Memories of Mom – Micro Road Trips

Once I reached about 15 years of age and we had moved into the townhouse apartment in my now hometown, my mom’s finances started improving as she moved up at work. It seemed after the first winter in the townhouse, when spring finally arrived, a new feeling came over our small abode. One of relief and hope as we were able to start doing a few things without fear of not paying some important bill, like electricity. The money had been so tight, my mom must have just buckled down at work and did what she did best, excel in whatever she put her mind to.

One late spring day, she had my sister and I load up in the red Ford Fairmont and we went for a drive. We probably packed up some sandwiches and drinks as the extra gas was a splurge and to balance that, we wouldn’t be able to eat out. This was of little concern because we were so happy to be out on an adventure and escaping the grind of our every day lives. It felt like heaven. I remember bits and pieces of these trips. We would drive way out in the country in an area where chicken farms/ barns were very common and I remember passing one barn where there was this huge statue of a white rooster stood in the front yard. We dubbed him “Super Chicken” and laughed about it for years. The statue still stands today and while I don’t pass it often, it makes me melancholy for those more simple days with my mom when I see it again.

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Super Chicken!

Another time, she took us to a local lake where the swimming area wasn’t exactly sandy but mucky. I remember her sitting at a picnic table, trying to hold down papers she was working on while we kinda swam but mostly ran out yelling ‘ewwww!’. We were there for a long time and I could tell my mom was stressed with whatever she was working on. I felt bad thinking she should be able to have some fun with us too but when I asked her to come wade with us because she never learned to swim, she just shooed me away. That day always stuck with me because over the years I watched the stress and strain of my mom’s job tear at her health. Most people who knew my mom wonder why I didn’t follow in her footsteps. For that exact reason, I did not.

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Grand Lake St. Marys

I remember four-hour trips to Youngstown to stay with my grandparents for the weekend. These trips were our big treats. Sometimes on a long holiday weekend or during the summer, these trips would lead to going in ‘home’ as they called it. These were trips into Friendsville, Maryland and Garrett County, where my great-grandmother Sadie and my great-aunts, Betty & Grace both lived. Trips to Maryland were exotic times as we went from the flat landscape of northwestern Ohio to the mountains of Maryland where much of my maternal side of the family lived in some of the most beautiful land I’d ever seen. Roads that my great-grandfather, Samuel, helped build and the old road leading up to what had been my great-grandparent’s farm was named “Sam Friend” road after him. It is this steep, twisting gravel road that came up through the woods and popped out right next to one of the farm’s barn. We would drive by it and I would listen to my mom and my grandmother wax nostalgic about the idyllic days on the farm and it was a shame what the current owners had done to the place.

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Youngstown, Ohio – Grandparents Home

For our Youngstown trips, an hour into our drive was a road-side rest area just beyond Upper Sandusky that we eat our picnic lunch. I remember a few years later, we were able to stop at McDonald’s and actually have lunch in the restaurant though we decided if it was nice out, we would get our food to go and visit the little roadside park which was much nicer than the noisy fast food joint. Sometimes, we would get KFC which was an extra special treat. Now that seemed like a real picnic to us. Fried chicken? What’s a better picnic food than fried chicken?

The fried chicken brought back memories of happier times of when we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. My mom would fry her own chicken to pack cold along with some sides and we would eat in the mountains, the four of us. My dad, mom, my sister and I just enjoying a day out as a family. I am sure there were moments when my mom had to be wistful for what she thought life as a married woman would be but she really never said much. But I know she cried when we left our brick front home in Tennessee packed in a U-Haul headed to Missouri. To be honest, I did too. We went from a nice two-story tri-level home to a falling down old rental owned by a paternal great-uncle I think I met once in a nursing home. My dad would lose his job and then become convinced life somewhere else was better, if we move here, things will be great. No matter how many times we moved, it was only great for a short time until his drinking would return full-force.

