Learning To Love You More

63. Make an encouraging banner.

62. Make an educational public plaque.

61. Describe your ideal government.

60. Write a press release about an everyday event.

59. Interview someone who has experienced war.

58. Record the sound that is keeping you awake.

57. Lipsync to shy neighbor's Garth Brooks cover.

56. Make a portrait of your friend's desires.

55. Photograph a significant outfit.

54. Draw the news.

53. Give advice to yourself in the past.

52. Write the phone call you wish you could have.

51. Describe what to do with your body when you die.

50. Take a flash photo under your bed.

49. Draw a picture of your friend's friend.

48. Make the saddest song.

47. Re-enact a scene from a movie that made someone else cry.

46. Draw Raymond Carver's Cathedral.

45. Reread your favorite book from fifth grade.

44. Make a "LTLYM assignment".

43. Make an exhibition of the art in your parent's house.

42. List five events from 1984.

41. Document your bald spot.

40. Heal yourself.

39. Take a picture of your parents kissing.

38. Act out someone else's argument.

37. Write down a recent argument.

36. Grow a garden in an unexpected spot.

35. Ask your family to describe what you do.

34. Make a protest sign and protest.

33. Braid someone's hair.

32. Draw a scene from a movie that made you cry.

31. Spend time with a dying person.

30. Take a picture of strangers holding hands.

29. Make an audio recording of a choir.

28. Edit a photo album page.

27. Take a picture of the sun.

26. Design an article of clothing for Mona to crochet.

25. Make a video of someone dancing.

24. Cover the song "Don't Dream It's Over".

23. Recreate this snapshot.

22. Recreate a scene from Laura Lark's life story.

21. Sculpt a bust of Steve.

20. Take a family portrait of two families.

19. Illustrate a scene or make an object from Paul Arensmeyer's life story.

18. Recreate a poster you had as a teenager.

16. Make a paper replica of your bed.

15. Hang a windchime on a tree in a parking lot.

14. Write your life story in less than a day.

13. Recreate the moment after a crime.

12. Get a temporary tattoo of one of Morgan Rozacky's neighbors.

11. Photograph a scar and write about it.

10. Make a flier of your day.

9. Draw a constellation from someone's freckles.

8. Curate an artist's retrospective in a public place.

7. Recreate 3 minutes of a Fresh Air interview.

6. Make a poster of shadows.

5. Recreate an object from someone's past.

4. Start a lecture series.

3. Make a documentary video about a small child.

2. Make a neighborhood field recording.

1. Make a child's outfit in an adult size.

The Oliver Family Reports
Assignment #14
Write your life story in less than a day.

