Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Ever since reading Steven’s meme on TransformingMoments, I’ve wondered if I’ve ever had one. I mean one which actually was more than a normal moment of growth or a bump in the road. Only one thing came to mind and to tell you the truth, I still don’t get it.

Because the origin is still a mystery.

As the first born, my baby book looks more like an FBI dossier than a list of first accomplishments. I don’t just know my first word or when I walked, I can review actual report cards from first to 6th grade. I know that at an early age I either had [a] a way with words [b] quite an imagination [c] trouble with concepts based in reality or [d] the ability to cut out the middle man. You decide. At the advanced age of 3, Mom sent me next door to my Grandma’s house to borrow a cookie sheet. I returned a few minutes later with a bed sheet, a bag of chocolate chip cookies [my favorite] and Grandma trailing behind. Said book documents my “flair” with words too. When learning about money, I confused who was on the dollar [George Washington] with who was on the penny [Abraham Lincoln]. When asked who was on the penny, I proudly declared, “Georgeaham Lincoln”. Evidently this is a genetic flaw. My brother, the youngest, referred to boiled eggs as “Bald headed eggs” and orange sherbet as “Orange Herbert”. Then again, we do share the same sense of humor.

My baby book documents moments when I sprang to action publicly, choosing to claim the spotlight. At the age of three, Mom proudly wrote that I stood up, unprompted evidently, and did a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” for my Sunday School class.

As if the baby book isn’t enough, I was blessed [cursed?] with a great memory. Childhood is a snap to recall. In vivid detail. The little boy across the street was named Gary and his Dad was in the Air Force. His Mom was English and her parents lived with them. Funny, I remember both the grandparents, in fact I loved the grandfather, Mr. Groves, but Gary’s Mother is a mere shadow in the corner. Perhaps that’s because Gary’s Dad always wanted a little girl. He’d come home, pick me up with an enthusiastic, “How’s my girl?” and hug the daylights out of me until a ghost like presence with a proper English accent would say softly, “Glen, put the child down and let her go play.” He’d squeeze me again, kiss my cheek, then put me down with a laugh. I endured the adoring greeting because it made him happy.

Gary, with his flaming red hair and freckled face, was my age. We played together every day. We learned how to ride a bike on his bike. Sure, the crossbar was an extra challenge for me but we still learned. Worst spanking I ever got was when Gary “dared” me to cross a water filled ditch into the woods, a place forbidden by our parents. Gary waited until I was in the middle of the ditch to mention the word “snake”. Rather than panic, I crawled out, which took three attempts thanks to the tall, muddy banks which kept sending me back into chest deep water. No, panic described our mothers, who were combing the neighborhood and screaming our names. Although they were relieved to find us, my butt had a less enthusiastic take on our homecoming.

When playing “war” with the other neighborhood kids, Gary and I were a team. He led the charge, but I was the General, constantly reminding him of what we needed. Like ammunition. And a better place to hide. We’d act out the westerns we watched on t.v.; Gary was the Sheriff, his little brother the outlaw being carted off to jail and yours truly in the role of Miss Kitty, bar owner. Ah, the innocence of youth. I had no idea what people did in bars or what Miss Kitty did for a living. No, I thought she was in charge of talking sense into the cowboys so they wouldn’t smash bottles, break up the furniture or throw people out the front window. When we played this game, I remember being constantly disgusted with Gary because he never knew “his lines”. Words and the natural flow of storytelling just came so easily to me that I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just KNOW what to say. So I provided the words for him. I now cringe at the notion of being so bossy, but he didn’t mind. I can still, to this day, remember standing on the table in his Dad’s workshop, which was Miss Kitty’s stage, to look down at him in disgust and say, “No! You say this and then I’ll say that. And then you’ll do this, I’ll do that and THEN you put your brother in jail.” Rather than be angry, he’d grin, nod and my play would proceed as dictated. No matter how many times I provided dialogue for our games, he never got angry. Even when his father was transferred to England, Gary promised he’d come back for me one day. Yes, I have it in writing. Ensconced in my baby book is a note declaring he’d return and marry me. I never saw him again. His love for me was soon transferred to soccer and letter writing became a thing of the past. He did, however, find me a pen pal for a Girl Scouts’ project.

For years I liked the spotlight. Sought it out and ran into it. I clearly remember playing an angel in our 3rd grade play, boldly offering to sing “Away in a Manager”. I did. All three verses. I LIKED doing oral book reports, sharing the stories I’d read with all eyes on me. I was striding through elementary school at the front of the pack, always with a plan.

And then one day, I stopped.

It’s as if I went to sleep and woke up… painfully shy. I shunned the spotlight, now fearing it. I was content to watch silently….from a distance. And the further the better. For all the recall I have of childhood, I can’t for the life of me piece together what might’ve turned me from extrovert to the shy person I remained for years. My brain still worked the same, but rather than raising my hand to answer a question, I wanted to crawl under my desk. If I could’ve had a super power, it would’ve been invisibility. There were a couple of less than stellar moments in 4th grade, but none that make me think, “A-ha! There it is…the moment I shut up and pulled back.”

My family will tell you I’m hardly shy because I do my share of talking at family gatherings. Yeah. Around them. In a group of strangers, I’m the one who does the listening. The older I get, the “painful” part of shy has eased up. But I still hate standing in front of a crowd to speak. At those moments, I’ve learned to instruct “shy me” to take a seat in the corner and let me muddle through. Quickly.

