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" A Particular Friendship"


Announcement
Practicing Something New

By Liz O'Neill

I was beginning a new life with a new name and new address -- same social security number, though. I had spent more than half my life living with a religious group, or Community, as a people mistakenly call a Nun,  for twenty-eight years. 

I wasn't actually a Nun, but a Sister. That term is something only those who were a product of Catholic Schools could comprehend.  If I’d been a Nun, I'd never have been able to be a teacher, especially a public school teacher.  Nuns never leave their monastery.  They're like female monks.  

One of the older members of my Community compared it to a cult -- not a Satanic or evil cult -- but a Jesus Cult.  I figured that was what it should be called -- a place where having your own mind is frowned upon and all come to pretty much think alike, putting their needs last and the group's needs first.

I now see how this has fit into the schema of my entire life.  I have worried my way through childhood and into adulthood, What does this or that person need from me?  I still struggle greatly with not getting into other people's business or trying to finagle things to go my way. 

Wouldn't it only follow, then, that I would join a group of women who take perpetual vows to be caretakers.   

Not until I left that group, did I begin to understand or accept who I am.  I once heard someone say, We learn what we live with, we practice what we learn and we become what we practice. It occurred to me the time had come,  I started practicing something else.  One day I was Sister Elizabeth, and the next day, I was Lizzy.

To safely tell my story, I want to use the time-worn expression with a little addition of my own. The names and some of the places, herein, have been changed to protect the guilty and me.  The rest is the truth as I see it.   

I do anticipate I will offend some people with what I have to say, but have heard most authors who write about real people, experience great opposition.  

********

The Wondering

I was resolved to make up for lost time. At 47, I found my first apartment.  To some, it may have seemed cramped, with its small, but adequate kitchen and size-medium bedroom-livingroom combination.  But to me, it was a palace, my palace.

The first night I was there, I went around my apartment in quiet excitement and proclaimed each thing as mine. You may remember, in the convent, everything was clarified as community property. Everything was ours. 

I was in blissful disbelief as I sang, This is my sink, my shower, and my very own tub. A mirror, we didn’t have clear ones in the convent for fear vanity might sprout.  

I had my own cook stove where I could whamp up all of my favorite meals. I  planned to get a hold of my mother for her recipes. 

If anyone were sitting in my kitchen, they would see my performance of  a joy filled, tear filled ritual.  She had begun her new journey. 

About two more years would have to pass before I could feel I had my feet dug deep enough into the path I was meant to follow. 

As the leaves turned their myriad of colors and the air grew crisp, I sat in my apartment muddling over the question of packing my summer things away for another long cold nine or ten months or pack for moving.

I’d been waiting for one of my co-workers Andi to notify me when she planned to move out of her quaint rental cottage. I loved it and had daydreamed how I could fix it up to be mine to suit my inimitable style.  

Since it was self-contained with no one living upstairs nor in the next room, it seemed perfect. Why, it would be almost as if I lived in my own home.  

This wondering and waiting was driving me nearly crazy.  I had been slowly losing my sanity ever since Andi had announced she was thinking of moving. My mind wouldn’t stop. I felt like a hamster

Obsessive thoughts were never very far away. I chanted, Please Calgon take me away for a little vacation from these,what-if’s  plaguing me.”  my prayers to the Calgon gods were answered in the strangest manner. 

************** 

The Knowing 

I knew how I was going pack. I was going to buy my own home.

I had no idea where to begin and mentioned my dilemma while at an Alanon meeting one evening. As an adult child of an alcoholic, I often complicated matters for myself. 

If per chance, I did not, things worked out quite simply. One of her friends, Connie, a realtor, offered to help me.  

At Connie’s one token showing, I sensed a very dark and uncomfortable aura.  The house was very cramped and old smelling.

It had an odor and aura I knew I would never have been able to satisfactorily alter. 

I just knew this wasn't the right house for her.  Connie, must have felt she needed to show this one, so she could say she had shown me couple of houses for me to choose from. 

All along, Connie had another house in mind, “I can’t wait for you to see this next house. I’m sure you will fall in love with it,” as they say in the realtor business.  

Connie was absolutely right. She’d studied me well over our years together in Alanon. I couldn't believe how perfect that house was for me. 

Its open spaces and cathedral ceilings -- no pun intended --suited my personality.  I was ever grateful to Connie for her consideration about what would be the perfect home for me. 

 

Author Notes This is the beginning of my autobiography. It is probably not like most people's autobiography but you will enjoy it. To mix things up a bit, I have a fictitious narrator along with dialogue from Lizzy and later on some of her friends.


Chapter 2
The Reveal

By Liz O'Neill

All who have known me before, during, and after my time in the Convent still shake their heads in wonderment at this ex-nun’s  courage. When they heard I was out of my apartment and in my own home, they were all saying they wanted my courage.

Apartment living and managing money, with the tasks required, was not new to me. Through many appeals, five other Sisters and me were granted permission to begin what was called an experimental community. 

Leaving the confines of what I called the big house where about fifty Sisters lived together observing the same rules was going to a radically new way of living.  By our supporters, we were thought to be courageous women,forming and redefining how community was lived out. Many various religious communities have since

joined efforts to demonstrate to the traditional Sisters there were different ways to form community. We will learn more about the development of the new Community.

I’ll tell you, having been a part of the small community, and having been the bursar for the group, I learned to manage paying our bills and even writing out checks. Because of that experience, it wasn't really a stretch for me to live in an apartment and eventually manage my own home.

After the initial settling into my new home, it slowly seeped down deep that this was truly my sink, my stove, my shower, tub, and a refrigerator I owned, not rented. I didn’t have to share them with any individual or group of people.  They were really mine.  Finally, after over thirty years of searching, I was home. 

My life was then calm now, I didn't quite know what to do. I missed the lady who had lived in the upstairs apartment. I was probably the only one would call her a lady, as most of my friends hated her for how they felt she treated me. But I loved her even in spite of our tumultuous relationship. Dodie was one of the motivations for me to leave the convent.

I had several out-of-body experiences. Looking down at myself lying beside Dodie I’d think, something’s wrong with this picture. I was deliriously happy and grateful spending time with Dodie. We regenerated the weariness of the day, with joyous laughter. But the reality of my present status gnawed at me.

More than twenty years ago, I had taken a vow of chastity. We had a funny saying, being a nun means none of this and none of that.

It was time for me to seriously examine my life choices. “

I met met Dodie before leaving the Convent.  For two years we had been very close friends, with some romantic times. This left me wide open for one of our Sister busy bodies to prey. She actually was a skilled stalker. When I came home from a lovely evening with Dodie, Sister Nosey was there to meet me at the door at any hour. She’d cover her obsession with my business by acting concerned over whether or not I had locked the door.”

In an effort to outwit her, I used different doors on several occasions, only to have her meet me at that door. I don’t know how she figured it out, but even when I used an upper floor entrance, she was there.”

*******  

Everyone else in my Community was either older than me, or disinterested in the activities I enjoyed.  Though surrounded by a household of over fifty people, I found herself growing lonelier and more depressed.  

This new friend, Dodie, was the perfect companion for forty-seven year old me to do those 'adolescent girl things' I'd never had a chance to do or be. 

You will gradually see how healing it was for Dodie to have stepped into my life. 

Early in the convent, during the first three years of strict training, I could only associate with those in my set, determined by the year they entered the Novitiate.

My companions and I secretly kept forbidden friends called particular friendships with those who came in one year earlier than them.   

I discovered after leaving, my other wonderful friends had children with many family obligations.  They didn’t have a lot of time to spend playing like I needed. They didn’t seem to be able to fill that deep emptiness I felt. I’d never had just one best friend since I was in sixth grade.  I had no idea what it would be like to spend practically day and night with just one other person.

As a child, my best friend was Trudy our first eleven years, until she discovered older kids were more exciting. Things began to look up for me when I met a cousin of Meggy, one of the kids, in our neighborhood. 

Terry Ann came every summer from the nearby city to visit.  We hit it off immediately and Terry Ann talked me into going to her parochial school just a city away.”

I had always wanted to be a nun, therefore I thought this was a great idea.  My parents weren’t hot on the idea but agreed and within a year, we actually moved to that city, where my father also practiced law. we'd had enough of the smell of their neighbor’s dog, ducks and dung. 

“All of this, including the lines where they hung their clothes washed in Lestoil, wafted up to my bedroom window.  That sweet, sickish odor was especially bad on warm summer nights. I still hate the smell of Lestoil. “

 ***********

The Search 

In my Sophomore year, I was trying to fit in with kids in my new school.  Everyone had pretty well established best friends, some from kindergarten.  I was once again 'odd kid out.' There was no bullying in high school, though. I received endless invitations to loin in fun.

I did become good friends with two sets of girls, who included her in their activities. Terry Ann lived near one the girls I hung around with, but she and Terry Ann only did a few things together.  It was probably partly a class thing, as Terry Ann was in the business department and my friends and I were in the college prep section-two down from the brain room.  

That school was full of cliques.  I realized she could sit at any table, even with the hotshots. My father being a lawyer, I qualified.  But I preferred to sit with my friends who seemed more down to earth and accepting of anyone.  These were values I learned from my mother who’d been the wife of a very successful criminal lawyer.

My mother never put on airs, acting like she was better than others, unlike my father. I never heard her gossiping or judging others. She was accepting of everyone. I’m glad I have adapted that way of being with others. It has stood by me my entire lifetime. 

This may have been a strong indicator in my choice of table, too. After all, children are an extension of their mother.  

Even though her mother had before her any status she wanted to grab, she had been so broken down by her own mother, my grandmother from hell, she didn’t really feel that valuable.  Although Mother did her best to encourage Nike and me to feel equal to others, actions spoke louder than words. Because of abusive way my mother was raised, she lacked the wherewith all  to buoy us up. All she could do was affirm us with the announcement that people are mean.

We both remember mother saying, "I always feel like dirt when I  come in these places."  She did not tell my brother and me we were dirt, but because we each held tightly to her hands, they served as appendages and we came to believe we were dirt as life went on.  To this day, neither of us cares to frequent such establishments.

I got her eyes opened a couple of times regarding people who work in those places. I ran a support group at a shelter for abused women and during different conversations, two women named their place of employment to be one of those swanky stores. 


 

 

Author Notes Those who read my time travel situation in my book The Tor will find similarities between the 16th century monastery and Lizzy's early days in the Convent.



Chapter 3
No Particular Friendships

By Liz O'Neill

                                                                Cast of Characters

 

Sr. Elizabeth–name of main character changed to Lizzy after leaving the convent

Narrator–An author invented person

Sr. Marie Elise–Lizzy’s forbidden friend in the convent

Sr. Helen–the head person called the mistress of postulants, the title for Lizzy group who entered the same year

Sr. Barbara Marie–one of the sisters who essentially spied on Lizzy’s choice of pf, forbidden particular friendship

**********

You'd expect, when I first entered the Novitiate, my training years, I would have ample opportunity to discover a best friend. This best friend would be someone with whom to share some of our dreams and feelings we had in common.  

Things were not that simple. Having one friend was frowned upon, forbidden in the Convent.  They must have feared some of the Sisters would develop unhealthy relationships with each other, a little homophobic driven, possibly? 

This whole situation fostered an immature, ill-conceived concept of relationships.  No Sister could spend more time with one person than she did with another.  She was supposed to love all Sisters equally. 

Well, I couldn’t do that. Lord knows, I certainly tried.  But I was drawn to Sister Marie Elise, who, out in the world would have been called a good friend. 

Or maybe it was a crush. I was nineteen, the age people begin serious dating. In this artificial situation, I didn’t even have an opportunity to develop a natural friendship with Sister Marie Elise. 

 

Fearing getting caught and being asked to leave, I tried to misdirect Sr. Helen, the head person known as the Mistress of Postulants, so she’d never suspect our relationship. I spent more time and showed more attention to Sister Barbara Marie. I believed it worked, for a while, anyway.  

Now that I look back I think I probably caused some undue fear and stress for Sister Barbara though.  I'm pretty sure the Mistress got on her case pretty heavily and Sister Barbara probably had to do some big penances such as saying many prayers and suffer a lot of humiliation.  

I remember a puzzled Sister Barb, dropping the traditional label, saying, "Helen accused me of being pf’s with you."  

These initials were short for particular friendship.  It caused so much pain and shame.  To not be able to talk to someone who could have been a great friend.  How unnatural.  

Because Marie and I were always being watched, the relationship consisted of leaving notes in each other’s prayer book called a breviary.  And it didn’t ever amount to much, just little psalms copied in each other’s handwriting.  I treasured the ones I got from Marie.  

I looked forward to opening my book of prayers each morning.  When I found a piece of paper in it, I was filled with warmth.  It seemed to be one of the only consolations for me in that sterile atmosphere.

I’d go to the chapel every evening hoping to just see Marie and her sweet smile and do a little giggling.  All of this was done with no real conversation-only watchful whispering.  Because everything had to be so clandestine, I only hoped to be in the same part of the house or property to catch a glimpse of Marie.  

For some reason the postulants were not supposed to talk to the novices-those who had been there for over one year.  It was always cloaked in mystery as to why they lived in a separate part of the house and had gatherings the Postulants were not invited to nor could Novices disclose anything about what went on.  

Several of postulants compared notes with each other about any clues to what was going on, leaked to them by their secret ‘pf.’  We later found out the mysterious gatherings were called the Chapters of Faults. 

After the others and I had been there a year, we earned the privilege of belonging to this austere group where people confessed to things they did and also didn’t do, such as leave a wash pan out on the porch.  

When no one hit the floor or quickly knelt to acknowledge their guilt, some of us knelt just to get on with things, slowly making a mockery of the whole process. We couldn’t help but grin as we all knew what we were doing. The whole thing about penances was a bit of a joke. It just didn’t make any sense.

**********

I could never have imagined what would happen next.  One day, Marie cautiously approached, I sensed something was wrong. 

Marie stood there informing me she couldn’t talk to me anymore, said nothing else, quietly turned and left. We must have been reported or discovered. I felt the anguish Marie was experiencing.

I never saw her in the chapel in the evenings again and my heart sank when I opened my prayer book to find it empty, there would be no more notes in my breviary. 

One evening, I heard strange evidence of a car below my bedroom window.  The car door opened and latched with a soft slam, then drove away. I didn’t think anymore about it, except it was an unusual thing to be happening at that hour.  

The next morning it sadly made sense, when I approached the breakfast table.  My legs went limp, there was a sinking feeling in my stomach and terrible anxiety exploded within me. 

The place at the table where Marie always sat didn’t exist. As if she were never there, the Sisters she had sat between, were silently now sitting beside each in the place her chair used to be.  

As did all who left, she had secretly packed her trunk and departed in the night. I never saw her again. Nor was Marie ever spoken of again.

Today, I could make contact with her if I tried, but I just can’t.

A Particular Friendship  What a hateful, divisive word. What other kind of friendship can someone have, besides a ‘particular’ one?  Lizzy said she looked up the definitions:‘relating to a specific person, special, unique, and attentive to details.’ Sounds like an ideal friendship.  Or maybe this word was referring to the meaning of ‘particular’ ‘on the undesirable side’, ‘fussy, and hard to please?’  

As time progressed, I moved to the ‘big house’ to cohabitate with fifty other women. I had certainly met up with many who would achieve this rating.

Many of them reminded me of her maternal grandmother who was brilliant with cutting sarcasm and very handy with the switch  -- a thin twig broken off from a nearby bush.  These ladies never took a switch to me, but I took every kind of correction they may have doled out as cutting deep into her soul.  They may have meant no harm, but for me, this no longer mattered.  I just had to renew my old favorite ways of numbing myself...sugar.

Author Notes I was 19 when I went into the convent. It is only now as I have written my book Tor comparing it with the times in the monastery in the 16th century I see such striking similarities to how we lived in the 20th century. Though none of it made any sense, it just seemed part of the deal not unlike couples who remain in relationships that make no sense. This particular chapter was very painful but healing to write.


Chapter 4
Familiar Patterns

By Liz O'Neill

 Cast of Characters

 

Sr. Elizabeth–name of main character changed to Lizzy after leaving the convent

Narrator–An author invented person

Dodie--A woman Lizzy had a romantic relationship with

Sr. Mary--Lizzy's Mistress of Novices or head Sister

********

My new friend, Dodie, whom I earlier mentioned, came to fit the profile of so many others I had lived with. She criticized me for practically everything, how I looked, choices I made and friends I had. I told her about how my father treated me and all the criticisms from him. As with many abusers, she used that against me. She reminded me of how my father had treated me.  But later in Al-Anon, I came to realize that this was just alcoholic behavior. 

Dodie was an alcoholic just beginning her road to recovery. She wasn't ready to look at her behavior and attitudes.  I trusted her too much in sharing my vulnerabilities. 

She punished me by giving me the silent treatment.  This was the same punitive method employed by so many others in my past. I remember many times yelling at my mother who stood silently with eyes fixed on the dishes in the soapy dishwater. I pleaded for her to say something. Yell at me if you want to.  Don’t just stand there saying nothing.  

I evidently had done something to disappoint her. I always felt I didn’t measure up to someone’s expectations when they gave me that silent treatment.

I wasn’t sure if my own five years younger sister had learned this technique from Mother but there has seemed to be a cold war going on between us, for nearly our entire life.  My sister never had anything to say. It was as if she came into this lifetime with a chip on her shoulder. I suspect it has to do with her recognizing me from an unpleasant, possibly horrendous situation in a past life.

Then there were the Religious Sisters who for no reason stopped talking to me.  It was all such a puzzle to me, clearly Karmic. There was one whom I had pretty well put on a pedestal.  This was definitely a pf, particular friendship,  situation from my perspective who was barely twenty years old, a forbidden friendship.   Looking back I recognize the several crushes I had.  

When its compelling Sister came to the town I lived in, this Sister and I had wonderful times together, going for walks, saying the rosary, one of the permissible activities together, and sharing inspiring spiritual talks. I wasn’t sure I’d ever met anyone so wonderful, spiritual and ethereal. 

That came to a sorry end when this Sister was transferred to the same living situation as me. Not only the same living situation but the same room. There were four beds in a fairly tiny room separated by cloth curtains. 

I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. My friend would be sleeping in the same room as me. A very strange thing happened. This wonderful Sister began to ghost me and no longer spoke to me. She just stopped talking to me and acted as if I didn’t exist. This went on for a year and finally, I could take no more.  I was plunging deeper into depression and as a teacher, my effectiveness was suffering. 

I finally confronted this Sister, as to why she no longer spoke to me.  Her answer felt like a slap in the face. She said she had become disillusioned to see my little curtained corner of the room was messy. I was too messy. That was it?  I was just too messy.  This was no one's business. It was my little curtained corner with a bed and a window sill for which to set things.

I don’t remember what happened after that; I am good at forgetting hard situations.  Maybe that Sister moved onto another mission as they called it, another town with another school.  Or possibly, she just moved to another room. We never seemed to find ourselves in the same place after that.  

  *************

The Iconoclast  

Around the time I entered the convent, the walls protecting the bastions of conservatism, structure and tradition were beginning to crumble. I was in the middle of a religious revolution.  Religious life or the convent was a microcosm of the Church and/or the world.  

When there was unrest in the Church, there arose radicalism in the convent. Naturally,  the other youth and I brought that society and its values with us. Although the conservative faction tried to uphold tradition, the iconoclasts were undaunted.  

This activity in the convent mirrored politics. Viewing any old newsreels we can see why the Sisters walked in two’s. Hitler’s army marched two by two.  Previous to the revolution in society, the convent had been very communistic in its principles, with everything belonging to the whole, with nothing owned by the individual.  

We had to share everything in common with one exception, maybe, the toothbrush.  We had to refer to everything as 'our,' and I cringe to say it; even ‘our toothbrush.’  I want to assure everyone that no one used my toothbrush, nor did I have to use anyone else's.

It was mostly community terminology.  As individualism hit the middle 60s, when I entered, there were threats of breaking away to form new communities.

During one of these volatile community meetings I, the original iconoclast, felt compelled to get the conservative groups to see what the more liberal groups were trying to say. 

I didn’t know of the unwritten rule not to speak until you had professed your first vows or more profoundly were what was termed finally professed, making vows for life.

I was standing with friends in the way back of the old gymnasium. The minute I began to speak to share my inexperience, one of the Sisters barked, "Have you made your vows yet?"

 I was transported to my childhood where I was on the cross-examination stand with my father again. How dare she ask such a question?  My hackles raised, I ignored the question and mistakenly continued my dissertation. She would not let it go and kept pushing, repeating the intimidating question. 

A cold silence filled the room, awaiting my response. I was trapped in front of over 120 Sisters, every one of them professed and every one of them knew the answer to the question. Sets of eyes studied me. I had to respond.  At that burning moment, I was all too familiar with this type of trap, similar to the many I’d had tried to squirm out of being set up by my father. There was no winning this one. 

I blurted out, It’s none of your business. I’d never heard in my life, such a loud chorus of gasps, tsks and shushes.  Weak-legged and faint-hearted, I was whisked away up the hard metal steps, out of the gym, out of the dark pit, and as far away as possible.  I broke into gut-wrenching sobs on the shoulder of Sr. Mary, my  Novice Mistress, our director.

I have no idea what went on in the meeting after that. I did observe even the temporarily professed, three years in, were discouraged from speaking their thoughts. I don't think any earth-shattering discussion arose. The conservatives held control of any discussion from the floor.  

Who was I, a Novice, to have been so bold to even think I could get away with expressing my own opinion? If I looked around, I would remember I was in a group where people were discouraged from even having an original thought. They were, possibly through penance, conditioned to refrain from expressing it.

 

Author Notes The reader is discovering along with the author, repeated patterns in her life. Polishing up material originally composed 20+ years ago is bringing a lot of patterns into the light.


Chapter 5
At Home on the Farm

By Liz O'Neill

In the 70’s, communes were beginning to develop in revolt toward institutions. As introduced earlier, with Religious groups serving as a microcosm of society,  one of the radical risks Lizzy’s community would soon take was to establish experimental small group living, which consisted of five or six Sisters living in a regular house.  

I didn’t feel any safer around Jen, who reminded me of my own sister and stirred up old familiar feelings of wanting my four-year-old younger sister to speak to me and be my friend. 

These days, we make nice on Facebook, however, months pass between contacts I initiate. I’ve almost forgotten I have a biological sister. Fortunately, I have, over time, developed deep relationships with sisters from another mother. 

One Sister in the small community was a composite of her father and blood sister. I was closest to Leilie, who was only five years older. They would talk for hours at night about how bad things were for both of us, especially with Cheryl. Fortunately, the pf rules were obliterated.

Sadly, things must have gotten to be too much for Leilie. With her creeping mental illness, and the sharp cutting tone and words, the shapeshifter began to remind me of my grandmother from hell. who used to come to stay the winter, the long cold dark winter. I know that's one of the reasons winter is not one of my favorite seasons.

The least offensive was Jody, who reminded me of my dear mother, who was always depressed and lacking energy.  If I could catch Jody on a good day, she was very nurturing and wonderful to be around.  My relationship with Jody, reminded me of how I always felt a need to fix my mother’s unhappiness. I believed if I felt the same discomfort, I would be carrying the sadness for Jody and my mother. 

********************************

 The Discovery 

 I remembers the very moment I knew who was responsible for her mother’s feelings.  My brother Nike, my mother and I were waiting in the car for our father to come out of his favorite club.  It was the same routine every time.  

Mother would go in to get him, be gone for a little while, then come out crying.  After another hour had passed, Mother would send Nike in; surely her husband wouldn't refuse his son.  

When fifteen minutes had passed and no Nike, she'd send me into that black hole. Though it felt like a consolation prize, I got to do my favorite thing. The traditional procedure to gain admittance through the club doors was to be buzzed in.  I felt important and so grown up.

