Meet Some of My Unexpected Family

My new room with a silver ceiling had a loft bed that I decided to use for storage, not wanting to go up and down the ladder each time I had to use the bathroom.  I bought a twin bed, hung twinkle lights and my star light from the ceiling, arranged books on the shelves, set up a writing desk, put my half & half in the frig and I was home.

Winter was coming in Montana, and I couldn’t wait. Eugene held my dear friends, but it didn’t hold my heart, Montana has since I came to visit my brother in the 80’s. 

My cocoon of a room had all I needed. Covid times have not been social times. But for me, social times began to slip away in 2017 as I began to grieve the loss of my relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. Now that the rest of the world had joined me in isolation, I felt a comfort that felt unfair because the rest of the world was now grieving. 

Slowly but surely, I meet the other residents of this historic hotel. With Covid protocol, residents mainly kept to themselves in their rooms, a twist from its history.  Back when Robert acquired the building some forty years ago, bohemians inhabited the rooms, art was created, and parties thrown. Friends who are long time Missoula residents have said to me with a laugh, “oh yea, I remember the parties at the hotel.” Surprisingly, I didn’t attend parties at the hotel during the 80’s but I was certainly at other parties, after waiting tables then out dancing. 

Completed in 1902, it was bustling with a restaurant, and saloon on the main floor. Rooms were rented for 75 cents by railroad passengers and workers. It’s been said it was a brothel at one time. With travelers and a saloon downstairs makes sense. 

The extend of socializing when I moved in was meeting in the kitchen while preparing a meal. Jennifer, lived in the room next to me. We’d chat as hot water ran through the cone for morning coffee. Sleepy eyed, she told me about her work at a peach orchard, her love for plants and her boyfriend. Eventually, she shared about her conflictual relationship with her mother, but how she was committed to loving her. Of course, I commended her for this commitment. On her 30th birthday, Jennifer, proudly showed me the presents her boyfriend had given her; a plant and an apron he had sewn himself. 

John, lives at the far end of the hall in the biggest room at the hotel. It even has its own bathroom. He’s around 30 years old, works for the forest service Bless his heart, he tries to keep everyone in line, leaving notes on the white board, reminding everyone to lock the doors, shared stats on daily Covid deaths. He’s a sweetheart but I wish for his sake he didn’t worry so much. 

Sam, what a sweetie. He’s early twenties, in school and works for the forest service. He’s from Virginia. His room is small, and he is a growing boy, so we’d end up together in the kitchen mornings and evenings. We talk food, the South, it’s history, the why of it all and how can we bring justice to this world. As I cooked pancakes for the two of us, he said, “man you remind me of my grandmother” Well shit, he had won my heart! 

The common areas weren’t and aren’t as clean as I care for. It doesn’t seem to bother the others too much. They are young, in school, working, and keeping a social life such as it is. After a few weeks, I was able to rally Jennifer, John and Sam to deep clean the 3rd floor kitchen. Jennifer tackled the refrigerator, pine soled the ceiling light fixtures that had years of dirt of them, Sam scrubbed the oven, John and I threw out items in the cupboard that were, yes, years expired, plastic lids with no bottoms. Counters were scrubbed and the floor swept and mopped it. It felt good and I got to know my fellow roomies a little more. I learned that Jennifer and John had never heard of Walt Whitman nor Leaves of Grass. I remedied that at my next visit to the 2nd hand bookstore. 

 Charles, who doesn’t leave his room much, stopped me in hall one day, “hey, would you roast us a turkey for Thanksgiving? My work is giving me a free turkey.” “Sure” I replied. I started my internet search for how to roast a turkey, it had been a few years. I asked Robert what he would like to have served at our Thanksgiving meal? He put in his request and meal planning began. 