Carol Oliver
When I first undertook this assignment, I thought to do it for several practical reasons. Firstly, I've always wanted to write; secondly, I'm the fastest typist in the family so I thought I would be less frustrated in doing it; and finally I've had a pretty interesting life I think so it might make for some entertaining reading. But that presumes, of course, that I can produce entertaining writing. A tall order indeed.
Upon reflection, my eagerness may have been foolhardy. Finding an entire day to devote to the task has been daunting. But equally ominous have been the thoughts of how to accomplish it knowing about the greater audience. All our family and friends are watching. All will have a chance to read it. There are things we do in life of which we are not proud. There are things we've done which no one we know now knows about. (Say that fast three times!) There are also things which we don't want our children to know while they are still children; we'd rather they do as we say instead of as we did. And of course there are our parents to protect. Don't they deserve to live to a ripe old age with their illusions of our grandeur intact?
On the most basic level, to omit any detail leaves the mission of the assignment unfulfilled. It also would seem a bit dishonest to the reader as these experiences have been part of our lives and more importantly part of what makes us who we are today. Integrity being my greatest asset, you can see what a pickle this puts me in. I feel as if I'm about to skewer myself and hop into the fire. We shall see. It will be an interesting dilemma to solve as I go along. If anyone who reads this know of something I've left out, can we let that just be our little secret? Please??!
My life to date has been an exciting ride. I hope for your sake it is an exciting read as well.
-Carol Oliver, July 28, 2007
Seattle, Washington
In the beginning...
I was born in St. Joseph's hospital in Wichita, Kansas on January 19th, 1958. My story likely begins (as all our stories do) before that. My father is a very intelligent man who lives the life of a regular guy that does interesting things. He has been a high school Math teacher and an Apiarist (look it up!) with many stops along the way. My mother is a smart, lively British subject with the most generous of hearts. My Mum (as she prefers to be called) will literally give you the proverbial shirt off her back if you need it; especially if you are a baby animal, an injured bird, or a raccoon of any kind. Two more different people you could not find. But not opposite, as in "opposites attract". They are just very different from each other. It makes one wonder at the attraction. My father was a GI in the U.S. Army at the time. He looked very handsome in uniform. Perhaps that was part of it? But that is their story and you are here to read mine.
I had asthma as a child. Not constantly but when it came it was bad. After my parents split up my mother apparently took me back to England. I was baptized in a hospital there as they thought I might not make it. The doctor told my mother that if I survived, she must take me out of the country where I could live in a different climate. Thus for the sake of breath did I not grow up a little English girl. Bummer, that.
I don't remember ever living with both my parents. They divorced when I was about 18 months old. My recollections of the first few years of my life are just of myself and my mother. We lived together, my mother and I, in a small one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a white house, across the street from the rail yard in Wichita until I was five. That was a very happy time for me. My mother is a great person who makes good, life-time friends. Our apartment was often filled with them. They would baby-sit me in turns when my Mom would go out, or they would gather at our house and I would watch the party through the sheers on the French doors that led to the bedroom. I recall them taking me to Joyland Park. My mother and I would walk or take the bus everywhere, as she didn't drive then. I had a series of babysitters at whose houses I would be dropped off at the crack of dawn in order for my mom to be able to get to work on time. It can't have been easy for her to be a single Mom in that day and age. We were an exception back then. It was there that she met and began dating her second husband, also a GI, but this one USAF.
I don't remember everything from that time, but the memories I do have are very vivid. I remember my mother and I having chicken pox at the same time and swabbing each other with Calamine lotion on the back porch with me sitting, I think, on top of a washing machine or perhaps a table so I could reach her spots. I remember burning myself when learning to cook scrambled eggs because I slipped and laid my arm in the frying pan. My distinctive right index fingerprint is a memento of that occasion. I remember walking hand in hand downtown with my Mom and how she would annoy me by wrapping her pinkie back over the top of my wrist when we were holding hands. I remember looking in shop windows as we walked. I remember my Uncle Ralph - my first father figure - and how fiercely I loved him as a distant memory for all of my subsequent childhood. And I distinctly remember (though my mother does not) her asking me whether I was okay with Steve becoming my Dad. I was sitting under the dining room table at the time. I said yes. Later I was to regret that. After a beating or a belittling or some other abuse, I used to wish I'd said "No!" and wonder if it would have made a difference.
An Air-Force Brat...
Thus began the second chapter of my life. My friends in elementary school were always amazed that I could say I went to my parents' wedding. As active-duty Air Force, stationed at McConnell in Wichita, there was enough to forgo the apartment and move to a rural location. Perhaps it was closer to the base, or perhaps as I reflect now, they wanted some privacy from a five year old. We lived in Rose Hill, Kansas. Next door lived a woman with a son my age. We had acres and acres of land to roam and a big pond in the back yard though I don't recall swimming there. I must have started kindergarten about this time because my teacher was Miss Nichols, about 80+ years old at the time, and she had also been the kindergarten teacher of my next door neighbor's MOTHER. I found this fascinating. My new babysitter also lived in Rose Hill. They lived in an old house without plumbing. This was my first outhouse experience.
My sister was born while we lived at Rose Hill. This changed everything. She was born with a hair lip and a cleft palate. I was not allowed to touch her, not even through the bars of her crib, though I used to sneak in and touch her head when no one was looking. She wasn't much part of my life at Rose Hill and it didn't seem real to have her until we moved to our next house at 211 North Ohio. We lived next to a church and in front of another family who soon became my "Aunt Betty" and my best friend, Leonard Rosenberg. We did everything together, Leonard and I; everything that 6-8 year olds might do. I had a large white rabbit for a pet. I was allergic to corn, wheat and chocolate. (These have since become my favorite foods.) We had a very large front porch where you could still play even when it was raining. Leonard got a BB gun for his birthday I think. We took turns until I shot at a target, hit a tree, and it ricocheted and hit him in the hip. I was mortified and thought he would never speak to me again. He and his father swore me to secrecy, not to tell my Auntie Betty as she would confiscate the gun for sure.
Other memories of this time include moving to first grade and not liking it one bit. I longed for the warmth of Miss Nichols. I played the part of a Ram for the Christmas pageant at the Church next door. "I," said the Ram with the curly horn, "I gave my wool to keep him warm..." I remember having my own room with a closet that ran half the length of it. The closet was very shallow and the door was at one end but it ran sideways from the door for several feet and ended at a small wall with a window high in it. I thought it very interesting to have a window in my closet. I've lived many places and never had one since. The window was too high to see out, but very convenient for finding things. I used to try and pile my stuff high enough so that I could stand on it and look out the window. I never could. We made many things in the kitchen in my mother's big pink bowl. My sister's greatest joy was riding around in a laundry basket. We had wood floors and I would slide her all over the house. It made her giggle and I liked that. She wore her hair in a palm tree to keep it off her face and out of her eyes. She was cute, but I still thought she looked a little alien.