When I got inside, I took the familiar walk down the dark corridor toward the smelly bar. I discovered why her brother hadn't come right back out. My father instructed the man behind the bar to give me a bag of potato chips and an orange drink. When he escorted this dutiful daughter into a small side room with a few round tables and chairs I looked to the right darkened corner.  

I was taken aback when the concerning mystery was solved as to why my missing brother had not hurriedly returned to the cold car. Nike was sitting there gorging on the same bag of State Line Potato Chips and slurping down an identical box of orange drink I became aware I was hugging with my small bent elbowed arm.

When we were almost finished our snack, my father told us, tell your mother I'll be right out. How many times I'd heard that line?   And how many times I believed it? The chips and guilt didn't settle well.  Nike and I edged our way back toward the car, returning to the cold, darkness where my hungry mother had been sitting waiting for my brother and me to return to her, with my father in tow.  

I quickly scrubbed around my mouth and all areas where any tell tale potato chip crumbs might have clung. Out of habit, I used my sleeve to remove the orange drink stain from my lips and cheeks. I was haunted by the awareness, an eternity had passed while Mother was in the cold, silent car lighted only by a distant telephone pole light while I had been in that warm lighted room, filling my face. 

On a few rare occasions I have found that authentic orange drink, however to this day, I rarely find my favorite sweet potato chips in any grocery store. I would be unable to munch out of any sentimental blue-colored bag with the red stripe on it without remembering that bitter moment.

I became a pretty good pool player out of all of this, because when Mother was allowed to stay inside, maybe in the dead of winter,  my brother and I spent hours in a special room upstairs.  

I don’t remember much about the room except for the very large elegant green velvety pool table in the middle.  I wonder now what we may have left for marks as our cue sticks skidded across the warm-colored covering on the table.   

These times were most comforting for me.  Here, I could be a worry-free child knowing my mother was downstairs, safe, warm and comfortable.  Nike and I also were sheltered from any cruel, bullying words. 

 

 

 

 

Author Notes I have always thought Animal Farm summarizes the dynamics of any institution I've had anything to do with. We also repeat patterns from the institution of family.
Animal Farm is on pdf if you want to refresh your memory.


Chapter 6
Puff's Cave

By Liz O'Neill

My relationship with Dodie began to mirror the interactions I’d had in my grammar school days. It mimicked the heartbreak when my best friend no longer wanted to hang out with me. There were other exciting interests, the older kids.  

Dodie, the woman who lived in the upstairs apartment from me, with whom Id been in a romantic relationship,  slowly drifted from spending time with me. We had originally enthusiastically planned to have apartments with a stairway to connect them. 

One day, for no obvious reason, Dodie stopped speaking to me.  The woman I trusted and loved had been waiting for a fellow to reach his year of sobriety to gain him as a boyfriend. 

One of the sayings that has repeatedly helped me, especially in times like this, is, ‘Some are sicker than others and some are sicker than most.’ 

It was excruciatingly difficult for me to live in the downstairs apartment from someone with whom I had shared so much and who now no longer spoke to me.  

Eventually, I changed things in my heart and chose not to initiate any words, not even a greeting. That way, I stopped setting myself up for hurt.  In the beginning, I'd thought this woman to be like the blood sister I'd never had, but now, she was just like the sister I had.  And who needs another one of those? 

I didn't know what good would come of all of it, but worked very hard to believe things would come out all right in the end.  Having someone with whom you are stuck to like Velcro, I discovered, can certainly take up a lot of lonely time. 

I kept busy, having fun and doing things I never, ever would have done and certainly never would have dreamed of doing.  I got to ride atop a huge elephant at a bazaar day -- bizarre?  

Dodie introduced me to a new side of myself. Only much later did I realize these dreams were within me, long before this. As resolute searcher, I only needed someone to help me discover them.  

 For a long time, it seemed, my girlfriend had revealed a precious gift for me to hold and cherish. In one dark, bewildering second, it snatched it away.  I was unable to see the gifts once revealed, were not lost, only in the shadows again. I was like Puff, in one of my favorite songs, ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ 

One line in particular describes the situation well:  ‘Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave and so he sadly slipped back into his cave.’  Without my friend to do fun things in between work, I didn't know how to fill up my time. And for a short while, I lost all enthusiasm for life.  I retired to my cave for some time, favoring the darkness.  

While I was venturing with this new friend, I forgot I had two other friends. Bobbie, whom I'd known for over twenty years and Malinda, whom I'd known nearly ten. Like loyal friends, they just hung back while I 'did my thing'. Having seen this pattern before, they knew I’d be back. We have remained dear friends to this day.

I'd put thoughts of them aside for a long time and had been very short in conversations with them if I saw them at a grocery store.   All Dodie had to say was, ‘I’ll be waiting out in the car," I said a quick ‘goodbye’ to my longtime friends. I was aware of the label ‘co-dependency’ and knew I vigorously practiced it.  I eventually learned this when I read Robin Norwood's book 'Women Who Love Too Much. '

Like every other addiction, that kind of relationship is cunning, powerful and baffling.  I don't think I’ve ever seen a co-dependent relationship end happily.  They're usually very messy.  Al-Anon prevented this one from becoming messy from my perspective, anyway. 

Maybe this disease wasn't going to kill me like it did her mother, but it certainly killed my spirit.  It killed my mother's spirit and then it killed her body that housed that spirit.  My mother never found Al-Anon and never realized she had choices.  Instead, my sweet mother kept her feelings to herself, which grew into resentments and then began festering inside her and developed into terminal cancer.  

I know I can't afford to hold onto any resentment for very long, because I know that for me, resentments can kill. Many an evening, many a weekend, Lizzy sat in her new home trying to sort things out and not doing a very good job of it.  She just didn't know what to do next.  My head told me I Should be deliriously happy. 

My heart told me I was in darkness and uncomfortably numb.   It was as if I had fallen to the bottom of a deep, dark well covered with suffocating water, through which it seemed no light could pierce.

My friend Malinda who she had forgotten for so long in my whirlwind relationship with Dodie, threw down a rope with a big lantern on it, for me to take hold of and do the hard work of climbing back up, step by step, into daylight.  

I had taught myself to play guitar about four years into the convent.  I’d met other sisters who played and heard songs I liked and thought it’d be nice to be able to play them.  

When I knew the strict rules had faded regarding owning things, I asked her mother to buy a beginner guitar. Mother thrilled at the prospect of being able to buy something for her daughter.  

Beginning the long task of building up enough calluses so the pads of my fingers didn’t burn and turn into big blisters seemed an eternity. It was nothing like the torture of the inquisition I am sure I endured in another lifetime, but at periods the pain of new blisters was discouraging. 

How does one sing, hold a tune, keep rhythm and hide the howl of pain?    At the same time, a new woman entered the convent. The physical building which housed us for our medieval times in the Novitiate, was for lack of new entries, repurposed. 

A new postulant and friend became a part of the big house population with her private director.   When she took up guitar, I was elated. Since the scourge of particular friendships was nearly forgotten, I had someone to help me pace myself.  

I realized I wasn’t adept at changing chords but was motivated to practice harder and make quick progress. The two of us, played many songs appropriate for Mass, the daily religious ceremony, requiring singing and thus a perfect opportunity for the fresh guitarists to accompany.  

 

Author Notes I feel the universe is always watching over me because whenever there is a challenge in front of me I seem to be able to find the helps needed to get beyond the obstacles.



Chapter 7
The Life of Music

By Liz O'Neill

 Malinda, my longtime loyal musician friend  finally persuaded me to leave my isolation and venture out to some musical activity called open mike, where just anyone can get up and sing a couple songs.  They didn’t have to be famous or be in some kind of group.  

When I saw how simple the performances were I began to come back to life, knowing at that moment, I could and would get up there in front of other participants the next time.  Singing someone else’s song was difficult for me.  It was clear in my head,  I could even hear the artist’s voice.  What came out was passable, but nothing like it had sounded in my head or on a CD.

One singer sang pieces he’d written, and they sounded great, so I decided to test my talent.  When I sang my first song, they loved it. This inspired me to compose more.  Every month I had another song.  

My compositions grew increasingly bizarre but very good.  It got to the point, if I didn’t have a new song, people were even a little disappointed. I wrote about life with great metaphors. I was inspired to write a new one when Malinda’s husband told me I needed a backflow valve for the sump pump in my cellar.  This all tied in when I heard a friend say he couldn’t go back to his old town because his ex was there, and she didn’t want to ever see him.

    Our Past 

 

Our past is like the sump pump buried in the cellar of our mind 

We turn on the switch to make it all go away 

We feel a sense of relief as the last of it disappears  

We walk up the steps into the daylight to begin again 

Only to hear a gurgle  A terrible gurgle   A deafening gurgle 

 

We don't want to hear  We don't want to see  We don't want to know 

That everything we had worked for  Everything  worked against   

Everything we had  worked to get rid of   Everything we thought was gone 

Was back   It was  all  back  

 

But we should remember that forgetting our past is like a sump pump 

Without a back flow valve to make sure it all stays away 

 

There must be a place to hide it in some dark corner 

But water in the cellar is not good  

 No amount of water a the cellar is ever good  

It erodes away  It eats away at the foundation 

Everything will crack, crumble and collapse 

 

So all who would heed this warning    waste not a day nor a moment  

Rush out  to get your sump back flow valve today 

  

********************************

Scruffles 

My confidence was greatly and excitedly challenged when one of the group asked me in front of everyone to write a song.  I thought he must have been talking to someone else.  What made him think I could write a song about someone who’d had a pet die?  Knowing I couldn’t write an entirely sad one, I inserted my surprise humor into it: 

 Midnight Blues 

 

My heart is full of midnight  I'm as blue as I can be 

For my baby kitty's  gone and left me   My heart is full of midnight   

That's all that I can say  The sun just ain't shinin' on me today 

 

Where's my friend when I need him warnin' me a spider's comin' down  

on my head  He's no longer sittin' by me   He's cold  and dead 

He was the color of midnight and so is my heart 

What will I do without him, How can we be apart 

 

He used to lay on my feet at the end of the bed 

He won't be warmin' nothin' now  He's cold instead    My heart is full of  

midnight  And so empty too Without my baby kitty what will I do 

 

His bowl sits so empty on the kitchen floor 

I'm sure I hear him callin' to come in the door 

His little catnip mouse sits on the window sill  

Just like my baby kitty who lies so deathly still  

 

I've no one to talk to about the troubles of the day 

My only baby kitty has up and gone away 

He won't be puttin his clawless paws on these tears comin' down my face 

He won't be sittin' on the couch in his favorite place  

 

My heart is full of midnight  as I wait for him to come 'round 

I shake my head in despair and hear not a sound 

 

His brush sits on the counter I haven't the heart to throw it away  

And there's the ball I'd take out for him to run and  jump and play 

He'd jump and twist about and bite at the garden hose 

Suddenly stops all that, and lies in the grass to doze 

 

I took him to the vet's for his regular checkup but I never 

thought  I'd hear the Doc call and say your baby kitty's checked out forever 

 

My heart is full of midnight  I'm as blue as I can be 

For my baby kitty's  gone and left me   My heart is full of midnight   

That's all that I can say  The sun just ain't shinin' on me today 

 

                   

Sadly, I only had to change the last two stanzas when my dear sweet Scruffles signed up for the Rainbow Bridge. 

Scruffles had a sweet way to say yes to me, letting me know that yes, he did want to go outside, and yes he did want a snack, by opening and closing his mouth. The most heart-wrenching yes was when he was in my arms at the vets, preparing for his journey to the Rainbow Bridge. 

The compassionate vet had given him his first tranquilizing shot. I was having doubts everyone has about whether I was doing the right thing. I decided to ask him, do you want to go to the Rainbow Bridge?  He looked up at me and opened and closed his mouth. I sobbed wracking sobs. 

All along Melinda was encouraging me, but I wanted Melinda who had written poems long before this to enjoy the same feeling of pride.  It seemed simple to me to imagine Melinda's poems put to music, or for Malinda to just write some new ones for songs.  

The reality of this idea seemed too remote an endeavor for Malinda, however with gentle coaxing ,she finally wrote something which of course was excellent.  Malinda also seemed to get caught up in the thrill of having others applaud her composition and performance.  I was thrilled for her.

                                                                **********

Music has always been an important part of my life.  A 45, a 7-inch vinyl disc, played one song for about 4 to 6 minutes in the 1950s.

I had to have my music with me when we were tenting overnight in the front yard. My small navy blue 1950s,record player entertained us with one of my many 45’s, a 7-inch vinyl disc.

Each disc had to be replaced with another every four minutes, to sustain our musical ambiance.  Four short minutes was the amount of time my friends, Timmy and Trudy, my brother Nike and I had for building up our courage against a potential zapping experience.”  

When the buzz came through the cloth speaker on the record player, the next chosen brave individual was alerted there would be a pretty good-sized number of volts passing through the extension cord lying in the night, dew-damp grass. 

Even less electrical insulation was provided by a metal TV tray, upon which the record player sat. We will revisit the subject of the TV tray at a future time.

We knew if we didn’t let go of the needle arm real fast, that record player was going to be the conductor of a great surge of electric energy. It became an adrenaline-rushing game for us as we took turns risking getting zapped and learning what voltage felt like as it surged through our bodies.

 

Author Notes Music has always played an important part in my life. I played my radio to help me concentrate while studying in high school. I missed it terribly in the first three years in the convent, my training years. I've made up for it since.



Chapter 8
Crank that Volume

By Liz O'Neill

A long time had passed since those record player days.  Previous to my high school years, I listened to my favorite singers like Elvis, Freddy Cannon,  'Cool, Water,' and 'Born to Lose' on a big radio kept on the front sun porch.  

Cranking the volume as I was wont to do, caused crossed wires, and tubes loosening in the collector’s item radio, and my favorite song was replaced with rumbling vibrations, loud enough to rattle the storm windows on the porch.  Stomping on the porch floor as discovered by Mother, seemed to fix the problem.  

Sometimes there was a comical scene when Mother and I were busy in the kitchen doing dishes. As soon as the rockin’ background music switched to the annoying buzzing, both she and I rushed out to the front screened-in porch and began laughing and stomping until the vibrating, floor, and windows quieted and the rip-roaring radio music returned.

*********

With the earphone tucked securely in my ears, I lay in the darkness and quiet of the house, trying to get to sleep. Preadolescent fingers wrapped around my little gray-blue transistor radio.  

I dreaded that, at any hour now, my father would come home and Mother would have to get up from her comfortable encroachment-free spot on the couch in the den. She’d have to fix his supper. 

My stomach boiled every time she heard her father had brought home his rowdy drunken buddies.  She knew that a knot would be forming in Mother’s stomach at that moment.  

Even my tiny transistor radio couldn’t drown that out.   Too often in the early morning hours, the National Anthem harshly, tinnily blasted through the little earphones, signaling the station comforting her was about to go off the air.  

I routinely searched in the blackness for another station until that abandoned my heart. I understand why whenever I hear that anthem I am triggered, filled with sadness and anger replacing my musical distraction. 

They’ve come up with a name for what experienced my whole life, especially when it came to studying. I guess I didn’t consider having an attention deficit disorder or ADD, a disorder because I found music screened out distractions every night while I did my high school homework.

************ 

In the fifth grade, may have weighed 150 pounds, but I was athletic, playing every sport available, except for golf.  The closest I came to participating in the game of golf was to chase what my father called his shag balls. 

The kids in the neighborhood had fun chasing and retrieving the whiffle golf balls when he was practicing hitting them. One time, as a sixth grader, I actually got to caddie for him on the big golf course.  

Wanting so badly to form a relationship with my father, I asked him to teach me to play golf as he had my brother, Nike.  He responded with, "I’d be too embarrassed to be seen with you on the golf course." I never, ever wanted to play golf after that, and detest seeing it played on television.

*********

I wrote a poem about the tightness of my heart trying to connect with my father. 

Daddy Will You?

Daddy, will you teach me how to play chess?
So I can play with you
No, girls are not smart enough to learn to play chess
Oh

Daddy, will you teach me how to play golf?
So I can play with you
No, I would be too embarrassed to be seen with you
Oh

Daddy will you go swimming with us?
So I can play with you
No, can't you see I'm exhausted from our jog around the block
Oh

Dad I need some money for a special sweater for school
So I can fit in and be like the others
No, You think I'm just a cash register to punch
Oh

Oh
It's Father's Day
So I ripped up the card which had sat on my dresser
Since I chose to separate from him three years previous

Dad, I did not grow up just like you
I am kind, accepting, caring
And I heal
Rather than hurt

No
I did not grow up anything like you
And I grew up without you
Even though we lived in the same house


 

  

It was probably at that moment, I knew there was no chance of ever having a decent relationship with my father. Later in my adult life, while in the convent, I pretty well disowned him.  

The relationship with the father, Paul Petersen from the Donna Reed show sang about in the song 'My Dad,' was something I could only long for.  Daily playing that song on the stereo, the lyrics told of everything my father was not.  

As a sensitive high school freshman, I played it over and over wallowing in self-pity.  Later on in life, when in therapy in her 40s, I learned there was a distorted pleasure in that wallowing. I no longer enjoy my sadness and seldom feel sorry for myself.

There were no support groups for teens in the 60’s.  'Born to Lose', 'A Million to One', 'The Wanderer', and 'Only the Lonely' all said it for me.  They were voices I could identify with.

********

Rebellious Retaliation

In my high school years, had had the volume turned as high as possible on any music I listened to.   If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a bass vibration you know how it must have made the bed springs buzz in my parents’ room located directly above the stereo cabinet in the living room. 

Mothger was unaffected, as she was already down in the kitchen laboring. My father, on the other hand, was in bed reading his pile of saved newspapers and newspaper clippings.

This irritation became a way for me getting even with my father. He had to put his newspaper down, get out of his comfortable bed, make his way down the stairs to tell me to turn the bass down. 

I cherished the thrumming growl the bass knob created. At his behest, I turned the volume down for that day, but not forever. That stereo became a burr in his side as if I were holding it in my hand.

************

 I’ve talked about the painfully difficult part of having to say goodbye to Scruffles, my Maine Coon cat. Now, I'll tell you about him when he was alive, how things went for us and how I came to actually have him in my life. Some of this is covered in my 'Be Wee With Bea' books.

I have said before, Dody, my former girlfriend, and I had planned to have our doors open, so her cat could travel up and down the stairs and I could enjoy her cat. When the doors between our apartments were permanently closed to me, I knew I had to get a cat for myself.  

I mentioned this to my friends who had a cat who seemed to feed from garbage cans and was quite feral. I suspect my mother’s spirit gifted me with him.  She loved feral cats. We had one named Barney, who never seemed very affectionate to me, but he was my mother’s cat.

When my friends said I could have their cat, I swallowed hard looking at it. He was a mess. They said his name was Scruffy and that certainly fit him.  I told them I would think about it, when in the back of my mind I was thinking, never.

 

 

Author Notes I now have found a favorite singer songwriter, Grace VanderWaal, who seems to have a song for any situation. She brings tears to my eyes, getting me in touch with some serious depth and give, me chills with her intense spirituality. I sometimes have her song on loop for the entire day.



Chapter 9
Act of Resignation

By Liz O'Neill

Previously: Lizzy needs to find a cat. Her friends offered her a scruffy one that kind of repulsed her. She's hoping for another one.

******  

As if the universe had heard me,  with no manipulation intended, Maria offered her daughter Lena's cat from her foster home.  I already knew this cat, which had a much more hopeful name, Snowball.  

The plan was hatched. I would get the cat the following Saturday.

 I thought this was more like it.   This cat had been cared for, was clean, calm and snow-white.  For some reason, the fact she was white made things seem all better, even though a white cat can show dirt sooner than most.

But it seems that Scruffy and I were destined to be together.  The morning I was supposed to pick Snowball up, Lena called to say she had decided to keep the cat in the foster home where she had previously spent a year and a few days. The cat seemed to be settled nicely there, and Lena thought it better to keep Snowball in the foster home.

********

That afternoon I resignedly went to get Scruffy, who fortunately was not on one of his street adventures, but waking from one of his afternoon naps. When I reluctantly picked him up, noticing every one of his ribs, I had no idea what a potentially rugged, handsome, cat I was gingerly clutching.

I got him into her teal blue, 91 Civic Honda Hatchback, a color and space he would later make a beeline for, a sense of the familiar.  When I arrived at my apartment, I quickly unlocked the door and released him from my tight grip. 

Having been cautioned about letting a new cat outside in a strange neighborhood, I swiftly shut the door as I slowly set him onto the kitchen floor.  

Scruffy had different plans.  Remember, he was a street cat and he apparently didn’t see any streets in the apartment. He wanted out.  Also, keep in mind that I had never had much experience with cats, consequently, I didn’t know that cats meow, short of howling when they don’t get their way.  

Are cats naturally nocturnal?  I was soon to learn the answer, at least Scruffy’s interpretation of night prowler, night yowler.  I was all set to settle in for a long Saturday night’s nap. But not my new tenant Scruffy.  He was bound to pioneer the unknown territories and beyond.

Those of us who have entered into a power struggle with a cat knows the futility of it all.  I was unfamiliar with such frustrating, exhausting exercises. I just dug in deeper, under my downy feather pillow, clenching my teeth tighter against my acrylic bite plate.  

I had to show this new inhabitant of the apartment there were certain morés, which needed to be heeded.  I couldn’t lose my grip now. I greatly feared the repercussions of Scruffy awakening Dody, the prissy princess above.

I’d finally had it.  It was 5:00 A.M. in the middle of the night.  For me, anytime between the hour I go to bed and the time I get up is considered the middle of the night.

I angrily grabbed him. Gone was the afternoon gingerliness. Opening the door, I flung the strange invader of precious sleep and a previously peaceful apartment. Out into early morning light he flew.

Growling, I Informed him she’d deal with him later.  I almost slammed the door but remembered part of the reason I had put him out, to begin with, was a silent night.

Finally waking, I’d almost forgotten the living nightmare I’d been through no more than six hours ago.  When my groggy brain began to jump-start, I remembered the unfinished business known as Scruffy. I thought I’d open the door and he’d blithely saunter in. On the contrary, there was no sign of him.  

I handled the situation the way I always have with unLizzyable truths. I shut the door and found something else to do, knowing that he’d return later.

Throughout that afternoon, scanning the outside, I sighted no Scruffy. Where could he be? I’d heard of remarkable journeys of animals returning to their former home.  I couldn’t imagine why Scruffy’d ever want to go back there to eat from the kitchen floor, where the kids had thrown their pizza crusts.  

I set out searching for him anyway. When I didn’t find him at his former home, I slowly, vigilantly, headed back up the street.  She thought for a moment I saw him, but it seems we see what we want to see and I've become aware of a plethora of Maine Coon cats everywhere.   When I checked the bowl I’d set out for him, only the flies had feasted on the tuna. No Scruffy.

My grandmother from hell did some serious damage to my mother’s self-esteem and belief system.   I heard her tell my mother she wasn’t a good mother to us three children, Nike, Lizzy, and my sister.

Continuing the cycle, their mother told Lizzy’s sister she could someday admit to her son why she wasn’t a good mother. Pass the toxicity forward.    

It was crystal clear to me at that point why I would never make a good mother. God forbid, I got tired of my child’s whining.  Would I have put my child outside to quiet him, all to save my sleep?

I felt guilty and certain this was a sign I didn’t deserve a cat. When I shared this vignette and belief system at my Alanon meeting, the members told me I did deserve a cat. They went as far as to say if Scruffy didn’t ever show up I should get another one. They suggested I freshen her bowl of tuna. 

On the way home from my meeting I spoke with my mother’s spirit asking her to help Scruffy find his way back.  Serenity surrounded me. I knew things would be all right now.  

Clearer-headed, hopeful, and affirmed by my friends that I did deserve a cat who would return, I sat on the porch steps waiting for his arrival.  

