Personal Journey

T is for Tory

T (1)Tory was an easy baby, the easiest child, the hardest teenager. I think each phase caused the next. You see, Tory was so breathtakingly sweet that losing her to the atmosphere was that much more bitter. By atmosphere, I mean adolescence. When a rocket re-enters earth, there is a gap in communication while it makes its way through the atmosphere. So you have this fun-loving little person, you have the atmosphere, and on the other side you have a reasonable, able-bodied young adult. I didn’t come up with this; I wish I had.*

Tory made it through the atmosphere. We all did. I remember the moment she turned in her flight suit. She smiled her dazzling and beautiful smile and said sweetly, “Mom, I just realized: I don’t hate you anymore.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” I answered.

Even when Tory was in the atmosphere she did great things. In high school speech and debate, one of my favorite Tory-moments occurred. It was her second year debating and she came up with a unique (and I thought– unbeatable) case. First, backtrack. There is an unspoken hierarchy in speech and debate. It’s not just a seniority gig. It’s also about dynasty. There are those families, you know, speech and debate royalty, who churn out generation after generation of final round winners. Then there are the plebianic masses who do their best to not wet themselves when they face a dynasty debater.

Some dynasty debaters didn’t think Tory’s case was worth a hill of beans, and they convinced her partner to scrap it. Tory, being shy and sweet and dynasty-less, was heart-broken. After all the work she put into it, they were going to scrap it because some Dons** didn’t like it?

Absolutely not, I told her. I got on the phone with the head of the program and outlined Tory’s case structure. “Is there anything wrong with this case?” I asked. She concurred that it was an ingenious case, that it would probably catch everyone off guard, and they should run it. They did run it, and they won with it over and over again.

This, from a 14-year-old who absolutely hated debate.

Then there’s her heart. ¬†At twenty, Tory’s not above playing basketball with Gabe or taking him to the movies. She gives me honest but gentle fashion advice and tells me the hard things not many people will. If I ask her, she’ll even read my fiction writing!

At both Wagner’s and Gymboree Tory was promoted into management. Now Tory works at Aeropostale, a company that perfectly suits her. She handles her college load and a growing financial responsibility–her first car! She and Bob spent many quality hours together car hunting, taking five duds to various mechanics and having them rejected. Finally, a winner!

Bob & Tory at the end of a long car-hunting journey. Victory!

When I think of Tory I think of her at her high school graduation party or at her 16th birthday luau. It’s a My Fair Lady image I have of Tory: grace and peace while she mingles with the people who have come out to love her and celebrate her.

Today it’s my delight to celebrate her in my own way. ūüôā

*The atmosphere. That little gem is from Dr. James Dobson, whose parenting books traditionally make me cry. Good tears, the kind that come when you realize you’re not an alien parenting– badly– from Mars, but that everyone struggles. Many of them are still on our shelves, including, The Strong-Willed Child, Bringing up Boys, Parenting Isn’t for Cowards,¬†and Night Light.

**Debate-Obsessed Nerd.

Personal Journey

D is for Darwinism

DWarning: some readers may find the following childhood memories too graphic. Darwin and I don’t agree on everything, but that didn’t stop me from acting out his theory of survival upon my brother. Yesterday I told you about Grandpop’s train set and how Kev and I would use it as a trouncing platform. For the truly competitive sibling, every venue can be twisted into such. Saints and Amish excluded. ¬†At three years older than Kev, the one doing the trouncing was almost always me. My boredom heralded his misery.

Exhibit A. My father’s picture of us “swimming.” I am smiling the hugest smile. Kev is red-faced and screaming with a wide open mouth (he looks really cute though). How does Darwin play out in a pool between two siblings? When one of them can’t swim and the other peels his chubby little fingers off the side of the pool in the deep end… that’s how.

Exhibit B. Hawker Russian Roulette. The game is played by first pinning your opponent to the ground and leaning over him. The next step is to dangle one’s spit as close to your opponent’s face as possible and then suck it back up before losing control of it. I lost that game a lot, on account of Kev’s squirming. That’s how it is with big sisters. Even when they lose they win.

Exhibit C. The garbage man. You know, irrational kid fear of the garbage truck. What do you think big sis did whenever she heard the rumble of the truck?

I could go on and on. I could have used each letter of the A to Z Writing Challenge to tell you all the ways I made my brother’s life hell. Life for my brother was always me, showing him which one of us was at the top of the food chain. That’s what bullies do: they let you know where you stand evolutionarily speaking.

So how is it I didn’t create a Jeffrey Dahmer with this recipe? I’m not sure, exactly. I believe God is merciful, that the human spirit is stronger than we know, that being bullied forces us to choose. Break or brace.

There came a point when the three years no longer gave me an edge. Kev remembers the day. It was like his own Ralphie moment. Or it could have been. He chose the high road. He chose not to pick on someone smaller than himself. Since that day I’ve tried to be the kind of person who would deserve such pardon. My brother would be the first to tell you: There are two Kelly’s.


Personal Journey

C is for Conniver

CConniver, third generation. That was me, per my grandpop. He used to tell me I was just like my mother and her mother. Even at ten years old I knew that wasn’t a compliment.

To be fair, Grandpop was right. My genetic predisposition for conniving would rear its ugly head whenever my little brother and I would visit. Want to see raw Darwinism play out between siblings? Give them a toy train set. And not just any old train set. Grandpop’s family room walls were bedecked in brightly colored train cars and peppered with black engines. The custom shelves held one car or engine per space, so not an inch was wasted, floor to ceiling. The room was host to one colossal train table, a child’s glory, a grandparent’s nightmare.

The table had a whole city laid out upon it, complete with an ice mill that moved the blocks along a conveyor belt, a sawmill that cut the trees into lumber, a pharmacy, a church, multiple glittering storefronts, neighborhoods, a fire station, even a little dog that peed on the hydrant as he circled round it (my personal favorite). Three tracks of varying sizes went around the periphery. Perfect for racing, but Grandpop did not allow his trains to be raced.

Connivers don’t much care for what’s allowed.

When Grandpop wasn’t looking we’d set objects on the tracks and try to pick them up again before the train ran them down. Sometimes we were successful. There was a certain number on the speed control, the number at which the train had to run, said Grandpop. That is the place it will never stay, said the conniver.

I didn’t understand¬†centrifugal force back then. I only knew that taking the turns above that number derailed the train, every time. The jagged sound of metal on metal and the absence of running train would bring Grandpop running. His automatic response to train calamities was a sort of minced oath: Galddarnert, spoken with lots of phlegm, just that one word. Then he would set the trains back to running again, a job too complex for our clumsy child fingers.

Stephen J. Seyer met three of his great grandchildren before he died. The last, Luke Stephen Griffiths, I named in his honor. At Grandpop’s funeral I mentioned his beloved trains. I saw them as a metaphor for life. Only now that my own fingers are old enough to right the calamities caused by conniving little fingers, do I see the man.