I remember visits to my Nanny and Pop-a-Pete. Nanny was my grandmother, my mother's mother. Pop-a-Pete was her second husband. His name was Willard Jerome Petri, but everyone called him "Pete." It never occurred to me until pretty recently that they probably were expecting that I was to call him Papa Pete, but once I learned to spell - being the eldest grandchild - I never did spell it that way, nor did I think of it as Papa, only as Pop. Pop was also a GI when my grandmother met him in England. They were married the year before my parents were. I never made the connection nor heard the "rest of the story" until much later in life.
I stayed with my grandparents when my parents went on their honeymoon I think and for at least part of the summer after that. I remember running through the sprinklers with the kids in the neighborhood in my underwear. And the neighbors complained to my grandmother that a little girl shouldn't be running around thusly dressed. Nanny thought they were nuts and told them so. My Uncle Barry is only a few years older than I am. He is my mother's youngest brother. So we grew up together, on a part-time basis, my Uncle Barry and I. I don't call him Uncle Barry. I never have. He's just Barry to me. He's more of a friend/big brother than an uncle. I remember that summer learning to sing with him. This was also the summer he discovered model airplane building. I was not allowed to touch ANYTHING, nor was I allowed to go in his room anymore lest I disturb his latest work in progress. We sang for the grown ups anytime company came over. The song I most remember was "Moon River."
Nanny had a series of Pekinese dogs, all named "Bimbo." They started off as Bimbo and then Bimbo2, at which time Bimbo became Bimbo1. I have met many people since then who always have the same breed of dog around and often call it the same name as a previous dog. I don't get it, never have. To me each dog is an individual and to inflict another dog's name on them would be like calling your new best friend Leonard, even if it's a girl nothing like Leonard, just because that's the name of your old best friend. Pop-a-Pete was a mail carrier of the USPS. This was a great job for a grandfather to have because it meant that he came home early most afternoons and was free to play and teach you things all afternoon and into the long evenings. The smell of sawdust will always remind me of him.
Along about 1966, we were re-stationed to Kadena AFB, Okinawa. I spent two glorious years there. We lived off base, in a housing development of flat topped cement block houses called Morgan Manor. Ours was number 509. I was bussed to the on-base elementary school for 3rd and 4th grade. These were in different places. The lower grades were in Quonset huts at one location and the upper elementary grades were at a separate location. I don't remember much about third, Mrs. R. I think, but my fourth grade teacher made a significant impact on me. During my whole school career only four teachers stand out as having actually taught me something that only they could teach. Ms. Perrault was one of these.
In addition to being an excellent judge of budding adolescent character, she was also an avid conchologist and took us on several of the most wonderful field trips. She was the first to teach me an appreciation of nature. Living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was the perfect place for this. In her class I learned my times tables, to vary my handwriting and how to write cursive beautifully. I also "learned my lesson" several times over. Ms. Perrault always seemed to know just what I needed and when. She could keep me challenged and still keep me in check. My most embarrassing moment happened during her reign. We were on our way to an all school assembly. I was chewing gum - a big taboo in those days but I figured since we were going to assembly I could chew with impunity and get lost in the crowd. Unfortunately Miss Perrault must have spotted my mouth moving while we were in line going into the auditorium. At the door she asked me if I had gum. I always tell the truth so I said yes, thinking she'd make me spit it out. No such luck. I had to take it from my mouth, stick it to my nose, and wear it through the entire assembly. Needless to say I never snuck gum in her class again.
Okinawa was great place to be in the late 60s. Because it is a small island and because both my parents worked, we had a maid. Her name was Tamiko. She spoke English with a very thick accent. We once had a 45 minute conversation because she wanted me to go to the market and buy carrots for dinner and I thought she was asking for cabbage. She finally had to draw me a picture. Okinawa was a pretty safe place. We children had our run of Morgan Manor and its surrounds. There were rice paddies at one end and hills at the other. We several times found ordnance half-buried in the hills. These were leftover from WWII and we had to call the bomb removal squad in case they were live. This was always exciting. We could spend our pennies at the local Mom and Pop store; we could pretend to be anything and roam the manor - it was our battlefield, our ocean for pirates, our sandlot and provided endless hiding places for playing at espionage. Or we could play endless games of marbles in circles drawn in the dirt with breaks in between to wander down to the rice paddies and watch the habus curl up around the legs of the mamasans who worked the fields. I wish I had learned more Japanese there. Tamiko was too busy trying to learn English from us to teach us any Okinawan.
The houses, being flat topped, were also great places to play on. Of course we were forbidden from doing so but that never stopped us. We could climb the trees and walk right over a branch onto the roofs. Every house in Morgan Manor had a small yard surrounded by a 3 foot round-topped cement wall. These walls were of course common between the neighbors. We used to figure out how we could get from one person's house to another without getting down from the walls. We were the wall-walkers and we had no fear. I broke my first bone falling off one of those walls while preparing to dive into the small pool in our backyard. I was holding on to the clothesline (remember those?) preparing to do something fancy. The line broke and so did my arm as I hit the ground. I was in a cast for six weeks.
Lots of small but significant things happened in my life on Okinawa. I was bitten by a dog for the first time, I accidently-on-purpose injured another kid, I peeked for the first and last time at what was coming for Christmas, I learned to write cursive, I babysat for the first time, I broke my first bone, I liked my first boy, my second sister was born who taught me so much, I had the mumps, and I learned a bit about survival and to appreciate creature comforts. During monsoon season we would occasionally be huddled in the house with no power or water with the windows all shuttered for many hours that sometimes stretched into days while the storms raged around us. I had my first friends of different color, nationality and background.
Culture Shock...
Coming "home" to the States in 1968 was a rude awakening. We were stationed at Little Rock AFB in Arkansas for the first six months of fifth grade. It seemed that the newest people in my life were generally narrow minded and full of preconceptions, usually misconceptions about the world and other people. We were only there for a matter of months. Things I remember from Arkansas are keeping a cat in the bushes outside my window. A pitiful little black kitten no bigger than a teacup. Because I was ostensibly allergic to cats and feathers, we could not have such an animal in the house. There was a miniature remote control racecar track somewhere near or on the base. This was cool place to be. I also remember falling on a gravel playground and thinking how dumb to put gravel on a playground and getting butterfly stitches on my knee. I remember accidently closing a door on my sister's fingers and how sorry I felt that she was hurt. And I remember my first dog - Schwartz. He was half Chihuahua, half Pekinese but we got to have him because he was a short-hair and because it was rumored that Chihuahuas were good for kids with asthma.
We soon moved on to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. Here my parents bought a house for the first time. We were 5, soon to be 6. Because we were all girls we did not qualify for a 4 bedroom house on base so they bought one off base. It was in a brand new neighborhood where all the houses weren't even finished yet. And we all know what great taboo playgrounds are made of half-finished houses when the workers knock off for the day or the weekend. The second half of fifth grade was a rude awakening of a different sort. I had my first personal experience with bullies in the form of the smallest person in my grade who perhaps chose me as a target because I was the largest or maybe since I came in the middle of the year I was just fresh meat. Always tall for my age group, I was almost double her height and she had the unfortunate life circumstance to be born into a family with the surname of Midget. Thusly I was afraid more of hurting her than of being hurt by her and I always refused to fight. More bullies in my life at this time were my stepfather who controlled me now with my fear of him and my teacher who thought that a day without paddling was like a day without sunshine. As I was the not the best behaved student - I acted out often from boredom - my cheeks were burning on more than one occasion from having to put my hands around my ankles.
