Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Big Bang

This is part 1 of a true story from my childhood. Look for Part 2 in early October.
©Linda Goodman September 27, 2016
Part I
                My minister had just left our apartment after failing to convince my father that I should go to Bible Camp in the coming summer of 1960.
                “Too expensive,” Daddy said.
                “The church will pay for it,” Reverend Kelly offered.
                “Wrights do not accept charity,” my father insisted.
                Reverend Kelly knew a brick wall when he saw one, and I was glad that Daddy had said no. I knew that if I went away to camp, I would likely get homesick and cry myself to sleep, just like I always did when I spent the night with a friend who lived more than a few blocks away. As an eight-year-old child, I would have been embarrassed to have cried in front of kids I did not even know.
                With the Reverend gone, we fell into our usual Saturday night routine. Mama began popping popcorn in a skillet that she was shook over a gas burner on our stove. We children got into our pajamas and scooped handfuls of the hot, greasy popcorn that Mama had poured into a large bowl. Once we were all settled, my brothers Lee and Allen on the floor, Mama and me on the divanette, Daddy turned the TV on and sat down in his big easy chair as we all settled in to watch our favorite TV show, Gunsmoke, featuring James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon.
                The episode started with Marshal Dillon walking into the Long Branch Saloon, where he was greeted by Miss Kitty, who owned the Long Branch. Clearly, Miss Kitty had a serious crush on Marshal Dillon, but he was too pig-headed to realize that he held her affection. I always thought that Miss Kitty was too good for Marshal Dillon.
                After a few minutes of chit-chat between the two of them, Chester, Marshal Dillon’s deputy, came limping (he had a bad leg) into the Long Branch to warn Marshal Dillon that some bad men were coming to town. Marshal Dillon quickly forgot all about Miss Kitty (she did not even get mad about that) and rushed out the swinging doors to look for the marauders.
                At just that moment, we heard a big bang just outside our second floor apartment. That bang was followed by another, and another, and another.
                “Somebody’s banging a big stick against the wall outside our apartment!” Brother Lee exclaimed.
                “No,” cried brother Allen, “that’s firecrackers making that noise!”
                Daddy stood up, his brow wrinkled with serious determination, and in a voice of calm authority said, “Somebody got shot."
                We forgot all about Gunsmoke.
In a matter of minutes, we heard the sirens of police cars and ambulances. I peeped out of our kitchen window and saw the Ambulance crew taking two bodies, covered with blankets stretched from head to toe, out of our building on stretchers. A third body was lying motionless on the ground just beyond our sidewalk. The streetlights made ominous shadows appear on the surrounding apartment buildings.  I had never seen a dead body before. I forced myself away from a window.
Screams and hollers filled the air as our neighbors gathered outside to see what was happening.  Policemen ordered them back into their homes and warned them to lock their doors and windows. There could be other shooters on the loose.
Miss Agnes, who lived in the apartment downstairs, called Mama on the phone. Her Husband, Mr. Guy, had been the shooter! Mama told her to calm down, that she would be right there. Daddy did not think that was a good idea, but Mama went downstairs anyway.
A few minutes later a police detective knocked on our door. He wanted to ask Daddy some questions: What did he hear? How well did he know Miss Agnes and Mr. Guy? Did he know any of the three men who had been shot?
Daddy assured him that he had no idea who had gotten shot and that Mr. Guy and Miss Agnes were fine people.
“They made us miss Gunsmoke,” I chimed in, without being asked. Daddy told me to go to my room, and I did.
Mama did not get back until after midnight. She sat down on the divanette, shaking her head in dazed confusion and began filling us in on the details. Miss Agnes had traded her cousin Red a shirt that had been Mr. Guy’s. Red, in turn, gave her a shirt in trade.
The trouble began when Red, who had given Miss Agnes a new shirt, discovered that the shirt that Miss Agnes had given him was a second hand shirt that Mr. Guy had already worn several times. Red called Agnes and said he wanted his shirt back.  She told him to pound sand.
If she had done what Red had asked, Red would not have come to her apartment with two of his scary-looking friends. Mr. Guy had just had back surgery and his back was in a cast. Red and his friends made threats, which prompted Mr. Guy to take a gun out of a drawer in the table beside him and shoot all three of them. “Guy thought they had guns because their hands were in their pockets,” Miss Agnes had told Mama through a blur of tears. “He was just trying to protect us. He didn’t want to kill nobody.”
My dad listened to Mama’s story and shook his head. “Three men dead,” he murmured, “all over a shirt that probably wasn’t worth five dollars.”
We got to bed so late that night that I did not get up in time to go to Sunday school or church the next morning. When I woke up, Daddy told me that my picture was in the paper. I picked up the paper and there, right on the front page, was a black and white picture of me looking out our kitchen window with my mouth wide open and my eyes looking like they were about to pop out of my head.  Anyone I knew who saw it would recognize me immediately.
For three years, I had kept where I lived a secret from my schoolmates. I was ashamed to be living in a rundown, roach-infested, rat ridden Apartment complex that others called an “urban slum.” Now everyone would know.
I asked Daddy if I could drop out of school.
“Third graders can’t drop out of school,” he informed me.
Then I asked him if we could move back to the mountains where I was born.
“I got a job here,” he replied. “We ain’t going nowhere.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Two Steps Back

