I Suck Therefore I Am

The grownups all hate me for sucking my thumb. Even stranger grownups I don’t know. They all hate me because for some reason, thumbsucking makes you a horrible person, though why, is a mystery to me.

Deborah tells me that sucking my thumb makes me look ugly. She emphasizes the word ugly with disgust. I climb up into the drivers seat of our bus in front of Deborah’s bed, holding on to the big black steering wheel, to stare at myself sucking my thumb in the long bus mirror, to see how it makes me ugly. I still look normal, just with my thumb in my mouth. Everything’s still the same, how do I look ugly?
 My thumb is my best friend. It literally belongs in my mouth, like a foot in a shoe, and it’s the absolute perfect fit. I would not be able to live without sucking my wonderful thumb, it’s what gets me through life. Doing what I must, sucking my thumb, which comes more naturally than breathing, is far more important to me than the grownups not hating me. There’s no contest – they can loathe, grumble, snap, growl, throw dirty looks, spank, stash and punish me all they want, but I will never give up my thumb.
The man who put me on the roof for sucking my thumb is always in the back of my mind. But not even threatening my life will stop me.
nobles in wagonSometimes people stop on the path by our bus and talk to my mom. I looked out my bus window gazing down upon some little kids my age, in a little red wagon, sucking their fingers, how interesting… I give it a try but it’s not good at all, the fit isn’t right. I feel a bit of camaraderie with the finger suckers, as I look into their eyes and they look into mine, that we suck something, but we are not the same, not thumb family.
Slipping my perfectly fitting thumb into my mouth is superior, to pretty much everything. Full on comfort mode is sucking my thumb, rubbing my index finger over my other thumbnail feeling it’s glorious smoothness, and rubbing my bare feet around and around each other. But that’s when I’m in bed putting myself to sleep, for the rest of the day just thumb sucking and maybe some fingernail rubbing suffices.
Deborah says I always have sucked my thumb and that when I was a baby, they got me to take it out for a special picture but only for a second. Ha! What a smart baby I was, to know how great thumbsucking is.
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smart baby me

The grownups detest me for sucking my thumb, and I detest them for making my life miserable. They are obsessed with destroying my ultimate happiness and comfort. Why can’t they just leave me alone? I’m not hurting anyone. I think super hard about why sucking my thumb is so bad and… it’s not. I love it.
“Unplug” they all snap and growl at me everywhere I go. I don’t want to unplug, I just want to hide from them where I can enjoy my thumb in peace.
The grownups of Dogwood Blossom come up with a new plan to stop me from my favorite activity. Between the house and the woods is a small household garden and they are eager to use jalapeno peppers, growing in the little garden, on my thumb. They take me outside in front of the house, retrieve a jalapeno pepper, cut off the top, stick my thumb inside the whole pepper, squeeze it around rubbing it in, back and forth.
They are extremely pleased with themselves convinced that this was going to cure me of my thumbsucking disease.
Then they set me free. I sulk up the dirt path towards our bus as my thumb burns. When I put it in my mouth, it burns my mouth. I don’t care, I will endure the burning, I will endure anything, to suck my thumb.
One day I hear I’m going to be babysat at Cat Fish Pond, a big silver house across the valley on Huckleberry Rd. Everyone over there has big, amazing houses. Cat Fish Pond is especially big, looming with 2 stories, intimidating with perfectly structured walls, like a giant rectangle box, much different than the household our bus is part of, that is just like some random boards nailed together with crazy rooms jutting around. I’m a little scared but excited to get babysat at such a big, important house. And I really, really want to see the pond with the cats and the fish, that only people special enough to be at this big house get to see. It must be a small pond near the house, around the side or back between the house and tall trees, hidden from common bystanders like myself who’ve only seen the house from the road before. It must be really magical with tall interesting plants growing around it and the cats and fish are really nice and happy to share the little pond  -they must be for a whole house to be called Cat Fish Pond, named after them and their pond. In my mind I can see the cats and the fish with all their faces out of the water with really big smiles hovering around the pond. I couldn’t wait to see it.
When I get dropped off, the grownups have a conversation about me sucking my thumb, how I’m not allowed to do it and all the things they can do to make me stop. It’s embarrassing and now I already hate being here and now more grownups don’t like me   .
This house has a lot of kids, we mostly play downstairs in the living room, following the directions of a grownup. Upstairs there is a long, long dark hallway with endless doors to square rooms. It makes me feel sick, I hate it. I would hate to live here. I love our little green cozy bus illuminated with sunlight shining through our little row of windows. This dreary, dark, cold big house is so depressing. The other kids act happy, the sickening cold eerie darkness of the house doesn’t even phase them, but I find it disturbing.
One of the grownup ladies see’s me sucking my thumb and I’m in trouble. She takes me to the kitchen and puts something called cayenne pepper all over my thumb. It is red.
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Photo credit: Time Magazine

