In the Beginning

In the Beginning

A Story by Erin Lee
"

This is an exerpt of a memoir I started long ago. Worked on it a little bit today b/c I'm a bit nostalgic about my childhood right now given recent events. (All names changed).

"

 

In the Beginning

I always secretly believed I must be adopted. I must be the secret love child of an unknown quirky artist and a black man with albinism. Mother, my “real” mother, was some over-educated hippie freak with really bad eyes and a collection of torn bell-bottoms. Father preferred spending his days spitting poetry, painting murals on the sides of youth centers as a volunteer, and pan handling for extra brushes. That’s what I told myself. How else would I be the way I am? Was it really possible for me to be the daughter of Laura Bush, Jr. and Dan Arnold? Who are these people? I asked myself this nearly every day as a child. But, I loved them anyway. Fiercely. And they loved me back.

~~

I wasn’t adopted. Instead, I was conceived on a hideous olive green 70’s couch on Dec. 10, 1973. I know this because of stories my mother has passed down to me. I hate that couch, to this day, which is now long gone, but for years remained in my family at my God father’s house on the lake.  My father was home on leave from the Army reserves that weekend and oh, what fun they had! Nine months later, Nixon was about to resign and the word Watergate was a household term, I came out, waving to the world at around 11:40 a.m. on Sept. 8, 1974. I was about as healthy as they come and was able to go straight home with my parents.

 

At the time, home was a dumpy apartment in Nashua, NH. My parents tell me the stories of how, before they first painted it, my father had painted Ron plus Rita forever on the wall in their bedroom. I’ve always liked the thought of that. I always liked the thought of anything that had to do with everlasting love. And maybe it was sleeping under that wall that turned me into a lifetime romantic. Or maybe it was that very wall that made me crazed for a Romeo & Juliet sort of love. Whatever the case may be, I found myself looking toward my parents and their kind of love " searching for it my entire life " as an example. What I later learned, however, was that maybe there is no such thing as a Happy Ending sort of love. After all, Mrs. Parker refused to allow Bonnie to be buried in the same cemetery as Clide Barrows. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago, as it might have changed the way I lived the earlier " more hopeful and romantic " part of my life.

 

I’m not sure where I missed it, along the way, that my parents were no different than Bonnie and Clide. In fact, looking back, I can see where their troubles and not-so-romantic moments of “am I really stuck with this person for life?” came into play.

Every Sunday, my parents would drag my three brothers and I to church. I should say that my mother dragged us to church. Despite our protests, she generally managed to get us there just before the ending of the Homily and right before communion. The reason we were always late like this was because Dad could never get out of bed in time for the 10:30 or even noon masses. A night owl, he generally went to bed around 4 a.m. and waking up for church was never on the top of is priority list. This caused weekly “Sunday fights” between my parents " something that was a staple of my childhood. I dreaded Sundays.

 

Ironically, Dad was always the more religious Catholic of the bunch of us. Despite his ability to get to mass on time, he was the one who said the rosaries and taught us about the magic in a novena. Mom, on the other hand, was more skeptical and would often confess her doubts about organized religion to me when he wasn’t paying attention. I always felt good that I could be open with her about my own doubts. My father’s devotion to the church, the Catholic church, was always a bit off-putting to me. While I admired his dedication, I didn’t understand why he was so rigid in his beliefs.

 

I was confirmed at the age of 14. I remember being told that this was my decision and only my decision. I took the confirmation name Anne " after Mary’s mother. But I remember thinking that the whole ritual was nothing but a forced exercise in submission. I didn’t feel as though I really had a choice. I knew not being confirmed would break my father’s heart. A pleaser by nature, I could never do that to him.

I held my father on a pedestal growing up. The only daughter, he and I had a special relationship. While not always close in our interests and viewpoints, he tried to be there to “guard my honor,” as he called it, when he could.

