Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My First Earth Day

On April 22, 1970, my parents, my brother, and I lived in Houston, Texas. I was a sixth grader at Anderson Elementary School in Westbury. Our PTA bought white roses to plant in a star shape between two of the buildings. Each class was given an empty plastic pill bottle from a pharmacy and we were instructed to write our first name and last name on a narrow slip of paper. My teacher, Mrs. L (aka Cruella deVil) folded it up and squished it into the little clear bottle. She snapped the lid on it and when the office called our class, we all marched out to the flower bed and waited for directions. All the classes stood in lines, waiting, and someone said, "Ten, nine, eight, seven..." We all chimed in and counted down to zero then our teacher dropped the pill bottle in the hole. We marched back to class and went back to our school work. No explanation.

On April 22, 1971, my parents and I were living in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A year had passed, the seventies were in full swing (literally) and my Scientific Geography (no kidding, it was really a class) teacher had days before explained how carbon monoxide was polluting the air and possibly killing us, too. He encouraged us not to litter, to walk whenever possible, and probably eat more vegetables... At least someone informed my class what Earth Day represented. So, the next morning, I was riding the school bus to school and someone said, "Hey! We should get off this bus and walk to school!" I am sure we all cheered, but I know that minutes later that bus was empty and we were all standing on the corner as the bus drove away...and left us all in a cloud of exhaust. Thirty minutes later we trucked into school, tardy and probably a little sweaty.

Many years passed and it was April 22, and I was a CHAMPS leader at Douglas Junior High. Together we went to the local nursery and used some of our fund raised money to buy roses to plant in the front of our school. We took turns digging the holes and planting our roses. Until there weren't any CHAMPS left, the roses were watered each week of the growing season by my kids. One day, a truck from a construction company ran over two of the bushes and they died. There is still one rose bush left in front of the school. I look for it whenever I am on campus or I drive by the school.

Earth Days came and went... Sometimes it seemed important and other times it didn't in our country. My own involvement didn't soar after that Earth Day in Oklahoma City. I wish I could say I always recycle, I have a compost pile, and I drive an electric car, but I don't. I can do more. Tomorrow is Earth Day, April 22, 2010. Get off your bus. Plant a rose bush. Recycle. Talk about it. Think about it. Just do something.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Get-To-Know-Each-Other Question

When people begin to get-to-know-each-other one question inevitably is asked... "Where are you from?" As you know, this usually means "where did you grow-up/who are your people/what environment molded you, etc..." This question seems simple, but for me, it is a little difficult to answer. To avoid a long explanation at least until I know someone better my usual reply is "I'm from Texas and my family is still lives there, but I moved around a lot when I was growing up." It usually satisfies but yet doesn't turn into one of those "Too Much Information" moments.

I was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1958. My parents were from nearby Tahoka and Post, both West Texas born and bred. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles all seemed to live in this area, too. If anyone lived away, I was unaware of it because heck, I was a baby! My dad worked for Orkin Exterminating as a salesman and my mother had resigned from her job in a hat shop when I was born. My dad then entered the management division of Orkin. When I was a 10 month old, our family was "transferred" to Plainview, Texas, and away we went.

[Orkin Exterminating is an extremely large corporation. At my last point of interest in Orkin, it was part of the Rollins family corporate dynasty. Being transferred was not unusual for people in management at Orkin, in fact, it became a part of our family culture.]

Plainview, Texas, is not very far from Lubbock. It is part of North West Texas. It was and is smaller than Lubbock. Mother told me that our things were moved in my uncle Daniel's horse trailer. My parents, my brother, and I must have thrived in Plainview because the friends our family made became life-long friends. We lived there until I was four or very close to being four. My memories of Plainview are those of a really young child: watching fireworks from our front porch, playing with Billy, Sarah, Misha, and Melinda, our friends the Holumns, the Davises, and the Kinards, going to Sunbeams at church, a huge ceramic chicken in front of a restaurant, a tornado, hardwood floors in our house, and things like this. At four, though, Orkin called and the movers showed-up to pack our possessions and away we moved to Amarillo.

Amarillo, Texas is only about two hours north from Lubbock and is just as windy. Dad was a branch manager for Orkin, Gary was in junior high school, and at home, it was Mom and me. Friends were made in the neighborhood and at church as was the norm for our family. Our family made life-long friends that my parents communicated with until the friends recently passed away. I have clearer memories of Amarillo, since I was older. During first grade, when I was six, the company moved us back to Lubbock.

"Going home" was the message I understood when we moved back to Lubbock. We lived in the same small city as family members and of course, others lived close-by. Gary entered and completed high school in Lubbock and had planned to attend Texas Tech. Dad was the branch manager of the office where he began with Orkin. Old friends still lived there and between family, old friends, and new friends we lived a very happy life. We were active in our church and many of my memories involve Southcrest Baptist Church. I turned seven the summer we moved to Lubbock and was eleven when the company transferred us to Houston. My mother and her sisters cried when we left, my grandparents promised to visit, my brother had to change his college plans, and the movers came.

