The Wrong Hole

In the early 1980s, I worked at my hometown police department. During my tenure, I made some headlines with my colleagues. My antics may have reminded them of episodes from the still popular classic, “I Love Lucy”. I just didn’t have red hair like Lucy.

One of those episodes happened just after I got my brand new red Chevrolet Cavalier. I was so proud of it. I remember my Dad showing me how to check the oil. I may have been overzealous to trying to do it all by myself.

When I was going home for my lunch break, I noticed an oil spot. Never mind it wasn’t exactly under my car. I went into alert mode. Overreacting wasn’t unusual for me. This was long before I knew I was living on the autism spectrum.

When I got home, I commenced to checking the oil just as Dad showed me. I propped up the hood and properly checked the oil. The oil level was fine, of course. My anxiety level returned to normal; that is until, I tried to get the hood down. I somehow picked the wrong hole to put the stick into. I could NOT get the hood down. It was stuck and I do mean stuck good!

I felt like a robot swirling around, arms flinging, repeatedly saying “PANIC ALERT”! I knew I couldn’t drive it back to the police department like that. Although it was just a few blocks from my apartment, there was no way I could see over or around the hood from the driver’s seat. Never mind the possible traffic jams I could cause by being the main attraction on the road.

So I called the police. I hated having to do that since the police was my employer. They knew me and this wasn’t the first antic I had pulled.

My knight in shining armor was a patrol officer I hardly knew. It would have been more humiliating if it had been one who knew me all too well. The office was able to get my hood down. In fairness to me, it took a few attempts before he got my hood unhinged. I asked him, “Have you ever gotten a call like this one?” I could tell he was making an effort not to laugh his head off. He said with a controlled chuckle, “No, Maam, I haven’t.” I asked him to please not tell anyone back at the station. He said he wouldn’t.

He didn’t have to keep his word. When I got back to the station, I was asked about the hood before I got back to my desk. I learned that when the call went out from dispatch on the police radio, the dispatcher stated my NAME and my HOOD problem. Any police personnel or in the community who had been listening to the police radio channel knew about my having a stuck hood.  At least, my hometown wasn’t so small that everybody knew everybody and their brother.

After I got to my desk, my police captain came in from lunch. Unfortunately, he was in his car with the police radio on when the call went out. He didn’t say a word at first. He didn’t have to. It was written all over his face. It was all he could do to keep from rolling on the floor in stitches.

I wasn’t totally humiliated though. Why? All these folks had kind hearts. My colleagues weren’t laughing at me; they were laughing with me.

After my anxiety level returned to normal like the oil level was in my car, I thought it was hilarious too when I stuck the stick in the wrong hole.

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A Little Boy and his Mom’s Chick

Perhaps it was living on the autistic spectrum that as a child I didn’t play with other kids. I was the one sitting amongest the adults listening to their adult conversations. Sometimes an adult would notice and say, “Look at her…”. They’d laugh at my hanging on every word. I didn’t get the hint to go outside and play. I guess I was pretty stubborn about that.

Strangely, I now have a job where I get to play with kids and I like it. I love playing with the kids at family get-togethers.  That’s the kick about life. One never knows what direction life will take.

This is a story I fondly recall from one of those “adult pow-wows”. I probably don’t have all the facts of the story, but I think I have the gist of what happened on an afternoon day on the farm where three kids had some idle time on their hands. Idle time and children can be a dangerous combination. In this case, it was for a little chick who didn’t deserve what it got.

Two older sisters, Bessie and Louise, nicknamed “Lukie”, and their little brother were playing near the house while their Mom and Dad were laboring in the garden out of sight. Mom had warned her son, Thomas, to stay away from the cicken house. He was the average boy for whom instructions usually went in one ear and out the other. It usually took more than a “telling to” from Mom to make it stick.

He got a hold of one of his Mom’s prized little chicks. It sounds so vicious, but the truth is, he killed the chick with his bare hands. He didn’t mean to. He just didn’t know his own strength. You could call it involuntary manslaughter if that sounds not so bad.

