Monday Memoir: The Matriarch

 

ONE FINAL GIFT

Scatter me not to the restless winds
Nor toss my ashes to the sea.
Remember now those years gone by
When loving gifts I gave to thee.
Remember now the happy times
The family ties are shared.
Don’t leave my resting place unmarked
As though you never cared.
Deny me not one final gift
For all who came to see.
A simple lasting proof that says
I loved and you loved me.

(by D.H.Cramer)

 

 

Not many days pass that I don’t think of my grandmother. I’ve always considered her a kind of matriarch for the maternal side of my family.  Geraldine Anna May Hart Furnia was a slight woman, but her size was quite deceiving because underneath that smallish frame was tremendous strength and courage.

She was born on December 20, 1920.  Her young life was hard as I’ve been told.  She married my grandfather, Paul Furnia who was six years older, when she was sixteen. She married young so she could get out of an abusive family situation.  I never learned what went on though.   Life with my grandfather wasn’t much better,  but she loved him and the family they made together.   Early in the marriage they had four children; then World War II began and he enlisted in the Army and spent part of the war up in Alaska (Kodiak Island). She was left to care for the four children in a home that wasn’t much more than a shack. After the war, three more children were born; one of them my mother.  Grandfather became a logger which he worked till his retirement at the age 67.

They bought a house on Grove Rd next to the Ausable River.  For many years, they grew their own food and didn’t have plumbing until my mother was a girl.  They still lived in the same house while I grew up.

I spent much of my childhood with my grandmother.  I often considered her my surrogate mother as my own worked full-time.  They didn’t have daycare centers during the seventies so family members or friends were often the ones called upon to help watch me (and eventually my brother and sister).

Most of my fondest memories as a girl involved my grandmother.

She was a great storyteller and a self-taught musician.  I literally spent countless hours listening to tales of the past or to the tunes of the banjo or accordion.

She was a devout Catholic and would take me to the Saturday mass each week.

She loved spending time outdoors tending to her large garden, or filling buckets of juicy blueberries.

Most of all, she loved having her house full of family members.  No matter how scattered her children or grandchildren were, we always found our way back to her house a few times a year for huge gatherings.   Storytelling, music and games were the highlights, and each time she was the center of them all.

She was the magnet that kept drawing us back, the glue that bonded us close together, and the heart that continued to beat in all of us while we were apart.

It was heartbreaking to see her pass away on February 22, 1988.   She was only sixty-seven.  Her body gave out long before her spirit wanted to let go.  Emphysema may have claimed her life, but the memories of her will always live on.  Even though we don’t gather together as often as a family, we will always be linked no matter where we are because her heart still beats within us.

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Monday Memoir: Unforgettable

 

At the age of ten, I discovered there was another way of intermingling with my imaginary friends, and that was through writing.  A new world was suddenly opened to me where I can create and bring things to life on paper. Because of my hearing impairment, my overall understanding of grammar was a bit lacking to say the least, and I knew this.  And because of this, I kept whatever I wrote hidden away.  I wasn’t ready to share with the world.

Not yet.

In the meantime, I struggled with insecurities, and with the belief that I was inferior to the other kids. I felt I wasn’t good enough in anything.   As a result, I stayed pretty much a loner with perhaps one or two good friends.

Later on in the same school year, one of the school’s teachers, Mr. Hathaway, announced that the school was going to compete in its first (and only) track meet with other private schools in the area. I signed up for three events: 100 yard dash, 200 yard dash, and 400 yard relay.

I’ll need to clarify that my school’s sport program when compared to the area public schools was more intramural at best; especially given the fact that my entire school population had only seventy students in all (grades Kindergarten through 12th)! And because of the small size, most of our sports were played with co-ed teams.

You get the idea.

Photo Credit: Acclaim Images

 

I was excited, and I was also nervous. I’ve never done track before. We had no coach, or any training. I wondered just how bad I was going to be.

The track meet was held on a warm spring day at another private school (almost as small as my school); the school’s parking lot was converted into a track.  For my first event, the 100 yard dash, I found myself competing against girls who were two and three years older than me, but age or size didn’t matter as I flew past them and finished in 1st place.  The same thing happened in the next event, the 200 yard dash, where I again finished in 1st place. In my last event, 400 yard relay, I was put in as the last runner, and as a team, we placed 2nd.

I never thought that running and competing could be so much fun.

