Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rooted

Since I was a kid, I have always enjoyed genealogy and the family lore my grandmother whispered as if the whole county didn't already know. My grandmother Naomi made gossip an art. She often proudly reminisced that as a teenager she gently opened family letters above a kerosene lamp so that she could read the latest happenings. Then she would seal the envelope back together before being caught and whipped for such a crime.

It has been no surprise to me as I have grown older that I am undoubtedly my grandmother's child in numerous ways. Her love for knowing family legend was passed to me across her kitchen table. Her love for writing it down was passed to me from her soul.

This summer I spent a great deal of time in Arkansas. In one visit I took the chance to attend a writer's conference from a local author and teacher. While I could list numerous lessons I learned in that week, perhaps the most impactful was my narrowing down of what words I wanted needed to write. I've heard it said that you should never embark on the journey of writing a novel unless you feel deep down you cannot go on unless you share that story. I've always had an idea bouncing in the back of my head but was too afraid no one else would care. I shared this with Gwen, our instructor. She gave me the confidence that I would have readers and that I should--I must--put this book into focus.

I came home to Texas and thought.

Then my fingers could not quit wrestling. They had to write this story. I have written two chapters--both of them are Chapter One. It is a book my soul cannot live without telling, yet I fear deeply that I will not tell it adequately.

As I have researched for this novel, I have spent countless hours with my grandma's brother who has provided (a bit unknowingly) a plethora of stories from which I have pulled. I have also had late nights and early mornings sitting here at my dining room table browsing the latest hints on ancestry.com. My dad's phone records would show my influx of calls telling him I found a headstone related to the lore or an infant child we never knew about or a picture of kinfolks we had never laid eyes on before.

Today as I studied our family tree I found that my great-great-grandmother was born in a little community north of town called Jethro. You may know my parents own Jethro Farms and suffice to say I lived the first 18 years of my life right there in Jethro where my great x2 grandmother was born in 1879.

While I have always known we go generations deep in North Franklin County, it is reminders such as these that make me think about the land on which I came of age. It amazes me the trees I rode my horse through were trees where my great-great-grandparents may have met. It fascinates me that the river we played in was a river that for so many generations provided for my family. It fills me with daydreams that the very dirt beneath my feet for the most formative years of my life was the dirt that my great-great-great grandparents cultivated to merely survive. It is the dirt on not just where I was raised, but it is the dirt of home. Roots so deep that try as he may my husband has yet to pull them completely out of Jethro. Land where when I take my last breath and my body longs for rest that I pray it finds its peace back in that very dirt where I can take my place alongside my ancestral legends. And, honestly, I pray too that when that day comes the lore told of me pales in comparison to what I have learned of them.

I thank those of you who read this blog. I do not post regularly, and it has never been my intention to gain a wide audience or payments for writing it. I prefer writing when it's good. When it's something that strikes me. For now my writing is centered on my book, but as you see today sometimes I need a break. Occasionally I need to write in a new format and feel more casual. So thank you for allowing me this outlet to put thoughts on paper and explore ideas. And, if you're curious about this book I'm writing, here is a prelude to give you a taste. It is historical fiction. I will stress fiction. I don't need crazy kinfolks pulling out their old ways on me. But much of it is of course history too. I will let you decide on which side each word falls.


It was all over the news that summer: records from the Great Heat Wave of 1936. Maybe it was a record worth recollecting; maybe it was a slow news day. Either way the news reporter sent to our local nursing home to get recounts on this heat wave 60 years later sent a chilling shock into our home. At first no one could blink for fear they would miss the story unraveling. I stared at my dad who held his breath as his grandfather was the first resident interviewed.


“Sir, do you remember the summer of 1936?”


Stone cold and not looking up from his afternoon dominoes, my great-grandfather gave a hard no.

Taking his cue that the old man either didn’t remember or didn’t care about the summer of 1936, the reporter went to the next table. There he found a few folks who enjoyed a reminiscent chat a little more than my grandma’s folks. At least when it came to 1936.


Grandma was always telling stories of her kinfolks from the old days. But those kinds of things you just tell family. And probably family doesn’t really believe it anyhow. When she marched into our house that evening, that smirk meant both she had told us so and yet could we believe anyone else almost found out. We lived out in the country so we didn’t have neighbors within any sort of earshot, and it was probably for the best since she didn’t even make it to the door before she let in on everything she had told us forty-eleven times about 1936, “And that old man just sat there like he couldn’t even remember yesterday. Oh, he remembered that summer. He remembered. He could lose all his memories and half his toes and he’d still remember 1936.”



