Knowing Myself: The List Part Five

  • I don’t like or feel healthy around edges, steep drop offs, cliffs, being a passenger on curvy mountain roads, windows in tall buildings, or “view” tables at rooftops cafes
  • I am not so sure about men either, Grama says they want only one thing and she calls Grampa an “old battle axe” which I think means something like sonofabitch, one of those words that will get me in trouble if I say it

West Lilac Road, Bonsall, CA


Mostly, I was raised by my mother with a lot of help from my grandparents through the time I became a teenager.  The things that children deserve from their families were not always present, all at the same time, at our house.  The only thing that was predictable at our house was that all hell could break loose at any moment. Either we were about to be evicted, which we were more times than I can count, or there was fighting going on between my mother and Elmer, my little brothers father.  He came into our lives when I was about nine years old.  He was also a good bit older than my mother; he had daughters that were her age, whose children were only slightly younger than my little sisters.  He was an alcoholic.  His drink of choice was vodka.  He hid bottles, something I was familiar with, because Grampa had hidden a few around the egg ranch, which I found from time to time.

A child of nine should not have to know as much about alcoholism as I did.


Cutting Horse


When he wasn’t drinking, Elmer was a decent, hardworking horse trainer.  He trained quarter horses and cutting horses.  Cutting horses are the ones used when herding cattle, and when cutting particular cattle from the herd.  He was one of those people who could do tricks with a rope that would amuse and baffle other folks on the ranch.  He really did seem okay, until he was drunk.  He never hurt me physically, but he did make me feel as scared for my mother as I had felt when she was laying on the road unconscious.

Our fears seem to naturally hook up with the fears in our past, gathering steam and power.  It didn’t take long for me to be afraid of him.  He was threatening when he was drunk, but it wasn’t until I was about eleven, and had poured out a bottle of vodka that I found, that he finally did cross the line from scaring me to threatening me with violence.

We were living in Escondido by then.  He was working on a ranch somewhere training horses.  He came in the house with his Ryder boots with the Spanish heel and his spurs.  He went out to the garage, where I had found and disposed of his vodka.  I was in my room, with the multi-tiered lavender bedspread, hiding behind the bed waiting for what was next.  He came back in yelling about the vodka and asking who had taken it.  Finally, after a lot of shouting and stomping around, the metallic jingling and scratching of his spurs on the linoleum, he grabbed me up by the arm from the floor where I was crouched, and asked if I had done something with his vodka.  I confessed that I had poured it out; I didn’t want him to drink.  I was afraid when he was drinking.


 Cowboy Boots with Spurs


He threw me to the floor and said he was going to smash my head in with his spurs.  He said he was going to stomp me to death.  My mother ran to grab me from the floor.  She pushed him until he slid into the closed door of my sisters’ bedroom.

By then, I was up and running out the front door, running as far and as fast as I could down the street. I don’t know what happened while I was running and running and running.  I ran until I couldn’t breathe.  It was a long, long way from where I lived.  I didn’t have any place safe to go really.  Anyone who knew my mother would have just taken me back home anyway.   My mind raced as fast as my little feet without finding any solution.

After a while I walked home slowly and I went around the back, where I had buried my six toed cat, and peeked through the dining room window to see if it was safe to come back inside our house.  The TV was on in the living room.  Both Mom & Elmer sat on the teal hide-a-bed sofa watching Bonanza, like nothing had happened.  There were dishes still on the table.  Mine was empty.  I quietly opened the kitchen door, tiptoeing on my stocking feet through the kitchen and dashed through the dining room to my open bedroom door.  I closed the door, changed into my nightgown, crawled into my lavender bed and cried my self to sleep as quietly as I could.

The next day I went to school as usual.


 

Conway Elementary School

The Value of

KNOWING MYSELF

My Life in List Form


Gnothi SeautonKnow Thyself  

The unlived life is not worth examining. –Anonymous

And I found this follow-up penned in beneath a sign quoting Socrates on the drinks case at my favorite lunch time deli in Salinas, California years ago:

The unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates

And a little bit of examination goes a long way!  –Anonymous

 

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Knowing Myself: List Part Four

Mom Wrecks Our Car on a Mountain Road

Let me backtrack a little bit here.   I think that when this happened I was pretty small, about four or five years old.  Since it involves the geographic area where my grandparents lived and my memory of those hills, I know I was pretty small and I don’t think we lived in San Diego quite yet.  This memory is a bit disembodied, scary, and left out of its time frame because it is for me, in a fragmentary part of my memory as well. There isn’t anyone alive who remembers it anymore, so I will just do my best here with telling the tale. 

