his little helper by handing him tools and supplies, but playing? I don’t remember much of that.

My parents built the house that we were in. By the time I came along, they’d added on to it, so it had three bedrooms upstairs, plus an office space and a storage space in the finished basement (which I eventually got a little play area set up in the basement as well). My room was rather large, with a closet that stretched from wall to wall. On one side of my closet, there was a small alcove I could climb up into. I spent time in there reading, it was a little safe place for me. I loved it.

Since I came along so long after my siblings (my sister and brother were 18 and 16, respectively, when I was born), the third bedroom was converted into a study area that was then used as our little school room once I was started on homeschooling. It was pretty small, but it fit our needs just right. My mother also had her sewing machine and supplies in there as well.

The master bedroom was nice and spacious, with its own bathroom and a walk-in closet. I remember one time, during homeschooling, my mother was teaching me about how some Christians were persecuted in other countries, so she had us pretend like we were them. We wore scarves to conceal our identities and we had to sneak around and get to the closet, knock, and then do our Bible lesson there in private, in the near dark. I’m not sure why, but it upset me greatly and scared the shit out of me, so she actually stopped the lesson and we finished it outside of the closet.

We had a pretty nice kitchen set up with a lot of counter space. The washer and dryer were also in the kitchen, but they were easily hid with sliding doors when they weren’t being used. Walking through the kitchen, one would arrive in the dining room area. It wasn’t overly large, but it was barely partitioned off from the kitchen, so it was like a big open space. For a while, our piano was along one wall, and we eventually had a computer set up there. It was one of the ancient ones that had the four separate boxes on the screen with the programs listed. I always liked to play tetris and solitaire and eventually pinball. We had no internet, obviously, and I had no real use of the computer other than the occasional game.

A door on one side of the dining room was our side door, and my parents eventually put up a nice little deck there. It was a nice little size, though nowhere near as big as the front porch that stretched across most of the front of the house. I remember one year, a bird built her nest in one of the shelves we had out there. I loved peeking in at the eggs and then the baby birds once they hatched, though I had to be cautioned against handling them as I wanted to pet them.

When we eventually got a couple of goats, we fashioned a pen out in our back yard for them. The pen was just into the treeline, so they wouldn’t be directly exposed to wind, and my dad built an overhang for them and we had a couple of igloo-type of shelters for them to get into when it got cold. I loved having them, and I’d play around with them. The kids they had were especially adorable, the way they’d just jump around and run and skip.

While there were plenty of trees surrounding us, there was only one that was any good for climbing. Most – if they weren’t evergreen – didn’t have branches that were low-hanging enough for me. There was only one, beside the goat pen, that I was able to scale. I remember the first time I was able to climb it, I felt incredibly triumphant. It wasn’t very high, but I still climbed it!

One very specific thing I remember … we had a garage that was built in to our house (it sat below the master bedroom), but as far as I remember, the vehicles were never put in there. It was used as storage, but not vehicle storage. I remember when we moved and my parents started putting the cars in a garage, I thought it was such a novel concept, as I’d previously thought that a garage was pretty much just for storage. I must have seen other people put cars in garages – my sister, specifically, comes to mind – but I guess it didn’t really click for me until I saw my parents do it.

Going up the pathway to the front porch and through the front door, we had no entryway, the front door just opened up into the living room. We had a large picture window, and we had a small TV set up there. We didn’t have cable or satellite or even an antenna until ’96 when the Olympics came in town, but we had a VHS player and we played a lot of movies. There was a nice fireplace across from the sofa, but it was never used throughout the whole time that I was there. I’m not sure if my parents ever used it, but when I was maybe 6 or 7, they had the fireplace taken out and they put the piano there. I remember I was initially upset, as even though the fireplace wasn’t used, I still loved it. I watched the contractor – a church friend of my parents – tear it out, insulate the wall, and patch it up. While I was initially unhappy with the change, I eventually got used to it.

I really loved that house. Even though we were pretty isolated, I loved the freedom I had to roam around the yard and the treeline and play. And while I sometimes wished I could go outside without having to put on shoes, I was pretty content. I’d actually randomly thought here and there about what if my family moved, even just to another home, and I’d start thinking about all the things I liked about our house and decide emphatically that I never wanted to move away. Funny how when my parents announced that we were going to move to Minnesota and asked me if I would like that, something just clicked in my mind and I said I would like it. I’m not sure what happened that day that changed my view, but it was very quick and sudden, like someone flipped a switch in my mind, and I was all of a sudden okay with moving away and losing the friends and community I had.

