The contribution

As we pulled out, I waved to my family. My aunt commented that my mom was really crying, and she seemed surprised that it was that hard for her to see me go for two weeks. I hadn’t been away from home for more than a night before that.

I was going to stay with relatives for two weeks and come back to our family reunion with them. It was the summer between 6th and 7th grades. We didn’t have middle school then, so the coming year was the first of junior high. I had kind of been manic in the latter half of the school year, though it would be years before I knew that’s what it was. It was kind of good in that it broke me out of my shell. I was always very shy and quiet. Unfortunately, that returned by fall and lasted for a few more years.

So, we were off, amidst the tears. I realized years later that my mom was crying because she felt so bad about my brother not getting to go too. My aunt had called my mom and made the suggestion.  I guess there wouldn’t have been enough room in their car for everyone on the way back with luggage and all, so only I was going.

It begs the question, why extend the invitation at all if it was only going to be for one? Then I thought maybe my mom should have declined the invitation. I guess she didn’t want us both to miss out. My brother and I were just 14 months apart in age, he the older one, and we did everything together.

My brother was gracious about letting me go. While he was close to our cuz too, he knew that I always had a special bond with him. I’m sure he still felt left out, though. We didn’t get to do a lot of things, or go places, because we didn’t have the money and my parents didn’t get much vacation. I don’t know if they had any paid vacation. My mom was working at a blouse mill and my dad worked at a hardware store.

Once at my cousin’s house, I had a really nice time. It was early in the summer, and the weather was great.  As I said, my cousin and I had a special bond. We only saw each other once a year, but we always picked right up where we left off. They lived in a city, and we went to museums and other fun things.

We also ate out two or three times. Near the end of the trip, my aunt asked me for money for those times we ate out and they had paid for everyone, including me. I was surprised that she was asking for it, but being only 11, I didn’t protest. The problem was, that I had only $13 at the start of the trip, some of which I had spent on a puddle jumper at the Children’s Museum.

My aunt’s response to that information was, “You mean your mother sent you out here with only thirteen dollars?”  Instead of feeling angry at her, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt inadequate. I was aware that my family was poorer than most everyone else I knew, but this was kind of a painful reminder. And, she still took the my money. I had wanted to get my brother a souvenir of some kind. My aunt said I could pick something out of a box of items she picked up here and there for our annual Christmas gift exchange via mail.

I selected a fancy plastic ruler with “wood” grain through the middle. I’ll never forget the disappointed look on my brother’s face when I presented it to him.

Well, that was more than three decades ago. (Is that possible?) I must admit I still feel resentment when I think of that incident, but I have forgiven it. I remind myself of her good qualities, which I’ll share with you now. She was fun to be around and had an infectious laugh.

My uncle worked for the post office and he used to joke that she gave him job security, because she sent cards to everyone for birthdays and anniversaries and such. She was very good about that. She kept track of everything. She worked hard selling Tupperware to help support the family. She actually won a sales contest not long before my visit. The prize was the station wagon we rode in.

She also had diabetes for as long as I could remember. She was on dialysis for the last ten years of her life, until heart complications took her too soon. I think she was 72, so she made it pretty long, considering. We all still miss her.

One swim forward

I work at a place that does digital scanning and microfilming of materials such as books, newspapers, documents, photos, slides, negatives, etc.  Almost a year ago, I switched from digital to the film department, where most of the material is newspapers. (Yes they still do microfilm, but it’s just for preservation, whereas digital is for access.) I don’t think I’m allowed to mention clients, projects or titles, but I’ll just say I was working on a project today that involves a variety of local papers from just the last couple of years. There was a lot of high school sports coverage.

It got me to thinking about my very un-athletic school days. In particular, some articles triggered my thinking about swimming, and the fact that I didn’t learn until my mid-20’s. Even at that time, it was just kind of learning on my own and not very well.

My sister had swim lessons when we were kids. She was the oldest, and she did nothing but complain about having to take the lessons. I guess that’s why my brother and I didn’t get them. My mom gave up.

There were many times over the years, when it became an awkward and embarrassing issue for me.  We were invited to friends of the family who had pools, and there were the pool party invitations, camp, school trips and such. Seemed like everybody knew but me.

I resented my parents for things like that for a long time. Then, I forgave them and learned to swim, even going pretty far out from the beach when I was at the shore one year. In fact, I got the whistle blown at me by the lifeguard to head back in.

Why didn’t I just do that as a kid, you might wonder? Well, I was very inhibited, shy, meek, and as mentioned, not at all athletic. I needed help. I was able to do it as an adult because I had overcome a lot of my issues. Not all, mind you, but a lot.

I feel blessed to have an independent and tenacious spirit. That helped me to conquer swimming, and many other things. With all of them, the first step was to put aside issues like self-pity, jealousy, and resentment. You have to take a good hard look at yourself sometimes and see your own part in things. Sure, it wasn’t my fault as a young kid, that I couldn’t swim, but couldn’t I have done something about it sooner than I did?

Maybe I shouldn’t have had to, but “shouldn’t have to” is the most useless phrase in the English language.

I’d be lying if I said I have no resentment left toward my parents about any issue. I still think about how little guidance I received as a clueless teen.  I’ll continue with that in another post.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing my best and try to keep looking forward, not back.