Good Morning! Coffee on the right, The sun could come through today. The mail has come. I worked on a story last night, beginning it with the pre-teen point of view of a young girl, and establishing the setting. Perhaps this will give me a manuscript for Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance in time. I have not written from this particular viewpoint before. It feels right. Now to see if I can pull this off!
The view from my porch. By Pejj Nunes
This is a story about growing up in a big old house, where other family members came to stay because they need help. This creates unexpected and shifting unknown issues. But the commitment has been made and children have no say in the matter of adults.
Group living has its effects on children and adults alike. The children feel it is straightforward, a no-brainer, where the adults are caught up in complexities they rarely explain. It displaces people and makes changes that need to be solved so things can run smoothly. My parent’s relationship took it on the chin. There was little time for my parents to learn about each other and be a couple with all the people that came and went. The adults spent more time on their issues as if children did not have any. It was like being on the back burner. I do not recall many I love you’s, nor special moments. I felt like the observer, always waiting to be noticed, and loved for who I was. The fun of having visitors wore thin.
The rich moments are remembered years later, after years of feeling hurt and anger, and not feeling loved enough. I didn’t think along these lines until I am in my early thirties. At that point in time, I wanted to be as different as I possibly could be from my parents, as I get inclines of what they were about over time.
Processing the world.
It is the summer of 1968, I am 12 ½ years old; feeling solid with my convictions about my life. I have learned to rely on “only me.”
It is my opinion I am good at observing the adults of my contained and controlled world. I watch how they, the adults approach life. I feel none of what I see gives me the information I need. I feel older than my years. After all, this is a fact if you’re an Aquarius! If your me! They are lacking, but I am not quite sure of what. They are adults! They should know how to carry themselves; so I observe and compare them to more composed people I run across. They do not communicate well. My mother is always very angry, frustrated, and we hear how she feels about life. She has a long-running list about my father, and not much of it seems good. Then she tells me “Your just like your father!” The list is that he is not respectful, lies, and doesn’t want to help her. He is lazy. Things like this do not fit the “me” I know. Yet that is her opinion of me? She never says I am like her, and I am glad. I am lazy? When all I do is work, do chores with the sole purpose of pleasing her? Of gaining some good attention. Do I not wash all her nurse’s uniforms out, her white nylons, her bras, and panties, her sweaters___rather my sweaters she borrows. Do I not wash them out in the washbowl with a special detergent, squeeze them out, rinse them and squeeze them out as dry as I can then hang them out to dry. Bring them in and iron them. Polish her shoes white, the lacings____so she can sleep. It takes time to do these things, wait and check on them to see if they are dry___. Set up the ironing board and have it done before I have to put on supper.
I am learning that teachers carry themselves differently from my parents. They are the other adults, the only other adults of my adolescent world with whom I can compare how to be one day. I begin to believe them the better example. What I see at home is an unhappy mother protecting herself from being hurt by my father. I do not feel loved or wanted. I do not feel they are interested in me! I believe their interest in me is that I work by cleaning the house. The proof is that my bedroom is the place where I sleep, put away my clothes, and otherwise I am not allowed to be there. “Oh! My goodness! I might not stay in there! I might be going into their room! And be into something! I get off the bus and change my clothes, clean the floors, put on the potatoes for supper. Try to do my homework, and then it is their set bedtime. I begin to look forward to the 7:30 bedtime. I can grab a pillow, and lay on the floor by the low window near the floor, and read with one ear alert to the footsteps of my father coming up to see if I am asleep. I fly into the bedroom, hide the book under the cover so I don’t lose it. Books are precious to me! My only escape from them!
I am given a dog, I name him, Major Maveric Jack. Major is a full-blooded German Shepard so he needs a name, a very good name. I am to own something! Something that will love me! Something I will take very good care of. Yet each day my father walks behind me telling me how to feed Major, his statements belittling, controlling,____ and if I am to have it I must be responsible. He won’t stand for seeing a neglected dog. He does this for what feels like forever. The joy of claiming Major as mine feels tainted. I sneak out and spend time with him and tell him of my hurt, and I cry___he laps my tears away. He is always chained because it is deer country. My mother gives in to me to let him loose when my father is not there. His father is Yosi a very big Shepard. Major is not as big as his father. He is my secret friend.
Each day like the dog he tells me how to do the dishes, and that this must be done with hot water. I see the small bubbles on the side of the metal dishpan, the water is very hot and I complain. He tells me the water needs to be hot to get the dishes clean. He hovers as if I can’t do this either! I do not feel trusted to do things on my own. I resent him and wish he would go away. The washing of dishes feels satisfactory without him, and I doubt that he cares about me. I feel like a maid, as long as I do the chores I am useful to him. As long as I am the go-for I am useful. I want his time and attention in other ways, and never ever get it.