So, it remains a mystery, this turn from take charge to observer. Not even a clue in the baby book. Perhaps it’s merely a case of turnabout being fair play. Maybe my brain finally punished me for being so bossy to Gary. I wonder if he married a quiet woman…or a bossy one. Either way, I hope she at least listens.

As for Gary’s Dad, I do know he ended up with 4 sons…and no little girls. Funny, I always felt bad about that. Because even though I squirmed to get out of his arms to go play, I really didn’t mind those hugs. He made me feel safe and loved, like nothing would happen to me on his watch.

If I had the chance, I think I could push “shy” aside long enough to thank him.


steven said...

hope this is so cool to read!!! see, transformative moments aren't necessarily shocking or spikes in the flow of your life as much as they contain something essential in your being who you are. a recognition or a chance to suddenly see yourself in relief. this string of stories is like a necklace of moments. it gathers together so much of what you have become - i envy you the clarity. i have almost no memories of my early childhood. little feelings and essences of what might have happened and that's it. thankyou for sharing this. have a peaceful evening. steven

Bill ~ {The Old Fart} said...

I still have problems trying to get the words out the way they are supposed to sound. Reading about your Miss Kitty story, reminded me how Gunsmoke was the big show to watch in our house. When I watched this I related to Festus (still do). I thought the Long Branch was a hotel with a saloon in it.

When we are kids we vow to be friends for life, I don't think I can remember my friends from Childhood. I have some good friends now, and I think the friends we make as kids is practice for when we grow up and make our new friends.

I still am quite quiet when I am in a group of strangers. I have to know the folks first before I speak. I've always been like this, but it is funny if I am by myself and not in my group of peers, I can talk up a storm with strangers.

Great post Hope, thanks for sharing.

Titus said...

hope, this is beautiful and funny and sad and all in all the most wonderful piece of writing.
It does relay a strange tale, doesn't it? Do you wonder often why the change, or was it the meme that brought it back to mind?
I am so glad communication mediums like this have been invented so that your intelligence, integrity and wit can shine, shine, shine.

Peggy said...

I loved your story about moments from the past.
I have neer been shy, I can talk with the best of them and still do.
I so admire your memory, golly I don't remember a lot from my childhood.
You're writing just takes me away to a simplier time...childhood!
You are so good with words and conveying the smallest details with delight.
Thank you!

hope said...

Steven, I often wonder if a part of me is "trapped" in that carefree childhood, happy to keep playing along. :) It's still just so CLEAR to me. The irony is that hubby and I weren't able to have kids, so I have to share those memories with the young nephew. Thanks for giving me the gentle nudge to put it on paper.

Bill...you're not as old as Mr. Magoo! :) I think you're right about Miss Kitty's abode...but I'm thinking things went on upstairs that little girls were ignorant of. Festus made me grin...but truthfully, my heart belonged to "Joe Riley" {William Smith} on "Laredo". Somewhere I have a photo of me, Gary and neighbor Tammy on our first day of school. Until about 3 years ago [when she became a Grandmother] we still exchanged Christmas cards. Mom says she will find Gary...but his last name was Smith! :0

Titus, I've often wondered how I went from center-of-attention to behind-the-scenes. I've shunned the spotlight for so long, I just can't conceive of ever having been in it, on PURPOSE! Steven just made me think about it out loud. :) And after the terrible day I just had, your words are definitely the boost of confidence my poor old ego needed...thank you!

Thanks Peggy. I use to think there was something wrong with other people because most swear they don't remember but an incident or two from childhood. Then I realized I just have a memory for the oddest details. ;) All of us can't be rocket scientists, so I guess my job is to remind people that childhood was fun and sometimes terrifying, but we survived it.

Susan at Stony River said...

I just hope you write a memoir one day. Or lots and lots of kids' books!

That IS a mystery to ponder however, that seeming 'missing link' between bold and shy. Who knows, maybe one day it will come to you, but if in the end it made a new you to become your husband's True Love a few years later, then I'd say it was a very lucky twist of fate! Who knows...some things are just meant to be.

Oh Lord...now I have Elvis in my head for the third time today. Better go make some coffee.

Rachel Fox said...

You could look at it another way...when you were little your intelligence wanted you to be outgoing and talkative and...a little bossy (that's not unusual) but then as you got older your mind realised that always being the mouthy one is not necessarily the smart move...sometimes it is better to watch and listen and learn (and keep learning). We are all very good at looking at our lives and seeing what we think is wrong with us (women especially - though we don't have the sole hold on that). Maybe in fact it was just early wisdom (even if it didn't/doesn't feel like that).


hope said...

Susan, I'm ready to write an exit from where I'm sitting [work] so perhaps I need to pay more attention to your "writing tips" and put them to good use!

Ah, you have "Elvis" singing in your head and I have a really bad one liner from an old Steve Martin movie in mine. When you mentioned a memoir, the first thing I thought of was the very first line of Martin's move, "The Jerk". "I was born a poor, black sharecropper." Of course Martin is so white he shines but the story begins with him being left on the doorstep of a black family. Every time someone brings up memoirs, my sill brain hears that line. :)

Thank you Rachel for giving me more credit that I probably deserved. :) I don't consider it a bad thing, just an odd one for someone who remembers SO MUCH of childhood, not to know what made me change. I think I was hoping writing about it would shake loose that very memory.