Eleven – aka my golden year.
When I think about being 11, a warmth flows through me. I immediately smile. My memories are all unicorns and rainbows. All but one, actually.
It really was THAT GOOD of a year, that transformative, that life-altering. I know, sounds dramatic.
Let me start from the beginning of my memories… the good ones:
I don’t know if I discovered my love affair with books at this age or earlier. But I was at the height of my drinking them in phase at 11. I entered into my books. I lived many different lives. I became the characters I loved. Books were my constant companions. We were a jolly company. Being an only child, they were like a rowdy group of siblings, taking me on adventures all over the place. I walked fields reading books. Imagining I was Anne Shirley, or Marty. They were so much a part of me at this age. I miss it. I miss the connection I had with books, characters, stories.
My favorite books during this time were The Tanglewood’s Secret by Patricia M. St. John, and any and all books by Janet Oke, especially the Love Comes Softly series. More on that later.
I also was in the beautiful in-between phase, now referred to as “tween”…. not yet hindered by puberty and all of its vices. I was confident and bold. I knew what I liked and I went after it. When I liked a book, I would write the author and let them know. It didn’t even occur to me that this was not normal for an eleven year old. If I liked a meal someone made, I would tell them. Why not an author or an actor? Yes, I wrote actors, too (Megan Follows who played Anne Shirley, to be exact). I knew I had a voice and I used it. Oh how I miss this sense of confidence, this comfortableness in my own skin. I have never quite regained it.
I wrote Patricia M. St. John about how much I loved The Tanglewood’s Secret. She wrote back and sent me a signed copy. I wrote Janet Oke to let her know how much I loved her books, and that I thought the Love Comes Softly series would make fabulous movies. Oh, and I told her I wanted to be an actress and would be more than willing to act in them. Not joking in the least. She wrote me back, graciously telling me she wouldn’t be the one making the movies but if they DID become movies, she would pass on my offer. I am still a little perturbed that she didn’t pass on my info/offer to Michael Landon, Jr., who has since produced most of the Love Comes Softly movies.
INTENSE, based-on-real-life, MOVIES
My favorites movies during this year were… wait for it… The Mission, Ghandi and The God’s Must Be Crazy (as well as Anne of Green Gables, which was on the favorites list since age 7 until the present). I look back and just wonder…. what on earth were my parents thinking when they would allow me to rent Ghandi and The Mission over and over and over. I loved them. (side note: on our honeymoon, we rented The Mission because I wanted to show John some of my favorite childhood movies…. he was appalled.)
And now, at 35, looking back, I see that those movies were actually very formative and very telling for who I was becoming. Those movies were intense stories of self sacrifice… of men who lived with passion, with compassion, with dedication and with love. Men who lived for something bigger than themselves. Men who died for something bigger than themselves. Men who lived their lives to serve the poor. This is very much a part of me, at the very core of who I am now and what drives me and what haunts me. I long to live a sacrificial life… one of service and love and compassion. Often I struggle with seeing how I can do that in my own suburban American home rather than in the wilds of India or Africa. But I still wrestle with it all the same. These movies were a glimpse into the kind of woman God was forming me into. The God’s Must Be Crazy made no sense in my little insulated Texan life at 11 years old. I had no grand plans of traveling the world or crossing cultures. But I LOVED this movie. And again, I now see why. On a lighter note, having seen that movie before was my instant ticket into the “missionary kid” (MK) group at my college… which was important because I ended up marrying into that group. :)
Up until this year, I had traveled no farther than Dallas, Texas if I remember correctly. We vacationed sporadically in the summers at my uncle’s place on the Guadalupe River, or some other place in and around central Texas. A friend of mine, also an only child, invited me to go with her family on an epic road trip that summer. They bought a Ford truck with a supercab, and a 5th wheel travel trailer and planned to take 5 weeks to loop around the western USA and western Canada, staying at as many of the National Parks as possible. WOW. What an invitation of a lifetime.
So we set out, Heather and I stretched out facing each other in the 2′ wide space of the supercab. We hit up west Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, NM and back home. My favorite places (and yes, I still remember them VIVIDLY) were:
Chama, NM – Durango/Silverton CO – The Grand Tetons – Yellowstone – Banff National Park (where I found out the news that my favorite actor, Michael Landon, had died, on Canada Day) – Mt. Ranier National Park.
