Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hard to write

A few weeks ago I started thinking about writing this blog. Again. I have gone to write it a few times and then not. It's a really tough one for me to write because there are a lot of conflicting emotions around the story. Part is that it's about me as a teenager and I wasn't nearly as good of a kid as my own kid is, so to write about myself in those days is not going to be easy for him to read. In fact part of what I will write will be down right squicky for him (this is your warning to back out now, C). Part of it is that I go through stages where I am pretty sure I have dealt with it completely and there is no need to talk about it at all. Then something happens and I have a nightmare. Part of it is that there are people around who know who I am talking about and I am not sure how I feel about them reading this either. But then there is a part of me that thinks, I tell you guys everything so I might as well tell this as well. And then someone prints something like this and I take a deep breath and tell my story.

Let me start out by saying I am lucky. My story is a good one in the fact that something much worse could have happened. I also learned a really valuable lesson and a lesson learned is always a good thing. Even when it happens in the middle of a very bad situation. Okay, so here we go.

Even though I got married at 18 I dated a lot as a teenager. I was a serial monogamist, I didn't generally date more than one boy at a time but did date boy after boy. I enjoyed the company of guys, I had fun dating and because I wasn't shy about letting a guy know I liked him I generally had a lot of opportunities to date. I was also a virgin. It's a big part of the religion I was raised in and I got married at 18 so it's pretty easy to stay a virgin until you are with the person you are going to marry if you get married that young. Because I dated boys in and out of the church I was also very clear about the fact that I was a virgin and would be staying that way. I dated a guy for awhile who was much older than I was, I remember the phone conversation where I told him he might want to change his mind about asking me out. He wasn't part of the church and he was of the age where sex on a date would be more natural. I told him he needed to know I was going to be a virgin when he picked me up for our date and I would still be one when he dropped me off. If he had a problem with that then he could cancel the date right then and there would be no hard feelings from me.

However....being a virgin was not the same as being a saint. Basically anything above the waist was fair territory if I was with someone. Second base in common vernacular right? It felt good, it was fun and I was still a virgin. Now in the church this was, of course, still frowned upon but I didn't really care. Didn't hurt anyone, didn't bother me. But it was beyond the chaste closed mouthed kiss and holding hands that we were supposed to do and as girls were supposed to reinforce because boys just couldn't help themselves. Yes, that was the message from our minister at the time, he did a series on teen dating to let us all know the proper way of conducting ourselves and it was entirely up to the girls to dress modestly and maintain the distance on a date so as not to drive the boys crazy. But for me, at 15, this was not an okay message. One it put it all on the girl, nope, not okay. Two, I looked really good at that age and dressing modestly was not in the cards.

So the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school there was a lot of turmoil in our church. Turns out our youth minister was abusing a group of our teenage boys. At the time we weren't told of this, we were told he was gay and that's why he had to leave the church. Happens a lot in churches, gay used as a synonym for pedophile. I know I've blogged about this before so I won't go back in to it, but I wanted to bring it up because it is important to the story. At the time the boys involved didn't say anything. I heard the stories years later from a friend who was one who was abused. I know his details and second hand the details from a few others that the friend shared. But it's important because there were two things that happened that summer because of the abuse. One was they planned a lot of activities and functions with our youth group and our new youth minister. They wanted us all to move on...to not talk about the old minister. Because those of us that had no idea what actually happened were sympathetic to the old minister. We missed him. We had no idea that he wasn't gay, that he was a monster. Because we weren't told. So anyway...the powers that be wanted us to forget that he ever existed and to do that they put us together with the new minister 4 or 5 nights a week all summer. The other piece that was happening is that the guys that were involved were all sizing each other up. They didn't know while the abuse was happening that it was happening to anyone but themselves. So when it all blew apart there was some posturing and posing that was done. Excess testosterone being bandied about to "prove" they weren't gay. There was a lot of dating and story sharing going on.

Out of that mix comes my story. There was a boy in our youth group that I had had a crush on off and on for years. He was a year or two older, I can't remember now, and had dated a couple of the older girls. He wasn't as active as some of the rest of us, he sort of came in and out of the group. Which was odd since his parents were really active in the church, his father was even an elder. So this summer he finally noticed me.  We spent some time flirting back and forth and hanging out together at youth group functions. The new youth minister was house sitting for a couple from the church so a lot of functions were at this house. It was on a golf course, or park, something like that, I can't remember now exactly but there were walks in the dark holding hands and talking. It was all very sweet.

