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Friday, June 27, 2014

Oddity: A Story Of Punishment

For some reason, this week has been full of memories for me. Many have been wonderful, and even funny to the point of bordering on hysteria. But my thoughts turned to some memories of Alice, who was the wife of my mother's cousin Bill, my legal guardian. I have written in the past about some of the things I endured while under Alice's care. From time to time, I feel compelled to share some of the things that happened at this time in my life. I do this for a few different reasons, but one in particular. The things we live through as children, during those critical formative years, can change and affect us forever. I simply want to open people's eyes, minds, and hearts. Someone who reads these words may never have raised a voice or a hand in anger toward a child. They may, however, be inspired to do something to help a child or a family that suffers from the effects of mental and physical abuse. I can only hope.

I couldn't figure out why it was happening. All that I knew was that whenever it was time for parent-teacher conferences, my life would become even more hellish. I was a straight-A student. I never talked back to my teachers, or showed up to school late. I didn't argue with other students or get in any trouble on the playground at recess. I played well with others, and never ran with scissors. I didn't fidget, or act up, or act out. I did what I was supposed to do, and did so respectfully. My short life had taught me that this was the safest and smartest way to behave. Don't get any adults angry, and you won't get in any trouble. Simple rules to try and maintain a safe existence. 

Then we would have a couple of half-days at school because it was time for conferences. Conferences were the teacher's opportunity to let parents know how their kids were doing in school. It was the time for parents to find out if little Susie was struggling with a certain subject, or if she was behaving a lot differently at school than her parents thought she was. It gave both the parents and the teachers a chance to know whether everything was going smoothly, or if they needed to find a way to help the children be able to flourish in school.

In spite of my great grades and quiet behavior, every time Alice came home from conferences, her fury was unleashed. I was screamed and cursed at, and beaten for everything that was wrong about me. This happened after every single conference. No matter what I did, every time it ended up the same way. I had no idea why there was so much wrong with me, or what to do to make my teachers not want to say bad things about me. It was especially painful for me because I absolutely adored my teachers. Yet the beatings continued. I was reviled for being stupid and bad and crazy like my father.

A couple of months into my fourth grade school year, one evening during dinner, Alice angrily told me to leave the table and go to my room until I was called to come back. She took her husband and two daughters into her bedroom for a family meeting. There was a vote, and the family decided that they didn't want me to live with them any more. Alice would be sending me to live with her mother, my Gram. It hurt to know that they had all voted to get rid of me. (Years later, one of them told me that she voted for me to leave because she couldn't bear to see me beaten constantly. She went along with Alice's plan to get rid of me, knowing that I wouldn't be abused all of the time, and envying me a bit for escaping. Hearing her say that so many years later was a moment when I felt an incredible gratitude for her caring about me, and sadness for her situation.) So I went to live with Gram, my heart full of hope. At least until Alice saw that hope in my face and told me that Gram had hated me from the first moment she had laid eyes on me.

When my first parent-teacher conference rolled around, I was full of fear and stress. I didn't want Gram to get mad at me because of the conference and send me back to live with Alice. I am surprised that I could even sleep or eat, considering everything that was at stake. Even if I didn't get sent back to live with Alice, there was the very real possibility of her coming over just to beat the stuffing out of me. Finally, the time came for Gram to go to the conference. I was at home wondering what would happen. Conferences were always a bad thing. When Gram came home, though, she didn't look mad at all. I waited for the yelling to begin, but it never did. Gram told me that my teacher, Mrs. Waite (who lived on the same block as Alice, incidentally) was very pleased with me. I was a good student and a very good girl, and Gram was happy to hear how well I was doing in school. I was stunned. I remember going to school the next day and thanking Mrs. Waite for my good conference. She seemed a bit surprised, and told me that I was very welcome, but that I really deserved it.

Every time conferences rolled around with Gram, she was happy with my progress when she came home. In fact, when I got to fifth grade, Miss Blagg sent home a note telling Gram that I was one of three students that were doing so well in school that she didn't have to come in for a conference that quarter. This was a trend that went on through the coming years. I remember begging her in my Senior year to have a conference with my favorite teacher, just so that I could hear some feedback.

