Because it’s Christmas Eve, because it’s been, well, a little odd around here lately, and because I’m
a total loser still single and I have always had my Christmas with my little girl on Christmas Eve eve and Christmas Eve morning and afternoon up until about suppertime and so now have nothing much to do except watch John Wayne cowboy movies (with the most awkward romantic banter between actor and actress ever, between Wayne and Angie Dickinson) and drink, because I’m in a thoughtful, yet reasonably “blessed” mood today, and because I’ve been wanting to share these stories sometime, I’m going to tell you 3 small but true stories that are my 3 favorites ever among true stories.
The first two stories were told me by ex-wives or dear friends, and the 3rd is mine. All are true as to the best of my recollection:
Sweet Story Number 1
A work friend of mine has been married to the same man since just after high school, about the same time as she gave birth to the first of their 3 kids. She had been kicked out of high school because it was 1969 and it was a small town in South Dakota, and she was a high school senior who went and got herself pregnant. That’s how it was termed in those days, if it was talked about at all, the girl “went and got herself pregnant.” Just like if somebody did a little weed or some speed and got caught for it or somehow got in trouble or ruined his life, whether said ruination had anything to do with the substance use or not, it was said that that person “Got on dope.” I can’t remember a redneck or even average person from that era say it any other way, not “He developed a drug problem”, not “He was a goddamn pothead”, not “He started doin’ them damn pills”, no, it was always, “He got on dope.”
But I digress, mainly because I was afraid this story was too short. After my friend was kicked out of school, the star of the basketball team (who we’ll call Spiderman because his name is similar to Peter Parker) called an all-school meeting, no teachers allowed, to discuss it. He didn’t think it was right the way they treated my friend. I really don’t remember all the things the kids wanted to do to protest, because I have to be told several times before I remember details of stories (newspaper reporter, never), but I believe a boycott of graduation was among their discussions. Spidey (who grew up to become a minister) presented their demands to the school board, and my (very) pregnant friend was allowed to attend graduation and sit with the class, though of course not allowed to
waddle walk across the stage and get her diploma handed to her; she had to get that later. Spiderman knew that treating people like humans was the right thing to do, that a “reputation” was nothing but people talking, and he convinced his fellow students that they had to do the right thing, and they changed a little part of the world. My friend has 3 kids, a passel of grandkids, a huge heart and a great sense of humor. She’s thin and shaped nicely and I tell her “that’s not the ass of a 60-year-old” and sometimes I’m mean to her (because it doesn’t matter who it is when I’m in that mood, if I was a devout Catholic and the Pope stopped by and asked an annoying question, I’d ignore him or tell him to buzz off, that’s how big of a jerk I am when I don’t want to talk to people), and sometimes I apologize later and sometimes I don’t, and she buys me Christmas presents every year because she knows I don’t really get any Christmas presents any more (except for sweet little drawings and such from my daughter) because my family is either dead or Jewish, and she was able to hold her head high in 1969, because she knew she didn’t do anything wrong and because Spiderman knew right from wrong and wasn’t afraid to stand up for a classmate.
Sweet Story Number 2
A woman I may have been married to once and couldn’t care much about whether life is ever good to her now or not someone I used to know told me this one. When she was a young mom she was raising her niece as her own child, as well as her own daughter by a man who left her and who, I believe, for a time had his photo next to the word “worthless” in the dictionary. He had left town, left the state to be worthless in California rather than worthless in South Dakota where his little daughter lived. His mother, a judgmental busybody if there ever was one, a controlling bitch who nevertheless wanted the young mom to make something of her life and wanted the little 3-girl (because the mom was barely out of high school and basically a girl herself) family to make their way in the world, was, unlike her son, always there for the girls, supporting them in various ways, including baby-sitting when the mom worked or attended college classes. One cold night the young mom was broke and had nothing in the house for food. She tried to amuse the girls as best she could, was vainly hoping they’d play till they dropped to sleep, had fed them some crackers or something for noon lunch and eaten nothing herself, and thought to herself “If I only had a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, we could have a feast.” Now I don’t necessarily believe in miracles because they imply angels and an afterlife and such silliness, and you could say that the old busybody must have known that the little family would be out of money at that point in the month, or that the storyteller had forgotten she had mentioned to said busybody’s hubby (the one little girl’s grandpa, of course) that they didn’t have much to eat, or he’d stopped by earlier and known it somehow (that the cupboard was bare), but I prefer to think of it as a little miracle anyway. The young mom had no more thought about the bread and the peanut butter when there was a knock on the door, and there was the grandpa with 2 overstuffed bags of groceries, probably a week’s worth of food. In the bag with the rest of it?–of course, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.
Sweet Story Number 3
I never bought, borrowed or rented a crib when my little sweetie was a really, REALLY little sweetie; I used a playpen instead for a crib. She slept in the living room in a very familiar environment, the same area we did most of our living in after I had picked her up from daycare after work, or when she stayed overnight. She seemed like she was okay to be there (seemed that way to my little “rookie-parent” mind, anyway) with no one else in the same room. I was just down at the end of the short back hall in my room, not that far away. I would close my door most of the way, so I could stay up and read and not blast a bunch of light out at her, and I’d only turned the light off for awhile when I heard the door creaking a little. It was spring or summer but I didn’t have the windows open, there wasn’t a fan blowing, and I couldn’t figure out why the door was creaking. It was then that I realized my little daughter could climb out of the playpen. So I picked her up, sat in the chair and rocked her for a time, since she seemed to be shaking a little (again, rookie Dad couldn’t put two and two together and realize that she wasn’t comfortable there in the living room with no one there, was actually terrified), and laid her back in the playpen after she calmed down and seemed ready to sleep (or maybe even was asleep, I can’t quite remember). It wasn’t but a few minutes after that, the door was creaking again, the realization hit me “Oh that’s right she can climb out of the playpen by herself”, and I finally decided, “okay sweetie, you can have the other side of the bed”. As I rolled over on my side away from her to sleep on my right side like I’ve spent about 90 percent of my unconscious time the last 20 years, I felt this little, little, impossibly little set of fingers on the back of my neck, checking, just checking to see if I was really there. I couldn’t turn, was afraid she’d get all squirrelly and not sleep if I told her, “I love you, Hope, I’m sorry you were so scared.” But I didn’t move my neck away from her hand, just settled in right there and I’m sure we were both asleep in a few seconds. She has her own bed now at my place of course, her own room, and just recently quit hauling all the stuffed animals (including a rabbit that’s as big as the average 5-year old, that came from my mom and dad’s house, that no one claimed but I bet my sister conveniently left it behind once because of how huge it was and she was a single mom who didn’t have room for giant stuffed rabbits) on her bed to crawl into the other side of the bed in the middle of the night, sometimes sleeping the whole night in her own bed, sometimes just bringing her stuffed bear Corduroy. But (though the day will come when she’ll be too big to go climb into Dad’s bed), for now, and even then when she’s not scared any more of being alone in her own room, I’ll always think of that little hand, on the back of my neck, checking, just checking.