Then one Sunday night after church he gave me a ride home, which was pretty normal, I didn't drive yet and we would often all go out as a group after services and grab something to eat. Rides were divvied up by who had a car and who lived near whom. Since we were a couple now it was normal that he would give me a ride home. It also wasn't that unusual when he pulled over before taking me to the house to kiss me goodnight. Most guys didn't like kissing you goodnight right in front of the house. We were living in a trailer park off of University at the time and generally my date would pull over in the driveway on the way in and kiss me goodnight then drive the rest of the way into the park and drop me off at home. This night he pulled over into an area that was under construction. Off of the main drive in. Right away I was a little uncomfortable with this but I didn't want to say anything. I didn't want to be looked at like I wasn't cool. Oh the curse of the teenager!

So anyway...we started kissing. Things got a little hotter and heavier than they would get with most boys from the church. But it wasn't that far out of bounds from what had happened with boys outside of the church that I had dated. He then asked me if I wanted to move to the back seat. I said no. He asked again. I said no again and said he should probably take me home. That's when it turned. He grabbed at my jeans and started to work at the button while telling me that this is what was going to happen and that he knew it's what I wanted. I was in shock. I had never had a boy not respect my boundary. I had never been in a situation where I felt like I was in danger while dating. Or where someone talked to me the way he was talking to me. I don't remember all of what he was saying because I was starting to just shut down but there were a lot of sluts, bitches and tease thrown in there. Then I banged my head on the door as he yanked at my waist band and I think that is what snapped me out of my stupor.

I went from being in shock and passive to pissed off and ready for a fight. When he raised himself up a little I got my legs under me and kicked him as hard as I could. In the crotch. I got my door open behind me and fell ass over teakettle out of the door while he was vomiting out his side of the car. I got up and started walking back to the main driveway and to the house. Pissed as all get out. Once he got himself together he drove after me. He pulled along side me as I walked up the hill and yelled..."You might as well not tell anyone because no one will believe you. And if you do, I will let them know you wanted it." This made me even madder. But it worked. I didn't say a word to my parents when I got home. I didn't even know what I would tell them. And honestly it really didn't cross my mind at the time to talk to them. I viewed it as a date gone bad.

So a couple days passed and I head in to a youth function at the church. I walk in to the kitchen and there is the boy and he is talking to another boy who happened to be a very good friend of mine. As I walk in my friend walks over and grabs my arm..."Did you let him touch your chest?" What? "Did you let him touch your chest?" I was shocked. This was what the important part was? This is what was being said about what happened that night? As I looked over my friend's shoulder at the boy he smiled at me and mouthed the words "told you".

For the rest of that summer he tormented me. Teenagers in a church do a lot of things so you can touch each other without being bad Christians. The games sardines is one of them. One person hides and you all look for them. The lights are off, it's dark and if you find them, by whispering "sardines" and listening for the whispered response of "it" back...you hide with them. Basically an excuse to get as close to each other legally as you can. If he was at a function he would make sure he was right next to me pressed up against me. Until the one night he went a step further. We were all crammed in a corner about to be found by the last person and he snaked his hand up my shirt and grabbed my breast. He knew I wouldn't say a word because he would just say we had been dating and this was what I allowed. Making me out to the be the bad one. But what he forgot or didn't realize was that the passive chick in the car was the anomaly. The one who kicked him in the nuts was the real me. I reached up and grabbed his finger and started bending it back. He whispered in my ear to stop it that it hurt. I whispered back that if he didn't stop touching me I was going to break it off and shove it up his ass. He told me that I didn't want a scene, I told him to try me. He backed off. Imagine that entire conversation happening in a dark room surrounding by a group of giggling teenagers to get the full surreal experience that it was.

He would also tell people that I had a ride home and try to make sure he was the one to take me home from places. I was able to side step him each time by arranging a ride at the beginning of the night. But I still didn't tell anyone what happened. The closest I came as a teen to telling anyone was the new youth minister. One night at a function this boy did the usual stance that he would take me home and our youth minister stepped up and said that he had it handled. Now this didn't make sense considering we were at his new apartment at the time so why would he leave to drive people home? But it worked and the boy backed down.

So on the drive home that night I was the last one in the car with our new youth minister. This poor guy wasn't even out of college yet, he came on in what was supposed to be a temporary summer position and ended up staying for a couple of years to help all of us messed up kids out. He must have only been around 20 himself at the time. Which made him entirely relatable for all of us and entirely too young to be in-charge of a group of almost peers. On the drive home that night he asked me if things had gone a little too far with the other boy and if that's why I was uncomfortable being around him now. I clenched my jaw and didn't say anything but I did tear up. Here it was. I was going to be judged by this guy now too. He had been doing a lot of work with just the teen boys in our group to help them sort of get past what had happened and I knew that he had been told that I was easy, that I had let this other boy go too far and that it was all my issue. And then he did the one thing that I couldn't deal with. He pulled over and stopped the car at the entrance to where the other boy had taken me. I panicked and started to get out of the car. He reached out and grabbed my arm to hold me back and I swung at him with the other. And the realization of what must have happened hit him. He looked crestfallen and told me, "I think I understand now. Don't worry. From here on out I will be taking you home. I will be your only ride. You are safe here." And I believed him. Took a deep breath and closed the car door. He drove me home that night and every night from there on out. I was always the last person in the car with him and we had a lot of great talks during those drives,but I never ever said what had actually happened and he never asked again.