Somewhere in between here I spent another summer with my grandparents in Albuquerque New Mexico, this time with the oldest of my sisters; perhaps it was the summer my youngest sister was born. We were enrolled in some sort of day camp where we spent a lot of time in a gym doing gymnastic type things and bouncing on trampolines. Barry had a paper route by then and a car to deliver them in. He would take me with him on his route if I'd help. Sometimes we'd stop at Blakey's for root beer. The ozone smell of fresh rain on hot asphalt will always take me back to those times with him. We played the radio full blast and he promised to teach me to drive when I was older. He did too, in a way, he taught me to drive my first stick-shift in his old MG once I'd left home. That summer my grandparents lived just across a mesa from a shopping center. There was a Skaggs there with an ice cream freezer near the front door. That summer we ate ice cream almost every night. Barry and Pop would have giant bowls of it and pour soda over the top. And a friend of my Nan's had a pool of her very own and we went swimming there sometimes. It was a blissful summer - there was a cherry tree in the back yard, a basketball hoop in the driveway, and an entire pack of Dobermans in the yard next door to try to tame through the privacy fence.
Sixth grade was more of the same from some arenas and only salvaged in others by my enthusiastic participation in Girl Scouts and my budding babysitting business which brought me an income that I could do with whatever I wished. I got a three speed bicycle which gave me the freedom to roam much farther afield and spend time with friends with a longer traveling distance. It was here in San Antonio that my mother finally learned to drive. The bus service to west San Antonio was nearly non-existent there and didn't go any of the places we wanted to travel anyway. I won the school spelling bee as I recall. My homeroom teacher (we switched classes for the first time in sixth) was called Ms. Jones. She looked like a large overripe black version of the Gerber baby. Well over six feet and many hundreds of pounds with the cutest little ringlets that marched in rows across the top of her head. She could sing a spiritual like nobody's business and taught me by example the difference between singing from your mouth and singing from your soul. Near Christmas she taught us "Go Where I Send You." And when she sang it she would be transported somewhere else and we dare not go there nor act up because it was such an inspiring thing to watch. No matter how many times I tried to tell her that my name was just "CAROL, C-A-R-O-L," she would always, when annoyed with me, grab my arm and shake me and say very loudly, "Caroline, Caroline, what's your trouble, girl?" Only of course it sounded more like "kerlin, kerlin, watz yo trubba gur'?
The Age of Reason...
At the beginning of seventh grade I'd had enough and went to live with my Nanny and Pop-a-Pete. They were in the middle of building a house in Edgewood, New Mexico. When I arrived the foundation was poured and Pop was laying the flooring. It was on 5 acres and the people next door raised Arabian horses. I started school in Moriarty. We lived temporarily in an old motel that was king before the interstate came through. Every day when I came home I was amazed at how much more Pop had accomplished on the house. He built it nearly single-handedly, and we were in it - totally done, before Christmas. It was a large raised ranch style house and I had my own room with wallpaper that I got to choose. I was in heaven. School was just as boring saved only by the fact that being so small it was grades 7-12 and so there were older kids to hang out with. Pop made sour milk pancakes every Sunday morning, we had my Uncle's dog, Sandy, a border-collie who would run off for days. He loved that we lived in the country now; long walks in Albuquerque were never enough for him.
One of my friends at school was a senior. She had a twin sister. A few years later she married my Uncle Barry. So now she's my aunt. Small world, eh? My most vivid memories of my time in Edgewood are of being homesick for my sisters. When we were living in the motel, I remember my Nanny killing a baby rattlesnake with a full tea-kettle one day when it tried to come in the room. I remember being ill with a kidney infection. I remember long rides through the trails of the Cristo's on the back of Barry's motorcycle, and stacking firewood in the back of Pop's pickup and delivering to Miss Pearl as he'd done every Fall in forever so that she would be warm for the winter. I remember the smoothness of her skin and how her face looked as young as a baby's in spite of her 90+ years. And I remember going to church with Pop. I didn't know it then but I expect he was a Friend of sorts. This would explain many things about his ferocious gentleness and his calm demeanor. He did not seem to suffer foolishness much, but he had a ready smile. He was not a soft man but he was always kind, and I never saw him rest. When he was sitting down - usually only to eat - he was even then planning what he was going to do next.
But the homesickness was overwhelming. I could stand being away from my parents, but the pull of my sisters was too strong. I went back to San Antonio. I joined the middle-school band and played the coronet. I got a sewing machine and learned to make my own clothes since I was too tall for anything in the store. I took up the guitar, went to Girl Scout camp in the summers, sold the maximum number of cookies to get scholarships to same. My best friend, Phyllis, was someone I'd met at camp but she lived on the other side of town. Too far to bike and she went to a different school. I went to church on Sundays for a while with a friend down the street and became a Holy Roller. I went through a series of boyfriends, pretty much working my way up the trumpet section in the band. Good place to be - the only girl in a gaggle of teenage boys. I went to dances and actually danced and learned that I enjoyed that. Mr. Smith was my junior high school History teacher who showed me that Miss Perrault's ability to teach was not something so extraordinary. The secret to great teaching was to be passionate about your subject and to still be a student of your passion. This was also the year that dear Pop-a Pete was killed by a drunk driver. I always think that the driver killed the body of my Pop and the spirit of my uncle, for Barry was also in the car and badly mangled. I was not allowed to attend the funeral. He has been since and is still my guardian angel. I never want no matter how bleak. His presence is one of the reasons that I don't worry so much about money to the great annoyance of those around me.
High school found me at John Jay High School on Marbach road in San Antonio. About two miles from our house, there was a bus to get there but I could arrive at the same time if I walked it which I often did. Particularly in the afternoon as I was on a second shift bus - I could get home walking about the same time as if I waited around school and caught the bus. I took driver's education and got my permit at the earliest possible moment. There were lots of people doing drugs at Jay. It was a large school - about 3200 students when I was there. I was still in band as a Freshman, but that was taken from me in 10th grade as there "was no future for a girl trumpet player." So I stacked up my schedule with academics and realized at the beginning of my sophomore year that with only one extra class - English - I'd have enough credits to graduate in three years instead of four. My best friend at school was named Greg - he was going to graduate early too. I tried out for the number sense team, had a good Chemistry teacher and a continued with a succession of coaches for teachers in order to substantiate them as employees and continue with the teams for the school. Translation - more boredom now combated with a battle plan to finish as quickly as possible. A near-sighted goal as it turned out.