I go outside, feeling ostracized and humiliated by strangers, but try to hide my tears and anger so they don’t see through the windows and get me in more trouble. They think I’m bad and now they think I’m even more bad for coming outside by myself. Rubbing the cayenne pepper off on my shirt is futile, I can’t get it off and am going to get in more trouble because it’s smeared on my shirt. My shirt is light colored showing the red stain so I’m definitely in trouble. Probably going to get spanked. I shove my thumb in my mouth and suck the burning hot off until it is gone, pacing the sloped yard back and forth in front of the big house, trying to keep my face turned from the windows so they won’t see me committing the colossal crime of sucking my thumb. I hold my head down, stomping around as I determinedly suck away, pouting, hurt and angry, lifting my eyes as my head stays down, trying to see if they are watching me. It’s so hard to try to look while keeping my head down, but I can’t let them see my face. I can feel them watching me, hating and judging me for sucking my thumb.
Why are grownups so mean?
This house sucks, ‘Cat Fish Pond’–the name is a lie – there’s no magical pond with cats and fish, there’s not even a pond anywhere around.
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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.)

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).

Wild West Washing Machines

For a few years, before I slept flat like a normal person, the only way I liked to sleep was on my knees. With my butt in the air, resting my head on the bed with my thumb in my mouth. They tried to get me to sleep flat but this was the only way I felt comfortable falling asleep. I remember how cozy that position felt, how my body involuntarily just happily wiggled and snuggled into sleeping on my knees. Butt in air, thumb in mouth, rotating my feet around each other feeling their softness, was the magic combination I needed to be drugged into sleep world. My little bed in our bus was made out of pieces of 2×4 wood. I had a reoccurring dream almost every night of falling from my bed, falling falling into the darkness. Sometimes this dream would startle me awake. The dream would often happen right after falling asleep. Or at least it seemed.. but it also seemed quite a lot, that all night long had only been 2 seconds before I had to wake up in the morning.
I hated wearing plastic pants over my cloth diaper at night. Plastic pants were worse than getting pricked by diaper pins, they itched and made a red line around my waist and legs from the tight, unfriendly elastic boarders that didn’t always keep in the pee despite their grisly tightness.
“Coldy coldy coldy. Coldy coldy coldy” is what I chanted, especially if the fire had gone out, when I had to get out of bed and get clean with wet rags from the water in the silver pitcher on the woodstove then get dressed as I shivered and hugged myself jumping up and down on the dark strip of grooved lines running the length of the bus, the isle that school buses have.
While we used lanterns and candles, the main communal places were hooked up to DC power. Like The Laundromat. It was filled with lots of small washers and a few gigantic ones always washing away. You could get clothes from the pile of unclaimed clothes. Everyone dropped off and picked up their clothes in big bronto bags made from a mesh like fabric that were closed with bronto pins which looked like giant diaper pins. I got the impression that bronto pins were like a status item. It was cool to have coveted, useful bronto pins if you were a grownup.
Laundry didn’t get dried here, just washed, then you were suppose to take it home and hang it on a clothesline.
laundromat laundromat 2
The Laundromat was fun and scary. There’d be other kids to play with, kids I didn’t know from other households and neighborhoods. While my mom did laundry in the dark, noisy laundromat, it was fun to jump in the bags of clothes, the piles of bronto bags, on the wood pallets outside but mostly I played in the back.
bronto bags
Picking a compatible play partner at The Laundromat was dire. Some of these kids just wanted to hurt each other. It was a dangerous amusement park graveyard of old washers to climb into and get spun around in. Playing with kids who thought it was fun to spin other kids around too fast, too hard, too much was something I earnestly tried to avoid. There were also some see-saws. They were even scarier to play on with the mean crazy kids than in the machines. The mean crazy kids would go too fast, too hard and too high, purposely trying to cause harm and many kids got hurt. One after another, dropping off like flies from the wild west laundry machine jungle labyrinth, a barbaric but irresistible metallic beast in the grasses, with a cold see-saw heart. But it was too much fun to avoid all together. Finding a kid who didn’t want to hurt you or get hurt themselves, but just have some good fun was the best. So many kids, mostly boys of course, seemed to want to prove how cool and brave they were by see-sawing the hardest and highest and knocking each other off with bounces. Not me. I just wanted to have fun without getting hurt.
