Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

Auntie Bear

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Ever since my niece was born, I more clearly understand the concept of being a “Mama Bear”.  I do not have children of my own and she is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me.  I would do ANYTHING to protect her.  She is only four months old, but it is already frightening to think about all the things in the world that could hurt her- both physically and emotionally.

Growing up, I was super protective of my younger sister.  It was always just the two of us and having an alcoholic father made us incredibly close.  She is only three and a half years younger than me, but a lot of the time I felt partly responsible for her.  And now she has this beautiful, innocent daughter of her own.  Our childhood was so painful and traumatic…I just want my niece’s childhood to be a happy one.  I want her to look forward to holidays instead of dreading them.  I want her to be excited to spend time with her family rather than hating every second of it.  I want her to be able to look back on her childhood as an adult and be full of happy, fun memories.

Today, my sister brought the baby to my parent’s house.  My dad has only seen his granddaughter a handful of times since she has been born, although my parents only live 45 minutes away.  My mom and sister were out together and my mom convinced my sister to bring the baby inside.  Dropping by my parent’s house unexpectedly has always been a wildcard and it is something that is generally always avoided.  It is just too much of a risk, not knowing if my father is going to be drunk or not.  Long story short, against her gut instincts, my sister reluctantly agreed to go inside and my dad was indeed drunk. While she was pregnant, my sister told my mom she was not going to have the baby around my father if he had been drinking.  My mom tried to convince my sister to stay and even wanted to placate my father by letting him hold the baby for a few minutes. Luckily, my sister did not have to stay at the house long and was able to make a quick escape before anything bad happened.  My dad was sloppy and yelled as she was leaving, but it obviously could have been worse.

On her way home she called me and was upset with herself that she allowed my dad to see the baby after he had been drinking.  We both agreed that my mom put her in an awkward spot, which made me recollect a lot of times my mother did that throughout our childhood.  Strangely, I have never really held a lot of resentment towards my mom and she, my sister and I are very close.  I think I always thought of my mother as a victim, too.  However, there are memories I have where she should have protected us more.  My sister has made the point that my mother “sacrificed” us- making us bring my dad dinner so she didn’t have to or forcing us to confront him about his drinking.

I hate thinking about my baby niece in that situation.  I don’t want her life being influenced in any way by alcoholism or addiction.  I also know that I can’t control that 100% or prevent other bad things from happening in her life.  I am just incredibly grateful that I am able to be a part of her life (and am able to spoil her!) and I will always do whatever I can to make sure her childhood is as happy as possible.

Grandparents = LOVE

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My grandmother passed away yesterday. Obviously losing her is upsetting, but beyond that I am so sad about the fact that my last surviving grandparent is gone. My grandpa (her husband) died in 1990 when I was 12 and my Mama and Papa (my mom’s parents) passed away within 40 days of each other in 2009. For my whole life, if you asked me to define the “roles” I had, granddaughter was one of the most important. I have so many wonderful and special memories of all of my grandparents. They all loved me, supported me and each played an important part in my childhood.

My grandmother’s passing also brings up other darker feelings, though. Over the past 10 years or so, she definitely became less involved with our side of the family, due to my dad’s alcoholism. Even though my dad was her son, I think my grandmother was very disappointed in him and it must have been very hard for her to see how he acted when he was drunk. My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic and I am sure it broke my grandmother’s heart that my father turned out like him. She became very close with my Uncle’s family…and I don’t really blame her. Therefore, over the years, she spent a lot more time with my cousins (who are also younger than my sister and me). Incidentally, my sister and I became much, much closer with my maternal grandparents. I was so devastated when I lost them (I was also going through my divorce at the same exact time which didn’t help), so there is a little guilt that I didn’t have the same reaction to losing my grandma yesterday. Although I am so sad she passed, she was not a regular, constant part of my adult life like my Mama was. My therapist today told me this was totally normal and that people have different relationships with various relatives in their family (the copay was worth it today!)

Regardless, I am so blessed to have had my grandparents for as long as I did. I have friends who never even knew their grandparents, so I know how fortunate I am to have all the wonderful memories of them that I do!!