Random Childhood Memories #1 (of about 10,000)

My Uncle Willie was the best storyteller I’ve ever known.  He was nothing more than an alcoholic country boy with Jesus in his back pocket, but when he  started in on his stories, there was no tearing yourself away.   The best memories of growing up are of the summers spent at the lake house with my uncle and my grandmother in the little town of Cisco, TX.
I was the “caboose” of all the grandchildren (as my grandmother always called me), and wherever my uncle and grandma were, I could be found. I have no doubt some would look those summers and shake their heads at the things I was exposed to, but the bonds of love and family were never stronger than those days at the lake house.
Perhaps it was the magnitude of their personalities, but even in my earliest memories, I recall preferring the company of my grandmother and her siblings over kids my own age, even to my cousins.

I owe any sense of adventure I have to my Uncle.  Not because he was particularly adventurous or even a daring sort of man, but because he always had a story to tell and no matter how dull it might have been in real life, he added just the right amount of garnish and you could visualize every moment in a sort of glittery shimmer.

His best known tale was the story of “The Old Man”, a sort-of swamp creature with one, big, yellow eye above his nose that lived at the bottom of the lake and ate raw fish and only talked to Uncle Willie. Any fish or animal bones found near the shore were just the remains of the Old Man’s meals. Nights when the coyotes were silent were nights you stayed inside because the silence meant he was roaming around looking for something to eat.
If you did go outside, you didn’t dare go without Uncle Willie because the Old Man wasn’t only ugly, he was mean and wouldn’t hesitate to make a meal out of you.

In the mornings, my uncle and grandmother would sit on the screened-in porch drinking their coffee and smoking cigarettes until everyone else woke up.  I was usually the first awake and I’d sit with them at the table and listen to whatever memories they were suddenly struck by.
Nearly every morning at the lake house, my uncle would tell me I fell asleep right before the Old Man came to visit him.
He’d brief me on their conversation and said he’d told the Old Man I was back (or still) in town. He always said he’d introduce me to the him one day and thought the Old Man might like me, but he probably wouldn’t like anyone else.  So, every night I’d sit up waiting to meet him with my uncle and grandma on the porch, listening to them talk until I eventually fell asleep.

Somewhere in the early 90’s Uncle Cliff married in the family through my aunt (my mom’s sister).  Cliff is 6’7 and 400 pounds of stupid but also 400 pounds of heart.  The first 10 or so years, my grandmother wasn’t very fond of him (she preferred my aunt’s ex-husband) and being blood, that meant Uncle Willie didn’t much care for him either.
Cliff was extremely gullible which made him the butt-end of countless jokes when he dared go to the lake house with the rest of the family.  Maybe he was too stupid to realize they were picking on him, but either way, he was always good sport about it.
Even in my single-digit years, I had my doubts about the existence of the Old Man but at 35, it wasn’t hard to make Cliff scared of the water.  I’m not sure he actually believed Uncle Willie, but he was still uncomfortable being out alone in the dark, nonetheless.

However it came about, one night he was dared to sleep on the fishing dock alone.  He talked big, but somehow my aunt ended up with sleeping bags on the dock with him.
At some point in the middle of the night, Cliff came bounding up to the house from the dock soaking wet, swearing the old man was after him.  To this day, no one is sure who scared him, but his delinquent stepsons weren’t his biggest fans.
Family legend has it that he couldn’t shut his eyes at all that night and heard branches cracking and something moving in the water.  In attempting to try to wake my aunt up, he swore someone grabbed his arm which scared him absolutely shitless, causing him to roll over and fall off of the dock and into the lake.  My aunt laughed at him that night and she still laughs at him this day.
Cliff has been dubbed the “titty-baby” of the family since that night.

Even when I was older and saw less and less of Uncle Willie, when I did see him, he’d always ask if I’d seen the Old Man lately.  For whatever reason, I always envisioned sitting at a picnic table under a tree by the lake house (even though there was no picnic table) and eating burgers with him and my uncle in the dark.  I remember thinking I wouldn’t act like I was afraid of him even if I was, espeically if Uncle Willie was with me.
Every time I watch To Kill a Mockingbird and Scout sees Boo Radley behind the door, I always think of the Old Man.  He is my Boo Radley, I just never stayed up late enough to meet him.  Uncle Willie died about 10 years ago and as I’ve gotten older and feel the sting of things I can never have again, I think the largest hole is reserved for summers spent in that shitty shack of a lake house in Cisco.


Life as the Kid Who Shit Their Pants

When I was about four, I developed a sort of resistance to pooping and refused to poop.  I’d cross my legs until my face turned red and I couldn’t breathe; I honestly feared pooping because I thought it hurt.   My mother was aware of my problem and even had family members try to scare the shit out of me, literally.  My cousin who was four years older than me, cornered me in the bathroom when I was five and told me that if I didn’t poop, it would come out of my mouth.  She swore it had happened to her before. I guess it scared me, because I still remember everything about that moment, but it did nothing for my situation.

Out of options, my mom took me to my pediatrician who told her to buy mineral oil and put it in my juice.   She did and I still hate Tang to this day.  While it softened the poop, the problem was more of a mental one.  The evidence of skid marks in the undies was a dead giveaway that the mineral oil wasn’t working it’s magic.   I can’t imagine what she, as a mother was going through, but I was perfectly happy not pooping and I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t be.  This continued throughout my elementary years and the meet-n-greet with the teachers during registration became a ritual of my mother asking them to please speak in the hallway.

