memories, movies, social media

Repost: White people who lack empathy… or, I’m glad I never met “Margaret’s” racist brother…

This is a repost. I wrote this hybrid movie review/story entry for my original Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife on June 15, 2017. I reposted the first part of this story on May 28, 2021. I’ve decided to repost this follow up today, because I’m not quite ready to post fresh content. It might be advantageous to read the first part of this story before reading this one. I’m leaving this mostly as/is.

Last night, I watched a movie I hadn’t seen in probably thirty years or more.  The film was called Carbon Copy.  It was released in 1981 and starred George Segal and Susan St. James.  It also featured a young and talented Denzel Washington, who was making his film debut.  I used to watch that movie on HBO all the time when I was a kid, though I didn’t understand it as well back then as I do today.

A trailer for the film, Carbon Copy…

I was moved to purchase Carbon Copy because it had a very catchy theme song that I got stuck in my head.  With music by Bill Conti and lyrics by Paul Williams, the bouncy tune was definitely an ear worm, if not a bit dated.  Having watched the film last night, I can honestly say I enjoyed it.  It’s basically a satirical look at racist white people and the stupid things they say and do.

The story begins with Walter Whitney (Segal) in bed with his frigid wife, Vivian (St. James).  She’s not into him and he’s frustrated.  He gets out of bed and we immediately see that he lives in a fabulous mansion in fictional San Marino, California.  Whitney is a wealthy ad executive and has all the trappings of success.  He has a pretty wife, a beautiful home, a well-paying job.  But money doesn’t buy everything.

Walter’s wife is a snob.  His stepdaughter, whom he apparently adopted, treats him with contempt.  His father-in-law is his boss and treats him with condescension.  Even his job was handed to him with strings attached.

One day, Walter gets a blast from the past.  A young black guy named Roger Porter (Washington) shows up at his office asking for him.  He mentions that he’s the son of Lorraine.  Lorraine is a dear friend of Walter’s, though he hadn’t seen her in many years.  Walter’s face lights up at the mention of her name.  He asks his secretary to send Roger in for a visit.  Roger comes in, parks his ass at Walter’s desk and drops a bomb on him.  He’s actually Walter’s son!

At first, Walter doesn’t believe him.  I wouldn’t believe him, either, since Roger/Denzel doesn’t look like he’s biracial; but hey– it’s the movies, right?  Roger then convinces Walter than he is his long lost 17 year old son and his mother has just died.  Walter, being somewhat decent, decides he has to help Roger.  He brings him home after pitching the idea of hosting a black kid to his racist wife.

Both Walter and Vivian are extremely ignorant, condescending, and racist to the point of ridiculousness.  They wrongly assume Roger is a high school dropout who has no idea how civilized people live.  He’s served fried chicken as they tell him he’ll be attending the Presbyterian church, even though Roger says he’s a Baptist.  They force him to stay in the garage instead of their home.

Then, when Walter and Vivian have an argument, Walter tells his wife he’s really Roger’s dad.  Vivian’s reaction is extreme, to the point of needing a doctor and a minister.  In short order, Walter finds himself tossed out on the street with his son.  He’s abandoned by his friends, his family, even his doctor, lawyer, and minister. 

Walter and Roger move into a cheap motel, then a crappy apartment and Roger soon finds himself shoveling horse shit.  As he’s knocked off his powerful white station in life, Walter supposedly learns something about what it’s like to be black.  He realizes that his former life was a very fragile sham– an illusion of decency and decorum.  Walter develops empathy and appreciation for his son.  He rejects his shallow existence and becomes a much better person.

Funny scene about assumptions some white people make about black people…

Carbon Copy is kind of a silly movie and it makes its points with over the top gags that require viewers to suspend their disbelief.  There were parts of the movie that were actually a little offensive to me today, although they probably wouldn’t have been in the less politically correct early 80s.  And yet, after yesterday’s post, I realize that it was kind of appropriate that I was watching that movie.  I realized that many white people still have a long way to go.

Yesterday, because I was curious about “Margaret”, my very first roommate at Longwood College, I went into obsessed fan mode and looked up her brother.  I wondered if he was anything like her.  Granted, almost 27 years have passed since I was last in the same room with Margaret.  For all I know, she may have evolved into a decent person.  Still, her behavior in 1990 was very strange, even for a stupid 18 year old.  I went looking to find out if Margaret’s brother– also adopted– was as big of an asshole as his sister was. 

Looking at his Facebook page and the page made for their father’s business, I can see that Margaret’s brother works for their father.  He’s got a bunch of public stuff on his Facebook page.  Some of it’s fairly innocuous.  Like, for instance, I learned that Margaret’s brother– let’s call him Chip– is a proud father of four.  He’s happily married and a Christian.  He loves being Southern and living in the South. 

I also learned that Chip is a firm believer in Donald Trump’s genius.  He thinks that transgender people should be forced to use the bathroom corresponding to their genitalia.  He obviously considers himself a “gentleman” and promotes attitudes reflecting conservative values.  He’s probably pretty sexist, too. 

