BEING DIFFERENT

MY HOUSE ON THE CHURCH SIDE
Being different is not the same as not belonging. It may be a cause for not belonging but being different stands alone. I grew up being told I was different, not because of being the only girl in a neighborhood of boys (and I had two brothers, no sisters) but because we were the only family without a father in the house. It was quite unusual in those days and in our neck of the woods.
We weren’t confined to the back yard but allowed to roam as long as we didn’t cross the busy streets that defined the neighborhood. I didn’t have an ounce of shyness in me then, not even internally. That came later when I would have to push myself forward.
A half block up Liberty Street was a neighbor who also lived in a semi-detached house. He owned two lots alongside his house that were planted in vegetables but mostly in flowers. At 7 years old I would stop my bike and talk to him through the fence while he worked. He never encouraged it but he didn’t reject me either. One summer day I asked, “How come I always see you outside working but I have never seen your wife. You have a wife, don’t you? And how about kids. Do you have kids? I’ve never seen any.”
He explained to me that their children were grown up with households of their own and that his wife was very ill and liked to be quiet. I quickly followed up with, “Why did you build a swimming pool if you don’t have kids?”
These were the days when the only swimming pools were community pools that you needed to pay to get in. Woodlawn was the pool we went to once a week in the summer with the school playground program. It was a 2 mile walk, one way.
He patiently explained that he built his pool (a wooden structure 5 feet high, about 10 feet long and 8 feet wide) for exorcise, told me to never come in the yard without his invitation. I think this came after I told him about my climbing adventures on the church fence. He also invited my brother and me to come swim in his pool on a day he selected, with a written consent from my mother. We went two or three times and loved it, respected his rules and never pushed ourselves on his generosity.
His generosity expanded to giving me fresh flowers for my mother on Mother’s Day after I told him that I rode four blocks away to the cemetery to pick some flowers from the gravestones for Mom on Easter. He kindly but firmly explained why I should never, ever do that again, that if I needed flowers to come ask him. I never picked flowers from the cemetery again.

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4 Comments

Filed under Memoir, reflection, women, women writers, women's stories, writing

4 responses to “BEING DIFFERENT

  1. Arlene – another window into your soul life. A portrait of youth and freedom. Thank you – as usual, I love everything you write!

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  2. Dawn Dleen Mullen

    Amazingly similar life & location. Just a little different time frame. My mom was the only divorced mom on the street…

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    • I never thought of that with your mom. I heard that same sentiment from my kids when they were in their early 20s. I never gave it a thought-only that I was no longer living in a violent household (which they never saw & I know your mom did not experience that) I wish we had talked about it then. I never let them in on my life after they went to bed.

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