Summer came and my parents placed me in a summer day camp which was sponsored by one of the local public schools. None of the kids from my school were there, but that really didn’t bother me. The kids that were there were from other public schools, ages that ranged from five all the way up to sixteen. I kept to myself as always while occasionally conversing with a few who were close to my age. One whom I do remember was Kari Lynn Nixon. She was a few months younger than me, but I was amazed by her. She was pretty, outgoing, and popular. I can remember one particular day when she involved me in one of the activities she led: how to put on makeups.

Here I was, eleven years old at the time, a tomboy learning how to apply lipstick and blush to my sweaty and dirty face. I must have been a comical sight when I got home later that day.

I remember one specific day over any others though.  It was late morning when one of the camp leaders announced that there was going to be a race.  Anyone who was interested was to come to the baseball field and stand in a line next to the home base. I didn’t think.  I just went. As soon as I stood in that line with at least twenty other kids, doubts filled my mind and butterflies jumped in my stomach.

What was I doing?

Most of these kids were athletes.  A few of whom I actually knew were  star baseball and softball athletes.  What kind of chance would I have against them?  A girl like me who went to a small private school against these other kids who went to schools that were at least ten times larger.

I must be insane.

I seriously considered stepping out and away from the line, but that would mean the entire camp would see me chickening out.  There had to have been about one hundred kids sitting in the bleachers behind me.

I had no choice, but to compete.

Must of the race was a blur to me.  I remember running as fast as I could.  I remember this one boy athlete racing right along beside me.  Then I remember seeing the home base ahead of me as we rounded the last section of the field.  I could hear the kids cheering in the bleachers. I can remember my legs feeling like rubbery leads.  You know what was amazing about that race?

I finished first.

I finally found something that I was good at. Something that apparently I was better than many of the kids from the local public schools.

It all felt quite surreal.  I never had so many people cheering for me.  Congratulating me.

It felt good.

I almost felt…normal.

 

Run With the Wind

Cool breeze sweeping by

the landscape all but a blur

my feet take me home

Monday Memoir: An Eccentric Outsider

 

I was almost six years old when I was diagnosed with nerve deafness.  I received my first behind-the-ear hearing aid shortly after the initial visit with Ms. Audrey.   The device helped as I was finally able to hear the sounds around me more clearly.  I could finally hear myself talk as well as whoever was trying to talk to me.

I was now able to understand and learn in school.

It certainly was not a “cure-all” as I was still very much a loner.  An outsider.

I spent the next two or three years attending speech therapy at a distant school.  About twice a week, a transportation vehicle would come and pick me up at the tiny private school I attended, and took me fifteen miles away to a moderate size elementary public school where I met with my speech therapist for our one-hour sessions.   Then I would board a public school bus with kids I didn’t know which took me home.

The speech therapy sessions helped, but I still spoke funny.

My accent was odd.  Out-of-place.

People, kids looked at me with strange expressions.

I felt very much alone most of the time.

Imaginary friends helped me through this period, as they would throughout my life.  Even as an adult, I still have imaginary friends.

Does that make me strange?

An outsider who’s not quite all there?

Hmm…yeah, I guess so.

And you know the funny part about all this?

I’m fine with it.  Totally and completely.

Why?

Because I have an excuse to be strange and odd, and what’s that word that a coworker once used to describe me?

Eccentric.

However, by the time I was eleven I’d developed a slight problem with having imaginary friends.   I started to act out some of the things they wanted me to do or where they wanted me to go.

Adventures in other lands.  Or, more like misadventures.

Like this one time when I was playing with my various superhero friends when one of them convinced me that I was Wonder Woman and could leap over a line of six chairs.   I almost cleared them all.  I ended up straddling a rocking chair and spent that evening in the ER.

When I was eleven my best friend was Melanie.  She was a red-head with a fiery temper.  I can’t remember what sparked the idea but she put out a challenge to see who could write the best short story.  I took the challenge and wrote a story about a haunted house where a girl went in to explore and found a decapitated head in the fridge.  Pretty morbid, but this particular challenge altered my life forever.

That day I learned there were other ways of participating in adventures with my imaginary friends; not to mention, much safer.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the writer within me was born.

#ThursdayThoughts: The Idea of a Memoir (Part Two)

 

Now that I’ve decided to write a memoir, I need to decide on a “theme” for it.  Since I’ve experienced so many losses, I will do my first memoir around them.

Writing poetry has been so therapeutic in helping me deal with those losses, I’m thinking of including a number of poems in the memoir.  In fact, I’m inclined to open each chapter with a poem, and then delve into details around a particular loss.