For years I thought of it as a bad date. As a boy who wanted to go further than I wanted to. And that was it. Then years passed and I realized that what it had been was an attempted date rape. Then a few more years passed and I dropped the qualifier that seems to lessen the crime and called it what it was, attempted rape. When someone tells you no and you try to force them to have sex with you it's rape. Doesn't matter what you were doing before the no came, it's rape. Doesn't matter if she was wearing a tight t-shirt and had just been kissing you, when the words no take me home are spoken and you respond by grabbing her jeans and trying to undo them it's attempted rape. I have no doubt that if I hadn't gotten out of the car that's what would have happened. As it was I stopped him. But I didn't say anything. And for that I am sorry.

Years later (we are talking 15 or so years) I was talking to my friend from the kitchen scene. I was telling him that for a long time I was really mad at him. That he was supposed to be my friend, to listen to me, but he didn't ever ask me what happened he just had accusations for me. I told him what had happened and he got very quiet. Then he told me that a year or so after my incident he was talking to another girl from our church. Turns out that boy had done something similar to her. The difference being he forced her to give him a blow job. And she had said she knew other girls he had done similar things to. And none of us had ever said a word. He had a pattern. Rape, and then let the girl know he would blame her and we all believed him. Because in our world that was what would have happened. It was the girl's responsibility to make sure the boy didn't lose control and we had all obviously failed. What a crock of shit.

So that's my story. It turned out better than it could have since I got away. It turned out worse than it should have because I didn't say anything so other people were harmed as well. Though I will never know if saying anything would have made a difference. The atmosphere I would have been outing him in was one that had just let a child molester out on to the public by branding him as gay instead of turning him over to the police. I have a feeling I would have been the hussy and he would have skated.  But the biggest lesson I learned was to never ever let yourself get in to a situation where you feel uncomfortable. When he pulled off in to the deserted area I felt uncomfortable and I should have said something right then. It might not have helped, it might still have gone all the same way, but don't ignore that little voice in your head that tells you when something isn't right. When you are on an elevator and the person who gets on with you makes your spidey sense tingle, get off. When you are walking down a street and you get that creeped out feeling, look around, duck in to a shop that has customers in it, pull out your phone and call someone to tell them where you are and how you are feeling.  Pay attention. And the final lesson...a good hard kick in the balls isn't unladylike or undignified. It's a valid and useful way to fight. Especially in a situation like that. If he is about to use his dick as a weapon then it's only fair to disarm him.

Now some of you might be wondering why I didn't use his name through all of this. It's because the statute of limitations has passed on what he tried to do to me, what he did do to other girls from our group in those years, but it would still be libel if he saw me call him a rapist in my blog. So instead he is just that boy in this blog. And the boogey man in my nightmares. Now that I've written about it and shared the story for the last time I am hopeful that the dreams where I don't stop him, where it goes much worse never come back.  Here's hoping....


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Angry blog...

A few weeks ago on my Facebook page I posted a pretty disturbing video.  The video showed the staged attempted abduction of a young girl on a busy New York street. The disturbing part was how many people did nothing to help her  When asked about it afterwards many of them said that they thought someone else would take care of it. Someone else would step up.  It was shocking and heartbreaking as a parent to watch.  And it made you question yourself just a little bit, what would you do if you saw or knew of a child that was in danger? Would you step up and do something or would you assume someone else would take care of it?  And what exactly is the right thing to do? In the abduction case in the video stopping the abduction is of course the first step, but then what? Do you let the guy go? Or do you sit on him until the cops get there? Seems like it's a pretty clear answer.

That is unless you happen to be the Catholic Church or Penn State. Then your response to what needs done to protect a child in danger seems to come second to what needs done to protect the institution. We are all familiar with the Priest Shuffle the Church practiced for years to get pedophile priests not in jail where they belonged but out of a parish if they touched a boy who talked. Protecting the reputation of the church was the priority. And when the lawsuits came and the scandal was revealed there were those who were upset at the victims for speaking out. For tarnishing the name of the church.  And those that didn't put blame on the Bishops and Cardinals and the Pope for allowing the abuse to continue, for allowing a priest to confess his sins and then move on to a new batch of boys.

