I live in Austin, Texas with one husband. We had dogs for twenty-six years but we put the one in the picture down in 2007 at the age of sixteen years and four months.
I was born in the late forties in a small town in Texas.
I spent the first ten years of my life on a black land farm. This allowed me to hone my ability to entertain myself. I had a football. I would kick it as far as I could. Then I'd go get it and kick it again. I spent hours imagining a fence with a 4x4 top rail was a motorcycle when I found an old key to play with. I liked 'Sky King' when we finally got a TV. I was shy. I didn't learn to read in first grade. I learned to read with a vengeance in second grade. But I couldn't spell out loud, understand others when they spelled out words nor tell my left from my right. Well, not well anyway. I learned these things with great effort, it seems. And left and right and sounding letters out loud still seems hard. Math seemed natural. Learning disabilities hadn't been discovered in the fifties, I don't think.
When I was small, Mom sold milk and butter door to door. Dad milked the cows and tended cows, pigs, sheep and a few crops. He also worked a midnight to 8 AM shift as an orderly in the nearby Veteran's hospital. Before I went to school, I had my parents to myself during the day because my sister was four years ahead in school. I sat on the basement step and drank milk from a little half pint bottle. Moments before the milk had been strained by my mother and moments before that had been handed to my mother through a ground level window by my dad. Fresh milk from the cow. It was still warm. I refused to drink milk once it was refrigerated. There were battles at the table over milk and green beans. I loved cheese, bologna and sodas like Dr. Pepper and R.C. Cola in a twelve-sided bottle. And Grapette.
My dad let me follow him around when I was big enough. I went to get things for him or tried to 'help.' "You're handy as a pocket in a shirt," he'd say.
My grandmother lived in town with my grandfather who was much older. He sat in a chair and whittled or played mandolin or violin. She kept chickens in the yard and thought nothing of killing one, plucking and cleaning it and baking it for the lunch of a five-year-old, complete with giblet gravy and cornbread dressing and homemade rolls. She was a saint.
My grandfather had some property but never seemed to work or give her any cash. My grandmother sewed and kept other people's children. And us, of course. I played with the spools and scraps of fabric while she sewed. I slept with her when I visited because my grandfather slept in his own room, next to the chair he spent so much time in.
I have an early memory of playing with my grandmother's tape measure. I was pulling it back and forth across the top of a chair.
"Don't stretch it." she said. I carefully examined the tape and assured her that I hadn't. Must have puzzled her. I had no idea what 'stretch' meant. I must have been quite young. Amazingly, I knew my numbers. (Remember I didn't read until I was seven.) I remember clearly examining the tape measure. The numbers were still in order so I couldn't have hurt it, I thought.
Mother went back to college when I went to first grade. She drove to another town for school so Dad, still farming and working at the hospital, was now hustling kids to school or picking them up when she couldn't. We got to go to the college with Mom some Saturdays. We walked around the many sidewalks and pretended we were in college. I read through the college catalog when I was nine, planning courses I'd take.
We moved to another small town when I was ten. We lived in town (a town so big it had a bowling alley!) and Mom taught school. This teaching salary propelled us into the lower middle class. Dad quit farming. The land he'd farmed belonged to my old granddad sitting in the chair whittling. Dad helped other people with stock and crops sometimes. Of course, he still had to drive to the hospital to work his night shift and it was now thirty miles away.
"Be quiet, your dad's sleeping." That was what we often heard from Mom.
We corrected papers for Mom and cut pictures out of magazines for projects. I graduated from high school without another move.
Vacations were spent with my grandmother or going camping in the states around Texas (particularly New Mexico and Colorado). We camped with an army of aunts, uncles and cousins. Looking back at the photos, The Grapes of Wrath comes to mind.
On these vacations we went to a high enough altitude to get cool. We didn't have, you see, air conditioning to speak of. Not in houses, cars, schools. A window unit here and there. A few car A.C.s.
I got to go to both Florida and California after I graduated from high school. I had a wanderlust but limited means. My parents moved from our small town minutes after I graduated. (Actually they moved while I was on one of these trips.) They moved to a Dallas suburb to be closer to my dad's work which was now in a hospital in a down and out neighborhood of Dallas.
I spent three and a half years in college. I couldn't afford to go to a private college nor go far away. Mom got her Masters the same week my sister went to college. I was four years behind her.
Beginning my fourth year of college, still undecided as to major or future, a counselor said, "Take eleven hours of electives and I can give you a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics with a Minor in French." I did and they mailed me a diploma. I'd been working in the college bookstore since my Freshman year. I thought I might just manage a bookstore. I got one job offer from the recruiters who came around the campus. Times were hard. Computer programmer, the letter offered. The job was nearby, in Dallas. So I took it and did something with computers for thirty-two years.
I took a break from the real world for five months in 1972 and traveled in Europe for three of those months. I'd saved money from that first job, had received raises but no promotions. (Hmmm...wonder why that white male got a systems analyst job when I'm solving his dumps?) This trip allowed me to hone my ability to sit and drink and watch people. It helped me overcome my shyness and build compensating behaviors. (I was hesitant to ask strangers for help in a shop in English. After trying my hand in other languages, it seemed much easier!) The trip fueled my wanderlust, though.
I did go back to work in a few months. Then, in 1975, I found a job in Austin and moved here from Dallas.
I found Austin and FFP (my husband) in 1975. Quite wonderful, both of them.
I've been married to FFP for over thirty years. Thank goodness. There is no one else in the world I could be married to, I'm convinced.
Still trying to decide on a course for my career, I retired on September 20, 2002 and begin to look for my true life's work. Yeah, right. Actually, I'm just goofing off. FFP retired in 2005, but he writes a weekly column in a neighborhood newspaper and does lots of volunteer work. He had me print cards for him that say "Consulting Dilettante." Mine say "Artfully Retired."
My dad is still alive and both of FFP's parents. We spend time now taking care of them although they do remarkably large amounts of things for themselves.
I like fine dining, the arts, travel, wine and combinations thereof. I love to read and have many, many books. Many are unread, though. There is so little time. I like to have lots friends with lots of points of view. I like to write, mostly journals, not just the online one.
We are downsizing. For over a year we have been discarding, donating, giving away stuff from our sprawling house (close to 3000 square feet). We are going from a generously-sized house and yard to a 1225 square foot condo downtown. As the time draws near I am petrified about dealing with all the stuff. But the stuff we've gotten rid of barely registers when it is gone.
I'm increasingly jaded because I've gotten to have many adventures and have many things. What I want now is time to think. Time to savor. Time to read and write and sit and watch people go by and dream their histories. I want to learn things I never had time for before, studying history and geography and reading literature.
I am still, at heart, a shy little kid spending hours alone on a black land farm. Kick the ball. Go get it.