Camp Pendleton
Perhaps my mother was still working in the Pro Shop at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base.  That is the only reason I can think that we would have gone there at all.   I know she worked there for a while, and that she met my youngest sister’s father while she was there.  He used to call me Pumpkin and I remember him as a very kind and funny man who took us to the beach and held my hand as we walked in the shallow waters.  But this was something that happened in December.  There was a big party at Camp Pendleton, with a Santa for the kids, the Marine Corp Band, cake and I think some presents.  Mom took Sally and I to the base for the festivities.  I don’t really remember the drive to get there, it is the drive home that is burnt into my memory like an Old West branding iron.

Camp Pendleton Area

I think she drove from the base over through Highway 76, to Bonsall, then across the cattle guard onto West Lilac Road as it wound around the hills where some years later I would ride the school bus home.  The road was a series of “s’ curves and hairpins that wound around the curvature of the mountains and hillsides that dropped down slowly and then steeply to the San Luis Rey River bed.  There were only two lanes and a sharp drop off on the down hill side of the road, where the earth travelled through dry creeks and narrow canyons.  I vaguely remember sitting in the back seat with my sister, with my shiny patent leather Mary Janes and lace edged white socks jutted out in front of me.  I don’t think I was watching the road.  We were singing Christmas songs as we wound our way to the Williams Ranch, where our grandparents lived and cared for 29,000 laying hens, two cows, a small citrus orchard and a one acre garden.

Suddenly, the car crashed into something, I think a boulder,  and went airborne; the car rolled off the side of the road and somehow stopped short of travelling to the bottom of a ravine, hung up just in view of the road, clinging to an outcropping of the black and white speckled granite that was common there.  It seemed that my mother was ejected from the car while it was still on the road, perhaps when it went airborne, and as I sat there crying, hiccupping, screaming I saw her there, lying unmoving, but I was trapped somehow, terrified that someone was going to run my mother over, killing her,  right there where she lay in the road, not moving.  My little sister screamed and cried along with me.  It seems like it went on forever, and then we were on gurneys in the emergency room, the screaming was over, but not the hiccups, and they had my mother with a mask upon her face laying on a gurney.  It was loud in there.  There was a lot of shouting of words that I didn’t know.



I don’t remember the Christmas that followed that car wreck.  The memory of it is obliterated in a wash of other Christmases at the ranch.    I think the next one I was in first grade and got a blue two wheeled bicycle with training wheels, and a new baby sister named Sharon that was born in July.  Before the New Year, I ran down a weasel that was running out from one of the chicken houses, and I remember screaming then too, as I ran across it with the big wheels and one of the training wheels, as if I had killed it.  I never really knew, because it ran brokenly down into the ravine off the side of the dirt road never to be seen near the chicken houses again.


  

Knowing Myself: List Part Three, I meet Eleanor Roosevelt

A Few More Good Things That Happened  

  •  Reading, EVERYTHING
  • Valley Center
  • Making ice cream from fresh cream separated the day the cow was milked
  •  Learning to garden with Grama and later, Mom
  • Living at Rancho Lilac
  • Meeting Eleanor Roosevelt

Early Spring Garden @ Toad Hollow

Socrates was asked once why it was that Alcibiades, who was so brilliant, was so unhappy.

Socrates replied, “Because wherever he goes, Alcibiades takes himself with him.” This is still very profound for each of us today.

Have you ever tried to move to a new place, to start over, only to find the same situations following you from place to place?  This certainly happened throughout my childhood, the issues of poverty following us from place to place as my mother lied to one landlord after another, changed jobs and clung to survival as tenaciously as is possible.  The deeper, and more personal issues followed me into my adulthood for resolution.

I changed schools about 27 times, counting the schools at Hillcrest Receiving Home and the high school classes at San Diego County Juvenile Hall.  I counted that out about 25 years ago, now some of it is a blur of forgotten names and circling back to schools I had left already.

I have been thinking of what I am grateful for. It is quite ordinary to be so loved and so appreciative. My gratitude extends to everything about my life these days and particularly to very ordinary things. I am grateful for the kindness, encouragement and intelligence of my husband with whom I live in a consistent state of Love. We live comfortably without any particular excess. I am grateful for the wisdom to live simply and to live trusting that our needs will be met.  With all the shortcomings my family may have had, I am grateful that I was raised to take good care of what I am given, preserving it and honoring the privilege of my abundance. For that I say “Yea and Amen!” to Grama Cavanagh with affection.

