We don’t have chores in our house. We do what we’re told when we’re told to do it.  If we don’t do what we’re told, we get the paddle. No amount of whining and complaining can make a difference, although we all try it.

We are lucky though because most of the time Momma does everything and this is how I think she feels like she is taking good care of us, although we would be glad to help if it made her less anxious. She’s always worried, worried, worried – about everything.


 ~August 1975~

“Gaaddamn it, get the degreaser.  Hurry up, put the Gaaddamn degreaser in.”

I don’t know what degreaser is and I’m not sure why I should put the damn stuff in. I do know it comes in a yellow bottle.  It’s tall with ridges on the outside.  I can’t always open it quick enough and I hope Momma didn’t tighten it with her grip of steel, because if she did I’ll never get it open before she yells it again. “Put the Gaaddamn degreaser in!”

Laundry is a science to Momma and she’s always rushing around as fast, as fast as she can. With ten kids the laundry takes up the whole day and she doesn’t mind reminding us every time she does it.  She starts while the sun is still light and bright without heat and takes the sheets right out from under me while I sleep.  She does the same thing to all ten of us. Sometimes it wakes me up, but sometimes not. The older kids complain about it and fight with Momma over being woken up, but I don’t care much about getting up early, because I get to help Momma if I get up early. She doesn’t like help and I have to do things just so, because laundry is important. She says, “We might not have money, but you kids aren’t walking around dirty.” There something about being poor that makes most people dirty, but not us.

“Amy Beth, where’s the damn degreaser, quit fooling around and get over here.”

I step up on a rickety old stool and grab the cool metal cup from the shelf that is hung half-crooked, the cup slides if you don’t put in the right place, it perfectly covers a ring on the shelf from the rust on the bottom of the cup.  I’m careful while pouring.  For something named degreaser, it’s very greasy.

“Just half full not all the way full, or you’ll have to start over, don’t waste it.”

We have an old-time washing machine, a wringer washer. It’s white with a red ring painted around the middle, smooth on the outside and cool to the touch.  There are two rubber rollers on top and if you don’t watch out, your hands will get the hell pinched out of them when the rollers are rolling and squeezing the water out of the clothes. That’s what Momma says.  There is a rusty stain on the underside. I’ve tried to wash it off, but it doesn’t work, it’s stuck on there, forever and ever.  The washer stays in the back room over the basement door in the floor.  I’m glad that it hides the basement door, I think bad things are down there and all the other kids tell me so too. I will not go down there unless I am forced, that has only happened once and that time I saw a man’s butt crack, Peggy said – “See! I told you – plumber’s smile!” Staring at the backside of some guy working on our water pump.  I don’t understand what that means, but I laugh and laugh so I can get the heck out of there.

Momma and I boil water on the stove for the load of whites. Sometimes we have hot water on the tap and sometimes we don’t, because we can’t always pay our bills and even if we have hot water, she yells, “That water isn’t hot enough, boil it some more, I like my whites white! And don’t touch that pot, it will burn the hell out of you.”  It takes three giant pots of water to wash the whites.  We make one pot of hot for the colored clothes, mixed with cold water.  For dark colors or when we are lazy and don’t care if we stink and our whites are dingy, we can wash in cold, which is never.

The cold water comes from the hose, which tastes like the metal ring at the end of the hose. The hose runs from around the side of the house and we prop open the screen door to keep it from pinching the water off.  This lets the flies in, but there isn’t any other way to get the hose into the back room.  Then we spend the afternoon killing flies with the pink and white flyswatter that has a long wire handle and is covered in guts. Sometimes in a pinch Momma will swat us with the flyswatter, if the paddle isn’t close enough.

I fill the washer with hose water, turn off the water and unhook the hose from the faucet and leave it lying on the ground, but far away from the house so when the water we drain from the washer comes out, it doesn’t run back on the house and rot the foundation.  I learn a lot from Momma, she explains things as she goes along and I might not understand it all, but I am good at remembering.  I have to know everything or else someone yells about something, so it’s easier to remember everything and do what I need to do right, the first time.

Momma let’s everything soak for at least 30 minutes because we are all so Gaadamn dirty.