Summer of my sophomore year found me taking Junior English in summer school so that the following year I would be classified as a Senior. It also saw our family stationed to Edwards AFB in the middle-of-nowhere Mojave Desert in California. The step-parent had been away for a couple years going to college and stationed in Thailand and now was coming back stateside to a new posting. I helped my Mom drive my sisters across the country to meet up with him and then on to Edwards. California was a very amoral place - even in the middle of the Mojave. I was appalled. I also could not graduate that year if I stayed there. I got a job in the Commissary by reason of tight sweaters and stacked Mom. We worked for tips only. I saved enough by Christmas to think myself able to leave California and head back home to Texas. I knew that to stay would be my downfall and Texas was now the only place that had ever felt like a home of any permanence.
I left in the middle of the night. I told my grandmother, who was visiting for the holidays, that I was going so no one needed to worry. I was riding with the boyfriend of my friend who was also leaving. They gave me a ride as far as Albuquerque where I stayed with Barry and Madelyn, intending to go on to San Antonio from there. After much stupid haggling with the step-parent, I was "allowed" to return to Texas only because my grandmother promised to come and stay with me. She came a few weeks later, stayed long enough to provide me with transportation, see that I had a job and a place to stay and was truly attending school as planned. Then she went her own way, convinced of my ability to provide for my own destiny.
College and Marriage...
When I arrived back in San Antonio, people had moved on and so had I. Somehow much of myself and my friends had passed each other emotionally in the few months I'd been gone. Soon after I got back I hooked up with some of my friends from band; two of those coronet players from middle school. One of whom I started dating again. His parents became my surrogate parents. His father taught me to work on my car. His mother taught me how to cook Cajun. I went on vacation with them; Fishing, crabbing, trips to see family in Louisiana. When I graduated he still had a year to do. I worked full time so that I could live in an apartment. I found that I didn't have enough high school "experience" to go to or attend university. I didn't know what I wanted to study anyway. I thought maybe social work or teaching but demand for that was high and payscales were low.
When he graduated, he was accepted to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. So we moved there together. We had two efficiency apartments across the hall from each other right on the edge of the campus. He could walk to school if he wanted. We each had our own cars. I transferred to a cafeteria that was part of the chain where I'd been working. It was an idyllic time. After awhile, I didn't like the ethics of the management in the new workplace. It was in interesting place to work - who doesn't want to serve the Dallas Cowboys and see just how many trays of food does it take to feed one?! So I moved on to another, independent local cafeteria. People there told me I should be doing more and doing better. So I found a job in Carrollton working for an up and coming heating and air conditioning company. Mainly because they had a tuition remission program, and also because the job was interesting; I was the courier, the office supply buyer, the inventory manager for all things paper (many various forms for estimating, invoicing, and accomplishing the work of the various divisions), the mail clerk responsible for all incoming and outgoing as well as interoffice, and the key operator for all Xerox machines.
My first husband was ambitious. He earned three degrees in three years at SMU. We made things more official and permanent and got a two bedroom apartment. Actually what we got was a one-bedroom with an efficiency beside it. The one-bedroom for him to house his growing collection of all things electronic that he was building or taking apart or experimenting with, the efficiency ostensibly for me to live beside him. Needless to say the connecting door was always open. His car hit a curb one day and bent the axle. The new car was an old station wagon. A woody k-car, we totaled it three weeks later; run off the road, we hit a parked car on the median of the highway. My knees buckled for years when I saw a similar car after that. It was a scary time.
We moved to Austin in 1980. We had an apartment on Pleasant Valley Road. I had been taking courses one at a time in Dallas, but decided to do more in Austin. They had a great community college where I could take classes one at a time at night. I got a job with a big defense contractor. After a year there I moved on to a different position where I could work second shift. This left my days free to pursue my education. It took four years part time but by June 1984 I graduated from Austin Community College with a A.A.S. in Data Processing - there's a term no longer in use. I was nominated to the national honor society of two-year colleges - Phi Theta Kappa and became vice-president and then president of our local chapter. I attended national convention twice, once as a candidate for national office. The friendships forged there and the experience of dalliance with intellect was superb for the personal horizons it broadened for me and the clarity with which it allowed me to examine my life.
My time at ACC was great. Most of the students there are older and more serious about learning. Most of the teachers actually work in the profession they're teaching in. And I made some life long friends and had some good times without my husband that caused me to question the longevity of our relationship. Well before I graduated I realized that even with all his book-learning I'd lapped him in the maturity department. But I decided to give it my all for another year and then re-assess. Perhaps without school to distract me so much, things would be different. We bought a house and an RV with which to make our monthly trips back to Dallas for the electronics swap meet. It was all good and times were happy, but I didn't see it as being right for me in the long haul and it was time to move on.
So I moved out to an apartment of my own. Took my car and my motorcycle; my cars, books, clothes, guitars and personal effects. Left him the rest and sold him back my half of the house for $1.00. It was both the hardest and the most mature decision I'd made thus far in my life. I lost about 45 pounds and gained a new self-respect that I'd not had before. I was ready to play the field and sow some oats. But life had other plans.
Love and a Baby Carriage...
The apartment I chose for my own was one of a four-plex. My sister who had just graduated from high school came from Florida where they were now stationed to help me shop and decorate for it as she had a follow-on visit at Lackland scheduled that year anyway. It was very cool - papasan chair and smaller oriental themed stuff to go with. I bought my first bed. I loved having my own space. The first week I moved in I baked cookies for my three neighbors. I figured if they were not going to be socially correct and welcome me to the neighborhood that I would make the first move. The guy who lived in apartment two - a long tall drink of good-looking but not really my type - never even acknowledged them. I think I met him exactly once in the first few months I worked there. Our schedules did not match so our paths seldom crossed. When my sister was visiting she was there during his hours and met him. He took her on a bike ride tour of the city. I told her it figured - I felt like I still had "married" emblazoned on my forehead in scarlet letters. I couldn't even get my friends to date me or realize that I was dateable, and here she was dating perfect strangers in my circle after one day. She introduced me to him - his name was Oliver. She said he was a nice guy. I said he was rude about the cookies.
A couple of months later we now had a nodding relationship. I went to England for a couple of weeks with my Mom and my sisters. I flew to Tampa to meet up with them, forgot my passport, and guess who I had to call to break into the window of my apartment to find my passport and overnight it to me? You guessed it - neighbor number 2. I had a wonderful time in England - my second visit of memory, the first when I was 12. I spent 22 whole hours in Paris with my sister and saw the Louvre but not the Tower. When I came home I brought him cheese and flowers as a thank you. The customs person looked the other way when I told him the story.