I know that outside the window where I sit there is a colorful garden that represents in microcosm the entire basis for my deep appreciation of nature and all its gifts to human life. I am grateful to those who have been so generous in my life and I am amazed as I discover the depths of that well of generosity out of which we take our gifts for one another. I believe that we live lives infinite in the means whereby our gifts are created and dispensed. We are avenues of Spirit’s self-givingness and grow in that capacity as we open to the possibility of endless gifts.  We are meant to be generous and responsible for how we use the lives we are given.


Eleanor Roosevelt


MEETING ELEANOR ROOSEVELT


When I was a little girl, I had the privilege of meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, who was visiting Rancho Lilac, in Valley Center, California, where I lived as the daughter of the ranch cook.  Interestingly, Colonel Irving Solomon, who owned the ranch with his wife Celeste, had served with Roosevelt at the UN.  During her visit to Rancho Lilac he had apparently told her that there was a little girl who wanted very much to meet her.  When the school bus stopped at the gate to drop me off, there she was waiting to meet me!  Imagine such a generous and wonderful surprise!  It was a short visit, only a few minutes at best. But they meant a great deal to me in the years to come.  Because I met her, all my life thereafter I have been inspired by what I learned of her as I grew up.

As I got older I  felt driven  to find out more and more about her, she was the most important public figure I had met,  and I was inspired to discover in her qualities that I could later find in myself.  Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman who stood up when others sat down on their rights.  She was a self-defined woman who decided who to be in her life no matter what the challenges she faced.  She was a champion for civil and women’s rights.  She didn’t worry about being liked as much as being an effective force for good.  In 1948, when the following Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed without dissent by the General Assembly of the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt served as the chair on the Commission on Human Rights, which brought the Declaration to the Assembly for approval.  What a fine legacy the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was to leave the world!

On a more personal level, I wonder what would happen if we each took the time on a daily basis to think, “Today, how could I spend a few minutes acknowledging someone, a child, an elder or a colleague so that they would be changed or even, that they would remember the precious gesture decades later?”

“Rancho Lilac was the site of the smallest post office in the United States. The post office, which still exists, was not much bigger than a phone booth. It functioned until about 1912. The property changed hands many times and eventually was purchased by Col. Irving Solomon in 1945, who raised Hereford cattle. Solomon was instrumental in the formation of the United Nations.” [1]

I played post office on the site of this tiny post office without knowing its history until recently.  I simply came upon it while playing in the yard in front of Col. Solomon’s ranch house.  I didn’t know as a child that Col. Solomon had worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on the formation of the UN.   I did know that his cattle were prize winners and that he was a really nice man.  I have no memories of his wife and family at all.  I am indebted to him for his kindness to me on that one day when he could have left Mrs. Roosevelt to enjoy a rest beside the pool, but instead asked her to greet me.

“Sometimes the days they can be very busy, so I like to stop and think now and then.  I think of the reasons I have to be happy, and that makes me happy all over again.”

From the Broadway musical “A Year With Frog and Toad”

[1]  http://orangebook.com/directory_valley_pauma_california_history.htm (This page has since been taken down)

Knowing Myself: The List Part Two

Live Oak Park

Good Things That Happened

  • Picnics at Live Oak Park in Fallbrook
  • Visits to Mount Palomar
  • Food, Grama & Mom were wonderful cooks
  • Pancakes made by Grampa
  • Trips to the Bonsall store in the back of the 37 Chevrolet with no back seat
  • Telling stories to my little sisters
  • Building tiny adobe buildings in the creek bottom
  • Going to the beach in Oceanside
  • Visits from Aunts Aileen & Audra & Uncle Loren, they brought presents
  • Making friends with Jane Rogers in 3rd grade

In addition to all the interior things that we are as human beings, we are also biological creatures.  Just as animals do in the wild, hiding that they are weakened or injured to protect themselves, as a little girl I hid that I was wounded to avoid becoming preyed upon even more.  I learned to recognize when the wolf was at the door.  I became stronger and tougher than the other children I knew.  I had to.  I wouldn’t let anyone see me cry.

The view from high on the hill behind Rancho Monserate

I cried, but I would hike into the sagebrush and live oak covered hills in Southern California somewhere alone, and I would cry by myself until I had let it out and felt some freedom from my sorrows.  And I would collect rocks and bring them home in my pockets, and pick wildflowers to press in books that I would bring along with me to read, sitting out on some granite outcropping, having a life independent of my childhood troubles.  Those were the things my family thought I was doing.  I kept the crying part to myself.