Further down the page, I find the following…

Chip expresses some very ignorant and rather offensive views about the Civil War and the Confederacy.  I can see that he’s clearly very proud of his Southern heritage and he’s against the recent moves to get rid of Confederate war memorials. 

Having lived in South Carolina myself, at a time when the stars and bars were still flying over the South Carolina Statehouse, I can see where these opinions formed.  To be honest, I am not a fan of trying to whitewash history.  The fact is, there was a Civil War.  The South lost, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t great leaders from the Confederacy.  Should we still be publicly celebrating them in 2017?  Perhaps not.  But I can understand why some Southerners want to hang onto their memorials, even if I don’t agree with them.  They do have a right to their opinions, ignorant as I might think they are.

On the other hand, the Civil War has been over for a long time.  The South is a part of the United States, not an entity unto itself.  And while I’m sure Chip is “nice” to black people he sees face to face, I have a feeling that deep down, he’s quite racist.  Maybe that doesn’t matter to him.  Since I don’t know him, I can only base an opinion on what I can see in the messages he broadcasts publicly on social media.

I read that Chip’s father served on some board at UVa. that celebrates diversity.  He also served as a Peace Corps Country Director in Jamaica.  How does that jibe with his son’s evidently racist views?  These attitudes don’t form in a vacuum.   

I read up on Chip’s mother, evidently a woman very proud of her Greek heritage.  She and her husband met on a blind date when she was working for Senator Strom Thurmond.  I happened to be living in South Carolina at the tail end of Thurmond’s time in the South Carolina legislature.  Although he was much celebrated in South Carolina, Mr. Thurmond had some pretty racist views, especially in his early political days.  If Chip’s mom worked for Mr. Thurmond in the 60s, she probably has some racist ideas, too.  I know that racist ideas often die hard, especially in older people.  On the other hand, maybe she’s evolved.  Based on her Facebook page, which also celebrates Donald Trump, I doubt it.   

According to Wikipedia: During his 1948 campaign, Thurmond said the following in a speech, being met with loud cheers by the assembled supporters:  listen (help·info)

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.[6]

There was a time when Chip’s views weren’t that strange to me.  I grew up in Virginia, which despite being geographically pretty far north, is a very Southern state.  I spent time with people like Chip, although I don’t think most of the people I hung around with regularly were quite as drunk on the southern pride Kool-Aid as Chip appears to be.  But his attitudes are not unfamiliar to me.  When I was younger, I probably even agreed with them to some extent.  Then I left the country a few times and started getting to know people from other places.  My opinions began to change, hopefully for the better.  I like to think I have a broader mind now than I did twenty years ago, although I’m sure I still have a ways to go.  

It’s funny that a silly comedy like Carbon Copy, which was made in 1981, is still so relevant today. If you watch the film, you can see that it goes to extremes.  Walter Whitney tells his wife he’s the father of a black son and, just like that, he gets ousted from his cushy lifestyle.  We all know that it wouldn’t actually happen that way.  In reality, Walter’s downfall would probably be a bit more like Dan Aykroyd’s was in Trading Places, a 1983 film also starring Eddie Murphy.

Trading Places’ plot was somewhat like that of Carbon Copy’s.  Basically, a rich white guy gets knocked off his pedestal by a black guy.  He ends up living in a way he never thought he would, while the formerly broke black guy takes his place.  It’s not quite the same execution, but the message is similar.  Many people have a lot to learn about empathy.  

Trading Places trailer…

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Carbon Copy, I’d recommend it.  It’s a bit dated and kind of silly, but it does drive home a point that is still valid over 35 years later.  And then, when you’re done watching Carbon Copy, you can watch Trading Places, which was a more famous and successful film about the same thing.

As for Margaret and her dysfunctional clan, I think I’m done peeking into their lives.  My curiosity is now satisfied, probably for at least another 27 years.

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memories, mental health, psychology, stupid people

Spanking is for losers, leches, and lazy people…

This morning over breakfast, I saw today’s featured photo on Facebook, shared by the Retro Wifey page. I don’t often think of that page as controversial, as the woman who runs it usually shares nostalgic pictures of old toys, retro clothes, ads for discontinued restaurants and businesses, and the odd meme. In fact, I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to what she posts, and I almost never comment. I wasn’t going to comment on the photo about spanking. Instead, my first reaction was to X out the picture and snooze the page for thirty days. I often do that with Father Nathan Monk’s page.

I decided to leave a comment when I noticed the dozens of people who were championing the physical punishment of children. You see, I have noticed that when it comes to spankings and similar punishments, results tend to vary. My southern, conservative, alcoholic, Air Force officer dad raised me like he was raised by his own alcoholic father. When my dad decided I had misbehaved in some way, he would often employ spanking as his “go to” discipline.