 

Once, as an alter server for our church, I was asked to alter serve at someone’s wedding. I was more than honored to do this. Ever the romantic, I was excited to be a part of this stranger couple’s special day. At the end of the service the bride’s father handed an envelope to the priest, an envelope to the organ lady, and an envelope to me. I stood on the edge of the ugly rust alter wide-eyed. I had no idea there was something “in this” for me.

 

Upon opening my envelope, I discovered 25 dollars. I shrieked on the inside. Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money to a twelve-year-old in 1986. I quickly took off my vespers and walked, robot-on-crack-style to my mother’s car. Both of my parents were there to pick me up and were thrilled to learn of my excitement at the contents of the envelope. That excitement, however, was very short lived.

 

No sooner had I stepped foot into the backseat of the chocolate brown Honda than I noticed the organ lady chasing me to the car. “She stole money from the church!” she was yelling, frantically trying to get my father’s attention as he began to pull out. Confusion engulfed me. I knew I had not stolen anything and was tempted to look around the parking lot to see if this crazed organ lady had mistaken me for some other alter server who must have had a death wish or something. Nope, she was after me. I was sure of it, as she banged on my father’s driver side window.

 

Dad rolled down the window and asked the woman what she was talking about. He was out of the car in less than twenty seconds, telling me to do the same. He walked with me, hand in hand, back to the church. My fingers clutched his firm palm as he asked me, once, “Did you steal that money?” I burst into tears at the thought of it. “No!” “Fair enough.”

 

Dad marched with all the conviction of a drum major in a world class marching band into that church. Right past the bride and groom, still standing on the edges of the church, hoping to get last minute pictures of light reflecting from the stain glass windows onto her snowy dress. He walked passed the alter, past the choir room, past the children’s room " reserved for the less-than-well-behaved parishioners. It wasn’t long before I found myself behind the alter, in the backroom where priests get dressed and swap jokes with deacons. There, he spotted the priest who had performed the ceremony. Ironically enough, he was just finished opening his very own envelope and seemed to be quite pleased at his “take” as well.

 

“That b***h is accusing MY daughter of stealing money from the church,” he said, slapping my envelope down on the cherry kneeler next to the priest. I don’t who was more shocked " me, or the priest. First off, my father is the most religious person I know. For him to swear in a church, let alone in the back of the church, on the alter, was pretty much about as expected as the sun crashing into the earth full speed at 12:38 on a Tuesday afternoon. It just doesn’t happen. But it was happening, right before my eyes.

 

“Slow down. Who? Who is saying what?”

“That b***h, what’s her name? Janie Blanchard’s mom? Her. She’s saying Erin " my kid - stole this envelope from the church,” he insisted.

“There must be some confusion.”

“You’re dam right there’s some confusion! My daughter doesn’t steal! My daughter has honor. I taught her to have honor. And I won’t let anyone, especially that horrible woman who can’t even play the organ or sing a note, hurt her honor!”

 

It was less than 20 minutes before the priest and others, drawn in to solve the mystery of some missing envelope that was apparently intended for a choir member, realized that a missing check was actually stuck to the back of the organ lady’s envelope.

“I told you my daughter has honor! Don’t you ever question her integrity again,” Dad barked. “Come on, hon. Let’s go.”

 

With that, Dad marched me right back to the car and spent, oh, a week or more, repeating the same story over and over again to me, my mother, my brothers, and pretty much anyone willing to listen. “My daughter has honor and there is no one who is ever going to tarnish that,” he’d say, over and over and over again.

 

I still respect my father’s religious and moral convictions. But I define myself as being more like Mom. That similarity is part of what bonded us. More than once, I’ve heard my mother doubt formalized religion. More than once, I have heard her voice her fear of going to hell someday. She never knew that it was a very real fear that I shared with her.

 

When I was a preteen, I stood in line with Mom for confession. We’d schemed to get “the nice priest” and were willing to wait as long as it took in his line to have him hear our confessions. There was no way either of us would be going across the church to the “mean” priest, who was sure to slap us with more than a few Hail Marys!

