Was I wearing my favorite black blouse with green and white gingham jumper? My mother had made that jumper for me. She also embroidered with white thread all along the collar edge and down the front a dash of lines to accent the blouse. It made this blouse special, that my mother put her own personalizing handiwork to it.
First grade! I remember coloring a picture and I'd lost my black crayon, so I was coloring the part that was supposed to be colored black with a brown crayon. Another kid had noticed it, and asked why. When I told her I'd lost my black crayon, she let me borrow hers. She seemed surprised that I hadn't asked her earlier. But, perhaps being raised as an only kid, it had never occurred to me.
First grade! Was this the year of Kolpack? She was a big, mean gray haired old lady of a teacher. Another student and I were getting into a tussle in the cloakroom. She threw my coat on the floor, because she wanted the hook I'd chosen, and I was angry! Mean ol' Kolpack stormed in there, and dragged me out by my feet. I can't remember if the other kid got the same treatment, but I don't think so. She never believed me when I asserted just as loudly as I could that I didn't start it. (Remember, I still was going on loudness of vocal power equals strength of argument.) Then she paddled me! I hated that woman, hated her with a deep abiding passion. Thirty nine years later, I still don't like her.
It was around this time my Dad and I went to the tulip festival in Holland Michigan. Dad loved flowers and he wanted to see the tulip festival. Mother didn't want to go, but I was eager. So Dad and I set off in an old rickety car for an adventure. I remember huge fields of tulips in every color possible. I bought a souvenir of a Holland girl holding baskets of tulips on her shoulders so that I would remember those gorgeous flowers. I'm not sure the small china figurine made it with me on the trip to Yuma, but I still have a digital copy.
That rickety car gave us fits on the way home, and I remember Dad stopping late at night to do something to it. He stopped to get a drink, and I was sure it was chocolate milk. I was positive it was, and insisted he let me taste it. It was NOT chocolate milk, but bitter and rather tasted like the bottom of an ash tray. I still feel that way about most beer.
But the adventure was exciting. I did not know why my Mother chose not to have this delightful experience, or insisted on keeping the better car. In retrospect, I suspect it was the beginnings of troubles in their relationship.
I was nearly eight years old before my next remembered time of deep thought. It was hot summer, I remember that. My mother had a large white plaster bust of Beethoven and she had told me a little of his story. The composer's impassioned fury seemed to have been trapped and held within it. I wondered at his passion. I thought of his life and wondered if reincarnation was real, if our souls did go on after our lives ended to begin anew. No answer came to me, rather just a sort of wistful indefinable longing filled me.
These wonderings have always been with me. As I look back on the earliest years, every personality characteristic that I have now, I had then. The strength of will, the love of beauty, the impassioned dreams for the future, all of these show themselves early. Seeing this consistancy of evolution makes me feel more whole as a person.
Of course, at the time, to all outside appearances, my utterings only seemed as the strange talk of a strange girl. It is only in looking back that they can be known for what they are. The initial strands of this tale began back when I was eight.
I was at my Aunt June and Uncle Bill's house visiting. I remember this, their first house. Did it have the soft yellow walls of their later house? Or was there some fancy frocked wallpaper? The upright piano is significant. From the kitchen to the living room entrance, there was the piano, near the stairs leading upwards. Maybe I remember this, for I might have been seated there for a piano lesson. I took a few lessons from my cousin Renee. But it was to her sister Sharmon that I uttered my 'fateful' words. I told her I would get married when I was twenty eight. Both she and her mother thought it amusing and strange that I would wait so late. When Aunt June asked 'Why so late?', I only reacted shyly. (I did, indeed, enter into my first committed relationship when I was twenty eight.)
Another instance I clearly remember also occurred when I was about eight. It was a hot summer night, perhaps in June. I was looking out my bedroom window, through the screen, at the trees and the neighbors. A sing-song came to me,''I lived in a house, and I made my spouse a blouse,'' which I repeated over and over.
Thirty seven years later, I have since made both my spouses many blouses. Was I also then seeing both their preferences for the feminine BLOUSE?
