Friday, June 18, 2010

What the Hell Made You That Way?


















Yeah, that's me--fifth grade, Green Acres Elementary School, Fairfax, Virginia
Yeah, that's actually my sixth grade class going on a field trip to my house (gulp)

So, what makes us the way we are, huh?

The older I get, the more apparent it is that you are a culmination of the path you took and how you interpreted the events in your life for good or bad. I was the baby of the family, so you can guess I was used to whining to get what I want, feeling as if I have no power, and always having older siblings push me away, so I was the much younger odd woman out. Then, I grew up in a spooky mansion on the hill in the middle of suburban tract homes. Another odd woman out. Do you think that made me the fun kid to hang out with? Not necessarily.

See that fifth grade picture? I was calling every girl in my class and the other classes on a Friday night for a sleepover. Were there any takers? Nope! They saw the show about the ghosts in our house on NBC, they read the newspaper articles about the house being one of the "most haunted houses in America..." Then, there's the fact I was living on an estate. People assumed we were wealthy, but my parents bought clothes on discount and never ever bought us toys, so we had to learn to play outdoors and be creative. Yes, we also had a Victorian summer home on the Chesapeake and a cabin cruiser, but there were no status items amongst us. We lived extremely basic and, in fact, grew and caught our own food at the summer home to give us kids character, along with no television or radio. My parents were much much older and they grew up during the depression era, so they had a mindset to put their kids in a beautiful setting and let them just flourish.

So, how did I manage to keep myself from being a total outsider? Well, with a sense of humor is how.

As if things couldn't get worse, in sixth grade the teacher decided we must take a field trip to my home. Holy heck! Can you put a bigger freaking spotlight on what a weird place I lived? My friends lived in modern homes with split levels and shag carpeting. The floorboards in my creaky home were stained with the bloodstains of Civil War soldiers and the place was filled with antiques. It was like the freaking Munsters abode complete with heavy velvet drapes and flocked wallpaper.

So, here I am walking my class and the teacher (and a few nosy parents of the students) through a hole in a neighbor's wood fence to walk behind the barn and past the slave cottages and the orchard to the big scary Confederate gray house. My mother puts on a good southern spread that embarrasses me again because I wanted it to be casual but the kids actually love the stuff she puts out, so point one for my mother.

They inspect the artifacts in the cases, ask tons of questions, want to use the metal detector. For the first time in my life, my weirdness of growing up using a metal detector and digging up relics is "cool" instead of dorky! (sounds like ghost hunting nowadays, huh?) We play soccer in the huge pasture out front and explore the place, showing off a treefort and the barn and the boxwood mazes and the creek. The kids have a blast and it shocks me.

It ends up my greatest embarrassment is also my greatest asset. Apparently, all these years they wondered about my place too but weren't brave enough to check it out.

So, how do I come to be the one running this blog? It makes perfect sense, a childhood in a haunted house, handling relics and reading their history, curiosity about what creates such conditions, and the knowledge that, if I tell people I'm into this, others will join in with great curiosity. After that field trip, kids would openly talk to me about the ghosts and the house and the history and I was no longer a freak but an expert.

The fact that my parents didn't buy designer clothes or toys made me terribly creative and unaffected by trends and status, as well as a writer and a romantic and a nature lover. The fact that I did live in a mansion in the suburbs made me work even harder to just a regular person, unaffected, and no different than anyone else, just "real folk."

When you look at your life and the things you were embarrassed by as a kid, did they really end up being your strengths?

When I'm writing fiction, I always keep that in mind; a person's strength is his weakness and his weakness is his strength.

13 comments:

  1. Oh, how I miss the days when I could blame my fashion disasters on my mother. She never gave any credence to my argument that hand-me-downs from siblings 10 plus years your elder is borderline child abuse.

    "Waste not want not. Don't be a pansy, Pangs. It's just clothing. Now get a move on, you'll be late for school."

    Only now in my doddering old age do I recognize the wisdom of my mother and the love that inspires her battleaxe persona.

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  2. Pangs;
    My mom and I actually butted heads constantly. My older sisters were large and I was skinny, so no hand-me-downs, but mom had dark hair and dark eyes and very fair skin and she wore jewel colors and hot pink and red and I wanted only autumn colors--would not settle! So, I actually picked out that delightful 70s outfit. Hee hee I can't blame anyone. I sure wish I think I would very much like Mother Pangs. She raised a Pangs, so she's let something loose on the world that is much needed.

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  3. If it makes you feel any better... I would of went to your sleepover. :) I love haunted houses!

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  4. Gabriel;
    I have to admit, I liked to hang with the boys in the neighborhood more than the gals. I still get along with guys generally better cause they're all up front about stuff and can call you a "butthead" and it's cool. I did have a lot of the boys sneaking over the fence and wandering the property all the time. They loved to dare each other to climb up onto the veranda and knock the knocker on the door and run. You would have been one of those boys, I bet. Although, I probably would have forced you to go into the woods with me to collect frogs and turtles and make you be the one who has to carry them. I get the feeling I wouldn't have a hard time getting you to fetch and carry...

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  5. Depends on what I would get for doing all of that...;)

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  6. Gabriel;
    I was precocious and would have tried to steal a kiss, but back at that age the boys would go running. In fact, I had a game I played. I'd put on grape lip gloss and tell them it was a kissing potion. They'd run into all corners of the boxwood mazes and my friends and I would hold them down and kiss them with grape lip gloss and count how many times. Once, on the way home from grade school, one of the teenagers put a speaker in the tree in his yard and called out "Sharon kissed Doug 32 times!" Funny, though, the boys kept coming back, even if I pulled out the lip gloss and threatened them. Damn, I wish I still had that gloss-it was magic!

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  7. no need for lip gloss from the bits i've seen of you!

    we never had a lot, but enough to get by... character building, like you say

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  8. (I screwed up my earlier response, let's try it again...)
    LaughingWolf;
    I suspect a gangly scarecrow-figured girl in her pre-adolescence chasing you down for kissing would not have sounded like a good thing. The boys DID manage to be caught quite easily which is suspect (Donnie Groettum, David McNeal, Billy Juhasz and Doug VanPelt, you know I'm talking about ya'all) because I used to beat their asses in basketball, but running they had one over on me, so maybe they were as sly as foxes...

    I agree about character building. I have had some horrendous things happen to me in my lifetime that I wouldn't wish on anyone, but dammit--I wouldn't have half the gumption I do now or the compassion for others in trouble. You are a wise wolf. I always tell my son, we need the assholes on the roadway, they keep our driving skills up and make us not complacent.

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  9. I would have loved to live in an old mansion. Sadly, I lived like a gypsy. I was an Air Force brat.

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  10. Gnostalgia;
    It must be human nature to think that something else is better or more interesting...I would have loved to have moved around and seen the world and made new friends all over the place.

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  11. no doubt the boys enjoyed the kissing, and now regret not having the skills to win you as lifemate

    as for all the assholes out there, could not agree more... your son has a wise mama

    blessings to you and yours for a super weekend...

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  12. Laughing Wolf, you are sweet. I never told you the followup on that, but once the boys made their adolescent transformation, I managed to try some real kissing with all of them. Hey, if you can't practice on your buddies, who can you practice on?

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