The Making of Me – How I Came to Be

No, I am not going to talk about the details of my conception although the G rated portions of that story would make a good post someday. I was thinking about how in the world I managed to develop the ideas and foundation than I choose to live by considering how I was raised.

As many of you know, I loved my upbringing in my little mountain community. Those years formed a large percentage of the foundation I still live by today. But, often with small towns are some closed minds and narrow views on the world. I have been forever grateful for the wider exposure and experience I had once my family moved into more urbanized environments. My appreciation for these mountains has never changed and this is where I will always feel at home.

Our history, much like the history of the world has a timeline and on that timeline we mark the big events. Maybe those events are what alter our direction or our ideas about people. I have always believed that the one way people begin to understand other races, ethnicities, sexual identities, etc., is to have someone close to you, someone you love, fall into a different category than what we have always experienced. This is where we learn that we are much more the same than we are different.

When I was teaching art, I took a summer workshop at Duke University focused on using photography to document the lives of students. On the first day of class, we were asked to draw a rudimentary map of the place where we grew up. We were to first draw the dwelling, containing individual rooms, then expand on that to include the larger community. The third step was to write in special landmarks on our map that coincided with particular memories we had.

It was such a revealing exercise. I recalled things I had not thought of for a long time. Trees, and creeks, and grape vineyards. Cemeteries, swimming holes, and country stores. There were strong memories tied to this foundation. There seemed to be a particular room in the house where I felt safest and places that held little or no relevance to me. Enlightening.

Moving away was a culture shock. I was teased unmercifully for my southern accent. Our food was different as was our manner of dress. The most shocking was how diverse this new world was to me. Both in people as well as landscape. But even as I left home at 18 to join the Air Force, I realized I was still sheltered and although my scope was wider, it was not at all worldly. My first trip outside the U.S. was not until 1999 (not counting a short jaunt to Aruba).

As I sit and look back on my upbringing, I have grown so much. When I see people that never left the area I can understand why our ideals and outlook on the world are so different. As much as I loved where I grew up and as much as I loved the foundation I was given there, I realize how fortunate I was to have the opportunities of broader horizons.

That house in the photo above, will always be the place I identify as home although I have not lived there for 53 years. I have written about it before.

When you have some time on your hands, try the map exercise. It can be very revealing and an early indicator of the places, people, and ideas that shaped your early perspective on life. It is also interesting to see what events led you to the place where the roads may have diverged.


The Lap of Luxury

Day 216

As I drove home yesterday. I passed a lot of manufactured homes. It brought back some memories I had not thought of in quite some time.

My maternal grandparents lived on a farm in rural Virginia. We had a lot of freedom there. We also had responsibility. When we were older, my grandmother woke us early to help with the garden. After the morning chores were done, we could roam freely around the farm and even walk to the store that was a mile up the road.

Ben Schumin, Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain, 2003 closeup, CC BY-SA 3.0

I had three siblings and we stayed with my grandmother one summer for several weeks. My siblings all worked part-time at Howard Johnson’s (HoJo’s) but being the baby of the family, I was too young to work.

I helped Granny in the garden, stringing beans, or shucking corn — whatever needed to be done. After that I was free to roam pretty much at will.

As farm land was sold out, the highway in front of the farm became rather commercial and busy with traffic. I remember darting across the highway to the gas station to get a bottle of pop out of one of the older vending machines. It was a Coca Cola machine with bottled soft drinks lined up vertically behind a narrow glass door. You would put your dime in (yes, it was a dime), open the door and pull out a bottle which would immediately be replaced by a new bottle. It was ice cold!

That summer a mobile home sales park appeared down the road from the farm. I loved going there and exploring all the mobile homes. I can remember that feeling of opening the door and seeing a small wrought iron rail separating the entrance from the living area. There was wall paper and carpet and beautiful furniture. The bathrooms were big with big tubs and showers and there were two bathrooms! The beds seemed huge to me (we slept in either a single bed (a cross between and twin and a double) or twin beds. Every mobile home was different and the floor plans differed as did the furniture, drapes and the artwork (yes they had artwork). I felt this was the height of luxury.

