Looking back & looking forward

I have spent the past few weeks thinking about where I am in my life, the sequence of events that got me here. Specifically, how Dan and I were brought up similarly in the south, and how that connects us - and also makes us often feel far apart from the folks here in Oregon.

There are a few things that happened when I was young that stand out. First, as a child, I drove a tractor and had house chores. My Dad taught me how to plant a garden (including some pretty nasty composting techniques) and mom showed me how to shuck corn, string beans and flip out crowder peas with my thumb. I totally hated all of it, at the time. It was work. I climbed trees and drew trees to get away from the work. I don't think Dan ever drove a tractor, but he grew up playing in the woods and climbing trees.

My entire family encouraged my 'creative' side. I have photos of me coloring with my mom before age 2. By first grade, I was filling entire notebooks with christmas tree and bird drawings. My first art show happened in sixth grade at the Wilkes County Art Museum. It was a colored pencil drawing of a cardinal. I am still fascinated by birds. In NC, bird houses and feeders and bird baths were scattered about my yard. It made me happy to watch my birds bathe and fight squirrels for seed. Last Wednesday, I saw a Puffin for the first time, at the Oregon Aquarium. I expected it to have these marvelous white and yellow tufts on its head, but it didn't. That only happens during the breeding season, which starts in April, I was told. Watching puffins walk around, made my heart warm. I teared up from incredible happiness. My grandmother loved birds. I remember that about her.

My dad liked to photograph landscapes. I thought he was the best sunset photographer on the planet. But after I was six or so, he didn't do it much - but he did take our standing 'family portraits'. He was scientific about the whole process. I learned about the speed of film and that it is expensive to blow through 12 rolls of film. Especially when you photograph the same flower pot and kitten. I dreamed of secret photography adventures with my dad - to photograph cows and churches and tractors (things I still love to photograph). Instead, we went to church. I studied photography at the School of the Arts, but never thought I could make a career of it.

My mom taught me that having a clean house was of the utmost importance - especially when company comes. I wonder if this is a southern thing. I am pretty sure I always had a tidy room. She said that a dirty room meant that I disrespected the whole house. She constantly de-cluttered. I do too. She also said that moving once every five years helps you get rid of the crap you don't need. I agree.

I remember having to spend an hour a week with our two older next door neighbors. The old man across the street ate a lot of collard greens at three in the afternoon and wanted me to change the television channels. Every time. I cut through a briar patch (with pruning shears) to see the little old lady next door. She always fed me cookies and I looked at her art books. She talked about nephews and grandchildren who had gone off to college. It made me want to create magnificent drawings and go to college.

I was an athletic child. Once, I lost a foot race with my dad. I was devastated. HOW could this be possible? I had won many medals as a gymnast, and yet couldn't outrun my own dad. My mom told me that had I raced (a longer distance) to the church and back instead of just down the driveway, I likely would have won. That was a valuable lesson. I tried for years to beat him at arm wrestling too, which never happened, but he did teach me a strategy that helped me through college... Which is funny now. I wonder, is competitiveness and motivation something that is taught? I was often recognized from my picture in the newspaper - so I quickly learned that you get alot of attention if you win. And, you disappoint your parents if you quit.

My parents taught me to take up for myself. When I was bullied at school, dad recommended first to try to reason with a bully. But if the kid insisted on a fist fight, for me to try to block the first hit and then kick in their knee. That way, I wouldn't have to hit them in the face. He assured me that I would not get in trouble at home, if the fight was self defense. I think knowing that they supported my decision making and also having a strategy helped me with those early struggles. I never actually fought anyone. Which is a small miracle as I was a bit of a smart ass though out school.

Also, when someone got married or someone died, we got dressed up and there was a mess of food. Whole neighborhoods, tee ball teams, the church and the school sent cards and/or dessert. And thank you cards are sent for nearly everything.

I think what I most miss about North Carolina is my three closest girlfriends and my parents. This was my first Christmas not within driving distance. I still take out the trash and clean my dishes and my mom always has fresh sheets and a few books picked out for me each time I come home. Dad has a list of questions about his camera (which is ironic). My mom brews sweet tea and Dad makes bacon and eggs or pancakes every morning. And I get to sleep late. I miss them very much right now and hope that next Christmas I will be able to go home. I want to talk to Dad about his garden, the flowers, and the hummingbirds. Mom will catch me up with who married who and who moved where. I will see if I can find that bird drawing. I am pretty sure it is in their attic somewhere.