Some years later, I figured out why my conferences with Alice had resulted in terror, while my conferences with Gram were such positive experiences. It was all about the expectations that they set with my teachers. I am sure now that Alice told my teachers that craziness ran in my family, and that I had mental problems. Whenever I behaved in a slightly odd way (and what kid doesn't have odd moments now and then?) the teachers noticed it (and noted it) and reinforced her negative opinions about me. I was wrong and bad and crazy, and I needed to have it beaten out of me. Before you think I am over-reaching on this, let me put this out there for you. Just before you meet someone, you are told by a friend you have no reason to mistrust that Mr. Smythe is bipolar. As the evening progresses, you notice that he really laughs a lot, and very uproariously. Then he becomes very serious. Mood swings, you might think. He must not be on any medication. But if the same person simply told you that Mr. Smythe was a fascinating man with a marvelous sense of humor, you'd probably just think he really likes your jokes.

Gram never created that sort of atmosphere. She simply stated that she was my grandmother and that I was living with her. She provided the basic and necessary information like my name, address, and birth date, and that was about it. She may or may not have addressed why I lived with her. But my teachers were no longer looking for aberrant behavior, so they didn't find any. Not only had I moved away from abuse, I had moved away from being labeled. Gram had unknowingly given me the gift of allowing me to become just another kid. The damage Alice had caused to me wasn't undone, but at least the horror didn't continue. Instead of Katrina who had to be watched because she was a little bit crazy, I was just Katrina, a skinny little girl with long legs and short hair who did well in school and sometimes skinned her knees at recess. I no longer had to be punished for who I might be. I was given the chance to become who I could be.


Always remember that what is said and done to children matters. Whether positive or negative, children's experience have an impact on their lives. No life is perfect. Everyone has the possibility of experiencing things like loss, illness, pain, and failure, as well as joy, excitement, and success. But no child should have to live in constant fear.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Really Big Sale

It's great when I'm toddling around online, minding my own other people's business, and find things that inspire me to write. I see something that tickles my funny bone or gets me thinking seriously, and before I know it, I'm writing another blog post. I just needed something to jog my memory or start the thinking process. A friend posted a couple of pictures recently that made me remember something that was funny, but not long enough to stand alone as a blog post. Lucky me!

Picture this: a lovely lawn and front yard in Suburbia, USA. Nestled amidst the green trees and propped up to afford passers-by a better view, is a lovely canoe. It is gently used, and appears to be in good condition, but is no longer needed by its current owner. Rather than dispose of this still usable craft, the owner is attempting to sell it. he or she has made their intent clear with a well-placed sign. "KANEW for sale," it proudly proclaims. Of course I will never know if the "kanew" ever found a new (k-new?) home, but I certainly enjoyed all of the witty comments that were made about it! I guess sometimes it's the little words that can give us the most trouble. Who knew?

This same friend managed to follow up with another unfortunate sign just a few days later. Yet another family trying to get rid of things they are no longer using, and hoping to make a few dollars doing so, decided to have a sale. I'll freely admit that Trent and I are among those wits who occasionally get silly about these signs. "Oh, look honey! Someone's selling their yard!" "Hey, Katrina, these people are selling their garage! Want to check it out?" We both think that garage/yard sales are a great idea. Someone gets to buy something they'd like at a low price, and someone else makes a few bucks getting rid of their extra stuff. This sign, however, was another spelling mishap. No mere yard sale for these folks, though. They were having a GROJ sale. Some words, depending on local pronunciation, just can't be looked up in a dictionary.

That was the one that took me back through the years. There was usually a sale held by one or another of our neighbors at least once a month. I'd be driving down our main thoroughfare and see the signs thumb-tacked to the telephone poles, announcing the yard or garage sale that would be happening the coming weekend. I looked forward to these sales as an opportunity to buy some books cheaply, or score some crocheted doilies that I'd never have the talent or patience to make myself. One year, three or four families decided to just have a joint sale rather than take turns. It was going to be a really big sale. In fact, as the flyers proudly announced, it was going to be HUGH. And I must tell you honestly that it took me a while to figure that one out. I was wondering who Hugh was, and why he was having a sale on our block. Finally it hit me. It was huge! Other that me telling Gram, never a word escaped my lips. Hey, I have good manners. Sometimes I even know when to use them.