The horror I felt upon realizing I was see-sawing with a psycho maniac kid out for blood, made the fear of biting my tongue off, cracking my head open and death an imminent reality. If I survive this, I desperately wished holding on for dear life, I’ll just never get back on the stupid see-saw again. But, of course, I would. In some situations, “never” is only 5 minutes. Though, I could not understand why these horrible kids didn’t want to just play nice and safe. Sometimes a grownup would come out and yell and try to get things under control, usually to not much avail. A very special, trained in epic battle, warrior adult was needed to control these wild delirious lunatics, sky-high on washing machine spins and teeter tottering madness.
washing machine playground
It was such a relief to find another kid who shared my sentiments of wanting to stay intact. Then we could just see-saw our little hearts out, only pushing the boundaries of scary harm instead of going all the way over board like the sadistic maniac kids with an apparent death wish for everyone.
When I did find a compatible play partner to see-saw with, we sang and sang over and over “Teeter totter, milk and water. Wash your face in dirty water”. That was the song you were suppose to sing. All the kids sang it. Wash your face in dirty water? Oh yeah, it felt so nasty to say. So bad. So filthy and nasty, I loved it. Could I be any naughtier than singing a song about washing your face in dirty water? Nope. That was just so bad and naughty, I relished forming the words with my lips, belting it out over and over, feeling the awesome, ultimate dirty naughtiness roll off my tongue. With each chorus of the short teeter totter song, I looked forward to getting through the first part to say the super naughty part again.
Mostly we went to The Laundromat in the middle of the day but one time my mom was going up to The Laundromat in the evening. She asked if I wanted to come but I decided to stay at our bus. Perhaps I forgot I would have no light when it got dark because I do not light candles by myself. After she left, I decided what the hell was I thinking, of course I wanted to go with her. I figured I could run and catch up. I started up 1st Road hoping to catch up to her before reaching the main road. I had never been off 1st Road by myself before. As I neared the main road, running as fast as I could calling out “Deborah! Deborah!”, I started to panic as the sun was setting. I wanted my mom bad. Things turned into dark silhouettes. Each silhouette I saw, I prayed to God it was my mom. I got to the main road. Oh no, I am too little to walk on the main road by myself! I could go back now but she’s probably not too far ahead. I took the path in the grass beside the road, my feet padded the ground as I anxiously hurried ahead praying with all my might that each tree, each bush was my mom. “Deborah! Deborah! Wait! Wait! I’m coming! Deborah!” I saw a silhouette ahead, it has to be my mom. I ran anticipating the wonderful, safe feeling of finding her. But it was just a pole. A stupid, scary tall pole. I kept running. That must be her up ahead coming towards me – she must have heard me or decided to come back for me, thank god. I ran towards her, “Deborah!”. But then I saw it was a man. I tried to act normal, not let him see that something was horribly wrong, that I was horribly scared. Just walk normal, try to act like it’s normal that a little kid is out here by the main road by myself. I murmured “hi” as we passed. Phew, he didn’t stop and question me. I continue running toward the Laundromat along side the big fields. There is another pole silhouette, it’s darker now, I wish it was my mom. What if there’s something scary up there behind the pole? But it’s too late to turn around now, it’s already farther to go back to the bus instead of on to the Laundromat. I can see the Laundromat finally and I have to get off the path and walk on the road for a few moments before getting on another path directly connected to my paramount destination. I can’t believe what a fast walker she must be. I finally reach the Laundromat with welcoming electric light I’m not accustomed to and my humming mother, who is shocked to see me, out of breath and so happy and thankful to see her.
I can finally relax and know that the walk home in the dark won’t be super scary because I’ll be safe with my mom and we’ll look at all the stars.

