Where I Am From

I am from a long line of orphans. Perhaps the line isn’t that long, but abandoned babies don’t have the luxury of genealogy. My grandfather was a foundling. He became a detective. Never had children. His wife wanted a dog. Instead, he brought home my mother, six years old at the time, abandoned by her father after her mother died. Then my mother’s second mom, the dog lover, died of cancer.


I am from a family with few relatives. My mother’s siblings, all five, joined religious orders. Joined to God, sent around the world to evangelize, allowed to visit every four years. My occasional aunt and uncles. I had to be good around them because they had that direct connection to God. My father was an only child.


I am from a street with 50 children on it. Kids to play with. Kids to fight with. Kids to get in trouble with. Kids who made fun of me for being fat, being nerdy, being a girl, whatever. I shared a room only with my sister. Other kids on the block slept on the couch or shared a room with two or three siblings.

I am from a neighborhood of blue collar workers. I’m not sure exactly what everyone’s father’s did, but the Moms were at home corralling those 50 children, figuring out how make the budget stretch, taking at-home classes in Home Economics and crafts, canning fruits and vegetables, making clothes from scratch, sewing clothes, washing clothes, folding clothes, scolding children, reading to children.


I am from a family where one had to respect one’s sister lest your father declare the weekend “Love They Sister Weekend.” The love part meant that we had a long list of chores that we had to do together. It worked. Although we grumbled through chores, we bonded by “unloving” our father for the weekend.


I am from a family that would allow me to live at home during college if I lived by their rules. I left home 5 days after I turned 18.


I am from a city whose police used to beat the crap out of gay people. I saw it happen. With my sister. She argued with the cops. They arrested her. I ran and called the lawyer. Two people to bail out—her and our gay friend.


I am from a city that had one of the first marches for Gay rights in the country. I marched. My room mates marched. We opened our house as a crash pad for the down-state people who came to my town to march.


I am from a city whose hippies started one of the first crisis hotlines and drop in center in the country. I lived there for awhile. That was my first job at age 18. Tough hours, but such camaraderie. Not so good for the college grades.


Then I was from a rainy city. My first 40 days and 40 nights it rained, and rained, and rained. Then the sun came out and I saw a vision high in the sky. They told me it was Mt. Rainier. No vision. It was exciting to think of it that way.


What I haven’t told you yet is how circuitous my walk through life has been. I often wonder what it is like for someone to decide in high school that they want to be an engineer. Then they go to college, become that engineer, work an engineering job, retire, and die. Or maybe they became a doctor, or a grocer, or whatever. Their path was clear. Not me. Every time I saw a straight path, I ran into a junction that perhaps looked more interesting.


I’ve picked apples, worked in a bakery, read legal proceedings very fast for a court reporting school, ran activities in a retirement home, worked as a waitress, washed sheets in a laundry, did bookkeeping in a Las Vegas casino—dealt blackjack too, worked as job counselor and advocate for persons with disAbilities, went back to school to get a special individual Ph.D. in music and cognitive science, built artificial neural networks before it was fashionable, ran one of the first online learning initiatives at a University, made a film about a British orchestra, ran seven marathons after my husband complained were were getting soft, and yada yada yada. So much that I feel I’ve lived. Only except that I’ll never know what it is like to take that straight path.

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