Six decades ago I was living in a trailer park in Renton, Washington. I slept in the back bedroom of a tiny, tiny pink trailer with both of my brothers. I had the bottom bed in a bunk bed; my older brother (older by just over a year) had the top; and my little brother (nearly two years younger) slept in a crib. You could climb from the top bunk to the crib to the top of the dresser, and we did. Mornings, my older brother and I would get up before my mother and three-year-old him would make breakfast for two year old me -- ketchup and white bread sandwiches. They were delicious. Almost everyone in the trailer park worked at Boeing, like my father did. It was the beginning of the Space Race, and my father was working on material for the rockets and fuel tanks. There was a forest behind our trailer, with a creek, where we would pick blackberries; and there was a playground in the trailer park, where the hordes of children (this was just before the pill became easily available, and everyone had hordes of children) would gather to play. I got lost on my way to the playground once (hey, I was only three), but I got found again.
Five decades ago I was living in a suburb of New Orleans, so new the trees were all saplings. There was an undeveloped area (what we called "the woods," though it was really swamp willows, swamp cane, and swamp) behind our house, which had once been a racetrack where horses raced. I remember watching it burn down from the window of my bedroom right after we moved into the new house. All my friends and I ran wild through these woods, year round. In the spring, snakes waking up from hibernating would fall down from the trees, scaring the crap out of us. Almost everyone in this neighborhood also worked for Boeing, building the fuel tanks for the Apollo rockets. When Armstrong set foot on the moon for the first time, my father woke us all up and carried me down to watch it on our tiny B&W television.
Four decades ago, I was living in the dorms at the University of New Orleans, majoring in Anthropology and riding the city buses down to the huge public library, to check out stacks of novels. Eventually I would realized that actually I should be an English major; but I did like studying anthropology. I also had a bike, which I rode all over the city, an appallingly dangerous act, but I loved it. I ran about in cut-off jeans and tank tops all summer long, which caused a young man in my Greek class to scold me for being a stumbling block. Though I was not yet a feminist, I told him to fuck off, and he never spoke to me again. (I was much better at Greek than he was.)
Three decades ago, I was living in a tiny shack of a duplex in Fayetteville, Arkansas, one year into my doctorate. I loved that shack. A creek ran behind it, and it was heated by gas fires set into the walls. I rode my bike all over this town, too, though after I skidded out on a hill and cracked my skull on the blacktop, I rode with more caution. (Always wear a helmet!) I was teaching two sections of English and one section of Latin, and studying Latin and Greek, and I was in paradise. This was before the internet, so I had to do all my research with actual books and journals, in the actual library. It was a wonderful library. I had met Dr. Skull a few years before, though he was living in LA at this point. Later he would come back and start working on his history PhD. This was just a year after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and though I was so deeply in debt that I would never recover, nevertheless I loved my life.
Two decades ago, we were living in Charlotte, NC. The kid was two. I had a tenure-track job at a terrible university, a job I would leave less than a year later. (It had not been terrible when I was hired, but during my first semester a new administration took over and they were just astoundingly awful. Forty-five students in Freshman comp classes awful.) We were living in a rented house near the city center, with a wonderful landlord, but even though he hardly charged us any rent at all, we could not afford to live in Charlotte on what the terrible university was paying us. Dr. Skull was working for his brother, which he hated, and which I hated, since it meant a lot of travel. We did love Charlotte, which had a wonderful public library system and wonderful public parks, not to mention Harris Teeter. But except for the joy of having a toddler, my memories of this time are grim. One good memory: the kid and I were out in the yard, him splashing in a wading pool and me reading, when suddenly a owl plunged down out of nowhere to capture a squirrel, about four feet from me. I gave it a startled look and it stared back at me, like, Oh, were you going to eat this one? Then it flew away. We had Spike at this time, and he was always getting out and running away. Once he was gone for two days, and we thought we had lost him. But he came staggering home, finally.
One decade ago, we had been living here in Fort Smith for almost eight years. The kid was twelve. That was the year we got our first kitten. (Joined two years later by our second kitten.) We had two dogs, Spike and Big Dog. My first novel had been accepted, and I was working with a wonderful editor to get it ready to publish. I was starting to sell short stories. I was working at a university that I loved, with a paycheck that was just enough, and Dr. Skull was finishing his PhD, as well as working in the Writing Center. I had started this blog! Also, Obama was president. Jesus, remember when Obama was president? The last big snowfall we had in Fort Smith hit that year.
|Our First Kitten|
Now: I'm a full professor, and just scored a sabbatical. (Yay!) The kid is a year away from his degree, in anthropology. He's the best kid on the planet. My third novel was just accepted. I'm still selling short stories (very slowly). Spike and Big Dog have both died, but we have Heywood and the two cats still. We haven't had a raise to speak of in nearly six years, and we've taken on a ton of medical debt, so we don't have quite enough money. I'm worried about the pandemic, Trump is destroying the country and the economy, and my parents are having health issues, also Dr. Skull is not happy in his current job. But we're living in a wonderful house half a mile from the university. I've found a park to roam in, and am thinking of starting to ride my bike again. Things could be worse. I hope they get better.