Now if he had been my little brother, I would have run like a jack rabbit with its behind on fire to tell Mom and Dad all about it. But the older sister had mercy on her little brother. She knew he’d be in for another bruising if Mom found out her chicken population had been diminished by one thanks to him.

The older sister, Bessie, goes to the shed and gets a shovel. She then proceeds, with Lukie and Thomas, to bury the victim of her brother’s strength. Just as Thomas got carried away with the chick, she got carried away with the shovel. When it came down, it didn’t hit the ground. Instead, somehow, it accidently landed on Lukie’s head.

PANDEMONIUM!!!

Cries coult be heard in any direction a mile away. Bessie tried in vain to quieten down Lukie. I don’t know if it was concern for Thomas being caught, or herself being caught as an accomplice. But no matter. When Lukie saw the blood streaming down from the top of her head, she was convinced she was going to die and she wasn’t going away quietly.

Mom and Dad came running and the first and ONLY thing they saw was their little “Lukie” with blood streaming down her face. Neither noticed the little dead chick at the feet of Bessie and Thomas. All Mom and Dad cared about at that moment was hitching up the wagon and getting their little girl to the doctor to be stitched up.

I don’t know what happened when Mom and Dad returned home with a bandaged-up Lukie. My Grandma was in the room when this story was being told. She couldn’t recollect what punishment she handed out to Thomas afterwards.

My Uncle Thomas might remember since he’s the one who got carried away with the chick. I do know my Mom had one heck of a headache that day long ago. I have not confirmed this, but I would imagine that the next time my Aunt Bessie had taken to a shovel, my Mom headed for the hills.

A Double Victory

I was subbing for a P.E. aide at an elementary school. It is the only school I’ve been at that has a tether ball set. I had not played tether ball since I was in maybe elementary school. If so, it’s been, more or less, a half-dollar in years.

Tether ball was one of the few games I had some potential at playing.  P.E. was NOT my favorite subject. A lack of coordination didn’t help. I could roller or iceskate ONLY in my dreams. I did learn how to ride a bike, but like Rome wasn’t built in a day, I didn’t learn to bike in one day or two, etc. I did okay at batting a baseball, but I was terrible in the outfield. I just knew when rubber met wood, the ball would come flying straight towards me and I’d be frozen in a panic.

Eyeing the tether ball set, I wanted soooooooooo much to play the game again, but tether isn’t a “solo” game but a “duet”. I really like playing games, but I just don’t want to play with other people. That’s all.  Back when I was the P.E. student, no one wanted to play with me either since I was so good at being the last one over the finish line.

During the time the 5th graders came in for P.E., some of them were lined up to play tether ball. I wanted to play just a round and even though I was one of two adults (the other being the coach) in the room, I was afraid to ask.

Now having been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s) and with the help of medication, I now sometimes act against my “aspie” nature and do the opposite. I did this time by asking the 5th graders if I could play a round. What were they gonna say “NO”???? I knew on one hand they wouldn’t say no, but that didn’t keep it from being hard to ask.

You may have heard of a game, “Do You Know More Than a 5th Grader?”. I think there was a TV game show with that title. Anyway, I thought of that title when I played tether with the 5th grade boy. I don’t know if I know as much as the 5th grader, but I beat the 5th grader at tether ball!

The students asked me if I wanted to play another round with another player but I said “Oh, no thanks”.  I bowed out gracefully. I didn’t want to risk another round and suffer defeat which would have poured cold water on my victory! Instead, I walked away and SAVORED in my victory.

I told the young coach and he said, “You must still have it then”…”it” being the knack for tether. I reckon I still do.

It was a double victory. I was so tickled I beat the 5th grader, but more than that of my asking to play. The “asking” is so hard, so very hard for me.   I did it that time and had some fun. The fun I seldom had in my younger days.

