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 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.