Kid Memories

How I Became A Pitcher

From just about the time I could successfully put one foot in front of the other while chomping on a wad of gum, I had a softball glove on my hand. This early adoption of the sport in no way indicates I was some wunderkind who took to the diamond like a fish does to water. Nope, I was pretty mediocre really. In my first season I was placed at second base. The only reason I can even imagine that I got an infield position is that my dad was the coach and some of the kids, honestly, were way shittier than me. I’m positive that I stopped more balls with the side of my head than my glove.

In an effort to improve my skills and, I assume, make me less afraid of the ball, Dad figured that I had to be immersed in fear and unable to get out of the way of the ball. To that end he would make me stand with my back to our garage door, reminiscent of a prisoner who has reached the end of the line and will now be executed by firing squad, while he hurled zinger after zinger at me. Apparently, I was much more nimble at escaping the pummeling of a 12 inch ball than I was at simply lifting my left arm to intercept it as it screamed toward my head. I think Dad attempted this drill for about a week before he realized that the payoff of my catching one or two balls was far outweighed by the damage that would inveitably be done as I a ducked and dodged my way to safety. The garage door became polka dotted with white markings as the skin of the ball was scraped off every time it came in contact with the brown wooden surface. The cessation of this ineffective and horrifying training technique also probably ended much more prematurely than it otherwise would have due to the ear piercing sound the ball made as it crunched the door over and over again. My mother just couldn’t tolerate it to be honest. As much as she wanted me to be a success, her sanity usually won out over any practice that caused too much noise. I am pretty sure my career as a flautist was squashed because Mom’s nerves couldn’t take me screeching out one more attempt at “Born Free” or “The Entertainer”.

My skittishness about sacrificing my body to stop the ball ended one fateful day during that first season. I was playing for my dad’s team called 40 et 8. We were named for the local bingo parlor in Vancouver, Washington. Our pitcher Carrie was a stud. Even as a 3rd grader, I understood that she was a natural athlete. My dad talked about her with awe in his voice. I envied her. She got to be part of every play and she never jumped out of the way of any ball that came at her. On the day in question, Carrie, as amazing as she was, met her match when an opponent got a hold of one of her pitches and drove it back up the middle with probably less force than my 8 year old memory has conjured up, but, nonetheless, it was enough. Carrie couldn’t get her glove up in time and got hit square in the nose. From my vantage point in the gap between the bags marking 1st and 2nd it looked like pure carnage. Blood squirting all over her glove as she used it cover her face and screams from the crowd drowning out Carrie’s own. My stomache flipped and flopped as my dad and our other coach tended to Carrie and guided her off the field where her parents were ready to take her off to the hospital. My dad then called the 8 of us still left on the field to the damaged pitching circle. Drops of blood that were once bright red, now littered the space, turning a deep burgundy as the air and dust dried them. “Does anyone want to pitch?” my dad asked almost apologetically. No one made eye contact. We all just kept staring at the blood. Some of the little girls were even crying. Dad realized that the blood was probably going to be a major deterrent to getting the answer he needed and wisely used his foot to disperse the evidence of Carrie’s splattered nose. As my heart thumped wildly in my chest, remembering that not only had our kick ass pitcher just been taken down but that I only had about a 10% success rate in stopping staged attempts at my life with my back to the garage door, I inexplicably opened my mouth and uttered “I’ll try Dad”.

And then I did. From that day forward, pitching was my thing and fielding seemed much less terrifying. I practiced for hours, attended pitching clinics, and even begged my dad to barrage me with line drives and ground balls. Something about being in control of the defensive side of the game changed things for me. No one was going to get anything by me. It was my field to protect and I wasn’t going to let it suffer the same fate as that now battered garage door.

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Uncategorized

Heat

I don’t know why it’s different but it is. When I step over the threshhold of the facility that stores the frail old woman I visit, I’m surrounded by heat. Sometimes the thermostat reads upwards of 80 degrees, but it feels perfectly fine. Never too hot. 80 degree air in my own home feels almost oppressive. Like at any moment I’ll be driven to insanity if I don’t shed everything I’m wearing and dive in an icy pool. Maybe it’s a different heat made specially for the achy bones and muscles of those whose days are numbered. It’s “a dry heat” sort of nonsense perhaps. I don’t know why it’s different but it is. I don’t feel compelled to pull at the collar of my shirt and blow cool air down the neck hole like I would at home. I don’t feel the urge to race over to the thermostat and press the down button like a maniac until the humming stops, letting me know that soon the hot breath of the furnace will cease pushing its way up through the floor registers and pinning me in every corner of the house. When I’m in her small room and we’re chatting away, I just feel cozy. Like I want a warm cup of tea to wrap my hands around and a fleece blanket to drape over my lap like she does. I don’t know why it’s different but it is.

