Monday, November 28, 2011

The Cast-on, Cast-off of Life

Boy, I have been a grump lately!

Last night, we returned from our Thanksgiving trip to see two sides of the family. After (actually before) the unpacking was done, I declared that I was in no mood for Christmas. I did not want to decorate, I did not want to bake any damn cookies and I did not want to throw our annual Christmas party.


Don't know for sure.

I'm known to make anniversaries out of bad times. And this year is no different. Last Sunday was one year since my mother's kidney failure. We spent last Thanksgiving around the dining table while my mother was in the hospital. Every thing I did to "celebrate" the season last year was done in a haze of misery. I slogged through hosting the party, baking cookies, making fudge, and wrapping gifts that I was not certain would ever be seen by my mother. They weren't.

This year does not seem to be more promising.

My dad's cancer is believed to have spread. Tests done this December will confirm the path it has taken. My father-in-law is now in a nursing home after a recurrence of his lung cancer. Nothing will be done except to relieve pain.

Sometimes it feels hard to move, even harder to be festive.


While we were in my mother-in-law's home yesterday morning, my daughter spies knitting needles and a small ball of yarn on her side table. Attached is a small swatch of knitted yarn. My daughter asks her how to knit.

My mother knit. Somewhere in my archives is a post about it. She knit like a fiend. Like yarn was crack. My daughter watched her knit but never asked her how to do it. I certainly never asked. For me, knitting would be like asking to have my eye put out. Or both eyes. I am not a careful person.

But there sat the yarn AND a grandmother.

After my mother's death, I discovered several unfinished knitted blankets and scarves, some were nearing completion, some were far from it. My mother-in-law offered to finish off any raw edges so I could put some blankets to use and distribute the others to my family. Some were of a size only suitable to small dolls or stuffed animals. My mother-in-law is noted for beginning some projects and letting them languish for years. She is also noted for working like a demon on other projects and completing them in record time. This project was one of the latter.

And so, almost a year later, there on the table were my mother's knitting needles and yarn. With 20 minutes of patience on the side of both grandmother and granddaughter, there is a new knitter in the family. Last night, she asked me if my mother had one of those row counters. We dug out her knitting bag and found one and all sorts of other knitting goodies.

Here I sit in the dining room, clacking away on the laptop. There is my daughter in the living room, knitting needles clacking away.


I'm beginning, just beginning, to feel a bit more festive. I want my daughter to feel the joy of this time of year, even though I might not be feeling it. Yet. I will do my best not to show her how miserable a large part of me is. I know there are plenty of Christmas's past where my parents and my husband's parents have done the same.

Her smile will make me happy and her joy over the approaching holiday will cheer me. And the sound of my mother's knitting needles is already doing a great deal to improve my mood.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Dark, Dark Valley, Part II

Living here in central Pennsylvania, I have been witness (of a very limited degree) of the damage that has been wrought by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been accused of 40 counts of child abuse of young boys. The Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, Penn State president of 16 years, have been fired. Many others, including the children themselves, are involved.

I have read countless articles, letters, editorials and blog rants for the last two weeks. I’m sure there is more to come. Far more. Most people here feel anger. Anger toward Sandusky. Anger toward Paterno and Spanier. Anger at the entire school. And, no doubt, among all of these people, at least one person is angry at the victims. Perhaps more. If they hadn’t come forward, then the Penn State game plan would have remained the same.

I most definitely am not advocating for the silence of the victims. What they are doing – the ones that are coming forward – is extremely difficult. They are not coming forward to enjoy their moment in the sun of toppling beloved heroes. They are coming forward to put an alleged rapist behind bars, and to make sure this does not happen to other children. There will be no fun in this for them. No glory. No matter what the result of this awful situation, these children will always be resented by some for coming forward in the first place.

I am unable to put myself into the shoes of these victims. I have not been raped or molested by an adult as a child. But these last two weeks have brought up memories of my younger years that at least give me a glimpse into their fear and pain.

This past year, two “beloved” men from my hometown passed away. The local papers carried stories about what these men had done for their communities. How they would dedicate their lives to friends and family. Links and letters flooded my Facebook page. Memorials. Dedications. Testimonials. I had nothing to offer. Why would I speak out negatively about these men? Wouldn’t make me the most popular visitor in my hometown this Thanksgiving would it?

The most recent death was of a man who was a friend back in high school. Big guy. Former football player. Loved the ladies. Perhaps most of the ladies loved him back. I had no problem with him back in school. After I went off to college and came home during summer breaks, the phone calls began. Perhaps he thought he was being sexy. Perhaps he thought I liked the attention. I let him know that the calls were not sexy and I did not like that kind of attention. I can’t remember the conversations word for word. But if I had saved all of the notes, I could have. I began writing down every word he spoke, just in case I needed this information for the police. Would he bother to come to my house and do the very things he spoke of doing? He didn’t. But at the time I had no idea if he would “drop by” or not. The calls dropped off somewhat when I went back to college, but the following summer they picked up again. I did mention telling my parents and calling the police. He gruffly advised me not to. I wondered if I had enough information to warrant a call to the police. Finally, I convinced him that I was married to a very jealous man (which I wasn’t). After a few more phone calls (from him to me, of course), I managed to stop the calls. The worry, however, was still there.

Earlier this year, a coach from my junior high school died of cancer. Newspaper stories told of how he would help children. If there were a girl from a broken family who needed help, his family would take her in. The papers had a never-ending supply of stories of his charitable actions. Facebook revealed a river of adulation flowing toward this man. I’m not doubting that he wasn’t loved. I wouldn’t say that that all of his actions were done with an undertone of sexual harassment. I would say that how he treated me, back in middle school, would be labeled sexual harassment. Toward a 13-year-old. Not good.