Once the clothes have soaked, Momma plugs the electric cord into the light bulb on the ceiling and then she lets me flip the switch that turns it on.  The washer makes a loud grinding noise and the whole backroom shakes. We let it agitate, that’s Momma’s word for swirling the clothes around, for 10 or 15 minutes; standing there not hearing another sound in the world except the grind of the washer.  After agitating, I take the end of the hose and screw it to a spout that comes out of the bottom of the washer, the spout is old and needs to be cleaned with “C Cleaner” which Momma says gets the calcium off.  We open the spout on the bottom and drain the dirty water outside through the hose.

I run outside to watch the water come out and make sure there are no hair or other clogs that back it up.  I hope with everything that there is no clod of hair that gets stuck. I almost throw up thinking about it having to touch it. The water flows dark and murky, making a trail down the dirt driveway.

Once the water has drained, we taking the sopping wet clothes and run them one by one through the wringer to squeeze out all the water.  I am not allowed to put them through the wringer. I am not old enough yet.  My job is to catch the clothes as they come out.  Momma doesn’t like them slapping onto the dirty floor when they come out all squished flat.

Then we rinse the flattened clothes by adding cold water from the hose into the washer and firing it up again.  One more time through the wringer and they are ready to hang on the line in the yard.  There are two lines, one short and one long, both run from the house to the barn, which doesn’t work like a barn anymore, it’s now just an old building full of junk and wasps.  It does have an outhouse on the side of it, but you can’t go to the bathroom in there anymore, it’s been sealed up tight.

Momma doesn’t talk much during laundry, she explains what she’s doing so I know how to do it on my own one day and she yells out things to do “Degreaser!” “Turn the hose on!”  “Now turn it off Gaaddamn it!”

Before we start hanging the clothes, we start another load to soak.

I’m not allowed to hang the clothes, because Momma says “You don’t hang things right, they’ll come out all wrinkled if you hang them, and I’m not spending the whole day ironing.  You’ve got to hang them so the breeze can get through them.”  I don’t even hang socks right, which are supposed to be easy.  My job is to hand things to Momma real fast so they don’t get too wrinkled sitting in the basket and then I take a metal pole and raise up the laundry on the wire.  It’s heavy to lift, but I can do it even when Mom yells at me not to.  I just laugh when she yells when we are in the yard, because she is too far away to smack me.  While she’s hanging the laundry I look for wasps and bugs that bite because I’m afraid of them.  If I see a wasp or a bee, I run in the house until it goes away.

“Get your ass back out here” Mom says, but I just pretend I can’t hear her.  I’d rather hear Momma yell than get stung by a wasp.


I had no idea that there is any other way to do laundry, in the winter we do go to the Laundromat sometimes, so I know that there are indoor washers and dryers, but I have no clue that someone could actually buy one and have it in their house.  I also have no idea that all my other friends are having their clothes washed inside their own house.  I assumed that everyone washes clothes like it’s 1950.

I’m sure it seems that Momma was mean to me, but I never saw it as mean, she had no patience for misunderstanding and if you did something wrong or ruined the load of wash, it could cost her hours of time.  I learned to cook the same way, trial by fire, get it right or get the hell out of the kitchen!  If you put too much salt or milk in something you were helping Momma make, it could mean none of us ate that day.  I understand why she felt like doing it herself was faster.  She was doing the best she could and for that I’m thankful.


As promised last month – here is an excerpt from my memoir.  Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you.  

LIFE is about connection

Follow the threads, follow the connection – what led you to here? And to hear? And what do YOU hear?

For a few short moments before posting this, I had to relax my breathing, remember, that this too is part of the story, my story.  I then went to Twitter, you know – to distract myself and a message from the universe appeared – I’m headed in the right direction.

From Anne Lamott – You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.      

~July 1974~

I am lying in Momma’s bed, which is my bed too. I am four and wearing my pink nightgown. I don’t like pink, but since I’m a girl I have to wear it. My blond hair is ratty and laying on the pillow.  I don’t like to comb it, ever.  My mouth is crusty on the side from drooling through the night. I have one of my stick legs kicked out of the covers because I get hot sometimes.