The scraping caught my attention and turning around I saw Scruffy nibbling at the tuna. I feared her excitement was so loud it would startle him.  Was he real, or had my wishing, so much and so hard, created a mirage?  I came to her senses and ever so quietly opened the kitchen door, never taking my eyes off him.

Slowly, with the concentration and caution of one disarming a nuclear weapon, I pulled the newly filled dish closer to the apartment door until I could grab him and toss him inside.  

That evening I yearned to hold him tight all the nightlong.  Of course, he’d have none of that.  I didn’t care if he yowled. I was just grateful he was with me.

 

Author Notes In retrospect, I see how hard my mother worked against the influence my grandmother from hell had on her. She did not want to be anything like her and she wasn't to me anyway.



Chapter 10
Another Kind of Training

By Liz O'Neill

Lizzy went from the Convent big house, to a small group living situation, back to the big house, to an apartment finally to her own house. She got Scruffles her Maine Coon cat when she got into the apartment.

****

When it was time for me to move to my new house, I knew I needed to get Scruffy, later to be renamed Scruffles, a sort of upgrading as they say, trained to respond to my call. I purchased an over-sized harness, modified to fit with a few strong rubber bands attached to a lengthy yellow rope. This way if he escaped, all I had to do was step on the long fleeing rope. 

I led him into the woods, ironically in the same area I received my training in the Novitiate, the name of the building where all the damaging ‘pf,’ homophobic nonsense went on.  

“Having lived there for three years, it was a little weird going back on the property.  Familiar with those woods, I knew they’d be safe for training.  I walked him on the leash a ways, slowly letting go of it to allow him breadth to sniff his unfamiliar surroundings. 

“At the same time I tiptoed about 500 feet ahead of him, hid behind a tree and produced a sound similar to the background of the song ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’. It worked. He quickly waddled his way toward  me.”  

This sniffing, and running to the call was repeated a few times until Scruffy bored with the whole process, and started heading out toward the entrance.  When he saw something familiar, the teal blue Honda, he bolted for the opened car door.  

As his familiarity with the woods grew, so did his sense of adventure.  He no longer needed coaxing to explore.  In fact, he was going farther beyond the swampy areas than I cared to attempt.

There were two times I thought I’d lost him.  Fortunately, I brought along my friend Sandy and her two daughters, Keb and Beth.

We were unaware Maine Coons carried a speculated history of jumping from a ship and swimming to the coast of the state of Maine.  It seems all Maine Coons love water.  The mischievous feline leapt across the greenish water ‘til he got to the other side.  After this fright, I realized  Scruffy had had enough training. 

*********

The Brook 

Unlike Scruffles, I was afraid of deep water.  As a matter of fact, not until I was nine, did I even know there was such a thing as deep water. Although, today I suspect my fear of deep water stems from a past life death. I was drown as a suspected witch. There are many clues related to that possible past life. 

Back in the 1950’s the level of water at the dammed up section, where we used to swim, was  waist high.  The only time, which often happened, any of us ever had to put our head underwater was when a large cow flop came floating down the shallow crawling brook.

“As I plugged my nose and puffed out my cheeks, I loved looking up from the bottom toward the shimmering surface of water to see the silhouettes and shadows. You see, the brook ran right through the middle of a cow pasture.” 

I think the term, class field trip, may have its origin in school outings to places such as ours.  The end-of-the-year class picnic was literally a field trip.  Our competitive games consisted of throwing, dodging, and stepping around frisbees of dried cow dung. Someone inevitably slipped, ending up sitting in a warm fresh cow flop or falling into the brook. 

In this same brook, right behind my house, my friends, Timmy, Teddy, Trudy, and I had exciting challenges crossing a large flat slippery rock without sliding into the cool frothy water.  

And we could always tell every time someone in Timmy’s house flushed. A small slip of toilet paper eased its way through the opening of a pipe leading into the brook at the base of the stonewall. 

When we saw that gross sight, we all yelled,"Someone just flushed in Timmy’s house.” 

 When we looked up at Teddy’s house on the hill, at certain monthly times of flushing, the rocks had a pink tint to them. All that raw sewage didn’t seem to hurt the rocks a bit.

As I reflect upon it today, I not sure what drove my mother to get us all in rubber boots to go down into the brook and clean it out of broken glass and other rubbish which had made its way into our water world.  Was her purpose to form some sort of bonding among us all. Kids loved my mother.

Or was it just an opportunity for my mother to have an excuse to get out of the house, as there were no malls in those days?  Was it to ensure we wouldn’t get cut when we tromped around in the water?  No one ever really dared purposely sit for very long in the water in that section, for obvious reasons.  It wasn’t a swimming hole, more suitable for wading.

On other occasions, Teddy would be planted somewhere up by the pink rocks with a Daisy B-B gun aiming at Timmy and me, hidden behind an old rusty oil barrel on our side of the brook.  Plinking sounds on the rocks near a difficult-to-spot Teddy could be heard.

Once in a while, an ow of pain echoed across the brook to the grinning marksmen whose B-B hit its target.  Of course, I wanted to believe I had hit my target Teddy.  I secretly enjoyed when Timmy got hit by Teddy; but it was not so funny when I felt a sudden stinging on my own arm.

Sides were not always matched up in my favor.  One day I will always remember, Timmy said something about my weight or size I did not appreciate. I pushed him off the railing, onto the porch floor, three feet below.  

Almost before Timmy could pick himself up, his hitman, Teddy, walked onto the property, firing his B-B gun at me.  I took off down the street, followed by Teddy, running and firing the whole time.  

               

           

 

 

Author Notes Rather than tell this story chronologically, I am sliding one Segway into another in the genre of themes.





Chapter 11
Chippsies and B-B's

By Liz O'Neill

Previously: Lizzy and her friends were sitting and standing around on her front porch. Timmy said something to cause Lizzy to push him off the railing. Next she knew, she was being chased around by Timmy’s cousin, Teddy. He had a B-B gun.   

*******

“I thought if I ran onto the cross street I could reach the school grounds faster than my gun-wielding assailant.  That way I would have more room to zigzag.”

As I came around the corner of the dirt road, Teddy met me. Very aware his gun was still stuffed full, with B-B’s was enough of a catalyst for me to get those powerful yet tired legs pumping even harder and faster climbing the hill to the school building.

It seems this episode of the hunter and the hunted went on until Teddy’s long, fully-packed, barreled gun was emptied of ammunition. I got hit so many times that day, it far exceeded the sum total of times he’d ever hit both Timmy and me from across the brook near the pink rocks.

After giving Teddy a good chase around the building, we had raced from under the eighth grade classroom, to the fourth, ending up beneath the seventh grade. 


 The extra challenge for Teddy was the slanted angle of land running around the giant pine tree. He couldn’t accurately shoot and keep his balance at the same time. 

I was sure he must have been almost out of B-B’s, and headed back down the hill toward home. We were both slowing and beginning to laugh together. He couldn’t stop to steady his aim anymore. He was laughing so hard. 

After that strenuous adrenaline rush for both, play proceeded peacefully as usual.  There never seemed to be any grudges held among any of them. 

**************

Kickball

When the weather was good and enough neighbor kids could be rounded up to play kickball, everyone gathered in the lot directly across from my house.  

Any fizzling enthusiasm was reignited when someone kicked a foul ball toward the brook.  Everyone ran to save the ball before it went down over the bank into the rushing stream.  

If we failed in this attempt, we had one more chance.  Running along the steep embankment, we raced each other and the stream to outpace that ball before it went through the culvert under the bridge. 

Sometimes we get there even a little ahead of the ball, having to shoot some rocks at it, hoping to dislodge it from some fallen branches, jamming it up.  It was always touch and go.  

If the timing wasn’t just right, the ball would slip away from our hands and out of reach forever. This was always such a serious moment, as our local store was not stocked with kickballs.  

No one ever intended to kick the ball into the brook. They all knew it might mean the end of the game for the day or the week or for the rest of that month.

We asked the store owner to buy some kickballs to sell. We’d be his biggest customer. He said, "You should have your mother get a bunch of them the next time she goes to the city.”      

I always liked to think somewhere, down that long brook, there were some other kids who got to play with our former kickball.  

When we were wading around the sewer pipe from Timmy’s, he spotted a colorful orb bobbing toward us. Nike popped it out from the water before it was stolen from us, over the little falls and an impossible chase would challenge us.  We were so excited, we couldn’t wait for the next game to be able to use our new gift from the brook.

Sometimes when we were having fun playing kickball, too often, a disruption would spark in the nearby field. We would have to stop the game to rescue our friend, who was being bullied and beaten by some other boys in the neighborhood.  

He was limited in school and didn’t play kickball that much with us. He was also bullied by his older brothers, but my friends and I couldn’t do anything about that. Those brothers were a lot older and bigger.  

When my gang and I saw our friend being pounded on, we dropped everything. Our punches must have been convincing enough. The bullies left everyone alone, swaggering away, yelling threats of future retaliation.

When they got more sophisticated and older, we played softball in what was a wide-open lot, perfect for home run hits.  One day they saw a house being flat-beddeded down our street, right beside the lot.

We once again stopped all play, concerned with where that house would end up on our street. Our eyes followed it until it stopped. We were horrified.

Someone had foolishly, without consulting us, planned to move that house from another part of town and plunk it right of center, in our home run zone. 

We weren’t going to stop hitting home runs. If the new neighbors didn’t join us in the game, there was going to be a big problem. We were sure there would be broken windows.  

Having my own interest in mind, I yelled no chippsies before anyone had a chance to yell chippsies.  Whoever hit the home run into the window of the intruding house would have to pay for it all by themselves. I didn’t want to have to pay for anyone else’s broken window. 

I must have forgotten I hit a home run almost every time I was at bat. On the school grounds at recess, when I wasn’t spending precious time sparring with my seventh grade instigator, I was hitting home runs. Because of my ADD, I got distracted and so excited,  I was apt to trip on my way to first base.

I knew if I were guaranteed to make it to first base, I had to hit a home run. Any other player would have made it all around the bases and touched home plate.  I may not have touched all of the bases on my hit, but I usually enjoyed sending other base holders home. 

This time was no different. With that strange house looming in our outfield, the ball was pitched, I swung, and smash went the window.  Everyone mockingly chanted no chippsies and ran to their respective houses.

 

Author Notes I suggest everyone begin writing their autobiography. You will be thrilled you did when you are in your 70's. It is fun and healing looking back.



Chapter 12
More River Fun

By Liz O'Neill

In winter, the ice-covered brook behind Timmy’s and my house was a whole different world. I still have, to this day, the skates from my seventh grade, on which I bumped up and down the river.        

My skate shoes were worn to the point of exposing a nail digging into my heel, so I had to pad my skates and wear thick socks.”

Trudy, Teddy, Timmy, I, and sometimes Nike were totally unaware of the cold current coursing below us. The group’s solution to ice cracking under our skates below Timmy’s house, was to move about five feet up the brook ‘til we’d pretty well cracked up the whole stretch from my house, on up to Teddy’s. 

If anyone were high up staring down at the scene, they would see the equivalent of about half a small city block of cracked-up ice.  With no more crack-free ice to skate on, it was time they reluctantly hung up their skates for that day. 

Pre-ice skating age, Trudy and I gave both of our mothers a start, when we decided to cross the brook on the ice. Mother, standing on the bank, caught a glance of us four year olds, midway across, with a trail of boot holes in the ice. I do remember looking behind us and seeing water filling our boot impressions.   

Frantically, she instructed us. "Keep going toward the bank on the other side. Don't try to come back toward me.  Go up the hill to Teddy’s, I'll meet you at the bridge."  Trudy’s mother was there to switch her all the way home. I was sure, as usual, Trudy would get taken down to her cellar for a spanking. I, on the other hand, got a hug from my loving mother.

As you know at times, the brook was where I ran for safety, down over the broken cans and glass, to get away from my year younger raging brother who would pound on me if he ever caught up with me.

I took strange pleasure in antagonizing him, he was my brother. That was the pattern of our close relationship. It was too much for Nike after coming down the street to hear me trying out his new trumpet, handling his property. You’d think I would have learned not to touch his trumpet.

********

There were dark times for my friends. There were switches, sticks, yardsticks, and rulers swung by the grown ups. Teddy had been yardsticked by his mother. Shaking her switch at me, Trudy’s mother pointed it as she asked me if I wanted it too. 

When I swallowed the lump in my throat, shook my head back and forth, side to side, I was able to whisper the word no to wanting to get switched by Trudy’s mother. 

Trudy’s mother switched my best friend's bare legs toward their house, slamming the door shut. I was certain Trudy would get it with a good-sized stick in her cellar. 

I found it difficult and sad to watch Nike and Mother in a power struggle. She would hit him with a ruler and he would just say it felt good and told her to hit him again. 

She didn’t, of course, but started crying. I have assessed the dynamics and why there was such friction between Nike and Mother.

Her mother had a distorted perception of males and Nike, the youngest, the most malleable one got the brunt of it all. Mother’s mother was abusive to Mother’s father so she considered males weak.  

In addition to having to deal with her husband, Mother also had to care for her alcoholic wife- battering father-n-law. My paternal grandmother died before I was even born.

I was also switched, not by Trudy’s mom and certainly not my mother, who had probably gotten it plenty of times and would never use a switch on anyone, not even Nike.   

I was switched with a thin branch all the way home, after having been found with Lane, a neighbor boy, down over the bank by that babbling brook.  

My cruel grandmother from hell didn’t know nor would she care if she knew I did not want to be there, that time nor the dozens of other times, forced to do things to the boy or his older brother and have them do things to her and their sister.

There were troubled times for me by that babbling brook doing stuff a perverted bully wanted me to do, but mostly there was a lot of fun with my friends. There was light amidst the darkness.

One of the coolest things about my neighborhood was my friends were all the same age, even in the same grade.  There was Timmy, to her left and Dody, up a slight incline from her. 

A little farther away, closer to where they went to school, was Jock, who sadly has since passed. We remember Teddy, who was across the brook near the pink rocks.

I learned recently, Timmy and I only had a few B-B gun fights with Teddy because his mother discovered him shooting at someone, Timmy and me. She followed through on her threat to break Teddy’s gun. This clearly must have been after our chase around the neighborhood. He certainly had functional B-B gun then. He said, "I still miss it. It was a great gun."

********

Box Elder Climbing

The gang loved climbing the two box elders which grew high above the brook. Why no one ever fell to their death or suffered some serious injury is a puzzle to me when I reflect on it. 

Within view of the dining room window, Mother used to look out occasionally to see none of us had fallen, broken any bones and all was well.  Only in retrospect, I seem to think that was strange. 

Mothers in the neighborhood either knew nothing about it or saw nothing unusual about their kids climbing in a tree about twenty feet above the shallow brook with only my mother watching over their kids. 

The view was great up there.  We were excited to get a good perspective and thrilled as we watched the pretty decent-sized river rats scurrying around down below.  I still find it hard to believe that I would dare climb such a tree with my fear of heights.”

*****

One place I was determined never to go was the shortcut to our swimming hole up the brook quite far beyond Teddy’s.   I was content to travel the long way around, following the brook bank.

Some preferred the path over a tall wooden fence.  There were two fences which kids would sometimes get confused about. If they chose the wrong fence to climb there were consequences to be met.

One fence when climbed over,  feet landed on solid earth. The other presented a terrible surprise and the wrong shortcut taker had to walk over to where we were, befuddled, shocked, grossed out covered with fresh, dripping cow manure.

If anyone climbed over the wrong fence they landed where the farmer dumped his fresh manure from his barn. My sister, only five at that time, had sunken in up to her chest. It must have frightened her, all alone there figuring out how to free herself. She came over to us by the brook crying and immediately jumped into the water to wash off.

On another occasion, one of the little guys, a cousin of Timmy, made the same mistake. He used the whole thing to clown around, threatening to paint people. We encouraged him to take a dunk, keeping us safe for that time

 

Author Notes As you can see we had some wonderful times together as kids. We've remained connected to this day.


Chapter 13
The Lamp in the Storm

By Liz O'Neill

It was November of 1950, I was three and Nike was two.  We both remember as if the lights went out yesterday.  We were doing the kid thing of getting another glass of water.  Our father had not gotten home yet, not out of the ordinary.  

Mother came up the stairs warning, “ I’m going to turn out the hall light if you two don’t get back into bed.”  The lights flickered and there was darkness.  My stomach dropped, I was shaky, filled with fear. 

  “We promise if you turn the lights on again, we’ll get back in bed.  Please, please, turn the hall light back on.” 

There was silence interrupted only by some of Mother’s anxious muttering, “I didn’t turn the lights out. You know I would never really do that.  Stay there, I’ll be right back.” 

Nike and I stood with our water glasses in our hands in absolute darkness. We were terrified, wondering if Mother didn’t turn out the lights, who did?  

Our wonderings were cut short as Mother reassuringly returned with a brightly lit flickering hurricane oil lamp.  

She ushered us down the dusty wooden stairs to the dank dirt floored cellar where we three sat huddled clinging to each other, on our Radio Flyer sled.  

Neither Nike nor I knew what had driven Mother to urge us without explanation to that spot.  We knew nothing about feet and inches at our age, so it would have made no impression on us to know what Mother knew.  

We were in the middle of a hurricane, our house was only five feet from the brook and could very possibly blow or slide over the bank into the raging waters.  

Mother told us later when we were adults,“I was so terrified that night. I had two small children to protect and keep safe. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I kept preparing myself in my mind for what I’d do if the house began to slide.”

I thought when she told us that, she was kind of being a little dramatic, but we had some serious flooding from one hurricane in our area.  In my adult life, I frequently drive by a place where several houses just washed into the rumbling river. That could have been us. I can appreciate even more how stressed Mother must have been. 

                               ************             

As we sat there wondering what the next thing Mother would have us do, we heard footsteps above us. In this day and age, Mother would have shushed us to be as quiet as we could be. We would have been shaking with a new fear.

However, that was not the case in the 50’s in our little town. Mother had a skill of dealing with any vagrants who came to the door.  

She was pretty sure it was our neighbor, Trudy’s father, anyway. She coaxed us back up the stairs to an empty dining room. Whomever it was had left. Mother motioned for us to return to our sled.

I was the first to sit on the top stair. There was a crack of thunder, a deafening thud which shook the foundation.  At first, I didn’t know what was crumbling all around me and covering my dark wavy hair. 

Frozen with horror, I barely heard Mother tell me, “It's just the plaster from the ceiling. You’ll be okay. You’re a very brave girl.”

She and I both brushed the chunks of plaster from my little three-year-old head.  Trembling, I cautiously sat down on one wooden stair after another. I held my breath until my little feet touched the cellar floor. My legs wobbled until I was able to sit  on the safe stability of the sled.

Lawrence, Trudy’s father, opened the door to the cellar and yelled down. Mother, no longer alone, breathed a sigh of relief and hurried us little ones back up the stairs.

She picked Nike up in her loving, shaking arms. Lawrence carried me across the yard to Timmy’s house, next door, also too close to the brook. 

I could not know that as I grew older, I would discover that this man whose arms I felt safe in, drank. I would experience his unsafe touching when he led me into the part of his cellar, which Trudy and I would call the rat cellar.

As we were carried across toward Timmy’s house. I felt wrapped in absolute stillness in the eye of the hurricane.  Only the loud grumbling of the brook could be heard.  The air was unusually still. 

The thing that struck me that night at Timmy’s house where we ended up, was how big the flashlights were. I’d never seen such big flashlights. 

Filled with a myriad of emotions, the strongest one was confusion. I looked up among the group of ghostly faces, trying to recognize anyone in the strange light of lanterns and giant flashlights. 

Searching, I felt alone within the crowd of grown-ups from our neighborhood. 

Then I spotted Timmy.  I had found him.  Things would be okay now that Timmy and I were together. We were so relieved to find each other in the excited group.  But even at three, I shivered, sensing danger, in the whispers. They were expressing their concerns about the house we had come to for support and safety.  It could just tumble into the brook.  

When Lawrence offered to have the three of us sleep the night at their house, just a little up the hill, and safely away from the brook, Mother gratefully accepted. I got to sleep with my dear little friend Trudy.  There was no buzz of conversation as at Timmy’s.  Everyone, worn out, hurriedly got under the covers and tried to sleep while the storm wore itself out.

Recalling the before of a storm may be difficult for anyone, but for me, I had never remembered there were so many trees growing in Trudy’s yard. They were now logs sunken into the muddy earth.  We stepped over one fallen tree after another to return to our house.  

I looked at Timmy’s house. It was still there. Now, did I dare look at ours? Was it going to still be where it sat or had it washed into that scary brook.  

I didn’t remember there had been two very tall elm trees growing in front of my house.  I may not even have noticed them that morning, if one of them had not crashed down onto the peaked roof of my house. 

 

Author Notes My friends on here have shown me how writing my autobiography in first person would work out fine. I have since realized they are right. Any reluctance I had earlier has been eased. This chapter and any following chapters will be told in first person.


Chapter 14
Cross the Brook

By Liz O'Neill

Previously: Mother, Nike and I had spent the night at my friend Trudy’s house, remaining safe from the aftermath of a hurricane. There was danger of our house sliding into the brook behind our house. 

*******

When the three of us ran upstairs to the bathroom, we gasped in unison.  In the exact spot Nike and I had been standing, the branches of fall-colored leaves were sticking right through the ceiling.

********

I've since written a poem about our hurricane experience as I remember it:

                                         The Lamp in the Storm 

 Do you remember, Ma,  It was about 9:00 pm, long after we were supposed to be

in bed   

But we were little then, using that old trick every little kid 

has ever used to stay up just a little later  

We were just getting a glass of water 

After all, what was the glass there for if it didn't want us to use it? 

You came and warned us as all Moms  do,

that you were going to turn out the light if we didn't get back in bed 

But we were little then, and said “don't shut the light out  

we'll hurry” 

But at that moment all the lights went out 

We began to cry  

and beg you to turn them back on 

but you said you didn't turn them out  

 then You assured us you'd be right back   

and you returned with a hurricane lamp.  

You hurried us down cellar   

I can still see us sitting, you, Nike and I huddled  

on our glider sled   

But the thing I remember the most

was the crack of the cannon at the circus  

and how it was my fault that we all had to leave  

because I was crying  

Was that because I was so brave  

that leading everyone  

down the cellar stairs as the crack of thunder 

brought the plaster down on my head   

and we saw the next morning a branch with leaves on it

sticking through our bathroom ceiling

in November 

How still the air was as Nike and I were being carried across the lawn

to a safer house,

for you told us later that the brook that we heard raging in all of  

 that stillness

was only five feet from our house

that you were so afraid 

the house would slide into the brook

But we were little then, and didn't know

there are streams that run deep and storms that rage in all of us 

 It is those times I wait in darkness

for the glimpse of that light of hope and  

 security

that your hurricane lamp filled me with

and I don't feel so little 

**********

The memory of that crack of thunder has stayed with me even to this day.  Thunder and lightning had not always affected me in a traumatic way. Now I have a lifelong case of PTSD.

At work if an angry patient gave me indication they were going to slam a door, as long as I could emotionally prepare for it, I was fine.  However, if someone slammed a door behind me, I was reduced to the reactions of a three-year-old again. That's how PTSD works.  

**********

When it seemed to rain for days and there was nothing very interesting to do, we’d stand in the window and watch the rain pour down into the brook, which by the way, wasn’t as close to the house anymore.  

Mother made sure there was at least another fifteen feet of fill dumped in. When we watched the lightning strike the trees up on the hill across the brook, it still felt too close. I grew to hate the lightning and still do, because I know thunder will follow.  

It is no wonder that every time I hear thunder, I put my hands up to cover my head.  One time, one of the few times our father took us anywhere, we were at a circus, the cannon went off and that was it.  I was struck with terror again.  Everyone with us had to leave because I was dissolved to a bawling three-year-old, and of course it was my fault. 