Summer is here again. The lawns and trees and gardens are awash with color. The swimming pools are open, and the scents of suntan lotion drift on the air. Grills are working overtime. And sale season is upon us. One bit of advice, though. If you go to a hugh groj sale, don't buy a kanew unless you test it first for leaks.

Friday, June 20, 2014


We all have those moments. Someone says or does something that just strikes us as so rude or idiotic that we feel an overwhelming urge to lash out and say something awful. Yes, it could be referred to as cursing. You know, I think it is called cursing because that's what it originally started out as. I can picture a scenario taking place thousands of years ago with a group of Stone Age hunters. They are trying to hunt down a woolly mammoth; the preserved meat will feed their family group through the winter, and the hide, bones, sinews, and other parts will serve many purposes. Dorg throws the spear to start bringing down the majestic beast...and hits Grod in the leg instead. Grod, naturally, yells out in pain, frightening away the mammoth and ruining the chance for a feast of fresh mammoth tonight. One of the hungry hunters turns to Dorg in disgust and says, "May all of your teeth fall out so that you can never chew mammoth again!"

Over the years, of course, these curses have evolved into many different forms that compare those on the receiving end to various bodily excretions, multiple words for different animals, and creative terms for body parts and things that we do with them. Depending on your sensibilities, or the thickness of your skin, what's okay to someone else may be horribly vulgar to you. And sometimes we might try to be vulgar and totally strike out. My sister told me a story about her friend's grandchildren and how they would drive each other crazy. One of these boys was a few years older than the other, and had the nickname of Stinky. Don't ask; I have no idea why. The younger boy was still at the age when some words were difficult to pronounce. You know what I mean - the age when kids say things like fank you instead of thank you. One day, Stinky was really making Little Guy angry, so Little Guy decided to use the worst swear words he knew. "Fudge, you, Tinky!" he shouted. Needless to say, Stinky started laughing hysterically, and Little Guy ended up crying because instead of shock and awe, all he got was disrespectful laughter.

I will be honest - I have a fairly rich vocabulary which includes both curse and non-curse words. Sometimes a succinct d--n seems in order, whereas other occasions require a more verbose or creative approach. (See what I did there?) The other day, we were on our way home from church (Yes, I go to church. This does not make me any worse or better than anyone else, nor does it make me preachy or judgey, or whatever-y. 'Kay?) when someone pulled one of those incredibly stupid driver moments on us. We really wanted to say something awful, but Trent said it was probably wrong to do so on the way home from church, so maybe we should think of something different to say. It took me all of five seconds. "Nice work, Deliverance!" If you've seen the movie, you'll get it. I'll pause while Dueling Banjos plays in your head...

Back? Okay. I know it's silly. But it's just too easy, sometimes, to lash out when other people make mistakes. It's a small step to try and soften my words, and maybe my meanest-woman-in-the-world heart. I make mistakes all of the time. Who knows how many times I have been so focused on what I am doing that I have accidentally stepped on someone else's toes, figuratively speaking? So I'm going to try to find softer words and a softer attitude, and think before my anonymous insulting. But woe be to the person who willfully hurts my family or friends. Or kids. Or their spouse or partner. Or dogs or cats. Or other nice critters. Oh, I forgot elder persons. And...and...and...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The F Word

If you think this blog post is going to be full of curse words, you are wrong. Because there are some words that can feel far more ugly than swearing. For the last twenty-five years, my most-hated word, my f-word, has been flare. If you look up the word flare in the dictionary, you might see several different things. A flare can refer to a burst of flame or light, or the gradual widening of a skirt or pants. You may have emergency flares in your car. For a person like me, who lives with lupus, a flare means something different. With any chronic illness, a flare is a worsening of the disease's symptoms. All sorts of diseases can have flares, from arthritis to MS, fibromyalgia, and lupus, and lots of things in between. When you have a chronic illness, a flare is your enemy. For someone like me who has both lupus and fibromyalgia, a flare is something to be dreaded.