Having had that victory, I was encouraged to take another step. I’ll be starting off 2017 with a tennis racket and a few tennis balls I got myself for Christmas. I went to the place where I used to hit balls against the wall at a nearby community college. I had not been there in like 30 years. I tell you what … I still got “IT”!!!

My resolution is to visit this place frequently in 2017. I want my racket and I to become close pals.  Now I don’t mean playing tennis in a two or foursome. Oh, no, not me. I dig the sound of “solo”. I am perfectly content to it just being me, my racket and ball, and the wall.

Obsession or Love?

I am 58 and still single, never married, and was recently diagnosed as having the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I accepted the diagnosis with absolute relief! The burden of the unknown as to why I am so out of step with my companions has been taken away.

On the positive side, I have a passion for writing that I probably wouldn’t have if I wasn’t autistic. My stickler for routine gets me to work on time, my chores done, and my bills paid on time. My attention to detail instead of the big picture explains why the top two favorite jobs of my career perfectly matched that trait.

But there’s a dark side. The spectrum isn’t a rose garden without thorns. It wouldn’t have syndrome at the end of it if it did.

I sometimes envy my brother who has two grandchildren to spoil. Since my diagnosis, I have wondered if things were different, if I didn’t have ASD, would I might have a husband, children, and grandchildren. I’m not ruling out marriage since one should not say never. After all, stranger things have happened. If someone had told me back in my teen years that I would move halfway across the country and work for “Uncle Sam” for over 22 years, I would have told them they had the wrong person.

I know what it is to go on a date, but I don’t know what it is to have fun on one. My dating history is shorter than my average shopping list. I hit my peak in first grade. I had my first kiss in first grade and it my idea. Poor Tim! I think the teacher saw us because later she gave a lecture on “don’t kiss in the classroom”. I recall telling my grandmother I had 8 boyfriends in first grade. I think my autisitic imagination was working overtime. HA! Whether I had 8 or 2, my romantic life went downhill from there.

I did try a dating service in my 40’s. I guess I did it because I wanted to be in step with my peers. I wanted a picture of a fella on my desk at work too. Maybe I was in love with being in love. Most of the dozen or so guys I did meet, well, I only met once; never saw or heard from them again. Would I join a dating service again? NO! Now it did give me practice of meeting new people, but once it was over and done with, it had the opposite effect. I could be content if I never met another stranger for the rest of my life. I did gain a collection of “bad date” stories to write about; on the other hand, I lost $2000 to the dating service.

There’s only been one guy in my entire life that I was nuts about. His name was Robert; Bob for short. We worked for the same employer. Over the years, even though we both moved around from one job to another, we would invariably cross paths. Much to my delight but probably not so much to his.

When we worked at the same building, I’d hope each morning I’d pull up in the parking lot the same time he did. My heart would skip a beat if I saw him or his car whose license plate I knew from memory. I’d catch up to him pretending I happened to bump into him. If love is walking a distance in the below-freezing cold with someone and wishing the walk was longer, then it was love.

It took me more years than it should have to accept the painful truth he wasn’t nuts about me. I didn’t go so far as to harrass him like calling and e-mailing him every day, but I’m sure I was a pain. Sort of like my little brothers were to me growing up. I don’t regret it though because at least I found out I could be nuts about a guy who I still have the upmost respect for.

Maybe it was an obsession. Some of the friends I confided in either flat out told me or hinted at it. One friend got so exasperated with me that she cut off ties. I admit I’ve had some wild obsessions. Some of them so wild I wouldn’t tell a solitary soul about them.

There was not a day I wouldn’t think about him. At times, I got so tired of thinking about him, but I couldn’t help it. Looking back, I did some of the silliest things to get his attention. I took anything, a smile or a wave from him, as encouragement.

It was painful but yet, it was a beautiful feeling. I remember wishing I could bottle the feeling up so I wouldn’t forget what it felt like. He was in my prayers throughout that chapter in my life. My prayer wasn’t that he’d look at me, but for an answer as to whether he ever would.