Fast forward 30 years when I lived in a mobile home in Alaska, there was no luxury involved. My clothes often froze to the walls of the closet because of lack of insulation in the walls. Funny how our perspective gets realigned with a touch of reality.

My grandparent’s farm was sold and a huge housing subdivision now takes its place. The rolling hills of the farm are still there, but the land that one family once owned is now home to 75 other families. I guess that might be progress, but for me, it is hard to see.


Looking Inward

Day 54

IMG_7907For the last few days, I’ve been wrestling with thoughts. Jumbled, mixed up and confusing thoughts. I could not articulate so even I could understand let alone talk these thoughts out with someone else. I decided to put them aside and just get out and do a little holiday shopping today.

Okay, holiday shopping is a misnomer. I was actually running errands that in some distant way connect to the holidays. That is more accurate. What that meant was I would be running from store to store, looking for little minuscule things I needed to complete decorations or boxes for mailing packages or whatever.

Regardless, I was off.

First stop was Target. I needed birthday cards and Christmas cards and a couple of replacement bulbs. Of course, as soon as I entered the store I was confronted by the very neat Starbucks with NO ONE in line.

I ordered a skinny peppermint mocha latte. I mean, if you’re going to shop in 40-degree weather, one should have a warm beverage to hold — right? The young barista was quick to deliver this nectar to me and I was off shopping. Such a happy girl!

I looked at Christmas decorations I did not need and candy I did not need and art supplies I did not need. Such fun! Then I remembered I needed to get my grandson’s birthday present so I was off to the toy department. By this time I was feeling a bit ‘off’ — a little woozy. I chatted briefly with my son, looked at books and perused the dvds.

That’s when I started feeling lightheaded again. Then it hit me. CAFFEINE. Ha! I have not had caffeinated coffee in months. I had been so fixated on ordering my coffee ‘just so’ I failed to mention I wanted decaf. My bad. At least that explained the wooziness I was feeling.

I had mundane errands for the rest of the afternoon, running in and out of stores. Most of the department stores are in a sad state here. Products are low quality and high priced. Shelves are not restocked and merchandise is displayed helter-skelter around the stores. Not like the old days — before malls.

I thought of my grandmother and how meticulous she was in her shopping. I loved to go to the grocery store with her. In the middle of the store, raised up from the rest of the store was the butcher shop. I remember how discerning my grandmother was about the cuts of meat she ordered. I always loved watching the butcher in his white apron pull the white paper off the huge metal roller and then wrap and label each cut. Such a distinct memory!

Then I remembered the year my Dad gave each of us kids (four of us) $5 each to buy presents for him and mom. He took us to Montgomery Ward. Five dollars didn’t go very far even back then, but I found an old metal combination key rack and letter organizer.

I cannot remember the last time I was in a Montgomery Ward. It might have been when I bought my first (very humongous) microwave oven and cart. They were almost too big for a kitchen counter!

But my favorite shopping of all was when we went downtown. We often ate at the Woolworth lunch counter. Toys were often purchased at the Ben Franklin 5-10. It was always cold and most of the stores were too fancy for us kids, but it was still fun to walk in and out of the stores and see the town all decorated for Christmas — what a great memory.

Winding Down

IMG_7905 2When I returned home hubby was here after his day of jury duty. I warmed up some chili I took out of the freezer last night and we had dinner together. Then our daughters called for a quick video chat with our granddaughter. We talked to our grandson and congratulated him for being inducted into the National Honor Society. Then we turned the lights on the Christmas tree, turned on our various lighted decorations and I started to write my blog.

The funny thing is, the thought I was wrestling with this morning has melted away and no longer seems to matter. I think when we dwell on things and over analyze them, they grow larger than life. A little breathing room and a little time away help us gain perspective and balance.

“Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out,
it’s the little pebble in your shoe.” 

Muhammad Ali