I do a lot of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. And, I plan to do a lot more writing, both fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I have so many writing plans that I recently had to sit down with myself and figure out how and where I’m going to get all this done! Friends have asked me when I’ll write about my life and my travels. My original plan was to do that in a series of short books, but I decided to continue to concentrate on fiction, and tell my personal journey in blog form instead. Perhaps those books will eventually come. But for right now, this post is the beginning of my autobiographical adventure.
Whenever I think of where to begin my story, I think of the line from my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is about to hit the Yellow Brick Road, and asks, “Where do I start?” The answer: “It’s best to start at the very beginning!”
I have to call my first ten years “The Wonder Years,” because it was the only time in my life that I had two parents alive. A wonder to me, indeed!
I was born in Palmer, Massachusetts, on December 14, 1966. Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, the Vietnam War and accompanying protests were heating up, the miniskirt was climbing the thigh, and five older sisters were waiting at home for the latest addition to the family. My mother always told me I was named for the Barbie Doll. (Yes, my real name is Barbara, and I grew up being called Barbie. One of my sisters called me Babette. Hearing the Beach Boys paying homage to Barbara Ann was not a welcome event for me.) When I was less than a year old, I had pneumonia and, by all accounts, almost didn’t make it through. Mom kept that oxygen tent in her closet for a long time, and I still think of how I got a glimpse of it every now and again. It was a real enigma.
My favorite color was green. Whenever my blue eyes would fall on the color my heart did a flip. Old photos from the Wonder Years show a chubby-faced blond in one of several nifty outfits the color of plants and grass. (My apologies…these shots are buried. But I can offer this one, my first grade school picture. Ain’t I a doll?):
Most of the memories are from holidays, particularly Easter, out in front of the old homestead, with varying family members present, depending on where everyone was at the time. My oldest sister was away at Long Island University, and the third oldest was more than a bit of a wild child, so they weren’t always around for the holidays. I can’t help but think that these pictures are a bit of a miracle, being that we had hardly any money. The fact that we even had a camera and Easter clothes is a testament to the kind of people my parents were. Mom and Dad always “managed” for their six girls, even if they had to sacrifice something they wanted. Sacrifice– what a novel concept. Though I don’t have children of my own, I believe in parents putting the needs of children first, at least up to a certain age. It’s a dying art, but one that was ingrained in me by how I grew up.
Six girls! Whenever I tell strangers about myself I’ll usually hear, “Your poor father!” Wrong. Dad didn’t have any problems with being surrounded by women. As the last daughter, I had a special relationship with him. He was a World War II vet, and dealt with many issues that, at the time, didn’t have names. Now, we would probably call Dad’s struggles PTSD. As a result, the first three daughters born have different memories of Dad than I do. He was much better by the time I came along.
Mom never had the luxury of being a housewife. She worked third shift taking care of disabled individuals to help Dad pay the bills and feed six kids, one of whom was disabled like the people Mom took care of. We were always at the dinner table together, a tight family unit with a lot of love between us, and a strong example to follow in our beloved parents.
Mom and Dad were well into their 40s when I came along. Schoolmates assumed they were my grandparents, and I frequently got teased about them. I was a bullied kid in other ways in school, too, but this particularly hurt. They were my world, and I couldn’t imagine life without them.
At the age of ten, I would have to learn.