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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Things I remember about The Mansion

As you might recall, The Mansion is what we called a very large Victorian house on O Street in Sacramento, where we lived for three years starting right after my 5th birthday. It was converted into medical/dental offices after we moved out.

The house was partially furnished with antiques and there was an old Victrola in the living room, with some records. Sometimes we'd get to play them. Most of the time, the TV was on, and our antenna had a rotor on it so we could rotate it from inside the house. Cool beans. Please don't ask my oldest brother about E-skip.

We had a full dining room that was separated from the living room by sliding wooden doors. There was a dumb waiter from the kitchen to the second floor, but we never used it. I always thought it would be a blast to try riding in it, but no such luck.

I remember standing at the very old-fashioned sink in the kitchen. I think it was aqua blue, but I could be wrong. There are no photos. That kitchen is where I learned how to make sugar toast.

I think there was a front stairway, all wood and polish, that we hardly ever used. There was a back stairway that we used instead. I remember jumping the last few steps all the time, wishing I could fly.

My grandma came and lived with us for awhile and took up the whole side-front room, which my mother called The Library. I suppose the built-in bookshelves were the reason for that. The full bathroom was between that and what was called The Study, but was really my dad's bedroom. My mother took the very back bedroom on the second floor. I remember being very surprised once when I found my mother and dad in his bed together because it was so rare.

The bathtub in the full bathroom was an antique clawfoot which my mother de-valued by painting it elaborately and gluing fake jewels all over it. She did the same thing to the bathroom walls. It was big and pink and maroon and fairly hideous. She wanted to be a hippie, I think. 

There was a laundry room off the kitchen that led to the back porch. Or maybe it was the back porch and was just closed in. There was a small stairwell that led downstairs to the basement; my dad kept a workroom down there, in the small finished part. We could go out under the rest of the house from it, which was all dirt and cobwebs and musty. One year, my mother decked it all out as a haunted house for a church Halloween party. I didn't go down there for the party, it was for the adults.

Our front porch was huge and I remember sitting on it once in awhile. I also remember my next older brother getting ahold of the movie camera and making several short films of my little brother and me, stop action; and of flowers, bees, butterflies - you name it, he filmed it. Those are in the box in storage too.

I remember sliding around on the hardwood floors in my socks with my little brother.

I remember there was one full bathroom and one water closet on the first floor; and one sink and bathtub upstairs on the second floor. 

I remember my oldest brother built a miniature golf course in the window box of his bedroom.

I remember my sister and me sharing a room for a bit before she left for the Army, and it seems to me we had a walk-in closet. I remember her dressing to go out with friends in all orange, including stockings and shoes. Possibly.

I remember the entrance to the attic was in my next oldest brother's room, which he shared with my little brother. 

I remember for awhile I had a black and white TV in my bedroom - the height of luxury, because then I could watch TV from bed, something I eventually grew out of (in my 40's).

I remember being told to clean up my room, then getting the only spanking in my life from my dad because I had just shoved everything under the bed. No joke, I was a cliche from the beginning.

I remember the back yard was huge, at least to a five-year-old, and we had to go down about 25 steps off the back porch to get to it. My dad grew purple irises and there was honeysuckle and an orange tree. When the house was converted in the mid-1970's, they paved paradise and put in a parking lot.

I remember my dad mowing the front yard by hand. With a push mower. There are home movies of me mugging the camera and imitating him.

I remember swimming in a little 2-foot wading pool in what was laughingly called a bikini. There are movies in The Odd Saga of my older brothers splashing each other and running around. 

I remember chasing bugs in a field on the corner, which is now an office complex. It's where I began a love of ladybugs and pretty much got over my fear of insects. The grass was tall; I think we were lucky there weren't any snakes in there as well.

I remember having my "boyfriend" from school come visit for a playdate. He was the baby boy in a fairly prominent Sacramento family, from what I was told. He only ever came over once.

I remember our last Christmas together as a family. My parents blew out the stores, apparently, and there are photos of me in a brand-new blue satin robe, pretending to iron clothes with a toy iron and board. I remember figuring out there was no Santa that year, too. A few months later, my mother was moving us all to a two-bedroom house in a different part of town, where I had to share a room with her and my little brother, while my two older brothers had the other bedroom.

I remember running downstairs to my daddy in the basement, because I had asked where he was going to sleep in the new house and my mother told me he wasn't coming with us. 

I remember for years after we moved out, whenever I dreamed at night of home, it was The Mansion that filled my head.

I don't remember everything about living there, but what I mostly remember is I was happy, when the family was still a family and I was young enough to believe it would be that way forever. The home movie that was my life, and which, childlike, I believed God was watching while eating a bag of popcorn, was mostly perfect.

I'm not sure I wasn't right.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stories of Childhood, Part 2

My first memory is of being dressed in plaid, standing next to my little brother and in front of my older sister having my photo taken. I think I remember it because I've seen the photos. I was about three or four.