You may know that last December I spent four days in the hospital because of severe vertigo. I wrote about it in a post called Vertigo - A Horror Story. Being sick enough to be hospitalized is extremely stressful, and stress can trigger flares of various chronic illnesses, especially lupus. Just being in the hospital is very draining and takes some recovery time, but I found that I just wasn't getting stronger like I hoped. I assumed it just had to be the lupus and/or fibromyalgia flaring up a bit. More than one person suggested going to see my doctor about it, but I just couldn't make myself do it. When you try hard to be strong and know your strength is failing you, hearing a doctor say it can somehow make it so much worse!  It's kind of like working really hard to make or do something, and having someone point out to you that you have, indeed, failed miserably. Having your health be out of your control can be something that you take very personally.

So I've been taking things a bit slowly. My blog has suffered; I just haven't had the energy to put into my writing that I have had in the past. I have had brief periods of feeling more like myself, but now that summery weather is here, I've been knocked for a loop. The last couple of weeks have been a challenge. As can happen with lupus, I've been running a low-grade fever for a number of days. Why those symptoms can't happen in colder weather is beyond me! Having an internal space-heater when it is ninety degrees out is not that much fun. And the fatigue and lack of energy have been pretty constant companions in recent days. Getting some necessary errands taken care of today left me beyond exhausted. After a couple of hours of rest, though, I managed to get a simple dinner prepared and eaten. Okay, I managed to cook some frozen potstickers. Luckily for me, I have a husband who understands that I am truly struggling.

As I write this, I remember something that happened when I was first diagnosed with lupus, and was fighting with my immune system to keep it from doing any more damage to my kidneys. One of my favorite relatives was talking to me about what was going on with my health at a family gathering. It was just before Christmas, after all. She said something about feeling sorry for me because of what I was going through. I'll share with you what I said to her, because it is what I want to share with you. Don't feel sorry for me unless I give up. And if I do give up, don't feel sorry for me then, either. Kick me in the behind and tell me to keep going. So will you do that for me, my friends? Send some strengthening vibes my way, and if you see signs that I am giving up, kick me in the behind and tell me to keep going! This, too, shall pass.

Be well! 


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Science Can Be Confusing

The other day I found myself remembering my seventh-grade Science teacher, Mr. Kerlee. He was an older teacher who managed to be kind and stern at the same time. I learned a great deal from him, and loved his class. Something that was interesting about him was that he really hated bad spelling. He hated it enough, in fact, that even though it was a science class, he gave us a spelling test every week. They never worried me; I was one of those kids that was a pretty decent speller. In fact, during my seventh-grade year, I was one of the students representing our school in the district preliminaries for the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. What's that you asked? How did I do? Umm, after boldly correcting the pronunciation of one of the words during the test (papyrus, which the announcer pronounced as something akin to paper-uss), I won the blue ribbon. 

When I went back to my seat in Mr. Kerlee's class, he asked if I had won the loving-cup. I hadn't, it was just a blue ribbon, so I simply said no. After class I showed him the blue ribbon. I know he was irked that he didn't have a chance to praise me in front of the class, but I also know that he was proud of me. When I went to the State Bee, I discovered that there was an entirely different world of spellers out there. Heck, I didn't even understand some of the questions they asked. Yes, I understood the questions about definition and origin, but they were asking things like if the words were assimilated. I had to look it up later. (This has several meanings, but in this case it referred to letters next to one another in words being changed to the same letter. An example would be if the word started out as disference and eventually turned into difference.) Needless to say, I was no match for these intensely-coached kids, and after the written test and the luncheon, I was sent home. Gram was incredibly proud of me, but I felt kind of stupid, to be honest.

