Pre-Hallowe’en, A Too-True Tale

It was a dark and stormy night

when I found myself in the village of Boxes, just south of Boulder, Colorado.

I had stopped there, intending to stay only a little while.  It didn’t work out that way.

The village was populated by ghastly, inhuman residents with the power to trap and hold me for days on end.

What I saw at first as I slowly surveyed my surroundings was Boring. No design committee had been at work here.  Every structure had the same dull brown siding. The only variances—size and signage.

From small to large, each boasted a hand-lettered sign on the front, identifying the wares to be found inside.   A tall garment house.  A small store of  cosmetics/personal items.  Even one named Memories.  Office Supplies. Food.  Seasonal clothing. Kitchen appliances. Pantry items.  Everything a person would need.

The seemingly endless array quickly became overwhelming.  Yet I felt myself forced into spending more time there. One day followed another in hours of dark monotony.  I wanted to be done with it.

Finally, the clouds lifted and I saw  before me a sign pointing to a now-open highway.

I didn’t look back as I left.   I had learned the hard-truth bottom line:

It takes a village to move a person in a New Direction.

Oldest Daughters and Our Dads

Happy Father’s Day!

Following are a few favorite stories from my conversations with oldest daughters about their relationships with their dads.  The number in parentheses is the age each was when I spoke with  her. 

 

“Kristin” (30): After I graduated from college, a girl friend and I decided one weekend to quit our jobs and move to another city.  Nine days later we had given notice on our jobs, found an apartment and moved.  It felt great to get away and say, “I’m going to live my life.”  My family was very surprised.  It was one of the first times I got a look from my dad that said, “Go ahead.  You’ve got it all figured out!” I was so happy about it.

Cathy (51): I was very influenced by my father. There was no boy before or after me.  I identified with my dad.  I wanted to be his son.  I followed him around, mowing the grass, etc. He did not treat me in a girlie kind of way.  He built things for me all the time (like) skateboards for my dolls.  We were very close.  I adopted all of his political positions.  I used to parrot what he said.   When I got married, I kept my own name.  He  objected, but I said, “Hey you taught me to think on my own and I’m not going to take someone else’s last name.”   He felt in a little way like he’d created a monster.

April (34): I was raised by a man.  When I got a “whooping,” I wouldn’t cry. I refused to let my father see my weakness. I succeeded all the time.  He gave up. I certainly identify with my father.  I was his favorite child.  I remember one time when we were in the backyard.  I was hanging clothes on the clothesline. I said to him, “I will always be here for you.”  He said, “I know that.  I can always count on you.”  Both of us had tears in our eyes.

Kimi (35):  My parents thought I was going to be a boy, but that’s not what they got. I think they were a little disappointed.  But I was a tomboy.  I wanted to make my Dad proud, to be a toughie, to fulfill something for him.  In some way I’d picked up or perceived that he wanted a boy to go hunting with him, go to the lake with him.  I think up until the time I was in middle school, I didn’t want to wear dresses, but then somehow my femininity took over.

Darsha (53):  I was my dad’s shadow.  I remember when I was  about 10, we were pulling calves. It was a HOT day. There were flies all over us. There was no shade. I was sweating. I was wearing jeans and an old t-shirt and, of course, old cowboy boots.  We were in a lot next to the barn.  I had gloves on up to my armpits, that were coated with blood.  I had blood and dirt all down the front of me.

When we got through, my dad thanked me and patted me on the shoulder.  He said, “Squirt, if you can pull a calf, you can do anything you put your mind to.”  He said it with this very proud look on his face, like I had really accomplished everything he’d always wanted me to do. As we walked back to the house, he hugged me. My dad and I were buddies.  He raised me that if I had something to say, to say it, not to hem and haw about anything.

When my dad was ill, I couldn’t do anything.  I was a nurse by then,  but his medical condition warranted that the doctor deal with it.  I couldn’t save him.  Deep depression set in after the funeral. I finally had to tell myself that just sitting around crying, feeling sorry for myself, was not me.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, Dad had groomed me all my life for this very moment.  My time with my dad was very good, but now I had a new path to go down.

The Oldest Daughter: I remember the day I told my dad that I didn’t want him to grill a steak for me at the family barbecue because I had become a vegetarian.  His already large brown eyes widened in disbelief.  “I like vegetables,” he said, motioning to his large vegetable garden in the back yard.  “But there’s nothing like a good steak.”   Searching for something that would explain my feelings, I said, “I just prefer not to eat anything that has eyes.” His response was immediate. “How do you feel about potatoes?” His eyes twinkled, and I laughed out loud.

So this evening in honor of the man who taught me about the power of well-chosen words, I’m going to fix a baked potato—without eyes—for dinner.

Oldest Daughters: What to know if you are one or have ever been bossed around by one.  Available at amazon.com, kindle.com and select bookstores.

