Saturday, November 27, 2010

Towing, crabbing, swimming and sliding

I now know, that due to Bob's fear of being tracked by the Fed's he would not get a job in Florida.  Carol went to work as a waitress at the local Howard Johnson's. That meant Bob was in charge of child care.  My grandparents were persuaded to by a Blazer for the family.  Bob fashioned  plywood levels behind the seat that allowed him to store a large tool box and large chains for towing.  I remember Bob begining each morning by taking a shammy to the truck to dry the dew from the previous night.  If I had any doubt of this memory it was confirmed 25 years later whena visit to my Grandparents Brooks and Uncle Rick in Florida where both my grandfather and my Uncle began thier day by wiping down thier cars to remove the dew.  No doubt it was something always practised by the Brooks men. 

Bob made a living towing tourist off the beach.  In Tampa you could drive your car right down to the beach.  This is great unless you driveinto the soft sand where you quickly get stuck.  Bob would cruise up and down the beach looking for these trapped tourist.  He would charge $50 a tow, fifty bucks! In 1973 that was a king's ransom, but if you could afford to vacation in florida I guess you could afford that kind of fee.  While we waited for victims Chelsea and I were in charge of crabbing.  Each of us would be given a string with a very ripe piece of chicken tied to the end. By ripe I mean, the smellier the better.  This chicken was obtained by Carol at the HoJo's, so zero investment.  When you felt a tug onthe string we would pull in the crab.  Crabs don't like to loose so they latch on to the chicken and come ashore.  Then you drob it in the bucket and through back the chicken.  This would go on all day long.  By the end of the day we would have a dozen or more crabs and Bob would have money in his pocket. 

Carol must have worked  breakfast shifts because she was usally home when we got home.  The crabs were boiled and served as the meat in most meals.  Carol made crab tacos, crab meatloaf, crab spegetti, crab patties and crab sloppy joes.  I, at the age of 3, could pick a crab as effeciently as the ladies I would see years later working in the bowels of the seafood resturant picking crabs for the hungry Ocean City crowd.  To this day I love crab meat but unless it is in a cream sauce or ideally, plain with some melted butter I will pass.  We settled into a nice ruetine of beach going and crabbing.  Then it was anounced that I would be taking swimming lessons. 

Florida did not believe that kids should not know how to swim so swim schools were held in the summers.  I would walk with the neighbor girl to the elementary up the street where we were bused to a public pool.  To me there where hundreds of kids there.  The first couple days I was instructed in the doggie paddle in the kidde pool.  Then I was invited to go to the big pool for "real" swimming.  I remember teenage girls crowding around me telling me how cute I was and offering to comb my long blond hair.  I remember being terrified when I discovered how deep the pool was but quickly getting over it as I became a confident swimmer.   Each day I would return homeand 'teach' Chelsea what I learned in the neighbors above ground pool.

Florida was where I fell off the big slide.  We went to a local park and there was one of those HUGE metal slides.  You remember the ones,  metal ladder that went up 10-15 feet and a super slick, super hot slide that usually landed you in a worn away hole of sand, mud and water.  Well, being 3, I was determined that I could handle that slide.  I remember climbing the ladder, I remember negotiating the terrifying transition from climbing to sitting, I remember sliding but somewhere something went wrong.  As I began this story I was pretty sure I fell off the slide, I was even thinking that must have be when I developed my fear of hieghts, but as I write, I realize I did slide down successfully but it was once I got to the bottom that when things went horribly wrong. I was so excited to go again I jumped up and ran.  Making a quick u-turn, I slammed into the pipe that supported the slide.  When I say slammed, I mean slammed.  I knocked myself unconscience.  I woke up with a group of moms and kids looking down on me.  I had a huge goose egg on my forehead.  And I knew Carol was worried but I am not sure what she was more worried about me and my possible concusion or what Bob was going to say when she came home with me all bruised up.  I probably did have a concusion because I am sure that a threw up several times after arriving home and it was a long time before I would try oneof those slides again.

