Happy St. Patrick’s Day guys!
Tonight, I’ll be living it up in my favorite pair of sweat pants and a green Boston Red Sox t-shirt….with a four leaf clover on it….while I binge watch Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu.
The thing is, my days of drunken debauchery disappeared with the elasticity in my face and that’s quite all right. I’d much prefer a Shamrock Shake over a green beer anyway. Besides, I’m not entirely sure I’m Irish and it feels silly at this stage in my life to commandeer the holiday and use it as an excuse to act like an asshole.
When I say I’m not entirely sure I’m Irish, there’s a reason for that. Although, it’s not to say I have no clue about the matter of my ancestral DNA.
Growing up, I knew that I was German. I knew this because my paternal great-grandmother, who had grown up on a farm in Pennsylvania, once told me we were “Pennsylvania Dutch.”
Not really understanding what that meant, I asked my father. He explained that during WW2, it wasn’t exactly hip to say you were German. So my great-grandmother began referring to herself as “Pennsylvania Dutch” as a means of avoiding the stigma associated with Nazi Germany.
The Pennsylvania Dutch, more commonly known today as Amish, were among the earliest German speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania. They weren’t Dutch, they were largely German. Apparently, when they arrived in America, their pronunciation and use of the word “Deutsch” led others to believe they were saying they were “Dutch” and I guess they just went with it.
Forty-plus years after the war, if anyone said we were German, my great-grandmother would still quickly correct them and say, “We are Pennsylvania Dutch.”
I never got the impression that she was ashamed of our heritage. More that she wanted it to be clear that my family had been on PA soil long enough to no longer be directly associated with the politics of Germany during WW2. I later suspected this may have been a tactic also employed by her parents during WW1.
My mother’s side of the family also carries a fair amount of German blood, at least on my maternal grandfather’s side. This is based on what little I know from what I’ve been told over the years. My grandfather died shortly after I was born. He and my grandmother had been divorced since my mother and her siblings were kids and as far as I know, they’d been largely estranged from him.
While I was very close to my maternal grandmother, I don’t recall her ever talking much about her parents, or her lineage and I never thought to ask when she was still living. However, I was largely under the impression that she too was German.
Then, at some point in early 2,000, my mother became obsessed with Ancestry.com. She spent hours on a computer researching our family tree. Somewhere along the line, she discovered a connection to Ireland. For some reason, this Leprechaun sized nugget of knowledge superseded everything else she might have learned about our family heritage.
To hear her talk, one might assume our family had a deep and rich connection to the country….that I’d grown up eating Soda Bread and Corned Beef with Cabbage while my grandparents recounted stories of their upbringing around the Cliffs of Moher.
In reality, I only know that Soda Bread and Corned Beef with Cabbage are traditional Irish foods, because I just Googled, “Traditional Irish Foods.”
On the other hand, I’ve been eating Pork and Sauerkraut every New Year for as long as I can remember….a German tradition.
Yet, after her discovery, my mother’s house became filled with decor dedicated to our supposed motherland. Everywhere you turned there was a coffee table book full of images of Ireland’s countryside. She framed and hung an enormous map of the country. There were Celtic crosses, books of Irish Proverbs, CD’s of Celtic music and Riverdance video’s all over the place.
Her various online usernames and email addresses were things like, IrishWoman40 or IrishEyes57. She even began referring to herself with a fictitious Irish last name in her online communications.
She became an expert on Irish folklore and obscure traditions. She sought out Irish restaurants….where she never failed to make the awkward declaration, “we’re Irish” to the unimpressed, uninterested and not always Irish, waitstaff….and she constantly claimed random strangers would approach her and say, “You’re Irish aren’t you?” as though she emoted some kind of mystical Emerald aura.
This was not the first time my mother embellished or exaggerated something about herself. For as long as I could remember, she had been donning various disguises and pretending to be someone she wasn’t.
And while I’m not suggesting she shouldn’t have been proud of her heritage, I do think she was rather disproportionately proud. She spoke incessantly of Ireland, but very little about our family’s actual connection or experiences there.
