Monday, December 27, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Boy - The Giver

My old, brown Oldsmobile Cutlass was loaded as the warm, August sun beat down on the gravel driveway. It was strangely quiet as I stood there…looking, thinking, wondering. Geoff was still asleep in his room and dad was off somewhere, maybe at work. Mom was in the kitchen or perhaps sitting in on the couch doing a crossword or some other type of puzzle. Frank was married now and had already moved away. Debbie had been out of the house several years and was now living in Portland where she worked. Today was the beginning of a new season in my life…I was going off to college at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

I’m not sure what I was expecting as I stood there, but I’m sure it was more than was taking place. I was leaving home and going somewhere I had never gone before. There had been no college visitation. I had received the scholarship late…during mid-summer and had scrambled to get all of my paperwork in. If it hadn’t been for a couple of kids I’d graduated with, I would have had no idea where to look for a place to live but a couple of friends had given me the name of the dorm they had been accepted to and it still had rooms available when I sent in my application. The truth was, I didn’t even exactly know where the college campus was located. I’d never been there. But after all, Moscow wasn’t “that” big, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to find.

And so, I walked back into the house and told mom I was leaving. She came over and gave me a kiss and watched from the doorway as I got in my car and drove out of the driveway. I don’t know what was going through her mind…I never asked and she never said.

About two hours later, I found myself in Moscow driving down the main street looking right and left for any sign that indicated where the campus might be. I took a left where I should have taken a right and ended up on the outskirts of town in what was definitely NOT a college neighborhood. I turned around and by sheer luck eventually found the campus with the old, turn of the century buildings about an hour later. I drove up and down streets until I finally found the housing complex that I would soon be calling home.

College life wasn’t easy for me. I was attending on a NROTC scholarship which meant that I had to have a military appearance. When I arrived, my hair was thick and long…and was soon laying on the floor of Frank and Deb’s trailer where I got a haircut. This was the mid-seventies and “buzz cuts” were not the style of the day. The Vietnam War had only ended a short while before and there was still great anger and animosity directed at anything military.

The dorm that I moved into had a few friends from high school who spent most of their time in their rooms smoking pot or getting drunk. The drinking I could get away with…after all I’d been drinking quite regularly for the past five years. But for me, I just wasn’t interested in the drug culture. My new associates in the Navy were…well, the kindest word I can probably use is “different”. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Most of the men that were in the NROTC program would have been called “geeks” or “nerds” in their respective high schools that they came from.

It is because of these strange new surroundings that “they” became so meaningful to me. Each day shortly before we began to make our way to the cafeteria for lunch, the mail came. There was pushing and shoving from the guys as they would look into their mail “cubby” to see if anyone had remembered that they went off to college. I’d been at the University for about three weeks when “they” started to arrive. Usually an envelope with a Portland, OR return address with the familiar handwriting. But on some occasions, there would be a note in my mail box to see the R.A. I knew what that meant…there was a package!

As I sit and write these words today, I can still remember the love and joy I would feel as I received those letters and the “care packages” that would be filled with home baked goodies. It wasn’t because the fresh, chocolate chip cookies were the best I’ve ever eaten (although they may well be), or because I was getting something in the mail that most of the other guys in the dorm wasn’t…it was because receiving these gifts helped me to know that I wasn’t forgotten and that I was loved.

But that’s who my sister is. For as long as I can remember, Debbie (it’s so hard to call her Deb) has been generous to me. I think she was to Frank and Geoff as well, but for some reason it just takes on a special significance to me. I remember the Christmas before I entered college…my senior year in high school, when as a family we didn’t have much money. So we decided not to really do any gifts…or if we did, it would be very small.

I remember her talking to me about an idea for mom and dad – to make a photo album. I loved to take pictures and had accumulated quite a collection of family photos. Debbie suggested that we “go together” on the gift…we would use my photos and she would put together an album that would be from both of us. So she took the box of my pictures and “borrowed” one of my poetry books and off she went.

I really didn’t know what to expect as a final product. If I had been putting it together, it probably would have been pictures symmetrically arranged on each page with perhaps the names of whoever was in the photo. But Debbie has the gift of writing as well as the gift of giving. The “product” of this venture together has become a bit of a legend. One each page were artistically placed photos with a short poem, or a descriptive phrase. Each page was a masterpiece in itself. Resting now in a drawer at Geoff and Lynn’s, we will occasionally pull it out and relive through memories the experiences that are recorded in that album. A gift for mom and dad at the time… but a gift for the family forever.

Growing up, my memories of Debbie are filled with her smiles and her “bigger than life” presence. The first to get a job away from the farm at the optometrist’s office in downtown Sandpoint. The first to go off to college at Whitworth. The first to move away to the “big city”…and always having a place stay if I wanted to visit. The “big sister” who never treated me like a “little brother” in the negative sense of the word. The pride and the angst that come from sitting in a high school classroom and having the teacher say, “You’re Debbie’s brother, right? I’ll expect the same quality of work from you that she gave me.”

Whether she recognizes it or not, Debbie has given me a legacy that I’ve aspired to come close to. Being human, there are some things that aren’t on my “to do” list…but I hope that I will be remembered as someone to gives, and loves as much as she does.

This is one of a series of stories written for my family - Christmas, 2010

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