Which leads me to Penn State. As the story broke this week my feed on Facebook was split between people outraged at Sandusky for being the criminal he is and people outraged that anyone would dare question Joe Paterno's role in all of this. Wait, what? Sandusky raped little boys. For years. Penn State covered this up. Your outrage should be at Sandusky and at the institution that allowed him to continue his behavior. Not at people who were justifiably furious at the length of time this abuse, this systematic raping of young boys was allowed to continue. Just how heinous was Penn State's reaction in all of this? Let's take a quick look at the timeline and imagine the conversations that must have taken place between Sandusky and the leadership at Penn State.

In 1998 the first accusations and charges were brought against Sandusky. The officials at Penn State did not report this to the police, they handled the investigation themselves. I imagine the conversation must have gone something like this, "Jerry, you cannot rape young boys while coaching at Penn State University!" So he retired in 1999 and received the title and position of coach emeritus so he retained access to the all of the facilities on campus and and an office as well. Now imagine PSU's chagrin when in 2002 he was found raping a 10year old boy in their shower by a graduate assistant. Of course the assistant went home and told his father first who had the very logical response of calling the police...oh wait, no he didn't he told his son to tell Coach Paterno. Coach Paterno had the logical response of calling the police. Oh wait, no, that would be ridiculous.  Everyone knows the person you should report child rape to is the athletic director. Which he did. And then seemed to have promptly forgot all about it. We will come back to this later.

Now can you just imagine how uncomfortable that conversation was? "Now, Jerry, we told you couldn't rape boys while coaching at PSU apparently you did not understand our position on this. Unequivocally it is wrong WRONG to rape little boys while on the main campus of PSU. From here on out you may not bring young boys on campus. You still can hold your summer camps at our satellite campus, we aren't going to be draconian here, but remember you MUST NOT EVER RAPE YOUNG BOYS on the main campus of PSU."

Jerry Sandusky was allowed to continue to use the satellite campus of PSU to hold summer camps. Jerry Sandusky continued to run his "outreach" program for at risk youth. Jerry Sandusky continued to have a relationship with Coach Paterno and the rest of the PSU faculty. These people had all been informed, told about, talked to, reported to how ever you want to look at it about Sandusky raping a young boy in the shower. They knew. They knew and they didn't call the police. They saw that he was continuing his ways, his contact with young boys, his continuance working as a "mentor" for at risk young men. They saw this. They knew what he was. And they let it go on. Did they think someone else would take care of it? Did they think the possible damage to the institution was too great to risk sending a pedophile to jail? What were they thinking?

Do you know when Jerry Sandusky was banned from campus at PSU? Sunday. Of this week. A long long time away from 1998. And why did they ban him from campus? To try and protect themselves from the fall out that was coming their way as the grand jury indicted Sandusky. The indictment was for 40 counts of sex crimes against 8 boys from 1994-2009. How many of those charges happened after 1998? After 2002?  

And finally, Finally! The students at PSU heard the news and they rioted in the streets last night. They realized that the institution that was supposed to usher them from childhood to adulthood, the school whose athletic department's motto is "Success with Honor" had let them down. Had endangered helpless young boys. Had decided that protecting themselves and that evil sick bastard Sandusky was more important than doing what needed to be done. That as winning as Joe Paterno has been, as great of a leader he has been to a multitude of athletes that have come through his program, as clean of a program he has run, that this, this stain, was too much. That the statement that he issued when announced he would retire at the end of this season, "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." That this wasn't enough. That understanding that there is no need for hindsight to know what is right and what is wrong when you are told a child, a CHILD is being raped. Yes, the students had enough, and they took to the streets in the campus! And...no, again, this isn't what happened.  See, Paterno was fired. Along with the President, the Athletic Director and the Senior Vice President. Fired for the cover-up. Fired for allowing it to continuing. Fired so PSU could start to try TRY and repair their damaged image. And so the students took to the street to protest the firing of their beloved coach.

I have heard many people say that he did what he was required to do. He reported what he was told to his superior. I have an issue with doing what you have to do in this case. How about doing what you should do? What you should do is protect those that cannot protect themselves. Not protect your own asses. Which is what PSU did. Make no mistake here. They were not acting in the interest of those boys. They were acting in their own self-interest. I have also heard people say that because he was only told of the rape and didn't witness it himself that lets him off the hook. Oh, okay, so if you are only told of a child being hurt it's okay to ignore it. To allow it to continue. To let it happen to others. Success with honor.  

