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Family of Origin, translation: These Are My People, and We Are Stuck With Each Other


My family consists of…

When my brothers and I were little, we lived in LA. I did not go to school there, except preschool where they served tuna salad sandwiches every single day. I still hate tuna salad sandwiches.

When I was 5 years old, we moved to Los Osos, California, which is located on California’s central coast. This is where  most of my K-12 education occurred, and where I graduated from high school (Morro Bay, California).

For one brief moment, my parents thought South Lake Tahoe would be a nice place to live. So we moved there and went to school, until my folks realized that they don’t like snow. And they don’t like yelling at the kids for not shoveling the snow.

It was not a fun experience, being the new kid in school, but at least now I can tell my son that I had to walk to school in 5 feet of snow, uphill, both ways, every day, as a child. California kids can’t say that. We can only complain about the fog, which is really not powerful when it comes to guilt trips.I made straight A’s at South Tahoe Intermediate because most of my classes allowed for extra credit, and I had no friends so I figured I might as well do the work. My most memorable teacher at that school was Mr. D. He used to say, “When I say jump, you say how high?!” I really hated him for that.

When my dad was young he lived in Granada Hills, California from kindergarten through 12th grade. He lived with his mom and dad and his little sister Sharon, who they called Crisco. Geez, no wonder she was still pissed at him even when I was a 10-year old. My dad was in trouble at school a bit in kindergarten and first grade, but then he settled down after his dad gave him a talking to about behavior and punishment. “You know how little boys are…” he told me. Don’t I? Was his mom ever presented with a bag of broken supplies and a note that said, “See the Director” when she picked him up from school?

When my Dad was in high school the only classes he enjoyed were shop and P.E.  He had an English teacher who was so old she could not see the back of the room, and he and his friends would slip out the back door and never get caught. That is, until another teacher began taking her prep period out in the hall, waiting for my dad and his friends to leave so she could collar them. That ended his days of ditching. Except for assemblies. He often took off to go to the Bob’s Big Boy with his friends.

I told my dad that in my school days they took attendance at those things, most likely because kids like him wrecked all the fun for kids like me. By the time he was ditching assemblies, he had a job as a box boy at Hughes Grocery Store and he purchased a ’47 Chevy. Classes and studying came second to girls and cars, but he graduated. He has few memories of teachers but he remembers his dad as being his best role model, the one who taught him to have a strong work ethic, to be honest, and to respect other people. My dad passed those values on to me and my brothers. For my dad, the important education happened at home, in the values taught and example set by parents.

My mom’s memories of school involved how she was disciplined. She contracted polio when she was two years old and she was unable to walk without using a brace. Some of her education took place in Catholic school. When the nuns wanted to punish her they would take away her brace so she would stay put. She remembers a time when they took her brace and left her under a tree in the school yard. Everyone went home and she thought she was going to have to stay there all night, but a kind nun came and rescued her. She has fond memories of that kind teacher who watched out for her. This story of my mom being left like that really bothers me; I can’t imagine having someone do that to my child.

My mom also remembers kneeling on the ground to make sure her skirt was long enough, and fearing she would be sent home if it wasn’t. Home was where the real repercussions happened.

Because of the influence of my parents, I was a good kid in school, especially in the early grades. I was a definite rule follower and teacher pleaser. That is, up until 5th grade, when I sat next to Seth , who was very cute and a little bit of a bad boy. He had this great idea to take the papers off of the fat, green crayons, rub the crayons on the stainless steel chair legs, and then use your newly slicked chair to quickly slide back and forth in front of your desk while our teacher, Mrs. Deitchman, wrote on the blackboard. Our chairs slid so fast they slammed the kids behind us, causing distractions and cool kid jealousy, I’m sure. We loved it.

Problem is, we got caught. How’d they figure it out? Could have been the big green lines that skidded out and guiltily pointed directly to the desks of Tammy and Seth.

Detention for us consisted of scrubbing the carpet with liquid dish soap under the watchful eyes of Mr. Spears, the janitor. But I didn’t mind spending detention with Seth.

