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Today's Carnegie Forum was the Lodi Public Library when I was growing up.

1. What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have any funny/odd memories of the library?

I have wonderful memories of the children’s section of the Lodi Library.  I still remember when I got my library card with the small metal plate in the center.  I was so excited because I was able to print my name by myself and that meant I was eligible to have my own card.

All I have to do is close my eyes and I can smell the books, feel my feet running up the steps on the northeast back corner of the building, and see the beloved children’s librarian, Mrs. Smith, putting those distinctive cards into the machine that stamped the due date on them in bluish-purple ink as the sound of the charms on her gold bracelet clashing together mingled with the electronic clunk emanating from the machine.

We used to ride our bikes to the library after summer band and swim lessons, checking out piles of books to read on the lawn under the big trees behind the building or at the pool or on the patio while eating fresh peaches from the tree in our backyard.  Every summer, Mrs. Smith devised a clever program to keep us reading and provided us with pocket-sized memo books in which we recorded our thoughts and impressions about what we read.  I remember best the summer that we metaphorically traveled the world, landing in a different country every time we finished a book. She gave us all passports and stamped them in bright colors when we “arrived” at the airport. After spending time there, we would ride our bikes to Okazaki’s or Woolworth’s for a snowcone ($.05), and then head on to the Lodi High pool or Lodi Lake to spend the afternoon swimming before making our way home by 5:10 p.m. for dinner.

When we transitioned to the “adult” section of the library, we began entering via the heavy front doors with the glass panels.  Invariably, we would bump into friends coming out of the buildling as we were entering — many conversations took place on those front steps, with the librarians sometimes coming over to the door to shush us when we laughed or spoke too loudly.  I can still hear the wooden floor creak about two steps into the main foyer and see the old wooden tables and chairs into which prior generations of high school students carved their initials.  We would hang out in the evenings, telling our parents that we needed to do research for a school project in order to get permission to use the car and meet there.  But we didn’t do a lot of studying. Instead, we wrote notes and whispered, gossiping about our classmates, anticipating upcoming school activities, and dreaming aloud about whomever we had a crush on or were dating.

Sometimes we would sneak out to get a soda and cruise the drag (School Street).  I’ll never forget the night in early 1973 when I came home in our 1963 Chevrolet Impala that my girlfriends and I nicknamed “Betty Lou.”  We had cruised a bit.  My father was furious with me because “it’s not seven miles from this house to that library, young lady!”  He had actually checked the milage to see how far I had driven (he was, after all, an auto mechanic).  He added, “I’m not made out of money, you know.  Gas is $.29 a gallon!”

2. What two things are at the top of your to-do list? When do you think you’ll get around to doing those things? How good are you at crossing things off your to-do list?

My personal list:  I need to practice the selections for our next Stockton Concert Band concert on December 9, 2008, but my flute needs some adjustments so I will be meeting with the technician on Tuesday evening.  If he needs to keep it — and my piccolo — in order to complete the work, I will play my back-up instrument until his work is complete.  

With my sister in the front yard in about 1960. You can see my father's reflection in the window.

3. Where do you come in the family? Are you the oldest? Youngest? Only child? Or smack in the middle? How do you think this has affected the way you grew up? Would you agree with your birth order personality? Are you happy with your birth order, or do you wish you had been the oldest/youngest, etc.

I have only one sibling.  My sister is eight years my senior and that age span, in combination with the ways in which my family was highly dysfunctional, had a profound impact on my life.

While growing up, I felt like I had two mothers, particularly since my mother deferred many of her duties to my sister, in part because she had ongoing health problems when I was very young.  My mother was 40 years old when I was born and I was a very high-energy kid.  In many ways, I think she was worn out before I came along and my rambunctious personality absolutely drained her of any energy reserves she had left.  So she put my sister in charge of caring for me.  Frankly, she took advantage of my sister at times.  I remember, for instance, being foisted upon her when she went places with her friends and, later, boyfriends.  She resented my mother for doing that to her, as well as, of course, me.

My mother was obsessed with making everything “equal” vis a vis the two of us to the point that our life experiences were all-too-often decidedly unequal and unfair.  I was expected to do everything my sister did at precisely the same age she did it and in exactly the same manner.  That frequently resulted in absurd, bizarre situations, most notably my delayed career as a flutist.  Because my sister played the clarinet, I was expected to do the same, even though I longed and begged to join the school band as a member of the flute section.

Sadly, my mother also pitted us against each other with shocking regularity.  She fostered competition and envy between us, and gossiped with each of us about the other.  When we reached adulthood, we learned to compare notes in order to defuse my mother’s desire to create drama and tension.