The view from “my porch”, as I saw life____began to evolve when I was a little girl. Plenty of dysfunctional people, perverts even, welcomed because they were family? Welcomed with open arms? Mother always watching out where I was “in case”. But yet, they were glad to see these people? This made no sense to me. I hated to see them come and was glad to see them go!
I watch the people coming and going, going and coming from my childhood home. My mind always processing what happened and what was said. I was always the observer of the adult world around me. It seemed I always had a birds-eye view. I watch and I listen as I do tons of dishes, heating the water in big canners on the 3 burner stove, lugging it in a dipper to half fill the dishpan, cooling it with a dipper of cold water, adding soap. Washing them all, and then having to wipe them and put them away. There are six people in the house. And so I know how to set a table right. All possible dishes are used at every meal! There is the dinner plate, a small bowl for peas with cream, a bread plate, a glass, a cup for tea or coffee, all the silverware set out proper with a napkin. When the mill is put on the table all vegetables are in the bowl or on plates too. Butter salt and peper____ My mother reminds me, “By God, we may not have much but my children will learn how to set a table, and use etiquette! So if they ever have to be in such a position they will know!” This was something important to her.
I have no real clue where my brother hung out when I was little. And I do not know why I do not remember him being there much. In my opinion, he seemed gone! This is the one thing I have no clue about and have been puzzled by. I adored my brother and expected him to be there for me. I wanted his time and attention.
What I do know of my brother’s life____ He was allowed to be in his bedroom to read or do as he liked. I was not allowed to be in my own in the same way, and I felt hurt by this. My parents kept his light plugged in all night long. My father unplugged the leader cord that gave electricity to my room and my parents. It would be less than 10 minutes and it would be unplugged. No amount of begging changed this. “Your father is afraid of fire my mother said. I did not buy that. Not finding Charlie’s always plugged in, in the morning. I would unplug it when I say it, in the morning. There was no electricity in that big old house farmhouse. Just squares on the floor, and a small wooden cover. There were a few nice memories of my brother. Skiing once or twice. His getting me in trouble by getting me to throw my 3-foot doll down the stairs as he threw down his big teddy. He would run down to get his bear before my mother came. She would think I had fallen down the stairs! I would lose my doll, my brother untouched by the situation he created. I did not realize his motives. I just wanted his attention. One day he did get caught, however. I saw Mom in the window, he did not. He had me get my father’s eyebrow scissors, I was to cut the cat’s whiskers off while he held the cat. I obliged. He got in more trouble finally! Always the golden boy! One day he would get the house, I would get a necklace.
Charlie was allowed to ride his bike out to his friend David’s house, they both helped two different local farmers hay in the summer. David lived a couple miles away. Me? I was stuck there with the grown-ups. There were only younger girls in the neighborhood.
The first combination of other adults in our house was my mother’s youngest sister, her husband and their first child, and later another child, less favored, who almost died in her crib, she was a newborn and had gotten uncovered on a very cold night. My mother had helped to warm the baby and helped my aunt understand she needed to be nearer them, not in the makeshift baby’s room where it was cold beside the tall drafty windows. They would have 5 children eventually.
My mother split the big old house in half, back into two kitchens, two front parlors, a small pantry and entryway out onto one of the porches, and one small bedroom that gave enough room to make the bed. My Aunt and her husband had to go to the shed and use of commodes, a wooden seat had been made for it.
My uncle drove an ugly green tanker truck and hauled potato swill with it. The truck leaked good-sized piles of potato wastes which stank to high heaven. It looked like bad oatmeal once it began to dry and crust over. It stank less when it crusted over. My mother would hear our complaints, and make some of her own due to the laundry she wanted to hang outside. I am not sure where my uncle unloaded this ugly gray-brown stuff, but it came from Snow Flake Canning Company where my father worked. Snow Flake’s did french fries, potato puffs, frozen peas, and corn for Birds Eye. The swill was an embarrassment because the bus’s turned around at our house, both the Newport and Stetson drivers used it because we lived right on the town line.
Living with other people____you do not get the attention you need or want. People are too busy making living together work! Living together affects everything! My parent’s relationship was certainly affected. My father was caught in a game of trying to please his own father and my mother when my grandfather lived with us. My grandfather according to what my mother said, took on the role of the head of the household, although the house was his son’s, his son’s wife’s, and his family’s home. Which he and my uncle were given a home in until they could do something different.
My mother was a mother for her younger sister, who came to live with us. She and her husband a young couple starting out were trying to get out of the area they, and my mother had grown up in. She had difficulties with her husband, he needed a job, and so they turned to Mom.
My mother and her sister talked, and talked, and had coffee and cooked___I was to go play. A sudden luxury, permission granted? Play with what? And with whom? There were no kids to play with. I had few toys. Few new clothes, mainly hand me down clothes. I would pick the best to wear.