Why Are white People so Angry

A friend of mine, actually he kinda feels like a son, his wife a daughter in-law and his kids feel like grandkids, called me a few days ago. They moved from Montana to South Carolina this summer. They like it, a little home sick for Montana too. The kids are thriving in school.
“Frances, you know what I notice down here, all the white people are angry. People of color, people from other cultures are all happy and friendly. At work the other day some black guys said something about white rage. I jumped in and said yea, I noticed that. What’s that all about. They said, I don’t know we’ve been trying figure that out for years.”
He also mentioned the large population of white Christians who seem to walk around judging and deciding what is right or wrong so they feel right.
My friend is a white guy who was raised and lived all of his life in Montana until now. What he is liking about his new home is being around diversity and getting to know people from other cultures.
Our conversation struck me. Today this popped up on a newsfeed. It’s all in the same vein.
https://www.tiktok.com/@canadianchesthair/video/7024545339612925190?lang=en&is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1

Happy Sunday and thanks for reading.

Unexpected Family, how it came to be

It’s been a year since I moved in with my unexpected family. The end of summer 2020, I was back in Missoula to get more of my things and live in Eugene. But at an outside concert in my friend’s yard, I met Chris Sand, aka Sandman, the Rappin Cowboy. He mentioned there was room in the “hotel” he lived at in downtown Missoula. As Chris shared more with me about where he lived, I became more and more interested, almost certain I wanted to live there. He offered to show the place to me, introduce me to the man who owns the building and lives there. 

Coming through the front door, a fairly large plastic spider moved up as the door swung open, back down as it shut. The carpeted stairway leaned to the left a bit and a sculptured gnome like being meet me at the top. I felt the adrenaline of being in a fun house. Chris and I walked past the community kitchen with an artful colorful titled floor, gas stove/oven from probably the forties. Across the way, the wooden floored dining area held a round table and chairs, an old couch (that needed to go in my opinion) shelves with a turntable, album collection, books and plants that reached from floor to ceiling. 

We walked past three of four rooms, and a fish aquarium before coming to Robert’s room at the end. The globe outside his room was not lit up, meaning he probably wasn’t around. We knocked anyway. Chris letting me know Robert can’t hear well so it’s best to speak loud and clear. We yelled his name a few times but got no answer.

As we walked back down the hall, Chris pointed out the twinkle lights above. The high ceiling had concrete with circular clear glass sections that supposedly came from the old Missoula underground. (I started to research Missoula underground, there is much to read, and I will eventually).

He pointed out the two bathrooms on the 2nd floor before we made our way up the next very slanted set of stairs. (the 1stfloor houses a store) The 3rd floor’s full bath was a full mural of fish, octopus and other ocean creatures on all walls, giving me the feeling, I was swimming in the ocean. The smaller bath was fully collaged with pictures and sayings from magazines, so you are never bored in this bathroom.

The kitchen is stocked with dishware, silverware, microwave, stove and all the necessities with a sitting area across from it with more floor to ceiling plants. The twinkle lights from below shone through the glass in the concrete. The 3rd floor also had a fish aquarium. At the front end of the 3rd floor is the “yoga” room that has become the tv room with an extensive library of VCR tapes and dvds. Above is a large loft with several beds. Before Covid times, Chris mentioned that a traveling band may stay in the loft. For payment, they would buy the house a large box of toilet paper from Costco or find some way to make a contribution. I was liking this place more and more. 

The 3rd floor has 9 rooms, each is furnished with a bed, desk, chest of drawers and a mini frig. Some are larger with a sleeping area as well as a sitting area and sink. He showed me the available room, small but with a loft bed and built-in bookshelf across one wall. Looking up at the silver painted ceiling, I knew this place was my silver lining. The affordability made it a no brainer. Once my house/pet sitting picked up, I wouldn’t be paying an arm and a leg for a place I was not at very much. 

I left a note for Robert to let him know I would like to rent the room. A day later I came by early in the morning as Chris said that was the best time to catch him. He was happy to meet me, laughing, he had assumed I was a male because he has a male friend by the name of Francis. Many people don’t realize that males spell it with a “i” and the female version is Frances. He likes to have an equal mix of males and females living at the hotel. 

As we spoke loudly to each so he could hear me, he asked if I had any crazy boyfriends or a large dog. My answer was no. 

Chris phoned later to say I got the room! On a handshake and $100 deposit, I told Robert I would be back in a few weeks with my things from Oregon. 

