Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sharon, Near-Alter Ego

Sharon, the only remaining sibling about whom I have not yet blogged, could have been my carbon copy in many ways. (I deliberately chose the words "could have been" and not "could be" because we ultimately chose very different paths.)

Sharon was child #7, the first girl after a string of boys. It was almost like Ma was starting over again. Sharon looked exactly like me (child #1), and Victoria, child #8, looked much like Katrina (child #2). And then Dad died from a heart attack caused by a hospital error, and there were no more children. (He had wanted 12 although he certainly did not have the financial means to care for the eight he had already.)

Ma had mellowed by the time Sharon and Victoria came along. Nonetheless, they all did experience the same range of abuse that I did: physical, emotional, and sexual. The amount and severity may have been different, but one relative or another ensured that they had experience with all kinds.

Unlike us older girls, the two younger ones had the protection of Rollie. They also had the homes of their older sisters. Just as Victoria came to live with me in Virginia as a teenager, so did Sharon go to live with Katrina in New York. Getting there, however, was no typical or easy task. Sharon, a truly brilliant student, especially in physics, caught the attention of her math teacher, Sam, who mentored her. With time, mentoring and empathy turned into indiscreet love, which brought the wrath of the school board down onto Sam, who was summarily fired. Once Sharon became an embarrassment to Ma, she had an open path away from the burning house. Ma called Katrina, since my hands were full at the time with Victoria, and asked for asylum there, never telling Katrina about the school scandal. Neither did Sharon until Sam one day showed up, proposed, and a marriage was planned.

That marriage took place in Michigan the summer between her senior year, which she finished in New York, and her freshman year at Michigan State University. It was quite a surprise for all of us -- except Ma, of course. All is well that ends well, however. Sharon and Sam have been married for more than twenty years now.

Seventeen years younger than me, Sharon grew up in a very different society. Doors were open to her that were closed to me. She could explore some of the interests we had in common, like physics. I remember my high school physics teacher telling me that it was a shame that I was a girl because I would otherwise make a very good physicist. (One of only 5 girls in a class of 40 students, I had the highest grade: 99% maintained over the entire year. However, my physics teacher was right. In the 1960s, physics was not a girl's field. So, I chose a different field: linguistics, the science of language, which prepared me for my international experiences. I have not regretted the decision.) Sharon, though, was able to pursue her interest in physics. She received a full scholarship to Michigan State where she maintained a 4.0 average in nuclear physics and was heavily recruited by a number of graduate schools. However, she chose to work with her husband in the field of computer science instead of going to graduate school, earning money instead of spending it. It is not a choice I would have been made, but then Sharon is not really my alter-ego. She looks like me, sounds like me, has many of the same skills (and lack of skills), but her choices have always been far more pragmatic than anything I have chosen to do.

More to come...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I think it is time for a light post, so I am sharing here some things that my 7-year-old grandson Nathaniel has said/written in the last week and double-posting for those who follow only Blest Atheist. (Above is a picture of him in the local Christmas parade.)


Yesterday, my daughter Lizzie was IM'ing with her nephew early in the morning. I report here word for word the conversation that she shared.

Nathaniel: Are you at work?
Lizzie: Yup. I am at work. :-(
Nathaniel: Awwww. Don't be sad. I can help.
Lizzie: Really? How?
Nathaniel: "Easy peasy. Do you need anything?
Lizzie: Yes! I need coffee!!
Nathaniel: "Error code. You WANT coffee."


Recently Nathaniel has been singing his own self-made-up version of Twelve Days of Christmas. Actually, he stopped counting at 10. Here is Nicholas' version. This works best if you sing it to the rhythm of the original song:

10. Defribillators
9. Mechanical Pencils
8. Ambulances
7. Doctor Pages
6. Payments
5. Gloves
4. Operations
3. Intellivues (for those not in the know this is a heart monitor company)
2. Ambulances

and a Paramedic in a Medical Treeeeee ...

Now that is evidence that Nathaniel spent too much time in NICU with Nikolina.


And finally, about a week ago, Shane took Nathaniel to school because Lemony was ill. Nathaniel was not pleased with how Shane made lunch or the way he handled the drop-off, and he complained about it.

"Well, Nathaniel," Shane reasoned, "maybe now you will appreciate your mother more."

"Dad," Nathaniel responded firmly, "I wish you would get it right so I could appreciate you!"

The Russians say that a son is vsyo v papu (literally, everything in Papa), which means like father, like son or just like Dad. Nathaniel is absolutely vsyo v papu. When Shane told me about the interchange, I replied, "Now you know what it was like raising you!"

Welcome to one member of the Clan of Mahlou! God has blessed us with quite a character!

G'night now!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Keith, Baby Brother and Beloved Uncle

Keith, the sixth child of Ma and Dad, came along a little greater spacing than the first five. I was ten years old when he was born and immediately became the little mother to him. I remember lugging him to my fourth grade class when he was about six months old for show-and-tell. (Yeah, my show-and-tell entries were rarely predictable, and probably my teachers should be given halos.)

All of us protected Keith from the ravages of our abusive parents. He would often toddle into my bedroom at night, wanting to sleep with "Wet." (He could not say Beth.) That continued probably until he was nearly four years old. Perhaps somehow even as a toddler he felt the need for protection.

After I left home, Willie and Rollie watched out for Keith. While Keith did not escape the demeaning theatrics and dangerously heavy hand (and fists/feet) of Ma as much as we all would have liked, he did not experience the extent of sexual abuse from our uncle that Willie and Rollie did for they warned him, hid him, and otherwise did want they could to keep him of of the clutches of our sexually avaricious uncle.

Dad died when Keith was a young teenager, yet it was Keith who stepped in and managed the family's finances when Ma displayed unique incompetence for this sort of work. While Katrina flew home and took a semester off from college to show Ma how to write checks, pay bills, and balance the checking account, the training did not take. After Katrina left, it was Keith who took over the functions that Katrina had tried to teach Ma. The insurance paid off the farm and there was summer income from the crops. Nonetheless, with five children still at home, Ma ended up on welfare rolls. Keith made sure that everything balanced out.

Keith remained at home after graduation from high school. The little girls were still there and still capable of being abused, and Ma had already chased Rollie into the woods and away from home. Someone had to watch out for them. He got a job in the Naval Yard about an hour away, working on submarines.

Over time, Keith became a foreman at the shipyard, and he has been able to travel to various ports, including San Diego, which brings him to California to see us although we are quite a bit north of San Diego. It has also taken him to Scotland and the more banal Connecticut.

Keith, like Katrina, never married, and they often spend holidays together, Katrina driving down from New York to stay with Keith. Ever jovial and easy going, Keith is a beloved uncle (as is Rollie) to my children. And, to me, he is still the little brother I lugged to show-and-tell many years ago!

Pictures? Later!

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