catelin: (glasses)
( Feb. 11th, 2008 07:57 pm)

My Mother, December 1971

Me, December 1991
catelin: (flora)
( Feb. 7th, 2008 09:16 pm)
After a discussion of family histories last week with [ profile] icarus_after, I was inspired to dive back into the genealogy pool that I've dabbled in for the last few years (my mother was recently kind enough to gift me with a subscription to I ended up finding census records for my great-grandmother when she was a child. The records confirmed what my mother and I have suspected for a while since I found some other stuff a couple of years ago. My great-grandma and her entire family was listed on the 1900 census as black. She moved from Georgia to Texas with my great-granddad and...voila! the 1920 census she was suddenly white! There are so many questions that will never be answered about this and it's sad and fascinating all at once to me. Was she passing when she met my great-grandfather or did he know? This was back in the day of the miscegenation laws, mind you. Would she have ever told my grandfather anything about her past if she'd lived longer? She died in 1925. My grandfather was only 13. His father lived a long time and never said anything about it.

My grandfather is so completely without guile and is completely clueless about any of this. He's 95 years old. Would it be fair, at this point, to take his history away from him? Doubtful. He's lived such a long time perceiving himself to be a certain person. He is, without being a racist, still very much a product of his time. I think it's a safe assumption that he would not be nearly as thrilled as my mother and I. Still, there is something in me that chafes at being party to keeping a secret that was born of such a disgraceful chapter from our southern past. I feel complicit somehow by not telling him. I feel especially tempted to lay it out full force when he tells my mom that he could never vote for Obama because...well..."he's black."

The right thing to do in principle is not always the kinder and best thing to do in the specific. Three generations later, and the compromises that come with the color of one's skin still hold sway. So I hold my tongue and keep my bargain--my silence for the certainty that the last shreds of this shame his mother felt for who she was will live only as long as he does.
catelin: (glasses)
( Dec. 24th, 2007 09:01 am)
Christmas Eve has always been the big part of the celebration for my family. My grandmother would make potato soup and we'd open our gifts. Santa would come in the morning to leave a few things, but we never counted on him for the big stuff...that was always family and the night before Christmas. After my grandmother died, even before I had kids, everything stopped. It became half-hearted. My mother doesn't even put up a tree anymore. My parents' lives center around their dogs and routine. I used to get so upset by this, but now I just accept it as the way they are and I don't worry about it. So here I am, in the shitty little oil field town I fled as soon as I graduated high school, in my parent's house-o-dogs, with my two boys. My brother is a guest of the state this year. No tree, no fanfare, only the bare bones of what remains of my family. And, oddly enough, that's just fine with me. I am peaceful and full of love for this strange tribe to which I belong. I am looking forward to soup and presents with the few of us as much as I ever did when we were a boisterous houseful. Because it's the intention that matters. Not theirs, but mine. So I come to the table tonight, blessed with all of the good things that I have in my life, and with the wonderful people I love and who love me in my heart. I am whole and content to be who I am, to be with the people who raised me, and with the two little guys I am sending out into the world one day. The heartstring of family, for all its fragile and delicate nature, has a strength to it that defies logic. That's where the magic lies, and I wish all of you a magical logic-defying holiday with the ones you love.
28 degrees today, coldest day of the year so far. I'm driving west to meet my dad halfway for the boys' annual winter break visit. I'll drop them off with him and pick them up in a week from my mom. It's always strange to spend extended time without them, but it's worth it for the time they get to spend with their grandparents. I haven't had much of a break over the last week or so, as things have been crazy trying to get ready for the new job. It's worth it, so I don't mind at all. I've missed a lot during my hiatus and I've got tons of comments to catch up on and apologies to make to many of you for being so out of touch. I can't even really bring myself to write about what went on with me the last year or so, but at least I'm finding my words again. A new year is just around the corner. I'm ready!

Other random things that I just want to note...James Carvel is starting to scare the shit out of me with his extruded voice and that face! He is starting to look like the creepy Madame puppet that I hated when I was a kid (although Madame was much funnier and probably smarter). Potato soup is just about one of the best meals in the universe. I've stopped painting my toenails, out of laziness, and noticed that I have those weird old lady ridges on my nails...slight, but still there! Ricky Bobby. Ha! And ha!!! If I didn't know people exactly like that I'm sure it wouldn't have been so funny, but I have spent the last week telling everyone how I'm "a gonna come at 'em like a spider monkey" and I still laugh my ass off at myself every time I say it. I just came into possession of a 1964 Dodge Polara, aka The Money Pit. It's a sparkly pretty blue (not original) and needs some interior work, but it runs and will be a cool car for just goofing around in once the weather is warmer. It's neat to have a car that's the same year model as I am. We both seem to have held up surprisingly well.