*********

One summer, I noticed the path of the air traffic for a not-too-distant airport had been altered.  When the helicopters, consistently checking for illegal crops, whirred above my head for about two weeks, I pretty well went over the emotional edge.

 

After two years, I was tiring of new PTSD incidents.  I began to put things together. I had long ago suspected I was in WWII in my most recent previous lifetime.

Where else would I have had the knowledge of the sound of bombs being dropped or surroundings being shelled, with planes buzzing overhead? Experiencing the stirring of my nerves with explosions equal to M-80’s in my wooded neighborhood enraged me.

 

************

Cross the Brook  

 With the brook’s banks swollen with dark, murky undulating, roaring currents, sometimes for days, we stayed away. 

When we could cross the brook, we would be found there in all seasons.  There was an abundance of different kinds of berries and Mother showed us all the good spots.  I concluded because I’d never caught poison ivy in all that berry hunting, that I wasn’t allergic to it.

So, when I was bragging, I felt compelled to dramatically demonstrate to everyone I was an exception who was not allergic to poison ivy by rolling in it to prove it.  
 
I had you going, didn’t I? I was not affected by it, nor have I ever shown signs of being allergic to it. 

Some might say, “Don’t hex it.”  

It’s kind of late for that as I sit here in my 76th going on 77th year of life. 

Strangely enough, when picking berries, we didn’t eat very many.  We each focused on filling our two small tin peanut butter pails.  

When Nike and I got back to the kitchen, Mother clapped and smiled saying, “You did it. I don’t see any berry juice on your faces. Well, let’s see what we’ve got here.” 

We became excited when she grabbed the metal colander and began rinsing a couple of handfuls of juicy blackcaps.  We were soon seated at the dining room table with a big bowl of berries covered with milk and sugar.  What was left over went into a precious pie.

When we weren’t berrying, we were chopping huge ferns to build a big fern house constructed of sticks lashed in some places with wild grapevines, covered with ferns.  I still love the sight of ferns, I have a whole backyard full of them now. 

 

 

 

 

       

Author Notes The brook shaped us, united us, and filled our days with enjoyment. It becomes the setting which sculpts the characters and provides a plethora of plots.



Chapter 15
Barns and Willows

By Liz O'Neill

In addition to collecting ferns, I loved gathering butternuts, helping Mother collect them on the ground and in the water right by the last big crossing rock. There was a sharp eye called for, with some on the ground within the ferns and most in the brook as they grew right above the water.  

The one thing I didn’t like was the waiting part of butternuts.  I kept asking Mother over the weeks if the butternuts were dry enough to crack open with a hammer, on the marble sidewalk leading from the porch where I pushed Timmy onto the floor to the dirt road we’d have to chase down to intercept the kick ball from flowing into oblivion.

In the winter we careened steeply down between the trees onto the ice, balancing on jack jumps made by Timmy’s dad, which consisted of a seat on a sawed-off ski, supported by two wooden sticks about 1 inch x 1 inch.  We got extremely skilled at coming to a skidding halt right at the edge of the thin ice parts.

***********

At the top of that hill was the field leading to Teddy’s.  In fairer weather, almost daily, some hot summers, Teddy and I raced our imaginary horses back and forth from one end of the extensive field to the other. In between ball games in the lot and swims in the brook, it was our favorite spot to end up in a nice cool stand of pine trees, which served as our hideout. 

If someone were in close vicinity to us, they would hear the sounds of our horses as we imitated hooves rapidly striking the ground. They might even hear believable distant gunfire sounded by us. We were brought up with Johnathan Winters, the television king of imitating sounds. 

Because there wasn’t enough space for the 5th grade classroom in our school building we were bussed to the next town.  That was a painful year for me as will slowly be revealed.  Basketball plans to look forward to with Teddy made it tolerable.  

It was the same routine almost every afternoon.  I’d jump off the bus, run home, change, run up the hill, cross the bridge, and enter through Teddy’s backdoor.  His mother would greet me, tell me Teddy was still getting changed. 

Like clockwork, the song ‘Battle of New Orleans’ would be playing on their wooden standup radio. Whenever I hear that song, I am carried back to my eleven-year-old roots.

We’d bounce and shoot the ball on the dirt floor toward the basket in his garage. He recently reminded me we got into continual trouble when we made long shots and inevitably would hit the light on the ceiling. 

We wondered why his father didn’t put some kind of wire guard over it, like they had in the gymnasium where we went to watch high school basketball games.  

That made more sense to us than his father becoming enraged with us.  We played until his mother told him it was time for supper and for me to head home, back over the bridge and down our street. 

So many neighborhood kids had done secret touching, some outrightly assaulting me. I had come to believe that was all anyone expected of me. 

So, in the midst of our game, when Teddy had to run into the house for something, I stared into  one of the dark corners of the garage and wondered when and if that was where it would happen.  It never did.  Teddy never disrespected my body.  

In fact, that corner was purposeful for something else, another opportunity for us to get into mischief. There was a bucket of tar in the corner. Need I say more?  

We had fun flinging that tar everywhere on the walls. I don't remember if there were consequences or not. Probably just as well. Because I felt so safe around him, it was okay with me, if he won the game almost every time. I always told him I was going to win him. He laughed at my phrasing, but still won. 

*****

Barns and Willows    

Mother was raised on a dairy farm and I thrilled every time we visited, while my grandfather was still alive before he died of Tuberculosis in the Sanitorium when I was six.

When I was about three, he taught me how to properly hold onto a willow branch used to dowse for water.  I still remember my amazement and thrill, as the pointer part of the Y-stick thrust toward the ground, almost pulling from my little hands. My love for dowsing was instilled in me at that time. 

Mother always  expressed the desire to take a dowsing class. Though she searched newspapers, she found no offerings. It wasn’t until after she passed, I spotted a little square of an announcement. I proclaimed to Mother, we were finally going to get to learn about dowsing.

As the years went on, I grew to identify with the weeping part of the willow.  I loved to go down to the barn to watch and participate in the milking-by-hand process and to shovel out the gutters.  

I still love the smelI of manure. I wanted to live on a farm forever, until a farmhand began catching me alone and making me do shameful things. My therapy at thirty helped me with all of this abuse, to know I did nothing wrong, I was a child. 

At the end of my street there was another barn and another willow which were bittersweet.  Why Mother ever let my brother and me play in a barn with two teenagers, passed-off to be cousins, second-removed, we cannot guess.  

At first, I excitedly climbed the straight ladder nailed to the boards of the hayloft, to jump into the shredded bales, below.  As the number and intensity of secret games, choreographed by Donna, assisted by Toby, grew, I hated climbing the ladder.  

Filled with dread, I stalled going up and shame-filled, I shook rung by rung descending.  I have heard that within the last twenty years or so, someone tried to burn the barn down.  I felt relieved and absolved with closure I recently drove by the blackened shell. I wonder if the one, or ones who set it, were also shamed by the games played in that barn.

 

Author Notes Many of you are aware of my dowsing skills. Most begin as I did, learning about finding water with a Y stick. After I learned more, I have been able to heal. I have been able to help a friend or two with shrinking their tumors to be nothing. I owe this to my grandfather and the universe.


Chapter 16
Something Deep Within

By Liz O'Neill

Tom has saved me. He researched until he found the way I could log in to this site. Thank him if you get a chance. I was worried I'd lose everything...yay Tom
******

I wrote this following poem on a retreat. It is a giant metaphor about my helping abuse victims like my little me and anyone else who has been an advocate who dare not nor because of fear or shame, cannot speak.



***********
Willow


As I happened upon her
I could see only brokenness
Her shoulders slumped
as if laden
with a burden
she believed even too great for her

I wished to grant her
scarcely a moment's thought
and be on my way

But something deep within
was calling to me
and I drew nearer

She had the appearance
of one who has
been weeping
for many lifetimes

I chanced to ask
"Why do you weep so?"

"Because of, for, and with",
she responded

"Why do you give your answer
in a riddle?"

"Because life is a riddle
For which there is no answer,
With even a lifetime to search"


She stood there
firmly rooted
as she spoke

"I love children
gathering around me,
to hear their laughter
But I know
in their deepest parts

There are cries, even shrieks,
They dare not utter

Sometimes I am sure
I can see
the smudge marks
where tears
seeped out
but were quickly
pushed back inside
For fear things might get worse

Many of my children
have forgotten
the tracks of their tears

Time and will
have erased them
from the heart's memory
but not from mine



II

We trees have been
the hiding place
of treasures
for a lifetime

There was once a boy
who nailed to a tree
his favorite horseshoe

Long after the boy
was grown and gone
A bolt of lightning
Split her open

And there close to her core
Was found the horseshoe
held so precious

III

When I was fresh to this earth
and yet a sapling
they would come
some enraged
others beaten down

All of them standing there before me
Body rigid
holding in so much shame
Finally
letting go
upon me

I, feeling myself
bending under
the weight
of their heavy
sense of hopelessness

As much as I feared they might,
Not a one of them
ever tore me from my roots

I have endured,
even as angry sticks
have cut
deep into my bark
through the years
I believe
I have been spared
so I can be here
to tell their story

You asked earlier
why I weep
It is because of, for, and with these
I weep"

IV

It was now my turn to speak
As a child
I sat under another willow
The details are hazy
I wish to erase who
but he starkly stands
in my heart's memory

How he hurt me and my brother
has faded though
Returning
only
tears and rage
until now, dear tree

He and I used to sit
greedily sucking sweetness
from the honey comb

of the bees
kept by his father
Drinking in the sweet smells

of the willow
And sipping hot cocoa
As if removed for a moment

from the
secretly kept
violent intrusiveness
It was a bittersweet time

of that willow

V

But weep no longer for me
Willow
You have gentled me
And I have done
with grieving for now
and grown

to see grace transforming pain
in your
bending low
to hear
the whimpers and gather pieces
of the fragmented hearts and lives

It is in these tears
that we are healed
Cleansing waters
releasing pain and darkness

Weep, rather, for those
who cannot,
may not,
will not,

That your letting go
will speak
to their unfreedoms
And they will dare

to be healed


VI

After silently wrestling
with my words
The tree began
with gradual crescendo

"Why?
Why me?
What is the use?
There will always come more
Multitudes
mouthing the same questions

Why?
Why me?
What is the use?
Always the same questions

And I
I have
no answer
to give them"

VII

Dear willow
Can't you see
You are their answer

They stand numb before you
But not silent
It is in your ever being here for them,
for me
Keeping them alive inside

Giving them hope
Gentling them
As you have gentled me



You hold the riddle
and the answer
of pain and suffering
the power givers and the power takers
and yes
the children

These mysteries
which seem too intolerable
to hold
too close to our human hearts
for fear they will
break

You do hold and embrace
with the gentlest of tenderness

As long as people's sacred history
is preserved in a place
held dear to them
holy ground
There is hope
for wholeness and holiness

So weep on willow
But stand tall and dance in honor of your Creator
It is a grace-filled act for which you have been chosen

************



When Toby wasn't around Donna, there were no secret touching games. In fact, he did a lot of fun things such as taking us in a pickup truck out to the field to pick berries or just exploring by the brook, which was beyond the culvert where they ran to rescue the kickballs.


One of those days, during the summer just before second grade, Toby was driving in from the field with Nike and me in the back in the cargo bed. In my impulsiveness, I climbed out of the back stepping down onto the running board, ready to jump off when he stopped.


I now realize, he was pausing to shift gears right by the tree where, at an earlier age, I tumbled off an adult teeter-totter with a fulcrum about 7 feet tall. I thought Toby was stopping so we could get out. I jumped, just as the truck jerked ahead.


I was thrown to the ground with my left knee directly in the path of the tire. I screamed in terror and pain. Toby stopped, got out and ran to call Mother who had to call my father at work a half hour away, in the same city where the hospital was located.

I remember the sweet sickening, swirling blackness of the ether, enveloping me, creating an increasing fear that I would disappear into nothingness and never return.

Author Notes My therapy at age 30 covered all of these traumas. I went through many years believing I was just clumsy but my therapist showed me how this was untrue.


Chapter 17
The Hallway

By Liz O'Neill

Previously: After an accident surgery was required.
I remember the sweet sickening, swirling blackness of the ether, enveloping me, creating an increasing fear that I would disappear into nothingness and never return. 

*********

I’d felt invisible most of my life thus far, anyway,  but this was the real thing for me.  And worse yet, Mother was out having a cigarette when I woke.  I was sick, scared and vomiting. 

I  felt abandoned. It did not matter that the nurse told me my mother was just outside having a cigarette. I know Mother felt horrible, like a bad mother, like she didn’t have a right to take a break. 

********

This did not dampen the way Nike and I played around. There was no difference, just because I had stitches.  One time when I was sliding down the banister railing to get away from Nike, I ripped out some of my stitches.  

Another time, I got going too fast on my crutches and ripped out some more. I wasn’t going to let stitches prevent me from riding my bicycle.  Besides the fact that my leg has grown, I do have a good-sized scar there. 

**********  

The Hallway  

I do have to confess here I took joy in tormenting my one year younger brother Nike.  I know he secretly loved chasing me down into the brook, just a little terrified. Let’s face it, we loved all aspects of the adrenaline-pumping game.

When I knew Nike was headed up the stairs to use the bathroom, I scurried into the bathroom, closed and locked the door. I was just in time to leave Nike on the outside crying, hammering with sometimes angry fists and most times just determined fists.  

I would step up onto the toilet seat and heft myself to the narrow high window sill, drop onto the outside roof, cross to my parents’ room and sneak out into the hallway where my brother was still pleading at the bathroom door to let him in.  

When he saw me he chased after me as I ran back the way I’d come, this time having to frantically heist myself up to the high chin-level exterior sill.  

Sometimes my brother got ahead of me, locking the bathroom window. This put him in control of the bathroom, where he wanted to be, to begin with. If I got in through the window first, I would lock it and rush out through the bathroom door and down the stairs to get as far away from him as I could. I was sure he was going to kill me. 

It all ended when I ran down over the neighbor's bank of broken cans and glass into the brook. After chasing me, he probably went back upstairs to use the bathroom as he had originally planned. This ritual was carried on day after day, either running for the bathroom or running for the brook.

********
Off that same hallway was Nike’s room with a spacious closet, a safe place for both of us. I don’t remember why we went there to hide among the heavy overcoats, way in the back on the floor.  I know it wasn’t to get away from Nike because I’d often meet him there.  He’d be planted on a high shelf above me, covered with more coats.  If I got there ahead of him, I’d have him cover me with coats previous to his climb to his hiding place. 
 
 After a while, the pattern of coats was pretty well established and I would just run and dive under them before our mother came up the stairs.  When I think back, it doesn’t feel like it was a game. I don’t know what happened initially. 
 
It must have been something that angered our mother. I don’t imagine she’d really do anything to us if she ever caught us. As she peered into the darkened closet she may have smiled knowing just where we were and walked away leaving us with the belief we had outsmarted her.
***************
There were times when we played tricks on our mother. Plans were hatched in that same hallway.  You see, my family was one of the first in the neighborhood to get black and white television.
 
Because my father had to have the lamp off, I imagined myself to be like Abraham Lincoln who had to read by the light from a candle or fireplace. I wonder if he got an astigmatism as I did as a result from doing my homework by the light of Hop-a-long Cassidy’s campfire. 
 
Those television shows gave us fodder for activities to act out. We loved playing hotel,  not the sort kids might play today. This was modeled after Billy the Kid and Whip Lash Wilson.  No Annie Oakley for me; my little sister got to play her.  
 
My grandfather, who died when I was three, left behind a ledger from his blacksmith business and Mother let us use it for our hotel ledger.  Later Mother said, “That that ledger was probably worth a lot of money before you kids scribbled all over it with your favorite crayon.” 
 
I bet it would be worth even more money now with all of our famous signatures in it.  I wonder where it is now and who is raking in all of the dough.
 
We had a rule that you had to check your guns at the desk when you signed in.  It seemed to be on the honor system as there was no one to be the desk clerk, We were busy robbing banks, with Annie Oakley tagging along. 
 
The bank was actually a low cupboard in the kitchen, not used for very much except storing Mother’s loot.  Because each feared the other would get more candy, we fought so much that Mother said we had to divide up the spoils. 
 
Being the oldest usually meant being blamed for stuff I didn’t do, but this time it worked out for the better. I got to divide up the three bags of various flavors of candy and make some of the rules.  It was decided that the leftovers, those not in multiple of three, would go to Mother.  We agreed to put them safely in the cupboard for her. She was going to have all of the leftovers.
 
We went back to our hotel to rest, checking our guns at the desk.  One might imagine we didn’t take a very long rest and were soon grabbing our guns, to hold up an otherwise occupied bank clerk.  

It seemed Mother was always in the kitchen cooking, washing dishes,  or cleaning up.  This made it quite easy to sneak up on her, dial open the imaginary combination to the safe, grab the goods, and high-tail it back to the hotel to divide up the day’s take. 

The yummy, coveted, sweet, chewy leftovers, numbering one or two, were placed back in the safe, ensuring our fun would continue until the next bank deposit. When that was carried out a fresh plan for another stickup could be formulated.  

 

Author Notes Unlike some readers, my childhood home felt safe and I hope I am capturing some of that in this chapter .


Chapter 18
Some Surprises

By Liz O'Neill

I wrote tthe following poem about our exploits with the splitting up of the bags of craved candy

 

************* 

Check Your  Guns At the Desk 

 You got more candy than I did... You got more candy than I 

The only solution our mother could come up with was to have us divide the bags of candy evenly among the three of us 

my brother, myself and  

my little sister who didn't deserve any at all 

 One for you, one for you, one for me  One for you, one for you, one for me 

 The one or two left over from each bag was kept for our mother in a safe 

a cupboard directly under the silverware drawer.    

 But being the sugar addicts we were, we became obsessed with how to get our candy back 

 We decided to play Hotel--not what you're thinking..We strapped on our guns 

I had two gun holster­.  I was Billy the Kid-not Annie Okay,   

My brother was Hoppalong Casssidy   

My sister was Annie Okay 

 We signed  the hotel ledger­  

actually my grandfather's blacksmith ledger 

My mother said we ruined it and it could have been worth a lot of money 

 Should of put that in the safe too 

 We sneaked into the kitchen where Ma was washing dishes  

Carefully dialed the combination  

Silently slid the much coveted candy into our cold hearted hands  

 Galloped, clicking our tongues all the way back to the hotel 

checked our guns at the desk  and divided up the loot 

 We put the one or two extra in the safe to gather interest- 

our's that is 

 

**********

 

 

 

I remember the first time I became aware of an that intriguing world above my head. Mother was lowering the Christmas decorations onto the blue top of the cleared off dresser.   Only our eyes could touch the special one which we held in high esteem.  

The curious hands and fingers of our imagining childlike minds longed to touch it to see what it felt like and to discover why we were told to stand away.  Unusually obedient, we folded the fingers of one hand into the other. 

Our eyes, filled with enchantment, widened as Mother carefully removed it from its box.  Raising herself up on the wooden rungs of a stepladder, she cautiously placed it at the very top of the Christmas tree.

 She once again cautioned us, “You know how Lizzy got cut and her finger was bleeding a little bit when she tried to help me pick up the broken glass she dropped?” 

We speechlessy nodded, resigning our little selves to wait until we were big like mother to ever be able to touch it.  

Mother continued, “That beautiful angel is kept in a special box and high up on the tree because it she is made of tiny pieces of glass just like the glass Lizzy got cut on.”

We tightened our teeth and sucked in air. Mother wanted to know she got her grave message across.  “So do you understand why I don’t want you putting your hands on it? Just look, no touch.”

We both quickly shook our heads to acknowledge we understood. 

********* 

 It was a different season and many years later. While tearing around in the hallway we never paid any particular attention nor gave thought to the small square board in the ceiling just outside my room. 

We became curious slowing our pace when Mother shoved the low bureau across the floor stopping just under that strange square board. Lining up a wooden chair beside the dresser, she climbed from the chair to the cleared off top of the blue bureau. 

Raising her arms to push at the wooden part of the ceiling revealed an opening.

We barely remembered the time mother brought down the enthralling glass angel. We were stunned as if in a different world when it slowly became obvious the mysterious yawning hole was just large enough for a TV antenna to fit through.

I hated heights; but there was something adventurous about poking my head through the hole in the ceiling and peering around the inside of the attic, even though it required climbing a shaky wooden stepladder. 

That was as far as anyone but Mother was allowed, as there were only 3x6 inch rungs with the 3 inch part for walking on. I felt like I was in a circus doing a famous act to be able climb up and down that rickety ladder.

Mother told us, “When I was a little girl,  I fell right through the ceiling of the attic in my house. You know, Nana’s house. I was terrified, with one of my legs showing through in one of the bedrooms below. I probably wasn’t supposed to be snooping around up there.   I don’t want anything like that happening to either of you.”

I don’t know when Mother first put the TV antenna up there, but it helped get an extra channel.  It must have had something to do with the turning of Earth on its axis.  Little by little we had to move the antenna from the attic to the hallway. We were older, so we weren’t chasing around quite as much.  

Some of you may know the routine; someone stands midpoint between the person posted at the TV, waiting for the exact moment when the visual snow and audio static clear to notify  the one who slowly moves the large awkward criss-cross roof antenna dragging a long flat brown wire when to stop. 

The carrier is instructed to move slightly to the left or the right, “there…stop…no.. back…there… no.. back…good…good…stop…right there…great…we did it.”  As time went on, to better and better the reception, the antenna needed to be moved down to the dining room and eventually out onto the front porch where I would eventually push Timmy down onto the gray wooden slatted floor.  

When we had to plant it on the lawn we were coming and closer and closer, ‘til in the end, it was actually on Timmy’s land.

 

Author Notes Iā??d be curious how many had to move a roof antenna about like we did or if any of you had a glass angel. I researched one link and there are still some available for collectors or just for research of what they looked like.



Chapter 19
Dark Memories

By Liz O'Neill

 Much of this chapter holds my dark memories of the hallway. I caution you to step back as you read it.  

A small lamp with a pretty blue flowered shade always sat on the blue hall dresser.  It had an especially long extension cord that would stretch from the wall outlet up the steps of the ladder and into the attic.  

I loved to shine the bright bulb around, illuminating the engrossing world of the attic.  However, I was either psycho or still too young to realize a burning light bulb was not a toy. 

Boredom must have necessitated I discover another purpose for a long corded lamp with a shadeless light bulb.  With lamp in hand, accompanied by a crazed look, I began chasing shirtless Nike around.  

The fear of being burned on his exposed stomach with a hot bare lightbulb made him jump around.  During one of his dodgings, he slipped and hit his head on the door stop just above his eye where the rim of his glasses dug into his brow.  

I still have his fifth-grade class picture taken with the stitches still in his head.  This may have been his first head injury, although he did get hit in the head with a good-sized rock by one of our friends. 

You may remember I mentioned how violent we close friends were. It seemed to have been a bizarre manner of relating for us. I have no idea what the catalyst of this wee skirmish was. 

Teddie, who chased me all over town firing his B-B gun at me, recently told me, for some reason,  I hit him in the head with a thick chunk of tar. 

He had to be rushed to the hospital in the next town away. They sure did get a lot of business from us. We kept them quite busy. 

*********

Darkness

I don’t remember that I ever knew what set Mother off against Nike; but I’m sure that hallway was the scene of many skirmishes.  My little brother would be on the floor kicking and Mother was hitting him with a ruler.  

He had a way of really frustrating her so that he won, no matter what.  Everytime I heard that snapping, I would hear Nike retaliate with, “Hit me again, that feels good.”

Mother had to deal with two other males; her drunken husband and his dry drunk, cancer-ridden, battering father-in-law.  It’s a wonder our father didn’t hit Mother with his upbringing, watching his mother get thrown across the kitchen floor. 