Jerry Sandusky is the big bad guy in this story. He is a pedophile. A predator. He set up an organization for disadvantaged youth so he could have boys brought to him that he could prey on. He should be punished in a way that is fitting a crime that you and I cannot even let our brains imagine. But PSU and all that knew about it are not innocents in this. They knew. They knew like the Catholic Church knew about their pedophile priests.There should be punishment for that. Being fired is pretty small punishment for allowing young boys to be raped don't you think? And it seems as though it might not be. All who knew about the cover up are now being investigate under the Mandated Reporter laws (Thanks, Corrie, for the link). They could end up serving time themselves. The person you are mandated to report to if you know of or SUSPECT abuse isn't your coach, athletic director, senior vice president, president, board of trustees...it's the police.  Rapist are reported to the police. Simple.

Now let's take a little trip back in time and use that hindsight that Coach Paterno wishes he had had. Can you imagine how differently this would have all turned out if in 1998 when the accusations first hit the good folks at Penn State had called Jerry Sandusky in to their office and said, "Jerry, this is Officer Takeyoursorryasstojail. What you have been accused of is so outside of anything acceptable we must at this point in time wash our hands of you. Completely. We will be co-operating with the police in this investigation and working with the victim's families to ensure that those boys are taken care of and are safe. We are Penn State. This does not happen here." Now that's some hindsight for you....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Growing up my family had a loose definition of what being a member of the family meant.  My Aunt Carol and Uncle Denny weren't my parent's siblings but their best friends.  My nephew called my best friend Aunt Chrystal.  Family dinners could mean five people or 50 people and everyone was considered family in some way or the other.  Trying to explain to people who was blood and who was "adopted" took more time than it was worth. There are people that to this day aren't sure who is really family and who isn't.  Though in my house it's easy.  We are all family.  I explain all of this so you understand that I am not nearly as dumb as I will come across in just a second.

I cannot remember a time when my brother and his wife weren't together.  My oldest brother is 14 years older than I am and he married his high school sweetheart when I was five.  So you can see that there would be a few years in there where they weren't dating but they were before I have really solid memories.  So in my life I have always had two older brothers and two older sisters.  I also have two sisters and a brother who died before I was born. My sister-in-law is more "real" to me than they are since I never met them.  They are photographs in a picture album and memories from my mother that she would share.  Oh and picnic lunches at their grave-sites when we were in Iowa.  Yeah, it seems creepy saying it out loud but it wasn't that bad.

In fact one of my first sets of memories of my sister Ann are from a trip to Iowa.  I think it must have been the summer before they got  married because I seem to remember Ann sharing a room with Susan and I .  But I was very young so it could have been the summer after they married, but I think it was before.  Anyway...I remember being on the playground across the street from my grandparent's house and Ann riding the teeter totter with me.  This was a big deal because none of the big kids would ride with me.  Or if they did they would leave me way up in the air while they weighted down the other side then get up and let me crash to the ground.  Playing a balance game with someone who is 3 feet shorter than you and how ever many pounds less in weight isn't that easy or fun but I still loved it. I also remember a box of saccharine pills spilling in the car and finding the little white pills for months afterward.

The next set of vivid memories is the wedding.  I was the flower girl.  I can remember my sister Susan lecturing me about not waving to people as I walked down the aisle with my flower basket.  I was very insulted and let her know I KNEW how to do it.  I can also remember that the ladies of the church had made "bouquets" out of the ribbons from Ann's shower for all of the bridesmaids to carry during the rehearsal and they forgot to make me one.  I was devastated.  Ann pulled bows out of her bouquet and gave them to me to carry.  I also am probably the only bridesmaid in history to have actually worn their dress again after the wedding.  It was worn to church, to school, to the grocery store, where ever I could convince my mother to let me wear it, I wore it! I wore my flower girl dress until it didn't fit anymore.  

A few days ago my sister Ann posted her senior picture online.  When I saw it I was reminded of something else from my childhood.  I wanted to grow up to look just like her.  I didn't really look like anyone else in my family (I thought, now I see how much I favor my mother) so why couldn't I just choose who I wanted to look like?  It's not as far fetched as you would imagine.  Jeff and Ann favored each other enough when Jeff was younger that I had friends who though Ann was the blood relation not John.  That was until they saw John and Susan together and saw how much they looked alike.  Then they were just confused. Ann is blond with blue eyes, my brother John has brown hair and blue eyes, my brother Jeff was blond (not so much anymore) with green eyes, my sister Susan was blond with blue/green eyes.  It just seemed logical to me that I could grow up to have any combination of those features.  I chose Ann's.  

Imagine my chagrin when my brown eyes wouldn't change to blue and my brown hair wouldn't turn to blond.  I had decided gosh darn it!  As I got older I of course realized why it wasn't going to happen, and discovered that no matter how much I laid out in the sun with lemon juice in my hair I was never going to get lighter than a strawberry blond and colored contacts were just freaky.  Genetics will tell.  Though the fact that I am the only brown eyed child in the bunch always made me laugh when we got to brown eye dominance in biology.  Just me and Dad in that wagon.  Of course now I am glad I have my father's eyes and glad that in a face that looks just like his father's my son looks back at me with my brown eyes.  But at the time I really wished for her blue eyes and long blond hair.

