Our household was mostly filled with a large handful of married couples, most with about 4 or 5 kids ranging in ages. And a slightly revolving door of not as permanent household members shuffling through.
There was a man named Martin and I didn’t know it, but I always called him Martian. No, they’d laugh, it’s Martin. Yes, that’s what I said, Martian. No, no, they’d laugh more, it’s Martin. Yes, that’s what I keep saying, Martian!
There was a man in a wheelchair. I was astonished at his whole, skinny body contorted in a terrible way. They said he got Agent Orange in Vietnam. I wasn’t sure what that was but I knew it must have been very, very bad. I knew he got it in the jungle. I pictured him walking through the jungle, with lots of big green leaves and vines like in story books, imagining what he probably looked like as a normal man before he got Agent Orange..then I pictured the Agent Orange spraying out from the forest all over him in an orange misty powder and him falling to the ground to writhe around screaming in pain as it sizzled his skin. I didn’t know if that’s how it happened and I didn’t want to ask him. He was nice and I felt so sorry for him. And I felt bad for his family.
But I sure would love an amazing chair with wheels like that, then I could have all the fun in the world.
There was a single man who stayed with us for a bit who I thought of more as a special “visitor” than one of us full time not-of-the-world people. He didn’t seem as old and scruffy as the other men; he seemed fresher, more groomed and refined, more gentle mannered, more bemused and mindful of his environment, including me. Like I could feel his eyes seeing me on a deeper level than just a dumb little kid. Which made me feel kind of squirmy and exposed, not hidden under my dumb little kid shield that so many adults automatically see around little kids. His inquisitive smile seemed to pierce the veil that kept grownups on a different level of socializing with random kids as they busied about too preoccupied or tired to take full notice of little people.
One morning, as I was leaving the house back to the bus from breakfast, he was coming to the house for breakfast. He didn’t live in the house either. As I started up the path, I knew we’d say hi to each other. Everyone says hi. But most grownups, it’s just a quick grunt of a hi with barely a look or no look at all as they continue on their way in a hurried, unbroken stride. As we approached each other on the path and I prepared to say the typical “hi” or “hello”, he actually really looked right at me, making true eye contact, and smiled and said something I was totally unprepared for; “Good Morning”.
“Good morning“? I had never been confronted with “Good Morning” before. It sounded so formal and resplendent. What does it mean? It could mean so many things. Is it a question or a statement? What was I suppose to say? What is the response to “Good morning”? Should I just say just “hi” like we all normally do? But hi couldn’t be an appropriate response equal to the glory of “Good Morning”. Good morning compared to hi was like exotic song birds singing a symphony compared to the dullness of a dirty rock thudding against the ground. Do I say “Thank you”? No, what if that’s wrong? Do I say “Good morning” too? My mind raced in a panic of not knowing how to respond to this elegant greeting. I could feel my face turning red and my eyes looking towards my feet as I stammered out the most amateur “Good morning” ever uttered. I arduously dug it out of some unknown place inside my chest underneath my frozen vocal chords. It felt strange and uncomfortable forcing my mouth to say it like I was a fraud trying to speak a language that was above me, but I felt it would be rude to not try. Unfortunately, I could not hide my intense discomfort at not knowing how to respond to his gracious, sophisticated acknowledgment of passing me on the path; it was painfully obvious. He chuckled, amused by my blundering. My voice must have cracked and squeaked under the pressure of trying to respond correctly. I survived the awkward, drawn out moment of this anomalous, historic morning passing and as I skipped up the path, relieved I had narrowly evaded a heart attack over someone saying “Good Morning” to me, and embarrassed at my ignorance; I basked in a feeling of shiny reverence that he thought so highly enough of me to direct this cultured, aristocratic terminology right at me.
“Mom” and “Dad” was terminology that was beyond us too. Some of the older kids, like my sister, who had lived out in the far away real world before, sometimes still called their parents by Mom and Dad. On the rare, special occasions my sister would drop in for a quick visit, although she too called our mom by name, I sometimes heard her call our mom “Mom”. She sounded so comfortable and natural saying it, I wanted to call our mom “Mom” too, but I couldn’t. While I thought of her as my “mom”, I had to address her as “Deborah”. I fantasized about calling her Mom, just saying it so naturally like my sister did. Surely it would make us closer if I could call her Mom, specially bonded like she was with her oldest, favorite child who she praised like an angel and always told my brother and I that she wished we could be like. But I couldn’t call her Mom, even if I tried. I had always called her Deborah and trying to actually call her mom would be like trying to feed myself with my feet instead of my hands. My mind just silently envied in awe and drooled over the ease and genuine way my sister could verbally regard her as “Mom”. She was so, so lucky. Maybe someday, when I’m older and mature like my perfect, angelic, beautiful sister, then maybe I can learn how to say it – naturally, like it’s not even a big deal, and feel how warm and comfortable and satisfying it must be to call your mom, “Mom”. But for now, I still call her Deborah like I am suppose to, like I always have.