I also think that she was doing a disservice to our family history by embracing only a very small fraction of our DNA….and most likely because she’d decided it was the most fashionable part.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I’m doing a bit of disservice to myself and my family as well, by not taking the time to understand my family lineage for myself. My son will likely want to know someday and I want to tell him the whole truth.
I recently ordered a DNA kit that is supposed to provide a breakdown of my ethnicity, if I send them a sample of my saliva. I’m curious and excited for the results….and if I’m more than 1% Irish….I’ll eat five pounds of Black Pudding.
Remember when John Mayer said he thought Jennifer Aniston was: “hoping it would go back to 1998?”
No? That’s not among the famous quotes you remember?
Clearly, you haven’t had a subscription to US Weekly for the last 20 years. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Anyway, I’m with Jen. It’s not that I don’t love my life now, or that I wish I could somehow go back and relive that time in my life. I just occasionally find myself feeling nostalgic for the simplicity of it.
In 1998, I was just beginning college. I was hundreds of miles away from the dysfunction of my home life and I was looking forward to the future.
It was pre-9/11 America and though it hadn’t necessarily been a decade without global conflict, there seemed to exist a spirit of great optimism among my generation.
The Dot-Com bubble hadn’t yet burst.
Zach Morris was still the only person I knew with a cell phone.
Only rich kids had laptops and televisions still came in the shape of a perfect square and weighed about a thousand pounds.
The world still felt enormous and mysterious to me and urban legends were fact….we all knew someone who knew someone who died from a bad combo of Pop Rocks and a can of Coke.
So in this fast paced, technology obsessed, fractured, complicated, politically charged, world we live in today, I want to take a moment and wax poetic about the end of what I think was a truly great decade.
Here’s what I remember:
1. Getting all dolled up (black pants, tank top, chunky heeled shoes) for a night out at an 18 and older club where the bouncer would put a giant X in permanent black marker on the top of my hand (under 21!) and where I would spend the night bumping and grinding with my friends in that way only white girls who pre-gamed with shots of cheap vodka and Sprite chasers can get down.
2. The real life Ken and Barbie
3. Creating party play lists on Napster for dorm room gatherings where the music streamed through the speakers on a desktop computer.
4. Dylan McKay returned to Beverly Hills 90210 and I watched it with my girlfriends while we drank Boones Farm….directly from the bottle.
5. Deep, philosophical discussions regarding the meaning of: “Hit me baby one more time.”
6. When I had a crush on Lance Bass….who was obviously not gay.
7. Iridescent pastel’s….which I fully envisioned myself wearing someday for my first professional job interview.
8. Steal My Sunshine – Len. I had no idea what the song meant….or what the actual lyrics were, but I made up some that sounded good enough.
9. The Discman and it’s adapter that turned the cassette player in my Pontiac Sunfire into a CD player. As long as I didn’t drive over bumps or turn, I could rock out to all the all CD’s I burned with music I stole through Napster.
11. Hair accessories….as many as possible.
12. Writing a letter on colorful stationary with one of an assortment of colored pens and then anxiously awaiting the response.
13. The Delia’s Catalog.
14. The sickly sweet smell of Cucumber Melon
15. Platform foam flip-flops
16. Desperately wishing for a pink iMac
17. I made a webpage on my college server dedicated to my small circle of friends and our Sorority….Alpha Sigma Sigma….or ASS. I desperately wish it was still around.
18. Gathering with my friends in our dorm common room to watch Friends on Thursday nights.
19. When my email address was Daisy18@aol….because I was obsessed with Drew Barrymore.
20. Overalls – They were beginning to fade out, but there was no better invention for hiding PMS bloat and feminine hygiene products like a pair of baggy overalls.
What do you remember, love, miss or hate about life in the 90’s?
Share with me!
A few weeks ago, while skimming through my Facebook page, I came across a link a friend shared that directed me to a blog post originally published about three years ago entitled: “We Can’t Be Friends.”