(c)Melanie Goodman Deal, August 2016

For August 2016, I am hosting a guest blogger, my daughter Melanie Goodman Deal. I remember both Melanie's and my father's versions of this story. He loved to tell Melanie stories. The photo at the bottom of this blog is my father, Theodore Alexander Wright; my mother, Ida Pauline Tackett Wright; and my daughter, Melanie Goodman Deal.

As a kid, I didn’t have much confidence in myself. I was an only child who spent most of my time with adults, rather than with kids my own age. I was extremely shy and afraid of everything around me.
A lot of my time was spent with my mom’s parents, as my mom was a single mom who worked retail and she couldn’t afford daycare. My grandparents were my daycare. My Papaw and I became especially close as a result of this.
By the time I was born, my Papaw was 67 years old and already retired from his career as an electrician. Some of you might think that a 67 year old retired guy is OLD and just piddles around all day. But not my Papaw!
My Papaw was like a big teddy bear! He was 6 ft. 4 in. tall, with a rich baritone voice that captured the attention of any person in the vicinity, and he always wore a smile on his weathered face.
From the time I was a baby, my Papaw loved to hold me on his lap and sing his favorite country songs to me. He especially loved singing “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, and I walked around singing it all the time after learning it from him.
He also loved to tell me stories. These were stories about his childhood and coal mining days in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. My Papaw was born in 1905, so hearing his stories made me feel like I was hearing about an important piece of history. He was such a great storyteller, I could easily see in my mind’s eye all the people and places he told me about.
My Papaw also loved to walk. Cars were so new to people during his childhood, and his parents wouldn’t have been able to afford one anyway, so my Papaw walked everywhere. It was such a huge part of his life that it never occurred to him that he should consider learning how to drive when he became an adult. I can remember him saying, “If it’s somewhere I can’t walk to, then it’s not somewhere worth going to.” 
Because I was over at my grandparents’ apartment so much, I went on lots of walks with my Papaw. My Mamaw didn’t walk with him, and I never really knew why. She always seemed to be sitting on the couch watching her soap operas. Come to think of it, I never saw her go outside. Ever! Hmmm…maybe she was some sort of strange vampire or something!
Anyway, on our walks, my Papaw told me story after story. Some were about his childhood, some were about the time he spent in the military, some were about coal mining, and sometimes he just made up a story on the spot about something we encountered on our walk. It felt like we sometimes walked for hours, but neither of us ever tired because we were so enthralled in whatever story he was spinning.
Eventually, I was old enough to go to school, which meant I didn’t have to be at my grandparents’ apartment every day. My mom thought I’d do best in a private school since I was so afraid of everything. I hated that school! The teachers were always grumpy and yelling at us, and the kids were so mean to me. By Second Grade, I was getting beat up every single day, so my mom decided to pull me out and enroll me in public school.
The school I’d be going to was in my grandparents’ neighborhood, but my mom had to leave for work too early to take me to school. My grandparents said she could drop me off at their place and my Papaw could walk me to school.
I was so excited! I’d missed our walks and hearing his stories, so I was so happy he’d be walking me to school.
