I was always a spy. From my earliest memory I was always watching. Not idly or passively, as one might imagine, given that I mostly sat and stared; not like the big tall Indian in “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest,” someone everyone assumed was deaf and dumb. I spied with great feeling, by turns enthralled, thrilled, dumbfounded, sorrowful, not unlike God.
My dynamic, creative, older sisters used to ask if I wanted to play paper dolls with them. I always whispered “I’ll just watch.” It was so much better this way. Their scenarios for Betsy McCall who Mother carefully cut out of McCall’s Magazine along with her parents, and the movie star Vera Miles, a Christmas present from a neighbor, were theatrical and sometimes quite racy (especially when Mr. McCall stopped his shoebox automobile to visit with Vera in her high rise on top of the desk. Their furnishings were inspired — Reader’s Digests were beds, with Kleenex bedspreads, and another Kleenex folded up tightly under the spread for the pillow. I would sit a little to the side as they entertained me, so silent they forgot I was there. I was watching them, full of life, creating a full life for Vera and the McCalls, generations of watching, if they only knew!
My number one subject was my mother. My eyes followed her everywhere she went, just as my little dog today follows me with hers. I would feel sheer terror if she put on lipstick — that meant she was going out, possibly without me. I watched her nap, sometimes from within her own closet. Through the tiny crack I would watch her take off her glasses, place them on doily on her dresser, lie down, put her hand across her forehead and sigh. Were we too much for her? Was she sick? Did she need me? I was not only watchful, I was ever ready to spring into silent action.
I loved flowers. I could investigate them by the hour, the little marigolds and tall gladiolas in my mother’s flower beds. I would think of Thumbelina, living in a walnut shell. The small white Alyssums would be her wedding bouquet. The best times were when my older sisters were in elementary school and I would have my mother all to myself–those golden days in California. I would study blades of grass and roly-poly bugs while she hung out clothes in our backyard, near the peach trees, her beautiful face in profile against the blue sky.
I noticed everything. The noise the metal clip made against the flag pole on a breezy day. The clop-clop of our shoes that echoed across the early morning street when I finally joined my sisters in their walk to school. When I was eight, I played a townsperson in “Tom Sawyer,” (my older sister Phyllis playing the starring role of Becky Thatcher). But when the townspeople slept by the cave, I was not asleep, I was peeking through slit eyes and I didn’t miss a thing. Later, in a corner of the dressing room I was privy to Tom and Huck vying for the attention of the beautiful 15-year- old who played Aunt Polly. I was sitting in plain sight, in my sunbonnet, but they didn’t see me as first one and then the other would try to kiss her, but I saw all. When I was nine we moved back to Florida and shared a telephone party line with another family. I grew adept at listening in, truly invisible, until Mrs. Benton hissed, “Someone’s on the line! It’s one of those Hasty girls!” I quickly – silently – hung up. But I kept right on eavesdropping. I kept a keen ear out for conversations in grocery stores, the post office, the playground, in church. On our Christmas trips to Dothan, Alabama, to visit with my father’s family in Aunt Alice’s old white house, I would sit against the window in the middle of the station wagon, listening to the other seven members of my family sing Christmas carols in harmony. As my father drove on through the darkness, I could just make out fallow cotton fields and the occasional house and lonely store. “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” I was part of them, but outside of them. I was in the car, not as a singing sister, but as the listening other.
When puberty finally hit, I transformed immediately into the standard giggling, gossiping, rebellious teen. I was no longer shy. A light switch flashed on and suddenly I found my voice, falling in love with football season, the poetry of Sara Teasdale, rainy days, riding around the A&W Root Beer Stand, and boys Boys BOYS. Ricky! Ronnie! Ritchie! But no matter how different the next chapter of my life was from the first, no matter that “The Quietest Scout” in the Brownie troop became the loudest girl in class, no matter how caught up I became in my own glamorous, haunting, reckless youth–the die was cast. I was still a sneak. I could case a joint, conduct a stake out with the best of them, whether detective or bandit. I was adept at entering a sister’s bedroom, using her comb, going through her dresser drawers, even, I am ashamed to admit, reading a stray diary. It’s such a terrible thing, this proclivity, this desire, this passion to nose about in others’ lives, to be so drawn to their secrets, their romance, their way of laughing, their perfume, their whispers, their tears. I knew that with my background, I might set my cap for the FBI, the CIA, or perhaps a life in crime. Alfred Hitchcock with his love for the macabre could have gone to the gallows like his childhood friend, but instead he made movies like “Psycho.” And so I became a writer. A playwright, to be exact, oftentimes performing in my own plays. When I took my first acting class, we were instructed to get out of “ourselves” and go out into the world and notice life! Ha! In playwriting we were told to open our ears and listen to the way people talk, not just family, but people on the street, on the subway, in a bank. Double Ha!