*The fist of my writings on my unexpected family. More to come. Some names have and will be changed. Real names will be used when permission is granted. Chris Sand has granted permission. Be sure to check out his music at the above link.

Chris Sand

Choices

I change the subject hastily when she asked, “Where’s you daughter? How is your daughter?”

“Good”, I reply, “How’s your son? What have you been up to?”

I choose to focus on how good it is to see this lovely woman I haven’t seen in such a long time.

This is how it goes when you haven’t seen someone who knew you 20 years ago and it’s been that long since you’ve seen them. I don’t really know how my daughter is, it’s been five years since I’ve spoken with her. 

I’m surrounded by people who love me. A dear friend is hosting a gathering in her backyard to celebrate me on my day of birth and that’s what I choose to focus on. 

My brother calls to wish me a happy birthday while mentioning my sister was there visiting not too long ago. He and my two older sisters were all together. I haven’t seen or heard from either sister in a couple of years.

I choose to focus on the fact that he called to wish me a happy birthday. 

I run into another woman I haven’t seen in twenty years. She is proud to be a grandmother now and I am happy for you. She asks how many grandkids I have. She knows my daughter had children. “Two, they are twins” and quickly change the subject. I cared for this woman’s daughter when I had a childcare. We used to gather, with our husbands and our daughters. Where would I begin to tell her I don’t see my daughter anymore, that I miss her and my grandchildren everyday?

I choose to focus on the fact that I am recognized as a mother and a grandmother and this is someone I created good memories with. 

This morning, I choose to honor my sadness. I will give it what it asks of me, to allow the tears, to trust it will pass as all feelings do. 

Then I will choose to go visit a friend.

I don’t wear jewelry anymore

I don’t wear jewelry anymore

Did I beg mama to give me the cluster of pearls ring that was my grandmother’s
Or did she just give it to me willy nilly and send me on my way
all I remember is I was around nine. 
Memory is sometimes vague, often it only comes with a certain feeling. 
I remember being in the back yard searching for it, just me. 
Did she know I lost it, I don’t know but I hate that I don’t still have it.

My high school/college boyfriend, yes he was the love of my life really in truly, brought me a necklace of an etched whale’s tooth from his family trip to Hawaii. I still have the Bulova watch he gifted me. Wish I still had him, ha. He is dead though, he died from ALS. His wife invited me to come visit several times before he died. It was precious. 

Mama wouldn’t let me pierce my ears. I took care of that with an ice cube and a sewing needle. I don’t think I got in trouble. She usually didn’t have the energy to punish or guide me. My pierced ears created a tradition, my daughter would always get me a new pair of earrings for my birthday. I kept some of those earrings even though I don’t wear them anymore. 

A few years ago, my ears began to turn red every time I put an earring in. They would itch and burn. The best solution was to no longer wear them. I gave away most of my earrings, kept the ones that hold a special memory in my heart. 

In 9th grade, Mama took me and my older sister, on a ten day tour to Europe. In ten days we went to London, Stratford on Avon, Paris, Lucerne, Rome, (day trip to Assisi), Florence and Venice. My memories are fairly vivid from this trip. We were blessed by the Pope at the Vatican. In Lucerne, Mama announced we could get a special piece of jewelry to commemorate our trip. My sister chose a watch. I chose a sapphire diamond ring. Eventually I passed it down to my daughter. I hope she still has it.

The one last piece of jewelry I possessed from my grandmother, a stunning, unusual turquoise and diamond ring was stolen a few years ago. Traveling through Portland. I went out to my car after a night’s stay at a boutique hotel in the northeast neighborhood. Not only was one window busted out, but two. I had the ring in the car because I was taking it to be repaired. It is gone. I searched craiglist ads, placed an ad. I still think some weird miracle could happen, shopping in Portland and spotting it. Who knows, none of us know. 

Worthless or just misunderstood

One of the gifts of isolation time during Covid has been time, time to write, time for online writing classes and time to read. Reading other memoir is a great teacher while writing my own memoir. The latest memoir I picked up, What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang is about mothers and daughters, family secrets and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us. I can’t put it down only stopping to re read and underline phrases.
Maya’s mother was a psychiatrist, her father had a temper and did not hold women in high regard.


