Saturday, June 5, 2010

Calling all.....

....Debs, Debbies, Deborahs, Debras. Wowza! There are a lot of you out there in my little blog-o-sphere! You know who you are. There's the one who was displaced from one coast to another....oh, yeah, and she also has another one. There's the one who lives in a sweet little cottage. There's one who looks out her window and tells us about her world. There's the one who lives her life in two different countries. And the newest one to join my bloglist is this one who lives in the next county and writes about food and her little five-acre farm. Debbie Reynolds must have inspired a lot of mothers-to-be in the fifties and sixties. Or it could have been Deborah in the Book of Judges, The Holy Bible. I hope I have remembered all of you, dear friends.


There is one Debbie that I can never forget, and that is my niece, the eldest offspring of my full siblings. Mostly she goes by that name. Her husband Rick calls her Deb. Some of her cousins call her Debbie Jo (because there's also a Debbie Jean). My mom, her grandmother, called her Debra Jo when she was in trouble, which I usually caused. No matter what name she is called, she can always answer to the title of strong, thoughtful, sentimental, loving, honest, straightforward, and loyal woman, friend, mother and wife.

I was four years old when my oldest sister Jane, at seventeen, delivered into our midst the cutest, sweetest little roly-poly baby girl. She was my baby doll and the adults had to watch me carefully or I would try to pick her up and carry her around like one. I was allowed the grand honor of holding her while she drank her bottles. They lived with us for quite a while, because Debbie's dad was in the military and was stationed in Okinawa. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't survive the first year, and my sister became a single mother, while also finishing her senior year in high school.

Debbie was always a little lady. When she was not much older than a toddler, she would be concerned whether her "undergirt" was showing from beneath her dress, and her hair had to be fixed just right, and she really hated getting her hands dirty.  We called her "Miss Priss".

(Debbie held by my dad...I'm in front of Mom)

Debbie's growing-up years were fraught with stress. My sister remarried to a man who was very nice when he was sober, but not very nice when he was drinking...and he drank a lot. He had deep-seated emotional issues that he self-medicated with alcohol. He was physically abusive to my sister for ten years (he was never mean to Debbie or her little sister and of his few redeeming qualities). People nowadays wonder why a woman wouldn't just leave an abusive husband. Things were a lot different then. There were very few laws protecting women. You could call the police and they would come and slap him on the back and laugh with him and would only throw him in jail if he was "disorderly" or the wife pressed charges against him, which usually were dismissed. There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide with little money and fewer resources. What woman in her right mind would press charges against a man who threatens to kill her if she does, and knows the next time he's drinking that she'll get it even worse than the time before. And there's always a next time. Did you ever watch the movie "The Burning Bed"? That was my sister's life. The ending was different. My sister didn't set fire to him in his bed. She finally decided enough was enough when she woke up in the middle of the kitchen floor with a gash in her temple and her only thought was, "If I could get to the butcher knife in the drawer, I would kill him."  She soon filed for divorce.

(Debbie, at age 9, with her sister Jamie and her brother Jimmy)

I don't tell you all this to make you feel sorry for our family. I'm telling you because it helped shape the woman that Debbie is today. And it also explains why Debbie often stayed with us for weeks at a time. She was more my little sister than my niece. I also spent a large amount of time staying at their house. My sister Jane was like my second mom.

As you can probably guess, Debbie and I were very close as we were growing up. We giggled over boys and TV shows, and we fought like sisters as well. Once we had a fight over a new jar of peanut butter. We both wanted to be the first one to stick the knife in the fresh surface. Well, I did it and she got mad and smeared peanut butter all over my leg. Mom gave her a couple of swats on her bottom while I smiled devilishly from behind Mom's back. Debbie has never let me forget that one!

That same summer, I think I was 13 and she was 9, we were allowed to stay at home alone one evening while my mom and stepdad went to visit some of his family. We had plotted and schemed all day that while they were gone we would ride my bike half a mile down the road to the old-fashioned general store and buy a Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pizza and bake it. Problem number one--we had no money. So I, being a consummate petty thief (ha), was to steal seventy-five cents from mom's purse while Debbie made sure she was distracted. Okay, we pulled that off without a hitch.

As soon as the car left the driveway, we were on that bicycle heading to the store. Nonchalantly, we chose the cheese-pizza-in-a-box and paid for it with the purloined coins. As we pulled into the driveway, I think I slid in the gravel, Debbie fell off the bike and I ran over her head. Okay, it's not quite as bad as it sounds. I think I mostly ran over her hair and caught a little scalp in with it. She cried and I cried and begged her forgiveness and we went inside and baked the pizza. That was one delicious cheese pizza! We cleaned up the mess, and with innocent looks on our faces, sat down to watch television as we heard them pull into the driveway.

