Friday, May 21, 2010

A Brief Visit From the Other Side

When I was a teenager, I used to spend part of my summers studying at the Ashland, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Sometime during the June that I turned fifteen, I was in line waiting for a show to open at the Elizabethan Theater when my grandfather appeared and handed me a box of Hot Tamales. “I thought you might want these,” he said and then he was gone. He lived (as do I) in California. That means he drove across two states to hand me a box of candy. ‘Cause he just rolled like that.

Grampy taught me how to fire an antique Civil War rifle and drive a stick shift, well before I turned twelve. Things that he used to say became a fundamental part of who I am, such as: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “don’t worry about deciding what you want to be when you grow up until you’re thirty.” The last one threw my husband for a loop. When I reached that milestone birthday, I informed him that my chosen vocation was Stay at Home Mom.

Around the time of the Interstate Candy Drop, I decided that I wanted to be a Beauty Queen. I convinced Grampy that I deserved a crown and sash, so he signed me up for The Santa Clara Miss pageant. I think I should explain that where I am from, we don’t do this kind of thing. I realize that there are states in the US of A where beauty pageants are an important part of life, like brushing your teeth. Or breathing. That’s just not how I was raised: Between Kindergarten and college graduation, I knew of four girls who had participated in a pageant – and one of them was a dancer for the numbers when the actual competitors were changing into their ball gowns or swimsuits, or whatever.

The rest of the contestants had their gowns designed and constructed specifically for that pageant. Mine was not new, nor was it a custom job. Somehow, the other girls knew that they were supposed to sing “Stand by Your Man” or “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. I did a stand up comedy routine. I wish I could grab Fifteen Year Old Me’s shoulders, shake really hard and yell, “Nononono! Turn away from the light! Don’t do this!” I think it was during the Personal Introductions that I finally realized (with a horrible, panicky discovery) that I did not belong there.

Here’s how it went down:

Announcer: Joining us now is Gardenia McFlowerson! She loves her kitten, Marshmallow. She was sponsored for the pageant today, by Pretty Pettunia’s Florist. Welcome Gardenia!

And next we have Bunny Fuzzipants! She likes to practice perfect posture. Bunny was sponsored by Getterdone Hardware Store! Beautiful smile, Bunny!

And now… we have Shauna. Shauna enjoys writing “biting satirical One Acts”. She was…uhm…sponsored by her grandfather, Paul. Get…up here…You!

It was a disaster, but I did win the award for “Best Personal Interview”. They thought I had an OK personality. Grampy thought I was robbed. He really believed that I should have received the title, to the bitter end.

He passed away before my eight year old’s first birthday. He never got to meet my son. From time to time, the sorrow of his passing still hits me in the chest like a hammer. One of those giant ones at carnivals, that you use to whack the post and try to activate as many lights as your strength allows. The impact of my mournful hammer is powerful enough to ignite the bulb at the top. Sometimes I feel like he was just here, yesterday.

I was filled with a fuzzy kind of comfort when I read my journal entry from September 26th, 1985 and found that Ten Year Old Me had literally seen him, just the day before.

September, 1985

Yesterday I didn’t play much just got picked up by grampy. I got new earings and a necklace. I got a tea cup, a small one and a tiny house. And a unicorn key chain. I also got a new shirt with a unicorn fighting a pegasis. And my mom gave me her shirt with a unicorn on it. Aaron got a Hulk Hogan shirt and my dad got a shirt that says something about being fed up about morning. I did my speaking assignment about ancestors today, I couldn’t find Germany until the last minute. I like school. Guess what L was giving out packages of stickers. I think other people like him just because of his stickers but I like him (for a friend) so does K.

I wish I still had those Unicorn tshirts, I think they're coming back in style...

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