VGSA
Kid Memories

Finding Softball Diamonds in the Rough

I’ve been thinking a lot about softball lately. From that moment a few months ago when it popped into my head and gave me the name for this blog, to now as I sit here trying to find a story, the memories of my childhood passion are always ready to help.

I don’t recall what year it was exactly, late 70’s or early 80’s most likely. The Vancouver Girl’s Softball Association(VGSA) had finally secured a home of its own. A portion of the old Klineline sand and gravel pit land would be cleared to make way for the complex. In those early years, before there was money to pave the parking lot or even procure an official sign to mark the entrance, making our way into the facility felt like an off-road adventure.

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Kid Memories

I’ve Been Grounded For 33 Years

It was like a scene from the Breakfast Club. I was Bender who just couldn’t shut up and my Dad was Vernon doling out more and more weeks of restriction.  I couldn’t control my emotions.  To be fair, I was only 13 so things were a bit precarious in the hormone department at that time. I loved to be right and I refused to lose an argument. If getting the last word in were an Olympic event, I’d have more gold medals than Michael Phelps.  This particular battle of wills took place while bowling. Yeah..bowling.

My dad had taken me to practice one weekday afternoon. The fact that this was a weekday afternoon is probably the only reason that the events were able to unfold as they did.  The center was empty except for Dad and me.  I would rarely lose my shit in front of others. My mom taught me that you never air your dirty laundry with an audience, you hang it all out on your loved ones instead and in private. We had managed to get a couple of games in before things went south. I started missing the pocket and exhibiting other such signs of adjustments needing to be made. As should have been expected my Dad, who was a coach, started to coach me. I was having none of that on this particular day.  Every piece of advice he offered was met with a grimace and an “I know!”. It didn’t take long for my snarky responses to evolve into a full blown tantrum. Complete with me kicking the ball return following a bad shot and a tossing in a few coveted bad words at opportune times. My Dad, bless him, kept it together much longer than anyone should. He finally told me to sit my ass down in one of the hard plastic swivel seats and shut the fuck up.  I didn’t.  “You’re grounded for a month” he said through clenched teeth.  “So!” I yelled back. He anted up “2 months then!”. “I don’t care” accented with a dramatic eye roll.  “3 months.  Do you want to keep going?” he asked with exasperation.  “Yep!” I’m no quitter. “6 months then. Now pack up your shit and let’s get out of here”.

As we drove home, Dad tried to counsel me on the events of the day with topics as wide ranging as my form and delivery while bowling to my horrible bargaining skills. I think he was actually trying to find a way to give me an out from the punishment.  If I could have just brought myself to listen and apologize, things would have probably ended much differently. But I didn’t. I sat silently without looking at him, feeling victimized. When we pulled into the driveway at our house, I wordlessly jumped out of the car and stormed inside heading immediately for my bedroom.  He appeared in the doorway shortly afterwards.  “I have a proposal for you.  Come upstairs and talk to me when you’re ready”. Still not wanting to give an inch I made him wait for at least 15 minutes before I followed the instructions. “I’ll erase the grounding if you take a spanking instead.”  My parents weren’t spankers, so I really had no concept of what the process would entail and, again, due to lack of bargaining skills, I jumped at this offer without establishing any ground rules.

Back in my room waiting for Dad to arrive and deliver the replacement form of punishment, I felt giddy about my victory. A little pain for a brief time or being a hostage for 6 months? No brainer! The bliss faded and my stomach clenched as soon as he entered the room. The “paddle” in his hand looked like a cross between a cutting board and one of those trays that brew pubs use for delivering their sampler platters.  It was equipped with a handy leather wrist strap, holes down the middle for maximum sting, and a cute little title scrolled on it in a beautiful flowery font “Mom’s little helper”.  In that split second of terror, I racked my brain to remember where I had seen that hateful piece of wood. Then it came to me.  For years it had hung next to the wall phone with the 25 foot curly cord in the kitchen.  Although our house was always super clean, the paddle was dusty.  We had all looked at it every day as we grabbed the box of Honey Nut Cheerios from the kitchen cabinet or spun the reel 7 times to connect with friends or family, but never really saw it.