I did mind being in trouble with my mom, who worked as a teacher’s aide in the 2nd grade classroom at my school. Having your mom work at the school is not as fun and cool as some might imagine. The only bonus was intermittent access to the forbidden teacher’s lounge (Holy Smoky Break Room Batman, it was the 80’s! Second-hand smoke wasn’t invented yet.) and being able to attend staff picnics (translation: what happens when teachers drink and smoke, yikes!)

After that incident, I went back to rule following. The only time I ever cheated on a test it was against my will. My junior year of high school we were allowed to have a group test, and we got to take it in the nice, sunny quad outside class. The class was English, and test was on our reading of the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  We were told to leave our books and notes on our desks, but my group brought snacks, kind of a potluck style test. My friend brought Ding Dongs.

Back in the day they were foil wrapped, and my friend, whose name I won’t mention, tucked little cheat sheets in each ding dong. We aced the test, but I felt pretty guilty. We were still Catholic then, and there was so much guilt in our house it was like our third sibling, so it was easy to hold that guilt for a while. My mom doesn’t read this blog so it’s okay.

I remember hating math, but my favorite math teacher, Mr. Decker, explained algebra by keeping us after school for as long as it took each of us to eat one Willy Wonka Dinasour egg. Once your egg was gone, you could take off. Licking only. We loved Mr. Decker.

My Dad’s view of my education was that “you were always the smartest kid in the class.” Not true, but I loved hearing him say that anyway. He didn’t worry much about my brothers and I when we were at school. He felt the teachers “did right by us.” Our town was small and safe, so there was no real worry about safety in schools. His view was, the teachers knew what they were doing and I should listen to them. When my brother Tom lived with my dad, during his junior and senior years of high school, my dad said he didn’t need to be involved. “He knew what he had to do and he did it.” I do know that nobody was looking at our homework and asking if it was complete. It was only a problem if we started getting bad grades. If we needed help our mom tried to help us out, but we definitely had no real set rules about completing homework before TV or not staying up late to do it. But then again, I don’t remember having homework until 4th grade, and by then my brothers and I were a lot more self sufficient. School was our job, work was our parent’s job, and that’s how it was. We accepted it and we didn’t ask for help.

These days there seems to be more of a connection between school and home. When my brothers and I were in elementary school, my parents usually attended the open house, the plays, the awards banquets. But in junior high and high school, we were on our own. They had their own problems, dealing with divorce, unemployment, and lack of money. So as far as building bridges between home and school, my dad viewed his job as preparing us for life and being a good example of a hard working father. He enjoyed going to the events and our games when we were all on sports teams, but he would not have been comfortable talking to my teachers about what was being taught or how I was doing. He might ask, “Is she causing trouble, is she respectful?”  He might not care if I was understanding fractions or if I was in the high level reading group, because for him school was just a necessity, something you suffered through and then thankfully left behind. Our mom was more involved with PTA when we were younger, but she, like my dad, was more interested in behavior than academic excellence. I got good grades though, so my memories are based on that. Maybe if I had been bringing home D’s and F’s I’d know what it felt like to be hounded about grades. For me, good grades were expected. Even when I made straight A’s, my mom said, “Of course you got straight A’s, you’re smart, you should always be getting A’s.” So it was kind of a non-issue. In some ways, I was responsible for my own education.

For my brothers and me, the report card was the bridge. Beyond that, we didn’t hear much from school unless we were trouble or getting bad grades.

I do remember my schools being very connected to the community. We held carnivals and we talked about local events in our classes. And when my parents got divorced, it was my teachers, not my family, who offered the most understanding and comfort. 

So where is my family now? Far, but not too far. We are out there, making wine, taking classes, working on cars, gambling, and cheering for (and complaining about )  the Chargers, the Padres, The Raiders and the A’s.

When I think about my education and my childhood I always think of my teachers who made me work so hard and cared so much about my character, and the people in my town, who helped raise me and made me feel safe.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Brocker permalink
    09/30/2010 2:39 am

    Awesome, I love your blog. The pictures are a very cool addition. Love Tim
    Stupid Padres and Chargers they are going to let me down again I can feel it. Giants suck. Oh well there is always next year. Love Tim

    • 09/30/2010 2:50 pm

      Thanks! This was my big project for school. My class presentation of it was less than stellar, but it was a fun project anyway. Don’t give up on the Chargers! Love you! Tams

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