A Karmic Sandbox (karmasoup) wrote,
A Karmic Sandbox

As We Roll Down This Unfamiliar Road


Picture it: Cicily, 1920...

Wait, no... wrong intro.  Hang on a sec...

     *shut musty book of rerun memories with a bang — cough at escaping dust cloud...

          ...open cobweb-covered chest of childhood memories — lean in, rummaging...

               ...climb into chest with a clatter, tossing items around...

*owl hoots, fox cries...

What the... ???

          *cow lows, chicken squawks...

Nope, not that one...

        *a cat yowls...

Closer, but still — not quite...

        *a dog yips...

In the holiday season of 1981...

        Ah, here we go!

...I was 7 years old — 4 months from my 8th birthday, which was close enough (I’d been told) to be able to say 7 and 9/10ths, because I hadn’t been taught fractions yet.  But even if I had, I probably would have thought 9/10ths sounded a lot closer than 3/4ths anyway, and I was ready to be 8, dangit!  I was in second grade, but third grade was where it was at, man, I was just sure of it!

A few days before Christmas break, returning from school one day to the foster home where I’d been staying for a brief spell after leaving the last host assigned to put me up, I was greeted by social workers, and prepped to be introduced to a strange group of folks comprising a new family, who would be coming a long way to make my acquaintance.  (I couldn’t tell you why I’d been shunted around to 17+ different types of interim shelters throughout the nearly 3 years I was “in the system,” but then, I also couldn’t speak to what sort of procedures passed for making logical sense behind the scenes at the Health and Rehabilitative Services Department in the state of Florida back then — though I’m pretty sure no one else could, either — I’m guessing neither at the time, nor likely since, for that matter.)  I can’t recall a whole lot about that day or that visit, though apparently I was told this family was excited to meet me, which for some reason made me eager to share drawings I’d made in school, and sing Christmas carols I knew all the words to.

I don’t remember thinking I had to perform to earn my place with them... I just knew they had the potential to take me out of the situation I was in at the time, and for me, anything else would have been preferable.  I may not have been old enough to have a firm grasp on every worldly concept relevant to me, but even in those tender years, I was well enough past the age of reason to know if a child is old enough to ask — to beg, even — for privacy in the bathroom, then she’s old enough to not need “help” with anything she might have to do in there... especially not from the man of the house.  But my sister had been taken away from us when they’d found out what my father had done to her — I didn’t know where she was, and I hadn’t seen her since — so I knew better than to say anything.

I imagine I didn’t really understand then what it meant to be “adopted.”  I’m sure if you’d have asked me, I’d have told you I didn’t need another family, because I already had one — I was just temporarily in a bad situation, which resulted in having to stay with strangers until my Mother could get her act together well enough to prove to the nitpicky state HRS reps she was in a financially stable position suitable to properly care for me and my siblings.  At least, that was the story she’d told me, anyway, and I was just naïve enough to believe it — mostly because I needed to.

On the 12th of that month, I met the family who would come to claim me as theirs.  I don’t know where they stayed that night, well over 200 miles from where they lived, but on the very next day, they got up, likely went to church somewhere in the area, and then returned to collect me from the place we’d met less than 24 hours earlier — a house I was only too grateful to see become smaller behind me as I watched it disappear from the rear window for the last time.  I left it to go home with five strangers on December 13th, 1981.

The family at that time consisted of two adults, and three boys, all biological offspring to the parents of the household, all of them older than me — the eldest, born in the summer of love; the middle son, 18 months later in the winter of 69; and the youngest of this gang of my older brothers-to-be, was just 15 months my senior, as of January, 1973.  This would cause problems for both of us growing up — neither of us was used to having a rival, but we were about to take a crash course, and the learning curve would be steep.  It started that very first night, in the car ride away from my latest accommodations, toward the place I’d never been that would become my new home... in a vehicle designed for 4 people, max.