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.

Ghosts at The Gate

Several times a boy, I think his name was Vernon, came over to our bus to get babysat. He was my age, we were the same size and he had hair just as blonde as mine. I thought he was my boyfriend. We took naps in the middle of the afternoon together in my bed wearing our diapers. He was always nice and fun, I adored him. I think we even held hands and whispered secrets. He must be my boyfriend because we look almost just like each other, he’s like a boy me!
(99% sure the boy on the far right is Vernon)
I can barely remember the huge, two story Visitors Tent up near The Store. I slightly recall the awe I felt from the green army canvas noisily slapping in the wind, making me want to hold my moms hand tighter and not get too near it. The outhouse in that area, next to a main path, was an opulent outhouse – it was made from concrete blocks instead of wood and actually painted, with a little white sink on the side and had private stalls with two separate doors, not shared stalls. But it was stinkier, with the poop piled high because more people used it. I only used it if I really had to because I felt like I was imposing on someone else’s first class outhouse and the poop mountain was so gross and intimidating.
Men with a big truck called “The Shitter” would come suck up the poop out of all the outhouses with a huge, fat tube, but I think they had trouble keeping up. Seeing The Shitter Truck go by was really exciting. The times it came to our neighborhood, all the kids would come running gathering around, like it was a big holiday event, to watch it suck the poop up. The Shitter is here! Yay!
shitter truck
The Gate was really far away from all the houses, way up past “The Pond” which was surrounded by trees that I suspected were way bigger than all the other trees because they had so much water to drink.
Being the main portal to the world outside, The Gate was very busy. There was an older gate, but this was the one everyone used now, no one used the old one anymore down by the distinguished white buildings where the grownups have important meetings and where The Bank Lady is. That gate was tiny and I couldn’t imagine how it could have handled all this serious gate action. While at The Gate, it was often like witnessing a parade, with long lines waiting to go in and out, an eccentric cast of all types of transportation apparatuses.
There always had to be people on Gate duty around the clock to record all the ins and outs, answer phone calls, talk to visitors, open and close the gate. When my mom worked there, she did not have time for me, she was always doing something so I kept myself busy. Sometimes there’d be other kids there and a place to play out in back of the gatehouse near a pretty outhouse that had a rainbow on it which made it one of my favorite outhouses. There were some special rooms that were always really clean which made me feel like I had to carefully creep through them. The kitchen was weird because it had no windows and was a more normal kitchen than our makeshift kitchens. The whole building was weird because it was made with bricks and had nice floors and windows and things, not like our makeshift houses… so being up there, ever so slightly brushing against the outside world, watching traffic and visitors, was peculiar and fascinating. There was a back room, it was narrow and long and I liked it because it was light and felt warm, not cold, dark and lonesome like the other rooms. But I didn’t get to go in there, the grownups would have meetings back there where they would laugh and smoke. They also liked to laugh in groups on the big porch.
When my mom would ask a driver of one of the many kinds of vehicles that came through – buses, vans, trucks, semi’s, cars, tractors, wagons – where they were going so she could jot it down in the log book, the one I remember, because I found it so amusing was, “Mount P”.  Mount Pee?  There was somewhere out there called Mount Pee? Too funny. Little did I know they were abbreviating a nearby town called Mt. Pleasant.
