My stepdaughter is having a test Friday about her history teacher. At first I assumed the notion of this to be narcissistic. Then it occurred to me that the lesson was the importance of personal history. I think as American’s we tend to look at History from the eyes of “the greats”. What we tend to forget is that for every highlighted figure in History, there are millions of completely average and unnoticed individuals. So, in the spirit of celebrating personal history, I have decided to compile a brief history of myself. (*Warning* This may be completely boring and unimportant).
I was born in a small town in the foothills of West Virginia. My name was chosen by my father (who was in the parking lot of the hospital eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while I was being birthed), in an attempt to save me from the name Mary Katherine. For this, I am eternally grateful. Shortly after my birth, we moved to another small town in Virginia. I have no memory of this time period but I know that we were very poor. We moved around some more and ended up just outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
This is where my memory begins. I don’t have full and developed memories of my time in Louisiana but I remember things. I remember the Orchard outside of our house and how we would go out at night sometimes trying to see owls in the trees. I remember my father bringing home an armadillo which he thought was dead. Of course, it wasn’t and it ended up running around our house and terrorizing my mother. I remember being dared to eat mustard out of the bottle and getting sick from it (I still don’t like mustard). I remember our go-cart, BB-guns, and playing in the mud. In all of these memories, I cannot tell you how many different houses we lived in, what my dad did for a living, what vehicle we drove. I know that we were poor (now), but in my mind those were some of the richest memories that I have of my life.
What I remember the most fondly, was the trees. By the time I was three, I was an expert tree climber. My father has always considered himself a “tree doctor” and he always made extra money for the family by cutting down, trimming and topping out trees. A lot of times, the family would go along with him and we would help by dragging brush, pulling the occasional tree, and (when we were older) cutting up trunks. During these times, my dad would teach us about the trees. He would show us the different types of trees, explain why trees have sap, and show us how to tell the age of a tree. I remember my dad would never cut down a tree until it was dead, even if we really needed the money. I admired this about him and came to think of trees as humanistic and holy objects in the world.
By the time I was ready to start Kindergarten, we had moved 24 times and ended up back in West Virginia. My brother had already started school. For all intents and purposes, so had I. I suppose my thirst for knowledge is natural because I don’t remember a time that I didn’t want to (or think I already did) know everything. Anyway, by the time I started Kindergarten, I could read and write. My Kindergarten teacher started an activity at the beginning of the year that for every week that we learned to spell a new word, we would get a paper ice cream scoop displayed on the board with the word we had learned. While the other kids were learning words I already knew (like cat, dog, ect.), I was learning to spell Ashland, Mississippi, and Trouble. I was also the only kid who got a scoop every week.
I may not have been the most popular kid in class (literally having only 2 friends) but I was determined to be the smartest. This continued until I was in the fourth grade. I had a few friends but I was a very odd child. I enjoyed learning, I daydreamed a lot and had nothing in common with my fellow students.
I try to explain to my husband what type of child I was and it always falls short of the truth so I’m sure it will here, too. In any case, here it goes. I was fiery…very fiery! From a very early age, I knew what I stood for and I didn’t back down! My mom’s family is Irish and they liked to “stir the pot” with me, my siblings and cousins. For my siblings and cousins, this game would often end in tears from them and laughs from my uncles and aunts. Not for me! I was never embarrassed, loved attention, and lived to argue!
I don’t know anybody else who was blessed to have grown up with a family like mine. I was always surrounded by very dynamic characters. My mother is the only person I know who possesses the nurturing spirit of mother, yet could cuss like a sailor while smoking a cigarette and waving a blunt object. You know, like a knife! I have never seen my mom back down from intimidation and I developed a healthy fear of her by the time I was a teenager. My father worked away and my mother had to fill his shoes a lot of the time. If this meant fighting a man, so be it!
This is the general trend among women in my family. My aunt was a fiery red head. She was the happiest person I have ever met in my life, despite the harshness she has encountered in her life. This being said, I can remember vividly her picking up people by the throat because of difference of opinion. She was a protector and somebody who you just didn’t cross. She died 2 days before my 9th birthday, a loss which devastated, yet educated me. I remember the days before her death very vividly and how the things that were said and done stirred a spiritual longing inside me that will never be doused.
My grandmother (my mom’s mom) was sweet and gentle; an intellectual and writer. She used this skill, from time to time, to write letters to her foes. I always admired her craft and ability to write in a nice tone while telling someone off. My grandmother was a folk singer and would entertain us kids with her vast knowledge of old folk songs. Sadly, I don’t remember many of them, save my favorite (I wish I was Single Again).
In fact, music was a large part of my upbringing. My uncles and cousins played the guitar, mandolin, piano, ect. Many people in my family sing and gatherings would often culminate in singing folk, bluegrass, or religious tunes to the sound of my uncle on the guitar. Sadly, I received my musical genetics from my father yet I was completely unembarrassed to be the only individual in the room who didn’t know a G from a C. I simply loved the vibrations of song from my belly to my throat and, to this day, it doesn’t really matter what I sound like; I sing. Loud and proud, I belt out tunes of young and old in crowded rooms or my empty car. Unashamed, I single handily contradict generations of musical talent in my family.
I was raised in community deeply rooted in Christianity. I attended church every time the doors were open and bible studies were my fairy tales. So how in the world did I become a heathen? Why do I practice magic and talk to the trees? Surely, some of the answers lie in this brief history of my life but the truth of it has yet to be revealed. All that is a post for a different day.