“Pull your pants down” he said quietly.  “What? Really?” I asked with a quivering half laugh.  “Yes and then lay facedown on the bed” he responded.  Even though this was a whole new thing to me, Dad seemed to be pretty familiar with the process.  I did what I was told and without any argument for the first time all day.  “I’m going to start now” he warned.  I could hear him breath a sigh as he prepared to level the first blow. I quickly turned my head to face in his direction and could see the paddle raised above him nearly touching the ceiling and his face clenched in a fierce scowl. And then…FIRE!  The searing pain radiated into my feet.  I buried my face in the bedspread hoping it would be over quickly. After 5 more cracks, it was. Quiet.  I lay motionless, my face still pressing deeply into the mattress. My Dad tried to comfort me by placing his hand on my back and saying “I’m sorry”, his voice shaking.  I violently shook his hand away and pulled up my pants.  I didn’t cry. I wanted to more than I ever had before and not because of the physical pain, even though it was significant, but because I couldn’t believe my Dad had just done this to me.  How could my Dad who was the most gentle and lovey dovey guy I knew, want to hurt me? I snarled “Go away!” and he did.

As quickly as my submission had arrived, it was gone again.  I lay plotting my revenge for the next 30 minutes.  What could I do to get back at him for this indignity?  No matter how disrespectful I had been at the bowling alley, I didn’t deserve to be hit right?  Already forgotten was the fact that I had chosen this option.  Already swept under the  rug was the fact that I had epitomized “spoiled fucking brat” for a good portion of that day. I could have said “nope, I’m good with my 6 month sentence”, but I didn’t.  I searched for some way to hurt him and I found it.  It was at that moment that I began to cry.  I don’t know if it was me just preparing to make him feel as shitty as possible so tears were needed to that end, or if I was feeling sorry for myself and really getting into victim mode.  Either way, the tears set the stage for the horrible closing scene that day.

My dad was sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands and looking shaken.  I remember that now.  At the time, all I could see was someone I wanted to hurt. I walked right up to him with my right hand clenched.  As he turned to look at me, I extended my arm and opened my hand to reveal the orange single blade pocket knife he had given me several years prior.  It was one of my most beloved possessions and he knew that.  “I don’t want this anymore.  I don’t want anything from you” I said.  As my Dad’s face scrunched up and he burst into tears, I turned and walked away. In that moment I felt as if I had just conquered childhood. I would become the patron saint of spanking victims for centuries to come. Heralded as the foremost “get backer” ever known to man.  What I know now, after years of this memory invading my thoughts, is that I’ve actually been grounded for 33 years.

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pasta roni
Kid Memories

Why I Dream About Pasta Roni and Porksteak

Pasta Roni and pork steak.  Certainly a forgettable pairing but they made for a memorable meal. Well, there was the lovely iceberg lettuce salad sprinkled with slices of spicy red radishes and the diced up green part of a scallion, adding some health and color to our plates. I don’t recall the date or even the day of the week, but that greasy, “sort of” meat and side dish of sodium won’t leave my head.  The Pasta Roni was being particularly stubborn as it clung like glue to the side of the pan. At 18, after years of indoctrination, Mom’s standards for dishwashing had become my own.  “Why can’t we just put the dishes in the dishwasher Mom, isn’t it supposed to clean them?”  “Yuck! The dishwasher is only for sanitizing”. This had always been her opinion of the machine with the misleading name living under our kitchen counter. So, I scrubbed.  I would have undoubtedly scrubbed that pan until I was out of breath and my arms weak, ensuring every bit of those tenacious carbs were gone before daring to find it a place amongst the other already clean dinnerware, but my sister appeared next to me at the sink just shortly into the battle.  “Mom got on the phone while I was on it and told me to get off” she said.  Remember the days of lifting the handset from it’s cradle, hoping you’d get a dial tone instead of the yammering of another conversation holding the line hostage?. “So?!” I snapped. Sisterly love and compassion poured from me.  I looked up and realized my sister was worried.  She sensed more was going on than just the need to make a call that led to our mom’s phone line piracy.

