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  • Writer's pictureJoyce Davis

Your Life Matters, Chapters 4 & 5




4

On a Zig, or Was it a Zag?


 It's fascinating, isn't it, that we spend the first year or two, maybe three, soaking up information, putting together a picture of the world we live in and the society we are born into, but we don't remember those years. And then we begin to remember. Some say it's all in our memory, even the lost years. 


 Dr. Gabor Mate,' of Polish descent, said his mother called the pediatrician and said, "Little Gabor is always crying." The doctor responded: "All the babies are crying. They are picking up the anxiety from their mothers." Germany was about to invade Poland. Dr. Mate' believed that experience had something to do with his addictions. And they came from no fault of his mother. They came from her anxiety. And now, as a psychologist, he treats addicts, a specialty with the worst success rate.

 As time passes in this writing endeavor, I remember little things like V-Mail. For years I had such a letter from my father when he was in the war. But after repeated searches, I believe it went with our wedding pictures when we were packing to move to Hawaii. You know how it can be; you put things away for safekeeping, and they are the ones that get lost? In the flurry of packing, having a friend help us, and a man there taking things to sell on eBay, some of our best things became lost in the shuffle. 


  V-mail is short for Victory-mail, and few know of it now. During the war, since mail was stacking up with letters from soldiers to home and from home to soldiers, someone devised a brilliant plan. 

 

 The sender would write their letter on a specified sheet of paper—it would only hold so many words. Hence, the writer needed to write precisely and large. A reader would check for secrets and, if found, black them out, and the letters would be on their way.


 The plan was OO7-inspired.


  It was microfilmed and sent by airmail.


 When the mail arrived, it came as a photographed letter, about 4 or 5 inches. 


 With this method, they saved much-needed room in the airplane. Contrast microfilm to bags upon bags of mail. Online, it says they don't think they ever lost a letter using that method.


 Over the years, I repeatedly read my two little letters from my dad. One was from Italy, "You thought I would only be gone for a while, didn't you?" He had beautiful printing and drew bunnies along the bottom of the page. And he called me Princess, although I never knew he called me that. 


 After her divorce, she got a job at the shoe factory where my dad had worked. It was across the street from the Horace Mann school, where I began my first grade. Across another street was a hamburger diner, and often, Mom would pick me up after school. We would have a hamburger at the diner.

 I remember sitting on a counter stool munching a 5-cent burger while my mother had a larger 10-cent one. Mom liked Cokes, and I was allowed a Coke up to the waist of the she bottle, that squeezed in a portion of the bottle about an inch and a half from the bottom. She would fill the rest with water, or I could have it straight. I preferred straight. 


 Grandma joined us once and ordered a beer, the one and only time I had ever seen her drink one.

 Mom usually went out on the weekends, for there was a troop of soldiers stationed in our town, and the girls and guys would mix at the RX, which I think it was called, where they danced to swing music. One of the songs she loved was Begin to the Beguine. I would sit on the bed and visit as she dressed and primped before going out. She never brought a boyfriend home until Mike, one of the soldiers. Maybe Grandma didn't like him because she could see what was coming. (And she and my biological father got along great.) After the war, Mike wanted to go home to Oregon, and Mom lived in Illinois. He praised Grandma's fried chicken to her and for years after. And while at our house, he made a rabbit hutch for me.

 When my father came home from the war, he took me to a carnival in our little town of Mt. Vernon, Illinois. There, I had my heart set on a little horse statue from one of the games. I saw my dad bribe the Hawker to allow me to win it; maybe he won it and gave it to me; either way, I got the horse. I'm sure he didn't want me to know about the bribe, but it's an odd thing about kids—they know.

 Adults try to hide things from kids, but we know of it and keep quiet, for we are not supposed to know. Like my mother, at sixteen, "had" to marry my father, and that is how I got here.

 The strange thing is, while my mother carried guilt her whole life, I didn't care. Why would I fault her for giving me life? I was glad she had me, and I never felt I was a burden to her.


 As a teenager, I suddenly awakened at night and heard my mother tell my stepdad, "I hope Joyce never finds out."


 I suppose the Universe wanted to give me verification. Shortly before her death, I thanked her for having me.

 Dad must have taken me to a horse race earlier. I remember that a jockey fell off his horse, and a girl had lockjaw and was holding a handkerchief to her mouth. I wondered why people were so fragile. I felt they were falling apart around me. There was a little girl on our street who wore braces like Forrest Gump did in the movie. I hope she eventually lost them, too, as he did.