Because I was a bright, high-mettled child who could be sassy, I got a lot of spankings. They didn’t happen daily or weekly, but they happened often enough that I couldn’t count how many times they happened in my childhood. I don’t remember my father ever being calm when he delivered them. He never had a talk with me about why what I did was wrong. My dad never offered me a hug or encouragement to “do better”. Instead, when he felt correction was necessary, he would fly into a rage, grab me, and spank (or slap) me with his hand as hard as he could. I would scream and cry, and he would just keep hitting and yelling at me.

My father’s spankings were terrifying experiences for me every time they happened, from the time I was a toddler, until I was an adult. Yes, that’s right. The last time my dad raised a hand to me, I was almost 21 years old. That was when I told my father that if he ever laid another finger on me in anger, I would call the police. Although my dad was outraged by the threat (which was actually a promise), he must have known I was serious. The next time he tried to hit me (when I was 26 years old), I reminded him about my promise, and he wisely backed off. That was the last time he ever tried to use physical “punishment” on me. I decided that from now on, anyone who hits me had better kill me.

I’ve written a number of times about why I don’t think spanking is an effective disciplinary method. I’ve thought a lot about why I feel the way I do. I’ll tell you one thing. When my grown man father unleashed his frustrations on me, a little girl, I didn’t feel respect for him when he finished. Instead, I felt a mixture of rage, sorrow, pain, fear, and hatred for him. To me, it doesn’t make any sense to demand “respect” from someone by hitting them. Physical punishments may inspire immediate compliance, but the violent imprint is hard to erase.

Decades after my last “spanking”, I still have a lot of unresolved anger toward my dad. I still deeply resent him for the traumatic memories I have of those discipline sessions, and the way they made me feel. If my father had done to my mother what he did to me, people would call him a wife beater. And yet, people on Facebook still champion spankings as good parenting, claiming that their parents were “right” to hit them. They claim that spanking is what taught them “respect for others”. I’m sure it hasn’t occurred to them that hitting another person isn’t a respectful thing to do. Especially when the person is as powerless on every level as most children are.

My dad died in 2014. I didn’t cry much, which surprised me. I think I had a lot of mixed feelings about his death. Yes, it was hard to lose my dad on the most basic of levels. Over six years, I watched him go from an independent man, to someone completely dependent on my mother. He had lost his ability to think clearly and move freely. So, in a sense, I was relieved that he died, just to free him of the terrible reality of living with Lewy Body Dementia. There were also some good times, when he was thoughtful, funny, and kind. I remember he could be fun, especially when I was little. Sometimes, we had some interesting discussions.

But, I was also legitimately glad I didn’t have to see him again. Never again would I have to hear him complain about my laugh, or make comments about my body or hair. I would never have to see his reddened face again when he was angry. He would never again try to compete with me or resent my successes and failures. I wouldn’t get another unsolicited phone call from him, criticizing my life choices or demanding an accounting of how I spend my time.

I’m sure if I had asked my dad if he loved me, he would have said yes. In fact, he did tell me he loved me somewhat frequently. So that’s why it’s confusing to me that a man who supposedly “loved” me was okay with hitting me. Would he have encouraged my husband, Bill, to hit me whenever I made him angry? What would happen if that was Bill’s way of dealing with everyone who annoyed or angered him? He’d probably be unemployed, and possibly incarcerated.

My decision to write about spanking again today came about because, when I saw that photo on Facebook, it triggered me. Before I knew it, I was once again spilling my guts to Bill about old, traumatic memories. It can’t be a good thing to still be angry about things that happened 40 years ago. When I’ve talked to spanking proponents about this, they’ve implied that I should just “let it go.” As easy as that suggestion is to make, it’s not always an easy thing to do. If it were easy to just “let it go”, I would have done that years ago.

Other people have excused spanking, claiming that what my dad did wasn’t actually spanking. They tell me it was abuse. A couple of people have even gone as far as calling my dad’s spankings “beatings”. But who decides what constitutes a spanking, and what constitutes a beating? My dad called what he did “spanking”. I don’t think he ever learned about spanking from someone knowledgeable about the subject. I think he did to me what his father did to him. And, I distinctly remember that my father had very negative opinions of his father. He very rarely spoke of him. When he did, it was usually when he was drinking. I don’t remember him having good things to say about my grandfather (whom I never knew). In fact, at Thanksgiving, when family members would speak of Pappy, my dad would usually leave the room.

At 50 years of age, I still have a lot of issues with my self-esteem. I don’t feel lovable to most people, and expect most people to dislike me, so I don’t make an effort to make friends. In my experience, making friends with people usually ends in disappointment. While I didn’t have the worst childhood, and many have had it worse, I still feel quite angry about the way I was treated. That man was half responsible for my being here. The least he could have done was treat me with basic respect. Especially if respect was what he expected from me.