I didn’t wonder what it would be like to sleep in a bed in a house anymore, I no longer cared – I liked our bus. The house was crowded and wasn’t as cozy as our own little bus – our safe little cave of metal covered in green paint peeling up in benign curls to hint of the yellow it once was. Most the other kids had a dad and a mom, some kids at other houses even had 2 dads and 2 moms. We were different in many ways, deviant of everyone else, but I loved our private bus and my single mom.
We ate household meals at a long, long wooden table with wooden benches granting enough room for the 5 or so families, and sometimes more random or temporary people, who lived at Dogwood Blossom.
Dinners in the house were much better because they weren’t repulsive oatmeal that made me gag every morning and every afternoon when we had cold, gloppy, leftover oatmeal for lunch. The feeling of the gloppy slime with the the course little line in the middle of the whole oats against the inside of my mouth was agonizingly hard to force through my mouth and down my throat. Every bite swallowed was an impossible accomplishment. Sometimes I would plead, beg, even cry in a desperate attempt to be spared from eating it, but I always had to eat it. If I really wanted to impress my mom and make her happy, I would summon every drop of will power within me to eat it all with a smile without complaining but it was so difficult, the bland taste of horrible slime and that little wretched middle line in the oat made me want to choke and vomit with every despicable bite. Everyone else pours lots of white sugar on their’s and all the kids are so happy gobbling it down. But I cannot have any sugar on my bowl of torture, because to my mom, sugar is the root of all evil only for making cakes on peoples birthdays.
So, dinner, I love. Oh wonderful, anything-but-oatmeal dinner!
Except if it was dumplings. I hated those too. Slimy balls of boiled dough just as gag worthy as oatmeal. How could anyone in their right mind want to eat such a thing? But I did like the word. Dumpling. Too bad such a fun word had to be the name of something so gross. Thank god we usually eat soybean tortilla’s instead of slime balls.
We went to the house to help make dinner a lot. It was usually the ladies who made dinner. Big pressure cooker pots of soybeans steaming for hours. They were scary. The little thing on top of the lid shaking away with a jet of hissing steam escaping from the lid, threatening to blow at any time. And did. Everything spraying everywhere, shooting all over the ceiling, the adults yelling and running around. Chaos that only a pressure cooker explosion could create.
A lot of tortilla’s had to be made for everyone. The flour dough would be in a big bowl with a wet towel over it and I’d help in the assembly line of turning it into lots of balls then smashing and rolling the balls flat for someone to heat up quickly on the stove till they bubbled a bit before they burned. Then they’d go under a wet towel to keep from drying out before getting devoured.
Sometimes we’d wait for one of the men to come home with a rare, precious vehicle and they’d hook the battery up to make light in the house. Everyone in the house was excitedly buoyant about it, all of us huddled in the dark waiting for the special, sensational light to illuminate the room and be met with gasps and cheers. I didn’t know how they did it and I couldn’t even see the awesome car outside because it was dark but I imagined it was really close to the house to somehow provide it’s special power to us. It was so fun and amazing to get magical lights turned on.
We were all so happy to eat soybean tortilla’s. Biting into the warm, delicious, soft little soybeans wrapped up in a freshly made tasty tortilla with nutritional yeast, a savory delicacy of yellow flakes that we could only have a little sprinkle of, was eating happiness. I wished we could eat happiness for breakfast too.
The little garden outside by the clothesline was mostly taken over by catnip, but we must have squeezed some kind of salad out of it sometimes.
One time while making dinner, someone lifted me up and put me on the counter and told me to make the salad dressing. They gave me a bottle and told me I could use any of the herbs and spices and things on the shelves to mix with oil. Then they just let me do it all by myself with no supervision even though I had never made salad dressing before. This is so cool! I’m like a scientist cook making a potion. This is so much better than making horse poop potions in the bushes. I’m going to use everything! I blissfully add a dash of this and some of that and shake it up and find some more stuff to add and just keep merrily adding and mixing until it’s time for dinner…
Then at dinner, I could barely believe the main conversation was how good the salad dressing was! All up and down the huge long table, everyone kept exclaiming how delicious it was and kept asking who made it. I was a little bashful but smiley about it. Wow, they all like my salad potion so much, I’ve never seen people like salad dressing, or anything at dinner, so much before!
The next thing I know, while my mom is holding me on her hip just outside of the house on our way to the bus, a house lady is shaking me, waking me up, and more ladies are running out of the house to stop my mom from continuing up the path. They all want to know what I put in the salad dressing. I just want to put my head on my moms shoulder and close my eyes but they all are dying to know how I made the salad dressing that everyone loved so much. I don’t know what to tell them – I don’t know what all that stuff was, I just mixed up everything I could find. They try and try to coerce the secret ingredients out of me, begging for answers, but finally my mom puts a stop to their frantic questioning and I fall back asleep in her arms as she carries me up the path in the dark to our bus. I had no idea I could make such amazing salad dressing. I am so happy everyone liked it and so relieved my mom finally saved me from the salad dressing interrogation which was scary but also, thrilling. Maybe I’m a natural born salad dressing wizard.