Oldest Daughter and the Dangerous Devices

 

An oldest daughter’s cautionary tales

Libby, an oldest daughter known for her cooking skills, was in the midst of preparing a favorite summer soup when it happened.  The recipe called for two cups of peeled, thin cucumber slices. To save time, she pulled a mandolin out from the white kitchen cabinet where it lives.  (Note: this mandolin is a kitchen utensil, not to be confused with mandolin(e), a musical instrument.)

She set her trusty mandolin on the counter and without further thought began pushing the slippery vegetable into the path of the instrument’s blade.

Instead the miniature guillotine found her  little finger and efficiently sliced off a strip from fingertip to second joint, leaving an (actual) blood-red smear across the countertop and sending the family’s chef cradling her right hand into an urgent-care facility.

This painful incident created food for thought.

Libby’s long-relied upon kitchen device had become dangerous, rather than helpful, through her use.  The mandolin actually looks a bit menacing—but it isn’t in everyone’s kitchen.

A different device can be even more dangerous, but is a million times (actual)  more common and attractive. 

  The cell phone, like the mandolin can be both useful and dangerous. Useful in connecting users by phone.  Potentially dangerous in capacity as mini-computer to divide, distance, or even create a darnel of widespreading discord.  Responsibility for how either the phone or the mandolin is used is up to the owner.

No doubt Libby’s mandolin came with instructions and warnings.  The instructions that come with smart phones typically simply explain battery use.  I’ve never seen:

 Caution.  Words spoken or texts sent cannot be taken back.  Time spent on apps is not the responsibility of apps.  May be addictive.   Distractions possible.  May mean less time for actual face-to-face interactions. Ignoring such warnings could result in damage to your personal relationships.  

Three weeks later, Libby’s wound is all but healed and her finger is in pretty good, though slightly different, shape.  The mandolin is once again residing in a kitchen cabinet.

Will you use it again? I asked.  “Oh, yes.  I can’t get along without it.  I was just careless. I knew better. From now on, I’ll be careful.  I’ll pay attention to what I’m doing.”

A recipe worth following.

 

Oldest Daughters: What to know if you are one or have ever been bossed around by one is now available at amazon.com, kindle.com, and upon request at select bookstores.

This Oldest Daughter. Bookmaker.

The odds are that over the past ten years some of you might never have thought my book,  “Oldest Daughters—What to know if you are one or have ever been bossed around by one would ever be completed.  But that day has arrived!  The book

is available on amazon.com and

as  an ebook on kindle.com.

The book tells personal stories taken from in-depth interviews with more than 100 first-born daughters, siblings, and spouses of various ethnicities.   Asked why they had agreed to be interviewed, a common response was

“I want to know that I’m not the only one out there feeling this way.

Another response  (from a sibling) offered a different point of view:

“I can’t believe I’m the only person wanting to know how to survive an oldest daughter.” 

First-born daughter revelations 

The book’s stories reveal the impact of the first-born daughters role on her adult life, her siblings and family relationships.

Results are also included  from an online survey of several hundred adult family members about their experiences and feelings.   They provide additional insights into the pride and pain, resentments and hopes of oldest daughters and those who share their lives.

At the end of each of the ten easy-to-read chapters, a contributing clinical psychologist (who is my own oldest daughter) adds self-help Insights and Reflections for restoring or improving sibling and family relationships.

Birth order is a fact; It does not have to be a fate.

 Oldest Daughters —What to Know… (available on amazon.com and as an ebook on kindle.com) affirms that changes are possible, potentially transforming and rewarding.

“Tong” and the Oldest Daughter

 

As an oldest daughter, it’s hard for me to ignore a need for help.

Five years ago it was impossible to overlook “Tong.” He stood more than six feet tall. Lean muscle, covered in mahogany-colored skin.  Now it is difficult to get him out of my mind.

He had walked up to my tutor’s desk and introduced himself.  His official college status was freshman.  He was enrolled in English Composition and Western Civilization and needed help with both.  That’s how I came to know his story.

Tong was born in the African country of Sudan.  He arrived in the United States and the Midwest where I was a college tutor by fleeing on foot when his country was torn apart by war.

Often by night, other times in daylight,he crossed field, deserts

“Moonshine”
“What lies ahead”

and political boundaries.  He managed to elude any and all military and make his way into Egypt.  There he eventually met up with members of his tribe who had connections that helped him get to the United States.

One of his tribe, with whom Tong shared many physical similarities, had already achieved fame in the Midwest  as a basketball player.  His experiences made it possible for Tong to follow and enroll in college.  Their people had no written language.  So Tong had first been challenged in his new life with learning alphabet symbols and then words  in order to take regular college courses. That happened in introductory English as Second Language  (ESL) courses.

Webster’s dictionary

His next big challenges — understanding meaning of the vocabulary words in the context in which they appeared and also gaining skills to express himself in writing.  All of which led to my desk.