I know it’s water under the bridge. I will never get an apology for the way I was raised. There is comfort in knowing that at least I won’t pass this crap to a new generation. I’m also grateful that I married a very gentle, disciplined, and kind man, in spite of his career choice. I don’t have to worry about physical abuse anymore. But dammit, it still hurts when I see people praising corporal punishment, claiming it’s the way to save humanity by instilling “respect” in children.

Children don’t learn respect from being hit. They learn fear. There is a HUGE difference between fear and respect. I just wish more people would stop and think about how they’d like to be remembered by their children before they raise hands to them. I doubt my dad would like knowing that I still resent him for treating me the way he did.

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Bill, marriage, memories, music

Repost: My husband hates the song “Dream Weaver”…

I have a touch of writer’s block today. I’m having trouble coming up with a good topic for the main blog, although I wrote one about our Thanksgiving for the travel blog. When this happens, I typically go to the original version of The Overeducated Housewife and mine for a repost. Sometimes doing that will spawn a fresh topic. And sometimes, I simply find another chestnut to share again… Today is one of the days I’m going to share an oldie. Word to the wise… this is a weird story and may be too TMI for some people. Proceed with caution. This was originally written on November 21, 2018.

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends shared this video of the song “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright.

This song was made famous in 1976, when I was a wee lass of about 3 or 4 years old.

In 1976, my dad was the base engineer at Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  This song was popular, along with a lot of other great songs from the 70s.  I’ve always liked it, although I was a small child when it was a hit.  It still sounds pretty good in 2018, at least to my ears.  I also like Wright’s other big song, “Love Is Alive.”

This video includes the version of “Dream Weaver” I know best.  It says this song comes from 1972, but that’s incorrect.  It was released in 1975 and was a hit the following year.

When Bill and I met, he told me there are a few songs he hates.  For instance, he doesn’t like the songs “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow or “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” by Bryan Adams, mainly because his ex used to play them as a means of demonstrating to Bill what kind of man she thought he should be.  

If you know my husband (and a few readers do), you know that he is one of those people who bends over backwards to please others.  He’s got a really kind heart and does whatever he can to make other people happy.  To hear that his best efforts weren’t enough for his ex wife was shattering.  The fact that she used music to drive home that point was especially cruel.  She ruined some good music and a lot of children’s books that way.  She was also fond of using books by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to make her points about Bill’s alleged shortcomings.

So, although I do like “Strong Enough”, I never play it when Bill is around, because I know it reminds him of dark times.  Fortunately, I don’t really like Bryan Adams’ love ode, so we have no problems, there.  For a long time, I avoided playing anything by The Muppets or Kenny Loggins’ wonderful children’s album around Bill because I knew they would make him sad.

Another song Bill hates is “Dream Weaver”, but that’s because of another person in his life– his first stepfather.  When Bill was about ten years old, his mother decided to remarry.  I think remarriage of a parent is hard enough for most youngsters, but it’s especially difficult when the new spouse turns out to be abusive.  The guy Bill’s mom married was a very handsome fellow and talented artist I’ll call B.J.  Actually, B.J. was the name he went by.  Come to think of it, it was probably an inspired nickname.

At least on the surface, B.J. had a lot going for him. He was tall, blond, athletic and very physically attractive, and he was legitimately and generously blessed with artistic gifts. Although I never met the man myself, I have seen a beautiful portrait he did of my mother-in-law. She kept the artwork, although the marriage was mercifully brief.

Bill and B.J. didn’t really hit it off very well. Evidently, B.J. used to do things like blow cigarette smoke in Bill’s face and tell him that he was “emotionally unavailable”. B.J. once said that talking to Bill was like talking to a brick wall. Bill really took that comment to heart, and it made him feel great shame. I don’t understand where B.J. got the idea that Bill wasn’t easy to talk to. I find him very easy to talk to… but then, B.J. was probably a bit resentful that Bill was around. Bill took away attention from his mother that B.J. probably thought should be directed solely to him.

B.J. was a big fan of Gary Wright’s music, and he especially liked the song “Dream Weaver”. He used to play that song a lot. B.J. also liked wearing women’s clothing and, in fact, was probably transgender. The whole reason B.J. wanted to be married was because he was hoping to learn how to be a woman. He thought maybe Bill’s mom could teach him that. This was not something B.J. had disclosed before he and my mother-in-law tied the knot. Once she found out what his agenda actually was, she made plans and eventually got a divorce. My mother-in-law and B.J. lost touch after that.

I try to be open-minded about most things. I don’t know anything about what it’s like to be transgender. I can only imagine that it’s extremely difficult even today, and was almost certainly much more so in the 1970s, when people had much less understanding and consideration for those who are different. I’m sure B.J. had some traumatic issues that caused him to be the way he was… not necessarily transgender, but mean and abusive. There was some reason B.J. found pleasure in being disrespectful to Bill and saying cruel things that he knew would upset him. Hurting people tend to be hurtful to others. It’s a vicious cycle. B.J.’s status as a transgender person is not what made him mean, although it’s possible that the treatment he received from others, possibly because he was so different, is what led to him being so abusive.