Problem number two occurred when my stealthy mother with a great sense of smell sniffed out the evidence. DUH! Have you ever smelled one of those things when you're not eating it? She walked over and looked into the trash can and poked under the cover-up we thought had been so clever. Mother was a little unhappy with us. Not because we made a pizza, but for lying and stealing money from her purse.

(Me, age 15. Debbie, age 11.)

Debbie's life was peaceful for only a short while after her mother and stepfather were divorced. My sister hooked up with an old boyfriend from her early teen years, a career Army recruiter who was returning from overseas. They were quickly married and he moved them all to Florida for his next job assignment. Far away from everything and almost everyone who Debbie knew and loved. He turned out to be a miserable sonofabitch full of sweet talk and promises and he was also an alcoholic....who later on became physically abusive to my sister (it seems she was destined to choose the same kind of man more than once). He hated Debbie because she saw right through him from the beginning. Debbie's stay in Florida didn't last long, only a few months. She came back to Ohio to live with her real father, who until then had not been a big presence in her life. She was thirteen and became the oldest sister to three younger siblings by her dad's second wife, a wonderful stepmother named Mary.

Things were okay at her dad's, but the house was small and crowded and Debbie didn't like him telling her what she could and couldn't do. And she missed her mother terribly. She and Debbie had always been extremely close, and then it was almost like she no longer had a mother because my brother-in-law effectively shut off communication between them (and all of us who loved her). He knew a troublemaker when he saw one.

Debbie was just sixteen when she was married. Only seventeen when her first son was born nine months and four days after the ink dried on the marriage license. She was born to be a mother. For all intents and purposes, she had been mothering her sisters and brothers practically her whole life. It must have seemed perfectly natural to mother her own little one.
Nobody has ever handed Debbie anything. She has worked hard her whole life. Although she didn't graduate high school, when her sons were young, she studied and got her GED. She didn't want them to be ashamed of her for not having a diploma. That is only one of her many accomplishments. She has always striven to make a good life for her family.

Debbie's and my kids grew up together. They are very close in age. Her oldest son Ricky is ten months older than my oldest, Jaye. Then came my Josh, then her James, then my Aimee. We lived three miles apart. The kids all went to the same elementary and middle schools. That is when our next "excellent adventure" began. We took over were elected as officers of the PTO. She was president; I was treasurer; and our friend Jean was secretary. We did that for five or six years. Burned us both out on volunteering for a long time. We put together elaborate Fall Festivals and Christmas dinners with (sometimes questionable) entertainment. We raised money to buy computers, playground equipment, etc. We were great collaborators, and Debbie was always the brains of the outfit. There was never a challenge too big for her to tackle. We spent hours and hours on the phone discussing the next big event. We even managed to lose my two youngest children and our friend Jean's daughter while we were busy getting set up for the next day's Fall Festival one year. That was a very frightening experience!

Debbie was also a successful direct sales representative for not just one, but three different companies. One of them for over thirty years! Then, because her husband became disabled and she no longer had insurance, she went to work as a cook in the same school district where our children attended. She loves her work there, but she wasn't satisfied with just that. Oh no, not our little workaholic! She decided a few years ago, after her youngest son opened his own barber shop, that she wanted to be a barber, too. So, while she was still working as a cook, she attended barber school for the required 1,800 hours and became a barber at the age of 50! She said it nearly killed her, but she never quits when she has a goal. I couldn't have been more proud of her if she had attained a medical degree. She joined her son in his barber shop, and they're still working out who is the real boss. :)

When we suddenly lost my mother, Debbie's beloved Grandma who helped raise her, twenty-three years ago, there was none among us who was more heartbroken than Debbie. It left a huge hole in her heart and in her life, as it did all of us. Debbie worshipped her then and she does to this day. We clung to each other and to my sister Judy to help us get through that time.  And they were both there for me when I needed them the most. We survived another loss three years ago, when we lost Debbie's mom, my sister Jane, to cancer. Once again we sought each other out for comfort that only close family can provide.

After being separated from her mother for twenty years and after my sister's divorce from the evil one  her third husband, they had finally been able to heal old wounds and have some happy times together for quite a few years before her mom passed away. I know Debbie is very thankful for the time she was able to spend with her, reminiscing about the good times, because there were some very good times to remember.