We never really dated, we couldn't afford it. But we spent times together and sort of fell into a relationship. It got serious pretty quick. It just seemed so natural. He asked me to marry him one evening and I said ิof course'. The next day he spent all day running around town and went straight to work from there. At about 11:00pm he knocked on my door and said "I'm sick." It turned out to be food poisoning from the fast food he'd eaten that day. He was hurling until he heaved and running until he ran dry. It didn't seem to stop. He couldn't keep any fluids down at all and several hours later he was delirious and didn't seem to even know who I was. I phoned his brother and we phone the paramedics. They came and looked and said we were doing all the right things and they could transport him if we'd feel more comfortable but that he'd probably be more comfortable there in his own bed if we thought we could look after him. So I did. He lost a lot of weight and was weak as a kitten for more than a week. While putting away his clothes one day I found the ring he'd bought the day he got sick - he was out shopping for it. But he never mentioned that we were now engaged. It didn't seem right for me to be the one to tell his brother. The only person I'd told was my best friend from high school - Phyllis. I'd spent that day with her in San Antonio celebrating her son's birthday. I agonized for two weeks wondering if he'd forgotten or if he was just regretting having asked and pretending he hadn't.
Two weeks later we had a discussion about it finally. He said he wasn't sure he was ready for such a step. I surprised myself by telling him that was perfectly okay - perhaps I wasn't either, but I wasn't going anywhere. I felt that it was "right" and I was willing to wait until he did too. By October we'd secretly married but told no one since we wanted there to be a celebration about it, they only knew we were engaged. In November we quit our jobs and went to live in a trailer which my grandmother owned in the Rockies for the winter. She only lived there in the summer and she offered it to us for the winter. How often do chances come along like that? A lot less often than jobs do. So we went. It was glorious. No one but us knew it was our honeymoon. It lasted three months. We couldn't find a job there but we eked our money out as long as we could. We drove to Florida for Christmas so he could meet the family.
When we were done we moved back to Texas. The bottom had just fallen out of the Texas economy due to the price of oil. We found a cool job delivering for a florist. It was great making peoples' days brighter all day long. When that dried up too we moved in with his parents in San Antonio. A month or so later our first child was on the way. We had temp jobs and a paper route and there were still less than 1 page of classified job ads in any Texas newspaper. So we moved to Florida. I thought it would be cool to live near my family when the first grandchild arrived. In Michael's family there were already plenty of grandchildren. We inherited an apartment from my sister that used to be a garage behind the house my family lived in when they first moved to Florida. When the house was sold my sister was living there and it was part of the sale that the apartment would be first offered to any child in the family before being rented outside. My sister decided to move up and go condo so it was available for us. It was a small but serviceable apartment with living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The floor space of the kitchen was such that you could not have two people standing there and you had to move out of the way in order to open the doors to the oven or refrigerator. But there were jobs in Florida.
Our baby was breach and no one in Panama City or the surrounding area would agree to deliver him thusly. So for the first time and after a long hard struggle I gave up control and had him by c-section. It was by far the most expensive decision of my life; the cost of therapy, the cost of peace of mind, the cost of broken relationships, the cost of disillusionment - truly an expensive decision. But he was gorgeous. He was born with a full head of dark hair which fell out three weeks later and grew back in fine and blonde and straight. He was a most adored child, an extremely intelligent child, and grew up for the first five years much as I did - surrounded by adults and thus learning how to relate to them more than to his peers.
Moving Around...
When Jamie was a couple of months old, I received an offer of work as a contractor on the navy base in Panama City doing configuration management. The pay was good but the longing for my son would be great. My husband and I talked long and hard before making a decision. We agreed that neither of us believed in the concept of daycare. We understood its necessity for the working single parents of the world but we didn't want other people to raise our children or have our children spend most of their waking hours interacting with people who were not their family. So one of us would work and one would care for our son. We agreed that financially it would make more sense for it to be me at that point in time since my earning potential was greater. But then there was also the issue of feeding. Jamie was being exclusively breastfed. Michael agreed that in addition to caring for our son full time he would also bring him to the base to be fed until we could ramp up the supply. This was no small commitment. We lived more than 10 miles from the base and gathering all the accoutrements needed to transport a small child every day as well as making lunch for us to share there as well is no small task. There were other parenting decisions as well. Like no paper diapers. This meant washing, hanging to dry and folding several dozen diapers every other day or so.
Once the project on the base was finished I was moved to the office at the other end of the beach. A couple of the people I had worked with on the base had moved on to Albany Georgia to a logistics contract for the USMC. A few months later they asked me to join them there. So off we went to Albany. We had a cute little duplex with a poltergeist, a free zoo to roam around in and a cool place to feed the ducks whenever we liked. We joined the YMCA and I went swimming every day before work. Life was great and blackflies were plentiful. I was approached later that year to relocate to Madison Wisconsin to work for the Department of Transportation there. So off we went to the Great White North.
Life as a contractor is never boring. Michael good-naturedly packed everything and everyone - did I mention we kept birds then? - and came with wherever we went. Each time we moved he would investigate the possibilities of college there but we never stayed anywhere long enough for him to attend in earnest, just a little here and a little there. After Madison came Dover Delaware the armpit of the U.S.A. We were there in mid July, the weather was sweltering, we had no AC, it didn't cool off enough to sleep until about 3 am. We spent most evenings strolling around the mall - the only air conditioned spot in town. It was great that the beach was close for weekends but during the week New Jersey blocked all the sea breezes and nothing stirs in the hot dripping streets of Dover.
My friends from Texas who I'd gone to college with, who I'd introduced to each other, and who married exactly one month before us and then moved to Vermont, came to visit us in Dover on their way to his family's beach house in North Carolina. They had been asking us to come to Vermont for awhile. So while they were in North Carolina we investigated the job prospects in Vermont. It turned out there was a contract just starting up in Montpelier near where they lived. The parent company was in Washington D.C. - just a short ride from Dover. We drove to D.C. for an interview, got the job, and when our friends stopped by on the way back from North Carolina we told them we'd see them next week.
Green Mountains and Vermont...
Life in Vermont was idyllic. Good pay, good friends, magnificent scenery and like coming home to be near mountains again. Living in Vermont made me realize several things. I need to be able to see mountains from wherever I live. I prefer to live where the seasons actually change. To have four or five seasons as opposed to the hot and the brown of the south. We stayed for the first year in a small large two bedroom apartment in downtown Montpelier 38 steps up from the street. We made friends with the couple who lived below us. There was a gang of friends by then, some from long ago, some from work, some from around town. The second year we moved to a small rough house up on Gould Hill. We had acreage around us. We cut and split our own firewood for the wood stove. We got a dog or two. We kept chickens. I had my gall bladder removed. Another of my good college friends came and lived with us until he found a place of his own. And we had our second child, Pete. By this time Jamie had decided he would thereafter be known as Ariel. All the people in our gang of friends each had a different character's name from The Little Mermaid movie. Everyone gathered every Friday night at our house or sometimes at our friends' Meg and Jon's house in Worcester. But mostly they came to us because we had Jamie who needed to go to sleep. We played a lot of cards, mahjongg, trivial pursuit and other games on Fridays.