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Our Home in Knoxville – Happier Times

These road trips whether they were just micro one hour drives in the country or a bigger foray into ‘home’ to Maryland were some of the happiest moments of my adolescence. They were the signs that things were getting better and that if you work hard and keep the faith, you’ll come out on the other side of darkness and into the light. It is why when I had my kids and even when I didn’t have a lot of money, we would load up in the minivan, lunch packed, and head to a park or lake. I knew these simple acts of escape, being outdoors, exploring new places would couple together many happy memories for my own kids. They were the ones who coined these trips as ‘going on an adventure’.

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Laura – Tennesee Mill –

Even today, I get ancy if I’m home a lot. I don’t know if it is just my personality or if being ‘stuck’ in one place for long periods of time reminds me of the times when things were harder. I love getting into the car and driving simply nowhere. Exploring shops, restaurants, historical site and parks along the way. It’s amazing what you can find with no itinerary. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a quick vacation of sorts. The simple things in life are true blessings. Sure that expensive vacation to somewhere tropical is exciting and will always be in your memory, but taking a drive in the country can be just as fun and rewarding. There is so much to explore close to home.

Sometimes I pass the two castles about 40 minutes from my home that my mom, sister and I found on one of our drives. Since there was no internet, we didn’t even know they existed. We were just driving out and about, the Ohio map tucked between the seats in case we got lost, when we drove around a bend in the road and there stood this small castle tucked into a hillside. And down the road there was another one. When we got some extra money, we went back to the castle that interested us the most and paid for the guided tour. While this was probably no big deal for most families, for us it was really exciting to actually be doing something out of the ordinary. Every time I pass this castle now, I think of that day, how we were all smiles weaving through the castle rooms with our tour guide. This memory is dear to my heart. Now, I wistfully wish my mom was still here as I would treat her to a tour to this castle that would probably seem tiny and not such a big deal today but just for old time’s sake.

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One of the Piatt Castles – The one we toured mid 1980’s.

As parents, we do the best we can with what we have. We worry that maybe if our kids don’t grow up with everything that we fail. I struggled a lot when my kids were younger after my divorce from my father. My mom was there to help us and she spoiled them rotten at Christmas and birthdays. I listen to my girls talk now as adults, and there were some bad times in their childhood and adolescence but mostly they have fond memories. They thank me now for not being a helicopter parent and teaching them how to do laundry, cook, do chores, etc. Just like I had to learn to take care of myself and also my mom and sister when my mom had to work so much. Independence and appreciate for the little things in life is a good thing.

This weekend, I think I will make time for a drive, just for old time’s sake.

Happy Holidays, I so appreciate you reading my blog. My biggest reward in writing is when I can touch my reader’s hearts or souls. I wish you the very, very best in 2018. Ciao!

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Memories of Mom – Chicken Soup Days

Most people remember my mother as a sometimes intimidating corporate director figure who was also generous to a fault. She worked many years to get to that point though and she showered her family with lavish Christmas and birthday gifts. But before she ‘made it’ in the corporate world, back in 1983-1984, she was a struggling single mom working long, long hours to try to support two kids without any child support from my deadbeat alcoholic father. I loved my dad, but that is how things were and how he was.

Circa 1980 or 81 before the split

1980? Before we moved to Ohio.  My mom, her mom, my sister and I before the split.

My middle school years were punctuated with memories of cold dark holidays and barely getting by. My mom kicked my dad out of the house when I was 13. She came home from a business trip to find my dad passed out at the kitchen table of our small rental house in a pile of beer cans and a rifle pointed at me and my sister. That was it for her. Done, fini, terminado.. whatever. Eventually my dad retreated back to his home state of Missouri and my mom was left with one less ‘kid’ to take care of but also one income. Though if my memory serves me correctly my dad had by then quit or gotten fired from his job as an alcoholic (I know ironic right?) counselor from the County Health Department.