Live Oak Park 

After my father committed suicide, I don’t know exactly how long it was, but I began to talk to my father in my imagination, or like a prayer.  Sometimes I would do it under the covers in my wagon wheel bunk bed, with the covers pulled up over my head where I could be alone.   It was as if I summoned the better judgment I needed from the spirit of my father there, and I would do what this interior father would advise me to do to protect myself and to find some happiness.

Wagon Wheel Bunkbeds

When I was in third grade I had a teacher named Mrs. Conway.  She gave us all composition books, the black speckled ones, and we were assigned writing a story in them once each week to be turned in by Friday.  I wrote a story every day.  When I asked for another composition book she told me I could have as many as I liked.


 Composition Books


Eventually, she wrote a note to my mother in red ink.  You know red ink, it’s scary stuff.  So in the back of the bus on the way home to the ranch, I opened the note to my mother and read it.  Mrs. Conway wrote to my mother that I was one of the best writers she had encountered in all her years teaching school. She said that mom should encourage me to write, that someday I would be able to use my writings skills in whatever I decided I wanted to be when I grew up.   I have no idea how old she was, except that I was pretty sure she was older than my mother, but not as old as my grandmother.  Her note nearly made me cry in front of people.  I stuffed it carefully back in the envelope and gave it to my mother.  She never mentioned it, but I never forgot what my teacher had written.  It buoyed me up in the years to come that someone important to me had admired something personal about me and declared it so good.

About the same time I turned ten, my fourth grade teacher said I lacked self-control in my report card, this in spite of the fact that I was doing all my school work and getting the highest marks on what I was doing.  I finished my work early quite often and we didn’t have assignments for what we ought to do when we had finished our work.  Having a curious mind, I read every book they had for the fourth graders.  I read all the books I could get from the book mobile. Then, I would explore things like aerodynamics.

Paper airplanes were fascinating to me and I would get very involved in trying to cut and fold one that would fly the furthest or the highest, or both. As a result of not waiting to fly my planes until recess, I was beaten in front of the entire class with a paddle, with holes drilled into it, for flying paper airplanes when the other children were struggling with their assignment still.  It was both painful and confusing, and I resolved that she would not see me cry.  She probably kept hitting me longer because I didn’t appear to be remorseful without the tears. There was a lot going on that was painful and confusing.  It was the last time anyone would think I was any kind of trouble maker for a long time.


You Are Always Taking Yourself Along With You!  

There is an old story of a city’s gatekeeper who was sitting outside the city gates, when a person entering the metropolis for the very first time approached him.

“How is this city you live in?” he asked.

“Before I answer that, let me ask you how you found the previous town you visited?” the old gatekeeper asked.

“Oh,” the traveler exclaimed, “the people were incredibly unfriendly and rude.”

The gatekeeper replied, “It is amazing, but those are the exact words I would use to describe this town.  It would be best to continue on to the next town.”

So, the traveler went on his way.

Later in the day, the gatekeeper was approached by another traveler looking for a place to dwell.

“Is this a nice city to stay for a while?” the traveler asked.

“How did you find living in your last town?” the old gatekeeper asked.

“The people were lovely,” the traveler said, “kind, generous, and very friendly.”

“Well, that is amazing, for those are the exact words I would have chosen to describe this town.  Please come and dwell with us awhile,” said the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper knew, wherever we go, we take ourselves with us.

Knowing Myself: my story in list form up to age 10

Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.”                                            Alan Watts

There are a lot of things that have happened to me in my life that folks who understand psychology, sociology, counseling, philosophy, politics, and spirituality all have a lot of theories and so much to say and write about.  I was there.  The one thing I will say is that each of the things that are on this bullet form list left some mark upon who I know myself to be.  But I am of the school that says there is what happened and then, there is what meaning you give it in your life.  The latter is more important.  So first, I am going to make a list of what happened.  This may take me a few posts to get through.  There was a lot.  In other posts, I will tell you what these things mean to me, or what I learned from these experiences.

