childhood is better with cousins

I believe I had a happy early childhood.  Truth be told, I do not have many memories of it, one of them my first blog post in May, 2013, called “Once Upon a Time”.  My parents divorced when I was just 6, but it had little impact on me.  As I have few memories of my father living with us, it did not make that much of a difference in my life.  I still saw him and my grandparents often, they were still very much a part of my life, so for me not much changed.  My mother and I went to our cottage for a week each summer, usually the last week before Labor Day, which here in my home state has always been reserved for summer’s last hurrah.  Using the cottage as a base camp, we’d travel to various historic sites around the state, which definitely planted the seeds of my passion for my home state’s history.  We’d spend hours on the beach; I’d build sandcastles and little rivers which would fill with water and create moats around my sandcastles.  As boats passed, their wakes would gradually wash my castles down, which never distressed me, as the river was (and is) meant to change things as it passes by.  

The best was when my cousins would come to stay with us.  There are four of them, all older than I am, all big and boisterous and fascinating.  My eldest cousin always slightly terrified me; he was so much older I had no way of relating (he is actually only maybe 10 years older than I am?).  His sister, next in line, was my idol–she had that perfect 70’s long straight hair and sewed so well she won ribbons at the state fair.  The next brother was a bit less outgoing and turned out to be the brains of us all–he is a doctor now and a wonderful friend.  And then came the youngest, just four months older than I, and always ready to do my bidding.Image(not really us)

One memorable summer frolic with them came when my uncle and my female cousin took the youngest and me canoeing on a twisty, turny, quite “mysterious” little creek that eventually ended up in the river.  With my uncle at the stern and my cousin at the bow, my little cuz and I were merely passengers on the ride.  The creek was so overgrown that several times the “grown ups” paddled the canoe under fallen trees; they’d actually crawl over the trees while we’d lay down on the canoe bottom and sneak under the hazards.  I was terrified every time that happened–what if there was a spider just waiting under that tree to come and get me???

At night we’d sit at the dining table after dinner and play “spoons”, a card game that involved passing cards around until you gathered three matching cards, then reaching for a spoon on the table making sure you were not the last one to grab one.  My cuz and I always lost; our arms were the shortest and it was hardest for us to grab stealthily.

My cousins were all witness to my mother’s behavior at my daughter’s wedding.  They were all there when she stormed out, denied her desired moment in the spotlight.  Some of them were staying with us at the time, and actually read the childish emails sent to me when I asked what had gone wrong.  While I do not ask my cousins to choose sides, I want them to know exactly what their aunt is capable of, exactly what horrible conditions she allowed me to live in, exactly what awful choices she has asked me to make.  I can only hope that were push to come to shove, they would support me and encourage me.  I believe they would.

In the Beginning

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The Christmas I was 6, Santa Claus brought me a grey and white kitten that I named Mittens.  My very own pet!  How exciting!  I loved that cat to bits, even when she had enough of me and left red lines down my arms in her attempts to get away from my adoration.  Really, I think she loved Mom more than she loved me.  But Mittens was my first pet and I loved her with all my heart.

That was the first Christmas my parents were divorced and my dad was not living with us.  I suspect that had a lot to do with Santa’s decision to bring me a kitten–Dad was and still is allergic to cats.  It is also, perhaps coincidentally, the first Christmas of which I have very vivid memories.

Three years later, Mom & I moved and Mittens, of course, came with us, along with a ton of houseplants, my guppies and my grandmother, just to help out for a bit.  Left behind were my prized angelfish, my favorite huge stuffed tiger with “real emerald” eyes and an old-fashioned globe on a floor stand given to me by my great aunt, fascinating because it featured countries I had never heard of, like the Holy Roman Empire.  My mother had culled my belongings to make the move easier.

Shortly after the next Christmas, my first in our new home, my mother gained a new boyfriend, and soon the boyfriend was living at our house during the week and we went to his house in the country on weekends.  His house was a lot of fun–there was a creek, and huge trees he promised to build me a tree house in, a pond with an island and a canoe to paddle about, and two loving dogs!  I had dogs on the weekend and Mittens during the week.  It was like heaven.

Soon I was told that my mother was going to marry her boyfriend.  He was going to move in with us and rent his house out.  For some reason, he decided his dogs could not both come with, so he found a new home for my favorite of the two, the girl, and brought the boy to our house.  Mittens of course did not appreciate this interloper.  Actually she appreciated neither the dog nor the man.  I was at first happy; I had a new dad, a new dog, and my beloved cat.

But then something happened.  At the time I did not grasp its significance, but I was horrified by it as only and 11 year old can be.  Mittens tried to rub her face up against my “new dad’s” leg and he pulled back his foot, pulled it back all the way, and with all the force of it, kicked Mittens all the way across the room.  It was the first time I had seen the violence that lurked inside of this man.  It was the first glimpse of the pain, the fear, the shame and the anger that were to become my life for the next ten years.  The fear and the pain in Mittens eyes were soon to become mirrored in my own, I just did not know it yet.

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
― Immanuel Kant

once upon a time

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When I was little, I loved to play “pretend”.  Fairy tales have always enraptured me.  At night when I was supposed to be asleep, I would stand on my bed with the sleeves of my bathrobe tied around my waist to make a long, flowing gown.  I was always the princess in my pretend stories.

For many years, I was the princess in real life, too.  Although my parents divorced in 1970, a time when no one divorced, they remained friendly and I was impacted very little by the change.  We had little money, but we always had food and a nice home.  I never really knew how poor we were until many years later when I remembered my mom cashing her paycheck and putting the money into envelopes, one for food, one for the babysitter, one for rent, etc.  The food money often ended up in the babysitter or rent envelope, but I never went to bed hungry.  To this day frozen macaroni and cheese or a pot pie is a special treat for me.

I remember one year my mom & dad together took me to buy a new winter coat.  Mom picked out a practical fiber filled coat with a hood, not stylish, but very serviceable.  But I spotted The Most Beautiful Coat Ever.  It was red crushed velvet with white fur trim around the hood, the wrists and the bottom.  It was double breasted and had black frogs with gold buttons marching down the front.  It was amazing.  My heart ached for it, but it wasn’t practical.  I needed something for the playground, not something for a princess.

To this day, I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but somehow my dad convinced my mom that I should have that amazing coat.  My grandma gave me a little white rabbit fur muff to go with it and Nanny contributed a hat of white fake fur with pom poms on the ends of the strings that tied it under my chin.  I looked and felt like a little princess in that coat.  I was perhaps 7 or 8 when I got that, and I believe I had it until I was at least 13, though I had long outgrown it.

I don’t have many memories of getting something I really, really wanted when I was little, so this is one I treasure.   As far as I know there are no pictures of me in that lovely coat.  I wish there were.  I bet I looked really happy in them.