Since we moved several times still throughout my life, perhaps that is why I find moving to be an easy thing, mentally. While, at each place I’ve lived, there are places that I love, I don’t find myself tied to one particular area so much that I would never leave. I sometimes do wonder what it would be like to feel that kind of connection, but it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have that. I like the semi-nomadic life I’ve had. I’ve experienced a range of things I never would have otherwise. And I have a pretty good sneaking suspicion that I won’t live out the rest of my life here in Minnesota … and possibly not even in the United States. πŸ˜‰

Video games & being truthful with your kids

I just happened upon this topic last night, as my fiance and I were watching some random YouTube videos on old video games. Quite a few I had never even heard of, but he had and had played them. This got me to thinking about my history with video games and eventually led to a decision of mine regarding my future kids that my parents did not do with me.

When I was a kid, I obviously knew that video games existed, no matter how sheltered I was. I asked my parents before for a system, not even one in particular, but they said no. I eventually bought one myself – at a discount – once I had my own job, and while I enjoyed it immensely, I am far from a hardcore gamer. There are many games that are just out of my league, talent-wise, the kind that you get how to play with a lot of experience behind you that you just can’t grasp otherwise. I enjoy watching someone else (like my fiance) play games I’d never be able to, but he grew up playing them. I didn’t. I got my first system and games at 17, which, for all the gamer friends I have, is pretty late in life compared to when they started playing.

Whenever I had asked my parents for a video game, they had said they couldn’t afford it. My fiance’s parents, on the other hand, were able to provide the occasional system and plenty of games for them, because they waited until the inevitable price drop and specials and sales. His family certainly was no better off, and in fact it’s a pretty good guess that they had less income than my family even did. Yet they afforded a small luxury here and there, at a discounted price. My parents refused, cost being their reason. Nowadays, I see their refusal for what it was: they just didn’t want me to play video games.

Now, if they had just come out and said they didn’t want me to play video games…sure, I would have been upset (yet another thing barred from me for religious reasons) but later on I would have admired the fact that they had been up front and truthful with me. Just like with my one normal Halloween, however, they had to dig an excuse out of a barrel that just plain wasn’t true. I think it’s ridiculous lying to kids like that to save face. If you don’t want them to do something, shouldn’t you be able to sit them down and explain it to them in a way they’ll understand and accept? And even if they don’t fully accept it, at least understand it? Why the lies, especially when they become so blatant later in life? I know my father orchestrated the whole thing – as he really did just about everything in my life, like a puppet master – so my respect for him has gone down even more (and it wasn’t very high to begin with).

Which brings me to my decision: I will not lie to my kids about stupid shit like this. If I don’t want them to participate in something or have something, I will have an actual reason (not a stupid one like “oh our religion prohibits it” which I won’t be forcing any kind of religion on them anyway) and I will be able to explain it to them. They don’t have to fully accept it, but they will understand my reasoning. And, I think, later in life…they will respect me more for being up front and honest with them rather than throwing out some flimsy excuse. My kids will be able to say that their mother was truthful with them. They won’t have to go back in their memories and dissect everything and judge whether it was the truth or not, because they will know it is true from the get go.

Another layer to the issue is, knowing that my parents – and my father in particular, as I know he bullied and forced my mother into doing and saying things she wouldn’t otherwise – outright lied to me on certain things, even small things, it brings into question everything they ever told me and taught to me throughout my life. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a principle I want my children to have to follow. I want to be a living example for them as much as possible. While my parents talked the talk about living in Christ and being an example, they weren’t always that way themselves. While I’m no longer a Christian, I will strive to live what I preach and let that speak for itself for my children. I think that is so much more important than hauling them to church every Sunday and Wednesday and forcing them to memorize scriptures and barring them from “worldly” distractions, because if I can’t practice what I preach, how can I expect my children to really listen to what I try to instill in them?

VBS

This post was prompted by a video shared on a forum I’m in that features a bunch of adults acting out a certain song that was rather commonly sung at VBS. And while I thought it pretty sad that grown adults were acting out all the motions to a kids song, it got me remembering my own experiences.

Ah, VBS. Vacation Bible School. It was a time of the year that I looked forward to. School was out for the summer. I got to go to church (a central part of my childhood) and see and play with my friends (since for a good chunk of my schooling, I was homeschooled, I didn’t get to see my friends anywhere but church). Snacks were usually involved in some way, and I swear those church ladies knew how to make the meanest rice krispy treats. And those little plastic juice barrels! Oh yes, you knew it was a good day at VBS when they brought out the juice barrels. That and those little cups of vanilla ice cream with the strawberry or chocolate flavour swirls in them.

