My life is a tapestry characterized by elaborate pictorial designs. My childhood, though only comprising a small portion of my life so far, makes up a large, colorful corner section. Occasionally, I have been known to bask in the memories of a few of its more colorful parts. Lately, I find myself more and more often taking the tapestry out of its storage place in the attic of my mind, and airing it out.
The images are all there. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, where the sweltering summer sun baked the days so fiery hot that the tarry goo in the asphalt literally bubbled in the streets; where sunburned, barefooted children in tank tops and Dove short-shorts rode their banana-seat bikes to the crispy, brownish-green lawn at the Digital; where hot air balloons occasionally and thrillingly made emergency landings on sprawling industrial park lawns; where dirty, stinky, disheveled kids played Keep Away or a loose game of kickball until dusk when Dad pulled the old aqua-blue Chevy into the cul-de-sac, threw one of them on his lap, and let the chosen one drive the car all the way into the driveway; and where Grandma and Grandpa Heedum's backyard swimming pool, complete with diving board, water filter "snakes," and pool sprinklers, was the oasis playground for me, my five siblings, and all the Heedum cousins.
You know, a large portion of the tapestry of my childhood revolves around that pool scene.
Childhood Scene 1:
I see Grandma and Grandpa Heedum's house, air-popped buttery popcorn in enormous Tupperware bowls; the boisterous laughter of women playing cards; a crowded pool complete with inflatable rafts, orange floaties, and rousing games of Shark and Marco Polo; water snakes slithering and snaking across the bottom of the pool, stirring up the settled desert dust instead of cleaning it; peeling, sun-burned noses and green-tinted chlorine-hair; and too many wet kids in bathing suits slipping and sliding through Grandma's kitchen.
I see my 7-year-old, wet, bathing suited self dancing around at the arcadia door, pounding on the glass, leaving behind oozing wet scrinchy marks as I cupped my hands to look in at the ladies sitting at the dining room table playing cards, trying to get my mommy's attention. Shoot. Anyone's attention, really.
"Mommy! Lookit! Mommy! Grandma! LOOKIT! Lookit me!"
When I could finally get someone to watch I would race to the diving board and execute some elaborate cherry bomb, or back flip, or twisty dive through an inner tube. When I would emerge from the depths of the pool, proud and spluttering, I would race back to the arcadia door and smash my face up against it, water dripping in my eyes, until I could see my mommy turn away from her cards for a moment to shout from inside, "Uh-huh! Good one, Cathy!" Then she would turn back to her game, laughing and joking, and I would return to the pool, satisfied.
I remember the feeling of walking into the cool, air-conditioned house from the sweltering Arizona desert heat outside, and how it would immediately chill the pool water in my hair and the damp swimsuit against my skin. I would literally freeze in the doorway before the grown-up chorus of "SHUT THE DOOR!" would spur me into action.
Honestly. I still love swimming, but somehow, the Olympic-sized indoor pool at our Rec Center doesn't bring me the sublime satisfaction of hot-footing it across the foot-searing cooldecking surrounding Grandma and Grandpa's pool and jumping into the cool, sun-heated water.
Childhood Scene 2:
Another large chunk of the childhood tapestry is in the section devoted to the awe the Heedum grandkids felt toward Grandpa Heedum. Seriously. He scared the bejeebies out of us.
When I think of my grandparents' house I always see a stifling tobacco-smoke haze hanging in the air, as Grandpa, apart from his card-playing wife and daughters, would sit guarding the back door to the pool, watching television and smoking cigarette after cigarette. Now, in my mind I know that Grandpa quit smoking years ago, when I was in my late teens, but I still see him like that, smoking a cigarette, watching television, snacking on and presiding over the elaborate spread my food-loving mom, aunts, and grandmother laid out for their weekly card-playing get-togethers. To our dismay, his probing eyes, although seemingly riveted to Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk, never missed small hands trying to sneak more popcorn or another powdered-sugary lemon square or a Cuckoo Cookie, maybe even some M & M's if we were... just... super-duper... sneaky...
He observed everything, Grandpa: the card game, the food-sneaking, the swimming, the joking, but he rarely joined in. He listened to his family's laughter, his daughters' silly stories, and their hilariously obvious cheating tactics. Occasionally he barked out a comment (often sarcastic), or laughed at a joke, or told us "Go ask your mother!" when we tried to grab food, but he sat apart, and that is just the way it was. We didn't question it. Still don't. He loved us, and we loved him. But he was apart.
I remember once when I was very young, on a Memorial Day, Grandpa went out and fired up the BBQ grill. He joked around with my Uncle Lyle while they drank beer and he cooked the hot dogs and hamburgers, and we were all so surprised because it seemed like Mommy and Grandma and the Aunts always cooked. But Grandpa apparently felt that grilling was a man's job, so there you go. Then, after dinner, he got in a bathing suit, pulled the special, extra-large, Do Not Touch inner tube out of the heretofore unplumbed depths of the hall swimming closet, and HE GOT IN THE POOL. He floated around, a wet, floating Jonathan Winters (he is the spitting image, I kid you not), beer in hand, cigarette held carefully aloft, and you can bet none of us dared to splash or yell or pick up the water snakes or make waves of any kind. Because, dear lord, the world had gone insane and Grandpa was IN THE POOL.
Sometimes, when the tapestry gets cloudy, I think maybe it's just the cigarette smoke.