Fast forward to last week.  When Ann posted the picture I told her about how I had always wanted to grow up to look like her.  She told me that I grew up gorgeous on my own.  Which triggered another memory for me.  When we were home visiting when C was six months old I was sitting in their den with my brother and a song came on the radio, "She Don't Know She's Beautiful" and my brother teared up.  I asked him what was wrong and he said that the song just reminded him of Ann so much it made him misty every time he heard it.  It's true.  She doesn't always realize how beautiful she is.  From the inside out.  Look at those earliest memories, the teeter totter, the flowers at rehearsal, to now, telling me how pretty I am instead of realizing how beautiful she is.  So even if she isn't really my sister by blood, she is really my sister by bond.  And that's good enough for me.

Oh...and just to point out that genetic confusion runs in the family...when Ann was pregnant with Ashley we all just knew she was having a girl, just knew it.  My nephew Brian announced one day that though we all knew she was having a girl no one knew what color she would be!  :-)  

To be fair...his Aunt Chrystal that I mentioned earlier is black, so his ideas on what family meant were different as well.  Family, who do you choose to be in yours?

My sister Ann.

My senior picture, I almost got the hair right! (though her's was blonder in real life)

Edit: 11/9/11
After posting this blog my niece let me know that her mother actually has light green eyes not blue.  All of these years I have been trying for the wrong color eyes!  And just to show you how very sweet my sister is....she read the blog and didn't correct my mistake, I am sure she didn't want to make me feel bad for getting it wrong.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I am not sure exactly what triggered it.  If it is the constant questions from people on what Brent and I are gong to do this year for our milestone anniversary.  If it was the marathon of shows I watched while trapped in Burlington during the hurricane or if it's just a recessive gene that all women have, but I have become addicted to wedding shows.  Two in particular, Say Yes to the Dress and Four Weddings.

In Say Yes to the Dress you follow three or four brides in an episode as they try on dresses and pick their perfect dress for their perfect day.  In Four Weddings you have four brides who didn't know each other to start and they all attend each other's weddings and judge them for food, venue, dress and over all experience and who ever wins gets a honeymoon.  The first time I watched the SYTTD I was stunned at the prices!  They would ask the bride her budget and at times the answer would be $10,000 or more!  For a dress! That you are going to wear once!  I couldn't believe it.  But then I caught myself last week during an episode where a woman wanted to spend $1,000 thinking, "oh you won't get much of a dress for that"  Eek!

The first episode of FW that I watched I came in in the middle.  I couldn't figure out why these friends were dissing each other's weddings on camera.  "I just didn't like her dress, it made her look like a wedding cake." was one comment.  I thought her dress was lovely.  And now thanks to SYTTD I can tell you it probably cost around $7K.  After the marathon was over, (or at least for me, I switched off part way through, not because I was tired of looking at weddings but because I was craving wedding cake too badly to continue) I understood the concept of the show a little more and could understand why they were critiquing the weddings.

I am seriously fascinated by these shows.  Poor Brent has heard more about weddings in the past few weeks than he did when we were planning our own wedding.  The biggest thing for me is how much people are spending.  It's not unusual on an episode of FW for the wedding to cost $70K or more.  The "budget" weddings are usually around $7K.  Sometimes you can tell where the money went, open bar and food for a large group.  Sometimes you watch and think, oh you got ripped off!  But it never fails to fascinate me.  And almost every bride talks about how her day is all about her (not a lot of mention of the groom) and how she deserves to be a Princess that day.

If you were to add up all of the expenses from my wedding, dress, venue, food, invitation, photography, rentals, all of it, we probably came in under $1,000.  My dress was the first one I tried on, off of the clearance rack at JcPenney.  It actually cost less than my prom dress did the spring before.  The shoes I wore for my wedding I bought for prom knowing they would match my wedding dress as well so I wouldn't feel guilty spending the $25 for a pair of shoes I would only wear once.

Don't get me wrong, my wedding was a big, fat, hairy, deal to me.  My mother was the wedding director for our church while I was growing up.  I had been to hundreds of weddings before my own came around.  I had my wedding planned from the time I was 12.  My family joked to Brent that I married him because he fit the tux I had hanging in the back of my closet.  It was a church wedding and we were 18 so there was no open bar or dancing but it was catered.  But the catering was done by a friend of the family who wanted to break in to the business so she did it just for the cost of the food as a gift to me.  My Aunt made the cake, she makes the best cakes.  My mother and Aunt did the flower arranging.  We got married in my home church and had the reception in the fellowship hall.  The tuxes were rentals, the bridesmaids dresses were plain, the invitations were on discount.  My engagement ring came from Sam's Club and our wedding bands were my mother's for me and his father's for him.

