Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lesson #53: It Gets Better

I grew up in a four-room cabin in the middle of the woods in California's gold country. We had a wood-burning stove until the county condemned it. After that we heated our small home with newspaper stuffed into the walls through the holes that had been punched into them during fits of domestic violence and a small kerosene space heater. Our shower consisted of a green garden hose snaking through the bathroom window and a round area marked off by a black plastic trashbag hung from the ceiling by fish hooks. Cold showers meant something different to me than they do to my teenage sons.

I'm not kidding. About any of this.

And I'm writing this on the eve of my 35th birthday sipping rum and Acai juice in a fine hotel room two blocks from the White House in Washington DC. I'm here enjoying fine food, fine friends and lovely presentations by my colleagues in the university grant writing business. I'm 3000 miles from that life in the backwoods of the still-frontier foothills of the West. I'm millions of miles from the little girl who used to wait for the sun to rise so she could brush her hair in the side mirror of her daddy's pick-up truck. The only reflecting surface allowed in our home. (Long story.)

How I came here? Well, that's also another long story. It's not my first foray in the South -- and boy does it make me home sick for cicadas and real, old big magnolias, and old slate and brick buildings. But it is the first time in our nation's capital. And my first time "vacationing" alone.

When I was 21, living in a small house in a little cow-town called Waterford, shortly after I divorced my first husband and during my brief stint as a single, college-going mom of 3, a psychic gave me a reading. She told me that I would travel, far and wide. That eventually I'd travel and speak. I am not speaking yet. But I have been traveling. From California to South Carolina and back, to DC, who knows where next.

I'd love to speak. I have a lot to say, but I'm not sure what needs to be said, and to whom. I'm not sure what I should say. I'm not sure I should tell people I came from abject poverty, from the country, from base and humble beginnings. I try not to let it show. I learned to use a salad fork and a butter knife, to cross my legs and to point my pinky, to sit straight and to pay attention. I have learned to speak when spoken to. And I am learning to speak as if I'm proud of what I have to say.

So on the eve of my 35th birthday I salute the past, the home I came from, my travels and the future I am traveling toward. I have made education my career and passion, and I do wholeheartedly embrace and support the education of all, but most especially myself.

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