Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Writing Prompts, a Bridge, and the Truth

The Bridge (photo credit)

Every Thursday I look forward to Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop meme..  She gives great prompts and the list of bloggers that link up is extensive which means a lot of good reading.  I have been contemplating this week’s prompts since Monday when they were posted.   I’ve had a few days to envision, imagine, muse, and choose a prompt to create something for this post.  And yet, I am stuck—not for lack of ideas but for lack of courage.

When I started Sperk* in October, I wasn’t sure if it would be a journal, a mommy blog complete with giveaways and funny stories from the home front, or a creative writing space.  I just started writing.  It began to develop into observations on parenting adolescents with commentary here and there about education and educational technology.  So Sperk* became A parent’s view on adolescent development and education.
My tagline, or niche, sometimes can limit my expression.  It also keeps me safe from sharing things too personal.  This can be a positive, though, because it’s good to stick to one’s niche.  But today I find myself unable to write anything relating to parenting adolescents, education, or even the damn weather.  I blame this on Mama Kat's prompts.  They are getting in my way.  I can’t stop thinking about them.  I need to write in response to them.  Therefore, in order to keep Sperk* going, I am ignoring the voices in my head saying, “No, no don’t write that.  It’s not what you do.” 

Writing prompt 5: Write about one of your childhood heroes.

Grandpap S., my paternal grandfather, is my one and only childhood hero.  He grew up the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants in a tiny Ohio River town in West Virginia.  He never left that tiny town in the Rust Belt.  He worked and retired from Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel which was at the south end of Main Street, situated under the bridge that led to Ohio.  Heading home from the steel mill, walking north on Main, he would pass homes of his cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters.  He would pass the Catholic Church where he was very involved as a volunteer for many years.  He would pass and usually stop in to talk to the dwellers at the TV repair shop, the tiny market, and the neighborhood bar.  Arriving at his home, he would climb the stairs of his front porch and take a look at the marks on the cement support beams that indicated how high the water rose during the Ohio River flood of 1937.

As a child, my family visited his home every Sunday.  We went to Mass together and then had family dinner.  His prayers before meals were the best.  After we reverently recited the traditional Catholic prayers he would add, “Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub, hooray God!  Whoever eats the fastest gets the most-est!”  And we would all dig in to chicken, pierogies, and succotash.  Polka music would be streaming from the radio left on in the kitchen by my grandmother, the cook.

If my mom and dad had plans for going out on a Friday night, my sister and I spent the night at Grandpap S’s house.  I loved those nights.  He was the bingo caller at the church’s weekly bingo night.  He sat up on the stage of the school’s auditorium, called numbers, and told jokes.  He was funny.  All the lady bingo players loved him and he seemed like a celebrity to me. 

If we arrived at his house and he wasn’t there, my grandmother would tell me to walk down to the church.  He always could be found there hanging out with other church members.  I did not know what they were doing.  I wasn’t old enough to know what church goers did besides fast, pray, and feel afraid of God.  I didn’t care, though.  When I would find him there, he would always welcome me with a huge smile and open arms.  I can remember many times running through the church hall to jump in his arms for a hug.

One day at Sunday dinner, I choked on a piece of chicken skin.  He yelled at my grandmother for not cutting my piece of chicken fine enough.  One Friday evening before bingo, he hung a play phone on the side of the kitchen cabinet and my grandmother found it to be in her way.  He yelled at her for being silly and said, “The girls need this.  They need to make calls in here.” 

On another Sunday after dinner, the adults sat around, poured their drinks and got out the cards to start a game of Pinochle.  Instead of leaving my sister and I bored in front of the T.V. he took us up the street to the new putt-putt golf course.  He taught me how to hold the club.  He taught me how to line up my ball and put it through the miniature windmill into the little hole in the ground.

Grandpap S. knew about kids.  He knew that I needed love.  He knew that I was not the pain in the ass that everyone else seemed to think.

He also knew I was afraid to cross the giant bridge that towered over Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel connecting West Virginia to Ohio.  One day, he walked my sister and I south on Main to the foot of the pedestrian steps that led up to the walkway that went across the bridge.  Once we climbed to the top, I looked across and couldn’t move my body.  I was frozen with fear.  He said, “C’mon, we are going to walk to Ohio.  You’re not going to fall in.  I’ll be right by your side.  Your sister is going to do it.”

I didn’t move.

He said, “Okay, we won’t go all the way to Ohio, we’ll just go to the middle of the bridge.”

That didn’t help.  Ohio meant land which was better than standing on the bridge suspended over water.

He said, “Well, you wait right here.  I am taking your sister.”  And off they went.