I remember the first Thanksgiving after my father parted, my mom couldn’t afford to take us up to Youngstown to spend the holidays with her parents and siblings so we stayed at the dark, depressing rental house but she had found enough money to buy an off brand turkey and the fixings. She was humming as she fixed up the turkey and slid it into the oven announcing that we would soon be eating our fill of delicious turkey. We started waiting for the roasted aroma to waft to our anxious noses but we never smelled anything. She went into the kitchen and opened the oven door.

“Oh No!” She exclaimed. “The oven isn’t heating right.” Not knowing what else to do, she literally cooked the turkey for hours at the lukewarm temp since a call to the landlord who briskly told her it wouldn’t be until tomorrow before he could fix the oven. Basically we pretended the half raw turkey was great only eating the most cooked parts while praying we didn’t get sick. I think it was one of the saddest holidays I’d had other than the ones after her death.

At this time, designer labels were all the rage and I had none really. I got made fun of at school for having ‘bobo’ or non-designer label clothes. We simply couldn’t afford them. My grandparents had tried to help out but there was no way my penny-pinching grandmother thought it was worth the money to have a pony on my jeans’ pocket. These jeans at Kmart are just as nice. I just smiled and agreed because otherwise, I would have no new school clothes at all. My grandparents sent me home from summer break with some new clothes and a pair of Nike’s with a baby blue swoosh. I was so proud of those tennis shoes that I probably used several bottles of white shoe polish trying to keep them looking almost new. I only had 3-4 pairs of jeans to my name so on Wednesdays, I had to wash a load of dark clothes so I had enough clean clothes to make it through the week. The re-wearing of the same jeans in one week also brought down the fashion police on me and I was tormented over that as well but again, I couldn’t help it.

My grandparents also sent home several cases of Campbells Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup cans. I often wondered why they didn’t send us home with different kinds but it seemed like we were living on this soup that one year. My grandmother wanted to make sure her grandchildren didn’t starve to death and I guess as long as we had soup, we would live. We were old enough to use a can opener, add a can of water, stir and heat. There were also a lot of TV dinners as well. Though I still love TV dinners once in awhile though their appeal isn’t as great as when you’re 13 and you’re digging into half-cooked chocolate cake ensconced in its own square of your disposable tray.

Once my parents’ divorce was finalized in early 1984, when I was 14, (stop counting to see how old I am- stop it!) the darkness started to lift from our lives. My mom traded in her 1979 Ford Pinto on a brand new Ford Fairmont which we thought was just the shit. Though it was rear wheel drive and mom had a hell of a time getting to work and back in the winter. I think about her on those cold freezing winter mornings and evenings because she would work incredibly long hours, driving alone praying she stayed on the road and the car made it in the frigid temperatures. We had no family close. But we did have some friends through her workplace, now my workplace as well, and some of those friends still work with me. So we were blessed to have a support system.

The Ford Fairmont Circa 1988

The red Ford Fairmont circa Christmas 1988 at my Grandparents (in middle)

My mom was incredibly brave when I think about it. She just did it, she had no choice. But once the weather started to get nicer and she got her financial feet under her, we moved to a townhouse in the next town which was much bigger than our current one. My sister had to switch elementary schools but I don’t think she minded. I missed having a yard but not the landlord beating on the door scaring the crap out of us. I remember weekend day, my mom kept the curtains drawn and told us to keep quiet. A car pulled into our driveway and she told us to hide in our tiny bedroom closet. We could hear the landlord out there bellowing “ANITA! I NEED THAT RENT MONEY! I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE!”. Finally he left after what felt like an eternity. We slipped out of the closet and I will never forget the sight of my mom climbing out of her blanket chest in her bedroom. That stuck with me until this day and I still have that same chest.