Bugs, Frogs and Blow Fish

We arrived in Tampa, Florida and I remember driving through a neighborood and stopping at a 7-11 and Carol asking the guy behind the counter if there was any place for rent around.  Turns out there was right across the street.  I don't know if that is really the way it happened but thats what I remember.  We lived in the house directly across the street from 7-11.  This would begin a life long love affair with slurpees.  Almost every day i would count out pennies to buy a slurpee.  Chelsea and I would walk acoss the street and get slurpees.  Keep in mind I was 3. Can you imagine?

For those of you keeping track at the ripe old age of three I had lived in countless places in California, then to my grandparents in Virginia.  Then Eden, back to my grandparents and then to Richmond.  A midnight escape to Florida and there we were in the house across the street from the 7-11. I am thinking how did we do so much in such a short time but there are milestones that make me sure of my age.  Florida was when we watched the launch of a Rocket from our porch, and Nixon posters were on every tree, phone pole and wall.  I looked this up to be sure, Nixon ran for re-election in 1972. I am thinking that we must have moved to Florida right around election time, that would make me just shy of 3 years old.  Holy cow, how the hell do I remember this stuff?  On May 14, 1973, the last Saturn V launch put the Skylab space station in orbit, what I rememebr is sitting on the front porch and watching this huge smoke tail on a rocket going straight up.  I remember some stuff on TV but I also remember there were no people on the rocket.  Don't know why I remember that, but I do.

Florida has several stories that I have been telling my whole life.  First and foremost, when ever someone talks about living in Florida I always talk about the bugs and the frogs.  We had a box fan in the hall way blowing into the kids room and the parents room.  At night the palmeto bugs would get sucked into that fan and it was like  machine gun fire, tat-tat-tat and the crunchy bug guts would end up on the linencloset door.  I also loved the ran , which happened almost everyday, because it brought out the frogs.  I actually believed that it rained frogs because the rain would start and the frogs would start hoping all over the yard.  Tons of little green and brown frogs, just a little bigger than the huge raindrops. they appeared to be splash up of the rain, like they dropped from the fat clouds.

Florida returned me to my old friend the ocean.  Now I don't remember the Pacific ocean at all but mom tells me that she would take Chelsea and I often.  The story goes that I loved the ocean, first crawling then runnung to it.  Chelsea on the other hand, hated the water the sun and especially sand.  While I was running in the surf, Chelsea would spend her time on a towel with a makeshift 'hippie' tent around her.  We were told this was because of our astrological signs.  As a Peices, I was a fish, most attracted to water.  Chelsea was an Goat, an Aries is naturally uncomfortable with the water and particularly the ocean.  Tampa Florida it known for it's beaches and I have memories of running along the beach picking up silver dollars by the dozen and trying to stuff jellyfish into bear bottles.  I also remember Bob tipping hermit crabs over and filling them with beer.  The crabs would stagger out and stumble down the beach.  Chelsea and I loved that trick.  I remember Bob fishing in the surf and pulling in a blow fish, fully inflated.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I hate Richmond!

It was 1973 and my family is now living in Richmond, Virginia. I don't know why, I don't know what brought my parents back together.  I know we lived in a brownstone on a street lined with brownstones.  I know I rarely went outside but that could have been because it was winter, I really don't know. I could probably sketch a floor plan but I don't think we lived there very long.  It is the first place I remember the 'digital' clock being in my mom's room.  It was a series of half numbers that dropped down with the minutes.  I spent most of the morning watching that clock because 'Mickey Mouse Club" came on at 3:30.  I would wait all day to turn on the TV.  I also discovered there that my dad was an artist.  He did oil paintings of me and Chelsea as presents for my Grandparents.  I don't recall seeing much else that my dad painted but I knew because of those pictures my dad was talented. 

The Grand parent war was kicking in and Christmas was the battlefield.  Keep in mind, we were the only grand kids on either side.  Carol's brother died when she was 15 and Bob's brother Rick was married but had no intention of having kids (he never did) and the baby, Gary, was still living at home.  Christmas was when the grandparents could prove who loved us more.  I am not complaining, we made out at Christmas time.  That year we went to the Brooks's house.  It was that trip that lead to my completely unreasonable hatred of RIchmond.