Childhood Scene 3:
The last picture that captures my attention is the pinochle game. My mom and her sisters and her mother love to play cards. As far back as I can remember, when the Heedum women got together, they gathered around the dining room table, where cards were played and food was eaten. And, it goes without saying, there was the laughter. The Heedum women? Are Laughers. Loud Laughers. And Loud Talkers, as a matter of fact. Oh, ho, ho, yes they are. You know the type. So if you know me personally, you must understand: it is genetic! I had absolutely no say in the matter! Because, yes, you see, I have inherited the Loud Laugher/Loud Talker gene, which makes for good times in cubicle-land, let me tell you. Especially when I get phone calls. Or an especially funny email. I get shushed, y'all!
But the pinochle game and the laughter of the women in my family- the Aunts, Grandma, Mom- it is IN me, and a part of me, woven into my tapestry like black thread, bringing it all together. And though it can (and has) cause people to misunderstand what I am feeling, to doubt my sincerity, to think I am stronger or more resilient than I really am, I am thankful it is in me.
Because when I break my stupid ankle doing a simple cartwheel, I laugh. When I get viral gastroenteritis and hurl so hard I get blood-red bruising around my eyes, I laugh. When my husband hits me in the head with a racquetball going mach 7, after I cry like a baby and cuss him to bits, I laugh. When we get a lousy louse in the house, after I clean and clean and nitpick and scratch and clean and clean and CLEAN, I laugh. When I joke about someone hurting my feelings or breaking my heart, I laugh. When somebody close to me dies, I dig desperately into my mind and dredge up the funny memories about that person, and I laugh. I do. I laugh. I can't help it. It's a part of my tapestry.
Now, as a grown woman, I have yet another scene to add to my tapestry. Amongst the wedding day, and the births of my children, and the deaths of loved ones, there is this:
It is the image of the Heedum sisters and their mother sitting in a hospital room in the ICU of a Phoenix hospital, waiting for Grandpa to return from dialysis. Exhausted from the worry of feeding tubes and ventilators and Do Not Resuscitate orders and Medical Power of Attorney decisions to be made, yet there they sit, the Heedum women, crossword puzzles, novels, and TV remote thrown aside, brand-new gift shop cards dealt across an unused bed-table, and a high-spirited game of pinochle in progress.
Loud laughter. Silly stories. Blatant cheating. More than once a curious face peeks into the room, the face of another person sitting vigil in the ICU, fearing the worst and hoping for the best.
"Hey! You ladies are having way too much fun in here!... Can I play?"
They smile and scratch their heads at the women who can laugh when there are hard times ahead. Because Grandpa will not be doing dialysis anymore. And Mom and Grandma and my aunts? They know it. And they are dealing with it the only way they know how.
My life. This tapestry. As new sections of pictorial designs are created, I am thankful for the scenes that have come before, adding to the whole, bringing it all into perspective. Because even when someone leaves me behind, maybe shuffling off this mortal coil (if you will allow me to wax Shakespearean for a moment), they are always there, woven into my tapestry. In my mind and heart.
- mrtl commented:
Well, all I have to say is that for the Bono lover that you are, you write right purty.
- » 4/18/2005 10:45 AM
My sentiments exactly. Thanks!!
- » 4/18/2005 12:41 PM
- SCooBY_JeW commented:
Well, I didn't grow up in Phoenix but I do think that Cathy should be required to write the memoirs of the whole family. Why? Because she does write purty!!
- » 4/18/2005 1:51 PM
You said in a few pages, what I could have said in few sentences... That probably why I've never gotten very good grades in English...
- » 4/18/2005 3:03 PM
Hey, I didn't mean to send that yet dangit... I also wanted to say, Good writing, I felt like I was there all over again... but how could you have forgotten David getting stung by the wasp???
- » 4/18/2005 3:05 PM
- Circus Kelli commented:
Dammit Cat... how could you go and write something like that and NOT WARN ME what it was about (like with a very appropriate ENTRY TITLE) before I started reading it!
I'm vulnerable here! Sheesh... make me cry, why don't ya!
Very well written, Cat. I'm sorry about your Grandpa.
- - - - - -
The loud laugh/loud talk gene runs in my biological family as well. It's a gift. :)
- » 4/18/2005 3:09 PM
- Circus Kelli commented:
i wasn't really upset with you, i hope it came across that i was only kidding... sometimes, with the written word, it's hard to tell.
- » 4/18/2005 3:10 PM
- dashababy commented:
Wow, that was good. I loved your story, your tapestry.
- » 4/18/2005 4:05 PM
- KC commented:
Beautifully written, but I should have paid more attention to the title...since now I am sitting here with little tears rolling down my face.
- » 4/18/2005 6:59 PM
- Cat commented:
Aaaw, guys, thanks for your thoughts. Grandpa died an hour ago.
- » 4/18/2005 8:23 PM
- mrtl commented:
- » 4/18/2005 8:36 PM
- Circus Kelli commented:
Oh Cat... I am really so very sorry.
You and your family are in my thoughts.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do.
- » 4/19/2005 7:00 AM
- Mamaramma commented:
Cat - what a beautiful post. I'm so sorry to hear about your Grandpa - Your family sounds like such joyful people, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My thoughts are with you during this time. I know it can't be easy.
- » 4/19/2005 7:19 AM