We had visited Houston during a vacation the summer prior to our move. My mother's comment was, "It's a nice place to visit, but I certainly wouldn't want to move here." Orkin had other ideas. Houston is a nine hour drive into unfamiliar sounds, sights, smells, cultures, and worlds to a family from West Texas. Even in 1969, it was enormous! The term "great melting pot" described the people from Houston. People from all other the world were represented here. It was truly an amazing learning experience. Our school visited the museums and attend the symphony. I saw Leonard Berstein and Andre Previn conduct the Houston Symphony. I had the opportunity to get close to the art of Mary Cassatt, Monet, Jackson Pollack, and Cezanne. I heard languages that belonged to people we studied in our Social Studies books. I tasted shrimp, crab, and frogs legs for the first time. Gary enrolled in the University of Houston and started his adult life. We joined and attended church, but no life-long friends were made here. Living in a neighborhood of pre-pubescent girls was impossible and school was no joy either. Kids teased me about my West Texas Twang and isolated me from their groups. My grandparents kept their promise and visited, but when they left to return to West Texas, I cried to go with them. Before the year was over, the company gave its orders, but this time Dad started to look for another job. However, after weeks of interviews, and a country entering a recession, my father took the transfer and the movers came. Except this time, Gary stayed behind.

Hello Oklahoma City. I was twelve years old and suddenly the only child living in our home. My parents, my dog, Shorty, and my pet gerbil were all I had from my life in Texas. Three aunts and uncles, several cousins and their families, and even a great uncle and aunt lived in and outside OKC. One of my mother's brothers and his family lived a little over an hour away. We spent time with family I really had never spent much time with before. We spent holidays in Del City and Kingfisher, enjoyed cook-outs in Midwest City, and they came to our home to get to know us, too. My grandfather died that first year and my dad's two sisters helped us get ready to go back to West Texas for his funeral. My brother visited us at holidays, we went to Houston whenever to see him whenever we could, and we talked on the phone every Sunday. My dad traveled between three and four days a week for the company. I was the only girl in a neighborhood of boys which was a relief from the "cat-fight" attitude of the neighborhood in Houston. I began junior high in OKC and my education took a turn in that there was a focus on building inter-racial relationships. I learned about the Native Americans of Oklahoma and attended an exchange program where I attended English class one day a week at a "black" junior high school across town for a semester. I was active as a pre-teen in choir and youth group at our church. Church provided me with summer camp, retreats, singing in a special group, and a choir tour one summer. But there were no life-long friends made, and 18 months later, it was no surprise that the movers were coming.

Even though I was pretty conditioned to "pack and go", it was having a greater effect on me as a teen. I had a melt-down when Mom, Dad, and I went "house-hunting" in Tulsa. Aside from the visits from my brother and my grandmother, their were no visits from either side of the families. Despite the turmoil of relocating, I did adjust to being the "only child in the home" and really enjoyed the nine months we lived there. Church was good, I made friends easily, I discovered S.E. Hinton, my favorite adolescent literature author, and Shorty (the dog) had become more of a sibling than a pet. The company called, the movers came, and there was no pretense that we would leave behind any friends, period.

Moving to Little Rock in November was not a pretty site. It was a cold and rainy weekend, the trees looked like skeletons from the highway, and as we got closer to our hotel, I was a basket-case. We moved into our home during a snowfall and the heater went out that first night. I begged not to begin school for a couple of days to help unpack and my "we never miss school" mother agreed to my request. I was bussed across Little Rock to a high crime neighborhood where the school was bordered by three cemetaries and a highway. I had no friends, I didn't want friends, and I buried myself in the books from the school and public library. I was 13 and a half, depressed, and I told all my family members that I hated living in Little Rock. Church activites were my only refuge. My brother married Sally and they would come to visit us and called every Sunday. Shorty was my younger brother by then. (LOL) And finally, after many months, I let go and opened my eyes and my heart and began to make friends. That first Christmas in LR, my dad gave me a silver locket with the promise that I would never have to move again, if I didn't want to. I am sure he saw something scary when he looked into my eyes during those first dark months. Dad was the district manager of Arkansas for Orkin by then. He still traveled every week, but Mom and I did okay together and always looked forward to the days he would be home. Family visits were few and far between--my dad's brother and wife from California came once and my mother's sister and her family came to dinner once, and of course, my mother's mother came to stay for a week or two each year. As always, we spent a week or two in West Texas every summer. When I entered high school, the depression left and I embraced being a full-fledged high schooler. I loved my church and was extremely involved. I saw the beauty and the wonder of living in Arkansas. The four seasons are amazing. I became a U of A, hog-hat, callin' the hogs fan. It was a great place to live. When I graduated from high school, I made the move alone and went off to college at Ouachita Baptist Univervsity in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

When I was a sophomore at OBU, Mom and Dad came to see me one Sunday. I knew by the look in her eyes what the news would be. After six years, Orkin had called and they were moving back to Houston. Dad kept his promise, but they did ask me to go with them and go to college in Houston. I stayed at OBU, visited Houston whenever I could and we talked on the phone at least once a week, but certainly every Sunday. During the summer weeks when I lived at home in Houston, I made friends, went to church, and enjoyed spending time with Gary and Sally. I met Bosco at OBU and we married when I graduated in 1981. I packed most of my things, loaded them, my headboard, and my cedar chest and moved across the county to Douglas, Arizona. No company called, just my heart.