That was not my strongest memory of Mr. Kerlee's class, however. That happened at an entirely different time. We were learning about reproduction, a subject that has stricken fear into many a teacher's heart, while titillating many a student. I know that my friends and I were just waiting to see if anyone asked the questions that might make the teacher embarrassed to answer. There was one show-stopping question when it came to question-and-answer time, but it was not what we expected. It came when a girl that I always thought of as being at least averagely intelligent asked, "How do rocks have babies?" Mr. Kerlee's face got tight, and his lips thinned. He was not going to put up with silliness. But then he and the entire class were stunned when the girl continued. "You see big rocks and little rocks, and I just always wondered, how do rocks have babies?" Mr. Kerlee kindly explained that rocks did not have babies, they just broke into smaller pieces in various ways. I remember being impressed that he managed to answer her without making her feel like she'd asked something stupid. He became even greater in my eyes that day.

Fast-forward to another Science class two years later with Mr. Sepich. One of my close friends, who had also been in Mr. Kerlee's class, was the student who got attention for all the wrong reasons one day. We were learning about how scientists come up with hypotheses, and then devise experiments to either prove or disprove them. To encourage us to think, Mr. Sepich asked us what experiment a scientist might carry out to prove his theory that the center portion of a glacier's ice moved faster than the ice on the outside edges. Bob made a great suggestion. How about if the scientist put stakes all along the top of the glacier, and then came back and measured to see how far they had moved? Everyone was pretty impressed by this answer. It was simple but effective. My friend Becky was troubled by the answer, though. "If you put steaks on the ice, wouldn't the animals just eat them?" Luckily, when Becky realized she was talking about a different type of stakes she saw the wisdom of the solution, and was also able to laugh at the mix-up. It was a funny moment, after all. Hey, Science can be confusing!

Monday, June 9, 2014


Some time ago, I realized that I had something that Gram's own children and grandchildren didn't have. I had the advantage of spending a lot of time with her, not just as a child, but as an adult. Because of this, I had an experience that the others missed. I heard many stories that she might not have shared with her kids or grandkids. In fact, Gram's granddaughter, my cousin Carole, and I spoke about this. Perhaps it was because I was not a natural member of the family. She could let it all hang out without it bothering me. If she told stories about any of her children, she would not be telling me anything about one of my parents, or even one of my aunts or uncles. I suspect that it might have been rather liberating for her, especially when I became a fellow adult. One of the things I hope to do with some of my blog posts is enlighten Carole, and any other members of Gram's family who might find themselves inclined to read my Ravings with open hearts and minds, with some of Gram's stories. All three of her children are gone now, so if they knew some of these stories, they are no longer able to share them.

Gram has been on my mind a lot lately, most likely because Marie and Thayne called us on Memorial Day and offered to take us to Fort Logan Cemetery to visit Trent's parents' grave. Afterward, they offered to take me to visit Gram's resting place as well. When we began our drive from one cemetery to another, Thayne asked me if I had any other family in the cemetery where Gram is buried. I chuckled and remarked that many of her family would say that none of my relatives are in the cemetery. Interestingly enough, Marie and Thayne interpreted my answer in opposite ways. Marie laughed because she thought I was waxing philosophical and saying that they weren't in the cemetery, they had moved on from this existence. Thayne latched onto my exact meaning, however, and sort of huffed about it - he knew that I meant some people would say Gram was not my relative, nor were they, hence no relatives in yonder boneyard.

Before long, I was sharing some things with them, and Trent, of course, about who was who in the family, and tied it in with some things that they may or may not have known about the individual people I mentioned. In short order, it went from one extreme to another, and back again. I got to the point where tears began to flow because of wounds that might never heal. I apologized for losing my decorum, and was told that I didn't have to apologize for having feelings, which was just what I needed to hear. We made our way to the cemetery where Gram is buried next to her husband, whom I never met. Since I never knew him personally, I have never been able to think of him as Grandpa. To me, he will forever be known as her beloved husband, or other people's Grandpa. And I think that's okay.

When we got to the cemetery, which I hadn't been to visit in several years, I couldn't find Gram's spot. In the past, I used a specific point of reference and walked straight to it. But not this time. We had to ask for staff to help us locate her grave, which really made me laugh at loud. As we wandered around, looking for her marker, I said, "It's just like her sense of humor to move around and hide from us!" When we were directed to her grave, it was at least a dozen rows over from where I remembered it being. I just had to chuckle about it, because I knew that she would have seen the humor in the situation. I was able to get some good photographs of the grave of the woman who raised me, and her husband, as well as the photographs I took of Trent's parent's resting place. All in all, it was a good, albeit emotional, day.