They walked to the middle of the bridge.  I could see Ohio beyond them and the river below them and I was afraid a great wind would come and knock them both into the water leaving me completely alone and frozen on that giant bridge.  My sister was giddy with excitement and leaned over the side railing to point to the coal barges passing below her.  Grandpap S. was smiling and proud of her.  He yelled back to me, “See!  Your sister is okay. C’mon.  Don’t be a scaredy cat!”

I still couldn’t move.  I wanted to. I wanted him to be proud of me. 

The day Grandpap S. died my neighbor picked me up from school and brought me to her house.  I knew something was wrong because I usually walked home and my mom was usually there to greet me.  Time moved very slowly that afternoon.  I asked many questions about the whereabouts of my mother and father.  My neighbor’s only response was, “Your mom will be here to get you as soon as she can. Go play with the kids.  Everything is okay.”

My mom finally arrived well after my regular bed time.  I remember standing in the entry way of my neighbor’s house, looking up at her, and hearing her say the words, “Grandpap S. has died.”

I was only six years old, but I knew the detriment his death would bring to me.  There would be no more grown-ups that understood kids were not an inconvenient annoyance.  No more walks up and down Main Street, no more faces that lit up with a smile simply from me walking in the room.

Writing prompt 3: You know the stories that are retold a million times at family gatherings?  I call them Life Stories that you just never live down. List your Top 10 Life Stories.  

This prompt contains the words that have made it difficult for me to write this week: family gatherings.  When I read “number three” I became angry and sad.  I thought, “I don’t have to participate in these silly writing memes.  Sperk* doesn’t need to.  Sperk* will focus on parenting and education and this has nothing to do with either.”  But then it became difficult to write anything related to anything.  I forced out some posts, but my heart wasn’t in it.  And today, I came back to Mama Kat's meme, remembered Grandpap S. on the bridge, and decided to walk bravely with him.

(Photo Credit)
I have some life stories that used to be shared at family gatherings.  Most are from my first six years of life when Grandpap S. was alive. They are amusing and I remember them fondly.  But my family no longer gathers.  Well, they gather, but without me.  I choose not to participate.  And during holidays and birthdays, I can imagine the stories about me that are shared.  In my mind, they are not good.

One could say I am the black sheep of the family.  But I choose to not take on that label.  I am the one in the family that has chosen to not deny truth.  Because of this, I sense my family is uncomfortable in my presence.  For years, I faked my way through gatherings pretending that just being together in the moment was all that mattered.  But, for me, it has become impossible to pretend things did not happen.  The chatter becomes meaningless.  The words “I love you” become empty.  I guess I am the one uncomfortable in their presence.

My father is a child sex offender.  My sister and I were his victims.  I didn’t remember it until I was 21 years old and after my mother and father had been divorced for a few years.  Upon sharing the memory with my mother she questioned, “Are you sure it was your dad?  Are you sure it wasn’t your grandmother or your grandfather?”  What?  Grandpap S.?  The memory had been suppressed, but once it had surfaced the identity of the perpetrator was very clear.

The years that followed were tumultuous for me.  I would describe them in more detail if time allowed.  But I want to get this post linked up with Mama Kat before the clock strikes “link closed”.  In brief, my mother denies knowing it was happening and resents me for my behavior following recovering my memory.  I question her lack of knowledge of what was going on.  Some days I believe her, most days I do not.  I no longer speak to my sister because of an argument we had three years ago.  I no longer remember what the argument was about and it is not what keeps me from reaching out to her.  She still talks to my dad.  It’s her choice, yes.  And when I was younger, in my twenties, I respected that.  But I no longer think it’s healthy.  I’ve seen her struggle and I think if she would face the enemy and tell him to get lost, she would find room in her life to heal.  It's complicated.  More complicated than I can articulate.

I have spent over 20 years healing.  I still have work to do.  Some days are difficult, really difficult.  Some days are not.  Being a survivor of child sexual abuse does something to the brain that at times feels impossible to conquer.  And sometimes being a mother, being in a domestic situation, is like a war veteran being back on the battle field.  Not always.  Just sometimes.  But I never know what will trigger a memory.

I thought I could avoid facing the stuff blocking my ability to write by focusing on Paterno, twice.  I thought I could avoid facing the stuff blocking my ability to get words on a page by expressing my inability to sleep.. And I thought THAT was bordering on too personal. 

This morning I read this comment left by, and it lingered with me until about 2 p.m.:

Ah those voices...Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, calls them the "anti-writing voices," but they are the anti-calm voices, the anti-be-yourself voices. She advocates visually those voices as tiny mice, then dropping them one by one into a glass bottle. Seal the bottle, put it on a shelf. Breathe. Kind of a disgusting image but...effective. Breathe, breathe, breathe...