Because my mother deigned that I would live in my sister’s shadow, I became determined to create my own light.  So while she was compliant, obedient, and followed the script my parents wrote for her life without protest, I was extremely rebellious, determined to be the antithesis of my sister and all she represented or stood for. I acted out which, ironically, aligned my sister and parents, making it a three against one battle. She did their “dirty work” for them.  After a few instances in my early twenties when my sister convinced me to take her into my confidence, only to betray me by immediately conveying the information I had shared with her to my parents, I never trusted her again. My college roommates and I dubbed her the “Forward Observer” and from that point on, we had a purely superficial relationship.

Our parents are dead and we have no extended family, so it would be lovely if we could have a close relationship.  But we are as different as two people who grew up in the same house raised by the same parents could possibly be.  We are married to men who are as different as two men could be.  I hoped our children would grow up as close-knit cousins and struggled to help the four of them mesh, but my sister systematically sabotaged my efforts.

Frankly, I could write a doctoral thesis about the complexities of and my disappointments about my relationship with my sister.  The reality is that, as I write this, I have no have relationship with her.

4. If it wasn’t for ________ , I would ________.

If it wasn’t for the dysfunctionality of my family of origin, I would have followed a totally different career path.  I am convinced that my family members’ interactions with and influence upon me were the genesis of my dedication to civil rights, egalitarianism, and assuring that those who do not have their own voice or platform are accorded justice through the efforts of others who are willing to go to battle alongside and for them.


11 Comments

  1. Wow! You wrote a story — I feel positively miserly with my words (and I’m typically quite loquacious!). You made me a bit homesick, though — I was born and raised in the Sacramento area and seeing words like “Lodi” and “Stockton” made me sniffle.

    I’m sorry about your family. But, OTOH, what doesn’t kill us truly does make us stronger! Have a great Monday (and my MMM is up).

    Marianne´s most recent post: Monday Morning Meme and More

  2. That was huge, ha ha. I can relate to a lot of the things said about the library. Ahh, I remember the children’s section… good times.

    Austin from Airsoft Rifles´s most recent post: CH0581C BOYI Airsoft Shotgun

  3. Chrystal K.

    I remember going to my elementary school’s library with my class. When it was time to check out books I would always look for the Amelia Bedelia books, I loved her. I also loved the Berenstain Bears. 😛

  4. One of my favorite books to get from the library when young were books by Ezra Jack Keats.

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  5. Spearypearl

    Monday morning hard to do anything and it looks like a hell to me. One of my favorite books to get from the library when young were books by Ezra Jack Keats.

    Spearypearl´s most recent post: Pressure Power Washers

  6. Just came across your blog via the comments you left on someone else’s. I love your writing!

    I grew up in a house whose property was adjacent to the county library’s, so I have lots of fond memories there. I had forgotten about the little card with the metal strip in the middle! Oh, the meaning that first card held for me! How could I have forgotten about that until now?

    I was a late-in-life baby for my mother, too; she was nearly 45 when I was born. The next closest in age to me was my brother, who is 9.5 years older. Sometimes I felt like an only child. It had its good points, and not-so-good, as well.

    I will bookmark you and keep reading. Have a great day!

    Susan´s most recent post: 9:40 a.m.: October 23, 1996

  7. downloadable audio books

    I’m sorry about your family. But, OTOH, what doesn’t kill us truly does make us stronger! Have a great Monday (and my MMM is up).

  8. I was lucky enough to have a mother who introduced me to books at a VERY young age-she started reading to me at 4 months. Our local library had a program twice a week which was basically story-time and we could check out books -I went through this until I started school. Funny thing too- my grandmother, (mom’s mom), was the Librarian at a local elementary school so I have full reign there too. I think this is why I am a prolific reader today- I can’t even fathom the number of books I have read.

    As for your family- there is no perfect family. My mom and I were JUST discussing this today-about how dysfunctional 2 of her brothers are and the impact it’s had on the rest of us. Even with me being an only child I was raised by a mom who was-and still is, very critical of everything-from my hair to the way I keep house. So, I was raised to believe I had to be perfect in whatever endeavor I chose and I honestly think this is one reason why I’m in the situation I’m in now- the fear of failure and rejection and not having the guts to follow the path I know I should have taken. Always remember- you are who you are and you make the best of it, no matter how difficult the challenge. God doesn’t give us things he thinks we can’t handle.
    I’ll stop rambling now 🙂

    Beth´s most recent post: How To Cope With Being An Only Child And Not Go Crazy.

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