Saturday, January 21, 2012

Slaughterhouse Hide and Seek

My aunt and uncle have a farm, and when the children of my generation were small, there were several head of cattle on the farm (as well as the occasional pig, horse, etc). Now, growing up farm adjacent, eating animals that once had names and personalities is not that big of a deal. It is your reality. You know that meat comes from living things, it isn't made in a factory somewhere. 

The slaughterhouse on the farm was a room below what once was the summer kitchen and was at the time a garage and storage room. Cow carcasses were strung from the rafters to bleed out or age or whatever the point is to hanging a carcass from the rafters. 

The entrance to the slaughterhouse was a rickety wooden staircase from the space above and it was quite dark. This made it the perfect hiding spot when we played hide and seek. If a girl was it, you could just go stand at the bottom of the stairs, they would never even come to the door.

This is one of the best stories I told when I went to college because it trumped so many other childhood stories. Mostly because the mainly suburban kids I went to college with had no frame of reference to even fathom this. I didn't even grow up on the farm directly. I have no stories of birthing cows, I didn't milk anything until college, and that was a goat on another uncle's farm. I don't ride horses, though I have and know how to (it was better to ride Sunny down my uncle's driveway than to have to deal with the goose [seriously!]). To me, it's weird that other people don't know of these things. I've been asked if I've tipped cows. I don't know anyone who actually has. First of all, it is cruel, and second of all, you could be damaging a very expensive animal.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Everyone's an Outcast

Nearly my father's entire family lived in our town growing up. We were among the last to make the migration, completing the move when I was 6. Even so, we lived on the exact opposite side of town from the rest of the family. Literally, as far as you could get without being in a different town. This served to make us kids physical as well as social outcasts, especially me.

Being my grandmother's only male grandchild didn't help me any. I had favorite son status. My sister was outgoing, she asserted herself into the family fold of cousins. I preferred to stay close to the adults. I perceived myself to be the only lonely one.

Little did I know at the time, but my second cousins J and A were/are also gay. I think, had we all known back then, that all of us would have had a better time of it. I know now that A and J had their own struggles, their own redneck fathers to deal with. There were of course signs. A and I used to dance around in just nightshirts (no undies) in our great grandmother's basement when we were 8 and 10, respectively. A, J and I were probably all the most sensitive of our sibling groups. A and J must have known about each other, because they were close growing up. They also lived two houses apart and were first cousins. I had the disadvantage, living miles away and being a second cousin.

When I came out (years after they did), J and I grew closer. I really like J and I'm glad we finally became friends. A friendship I desperately wanted years earlier. 

My two best friends in junior high school also ended up being gay. I don't know how or why we didn't figure it out back then. I always read or hear stories about boys and girls experimenting at very young ages. My best friend and I shared a bed several times through 7th and 8th grade and never so much as looked at each other in that way. I don't advocate for experimentation at such a young age, but everyone else was doing it, why not us?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A real small town

Do you ever watch a show on tv and someone mentions that they are "from a small town"? It is always surprising to me when someone says that and I look up the "town" and it has a bigger population than the entire county I grew up in. So maybe they are using nearby towns to give reference, but honestly, does it matter to the television watching populace if you say Wapokeneta, OH or Buckland, OH? 

A small town is not 60,000 people. A small town isn't even 30,000 people. I grew up in towns with populations of 1,000 to 3,600 people. My hometown only just reached 4,000 residents because the prison moved there a couple years ago and that population counts in the census. The county's population hovers at just below 40,000. 

Growing up in such a small town is both good and bad. Everyone knows you, but they also know your family. You have a reputation that precedes you. On the one hand, someone might tell your father they saw you smoking (the one cigarette you'd ever smoked) behind the dumpster at work, but on the other hand, someone might recognize you as kin and give you a $20 tip that same day. More than one speeding ticket (initiated while driving with Massachusetts plates) has been avoided by invoking the family name or simply saying "I was just leaving the farm." 

Then there were the teachers. My older cousins were trouble makers, so I had to overcome that. My younger cousins and sister had to overcome academic achievement expectations set by me. One teacher was absolutely dreadful until she connected the dots and realized my grandmother was her maternity nurse when she had her babies. Then I was the teacher's pet.

In a small town, there is no room for anonymity, but no one can get lost, either. It takes a village to raise a child, and often, small towns are more than up for the task. 

I'm sure growing up in a city or a suburb is perfectly fine, that just wasn't my experience, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

This is Truck Country

Everyone where I come from is very vehicle dependent. Everything is spread out and very few people live "in town". Add to that the number of people who have a lot of land, and you have a lot of pickup trucks on the road. Every little boy grows up wanting their very own pickup truck.