On the day I was to go to my new school for the first time, I was SO scared. I didn’t know any of these kids, and there would be so many of them compared to what I was used to. What if I got beat up at this school, too? My stomach was in knots as I went to my grandparents’ place.
As always, my Papaw had a big smile on his face, and his voice immediately put me at ease. When it was time to leave for school, he grabbed my hand and said, “Alright, Mel. It’s time to go. Everything’s gonna be OK, you hear me?”
I looked at him with tears welling in my eyes, but put on my bravest face and said, “Yep. I’m ready. Let’s go.”
One the way to school, my Papaw told me a story that totally distracted me from my fear. I wish I could remember what it was about, but all I know is that by the time the school came into sight, I was no longer afraid. In fact, I was getting excited and actually looking forward to making some friends.
Suddenly, a new emotion hit me. I looked around and saw other kids in front of me walking to school, but none of them had adults with them. I was the only one. Embarrassment washed over me, wondering if these kids would think I was a “baby” because I had to be walked to school by my Papaw.
All of a sudden, I stopped and let go of his hand.
“Papaw, I’m good. I think I’m big enough and responsible enough to walk by myself the rest of the way.”
Even though I said these words to him, I was still scared inside. I didn’t REALLY want him to leave, but I didn’t want to be made fun of, either.
“Papaw, if you REALLY feel like you need to, though, why don’t you walk two steps behind me. You know, to test out if you really think I’m ready to walk on my own like a big girl. And if I think there’s a problem, I’ll give you a hand signal so you know I need help. How’s that?”
He broke out into one of his huge smiles. Those smiles I loved so much. The smiles that always put me at ease.
He winked at me as he said, “You know, Melanie, I do believe you ARE ready for this. But yes, just to be safe, I’m gonna hang back by two steps and keep walking with you so I can be here if you give me the signal. And I’ll be here when you get out of school, standing by that tree over there. Just give me the signal when you’re ready and I’ll follow you home the same way.”
He knew. He knew I needed him, but he also knew how much I needed to get through my fear. So he gave me exactly what I needed. It’s one of the important memories of my life.
Years later, at the age of 82, my grandfather was dying. I was 15 years old and was living in Connecticut at the time. I hadn’t seen my grandfather since the year before, as it wasn’t easy to get to Virginia often.
When we arrived at the hospital, my Mamaw and other family members warned us that things didn’t look good. They warned us that my Papaw didn’t know who anyone was, so they wanted us to be prepared.
My mom went in to see him first, and she came out a few minutes later, sobbing. He didn’t recognize her at all, and it just broke her heart to see him that way.
Then it was my turn. I was scared. I didn’t want to go in there if he wasn’t even going to know who I was. But I knew it was important and that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t, so in I went.
As I walked to his bedside, my heart felt so heavy. To see this once vibrant man look so weak and feeble just wasn’t fair! To see him in a bed instead of outside walking in the sunshine was an injustice! Too see the confusion on his face as to where he was broke my heart! Anger started to fill me in a way it never had before.
But as I reached my Papaw, I reached out for his hand, like he’d once reached for mine on that long ago first day of school.
He looked at my hand, and then he looked up at me. At first, he gave me the same confused look he had probably given to everyone else. But then he broke out into one those huge smiles I remembered so well and said, “Hey Melanie! How did your first day of school go today? Do you need me to walk behind you on the way home?”