It was a mid-70s 2-door Datsun hatchback coupe — probably about as old as me at the time. A tiny blue box, with faux wooden side panels, bucket seats for the adults, a 2nd row bench for any cooperative passengers willing to climb in, and a tiny wagon partition in the way back, just large enough for a few groceries — certainly not intended to carry extra children.  Representing the cutting edge in the day’s technology, the vehicle was equipped with roll down window levers, mechanical seats that would recline and move forward or back, a telescopic antenna to help acquire signals for state of the art AM/FM radio stations — with 4 buttons to select your preset channels! — and an 8-track player to give hip cruisers access to all the latest disco hits... everything a growing family needs.

I suspect before I was one of the gang, the youngest of my older brothers — now pushing 50 these days, a lanky 6’2” and all of 145# soaking wet, at best — likely just squeezed his tiny hiney in the middle of the bench seat between his bigger siblings.  But adding one more to the mix made an additional layer of compression impossible, so he and I were exiled to the way back, where we naturally developed a healthy disrespect for one another.  He probably had the harder time of it — all limbs and joints, scrunched up into an unreasonably compact space, and struggling to be contained within “his side” of our compartment — and I suppose the fresh meat of a soft, squishy younger sister, uncalloused and unaccustomed to being teased by mischievous barely older siblings was just too much of a temptation to pass up.

My brother and I have moved past that stage, obviously — we’ve grown into adults with our own families, bonded over our shared history, and have developed a lasting, healthy love and respect for one another we both treasure.  Over time, as we grew, in maturity and in size, our folks were forced to procure a more spacious grocery getting mobile with a greater hauling capacity for all of us.  What’s funny to me — and a little surprising, I’ve come to appreciate only recently — is, looking back on those days, I most often recalled to mind the memories made in each of our automotive buggies, without ever having given much thought to what they represented about our family.

I grew up recognizing we were never dripping in excess — being tasked to make choices about what I really wanted helped me to prioritize my desires without ever being spoiled — but I never really felt like we wanted for much of anything.  We didn’t have the latest brand name clothing, but we hadn’t been raised to have any interest in such things — a label never had any bearing on my sense of self or my status in the world, so it just didn’t matter — but whenever we wanted something bad enough, for long enough, my parents always found a way to make it happen.  And by that I mean, I think one of my brothers had to have Reebok tennis shoes, another swore by Nike, and a third would only wear Chucks (I believe they were all three equally devoted to Levi’s jeans); me, I was okay with any old thing from the flea market (the South’s precursor to today’s thrift stores), or even hand-me-downs from church members with older kids... I was less about “who,” and more about “more,” as long the style fit me.

We saw movies when we wanted to, and got the toys that had stayed the longest on the top of our lists for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays.  We had extensive, varied wardrobes that never made us feel out of place among our peers, and we ate tasty, filling meals I’d never even noticed had been concocted to feed an army on a budget.  We participated in after school events — band, choir, theater, summer camp — and even each had our own small biweekly allowance (providing we donated a portion of it to the collection plate).

We didn’t get everything new the moment it came out, but, it was the 80s — for one, there wasn’t always some sparkly new invention in your face every other week, and, for another, we were brought up by folks whose parents survived the great depression... they weren’t in any hurry to jump on board with every new trinket, and neither were we.  If it was a thing for long enough to prove its staying power, eventually, we’d have one too, and not even be the last on the block to get ours.  I didn’t have a cell phone or a tablet or even a land line or a TV in my room, but my quiet place was still my sanctuary... I just turned on the radio, did a lot of artwork and writing, and read a lot of books.

So that’s why it was such a surprise when my parents took a leap and bought a brand new, fresh off the assembly line wagon — a 1985 Dodge Colt Vista... still smacking of that new car smell, even!  It had everything the Datsun didn’t... power windows, seats, and doors, audio cassette player, SIX preset buttons for radio channels, and, most importantly — the storage section in the way back converted into ACTUAL SEATS!  Finally, for the first time in years, my brother and I would be able to sit upright like normal human beings and be safety-belted in like someone actually cared about our well-being in case of an accident (it’s a good things for today’s generation there are laws about such things now! ;-) — with Japanese technology light years ahead of its time (Dodge was affiliated with Mitsubishi in those days), we even each had our own temperature control and our very own ashtrays (which were mostly used for candy wrappings and gum, naturally) and cupholders!