In this scenario, if there were any pounding to be done, it was Mother who once again flung futile blows at the chuckling of her brain-numb husband, in a liquor stupor.

 When Grampuh died, Nike was only two, so things did not improve.  By the time Nike was four, Mother began making threats to send him away. 

After some incident with Nike, Mother marched into his room, got out his little brown and gold suitcase, and started packing his small-sized shirts and tiny shorts. I remember maybe two times Mother packed little Nike’s suitcase. 

He always said he found it so hard to be a good boy. Both of us, so small and so hysterical, on each side of her, promised we would be good to save Nike from being sent away.  

As early as five I knew exactly my raison d'etre, my reason for existing. I was responsible for my brother’s actions and eventually everyone's.  Fortunately, now, I know I  am responsible for no one’s behavior except my own.  Alanon has taught me that.

It was up to me to do something about it.  After all, I’d promised Mother and so had Nike, just off the hallway, in Nike’s room, with the big closet full of clothes where we’d at a later age ran to hide.  We both promised. 

I’ve told my brother, without ever remembering those dreadful incidences, if we were kids in this day and age things would be different. 

In fact, maybe our whole neighborhood of kids would be shuttled off to the current childrens’ pysch hospital in a 1950 van jammed full of small-town juvenile delinquent reprobates. 

Our behaviors would be unacceptable. No one would get would get away scot-free pushing a child off a porch railing, or chasing another down, with a loaded B-B  gun, until it emptied. How about hitting another over the head with a board, or a chunk of tar? Flinging a good-sized rock, or getting in serious fistfights would be called threat.

We won’t even review the parents’ and grandparents’ disciplinary techniques.   Somehow we made it out alive and can laugh about it with each other.   

My work as an advocate for abuse victims taught me something that applies here and serves great value to aid all with further understanding. Sadly, Mother never gained the insight.

Abuse is learned behavior. She must have prayed not to be abusive to Nike, but couldn’t seem to have helped herself. It is for this reason I believe Mother learned to be abusive to Nike as a male. Although, when they both grew older, the two had a beautiful mutual caring relationship.  

After seeing her mother, my grandmother from hell,  strike her loving father, her attitude toward males warped. She learned males were meant to be hit, and belittled. Nike was the only male Mother could control.  

                        *******************************

                                                                       The Cellar   

Nike and I were not the only ones to run and hide.  When Mother became overwhelmed she would threaten to run away and on a few occasions, she bolted out the door and up the street. After frantically running partway after her, we gave up and returned believing she was gone for good. 

She must have circled back and gone into the cellar to hide; all this time her two little ones were just above her in the dining room crying.  The cellar, with its floor of black, musty, hard-packed clay was not a pleasant place to spend any extended amount of time.  

Mother probably sat on the rock in the center of the cellar, until she thought she’d punished us long enough, and got us to realize she could take no more. This of course was followed by our promises to be good.

In defense of her, I will explain the overwhelming situation. We were no more than three and four. My mother was caring for her father-in-law who had a dark history of being an alcoholic batterer. He was lovely to me, calling me his little nurse. 

I have no idea how he related with my mother. If my father’s verbal abusiveness and alcoholism is genetic, then I can’t imagine my paternal grandfather was capable of being kind and appreciative any more than he was with his daughters who saw him throw their mother across the kitchen floor.  I was just a sweet little three-year girl who came to visit him, not a woman whom he would belittle.

 
 

 

 

Author Notes I cannot change the spacing for the last part. I apologize. I even used Basic Editor. I'm glad I wrote this 20+ years ago. I did not remember much of this chapter. It was a bit of a shock, however, I understand the dynamics more now.


Chapter 20
More Cellar Stories

By Liz O'Neill

The rock Mother sat on was a good place around which to play cars while Mother did the wash, ringing the clothes through and rinsing in the washtubs, one with bluing and the other clear.  

Nike was upstairs preoccupied in the playroom. One time Mother had to run upstairs, leaving me with instructions to touch nothing. It wouldn’t take too much for readers to see this as the foreshadowing of a cautionary tale. 

I was fascinated with my father’s white shirts as they passed through the wringer and disappeared. There were two rollers at the top of the machine pressing the water out of any clothes being washed. 

I grabbed one of the long sleeves to guide it through as it tugged on my pull. My state of enthrallment morphed from pure pleasure to total terror. My arm was disappearing along with the sleeve. I was afraid, my arm would be flattened.   

Mother was just coming down the stairs as I began to scream, so no real damage was done.  I felt pretty special when I got to wear my arm in a sling Mother fashioned with a cloth diaper.

********

Those set tubs where washed clothes were blued and rinsed, were where Mother gave us our baths.  Soaking side by side in the wash tubs, Nike and I, noticed some of our physical differences.

I wondered and asked our mother what it was that Nike had that I did not. Mother

said, “It is called a Tilly.” We casually received that fact and didn’t give it

another thought.  

 

At that young age, I couldn’t help but believe my ears and snickered when I

heardsome woman’s name was Tilly. I thought, oh my gosh, she has no idea

what her name means.  

*******

When we were little, we had two feral cats. One was called Barney and the other was TV, because he spent the majority of his cat naps staying warm on our large television cabinet. Both cats were usually good mousers. 

You may remember I told you about how we could watch the scurrying river rats from our perch in the Box Elder tree we climbed. The two cats must have missed the very big river rat entering through the cellar door that made its way up the stairs, through an opened door to the dining room. 

Mother frantically hefted us two little ones onto the brown varnished dining room table. We stood up there kicking, worried about our mother getting hurt. She chased the rat around with a broom until it returned to the cellar and she slammed the door shut. What a harrowing experience for the three of us.   

*******

Every Spring Mother cleared out the snake families that nested in the

stonewall foundation so they wouldn’t seep into our cellar. 

One of those times Timmy asked her to save him some of the babies.  Standing

nearby, we were anxiously awaiting her gift to us.

 

Mother had no sooner placed the squirmy creatures in a pail and handed it to us

when they all headed for the top edge. Too close for comfort, Timmy and I threw

the pail down and ran.  We decided against having any snakes for pets, babies,

or otherwise. 

******

In our experimental small group living convent house I alluded to earlier, the

Chapel was in the cellar.  Leila and I, the late-nighters were sitting in the living

room talking when we both noticed a strong wood smoke smell.   

We thought our neighbor must be burning wood but hadn’t remembered it

seeping in so strongly.

 

Attempting to identify the wood he might be burning, we both named pine.  At

that instant we remembered there was a pine Advent wreath in the Chapel in the

cellar with candles which may or may not have been extinguished after our

prayer service in the cellar.

   

We rushed down the cellar stairs to discover the wreath had burned down so far

the little table it rested upon was now on fire. No two people react alike during a

crisis.  I have always been able to remain calm during the incident, and fall apart

later.

  

I directed Leila to exit the back way, to open the cellar door to the outside, and

I’d carry the flaming stool out.  I went out the other door of the Chapel room,

expecting Leila to have gotten there ahead of me.  When I came around the

corner, no Leila.

  

She was still back inside dazed and muttering what if phrases.  There I 

stood on ceremony with a flaming stool in hand yelling never mind what could

have happened, just open the door.

 

What could have been a disaster amounted to a singe mark on the rug and a

very smoke-stained wall and ceiling .  After it was all over I shuddered as I did

my what if’s in that cellar, in that house. 

 

*********

 

 When I was about to purchase my new home after leaving the convent and was

being shown around by my realtor friend Tommie, I hadn’t noticed the lack of

room for storage. There didn’t appear to be a lot of closet space.  I was actually

still in the closet as far as realizing I was gay.

 

I did know my cellar would be absolutely useless, as it took in a lot of water.  My

Maine Coon cat loved it.  He even liked walking around in the water if it wasn’t

too deep.  He had his personal wading pool.

 

***********

The Pantry

 

It wasn’t too long after moving into my new home, I got a hankering for a nice

pantry. This was post convent and following the move from my first apartment

you’ve heard of.

 

One of my friends had a husband who was a carpenter.  At the time he was

building a large barn but felt he could alternate hours on my project . After

talking with him, I realized I should go look for some wood for the construction

of my pantry. 

 

I measured out the little porch that came off my kitchen. It would be perfect for

the base of my pantry giving it an already sturdy foundation. I was aware there

was a fellow who sold wood from buildings he deconstructed. 

 

My next goal was to drive around our small city to see if surely he must be

taking some house down. 

 

After seeking out every possible place he might be working, I found nothing.  

Discouraged, I headed back toward my home. The universe was shining on me

after all.

Author Notes I am writing this in themes throughout my life. We've moved from the hallway, to cellars and now onto the pantries in my life.


Chapter 21
The Pantry of Cautionary Tales

By Liz O'Neill

As I turned from the main highway onto my street my eyes grew large. I lived on a one-way street, therefore had no idea what was happening at the beginning of my street.

As I looked from the left to the right I recognized the crew who took apart old buildings.  They were just one lawn over from my house.  The fellow was taking down a house with siding from the era I was looking for.

It was perfect, my pantry wouldn’t appear added on. It would look as if it had been there for nearly fifty years. I cut a deal with him. He gave me a figure and instructed me to take what I needed of siding and boards. I could not hold my joy and excitement. Then the work began.

Every night after I got home from work I’d drag boards to my box garden and hammer out nails. I lugged board after board across our straw-thick backyards, until I had most of the available supply. I wanted some of the wide boards, but they were not in the buy. 

 

I thrilled when I found a few square-headed nails in the the old wide boards. If any fell out of the wide boards, they were mine. Some floated to the ground after I pounded them to dropping out. What beautiful old boards they came from, across the centuries. They would match the square nails already in the cross beams of my house from early 1900.

My wonderful carpenter suggested some of his pine boards for the floor in which he could use the square-headed nails for effect. He informed me we would soon run out of wood for the shelves and ceiling.  


The following day after I contacted the same fellow to purchase more wood a new truckload arrived. I was elated to see the load consisted of authentic barn boards. 
As I studied them I was ecstatic to know they were mine. They were truly beautiful and I was tickled to envision what exquisite shelves they would make.
 

When I had to move, my pantry was the most difficult thing to leave behind. It was elegant. No one climbed the shelves in that pantry like we did in the one from our childhood home. This impish activity led to another cautionary tale in our lives, especially for Nike. 

 

*****An Earlier Pantry

 

 Our mother couldn’t watch us constantly, even though it would have been a good idea. We’d always been curious as to what goodies were on those shelves in our large pantry. There were six compelling shelves to explore. 

I did the climbing and Nike did the coaching. The first five shelves were a disappointment to both of us. Ah, but there was a little bottle of something on the top shelf.  

I showed Nike a few things on the lower ones. There was really nothing of interest for either of us. He encouraged me to go higher. I was excited to climb to the highest shelf I'd ever been. 

We were really going to find stuff we may never have seen before. Our sometimes dangerous ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder captured our attention. We spotted it on the last level at the same time.  It was a brown bottle of something. We wondered if the stuff inside the bottle was brown or if it was just the color of the bottle. We would not rest until we discovered the answer to our puzzle.

Of course, Mother had chosen the highest shelf in the pantry to safely store the little bottle of medicine. Being so high, she hadn’t seen a need to secure the cap. She knew how to carefully lower the bottle when needed for little emergencies.

The irony was something used for a mishap here or there mushroomed into a full-flung crisis, with our first introduction to the small-town hospital.  As we already know, this was the first of many visits from us and our neighborhood.  

I, slowly stretching on tiptoes, lifted the tiny brown bottle down so Nike could get a closer look to inspect just what that spellbinding bottle was. Enraptured with what I was carefully grasping and excited to investigate for myself I was hurrying a little more than was wise.

As I tipped the bottle, the top fell off and the liquid inside spilled, covering Nike’s face. We were lucky only a few drops went into his eye.  

I can still picture him standing in his roomy hospital crib, with a brownish-red stain down one side of his face.  

*******

 The Kitchen 

As a child, I loved coming into the kitchen after school.  There was always a pan of cake waiting to greet me.  It was one of the surer things in my life.  It was usually unfrosted.  Mother had long ago realized if the cake were left unfrosted, it lasted the whole day as opposed to a frosted cake lasting an hour.  

This didn’t matter to me, it did the job.  Mother was numb when she made it and I was numb when I ate it. Mother didn’t seem to be able to do two things at one time and I was always setting myself up for rejection by trying to tell Mother something of dire importance while she was cooking or washing dishes.

As I got older and was washing the dishes my ADD took over.  Looking out the window daydreaming, Mother would hip me out of the way and say, "Never mind I'll do it." The Sisters I lived with, in the small group living house, used to tell me,  while drying the dishes, “We’ll be back when you’re finished.” Hmm, I wonder why. 

This pattern has turned toward my good fortune. When my mother was deciding whether she should try to live on longer with her cancer or move on. I gave her permission to let go and move on.

The following day I went to say goodbye to her before her surgery for one of many tumors, she was filled with cancer. She had obviously been thinking about our previous day’s conversation and had something to say. 

Author Notes This was a painful experience telling my mother to let go. But what would be the purpose of being able to live a few more months to get more cancer and be in yet more pain?


Chapter 22
The Gift

By Liz O'Neill

As I sat on the opposing hospital bed, I waited enthusiastically for Mother to give her reflection on our previous day’s discussion. I told her she could let go to move on to her next lifetime despite her resistance.

She had said, “I have to stay here to take care of you kids and your father.” I immediately put a hole in that reasoning and reminded her we kids were in our thirties and were quite self-sufficient.

Now the response to all of that was coming.  She said, “I’ve been thinking. I could give everyone a gift in nature, like seeing a beautiful sunset, a sunrise, a rainbow, anything in nature that would raise their spirits.”

I knew she’d gotten it. We said our goodbyes with deep hugs. That was Easter Sunday. On Monday she had her surgery and as she always did want to take care of the doctor and let him know he did a wonderful job. She was being wheeled back to her recovery room and was doing well. It was as if she said I'm out of here and had a heart attack.

We return to the kitchen theme because that is where Mother would find me and she would be wise to appear for her visit to me as to a deer, a gift of nature as she had promised.

She knows she will find me staring out the window of my new house in the woods, in front of the kitchen sink. Several times over the years, I have been washing my dishes and a deer would be standing staring up at me. She has stood still at different distances ten, fifteen, and thirty feet away.

I tell people when you have an inspiring experience in nature, you can thank Mother.

We return to yet another kitchen and pantry in my adult life. At Mother’s behest, a pattern with all of us developed for us to visit her pantry before we hardly said hello to her or each other.

Remember how she nurtured and comforted me with a nice square of cake every day when I returned from my rough day at school? She outdid herself with the goodies in her pantry. She kept her washing machine in there with the top filled with bundt cake, muffins, and sweet rolls.

My pattern for comforting myself changed when I got into therapy.  I learned a fascinating fact related to a  well-known  Fairy Tale. In the story The Princess and the Pea, the princess could feel the pea regardless of how many mattresses she piled on. 

She thought surely this one more mattress added, will protect me from the discomfort of the pea protruding beneath the many mattresses.

My therapist John said the children's story was a strong and suitable metaphor for what happens to cause me to overeat, or eat senselessly. The more emotional pain I’m in,  the more I eat, sugar being my numbing agent.

Learning how to live beyond emotional anguish, I began to detach from those who bullied and maligned me, my father being the primary player. I felt better and found I did not need to insulate myself.

People don't like it when we change our patterns because we are healthier. We are not as predictable or manageable. This especially stood out when I was at my mother's and I did not go into the pantry to get some sweets. 

On the contrary, I asked my mother if she had any nuts I could eat. She directed me to a jar of mixed nuts I enjoyed instead of the bundt cake others were eating.  My aunt, who is my father's sister, saw me eating the jar of nuts, and criticized me for eating too much, as she continued eating forkfuls of bundt cake. She said, “No wonder you’re so fat. Look at you empty that jar.”

That night, I found myself eating just anything around. It was very out of character for me. The next time I was speaking with my therapist I asked him why I ate so much that evening when I hadn’t been interested in the bundt cake.

 Some of you may have figured it out.  It's quite simple. Some might think it is because I regretted not having the bundt cake like everyone else.

That pantry was no longer a nurturing comfort to me. I learned that was a false belief.

 

On the contrary, he told me I was insulating myself from being around a toxic person. I guess it was a good thing I didn't resort to old habits and angrily barge into the pantry to grab an oversized piece of bundt cake. Fortunately, I was stronger than that. My therapist to whom I am indebted has since passed.

For seven years he used what some people call a pop psychology approach of Transactional Analysis. In that technique, there are emotional postures considered. The best is ‘I am okay you are okay.’  We get along fine, without conflict.

  Problems result when one person believes ‘I am okay, you are not okay.' Or ‘You’re okay, I’m not okay.' This is a welcome emotional scenario for bullying to occur. The worst perspective is ‘I’m not okay and you are not okay.’ 

It may be pop psychology but it saved my life. I can't believe who I have become due to my affirmations to believe in myself and not give other people emotional power over me.

He told me to look at myself in the mirror and say you are okay the way you are. I did have to cover my face so I wouldn't recognize it was me. And I thought well I don't look too bad. He gave me a wonderful list of affirmations for me to give myself permission to be who I am. 

One of the affirmations says I do not have to please others. So when my aunt was criticizing me for eating too many nuts I didn't have to worry about pleasing her. I felt free at the time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Notes I would love to hear other reassuring stories of your loved ones
appearing to you and how it happened.


Chapter 23
A Convent Kitchen

By Liz O'Neill

Previously: I've been discussing my therapeutic plan to refrain from using sweets to insulate myself when I've been emotionally harmed. 

The previous recorded scenario involved my aunt criticizing me for eating out of a small jar of peanuts in place of a large piece of bundt cake as the others were enjoying. 

It felt good to remain strong. I could have easily retaliated by angrily going into the designated pantry and grabbing a giant piece of cake. I did not. That would be like eating poison and waiting for the enemy to die. 

******* 

I admittedly did have a negative moment later that evening causing me to graze, looking for anything sweet to eat. One of my affirmations is I don't have to insulate myself. 

With all the many recent difficult times I had at work being targeted by adult bullies, and tattlers, and being set up on occasion,  I never found a need to insulate myself. I knew it was about them, not me. 

This is why,  when I went to my mother's kitchen, I said my affirmations instead of going into the pantry to get sweets to falsely believe that was the best way to comfort, nurture, and insulate myself. I felt stronger and better about myself, not having to robotically enter that pantry. 

I learned in my work with psychiatric, and substance abuse patients, in situations like this,  we have three functioning levels of our brain. The top level is the part we use to make resolves of ‘I'm not going to do this.’ or ‘I am going to do this.’  Even if we promise ourselves we won't there are two other opposing levels of the brain. 

The second level of the brain is the pleasure center. We do not have much chance of complying with any resolves made if the pleasure center is our focus. The third level is the automatic response section.

If I threw a ball at your head, no other parts of the brain would need to operate. You wouldn't say, oh I better put my hand up to catch that ball, or it will be painful if I don't. Rather, you immediately and automatically put your hand up to stop that ball from striking your head.

The same is true with addiction to sugar or any addiction. A perfect example would be if I saw a platter of cookies on a table during a meeting. For a while, all I could do would be to focus on those cookies.

Now here comes the powerlessness of our resolve. I might say I know I am not going to have any cookies from that platter. Nevertheless, on our way out, while in a serious conversation, I reach down and pick up two cookies. 

Someone might say ‘You weren't thinking, were you?’ And I would have to say no, thinking would be following my resolve, using the top part of my brain. Eckhart Tolle changed that habitual pattern for me. He has helped me to become more conscious of my less-conscious behaviors. This is a way to continue activating the top part of my brain.

A perfect example of this is the time I was snacking from a package of six cookies while performing another task. I was startled when I went to get my last cookie. It was gone. I was the only one in the house at the time. Where could it have gone?

You probably guessed it. I had mindlessly eaten the sixth cookie. I still attack snacks automatically, but not as often.

********

A Convent Kitchen        

A year before I was supposed to go into the convent, there was a “come and see” gathering where I met another nineteen-year-old named Shelly.  Since she lived only an hour away we spent the following year doing activities together.

Finally, September 8th arrived, and it was time to go to the Novitiate, our training grounds. We were quite a team when we had to be in the kitchen for three months at a time.  We got into trouble, but had fun, despite it all.

At four-year intervals, beginning with fourth grade, I had to cook for my father while my mother was taking a break from it all in the hospital with an ulcer attack.  I believed I was a good cook.  That belief was to be challenged many times over.  

Much of the kitchen time with Shelly was spent on our nineteen-year-old knees for our penance.  As I covered in an earlier chapter, it was not officially for praying, although many prayers were said.  I’d made tuna wiggle many times, one of the favorites Mother taught me.  

I’d never prepared it for twenty people, so I was unsure of the proportions of flour and water.  When Shelly & I realized there was about an inch of pie dough consistency at the bottom of the big pot, we knew there would be trouble and seemed to hasten it by laughing and talking when we were supposed to be silent. 

Hearing the familiar rattle of the rosary beads worn by the Mistress or head Sister, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.  As customary,  I sank to my knees. When a sister had done something wrong she would receive a penance, such as, to say three Hail Mary’s.

We did a lot of cooking on our knees. I wrote about this penance routine in my book titled ‘Tor,’ where we vortexed into the 16th century. You will see a similarity if you have read that book. In the 20th we lived much like monastic monks from as far back as the 15th or 16th century.

Regardless of how any cooking came out or tasted, everyone had to eat it.  One of the funniest concoctions Shelly and I developed came about when I had to finish making some cookies. 

My only preparation, before leaving on an errand,  was Shelly quickly pointing to the page she was working from. Assuring this would become a cautionary tale, Shelly had no time to specifically note whether I should continue with the top or bottom recipe.  

I looked at the ingredients called for, examined the bowl’s contents, and took a guess at which one to follow.  Shelly and I  secretly nicknamed them “puppywinks” after the deed was done.  What else could we do?  Being mutant cookies, they tasted terrible. 

I guess the one good thing about people not being able to talk at a meal, would be that no one could complain.  We did look around at the expressions on others’ faces as they bit into the seemingly harmless-looking cookie.

 

Author Notes If you've read my book 'The Tor,' you will note the bizarre similarity between the described 16th-century monastic life and our Noviate training of the 19th century.


Chapter 24
Cooking in the Novitiate

By Liz O'Neill

 

One of the penances I received was less offensive than I’m sure was intended. I felt quite privileged and ended up being treated to one of my favorite sweet dishes, bread pudding. My mother used to make it often and smother it with Maple syrup. 

This came about when our mistress, the head Sister, of our group, instructed us what to prepare for supper. The directions for making our meal were more unclear than she thought, particularly the desert. She had a different picture in her mind than I did when she told me to use up the bread for bread pudding. 

I interpreted the mandate to use up the bread to mean use all of the designated bread. She did not mean that to be taken literally. She seemed appalled when I presented four tasty dishes of bread pudding. 

I guess in her head she planned one baking dish of bread pudding. Very few of the sisters enjoyed bread pudding.  In fact, at another time, one dropped a bowl just to have it be taken care of in her way, tossed out.

My penance was to finish up the other three bowls of pudding. Somehow I was able to instill the idea for our mistress to allow me to put Maple syrup on the bread pudding. I don't know why she knuckled under and let me have the exquisite pleasure,  despite the fact it was publicized as a penance.

Some of the sisters helped by sneaking a bowl out the back window to our resident Pastor who was gifted with a variety of items taken from us because of monastic rules.  Some were nice gifts from our parents or relatives and others were excess cooked foods such as in my case. Telling us of this later, he laughed as he told us about all of the smelly powders he was handed.