 

Mom may have been coy in her disagreements with Dad about Catholicism, but she was never quiet when it came to her belief in keeping your family close. Grandma and Papa lived exactly 3.2 hours away in Troy, NY. Each month, need it or not, we’d trek through the foothills of Vermont to visit them. These trips were a source of great contention between my parents. Dad felt greatly put out by having to spend an entire weekend each month sleeping in a dusty old pink room once occupied by my mother and her sister Mary.

 

At least two thirds of the trip, every trip, would showcase Mom and Dad bickering on the same two topics: Why my mother’s sisters were “so annoying” and how Dad could possibly “be so mean to my sisters!” The constant arguing on this topic became so commonplace to my brothers and I that we’d allow it to lull us to sleep during the first half of the trip. After all, we already knew how these spats would end " with Dad pissed off and determined to sleep in until past 2 p.m. the next afternoon and Mom resentful that she’d ever moved so far away from her family to be with such an “uncooperative man.” They were both right. They were both wrong. Nothing new there. That was my parents. Again, I somehow missed this growing up. Instead, I found a way to romanticize their relationship as “perfect” and spent hours upon hours dreaming of someday finding my own “perfect” soul mate as well.

 

The quarter way mark to Grandma’s house was an eccentric but modest home tucked at the base of Mount Monadnock. The home was painted a landmark purple and seemed to wink and wave as we passed by. Just a half hour more until McDonald’s, we’d assure ourselves.

 

To help us pass the time, and surely as much to help avoid Mom’s disapproving glare, Dad made up trivia games on the long ride. He’d ask us questions on what various street signs and signals meant. The first to answer what a double yellow line meant got a point. The quickest to point out the purpose of a yield sign got two points. The game paid off in dividends years later when I didn’t have to study for my drivers test and managed to get a 100 percent on the written exam.

 

The monotony of the drive was also broken up by our monthly visits to McDonalds. I’d always order the same thing " chicken nuggets with barbeque sauce, a strawberry shake, and a small fry. But McDonalds didn’t come cheap. We had to earn McDonalds during the first half of the trip to “qualify” for such a treat. Constant fighting between Ron and I made Dad institute a “three strikes” policy early on in our monthly ventures to Grandma’s house. In order to earn McDonalds, a person could not have more than three strikes. Strikes came from behavioral infractions such as trying to poke each other’s eyeballs out, screaming, shrieking, biting, hitting, spitting, and pretty much anything else we could think of to make driving miserable for him.

 

Somehow, I always managed to earn at least three strikes by the time we hit the edges of the town of Keene, NH. Fortunately, Dad was forgiving (or at least that’s what I credited him for at the time, now, as a parent myself, realizing he had an obligation to feed us dinner!) and allowed me to earn “strike erasers” for prolonged periods of no strikes. As silly as the game seemed, it got us through these long and windy trips. The second half of the trip was always the worst, with McDonalds digested and only more squabbling from the front seat for us to listen to. On the other hand, we now had no reason not to bite and torture each other, so we often turned into mini vampires on part two of the journeys.

 

For whatever mixed messages they may have sent about religion and extended family, my parents were in 100 percent agreement when it came to dinnertime. Mealtime was very important to my family when I was growing up. Mom insisted we eat together as a family every night. She also insisted that we asked to be excused when we finished eating. In order to be excused, we had to finish everything on our plate. Having grown up poor, Mom did not believe in wasting food. This meant eating every last drop of the dreaded meatloaves she’d make once every two weeks.

