A Picture Worth a 1000 Wonders

Walking anywhere with my mom I hope we won’t spot any lambsquarter. If I see some and just stay quiet maybe she won’t notice. Because if she does notice, she’ll make me eat it. It’s light green slightly jagged leaves growing on a stalk have a shimmery powered look and I hate it’s taste. But Deborah loves for me to eat it, she says it’s so good for me. Her face lights up when we find some, “Oh, look! Lambsquarter! Eat the lambsquarter!”. Disgust wipes over my face but I have to do what she says so I pick the gross lambsquarter and force myself to eat it. It gets slightly slimy after chewing it and I really, really don’t like eating anything slimy, which is why oatmeal is my sworn enemy. At least lambsquarter is better than oatmeal.
When I’m outside without her, and I find lambsquarter, I rejoice at not having to eat it. “Haha, Lambsquarter, not this time!” I think to myself, relieved to escape it’s yuckiness. But sometimes I think how proud my mom would be if I ate it. And so I eat some. Then I run and tell her.
In our bus, when I say “I’m hungry”, Deborah always says “Well go outside and eat some plantain”. I don’t know when I ever didn’t know what plantain was. Blooming clusters of big, smooth, shiny green leaves close to the ground, growing in the sunshine. Soon tiring of plantain, it’s tough fiber making me thirsty, I go in the woods behind our bus to eat sassafras leaves that grow in the shade. They grow like tiny trees with sporadic big leaves in a variety of neat shapes. I love their neat shapes, and they taste good. Even though they get slightly slimy like lambsquarter, the taste makes up for it. So much better than lambsquarter or plantain. Sassafras tea is all the rage. The older boys dig up the roots to impress the grownups who make tasty, naturally sweet tea and a handful of broken sassafras sticks is a pretty cool thing to have and flaunt inside the house, they’re a yummy treat to chew on, especially when the older boys skin the bark off with their pocket knives.
Not my bus, just one of the countless buses  people lived in, tucked into the woods all over the place.

Not my bus, (ours didn’t have a cook stove), just one of the countless buses people lived in, tucked into the woods all over the place.

I know lots of good spots around our bus and 1st road now. A visitor with a camera came to Dogwood Blossom. Cameras were other worldly, I don’t know anyone here who has one. My mom says I can show him some stuff on 1st Rd for his pictures. I take him onto the road and we chat, I am not very shy because he is so nice, I like him, so words flow freely out of my mouth. I know he must be taking really important pictures with the black camera around his neck, because cameras are so rare and special. As we’re walking and chatting on the road, not too far from my bus, he says he wants to take my picture. My picture? Completely stunned, I don’t know what to do. No one has ever wanted to take my picture, I’ve never had my picture taken. We have some baby pictures of me, but those don’t count because I didn’t know I was getting my picture taken.
As a baby, in NY, before I can remember much. Memories kicked in soon when we moved to The Farm.

As a baby, in NY, before I can remember much. Memories kicked in soon when we moved to The Farm.

What do I do? I can barely breathe, this is so shocking and amazing. This is definitely the biggest deal that’s ever happened to me. What do you do to get your picture taken? How do I act? This is the most important thing I’ve ever done and I don’t want to ruin it but I’m not sure what I should do. I stop talking and just stand there and don’t do anything and he snaps my picture. It is over very fast, before I know it or can think too much harder about it. It didn’t hurt and I don’t feel too different. Actually, I feel worlds different. Someone took my picture! I can’t believe it! This is absolutely incredible! The excitement of being the focus of this magic technology fills my whole body and I feel so special, floating and smiling all day. I hug my mom as a new person who’s had their picture taken and can barely fall asleep that night in our bus wondering all about the picture. What will it look like? I cannot wait to see it. How will I ever be able to sleep or rest from the jittery excitement until I see it?

Eventually the man sends the picture to us. Wow, yep, that’s me! It’s really me, it’s really my picture! That’s the red checkered dress I was wearing, one of my favorite dresses! That’s the dirt road behind me! 1st Rd, across from our bus, where just me and no one else got their picture taken! Just me! The picture really worked! I can’t believe someone took my picture. It’s so stupendously wonderful and makes me feel so special, I will probably be happy forever.
My first picture portrait

My first picture portrait (picture of the picture).

(Note: I was trying to write stories in chronological order, but give up on that. It will all have to be edited into order later.)