A day or two later, I found one of my scribbled notes of blog post ideas. This one had reminders of some things I had wanted to write about Gram, so it made me smile. When I began writing tonight, I had intended to tell you a few things about Gram that were related to the motion picture industry, so if you'll indulge me, I'll continue, and promise to make it brief.

Gram met her husband in the movie theater in which he worked as a projectionist. At some point after they were married, they ran a movie theater, and she did things ranging from ticket sales to running the concession stands and selling her home made fudge and mugs of icy root beer. Because of being in the business, she was able to meet people that she never would have seen otherwise. One day when we were watching an MGM movie on tv, she mentioned that Leo the MGM lion had come to Denver on a promotional tour, and she was able to see him "in person." Another person that she met and was impressed by was the actress Dorothy Lamour. I think one of the things that she liked about her was that she was "about as big as a minute," to use one of Gram's phrases. In looking at information about the actress, I see that she was only five feet, five inches tall, which was still about half a foot taller than Gram!

Some of Gram's bothers-in-law must have also worked on the business and met many famous people. I remember being surprised once when Gram and I were going through a box of old letters, and seeing a telegram expressing condolences on the death of her brother-in-law. The telegram had been sent by the actor William Powell, who I had seen in so many old movies. I was quite surprised by that one! One of the stories that Gram told me, probably about the same brother-in-law, involved him recounting a recent vacation he had taken in the South. He told her about various things, and then said that he had seen a new artist perform at a small venue. He was very impressed with the young man's talent, and even more with his presence. "I want you to remember his name, Bessie, because he is going to be a really big star." And the unknown talent that he predicted would make it big? None other than Elvis Presley!

I will keep writing about Gram from time to time. I do it to honor her memory. I do it for her family. I do it for my dear and cherished readers. But mostly, I do it for me. Sharing the memories just feels good. I hope it feels good for you, too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Commission And Omission

I was rereading an audio book the other day that reminded me of some of the things I was taught as a child when I was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The book was Jodi Picoult's Change of Heart. It is a complicated story that boils down to this: a man who is on death row for the murder of a child and her police officer stepfather decides that he wants to donate his heart to the dead child's half-sister, who was born after the murders. When the priest was a young college student, he was on the jury which found the accused guilty and sentenced him to death. As the time for Shay Bourne's execution draws near, Father Michael becomes his spiritual advisor, but does not tell him that he was on the jury. I will not tell you much of the rest, just in case you decide you want to read the book.

Father Michael, however, deals with a spiritual crisis of his own. He is trying to help Shay as the date of execution approaches, and many amazing things happen. But Michael has not told Shay that he was one of the people who decided that he should be put to his death. Father Michael thinks about sin, and how there are two types of sin, sins of commission, and sins of omission. The difference between the two is as simple as the difference between the two words. A sin of commission occurs when someone willfully does something wrong. A sin of omission occurs when someone neglects to do something that is right. (Please keep in mind that I am not a student of Theology, and, as such, may not be describing this in the same manner as someone with deeper knowledge of these concepts. Please forgive me for any errors I may make in this regard; I simply state these concepts as I understand them.) So, Father Michael hasn't actively lied to Shay, he has neglected to tell the truth. A sin of omission.

This really got me thinking, and not about religion or faith. It just made me think about the way people treat one another. I don't want to think about it as sins, but perhaps as failings. How many ways have I failed others, I wondered. No, I am not a person who actively looks for ways to hurt others. I have been hurt enough in my time to know how awful it feels. But I often worry about my failings of omission. Should I have gone to the stranger waiting at the pharmacy, who looked weary and worried, and offered a greeting and an opportunity to vent? Have I done enough good for friends and for strangers? I suppose I could go on and on. I guess what's the most important is being loving and being aware in the moment. Following my instincts, and being willing to be rebuffed if I offer help to someone who may not want or need it. Not worrying about commission and omission, but just trying to help others whenever I can on this journey called life. I guess that's something I can commit to. Maybe others can, too.