 Later, I thought of the jockey, "For crying out loud, a kid goes to their first horse race, and you fall off your horse." And I don’t remember seeing any difficult riding problem.

During our visit after the war, my Dad promised me a toy, a Pekingese dog made of yarn. Still, Mom didn't like him taking me anyplace without her. She feared he might want to take me, so that was the last visit. After we moved to Oregon, I hounded her for the yarn dog. It was not the most beautiful of toys, but I wanted one because my dad said he would get one for me. 


 As I wrote earlier, thirty-eight years later, I met him.


 I played and drew that first year and a half of school at Horace Mann. I remember one room holding a huge doll house on a platform in the center of the room where kids could gather on all four sides. I remember that I was not in the school play, and to my way of thinking, it was because I stood head and shoulders above the other little girls.


 Whether she was making it up to me or what, it appeared I was the teacher's pet, for I carried notes from her to the other teachers. She took exceptional care in exhibiting my large butcher paper drawings, about four feet by four feet, and taping them to the chalkboard like a series of comic strip panels. They were from the book Little Black Sambo, where Sambo outwits a tiger by having it run around and around a tree until it turns into butter. 


 My father was an artist, and either by genes or association, I became one after him, but never one of any note.


 It was a shock when I met kids better than me. Biology drummed drawing out of me, for we drew so many microscope images it became drudgery. I love artists and am not jealous of their abilities or successes. Of course, when one paints a solid red canvas, and it sells for five million dollars, I get a little miffed.


 

5

And Then Came the Day


 When I was seven years old, my mother and I boarded a train and left my grandmother and Tiny, my little dog, behind. We traveled for five days from Illinois to Oregon. Our traveling companions were young men going home after the war who gave me pennies. Mother was going to Oregon to marry Mike, the soldier she chose. He had presented a good story of his little hometown of The Dalles, Oregon, and how he wanted to go back after the war, and he convinced Mom to follow him.

 Mom enthusiastically explained the trip to me, how much fun it would be, and we would ride a train, and I would get a new dog.


Grandmother cried when we left—the first time I had seen her cry. She knew something I did not.

 We would never see each other again.


 We lived with Grandma from the day I was born until we left for Oregon. She was gone briefly, although I don't remember the separation. I remember her lovely white house in the country and her new husband, who had a mustache. I had never seen anyone with a mustache and observing him wipe it with a napkin fascinated me. He seemed like a lovely man and would take me with him when he filled his car with gas, as the gas station gave away peppermint sticks.


 Before Grandma married Mr. Dicus, Dad drove the four of us through the countryside, where Grandma saw a lovely large white house on a farm. She casually commented that she married for love the first time; the second time, she wanted to marry for money.


 My father somehow got the farmer's ear and introduced them. Mr. Dicus invited Grandma, Ma Bertsch, we called her, out for ice cream. They got married. That's all I know. Except that he died a short time later, his kids took the farm and the money, and Grandma returned to our little house.

Grandmother was a great cook. She basted fried eggs; I have never had an egg soak into toast as she prepared them. I remember sucking on pork chop bones, and when I first learned to talk, I called all meat "Bone." I loved chip beef on toast. Do you know that you cannot buy chip beef the way we had it as kids? When I found that it didn't taste as it did when Grandma prepared it—Mom prepared it too after we moved to The Dalles, and I did later. Suddenly, the meat looked different; it was pressed into around shapes and not shredded as it had been. I Googled it and found you can't buy what we had earlier, although it comes in the same-looking little glass jar. Just thinking of the saltiness of that dish makes my mouth water. 


 I had a friend who believed chip beef on toast was so Bourgeoisie. That was not a compliment, although the Bourgeoisie don't sound bad to me—merchants, political activists, artists. However, they were highly maligned by the hoity French. And I won't tell you what the soldiers called chip beef on toast. SOS, you figure it out.


 Everything Grandma made was delicious, even a sandwich made of mustard and onion, which seemed odd, but I liked it. Her dill pickles were the best I've ever tasted, and pickled crab apples were so perfect, even Mom couldn't match them.


 I don't remember playing with Grandma much; I went shopping and to church with her and to funerals. Once shopping, she got so mad that a clerk short-changed her that we found something of equal value and took it. They were a pair of panties for me. I was shocked.


 I remember lying in bed with her, looking up into a tree, and finding animal shapes in the branches.

 After the supposedly fun adventure of our trip to Oregon, the reality of it sank in later.