Cat Food King

A mouthwatering buzz spread quickly through the 5 and under crowd of the Dogwood Blossom household. Archer scored some cat food.
Like everyone, I went to investigate to see if it was true. If he had really braved the massive feat of sneaking the off limit, delicious, little reddish x-shaped treats we weren’t suppose to touch or eat. Sure enough, sitting on the floor in the living room like a puffed up King, there he was already surrounded with a small but growing harem of hungry little vulture children.
I don’t want to suck up to him…but I’d really love some of that cat food, the thought of it’s tasty, tasty gourmet crunch is irresistible. So I sit down, close but not too close, I don’t want to be too desperate like the other little kids. I’ll hide my desperation for a piece of cat food by sitting a few kids away and not facing him directly. Just kinda here. By coincidence. Ho hum, doo dee doo.
God, I hope I get a piece.
The very first photo I've ever seen or found of DOGWOOD BLOSSOM. (Thank you, Jennifer!) THIS is the house! This is the house I'm writing about! These kids were older, I thought they were sooo big and old! :)

The very first photo I’ve ever seen or found of DOGWOOD BLOSSOM. (Thank you, Jennifer!) THIS is the house! This is the house I’m writing about! These kids were older, I thought they were sooo big and old! 🙂

Cats come and go, in, out, on, around the house through the woods and neighborhood. They hiss and growl and screech and fight and are scary. I run away from the desperate, whiny, howling, wild fur monsters. The grownups put out margarine and nutritional yeast for them sometimes. Real cat food is a hard to get, extremely rare treat from the mythical outside world that you’re not suppose to mess around with, like toilet paper.
Glancing over toward the reigning Cat Food King, oh wow, he’s actually got a supply, not just a hastily grabbed handful of a few extremely limited pieces. He had a little baggie. With a twister seal. Plastic baggies were unheard of. Where did he get a baggie? Wow, no wonder he looked like he was basking in full heroic glory, levitating just a little above all of our humbly bowed heads. I wondered if his parents gave him the baggie. Where did he get it?
I hate getting in trouble, I hate getting spanked. I try very hard to be a good kid, so I don’t risk things like sneaking cat food myself. I kind of wish I had the nerve to be so bad, but I don’t. However, I will eat the cat food if supplied by a braver, naughtier kid.
We can’t make too much of a commotion or the grownups will notice that something is up.
Archer will have no power or attentive court of worshipers when the cat food is gone, so this will be a slow, drawn out process of hopefully getting a piece or two.
He frugally distributes a piece here and there to keep us doting in submission to him and his temporary but powerful cat food omnipotence.
He untwists the baggy, takes a piece out and slowly decides who to give it to. Everyone acts really, really nice to Archer the Cat food King hoping to be the lucky one. I try to act cool but in my mind I’m slobbering and drooling all over myself to savor that tasty crunch in my mouth. Why are the scary cats so lucky to have this food? Why are the scary cats luckier than us?
The cats may be scary, intimidating little beasts, but at least they have special treats for some reason, treats that we can secretly taste if we’re lucky and careful to not get caught.
Finally Archer decides to bestow a piece on me, oh joy! I glance around to make sure no grown ups are looking and then pop it in my mouth. It’s so delicious. It’s so crunchy. I really want another piece. We all do.
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Archer decides it’s too risky to continue his Catfood Congregation out in the open of the living room floor. He moves it to our secret hiding place that grownups and not even the bigger kids can access, only little ones. There are many benches and seats around the perimeter of the room, but one couch’s slight leaning angle against the wall makes our secret hiding place, we can slither back there behind it huddling in the darkness of the couch and do anything we want.
One by one, piece by piece the rest of the cat food is distributed by our leader in the tiny dark crevasse of the couch. We stay quiet with hushed whispers to not get caught by the giant grownups. There was enough that we all got several pieces. I still wanted to play it cool back there, but huddling behind the couch, obviously as desperate as the other kids, I’ve lost all dignity, but I don’t care. Cat food is worlds better than slimy, putrid oatmeal. I’m so happy to have eaten 3 or 4 pieces of forbidden, rare, precious cat food. So, so happy.