“What do you think is wrong?” I asked.  “She just sounded weird” is all that she could tell me. I decided to investigate and headed to my parent’s bedroom. The door was closed which was definitely weird. The only time that door was closed was when they were settled in for the night. All of our doors had to be closed at bedtime becasue a closed door was vital to creating a fire barrier in the event of an overnight blaze. (Learn more about Dad’s fire safety manifesto here) I knocked lightly and when no acknowledgement came, I slowly opened the door. She wasn’t on the phone as I expected to find or even anywhere I could see in the small master bedroom. I took the few steps needed to cross the room and came to the doorway of the adjoining bathroom with its avocado countertop, vanity mirror outlined in “fuzzy balls” she had attached herself in a moment of creative inspiration (each of our other bathrooms had this feature as well. If you’re going to do something, do it 100%), and plush carpet in a brown and white swirling pattern. There she was half knealing and half sitting in front of the toilet with her arms hugging the top of the bowl where the seat usually rests. “Mom, are you ok?”.  She looked at me sideways with her cheek resting on the white porcelain and mumbled through the foamy remnants of our meal, “Get out.”  Good enough. I have a pot to scrub. No need to be a spectator.

Once back at the sink though, it hit me. There was something really wrong.  Why had she barged in on my sister’s call just minutes before expelling the Pastroni and porksteak?  The timing wasn’t right. I mean, you don’t just decide to make a phone call if you are on the verge of losing your dinner unless there is some urgent need.  What was with the call?  I was going to find out even if she didn’t want me to, so I returned to the bedroom.  She was curled up on the bed hugging her knees. “I called your dad. The ambulance is on the way. Go open the front door”.  Calm leadership from a woman in the middle of a medical emergency.

As I sat at Mom’s feet in the ambulance, watching the paramedics stick her with needles and cover her face with an oxygen mask, questions were racing through my brain. Was the Pasta Roni and porksteak to blame? Would we all soon be clutching the toilet and making phone calls? Would I ever get that pan clean? Was…she…going…to die? It wouldn’t be that night. That night she would escape. We all would escape. That night it was just her first one. The one they called the mild heart attack.

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Communion Dress
Kid Memories

Losing Her Religion

Mom was raised a Catholic. She was the only child born to Hilda and Clementine Pfau, coming into the world when my grandmother had already reached her 40th birthday. I don’t know if my grandparents were just really strict in their beliefs and abstained until they were ready to procreate, or if there was some biological problem that had kept their family at bay until mom came along. Most of the photos that still exist of my mom from childhood show her sporting some ceremonial white dress or another, announcing her baptism, first taste of Christ’s blood, or commitment, as much as one can commit when they are just 13, to Catholicism. If she wasn’t posing in her special dresses, then she could be seen in the typical garb that every Catholic school girl was required to wear at that time. The navy blue cardigan sweater, covering the heavily starched white shirt buttoned all the way to the top, and the thick, woolly, plaid skirt with it’s hem hanging just the proper distance from the ground where pointy, two toned saddle shoes let the lacey fold of brightly bleached socks create a sort of table cloth over the top of their leather. Mom attended private, church affiliated schools all the way through her senior year of high school. She would have most likely gone on to the University of Portland, if circumstances would have been different. The death of her father when she was only in grammar school forced Mom to fill all of her spare time with work to help support she and her mother, so higher education just wasn’t an option. One of her biggest regrets was not attending college. For her it wasn’t about the prestige or perception of holding a degree. She was an avid learner. She just loved to know things. I think that thirst for knowledge and openness to new ideas may have been partly what compelled her to stray from the church. Maybe she was ready to strike out on her own path rather than that of her parents. Or maybe she was just sick of spending every Sunday with her ass planted on an uncomfortable, wooden bench. Either way, she didn’t raise us in the church.