I’ll wait while you click on the link and give it a read. (La, la, ladee da).
Are you back? Great!
What did you think?
After I read it, I had some immediate thoughts of my own….and then I read through a chunk of the comments.
Many people liked the piece and agreed with the writer….I felt the same. I thought the post was meant to highlight the importance of looking beyond the surface in order to get to know someone.
But, I also agreed with those who were a bit taken aback and frustrated by what it also seemed to imply….that women who present a clean and organized home aren’t genuine. That these women are looking to impress people by creating an image of themselves and their family that isn’t real.
If that’s the case, then I would be one of those women….but I would argue that the neatness of my home is very much a real part of who I am.
When I was a young kid, my family lived in a home my parents bought and renovated from top to bottom with their own sweat equity. Our home was neat and organized and impeccably decorated. My mother took pride in what she presented to the outside world and we looked like a picture perfect family.
Behind the scenes though, my mother was an abusive alcoholic with an acid tongue and a solid backhand. She was erratic and hard to predict. Occasionally, she would come into mine or my brother’s room with a handful of trash bags having concluded that our rooms were “shit holes.”
As punishment, she would take away all of our things and put them into the attic or garage until she felt we’d earned them back. I never understood what was acceptably messy for a five, six, seven year-old and what constituted a “shit hole.”
All I knew was that in a span of ten minutes, I could go from happily playing with Barbie and the gang, to being dragged across my bedroom floor by my hair while my mother screamed obscenities at me.
I was eight when my parents divorced, and around eleven or twelve when my mother remarried. Her new husband came with two children of his own. Together, they had two more, my youngest brothers, making us an incredibly dysfunctional family of eight.
The two fought constantly and violently….on both sides. In the aftermath of their fights it wasn’t unusual to find coffee cups and other solid objects lodged into the walls and our house in total disarray as though it had been ransacked by a herd of wild animals.
Anything that could be hurled was used as a weapon….books, toys, coffee pots (full or empty), shoes, knick-knakc’s, etc. My brother and I would often assume stealth positions behind furniture in order to throw things like metal matchbox cars at our step-father. We didn’t particularly care for our mother either, but she was still our mother and it seemed right to choose sides.
When the fight was over, we tended to retrieve the items that had been tossed out onto the front lawn….mostly because the cops made us….but otherwise, whatever had been broken or damaged, just stayed that way.
I was a teenager when they mercifully divorced. Shortly after that, my biological brother went to live with our dad and my step-father decided he was no longer interested in being a dad to any of his children and he bailed.
I was a sophomore in high school by then and my mother had concluded that there was really no reason I couldn’t and shouldn’t take on the responsibilty of caring for my youngest siblings full time.
At 15, I was expected to take care of my brothers….from their meals to their bedtime routines….go to school, do my homework and also do all the laundry and keep every room in the house spotlessly clean….which was no small chore given that my mother had become a complete slob.
She left heaping piles of clothes and shoes everywhere. Used maxi-pads, still stuck to the crotch of her underwear, were abandoned on the bathroom floor. Dirty dishes littered both the interior and exterior of the house. Whatever she spilled on the countertops or the floor, stayed there.
Even the car was filthy. Layers upon layers of spills, along with dirty coffee cups and discarded food littered the inside.
My mother fancied herself some kind of champion for animals and was constantly “rescuing” a new pet from the pound. I’m not sure what she thought she was rescuing these animals from, however, because the conditions at the pound were far better than at our house.
With no one around to let them out during the day, our dogs began using the basement as their toilet, where mounds of our dirty clothes also resided and so became saturated with animal urine and feces. When our pets couldn’t gain access to the basement, they just went wherever.
Eventually, the condition of the house would cause my mother to snap. If I was at school when this happened, she would call the office and pull me out mid-day.
When she picked me up, she would wait until we were out of eyesight of anyone who might see, before connecting her backhand with my face….repeatedly….while screaming at me about how selfish and self-centered I was. She called me a bitch, a whore, a pig, she told me she wished I’d never been born and that she wished I would die. Sometimes, I wished for those things too.