She had to not pay the rent I think to be able to move us to a less expensive but nicer townhouse in what is essentially now my daughters’ and I’m hometown. However positive the move was, there were some casualties that absolutely broke my heart. She had to give away our Shih Tsu mix dog I had for years, Boomer, because the townhouse had a no pets policy. Then she had to sell her Baldwin spinet piano. I just remember crying myself bleary eyed when each one left. Before Boomer left, I think she took him to the humane shelter, I took a small Avon box that had housed a ring I loved and lost while still living in Missouri, and I cut a lock of his dark grey hair to put in that box. After we moved, when I missed my doggie, I’d pull that out and touch the fur. And cry. But never in front of my mom, I knew she had no choice. Now I have a Baldwin piano and a shih tsu mix dog… I guess you can say I came full circle when I was able to afford to do so.

My last birthday in that rental house, my mom couldn’t afford much. I would have been turning 14 and I was a huge fan of Garfield. She found these plastic drinking cups with the cartoon cat on them. I still have one of them tucked away in my keepsake boxes. She did her best with what she had. To this day, I still appreciate all she did for us.

While my youth wasn’t ideal, I learned how to fend for myself, I started to teach myself to cook after we moved into the townhouse. I would pull down my mother’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and just follow a recipe. Sometimes she would help me on things I couldn’t understand or didn’t get from reading a recipe. Before we moved, I had started learning how to fix my own bike with tools my dad left behind. I could tear a ten-speed apart and put it back together and adjust the shifting until it was smooth as butter. I also learned how to fix some minor electrical issues, how the breaker box worked, how to do some oddball plumbing fixes because my mom was afraid of the landlord and didn’t want him in the house. That house eventually fell in on itself, the roof collapsing and now it’s simply an empty lot. It’s better as an empty lot.

Every time I see Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, I think of those dark days. I think about how much my life has changed in all those years. I am grateful that we made it, for the help we had along the way, for my mom’s tough spirit that kept going no matter what. I am grateful I didn’t grow up to be a helpless girl, that I wasn’t afraid to fix it myself or dive in when I needed to. Now I’m spoiled because my husband does a lot of this stuff and is better at it than me, but I don’t walk around afraid that if down the road, if I were to be on my own for whatever reason, I’m not helpless.

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My mom Christmas time 1987 – Our last in a rental – the townhouse

I have my mom’s fiery, determined spirit.

The Problem with Relationships (or My 2 Cents)

First off, I am NOT a relationship expert and I’m only writing from my past experiences of relationships in general. Mostly I am going to refer to romantic relationships regardless of sexual preference – straight or gay or whatever as this isn’t a consideration. This is somewhat my shit list regarding the romanticism of love and society ideals and even religious expectations. Things I wish I knew way back when, even before I was old enough to date because most of this can apply somewhat to friendships or familial relationships as well.

1. Don’t believe the fairy tales – relationships are hard, they are work and they aren’t perfect. This whole idea that there is only ONE person out there for you is complete and utter bullshit. And here’s the other caveat of that ideal – the whole premise that you have to be in a relationship to be worthy and whole. Here’s a tip – before you delve into the world of seriously dating – make sure you’ve got your own shit together. Be able to support yourself and don’t be out there looking for your sugar daddy or sugar mama. Don’t base your worth or happiness on another person. Get counseling or therapy for past issues. Sure a great relationship can add to your happiness but it should not be the key to your happiness. Don’t lay that on another person. Just don’t. Get your education or training, get a job, move out on your own for awhile. Get a strong sense of yourself, don’t be afraid to go to a restaurant or a movie alone. You’re not a loser, you’re a strong, independent person if you can enjoy just hanging out with yourself once in awhile. The flip side to this is that you offer another person a good, stable foundation for a relationship since you aren’t hanging on them for your every need and happiness, and that’s a relief to them as well.

Marriage or long-term partnerships will have their ups and downs. There will be days you want to walk out and never come back. You will find that the initial frenzy of feeling in love will fade and be replaced by something more steady (read boring) as biology does her job. People expect that your relationships should be how it is in the beginning all the time but we are wired to have that first flush of love to bring you together and make the connection and then eventually, most likely within a year or less, that fades away to something more common but if you put the work in, stronger and more significant love. True love. Real love. Love you can build a lifetime on as partners, friends and lovers. People will jump from relationship to relationship mistaking this lack of lusty heart-throbbing flush of feelings (or desire) for a relationship failure. It isn’t. It’s just how relationships work. You could be dumping a very good partner for the next attraction only to find they weren’t a better person for you, just new and different.