Off to the great I-10 for a few hours. Happy holidaze to you all!!!!!
catelin: (Default)
( Aug. 9th, 2006 10:44 pm)
My brother is in jail again and very likely going to prison in the next month or so. The details don't matter; suffice it to say that his own appetites and clouded judgment over so many years finally caught up with him. It's true, Mr. Young. Every junkie's like a setting sun. It's been a slow and painful descent to watch, surreal to see this quick-witted golden child become so maimed by his poor choices year after year. I rarely even catch a glimpse of the little brother that I knew and loved when we were kids. I have always readied myself for his death as much as I could, played it out in my head...the phone calls, the autopsy, the reassurances to my parents that they are not to blame. It's sounds horrible, but I'm not so sure I'm as ready for this.
catelin: (kiss)
( Dec. 25th, 2005 11:05 am)
The 25th is usually quiet for me. Christmas Eve was always my family's big night, before my grandmother died and took everyone's already slight sense of holiday obligation with her. We still have our small traditions, even with my little family of three. Potato soup, talking about what we are grateful for, opening presents...we always opened our gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning and I have no idea why. We never had lots of gifts, something I am glad of as I see how the season has become such an awful excuse for bloated toad-like consumerism. I pity the several friends I have whose holidays consist of careful calculations of amounts spent so as to be "enough" for someone. The politics of the Christmas gift is something that amazes me. I am grateful that my family never indulged that particular holiday notion.

My children put a lot of thought into their small gifts--a candle with three scents in one from my youngest, a book of recipes and a handwritten story from my older one. My gift to them this year was a small aquarium for their room. Not that they don't get the full-on spoiled experience from their dad. He's the provider of all the Playstations, GameBoys, and the like. Still, it made me feel good to see both of the kids setting the techie toys aside and intently reading their fish-tending books, earnestly conversing every few minutes about what fish they should choose and why.

The boys spend today with their dad, giving me a quiet house until tomorrow morning. It used to make me sad, spending Christmas alone. Now I look forward to it and enjoy the chance to lounge around in my PJs all day. I putter around the house between napping, eating, and reading. There's plenty of Three Stooges to enjoy on cable. And, of course, there's my perennial holiday favorite: the Law & Order marathon (which probably amounts to only one or two extra episodes, since it's on practically 24-hours-a-day anyhow...but still, it's the thought that counts!).

Tomorrow we head to my folks' house where my holiday fare will probably consist of tamales, hummus, gorgonzola ravioli, baba ganoush, green chile soup and homemade cherry pie. It used to drive me nuts that we had no traditional holiday food stuffs like my friends. My grandmother used to hold the line when it came to turkey; but other than that, there was no telling what we'd end up eating on the holiday. Anything went--and it still does. Now I appreciate the crazy-quilt approach to celebrating. It's only fitting, after all; our extended family is an odd spiritual mix of atheist, agnostic, pagan, Christian, and Jew. Our holidays are akin to blowing confetti out of a cannon. It's a big mess, but it's our mess and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

So here's to all of us and our big messy beautiful lives! Love and peace and namaste to you all!
It's official. I will be the new soccer coach for Max's team in the spring. His coaches last season were these awful men who would scream at a bunch of six-year-olds about how badly they were playing. It made me want to follow them to their cars and beat them to death with lead pipes. I'm certain it had to do with their complex about...ahem...well, you know. So I bitched. Then I decided that I would do more than just bitch. I decided that I would be the most double damn fun soccer coach ever!! I decided that I'd run this little wolf pack of kids around the field and laugh and play until it was time to drink juice and eat snacks! I decided that I would wear funny hats and buy myself a whistle! The name of the game will be F-U-N...and the guys with the complex about the size of can just sit on the sidelines grumbling while I do my "Go Team" dance!!! So that's what I'm doing in the spring. I am still an activist. In my own small way. : )
catelin: (Default)
( Nov. 1st, 2001 09:12 pm)

The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch

Paul Gauguin

I live surrounded by ghosts, by the spirits of my past. People I've loved, decisions I made, experiences I've lived. November always seems a good time for remembering all sorts of things.