A few years after he transferred to another office location, I wrote him an e-mail. It was a nice letter updating him on my life since I last saw him. My last line was that if he didn’t write back, I’d understand. He didn’t and that hurt at first. But it didn’t take long for me to be grateful that he didn’t. It was an answered prayer. I wanted to know the truth and I had it at the right time … when I was able to accept it.  I thank the Lord for that.

Unfortunately, I took up another obsession but this time it wasn’t with a guy. It was someone in the public eye whom I would never meet. That’s another story, but it seems like when I put Bob in a back corner in my heart, I had to replace him with something in the center.  I’ve been working on that obsession for nearly 12 years.  I’m better in that I don’t think of the person .  That’s progress!

If it wasn’t love, it was the closest I ever came to it. I don’t know how I would have handled it if he had been nuts about me too. I might have run for the hills for all I know.

 

Annie and Me

Many living on the spectrum have a passion.  Mine is writing.  I did some of it in high school, but I didn’t launch into it until I moved away from my home state.  Back when I was living on the East Coast, I was the “lone wolf” in the family; thus, I had people back home to write to.  I started with writing my Mom on a weekly basis on a typewriter; on a daily basis, when a computer and e-mail came into my life.
My Mom’s passion was not letter writing.  She would sometimes mention she got a letter from her Aunt Annie, her Dad’s sister, and was late in writing her back.  Like myself, Annie did have a passion for writing.  An urge came on my heart to write Annie myself even though I had no recollection of meeting her.  My only memory of her was a photograph my Grandpa Charlie had of his little sister, among other family photos, in a silver picture frame that hanged in a bedroom.  I could picture the woman with the dark hair and beautiful dress surrounded by a couple of small children.  Only God knew when I was a little girl looking up at the photograph, I would grow up one day to be that woman’s “Sunshine”.
At first I resisted the notion of writing Annie.  I came up with excuses such as she probably didn’t remember me.  Or, she might think it odd of me writing her.  Silly excuses, I know.  But a fear of rejection is a strong one for those living on the spectrum to overcome.
Since the urge only got stronger, I gave in since I did need sleep at night.  I wrote my letter of introduction and was surprised when my Great Aunt wrote back so soon.  And even more so, she actually wanted me to write back.  Imagine that I thought!
Years went by and without fail, Annie got a letter from me every week.  My living on the spectrum includes for me an obedience to “routine”.  It was so routine as to when I put the letter in the mail that Annie would know which day to expect a letter from her grandniece.
Annie gave me the nickname “Sunshine”.  The reason is because my letters cheered her up and even made her smile or laugh when arthritis, whom she referred to as “Arthur”, would unmercifully torment her joints.
Annie came down with the flu and at her age it was a cruel affair.  It soon robbed her of being able to write like she used to.  She begged for me to not stop writing.  Of course, I could not stop writing Annie.  It was a strange unusual feeling for me to be needed in such a way.  I didn’t want to let her down.
She passed away at the age of 89.  My relationship with her was unlike any other in my life.  I never had a one-on-one face meeting with her, but she knew me better than most.  She had my letters filled with my words and thoughts.  Her daughter still has them and I still have Annie’s.  I don’t pull them out, but I don’t dare throw them away.  If I need to read a love letter, I know where to find one.
Shortly after Annie’s passing, her daughter asked me to be her pen pal.  Unlike Annie, she preferred e-mail instead of snail mail and that suit me just fine.  I gained a new nickname of “Lil’ Sweetie” and that suit me fine too.  We are cousins and dear friends.  I’ve never met my mother’s first cousin, but I don’t have to in order to know her and for her to know me.  The pen is, after all, mightier than the sword.
I know all too well that one can be close to someone through words shared even though they may live thousands of miles apart.  The story of Annie and I is one among millions that could be told of how a simple thing as a letter can give strength to the weak, smiles to the hurt, and attention to the lonely.
If I were to make a list of the top ten people who had the most effect on my life, Annie Charles and my cousin Trecia would be near the top.  I say this at 58; however, I think they’d still be high on the list if I were to live to be 89.
I learned only recently I have been living on the spectrum.  It was a diagnosis that explained so much of what was behind how I feel, think, and act.  I do wonder what life would be like now if I were not autistic.  Would I have a husband?  Children?  A whole host of friends?  I’ll never know.  But one thing I’m sure of is I wouldn’t have been Annie’s Sunshine or Trecia’s Lil’ Sweetie if I were not living on the spectrum.