When we got home, the hitting, the screaming and the name calling would continue for hours while she directed me through chores until the house was satisfactory again.
Then, the cycle would start over.
After I’d left home for good, the state of my mother’s house didn’t improve. I once went into the bathroom and found that mushrooms were growing along the base of the tub. With each visit, the condition of the house seemed to get progressively worse. I was saddened to see that several pieces of beautiful wood furniture that had once been prized possessions of my grandmother, had been damaged by unidentifiable stains and layers of filth.
The few times I confronted my mother about the state of her home, she would rant on and on about how it wasn’t her fault. The blame belonged to my brothers and my new step-father. They were the lazy pigs now. Same old script, new cast of characters.
Years later, after I’d cut off all communication with my mother, I reached out to request my music box collection. It had been started for me the day I was born when an uncle gifted me one in the hospital.
From there, a tradition began. Over the years, my grandmothers, my parents and various other family members gave me a music box for every birthday and holiday. I’d cherished each one.
I didn’t take them with me when I moved out. I was still a bit of a nomad, rarely staying in one apartment for more than a year. I didn’t have a safe place for them yet and I’d foolishly assumed they would be safe at my mother’s where they were stored in a china cabinet.
After dragging her feet on the request, she finally sent me a small, poorly packaged box with only four of them inside. Including my first, the one my uncle had given me.
I’d never been close to this particular uncle. He was a number of years older than my mother and we rarely saw him when I was growing up. But, the exact week I was diagnosed with cancer, he died of cancer and just a few days after he was diagnosed. I don’t know what that means in the grand scheme of the universe, maybe nothing, but I do have some theories.
Anyway, when I opened the box, I knew right away that at least some of them were broken. Whether it was due to poor packaging, or they’d been broken before they were sent, I could feel the pieces as I unwrapped them and I immediately began to cry….not just cry, but sob, especially when I found it was my uncles gift among the broken.
It was like I was holding my whole childhood in my hands at that moment….one big broken mess from day one.
As I continued to unwrap them, it only got worse. One of them was completely covered in green mold. There was nothing sacred in that box anymore and I never asked for the rest. I rewrapped them in bubble wrap, placed them into a new box and stored them away. Then I took a look at my house.
My home, I’ll admit it, is obsessively, compulsively, clean and organized. My spice rack is alphabetized, the towels in the bathroom closet are all neatly folded the exact same way. Extra bed sheets are folded and stored in the plastic packaging they came in. I have labeled bins for select greeting cards we keep. My holiday decorations are stored in labeled bins and organized in the attic in the order of the holiday’s.
DVD’s are stored alphabetically. Our books, alphabetically by paperback and hardback. In short, I have an organizational/storage system for everything.
It might sound strange, but I don’t mind the work of tidying up. The quiet, mindlessness of it is a stress reliever for me when I’m feeling overly anxious or restless. I figure, there are a lot of ways I could battle my demons. I choose to do it with a label maker and a magic eraser.
I don’t do all this to impress anyone. Nor do I think it makes me better than anyone else. I do it, because I need it this way. Because constant clutter and mess in my living space makes me feel like I’m suffocating. It reminds too much of a time in my life when everything was chaotic and messy and dirty.
You might think all this means I spend the majority of my time fussing over the state of my house at the expense of my family, but I really don’t. There’s a method to my madness.
Of course, my house still get’s messy. I have a five-year-old son and two teenaged step-children who have free-reign to wreak creative havoc, but they are also expected to clean it up when they are done….and I’m always willing to help.
As for my friends, both current and potential….I don’t want you to feel compelled to clean before I visit. Maybe there’s a story in the mess you want to talk about….and maybe the mess is just a mess….but either way, I’m glad to be spending time with you.
And if you come to my house and it’s clean….I promise I didn’t do it for you. If you want to crack a joke about the category system I’ve established for my can goods, please do! Laughter is the best medicine and trust me….no one laughs harder at me than me.