I didn’t know B.J., although I’ve heard some stories about him over the years.  He wasn’t Bill’s stepfather for very long, which is a good thing.  However, even though B.J. was Bill’s stepfather for only a few years, he did leave a lingering calling card, besides that beautiful portrait of Bill’s mother.  Now, whenever the song “Dream Weaver” plays, Bill is reminded of that guy– a man he hasn’t seen in well over forty years.  And although I never knew the man myself, when I hear it, now I’m reminded of the stories I’ve heard about him.

It’s amazing how the most innocuous things can leave a lasting impression.  It might be a piece of music or art.  It might be certain foods or smells.  I have written a few times about how much I hate mushrooms.  I have always hated them.  When I was a child, I was literally phobic of them.  I’m still a bit phobic of mushrooms, though not nearly like I was when I was a young child in England.  In those days, whenever I saw a mushroom growing in the yard, I would freeze and start screaming hysterically.  Today, I still kind of cringe when I see them, but I don’t scream anymore.

My sisters were kind of mean spirited teenagers at that time. In our English backyard, there were a lot of toadstools that grew wild. Sometimes, my sisters would pick them and chase me with them, all the while laughing hysterically at me as I screamed and ran away. One of my sisters went as far as reinforcing the phobia by drawing mean faces and shark teeth on any mushrooms in my coloring books. To this day, when someone posts a picture of a dish with mushrooms on social media or I smell them cooking, I’m reminded of that time when I was a child. It still makes me cringe, even though it’s been years since anyone chased me with a mushroom (one of my cousins did years later, to the same effect). Those experiences are imprinted on my brain, much like certain songs are imprinted on Bill’s.

I thought I was alone in my hatred of mushrooms until one day, I was watching Montel Williams’ talk show, and the topic was phobias. Montel had a guest who was phobic of mushrooms. I watched in amazement as she reacted the very same way I used to when I was very young. To be honest, if someone tried to force me to eat a mushroom or touch one, I’d probably react the same way I did when I was a child. I wrote an article about mycophobia on Associated Content. It generated a lot of hits and was even noticed by the woman who was on Montel Williams. She sent me an email about her experience on the show. Although Montel did get her to touch one and, in fact, kissed her with one between his lips (that would not have worked for me), she said she’s still a bit phobic.

I once entertained the idea of becoming a chef, but abandoned that notion when I realized I couldn’t be a chef and have a mushroom phobia.  Maybe I could have been a pastry chef, but even then, I’d probably still have problems.  And then I worked at a restaurant for awhile and realized that lifestyle wasn’t one I wanted for the rest of my life.  It’s too stressful.

I understand why Bill hates the song “Dream Weaver”, although I like it and probably always will.  He understands why I hate mushrooms, although he loves them and truffles and always will.  He respects my idiosyncrasies and I respect his.  When Bill is around, our house is a Gary Wright free zone.  And when we go out to dinner or eat at someone’s house, Bill is supportive when I have to explain why mushrooms are verboten.  I’m sure more than a couple of waiters have filed away memorable stories about me telling them about my irrational fears.  I guess these things make us more interesting people.

Below are the comments that were left on the original post…

AlexisAR

November 23, 2018 at 11:15 PM

BJ sounds like a real douche. being transgender is surely a difficult way to live, but that obviously doesn’t give him a valid excuse to mistreat anyone. I know I’m preaching to the choir here.

knotty

November 24, 2018 at 5:36 AM

Oh yeah. Both Bill and his mom are such nice people that they attract abusive narcissists. Both have gotten better about telling those people to fuck off, but it never comes without a price.  

I think B.J. is probably dead. My MIL said one time he called her for help after they split up. He was in actual physical danger when he called. I think he was dressed as a woman and about to be beat up or something. So she helped him and then asked him never to contact her again.

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family, memories, mental health

WaPo advice column reminds me of mealtime meltdowns of yesteryear…

Today in the Washington Post, I read an advice column in which a letter writer asked if it’s “wrong” to force a child to eat. The writer explained that he or she was born in 1952, and their mother used to compel them to finish everything on their plate. She would either force the person to sit at the table for hours until everything was eaten, or she would use a fifteen minute timer and warn that if the food wasn’t finished, the child would be spanked and sent to bed early. The writer later found out that they have food allergies.

Yes… I think it is very damaging.

The advice columnist, Meghan Leahy, wrote that she thinks the letter writer is traumatized. She points to the level of detail included in the letter, so many years later, and explains that remembering that much about the experiences indicated psychological damage. Leahy comments:

There are three main activities one person cannot force another to do without inflicting some pretty serious harm: sleep, eat and use the toilet. These are driven by deep impulses, and each human runs on their own internal clock. When parents take draconian measures to control their children’s eating, it is about more than just getting them to finish their chicken. The parent is saying or sending messages such as: “I don’t care about your feelings or impulses. I control them.” “You don’t get to say when you eat. I do.” “I will withhold love and affection until you eat.” “Not eating or not making me happy will make me hurt you, physically and emotionally.”

