I was thinking the other day about my peer group of my youth – who I looked up to and wanted to be like, whose opinion of me mattered in my hollow little head back then. Without a doubt it would have to be, in order:
1) My siblings
2) My parents (I know, what a dork!)
3) My extended family (aunts/uncles/cousins)
I remember one of my older sisters (I will refer to her as “Kackaloodie” to protect her privacy) having the nicest clothes and the prettiest curly dark hair. I wanted to look just like her. Unfortunately I was built like a boy (no breasts, no hips, no butt), had stick straight hair that was very curl resistant and the start of a mustache that was the envy of pre- and post-pubescent males alike. Even more unfortunately, this remained the case well into my “adulthood”. At any rate, I thought “Kackaloodie” was far prettier and way more interesting than any of the kids at school. I wanted to be like, and more importantly, to be liked by her and all my siblings.
I recall standing in front of the bathroom mirror with my youngest sister. Her hair was very thick, light brown and she could actually get her hair to grow past her chin line. I would crouch down a little so that, as we both faced the mirror, she could put one side of her hair over my head to give me an idea of what I would look like with nice hair. It was fun and depressing at the same time. One of my brothers always included me in stuff when we were kids. I have no idea why but I remember always feeling so special and in awe that he did. He was VERY cool! My sibling are a major part of my childhood memories – happy and sad. I can’t believe they let me into the family!
My parents had a more profound effect on me than I realized at the time they were actively parenting me. Looking around my house I see books, art, music, food choices, etc… that I brought with me from childhood – the country where I was immersed in imagination-expanding stories, access to “art” produced by nature and man, music flowing from a reel-to-reel tape player inviting me to sing, dance or just sit and enjoy the sounds and the aroma of homemade foods to satisfy the growly belly. I hear myself telling a story and feel an internal reaction to something around me and think “Geez, that reminds me of mom/dad.” – sometimes that is a pleasant realization – sometimes sobering.
The first of my nearly 30 first cousins died recently and much too soon as far as I’m concerned. As a result, I have been taking stock of my life and coming to terms with the fact that life is pretty darn short even if it seems to drag on painfully at times. It was my good luck to have lots of access to aunt, uncles, cousins as I navigated childhood. Luckier still is that fact that these folks continue to be a significant part of my life in the form of invites to parties, cookouts, drop-in visits just because, spontaneous thrift store junkets, a much appreciated e-mail or text to say hello. They are part of my daily life and I hate to imagine my life without them in it.
There are too many memories of all my siblings to mention in this post and most would probably only interest me anyway. Yet, as these memories bounce around in my head, I can’t help but conclude that the term “role model” has become a bit of a joke – a meaningless phrase that people “in the know” use. I hear that kids (and discerning adults) should look up to this or that actor/singer/politician and strive to be like them (e.g., successful, rich, powerful, sexy, envied). I’m certainly not an expert, but the people in my immediate life – the people I know, can spend time with and talk to/the people I love who love me back – have been the best role models I could have possibly had. After all, who wants to play freeze tag or ghost in the graveyard with a politician or an actor?
I am frequently puzzled by people exclaiming about how important people are to them – their “besties” (lots of them), Facebook friends that “mean the world” to them and various and sundry other folks that seem to be only tangentially connected to them (e.g. the waiter at a favorite restaurant, everyone they went to high school with). How many best friends/important people can one have in one’s life? I remember having two friends from my dancing class when I was a kid; I thought they would be in my life forever. There were also the girls in elementary school who would include me in birthday party and sleepover invites. The sleepovers always ended up with me calling my parents for one of two reasons (fear of wetting a bed or floor at a school mates house or fear that the seances performed during the sleepover fun would actually have called President Lincoln or Bloody Mary back to the realm of the living). After my parents divorced I didn’t really see those any of these people much and somehow my life continued. Through junior high and high school I kept pretty much to myself – I liked some of the folks but didn’t have a best friend. Same with college. It seemed like some of the friends I made there who I thought would be lifelong important people to me had other agendas that precluded living in the same city with them, let alone ongoing friendship. It may be worth noting that I was pretty exercised when I found out that my mom had given my contact info to the secretary of my graduating class and I started receiving calls and mailings regarding reunions.
REUNIONS!!!? In all honesty, people are categorized as follows in my small world:
1) People I like/love (FAMILY which includes the few friends I have managed to make and keep over many years).
2) Everyone else.
I will likely never attend a high school or college reunion which is probably a condemnation of me and my crappy personality. Primary education was a necessary evil for me. College was an expensive surprise (as neither my high school guidance counselor or any of my teachers ever talked to me about attending). I did have some fun and enjoyed the company of some very nice people during this time BUT I have had nothing to do with them since my graduations. I guess I just don’t understand and have outed myself as a NOT POPULAR person in school.
On the other hand, I do and likely always will make every effort to be present for all family functions because those people are IMPORTANT to me. They see me at my best and worst. They have helped me and let me be of help in their need – they’ve seen my ugly crying and have tolerated my inappropriate levity related to bodily functions. They KNOW me and like/love me in spite of and, hopefully at least sometimes, because of this.
Ultimately I guess everyone is important people to someone.
When I was a kid, my dad traveled for his job. I could be misremembering that but I seem to recall him being gone for somewhat extended periods of time. When he returned home, he would sometimes have “surprises” for us; usually it was Archway oatmeal cookies and the most current (?) Archie comics digest. At that time, Archway actually had 12 oatmeal cookies in a package and they were pretty big – like 3 inches across… I think. The reason I mention that is I recently bought some and was depressingly disappointed that the package contained 8 not-so-big cookies. I ate them but felt resentful while digesting them. At any rate, given that there were 10 people living in the house during at least part of my youth, the cookies were a pleasant concept but not much of a belly filler; one for each kid, two for each parent. Not complaining but it’s hard to make food last and even harder to succeed at gluttony with those kinds of numbers.
I’m not much for magazines these days, but I remember being very keen on getting the Archie comic book as soon as possible – at least some of my 7 siblings were also interested so it could take a while to gets hands on it. Bizarrely, I always felt sort of sophisticated reading the comic books – like Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead, Moose, Midge, Mrs. Grundy, Mr. Lodge and Mr. Weatherbee could really help me in forming my social persona. At some point I realized that Betty and Veronica were the same person with different colored hair, different facial expressions and different word bubbles sprouting from their heads. This did not dampen my enthusiasm for the “stories”.
One particular issue had a very involved story line (which I may also be misremembering) which had aliens coming to Riverdale, a not so savory businessman and some very clever (to my 10-year-old brain) dialogue comprised in large part of made up words (“blorg” and “blechfrumple” stick out in my head – “blorg” meant mustard in alienese. No clue what “blechfrumple” meant but I have enjoyed allowing it to take up space in my brain). Additionally, the plot line of the story included some criminal enterprise by the unsavory businessman that was described as a “ploy by Sludge” – that line in still used by some of the “little girls” in the family at odd times – although any time one would use that line would probably be odd.
Obviously I was very affected by the gifts my father bestowed on us.
(note: when I spell checked this post, the spell checker suggested dismembering for “misremembering” – it may be on to something.)