The queen-sized bed is parked in the left corner of the room against the wall.  I sleep closest to the wall so I won’t fall out of the bed.  I never thought I would fall out of bed, but Momma says “Gaaddamn it, move over or you’ll fall right out.”  One of Momma’s favorite words is “Gaaddamn it”, with an A drawn out right in the beginning, she strings it on to the front or end of most any sentence.  Her favorite is when she’s trying to yell at one of us and can’t get to the right name fast enough, “Billy, Jenny, Patrick, Michael, Peggy….Gaaddamn it, Amy Beth!”

I stay in the middle as best I can. Momma sleeps near the window and I’m glad because if anyone ever breaks in, she’ll get them before they get me. She’s tough.  She had me when she was 46. She says “No one has a normal baby at 46, most of them come out retarded.”  She can also knock you into next week with one backhand and that means strong.

Momma has a few things on the top of the brown wooden headboard.  A bobby pin, which she uses to clean her ears in the morning, a jelly jar full of water that is mine that I drink out of when I get thirsty at night and her reading glasses which are smeared and greasy on the front. I don’t know how she sees out of them.  She once let me try them.  They made me blind. If I touch the bobby pin or glasses, she gets so mad at me and yells loud. “Gaaddamn it Amy Beth – if I told you once, I told you a hundred times. Don’t touch my Gaaddamn glasses.”

I am the last of Momma’s ten babies, and the last always sleeps with Momma, there isn’t room anywhere else.  There is only one real bedroom in our house.  It is at the top of the stairs, that Momma can’t climb because she is too fat.  If we’re trying to get away from Momma that’s where we go – right up those stairs.  Outside of that room is a landing where there are 3 more beds.  Downstairs behind the kitchen is a pantry that we use as a bedroom.  The pantry, the bathroom and the room upstairs have doors on them. None of the other rooms do. Momma’s room is big and wide with 3 windows, but it is not really a bedroom, it is more like a living room or something else, but we use it as a bedroom.  There is a walk-in closet sized room off of Momma’s room that my oldest brother Mark sleeps in.

When I wake up and am scared at night I twirl a ringlet of Momma’s hair between two fingers.  It is smooth and silky.  I want to put my whole face in her hair to be close to her.   I never get very much time alone with her, except here – in the bed, in the middle of the night, she is all mine. Sometimes, I twirl her hair too tight and she wakes up and yells “Gaaddamn it, what are you doing!?” and then falls right back asleep.

In bed, short rays of sun dance in through the windows, shining spots onto my blanket. I stare at the wall where there is plaster missing. Chunks of plaster are missing from the walls in spots all over the house. Some are small, like my hand, others are as big as my whole body.  In the places where the plaster is missing I can see thin boards that are rough and splintery, in between them there is gray rocky plaster. I am not supposed to pick at it.

When Momma is out of the bed and I am alone, I do pick at the plaster.  I hold my hands down as long as I can, but they just want to pull that plaster out. I try to see if I can pull out long pieces without breaking them. My finger is just the right size to fit in the space between the boards. The plaster is cool on my warm hands, rough, but falls apart easy.  I line up the pieces I pull out of the wall on the bed next to me, brushing the crumbs onto the floor.  Sometimes plaster falls back into the wall where no one will ever see it.

There are thin gray hairs in the plaster.  My brother, Bobby, who is next oldest to me, 5 years older, tells me “There is horse hair in that plaster.”  I don’t believe him, because he also tells me that a tiny little witch lives in the knot, which looks like a tiny little door, in the giant maple tree by the Arnold house, 3 houses down from ours.  I don’t walk past the front of that tiny little door by myself though, just in case he is right.

After lining the pieces up, I imagine they are rock candy.  I lift each one as soft as I can and bite the end of it. I like the longest pieces best, fully formed and taken from their home in the wall. Biting off the end of a long piece is the best feeling in the whole world.

They taste like what I think chalk might taste like.  I know not to eat chalk, but I can’t help from eating the plaster.  I try not to as hard as I can, but I love the gritty feel and the crunching it makes when I bite down on it with my small black teeth.  Most people have white teeth, but mine are white and black.  Rotten.