Snakes With Legs

Turning 5 is my ultimate life goal. No need to bother looking further into the future than big, huge, important number 5. It is such a sturdy, official sounding number. I will be significantly bigger and know so much more when I’m 5. I’ll be more important, a big kid. When people ask how old I am and I proudly say “FIVE”, people will know – I am really going places.
A plethora of extremely valuable wisdom will be downloaded from the universe directly into my brain right when I turn 5. It will be like a whole new world because I’ll be able to do all the things I can’t do now. Yep, when I’m 5. It’s going to be amazing. Probably the best thing ever.
 praying hippy kids
Behind the little household garden, behind the clothesline, behind Dogwood Blossom – our household down the path from our bus, is a graveyard. A pet graveyard. The other, more used side of the house has tiny, bumpy Dogwood Lane and a little yard and isn’t scary. This is the wild, scary side with rocks and tall weeds. Maybe every rock is a gravestone. Eeks! The bigger boys who live in the house tell me ghost stories and creepy things about it to make me scared. I don’t know what pets Dogwood Blossom has ever had besides the feral cats that make hideous noises, crawling on the roof, coming and going as they please. But I imagine there’s all kinds of animals buried there and it’s spooky so I don’t go back there by myself. When I’m 5 it won’t be a problem, I won’t be afraid of anything, but for now I’m still cautious.
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One day, playing alone, I summoned up the courage to tip toe past the pet graveyard to play in the woods. And I made it! I was in the woods all by myself! I am an explorer!  Poking around through the trees, I am careful not to go too far down the hill into the valley, but there is plenty to discover on the crest of the hill with the house still in sight. It’s so exciting searching around. I’m definitely going to find something marvelous. I lift up a big rock at the base of a tree and, oh my god! I knew it! I just knew I was going to make a fantastic, historical new discovery of epic proportions today that would change everything we thought we knew!
By bravely slinking through the graveyard and exploring the mysterious forest, looking for new discoveries and lifting up this rock, I did it – I discovered a miracle nestled into the dark damp dirt under this rock. I found snakes – with legs! A whole family of them! The mom was several inches long, shiny black with white spots. The babies looked exactly like her, except much smaller. And they all had legs! Incredible! I made the discovery of the century – snakes with legs! The mom snake looked at me with her babies huddling close. What should I do? This easily could be the greatest discovery ever made!
I carefully put the rock back over the snakes with legs and bursting with the most excitement I’d ever had, bolted for the house to let everyone know that snakes with legs had just been discovered. We would all celebrate from this day forth, the most amazing discovery ever made in the whole world, right behind our house! I can feel a blissful hysteria emanating from deep inside my stomach throughout my whole body, even my body cannot contain the thrill of being the first person to discover snakes with legs, the thrill is beaming out of every pore.
Finding my mother in the kitchen doing grownup things with other grownups, I squealed “Snakes with legs! I found snakes with legs!“. They look slightly amused but didn’t drop everything and come running? They didn’t understand. “SNAKES! WITH LEGS!” I screamed some more tugging at my moms skirt. She is way above my head, I come only part way up her leg so they don’t take me seriously but they will after they see these snakes with legs. They are really there! I really found real snakes with legs!
Snakes with legs! Snakes with legs!” I keep shrieking fervently until they acknowledge my need for someones attention to this most urgent, pressing matter.
A bigger person comes with me. On cloud nine, flipping up the rock by the tree, I show them my monumental discovery, the family of slimy little snakes with legs. For some illogical reason, they are not shocked beyond belief and dancing for joy around the woods ready to crown me as the Queen of Best New Discovery in all the land. They chuckle and tell me the creatures are salamanders.
Salamanders?
What? Clearly, these so called salamanders are funny little snakes with legs.
No, the big person assures me, they are not snakes at all, they are salamanders. As we leave the snakes with legs -salamanders- under their rock, making our way back up towards the house, my walk is a limp shuffle, my ecstatic excitement is replaced with lackluster disappointment that my great discovery isn’t so great after all.
But I can’t stop thinking about the snakes with legs, or salamanders, whatever they are called. The only thing on my mind as I fall asleep is the extraordinary slimy salamander family with their shiny deep dark black color and white spots. The mom and all her cute tiny babies cuddling in the dark wet dirt, etched into my memory forever. The snakes with legs.
I run to check on my new family the next day, I don’t even care about the pet graveyard.
Sadly, they are all gone. But I saw them. I saw them good. I’ll be able to confirm their curious existence for the rest of my life.
Photo from: NPS