It’s been said that all writers are such shameless spies. This one has been been incubating since birth and still going strong. On a trip home from New York City, I was sitting in the back seat as my parents drove me from the airport. They were discussing, opining, wondering, arguing about how a sack of tomatoes had disappeared, one that a neighbor told them he’d left by the steps. My mother was in mid-sentence when she suddenly whispered, “Hush! She’s listening.”
I was watching too.
(Although usually not a person who will talk about herself without being asked, Anne-Marie was asked–(ie, I begged her)–to let the blog hub share highlights of her recent semester in Morocco.)
I spent the last six months living in a rural town near Rabat, Morocco (the capital). I was studying on one of my university’s two international campuses. The city is on the western coast of the country, which borders the Atlantic Ocean. It was an incredible experience. Moroccans are slow living, except in the souks (city markets). There you can find narrow streets with pastry shops selling baked goods, young men making fresh orange juice, and traditional dejellaba garments.
You’ll also see vendors pushing heavy wooden carts piled high with eggs, fruits, or olives. The air is usually filled with smoke from nearby stores, roasting chicken or cooking Moroccan crepes. Moroccans are family-focused, welcoming, and polite.
My favorite class there was Social Entrepreneurship. Our teacher challenged us to create our own startup and reach 1000 euros in sales [in three months]. I decided to design and locally produce apparel for my university’s Moroccan campus. I ended up selling 60 sweatshirts and 30 t-shirts on a campus of 100 students. Recently, my university asked to purchase my design for 500 euros so they could use it in the future. I donated profits to Education for All Moroco, an NGO building schools and providing education, housing, and meals to girls in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
I continue to live by this quote: “Never let realism outweigh idealism.” ***********************
If someone had told me last summer that by the following Easter I would be living 300 miles away in a place I’d never heard of, I would’ve laughed my head off. I’ve been a Hoosier all my life and lived 65 of my 67 years in Evansville. I have good friends and know every short-cut in this orderly city of right angled streets. I have a bunch of great doctors helping me with my chronic auto-immune illnesses, a masseuse who is also a dear friend, not to mention my insurance company and bank that are like family. I should add MOVE is one of my least favorite words; I truly hate everything about it. After three moves in four years and FINALLY landing in the perfect home–one level, smallish yard, great neighborhood–why would anyone make such a leap?
Even after 14 years of singleness, it wasn’t for a man. But it was for love.
About a week before Christmas, my older daughter, her husband and three of my five grandchildren moved to Chattanooga. As their cars pulled out of the drive of the house I’d spent more days in than not over the past nine years, I was almost incoherent with grief as I watched the greatest part of my life drive away.
Talking to them on the phone just made me miss them more. Especially when two year old Simeon ended every conversation with, “Gagi, come home to me!”
Driving down there every couple of weeks for a short visit was only ointment on the wound. But the wound was still there and throbbing. I didn’t want to be a “visiting” grandma. I wanted to be part of nine year old Maya, seven year old Noki, and Simi’s lives, especially because it was impossible for me to be in my other two grandkids’ daily lives. Twenty year old JJ was stationed in South Korea and baby Elliott lived in Boulder, Colorado, where I could never afford to live.
So, as much as I loathed the thought of packing up my stuff one more time, I had a realtor start looking for a house for me. The main caveat, it be fifteen minutes or less to the kids’ house in the northern Chattanooga suburb of Hixson.
Now I’m happily winding over roads as curvy as Eastern Tennessee’s patron saint Dolly Parton to get to their house or swim meets or music recitals or whatever else is on their agenda. And I laugh my head off almost every day, whether I get lost or not, because I know I have found my “home” again.