The title I think will be Life: Tears in the Rain.

Monday Memoir: Darren

 

I learned how fragile life could be at a young age.

Darren and I were born one month apart.  As cousins, we were constant playmates. I can remember us spending a lot of time running around in the back yard of our grandparents’ house.  In their back yard was a fairly large garden that they kept planted almost year round; usually full of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. On a particular overcast day, we were playing near the garden when Darren started to yell, “Snake! Snake!”    I looked and sure enough, a shiny black snake was squiggling its way through a patch of tomatoes.  But, wait a minute, it wasn’t alone as I started to see another one emerge, another one, and yet another one.  There had to have been at least a dozen black snakes slithering through that garden.  With the sight of so many slimy snakes, I froze.  One particular snake writhed towards me; but, Darren saved my life (from a kid’s perspective, mind you) by grabbing my arm as he dragged me back to the nearest porch of the house.  We were about five or six years old.

This memory still makes me smile, and chuckle.

That incident was the last real memory I have of us playing together.

My next memory was being at his Daddy’s (my Uncle Harold’s) funeral. I remember as I watched the adults congregated among themselves when someone said that it was probably for the best that he died suddenly.  I couldn’t understand why they could say such things.  My aunt was now left alone to raise three girls and a boy.  I couldn’t possibly see any good in that.

It wasn’t too long after that I noticed Darren falling more and more often.  Then, he needed help to get back up to his feet each and every time.

A short while later, he was confined to a wheelchair.  At first, we made good use of that wheelchair as I enjoyed zooming him all through our grandparents’ house like a car in a NASCAR race.   It was a cool race “car.”

We would spend hours sitting at a table, and play card games such as Go Fish and Slap Jack.   At some point, he wasn’t even able to do that as he grew so weak he could barely lift up his arms or hands.  Then, he couldn’t even keep his head up.

The wheelchair was soon replaced by a hospital bed in his own bedroom.  He could no longer go to school.  All he had to look forward to was watching the little television on a dresser in front of the bed.  I can remember how depressed he would get; especially since he could no longer play or go to school with kids his own age.

I can remember Darren lying in that bed, his body full of tubes that were connected to all kinds of machines.  Machines that helped him to breathe, to pee, even to eat for him.   The only things that he could still move were his eyes.  Heck, he couldn’t even talk anymore.

Mom would take me to visit him every Saturday.  I would go right into his room, take out his collection of Star Wars’ action figures (other times it would be race cars) and spread them out on his bed. Since he couldn’t play for himself, I played for him as he watched.

Eventually we didn’t go over to his house anymore.  His mother had placed him in a hospice.  A few months later, he got sick with pneumonia, and died one night in his sleep.  One month shy of his fourteenth birthday.

His funeral was held on a cold, rainy day.  It’s still a blur to me.  I can remember hearing my cousins crying for their brother beside me.  I don’t think I cried at all.  I just felt numb.  Empty.  And, lost.

He was my best friend.

Now, he was gone.

He had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Monday Memoir: Silence

 

Will start a new series (plan to post on each Monday) called Memoir Monday.

 

Silence

 

I was a 70s child, and spent the entire preteen and teen-aged years during the 80s.   There are some things to be said having grown up in the heart of Adirondack mountains during this period.

One, you only got four channels on the television, if you were lucky.  So, I didn’t experience MTV until much later in life.

Two, really good doctors were few and far between.

I was born seemingly healthy, in all appearance-wise that is. By the time I was about two years old, it became apparent to my parents that I wasn’t developing normally.

I startled easily.

I wasn’t responding to stimuli like a “normal” child would.

I got frustrated over the simplest things and threw frequent temper tantrums.

My speech development was on par, for an one-year old.

For the next few years, they took me to see various specialists across New York and Vermont, but no one could tell them what was really wrong with me.  One particular specialist blatantly told my parents that I had serious behavioral issues and should see a shrink.

On I went to Kindergarten.

It was probably a few months into the school year when the teacher, Mrs. Siglin, pulled my Mom aside and said that I was practically unteachable.   I wasn’t listening to anything she was saying during class.  I was abruptive, and rude to the other kids.

Mom, in tears, had to pull me from school.

As a last resort, my parents took me to see an audiologist, Ms. Audrey.

She put me through a series of tests, and then had me sit in a sound-proof room, with a headphone on. She then amplified the sound of my voice.

Something happened that hadn’t happened before.