2. Don’t be an enabler – Don’t rescue, try to fix or help someone do things they can damned well do themselves. I’m raising my hand for this one because prior to my current marriage (been married 3 times), I was the enabler. Not just in my romantic relationships but ALL my relationships. If you have grown up in an abusive or dysfunctional situation or even have heavy religious training, it’s easy to fall into this over-helping way of thinking. For me, I just always wanted to keep the peace and not rock the boat. Then due to the abuse, I subconsciously felt I didn’t deserve what others did and I kept myself in the victim role until I was 38… Yes, almost 40 before I figured this out. Here is the golden rule of not enabling – If a person can and should do it themselves, then don’t do it for them. I’m not talking if your friend is sick and she needs help with her kids, I’m talking the person who is perpetually relying on others to do things for her she should do herself or himself.

My first husband used me as a vehicle to reach his goals, all while cheating on me the entire relationship. Here’s the kicker – he pushed really hard to get married and my instincts were screaming Oh My God NOOOOOO. I was an idiot and listened to him not me. My second husband was a lazy MF’r and when I finally kicked him out, I was relieved. He would sit and guzzle Pepsi and watch tv nonstop while barely working a minimum wage job while whining all the time he was overworked. WTF right? We get caught up in this in families as well. Even our friendships. That friend who everything is always about her. She barely calls you, you’re always the one to call. Ever relationship has times where it leans one way or the other but when you find it’s consistently not in your favor, it may be time to just quietly stop carrying the load. Or you can confront the but chances are they are a narcissist and they will only argue with you anyway.

3. You can choose who you spend the minutes of your precious life with – So much obligation out there right? We do all this stuff in the name of family, love, romance and friendships. We feel we HAVE to like this person or deal with this person or spend time with them. This happens mostly with family. Oh go see your mean, hateful Grandma Edith who insults you and makes you feel awful. Why? I see these memes about it’s sad when people don’t spend time with their family. My first thought is why is it sad? Maybe their family is a miserable bunch of abusive assholes. Why subject yourself to that kind of hell? Granted when you’re a kid, you’re kind of stuck going to relatives homes and so on but once you’re an adult, you get to make these decisions for yourself. I don’t think people distance themselves from certain family members just to be mean, there is most likely a reason for the distance. Maybe it is to protect their sanity and well-being.

The saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ is kind of obtuse in a way. I have blood relatives that wouldn’t walk across the street to help me because there is nothing in it for them. However, I have close friends who wouldn’t hesitate to help me. Your ‘family” should include the people who have your best interests at heart and vice versa. Family is not always blood. And frankly, you can distance yourself from the people who have screwed you over time and again without a big confrontation. Send them a Christmas card if you want, but frankly who cares? Don’t waste you life trying to make other people happy, living up to expectations that are not your own and wasting your time with people who only care about themselves. Surround yourself with love and positivity. With people who cheer you on and not try to tear you down. Remember none of these relationships are going to be perfect because we are human so look at the relationship as a whole, not just one event where she forgot to call you back, how dare she!

4. Choose wisely – Sit down and make a list of what you really want in a romantic relationship. If your goal is to find a guy as hot as Channing Tatum, well good luck with that or in other words – be realistic. Physical attraction is important but if you aren’t movie star perfect, don’t expect to net someone on that same level. I find that having similar ideals and morals and goals in life really helps a lot. You won’t agree on everything but if you want to live in the city and they hate cities, you need to ask yourselves is there a compromise you will both be happy with? People think love is the only thing you need but having similar outlooks on life, helps enormously. Especially about big issues like money, where to live, and children (if you both want them).