Suddenly, in our sweet new ride, I felt like we were the cool kids on the block — we even had room to pick up friends!  Sadly, though, it didn’t last — the Vista was nothing but one maintenance headache after another — it seemed like it was in the shop as often as not.  I don’t know if Mom and Dad got a great deal on that particular transport because it was a lemon, or if the Vista was the Edsel of the 80s, and my folks are just the poor suckers who fell for it, but before too long, Dad traded it in for something used and reliable.

In the time I was living at home, in addition to the Datsun and the Vista, my folks have also carried us in...

a 1978 Chevy Suburban that toured us on family journeys all across the US;

a 1991 Pontiac Bonneville whose radiator kept going out, so we had to keep the heat on full-blast through the foothills of the Ozark mountains during one miserably muggy summer trip down South;

a bright red-orange station wagon my Dad once bought for $800 from one of those questionable used car lots, which lasted all of about a month, and my Dad referred to as an “$800 life lesson;”

a 1974 Chevy Custom Deluxe 10 pickup whose floorboards rusted out so your feet stuck through until my Dad covered the Flinstone hole with bolted on sheet metal;

and a veritable slew of Hyundai Excels.

In fact, at one point, everyone in our family each had one of our own.  The first of them, my middle brother’s model — which was passed on to me when I bought it from him — was what I learned to drive on, my first vehicle, and certainly nothing to impress anyone, but it was affordable, reliable, economical to maintain, and it lasted for far longer than anyone would have expected it should have.

Now that I have a little more life perspective, I can see more clearly, maybe the reason I never felt like we experienced lack in our lives was because of how well my folks successfully achieved the teachings they required of us... by effectively prioritizing what they wanted.  When I weigh my perception of growing up against what I’ve since learned about living expenses at this stage of raising a family, it has finally dawned on me... my folks were neither wealthy or struggling... they were simply able to ensure a large group of people they cared dearly about were able to have what they wanted, do what they wanted, and go where they wanted, mainly by not caring all that much about how fancifully anyone gets there, so long as everyone makes it in one piece.  And I think that’s an important life lesson worth passing on — you never need to have *everything* you can get... sometimes, all that’s really required is just enough to get the job done.

I’ve gone through a lot of chariots in my life, now, too — some
more memorable and meaningful than others.  These days, my husband and I each drive exactly the wheels we both wanted, but not because we broke the bank to buy them — no, instead, we did our research, selecting the best values in reliability, maintenance, and safety standards to meet our family’s needs, because — like Mom always says — after all, we’re carrying precious cargo.  And, as it happens, though we shopped among particular makes and models within a certain mileage and budget out of available used stock around the Twin Cities, even still, we both lucked into precisely the specific colors we each would have chosen — Tardis blue for me (of course! ;-), Sterling Silver for him.

We’ve got the space we need to carry ourselves and our loved ones (including 200# of dogs), cart our groceries and our gear — whatever it may be at the moment (including the sizeable accessories and accoutrements of a toddler), and keep us going to wherever we need to be, without worrying too much about how we look, or how clean and pristine our conveyance is.  And because we don’t spend overly much on monthly payments, we still have enough leftover to make a certain 2-yr-old rapidly approaching his 3rd birthday excitedly squeal with delight to open the entirely insane collection of Thomas the Tank Engine toys Mama has been secretly amassing these past few weeks for his special celebration.  It’s not much, but these days, I’ll take whatever sense of normalcy I can come by... and, hopefully... it’s just enough to get the job done.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 21 - Topic: THE WAY BACK
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Tags: 2k, fam-in-law, kms, lj idol, lji11, micklore

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