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Kid Memories

Doors

My Dad spent 31 years on the fire department of Vancouver, Washington, retiring with the rank of Battalion Chief.  As might be expected, our house was well equipped with smoke detectors and our family had an evacuation plan in the event of any emergency, but Dad made sure we were most prepared to get out of the house unscathed if it were on fire.  He also had a very strict set of bylaws in his fire safety manifesto.  Never leave the dryer running and be sure to triple check that the stove, coffee pot and iron are off before leaving the house unattended even for just a few minutes.  Keep bedroom doors closed at night while you’re sleeping.  “This is to keep the fire out as long as possible and give you time to climb out the window” he would remind my sister and me periodically from the time we were old enough to understand. And finally, if you hear the smoke alarm, always feel the closed door for heat before opening it.

This last rule was the big one. The one that required testing and validation. “If it’s hot, climb out your bedroom window and head straight to the neighbors house like we practiced.  If it’s not, make sure you say loudly enough for me to hear ‘I’m feeling the door and it’s not hot’ in case I’m testing you”. Would we remember to run our tiny hands, in our barely awake stupor, over the door’s surface prior to yanking it open, seeking to clear up the confusion about what the horrible noise was in the hallway?  Would the screechy, chirping alarm even rouse us from our deep slumber?  Would we remember to shout out the heat status of the door or would our words fail us?   Dad’s randomly timed drills, sometimes just minutes after we had pulled the covers up to our chins and turned out the lights or sometimes after we had reached our deepest of REM sleep, would get the answers to those questions.

He’d sneak down the stairs and position himself in the middle of the hallway, pressing the “test weekly” button on the alarm that hung from the ceiling in perfect symmetry between our bedroom doors and then he would wait. It only took one time facing Dad and hearing him say  “You didn’t feel the door so you’re dead! You either burned to death or died of smoke inhalation!” for us to remember to follow protocol every time thereafter.  Even all these years removed from my Dad’s fire drills whenever I hear a smoke alarm I find myself saying  “I’m feeling the door Dad.  It’s not hot. Can I go back to bed now?”

 

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camp victory
Uncategorized

Holding On

“The bus is almost here. Everyone get ready!”  The excitement has been building all day. For weeks and months really. As we line up along that gravel road each year, often covered head to toe in rain gear or sometimes praising El Nino for a welcome break in the weather,we are thankful either way. Ancient and massive Douglas firs, salty air, a roaring ocean and kind hearted people surround us,providing the backdrop for the magic that is about to happen. “Here comes the bus!”. And then it’s here and there she is.

Since 1990, Camp Victory, which is sustained solely by private donations and an all volunteer staff, has served girls and young women aged 5-18 who are survivors of sexual abuse. In 2013 a much needed camp for boys was also launched. The campers come primarily from either Grays Harbor or Pacific counties in coastal Washington state. Many, in addition to the abuse they’ve suffered, come from homes, foster or family of origin, that are deeply impoverished. Camp is likely the place that will provide the shoes and jacket to keep them warm and dry over the cold, damp Pacific Northwest winter. It’s also the place where they’ll make the memories they can hold on to the rest of the year and call on to occupy their minds when the painful ones try to take up residence.

So tiny. She can’t be more than 7 can she? Her frail shoulders are covered only by wisps of tangled hair and her footwear belongs to another season,providing information to those outside about where to start. We don’t know the specifics of how she got here. That is her story to tell or not tell. As she readies herself to descend the stairs of the bus, her sad, lonely eyes dart sharply left and right, surveying the crowd of cheering strangers. She takes some comfort in the fact that she’s made a friend or two during the journey and even smiles slightly, remembering that they will be here with her. They’re all soldiers, in an army they didn’t join and in a war they didn’t start, having endured more pain during their short time on earth than most could possibly imagine. As they step off the bus they are greeted with a hero’s welcome from the band of volunteers, known as Mama Lions, who give their time and hearts to make this weekend miraculous. They’ll eat as much as they need and want. They’ll play until cheeks are rosy and faces ache from smiling. They’ll sing songs of healing and dance dances of peace. They’ll sleep deeply, possibly for the first time all year, feeling safe and protected. Most importantly, they’ll hear over and over again, “It’s not your fault” and “You are not defined by what happened to you”. They have arrived at Camp Victory, leaving their daily battlefield behind even if only for 3 precious days.