Despite all those years spent immersed in religion, Mom rarely even talked about it. But, when she did it was memorable. Like that one time when the Mormons came to our house. After sneaking silently to the front door and checking the peep hole, she immediately went into action so as not to miss the opportunity. She quickly handed me a can of beer and a lit cigarette as she gave me my lines and stuffed a pillow from the couch under my shirt, creating the illusion that I was about to become a mother at 13. “Fucking bible bangers. We’ll give them something to save!” she said through a half crazed laugh. I was “all in” whenever my mom got creative, so I gave my best performance. “We’re not interested” I sneered at the guys dressed like identical twins standing on our porch. I dramatically took a sip of that icy Stroh’s Light, stroked my pillow baby with the hand that held the Pall Mall menthol burning between its fingers and then shut the door in their stunned faces. All the while, Mom hid around the corner in the living room doing her best to keep from bursting out in laughter and spoiling the scene. She never told me why she was so adamant about chasing those boys away. I just assumed she didn’t like strangers showing up uninvited and trying to tell us how to live. That made pefect sense to me.

My only real exposure to religion during my childhood was when I spent a year of Sundays attending the HazelDell Evangelic Free Church with my gradeschool friend and softball teammate Leanne. My mom didn’t object to my going with Leann and her family at first. I had no clue what an Evangelical was, but I did know that I loved singing along to the hymns with Leanne’s parents as they led the choir in their long white robes accented with vibrant kelly green sashes, sipping the grape punch and munching the oyster crackers as I pondered who this Jesus person was and why anyone would want to eat him, and going out to lunch with Leanne’s family after the service. I thought of religion as a way to hang out with my friend, so whenever Leanne invited me to go with her to some church event, I always said yes. That’s how I ended up getting accidentally baptized at one of their evening revival-esque sessions. I remember sitting through a sermon delivered by the guest pastor, a guy that was much younger and better looking than the man who stood at the pulpit on Sundays. He shouted all kinds of things about saving, accepting, forgiving, and surrendering in the room that felt about 15 degrees warmer than normal. The next thing I knew I was whisked off to a small room behind the altar where I was guided into a straight backed chair, sitting knee to knee with the young, loud pastor, but he wasn’t loud any longer. He took my hands and as I looked up at his red, sweaty face he nearly whispered “Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your savior?”. I laughed uncomfortably and said yes, not having any clue what in the world he was talking about. He asked again, knowing that I had just given a half-assed affirmation. My followup response, in my memory, wasn’t any more convincing, but the pastor put the rubber stamp on it and sent me off to the kiddy pool to get my head wet, moving onto the next convert as quickly as possible since the line behind me had started to build. I couldn’t wait to get home that night I tell my mom that I had been baptized. I was positive she would think that was neat. The look of shock and anger on her face materialized immediately. “What!?” she screamed. Before I could explain that all baptized meant was that I said yes to the pastor’s question about Jesus and got dunked in the kiddy pool like everyone else, she reminded me, even though I never knew it in the first place, that I had been baptized a Catholic when I was a newborn. I never went to the HazelDell Evangelical Free Church again after that night, but I did join the Catholic Youth Organization basketball league at the church near our house which would push more buttons for my mom.

There wasn’t a big enough population of Catholics in Vancouver, Washington where we lived to support a league, so most of our season was comprised of games that pitted us against talented teams from the many parishes across the Columbia River in Portland. We never talked about religion, never prayed before games or otherwise had to prove our spiritual worthiness to be on the team. We just played really competitive basketball. The league exposed me to all kinds of great athletes who were bound for the preeminent high school for both academics and athletics in our area, St. Mary’s Academy, which also happened to be Mom’s alma mater. The friends I made during the season I played CYO urged me to join them at the all-girls school starting in my upcoming Freshman year. When I approached my Mom with the idea I was sure she would be ecstatic that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, but all she could say initially was “Really?” with an incredulous look on her face. I was able to convince Mom that I was serious, so she and my dad made the arrangements for me to attend St. Mary’s. What came next was Mom’s concession to teaching me at least a little bit about the religion she had abandoned long ago. “I can’t have you looking like an idiot the first time they make you attend mass” was how she introduced a training session on the recitation of both the Hail Mary and Lord’s Prayer. “I’m sure the nuns will tell you this too, but don’t ever go up to the altar when they give the Eucharist. You never had First Communion, so you aren’t allowed to take it” was how she further ensured I would look like less of an asshole as the outsider I was sure to be. Suprisingly, Mom was actually excited to hear all about my first days and weeks at St Mary’s. She became less and less resistant to talking about the rites, rituals and rules of Cathlocism and even appeared to take some pride in being able to shed light and clarity to concepts that were totally new to me. She never did attend church again, and neither did I, with the exception of the mandated masses that were part of the educational experience at St. Marys, but I think my aimless wading into spiritual waters may have helped her find some middle ground between the overwhelming desire to terrorize the door-to-door religion sales people that dared come calling and the years of devotion to the beliefs of her mother.