Baby Steps on the Spectrum

I take a variety of assignments as a substitute teaching assistant. Most of them are in special education which was how I came to suspect I was living on the spectrum. But ever so often, I can hang out in the gym subbing for a P.E. aide.

One such day I was alone in the gym for a short time. I saw a basketball on the floor and I got the inkling to see if I could toss it anywhere near the hoop. My expection was not high enough that the ball would go through; just in the ball park of the hoop. Since there were no eyewitnesses, I had nothing to lose. The ball never quite made it through the hoop, but it came awfully close. What surprised me wasn’t so much that my tosses weren’t totally far off from the intended target, but I liked it. I sure never did when I was in school.

Why now? It was something I could do solo! It doesn’t take two to shoot baskets. Now if someone had come in and joined me on the court, it would have poured cold water on my fun. I would have dropped the ball and let the other person have the court. ASD explains why I can enjoy playing games but only those that are very simple if I have to play in a group; or even far better, I can play by myself. I dig the sound of “solo”!

Later in the day, I was with three special education aides and their class for their half-hour of gym time alone. The three other ladies were talking amidst themselves. I eyed a basketball and decided to risk shooting baskets even though there were witnesses. I was emboldened because having tried earlier, I already knew I wasn’t a total klutz at it. After a few attempts, I finally got the ball through the hoop. I was so proud! I lifted my arm in triump, turned and looked back for some reaction, like maybe applause or something. The three aides were immersed in conversation and the kids were occupied playing. I was a little disappointed at having a victory with no cheer, but I didn’t bother with asking them, “Did you see what I did?”

I continued shooting baskets as if I was a natural. I stopped when my upper right arm muscle cried foul.

I know this is a simple everyday kind of risk-taking story. Well, many bumps along the road of living on the autistic spectrum are simple stories. Baby steps.

What Faith Looks Like to Me

Three year olds have more “first times” than us adults since there’s so much they have yet to experience in this world.

On a Sunday morning, a three year old is at church for whom that was routine. However, this morning would be different for the little tyke. He had just turned three and unknown to him, he had outgrown the church nursery. This was where he had been since his first church service when he was so many days old. He knew every nook and cranny in the nursery room.

This was the Sunday for him to attend the “big kid’s” class upstairs for the first time. He might have wandered upstairs before, but he had never attended the class. However, his 7 year old sister, a nursery graduate, had four years of experience over him.

The little boy was headed up the stairs to the unknown. Toddlers are not exempt from the fear of the unknown. It is ever bit as frightening as it is to those who have had far more birthdays than him. His parents wondered how he’d take to the new class. Perhaps they were even holding their breath as to whether he’d make it up the stairs. But their three year old went up the stairs without as much as a whimper. His mother would later report to family and friends that her boy took to the big kid’s class like a champ.

The three year didn’t have to walk up the stairs alone. He had a hand. His big sister’s. She held his hand and walked up the stairs with him. He still faced the unknown, but not alone. That made all the difference. If it hadn’t been for big sister, he probably would not only have whimpered but would have retreated down those stairs to Mom’s arms.

When I try to picture my relationship with my Savior, I think of the picture of this three year old walking up the stairs with his sister’s hand. He might have let go, being younger than she, but she wouldn’t have. She knew her job was to watch over her brother and show him the ropes of the big kid’s class. If he had let out a whimper, she was ready to tell him something like, “It’s okay. I’m here.”