Another hilarious dessert could have been thrown out.  As a consolation prize, we had a day to talk and laugh. The older group, the donut disaster folks was scheduled to prepare meals,  creating another cooking cautionary tale. The dessert instructions were to top their freshly baked brownies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

One of them thought of the efficient idea to put the ice cream on the brownies and place both of them in the freezer. Off they went to class. I'm sure they felt secure to know their dessert was ready to be served at supper. Oh, that sounds fine to us right now. Have you caught the glitch yet?

Remember we could not speak at meals. The frozen brownies topped with frozen ice cream were placed in front of us surrounded by the required stark silence. Rock-solid brownies banging against dessert plates were all we could hear.  We could not use a fork on them. We looked around the table to see if anybody had come up with a solution for how to get into those brownies.

The dessert preparers were observed, with eyes rolled, looking at each other, mortified.  I'm sure everyone was certain they would receive an icy penance from our mistress.  The room chilled with frustration. Eventually, our mistress could stand it no longer and began laughing.  She announced our favorite phrase which was Bene Dacamus Domino,  granting us permission to talk and laugh. 

Forgive me if I repeat myself in some of the details I relate here. These memoirs are from over 20 years ago. I'm sorting them out as I type.  I may have mentioned the depository we had in our favorite priest, the bittersweet purpose he served.

Because the Sisters took the vow of poverty we were in training to learn what it was like to own nothing. This lesson was especially exercised when we received our religious habit or dress consisting of five yards of serge, a heavy thick material.

This step in our education was considered a goal reached, therefore we were showered with congratulatory gifts, never to be considered ours. They were snatched out of our laps as soon as we unwrapped them. I remember nothing except a lovely attache’ case. 

I don’t remember if I even got to see the interior as the handle was grabbed by our mistress and never to be seen again. Possibly, having taken on ownership of the exquisite attache', our priest could have looked debonair walking around, with my family's gift to me, never to be mine. 

Fortunately, the gifter was unaware we never saw our gifts after unwrapping them. There would be no thank you cards sent out as we couldn’t remember what we received.  A frightening honor to become privy to the rules we were unaware those ahead of us had to comply with.    

On another note, I don’t know how this particular novitiate bus came to be called such a name as The Black Maria, a police van.  It did suit the situation well, as we could not leave the premises except to complete an errand or to be transported to the Mother House which I called the big house where twenty-five of the Sisters monastically resided.

     

While in the Novitiate, in addition to cooking we attended classes and performed other errands.  In our haste to make pies, the dough often took on a leather texture from rolling it and rewadding it too many times.  We’d show up for class with some dustings of white flour still on the skirt of our black habits and possibly smudges on our holy faces.

My friends must have wondered what was going on with me.  You see, we had classes with students who were not in the novitiate. The irony is I knew most of them because they were my best friends.  We had pajama parties together less than a year previous.   Something none of us could comprehend was why I could not speak with them nor could they speak with me. If a teacher spied me breaking the rule she would report me to my novice mistress and I would have to get a penance.

I'm deviating a bit here no longer talking about the kitchen but I will talk about a penance I received for talking with a new student in our classes. She was no one I had previously known. I think I had a crush on her too, which made it worse.

Someone tattled on me.  Probably one of the teachers or the librarian.  She loved watching us. There must have been something about my persona to make her think my walking around the tables was creating excessive noise because she would shush me.  Just my smile was too loud for her. Oh, I hate being shushed. 

That is a trigger from my experience of the gymnasium atrocity when I got shushed and tsked by about one hundred twenty-five Sisters. I did not know there was an unwritten rule that I could not speak until I had made my vows, which I hadn't.  Shocked and feeling attacked by everyone, I was shushed and tsked.  Was that a nun thing?

 

Author Notes We fortunately were able to laugh at our nightmare experiences of cooking in the Novitiate. Though we couldn't speak, we felt each other's support anyway and have kept that friendship to this day. In fact, one is Sammy's foster mom. Sammy is my most resent Maine Coon cat.


Chapter 25
Cooking Years Later

By Liz O'Neill

Before I jump forward to years later, I want to finish up about the bizarre penance doled out to me. Hopefully, this will be the last record of any of my Novitiate penances. This penance was for talking to my secret crush outside the building of our small college. I broke several rules. You can probably at this point, identify them.   

I will leave it up to you to assess how absurd you think my penance was.  We were having a free day outside which meant people could visit while enjoying the wafting of exceptionally luscious smoked meat grilling.

My penance was ridiculously absurd, especially on a hot sunny day near a sizzling grill. One of the wool coverings we had to wear to protect our veil necessary for winter weather and temperature, was called a rigolet. It was a black scarf that could be fastened at the chin. 

Imagine yourself alongside the other Sisters who were not supposed to laugh.  How they must have laughed within themselves or maybe among themselves when they saw me walking out to the festive gathering wearing a rigolet. 

I appeared psychotic as if I thought it might be snowing with sub-zero temperatures. Maybe worst of all, but I'm not sure if it was the worst, I could not speak.  I was supposed to remain silent. Of course, I was being watched to ensure I was serving out my penance obediently.

I don't remember if we ever secretly whispered in a discussion about that situation later or not. Probably not. As with many things, this is also a blur. I have to say I don't remember anyone else ever having to wear a rigolet on a hot sunny day.

***********

Years Later

Our Novitiate building was repurposed for various events. One was to serve as a mundane convent office space. Another was, to provide the Sisters a perfect location for retreats. The setting probably would still have that prayerful spirit surrounding it. However, it also had a bit of a cooking hex lingering.

I was asked by the Sister retreatants who were all my friends, to come and cook for them. Now that sounds like it would be enjoyable and and give them a nice chance to be reflective without having to worry about preparing any meals.  

The meals would be ready for them after I rode 2 miles on my bicycle to get to them and prepare the food. The sense of success thus far felt good.  The next meal on the list was a pot roast.   Everything was there, the onions, carrots, potatoes, and a rich-looking potroast.

I packed everything into a baking pan, threw them into the oven, set the temperature, and rode my bicycle back to one of my temporary homes, the convent, Actually, it was called the Mother House or as I referred to it, The Big House. As scheduled, I would return in 2 hours. Has anyone seen the glitch yet? Or the second one?

I was feeling very proud as I rode my bike back to the post-Novitiate building. I had single-handedly provided several fine meals for the eight sisters who were on retreat. I thought maybe they would even pray for me in place of leaving a tip.

Remember the cooking hex, ever our companion. As I cut into the pot roast, I should have known the all too reddening of the meat to be a foreshadowing of a cautionary cooking tale repeat performance. I missed it, as I was brought up recognizing beef only,  a bit red.  Which cautionary tale? Where do we begin?

I placed the baking dish of pot roast and veggies onto the table, awaiting the surely famished group of Sisters who had been fasting all day with no snacks. They kept the usual silence as they prayerfully glided into their chairs. 

Able to be scooped up in a large serving spoon and placed onto their plates, it wasn’t until the rock-solid carrots and potatoes rolled around on their plates did it become solidly obvious nothing had sufficiently cooked. 

I found out later, everything still needed two more hours to cook. I also learned the quick trick of boiling the carrots and potatoes to tenderize them. I had been invited to join them. Of all times!

Self-prescribed silence was broken, no need for a penance. There was no one there to dole them out those times were gone for everyone. We all laughed hilariously and banged our carrots and potatoes on the plate just to see how hard they were. I don't remember what they ended up eating. This was another blur in my Novitiate cooking history. But didn't that sound a lot like the frozen brownies with ice cream on top? So familiar.

********

How Romantic

Maybe it is because both of us had been in the convent at one time. Granted, it was not the same convent, but yet a convent. My partner at the time,  who is Doolie in my Be Wee With Bea books, thought it would be fun to travel 2 hours to get to my house, with all four dogs for a nice romantic Thanksgiving meal.

We both carried to this occasion, a cooking hex from decades ago.  Everything was nicely prepared and baking in the oven, with hopes to soon smell the simmering turkey wafting toward our noses. Time went by and still, there was no aroma of turkey.

Out of puzzlement, we finally opened the oven door. My stomach sank with a thud, to discover the turkey had barely cooked. I found out later the oven in my new house had a wrenched door, it would not fully shut. To keep it shut properly I had to move the lever so it was almost ready to go into the cleaning mode.

You will note I can conveniently forget the bad times. I have no idea what we ate. There must have been something else good I pulled out of my freezer so we could have a nice meal.

This final travesty I am about to relate is almost unbelievable. I had enjoyed my supper with my friend who is called Timothy in my Be Wee With Bea books. I was getting some ice cream which was as so many foods seem to be,  rock solid.

I did not want to wait until it softened, so I grabbed a steak knife out of the silverware drawer and began chopping at it. I don't know what it is about things that are either shoulder-high as in the freezer or waste high on the counter.  They have to fall aimed directly at my toes.

The knife flipped out of my hand and instantly morphed into a sharp-bladed projectile headed right for my big toe. My toe begins to gush red onto the kitchen floor in this romantic moment. 

My frantic brain began to search ways to fashion a butterfly bandaid since I had none in any medicine cabinet in the entire house. At that point, I made a mental note to buy some the next time I was out shopping.  

I was meeting with defeat as I could not properly shape the bandaid. Everyone I cut, came out the opposite of what I needed. My friend inquired what was going on. I was mortified to have to show him what I had done. He was a Pisces and a very calm person. The reason I called him Timothy the wood carving beaver in my book is because he is a wood carver.

He came up with a perfect solution while referring to some of his wood carving art faux pas. “When one of my creations loses a toe, and I have to refasten it. I tape it this way.”

He proceeded to wind the bandaids in such a fashion to hold my toe together and stop it bleeding any further. Here is another blur. I have no idea if we had the ice cream and found a way to soften it. We may have used the microwave. I don't know.

 

Author Notes Somehow I became a wonderful cook, at least I love my cooking. I think it's because I am cooking for one. Myself.


Chapter 26
The Garden

By Liz O'Neill

We now move outside and consider the theme of the garden which has always played a great part in my life and continues to this day. Maybe it's because I have farmers’ blood. My mother was brought up on a farm.  I especially love the feel of the cool soil between my fingers and hands. 

My favorite setting in any of my kitchens was a fresh simmering pot of soup filled with seasoned ingredients from my garden. There were many gardens and many kitchens in my past.  I will begin to elaborate on some of the gardens in my life,  their purpose, and how they fulfilled my life.

One of my first exposures to gardens besides my mother’s was my best friend Trudy’s parents’ work. Leaving Trudy's house in the morning after having stayed the night during the hurricane of 1950, we noticed all of the trees around her property had come down. 

As I earlier described we had to step over many downed trees, to reach our house across the way.  When we glanced up at our house, horror and urgency took over as we stared at the tall Elm tree that had fallen on our house. 

The section of the roof struck was exactly the spot where Nike and I had previously been standing getting a glass of water. The fallen trees having been cleared away, Trudy’s parents planted an extensive garden.  

I already described Trudy’s mother’s conscienceless method of discipline. At the risk of being switched with a harsh twig and taken down cellar for more,  Trudy snuck into her house and snatched a salt shaker for us. I held my breath the whole time she was inside her kitchen carrying out her clandestine activity  

Our bare feet sunk into rich dark soil, as we grabbed a handful of carrots, radishes, and top onions.  Washing the garden soil from our stash of vegetables and our dirt-covered toes at the outside faucet, we scrunched down out of sight of any window and guiltily gorged ourselves.

Mother’s garden was much smaller but more interesting. To give a little warning it was slightly macabre, serving as the burial plot of the deceased pets in the family.  And shamedly, there were many. They were outdoor dogs chasing us around, where we lived playing close to the main highway of our little town.  

We went through dogs the way some people go through socks.  Despite my efforts as a three-year-old to teach Mother’s feral cats flying lessons, Barney and TV, lived on. 

Ironically, all I have had in addition to my one dog are feral Maine Coon cats. I swear there's been a message sent along the path leading from the Rainbow Bridge to make sure I am well trained to allow plenty of outdoor hours, clean their litter box, and provide their dinner and snacks among other gratuities. 

Tippy, named for the white tip on his tail, with the help of a speeding car on the main road made his way to the Rainbow Bridge, while I was up at Teddy’s playing football.  Goldie left us just a few hundred feet south of that spot when everyone was sliding down our street.  Balloffur grabbed the identical location as Goldie when Nike was on his way to a town hall dance.  

I don’t know if Blacky was buried there or not. He bit someone and  Mother sadly had Johnny, Trudy’s uncle, take care of things while we were away at my grandmother’s from hell.  Mother told everyone in their adult life the whole story, after many years of believing Blacky had run away.  

****************

Every time we buried a dog in the garden, half of the kids in the neighborhood would make a map and mark the spot with plans of one day following their maps to dig up the animals to see what they looked like.  For some reason, they never got to it.

The most digging we did was to complete our plan to dig to China. At some point in school, we learned that China was on the other side of the earth and if you dug through the earth we could get to China. It’s amusing, as we dug and discussed what we would wear when we got there, we grew bored. After digging down about three feet, we decided we were not going to ever dig to China.  An idealistic venture curtailed. 

I have my own gardens, the first being when I was in the small group living house. Much later, in my new home, I had two good-sized box gardens.  The man who previously lived there decided he wanted a basement in his 1800s house where he could put the furnace and oil tank. 

He managed to chip his way through the cement and marble foundation and shored it up to pour a concrete floor.  Pail by pail, he lugged the dirt out about halfway down the back lawn until quite a steep hill developed. This left the last half of the land inaccessible.

One of my friends, Daren, offered a very reasonable price to build some box gardens where the incline began.  It came out perfectly, with adequate stairs between the two boxes.   On one side, the tomatoes annually reseeded themselves by the 10’s and 20’s. 

The cucumbers pretty well monopolized the greater part of the opposite side. I planted everything to complete a tasty salad, let it grow, and watered it when needed.  There are a couple of reasons I don’t weed very much.  One is I am too busy doing other more enjoyable activities. Another reason is I figure the bugs will eat the weeds and leave my veggies alone.

At a dowsing convention I attended, one of the presenters had the name Willie the Whale because he communicated with whales. He gave us the idea of communicating with animals. He said we were able to accomplish this using our high self, our spiritual self, connected to the universe. 

I’m unsure how I chose to communicate with the slugs in my garden, however, I was inspired by the possibilities initiated by the invaluable workshop.

 

Author Notes It's interesting how no garden has ever really been the same. No garden has ever given me the same meaning. Every garden has given me a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, and an appreciation for nature.



Chapter 27
The Labyrinth

By Liz O'Neill

Previously: 

I began the project I learned about at a dowsing convention, of making a deal with the slugs in my garden, which as bizarre or repulsive as it sounds,  the plan worked nearly 100%. 

I told them I would leave some compost, at the corners of the garden if they left my veggies alone.  If I found a straggler on a collard leaf or ripening tomato, I placed them in the corner and pointed out to them what they were missing and reminded them of the deal. Their favorite was a large watermelon rind where they all gathered. 

The garden has been and continues to be very important and lots of fun. Snacking out of my garden is a great pastime which began when I was a child with my best friend when we used to raid her parents’ garden. 

There was always something nice and crunchy from my mother's garden. Nowadays I'm more apt to snack on my snow peas and the little 100s tomatoes, they’re just the right size. They’ve only once made it into the kitchen for roasting at the suggestion of one of my former co-workers.

I thrill at the puzzle of digging my garden potatoes. I never know what I'm going to get. Do you know of or remember the marbles we called shooters,  a little bigger around than a regular marble? We also had Steelies, also a little bigger than a marble. 

I like to use those for measurement comparisons of my potatoes. One time I got five shooters, eight little marbles, a ping pong ball, and a pool or cue ball.  If I got a tennis ball that would be quite a find.  This year I got two that looked like potatoes. They were the size of two potatoes glued together. 

Oftentimes when I get the little ones inside the house, I clean them of dirt, the way, as reported in an earlier chapter, Trudy and I clandestinely rinsed ours under her outside faucet.  We munched under high mental alertness, in fear of getting found out. In my own kitchen, I just pop a tiny shooter-sized potato into my mouth.  

These days with my energy waning due to age, rather than shoveling snow I broom my path out to my pellet shed or my car.  I have a 5-year-old Maine Coon cat who finds his way around the paths without me having to shovel or even broom anything fancy for him. He's a feral Maine Coon who is up for any challenge. 

I used to pamper my first Maine Coon. I would get my snow thrower, carry it through the house make a nice path for him by cleaning off the back deck and part of the yard down below the deck for him. I'm sure he appreciated it.  He was a good boy.

I know he appreciated it when I continued down the steps between the box gardens to begin the path of my winter labyrinth. What a grand track it opened up for him.  He could finally get some decent exercise, hopping his way through the deep snow to find other routes.

I had to rescue him from some seriously deep snow. The depth was a lot deeper than his five-inch legs could handle. He began leaping with the same skill he demonstrated when he escaped through the swamp.

My friend, Sandy and her two daughters, Keb and Beth were with me in his early training. That was quite an adventure. I was certain he'd drown, however, he leapt across the greenish water with the grace of a dolphin.

However, just as with the slugs, I needed to make a bargain with my recent Maine Coon to stay out of my garden. If you ask me,  slugs are more cooperative. My raccoon cat enjoys taunting me by weaving through my tomato plants without harming a one.

The most dramatic demonstration is when he finds a vacant spot where nothing is growing in my garden and plunks himself down to bask in the sun.

My other cat used to lie in the grass near the box gardens to watch me work. It was comforting to have him near. His only fault was he used to find a consistent section in my garden to bury his deposits. He was a lot like all of us who think we can just bury something like a bad experience, or a strong emotion and it won’t show up again.

I always laughed as he scuffed away during the snowy seasons covering his leavings. Deposits left by my other cat always ended up right where I stood under the clotheslines.

My present cat is too busy chasing around until it's time for him to come in. His routine strikes me odd or ironic to observe how he comes into the house to use his litter box. At least he's not leaving them outside where I walk.   

To some of my friends and me, the labyrinth was a spiritual garden, where healing, resolution, and unexplainable joy could be found.  It was very gratifying for me to hear the six-year-old son of my dear friend and co-worker say, "You know what I really, really like so much?  The maze.  Every day after school, I have to force my mother to take me to the maze, I have to force her.  It is my favorite thing to walk it.  I just love it.”

He went to school right near my house and it was a nice end to his stressful day.  I wrote a poem about my labyrinth. 

*******************

My Labyrinth

I know my goal 

In the midst of swirling lines 

I set foot upon the path of unknowing                                 

Hoping to gain                                                          

Clarity 

        Insight 

                                            Serenity                                                              

As I sense I am drawing nearer                                           

                 The     center                                                        

I am thrust outward                                                   

        to find yet                                                         

        a new perspective                                                              to prepare for that inner discovery           

My steps hesitate                                                       

For too short a time                                                   

I must move toward                                                    

Not to recoil from life’s turmoil 

Bring to it 

        The light received 

                from my journey 

                        inward 

When it seems I have moved away  

from the center 

I am beckoned 

        in the direction 

                of the core 

                of my being 

There I find all meaning 

 Growth happens in spirals and cycles 

All I need do is study the tree  

Which shades my footpath 

        Through the seasons 

                Both bitter and sweet 

It is here I find the answer to my questions 

It is here I find solace from my answer                       

Both bitter and sweet   

The journey is as important as the goal

 

 

 

Author Notes I walked the Labyrinth daily for years. It had great spiritual meaning for me. As with so many things in our life, our spirituality evolves. Sadly, I walk my labyrinth about two or three times in the summer.



Chapter 28
Sweaters

By Liz O'Neill

Today everyone compliments me on my many attractive sweaters. I have some from the Andean Mountain Culture. One time I was in New York City meandering along a street fair exhibition selling colorful coveted sweaters.

Burgeoning with excitement, I purchased a black, red, and green designed sweater. Since then I have acquired two more beauties from friends who recognize my fascination with the llama wool knitted sweaters. 

Being privy to many dark patches of my childhood, it might not surprise you to learn sweaters filled with joy, was not always the case.  Whether it was my only one or just my favorite, I wore it every day. A strong example of a living juxtaposition, I felt comfort and safety in it, even though it became the source of ridicule, teasing, and ostracizing.  

I greedily treasured the warm pockets where I could tuck my hands as if attempting to swaddle my whole vulnerable self away from all imperiling ordeals. Being light brown in color, my mother washed it often.  My classmates would never give her the benefit of the doubt presuming it unlaundered threads I shouldered on every morning I got out of bed. 

To exacerbate the shame, I was accused of pilfering another student’s lunch box. The teacher had to rummage through the contents of my lunch box to see if I had stolen anybody else's lunch. I had plenty of food, my mother made excellent sandwiches with combinations of salads.

There was a pork salad, shrimp salad, or chicken salad. I would be willing to bet if the kids knew what I had for sandwiches they might want to snap open my Hoppalong Cassidy lunch box. 

To diverge a minute,  it's kind of funny because as my partner was munching into one of my delicious sandwiches, she laughed teasingly, as she was wont to do “I can't tell if this is chicken or pork. They all the taste same, but they're darn tasty.” 

I've always relished my mother's salad sandwiches and greatly enjoy the ones I make.  As a not-so-little fourth grader, I was humiliated, very aware the students knew my lunch box was being searched. Because this is such a blur,  I do not know if any other kids had their lunch boxes searched.

 Driven by some bias, I was singled out. Maybe it was because I was overweight or because I lived down by the brook, which was akin to living on the wrong side of the tracks.   I have no idea.  We will be

discussing more of that later. 

*********

In my private parochial high school, wearing the same sweater was prestigious. It had to be white

boiled wool with green stripes going down the zipper and around the wrist cuffs and circling the

collar.

  

I’m providing you with a vital background filler to aid you in comprehending the environment in which

my emotional need for a boiled wool sweater arose. Whenever anyone in the family asked my father for

money, he’d say, “ What do you think I am, a cash register? Just punch the cash register key and out

will come money?”

  

This obviously discouraged Mother from asking for anything extra over the pittance he gave her for

household and food expenses. I did not intend to put pressure on my dear mother to buy the expensive

sweater for me.  I thought she could just ask my father. 

Although are strongly aware of the proverbial cash register metaphor. I had to wait a long time for Mother to assure me we would go shopping to buy that special white wool sweater with trim on the sleeves, waist, and down the side of the zipper

This meant having to go inside one of those expensive stores which Mother hated.  I remembered what she told both Nike and me, as we shuffled hand in hand, into a store with elaborate dresses, blouses, and skirts we’d never seen the likes of in our tiny lives.     

Half grumbling to herself and being overheard by us, “I always feel like shit when I come in these stores.”  We were both aware, with the distorted truth we were just shit too.  Not because she ever told us we were, she never would, but because we were an extension of her and all she felt.

 I held my breath, daring not to become overly excited. This is a common characteristic of Adult Children of Alcoholics. We’ve learned to not get very excited, because we will surely be disappointed. I remember our family had plans to do something enjoyable together, a rare event, such as going on a picnic or swimming.

Because my father had done too much imbibing of his apple jack, apple-flavored whiskey, we had to change plans or too often ended up going along without him.

Holding my excitement down, we pushed open the heavy doors and hesitantly walked through the

entrance of the expensive store.  Daring to glance around I spotted them. The stacks of sweaters

were two tables down.  Could it be, I was really going to be wearing what all the others wore? 

The following day while sitting in tandem desks during my sophomore English class with

my best friend, Sarah, I would be wearing the special sweater. I would be like everyone else. I slept

restlessly with the thrill of tomorrow pirouetting in my head.

  

Throughout the morning I beamed, gazing at my sweater. My greatest moment was when I reached

English class. I kept putting my arm beside Sarah’s as if to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t

dreaming. No one mentioned it, but I knew they noticed I had a sweater like theirs. 

It wasn’t long before events took a dark turn.

The belief system of the child of an alcoholic was reinforced with this cautionary tale. Don't get too

excited about anything. Fortunately, my therapy helped me heal this belief system. I get excited about

things frequently. I believe good things can happen to me and it is also okay for good things to happen

to me.