Yet again, he’d given me exactly what I needed. Peace. Comfort. And knowing that that day was one of the most important memories for him, just like it was for me.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

One Specific Day

©Linda Goodman July 24, 2016
(This story is adapted from the book of John, Chapter 6, verses 1-14)

            Once Jesus was preaching near the Sea of Galilee. A huge crowd of people had come to see him because rumor had it that Jesus would be healing the sick that day. Jesus did not disappoint. He made the deaf hear, the blind see, and the crippled whole. He also healed various skin diseases feared by the general populace.
            Healing on such a scale left Jesus drained, so he retreated into the hills with his disciples to rest and renew his energy. The crowd, however, followed him. They did not want to let him out of their sight.
            For his part, Jesus felt sorry for these people. They had spent an entire day with him, and there was no food to be had nearby. He knew that they must be hungry. “Where can we get food for this crowd?” Jesus asked his disciple Philip.
            Philip was incredulous. “Lord, what are you suggesting? There are five thousand men in that crowd, and also women and children. We could work for months and still not have money enough to feed them all.”
            A young boy overheard their conversation, and tugged on the robe of another disciple, Andrew. “I have a basket of bread and fish that my mother prepared for me,” the boy said. “It is too much food for a young boy like me to eat. Please take it and give it to the hungry people. My mother will not mind such a kindness.”
            Andrew looked into the basket. Then he turned, laughing heartily, to Jesus and said, “Master, this young boy thinks that we can feed this crowd with only five loaves of bread and two fish!”
            Jesus sighed. “O ye of little faith,” he muttered; then commanded Andrew, “Give me the bread.”
            Andrew did as he was asked and gave all the loaves of bread to Jesus, who prayed over the bread and requested that his disciples distribute it to the people. Then he did the same thing with the fish.
            The people were told to eat as much as they wanted. After all of them had eaten their fill, Jesus asked his disciples to gather the leftovers, so that there would be nothing wasted. The disciples did as they were asked and gathered twelve baskets of bread and fish. Jesus had used the contents of the young boy’s basket to work a miracle.

            The Bible does not tell us the name or age of this young boy. It does not tell us if he went to school or what kind of work he would be trained to do. Nor does it tell us if he eventually raised a family; and yet today, more than 2,000 years later, the whole world knows about that young boy’s faith and kindness on this one specific day in his life, when he trusted Jesus to feed more than 5,000 people with the food he offered.  To this very day, the story of his selfless act and his innocent faith on that one day is told in Sunday Schools and preached in sermons all over the world.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pretty Colors