Photo from: NPS

The Makeup Inquisition

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Playing on the ground by myself outside our old green bus, some older girls from the house and a posse of friends stomped up the smooth, well used dirt path that connects to 1st Road. I hum to myself, continuing to play knowing they will just pass me by as usual on their way to do important, cool, older girl things. But to my total surprise they stop and surround me. Oh wow, what do they want? With their arms folded, hands on their hips, in stances that only older girls can pull off with their above-it-all attitudes, they demanded to know if I’m wearing “makeup”. They want to know how I got it and where it is.
What were they talking about? I had no clue. My brain scrambles to pieces, what in the world is “makeup”? It must be something special from the mythical outside, fairy tale world that they somehow know about because they are so big and smart and awesome. Dumbfounded, I don’t know what to say. Stammering out nothing, I want to answer but I have no answer. Oh, how embarrassing, I don’t want them to know how clueless I am that I don’t even know what “makeup” is. I really don’t think I have any but they don’t believe me.
One of the girls steps up out of the group, holds my head and intently rubs my eyes. It hurts but I’m stupefied and scared so I don’t protest, I let her rub my eyes and face. After the forceful face rubbing, they are not satisfied but still determined to discover that I am indeed wearing makeup. As their frustration and anger builds because of their strange notion that I’m wearing this makeup they speak of, they think I am lying and hiding it from them and want me to just give it to them. I would give it to them but I honestly have no idea what they are talking about. Of course I’d love and would give anything to help them any way I can – to impress these older girls would be a dream come true, but I just play with rocks and sticks and dirt and live in this bus and if anyone had anything special, it would be them, not me.
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They will tell on me if I don’t give it to them, they will tell the grownups, they will tell my mom. Well that’s a pretty stupid idle threat, my mom already knows everything about me and everything I have. I’m just a little kid.
It’s not over, they really think I have makeup hidden somewhere and they want it.
I look up at them baffled as they debate loudly among themselves what to do. Soon they come up with a plan.
They force me to come with them to the outhouse sink to wash my face. I am their prisoner as they march me down the path, over the skinny, rocky road to the outhouse in the trees where we reach the little white sink attached to the outside of the wooden outhouse wall. Splashing myself with the cold water over and over as commanded, all the girls stand around, closely watching and inspecting my face until they’re finally convinced that I really do not have any makeup to confess of.
With my face dripping wet, still stunned, I watch the group of chattering, older girls walk away leaving me at the outhouse. The mysterious makeup inquisition is over. They are so big and cool. I wish I did have this thing called makeup to share with them.
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Pieces of the Lost Treasure

The Farm

Everyone who lived here had to take a vow of poverty and give everything they had to the community. All money and possessions were communal. Some of the things we had in our bus were secret. Our peacock feather wasn’t secret but it should be, staring at it’s incredible beauty shining in the sunlight was one of my favorite things. My mom brought it from New York and we were so lucky she got to keep it. I hope we get to keep it always. Positioned in the bus windows above my bed, I wanted to look at it’s iridescent colors forever.

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Our peacock feather, me and Sky on my bed in our bus.

 

Deborah had other beautiful treasures I liked to look at. The illegal jewelry that she was suppose to have gotten rid of because you weren’t suppose to have fancy things like jewelry. But she still had some of her most special jewelry in a little box. Somehow I knew she felt kind of grumbly about “them” wanting her to get rid of her things that she really loved – like the earrings her good friend gave her. I was completely enthralled with these big silver diamond shapes with little bells. Some of the neatest things I’d ever seen. I loved taking them out and fantasizing about wearing them someday. My mom had pierced ears but she couldn’t wear them or people would see she still had them. We had to keep them hidden in this little box. I liked our secret treasure.

It was about a mile and a half -really, really far I thought- up the dusty dirt road to go give “The Bank Lady” any money I got from my grandparents in my birthday card. The bank lady sat at the special white building across the road from the horse barn. When I would get a card with paper in it my mom would get me dressed, put on my shoes, coat and hat, hand me my paper to carry and off we’d go. After our long march on this strange mission, I would stand in front of The Bank Lady, waiting for some other people to stop talking to her. She had long pretty, brown hair flowing over her shoulders. Then I’d hand her my paper from my Grandparents. The Bank Lady wrote something down and put it in a little metal box..
Toys were a scarce, precious commodity. Any plastic toy was rare and other-worldly. The sheer delight I felt when my grandparents sent me two Barbie dolls, one girl, one boy, was overwhelming. I had never seen barbie dolls before, no one had barbie dolls! It was the best thing ever! Little people to play with? And they could bend? And they were mine? I felt like shaking, shuddering, crying, calling out and parting the heavens for pure ecstatic joy. As I ran from our bus to the house I could glide and the whole world was smiling at me, everything was beautiful and shining and wonderful, the sunshine loved me, the wind was laughing with me, the leaves on the trees were dancing in celebration, I was floating on bubbles made from fairies -exquisite, fabulous barbie doll fairies- blowing me kisses. I was the happiest, luckiest girl in the entire world.
For about 1 day.
After dazzling all the house kids with my amazing dolls, spending a whole day in the house playing and sharing my incredible new dolls with the house kids, something very, very, very, very horrible happened.
On the 2nd day of being the luckiest girl in the world – where were my dolls? They were right here, where did they go? Desperately, I searched and searched everywhere, inside and out and asked everyone. No one knew. I just kept searching. They had to be somewhere. I had to find them. Searching and searching my heart was sinking and breaking that I could not find them. I would not give up until I found them. I would look everywhere. I just had to find the best thing that I had ever, and possibly would ever, own. Everyone watched me keep searching. They seemed to have a solemn look on their faces.
Then, finally, one of the adults stopped me from my austere, determined searching and looked me right in the face and said that Jeffrey, one of the older boys who liked to torment me, cut them up and threw them under the house. I was horrified.
But I could still get the pieces and maybe put them back together somehow!
I darted outside running to the place that had an opening under the house. It was dark and damp. I stuck my head under smelling the musty dankness, all senses acutely scanning for the dismembered body parts. As my eyes adjusted I didn’t see them anywhere. I kept looking. Then I saw something. A piece of the flesh colored rubber. I picked it up and looked at it. But, what in the world? Why was it so tiny? It shouldn’t be tiny. Cut up barbie dolls should be in large chunks like I imagined when the person told me they were cut up. But then I found another piece and then, oh for love of God, no, God!! Please no, God. Noooo! The tears gushed uncontrollably from my face as I picked up tiny piece after tiny piece. Hundreds of tiny pieces lay in the dark dirt completely shredded into nothing but specks of plastic unrecognizable of anything it had ever been. No, I wasn’t going to be able to put the pieces back together at all. My brand new, best present that I had ever gotten was dead and shredded and gone forever.