 

I hated Mom’s meatloaf. I don’t mean I disliked it. I mean I actually despised it. When I knew meatloaf was for supper, I instantly planned an attack on the stuff. I knew about 30 ways, by the time I was 16, to ditch a quarter pound of meatloaf without anyone being the wiser. From pocketing it in the bottom of my left cheek until I could escape to the bathroom to throw it up, to sliding it in my sock, bra, pocket, or anywhere else I could think of, I doubt I had more than one actual helping of meatloaf the entire time I lived at my parents house. This is a huge achievement considering my mother knew my hatred for meatloaf and would eye me like prey as she insisted I “stop complaining and eat!”

 

I wanted to hit my brother one evening when he simply pushed his meatloaf aside and announced, ‘I can’t eat this. I’m a vegetarian now.” The kid couldn’t have been more than 15 and was announcing this revelation, conveniently enough on ten-lumps-of-stale-bread-a-half-bottle-of-ketchup-thrown-into-a-bloody-pool-of-half-raw-beef-night. I wanted to shake him. My entire face opened, from my chocolate eyes all the way down to my big mouth, when I heard my mother’s response this declaration. “Ok, then, what will you eat?”

 

Watching the little s**t chomp on a peanut butter sandwich while I sat, stomach growling, contemplating how I was going to ditch the Mom-made road kill on my plate, I wanted to choke him. “You can’t be f*****g serious!” I expected him to smirk or laugh or wink at me in a “you wish you thought of it first” sort of way. Instead, he simply shrugged, cleared his plate, and replied, “Yep. I’m serious. I just don’t like the taste of meat.”

 

Needless to say, Mom didn’t bite on my claims of sudden vegetarianism that night. Instead, she force-fed me the crap, lecturing me on how we should be supportive of Ron’s new lifestyle. I wanted to spit the meatloaf in both of their faces. Instead, I managed to make it to the downstairs toilet. The crazy part of all of it? Ron, twenty years later, is still a vegetarian. And he insists he still does not like the taste of meat. I still think it’s that Mom’s meatloaf was just that bad.

 

Mealtimes weren’t always awful at my house. In fact, supper was one of the times I most looked forward to at home. Overall, Mom was a great cook and I enjoyed her staples: gulumpkis, Shepard’s pie, roast beef, raviolis, lasagna, pork roast, goulash, chicken chow mien, homemade mac and cheese, and turkey. When she was feeling particularly ambitious, dinner was topped off with desserts like lime Jello and whipped cream or chocolate pudding.

 

Our neighborhood was a peaceful place to grow up - at least as far as physical location and crime go. It was a different story when it came to bullying. By the time I was 18 months old, my parents moved into a two-story Colonial with the typical stairway splitting the home. There was no garage, a gravel driveway, and it was the color of rust. Over the years, though, it eventually came with an in ground pool, a garage and massive family room addition, a paved driveway including basketball hoop, a gazebo and pool shed.

 

Our house was one of the nicer ones in the neighborhood, which was already a nice and quiet place overall. Our next-door neighbors, the Parkers, had children older than my siblings and I and they often had parties. Mom, being close to the Parkers, never told on the kids for their parties and their entire family liked us a lot.

 

But with the Parkers came Champ. Champ was a cranky old German Shepard who we loved to torment. We’d take turns riding our bikes as far as we could get down their driveway " just out of reach of his chain " tied to the doghouse. Time and time again, he’d spring up from a dead sleep, ready to kill us, only to be yanked back by his choke chain. The group of us, neighborhood kids and my brothers, would laugh and laugh and laugh at him as we continued to taunt him at the end of the driveway. Champ was mean, I’d decided, so I had little problem torturing him. I relished in finding new ways to torture him even. It was at that time that I decided I hated dogs.

 

As a child, I spent most of my days outside. My mother used to say “Outside! It’s an outside day!” She’d exclaim this about six days a week, rain or shine, as though it was something new or that the day was somehow special. Because of this, my brothers and I were very creative in how we spent our time. Aside from torturing Champ, we found many other interests in the neighborhood.

