After three days cramped in the back of our station wagon from Pennsylvania to Colorado, I was happy to stretch my legs. I was also sad to say goodbye to my older brother Dave.
I was 10 years old, the youngest of four, and often felt left out from the conversation sitting in rear of the car. Dave was off to college, and I was able to take his place in the back seat between my other siblings, Tim and Anne.
However, I soon discovered the back seat wasn’t as comfortable as I had imagined. My legs straddled the floor hump and my arms squashed close to my sides with my hands folded across my lap. I was very tempted to climb back with the suitcases just to have more freedom.
Instead of going directly back home, Dad drove down to New Mexico. Mom was anxious to visit her Aunt Gertrude, and Dad wanted us to experience a different culture. Every vacation seemed to have an educational spin to it.
Several hours had passed. With my stomach growling, I asked, “Are we there yet?” Dad responded, “Just another hour or so. Let’s play a game and see how many different things we can spot as we approach Albuquerque.”
“OK, I saw a teepee a while back.” Mom helped us keep track: tumbleweeds, horses roaming free, cactus, dirt instead of grass, very few trees, rocks everywhere, and small huts for houses. When I turned around to look out the back window, the mountains appeared smaller as we continued driving toward New Mexico.
Minding My P’s and Q’s with Aunt Gertrude
A plump, older woman with gray hair stood at the door when we pulled into a driveway. I could see the resemblance of my grandmother in her face, despite the wrinkles.
“Anne, Tim and Susan, this is my Aunt Gertrude,” my mom said. “She is my mom’s sister.”
“Hello,” we politely responded. I reached in to shake her hand, but she grabbed me for a tight embrace. She even smelled old, like her clothes were kept with moth balls. Stepping into her living room was like walking into an antique shop. Everything was old-fashioned – furniture, fancy china and picture frames full of black and white photos.
She gave us a quick tour of her house pointing out the photos of long lost relatives, and then she served us some freshly squeezed lemonade. I drank my glass down fast hoping to get another cupful, but mom shook her head no. She had taught me to only take what is offered.
Just when I thought this was going to be another boring visit, she led us out into the backyard. To my surprise, I saw a swimming pool. I gleamed with excitement. After sitting in a hot car for several hours with the heat of the sun blaring down on us, my siblings and I were ready to jump right in. Aunt Gertrude gave us permission to take a swim, and it didn’t take long to put on our suits and jump in.
Mom and Dad sat in the shade with Aunt Gertrude while us kids had fun in the water. We did somersaults and practiced diving off the side. We were startled to see a hose moving at the bottom of the pool. Aunt Gertrude called it the snake. I was about to climb out until she explained it was actually a vacuum to keep the pool free from debris. She assured us it was okay to swim around it. So, we swam and splashed around, screaming and laughing, and having fun.
After dinner, my siblings and I went upstairs while the adults stayed up to chat for a while. Looking out the window we could see millions of stars in the sky. Wow, we even pointed out the milky way. It was so quiet and peaceful there.
No Hablo Chili in Old Town Albuquerque
The next morning, we packed the car and said our goodbyes. Before heading back to the interstate, Dad wanted to give us an authentic experience. We went to Old Town Albuquerque and walked around the shops. Although I wanted an Indian headdress and a pair of drums, I could not purchase them. My sister was eye-balling the leather vests and moccasins. Mom enjoyed looking at the Indian jewelry, beads, and mini-animal statues. Tim liked the bows and arrows and the Indian toys on display. Dad only eyed the prices of everything and kept shaking his head no.
We came upon a small restaurant. I was glad to see hotdogs on the menu, but Dad told us to order something Mexican. The menu didn’t appear to be written in English, there were a lot of words I couldn’t pronounce like burritos, enchiladas, and guacamole. The only thing that looked somewhat familiar was the word chili. So my siblings and I decided to order it, even though it wasn’t wintertime.
When the waiter took our order, he asked if we wanted red or green chili. I thought, “Hmm, I don’t remember Mom ever putting green beans in her chili.” So, I spoke up and said red. Both Tim and Anne responded the same way.
When our chili arrived at the table, I put my spoon in and lifted it up but no beans.
I put a spoonful into my mouth, and it felt like my mouth was on fire.
“Dad, please pass the wa…ter,” I cried as my mouth felt like it was on fire.
I quickly grabbed a glass of water and drank it all down.
Although I was plenty hungry, I could only eat a few more spoonfuls. Anne was the only one of us who finished hers, as we were taught to eat everything on our plates (or bowls in this case).
As it was, we went through six pitchers of water during our meal. We realized the waiter wasn’t referring to beans but he meant the sauce, the type of chili pepper not the color of the beans! Later, we found out that the green chili was even hotter than the red. We couldn’t imagine that!
As we were making our way back to the car, my tummy growling and mouth still a little fiery, Dad gave us each fifty cents to spend in a trading post. I bought the Mexican jumping beans and they lasted the entire car ride back home.
Find Your Voice and Make New Rules
I was raised during a time when children were seen and not heard. This rule was in effect every evening before dinnertime when my parents closed themselves off in my dad’s study. We were especially warned when my parents had friends over at the house, “No voices, no noises, and no fraternizing with the company.” When we were hungry, we would sneak down into the kitchen to get a snack. It was easier to sneak past our parents, than it was to keep their friends from stopping us to talk to them.
Perhaps, in some ways, being forbidden from conversations did more harm than good. Not having the opportunity to share my opinions kept them all jumbled up inside of me. When situations called on me to respond, I had trouble putting my sentences together. The fear of being laughed at, criticized, or rejected also came into play. So, it felt safer just to remain quiet.
It has always been easier to express myself in writing, but in order to help those who can’t speak for themselves I know I need to learn to speak up.
I took a risk…
…when I came out as gay. Although I still worry about what others think of me, I had to be honest with myself. My chapter in the new Amazon bestselling anthology, The Call to Soar, is titled Loving and Accepting Me. I write about how I found the courage to use my voice to support gay Christians who struggle with their identity in Christ. If I can help just one other person know that God loves them no matter what, I will have done well.
I’ve come a long way since the days of riding in the cargo area in the rear of our family station wagon. I am still learning how to stand confidently in my own shoes.
I’m learning to ask questions instead of assuming what others expect of me. I’m also learning to assert my needs without feeling like it is a confrontation.
Throughout our lives, we have experiences that teach us rules to live by. As we get older we realize some rules are meant to be broken. Staying quiet doesn’t always serve us or others.
We must use our voice to speak out against injustices or tell others they are not alone.
If I continue to quiet my message, then my words will burn inside me like the red chili in Albuquerque, and others will never know that there is help for them.
What rules did you learn growing up? Do you still follow them or have you found a new way of living? Leave me a comment below.