If Wishes Were Band-aids

I was on “the skinny kid list”. Kids on the skinny kid list were suppose to get extra food. I heard I had got a banana one time for being on the skinny kid list, but, I cannot remember that banana, though it must have been something spectacular as exotic food from the outside that did not come from our own fields was unheard of.
There was a girl, Rebecca, that lived down the hill who was also on the skinny kid list. We met one day when I was taking a bucket bath outside my bus and we became friends. She was kind of strange because she had a cross eye and lied a lot but I felt sorry for her because the other kids were mean to her so I played with her. We liked to sit in the backdoor of my bus with our feet dangling, pressing down on our upper legs as hard as we could to try to see who could make their legs look bigger. I was so impressed with the ladies who had big upper legs that had ripples and jiggled when they walked. It was so womanly and we wanted to have big legs too.
One day, while straining with all our might to make our legs big, insisting back and forth to one another that we had each just pushed hard enough on our own leg to make it bigger than the others leg -“Look how big my leg is!”, “No, look at my leg, it’s bigger!”, “Nuh-aw, mine is!”, we looked up and walking right by us, in shorts, was one of the ladies with big upper legs. Time stopped as we watched in awe her amazing legs shake with each pounding step. Wow. How powerful she must feel with legs like that.
The Farm commune
The lady with amazing, powerful legs was friends with my mom, they were both single moms, and lived in the house with her daughters, Rose and Summer. Rose was around my age and we played together a lot. She was pretty with dark hair and her eyes entranced and mind boggled me to no end. I really wanted to know why they were different than everyone else’s. “Why does her nose go over her eyes”? I asked the grownups. It was amazing. No one else had a face that their nose ever so slightly extended the tiniest bit over their eyes. I got in trouble for asking that question, I wasn’t suppose to talk about why or how her nose went over her eyes but I desperately wanted to know. I wanted to examine the phenomena closely. Why was everyone not astonished about this? Why did they act like her nose did not go over her eyes? “Why does her nose go over her eyes?”, I would plead only to be reprimanded with no answer. Years later I finally discovered that her father was Asian but at the time it was perplexing mystery. Why couldn’t someone just give me an answer? They made me feel bad for asking so I finally stopped inquiring about the extremely curious meeting of her eyes and nose to avoid getting in trouble and just secretly analyzed her special eyes wonderstruck, agonizingly imploring deep inside myself how and why they were different.
Somehow it didn’t occur to me be more sympathetic about not making such a big deal about her eyes, as I myself was startled when people would make a big deal about my eyes, finicky about their color, undecided if they were blue or green, often changing and switching, sometimes one eye blue and one eye green. That’s when people would freak out. Strangers, especially visiting grandma’s, would grab me by the shoulders excitedly exclaiming and yelling “Look at her eyes!”
Deborah told me it was also because I had long, dark lashes that contrasted against my wispy blonde hair.
I climbed up on the old, still intact drivers seat by my moms bed to look at my eyes in the bus mirror. What were they freaking out about? My eyes were totally normal, two different colors was nothing as biologically intriguing as eyes that are a different shape – that’s what we all should be marveling over!
My friend with the eyes I wasn’t suppose to mention had an older sister, Summer. My sister did not live with us so it was Summer who taught me how to skip and tie my shoes. I painfully lusted after the glee the older girls must be having watching them skip around like care free skip masters.  One day, up the very rocky, bumpy Dogwood Lane towards 1st Road, Summer taught us little girls how to skip. It was hard at  first but we finally got the correct stride and were freed from boring old walking and regular running. We wanted to skip everywhere.