Every time I make a cup of coffee in the morning, I remember my grandfather who would offer me coffee when I was a kid. It was a joke between us. "You want some cossee?" he'd ask. He called it cossee because he said that's what I called it when I was just learning how to talk. I'd laugh and make a face, telling him "It's not cossee, Pampaw, it's coffee!" He'd laugh and say "Oh, really?" Then he'd pretend that he was shaving my face with his electric razor. It was our game. He ate fried eggs with lots of black pepper on them. He wore a felt Stetson hat every day that I ever saw him. He smelled like cigars and the oil field. He was a gauger...the guy who checked out the pump jacks and the reserve tanks. He'd strap me and my brother into the front passenger seatbelt together and we'd roar down the gravel roads with him, out in the middle of West Texas nowhere. I loved him so much...still do. The last thing he ever did as himself before the stroke trapped him inside his own body was to take us to get ice cream. He went into the hospital that day and the man I knew never came back. He was in there, but he couldn't get out anymore. I didn't eat ice cream for years after that. I don't have much of a taste for it still. The last time I saw him before he died, I stroked his cheek like I was shaving him and asked, "Hey, you want some cossee?"

My grandmother smirks right back at me in the mirror when I catch myself at a certain angle. I miss her most of all and talk about her almost every day. We were connected, she and I...we always understood each other. Always. Her name was Billie and she was tall and dark headed. We have the same face in a lot of ways. We have the same temper and the same soft hearts...a combination that sometimes gets me in trouble. She was a beauty operator and loved to dance. She used to dance with me in the kitchen at night. She met my grandfather at a house party back in the thirties. I didn't find out until after she died that she'd run away to Mexico and gotten married when she was sixteen. Her dad went and got her. No one ever talked about it. My grandfather paid for her divorce some years later. She loved to watch birds and fish. She was the first one to put my hair in braids. "You can see the Dutch in that little face," she'd say. She rolled her own cigarettes and wore Max Factor lipstick. She died in the same town that I was born was the closest one to the mountains where she and my grandfather had been camping. She was terrified of lingering in a nursing home or a hospital. This way she just went camping and never came home. After she died, my grandfather told me, "You know, your Mema's sister Gladys was a pretty woman. But Billie...Billie was just beautiful to stop your heart." My grandfather has since remarried and he's almost 90 years old...still going strong. He doesn't talk about her much...because it still makes him cry. I wear her wedding bands on my right hand and my greatest regret in this life is that she didn't live to see my boys...because I know she would've been loopy for them.
I'm closing on my little slice of heaven on Thursday, and moving next weekend...but the packing efforts have begun in earnest now. Yikes! My appearances (and email to some of you) will likely be sporadic over the next couple of weeks, so please be patient with me! : ) The contracts for the house list me as "a single woman" which just struck me yesterday as amazing...that I did this on my own, that I have not only survived the rocky waters of the last few years but managed to flourish in ways I could not have foreseen. Most of you reading this had a hand in shaping the wonderful place my life is these days. A heartfelt "thank you" hardly seems adequate, but I hope it will do. Thank you.
catelin: (Default)
( Feb. 3rd, 2001 05:35 pm)
It was a Sunday. The kids woke up, as usual, at the crack of dawn and came scampering into my room. We lounged in bed for a couple of hours watching cartoons, eating Pop Tarts, putting our heads under the covers and making faces at each other. I finally got up and started making a real breakfast. The boys were playing in the living room. It was one of those really beautiful mornings that make you feel cozy and content with life in general. I have these great floor to ceiling windows in a house which is partially up on stilts. We live on a hill, near a lake. Most days I can look out past the four acres of woods for miles.

I had cinnamon rolls in the oven and sat down to turn on the computer and check my e-mail. This was my morning routine on the weekends. I'd sort through junk mail, friend mail, news groups. I was thinking about getting a dog, so I'd been looking through animal rescue organizations on the net. The kids were talking to each other and playing with Leggos. Then I heard the sound. It was a soft whoosh, barely discernible above the sound of the television. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was a sound that I shouldn't be hearing. Something was wrong. I turned around and saw Max, my oldest. He was almost four then. My little one, Jacob, was 18 months old. I quickly scanned the room for him but he wasn't there. What I did see was an open window with no screen.

I ran to the window and looked down. There was my baby, my Jacob, laying 12 feet below on his back. His eyes were closed and his head turned sideways. This all happened in a matter of seconds. I heard the thought in my head. My baby is dead. In that moment I felt like every cell in my body exploded. It was as if I could see myself standing there, with my entire being blasted into tiny shards of glass. I grabbed the phone and ran out the door, sobbing, dialing 911, trying to breathe. It only took about 10 seconds for me to reach the back of the house and there was Jacob, standing up, crying. I was giving all of my information to the operator while I looked at him, checked his ears for blood, checked his nose, the color of his gums, his arms and legs. He just kept screaming, "Mommy, Mommy" and hiding his face in my neck.

The neighbor came running and the ambulance drove up. Max was clinging to me and I was trying not to be hysterical. I kept going over and over in my head whether the window locks were fastened. I've always been so careful. My friends have always chided me that I am too cautious about things like that. I've always told them that you can never be too careful when it comes to your kids. That's the kind of mother I was. But here I was getting into the ambulance, telling Max to go with my neighbor. Telling him everything was going to be fine. While the paramedics are putting my screaming child onto a backboard, I make the call to his father. Tell him there's been an accident. Jacob fell out the window. He shrieks through the line at me, "How the FUCK did this happen?!" All I can do is cry and tell him that we're on our way to the hospital.