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Turkey Plant

The summer I graduated high school and turned 18, my dad forced me to get a job on the line at the local turkey processing plant. While I had looked for any other job in our small town, none were to be found. So I spent those summer months netting turkeys. Hard hat. Hair net. Smock. Gloves. Rubber Boots. Ear plugs. It was real cute.

My dad had worked at the turkey plant throughout high school and again when he returned from serving 5 years in the United States Air Force. My dad's dad had retired from the turkey plant. He was a manager on the loading dock. Worked his way up one minimum wage hour at a time. 

The job wasn't too difficult by way of thinking and processing. But it was a grind on productivity. If I close my eyes I can still see turkeys getting backed up on the conveyor belt and my partner pushing them through the tunnel to me as fast as my little hands could go. I can still feel the movement of tying a loop of netting and sending the turkey down the line. I can still hear the silence that would fall as portion by portion of the line would escape to their 15 minute morning break. I remember the chants as the cardboard sign would be carried around announcing the end of the first side which meant we would be done for the day in 2 hours. 

I knew my time there was brief. 3 or 4 months tops. Then I was off to college and the whole big world. But it was not lost on me that the people I ate lunch with every day had been having that same lunch in that same spot for 35 years. And they'd keep having that routine long after I was gone. The turkey plant was a summer experience for me. For them, just like for my grandfather, it was life.

It wasn't until my 3rd year of teaching, 7 years after that summer job, that I finally came face to face with the reasoning behind my dad's demands of me to net turkeys for a summer. I sat in a parent conference with a sweet mom who was trying to find the best accommodations for her son. When a time for the next meeting came up, a teacher suggested she just come see us during our planning periods. A lump caught in my throat and my heart stopped. I had worked with this mom at the turkey plant; I knew she could not stop working to drive 30 minutes one way for a meeting in the middle of the day. She was not given that type of luxury working on the line. Quite convenient for us teachers, but for a mom trying to make it. No. That couldn't work. She just stared blankly.

I quietly asked if we could all just meet early one morning. I could not look at the mom, but later she came to my room to thank me. It was not some great insight I had on education techniques or the wisdom I wish I had had. It was the sounds of a turkey processing plant that could not escape my mind. While it had been brief, that summer had changed my life. Until that moment I did not even know how.

Skip forward almost a decade. Yesterday my husband and I went in for our scheduled hearing to protest our most recent tax valuation. We had been working on this protest for weeks. We had driven around and observed the comps. We had researched the tax values of the homes in our neighborhood. And the bottom line was that most of the homes in our neighborhood are *shock* similar to ours. We had a couple facts to argue, and we did, but I calmly asked them to consider the principle. 

We should have a home similar to our neighbors'. But they raised us all 10% in our valuation. If our homes are similar and we are all raised 10% every year, then when does that stop? If I go up 10%, they go up to 10%. It will never end. I assured them nothing in our home had increased in value that much in 1 year (we were also raised the 2 prior years as well). I asserted that I believed they were only valuing supply and demand and not the actual home. The appraiser said I was correct.

I argued that by increasing our home prices by 10% every year is pricing us out of our own home. That this gives no incentive to live in Midland, Texas. Just because all of the new jobs in Texas are in the Permian Basin does not mean I should pay 10% more every year in property taxes. In fact that should perhaps decrease my individual share if more people are here to split the costs.

Everyone agreed. But I was told to go to Austin and protest. Their hands are tied here. They're just following the law.

The 3 men on the panel made a motion, seconded, and passed no change to our 10% increase before we could even speak. 

As I left in tears I asked Cash, "What is the purpose of being here? Why would I live in Midland County? You make extraordinary money, but at the end of the day it is no more than half that pay somewhere else. They raise taxes. Then they raise the value of the homes. Then they put up 500+ million dollar school bonds. Then they pass road bonds. Then they add a new fee for new homes being built. If it isn't the county, it is the city. If it isn't the city, it's the church. If it isn't the church, it's another non-profit. Everyone always needs more. Wants more. I simply cannot give enough. I can't do it anymore. And if I can't do it, how is a single mom on the other side of town supposed to do this?" And I can't shake that thought.

I'm a pretty basic white suburban mom. I stay home and drive a full size SUV in which I take said kids to Mother's Day Out twice a week. We go to church north of the Loop and wave at the neighbors when we get home on Sunday afternoons. 

But what about the people who aren't in our bubble of white suburbia? What about those who can't take half a day off work for a hearing on their ridiculous tax valuation? What about those whose new valuation would truly price them out of their homes? No one is talking for them. No one is saying, "Hey, hold up. These folks and their families matter too."