If I’m still long enough, if I’m willing to listen, I can hear those words in my heart too as I climb the hills and mountains of my daily walk. What is faith? There are many Bible verses that define it. Hebrews 11:1 speaks of it being sure of what one hopes for and certainity of what one cannot see. When I try to picture it, I think of the brother and sister, hand in hand, walking up the stairs to the top.

This picture reminds me it’ll be okay no matter what is “upstairs” because He is with me holding my hand.

Active Listening

The term “active listening” wasn’t used during my grandmother’s time. It would be coined by a later generation. However, she was far better at it than I doubt I’ll ever be.

I am living on the autism spectrum. I was first awakened to the possibility on my job as a substitute teacher’s assistant where I often spend time with children who live on the spectrum. Upon learning I was on the spectrum, too, I have been going down memory lane, replaying moments in my life and how they relate to my diagnosis.

One of those memories is one of the few I have of my grandmother who was “Ma” to me, my siblings and cousins. The memory is of a visit with Ma at her farm in Oklahoma. It was just the two of us in her living room. She was in her rocking chair and I was on the couch. For a change, I was the one doing most of the talking. My talking a mile a minute was a seldom occurrence.

Replaying this memory with the knowledge of my diagnosis, I understand why this moment with Ma was etched in my memory. As someone on the spectrum, I do not crave being amidst a group. Instead I thrive on time alone or one-on-one with someone I feel at home with. On that afternoon decades ago, I had a grown-up’s undivided attention. I didn’t have to raise my hand or do anything else to grab her attention. I treasure that brief encounter when I had Ma all to myself. Perhaps on that day we met for the first time.

Ma received a rundown on my life as a first grader. She got the details of my survival with measles followed by chicken pox. I probably showed off my chicken pox scars. When I claimed to have had eight boyfriends, she took me at my word. Well, maybe it was only five, I’m not sure. I had a wild imagination as a kid and still do.

Ma had a certain way of listening that made me feel as if I was on equal footing with her. She didn’t talk down or above me. With all her years of life experience, I couldn’t have told her anything she didn’t know. But she acted as if I was the first person who ever told her what it is like to be broken out all over with the measles.

Active listening is not high on my list of strengths. It is more near the bottom. Even with talking to just one person, I am often thinking of what I want to say whenever I can get a word in edgewise. In a group of three or more, I’m even worse. The discussion, especially if the topic is of no interest to me, sounds like static noise on a radio. Half of me is in the real world pretending to listen while the other half is in daydream land. I step in and out of both worlds. Sometimes I do catch myself rocking back and forth as if I was sitting in a rocking chair like Ma’s.

Ma gifted me that afternoon with “active listening”. I suppose it is one of the nicest gifts you can give someone, including those of us who live on the spectrum. A time-out from having to fight for attention which I seldom put up a fight for. A time, instead, to be heard by someone who cared enough to perhaps even pretend that what I was saying was absolutely fascinating!

A Prayer in my Heart

A Prayer in my Heart

Some years ago I came across one of those 9-11 stories. A story that occurred on that fateful morning when the planes came crashing at the towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania.

A priest was near the location in New York when the first plane hit. People that could fled the scene. But the priest ran towards the struck tower. He went inside and helped as many people as he could to get out. Only he didn’t make it out. His body was found. They found a note inside the priest’s pocket. It was the words of a prayer. I don’t remember all the words, but some of them I do. Words that I have since kept in my heart:

Lord,
Have me go where you’d have me go today,
have me meet whom you’d have me meet and
have me say what you’d have me say.

The Where

Having been recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, I have hindsight. I can’t prove it; it’s a matter of faith that the Lord directed me a little over two years ago to move back to my hometown and land a job of working as a teaching assistant in the school district I grew up in. This job often takes me to the classrooms of children who have autism, ADHD, down syndrome, etc.