“Against this backdrop, my mom’s stories provided a glimpse of an alternative universe where people aren’t worthless; they were simply misunderstood.”

This week, I was fortunate enough to have a small piece of writing published by Visible Magazine. A boost in the arm, knowing my writing is worthy of publishing. Maya’s quote worthless vs. being misunderstood struck a cord. I’d like to believe that if some understanding came to be, my family could heal. If grace ever presents itself for the opportunity to understand, I will surely welcome it. Meantime, I’ll accept what is and keep writing.

Radio Silence

I might be coming out of radio silence. A little over month ago I got stopped in my tracks due to shocking news.

I have been reconciled with the fact that I likely will not have a relationship with my adult daughter in this lifetime. That acceptance has helped me to get on with my life a bit.

But I had held out hope that I might know my grandchildren who I knew for the first two and a half years of their life. It’s been four years since I have seen them. That hope was diminished at the end of January when I learned my daughter has put it her divorce papers that I am not to have contact with my grandchildren. My ex son in law was wanting me to know them again, but my daughter has made sure that will not happen. It’s heartbreaking. It has set me back. I was writing, I haven’t been writing.

I go to the store, someone asks me, “how are those grandkids of yours?” I say, “I don’t know” as my eyes start to water. This person tells me her cancer is back, her husband just beat colon cancer. She is chipper in her brightly colored clothes. My tears are still there, now for her and the gift of witnessing her strength. I tell her so.

On social media someone is showing off their new grandchild. I click away, happy for them while reminded that I do not have that privilege. I instead go searching for an island vacation.

What I know is that this feeling is temporary. I have to be gentle with myself and everyone involved. I will write again, I am writing now.

What I also know is while the family thing hasn’t worked out so well, I have some of the richest, most authentic friendships a person could ask for. I have kids in my life, a couple of them consider me their stand in grandmother. This does not go unnoticed and is not taken for granted. A therapist of mine says if you have one person you can call during your worst times you are rich in friendship. I have several of those “one” persons. I think they know I am that person for them as well.

In telecommunications, radio silence or Emissions Control is a status in which all fixed or mobile radio stations in an area are asked to stop transmitting for safety or security reasons. I believe it has been a safety issue to not be writing. It’s getting safe again.

Love you all, thanks for reading.

What I know and what I’m guessing

Here’s what I know, the rest I’m guessing at.

It’s been four and a half years since I have seen or heard from my daughter, fact.
She and I have struggled in our relationship since her teenage years. The struggle intensified when I divorced her step dad after an 11 year relationship. He was a good step dad. I stayed in the marriage longer than I should have because of that. He was a good man, but our marriage wasn’t. We both had a part in that. He and his infidelities, me choosing to stay with him in spite of that. Me drinking to deal, becoming angry, sometimes showing rage that my daughter unfortunately witnessed. It sucked for her. I have days of wishing hard for a redo or an opportunity for understanding and forgiveness.

I’ve read of relationships either strengthening or ending during this Covid time. In the beginning, I thought surely my daughter will want to connect, with all the fear this disease has evoked. Time passed, I got wind she was going through a divorce. As more time passed, the message was clear. She will not be reaching out. She has me blocked on all forms of communication. Covid will not be bringing us together. Nor will it be bringing me together with most of my family of origin. My sisters had a summer visit in the same town I lived in this summer. I didn’t hear from them. I learned on social media one sister has a new grandchild. The message is clear, for whatever reasons, some I am responsible for, divorcing, drinking and suicide attempt our family won’t be coming together. I suppose some things are unforgivable. Sometimes we are seen and defined by our worst actions.