Family is everything to Debbie. That is, and will always be, her credo. It is what drives her to be everything she can be. She is the matriarch of her family of a husband, two successful sons, two beautiful daughters-in-law, three lovely granddaughters, and a cute and mischievous little grandson. They look to her for the way to go, because they know that she will always steer them in the right direction. She may be small, but she is the strong one.

This is what Debbie wrote about mothering on Mother's Day this year:

"I was a "MEAN MOM"... I loved my children enough to ask where they were going, with whom, and what time they would be back.. I loved them enough to make them clean their rooms in MY house.. I loved them enough that doing well in school was not rewarded but expected and you were to respect your teachers...I loved them enough they had to eat whatever was on the dinner table...I loved them enough they actually had to ride the bus..I loved them enough to insist on knowing every detail about their friends...I loved them enough to buy their first car,but the insurance and gas was at their expense and they could only have 1 friend at a time in the car...I loved them enough that YES they actually got their mouth smacked if they talked back...I loved them enough that I BROKE CHILD LABOR LAWS, they had to wash dishes,take out garbage,mow the yard, wash cars, vacuum the house, cook... I loved them enough when they fought with each other, they had to kiss and make up...I loved them enough to insist they be honest, you may still get in trouble, but not near the trouble if you lie to me...I loved them enough they could not date until they were 16... I loved them enough they did not always have the best of everything, they had the best I could afford..I loved them enough to say NO more than YES...I loved them enough to set a curfew and ground them if it was broken....I loved them enough to let them see anger, disappointment and tears in my eyes... Because I was a "MEAN MOM" I have 2 sons that have never been arrested for shoplifting, vandalism, drugs, or any other crime. Best of all, they are now "MEAN DADS"...I guess its true what the experts say, things and lifestyles are carried through generations, my Mom was mean, I was mean, now my sons are mean parents..........I wouldn't want it any other way."
And they wouldn't want you any other way, Debbie. Happy, happy birthday!

Love you always,
your Auntsisterfriend


Ruth said...

It's clear that you and your sister, I mean niece, were cut from the same cloth. I see the family resemblance in your looks, and I feel the strength, hard work, love of family, and determination to survive.

I'm going to say this once: there are people who have intelligence that looms larger than letters behind a name. Oh that we had more of the former.

Susan said...

Dear Ruthie, mysisterwhodoesn'tcomefrombloodbutfromtheheart, I guess Debbie and I have degrees in life and that pretty much sums it up. Sometimes one learns more by living than by sticking one's nose in a book. I've done a lot of both but the book work could have used a little more work on the educational side, rather than the entertainment side. ;-}

Debbie and I have a few differences, but we're more alike than not. It's what keeps us close...always.

California Girl said...

great post. as a Debbie, I applaud your subject matter! I remember knowing over 20 Debbies in Jr High. No kidding! According to my mother, Dad wanted to name me Ellen after my grandmother. My grandmother Ellen said "No". She hated her name, thank God. He always told me I was Deborah, Queen of the Bees. She chased the Hittites or who-knows-whom out of somewhere with an army of bees. My husband says it's an apt description.

Your nieces' letter to her mother is exquisite. I did most of that myself. Would like to be as succint describing it.

Wanda said...

In Debbie's young photo, you can almost see the dtermination(stubborness) in her eyes, that's probably the same (: mean mom :) look she gave her children! We need more 'mean moms'!

You and Debbie remind me of my mother and her 'aunt,sister, friend'!



Judy said...

That is sooo sweet Susan... you have Debbie described so well, you just forgot one thing whip-dick (lipstick)
She was the prettiest baby ever,,, well besides you of course!

Sandy Nawrot said...

What a tribute! Makes me wish I were a Debbie! You have such a huge heart, and you obviously come from a family of huge-hearted people. You guys have been through it all, and you have emerged on the other side with your sanity and optimism intact!

dutchbaby said...

I love this post with all the family lore and wonderful photos to match. I love the photo of you at fifteen with a great stylish outfit and beautiful thick hair in a flip-that-I-could-never-get-my-hair-to-do would still be au courant.

My mother never went back to continue her eighth-grade education after the war but I always say that she got a PhD in the School of Hard Knocks. I think your Debbie did too.

Natalie said...

It is uplifting to read about people who overcome... people who rise above hard circumstances. This makes me hopeful and happy.
Happy birthday, and thank you, both of you, for making this a better world.

