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Saturday, January 26, 2013

How I Got Here

40 years ago today a young woman went into labor during a snowstorm in a small farmhouse in the corn fields of southern Illinois. Her husband being at work she called the man I knew as 'Uncle Larry', my grandfather's little brother. He drove her through the snow to the nearest hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl at 4:50pm.

That farmhouse is still there, still in the family. That young woman is buried down the road. I believe Uncle Larry is too.

I am that baby girl. And today I am pondering the 40 years of my life and how I got here.

The first two years of my life were spent in that little house, no running water, no indoor toilet. But I was in diapers, so not my problem.

My dad was accustomed to the hard life of living on the farm. He had spent a lot of his life overseas on military bases in Germany, Iraq, etc. but they had settled back in the family homestead when he was still young enough to adapt.

My mother, however, was living a life she had never even imagined existed. She had been born in Chicago, raised in military households. She lived in Japan as a young girl and had a nanny that would teach her Japanese and make her fish head soup. She attended a boarding school in Paris where she spent the afternoons sneaking out to the cafe with her friends, drinking wine and flirting with French boys. She graduated from school in South Carolina where she was a cheerleader and a dancer. A life of travel, education and culture. A life most of the residents of our tiny farming community couldn't even imagine. She had no idea what she was agreeing to when she said yes to my father and they started their married life.

The isolation was too much for her. She had made a few friends but she was stuck home alone with a baby and hard work to get the chores done. To make things easier for her they decided to move into town.

They bought a big, brick, 100 year old 'fixer upper'. That house was my home. It was huge, dark, spooky and haunted...but I loved it. My parents broke their backs renovating that place themselves, sanding down all the hardwood floors by hand and refinishing them alone was hell. The work was so worth it though, to see the old house shine.

When I was very young I started an interesting dichotomy of education at home. My dad taught me about nature, survival, the stars, gardening, cars, hunting, fishing and even sewing. All the things that shaped my practical self and my day to day natural side.

My mom taught me to speak properly and fight the country slang that was being spoken all around us. I walked with books on my head and practiced my enunciation. I learned to walk one foot in front of the other with my shoulders back. She introduced me to theater, art, different kinds of music and literature. She encouraged me to attend the churches and temples of all my friends and seek information and knowledge in those places, to question authority when my gut told me to.

In the early 1970's these were very foreign concepts to a great majority of middle America. She and I both experienced a distancing of our peers because we were different than the other women and girls, or rather because we showed our differences. I am sure there were more of us who just played the role to make life easier. I fought through it and came out stronger, hell, I was half country and raised there. She wasn't as lucky. It was too hard for her to try and fit in and still be herself. Even the 80s were hard for progressive women in the midwest. It was getting better, but we were still a little different.

Now that I know we both suffered from PMDD, it makes more sense. Feeling different or abnormal or not a part of the pack is common with the illness. And from my experience, women with PMDD seem to be strong and independent and free thinkers as a general rule. Maybe that is a good side effect of suffering, how we cope.

At this juncture in my life, turning 40 and coming to the 20th anniversary of her death, I can finally look back past the hurt and the failures and see the amazing woman that she was. I am who I am today because she sacrificed a form of happiness to teach me how to be different, to be an explorer, to leave the common comfort zone and fight conformity.

Oh, and good posture, can't thank her enough for that!