Today’s story came as the result of an exercise in It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. I’m working in chapter three, on connections. This question popped up during the Memoir Task, for ages 10-15.
Describe a time you felt supported during this period.
The first person who came to mind was Grandma Mildred.
This time period was full of big changes for me. My parents had divorced when I was nine. Instead of being estranged after the divorce, my mom and dad remained friendly and did a remarkable job of creating a supportive environment for me and my two younger sisters. I didn’t fully appreciate how amazing their joint parenting was until later.
However, immediately after I completed 6th grade, my mom made the difficult decision to move from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Noel, Missouri with her daughters. From my adult perspective I can understand why she made that choice. Her parents lived in that tiny town, right across the street from the elementary/junior high school. They were available to help with childcare. It was probably cheaper to live in Noel. And my mom had secured a job on Main Street in a clothing store.
Adult me understands. Twelve year old me was not happy about the move. I felt torn away from friends I had known all my short life. My classmates were moving on to Nathan Hale Junior High in Tulsa, without me. My dad now lived 113 miles away instead of a couple of miles. I would no longer be spending weekends with him. I didn’t like our rental house. And to go from a big city, full of places to visit and activities to do, to a tiny, sleepy town where nothing much seemed to happen was a culture shock. There is a great deal of charm to be found in small towns, but at the time I felt like I had been plopped down in Mayberry, and I didn’t see that as a favorable thing. Saying I was unhappy is an understatement. I was devastated.
As a result of the move, for the first time in my life, I experienced depression. I withdrew from everything and everyone. While my mom worked, my sisters and I stayed at our grandparents’ house during those long summer days. I sat day after day in my grandmother’s big old rocking chair, slowly rocking, staring at the wall, listening to Pop’s country and western albums on the record player. I could identify with those life has done me wrong songs.
My grandmother with my pony Ginger. This photo was taken the summer I was 13.
I honestly can’t remember what my sisters were doing after the move, or how they were doing. My focus narrowed down so much that I was only aware of my own dark little corner of the world and my misery. I might have stayed in that rocking chair all summer but after a suitable amount of time had passed, my grandmother intervened.
Her first plan of action was to gather together a group of girls who would be my classmates in my new school. It can be awkward and difficult meeting strangers, especially when one doesn’t want to. But after all the trouble she went to making arrangements, I couldn’t say no to her request. I finally got out of that chair and her house to interact with others. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the arranged meeting and some of those girls became good friends.
Inactivity was giving my mind too much time to dwell on Tulsa. Grandma remedied that. She invited me to help her bake goodies and snap green beans we picked from Pop’s garden and turn the crank on the manual ice cream maker. I began doing more and rocking in the chair less, thanks to her gentle encouragement.
And finally, one week before the fall semester started, my grandmother escorted me over to the junior high end of the school. She didn’t want me to walk into a strange place on the first day of school. The school was open as teachers prepared classrooms. We walked from room to room together. In the science/math room I met Mr. Stiles, a young teacher fresh out of college. He was new to teaching, although Noel was his hometown. He paused in his work to greet us and made me feel welcomed. When school started, I knew a few of the girls, and I knew the science/math teacher.
Writing about these memories today, I realized how incredibly wise and loving my grandmother was, and how supportive. She didn’t shame me or scold me for the way I felt. And, she didn’t allow me to wallow in my sorrow for long either. After letting me experience my feelings for a time, she got me up and engaging with life again. Grandma introduced me to my first friends in Noel, made sure my transition to a different school went smoothly, and got me busy with tasks to shift my thoughts, all while offering me her presence.
Kids and young teens can and do experience depression. I suspect it’s more common now than when I was a child. Withdrawal, lack of interest in things once enjoyed, anger, tears, fear, silence, acting out, poor school work and being disagreeable are all signs that a child may be struggling. How grateful I am for my grandmother, who recognized my depression and took steps to help me. If her actions had not succeeded I have no doubt she would have sought additional help for me.
Everything turned out fine. I made lots of new friends. I did well in school. I spent summers with my dad. We moved out of that rental and into a brand new house. And although I never became a big fan of small town living, I did come to recognize the benefits of a close knit community. As an adult I moved to a medium sized city. I love Joplin.
Thank you, Grandma Mildred, for bringing a sad mopey 12 year old back into the light of happiness. I love you. And I hope, as a grandmother myself now, I can be as wise.