©Linda Goodman June28, 2016

                  Recently one of my friends saw a photo of me in a colorful dress that I had worn to my oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation.
                “You know, you don’t have to dress up like an Easter egg just because you’re getting older,” she advised.
                I objected to that remark.  “What do you mean? How do I dress like an Easter Egg?”
                “All the bright colors,” she replied.  “Old people think bright colors keep them from looking washed out. But they don’t. They just make them look ridiculous…. like human Easter Eggs.”
                I resented that.  I did not wear bright colors because I was getting older. I wore them because I liked them. “I love lime green, hot pink, and turquoise.  And I was wearing those colors long before I got old,” I explained.
                My friend just shook her head. “Well, you still look like an Easter Egg,” she sighed.
                As I later pondered this exchange, a memory was jogged.
                In 1999, I was browsing through the merchandise in a vintage clothing consignment shop in Richmond, VA. I was drawn like a magnet to a flowered suit that I found there.  It was a cream color, splashed with bright purple and pink flowers, just like the suits that I had admired back in the seventies.  I loved it enough to pay a ridiculous price for it.
                That same year, I decided to stop dying my hair and let my silver roots grow. I liked my silver hair, but I resented the fact that all of a sudden, every place I shopped was giving me its senior citizen discounts without even asking first.
                In 2008, the international corporation that I worked for decided to declare bankruptcy. I decided to be proactive in applying for another job. I called an employment agency and asked for an appointment. The counselor that I spoke to on the phone asked me for references, so I gave him the name of one of my previous managers. The counselor was impressed.  “If T.K. recommends you, you must be good!” he declared. “Come in tomorrow afternoon to fill out our application. Be sure to wear a suit.”
                As an accountant with more than three decades of work experience, I had never been required to wear a suit on the job; but the managers that I knew who interviewed accountants for jobs preferred that interviewees wear suits. I was hip to that; even grateful.  Finally I would be wearing my flowered suit to some place other than church.
                The next afternoon, I drove to the employment agency.  The receptionist took me to a room at the back of the office and gave me the paperwork to complete. I was on the third page when the counselor that I had spoken with earlier walked in.
 “Oh, my God!”  the counselor blurted, just before his face turned a deep shade of red.
I was startled. What had I done to make this man recoil so?
He quickly back-tracked.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “You’re not quite what I expected.”
“I’m not quite finished with the application,” I told him.  “I have two pages to go.”
“No worries,” he said. “I don’t need the full application. After all, you were recommended by T.K.”
He took my papers from me. “No need for an interview. I will call you if something comes up. In the meantime, don’t stop looking on your own.”
Two months passed, and while I had managed to secure some interviews on my own, I never received even one call from the counselor who had shooed me out of his office so quickly.  Then, one afternoon, I got a phone call from T.K.
“Found a job yet?” he asked.
“No. Not even close,” I confessed.
“Then maybe this is my lucky day. I’d like you to come to work for my CPA firm. Are you interested?”
Was I interested? T.K. was the best manager I ever had! I gave my two weeks’ notice to my employer and reported to my new place workplace the following Monday.
I was happy in my new position, but my experience at the employment agency haunted me. At first I was confused. Then confusion turned to resentment, and resentment turned to anger. Since T.K. knew the counselor, I told him what had happened between the counselor and me.
“That’s odd,” T.K. commented.  “I wonder what got into him.”
“I know exactly what got into him,” I boldly claimed. “He took one look at my silver hair and decided I was too old for his clients. He does not want to represent old people.
“I really don’t think he is that kind of guy,” T.K. asserted.  “I have always considered him to be a prince among my business colleagues. There has to be more to it than gray hair.”
T.K. could think what he wanted. I knew better.
A few weeks later, I was having lunch at Wendy’s when a shadow hovered over my table and asked, “Do you mind if I share your table?”
I tuned in my chair and recognized the employment counselor who had hurried me out of his office months earlier. “Of course.  Have a seat,” I reluctantly assented.
He and I chit-chatted for a few minutes, and a lengthy period of silence followed. Finally he cleared his throat and said, “T.K and I saw each other a few weeks ago. He told me that you were upset at my reaction towards you when you came to my office to be interviewed.  I have been feeling pretty embarrassed about that myself, but do you really think that I cut your interview short because of you gray hair?”
“Of course it was because of my silver hair. What other reason could there have been for you rudeness?” I answered.
He stammered, his face turning a deep scarlet. “I suppose that I am not doing you any favors by not telling you the truth. My rudeness, and I deeply apologize for that, was not sparked by your hair. It was that suit! The colors were so loud and obnoxious they startled me. I completely lost my composure. Obviously you have never been taught how to select proper business attire.”
“I resent that remark,” I countered. “I am the consummate professional in all areas of my work, dress included.”
“Do you think what you're wearing now is professional?” he asked.
I was wearing a knit dress with horizontal red, white, green, and orange stripes from top to bottom. I had thought it was professional that morning. Now I conceded that I could be wrong. The counselor and I shook hands and parted ways.
“I know you are a good accountant,” he said as he left the table. “T.K. recommends only the best. I know he is thrilled that you came to work for him.”
That afternoon, I asked T.K how he felt about the way I dressed.
“Linda,” he said, “I am interested only in the quality of the work that you do. Wear what you want. Besides, you're in your office with the door closed all day. Who’s going to see you?”
I am now retired from accounting and am telling stories full-time. I have found that children love loud colors, and not just on Easter eggs. I dress more subtly for grown-up audiences, though. Black dresses are just the thing to highlight my silver hair.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

On Graduation

I wrote this poem a few weeks before I graduated from high school in June, 1970. Today I am posting it in honor of my Nephews Allen Lowery and Shaun Rice, who will graduate from high school in just 2 weeks; and to my niece, Matilyn Stocks, who graduated from Old Dominion University last week.
On Graduation

©Linda Goodman, June 1970

They said, “There’s a cold, cruel world outside.
Please listen to us and try to abide by our rules. Stay Inside.”          

