You know you grew up in…

There is a Facebook page out there that is dedicated to memories of growing up in my home town.  To protect the innocent and guilty, I won’t name the town.

I grew up in a town in northwest Nebraska. The population never exceeded 7500, and as of now I believe the population is around 5500.  ( I’m sure someone out there will correct me on this.)  The Facebook page titled ” You know you grew up in ******* if…” has been a wonderful thing to participate in.  Reading everyone else’s posts gave my own memories a different perspective, a different and deeper dimension, and made me look at life as it was in a different way.

Someone started a thread on this page about bullying and/or being bullied when they were in school.  Memories of being taunted as a child, 20,30, 40 or more years ago still linger with a lot of people from my hometown.  With the postings of incidents of bullying, teasing, or physical abuse came postings of apologies and forgiveness.  But, on the other hand, there were some who were not as quick to forgive or apologize, and it makes me wonder; how long has this been angering that person?  How long has that been eating away at their souls? I posted the quote ” Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  But after posting that, I began to think about all the poison I’ve swallowed, all the grudges I’ve held, all the jealousy and hatred that filled my soul at times… was it justified?

I come from a very large family….and not a well-to-do family.  For years I (and my siblings) were subjected to taunts and ridicule by our peers simply because of this.  We were a good, decent, family. We just happened to have a lot of siblings and our father, who always worked hard, simply could not afford the same kind of lifestyle as our classmates.  We wore second-hand clothes, homemade haircuts, and none of us got our own car on our 16th birthday.   Was this a legitimate reason to mock us?  Did money,social status, and size of family really make a difference?

I was never taught that I deserved better treatment, more respect.  I never thought to broach the subject with my parents, teachers, or counselors because I believed the bullies, the teasers, the taunters, because of their status, were correct.  Being shoved against lockers, ignored by classmates, and shunned by others in my school was something I accepted.  As much as I wanted to make my place in high school—and I could have, academically—my efforts were thwarted by my own thoughts of inadequacy, brought on by words and actions of my peers.

I had one teacher, Mrs. S, who took me aside and talked to me about my life, my future plans.  I thought it was funny….me? future plans? what kind of future was in store for me, other than making it out of high school alive?  She was sincerely concerned about me, a concept I could not comprehend.  No one, especially the schoolmates who scorned me, showed any concern for me, so why should I waste time on myself?

I didn’t finish high school with the rest of my class.  I got married, had children, and made a life for myself that I was proud of.   Over time, I learned that  the bullies in my life  were acting out of fear and insecurity. Fear of the unknown, the possibility that the person you are bullying may, in fact, be a slightly better person than you, thus a threat to your identity as top dog in that dog pile called school.

It’s silly to hold a grudge against someone who was actually weak, fearful, and unwilling to face the unknown.  Yes, I drank some of that poison, but as they say, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I have forgiven the bullies. I learned to be a better person, more open, more loving and accepting because of their actions.  I only hope they learned to same lesson.

Ol’ Chunk of Coal

I am posting a tribute to my father, who would have  been 86 years old last week if cancer had not taken him away from all this, and us.

My father was crusty, cynical, and at times, crude.  But when he was given the diagnosis of cancer and prognosis of death, he began to change.  Although he rarely, if ever, praised his children or told them he loved them, as he grew weaker from the illness, he allowed us to express our love for him, and he in return whispered the same words to us.

His illness changed him from a loud and eccentric man to someone who finally accepted the fact that he was, yes, merely mortal; someone who prayed silently for forgiveness and a smooth transition into afterlife. His pain and suffering smoothed the rough edges away and there–under that crusty, cynical, and crude exterior–was a brilliant, precious man.

I found the lyrics to a country song popular several decades ago.  This song had to have been written for people like my Dad,  if not for Dad himself.

I’M JUST AN OLD CHUNK OF COAL

Hey I’m just an old chunk of coal,

But I’m gonna be a diamond some day,

I’m gonna grow and glow ’til I’m so blue pure perfect,

I’m gonna put a smile on ev’rybody’s face.

I’m gonna kneel and pray ev’ry day,

Lest I should become vain along the way.

I’m just an old chunk of coal now Lord, But I’m gonna be a diamond some day.

I’m gonna learn the best way to walk,

I’m gonna search and find a better way to talk

I’m gonna spit and polish my old rough-edged self,

‘Til I get rid of ev’ry single flaw.

I’m gonna be the world’s best friend,

I’m gonna go ’round shakin’ ev’rybody’s hand

Hey I’m gonna be the cotton-pickin’ rage of the age,

I’m just an old chunk of coal now Lord, But I’m gonna be a diamond some day.