Skipping gave us new and improved confidence and powers. Now we had the gumption to skip up Dogwood Lane and be know it all snotties to the meany neighborhood boys across the street who had somehow always seemed to have the upper hand before. But now we could skip and we had a sure fire way to prove that we were smarter than them when we were yelling insults back and forth arguing who was smarter and better, boys or girls. All we had to do was say “Oh yeah? Well, what letter does Celeste’s name start with?” Though none of us could spell my whole name we all knew that oddly enough, it started with a C, not an S. The boys would yell back “S!” and we would all laugh at their naive stupidity, so content and happy that our little trick worked like a charm every time.
A pleasing sense of pride would wash over me with a smile that my name was our main secret weapon to slay the boys in the battle of wits. Deborah said she picked the name Celeste and my father picked Melody and they fought about which name should go first. She did not want people to call me Mel. “Celeste Melody!” she would say sharply when she was mad and about to count to 3.
The best thing about getting hurt was possibly getting an incredible band-aid if there was any. Having a special band-aid sticker was so cool. Something clean out of a rarefied packaged wrapper, something from the outside world, something that wasn’t horse poop, something that was just for you. They smelled peculiar and had lots of tiny perfect holes. If another kid was lucky enough to scrape themselves bloody and get an amazing band-aid, envy could not be helped. If only I could get hurt too so I could bask in the glory of an extraordinary plastic band-aid. Any kid with a marvelous band-aid displayed it proudly and kept the flesh colored plastic treat on as long as possible for the rest of us to admire and pine over. It was a sad day when your tiny morsel of sticky delight, the only thing that made you special, would finally loose it’s stickiness, unable to cling any longer no matter how hard you smushed it down praying for the artificial slither of awesomeness to stay on. Who knows when you’d be so blessed to get another one instead of a plantain leaf.
baby  sink bath on The Farm
One day Rose and I decided to skip down to the Sunhouse right down the hill. The path was packed smooth dirt except for one small, scary rocky part where we both fell down and scraped our elbow. We both scraped the same elbow! We both cried and went back in to Dogwood Blossom explaining what had detoured us from our visit to the Sunhouse. They fixed us up and we were on way again, happily skipping down the path once more, certain that the rocky slope would not stop us this time. But suddenly we both tripped again! And we both scraped our other elbow! The same other elbow!
Once again, we repeated the process of going back, getting fixed up, hurt but quite amused that we had scraped the same elbows at the same times.
Skipping down the path for a third time, thinking how we’ll tell our friends at the Sunhouse how utterly crazy it was that we fell down two times and scraped the exact same elbows each time, the rocks conquered us, again! This time we both scraped the same knee! It was so scary falling and it hurt so much but this synchronized falling and maiming was so ridiculously funny. Again, we hobbled back to the house to get fixed up, more amazed each time, and finally, set out for a forth time convinced that of course we wouldn’t fall again. Strangely enough, this time we both fell again and scraped the other same knee. Laying in the rocks crying in pain, all four joints, elbows and knees officially scraped, our minds were blown. Although this may have been the best band-aid heaven ever, the harmonized falls and matching scrapes were just too incredibly unprecedented and magical. It was our best story for a long time that we told in pure awe and bewilderment, about this experience of absurdly coincidental skipping accidents, and we had the scars to prove it.
farm ride
(Note: I was trying to write this without naming names but realized that no names would be detrimental to the thread of the story telling…so names beyond my own family, I am slightly changing though still trying to keep the essence of the name).