Sometimes I helped open and close the big metal gate when someone would need in or out, which we also liked to swing on. The nice grownups would let us get on it for a ride. I think I had to mop the floors in the special, weird rooms and special, weird kitchen. It had nice floors – contrasted to all the other house’s bare wood plywood floors with nails and cracks. I was relieved when I’d finally finish making sure I had dragged the wetness over every inch. Relieved that I could finally run away from those dark, empty, cold rooms that were even spookier than the upstairs attic-esque guestrooms. For some reason I thought The Gate was haunted.
Usually most grownups did not act very interested in what I had to say. They mostly just told me what to do and what not to do but one day at the gate I made friends with a visitor man. He was very interested in talking to me and wanted me to tell him stuff. While the other people were busy with other things; my mom working at the desk that lined the front windows, people talking on the porch, people going up and down the stairs, we sat on the couch talking about amazing things. I wouldn’t usually talk to a grownup like this but he acted like I was equal and what I had to say was truly important even though I was just a stupid little kid and he was a big, smart grownup; like we were real friends despite our massive age difference. The small couch was in the main room against the stairs, he sat reclining on the right side, I sat on the left side with my legs dangling and my hands in my lap. I told him about ghosts. I told him you couldn’t see them if you looked right at them but you could see them if you didn’t look right at them. He believed me. He said that was called “looking out of the corner of your eye”. Yes, I agreed. We looked out of the corner of our eyes. I think I saw a glob of light about the size of a person pass by! Yikes! I didn’t want to see the ghosts! But this was so provoking having such deep, stimulating banter with an adult who obviously not only liked, but respected me and my silly, childish wisdom. He was so nice, my friend.
When the bustle of the day would die down and the sky would start turning pink behind the trees, we would start the long, long walk home. I really hoped something would come by and give us a ride. But not until we passed by the neato pond with the gargantuan trees. We could stop there and get a drink from the water pump and I could relish this ethereal place for a few moments, staring at the dark pond under the trees, transfixed and enchanted by it’s watery secrets, mysteries that maybe the croaking frogs hiding in the grass had the answers to…
After passing the pond, we cross to the other side of the road to the little path in the grass hugging the fence of the horse pasture. Deborah likes to sing while we walk, she likes to sing all the time, she knows so many songs. If someone comes along this skinny path towards us, that I will have to shyly say hi to as we pass because everyone says hi, there won’t be enough room on this narrow path, who will move to the side? If it’s someone on a horse, we will, but if it’s someone else walking, who will it be? A person on a horse comes much faster and it’s over with quick, but another person walking; the process is slow, you can see them in the distance, making the agony of anticipating an awkward passing last and build…until you finally pass them and it really wasn’t bad at all. The passing actually went quite smoothly, even pleasant. Most people here are pretty nice.
We make our way around the horse pastures towards the important, superior white buildings and The Horse Barn. Hopefully we’ll get a ride before we get to  Band Land, The Laundromat and Motor Pool. If we don’t get a ride, we’ll definitely have a few more pass bys of other people walking. I must trot to keep up with my brisk mom. I wish I could ride in a baby backpack like my brother.

one time I ate turkey

Kid Herd at KissingTree pic-Rachel Ka

Not my house but a pic just like this could be taken at any of the dozens of households.
Kid Herd at Kissing Tree. Pic- Rachel Ka

For a little while a girl my age and her dad lived at Dogwood Blossom. She didn’t have a mom kind of like I didn’t have a dad and we liked to play together. Her dad was really, really tall and nice. He would play with the kids and lift the brave, bigger kids into the rafters of the house which only he could do because he was so tall. But it wasn’t like the man who would put me on the roof. This was fun and the kids were laughing.