I found myself nodding as I read her comments. Suddenly, I remembered my own traumatic experiences at the dinner table when I was a very young child. My father and I had a difficult relationship. He was an alcoholic who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He could be very controlling and demanding at times. Other times, he acted like he didn’t care at all about things. Sometimes, he was even kind and reasonable. Unfortunately, I never knew which version of my dad I was going to get.

When I was very young, I was a rather picky eater. There were, and still are, a lot of things I don’t eat. My mom was a pretty good cook, but she wasn’t above using processed convenience foods. I didn’t mind eating canned things. I loved Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese, for instance. I remember eating a lot of Campbell’s Soup– especially Bean with Bacon or Chicken Noodle. Sometimes I’d have frozen chicken pot pies that, of course, I would heat up before eating. These days, Bill and I make most things from scratch. He doesn’t like eating food from boxes and cans.

But then there were times when my mom would make things I didn’t like. My dad would get on a power trip and try to force me to eat things. I’d sit at the table and cry as he yelled at and threatened me.

The one thing I could never eat under any circumstances was mushrooms. As I have mentioned before in this blog, I have a phobia of them. When I was very young, I was literally petrified of wild mushrooms growing in the yard. I would freeze up and panic when I saw them. I think it stemmed from being told, when I was very young, that they were very poisonous and I must never touch them. I took the directive very seriously. I also had sisters who enjoyed tormenting me by chasing me with the mushrooms or drawing mushrooms with ugly frowns and shark teeth in my coloring books.

So one time, my dad, who was quite exasperated about my phobia, decided he was going to force me to eat a mushroom. My mom had made meat pie, and it had mushrooms in it. I remember him standing over me– I was maybe nine or ten years old– screaming at me to eat the pie. He had to go to choir practice that night, so I was under pressure. I was crying uncontrollably as he demanded that I obey him. I think I did eat some of the pie, but I never forgot that experience… or another one we had at a chain restaurant called Mountain Jack’s. My parents took me there one night and ordered sauteed mushrooms as an appetizer. My dad tried to make me eat one in the restaurant, and I started crying. My mom snarled at him to leave me alone, which he grudgingly did. But he would often get on these control freak power plays, sometimes in public. And yes, it was humiliating and traumatic.

As I read that article about forcing kids to eat things in the WaPo today, I was suddenly reminded of all the times my father bullied, harassed, and belittled me over things like food, body image, or even the way I laugh. Like several of my family members, my dad hated my laugh, and claimed I sounded like a witch. By the time I was eleven, I was very preoccupied with my body image and weight. For years, I struggled with disordered eating, although I never fell into a diagnosable eating disorder. Nowadays, instead of being obsessive about my weight and body image, I drink too much alcohol.

I looked at some of the comments people left on this article. One reader left what I thought was a really good comment. I took a screenshot of it; it was so good.

I wish all commenters were as wise as this person is.

Someone else left this comment, which made me feel really sad…

Eating should be a pleasurable activity. But this person’s mother turned it into a battle.

Below is one rather contentious comment thread on Facebook regarding this advice column. “Mike” obviously thinks that being controlling about food is a good approach to child raising… and now he’s raising his grandchild.

When I was growing up, I could not eat the hot lunches served in the school cafeteria. In those days, the food was actually cooked on site, but the smell of it usually disgusted me. There were certain items that smelled so bad that I would get nauseous if someone sat next to me eating it. I seem to remember being completely revolted by the smell of the vegetable soup, which was always served with a big piece of government cheese. I always wondered how it was that the cafeteria ladies could make ordinary food so unappetizing in appearance and aroma. I used to skip lunch during school, partly because I was always dieting, and partly because the whole experience of eating lunch at school was so traumatizing. I think it must be worse today, as schools now police what children are allowed to eat more than they did in the 80s, and food is not always cooked on site.

I remember practically starving myself in the summer of 1982, when I went to 4-H camp. The food there was even worse than what was served in school. The smell of it turned my stomach. I never went back to 4-H camp, mainly because I could not abide powdered eggs and the other barely edible stuff served there. I was fortunate in the the food served at my college was mostly very good, but I remember going to 4-H Congress at Virginia Tech and being grossed out by the food there, too.

I’ve probably shared this before, but it bears repeating. I agree with George, and his take on “fussy eating” is funnier than this post is. 😉

To this day, there are a lot of foods that some people find wonderful, like cheese, that I don’t enjoy. I don’t eat a lot of cheeses, myself. There are maybe half a dozen I will eat, and they have to be melted. Bill, on the other hand, loves stinky cheeses. He will not think twice about buying cheese that, to me, smells like dirty feet, and enjoying it with wine. I can always smell the cheese through the refrigerator door. On the other hand, I do like fish, which I know a lot of people can’t abide.