Trucks are the epitome of masculinity. They smell like men, they are big, and they are powerful. For any boy, this is what they aspire to be. For some gay boys, this is what they want. I love pickup trucks.

My earliest memories of my father's vehicle is of his late 70s model Dodge. It was a huge two tone tan truck with chrome and a cool brown and tan pinstripe detail down the side. I loved that truck. I loved riding in it with him on cool fall nights while he smoked with the window cracked. The rush of cool air tinged with menthol counteracted by the warmth of the heating system.

It was both sad and exciting when he traded it in on a September afternoon in 1990 for a 1984 Chevy S10 4x4. This was a spur of the moment purchase that my parents couldn't really afford, but when he pulled up to pick me up from 3rd grade and all the kids in my class rushed to the window to see who drove the sexy "new" truck, it was totally worth it. The new truck was black and had leather seats and red pin-striping. Gorgeous.

I wanted this truck when I got my license. I was secretly hopeful it would be passed down to me. Sadly, this was not in the cards, and as I reached driving age, the truck began to rust and fall apart and my tastes changed for a time. I didn't want to be associated with anything redneck in high school. 

There were other significant trucks in my childhood. My godfather worked in construction, and he had a large pimped out truck that was two toned black and blue. My three great uncles all bought the new generation Dodge Ram pickups when they came out in the mid to late 1990s, one in white to replace a white GMC, one in red to replace a tricked out truck with fog lights, tow lights, and running board lights, and one in black to replace an ancient truck. The black Dodge was my new favorite truck when Uncle Donnie purchased it. It was the newest of the trucks and quickly replaced the S10 in my heart. The Dodge was our transportation whenever we went harbor, lake, or ice fishing. It was the truck my dad borrowed when he had work that required a bigger truck than the S10. I had so many memories associated with all of these trucks.

My dad finally replaced the S10 with a 1987 Nissan 4x4 when I was in college. Since then, he once again upgraded to a 1997 extended cab Nissan Frontier.

At 30, my husband and I now have a small crossover SUV that we call "the truck" but it just isn't the same. I still want a pickup truck. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The reason I have no religious education

From before I can remember until the age of 13, I attended the United Methodist Church with my grandmother and later my great grandmother and great aunt. We first attended the church that my parents got married in, at the corner of Mountain and Central Streets in Camden.

This was a classical New England church, made of wood and with a steeple. The following story took place here when I was barely old enough to remember, so some of this story is pieced together with third party observations.

I don't know who made the decision, but at one point it was decided that I should attend Sunday school, which was up a long flight of stairs from the main congregation hall. The first few weeks went without incident. My grandmother walked me to the classroom, I watched bigger boys eat paste, and I tried to interact with the older girls. From what I can remember, I was one of the younger children. I don't remember much going on during these "classes," all I remember is it being what I would imagine daycare was like. 

In my last week in Sunday school, I believe we made Jesus on a stick in a cup puppets. I think they are called peek-a-boo puppets. This is the only lesson I remember from Sunday school.

At the end of this class, for some reason, I was at the end of the kids trudging down the stairs to meet up with their families. I was walking with two girls and there was some sort of closet half way down the stairs. It is perhaps important to note here that when I was small, I was deathly afraid of the dark and of confined spaces. Perhaps the three of us had volunteered to put the puppet supplies away in this closet, I'm really not sure the circumstances. We all entered the closet, and the two girls shut off the lights and closed me in the closet.

As my grandmother told it, I screamed so loudly that the entire congregation assumed that I'd fallen down the staircase and had been badly injured. From here, things get blurry, it seemed like I was locked in the closet for hours, but I assume I was found merely seconds after I started screaming bloody murder. I was crying so hard that I'm not even sure who rescued me from the closet. I never saw those girls or climbed those stairs ever again. The experience was so traumatic that from that point on, I sat in the pews with my grandmother and great grandmother and listened to the weekly sermon.

Just a few short years later, the church was sold and converted to condos and the congregation consolidated with another church, first in their old building (which was not as nice as the one we came from) and then to a new state of the art modern facility that my great uncle helped build.

To this day, more than twenty five years later, that incident haunts and embarrasses me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The War on Squirrels or Why Maine is the Deep South of the Far North

When I was very young, my grandmother and great grandmother sold their houses in town and built a new home at the family complex in an area of farmland and woods so that they could look after each other in old age. My great grandmother loved birds and had no less than a dozen bird feeders hanging off of her deck.