Over the long weekend, the campers enjoy all of the age-old activities that anyone who attended a summer camp during their childhood can probably still recall. They create tie dye masterpieces, weave bracelets from string, build the perfect smore, deliver award-winning performances in team skits, imagine themselves the savior of their district as they load an arrow into their bow, and they sing “repeat after me” songs around the campfire until their voices are raspy. All of those things would be more than enough if this weren’t Camp Victory.

The red one with a rose etching and pink cord. That’s the one she wants and she digs through the wicker basket to get it. She lets the small glass heart dangle, feeling its full weight and letting it linger briefly before she hangs it on the tree, hoping that the Mama Lion who is her big buddy all weekend got a good look at it. She returns to her spot on the floor, sitting on crossed legs and watching intently as the tree blossoms with the colorful offerings of every camper. Then she sees the ribbons. Red ribbons and white ribbons beginning to fill in the bare space between the hearts and grasped in the fingertips of the Mama Lions who are lining up for a turn at the tree. She remembers the ribbons now. Every adult at camp adds a white ribbon to the tree and those that are survivors, like her, can add a red one too. Anytime she sees the tree over the weekend, after undoubtedly making sure her red heart with the rose etching is still just where she left it, she’ll think about those ribbons. And, when her big buddy gives her that heart on Sunday, just shortly before she must board the bus for home, she’ll be taking with her more than just a piece of colored glass. She’ll wear that heart for the days and weeks to come, holding on to the memory that she is not alone.

For the women that started Camp Victory all those years ago and for the women and men that carry it forward year after year, this is more than volunteering. This is life changing, heart nourishing, necessary work that burrows deeply into the soul and doesn’t let go. Bearing witness as the light returns to defeated eyes and as fear gives way to confidence is what drives them. It’s what keeps them coming back. It’s what keeps them holding on. Holding on to hope that enough funds will be collected so that camp and other services, like free counseling for any child that wants it, will continue. Hope that they’ve done enough digging through systems and communities to reach as many children as possible. Hope that someday Camp Victory won’t be needed.

To learn more about this amazing organization and how you can help please follow the link:

www.campvictoryforchildren.org

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Fussy Duck
Mom's Brain

Fussy Duck

She loved that duck.  I’m not sure if Fussy was a boy or a girl and I’m not sure if she even knew.  But she loved that duck.  Every time she said the name it was like a tire losing air. Her top teeth would jut out slightly and then plant themselves solidly on her lower lip, creating a wind tunnel for the over exaggerated F. Fussy would waddle behind her as she made her way around the backyard garden of the house in the Woodstock neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.  Long before raising chickens, growing heirloom this and that, and city based homesteading was as hip as wearing skinny jeans and a handlebar mustache, my grandparents were managing their own food supply.  My mom couldn’t recall where she had gotten the duck, but it was her friend and pet.

This first time I heard about Fussy was after Mom had the heart attack that turned her brain into a sieve incapable of hanging onto new memories for more than a couple of minutes. Looking back on it now, it almost seems like the injury served to make the old and buried memories more accessible because Mom would bring up stuff out of the blue that no one had ever heard before. It was like a game of Keno, but instead of the board popping with the light of newly added numbers, her mind would ping  here and there with long forgotten remembrances. Or, maybe the injury just made her more able to share. Less restricted. Less worried about implications. When she talked about Fussy, I was transported back in time, feeling as if I was seeing my Mom as her 7 year old self talk about her beloved duck. Her eyes lit  up and she smiled, remembering how Fussy would follow her everywhere, “but never into the garden”. “Fussy always knew to stay outside the gate while I went in and picked some snap peas for us” she would say in a much higher octave than her own and with that childlike cadence that had become her new normal. “Fussy was the best duck” she stated as sadness took over her face. “What’s wrong Mom?” I asked. “My dad gave Fussy to the priest” she answered with all of the earlier sweetness and happiness now missing. “You mean the duck went to live at the church?” I asked almost begging. “No, the priest had Fussy for dinner.” she responded quietly and with tears forming in her eyes. “What the fuck!” is all I could manage to say. “That is just the way it was back then” she reminded me in her almost-mom-again way. “What, you mean people just handed over their child’s pet for the priest to eat like it was no big deal?”

I can now understand why the brain jumps in on our behalf to protect us from history.  I understand why, when she was fully competent and able to exercise some control over the brain to mouth connection, my mom never told this story. As I write this today, years and years removed from her recounting of her and Fussy’s story,it is painful. When she told Fussy’s story as well as many others equally as new and shocking, it’s as if the part of the her brain that was the decider of what stories should make it all the way to the mouth had shut down due to the injury,allowing her,or maybe even urging her,to share them. Maybe she was just tired of holding on to them,or maybe she just simply had no real say in them being spoken.

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