I am careful to hide the pieces behind the blanket because if I get caught I will get the paddle.  I don’t know why I get the paddle for eating plaster, I can’t help but eat it.

Bobby walks in the room. He is taller than me with sparkly blue eyes, a mop of blond hair that swoops down on the left side of his face and freckles on his nose.  I hurry and cover the pieces of plaster, my mouth is full of it though and he sees me.

“Mom, Amy’s eating the plaster again!” He yells behind him, flat, focused, as if he sees me doing this every day.

“It’s going to rot your teeth out you know?”

I don’t know that it’s going to rot my teeth out, they are already rotten and I hardly ever eat plaster.

Momma comes in the room marching her fat body over to the bed, snatches back the covers and looks at me with her serious sad face and saggy skin hanging down, her black and gray curls bouncing around.

She looks sad and then angry, “Gaaddamn it, quit picking at the plaster, you kids will ruin this Gaaddamn house one day. Amy Beth, I told you to stop eating that goddamn plaster. Now get out of that bed.”

Bobby sticks his tongue out at me.

Momma grabs my arm, her short fingernails biting into me through my nightgown and yanks me out of the bed and onto my feet on the floor in front of her.

I finish crunching my plaster.

“Momma, I don’t want to eat it, I have to.” I look up at her with the saddest eyes I know how to make.

“I’ll teach you to eat that plaster, I’ve warned you enough.”

I drag my feet as she keeps hold of my arm and pulls me into the living room, which is just outside our bedroom.

“No Momma, no Momma, please no Momma.” I cry before the paddle is even down off the hook.

The paddle is made of wood.  On one side it has a saying on it that I can’t read and some kids standing against a fence with their butts out like they are about to get spanked.  On the other side Momma has written the names of every person she has ever spanked with that paddle.  The list goes all the way down. Linda, Brian, Kloosie, Joey, Chrissy, Billy, Jon Jon, Heather, Kelly, Denise, Tom…so many I can’t keep count.

If Momma likes you, she hits you nice and soft.  If Momma’s mad, she hits you mean and hard.  She’s always hitting someone with something, whatever is closest, she’ll throw things too and she has a good aim. She’ll spank a neighbor kid as fast as she’ll spank any of us and then send them home saying “Go ahead and tell your Momma I spanked you and see if she doesn’t hit you too.”

I put my hands over my butt so she won’t swing the paddle.

“Move ‘em, or I’ll hit ‘em!”

“No Momma, I’ll be good I promise.” I cry

“I’ve warned you enough, now move ‘em.”

I hear the paddle swing back through the air and move my hands just as it reaches my butt.

I jump forward a little, but Momma still has my arm so I can’t get away.  Smack, it stings and I feel the heat of the stinging run out and down my legs, smack, smack, smack.

Five times.

She turns my arm loose and I fall on the ground crying as loud as I can.

Momma puts the paddle back on the hook and walks toward the kitchen.

Bobby stands over and whispers. “I told you not to eat the plaster.”

Momma hears him and yells back toward us “You’ll be next it if you don’t stop it Mister.” And I laugh through my tears. I laugh.


It was a different time, it was a different place, I can make all the excuses in the world for my Mother, but when it comes down to it, she didn’t know what else to do. I suppose, if I had lived her life, I may have been the same. A man who she kept getting pregnant with, and him never fully being responsible for us kids – he was married to someone else, little income, ten kids, a 9th grade education, depression, worry, worry.  She was a victim of her own circumstance, but she didn’t have the skills or the courage to do anything else. She had her reasons for being sad, miserable and for lashing out when she’d had enough.

I used to be afraid to talk about my story, other than making fun of myself and of how I grew up, not realizing that it was terrible to do that. My psyche suffered for years. I now have compassion and empathy for the me that was and for the work that I had to do as an adult to become less caught up in this old story.  I used to think if people FOUND OUT who I was, everything I was working toward and even my identity could be taken away.  I don’t think I even had an identity, I was just muddling along, muddling along, doing the things everyone does, job, home, tv, blah, blah, blah.  I was powerless. In time and through therapy, reading, and believing, I’ve realized that I am powerful and I make my own destiny, I do not have to go back and no one can take this away from me, ever, unless I choose to let them.