It was a blast. We bickered a lot, like sisters really. But we had so much fun. Bought matching ponchos in Colorado. Always matching everything. Including hairstyles. I read through the Love Comes Softly series at least 8 times on the trip. No joke. I took pictures like crazy, wrote letters and sent tons of postcards. I absolutely loved the adventure of it all. I don’t remember being homesick in the least. Maybe I was. I just remember the thrill of pulling into a new place every few days… a new adventure. And I drank of it deeply. Obviously, this was another very formative experience of my life, as I seriously can’t wait to get back in the car with the girls and head out across the states again!
Technically my love affair for Australia started when I was 10, I believe. My best friend at the time, Diana (yes very Anne of Green Gables-ish, I know), up and moved to Melbourne, Australia for 3 years. Her father was a pilot with Quantas. I was devastated. And then I was obsessive about it. I devoured everything I could get my hands on about Australia. I read novels based in Australia. I collected anything and everything Aussie. I learned the slang. I checked out books on Australia. I started writing my own books… based in Australia of course. I desperately wanted to go visit her but was never able to go because of finances. One of my dad’s old buddies was also based in Australia at the time, living an epic adventure of his own. “Uncle jack” would come back to Texas from time to time and always brought me Aussie goodies.
Again, a very formative experience in my life. Australia still has a very special and somewhat odd place in my heart. I have another Aussie bff now in my current life. She knocked on my door in our Maryland neighborhood one day and as soon as I heard her speak I practically threw myself on her. She had no chance. She was going to be my friend no matter what.
As a side note, I finally fulfilled my 11 year old dream of visiting Oz in 2000. I packed my bags and enrolled myself in a TESOL (teaching english to speakers of other languages) course in Brisbane, Australia for 4 weeks. I was so enamored with Australia that I had a few people pull me aside and try to talk me down a bit before my trip… hinting that it might not be all that I have made it up to be in my mind over all those years. They were totally wrong. It was everything and more that I ever dreamed. I absolutely loved every moment, every experience (except the creepy one of the guy trying to hide from his girlfriend and break up with her because he was convinced he was in love with me….) in Oz. Australia is always in my top 3 places that I would move to in heartbeat, no questions asked.
Um, hello… My first two daughters are Adelaide and Sydney. A little obsessive still? Nah.
And now for the “bad one ” of my eleven year old memories. This was more the “life altering” one, really. Maybe that is a bit strong, but it really did alter life as I then knew it.
So, a quick family history rundown. My dad, Jack, was married previously to a woman named Joann. They had a daughter named Paula. My mom, Susan, was married previously to a man named Victor. They had a son named Vic. I am the only child of Jack and Susan. Growing up, I would see my half brother and sister (who were both 9 years older than me ) once in a while. More my sister because she lived in the town next to us and because my dad had this uncanny gift of staying in contact and in good graces with his ex’s (I met several of his ex-girlfirends over the years and they all seemed like chummy friends). I actually called his ex-wife and her new husband “Momma Jo and Daddy John.” Not kidding.
Another little tidbit that is relevant to this part of my 11 year old tale… I was a very, VERY black and white child. There was no grey in my life. I was very , extremely, excessively truth oriented. Meaning, when I would hear my mom on the phone throwing out details like “Oh yeah I saw Sally on thursday” or ” We will see Mary on Wednesday,” and I happened to know for a fact that she saw Sally on SUNDAY and we would see Mary on FRIDAY, I would F L I P out. I would even interrupt my mom to correct her and inform her of her “lie.” I was that detail oriented, and that sensitive to the “truth.” I never lied. Like ever.
So, one day, I was snooping in my dad’s now home based law office. I discovered a box of photos, so I started going through them. I saw wedding photos. I assumed they were of Dad and Joann because they weren’t of my Mom. As I looked closer, however, they were of my Dad standing at the alter with another woman. Not my mom. Not my sister’s mom. This really didn’t sit well with me. I was always told he and mom had both just been married one time before they got together. I told other people this story…. (yes, I was actually sitting there thinking, OMG, I have lied to other people). So, I brought the photo to my mom to ask what it was and who the woman was. My mom kinda flipped out. She wouldn’t tell me a thing, but just said ” You will just have to ask your dad about that.” She was flustered and it was all just so, so strange to my very sheltered, naive 11 year old self.
When my dad got home, apparently after talking on the phone with my mom and being informed of my discovery, also acted very strange. He took me for a drive to “talk.” He seemed sad and quiet and he basically just told me he had remarried after Joann and before my mom to a woman (I forget her name). He loved her and she left him after 6 months and it was just a very, very painful time and painful memory so he never really wanted to talk about it. Even at 11 I kinda got it. I think I may have told him he should have told me because I felt like I had been lying to people about the number of times he was married before. Yeah.
