Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Getting Nowhere Fast

My father and mother raised me to be a lady. I’m not saying this in the modern sense of the word. I mean, someone delicate in thought and deed; one who knows the finer arts of painting, music and writing. They took me to museums and shelved all the best books in our home. This put me in an awkward position since I grew up in Taylor, Michigan. Even the locals said that there was more culture in one cup of yogurt than all of Taylor. (Note, I didn’t say it. I was told this from people at school and neighbors as well.)

In 1968 Papa moved us south of Detroit to Taylor, a community situated in the Downriver part of Michigan. The fixer-upper house, situated on over an acre, was close to I-75 so my father could get to work quickly at General Motors’ Fisher Body-Fleetwood factory in Detroit.

Taylor, known as a bed-room community, was home to working class families. Parents relied on the factories to pay good wages and provide the means to put meat on the table. There was little time for art, travel, classic music or exotic food for most people. The most exciting part of the move for me was that huge yard. Living on over an acre meant that someday I could get a horse!

My mother always dreamed that I would one day marry a very rich man. Her own father was an artist; and a reluctant soldier. My grandmother wanted my dad to become a preacher. He joined the Navy. The early twentieth century was one of strife, war, depression and turmoil. It changed lives and destinies as battles, famine and epidemics have done throughout the ages. So once the world was relatively peaceful, post Korean War to be exact, my parents set their visions and hopes on me. It was a tall order.

I was a tom-boy kind of girl. We didn’t go to church. My parents didn’t believe in things like that. My father rebelled against his mother’s stern upbringing as did all of her offspring. So from the time school let out in June until after Labor Day, I ran around with no shoes. That’s right: three months of freedom for my toes! Every year I developed such hard calluses, that I’d walk over the sharp rocks in our driveway and barely notice the stones by July. When September rolled around, my dad would struggle to put my shoes back on. I hated the scratchy feeling of the socks and the constricting tightness of my footwear. This meant that my dad was always buying new shoes for me. Back then they were fitted to my feet. Everyone went to the shoe stores in those days, getting their feet measured. That didn’t help my situation. I despised shoes with a passion and if not for the cold Michigan winters, by choice, I would have gone barefoot all year ‘round.

Additionally, summers meant swimming. If I couldn’t get to the pool, I’d run the hose, get a lot of mud started and roll in the muck like a little piggy. My mother bought me some lovely purple culottes that I didn’t like. So after being forced to wear them a couple times, in desperation (or spite) I went outside and spent the next couple of hours cooling off in my mud-hole. Mommie was furious! She demanded to know why I didn’t wear my play clothes. She never did get the stains out of those culottes. I actually felt bad for her, but I was relieved. Eventually she dressed me like the other kids in my neighborhood: jeans and t-shirts. My cousin Greg handed me down a lot of his jeans and I was grateful. (He was always like my big brother, but that’s another story.)

My mother made sure I learned music. My piano teachers usually quit after a few lessons. One high school student, starved for cash, stuck it out. I learned a lot from the young man, but treated him pretty bad. My parents encouraged art and liked that I was taking some classes in junior high school. Eventually, I started paying attention in all my English classes, enjoying the study of words and grammar. Due to some mild dyslexia, spelling has always been a challenge, but my mother introduced me to the dictionary. My sister Margie actually made me crack open a text book and showed me what a noun was so that by the time Schoolhouse Rock debuted on ABC TV I was enthralled with the first song! “A noun is a person, place or thing!” blared from the television set in our living room.

Eventually, my dad bought me the horse that he promised and soon I began riding lessons. Nothing was too good for his baby girl. He wanted me cultured, educated and refined. (In reality I was smelly, sweaty and sporting snarled hair every evening.)

Years later, I went to John F. Kennedy High School. I wasn’t the best student but I rose to the challenge. Also, I left my tom-boy ways behind, looking forward to the day I could go to a university, which I did eventually. My parents were thrilled that I’d decided to break away from my life Downriver. They were working class just like everyone else, but wanted me to experience more and have a better life than they did.

Half way through college I met the love of my life, David. He is a mechanic, not the rich businessman my parents had hoped I’d marry. Family friends in Detroit insisted I should marry for money first and learn to love a man. I didn’t see it that way. I wanted to wed for love.

David and I began our married life in my hometown, Taylor. I tried teaching, day care, working as a bank teller, working at a museum and later writing. I even did a stint as a lunch lady and at the time, it was my highest paying job! There was no money in music, art nor writing. Believe me, I tried. I’d still like to be a sculptor. I’d even like to try singing lessons, but I’m not delusional. There is no money in any of those avocations-- unless I’m one of the lucky ones. Our bread and butter come from my husband’s hard work.

Which brings us to this decade. My son-in-law majored in theater. I was so proud of him when he graduated from my alma mater, Brigham Young University! Sadly, finding a job is another matter. The arts just aren’t appreciated and an artist is not loved in his own time, if at all. I know that John will go on to do great things in his life, but theater is a hobby, not a career unless you are willing to move to New York and schlep your tired body to every audition after working two jobs and paying high rent for a gawd-awful, rat infested apartment. But that young man has talent! He did a killer Ichabod Crane in a college production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He can do stunts and the splits. If there is ever a life story produced of Buster Keaton, he’s the man for the job. He is the right height, coloring and. . . who am I kidding? Even Buster Keaton, genius that he was, is not appreciated. I think we’re getting nowhere fast --but it’s a fun ride!

John in his role as Ichabod Crane.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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