So we did.
And some met failure, and some knew success,
And some didn’t bother; they couldn’t care less.

And now the time’s come. We’ll be sheltered no more.
We’ll run to be free.
We’ll unbar all the doors.
And we’ll take our ideals,
And we’ll take our false gods
And try to work miracles where others have trod.

And we’ll say we want peace, yet we’ll follow the road
Where God is the plotter and Man is the mold.

And when we’ve worked hard and achieved to our best,  
And our souls have grown weary and ready for rest,    
Then we’ll remember these fast flying years   
With laughter and wonder and warmth and tears.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Dim Smoky Past

After I left the state of Virginia to move to Michigan in 1983, I missed my father’s stories.  Knowing that they had never been documented, I asked him to include one of them in each of his weekly letters to me.  Every week thereafter, each of his letters ended with what he called a Scene from the Dim, Smoky Past.   When I asked him to explain this title, he replied that the passage of time had cast a hazy film across his memory.  He could not be sure that things happened exactly as he remembered them.  His interpretation of events, he explained, was much more clear to him than the events themselves.  I find this to be true of my own life experiences, as well.  
To illustrate my point, I am publishing on this blog two versions of the same incident. The first is my memory. The second is my daughter's. Notice how different the versions are; yet each of us swears that that her own version is the truth, even though that is not possible.
Here is my version:

Orphan Girl
©Linda Goodman, January 2015
                In 1972, after a ridiculously easy three hours of labor, I gave birth to a baby girl. After the anesthesia had worn off, a nurse brought her to me and I got my first good look at her. I gasped and cried, “THIS IS NOT MY BABY!”
                “Of course it’s your baby,” insisted the nurse.
                “But she has red hair!” I protested. “No one in either my or my husband’s family has red hair!”
                “Well,” said the nurse, “that can’t be true. Red hair is a recessive gene. Red hair has to be in both the mother’s and the father’s families for a redheaded baby to be born.”
                After asking family members a lot of questions, I learned that my mother’s twin brother had red hair before he went gray. I also learned that several of my husband’s aunts had red hair.
                So in addition to a new baby, I also got a new story that I could use to entertain friends and family. Every time that someone asked me where my daughter Melanie’s red hair came from, I told that person the story of the day she was born, and how I had insisted that she could not possibly be my baby.
                When Melanie was eight years old and in the second grade, I went to an open house at her school. Each student in the school had been instructed to make from construction paper an art piece that would tell people something the student. I walked around the room and looked at the different projects. Roller derbies were quite popular at the time, so many of the students had made construction paper skating rinks and named the rinks after themselves.  Two students built churches. Another built a Tastee Freeze ice cream stand. Melanie had constructed a large paper house  and had written across the front  The Melanie Adams Orphanage.
                I was curious. “Why did you decide to build an orphanage?” I asked Melanie.
                “Because I’m an orphan,” she replied.
                Curiosity turned into confusion. “Why do you think you are an orphan, Melanie?”
                “Because you said so,” she sweetly told me. Then, with an innocence that only a child can muster, she added, “I am glad they gave me to you. I hope they don’t take me back some day.”
                I could not believe what I was hearing. “When did I tell you that you were an orphan?”
                “Oh, you didn’t tell me,” she said. “But I heard you tell Mrs. Michaels.  And Mr. Hamby.  And that old woman who asked you where I got my red hair.”
                I had never even realized that she was listening. Melanie had thought she was an orphan for eight years, and I never even suspected that.
                Of course, I set her straight. She seemed rather disappointed when I told her I was only telling a funny story to all those people; that she really was my child by birth.  “I guess I won’t be as interesting now,” she sighed,” and some poor parents out there are going to be so sad when they find out that I am not their child.”
                That’s my girl!