If it is very important to you that your partner or spouse share the same faith, then you need to find someone who meets that criteria. No, it’s not romantic but in the grand scheme of things, it will save you heartache down the line when you become resentful and angry at this person who told you they didn’t want to go to church, ever, and you overlooked that important need for yourself. Don’t get so rushed that you feel you have to take the first person that’s really interested in you or succumb to society or family pressure about time. Divorce sucks, breakups suck. There is no way to guarantee that a relationship will be forever but if you can agree on the major points then it’s a lot easier than fighting about them.

5. All relationships require compromise – If you want your way all the time and never want to compromise then don’t get into a relationship. Even the best relationships are going to require compromise, almost every day. And patience. Relationships require tons of patience. It’s a dance of give and take. It’s like ordering a pizza and you get what you want on your half and order what they like on their half. That’s what a relationship is like most of the time. You’re not the same person so you have differing wants, needs and desires. Sometimes the pendulum swings more their way, sometimes in your favor and sometimes it is balanced in the middle.

Pick your battles, make sure whatever it is you are fighting for is really worth it or are you just being a controlling ass. My husband doesn’t like the feeling of not being in control when in the car so mostly I let him drive. My driving scares the shit out of him and it’s just easier to sit in the passenger seat than argue about it. Another example is that I work 32-26 hours a week and he works over 40 with a longer commute. So I pick up more household chores and duties to make up for me working less. Every couple has to find what works for them. But don’t expect it to be all your way. You’re going to have issues if you want to go at a relationship wanting to control every aspect.

6. If you are miserable and unhappy consistently, it may be time to leave – If you are in any kind of abusive relationship, leave now. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, make a plan and get out. If it’s life-threatening, go today, right this minute. Your life is not worth this person. I don’t care what your vows said, what religion you are, no one should stay in these situations. There are people who can help. Message me and I will find you help, just don’t stay.

That aside, if you find yourself years unhappy and you’ve tried and tried with no change, then you are going to have to step back and take a very honest, brutal inventory of why you are still there. Many people are afraid of being alone and will suffer miserable relationships just so they don’t have to face this fear. There may be financial limitations. Rejection from your family, your church, your friends. Your entire world will be turned upside down and it’s tough, really really tough to walk away from a long term marriage or relationship especially if you have children. So many people stay together for the kids. I can’t really say much here. If it’s not an abusive situation, then I really don’t know. I can see both side of the argument here. Keeping a stable home to raise the kids seems more important than your own happiness sometimes. This is a personal decision and not one I can make any suggestion on. It was hard for me to leave my first marriage but I couldn’t keep dealing with his infidelity and other issues. I would have eventually committed suicide or murdered him. It was time to go.

The truth is that plotting up is brutal and hard many times (and in the case of my second marriage it was easy, a relief) but if you can’t find a way to happiness in this relationship, most times the difficulty you will face at first will be hugely overshadowed with the joy of the new life you create. This doesn’t even mean you find someone else. You could be perfectly happy without a serious relationship. People do it all the time. It is scary to go it alone, you have to make your finances stretch further or in the case of my second marriage, I actually was in better shape. Many times when you can’t find a way to fix a relationships, you are better off without that person in your life. Or maybe you’d make better friends.

7. Avoid narcissists at all costs – Narcissistic people think only of themselves and they use manipulation tactics to control you and get what they want. Doesn’t matter ow smart you are, they seem to prey on people with big, generous hearts. These people rarely change and being in a relationship with them is like running into a wall over and over. You get nowhere. There is plenty of information on the interwebs and in books on how to figure out if someone is a narcissist and so on. I married two of these and it’s miserable. Completely and utterly miserable.

8. Trust your instincts/ trust yourself – This is one of the most important lessons in life I’ve learned not only in relationships but in everything. Trust your instincts, trust yourself. Even if it’s just a faint niggling at your psyche, pull it up and really look at what is bothering you. It’s easy to get swept into popular opinion or whatever, but you are the best compass of what is right for your life. Even if you end up going against the main stream.