The scent of eucalyptus calms me, brings me a sense of peace and tranquility. Essential oils enthusiasts say it’s supposed to be energizing, but it doesn’t have that effect on me.
Growing up in Southern California, I lived one block off the main drag into Ramona and that main drag was lined with towering eucalyptus trees. I don’t recall actually smelling the trees then and I’m sure the fact that they gave off such a wonderful odor didn’t register in my childish brain. But now the scent brings me back to that idyllic time in my life.
It was a time of bicycle rides on dusty dirt roads to the library or to a friends, mud pies and Easy Bake oven cakes, and swimming in the above-ground pool in the back yard. Those were the days of hamsters and sunshine and warm Santa Ana winds, of forgetting my jacket at school because it was so warm by the end of the day that I didn’t need it, even in the middle of winter. They were the days of arranging all my stuffed animals into jump-rope pens like I was a zookeeper.
To be sure, all was not perfect then. There was the kid down the street who teased me relentlessly. There was my sister who yelled at me a lot, and hated purple simply because it was my favorite color.
My sister was a big part of my life then. I always refer to her as “my sister,” as if I only have one. I have three sisters, but Berta was closest to me in age, just three years older, and the only one I remember living in the same house with. I have a brother, too, who is 17 years older than me. I usually refer to him as “my brother Tom.” I’m not sure why he and my sister Peggy and my sister Suz always get their names added, and Berta is just “my sister,” but that’s the way it is.
Objectively speaking, life was good.
But I did learn some things during those early years that stuck with me through much of my adult life.
I learned that cancer sucks. Twice my mom went into the hospital with cancer, once with breast cancer (which her sister had died of) and once with uterine cancer.
The first time, I was allowed into her room and ate her Jello so she could come home sooner. The second time, they put her in the maternity ward because the cancer ward was full. Kids weren’t allowed in the maternity ward, so I had to stay alone in the waiting room. And I worried. But she survived both bouts with the dreaded disease, which did get her in the end, but that’s a story for another chapter.
Another thing I learned was that books are the best things ever. Every other week I would ride my banana-seat bike to the library, fill my handle-bar basket with books, and head back home past the eucalyptus trees to hole-up in my room and read. I spent a lot of time in my room reading even when the sun was out (which, frankly, was most of the time). When my two-week check-out was up, I’d head back to the library. To this day I am dangerous in a bookstore because I can’t seem to walk out empty-handed. (I gave up on libraries several years ago because I would forget to return the books and have to pay fines for overdue books. It killed me to pay the library for a book I couldn’t keep.)
I learned that saving money is a crock. One year my parents gave my sister and me $10 a week allowance. We would drive down to the Savings and Loan every week with our personal passbooks and deposit half our money in the bank. I thought I was saving for whatever I might want some day—some big ticket item that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to get or maybe just a bunch of books. Then one day my dad drove us to the Savings and Loan and had us withdraw all our money for the family vacation. I didn’t even want to go on vacation and have to ride in the back with my sister. It was a long time before I learned the value of saving money or felt in control of the money I saved.
I learned that fresh vegetable are delicious and canned ones are disgusting. But that growing fresh vegetables is hard work. We had a garden that spanned the whole width of our half-acre lot. We grew green beans, carrots, radishes, cucumbers (and dill), tomatoes, and more. We ate canned vegetables sometimes when the fresh ones were gone, but to this day I can’t eat canned peas or green beans.
But most important to my story is that I learned no one wanted to hear me cry. When I was little, I had a temper like a small hurricane. I didn’t like to be teased and would become angry and cry if anyone teased me. I was always told, “Go to your room and cry. No one wants to hear you crying.” So I did.
But the temper tantrum didn’t end there. You see, the way our house was designed, my bedroom was, I think, supposed to be a family room. It had two doors opposite one another so that it functioned as a hallway between the dining room and the back hallway where the bathroom and other bedrooms were. When I was sent to my room, I would run into the room and slam one of these two doors. Because of some principle of physics that I don’t even remotely understand, the door would not completely close and the slamming would cause the other door to fly open and hit the closet. So then I would run over and slam that door, with the same result, until my mom yelled, “Quit slamming those G** damned doors!”
The belief that no one wanted to hear me cry or to witness my temper tantrums stuck with me for a long time. The way I’ve always interpreted that statement is that no one cares how I feel. When bad things happened to me later in life, I told no one because I didn’t think they would care. When I was the most depressed, I kept it a secret because I was ashamed of feeling so bad and didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
It turns out that many of the things we learn as kids just aren’t true.