So, readers, what is Sperk*?  Is it a parent’s view on adolescent development and education?  Is it a journal or a creative writing space?  Whatever it is, it will not come into fruition unless I allow my truth to be written.  Thank you, Mama Kat.

Mama’s Losin’ It


  1. Hmmmm... I have to tell you that as I read both your responses I felt that they were both about adolescent development and advice. Thinka bout it: childhood heroes and loss; and your second could be a launching point on so many things. You have a unique point of view to bring to your blog. It's yours. Your past, your memories, all shape who you have become and it provides a point of view that maybe a struggling parent needs to hear. I have a specific-purpose blog too and I too struggled with worrying I was "cluttering" up my focus (Silver Ribbons) but my experience influence me and therefore they influence the purpose of the blog. Balance can be acheived without being a Tell-All. Thanks for being so brave.

    1. I hear you, loud and clear. And I believe you are right. If I do not allow this to come out, I could be missing opportunities to help others, and indeed to help myself. I visited you and left a comment on your Silver Ribbons post. I am grateful for the comments and kind words, and more so, grateful to have crossed paths.

    2. Ditto! You know, it doesn't happen over night. I've been blogging more than a year before I felt the time was right.

  2. Thanks for sharing your heart. I think it's that real quality that gets people reading. Even though it's difficult to share these types of stories.

  3. Wowee. This is fantastic. Don't limit yourself to your niche. Niches get boring and lack catharsis. Be you. Write you. It's beautiful.

    1. Shocked and grateful. Thank you. I absolutely love the word "wowee"!

  4. I just wanted you to know that I read every single word.

    {My heart's with yours.}

    And amen-mice are better than niches. Love Bird by Bird!

    1. Thank you, Galit. You're my writing "super hero" so it means a lot. Blessings to you.

  5. Dear Kim, I've always thought that your posts are educative and insightful, and that you are a dedicated parent and courageous woman. Don't limit yourself to writing only on parenting, though. You're much too precious to do that, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who would love to know more about you.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us here, for your honesty despite the difficult and painful memories. I am so sorry that you had to go through what you had gone through with your father. I hope that writing it down and sharing your experience with us helps you unload the burden and start to heal. It's what we're here for as your friends, to encourage and support you.

    I'm glad that those short years of knowing Grandpa S gave you a lifetime of good memories that I'm sure affects the way you raise your children now.

    1. Thanks, Sweaty, for reading my story. Last night I read your comment and cried because I was so moved. This afternoon, it is making me smile, for I can feel the sincere encouragement and belief in me that is being expressed in your words. I feel courageous and even did a Monday Listicle that has NOTHING to do with parenting!

      You are in my thoughts and have my best wishes!

  6. For the second time today, I am blown away by your bravery and beautiful expressions of truth. I also agree with others, I don't think as bloggers or writers we have to put our self in a box, slap a label on it and only write about that one specific thing. We are mothers but we are more than that as well. Women, sisters, friends, wives, etc. We have stories to set free. I'm sorry for the pain you've had to endure and thank you for being able to share it with us.

  7. Wow. I don't really know what to say other than I'm proud of you. Really, really proud of you. And I'm sure your Grandpa S. is too.

  8. Okay wow. There is just - so much contained in this post. So very much. And you do not need to apologize for not perfecting it - you know what? Perfect just as it is. Really. I am so sorry that you and your sister were victims and your father was the perpetrator. I mean - words just dont suffice, do they? But i'm sure you know that.
    The image of your grandad on that bridge was a powerful one. Then - your mother questioning if it was him.
    What a tangled life families lead.
    I am the black sheep too - because I spoke up. Always was. I'm okay with it - but it hurts though, in a strange way, doesn't it. Glad you are healing. Glad you are writing. So glad you found Sperk and those writing prompts! Thanks for linking up with our Blog Bash my friend. (-: - Ado

  9. Thank you for sharing. I hope writing about it helps.

  10. Always choose the truth.

    Your strength and determination to be yourself, to heal , and to thrive just claw their way to the surface of this post. So glad you took the risk.

  11. I can't tell you what your blog is about - I can only tell you this. That you blog, that you write, that you share, that you made your readers thing - it's a safe place. For you. For people like you. For people who feel for you. For people who need a place to go to know they're not alone.

    Thank you for sharing this with us for Blog Bash, this needs to be read. xo

  12. This is beautiful. I have these moments stored up in my with my grandpa too... The magnitude of what he means to me in my life, and the short time we were together is something that I hesitate putting in writing, because one can't quite capture a sunset can they? As far as the portion with your father...oh, I ache with you. Please know this, these blogs, they aren't just for pat answers in specified areas. They are windows into our lives...thank you for so bravely sharing yours. Really, it is a beautiful. beautiful thing.


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