The Brooks's home was in Downington, Pennsylvania and we drove the Pennsylvania Turnpike to get there.  I remember that the minute we got to the house my grandmother would bath my sister and I.  This was not the baths we were used to, they were supervised with bars of soap.  We were to scrub every inch, especially our belly buttons and the skin behind our ears.  I don't know why this sticks in my head, but it is something I relate to the Brooks's place. Grandma Brooks was an RN just like Grandma Burke.  Grandma Brooks was a clean freak, something my dad inherited.  The other thing I knew about Grandma Brooks was that she wore  foam boobs, prosthetic breasts. She had a double mastectomy at some point in her life.  I knew, not sure how I did, but I did.  I think about that now and I am just shocked that this is what a woman went through if she found a lump.  Whack off the boobs and be flat chested forever.  How awful.  Thirty years later my grandmother would admit to my mother that they found no cancer.  She had lopped of her boobs for no reason.  She had  never told anyone, not even my Grandpa it was too horrible to admit, I guess, that she was maimed for no reason . Grandma Brooks was no non-sense, but I knew she loved us.   Anyway back to Christmas. 

There was a great tree that had tons of presents under it.  I remember my Uncle Rick pulling presents out one by one and shaking them dramatically.  We would try to guess what it was while my Grandmother would yell that we shouldn't ruin our Christmas by guessing. Then Uncle Rick would tickle us and he liked to lick! Gross! He would lick your whole face, I would scream bloody murder.  How disgusting?  Grandpa Brooks was always smiling and just enjoyed us screaming and running. As an adult I really liked him, he was so down to earth no pretense at all.  Just salt of the earth kind of guy.  He drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and didn't care if you knew it.  I wish I had known him better. 

That was the year we got Big Wheels. O-M-G were we excited!  BIG WHEELS! The greatest inventions ever. We rode them up and down the grassy hill in the back yard at the Brooks's and all over the basement.  The greatest gifts ever and the Brooks's got them for us.  I have no memory of what I got from the Burke's that year.  Brooks's win!

The big wheels were strapped to top of the car and back to Richmond we went.  The Big Wheels were raced up and down the sidewalk in front of the house.  We were told not let those big wheels out of our sight for any reason.  Apparently we lived in a pretty bad neighborhood.  We got called in for lunch one day just a few days after we got home and Chelsea and I proudly parked our 'rigs' out front of the house.  Before lunch was over Carol noticed someone stealing our bikes.  There was lots of yelling, Bob was summonsed from where ever and there was running up and down the street, to no avail.  The Big wheels were stolen.  We had 5 glorious days of Big wheels and then it was over.  Needless to say, I was scarred.  Who would steal a little girls Big Wheel?  Rat Bastard, where ever you are....screw you dude!  I have always hated Richmond as a result.  I hate Richmond for no other reason than it was the place where my Big Wheel got stolen.  "F" you Richmond!!

Our days then began to filled with another Christmas gift.  We got our first set of electric cars that year.  Another fantastic gift, that may have been from Bob but I don't really know, but I do remember that there was a large piece of ply-wood purchased so the track could be anchored down and we could race with abandon.  We had that in the living room at the house in Richmond.  I remember this mostly because when we had to move IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT the last thing to go into that U-Haul trailer was that ply-board with the race track attached. Why were we moving in the middle of the night you ask, well it was because Bob had been helping the IRA (yes the Irish Republic Army) run guns.   Anyway, his contact got busted and convinced that he was next, we packed in a flurry and left in the dark of night.  We were on the lam now.  Good by me cause, I hate Richmond!!