The Bumbles said...

Very cool. I feel like I know her now - and if you love her that much I'm sure I would too. You tell a good story, Susan. Keep writing them.

Susan said...

Cali Girl, I think Ellen is a lovely name, but you make a great Debbie! Yes, Deborah was quite a strong woman in the Bible...a prophetess and a judge. That's quite a name to live up to!

I thought Debbie's letter was very heartfelt and true to her character. I wish I had been as strong as she has been.

Susan said...

Wanda, I had to laugh that you spotted Debbie's stubbornness in her eyes at such a young age! Just ask her sons and her husband! :-}

Susan said...

Dear Judy, my sister! There might have been a reason for leaving out that little tidbit! I'm glad that you explained what she was really saying. I just know she loves how we've never let her forget her pronunciations of certain words. LOL

Thank you, Sis! I love you.

Susan said...

Sandy, we'll let you be an honorary Debbie! :-}

Yes , our family has been through the mill forward, backward and upside down. I guess we must have come from strong stock. We got it from my mother. She was the strongest woman I've ever known.

Susan said...

Thank you, dutchbaby! I'm not too sure I was stylin' back then...I'm pretty sure those pants were the kind that zipped up the side but were made of that stretchy denimy fabric? We didn't have the money for me to be very stylish. But my hair was pretty easy to style...thank goodness for that small blessing. This was before electric rollers, too, so I went to sleep every night with those big fat rollers in my hair. Not sure how I ever slept. I can't sleep now if the cat's whisker touches my hand. Ahhh, youth is wasted on the young!

CottageGirl said...

What an inspiring story of a strong woman ... actually several strong women. Happy birthday to yet another Debbie who has made herself stand out with her compassion and dedication and love.

Wonderful writing, my dear Susan. (Thanks so much for the shout-out!)

The same qualities you write about that you see in Debbie, I also see in you.

Deborah said...

Susan, you're always so generous in your praise of other people and your self-deprecating way is disarming and very likable! All I can say, after reading this ode to a very special person, is that it's a damn good thing you weren't a only child without extended family!! You would have been lost!

I have no female relatives of the same generation that I'm really close to, so your collection of sisters and almost-sisters is amazing to me. Lucky you, and them! And Happy Birthday to your Debbie!

Oliag said...

As I read this I feel as though I have gotten to know your sisterniecefriend and that I would be honored to be her friend too...Adversity in life may break some people but others it strengthens...Obviously it strengthend Debbie...perhaps with the help of her auntie:)...and boy was her auntie beautiful at 15!

Hope your part of Ohio survived the terrible storms over the weekend that I heard about on the news...

Susan said...

Deborah, you're so right! I would be nothing without my family, my immediate one and my far-flung relatives, too. They help define who I am.

It is sad that you are bereft of close female relatives other than your wonderful daughter. I know that you're very thankful to have her. Good friends can be almost as good as good's to good friendship! XOXO

You are mighty generous your compliments to me! :-}

Susan said...

Oh my goodness, Oliag, you make me blush! Thank you, sweet friend.

Our family motto seems to be "what doesn't kill you will make you stronger". I don't think we chose it. I believe it was thrust upon us.

Yes, we just got a little of the wind and rain. I feel for the people who lost their homes and lives.

Cindy said...

Very fun to see you at 15... what a hottie! Your sisterniecefriend sounds like someone I'd want on my side for sure. I love Debbie's letter... makes me think I need to be a meaner Mom though.

Elle Bee said...

Susan, this was an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it!! I love what she wrote on mother's day--so profound and true--something I'm aspiring to be. I can't believe the hardships some people endure, but what you showed was that it just makes them stronger.

Susan said...

Cindy, thanks for thinking I was a I think I'm pretty much a nottie! LOL

Everyone has their own ways of raising their kids, and boys are a lot different than girls. She certainly has raised two fine boys who are productive citizens and kind to their mama. You can't ask for much more than that.

Susan said...

That's right, Elle, sometimes you have to go through the fire to be tough enough to face what life has in store. Sometimes it breaks people and sometimes they endure and come out stronger. It all depends on whether one has a strong sense of self-preservation and knowing right from wrong. I'm glad we're the enduring type.

Kelly said...

Debbie is a wonderful woman and thank you for introducing us to her. She is very beautiful and definitely a mean mom! lol

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring story. It's also a reminder that we never know what others have survived by looking at the surface.

I really love that photo of you and Debbie when you were 15. Priceless.