I have lived here in Douglas for 29 years. I married a home-town boy, had my children, and raised them here. I talk to my parents every Sunday and other days in between. They visit us when they can and we visit them when we can. They always come when I need them and I go there if they need me. I have a great church and life-long friends. I taught my kids that while there is no place like home, there is a lot to be learned by living other places, too. Meghan moved to the midwest when she graduated from college and Jordan is living in Tucson, going to the University of Arizona. If they want to move to Douglas, to Arizona, to Kalamazoo, or to Katmandoo, that will be okay. Because no matter where they go, I am probably going to be staying here, calling them everyday, and going to visit them whevenever we can as long as we can. I tried to give them an answer to that "get-to-know you" question. Douglas, Arizona.

For a long time I blamed Orkin for all the moves in our lives, but now I think we were supposed to go on that journey. God has plans for us and we need to listen to his call and to our hearts. I am stronger for a I led, and I am wiser for it, too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

One Tarzan, One Jane, and a Whole Lot of Cheetahs

When I was a young girl, my favorite playmates were my cousins. There was so many of us who were close to the same age and when we were together it bordered on chaos. Most of us lived close to each other so we had the opportunity to spend time together on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and now and then during the summer. The best place to spend time together was on my grandparents' farm.

When we were really young, games of hide and seek, chase, swinging statues, and circus kept us occupied for hours. One of the worse things that could happen would be "bad weather" which could mean 10 to 13 kids hanging out together in the back room in my grandparents' home. Being told by various aunts and uncles to stop yelling was common place. Being swatted for jumping on the bed with three or four other kids happened, too. Swearing never to tell who had knocked a hole in the wall was expected. And being released from "back room prison" was such a sweet release!

Outside the house was a wonderful world to be explored. You could play army in the orchard and actually run from someone shooting b-bs at your legs.(It was unsafe to shoot above the waist!) You could play circus by walking on the chicken-house. You could slide down the cellar door, but you had to dodge the tin that would cut your leg or arm. We could sit on my grandpa's tractor and push the starter so it would lunge forward and scare the little kids. But best of all, you could play all sorts of things in the big mulberry tree that grew next to the garage.

The mulberry tree was huge. It was easy to climb and its branches provided some wonderful places to sit. It was perfect for swinging on a branch and dropping to the ground below. A tire-swing even hung from it for years. I loved riding in that swing. But my favorite thing to play in the tree was Tarzan.

Tarzan movies, starring Johnny Weismuller, were re-run on Saturday or Sunday afternoons on our local TV station. They were old even then, black and white, grainy, but exciting. I spent a lot of time watching Tarzan save Jane from quicksand, lions, blood-thirsty natives, and other predators. It was true-love between Tarzan and Jane. She was cultured, obviously educated at some British boarding school, a fine English lady, sometimes wore jungle-garb, and had impecible grammar. She could swing on her own, but usually rode with her macho-man, Tarzan, as he swung from vine to vine. Tarzan could do anything and once he somehow made it to New York and rescued some of his jungle homies who had been stolen and shipped to America. Tarzan's best buddy, Cheetah the chimpanzee, was never far behind along with "Boy", the jungle foster child Tarzan and Jane were raising. Tarzan was a giant among men, Jane his lady fair, Cheetah the comedian in the act, and Boy completed the blended family.

Picture a large leafy mulberry tree... One of the older boys got to be Tarzan. One of the younger boys got to be Boy. That left Jane and Cheetah. Ten kids. Jane had to be worldly, educated past the second grade, not afraid to climb to the highest branches, and most of all able to convince the other girls that no one else could swing with ease through the breeze of the trees. Why, of course that was ME, the oldest girl! It also helped that I could convince the rest that they were all Cheetahs--really the soul of the show who had all the fun! No Tarzan flick was complete without the fun from Cheetah! I thought it was a great trade-off.

I loved standing on the trunk of that big ole tree, looking out over the cotton fields which seemed to go on forever. It was thrilling climbing out on a really long limb, feeling my feet dangle over the edge. It was comforting to have a sweaty little monkey cousin lean against me, the two of us savoring the feel of a sunny Sunday afternoon. Even now, as I write these words, it's not so far away. For what seemed like such a short time in my life is such a sweet memory in my heart and mind.

There was never a place so magical or imaginative as that farm. When you are a kid who moves every three or four years, having to start over and over, home isn't always where your bedroom is. Sometimes it's a place that never really changes, where everyone knows you and loves you, and what you remember when you are fifty-one years old and you are trying to fall asleep at night. It's filled with adventure, fun, and security. There's one Tarzan, one Jane, and a whole lot of Cheetahs.

ahhhhhh-AHHHHHHHH-yaaaahhhhhhh!!!!! (Tarzan's call!)