Just before Christmas 1992, I was laid off. There were no other jobs available so we decided it must be time to move on. We packed and were ready to move to a job in Winston-Salem North Carolina. But that fell through and since we were still packed when the next offer came from Raleigh North Carolina we were ready to go. We drove the boys in a rental truck with all our earthly possessions. We were towing our van on a dolly and our wonderful rescued Great Dane, Desi, was in the van with all our houseplants and our suitcases with clothes for the journey. It was quite a surprise at every rest stop to those who would watch the four of us get down from the truck to see us walk back to the flat bed tow dolly reach way up to the van door and have a very large Great Dane come bounding out. For the first six months in Raleigh we had a two bedroom apartment. Then we had a large sprawling house in a neighborhood with a walking lake within walking distance and a fenced yard for the dog and the children. I worked that job incessantly, putting in many hours of overtime but the project finished on time and I had to promise the family never to work on Christmas Eve again.
In May of 1994 I carried the secret that again we would have a child. From the difference I felt within me I knew this child would be a girl with dark curly hair with the same certainty that I new that Jamie would be a boy from the very start. But she was not meant to be with us, our Helen Grace, and she went back to the angels early in June. That summer we had to decide where to go next. The lease on our house was up and rentals were rare in Raleigh. The advent of another child convinced us that we should go home to Vermont. So the boys all packed up and moved most of our household back. A few things were left for me in my small efficiency. My tickets to visit home were all booked in one fell swoop when the airlines had a sale in September. I went home every other weekend for four days.
Michael and the boys got an old Victorian apartment in Montpelier. It was walking distance to town, the library, and the school playground. In October we took a family trip to see my sister married and we told the extended family that our next child who would be named Sydney after my granddad in England who we'd lost the year before, no matter the gender. And Sydney she is still. But Sydney wanted water. So my wonderful husband and two of my best friends spent the spring shoring up the deck of our friends' house, assembling hot tub, stove and tent, and once I came home for good in March my Michael went several times a day from the beginning of April to ensure that the tub was always hot, just in case. Sure enough one evening while in the bath my water broke and that began her entry. Four hours later she was born in water she told me so strongly she wanted. It was in the wee hours of a morning which saw that final snowfall of the winter through the moonlight.
I took six months off to be with my new baby, and my boys and husband who'd seen so little of me for the last year. Friday nights at the Olivers resumed and others of our friends now had children of their own so nights were not as late. After six months I began to look for work again. Again, nothing was available in Vermont so I looked further afield but still close to home. I found it in Freeport Maine. Because Sydney was still nursing we all had to go again. We found a house within walking distance of my job after several uncomfortable weeks in a couple of hotel rooms. But it was in the middle of a parking lot and so we spent many weekends on the road going home to visit our Vermont. In April of the following year, when Syd was one we packed up and moved back to Vermont with a job for me in Waterbury, just down the road. We bought a house, intending to stay for the duration.
We looked long and hard and ended up where we thought we didn't want to be but it truly was the best place we could have found. It was on the way to everyone we loved, on a plowed state road, with  of our own and 5 acres of town fields right across the street. It was a big, old rambling farmhouse with a giant kitchen space in which to host Friday night dinners once more. It had four bedrooms, one for each of us and one for our friend who'd lived with us before and was also moving back to Montpelier at the same time. We were home once more.
On the Road Again...
Life was idyllic once more. We got a new flock of chickens, entered the world of the internet and PC gaming at home, and continued to home-school our eldest son who had by this time changed his name permanently to Nigel, a nom-de-plume that he chose soon after his sister was born. Our live in friend/brother became an avid ebay seller and took us along for the ride.
When the contract ran out on the job in Waterbury, I looked for more; this time choosing to stay close or at least in New England so that I could drive instead of fly and also to permit me all weekends at home with my family. At various points I worked for several months in Connecticut, back in Maine, in Keene New Hampshire and then in Burlington Vermont. It was a long hard trek in the winter but at least I was home every Friday night and with some of them I worked four ten hour days on Monday through Thursday so I could go home Thursday night. With the last gig in Burlington, I could be home every night.
I bought Michael a new van that would hold all the children and their friends, and also take luggage and a Great Dane anywhere one wished to go. Later when I became a road warrior again I leased a four wheel drive vehicle in order to ensure that I would always make it home. The income was good but I managed to spend it all. Once for a single day I had a gig that paid $100.00 per hour. I will never forget it. Not because of how much I made or how interesting it was that everyone around me was busy doing Y2K work and this one day was the only time I ever did, but because the night before, our best friends had another child - this one a boy.
My friend was so delighted he was beside himself and couldn't remember what they'd decided to name him since he hadn't dared hope that he would have a son. But Banning had a bit of trouble beginning to breathe on his own so they intervened and did it for him. The one-day gig became a blur of the tour of the plants and office I had to evaluate and working through the lists of assets which might be affected. My heart was so back at the hospital wondering what was going on with my new "nephew."
Three weeks of trying to be there for them, for him, for my family and then came the hardest part. To quickly take them outside so that he would not die in a hospital, to watch his spirit leave the earth, to phone all the necessary people to make the "arrangements" to bring him home, to transport them home with their dead child, to get permission from the town to bury him at home, and then finally - hardest of all - to walk with my friends to the grave of their son.
Much of that year is mired in very deep emotion. Other people were lost that year and while they weren't so closely connected they still had impact on me and those close to me. Things were extremely rocky for me personally and sometimes being on the road was all that kept me sane. To have the time alone to plan a course that I could stay; to have another separate life elsewhere that validated that I was a worthwhile productive member of society; to experience a reality where people liked me; and to have the space to make decisions even if it was a decision to just do nothing. Being a road warrior provided me all that. But it also took its toll on my relationships with those around me.
Waldorf School Movement...
When my second son became of school age it was readily apparent that he would not be content as a home-schooler. So the educational search began again. My husband and I had been discussing for years how we did not want for our children the boring public school waste of time that we'd both experienced in our youth. We wanted more for them. This was why Nigel was homeschooled. He did actually attend first grade in North Carolina for just a day or two. But the people teaching him were so clueless as to seem not qualified to baby-sit our son, let alone teach him anything. But I digress into Nigel's story and this is to be mine.