My next memory is of sitting at the kitchen table drawing while my mother washed dishes or something, and it seems to me the song "Happy Together" was playing on the radio in the background. That's not necessarily true, but it sounds about right. I drew what I thought was an elephant and also a scribble I called Dennis the Menace. I remember it because both pictures are glued into my baby book. I was still about three or four.

There are home movies of us watching The Lawrence Welk Show, and I think I remember trying to hog the camera. "No," you say, "You're not the dramatic type." Notice the sarcasm coming from your mouth. My mother put the date on a piece of paper with some M&M's and took movies of that. My oldest brother hid beneath a blanket so only his toes were showing. This was before we moved into The Mansion, so I was almost five, I think. 

About the same time, there are movies of us standing in full sunlight in our best Easter clothes. All I remember, aside from what I've seen in the video, is that my eyes were (and still are) extremely light-sensitive. Today, and also because I'm getting to the end of middle age, I tend to wear sunglasses on rainy days and I definitely don't drive at night if I can help it.

My oldest brother edited all our home movies in the late 1960's, early 1970's, and called it "The Odd Saga." Hmm, he was right about that. In any case, I haven't looked at them for years. He edited our trip to Texas in 1969 as "Voyage to See What's At The Bottom of Texas." I'll talk about that maybe another time. They're all sitting in my storage unit, waiting to be converted. I'm not sure it will ever happen, but perhaps if I write about it I'll remember more details. Or maybe I should do a Kickstarter campaign to "preserve the heritage of the white middle class family in America."

Insert major sarcasm here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Stories of Childhood, Part 1

I realize it's been over a year. 

I got a job, found a place to live, found a church where I'm feeling more and more comfortable; I've also been seeing someone special for a few weeks. I have not, however, had any good medications for about two months. I'm living on a very thin edge until my new benefits kick in and, of course, some days are better than others.

I also bought a new car.

Which means I need to find a second job. Gee, I wish I could make money on this blog. I may have to put a PayPal button at the bottom ...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

I've decided to start blogging my childhood. Nothing bad, or nothing intentionally mean, but things I want to try to analyze, or at least prove to myself and perhaps other people who see me that I've always been this way and that it's probably okay. I mean, God made me this way, God works with what He's given me and no matter how hard I worry, I'm along for the ride no matter what. 

My kids keep telling me I should write a book about my mother. Perhaps. I even have a name for it: "All We Had for Christmas One Year Was a Can of Spam." My mother is a storyteller. Very few of them are completely true, several of them are outright fantasy, but at one time or another, she told all of them as Gospel truth. The above title was a story which was included in a litany against my dad and included beans that refused to cook through and spending money on "tars for the car" instead of things for the family, which still made my mother angry three decades later. 

I don't know about now. My mother is turning 90 this November; my dad has been gone for more than 10 years and she's been in Texas living with my sister since then. I'm planning a visit, which will be the first time I've seen her in a long time. 

In any case, some of my stories are about hearing her stories. 

My children also tell me they're going to write a book about me and call it "It's An Adventure." I used to tell the kids, when life got crazy or out of hand, or even if we were just lost in the car, that it was an adventure and to take it in stride. I think I was mostly trying to convince myself. 

Nowadays, the adventure for me is making myself get up and go to work with people who don't know me and whom I don't want to really know. There's a difference between coworkers and friends, you know, and bipolar disorder is not a great conversation starter in any case.

So. Yeah. The first story.

It's not a long one. Along with the bipolar disorder there's OCD and extreme sensitivity. My mother called me Nervous Jervis all my childhood and really, that's also where the ADHD fits in. My previous doctor told me it's not real ADHD, it's a symptom of the bipolar called hypomania, but if the shoe fits ...

We lived in this big house on O Street in Sacramento, a Victorian before it was converted into dentist offices with two floors, a full basement and a really cool attic that we called the third floor because the window in there was higher than the rest of the house. 

I was five when we moved in, but hey, I already knew it all. One morning before anyone got up, I decided I'd be helpful and light the furnace. I don't think the house had a thermostat; if it was cold, you lit the furnace and if it was hot you turned on the swamp cooler.

Already you can see where this is going. I didn't. I'd seen my older brother do it and decided it couldn't be that difficult, considering he was only 12 years older than I was but hey, it's me! I turned on the gas and proceeded to look for the matches. Yes, I blew off my eyebrows. I remember the rest of the family coming when I yelled and then all of them laughing at me. I don't even remember getting a scolding, although I'm fairly sure I did.

That's it. At some point while we were living at that house, my kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade years, my mother took me to a psychologist who told her I was the world's youngest teenager. Wrong diagnosis, but for some reason my mother thought that was the funniest thing in the world. Those same years, my dad quit going to church and we quit eating around the table as a family. My sister left to join the Army and my oldest brother didn't leave to go to college. 

At the beginning of 3rd grade, my mother left my dad and took us with her. 

I could go on, but I don't want to get too serious too soon. Maybe next time I'll talk about irises in the back yard and taking my shoes off to walk home from school. You know, other stuff with maybe a happy ending or something like that. 

Have I mentioned my short attention span yet?