 I would cry in bed at night because I missed Grandmother. And thinking about it, I can't imagine how Grandma felt, losing her only grandchild after living with her for seven years.


 Mike was my stepdad. I always called him Mike, never Daddy. I just couldn't do it.


In December of my second grade, I found myself in front of a nun, sitting all prim and proper in a white blouse and navy skirt, with the other students. I wasn't prepared for the structure of a Catholic School, and I was expected to write cursive, but didn't know how. I had an artistic eye, though, so I drew writing by copying the alphabet printed on eight by-twelve-inch pages that encircled the room. They had a printed letter and a cursive one on each page. I didn't read well either, and I was embarrassed to stand beside my desk and read aloud. One poor little girl standing in front of the room peed her pants. 


When I was reading and stumbling over the words, the nun threatened to keep me after school. I was humiliated. She didn't make me stay, though; perhaps she realized she had pushed a bit too far.

My fourth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Michael Francis, was an exuberant young woman. She was an artist who exhibited her paintings in the room where I copied them. She would tie up her long black skirt during recess and play baseball. I never liked baseball, but I liked Sister Mary Margaret Francis. And I believe she liked me because we were both artists.


Once I commented to someone that I had a crush on Sister Mary Michael Frances, and I remember the look that flashed for one second.


I never considered my attraction to Sister Mary Michael Frances anything but fan-based. I didn't know about Gays. I knew I was a girl, and I liked little boys. I never questioned my sexuality. I fear that nowadays, with all the Gay, Trans, BI's, and questions of what pronouns are, you have confused many young people who have a hard enough time with life anyway. I'm not saying people of various persuasions ought not to be honored; it's just that there is more in our culture than one would biologically expect.


 I left the Catholic church before the church affected me much. I had my first confession at the Priest's knee in the confessional; it was not such a good idea considering what had transpired since then, but he was a gentleman. I was innocent enough to think that was all right. I did wonder why, though; I was in there while most of the people went to confession on the other side of the divider.

And then came Protestantism and the doubting years.


 Those were the growing-up years, the questioning years, the molestation years, and the headache years. I thought I had a beautiful childhood, for I loved the little girl I was who ran, played, and rode horses and was mentored by the neighbor girl who owned King. 


 Now I see that those years did affect me. I was an innocent thrust out into the real world of questioning. Why did we leave Grandma? Why did we leave Tiny? I was disappointed in Grandma because she didn't take care of Tiny after we left. Mom's sister, Marie, told Mom a lady down the street had taken her in, so she was better off there. She must have felt abandoned—she was. People sometimes disappoint you, but then maybe I expect too much.

I never grieved over what I lost by leaving Illinois—my Father, Grandma, Tiny, Aunt Marie, and the Metcalf Family—feeling happy. Instead, I joined the great unwashed horde of people who think they aren't good enough. 

We are, and so wrong. We are good enough. We just need a little help in this process of life. 

 

Mom and Mike were married on December 21, two months before I turned eight. I specifically remember the date as Mom suggested they not buy presents for each other that year. Mike had already purchased a stereo system, so he gave it to her on December 21. 

One day, Mom got a call from Mike, or so she thought. They were newlyweds, and apparently, so was the caller. He said, "Hon, what have you been doing?"


"What?!"


It was not Mike, and Mom had been fixing up the house.


I had almost forgotten about the war rationing. For a time, certain critical items, like shoes, were in short supply and in great need, so the US rationed them and sent coupons to the citizens, which indicated how many they could buy. It didn't affect me much, and I never hear of it anymore, so probably many people don't know of it. That first year in Oregon, rationing was still in effect. It was Christmas time, and my mother wanted to make candy as a gift for Mike's family, so Mike's mother donated her sugar coupons to the cause.


Grandma wrote that she was happy I was in Catholic school as she was Catholic, but Mom had nothing to do with the Catholic Church after the nuns questioned why her last name and mine were different. Mom's second marriage was not honored by the church; thus, she never attended mass again.

I wanted the same name as my mother, so we changed it to Willett, although not legally. The people who knew me thought Willett was my name until I graduated high school and felt that legal representation should be on my diploma. Then, the kids wondered who Glenda Joyce Metcalf was because I went by Joyce Willett throughout school.


Since Willett begins with a W, and in school, we sat in alphabetical order (dumb), I usually sat in the back of the room. There, I drew pictures whenever I could get by with it. I remember seeing some boys sitting up the aisle from me, drawing planes in aerial fights.


Kindred spirits.


To read the first three chapters, please go to https://www.wishonwhitehorses.com

 


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