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Kid Memories

Let’s Just Bang Pots and Pans!

While sipping my coffee and finishing up my egg white veggie omelette this morning, I decided to turn on the news. I rarely watch the news because I just can’t stand to give all the gloom and doom an audience, but since tomorrow marks the new year I figured I better see if I’d missed anything in 2014. I didn’t learn anything too disturbing or exciting really, but there was a story that irritated me slightly and made me nostalgic at the same time.

The report was about New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing horrible about the idea of committing to something that will possibly improve the quality of your life. I can get behind that. After all, I recently recognized ( alright, in all honesty, for the umpteenth time in my adult life) that it’s better for me to have a veggie egg white omelette than, let’s say, 6 strips of bacon. I don’t like knowing this, but it’s true. It didn’t bother me that the report was touting how important it was to make those pacts with oneself. What bothered me was that the focus of the story was on children.

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Kid Memories

The Day I Torched Mom’s Toyota Corona

My plush turtle with the music box buried deep in it’s stuffing filled abdomen was ruined. I had forgotten that it was even with me that day. I only remembered the cars. Now it lay in the front yard horribly bloated and singed. That soft seafoam green face with the goofy candy apple red grin was almost unrecognizable. Yet, I yearned to pick it up and twist the metal wing that protruded from it’s shell, hoping it would still play the sweet little melody that always comforted me, but, even at just 3 years of age, I knew better than to go near it or even ask about it. After all, I had just wreaked a whole laundry list of havoc, the least of which was that blackened, waterlogged toy.

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Kid Memories

The Night The Van Fell On Dad

For some reason I feel like it should have been winter. Maybe that feeling is because my 4 year old’s memory connects the bedspread with cold, but Dad and Uncle Larry were outside in the driveway of the house next to Leverich Park working on Dad’s van, so it must have been summer. Who would be outside working on a car in any other season but summer in the Pacific Northwest?

Uncle Larry wasn’t really my uncle. He was our next door neighbor. Larry was a machinist and had the the trade mark missing parts to prove it. He smelled like engine oil and cigarettes and I was fascinated with him. I loved watching him eat his dinner with the hand that had lost all it’s fingers while his perfectly intact left hand lay idle on the table. I’d secretly practice wedging my fork between my thumb and palm to see if I could muster even half the dexterity Larry had and manage to get any food in my mouth. I can’t think of any other guy my dad would have picked for the van repair project.

I don’t recall how my Mom and I came to be standing on the porch. Maybe we heard a crash as the jacks meant to keep things safe and elevated gave way, bringing the van down onto my Dad’s chest. Maybe we heard Larry screaming to call an ambulance after he had single-handedly lifted the van off Dad and pulled him from under it. Either way, we were there as Larry ran toward the house yelling “Give me something to cover him with until the ambulance gets here!”

My mom returned promptly with the bedspread that usually covered the bed she and Dad shared. It was a poly blend covered in big pink and red flowers. I was eye level to that blanket as Mom numbly clutched it in her left hand. When Larry grabbed it from her I wondered aloud “Won’t it get ruined?” My mom snapped “It doesn’t matter! Your father could die” and then she followed Larry out to the driveway. I didn’t cry at that news, the way she delivered it, or even about being alone on the porch. I stayed fixated on those flowers, watching them bounce up and down as Larry ran. Watching them become full again as the bedspread was stretched out over Dad. Even as another neighbor arrived on the porch and picked me up, I kept turning my head so as not to lose site of the them. The last thing I remember is watching those flowers disappear into the ambulance before it raced off toward the hospital.

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