The problem with bird feeders is squirrels (and raccoon, but that's a story for another day). Squirrels are murder on bird feeders. Not only do they scare away the birds, but they also spill all of the feed on the ground and break the feeders. There are a lot of squirrels in Maine.

So what's a octogenarian with a squirrel problem to do? Call in the guns. Literally.

My great grandmother enlisted the help of my cousins and uncles and their hunting equipment to take care of her little problem. On occasion, she would pick up the (always loaded) shotgun by the door and take aim herself. Then there was the method of reward. 

Squirrel Stew.

Yes, my great grandmother dressed the squirrels in her kitchen and then created "food" out of them. 

Because of this, I know what squirrels make "good" stew and what squirrels won't do. So in Maine, we have two varieties of squirrels, there are the red squirrels which more closely resemble chipmunks and then there are the bigger gray squirrels. Both of these varieties can be used for stew, but the red squirrels can only be used if they are killed with a clean shot to the head. The gray squirrels, which are bigger and yield more meat, could be shot by a less accurate marksman. It also takes several more red squirrels to make a meaty stew, so it either has to be a really good day for the hunters, or the stew is really thin. It only takes a few gray squirrels to make it worth making stew.

I drew the line at squirrel stew and would never even try it. Which may come as a surprise when you read about what else I would eat in later entries.

Inaugural Story

I've wanted to create this blog for a very long time and I've struggled with how to begin. I am not a professional writer, nor do I claim to be. I was last published with a byline in 2005 in T.H.E. Journal and have written little of substance since then. My sincere hope is that someone may read this blog and have a laugh or a giggle or maybe identify with some of the stories contained within. These stories are a big part of what makes me who I am today and I feel fortunate to have most of these stories to tell.

Following is my first story, please be kind.

Wanting to be Something Special

The part of Maine where I grew up is inhabited largely by people with indeterminate ethnicity beyond Western European. Most families have been in the area since it was part of Massachusetts. Modern immigration patterns left our part of the state untouched, there was and is still today, very little industry that would attract immigration on large scale. As a result, most people don't have that connection to a unique heritage, my family included. Sure, there were the people from northern Europe, those blonde haired blue eyed people with umlauts and double vowels  in their names, but those were their only distinguishing characteristics. Those and their meetings at the Finnish American Society.

I craved some sort of uniqueness and individuality, and I wanted that to come through ethnicity. I thought having a strong ethnic background would make me more special then my generic European classmates. 

My mom was "from away." Meaning she was not born and raised in the county that I was born and raised. This was the source of constant teasing from my father and his family, despite that fact that my mother's mother grew up three houses from my father's childhood home. My mother also possessed one other unique characteristic, she was half Polish and first generation American. 

I clung to this, I reasoned that I could fudge the truth, that I could say I was half-Polish. It was only a half-lie. I was a quarter Polish. I ignored the facts that my remaining three quarters were rooted in three hundred years of New England obscurity. I also ignored the reputation of the Poles and that we were blonde haired, blue eyed Catholic Poles, we could have passed for Germans back in the day. My great grandparents also left Europe during WWI, after my uncle had been born and shortly before my grandfather entered this world.

I immersed myself in reading about the Holocaust and I aligned myself with the plight of the Poles and the Jews. Little did I know back then that I could identify with another persecuted group in that time. I proudly announced to anyone who would listen (outside of the earshot of my parents) that I was Polish, and I relished in any questions they asked me. I cursed my grandfather for not being proud of being Polish and never teaching my mother the language or anything about her heritage. I felt it unfair that when we visited him in Connecticut that he would sneak off to the Polish American club and never brought me. 

As I grew older, I adopted a second ethnicity after my father's grandmother returned from a trip to Scotland with her family crest in hand. I now knew that she was a Scot and that I could now claim that I was half Polish and half Scottish, and that made me very unique and very special. I did a report at school on my family history and focused on this new-found Scottish history, ignoring all other family lines. 

It wasn't until after attending college in the big city that I started to care less about having a strong ethnic background and accepted that my multi-ethnic makeup is what truly makes me special. While it seems everyone in Boston is Italian or Irish or a mix of the two, I am special, my families have been in New England for hundreds of years, we were a part of the creation of this land. I am proud of being from Maine and of Maine. I can milk a cow and a goat, I have "gone hayin'," I swim in lakes, I love to hike, and I can decipher heavy Maine, Maritime, and Acadian dialects. These are the things that make me who I am, and for that I am eternally grateful.