I began to notice how dirty everything around me in the school seemed to be. The desks, the

books, and the lunch tables were slowly turning my elbows as Mother would say scurvy dirty and the

underside of my sleeves had ugly dark streaks along them. Why anyone ever chose white sweaters to

wear in that school I'll never know.

My classic sweater was pure white when purchased however, the dirty desks, papers, and books did

not help. It would have to be washed. 

Author Notes Somehow the spacing is not at all the way I would like it to be.
*******
When I look back now and see how important that sweater was to me when I was in high school, how important it was to have me feel like I belonged, I'm so glad my therapy has taken care of all of that.


Chapter 29
Adult child challenges

By Liz O'Neill

My heart sank, when Mother came into the room holding the shrunken sweater, which would fit a 1st grader rather than a sophomore in high school. In retrospect I can only imagine how much Mother must have sacrificed to get that sweater, however, as was her pattern, she was driven to match a new one with the original. 

In her caring heart, hearing my desperation she must have felt terrible. I see how unaware I was to her own desperation. All I thought about was me. I just had to have another identical sweater.  No one must know what really happened. 

In my fantasy mind, I had been wearing the same sweater all along. There was no such thing as another new sweater. I shriveled inside, unable to picture myself without one.

Using my child of an alcoholic skills, I initiated conversations to fabricate my story. I wanted to get ahead of them before they asked me and then I would not have to lie to some of the kids. I was unaware that fabricating was a form of lying.

I will deviate a little here to give some background so you can more fully understand how lying impacted my life from a very young age. 

As mandated by my father, I had to fabricate often. It never occurred to me I was lying. Until I was in my 60’s I carried on an extremely distorted pattern. This was as a result of an unhealthy belief system. Since I was old enough to answer the phone, I had to fabricate often about my father’s whereabouts.

He was a lawyer which created uncomfortable situations on the phone. His secretary would call and announce my father was 15 minutes late and his client was still waiting. I had to say he was on his way.  Do you want to speculate where he was? He was still… in… bed.

He also played golf therefore we had two people calling him on his day off on the weekend a client and his golf buddy. I was instructed to get him when his golf buddy called and to deny he was there if a client called. 

The manner in which the client asked about him was confusing. Sometimes they would ask for him by name as if they were his golf partner. I would take the message to my father who would jovially take the phone call. The result had consequences. He would rant. “You know I told you I do not want to talk to any clients on my days off.”

Next came the caller who asked, “Is your dad there?” Now that sounded like it could be a client. I was wary, took the message and hung up. I reported to my father someone had called, and how I dutifully took a message and hung up.

You guessed it again. It was his golf partner. He went on with the diatribe, “You know I've been waiting all day long for my golf partner to call me and now you’ve hung up on him.”  I'm sure after the drama, he's sorted it out some way. It was a trigger every time the phone rang. 

Amused, I witnessed the other family members reacting whenever the phone rang. Everyone wanted to hide, nobody wanted to answer the phone which kept ringing and ringing and ringing. 

We grown adults looked at each other and giggled.  My father growled, Isn't anyone going to answer that phone? We just sat hoping to appear invisible. My mother shrugged her shoulders and picked up the receiver.  

We return to the sweater saga. To tell the kids in my high school I wasn't wearing my sweater because my mother was washing didn't seem like a lie and seemed basically harmless, until it wasn't. I fabricate a similar story for other people.

You surely know this could never have ended happily. It became a cautionary tale when my partner inquired if I had mailed the envelope she gave me the previous day when I was on my way to work. I told her they’d probably be getting it on Monday. It was still in my pocket. Just like my father was still in bed.

This next fabrication stunned me and broke my partner's heart.  We had a little tensor light out on the steps outside. Plugging it in lighted the area our pets used to relieve themselves. One dark and stormy night there was thunder and lightning. 

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the lightning had struck and traveled right up the cord of the little lamp. I am terrified of lightning and this was 3 ft from the screen of the sliding glass door. We both saw it. My partner was very aware I was coming a little unglued and suggested we go out on the screened-in porch to get away from the electricity. 

She did not know enough about lightning because you don't go on a screened in porch when there’s lightning because lightning will come through the screens. I was very touched by her desire to take care of me and made no lightning can kill comments.  Now this was the most important line. She said “We can take care of that lamp tomorrow.” 

Jumping ahead to the next day. She was at work and called me.  We were laughing, having a light, playful conversation, until it wasn’t.

I have thought this over for many years, and haven't come up with a real good answer as to why I would want to sabotage everything with that learned adult child fabrication.  I told her I unplugged the tensor lamp. Have you guessed yet what she said? 

With a note of defeat in her voice and a broken heart she said, “I unplugged it.” My senseless act of fabricated bravado destroyed a loving relationship. 

You will see that nothing really changed until I learned way too late, from that bitter life lesson. Throughout the day, I planned how mother and I could go to purchase another sweater. It wouldn't be the same, there would be no excitement. But we would get the sweater.

 

Author Notes I hope this disclosure of my chronic lying related to adult children behavior helps at least one other reader here.


Chapter 30
Facing Myself

By Liz O'Neill

I walked through the door from another stressful school day, not because of pastime bullying, every one enjoyed me as a classmate or personal friend. It was the intellectual challenge of the subjects. My father had driven out any self-confidence. Reflecting with the help of my therapy insights, I realize it was what I now call the shit whisperer, who whispers lies into our brain and heart.    

I didn't discover how intelligent and capable I was until I entered graduate school. By then I had had no more contact with my father so the previous damage was healed. I got A's and A+ which was a very new experience. 

I had gotten some A's over time, but mostly C's. Both my brother and sister consistently brought home A's for marks on their report cards.  I dreaded the humiliation when my father was handing out little rewards for our marks.  He had to make a new rule for my unusual situation. When he was presenting my brother and sister with their quarter and dime for their A’s and B’s,  he made a big production as he presented me with a nickel. Can't you just picture it?  

In the midst of all my mulling these things over, Mother came toward me from the kitchen, her favorite haunt. “I have a big surprise for you.” I began to grin as she presented me with a bag. When I looked inside, filled with hope, I lifted out a white boiled wool sweater. 

Unfolding the soft fabric and flattening it out against my front, I could see it was identical to the previously shrunken one I was trying to hide.  Evidently, she had been able to coax, blame, or shame my father into doling out the required money amount. 

There would be no need to conceal this glorious trendy highly fashionable sweater. It served as a pass admission into a much-coveted unofficial group, as perceived by many. There were no rules or requirements for wearing the designated sweater,  I just knew it was important.

I knew getting a brand new sweater would make me happy and more secure, however, it would never be enough to assuage my mother's guilt.  Gazing at me teary-eyed, she said “I promise I will never wash it in hot water.” We both joyously hugged each other and knew this would be the end of it. 

****** 

Some of my high school friends had older brothers who let them wear their sweaters. They proudly danced around wearing a variety of sweaters. I pretended a small-framed Nike, barely a year younger, was the type of big brother who would let me wear his sweaters. The fit was a little tight, but it was a sweater worn by my brother, just like the other girls. 

That wasn't the only fit to be considered in this scenario.  Unaware I had been snooping in his dresser drawers,  he saw me prancing around wearing one of his favorite sweaters. It was pretty or should I say handsome, a white sweater with red and black patterning. 

He immediately went into action and I immediately knew I'd better get out of there as fast as I could. He chased me down the stairs, and out of the house. I skidded down over the bank with broken glass and rusty cans, into the brook.

You may remember this was a routine we played out. As long as I got down into the brook I was safe.  I got thinking about how I did have a tedious record of teasing Nike. I worked very hard to get out of the distorted mindset I exhibited.  Facing myself, even at an older high school age,  I was tormenting him wearing one of his favorite sweaters that really didn't fit me.

 At his expense, I wanted to look like my friends in this new trendy way. When I wanted to make things right between Nike and me, I tried to give it back with all kinds of apologies. He was having none of it and said. “You ruined it, you put bumps in it. I don’t want any sweater with bumps in it.” He threw it back at me. We have another blur, as I have no idea what happened to the sweater after that. 

******

He did get me good at an earlier age.  I must have been only about four and he three. I suspect because we'd visited the A&W Root Beer Stand where they have big glass mugs, he contracted what we in that era called Trench Mouth. I don't know what it is called now. My mother had to paint his gums with a gross purple-dyed medicine called gentian violet.

I was sitting there clutching my light pink blankie curiously watching the whole ordeal. Nike was very agitated trying to spit out the medicine. He grabbed my blankie and wiped his dark purple mouth all over it. My light pink blanket now had a purple stain covering it. I cried and made a fuss. He was crying because he did not want that stuff painted on his gums. It probably tasted horrible. My mother was the only one not crying at that moment.  I think she could easily have done some crying later on. 

Fortunately, in this day and age we only challenge each other with word play and words smithing. Despite his head injury, which I will discuss later, Nike is extremely bright.

*******

I will now make an effort to sum up the painful moments I have had to face myself.  At the risk of rehashing the processing of my consequences resulting in lying to my partner,  I would like to look at it from different angles. As I have faced myself taking responsibility for some of my behaviors, I will assess the impact of lying as adult children of alcoholics do, even when we don't have to. 

Following a pleasant evening, my partner called me while at work on her psych nurse shift. That is one of the things I've dreamed of in a relationship.  I love hearing the other person’s voice. Society seems to have reached a point where people would just much rather text the other person. I’ve abashedly observed this routine. Even if someone is in a nearby office, they are texting some message, rather than entering the physical space of the person they are texting. 

My partner and I were laughing, having a light, playful conversation on the phone, until it wasn’t. As I earlier said I broke my partner’s heart, and our relationship began to deteriorate after that. She ended up finding someone else who was more reliable and honest than I, but we remained friends. When she invited me to her new location we had a good talk. I told her I no longer lied and I understood the whole sordid picture of my learned behaviors. I have worked against those influences of unknowingly lying and fabricating. 

She said, “Maybe other people would not be offended by that behavior and it would be okay for them. But my problem was my mother lied to me all of the time. I just could not tolerate your lying to me.” In facing myself,  she was invited to face herself. Powerful.

 

Author Notes This was a difficult chapter to write. Having to be honest and vulnerable with the reader can be painful and healing at the same time. This act of facing myself has become vital in my life to continue to grow into the person I want to be.





Chapter 31
Stashing Bottles

By Liz O'Neill

We’ve finally reached a light topic,  about the history of bottles in my life, beginning at a young age and continuing right up to the present day.  

Timmy was one of my best childhood friends whom you've heard about.  He's the one who lived next door to me and where we slowly made our way, ending up staking our TV antenna on his property.

He's the one whom we teased every time we spotted a wad of toilet paper in our little river. It was flowing from the sewage pipe emerging from the bottom of the stone wall down from his house. 

Timmy was a great organizer and still is to this day. He's a retired Captain for his local small-town fire department. Possibly, his greatest accomplishment has been and continues to be his annual organizing of a spectacular and well-attended haunted house production for Halloween. 

Timmy received an unusual, however appropriate gift, for his favorite events. His best birthday gift was a red plastic box with Coca-Cola written on one side. There was an open side where a quart bottle was placed in a cradle.  

By tipping the bottle downward we could fill little paper cups and sell them at our neighborhood circus.  Coke was very popular so we could have made a lot of money if we’d listened to Mother explain the profit concept to us. It was math, a subject I just never grabbed. 

Instead, we just kept hitting Mother up for jingling change when we continued to charge 2 cents a cup, netting 16 cents per bottle,  which to us young entrepreneurs,  appeared to be a big handful of money.  The problem was that 25 cents was required at the store to buy another bottle. We conned my mother into making up the difference.

In between the selling and drinking of Coke, we had what could questionably be called a talent show. I think I was a comedian and did a little bit of singing which would go along with my performances these days.    

At other times when we were not making money selling coke, we went along the road picking up bottles which netted 2 cents per.  But our best, most exciting, fastest, easiest catch was to wade around the grass just below the town hall windows on Sunday after the Saturday night dances.  

When it stayed light later, we’d sit outside waiting for beer bottles to be pitched through the open windows.  There were some close calls, but no one got hit.  After we had collected all the bottles we could find, we’d hide them under a pile of grass.  

******

Just a half-mile down the road from O’Dool's Store, on Birch Street, was the best spot to begin picking up bottles in the 1950s, netting 2 cents per. We estimated that distance gave the customer just enough time to pop the cap, and drink the bottle empty.  

Lucky for us, they’d pitch it out of the car window to the side of the road so there were seldom any broken bottles. It was usually soda bottles that sold for 10 cents. A bottle of beer cost 30 cents which was a lot of pennies, so the return may have been more than 2 cents.

Occasionally, we'd harvest a beer bottle or two, tangled in the wet green, and straw-colored ditch grass. Those were usually a result of someone having been able to sneak one or two out of the cooler, past the store owner, and out the door.

My friends and I tramped down and back, up a hill, canvasing both sides of the road. After loading our basket, a bran sack, or an old pillowcase 'til nearly full, we made a right turn onto the dirt road leading to our destination. 

It consisted of a path, a poor excuse for a road that shot directly off from Birch Street, with a slight upgrade behind the school’s wooden bleachers.

We continued on, between the back of the baseball scoreboard and the cemetery fence. Excitement grew as we neared the rear of our Grammar and High School. This extended to a yawning parking lot edged by a grassy embankment that briefly obscured our endpoint.

Our bottle cache sometimes had nice surprises. Two-stepping our way down the bank, we searched out a good hiding spot for the load we'd lugged in. Kicking around in the knee-high grass, we'd often discover someone else's concealed stash. We could scarcely contain our excitement as we quickly moved all the newfound bottles to our designated hiding place.

On Sunday mornings, we sweetened the pot by scouring the area downhill from the Town Hall. A direct aim out the windows on Friday dance nights provided us a plethora of beer bottles along the incline.

But, fair is fair. Too many times though when we went to add our new acquisitions to the hidden location, nothing was there. We felt around, waving our grasping hands through the grass. Someone else had found our total stash.

We had no alternative but to begin again. Monday, the small candy store, a hut-like structure would be open for us to cash in our meager cache. The primary object of this establishment was to provide confections for neighborhood kids.

We planned to run down at recess, get into line, and trade our 2-cent bottles for penny candy, 5-cent candy bars, or lifesaver rolls. If we scrounged together enough bottles, we could strut away with a soda or our favorite ice cream bar for an additional 5 bottles.

I didn't remember that we were permitted to go down at recess and get goodies. I also know when I was in 5th and 6th grade we could get candy at our other school.  But remember that was when I was on my doctor-directed 900-calorie diet. This must have been when I was in 4th grade, pre-diet age. There seemed to be more lenient laws compared to these days. Of course, the hut would have to have been USDA approved or FSDA and all the other letters that might be needed.

 We could shop there with our bottles anytime, any day, any hour, as long as they were open. We were never discouraged about the need for bottles. There would always be bottles thrown, sodas bought, and scavenged stashes stowed. Our unwritten rule was finders, keepers, in a small town in the state of Vermont. 

 

Author Notes It's kind of amusing now to see the bottle deposit was at one time two cents per. And some of you will know all of the other prices of things were just very much lower than now. This may be a journey down memory lane for some of you.


Chapter 32
Dark Energies

By Liz O'Neill

The next subject is a little more sordid but could lead to a prosperous opportunity. And that is the discussion of bottle dumps. Old bottles, in need of disposal, were thrown down a dirt-covered or grassy bank near a brook. Wow, that sounds like my neighbors.

Maybe there was an official bottle dump next to my house. Maybe the bottles were worth money. The family and their descendants had been living there at least one hundred years tossing bottles out.  Possibly, when I was banging down over the bottle-covered bank to get into the brook, fleeing Nike, I was stomping over money. 

I had an introduction to the concept of bottle dumps when I was probably about 10 years old. We drove by one location to get from one town to the next.  My parents exclaimed, “Oh that's quite a bottle dump over there.” I think my mother wanted to plan an adventure to search the area. Funny, it never occurred to anyone we might be living next to a valuable bottle dump. While fleeing for my life I did not have a moment to even glance at what kind of bottles lay there.   

*******

While visiting some friends, one of them knew a site with wonderful bottles. I went with them and I did find some extremely unique light green medicine bottles. I proudly placed them upon a shelf in my new home. 

There was total excavation to occurring a couple of houses away. I slowly made some connections with the growing chaos up the street from me. The church powers-that-be was making room for a parking lot. 

Animals had to find new places to live. This is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell's song: ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. Instead of tearing down Paradise as in the verses of the song, they tore down trees which were paradise for the birds. 

They also tore down two houses which profited me because I could easily access wood from those 1800’s houses and the 1950s siding of the same era as my house. But then they did put up a parking lot for a church and the many automobiles.  

The bottle dump unearthed was located just downhill from the 1800s houses. Strolling through the area after getting home from work, I noticed the workers had saved out the many bottles they had found. I became very excited and thought maybe I'd take some for my collection I had previously begun, imagining what a nice addition they would be to my shelved collection. 

A very weird energy incident struck me. I hefted the box into my arms, and headed back toward my house. A strange sensation caused me to halt in my steps.  A strong odor of cigarettes and stale alcohol reminded me those were not my bottles. 

Someone had worked very hard gathering them.  I returned the box, set it down, trudged home, and when inside,  gazed at the bottles on my living room shelf. I felt good, I had legitimately collected those. I believe if I had brought the bottles home with me and placed them on my shelf, the energy in the room would not have felt good. There would have been a constricting darkness left there. 

********

As long as we're talking about spirits of darkness,  it is probably a good time for me to sum up the catalysts leading to why I have such difficulty with math. This may answer some questions for others too. 

While training to be an effective advocate for abuse victims, I attended a workshop addressing the effects of sexual abuse on children. I receive an important insight into my life struggles. I've always wondered why I have had such difficulty with math I know some of it is my ADD but There is something else. And in this workshop I found what the something else was. 

I learned the possible causes for some children to find any success in attacking math problems or operations. There are many children and adults, unable to do well with math. And I fit that pattern. 

If a child is being molested, their mind works to forget it, oftentimes to go blank. In the classroom when emotionally wounded students are learning math facts and sorting things out, a defensive blockage results.

If their math activities require memorizing,  the child doesn't want to remember anything. They do not want to remember what has happened to them. You see if that child is trying to remember their math facts, they may be hesitant to do so because remembering the math facts might cause them to remember being molested.

They have protectively shut down. This theory makes a lot of sense to me as to why even as an adult I cannot do math. I did not learn how to tell time until 4th grade and I still don't do well with digital clocks or calendars. In working with adults who were victimized as children, I discovered there were many who claimed they were unable to do math with confidence.   

When I was teaching math in the sixth grade there were word problems, the worst scenario for me. I was going over how to solve a word problem and didn't really grasp how to do it.  It might have been one of those puzzles regarding two trains leaving at different times. 

All I could think of was to be glad I didn’t have to catch any trains. The other conundrum was how many people it would take to paint a fence. I was just glad I didn't have to have them paint my fence.  It hurts my head to figure out math problems, no longer on some math book page, but in my life.

I  want so much to know which would be the best deal according to how much something is per ounce. Note, the problem is, often the information provided is measured by the pound. I have no idea where to begin, so I just take the cheapest price. 

If you think back to my father's money system for marks on our report card, I never got any more than nickels for a reward for my marks in math. As I got into high school my marks grew worse.  In graduate school, I was doing fine with everything until I got into a situation where I had to figure out some kind of statistics for a study I was doing regarding student readers. Math has just been a complete nemesis for me.

I am a little sad as we come up to daylight savings time.  My dear friend who recently passed, and I  used to joke about how we should adjust the clock. She used to call me to remind me it was daylight savings time and to not even bother move my clock. 

She suggested we wait to fix it in the morning. And I've been doing that ever since. What is sad right now is she won't be calling me, to tell me to move my clock. She's just gone. That's what happens to people who just die without any warning.  She's just gone.  

 

Author Notes I thoroughly enjoyed remembering back when we used to lug and trade bottles in. It was a lot of fun. I hope others Could reminisce about some of their bottle lugging and maybe some of you even found some bottle dumps


Chapter 33
Not Enough Sugar

By Liz O'Neill

My mother sent me to the closest mom-and-pop store in our little town named O'Doul's which was just uphill from our street. The other one was at least 2 miles up a steep hill. I knew I could get some candy because Mother gave me a big fat nickel which I instantly secured in my pocket.

So as not to mix up the coins, I kept grocery money separate, wrapped tight in my fist. I already planned to get the best deal of 10 pieces for a penny. As adults were wont to say, that nickel was burning a hole in my pocket.

I trekked along my favorite trail which had a plethora of box elder bushes. My concentration was on seeking out just the right sticks to make swords and picking the flowers I loved and still. Black-eyed Susans seem unique.

At another time these sticks were used for switches by my grandmother from hell. We found happy uses for them, reenacting sword fights from yesteryear. Several of us are certain we were in sword fights in past lives.

I think I was definitely in the Knight's Templar. We enjoyed a good sword fight and were quite skilled at it. We seemed to have the style down pat, as if we were born with the skills and knowledge of swords.

As you may have already predicted, with my ADD, I forgot I had money in my hand. When I got to the store I had only a few coins left. However, the next day, I was delirious, believing myself to be one of the luckiest girls in the world. I found all kinds of coins on the path. I wondered who might have dropped their money while walking along the road.

That's so funny looking back now. I must have been great entertainment for the grocer. My mother was more of an auditory perceiver than I am, whom I've discovered to be visual. She did not print out any of the grocery list only telling me what to get.

By now, you can probably imagine what happened when I got up to the store. I was asking for everything in the wrong container and the wrong amount. The grocer chuckled when he saw me entering the store. He knew he'd have to call my mother because he was sure she did not want a box of hamburger or a bottle of flour.

Refreshing everyone's memory of our bottle collecting antics, no more than 50 feet from the townhall driveway, was a little building where we could trade our bottles for candy. It certainly was more convenient than lugging the bottles up the hill to our small neighborhood store.

We, however, decided the walk up the moderately inclined hill was well rewarded. The grocery store sold 5 pieces for a penny. So, with 10 bottles, we could walk out with 50 pieces of candy and some ice cream!

******

I felt pretty darn grown up when I graduated from Brownies to Girl Scouts. That meant shedding my brown dress and wearing a green skirt, white blouse, and sash for badges. I knew Mother would help me earn a badge for cooking and another for sewing. I was already goal-oriented.

When I went with Mother to buy the Girl Scout uniform, I was excited until I realized we had to go into one of those fancy stores. I felt like shit when I two-stepped into that store. You may remember as I do, with my brother and me on each hand, my mother saying as we went into some fancy store, "I always feel like shit when I come in here."

The clerk who attended to us in the Girl Scout clothing department added truth to my mother's statement right on the nose. That bitter snooty woman said something to a complete stranger, a 10-year-old child. It was none of her business and completely condescending.

Because they didn't have any fancy little girl uniforms, she looked at me down her nose and said, "Would you like to go on a diet with me, dearie?"

I'm still seething. To add injury to insult, on the way out, Mother hissed, "Oh, I'd like to cut your tastebuds out."


The irony here is though my mother was so humiliated she had to take it out on me, she was delighted I had taste buds to be able to savor anything she baked. She was aware of how grateful I was for that comforting cake greeting me when I came home from a rough day at school.

Shortly after that, at the age of 10, I was put on a 900-calorie diet by the doctor. I did hear similar stories from several women at the shelter where I worked as an advocate. Imagine putting a 10-year-old on a 900-calorie diet.

Hopefully, none of you experienced the same thing. Ah, but as a consolation prize, I was told there was such a thing as dietetic candy. I thought everything would be okay, as I chose the dull-colored hard candies.