In the middle of that first full college semester,  Tong learned he needed to get critical information about his family’s health history.  He had no written history about himself. It   didn’t exist. The only person who would have the necessary info was his mother.  Back home in Sudan, she was unreachable by phone.   So Tong  returned to the country he had left and found her.  (I can scarcely imagine her feelings upon seeing him, knowing that he was alive, and then having him leave again.)

On his way back to the United States, visa in hand, he was stopped in the airport by members of the military who demanded to know why he was not fighting for his country.   He later described the feeling of terror he felt when he was detained and interrogated.  But he managed to stay cool enough to convince the soldiers who were attempting to conscript him that he should be permitted to leave. He made it back safely.

I continued to see Tong over the next several months.  However at the start of the next school year, I learned that he was no longer enrolled. I do not know why.  I do not know if he remained in the United States.

This past weekend I read that Sudan, which started out as one country, then divided into two (North and South), is once again roiled in a power struggle resulting in violent bloodshed, terror, widespread famine and fleeing refugees.

 

Today I learned that under the President’s new executive orders, Sudan is one of those countries from which travel is banned for the next ninety days.  The new order is said not to exclude those holding valid visas.

I wonder where Tong is.  I wonder if he went back to Sudan to be with his mother.  I wonder if either is now a refugee.  For me, the news stories have become personal.

In my role in the family as oldest daughter, it’s always been normal to try to help when a crisis occurs.   Tong became one of my “family” five years ago.  My challenge now seems as great as those he once faced trying to pass college courses.   How to help in the midst of anything-but-normal circumstances.   Tutor needed.

Why send a heart-ening message?

 

The card has hung where I can see it for at least ten years.  The bends and wrinkles on the front are evidence of the many times I’ve opened and re-read the words that encourage me to keep on dreaming, reaching…

 

 

The words were written for that Hallmark Card by Renee Duvall. They were sent by my sister when I was in the midst of making a major career change.

 

 

Now two colleagues are facing serious health problems.  Friends have told me that they need words of encouragement.

Encouragement.   What does that word mean?  

To give courage.

It came originally from the Vulgar Latin (common speech) cor, which means heart.

With all the dis-courage-ing news, commentaries and tweets out there today, it seems more important than ever to show some heart when we communicate with each other.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, there may be no better time to do that.

In a box of my mother’s keepsakes,  I found a Valentine I’d made for her back in the day when I was a Brownie Scout, doing crafts in after-school

meetings. She’d kept the simple message, just as I keep the card from my sister whose birthday—truthfully—is on Valentine’s Day.

Show some heart.  Send messages of encouragement. 

 

 

Very. Almost.

 

The response to her husband surprised me.   He had called from the downstairs great room where we were sitting to his wife who was upstairs in their bedroom.

“We’re supposed to be there in 15 minutes.  Think we’ll make it?”“I’m very almost ready,” she called back.

He chuckled. So did I.

It was an answer I immediately committed to memory. I loved the wording.   Much better than what’s been said so often that no spouse believes it —  “Just a few minutes more.” A vast improvement over the honest, but negative,  “Not quite.”

Filled with hope. 

I have begun to use this combination of of words in a variety of situations. Sometimes to describe actual progress.  Other times to describe feelings.

I’m very almost finished writing my book.
I’m very almost finished with Christmas shopping.

Or I’m very almost in love with you.”  (That might not have been what my future husband wanted to hear when our dating became serious.)

Now I’m wanting to say, I’m very almost done with all the political talk on television, requests to write to my congressman, or (most often) send a contribution.  Very almost.

I believe it’s still important to stay tuned in, to become/remain informed.But am I willing to do more than that?

copyright 2012 Pat Schudy

 

 

To be out front or take a stand with others? To weather a storm of possible personal reactions?

Those who study such things say that oldest daughters are leaders, influencers.  In our families and often beyond.

I’m very almost ready to decide what, if anything, the oldest-daughter side of me will do.

She could take a nothing day…

How is it possible to feel so sad about losing someone who wasn’t a long-time personal friend?

Actually, that’s not accurate.  She just didn’t know she was my long-time personal friend. And I didn’t know for years that she was also an oldest daughter.

For over a decade I watched her television shows, admired her spunk, made wardrobe decisions based on what I saw her wear, and hopefully took on some of her characters’ grace, integrity and humor — especially as a young woman in the workforce. I even believed I could make it someday, too.

I felt a real sense of loss when her television series ended.  Then I realized that in the world of reruns, I could still catch, enjoy and take lessons from her interacting with a cast of characters that we knew someplace in our own worlds.   The irascible but tender-hearted Mr. Grant, the bumbling Ted Baxter and the oh-so-different Rhoda, Georgette, Su Ann and Phyllis.

But today’s news isn’t fake news.  The Emmy-winning actor and my television friend is  actually gone.  I mourn, until I smile, remembering that freeze-frame of her tam-tossing jubilance in the face of life’s challenges.

Bravo, Mary Tyler Moore.  Thank you.