 

Across the street lived Lori and Kenny Rodestein. The only Jewish kids I knew, Lori and Kenny always brought a new spin to things. I remember them getting into long philosophical debates on God and religion with my brother Ron at a very young age. I remember thinking Ron was just like my father and would one day grow up to be a priest as he stuck up for our Catholic faith and Christianity in general. I felt guilty that I didn’t have the desire to defend it so vehemently myself.

 

Despite our differences, the Rodesteins were probably our best friends in the neighborhood. Lori was very smart. A straight A student, she was able to keep up with me despite being four years my junior. It always irritated my mother that I chose to hang out with a friend who was so much younger than me. The fact was that I preferred Lori’s company to that of kids my age. I liked that Lori looked up to me and how I was able to take charge when the two of us hung out.

 

Lori and I would spend day after day building forts in the woods. Once, we built a fort so strong that it was able to withstand a hurricane. We were very proud of ourselves! We formed a “girls only” club. To enter this fort, you had to know the password: Pink Lady Slipper. Of course, no one knew this password but she and I. So it was definitely a limited membership! That suited us just fine.

 

Hunting salamanders under rocks and bribing Kenny with green Popsicles to pick them up and catch them for us as fort mascots was another of our favorite activities. We often made Kenny do our dirty work. Kenny would do just about anything for Popsicles or lollipops " something he wasn’t allowed to have at home and that I took great advantage of.

 

Other childhood activities included riding our bikes, going on long hikes, playing light tag with the neighborhood kids, picking mass quantities of blackberries and raspberries behind the Rodestein’s house, nursing small animals we’d find back to help with the advice of Wendy, our resident 12-year-old “vet” neighbor, who later went on to become an oceanographer.

 

My bedroom was a warm lilac. I picked this color myself and still view it as one of my favorites. My comforter was a thick white with lime green leaves and lilacs that littered it with both whimsy and what I thought was sophistication. My bedroom was my haven. From the ceiling hung photos of men and boys featured in Teen Beat and Tiger Beat. Kirk Cameron, Jon Bon Jovi, and later, the boys from New Kids On the Block stared down at me as I dreamed of my one-day husband and wondered if he’d have eyes like Brian Bloom.

 

Sometimes, I liked to look out my backyard-facing window and stare out over the pool area, wondering what my life would look like when I was finally “all grown up.” I’d sit at my pine white desk, pretending to be doing homework, and doodling hearts and stars in notebooks. From my window I could see the eyesore satellite disk Dad had erected in the backyard for the sole purpose of being able to tune into a Bruin’s game any time, any place. I knew that under that satellite " the first of its kind in our neighborhood for many, many years, was a fish graveyard that included the remains of some of my favorite childhood friends " Blackie, Sucker Fish, and Darth Vader. My parakeet, Blueberry, eventually wound up under that dish after Ron stepped on it’s tail and it died of an infection from feathers being pulled just a tad too quickly from its body.

 

Our backyard " the place that housed the Big Fat tree I’d spent time with Derreck and Jarod behind so many times - was a haven for me. The thick woods that surrounded our home made it so that I could be free from the eyes of the other children in the neighborhood. There, I didn’t have to worry about what I was wearing, how I looked fumbling through cartwheels and trying to learn a new dance routine. I didn’t care that I could not seem to get down my latest baton routine. Instead, in my backyard, I was anyone I wanted to be. In particular, I was Madonna. I was Like a Virgin. I was on Holiday!

 

When I wasn’t out playing solo in the backyard, I often found contentment reading mass quantities of books my Godmother would send me from the publishing firm she worked at. I loved those books, many of them under my reading level but perfectly suitable to my tastes. Favorites included Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Cuddled up on that lilac comforter, I’d hug my Pound Puppies and Cabbage Patch kids as I read of Ramona and Pippy Longstocking’s great adventures and wonder if I’d ever live such an adventurous life.

 

© 2010 Erin Lee


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Added on February 5, 2010
Last Updated on February 6, 2010
Tags: dad, growing up, childhood, erin l george