When I popped one in my mouth, I was afraid my tongue would never be the same. With my tastebuds numbed, I couldn't spit it out fast enough. Ah, that might have been part of the diet plan. Numb her tongue so she doesn't taste anything.
*******

In the pre-diet year era, for lack of space, our gang was bused to another school. My mouth was watering. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A little van pulled into a space for our recess break. Just as with our other school, candy was for sale at recess.




Author Notes I hope this turns out better than it was destined for. I lost it when some kind of a virus blocked my documents fortunately I had backups on my email. I'm beginning to appreciate the humor that is surfacing as I reread what I've written.


Chapter 34
Pre diet Years

By Liz O'Neill

In the pre-diet year era, for lack of space, our gang was bused to another school. My mouth was watering. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A little van pulled into a space for our recess break. Just as with our other school, candy was for sale at recess. 
 
Just as with our other school, this van had candy for sale at recess.  
There was a delicious nougaty cinnamon red rocket-shaped delicacy.  One of my friends let me sample one. I had never tasted anything like it.  I couldn’t wait to bring my money. Imagining a whole school year of that treat made any sadness temporarily disappear. That was about a week before the dastardly diet was declared. 
*********
As with most farfetched pipedreams, the bad idea of me being on a diet quickly fizzled out.   There was one fated day we had nothing in the house and I was craving something sweet. I implored Mother to find something similar to jam or jelly.  I climbed the shelves ransacking the cupboard.  I spotted a wonderful jar of molasses.
 
When I pulled it down Mother told me, "You will not like it."  I wondered why she would tell me such an untruth. I pulled out the loaf of Sunbeam bread from the Sunbeam man, and fetched two thick slices of fresh-smelling white bread out of the bag.
 
My mouth was watering as I reached into the silverware drawer for a knife and dipped it into the jar of delectable-looking molasses. As I spread it across the bread, the shiny dark brown substance began to cover the bread.  After smearing more onto the second slice, I slapped them together to make an even more tempting mouthful. And I did take a giant bite with giant anticipation. 
 
My next dramatic response in between raspberry sounds and motions to clear my lips and tongue of any speck, ranted with the questions of why would anyone put that putrid sweet, dark substance in a jar? And what was it doing in our jelly pantry?  
 
Mother gently said, with a slight grin reaching her eyes, "Are you okay? I told you you would not like it. But you do have to do things on your own to discover the truth. This was not a very sweet truth was it?"
*******        
I did however make up for this dearth of confectionery consumption when I was in junior high, especially at Halloween time.  Trudy had a fireplace which served as an excellent source of soot for blackening their faces.
 
A pillowcase was the fare for Teddy and Timmy along with Trudy and me to see how long it would take to fill them up.  The timing always seemed to work for us as their houses lay on the middle line separating the southern and northern halves of our town.  
Hustling around from house to house barely noticing the lights out…no more candy deadline, we managed to fill two pillowcases.  Not bad for one night’s work. 
*****
Below is a poem I wrote about our adventures:
        We Were Always Bums
 
The char from the fireplace chimney 
Provided our costumes
We were always bums
We needed a big pillowcase

For our last prop to carry
There was going to be candy aplenty
We needed a big pillowcase
The porch lights were on
 
We went door to door
So long ago when we were young
The porch lights were on
The candy bars were giant

The neighbors were generous
Our pillowcases were bulging
The candy bars were giant
Everything was going great

We saw it on the porch 
It was a scary ghost made of spiderwebs
Everything was going great
It was time to go home

No more porch lights were on
It was getting scary now
It was time to go home
These tired ole bums

Have to trod miles home
With heavy yummy filled pillowcases
These tired ole bums
Comparing and trading our stash

The thrill of having only the good ones
To put away to eat a little each day
Next year, we'll be bums
********

In the Novitiate, we were supposed to take only one piece of candy at recreation.  Since they didn’t usually have my favorite, with the map on the inside cover, no one knew what flavor was what.  

One of the Sisters, wanting to make sure her one piece was a good one, used to punch a little hole in the bottom of each of the chocolates. She proceeded ‘til she got the one she wanted.  

This took the mystery out of it for all of us.  I heard the verbal history passed down about the candy box rule.  It seems there was an unexpected unsupervised power outage. Need I say more? 

When the lights came on, the previously nearly full box of chocolates turned up empty.  To use an amusing example of wordplay. So much for blind obedience, which is usually related to the times we were told to perform a task that didn't necessarily make sense. To use a textbook example, watering a dead stick.

In later years, where I lived, one of the Sisters, trying to cut down on eating candy, suggested that the others hide the goodies from her.  All abided by her wishes, by eating from a certain box when she wasn’t around. 

Replacing the gold band gave the appearance the box had not yet been opened.  We know deception always goes sideways.  She must have had her eye on the box all along,  because when there was need for a gift for someone, she suggested that box of candy.  

We each swallowed hard, sheepishly looking at each other, and confessed to eating most of the candy.  The Sister shook the box and said, “From now on, I’m going to shake and take.”

I had several run-ins with this same Sister and one involved a cousin to candy. Girl Scout cookies will be part of our next adventures to read.

Author Notes I'm glad the diet project was short-lived. Did anyone else fill pillowcases with candy at Halloween?


Chapter 35
The Girl Scout Cookie Encounter

By Liz O'Neill

 I had several “run-ins” with this same Sister who wanted everyone in the house to hide any candy and on one occasion it involved a cousin to candy, cookies. I was asked by the other Sisters in my small group living situation to bring home some of the Girl Scout cookies from my stash which I kept in my closet at school. This was the time I was teaching sixth grade and also assisting in Girl Scout leading.
 
Since we have referred to sugar as a drug which is anything that changes the physical or emotional composition of an individual. I was a bit like a drug dealer selling cookies out of my classroom closet. This turned out to be ideal for all of us. 
 
The kids and their families had easy access to the Girl Scout cookies they otherwise wouldn't, as they were located in a backwoods rural area. We were getting money for our Girl Scout troop to enable them to participate in some nice trips. There was a trip scheduled for Nantucket Island and later to New York City.   
 
As requested by my religious Sisters, I brought home several boxes of different flavored cookies . Our entry into the house was through the basement. Remembering the mandate by Joan to keep any candy or sweets out of her view, I left them in the basement on a shelf. 
 
I was very happy to oblige. I knew what would happen if I brought them upstairs.  There’d be none left for the rest of the Sisters. I didn’t think of the cookies again, primarily because I didn’t eat very many things containing white sugar anymore. No one specifically requested the cookies at any time so they remained in the basement.      
 
Something must have clicked in Joan’s head as she remembered I was supposed to have delivered boxes of Girl Scout cookies to our house from my supply at school.  She immediately verbally attacked me,  accusing me of hiding the cookies from her. Something must have snapped in my head.  
 
Smoldering from being accused of hiding the cookies from Joan, I stormed down the cellar stairs, grabbed two boxes, and brought them upstairs. I was one of the best ball throwers in high school. Those high school days flashed back as I  threw the two boxes across the long kitchen floor.  After they landed near her feet, Joan stared at me with disgust.
 
She was lucky I didn’t carry out my next fantasy. I pictured myself stomping over toward the two boxes, already beginning to be broken into cracked cookies. That wasn't enough of a satisfaction. I planned to do a run and high jump onto both boxes until they were two boxes of Girl Scout cookie dust.   
 
My therapist told me that for the most part, in the history of the world, many fights have involved food. I have observed Religious Life is nothing more than a microcosm of the world.
 
******* 
 
 I mentioned earlier I was avoiding white sugar. In the 70's I attended a lecture about the difference between white sugar and raw sugar which is brown. We learned the reason raw sugar is nonaddictive is because it is brown. The white sugar is bleached and something in the bleach they use becomes addictive. I found someone could make me a plate of cookies with raw sugar and I might take one, whereas with white sugar cookies, I would have at least two, possibly going back for a third.
 
You might wonder how a sugar addict like me tolerated the lack of white sugar. I discovered the local natural food store had a good variety of raw sugar or non-sugar tastees. I was especially drawn to a satisfactory confection, a mimic of a Snickers bar. Snickers was one of my favorite white sugar candies. This raw sugar invention tasted like Snickers made out of raw sugar.  I was quite satisfied for about 2 years. 
 
******
 
My downfall occurred unexpectedly. I was still going strong with my routine of stopping at the Natural Food store on my mile walk home from teaching school.  I call up your memory of my fellow who helped me when I dropped the knife and split my big toe open, trying to loosen the too-frozen ice cream. 
 
 In the midst of a romantic environment, my toe was gushing and I couldn't figure out how to make a butterfly band-aid. Frantically searching the bathroom cupboard, attempting to be as unobtrusive as possible, I found none. My fellow, whom you may remember, knew how to tape up my gushing toe because he was a wood carver. 
 
He explained the whole process. "When one of my creatures is in danger of having a toe cracking and breaking off, I tape it this way."  He mended my toe with the same procedure. His creatures may not have been losing blood, but he knew how to stop mine perfectly. 
 
My dear fellow had no idea I had sworn off white sugar. He was always thoughtful when he visited. We had what is known as a long-distance relationship.  We lived an hour away from each other.
 
All I could think of was oof when he brought me a giant piece of chocolate fudge and suggested we have a little piece of it together.    
 
How do you tell someone in a romantic moment you don't eat chocolate, you don't eat fudge and you don't eat white sugar when he had gifted you with such decadence? I did not tell him any such thing and therefore I began eating white sugar again. I never went at it as venomously as I previously did. 
 
Chocolate used to be my chosen addiction. I hardly have any chocolate anymore.  I almost don't even like it. It's a very strange thing having the knowledge and the experience of no white sugar. As long as you can find some satisfactory raw sugar substitute for that white sugar, you will be amazed at how well you do. 
 
I still have white sugar but in such much smaller portions, I amaze myself. For example, instead of a whole donut, I break it in half and I might have a third of one of the halves.  Also instead of eating a large peanut butter cookie, I have just a small triangle of it. I find all I need is a little taste of any of that. 
 
 
 

Author Notes As a child I acted out anger with violence by throwing things. That is a great topic. Maybe we'll get into that later but it seemed to be genetic that I threw things. My mother also threw things and I guess my sister did . So anybody else here looking back thinking about maybe throwing things in anger frustration .


Chapter 36
I was severely scammed

By Liz O'Neill

As an author, I was severely scammed by Writers Value. VIP , a literary group, an imposter posing as Rebekah Jett from Simon & Schuster called last Nov. 2023. 
She was going to rescue my books and get them printed & on Amazon. In the meantime, I  paid money to have the books printed and published.
 
She was lovely and spent up to an hour on the phone with me. schmoozing me. I double-checked to see if she was a real real person. She is an editor for Simon and Schuster. a beautiful  African American woman.
 
That's who I was talking with on the phone. She talked more and more about how they were going to have me sign a contract with Simon and Schuster. I was going to be part of their family.
 
We were supposed to meet at  a local restaurant. Rather than me traveling to New York City. they were coming all the way from New York to Brattleboro which was 3-hour drive. I was honored. In addition, she was also going to bring many of my books so I could give them to my friends.
 
  I've written six books so she said she was going to bring them when we got together on March 11th. She had previously sent me a copy of the contract and it said March 11th on it so I knew we were going to really meet on March 11th.
 
The date had been previously delayed to be able to round her team up. Some had to be traveling abroad, as they were an international group. It about that time I thought my Rebekah was being impersonated because there was an email that turned from Rebekah's picture on the little thing where it says her name near the email to a blonde a long-haired  woman that I knew the whole thing was a bust.
 
I worried that Rebekah and her team had come up to Brattleboro and I wouldn't have been there. I never heard back from Rebekah so I didn't know if that blonde lady had said something to her like don't email me again or don't call me.  I didn't know what was going on. It just seemed as though some terrible thing had been done to Rebekah and me as far as the time for the signing.
 
Shortly before Mar 11, Rebekah told me it was okay for me to talk with  Bela Bejaria who 
called with an offer from Netflix. I double-checked her authenticity she was on the main page for Netflix. Rebekah had earlier said she wanted to get me in connection with Netflix and here it was.
 
 I got in touch with the Simon & Schuster fraud team because I was concerned about the real Rebekah being impersonated. She needed to know about this because she probably has other clients and then they're being scammed also.
 
My friends asking how I  believed in Rebekah. I said it  was especially because we had such enjoyable conversations. She was very interested in my books and why I wrote them and they had wonderful conversations on the phone.
 
I only discovered this was a scam when I emailed the Simon & Schuster fraud team and they told me that was not the real Rebekah's email and it was not the real Rebekah's phone number and that I had been totally scammed.
 
I next called the Netflix to tell them that Bella was being impersonated.  I thought it was important that these women know their clients are getting scammed possibly as with me, drained of money. I have lost a lot of money and hope to get it back.
 
I called my State Police and they have a file they're working on. My bank has a file they're working on and then I was referred to the Attorney General and I filled out a form for them. 
I was late changing my checkbook account and even later canceling my credit card.  They were able to get even more money from me.
 
I'm telling my story because first of all I feel broken and maybe telling my story will help me heal a bit, also it may prevent others from falling into this same scam.  I'm aware of 2 of our members getting unmercifully scammed. One of our members on here who did get scammed badly and he's kind of backed away just to mend.
 
We are like scam magnets as authors.   Everybody wants to help us publish our book. They want to do this and that for us our book.  I immediately ask them how much it was going to cost. I got a call for an invitation for an interview.  Oh you want to know how much that was going to cost, at least $400.
 
Several years ago I got connected with a group called iUniverse.  It sounded really good at first.  It wasn't going to cost much for books. But they began grooming me.  They would say they had a deal to get an ad for my book in a magazine like Readers' Digest.  They were doing it. One of my friends saw it on there.
 
It was an incredible amount of money and they were really appealing to my ego. My ego has gotten me in a lot of trouble. I don't know if that's part of being an author or not but if you have a big ego beware. So they kept giving me all these offers and the thing is they would divide them into threes.
 
I didn't only have to pay 1/3 of the amount and the following month, of course, I would have to pay the second third but next month now they were going to have another offer for me.   And I will only have to pay half,  so I'm paying for two things this month and the following month. I'm paying for two things.
 
But the next month they had another offer. Are you feeling crazy yet? That's clearly their goal. It's an especially great trap for someone who doesn't do math well. It just makes our heads spin as it just goes on and on ad nauseum.
 
I do not want to make people feel like there's no safe place to get a book published.  I don't know of any but maybe someone here knows a safe publishing company that doesn't charge very much money so that we can all know about this.

 

Author Notes This will eventually be in my autobiography so I'm just putting it in now because it's very timely. One of our other members got terribly scammed also I don't want anyone here to get scammed. It's not pleasant . But I will have to say it is because of your support and my many friends, I am able to get beyond this.


Chapter 37
Rough Beginnings

By Liz O'Neill

There were no nurturing adults in my life until I hit fifth grade.  Most memories of school are pretty bad, which was why I chose to become a teacher. Kids were going to have one year of good memories. I did not attend kindergarten which was privately run in our town; therefore most of the kids were already ahead of me in many respects and possibly bonded.
 
During my first or second grade, whenever I entered the little school grounds, there was one particular student who yelled, "No more cucumbers." They were playing jump rope so I was not invited. I'm grateful to my therapist for teaching and empowering me to become an initiator. When I was verbally reworking my childhood, I imagined myself going onto the playground invited by the kids to play.
 
My therapist suggested otherwise. He said, "What about if you come up with a game and you invited the others to play your game?" I rewrote such an incident, inventing a new game, and inviting them to play my game. They loved it and exclaimed how they thought it was the best game they had ever played.
 
The old me used to sit at our workshops in the Convent and listen to people at the break inviting each other someplace to get a cup of coffee or ice cream. After learning to become an initiator I no longer sat in the chair wondering why no one invited me. I invited others and we had a great time.

My first challenge in school, in addition to rejection, was my left-handedness.  I opened books from the back and proudly reversed every letter in my name on the chalkboard from right to left. I'm sure when the teacher saw me write my name exactly from right to left with every letter backwards, she may have muttered to herself, "We've got a problem here."
 
Arithmetic came very hard for me and still does.  Being a visual learner, I needed to picture everything. The numbers I was supposed to be adding in my head, I imaged  activity on the ceiling, making sweeps of numerals and plus signs with my pointer finger. I didn't learn to tell time until about 4th grade. I still do poorly, especially with the new digital clocks. I resolve if there is a time when face clocks with the hands becomes obsolete, I will strap a dead face watch on my wrist to make the translation. 
******
There was a ruler incident with one of my classmates whom I have since learned was schizophrenic. June would throw her ruler down the register to the cold air in front of our desks.  The frustrated first-grade teacher would get June a new one, spank her hand with it, and give it to her.   That ruler would promptly make its journey down the chute.
 
As the weeks waned so did the supply of rulers in the box.  When there were no more new rulers to be issued, the resourceful teacher took mine.  Offended eyes traced my ruler's path which followed every other ruler in the box. It was immediately swallowed up in the darkness of the gaping hole in front of us.
 
It’s quite possible this teacher went onto the next student who still possessed a ruler until the entire arsenal was feeding the fires of the furnace.  There probably weren’t many activities requiring the use of a ruler in that classroom. 
*********
 
My first challenge in school, in addition to rejection, was my left-handedness.  I opened books from the back and proudly reversed every letter in my name on the chalkboard from right to left. I'm sure when the teacher saw  me write my name exactly from right to left with every letter backwards, she may have muttered to herself, "We've got a problem here."
 
Arithmetic came very hard for me and still does.  A visual learner, the numbers I was supposed to be adding in my head, I pictured on the ceiling, making sweeps of numerals and plus signs with my pointer finger.
 
I didn't learn to tell time until about 4th grade.  I still don't do well telling time,  especially with the new digital clocks. I resolve, if there is a time when face clocks with the hands become obsolete, I will strap a dead face watch onto my wrist to make the translation. 
******
Almost every morning that substitute teacher greeted me in front of the entire class with a sarcastic, “Well, look who decided to come to school today.” I was already beginning to be bullied by the kids and now this heartless woman just confirmed that.  This teacher would also be the one to wash my 3rd-grade mouth out with soap when I tattled on my 1st-grade ruler- nemesis. Of course, I had to repeat the bad word to be clear about the infraction of rules.  
*********
This was also the time that I was trying to get around with a stitched-up knee so it was difficult for me to get down on the ground to play.  The only other thing I remember from 2nd grade is a poem about a turtle that sat on a rock and snapped at flies.  We children had to bring a little mirror to school to complete the image of the turtle, pictured in the book with only half a body.
 
This was a very poignant moment for me.  For a minute I too felt whole.
 
 There was space for a softball field on the school grounds, around the time and area Teddy chased me with his BB gun where I attended 4th grade.  I noticed a change was taking place. My classmates began to respect me for my home runs and pitching ability. 
 
My teacher, however, whom most intensely disliked, gave me an F in Health because after recess, when everyone had to stand in line for fingernail inspection, mine were dirty.  The only other thing I remember of that year was sitting in the back by the supply cupboard with my friends. We held sinister grins as we secretly gorged ourselves with yummy forbidden paste. 
 
 
 
 
 
         
 


******

Author Notes I shudder to think what I might have become if I had had my therapist guidance. He helped me discover an entirely different person than I thought I was. Our negative messages can do a lot of damage to us.


Chapter 38
A stitched up knee

By Liz O'Neill

This was also the time that I was trying to get around with a stitched-up knee. Because I was persona non grata, unwelcome in the front of the building with the jump-roping girls, I assigned myself to the back with the boys who were playing much more interesting games anyway.
 
As a review, being fair to those who are unfamiliar with my stories. I was standing on the running board of a pickup truck coming up a hill. I did not know the driver was stopping to shift and I jumped off. At that point, the wheel moved forward catching my knee under it.
 
When playing on the boys' side of the building, most boys were down on the ground with trucks and cars having fun. I couldn't have as much fun as I usually would because I had to be careful of my knee.
 
I may have told you the times I tore my stitches from my knee. One was while riding my bicycle. The other, chasing down the hallway railing with my brother just a little above me. This caused me to quickly, without thinking, jump off the railing. I could feel my stitches ripping out.
 
  The having to go up and down the ladder in the barn where the abuse occurred, all flashed back to me in the 3rd grade when I found myself in the lead needing to go down the grated metal fire-escape during a drill.  I froze everytime and began to cry.  Finally, the teacher who broke hearts by telling them there was no Santa Claus and made the boy next to me wait so long that he wet his pants almost daily, had mercy on me and let me go down the wooden indoor stairs with the 2nd graders.  It may have been intended to be a further humiliation but it was, for me, a great relief.
 
       At other times I found myself literally up against the fence with the kids calling me names and making fun of me.  I did find a consolation one fall, in the unusual maple leaves which I loved to shuffle through just outside the school grounds.  For some strange reason, they had a very fuzzy underside which I loved to lightly trace my fingers across. I collected many and saved them in the family Bible.
 
The house next door, where my slow friend whom we protected  from the bullying brothers in the neighborhood, had a wood stove which late one evening became too hot and started a chimney fire.  It was frightening to see the stark silhouettes of the firemen against red-orange flames leaping from the chimney  Our houses had never seemed so close together.
 
The fire was extinguished and all was forgotten, until, I came home from 3rd grade, one day to find only charred remains to Benny’s house where I’d gone to watch him drink tea and listen to the phonograph.  I had previously believed only crabby grandmothers drank tea and listened to records on the real wind-the-handle phonograph player, but Benny and I spent hours doing just that.
  
The funny toilet located just a few steps up, that seemed more like an outhouse brought inside, was gone too.  There would be no more looking through the hole and peering way down into the darkness of the basement to see where things landed. They just dumped dirt on all of it, moved in a trailer, and painted it pink, black and green.
 
A year later, all of this came rushing back when I heard the firetruck and looking out of my 4th grade classroom window, saw the truck parked in front of my house. Filled with dread and terror, without even asking my teacher for permission, I raced down the hill and into my house to see Mother calmly standing there explaining it was a chimney fire and everything was fine.
 
Everyone in the neighborhood was registered to take tap dance and baton lessons.  “Heel – toe, heel – toe, shuffle – ball – change.”  Mother had sewn some beautiful costumes for the recitals.  All of the mothers sewed to save money.  I was so proud of those souvenirs and hung them in the closet off Nickey’s room where we used to run and hide among the coats.  
Sometimes after my aunt and cousin had visited, I  noticed the costume of the most recent recital was missing.  This happened at least two or three times. No one ever confronted my cousin about it.  People didn’t do such things in those days.  However, my father was allowed to say just about anything he pleased and got results.  One time before he, Mother, and my paternal aunt and uncle were going to the races, my father said to Mother, “I hope you have stockings on, you’re not riding in this car without them.”
 
The next thing I heard was my aunt saying to her husband, “Come on, we’re going home.” She evidently did not have stockings on.  They went into the house, packed and didn’t return for three years.  The next time they had some conflict, they were absent for five years.  And when she divorced her husband for batterering her, my father told her, "Never set foot on the property again." 

She came to visit our neighbors because she had been friends with them since they were kids. She did not, however, set foot on our property. We could yell over and talk to her but she could not cross the property line.
   
Thirty-four years later, they finally reconciled. I think it may be genetic, my own sister Cassie doesn’t, nor hasn’t throughout our lifetime, spoken to me more than a few sentences at a time.  I remember the only time my sister ever hugged me, was when I rescued a berrying pan from the brook for one of our friends.  Cassie even kissed me on the cheek.
  
Everyone in the neighborhood was just tall enough to hike each other up onto the back of the iceman’s truck to use the ice pick to chip off a chunk of ice.  There was an exhilaration in the gang to get everyone served before the iceman cometh or emerged from one the houses carrying the scary metal tongs which he could easily use to scoop up anyone of us.  I think at the age of two, I remember Mother had an icebox. I don't remember anything more about it
 

Author Notes There were many varied adventures in this short span of time.


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