And still, doing it all that inexpensively if I could go back in time and convince the 17 year old me that a big deal wedding was not really what she wanted I would.  We needed that money the first year of our marriage. If we could have kept the money in the bank it would have made it so much easier to find a nicer apartment to live in, better food to eat, maybe some furniture before we hit our first anniversary.  It would have been a battle to explain to the me I was at 17 that she would look back on her wedding day and not have really enjoyed much of it, that the wedding isn't the fun part, the marriage is.

In planning for the wedding my mother and I started clashing early and often.  I didn't want programs for the wedding, my feeling was if you are attending you know who everyone is and if you don't then you can ask somebody for an introduction.  My mother insisted that they were necessary.  I said no.  We had programs.  My parents had given me a set of cut glass goblets for graduation to use for our first toast, about a month before the wedding my mother asked if I knew where they were, I told her I was pretty sure they were under my bed where I had put them. She decided that the Bride and Groom champagne flutes would be better. I said no. When Brent and I took our first toast we had the Bride and Groom flutes.  Are you seeing how this went?

I was sick the day we got married.  Sick enough we had a glass of water up on the alter in case I started coughing during the ceremony, because I was coughing so hard I would throw up.  I had been sick for months.  The flu strain going around that year would not let go of me.  I worked in food service at the time and shudder to think of how many people I must have infected by medicating and going to work....sorry, Albuquerque!  I was so sick that the final fitting for my dress was two weeks before my wedding and they took the dress in more because I had lost weight from the fitting a month before.  Then when I put my dress on on my wedding day it was too big again.  Every bride wants to be their slimmest on their wedding day, right?  The dark bags under my eyes were so black that the woman who did my makeup put on highlighter so thick in pictures my skin looks white under my eyes.

In a town that never gets snow we had a big snowstorm the day before the wedding so fully half of our guests didn't come.  Friends of ours from high school showed up dressed to go out to Rocky Horror that night, at the time it pissed me off completely, now looking back I think it's pretty funny.  My sister Ann was pregnant with my niece and due any day, I kept telling her to wait, just wait a few days, Ashley listened and held out until January but looking at the pictures I know Ann must have been miserable standing at the guest book.  My sister Susan was just pregnant with David and actually had to duck out of the service and sit down because we had her wedged into her dress so tightly she about passed out.  My oldest nephew was the ring bearer and broke out in to hysterics during the service.  Our candles wouldn't light before the service and our unity candle didn't want to light during the service.  My brother-in-law's father committed suicide the morning of the wedding and my brother-in-law decided the best way to get through the service was by coking up.

Even with all of the food at the reception Brent and I got a bite of wedding cake and a sip of punch and then were shuffled around for pictures and greeting people and opening gifts.  After the formal reception at the church we headed over to a friend's house who was throwing us a party.  We were given a bottle of champagne and put it by my bag to take with us back to the hotel.  When we went to leave someone had helped themselves to our champagne and left the empty bottle for us.  At the hotel Brent's folks had arranged a delivery of roses, chocolates and champagne to the room.  We got the roses the next day, that was it.

And honestly, that's what I remember about the wedding.  My best memory of the day is getting to the hotel that night with Brent and doing what all newly married couples do....order room service.  Seriously, we were starving!  We ate pizza that to this day I think was the most delicious ever made while Brent took my hair down from the complicated updo (and not what I asked the beautician to do) I think I have ever had.

As I was telling Brent about the shows and my complete fascination with them he said, "I think our wedding was where you came to the conclusion that you are not a girly girl."  And I guess he is right.  I can look at their weddings and see how they would be fun to attend and look at the dresses in SYTTD and think how gorgeous they are (mostly, some are just UGLY!) but as soon as that price tag hits I think, no way!  I don't ever feel like I need a day to be a Princess.  Though again, Brent would tell you that stepping down to Princess when you are used to being the Queen doesn't sound like much fun.  Now if you'll excuse me I have Beverly Hills Weddings to watch...it's like Say Yes to the Dress but with NO budgets!!  Ooooh!

The day before the wedding.  Don't I look thrilled?