It took me back to standing next to a metal worktable, hair pulled back, pushing a thousand turkeys a day waiting for that cardboard sign. It took me back to that parent meeting seeing the look of I wish I could for my kid but I just can't be here during 3rd period. It took me back to the days when I felt my voice was nothing but shy and less than.

Yesterday gave me sour grapes. I was reminded of the greed that oozes from every pocket of our government. That if you have then they want more; if you have not they don't even want to hear your voice.

I'm a raging conservative Republican by day. But as the days have gone on, I've realized that I'm just raging by night. Today my blood boiled at such a high rate that for the first time in my naïve little life I disavowed the voices in the Republican party saying that they will cut our taxes. Bull. Our city is 95% Republican and not a single Democrat would ever be elected in our local or state elections. Yet here we are with every single one of them approving tax increases across the board.

For the record I don't believe the Democrats either. They say tax the rich to help the poor. Listen, folks in my neighborhood are being taxed to death. We can't afford more of your taxes. At some point we all run out of money if you tax us enough.

I don't know. I simply don't know what to do. I really love sweet tea, but anymore of this from both sides on every stinkin' issue and I am going to have to find a harbor lake stream xeroscaped lawn to throw it in. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

And There She Grows

In June I sat under my parents' pavilion with my teenage niece and nephew. I was staring a 600+ mile drive in the face the next day and longed for another set of arms in the front seat that could throw snacks and drinks at the kids as I kept it on 10 and 2ish. After some begging and promising of half my savings account, Addison decided she could in fact take 3 weeks out of her summer plans to make a trek to the desert.

So for 3 weeks (and 2 days) I watched my niece. When we left Arkansas I had seen her still as the little girl I've always known. By the time we got back I realized she was no longer the child I had remembered. Yet she wasn't quite a young woman either. My mind circled this through time and again. Not a girl. Not a woman. What does it mean to be right there in the middle?

lawn concert

helping in the backseat

I think society lets boys grow up faster. Whether that is anti-woman or unfair or even completely true, I am not here to debate that. I simply think it is how it is.

Addison is old enough that she was able to watch Henry and AnnLouise for an hour at a time. She could help get them down for naps. She could shop for clothes with me and actually articulate what she knew looked good together. She talked on the phone with her friends in the most mature conversations. For instance she asked a friend what her sister's major at college would be and followed along in depth as another friend shared stories of her family's vacation. Addison is not a little girl.
makeup with Ashlee of Let's Face It Makeup Studio

Then she would not think about taking off her pajamas until I told her she simply must change before we went into public. No unicorn fleece PJs at HEB today. When my other nieces came to town, all younger than her, she played so sweetly with them. And most often I felt she played with the older two as though they were friends and not kids she was strapped with watching. Together they created backyard families and plastic meals and made-up games that didn't even make sense. The imagination of a child still lingers in her mind.
catching a ride to Mimi's

imagination central

I found myself hoping her imagination stayed. Not only Addison's but all 6 of the kids in my backyard. My heart yearned for them to keep their innocence. Their daydreams. Their childhood. Yet I could almost see Addison's youthfulness slip away as the expectations for her to help with a task lured her back inside.

It kept me up at night wondering when little girls become young ladies. What day does that happen? When do they play pretend in the backyard for the last time? And then, what, the next day they just sit on the porch and watch while they talk about boys? How do we hold their childhood dearly and then know when we can let it go?

I wonder the last time my mom called me in from the backyard? One day I was back there shooting hoops getting yelled at to come eat supper. Today I'm doing the cooking and yelling and so forthing. Or when was the last time a friend stayed the night with me? Did I have a friend over one night and the next day decide I just don't have slumber parties anymore? 
camping in Ruidoso

only brave one to pull out the rubber rat when geocaching
A few things in life we have definitive time frames for. Graduations, weddings, births. Those days we know the next day will look different. But coming of age doesn't have a timeline. It has memories and pictures, but it doesn't warn you that's all childhood is about to become. Coming of age lingers through the teenage years. It gives you dreams of things to come while holding you captive with innocence. It makes you want to move on but desperately cling to what you know. It gives you the space to venture but yanks the rope to bring you back.

These meandering teenage years and the confusion they bring are just settling in on Addison. My hope for her is that she clings as long as she wants to childhood, not allowing the pressures of middle school to grow her too fast. But as time does to all of us she too will eventually be pressed into a new age. When that day comes, I pray she stares down womanhood and embraces all of its wonderment and beauty. And then I pray we open our cradled arms and watch her soar.