Burke vs. Brooks

Again I have very few memories of the years of 2, 3 & 4.  But I will fill in what I know.  Some point in the year we lived in with Papa & Grandma, Bob returned to the scene.  We moved to Eden.  A small community in VA.  Funny thing is, as many times I have been back to Virginia I have never been back to that particular place.  I do remember the day my parents rented the house from a Dairy farmer.  They had those great "Tupperware" animals, you remember the three pieces of an animal were interchangeable. The elephant, dachshund and giraffe you were supposed to take them apart and reassemble them into a mutant giraffe, dog, elephant. And this wasn't a small dairy, it was a huge fully automated dairy.  The house I remember rather well too, it was a two story little house with a horse barn next door.  I remember walking under the horses I was so small. For years I believed that I would saddle those horses on my own and go out for early morning rides. Remember I was 3.   I think I must have been 20 something before I realized that those early morning rides where actually dreams. 

Some of life's givens became evident in that house.  First, Carol was a gardener.  At my grandparent's there was a big garden, with peanuts and peas, and cucumbers.  I remember my great grandfather in that garden. At the house in Eden, Carol negotiated her first large plot.  This would be the case in every house after that for many years to come.  The bigger the plot the happier she would be.  This house had a huge garden plot that was down the hill from the house. Gardening was how we spent most of our summer days.  Carol was a talented gardner.  Our counter tops were covered with fresh "Bushbellows".  "Bushbellows" was my word for vegtables, not sure what the connection is but that was my word for it and it was adopted by most of the family for many years to come.  I remember eating red peppers like apples.  I remember spooning the seeds out of the center of a yellowed cucumber which would have been too biter to eat sliced but the seeds were so yummy.  I remember getting up early to go down to the garden to work on it. 

On of those early mornings lead to another one of lifes givens.  I hate cold cereal.  I was served Raisin Bran, looked harmless enough, big smiling Sunshine with his "two scoops" no one warned me what would happen if those flakes were allowed to sit in the milk too long. Those happy flakes became the most god awful bowl of brown mush.  Carol demanded I eat it, I just couldn't! It was disgusting, all mushy in my mouth and slimy with milk.  Blehhh! I threw up.  That wouldn't get me off the hook, oh no!  Carol made me finish it.  I still shutter at the idea of super soggy cereal.  I was done with cereal.  Don't like it, don't eat cold cereal. I would discover later in my life that cold cereal was near a religion for my college friends, one that I would not partake in. I never feed cold cereal to my kids either except in a pinch.  I have made my peace with the Smiling Sun, I have had good Raisin Bran since but as a rule I avoid cold cereal.

Next major event was the Raggedy Ann dolls.  I am breaking out in a cold sweat thinking about telling this story cause it is one of those things that forever will haunt me.  My grandmother was very good with crafts, she decided to make Raggedy Ann dolls for me and Chelsea.  They were perfect.  Hand sewn and spot on.  We were 2 & 3 and had no appreciation for what they were.  Bob was painting something with black paint....yes you see it coming.  We dipped the heads into the black paint and drug those beautiful dolls along the wall down the hall and up the stairs and then began painting each other.  That is where they found us, and that is were I got beat good.  My grandmother would never forgive us, she never forgot either.  For the rest of Grandma's life we heard about those beautiful dolls and the paint. I was 3 years old Grandma, really how was I to know how much time you spent? No matter, never would she make me another doll.  And 25 years later she bought a pair of not nearly as nice Raggedy Ann dolls that she displayed on the bed of her RV and each time I was in the presence of those dolls...she would mention the dolls she made for us. I hate Raggedy Ann and Andy!

Puppy Dog lived in Eden too.  She was our short haired border collie. The first of many dogs in my life and a super dog at that.  I remember Carol telling people the dog's name to strangers and being a little sheepish about it.  Again I didn't know what was so wrong with her name, Chelsea and I thought Puppy-dog was the perfect name for her and we loved that dog.  Puppy-dog was a rabbit hunter, she would chase down a rabbit with ease.  Here is the kicker, she wouldn't eat the baby bunnies.  She would bring home tiny hairless bunnies, eyes still closed, in her mouth for us to raise.  Bob put these baby bunnies in a terrarium where they would grow up and die.  Then Puppy-dog would eat them. My first lesson in the circle of life. 