The Who

I met a 12 year old girl whose behavior reminded me of my own at her age. I did what she did — floor pacing, talking to myself, and living in my make-believe world. I would do so in my room with door closed or retreat to the side of the house.  Of course, sometimes I would get caught and I knew my behavior was “odd” to the eyes of the beholder. I was embarrassed but it didn’t stop me from doing it. You might as well as told me not to breathe.

There were other children I saw some of “me” in, but this child was the light bulb that set me down the path of a diagnosis that would change my life. Again, I can’t prove it but I believe the Lord put this young girl and me together. I confided in her teacher about my diagnosis and her student’s part in it. She said, “You could say she brought you out of the closet.”

The Words

Since my diagnosis, I began telling my story in person and in writing. Mostly in writing because that’s my passion. I can’t prove it but I believe the Lord is giving the words to say. Instead of keeping it inside of me, I am shouting it on the rooftops with the talent for “words” the Lord has blessed me with.

I wish I could say I always go where he directs me, meets whom he wants me to meet, and says what He lays on my heart to say. No, I don’t but when I do, I’m humbled to have a part in something much bigger than myself.

This child who has made such a difference in my life is on the lower end of the autism spectrum. She can understand words, but she cannot say them. If I told her my story, her part in it, I doubt she’d understand. Even if she did, she would be unable to share a cup of conversation with me about it. I saw her a few weeks ago when out of the blue, she came up to me and gave me a bear hug. I hugged her back and held on for a few seconds thinking of how much she meant to me.

Sometimes words aren’t necessary. A hug will just have to do.

My Grandma’s Delight

I am living on the autism spectrum. I didn’t know until weeks ago. I accepted the diagnosis as one of relief and a gift. It has taken me down memory lane. In my mind, I have relived episodes of the distant past as well as recent. One of those memories was of a Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s farm when I was old enough to have wanted a record player for Christmas.

My Grandma was one of the sweetet ladies I ever knew. During her last stay at the hospital, the nurses spoke of what a wonderful patient she was. She never complaind even though the pain had to be excruciating had times. At the funeral, the minister spoke of my Grandma’s warm hospitality and loving nature.

But they might not have known there was more to my Grandma than met the eye. She was an enigma. On one hand, she’s give you the shirt off her back; on the other, she’d delight in giving an unsuspecting loved one a “pig’s tail” for Christmas.

What I remember is the anxiety I felt when arriving at Grandma’s house and inspecting the presents underneath the “live” Christmas tree. I hoped in silence that the one that had a pig’s tail did not have my name on it. I didn’t dare reveal my fear in my Grandma’s presence. If someone brought the subject up, it sure wasn’t me! I knew more likely than not it would eventually be my turn to be the victim of my Grandma’s annual Christmas piggish delight. Anyone who had a present under her tree was a potential owner of a pig’s tail.

Christmas presents were always opened on Christmas Eve night when my Grandpa said what all the grandkids were eager to hear “You can open them now.” My Grandma wasn’t as enthused as her grandkids were to open presents. Instead, I suspect in the back of her eye was the family member who would open a present and find the short end of a pig.

On that particular Christmas Eve, I got a record player with two albums of my favorite vocalist back then: the Carpenters and Peter, Paul, and Mary. I eagerly moved the player to a bedroom to play it. Now I understand why I wanted to be myself. I preferred doing things alone and that Christmas Eve was no exception. I retreated to a private place, pacing back and forth, pretending in my make-believe world as I stepped to the music.

I can look back on this episode differently. Instead of seeing it only through my eyes, I see it through my Grandma’s. The face of disappointment on the one who got something that was only useful to its previous owner would turn my Grandma’s face into one of absolute delight. She would laugh so hard that she sometimes had tears in her eyes. I smile thinking of the gleaming “sly” smile on my Grandma’s face. I can faintly hear the sound of her laugher which is music to my ears as was the Carpenters and Peter, Paul, and Mary when I was the one who got the pig’s tail that Christmas Eve.