John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XLVIII: Back Then and Now

(Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash)

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories reflecting on how things were back when. 


With Me Still Like It Was Yesterday

When mom needed some respite when us kids were small, we would pile into the sedan and drive up to her parents’ place in Orofino. They had retired there from Headquarters, Idaho, after my grandad finished his time at Potlatch Corporation.

Ideas about health and safety were different back then. No seat belts, and mom would chain smoke with the windows up. The road runs along the Clearwater River and is fairly windy and I would always end up getting car sick while playing in the backseat. The solution, which worked fairly well, was to have me sit up and stare out the front window.

If we were lucky, us kids’ plea to stop at the spring would be rewarded and we would suck down some very tasty cool water bubbling up out of a pipe. I hope it is still there, but I can’t remember where the turnout is.

My grandad’s death when I was six was my first heartache in life and his kindness instilled something decent in me. My grandma passed when I was in junior high and she was very dear to me as well.

Our grandparents gave us kids the run of the two-story house and the yard. One thing I remember is they would often have company over for dinner, mostly other retired folks that they had known all their lives. After dinner, they would sit around the living room and visit for hours. I remember crawling under the dining room table because every seat in the living room was taken and I would listen to them tell stories and laugh.

There was an order to it based on manners, I guess. No one hogged the spotlight. One person would tell their story, allow for comments and remembrances, then it was the next person’s turn. The younger adults were also in deference, with the elders getting most of the storytelling time.

That basic pattern still guides how I operate in group conversations. I honestly can’t recall any of the stories right now, but the sound and timber of their voices and laughter are with me still like it was yesterday.


Life Keeps Spinning

I took a friend of mine shopping a couple of weeks ago up at WinCo. She is a grandma now and put her granddaughter into the cart, facing her, the girl’s legs dangling out of the holes I assumed were designed for that very purpose.

Seeing that took me back to when I went grocery shopping with my mamma, which I loved. “Can I ride in the cart? Can I have a gumball? Can I help push?” If she had had a long day and was upset, I might not get all I was asking for, but, in general, she was very generous to the point of indulgence.

On occasions when I hadn’t gone to the store with her and she came home with the groceries, my first question was, “Are there any treats for us?” And there almost always was. I remember ripping through those old paper grocery bags for candy and donuts.

As a young child, you have no concept of adult stress or adult workdays or adult relationships. So, when mom was upset about adult things and needed some relaxation time, she would sometimes say, “Honest to God, Geoffy, stop pestering me!” And I may have taken that a little too personal and thinking maybe I was a pest.

On the other side of that, adult pressures can often make parents misdiagnose the emotional needs of their children. If a kid has a sad day and the parent doesn’t recognize it, the kid is going to act out in ways large and small to get some love or attention. I must say, I think my mom was better than most at meeting our emotional needs when we were little.

I learned to become a world-class pouter and whiner, I used “feeling sorry for myself” to try and get my needs met, and it worked for the most part. I guess she didn’t like seeing me upset. It did not work with my dad, of course. I heard, “Quit pouting, dammit!” from him a lot, and rightfully so. I also got the “mamma’s boy” label, which was the truth. I fought that label then, but embrace it now.

It’s funny, I used that “feeling sorry for myself” as a way to get my needs met on the streets as well. I was often worried, on the rare occasion I put on new clothes, whether people would stop showing up with food and fives.

Life keeps spinning, and I am happy to grow just a little with each rotation.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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