I went to a lot of VBS’ over the years, at several different churches. Even though they were all different in some little way, they followed the same basic principle. Play time, singing time, story time, snack time, bible time…sometimes memorization was involved similar to AWANA. There was usually some sort of fundraiser type of thing that happened. I never really won anything with that, as during that time, my family wasn’t able to give me much to donate. I didn’t really like that they did that, because it seemed to isolate the kids who weren’t able to give and rewarded the kids who were with…things that they could have afforded to buy themselves. I tried not to feel too jealous, but sometimes it was hard. I wouldn’t say we were “poor” exactly, but we weren’t exactly diving in the vault ala Scrooge McDuck.

Aside from those awkward feelings, I still had plenty of fun. It mostly seemed to be a super-charged combination of AWANA and children’s church. There was usually a theme for the week and the stories and decor went along with that theme. Story time was usually hit or miss, depending on who was doing it. If it was my mother, I knew it would be good. She was a great storyteller, and she used felt boards to illustrate the story as she was telling it. Some people would use a felt board and it would be awkward, but she used it masterfully. I was always entranced, even if she was telling a story I’d heard at least a dozen times before. I remember watching her carefully cut out the various figures from new story sets, being careful to place them oh so exactly in a box so they wouldn’t rip. I wasn’t allowed to touch and play with them when I was younger, but I always watched her and wondered what story she’d be telling next.

The ultimate guilty pleasure of VBS was, of course, Veggie Tales. I had to google this because I didn’t remember the exact year, but it came out for the first time in December of ’93, so by VBS of ’94, there were videos at the ready to play. It was usually Friday, the last day of VBS, unless a teacher wasn’t feeling well or particularly prepared and decided to opt for a video. We loved watching Veggie Tales, especially singing along with Silly Songs with Larry. Today, I think the great thing about Silly Songs is that the songs have nothing to do with any religious message, really, they’re just silly and fun. Kids need that. Growing up in the church the way I did, we were constantly bombarded with Jesus and the Bible and messages from all angles, even when we were just trying to play. We really just wanted to bust out and have fun without it having to involve religion. And even though the rest of the video was chock-full of religious messages, the Silly Songs part was the one part that I could look forward to and know that I didn’t have to pay attention for a message.

The last time I was ever involved in VBS in any way was when I operated the puppets in my teens. By that time, my religion was losing his luster and VBS no longer held the appeal it once did as a child. The songs that I’d previously had fun singing and acting out were corny, contrived, and condescending in a way. The stories were old, having been told hundreds and hundreds of times before in more entertaining ways. The shiny facade was gone, like adults find in so many things from childhood, but in my case specifically, it was still present for a time, taunting me in a way. The joy experienced by the children, while wonderful for them and wonderful for me to bring out of them, was not the same as I experienced. I tried desperately to hold on for years, to convince myself that I was happy in this faith, that this was my life. But while it was, it wasn’t in a sense. It wasn’t the real me. I only said I believed because I didn’t have any other option.

While I’ll still look back on those summers with fond memories, that’s all they are for me anymore. They have no power to draw me back to a church I can’t reconcile my personal beliefs with. While they may seem to haunt me at particular times, they have no true hold over me. Any pang of hurt I feel came after, and I understand that. I work to separate that. The bad memories don’t overshadow the good memories, nor do they cancel each other out. They exist side by side, hand in hand, simply as they are. That is one thing that I’m trying to keep in mind while writing this blog: that while some memories are painful, and some hurt, that the good memories surrounding them shouldn’t bring on that same hurt. I try to just look at them as they are, acknowledge them, allow myself to remember the good as it was, untainted by any bad memories. Just because they may be surrounded by bad ones doesn’t mean that they are bad themselves, and remembering them as they are should only bring back a sense of nostalgia, not of pain.

When I previously tried to remember certain things about my childhood, I only ended up getting depressed. Indeed, my fiance was concerned when I started this blog, not wanting me to go through a downward spiral that he knew I was capable of doing. But I’m working towards bettering myself, and I’m evolving and growing, and I’m trying to change my point of view of my past. And, by changing my point of view, owning it.

I am Elisabeth. Former fundamental, evangelical Independent Baptist. Today I am a hippie-ish, body modded Pagan. In the future … I don’t know. Who really knows? Life is a constant journey, and takes us to different places. Some things stay the same, other things change, but what I’ve found to be true is that the journey of self-discovery is never truly over, and that we should embrace it.

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. πŸ™‚

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.