For those who say forget your past and move on, I believe there is something valuable at examining your past and figuring out why you do the things you do. Figuring out the why I do it in most everything, has become a passion for me. Sometimes when you find the answer to the why, you don’t need to do it anymore.

By examining the past, I can decide if the story makes me who I am or is just a story that is holding me back from being more alive, a story that creates anxiety. I can decide if I want to change it or keep it. The stories don’t have to keep hurting you forever; you can unravel the mystery.

In writing this particular story I did unravel a mystery, Gypsum, which is in horsehair plaster, reduces fever, according to Chinese medicine.  I always kicked my leg out of the bed, maybe I had a fever and my four-year-old body was craving what it needed to do to cool it.  Gypsum.  I now know to listen to my body – thankfully at the moment, it is not craving plaster.

My whole life has been pushing me to this moment – where I can say, I’m me and that’s all that matters and I know who I am and what I want in the world.

I am not a victim. I got out of there. I have the skills to figure it out.

I do believe my life’s experiences made me who I am today – and I kind-a like who I am today. My past is the reason today – I am fierce in my life, I LOVE fully, and I LIVE fully, without regret. Live.

For some reason, I got out of where I was, not everyone does, but hopefully I can help people see that you can change your life, even if it feels like it is too late, even if you had a wonderful childhood but life feels like it sucks right now, you can change it.  If you don’t like how your life is – Change IT.

And I know I’m constantly quoting Danielle LaPorte, but – You can’t face forward until you’ve processed your past.  

And then I shivered, I’m headed in the right direction.

What do you hear when you tell yourself some story from your past?  How does it make you feel? 




Two notes about this writing session and all future writing sessions that are memoir related, this is my memory of how things were. I have a big family and I’m sure they may remember some things differently or they may remember things that I don’t.  All names have been changed, other than mine, Bobby and Michael’s.  Bobby and Michael – didn’t get out. They died in 1996 and 1991 respectively – more on that in another session.


Whenever beginning a new journey, feeling out of sorts, not sure of where I’m going, or that I’m not enough – I begin to stock up. In my mind, MORE = SAFETY. 

It is not only about food – toilet paper, paper towels, emotions – they all fall in the same category.

I know, rationally, that I don’t need things in large quantities to make me feel safe. But there’s a part of me that wants that – however unnecessary it might be. My psyche wants to feel safe and this is how it knows how.

I have learned to watch patiently as I go through what I must go through, but I also have the ability to coach myself and remind myself of what’s important to me and how different my life is at this point in time compared to how it used to be. What’s now is not what was then.

Coming from poverty, we didn’t always have enough – money, food, light, electricity, hot water, love – I understand that this is what I’m feeling when I feel out of sorts. Rationally, I know I’m going to be fine, I’ve always been fine. But my pure animal instincts* do not understand that I am going to be fine.  So in my case I stock up. I get ready for the other shoe to drop, for the lights to go out, or the barn to burn down.

I used to think if I had a house, money in the bank, and a decent car, I’d feel safe.  It was always the struggle to get them.  Then when I had those things – what? – nothing had changed. I still didn’t feel safe. I had to go deeper to find what I really needed and that was to know myself a bit better, to understand what I was doing when I was stocking up and how there might not be the same need now.

A life truly lived constantly burns away veils of illusion, burns away what is no longer relevant, reveals our essence, until, at last, we are strong enough to stand in our naked truth ~ Marion Woodman

By going deeper, asking myself what it really takes for me to feel safe, I’ve learned safety is something I carry with me, inside me.  I had to drop the illusion that more was making me safe.  I don’t need anything else to make me feel safe but me.
Me = Safe.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that if I need to stock up, I will. I’m not denying myself the right to feel safe, only questioning my own motives about what safety means. Old habits and the old stories we tell ourselves die hard.

Be easy on yourself when you need to, but there is something powerful in asking the question – What illusions are holding you back from truly living?

What makes you feel safe?  What old stories are you telling yourself?

*animal instincts reference from Peter Levine’s – Waking the Tiger