Meetings Everywhere & The Squaredance Skirt Creature

The grownups liked to have meetings. Everywhere. At the gate, at the house, at the barn, at the white offices, everywhere we went, there was meetings.
They would sit in a big circle to talk and pass around doobies. They loved smoking doobies and talking. Us kids would play or sit quietly. If I sat in the circle the grownup next to me might not notice I was a kid and pass me the doobie then I would pass it to the next grownup. Kids were not allowed to smoke. They would hold it with their thumb and finger and suck, suck, suck it in and hold it then blow the smoke out. My mom would hold it in really deep and really long to not waste any. She would close her eyes while she sucked it in and then if she talked while holding it, she sounded funny. The grownups got happy and nice when they smoked. They called it “Uncle Roy”. “Have you seen Uncle Roy”? “We’re going to hang out with Uncle Roy”. They also called “10:13”. 10:13 meant it was time to hang out with Uncle Roy.
Most meetings were pretty boring, I wondered how the grownups could stand to be so boring. Some of them talked slow and drawn out, extra boring. They had meetings about stuff that we needed, stuff that needed to be done and a lot of meetings to talk about someone in particular. People they thought didn’t have “good vibes” or who were being “into the juice”. They wanted to talk to them and tell them what they were doing wrong until the person “copped”. They wanted everyone to cop. “Hey man, you really need to cop to being into the juice, man. Like, that ain’t cool, ya dig, man?”, a grownup would say slowly, and partially out of their nose it sounded like. I wondered why so many people talked partially out of their noses, as if they were holding their breath when they talked and were pushing some of the vocal sound through their nose. Was that the cool way to talk to show you were “tuned in” while telling people to stop being into the juice or while saying what Stephen thinks? Nose talking was annoying, I didn’t “dig” it’s “vibe”, it was bland and dry and boring and annoying and judgmental sounding. Blah blah blah it sounded like.
They had a big meeting about my mom once that she didn’t like at all. About how she was into the juice for using big words. I heard about it for years, her saying; “and then I laughed and said “he averted his eyes”. That was the phrase she spoke that spawned a meeting to be called to tell her she was into the juice for speaking with words like “averted”. They wanted her to sound more like them with the slow, droned out, stony sayings and words like “ain’t”. Deborah hated the word “ain’t” as much as she hated chewing gum and sucking your snot instead of blowing your nose. Everyone said “ain’t”, it was hard not to say it because it seemed like such a normal word used by everyone, but Deborah corrected me every time. Putting my “me’s’ and I’s in the correct places, unlike everyone else, was also extremely important to her.
I think she was very upset and crying in our bus after finding out that people didn’t like her using “big” words, she loved words and had gone to college for English and we had a hardcover Highlights that she had a story published in when she lived in New York about a dog she helped raise and train to be a service dog. I think she was a mixture of sad and mad. She was spittin’ mad that they didn’t like it that she saved her sugar rations and wouldn’t share them after everyone had used theirs. She couldn’t believe they didn’t see what a great thing it was that she hid hers and wouldn’t let them have it so she could save the day when someone needed a birthday cake.
It must have been a long meeting, because I don’t think she ever copped.
But we also had fun meetings, party meetings. The grownups liked to square dance. I didn’t know why they called it square dancing because they always went in circles, not squares.ImageImage
They started having square dance parties at our house. The grownups would get really excited about it. Neighborhood people would come over and they’d move the dinner table off to the side to dance and dance on the bare plywood floor around in a big, fast circle. I stayed pressed up against the wall to not get trampled, in awe of their lively festivities. They went so fast stomping and spinning and skipping around in a big circle and they were so happy! This one lady from down the street wore a long skirt that blew out when she spun. From my viewpoint, sitting on the floor pressed against the wall, each time she passed me, I could see under her skirt. I could see all her hair at the top of her legs. I couldn’t believe she had so much hair. Each time she came by, it was still there, shocking me with it’s dark bushy character, like it was it’s own hairy entity, yelling “BOO!” with every pass impelling my eyeballs to spring forth staring agape at the incredible monstrosity, the creature made of hair under the skirt.

Close Encounters of the Good Morning

The Farm

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.

Celeste

Little me – not sure who took this pic, maybe Grandparents visiting

 “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.

My Secret Salad Dressing Potion

 

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.

My Christmas Miracle

Every house had to chop wood for winter

The grownups seemed pretty happy about “Christmas” but Santa or Jesus were not characters we worshiped or fussed about too much. I think my mom told me that Santa was a “spirit”. If the grownups had a religion, it seems to me to be; “Have good vibes”, “don’t be into the juice” and smoke pot. Constantly, over and over and over on an every day basis, my mom said to me; “Treat everyone how you want to be treated”. I think that was our religion. She told me about karma and how everything you do comes back to you. And God was in everything, even rocks.

I saw the Christmas pictures my mom had from before when she lived out there in fairy tale real world with a plump, dazzling tree covered in amazing ornaments with piles of pretty boxed presents wrapped in beautiful paper. It looked so incredible I could barely believe it. I pestered her a lot, interrogating her about these Christmases and why I missed out on them and all those presents. I wondered what was in those beautiful, wrapped, perfect looking square boxes. I wondered why and how my sister had gotten so many presents. I was enamored with this one picture of her sitting under the unbelievable tree in a pretty nightgown in the middle of an overabundance of presents. How did they get that many presents? How was that possible!? Deborah was annoyed with me. Even as a little kid, I could tell she thought I was being shallow or materialistic or something. She’d roll her eyes and sigh heavily and snap at me sounding disgusted and annoyed saying “The presents weren’t all for us. They were for other people too”. So? We have like 50 people in our house and I’d never seen anything near close to presents on that scale and in that kind of pretty wrapping and a tree like that! I wanted to be there so bad.