Something happened in this house where my parents were separating again.  I don't know any details but I know this is the point where the grandparents stopped being friends. This is a big deal because my grand fathers where BEST FRIENDS.  No kidding, they were in the Army together.  My grandpa Brooks introduced my Grandma & Papa.  They were each others best men in the weddings that were just a month apart.  The grandma's were not as close but it does seam a little too perfect that the oldest son married the only daughter of two best friends.  My grandparents had united in the demand that if Carol & Bob were going to sleep under either roof they would have to get married.  No living in sin.  And it was true that my parents had known each other for their entire lives, can you imagine?  Stuff that fairy tales are made of huh?  Yeah, well when it got bad, it got really bad.  Both set of grand parents blamed the other for raising awful kids and they both believed that they should get custody of the grandkids and that each would be better at raising us.

There was a big fight and Bob was leaving.  In the midst of this fight he grabbed me and stuck me in the truck.  There was a lot of yelling, I remember crying and reaching, with out stretched arms, for my mom. I remember Bob pushing me back against the seat.  I understood that Bob intended to take me and separate me from my sister. As Bob tried to drive away, Carol stepped in front of the truck.  Bob was not taking either of us.  While they argued, Carol signaled to me to get out of the truck, I jumped out and ran. There was no need for therapy from that little scene, I wouldn't have separation anxiety after all. And, in an attempt to make me feel better, Carol explained that Bob didn't want me because I was too much like her and that Chelsea was the one that the Brooks's wanted.  Yeah, that wouldn't stick with me for EVER! This was a theme that ran through our lives.  I was a Burke, Chelsea was a Brooks.  Funny thing was I was the favorite of the Brooks's and Chelsea was the Burkes's favorite. The lines were drawn, it was on, Burkes vs. Brooks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

California Hippies and Virginia Lovers

Since I don't have any recollection of my infancy I have to rely on Carol's stories.  I was lead to believe that we moved a lot in the first years of my life.  Someone explained to me that it takes about 3 months to get evicted from somewhere so that was our average stay in one place.  Carol became pregnant and Bob was not happy.  He found it embarrassing that she was pregnant so quickly after my arrival.  Bob urged Carol to get an abortion.  Carol was not going to give up a baby, she had lost my older sister Paulette just 24 hours after she was born and wasn't about to give up a baby on purpose.

I was a happy content baby.  I would occupy the top of the refrigerator in a baby seat during parties were I would great those coming for a beer or I would sleep seemingly unaware of all the noise around me.  To this day I sleep better with some type of noise, a radio, TV and if I really need to concentrate there is nothing better than a room full of noisy/active people.  

Remember when I said that Carols naming me would be bad for my sister, well Bob was ready for her when the second girl showed up 1 year, 1 month and a day after me.  He named her Colleen Andria.  Never in my whole life has anyone ever called my sister Colleen, she is and always has been Chelsea Eve. Legally however her drivers license says Colleen Andria aka Chelsea Eve.  Tell me that isn't cool, Chelsea has an alias. Way cool! What's funnier years later Bob would name another daughter Chelsea.  We'll get to that.

Chelsea was born in Long Beach. We continued the hippie nomad thing moving every three months until I am not sure what lead to the decision entirely but Carol had enough of Bob (I think he was cheating but I really don't know) and packed up.  Carol paired up with her best friend grabbed everything that would fit in the car and drove to Virginia.  I was two and Chelsea celebrated her first birthday on the road.  By then I had named her DeeDee because "I am the baby...she is the DeeDee."  I don't think that Carol never intended to return to California, but I wouldn't go back until the summer I was 14 and even then it was briefly.  However thanks to the blue eyes and blond hair I have been identified as a "California girl" my whole life.  I love it when that happens. 

I believe I remember walking to the front door where I saw my grandma for the first time. Papa and Grandma were thrilled to have the grand babies there but immediately decided Carol's dirty hippie friend was a whore and druggie.  Didn't help that she gave everybody crabs (not the type that come in a bushel). And it didn't take long for her to wear out her welcome and move on.  Carol was not adjusting to rural Virginia well, she missed California and the many free thinking friends she left behind.  New Market was a Civil war town and many of the families had been living in the valley for generations.  Closest thing to civilization was in Harrisonburg where James Madison University provided more people her age and more free thinking. 