 The day of.  Yep, I look the picture of health.
But it wasn't all bad.    
And seriously...look how thin I was!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Life Stories

We had our furnace serviced last week.  Frank the guy who did the work left home when he was 16, actually his parents kicked him out, he spent the next two years couch surfing to make it through high school.  His folks own an appliance repair store down in Southern Oregon so everyone assumes that's how Frank learned the trade but he only worked for them for a few years in his 20s. See he got tired of working for them when he realized that everyone else was getting paid more for less hours and every time he would bring it up they would dangle the carrot of work hard, some day this will all be yours over his head when all he really wanted was to have some extra money in the bank right then for his wife and kids.  Getting married at 18 and having kids at 19 wasn't the smartest financial thing he ever did, but his daughters were the joy of his world.  Now that they are grown up he dotes on his grand-kids as well as his 12 year old step son.  Now there was some sort of scandal there where people assume the boy is his, due to his blue eyes, but as Frank is only 5'6" on a good day and the boy is already almost 6' tall it's obvious that it's his Daddy's genes in there....I could go on and on, I have a lot more of Frank's story I could share. How do I know all of this you wonder?  Well, it's my mother's fault.

I've mentioned that my mother stopped cooking when I was around 12 and didn't start again until it was basically just her and Dad she was cooking for.  With everyone working or going to school and living in the South Valley while working in the Heights it was just easier in her mind to eat out.  And for the most part cheaper as well.  What this meant is that instead of the meal rotation that happened in other families, Monday is spaghetti, Tuesday is meatloaf...we had Monday is Furr's, Tuesday is Cornucopia and so on.  Dinners would consist of me, my folks, what ever other members of the family were around and the waitstaff.  Yep, we would catch up on what they were doing, fill them in on what we were doing and did this every week.  For a teenager it was so embarrassing.  Other people's families didn't make friends with the waitress when they went to dinner why did we have to?  And this would be repeated at grocery stores, at the mall, in line at the post office.  No matter where we were by the time we left Dad and especially Mom would have heard the life story of whoever happened to be closest to us. It would drive me crazy.

Fast forward a few years.  Brent and I are checking out at the grocery store and the cashier is telling me about how she was really tired because she was working that day after staying up with a cranky baby the night before and she still had a class she needed to study for.  We get out to the car and Brent tells me, "You are just like your mother."  Excuse me?  Not exactly the words most women ever want to hear.  He goes on to tell me everyone just talks to me and tells me their life's story.  I said that I didn't ask them to!  They all just started talking. He said, "yeah, just like your mother."  So then I thought back...and he was right.  My parents were very nice people (my mother still is), very quick with a smile, very open and very polite.  So when someone answered the question "How are you?" honestly, with how they actually were, my folks would listen.  And because they would listen people would talk more.  And then because they had shared all of this information about themselves they ended up feeling a connection to my folks and so the next time they saw them they greeted them like they were friends instead of just someone they saw one time.

And so it got to be sort of joke between Brent and I.  He would nudge me every time someone would start in on their life story and I would just have to smile and take it.  He was right, I was just like my mother.  It would have been rude to not listen, and really most of the time it was pretty interesting.  And I always figured  that the extra 5 minutes out of my day were no big deal to me, but just having someone to talk to might be a  big deal to them.  I am still not entirely sure why people do this to me but they do.  I have always joked I just have one of those faces.  I look like everyone's best friend from third grade or their best friend's cousin or sister.  I smile easily and I look people in the eye when they talk.  I am my mother's daughter.  And because of this I am the receiver of everyone's life story.

I would like to be able to go back in time and apologize for every time I sighed or rolled my eyes at my mother listening as some stranger told her about their day.  Now I know that she didn't ask for it any more than I did.  But she embraced it and understood how important it was to other people as well. And also how much a little friendliness can mean to someone. When Dad died we all shared stories about him and my sister-in-law (I don't usually call her that, but it makes the story more clear) talked about the first time she met my parents (this is why I don't usually call her my SIL, she has been in the family for as long as I have been and it's weird to me to think of a time she wasn't she has always just been my sister) anyway....She met them as they were the greeters for Sunday services the first time my sister-in-law came to Ridgecrest.  Ann said she remembered thinking that she was really going to like going to church there if everyone was a friendly as they were, having no idea that in a few years those people were going to be her in-laws.

Ann had to have met our parents for the first time over 40 years ago.  And obviously has a lot of history between then and now and she still remembered that moment.  It makes me wonder how many other people remember the small kindness from my parents of just listening to them.  And how many people would say the same about me.  So yes, I know a lot about Frank the Furnace guy and I hope that sharing all of his story made his day a better one than it would have been if I had shut him down when started to talk, or worse yet if I had been the sort of person that made him feel as though he couldn't.

And on a purely selfish note, and a totally random coincidence I have been working on a short story in my head and I had just decided to name the main character Frank.  I have a predicament he is in but I was having a hard time fleshing out his back story.  Now I have one.  You never know what good things come by just taking the time to sit and listen to someone.  Thanks, Frank the Furnace Guy you are going to be a big help to Facebook Frank.  And thank you, Mom and Dad, seems I was listening as well.