  • Born the bastard child of David S. Hall and Peggy Hendricks in Stockton, CA.  Two half brothers from father who was more than a decade older than my 21 year old mother.
  • Moved in Stockton.
  • 15 months later, sister, Sally, also a bastard was born.
  • My mother hit me hard across the face while feeding me in the high chair.  I am wearing corduroy overalls, I can remember touching them and crying really hard.
  • Parents separated when I was about 3 years old, we moved to San Diego County, I think to a little trailer that I remember in Fallbrook.
  • We moved to an apartment in Fallbrook not far from maternal grandparents.  Mom is sleeping with men, names I can’t remember, except Dick.
  • My father comes to visit me and gives me a harmonica.  I never see him again.
  • We moved to San Diego, I remember sleeping in a Quonset hut.  Mom hits me, spanks me, and beats me.
  • We moved into an apartment building near the Quonset hut.
  • I started school at Alice Birney Elementary.
  • I was stalked by a predator and evaded and ran home.
  • I remember a man cutting my mother’s capris off with a pocket knife.
  • We move nearby to a small house and I still attend the same school.
  • The baby sitter shows me his erect penis in the bathroom and takes me in my mother’s bedroom and tries to put it in my mouth.
  • Chicken pox.
  • Little sister Sharon is born.
  • My mother is seen beating me with a stick of lathe and we are taken from her by the courts and sent to live with our grandparents.
  • My uncle is masturbating in front of the TV when I come home from school.  He doesn’t stop.
  • My teenaged uncle humps me between the legs in the egg house on the cold cement floor.
  • My father kills himself.  I am seven.
  • My uncle continues, repeatedly molesting me in different places around the ranch, eventually, though I am 9 years old by the time anyone notices, my grandmother thinks this is somehow my fault.
  • Another uncle, home on leave from the Navy, tries to get me to give him oral sex.  I am not yet ten years old.  I am afraid to tell because they will blame me.
  • We go back to live with my mother, she has a job at a ranch.
  • She gets involved with the horse trainer, he is an alcoholic.  He becomes verbally abusive and acts like he is going to beat my mother.  She is taller & stronger than he is, so he must be drunk!
  • I stick up for her and he says all kinds of awful things about her to me, and about me and the fact that I am a bastard.
  • I think he tells the minister that I am a bastard, because some kids aren’t allowed to play with me, and in the way that adults talk in front of children like they are not in the room, I learn why.
  • I am in third grade and attending my third school.  We are about to move again.

The Father Within Me

california_live_oak

In early 1957, my father committed suicide by driving his car at high speed into an ancient California Live Oak tree in the San Joaquin Valley somewhere between Fresno and Bakersfield. My mother says he died instantly. Because of that night, I’ve spent most of my life fatherless.

My mother did receive Social Security checks for my sister and I. When I was in high school it was $105 each month. As a child I always thought that she got $105 for my getting to live without a father to love me. It made me mad as hell and probably has a good deal to do with why money isn’t the most important thing to me. I was mad at her and I was mad at him. She never said she loved me and he wasn’t around to do it. He was unhappy, but for a kid, that kind of unhappiness is not fathomable. I would have liked to have someone to talk to, someone who wanted to eat breakfast with me at the beginning of the day. I longed for that but it never came.

My stepfather was an alcoholic and I avoided him as much as I could because I was hellbent on stopping him from drinking. I would steal his vodka and pour it into the storm drain on the corner and then throw the bottle in someone else’s trash can.

He tried to kill me once when he was drunk. He wore Acme cowboy boots with the big Spanish heel and spurs because he was a quarterhorse trainer. He came into the house clumping along loudly while the spurs scraped the floor and rang like some kind of weird bell at the same time. He raged and yelled and threw me down on the floor when he knew what I had done and if my mother hadn’t come in he would have stomped my head with his boots and spurs.

So I didn’t really remember what it was like to be loved by my father and my memories were murderously interrupted by the fear and the screaming loud life provided by my mother and her drunken common law husband.

My grandfather did everything for me that could be done. He loved me and tried to teach me what he could about living a good life. He was generous to all of us and it wasn’t until later that I learned that he was my step grandparent. It broke my heart I wanted so much to be his granddaughter, since he was the one who I knew really loved me without trying to make me be different than the self I experienced on the inside.

But I didn’t always live near Grampa and sometimes I needed some fatherly advice. As the years went by I consulted the inner held memory of my father as I remembered him from the last time I saw him. A dim memory from when I was three. He wore a wool felt fedora, he had a harmonica in his pocket and he had clear, blue eyes and sandy hair.

harmonica

I would picture sitting next to him talking, and I would ask him questions, seek advice, and the father I pictured responded to me within myself. He told me to try hard, to do my work, to not give up. He told me not to listen to gossips who said cruel things about me, or about my mother.

fedora

Of course, it was really me advising myself, but as a father I wasn’t half bad in encouraging myself to make it through the perils of a fatherless childhood. Not once have I celebrated Father’s Day for myself. It’s been for my much beloved Grampa, or for my husband the father of four, and now my son-in-law but never has Father’s Day been about fathering myself all alone as a little girl with no one capable of explaining to me why I had to do this thing for myself. Now that I know, there’s no one left to explain it to who was there at the time.