I’m sure my dad’s tendency to hypercontrol at the dinner table, back when we ate dinners together, was formulated in part because he was a child of the Depression era. He had eight siblings, and the family wasn’t wealthy at all, so food was a precious commodity. My dad was also an Air Force officer, so sometimes he would use that identity to make demands of his daughters. Sometimes, he could be strict, but his method of punishment was, in my opinion, quite cowardly. He used physical and corporal punishments to get what he wanted. Imagine, being a grown man taking out your frustrations on a little girl by walloping her whenever she challenged you. That was my dad. And, sorry to say, he did traumatize me with that treatment. Maybe that’s why I am so fucked up today. 😉

I did love my dad, when he was still living. I think a lot of his issues stemmed from his own abusive childhood, in which he was the eldest son of a violent alcoholic. I think a lot of the things he said to me were things that he heard from his dad. In fact, although I never knew Pappy, because he died when I was two, I have heard a lot of stories about him. Some of the stories are funny, but most pointed to the fact that he was an angry bully and a tyrant, and he had a biting, sarcastic sense of humor that could be devastating. I know that, on some level, my dad hated his father. He didn’t like to talk about him. When he did, it was usually after he’d been drinking. And sometimes, he told me things that sounded pretty awful.

Anyway… I don’t know what made me fall down this rabbit hole. But reading that advice column today really reminded me of those days when I was younger, and eating was traumatic and stressful. It’s too bad that we couldn’t have peace in those days. And it’s too bad my parents weren’t more careful about making a baby they didn’t really want.

Bill just left to go back to Bavaria for the next few days. It was good that he came home. Arran is doing well on the chemo. He’s eating well, enjoying his walks and snuggles with us, and doesn’t have huge lymph nodes right now. I don’t know how long the chemo will keep him feeling better, but I’m grateful for the extra time. I was very worried about Arran a couple of days ago, and I think if we hadn’t started treatment, we might have had to say goodbye this weekend or soon thereafter. As it stands now, he’s mostly back to normal, save for the rancid farts, need to pee, and increased appetite caused by steroids.

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memories, nostalgia, tragedies, Virginia

German road signs that make me fall down rabbit holes…

A few days ago, when Bill and I were heading home from our trip to the Black Forest, I looked up and noticed a road sign for a town called Hirschberg. Google tells me that Hirschberg is a town in the northwestern part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg (as well as a place in Thuringia). I’ve never been there, and before Monday, I had never noticed that sign. But seeing the name of that town brought back some very old memories from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia.

This is something I’ve noticed in Europe and the United Kingdom. A lot of the place names here, and in my home state of Virginia, come from surnames. A lot of places in Virginia, especially, are named after places in older establishments. Take, for instance, the town of Kilmarnock, Virginia. It shares that name with a place in Scotland. I guess people from Scotland settled the town in Virginia and named it after their original hometown across the pond. I have to agree, having been to both places, the landscapes are kind of similar.

In any case, when I saw the name Hirschberg, I was immediately reminded of a tragic story from my childhood, over 40 years ago. The date was March 23, 1981. I was eight years old, and a third grader at Botetourt Elementary School. In March 1981, I had only lived in Gloucester for about nine months. My parents bought their business, The Corner Cottage, in the spring of 1980 and we moved to Gloucester on June 21st of that year, the day after my 8th birthday. I experienced quite a culture shock in Gloucester, because we had come from Fairfax, Virginia, which is a MUCH more populated place. And we’d only been in Fairfax for two years; prior to that, we lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England. In 1981, I still felt kind of like a foreigner in the United States, having spent three of my conscious years abroad. I wasn’t fitting in very well in Gloucester and, truth be told, I hated it there.

My next sister, Sarah, was sixteen years old on March 23, 1981. She was soon going to be 17 years old, and she attended eleventh grade at Gloucester High School. I would graduate from there myself in 1990. In 1981, 1990 seemed like a million years away. And in 2022, 1990 seems like it was yesterday.

In 1981, the principal at GHS was Mr. Donald W. Hirschberg. I didn’t know anything at all about him, but I do remember Sarah talking about her life at GHS. She probably mentioned the principal, too. She seemed so grown up to me at that time. I remember she was studying French and was even allowed to come to Botetourt to “teach” French to some of the gifted kids. At the time, one of my friends was one of Sarah’s “pupils”.

I don’t think Sarah was at Botetourt on Monday, March 23, 1981, though. That was a day that is still remembered by a lot of my peers because it was the day that Mr. Hirschberg’s wife, Nancy, and their twelve year old daughter, Julie, would die in a horrific car accident. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think another child also died in that crash. I make that assumption because I found a Facebook post about the accident that mentioned another girl who died. Strangely, I don’t remember hearing as much about her.