I could always read_____. My aunt and uncle, the kids did move and they came back with more kids that as time went by. I was to play with them. Not what I wanted to do always. When they were there it was like suddenly having siblings! Once the people who came to stay was another sister, and her own five kids. These kids___one liked to get me in trouble and pinched me. I finally took her outback and pinched her hard! She stopped pinching me! Then a cousin, who needed to get away from an abusive husband.
Again, I have no idea where my brother Charlie went. At one point he and I were to do the dishes together. And then he went, poof. I think he got groomed for boy jobs like lugging wood for stoves or water from the well outback. There were six ten-quart water pails to fill. Three trips to the well. Lift the wooden cover, toss down the bucket on its chain, and draw water. I used to marvel at the well. The sides were all perfectly round stones.
I think my brother resented me, as he was asked to watch me as a young boy. He was only 17 months older. I had fallen from a highchair, hit the side of my head, and had seizures for a while, which scared my mother to death. When, if ever it repaired itself, I might be free of seizures.
I am not sure how long my aunt, her husband, and children were there. I was made one time as my mother gave my dresses away to my aunt, one particular one I loved. Later on, it was a doll, I had always planned to keep. My mother found it and gave it away without asking me. I was so angry at her! I did not have much of my own. This doll represented that I owned something wonderful, and I had cherished it and loved it_____. Giving it away seem proof that they did not care about me and how I felt. Children simply know how they are made to feel.
The next people to come were my father’s father, Grampy Moulton, and my father’s older brother George. Uncle George paid attention to me and told me stories. He would rock me in the rocking chair. He felt like comfort. My mother would yell at him, and I did not like this. And later tell him she was sorry, that his help was invaluable to her. My father worked two jobs, so Uncle George helped to lug wood, water and he hoed the garden. I could go outdoors and play when he was out in the garden. It was a huge garden! There were three in all. Potatoes in the small field by the well, and right out back of the house there were beans, corn, pumpkin, and squash. On the side of the house past the apple trees, there were the chard’s, carrots, lettuce, beets, and turnip, yellow and green beans___peas, and other vegetables.
When we were old enough we were a part of the ritual of gardening and canning, lugging water, and wood after it was cut for the wood stoves. It was my job to do floors and dust. I do not recall playing much. But once I got done doing things, I could read! I would look forward to going to bed before it got dark just to be able to read until it became too dark to do so.
I would listen to the adult world below as if it was live radio. And I made opinions from what I heard. Disliking some things, feeling like I was learning secrets. Feeling like I was never a part of things, my role was as the listener. The observer.
My father, Grampy, and Uncle George helped with the felling of trees, and cutting them for firewood, loading a truck, and taking cedar to the train station in North Newport for the mill. This was one way they brought money in. Sometimes we could go up in the woods and help spud trees. I loved the woods.
Then things shifted again and Mom’s mother came to live with us, she would stay the longest. And with her came more books, and some stories and piano playing; the listening of classical music.
My grandmother had two sisters. I had heard of them, but never saw them until one day when my Great Aunt Viola Benjamin came to visit my grandmother! Viola was the first woman in our family who represented someone who was more than an everyday person. I instantly loved her! Tall, and well dressed in a beautiful blouse with a broach, and gray flannel skirt. She fit the role of a writer for the Portland Press Herald. I was sixteen when she came and wanted to be a writer. She said she would pen pal with me, and would I draw pictures for a book she wanted to publish? This never happened. She was a classy-looking woman. And I admired her. She was in contrast with my Grandmother, who had been the wife of a lumberman and sawmill owner. Many kids, a woman who could no longer be a teacher because she married. Yet she had gone to college at the Westbrook Seminary in Portland, had played the organ and piano in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. The years had robbed her of that professionalism and turned her into a widowed housewife living a life below what she had been accustomed to in her early days. She was financially poor, with a bunch of children, but rich in knowledge. She was beaten and made less by life. I never found out what she thought of, just bits and pieces. Is this all we ever learn? Just bits and pieces? But when she played the piano she came to life. She always seemed sad when she would go visit her sisters each year for the Portland Flower Show. Going to their homes, seeing their families, where her own life was contained in a small bedroom off the kitchen.
When you are a child like me? When you are a child like you? Either way____you take in what you see and hear. Storing away the experiences according to what happened. The results are other people’s words and actions. Your reference points are being learned as you go. It is a black and white world at the early stages. It is all those grey’s in-between that you add. If it sounds and feels right, it is filed. If it doesn’t sound or feel right it gets filed. More to the point opinions are made and they weigh in all your life. The anger within you has its reason and purpose because of what you believe to be the truest reality. This becomes a bottom line. And it is what you judge new experiences by. And there you are! Limbo land. Having done your best to understand. But what do we understand is more to the point. The voice in our head keeps talking. The mind and body keep reacting_____. Trying to understand? Endless unless you can look at things with new eyes.