So that was that. Big weird discovery. But his story made sense to me. I think I had some sense of compassion for him about it. We all could have moved on from this, I think, in fairly healthy way.
The next day, I went back to the box of pictures to look through them some more. I was curious. I was a romantic. I wanted to know more of the story than he was telling me. But the box was gone.
I asked him where it was, and he told me he burned it.
For some reason, this little admission burned a hole in my heart at that moment. Looking back I am so sad at how this played out for the next decade of my life.
As soon as he told me he burned it, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was hiding something from me. And my trust in my dad, who I adored up to that point, and who always adored me was GONE. In one instant. A wall was erected immediately in my heart and I pulled away so fast and so painfully from him. Literally overnight.
This may seem like a major overreaction on my part. And to be fair, I know I have a history of overreacting to things and responding in an extreme way. However, there were other factors that fed this flame of distrust and disdain for my dad that were at work simultaneously. I see all of these pieces in retrospect, of course, but at the time I was not mature enough to make the correlation.
1.) My dad was addicted to smoking, and had been since he was 15. He wanted to quit, and tried a number of times, but couldn’t (not until 2000). Unbeknownst to me, my mom had asked him to not every smoke in the house or around her or me. She told him, “I can’t watch you kill yourself.” So he took to smoking in “secret.” But of course, if you know any smokers, they can’t hide smoking. They come home smelling like a smokey bar. So he would try to hide it from me. And I would play the game of trying to not see him smoking down at the barn or on the other side of the car. He would stamp it out and act like nothing had happened and I would pretend I didn’t see it. And yet I seethed inside and resented his “hiding” it from me. My little mind would just run rampant wondering what else he was hiding from me/us…. more wives? Affairs?
2.) I desperately wanted to have a relationship with my older half sister. At this age and in the years to come my parents hesitantly let me go places with her, visit her home, go shopping etc. She and my parents were not on good terms, so I know now this was very difficult for them. But I persisted and begged and probably manipulated to get my way. All the while, when I was with my sister, she would tell me negative things about my dad very often… (granted, she is coming from a very different family life situation and dealing with the fact that her father abandoned her/divorced her mom when she was 2). I never spent the time to find out if they were true or just lies. I blindly believed her and my distrust of my dad grew exponentially in the years to follow.
It was terrible. When my dad was battling with cancer and approaching the end of his life, we went out to a favorite place on the Guadalupe River, a place where some of my happiest and most fun memories with my dad took place. It was one of those “come clean” talks and he wanted the air to be completely clear between us. Our relationship had improved dramatically over the past 4-5 years, but there was still this “thing” between us that he had never understood. He never knew what had happened… what had caused me to pull away so dramatically and so severely when I was 11. So I told him the story from my perspective. He was shocked. And we were both so saddened.
From his perspective, finding that photo just brought up so many sad, negative memories. He had never intentionally deceived me, just never thought to bring it up because he had semi-blocked it out. After it all came out, he realized he was holding onto photos and memories he really wanted to forget and clearly move on from. He realized he had no reason to keep them, so he burned them and moved on. No hiding. No secrets. I told him I wished he had just told me that. He said he never even thought to. It was a very sad realization on so many levels. But it was also healing and we were able to finally put that to rest, at least between us.
I still have a very, very sensitive response to trust issues. This experience deeply effected me to the very core of who I am. I deeply regret how I responded to my dad all those years ago, and the painful years that followed. But I also understand how immature and naive I was. Given my disposition, I don’t know that I could have responded any other way at the time.
This has even gone on to effect my relationship with God the Father. I have often struggled with a sense or feeling that he is “keeping” something from me, or hiding something. It is an irrational fear, and one that I can rationally tear apart in my head… but it is still a gut reaction at times. Something I am wanting to shed and working on peeling away from my soul.
So that is my ELEVEN. Even with the one painful, but deeply impacting issue with my dad, eleven stands out as a shining beacon of happiness, exploration, adventure and defining time in my life. Eleven is like a security blanket to me even now… I don’t ever want to let it go. I love so much of who I was at 11, and now who I see I was becoming. I love that girl. I miss that girl. When I think about how I want to grow even now in my life, I often think of qualities I had, naturally, at 11… such as boldness, independence, confidence, deep love and connection to books and stories and characters. Life has a way of stripping the innocence from you, of making you cynical and wary of things you used to blindly embrace and embody. I want to become more childlike in many ways, especially as my childlike eleven year old self.