And this is Melanie's version of the same story:

Little Orphan Melanie
(c)Melanie Goodman Deal, January 2016
There I was, five years old, sitting on the floor in my living room. I was playing quietly by myself, coloring a picture and listening to the conversation my mom was having with a new neighbor that had moved in. As I sat there coloring, I heard the neighbor exclaim to my mom, “Your daughter, Melanie, has such BEAUTIFUL red hair! Where did she get it from?”
To which I promptly replied, “It must be from my REAL mom. I’m an orphan, you see, and this kind woman adopted me so I could have a family.”
My mom immediately stammered out, “D-don’t be silly, Melanie! That’s not true at all!” Then, to the neighbor, she said a little more quietly, “I don’t know where she gets these crazy ideas from…let’s go in the kitchen and get some coffee and snacks.”
I turned back to my coloring, wondering why my mom said that. Why was she embarrassed to admit I was an orphan? It was true, after all. I heard her say so myself.
You see, all my life, I’d heard people ask my mom this same question, “Where did Melanie get her red hair from?”
And every time, my mom always replied with the same answer – “Well, I wondered the same thing myself, since I don’t have red hair and neither does her father. I swear, they must have switched babies on me in the hospital! There’s no other explanation, is there?” And then she’d laugh and move on to the next topic.
What my mom didn’t realize was that I was listening all those times she said that. And the more I heard her say it, the more I started wondering.
Who was my real mom? Did she have red hair like me? Did she suspect the baby she got at the hospital wasn’t hers? If she did, did she wonder where her REAL baby was? Was she even LOOKING for me?
I was an only child, but what if my REAL mom had other kids? Oh my Goodness, I might actually have brothers and sisters! Did they have red hair, too?
All of this wondering got me excited. So excited that I had this whole story made up in my head about what my REAL family must be like.
You see, my parents divorced when I was two. So at the age of five, it was just me and my mom. I didn’t really relate well to other kids my age, so I hung out with the adults most of the time. In fact, my doctor always joked that I was a 42-year old inside a 5-year old body. I guess you could say my thinking was more advanced than that of the average five year old.
More than anything, I wanted a family. A mom, a dad, and maybe a brother or sister – or even better, a brother AND a sister! All living in the same house. So in my imagination, my REAL mom didn’t have a job she had to go to all the time. She got to stay home and play with me and my siblings, and was able to cook homemade meals every day. And my REAL dad was home every night, because there hadn’t been a divorce. And my siblings were the coolest! We played together all the time, and I never had to play alone and make up imaginary friends, because I had THEM to play with!
After the neighbor left, my mom came into the living room where I was playing, and she got down on the floor with me. She looked at the picture I had just finished coloring and her eyes got kind of big. My picture was of a big brick building, and there were lots of kids’ faces peering out of the windows. There was a big sign on top of the building that said, “The Melanie Orphanage”.
She put her hand in mine and asked me, “Melanie, why did you draw this picture? And what on EARTH makes you think you’re an orphan? I am your real mom. Don’t you know that?”
So I told her what I’d overheard her say all these years, and as I finished, her face fell and grew very sad, and her eyes got all wet. “Oh, honey!”, she said. “That’s just a joke. I just say that to get a laugh out of people, but it’s not true. You’re mine. All mine. And I love you to the moon and back.”
My advanced five year old brain pondered her words for a few moments. I thought about all the things she did for me all the time. Telling me stories, tucking me in every night, taking me to see my cousins and my grandparents whenever I asked, buying me ice cream when she had the extra money. Telling me she loved me every day, and giving me hugs and kisses more times than I could count.
On their own, words have no power. It’s the emotional connection we attribute to them that allow them to affect us the way they do. My desire to have a “real family” was so strong that I allowed myself to believe what my mother joked about.
That day, my mom realized the impact words can have, but I realized something as well. My family may not look like other people that I knew, but I already had my real family -- the one meant for me. And that was better than anything I could make up.
Postcript from Linda: And there you have it. No wonder I don't enjoy telling family stories to my own family. We all remember events differently because we are each telling from our own perspectives, and each of us believe that our own version is the correct one. Try this with your own family. You will see what I mean.  Happy tales to you!