Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I Am From

Yesterday, in a linking frenzy, I followed a chain of blog links so far back I lost track, so I'm afraid I can't credit the source for today's post. But here's the idea: there is a sort of I Am Template that allows you to define yourself by the things you could touch and feel and taste as a child. I have tucked it away on another site so as not to clutter up the space here. Fill in the blanks, elaborate when you can, and you've got yourself a poem, of sorts. Here is mine:

I Am

I am from Singer, from Butterick, and from bolts of fabric with spools of coordinating thread, bias tape, and 9-inch zippers. My mother sewed all of my clothes because they were cheaper than store bought. It was also a source of pride because the dresses and jumpers and skirts and pants were well made. She always said, “there’s a big difference between homemade and handmade, and your clothes are handmade.” They were quality.

I am from 17th Street and ranch houses with one-car garages attached at the sides. Our lots were freckled with crabgrass but were always trimmed close and tidy, and our yards were full of full-grown trees, the kind you could climb and swing from and hide things in when you needed a secret place to stash your treasures.

I am from the petunias that were brought home by the flat and planted in the flower beds that were sectioned off with old rail road ties. And I am from the redbud tree that bloomed in the spring in a way that made our yard look like something more than a quarter acre on a blue-collar street, like something more than the gravel driveway would lead you to expect.

I am from singing old gospel tunes around the piano in four-part harmony (I am an alto), and dice games on Sunday night when we bet with a jar full of pennies. And I am from Guiles Onie and Ruth Ola who gave the family Rook. “We’re set for sure.”

I am from deep-fried shrimp (pronounced “srimp”) and oysters every summer, and inviting the Southern folk over to share. The house smelled like hot oil and fried batter for days, and I would sniff the sleeve of my shirt to make sure I didn't smell, too.

I am from fear of the unknown and unusual, and from mistrust of the one who signs the paycheck.

I am from the First Baptist Church, where we claimed our own pew in the back on the right side. It was where we were baptized and where we sang and where we wished we went somewhere else for church. It was where our father’s initials were carved in the basement cement because he helped to pour the foundation.

I am from the American South and from fried corn and fried okra and fried chicken and sweet tea. My sisters were from squirrel, but I am from government cheese.

I am from a mother who passed a typing test and was invited to work in Washington DC as a secretary. She stayed home in Alabama instead because “I honored my father and mother. Not like it is today.” And she regretted it for years and years and years. I am from a father who fought extra-long in WW2 and drove a tank in North Africa. He made it back home to the States because his number came up while he was stationed in Tunisia. Kind of like winning the lottery only better.

I am from my mother’s cedar chest that stands at the foot of her bed. It’s a treasure trove full of old pictures and autographs and broken eye glasses. It’s full of a scratchy gray and maroon blanket I used to touch when I was a kid, and I wondered why anyone would knit something out of yarn so uncomfortable. And it's full of baby shoes and pink beaded hospital bracelets because I was born a girl.

11 comments:

dive said...

How many comments do I start with "Wow! Robyn, that's fantastic"?
You must have quite a collection by now.
Well, here's another one.
Brilliant, evocative, funny, sad, and so totally you.
I'm supposed to be really busy this afternoon, but I've just got to start on my own "I Am From …" (probably post it in the morning).

Robyn said...

It's a great personal exercise, filling in those blanks. It provides a tidy spot to collect all of those tactile things that go in to making up who you are. I can't wait to read yours, so get to work.

I also think Alifan should take on this little project--she must have some fascinating stories.

Sassy Sundry said...

That is a fascinating exercise.

It is amazing to me what a difference a few years can make. My parents were from a different generation (Vietnam, not WWII), and the contrast of values is shocking (though I had Singer and Butterwick too). That's really interesting. Also, I had maple syrup, the Red Sox, and apple pie, being a New England girl.

That's a tag I might take.

Gaijin Girl said...

robyn, i was so touched by this post. it is raw, it is real and it is so beautifully written.
thank you so much. along with a greater insight into where you're from, you've also given me a new perspective on my own life.
that's a wonderful gift you have.

Robyn said...

Sassy, it would be interesting to see how much generation and geography make a difference in how we fill in the blanks. I'll look forward to reading your "poem."

Gaijin Girl, Thank you! I think this all started with a poem written by an actual poet. And then someone created the template. What I like about it is that it involves all of the senses, or at least it can if you dig into your answers a little bit.

dive said...

Oh well; there goes an hour of work time (oops).
Mine's done and posted, Robyn.

Dear Prudence said...

Robyn, you are inspirational. Your descriptions are so tangible it is though I was sitting in a corner of your life watching you grow up. We have quite a few similarities in our upbringing. I shall try this exercise when I have a moment.

RICH said...

nice job with this post Robyn. It's poetic and I now have a much better understanding of... where you are from.

Gina said...

Very nice. I have seen these before, but never bothered to go get the template.

sister # one said...

Robyn, my first thought was that I need to do this. Then I read yours, which is the same as mine, except I am one of the squirrel sisters. You penned our roots so beautifully. I will put it away for safe keeping.

The soprano - only because I can't hear the harmony as well as my sisters.

Robyn said...

Dear Prudence, I'll look foward to reading your thing--I don't know what to call it because it's not really a poem, or maybe it is.

Rich,I suspect some of your story would be a lot like mine but in a different location. I think you should give this a shot.


Gina, now you've got the template handy.

Sister #1, it's true you are one of the squirrel sisters, but I bet you might choose different words for filling in the blanks. It would be interesting if we all did this without reading mine first. You should do it and see what you come up with. ooohh, and then get Mama to do it. Now, that would be interesting.