I began to jabber incoherently at first, and then my words grew clearer and concise.

Ms. Audrey turned to my bewildered parents and explained that I had moderate hearing loss in both ears.

Nerve deafness. 

I was almost six years old, and for the first time in my life, I heard the sound of my own voice.

WEP – The Crossroad

Click on image to go to WEP original site

 

Here’s my entry for this Challenge:

 

The Crossroad

 

 

I believe each of us come to a crossroad at some point in life, And at that junction, each must make a decision as to which road to take.

The chosen path would set the tone for how well you’ll live your life.

Or, how poorly.

I came to such crossroad at the age of twenty-five as I sat on the bathroom floor, leaning against the toilet, with an opened medicinal bottle in hand, its content mostly emptied.

How did I get to this point?

I experienced death time and time again.  Not personally, but through people whom I cared a great deal about.

A cousin whom I considered a best friend, one who truly understood me for me.  We were born a month apart. He never treated me differently even with my hearing impairment as he was dealing with a far greater condition. Over time his body atrophied, and death paid a visit just before our fourteenth birthdays.

A grandmother, also a surrogate mother, whom I spent much of childhood with, her lungs were too weak, as my last memories were of her sitting in a chair, next to an oxygen tank, fighting for every breath.   She left this world just as I turned seventeen.

Then came the man whom I married.  His face was like an angel whose sweet disposition drew people to him.  Instead of being his help-mate, I offered only cruelty.

I could blame my behavior to recently receiving a diagnosis that I was going blind.

Also to resentment.  Anger.  Even immaturity.

But, those were just excuses.  Cop outs.

When on that fateful day, an unmarked car pulled in to the driveway, something within me sunk, and a dark void entered.

And I knew he’d gone on, and was now truly an angel.

Remorse and regrets raged as they tore my heart to pieces.  Pieces I felt could never be put back together again.

So, there I was, sitting on the floor, staring into the toilet bowl.

I was at my crossroad. 

The house was quiet.  Everyone’s asleep.  I dared not wake them.  They’ve already suffered enough.

Such stupidity!  The ultimate act of selfishness on my part.

I stood up, set the now closed bottle on the back of the toilet, and went up to our… my bed.

And lied down.

If I should wake in the morning, I promised to be a different person.

 

*Author’s Note:  Although this Challenge was geared more towards fictional pieces, I felt I had to write my story since its title spoke to me.  I’ve never shared this particular incidence in public before, and it was difficult to find the right words.  Perhaps in time the words will flow more freely.

 

 

The Idea of a Memoir (Part One)

Photo Credit: Princeton Public Library

 

The idea of writing a memoir keeps coming to mind time and time again.  Why should I write one?  Who would want to hear my story anyway? And, what the heck the difference between a memoir and autobiography?

I found this that proved quite helpful:

Photo Credit: Susan Calder

And to break it down to the actual characteristics of a memoir:

Photo Credit: Linkedin Slideshare (Click on image for original source)

 

My next challenge is what to write about.   So much has happened over the course of my life, I don’t even know where to begin.  I went to my Twitter and started to browse through my tweets for the last year or so and I discovered two tweets where I managed to condense my life down to six words:

Unraveled by losses; rebuilt by love.

———————————–

Life. Just tears in the rain.

 

The word “losses” is definitely one of the main themes of my life.  But, who would want to read about them?

The losses weren’t just about death though that covered a good portion; there were anger and self-hatred, anxiety and depression, abuses of different kinds, setbacks, and on and on.  I don’t want to write this memoir as a pity-party for myself or to show how I was a victim and somehow beat the odds…

No, no, no!

I suppose I want to write the memoir, detailing certain events and losses, and telling a reader who may need to “hear” that yes, I survived these, and so can YOU.

The bottom line is never giving up.

No matter what.

*Sigh*

 

 

 

 

Story Sunday: The Ocean

The oceans” was the prompt for this week’s #StorySaturday (Twitter).  I wrote this micro-story kind of as a memoir of my personal experiences with water, and how it impacted me.

The Ocean

 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Vincent Lawrence

I grew up around water

in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks

the river ran wild

its’ roars beat within me like a hammer

 

Then came the ocean of the Outer Banks

its rolling waves on the sandy shore

calm the racing of that heart

and created a sense of peace

I’ve never experienced

 

Now I live in the open expanse of the plains

where the ocean is only a memory

but a memory that I can revisit

for as long as this heart beats

 

“Water is the driving force of all nature.”  – Leonardo da Vinci