We live out in the country, miles from the nearest hospital. The Sheriff's Department clears the farm road that's near the house and we wait for the Medi-Vac helicopter. By this time, I'm trying to tell myself that everything is all right. Jacob's crying. That's good. Very good. I hear one EMT tell the other one to get the intubation kit ready. I lose it. I start wailing, rocking myself. I know from my job how quickly a child can die. How everything seems all right one minute and then they're gone the next. That's all I can think of. I moan to myself, "Ohhhhh, this is bad. This is very bad." They tell me that I can't go in the copter unless I calm down. I force myself to shut up. I hold Jacob's hand and they move us into the helicopter. We fly.

When we get to the hospital, a team rushes out to meet us. There's CAT scans, x-rays, tubes, wires...the works. I tell my story again and again. I tell them how I am so careful. How I have window locks. How I had just turned my back for a second. I see them looking at me. I know that they're trying to figure out whether to believe me or not. Whether to call Child Protective Services. I understand that, but I still have to stifle the urge to scream at them. You miserable fucks! How can you even think I'd ever hurt my own child? I talk to twenty different people and they eventually conclude that it was just a horrible accident. The ER doc tells me that Jacob is fine except for slightly elevated liver enzymes, which is to be expected. He tells me how lucky Jacob is and that another child who fell the week before from a lesser height was permanently brain damaged. I nod my head but don't hear much after that because I'm singing in my head, "He's fine. He's fine. He's fine."

We stayed at the hospital for two days while they kept Jacob for observation. The doctors jokingly dubbed him "Superbaby" and made funny faces at him to make him laugh. We went home and within the next few weeks got back into the rhythms our lives had before the accident. I had a carpenter come in and put rails across all the windows. Jacob still looks at the window and points to the ground. "Hey, Mom, remember? I fell," he says. He's three now. Since that day, I look at him and see two lives. The one I have with him and the one I would have had without him. Even on the happiest, brightest days I can still see that shadow hovering behind us. Several times since then, I'll see Max touch Jacob's cheek or his hair. He'll look at me and say in his very serious little old man way, "I remember when Jacob fell." I wonder if he sees the same shadow. I had always heard before that day how the worst thing in this world is for a parent to outlive a child. I never knew until I faced the possibility myself what a terrible truth that really is.
catelin: (Default)
( Dec. 22nd, 2000 11:59 pm)
Excerpt from a letter to a family friend who's in prison:

Please be sure to check you got the money I put on your books for you. I'll be writing the parole board again in May. Of course, we both know how much good that does! Ha! The boys are growing like crazy. I'm glad you liked the pictures. They look so different from last year, don't they? I carry them in my arms to bed after the usual round of toothbrushing and baths. It's as if they've grown overnight sometimes. Bittersweet, you hold children and feel them slipping so quickly into that age when they soon won't want me to hold them at all. Who knows? Perhaps I'll be the first woman to raise sons who love giant gloppy hugs no matter how old they are! Hehe! I can almost hear you laughing at that one too. A week or so until Christmas. Just me and the boys again. That's alright, though. Funny how it feels more like family that way. Remember the huge gatherings we used to have? Hasn't been like that since Mema died. I was in the store yesterday and felt the most horrible longing for her. You know how she used to take us to the candy counter at Sears when we were little and she'd buy us chocolate stars? Well, I was walking down the grocery aisle and stopped in my tracks. They had chocolate stars...those old Brach's chocolate stars in small blue plastic bags. Every Christmas with her came to me while I was standing there--that Santa she'd put in the window, the divinity she made, the smell of her makeup, the way she fussed with her hair, her laugh--years and years of memories. I still miss her so much. So, yes...I'm getting all sappy, I know. But you also know how much I loved her, so forgive me that. I try to make the holidays as much like they were, or at least as much like I remember them being, for my own children. My parents will be celebrating with their dogs again this year. And Joe...well, you know all that shitty story. He only calls when he needs something. I haven't talked to him since the last time he got arrested. Got it sorted out but haven't heard from him since then. I guess you and I both have our "ghost families" that we remember from our childhoods. Everyone does, I imagine. So, that's all my news. I'll be thinking of you during the holidays. Think of better times and better places to come, dear, and don't let where you are define you. I know who you are, and so do you. Stay strong and I'll write again soon. Let me know when they give you another hearing date and I'll be there with bells on. Merry Christmas!


catelin: (Default)


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