As I got older, I wised up a bit and starting throwing away the bacon-strip panties.  This, however, became a problem when my underwear drawer began depleting.   At that point, she wised up and bought underwear with a different day of the week printed on each pair; all days Monday-Sunday.  If any days went missing, my visits to the restroom were supervised.  I think my brother (8 years older than me) was probably more traumatized by the whole thing than I was.

My parents have been divorced since I was about 2, so my brother and I would spend one week at my moms and one at my dads.  Even though my dad knew about my problem, he either hated hearing me bitch about drinking the tang with mineral oil, or he was bitter enough at my mom to not make me drink it.   Either way, weeks at my dads were poop-free  with all the skivvies I could ask for.   So, after my mother became the Hitler of panties, I got the idea to start sneaking underwear from my dads to wear.

I remember having a little, plastic purple trashcan with a lid on it in my room, I had started hiding my shitty underwear in it under whatever other trash a little kid accumulates.  For whatever reason, I didn’t consider that my mom was the one who cleaned the house.  I remember the day she discovered my dirty little secret.  She just sat the empty trashcan (now with no lid) on my bed.  I walked in to my room and just stared at it.  Stupidly enough, I peeked inside to see if maybe she didn’t find the underwear.  I didn’t find underwear.

Somewhere in the second grade, I gave her hope that I’d stopped the whole business.  I thought I had too.  I was regular and it didn’t hurt to poop anymore.  But then came the third grade and for some reason, I missed my hay days when I got in trouble for stashing poopy panties all over my room.  One day during craft time, I was clenching in my seat.  I asked my teacher to use the restroom (really so I could go wipe the skids from my britches) and she told me to wait.  So I sat down and continued crafting.  About that time, I noticed it; the smell.  I looked at the kid Benjamin next to me and asked him what the smell was (hoping to blame someone else).  He looked around and then James (who either hated me or had a crush on me) said “Ewwww, I bet it’s Whitney”.  Oh, that’s right, he hated me.

I saw the teachers face go white and she sent me to the nurse.  I sat crying in the bathroom for nearly an hour until my mom (who worked 45 minutes away) finally came with fresh clothes, panties and looks to kill.  She smothered me with kisses and told me to change.  I changed only my underwear in hopes to divert the suspicion from myself.  She marched me to my classroom and asked the teacher to step in to the hall for a moment.  She then told me to stay in sight and wait for her near the restroom (which was halfway down the hall).  I walked to the restrooms and started playing with the water fountains when all of a sudden, her voice carried up the hallway.  I peeked over the fountain and saw her hands flying everywhere.  “…told you if she asked to go to the restroom, you let her!”  “I’m so sorry, I know you did, I know, I know, I’m so sorry, I had no idea.”

At that moment, I felt really bad for my teacher and knew it was my fault.  Even though I couldn’t really help what I was doing, I also knew I could have tried harder to not shit my pants.   While I still battled the problem through the rest of elementary school and well in to junior high, it was at that moment that I stopped laying lines in my pants.   Even now, I can go a few days without going “big potty” as my stepfather, a grown man, calls it.  I don’t know if it’s a real problem or if I somehow destroyed my bowels during my poop-refusing childhood. Either way, telling stories of the glory days when I was hiding underwear in boxes of barbie clothes  is one of my favorite things when it comes to getting to know people.  Not because I’m proud of it, it’s funny, but yes, it is embarrassing.  However, once people realize that the bar has been raised, it’s usually then that they start digging deep in to their dark places.  And oh my gosh, there is nothing better.

There’s a quote I found in a pocket calendar when I was about 14.  It said, “Accept that some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue”.  I remember cutting the quote out and gluing it to something that I was going to keep forever (I have no idea what or where it is).
I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older, that when you’re generally the statue, the best way to deal with it is through self-deprecation.  I have a loooong history of embarrassing moments, and I have survived the sting of each one of them by splashing the burn with hot water.  It may be painful, but if you give it a minute the water turns cold and begins to soothe.

I don’t care what anyone says about “health of the mind” or any of that crap — if it clears your mind and rationalizes the situation for you, I say go for it.   No matter what you do in life, you’re going to come face to face with some part of your past eventually, and the clearer your mind is, the better chance you have of coming out of the battle in one piece.  I used to be embarrassed of things from my childhood, but somewhere along the  way I took a leap of faith and told someone about my “shitty” childhood, and to my surprise they told me the fucked-up parts of theirs.  Just last week I told someone about some of the strange things I did as a kid and they told me things equally fucked up.  It works every time and with it come relief and acceptance about things I can’t change.

With age comes experience and through experience, I’ve realized that by means of doing really weird shit, my childhood habits were actually pretty normal.  And now, I get to openly laugh at the embarrassing things I did because let’s be honest, kids don’t know any better so they’re bound to do weird, horribly awkward shit, and as an adult, you have 2 choices: You can accept it and laugh at it or you can let it haunt you.  It doesn’t really matter how extreme whatever happened to you is, the truth is, you can’t change anything about your past.  You can’t go back and make it different, make it better or make it more or less than it was.  It’s just something that happened to you.

So, today, this month, this whole year – it’s been bad, it’s been rough and I’ve had to drag my feet the entire way.  But I know that even in as little as six months, this could all be different and this doesn’t really define me.  What I choose to do with the outcome of my choices and how I choose to handle them will be the only thing that defines.  And I know this because I was the kid that shit my pants in class and lived to tell about it.