I was born in California. You would think that growing up as part of a large family that I would do anything for attention, anything to be noticed. I was the opposite. I was very shy. I was content to spend time alone, to read or participate in some other quiet activity. “She’s very quiet, doesn’t talk much. She needs to speak up more,” teacher after teacher would write in the comments section of my yearly report cards. Thankfully, my parents didn’t push me. They let me be. Let me be who I was. If quiet was my game, then quiet I would be. Yet, I knew how to have fun. Fun with fun people.
As I grew older, was old enough to hang with some of my brothers, I would do what the boys liked to do. I would crawl in the dirt, and make mud pies. I’d slither through the bricks piled up in the backyard, covered with a blanket and strategize some kind of plan, like secret agents, with my brothers and a few of their friends, in the fortress we built.
I would follow a brother to a neighbor’s house and help pour salt on some snails, watch them shrivel. So cool! Yet, somehow weird and mean.
One time one of my brother’s friend’s mom was going to take the boys to an area, a dirt-filled area near some train tracks. “Yay!” I cheered when they said I could tag along. The mission: to find as many trap-door spiders – trap and all – as we could. I loved the danger of it all! Boys are so much more fun than Barbie playing girls. At least, that’s what I thought.
When my younger brother and I would tag along with our older sister, our only sister – well, my only sister, anyway – to the grocery store, me and my bro’ would eat the grapes, and sometimes a piece of candy or two. Secretly, of course. My brother would ask grown up sis “Can I have this?” – whatever this was – but she’d say “No!” When I asked grown up sis, for my brother, secretly, of course, she’d say “Oh, sure. Get what you want.” In my adolescent opinion, probably not my brother’s, my only sister was cool.
After school one day, a neighbor boy wanted to dump ketchup all over his body and stick a cardboard knife in his pretend bloody chest. He wanted me to scream and point at him when a car drove by. I did. I did it again, and again until one car slowed down. Then I ran home. That same boy was later tricked by one of my older brothers. My big bro’ picked up a dead stiff as a hard-covered book cockroach from the ground and made it look like he tossed it into his mouth, then chewed it. Crunch. Crunch. My brother dared the neighbor boy to do it, eat an ugly bug. The boy did. Yuck! I laughed so hard.
The teenager down the street sewed together the cutest blue and white checked very young girl two-piece bathing suit. I thought that was pretty neat because I thought that teenage girl thought I was just a punk kid. The teen even took me to the local pool to try the suit out. I felt shy, for sure, yet very special. Oh, and the teen’s dad used to give me and a couple of my brothers chocolate chip cookies. He seemed to enjoy the days when we would knock on the door, whereby he would invite us in, have us sit at the kitchen table and give us tasty, tasty cookies with milk. He even asked, “How has your day been?” I liked how kind he was.
I got to eat vanilla ice cream in a pretty little dish, at a neighbors, a few doors down, because two of my brothers decided that jumping on the back of the ice cream truck would be a fun thing to do. They fell off when it turned a corner. My parents had to take them to the hospital, one for an abrasion, one for a head concussion. My brothers were always doing something crazy. That’s what I think.
One sunny summer day I went with my sister and some brothers to the beach. Huntington, I’m certain. The day was a good one, playing in the water and building sand castles. When we were ready to leave, ready to pack up the car – it was gone! The car, that is. The car had been stolen! I learned what hitch-hiking entailed that day. Kind of fun, I thought. Different people helping out a group of young kids.
On an August afternoon, during the annual Corn Festival, I felt tired. I was hot, too. Luckily, my dad had purchased a pretty little sun shade for me. A frilly-edged umbrella. I plopped myself down on the grass, under a big, big tree. I was wearing a homemade-turquoise-color-printed dress with red knee-highs. Little did I know that someone, a newspaper photographer, had taken my picture. I smiled when I saw my five-year-old-self in the paper, the local paper my dad was reading the following Monday.
I still live in the town I grew up in. I didn’t leave because I was afraid, afraid to take some chances – like some might say. No, I stayed because of the comfort stability provides. The stability I now offer my own family.
California holds my memories. California is my home.