I was still very new to Gloucester in 1981, so I never had the pleasure of meeting Julie. She was three years older than me, and went to what was then called Gloucester Middle School and later became an elementary school (after I had finished GMS myself). I do remember the accident, though. It happened at a time when Gloucester had very few traffic lights. I know it’s a cliche, but in 1981, that county was still very much covered in farmland. We had a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut that served the whole county. Gloucester Courthouse, which is about a mile or two from where I lived, had really disgusting water that tasted like sulfur. Our house had well water, which was only marginally better. I remember turning on the taps and seeing rusty water.

I’m not totally sure where the fatal intersection was, but I know I drove past it many times. Route 17 runs from north to south through Gloucester. It’s the main artery through the county, and it’s virtually impossible to avoid driving on it if you’re traveling through Gloucester. I actually think the intersection was one very close to my home. For years, there was nothing but a stop sign there, where people would wait as traffic coming down Route 17 barreled down the highway. Since 1981, the farmland has been turned into a huge Walmart complex. People probably don’t zoom past that intersection anymore, because it’s now heavily moderated by traffic lights. If that wasn’t the intersection, then it was one not far from there, and I would have passed it many times over the 19 years Gloucester was my actual home.

So there I was on Monday, October 3, 2022, speeding down the Autobahn, suddenly remembering Gloucester in the early 80s. I saw that sign for the town of Hirschberg in Germany, and it made me think of twelve year old Julie… a girl I never knew, but heard a lot about when I was growing up. Knowing how Gloucester was in the 80s, I feel very sure we would have probably met at some point. Back then, Gloucester was the kind of place where most people knew each other. I don’t think it’s like that anymore, though. I do still know a lot of people who live there, as a number of my classmates either never left or have returned with their own families.

I got curious about Mr. Hirschberg, too. So I looked him up, and discovered that he died in 1998. He had moved to Poquoson, a city not far from Gloucester, and remarried a woman with the same first name as his late first wife’s. Mr. Hirschberg, at age 61, wasn’t that old when he passed. I wonder if he never got over the grief of that terrible accident. People on Facebook were still discussing it as recently as 2011, with some saying they would never forget that night. A few said it was the first tragedy of their lives, and the first funeral they ever attended. Some said that they still think of Julie and the other girl who died every time they go through that intersection.

I think about the fact that Julie was just three years older than me, and it appears that she was a very popular girl with a lot of promise. She was involved in many community activities and probably would have gone on to live a very productive life. It amazes me that her life ended the way it did– so suddenly, tragically, and randomly, it seems. It could have been any one of us who met that fate. I wonder what she would think about me– someone who never met her, but was one of her contemporaries– thinking and writing about her 41 years after her death, reading about her on the Internet, which didn’t even really exist for regular people back in 1981. I wonder what she would think about people in the “You grew up in Gloucester” Facebook group, still remembering her in 2011 and posting about that dreadful day in March 1981. Julie never experienced Facebook, but I bet she’d know it well if she had lived to see adulthood. I never knew Julie, but I knew a lot of her friends, and they still miss her so many years later. That amazes me.

I haven’t been to Gloucester since 2010, when my mom finally sold the house I grew up in. I was astonished by how different Gloucester was then. It was weird to walk through the house and see things I hadn’t seen since we moved in back in 1980. Our house was old, and kind of weird, so there was a big plumbing pipe coming up through the floor in the tiny room that had served as my bedroom in the early 80s. It had been covered by my twin sized bed for many years. Now it was laid bare, looking as strange as it did in 1980. Even our house is very different now than it was in 1980. My parents doubled its size in 1984, when they added on a new kitchen and a knitting and needlepoint “shop” for my mom to run. My dad had a new custom picture framing “shop” built in 1997, knocking down the weird building that was erected there some decades before. Now, it’s owned by the lady my dad hired in 1989 to help him frame pictures.

Isn’t it funny how the most random things can cause a person to fall down a rabbit hole of memories? Or, at least that’s how it happens for me. I used to wish I was born in 1968, so I could be closer in age to my sisters and have more of a relationship with them. But now I’m glad I was born when I was. I think it was the right time. I don’t know why my mind takes me on these tangential rides, but I have a feeling someone else out there still remembers Julie. I’ll probably be “visited” here by people from Gloucester, who can recall the spring of 1981, too. I am not a Gloucester native, but I know a lot of people are, and they have long memories.

I was pretty fortunate to grow up in Gloucester, even though I hated it in the 80s. My sisters were all Air Force brats, so they were moved constantly. I don’t know if they really feel like they have a “hometown” like I do. They’ve settled in different places, but their childhoods were nomadic. I used to be envious of them, but then I became an Army wife and experienced that lifestyle myself. I think it would have been hard for me as a child. It’s hard as an adult. It’s nice to know that there is a place where people remember me, even if no one in my family lives there anymore. I’m glad to have some roots… although I doubt I’ll be moving back there. I don’t think I fit there anymore. It’s like the old Neil Diamond song, “I Am… I Said”, when he sings:

Well I’m New York City born and raised
But nowadays
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home
But it ain’t mine no more

Yeah. I can relate to that.

Just because it’s a great song that still works in 2022.
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