Why wasn’t I there when Christmas was like THAT?

We had a tree in the house, a pine tree the grownups cut down from somewhere, but it wasn’t like the tree in the picture. It was bare and scraggly looking compared to that fat, juicy tree. And we didn’t have amazing ornaments. Our house was Dogwood Blossom, and hence the name, we had Dogwood trees which they picked the little, hard red berries from (that we weren’t suppose to eat – I tried, they tasted awful) to make berry chains for the tree. That was our tree decoration. I helped with a needle and thread but it was way too difficult. I tried and tried because I really wanted us to have a pretty tree and it was so exciting that they were letting me use a needle but the berries were so tiny and hard, it was almost unbearable. Endless, tedious, difficult labor of stringing hard, tiny berries would only yield the most pathetic, insignificant amount on the string. How the heck would I ever get enough on there to complete the whole string? Not only is it not worth all this work, it’s impossible! The popcorn was easier to pierce with the needle but how could I put popcorn on a string when I’d rather eat it because we barely ever get to eat something that good?

My only main memory of Christmas from the 4 years of living in a bus at Dogwood Blossom (from ages 3 to 7ish) was the year I went Christmas caroling. I must have been around 4-5ish. The whole house was in a buzz about going “Christmas caroling”. I found out that meant going to other houses and singing songs and they might give us treats! Oh my god, I had to go. My mom wasn’t going though, she was staying home with Sky. This was going to be scary without her, but, I still had to go. I’d be okay with the people from my house. It was mostly bigger people going. It got dark and my mom got me all dressed to go, even the horrible sock wrinkles couldn’t stop me. Our group of people walked across 1st Road to our neighbors house. I think the grownups had papers with the words to the songs. I think someone even gave me one. But I couldn’t read yet. And, crap! What am I even doing here? I don’t know these songs! I’ve never even heard them before! My favorite song is Beautiful Dreamer about mermaids. But I really wanted to sing with everyone. I can’t read and I don’t know the songs, how embarrassing, what am I going to do? What if people notice that I’m not singing and don’t know the words? I stood there amidst the legs, desperate to sing with everyone. Maybe I even prayed.

Then a Christmas miracle happened. A miracle I could hardly believe. This group of singing was like a wave – that I was a part of. All I had to do was open my mouth and let the words come out. I had no idea how it was happening but, somehow, it was happening and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever experienced in my life. I didn’t even know the words but they were just coming out of my mouth right along with everyone! I was riding the song wave, letting it sweep me up and carry me along. I couldn’t believe it! I was elated to no end in pure awe of this fantastic, mysterious dynamism that enabled me to sing songs I didn’t even know. Somehow, I had transcended not knowing. It was the most wonderful, thrilling phenomenon ever. I could barely contain myself and had to control my legs from jumping up and down in utter delight from feeling some kind of benevolent, all knowing power flow through me. I let the higher force take over my mouth and sang song after song that I didn’t know. I didn’t even have a clue what word was coming next, but they came out correctly every time! Oh my god, this is so much fun and way too amazing. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom.

After the people from the big house stood there smiling and listening to us sing, they did give us treats! I was afraid there might not be enough and they might not see me down here in the legs but there was and they did! They gave me a candy cane!!! Holy shit! This is the best night in my entire life!

If I had ever gotten a candy cane before, when I visited my Grandparents or something, I can’t remember. I don’t know if I’ve ever even had any unattainable, almost mythological candy that I only see in story books, at all before. How does this house have candy!? What kind of imperial people live here that they have candy to give us? My mom passionately despises sugar, she never lets us eat it, not even a sprinkle on disgusting oatmeal, she seems to think that candy and anything with sugar is vile – but this is a special night and this is my candy cane that I earned. I can’t believe how lucky I am. The candy cane is a miracle all by itself but the magic of song lyrics that I didn’t even know just flowing out of my mouth!? Wow! What was that!?

They might have kept going down the street to the other houses but I had to tell my mom about this. I run back to my bus holding tight to my candy cane, bursting with excitement to tell my mom all about what just happened. I try to explain but I don’t think she gets just how amazing what I’m telling her is. I tell lots of people over the years about it but no one really gets it or they don’t believe me. But I know it happened. It was just incredible, an ambrosial rapture of melodic channeling , it even out-shined obtaining the wondrous, story book candy cane by an unmeasurable long shot.

That was so mind blowing. I am so happy.

I’m sure I slept snug and cozy in my little bus bed with a gigantic smile all night that night which I then tucked into my heart to keep for forever to never forget the real, unexplainable magic I experienced that one miraculous Christmas.