The girl had a grandma that lived really close by, right near the commune. I had never spent the night anywhere away from my mom and brother before but this girl and I were such good friends that they took me to spend the night one night at her grandma’s. This was one of the only times I’d ever been “off the farm” and although it wasn’t far at all, it was still another world. There was a swing set which was so amazingly fabulous. I’d never played on a nice, real swing set before and we got to play on it as much as we wanted, just the two of us, without sharing with dozens of other kids. It was an afternoon in heaven.

Then we went inside and they fed me turkey. Oh, it’s like tofu except I get to have a huge, honkin’ thick piece instead of a thin little slice of barely anything. And there’s so much of it. And they’re telling me I can have more and letting me eat as much as I want! Having so much food for only a few people was the exact opposite of our house! At our house anything yummy was carefully rationed out in tiny amounts among dozens and dozens of hungry people. The only thing we got large amounts of was disgusting stuff like oatmeal. This is marvelous.

Out on the porch, near the door that we used to run in and out of to the swing set, is a refrigerator and next to it is a enormous turkey bigger than me! It is so big it won’t go in the refrigerator – it is half the size of the refrigerator. I’m amazed at how big this stuff we’re eating is, that they tell me is called turkey. It is a big, smooth, weird thing. They also have two smaller ones. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about this food, turkey! What an amazing discovery.

After we eat, my friends dad gets us ready for bed in another room and puts on our diapers. I had never had a man put on my diaper before. Laying there in this strange room with no pants on and a big man towering over me being the one to put on my diaper was like a dark cloud of doom had just rolled in and was putting a shadow of horror over everything making me utterly repulsed and sick to my stomach, in complete despair for my nice, pretty mom. This fun heaven was now a scary nightmare. I didn’t want him to put on my diaper. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wanted home. Right now. As he put my diaper on I burst into a desperate fit of crying my brains out like I had never done before. My friend was surprised and concerned at my hysteria looking like she wished she could help me feel better. But there was nothing she could do for me. I couldn’t say anything to her because all I could do was cry in a dire need to be home so badly. I had never felt this horrible before. They tried to console me but I just kept crying for home. I wanted to explain but I couldn’t talk, I could only cry.

I cannot remember if I slept there or if they took me home.

Farm bus 78 pic-jimmy BryanBus dwelling on the Farm 1978 pic by Jimmy Bryan

Maybe this was the time or maybe it was another time around that age (these early memory flashes are hard to precisely timeline) when my mom carried me from our bus over to another bus in the neighborhood because I was so sick. Normally, as I wasn’t a baby anymore, she would not carry me that far but I was so sick I couldn’t walk and was all floppy and was just crying and crying. She plucked me out of my bed in our bus where I was laying sick and kind of scurried over there. I cried the whole way. I had never felt this weird. Everything looked weird. She carried me into one of the buses in a small conglomeration of buses along the road where a clinic kind of medical lady lived.

Her and my mom were super worried and frantic to take my temperature. I was ill on a phenomenal level of illness. I couldn’t stop crying long enough for them to put the thermometer in my mouth. They decided to do it in my butt. The lady had a son about my age who was standing there watching the whole thing with wide eyes. How embarrassing! I wanted to say no, please do not take the temperature in my butt in front of him! But I couldn’t talk, I could only scream, my whole body was taken over by some kind of madness and they quickly flipped me over and took my temperature in my butt. It was wretched. I didn’t think I could scream any harder…until they stuck my butthole with that cold little glass stick. Right in front of that boy.

I guess I told my mom about the turkey discovery…because I remember she wasn’t happy about it, she was very mad for a long time that they fed me turkey. Apparently, I had never eaten something called meat before and it had made me sick. I didn’t know what that was but I knew I had had a crazy, fantastical adventure that I’d never forget -with turkey- to tell the other kids about, a wild tale from the other side.