This morning I went off to the dementia support group. This is turning out to be one of my favorite things to do each month. Even if nothing is bothering me at a meeting, I get so much out of listening to the other folks tell their experiences, their fears, their concerns. Definitely meets the definition of "support" ! One of the things we talked about was the importance of trying to get down family histories while the one with dementia or Alzheimers can still remember the old stories.
Oh...and there were snakes under my bed. I never saw them, but I knew they were there and I would always get out of bed leaping as far away from the bed as I could so the snakes couldn't get me. Oddly, when I went home once after I'd grown up and moved away I still fell uncomfortable getting out of bed without leaping away from the edge. I knew, by then, that there were no snakes, but you just never know about those things....
This afternoon I came across a book I bought a long time ago, probably when Brianna was expected, but not born yet. The book, "To Our Children's Children" helps guide you into putting down your life history for your descendants to read if they want. ("Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come," the book promises.) I tried to get the two grandmothers to do that for OUR kids, but neither of them was interested. I would dearly love to come across something like this from MY grandparents, but I do not have those insights.
There are lots and lots of questions to guide your memories and help you write them down, but the problem I find with the book right off is that it kinds of expects that you grew up in a house, in a friendly neighborhood, with all those things that spill off the screen when you watch shows like Leave It to Beaver. Growing up as a city kid things are very different. I never mowed the lawn because we had no lawn. I didn't find a back way through the fields to get to my friend's house because we lived in a concrete neighborhood, with multi-renter dwellings on top of each other. I didn't have an attic to play in because we lived in a flat and our "attic" would have been the flat above us. So in looking back, I have to skip a lot of the questions because they just don't apply.
My parents moved into a 5 room flat on a steep hill in San Francisco when my mother was pregnant with me in 1942. They were going to stay there for just a short time, until they could afford a house. They moved out after David was born in 1972.
In those days they were building homes out "in the avenues" that my mother wanted to buy. But my grandmother convinced my father that putting $2,000 down on a house was a terrible investment. Now those houses sell for close to $1 million. But we stayed in the rental flat rather than risk investing in a real home.
The flat had two bedrooms and a large room that was separated by a couch into a living room and a dining room. The rooms were carpeted and when my parents had parties (which they did frequently), they would roll up the rugs so people could dance.
I had two favorite things about that flat. The first was the window seat in the bay window in the living room. If you drive around San Francisco you will find that almost every house has one or two bay windows that jut out over the street. When we got a TV in 1953, it went on the window seat and I liked to curl up with my back against the TV and look out the window at the cars struggling to make it up the hill. We were one of those hills that Bill Cosby used to joke about trying to drive up and then discover that at the top was a stop sign. More than a few tourists trying to make it up the hill ended up backing down and going another way. (This was especially fun on rainy days!)
My second favorite thing was the heater vent in the floor of the living room. On cold days, I would stand over the vent and let the rising heat blow up my skirt and make me warm. To this day I miss that heater vent! Walt and I had a vent in our house in Albany, but it was too big and the heat was too hot. The one in my parents' flat was just right.
Unless there were guests, we ate in the kitchen, my father sitting at the head of the table, me on his right, Karen on his left and my mother at the other end. We always had family dinners, but dinner time was not a happy time because anything my father was angry about, dinner time was when he exploded. I learned to eat very quickly and get away from the table. Karen couldn't eat so she had to stay at the table, often for an hour after the rest of us had finished. A telephone call when we were at the table was the worst of all. We cringed when the phone rang because my father would get very angry at being disturbed at his dinner.
When Karen got older, she had very definite ideas about the news of the day and was often in opposition to my father's views and the two of them had heated discussions every night. I was the meek one. If I had strong feelings about something and my father didn't agree with them, I just changed my opinion. It was easier than fighting.
Years later when we had a big family table here in Davis I always wanted to make it a pleasant thing for the kids, but I realized that it made me nervous to sit at the table with everyone for very long, and I often found things to do in the kitchen when everyone else was eating. I traced it back to our dinners with my father in the flat in San Francisco.
When I was very young, we had a telephone with a party line and it was always fun to listen in on someone else's conversation, but eventually we had our own line and it took away all the phone. My grandmother had a candlestick telephone, but we just had a black phone with a rotary dial. I think when I was in high school we got a pastel colored phone and thought we were hot stuff.
Karen and I shared a bedroom and the window was right on the street and people coming down the hill could look in on us. I had terrible fears of the dark and so I always pushed my curtain open so that street light shined on my face. My mother, afraid some bad guys would see her little girls sleeping just out of reach behind a window kept coming in and closing the curtain. Now when I drive up the hill, I note that the windows have bars on them.
I don't remember that we decorated the room at all. My father built show boxes to put story book dolls in and I loved the dolls, but I was not allowed to play with them. At some point my mother gave them away. I never got to decide if I wanted to keep them or not.
My father built bookcase headboards for our beds and I had a radio on my side and I remember my mother coming in at night so we could listen to "One Man's Family" together. We listened to it all the time and even sent away for the book about it. How disappointed I was to discover that nobody looked the way I pictured them in my mind! On Saturday morning we listened to "Big John and Sparky."