I’m guessing, my family has deemed me crazy, unforgivable, toxic while the diagnosis of varying mental illnesses have certainly been tossed about amoung them. Since we don’t talk, I’m just guessing.
Some days, most days, I realize I have a pretty great life. I’m content really, living in a town I have loved since I discovered it. I’m healthy, have such dear friends, I’m pursuing creative outlets. I’m sober, I’m seeking, will never stop seeking and growing hopefully. I’m not pining to be in a relationship, nor do I feel I need another person to complete me or take care of me.
Some days I miss my daughter so badly, it kinda messes up the entire day. But those days are fewer and they will always happen. I am a mother. I miss my child.
As Dr. Joshua Coleman mentions in his talk here, I chose to feel the pain instead of avoiding it or pushing it away.

Thanks for reading a blog that started as a travel blog turned into a variety of blog posts, favorite shows, podcasts, writings, great places to donate, businesses to support, sometimes it’s sharing the journey of family estrangement. I feel it is an important topic to bring to light and discuss openly.

From Scientific America: “Family estrangement is one of my most requested topics from listeners and readers coping with the loss and isolation they feel when someone cuts family ties. In a way, the grief of family estrangement can be more painful—or at least more complicated—than the grief over a loved one who has died. When a family member voluntarily walks away, you may miss them and feel confused, ashamed, frustrated, and disappointed, especially if the hope of reunification is dashed.”

For my grandchildren

My Grandson

He named me.
Before that, the first time I saw him he had that wisdom in his eyes.
His head was strong and may it always be.
He would run, I mean run to me when I opened the door,
Eyes bright with delight and a giggle that would melt a heart.
If he spotted me through the window, before I got to the door,
The both of us could not get to the door fast enough.

I wonder, will I see that smile, hear his laugh, feel his hug.
Does he want to share that, will he want to share that?
Will there be any glimmer of remembrance?

Are books by your bed, are you outdoors quite often, walking among the trees or zooming past them as you pedal fast?
What are your interest, I’d love to know?
Do you feel protective of your sister even if she bothering you when you’d rather not be bothered?
How is school, do you enjoy learning, making friends?
Will I get to know these things about you?
I love you.

My Granddaughter

You learned pretty quick to take up for yourself when your brother tried to overpower.
In the double stroller, you were delighted to be behind your brother, able to reach up and grab at his hair to make him squeal. I have a picture to prove it.

I am proud, proud of the way you are determined, even if you have to be loud about it sometimes.

And I beamed when someone said, “she looks like you” and when I saw you dressed in the clothes I had saved from your mother’s babyhood.

So peaceful were our quiet times together, snuggling, reading, figuring out a puzzle or singing itsy bitsy spider. 

Tell me now, do you like to draw, read, do crafts or would you much rather be getting on your bike, adventuring outside or a little of  both. What do you enjoy most about school, do you want to know more about numbers or words or science?

By the way, do you remember me? I do hope to know you again someday.  
I love you. 

You may not like what you find

If you go looking, you may not like what you find. I decided to google my deceased paternal grandfather. He was chancery clerk of Hinds county (Jackson, MS) in 1958. I always felt he was not a totally honest man. He often kept to himself in his room when we visited his house. I never had any one on one time with him as a young child. He was not a hands on kind of grandfather.
I found a congressional record. It is written exactly a year before I was born. It stated, “June 7, 1958: King was committed on June 6th to Whitfield State Mental Hospital for a period of observation to last a minimum of 30 days. Examination by the two Hinds County doctors was by Chancery Clerk Frank Scott following a statement by Gov. J.P. Coleman who declared King “went berserk” during his attempt at entry to the University Thursday. Coleman said that if the mental examination shows King is sane, he will be tried on charges of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest on the Ole Miss campus at Oxford.” Yes, Clennon King was a black man. More on Clennon King Jr.
In 1962, James Meredith  became the first black man to be admitted to the University of  Mississippi.
My grandfather was part of this unjust system. I am not surprised, but heartbroken. So many emotions around this. My family has a history and continues to hide behind appearances. If it’s ugly don’t discuss, if it’s uncomfortable don’t go there. I’ve been the one in the family to go “berserk” over injustices and yes deemed insane by them.
Today I feel a little paralyzed learning this. However, it will also fuel me to continue the fight for bringing justice where it is due.

Complete Congressional Record