Despite being a California girl, Virginia plays a crucial part in my life.  I think of it as BASE, when ever things don't go well, when ever Carol has no where else to go we always return to base.  Even when I get older and go through my divorce, I too, run to BASE.  Virginia is for Lovers is what the old State campaign used to say. Virginia is where I start school, it is where I spend my summers as a teen it is where my grand parents live for 40 plus years, it is where I take my kids for a hometown 4th of July every year for 13 years, it is where Bianca is born and it is where I meet and marry Damin.  Coincidentally it is where I will spend Christmas this year.  Yes, Virginia is Home.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I was born...

I have always resented being born in 1970.  Sure it is great because I have always been able to quickly relate how old I was in a given year 'cause it matches the year but besides that I have always felt I was robbed of my true "Hippie Off-Spring" because I wasn't born in 1969.  Nineteen sixty-nine, it says Flower Power! I was after all, born in San Diego, California.  That does afford me some street cred for the right coast, right town, almost right year but if I had only been born 2 months earlier. Some early clarification, I called my mom, Carol and my dad, Bob.  Hippies don't go in for titles even the most mundane of them all.  As a free spirit I was not expected to be bummed out by power trips like calling your parents by titles.  We were all on the same planet together and being born first or of someone was not enough reason to oppress a new spirit man.  That and having a kid call you Mom would really age you and hippies are ageless, man.

The story of my birth is a great one.  You see my mom, Carol, had been looking forward to my birth.  She had visited Disney several times in the weeks before to ride roller coasters in hopes of speeding my arrival.It was a ride at your own risk time in the world so despite being huge, they let Carol ride all she wanted.    My grandmother sent a care package including aVirginia SALT cured ham.  That ham was likely the reason Carol suffered from Toxemia when my arrival became eminent. In classic form Carol contacted Bob to let him know it was time and waited at home for him to take her to the hospital.

NOw Bob had been anticipating this call and for several days prior to the call he had parked in a No Parking zone.  Earlier in the week his car was towed from the spot. Not to be deterred by the "pigs" he walked to the near by impound lot, jumped the fence and took back his car. On the day of my birth the car was once again towed and impounded and this time they were ready for Bob.  When he jumped the fence the "pigs" were ready.  Away he went to jail, while Carol contractions got closer.

Bob's one call was to Carol.  He would not be available to come get her and probably not available for the birth for that matter. "O hell no!" Carol called a girl friend and instead of heading to the hospital, she instead went straight to the "Cop Shop" to let them know just how big of a problem they had created. Contractions coming fast and heavy Carol marched into the station and amongst her cries of pain threatened to "plop" me out on the spot if they did not release Bob, NOWWW!!  Since it was Washington's birthday (a holiday later combined with Lincoln's birthday to become President's Day) the banks were closed and Carol could not get bail or impound money.  After her baby roulet the fee were waved the car retrieved and the Brooks's were on the way to Sharp's Hospital were I would be born via Twilight, an apparently groovy drug that would allow the mother to sleep through the delivery.  Over 8 pounds I was a healthy baby, a little toxic but good to go.  Carol wanted to name me Crystal, Bob was not in favor of my being named after a rock but conseaded if my middle name could be Crystal, Magic would be the perfect name for me.

Ultimately I was named Crystal Dawn Brooks.  Carol's triumph of naming me would reign down a horrible name on my sister and a lifetime alias.  I will explain that all later.  I however have been saddled with the name of a Porn Star my whole life, and the constant question "is that your real name?".  It is a conversation starter..."Crystal Brooks? Is that your real name?"  "Yes, i was almost Magic Crystal" "your parents must have been....." "Yes they were HUGE hippies" "What was that like?" and at that point i share a couple antic-dotes of my upbringing and inevitability someone will say "You should write a book!" and my response is always "I would but I just don't know how it ends."