I am thinking a lot these days about my life and how I’m perceived by others. I have come to realize that some people consider me “hoity-toity.” That is so incredibly far removed from who I am and how I was raised that it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it.
I grew up on a farm in Kentucky – at the dead-end of Terrell Rd., which didn’t even have a name when I was growing up on it. It was a house my parents bought in 1949.
My childhood was filled with what we now euphemistically call “risk factors.”
My father was an alcoholic, and died when I was 11, leaving my mother as a single parent. I was very fortunate that my mother was an extraordinary human being and an exceptional parent who put what was best for me above all else. Her belief in what was best for me was to get an education and that was all she focused on. Of my four nephews and me, only two of us went to college.
We were poor when I was a kid – don’t get me wrong, we were never hungry – but we were poor. Only in retrospect do I realize just how poor we were. I guess being in the first Head Start class would have been one clue. But children don’t think about those things.
I remember when the indoor plumbing was put into our house – I was young, but old enough to remember it. My cousin, Jimmy, helped dig the septic tank. I was young enough to think playing in the big hole they were making was fun. There probably are not too many people age 44 who can remember that, but I do. And, frankly, I’m blessed to be able to say that, because it gives me a very different perspective on the world.
I grew up saying, “ain’t” and not knowing there was a different way until my third grade teacher, Mrs. Chandler, insisted we change. I would never have had the broadcasting career I had without her influence. I saw my first movie at the theatre at age 11. I was with my cousin, Brian, and it was as foreign to me then as trying to write in Chinese would be to me now. I knew people do such things, but I have never seen it myself.
I was never more than 200 miles from home until I was 13, when we went to visit my Aunt Eva in El Paso.
Verbal abuse between the adults in my world was an every day occurrence. It does something to you when you hear that every day – I’m not sure exactly what – but I’m sure it’s no accident that my first career choice of working in radio involved controlling sound.
My childhood had loss, poverty, alcoholism and a good sprinkling of sexual abuse added in. But, when I was living it, I didn’t give it a second thought – it just “was.” And even in retrospect, I am more thankful for it than traumatized by it. Maybe that’s because of the years of therapy, but I can honestly say it’s true – now.
Yet I would still describe my childhood as idyllic in many ways. Is that a defense mechanism or is it just choosing to focus on what’s “right?” I don’t know.
I refuse to be defined by things that happened “to” me. I will only be defined by things I “chose.” Those I will take responsibility for, even if the choices were not necessarily the best that could have been made, and I have a long list of those. We all have to learn – some lessons we have to learn “the hard way,” and that was true for me with some things. I truly believe you do the best you can with the person you are at the time and when you know better, you do better. I do better now than I did when I was 20. Hopefully in another 20 years I’ll do better still.
When I was growing up, I never imagined I’d walk in the Paris snow or bask in the Egyptian sun. I could never have imagined I’d go to Honduras to see the work of the foundation who’s board I chaired. I probably didn’t know Honduras existed. I could not have imagined I would attend Broadway shows or converse intelligently about impressionist art. Frankly, I didn’t even know there were any people like that, much less that I would ever desire to be one of them.
I didn’t think about the days I would walk the ground inside the Roman Coliseum, pray inside the pyramid of Unas at Sakkara, or stand inside the ancient circle of Stonehenge. I did not dream of being kissed on the banks of the Nile River, charmed by a Frenchman met on a cruise ship, or being moved to tears at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.
I didn’t dream those things or any others. I didn’t have dreams, at least not that I can recall. I’m not sure when I started having dreams. And it wasn’t really dreams as much as the belief that things are possible – and that you’d better get about doing them because there may be no tomorrow.
I went to my first funeral of someone I loved when I was five. My great Aunt Ann had been a big part of my young life. Her death taught me things can change very quickly. Don’t plan for a future that may not come. I’ve never felt there was a future – only right now – only this moment – it’s all there is.
Somewhere along the way I started to have dreams, but they were still small ones. But I started to dream. I started to want to live a different life. I didn’t know what it was, or what it looked like, but I knew it was different.
And as these ideas took hold I developed an idea that the world should be fair – for everyone. That led me to a career in journalism for radio, print and TV. Once I understand how the media worked I realized that could be used in PR and marketing in a different way. Now I use all those skills for mental health, as well as other projects.
How did I get to be this person? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that out. As often is the case, Greg gave me some insight when we were talking. He said I am not a “climber,” leaving anything behind. Instead I kept all of what I was raised with and just added to it. Instead of leaving anything behind I just added to it, broadening the spectrum.
Maybe this is why I have been in love with a farm boy and I have been infatuated with a judge. Maybe it’s why I love barbecue but my favorite dessert is bananas foster. Maybe it’s why I’m familiar with the music of Kenny Chesney and Johann Sebastian Bach. Maybe it’s why I stay in touch with people over a long time period – they’re still part of my life, even if it’s a different time.
Maybe it’s why I can never decide where I belong, because I don’t live in only one world, but I’m not really accepted by either. I’m a little too rough around the edges for “society” and a little too “hoity-toity” for others.
When people suggest that I’m “hoity-toity,” it makes me feel unloyal to my upbringing, although I have no control over how others perceive me. I’m not sure why it matters to me, but it does. I want people to know who I am, with all the stages of my life represented, and still accept me – or not. But I don’t want to be judged on only this one sliver of life – for it is just a moment, a brief moment, and tomorrow will be different.