He would comment on my body, when nobody else could hear, of course. Parts of me were disgusted. But parts of me, those parts of an insecure 13-year-old that need attention, were flattered. No thoughts went through my head about reporting this to the principal. I’m not even sure I thought of going to the principal that day he lured me into the equipment closet, turned off the light, and “offered” to touch those parts of me that had developed way too soon. He was close, but I do not think he actually touched me. I mustered up all of my courage and told him if he did touch me, I would scream and the entire gymnasium would hear me. He believed me. The lights came on and he opened the door. From then on, he acted as if we had a good little private joke going on and weren’t we having just a bit of naughty fun keeping a secret together. These last two weeks, I’ve wondered if he kept other naughty little secrets with other young girls.

What would have happened if I had spoken up? Would anyone have believed me over our beloved, jovial coach? Did he go to his grave with a smile on his face about the things he said or did to young girls?

If I had mentioned this to anyone during my life, and they had been determined to defend the coach, could they have managed to convince me that I may have misinterpreted his words and actions? Could they have caused me to doubt myself? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m willing to believe that I could have been convinced to keep quiet about it. I could have been convinced that no one would believe me or that if I told I would become an outcast.

The young boys, now grown men, that were abused by Jerry Sandusky have been victims for 10 to 20 years. Even if all involved with their abuse are convicted or punished, they will still be victims. At the selfish touch of one sick man, these boys have become victims forever.

While something astonishingly awful has happened here at Penn State, we must remember this type of crime did not originate here. It is not the only place in the world where this has occurred or is occurring right now. If a child shamefully whispers about inappropriate behavior from an adult, we need to listen. We also need to remember that a child might be too embarrassed to tell. Let’s let our children know what behavior is inappropriate, and if they feel something is not right among the adults (or other children) in their world that they can speak up.

It is way too easy and way to hard to be a victim.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Dark, Dark Valley

So, every pundit, fan, and fool with a laptop (I place myself in this last category) has put in their two cents worth on the horrible mess at Penn State University.

To put it simply, heinous crimes were committed, they were covered up, and anyone and everyone involved needs to be fired and tried for their crimes.

State College, PA, is not an easy place in which to live right now. The damage to Penn State University and anyone connected to it (read: everyone in town and within an unknown radius) will be felt indefinitely. Our town has been opened up to the world and all are pouring their wrath upon the guilty and innocent.

My husband, at a conference in Denver this week, was asked if he weren't embarrassed to be from Penn State. He stated that the crimes were horrible, but no, he was not ashamed to represent Penn State. He is NOT involved with the football program, however.

This is my town, and it is pretty much full of good people, even though a commenter on an on-line news article stated that State College is a sick town. Easy to say when you live far away. I would have to say that State College does have some sick people in it. As do other places in this world.

Our newspaper's editorial page is filled each day with letters concerned with the victims and demanding those responsible pay for what they did to these children, whether they committed the acts themselves or covered up for others. I have yet to see a letter or hear a comment supporting Sandusky or Paterno over the children that were raped or molested. There are some that feel that too much blame has been placed on the wrong people, but hopefully time will sort this out. The vast majority here in State College are aghast and sickened.

I've read many articles and editorial lately. Perhaps too many. I do want to know what public opinion is, yet I'm getting somewhat tired of those attempting to form public opinion to their own opinion. I'm tired of their cherry-picking of an individual's comments and their implication that my entire town agrees.

I do not believe that those nine words of one football fan should be used to paint the entire school and town black with one stroke. Yes, there are several football fanatics and plenty of misguided students out there. Daily I dodge these students on their bikes as they pull out into traffic with their "headphones" on. They too often drink themselves to death. General stupidity abounds with the 18-22 year-old-crowd. They do need some instruction in moral code and empathy. If the color of T-shirt is important to convey empathy, then I can recall a time several years ago when the stadium was filled with maroon and orange after the shooting at Virginia Tech.

Living among this horror, within rock throwing distance of some of the victims and accused, I can assure you that the majority of people are on the side of the victims and not the perpetrators or those who cover up for them. We are shocked and, momentarily, disbelieving, when we realize our friends and neighbors and leaders are part of this. The wounds are instantaneous and the healing long coming, if at all. Please forgive us if we give up our illusions and way of life more slowly than others demand.

There is no excuse for anyone abusing Mr. Matko in any way. There is no excuse for anyone abusing a peaceful demonstrator in an Occupy Wall Street protest. I don't think that someone acting like an ass is just something that happens in State College.

The moral cancer of this university needs to be cut out immediately. And then the school needs to be let to stand. Yes, State College is the home of Sandusky and Paterno and the others, it is also the home of some of the brightest minds in this country getting up each day to educate the brightest minds of the future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Looooooove it!

I like putting emphasis on certain words when I write or talk. I think it helps to get my point across and every now and then I REALLY enjoy an all-caps word.

There are times when I like to draw out a word for emphasis. I might just want to let someone know that I really like a movie or book by saying that I just looooooooooved it. The 'o' sound is drawn out.

But every darn time I get on Facebook, people are just loveeeeeeeeeeing stuff. That just doesn't make sense to me. I loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeee with the 'e' drawn out just irritates the hell out of me. The 'e' is silent to begin with, why would you draw it out?!?

Am I just being picky? Now that could be read as piiiiiiiiiiiicky or pickeeeeeeeee. But not 'love'. It's not loveeeeeeeeeee. Stop making it that way. Now.