Sunday, October 15, 2017

What Made You Happy?

Circa 1957. I'm the shrimp in the middle.
I don't think of my childhood as very pleasant. My parents were older than most. My dad was 53 when I was born, and my mother was an exhausted 38. She was nervous and depressed, and he fell ill for the first time when I was ten. My sister left home that year, and my brother was three years gone, so for eight years I was the sole companion of two people whose lives hadn't started well--both were orphaned early--and weren't drawing to a close in much peace.

So when Carolyn Baker and Dean Spillane-Walker, at their workshop Resilience Bridge, asked all of us to recall what made us happy as children, as adolescents, and as adults, I didn't imagine that the first chapter of my life would yield much.

I was wrong. I came up with lots of things.

I loved to return home from church to fried chicken on Sundays. My favorite piece was the thigh, and I was always grateful when my parents and siblings saved one for me. When I'd learned the Lord's Prayer, I was sometimes allowed to say it. I congratulated myself on my performance. (I didn't really hear it until childhood was long gone.)

Speaking of church, I loved eating those little powdered donuts between Sunday school and the 11:00 worship service. I fed a few crumbs to the goldfish in the courtyard pond.

I loved surprising my father when he came home from work at 3:30 in the afternoon, still in his overalls. When he opened the front door, I jumped out from behind it, and he always (I mean every single time) acted surprised. After he changed his clothes, I sat in his lap until he dozed off.

I loved spending my allowance at the dime store on Marysville Boulevard. When I was six or seven, my mother let me walk the five blocks there by myself. I crossed an empty half-block, the potholed corner lot next to Marie's Donuts. It was dry and brown in the summer, green and muddy after the rain started, and teeming with tadpoles. I scooped them up in my hands and returned them to the water. (I'd brought some home once in a jar, but my mother wasn't thrilled.) I turned over rocks and poked the ground with sticks. I daydreamed of flying like the crows on the telephone wire.

Even chores, although I never had many, gave me joy. My sister and I used to sing show tunes while she was washing and I was drying dishes, learned from the LPs she collected. I still have the  lyrics in my head to "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"

I loved my cats. I loved squeezing my cats. When I was ten and my father developed a tumor, I heard my mother talking on the telephone to the doctor. She asked if the tumor was malignant. It wasn't, but I didn't hear the doctor's answer. I looked up malignant in the dictionary and darted into the backyard before my mother could see me crying. There was a box of kittens in the garage then, and I carried it out onto the grass. Those kittens were a great blessing.

Food, child-sized adventures, animals, routines, stability. These things made me happy, and insofar as my life and my family's aren't utterly disrupted by the hard times approaching, I can cling to these childhood blessings and try to bestow them on others. When my life is disrupted (as the lives of so many have been severely disrupted this week by fire) I can do my best to restore my blessings or, at the very least, remember them.


  1. Hi JoAnn. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing. I must say I always admired you. You saw (& still see) the world with such insight & had such wonderful dreams for the future. I remember picturing you being a writer, living by the ocean & riding your horse on the beach! You laughed & said you weren't too sure about the horse part!!! You were always excellent at school subjects & & could play the clarinet like Benny Goodman! I really appreciated your wonderful sense of humor & your contagious laugh made me want to laugh too. I am so glad to know you :-)

  2. Thank you, whoever you are, for this giant vitamin. I woke up this morning feeling low. I feel a whole lot better now.