It is necessary to have a leap forward to show an event that transpired June 4, 1995. I've often wondered how these things came to be. On June 4th, I got a glimpse of possibility and recorded it in my spiritual journal:
LATER that night, the movie featured TIME TRAVEL. Somehow, the Self of 1995 went back to the Self of 1966. Or the Self of 1966 went forward to the Self of 1995. Or both. TIME was not. The magical/psychic potential within me was beginning to manifest.
This year was a happy one for me.
What would it have been at nine years of age? I'd been given an eight o'clock bedtime, but I found sneaky ways to circumvent this. A flash light underneath the thick layers of covers was never detected, and I could read as I liked. I was proud the books I was reading were written for older students.
One day at school, I shall never forget. The three different groups of fourth graders were all crammed into one classroom, and a small black and white TV was turned on. The news reporter informed us Martin Luther King had been shot and killed. I didn't know who he was, nor why anyone would want to kill him. There were very few black students at my school. I just remember feeling kind of shocked.
I was still mostly a loner at school. I didn't think much of it. I did try to befriend another student, a tall dark haired girl, but apparently she was even more of a loner than I, and told me to quit following her. This puzzled me, but I walked away from her and returned to my solitude.
But I wasn't always a 'loner'. I enjoyed the company of several cousins. In particular, there was one my own age, with whom I'd laugh and play. We'd sit together in church and draw silly doodles and enjoy simple fun. I remember going tobaggoning with Lynn and her sisters. I think I was about nine when we did that.
I remember the wonderful feeling of asserting myself when I made that decision! Fortunately, my parents didn't make me wear the patch. I think I was able to make them understand how truly awful it made me feel.
My parents didn't have any easy solutions. "Just hit 'em back," my mother exhorted. I had no clue at all how I'd do that. So I just cried. Loudly. The tears didn't persuade my tormentors to ease off any. In fifth and sixth grade, I started getting friends, so the bulk of this had to happen in third and fourth grade. They called me "Retardo" or "Joanie-balonie." Those were the main epithets.
My father seemed to take my revelations more personally. He told me how when I was very little, and we went to visit relatives who had a retarded daughter, I'd mimic her behaviour. He seemed to think I might have done more of the same. I didn't remember what he was talking about. I had no clue of this experience. And besides whatever I did back then bore little relevance to now. My Dad was always getting embarrassed by me. But then I was always getting embarrassed by him. I hated it when he grew the handlebar moustache.
I still thought he might have a clue about the bullying and asked him, "when would it quit?" He figured in junior high, the kids wouldn't be bullying me anymore. But, of course, when you're 9 or 10, this just about means forever.
They've changed their uniform since, to be more similar to the Scouting program, with light gray shirts and red vests, instead of sashes. But in 1968, the wedgewood blue jumper was the fashion. Also, they had a wedgewood blue shirtwaist style dress. Shortly after this picture was taken, Gramma sprung for one of those, which I liked better.
This was the year of quite a bit of religious involvement for me. My fervor was rather impressing my Gramma, that I was taking it all so seriously.
In November of 1997, I pulled out an old memory, and described it thusly:
That was how I remembered the event in 1997. The concept of Deity as the 'Good Shepherd' predates Christianity. It could have come from the Greco-Roman Apollo, who was associated with the tending of flocks and herds. Curiously, I learned of his renowned shrine at Delphi and its oracular advice delivered by a priestess called the Pythia (the Chthonic serpent/dragon). Julia gives hints of how Apollo got subsumed into Christianity in her shrine to Apollo.
However, when one tries to combine all deities into one all purpose MONO, the result can be rather schizoid. And thus it was I was possibly responding to the more Apolloniac aspects embedded within the Christian deity.
But that's not all that can be packed into that conception. There are some who view the monotheistic deity as possessing fierce judgment, and punishing 'unbelievers'. And thus it was I had a religious experience directly contrasting to the earlier one.