My husband found the first Waldorf school; Green Mountain Waldorf School in Wolcott Vermont. He said it just "felt right" when you walked in the door. Now we had heard of Waldorf and had some negative pre-conceived notions about it but I was willing to be objective. My husband was right as he most often is. Pete attended kindergarten there and though I challenged the teachers at every turn with each decision, time showed their expertise to be spot on much of the time. During the middle of 5th grade, Nigel decided he wanted to go to school with his peers as well so the next September he too began to be schooled there. In a couple of years or so, Syd joined them. By this time I was an involved parent. With three children there it became of great concern to me to see that the school was run well and continued until all my children were done.
GMWS had existed for 19 years at the benevolence of others. Always on a shoestring, most time with a wing and a prayer for the next angel that would sustain them. I became a board member and did my best for the school which was not always the best as a parent for three years. Our supply of angels ran dry and though at one point I had both the youngest and the oldest child at the school I couldn't connect the financial dots well enough to ensure the continued operation of the school and was part of the final board that had to close it. I was asked a couple of times to lead the school as its administrator but I believed that the school needed my volunteer expertise and my pledge tuition more than it needed more of my time and less of my money that would be the result of taking that position.
For two years we worked in and around our local public schools trying to ensure that our children were being well fed educationally speaking. After a wasted year, Nigel returned to homeschooling and quickly realized that he did not have the self-discipline any more to accomplish it. After a year and a half, Pete could not stand the wasted time spent waiting for the rest of his class and asked to be homeschooled.
During that summer between the first and second year I was approached by a group in Montpelier looking into the possibility of merging the well-established Waldorf kindergarten in Montpelier with the now Grade 1 and grade 4 Waldorf school in nearby Berlin. They asked if I would join their Board and help. I agreed and the rest, as they say, is history. In just a few weeks our direction had been changed for us and we found ourselves bidding on a location for the merged school before we'd even gotten a single detail worked out about how the merger would occur or whether they could agree to it. It was a beautiful property - 55 acres of apple orchard, an old farmhouse, and a huge apple barn. We won the bid in August, closed the contract in September, and with a lot of sweat equity from some very determined parents we had the farm house converted to a kindergarten and two grades classes by January and a school was born. We spent the spring working out the rest of the merger details and the summer converting the barn to classrooms. In one short year we doubled the size of the school both in the number of children and the number of grade offerings. Our Sydney now had a Waldorf school again. Unfortunately our Pete did not as to put the middle school in place was just too big a stretch for one fledgling school to accomplish in a year.
So back to the drawing board we went for school options. We had already been doing extensive research trying to figure out where Nigel would go to high school. Local public high schools were just not an option and with the exception of catholic school there were not local private high school options. We'd been to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Upstate and downstate New York, and even Massachusetts to explore the options. We were doing research and visits to prep schools for Nigel. And now we had another Oliver, our dear Mary too though we lost her twin, Devon Margaret. We thought about jumping counties to have a more acceptable public option available and almost did.
After a couple of years at home with Mary I hit the road again with a gig in Alabama. This had me flying in and out of Atlanta on a regular basis. So I investigated the Waldorf schools there. The K-8 school was well established with a large community of both parents and graduates. They were ripe for a high school but the local Waldorf High School was only loosely affiliated and most certainly in a fledgling state. But Atlanta was and still is a draw if only for its proximity to the family I have in Florida and its airport which can get me anywhere else in the country quickly should I continue to do the road warrior gig.
We were planning the move. We'd had the garage sale of all garage sales. I was in Atlanta looking for housing. My children were registered for school in Atlanta. And then came the call that changed it all.
The Pacific Northwest...
Hazel Wolf High School was another fledgling Waldorf school. Located in Seattle, they were looking a couple of years ago for an administrator. I saw their ad when I was posting one for the Vermont school. I sent a letter of inquiry but heard nothing back. A year and a half later they called me in my hotel room in Atlanta and asked if I'd be interested. It seemed a serendipitous happenstance. We were already poised to move and here was a chance to move to a town with not one but five Waldorf schools in proximity to the high school. I thought this would give it a better chance of survival. As a Waldorf employee it should be possible to swing tuition remission for the kids. And Michael and I had always talked about the Pacific Northwest as a part of the country where we'd never been but thought might be cool to experience.
I explained that we were already planning for Atlanta but they asked that I at least come to interview. I did. I liked what I saw and apparently so did they, as they offered me the job a few weeks later and we packed up and made the trip cross country to Seattle. It has been a both a blessing and a fiasco for me personally and our family collectively. We are now stuck here and trying to make the best of things. Restarting a clock shop, even with applying lessons learned takes about the same amount of time no matter how much experience you have or how little competition there is. The job was everything I hoped for except the longevity to see my children attend there.
So now I'm back in the contracting world, and working at Boeing on the 787 project for awhile. I am very far from anyone near and dear to me except my husband and children. I'm forced to once again make choices and consider possibilities that have everything to do with my children's educations and how to obtain them. But now I have to consider the happiness factor, the homesick factor, the lack of personal land factor, and most of all the financial factor associated with decisions of that nature.
In the meantime we have 63 assignments to complete for the Learning to Love You More Oliver family project that will be displayed at Bumbershoot and these couple dozen pages is just one of them. If you actually made it this far, I hope you have enjoyed reading it a lot more than I have enjoyed writing it. It has taken me about 16 hours. It has been gut wrenching to write some of it and heart wrenching to have to leave out some of it to protect the secrets and feelings of others. My butt is numb, my eyes are drooping, the ticking of the clocks is deafening, and I really want to go to bed.
So I'll say Goodnight, Gracie.
As I read back over this I realize that there are so many people and so many things that I've left out. I tried not to use names whenever possible so as to protect those that don't know I'm writing it. But others have been left out entirely that were a significant contributor to my life. Know if you ever read this, please, that you were thought of and are loved, but remember also that I only had 24 hours to do this. I realized at about noon when I was only to the 5th grade that I could not make it so anecdotal within the time constraint and I believe that would be the more interesting parts. Most particularly here are not mentioned my other sister and two brothers whom I have only met once or twice as well as my father and step-mother. They do not play a big part in my life nor indeed much of any part and that is one of my few regrets.
It seems also of significance to note that somewhere in this tome it became so much less about me and so much more about us. Sometimes it does indeed feel as if my identity is no longer my own but has morphed in to some sort of a collective from which I cannot identify the parts that are only my own. But I can think of no higher calling that to raise to the best of my ability those that will carry on in the world after I'm gone, whether mine or others. And once they're on their way, sometimes I imagine the pieces of me coalescing back together and carrying on for myself. Other times I wonder if my purpose is to teach the young to fly forever.
My apologies and my thanks to those of you who took the time to read it all. I wish it could have been more entertaining and less rushed. But it begs the question of interest at all then, doesn't it?
Carol Selina Broyles Rudloff Oliver