That's how I spoke of it then. What would I feel if I were to get into that experience NOW, become that young child NOW? I find myself hesitent to, fearful. I don't want to look at that pain. And yet if I am to get any understanding from this exploration of my past, I must.
All was joyous until that preacher. I had proudly exhibited my skills with learning Bible verses, had a view of Supreme Deity as loving, and then I had this horrid discovery. The fear and loathing, that people could do this to that Deity, that I was being accused of it, was deep. I began tearing at my fingertips, nervously. It became a habit I'd return to in times of nervousness. Only recently have I managed to beat it successfully.
I did not forget this day. I do not forget this day. I hold in accusation all those who try to mold behavior by using the whip of fear and guilt. I hold them all accountable. Back in 2004, I was very angry about this. Now, I find my anger somewhat softened. I do wonder why they see the supreme creator as being full of supreme wrathful vengence? Perhaps it is because they see their spiritual parent(s) as they see their earthly parents, who might have been abusive? Meanwhile, I endeavor to react with wisdom, and seek to increase love and understanding in the world, at least by increasing my own understanding.
I think it was a Saturday, and I was visiting my Gramma. It started off as an ordinary visit. I was in the kitchen with my Gramma, and then we heard a call from the front office. Grandpa was calling, ''Esther! Esther!'' with great distress. We both ran there, and Gramma told me to get a fan, and hold it near Grandpa's head so he could get more air. She called emergency and the van soon came. A great rush of urgency as the men performed various tasks. I held the door open for the men after they put Grandpa on a stretcher, and took him out to the van.
I did not understand what had happened. I asked Grandma if she wanted me to stay with her, but she said Aunt June would be coming soon, and to go home and tell Dad what had happened. It was a short walk back home. Later, I was told that he died that day, possibly before he got to the hospital. I was glad I could be there to help in some way, even if only in fan holding and door opening.
Later, I remember Gramma telling how she watched the moon landing at her daughter's house, and how forever the two events would be linked in her mind. Even though we didn't have a TV at that time, those events are linked in my mind, as well.
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I remember my bangs are pulled back over head because that's how a friend, Debbie, did hers. (Yes, this year I had friends who weren't cousins.) For the cat's eye glass frames, I picked mostly clear frames hoping the glasses would be less distracting from my appearance. I think the erupting of all those hormones is giving me a dreamy look. That, and the awareness of filling a bra.
In this year, my body went through more changes. The change we'd been educated about in fourth grade finally happened. Back then, all of us girls were directed to go to the auditorium for a movie about the wonderous workings of the female body and to learn how babies were made. However, no direct mention was made of the actual act which allows the sperm and egg to meet, and it wasn't until I figured out a 'crude' expression of my mother's that I drew a connection. My mother had made reference to people 'screwing', and I uttered with complete shock, ''You mean he puts that thing INSIDE her!'' I guess I just wasn't sufficiently imaginative on my own.
That epiphany occurred at age eleven, as well as another body change. After that movie, I was all prepared for this event to happen right away, and I looked at all my pee papers for signs. I forgot all about it, and began to figure I was joyfully immune, until one day in July of 1970, I found an unexpected surprise. ''Mother!'' I yelled loudly, and she quickly came running. She used a different device and had none of the suitable pads, so I had to sit on the toilet until she arrived with all the accouterments. Back then, pads were not self adhesive, and a horrible belt had to be worn to hold them in place.
My mother told me how things were so different for her when this change happened to her. No one had told her anything, and when she 'saw red', she thought she had a terrible illness and was dying. She was considerably older than I, sixteen, and she was surprised I was so young. She mentioned how her mother had been even older, eighteen, and we wondered what was happening to the world that females were maturing so much sooner.
Although I was early, I was glad to discover that the new Junior High school's bathrooms were all equipped with machines for any emergency. Females soon learn that each month, 'the visitor', as my Mother said her Mother called it, would arrive unexpectedly. We can chart days, mark the calender, but we never know the exact moment.
This was my eleventh year, many internal physical changes, but not so many exterior ones. This would not be so in my twelfth year.
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© Joan Ann Lansberry