After challenging a friend to contribute an essay for This I Believe, I have been trying to write my own. I decided that my pessimistic views already had an outlet, so I would choose to write about a positive belief I maintain. This has proved a difficult task. Apparently, I don’t have any positive beliefs that aren’t obvious.
After cycling through all of my philosophical and spiritual ideas, I know that I don’t truly believe any of them. With the word of belief being so watered down, I don’t want to hold it so lightly when I transcribe my thoughts. Anything that I hold in high esteem can be eventually disproven, for they are all theories without true empirical data to back them. It would be nice to discover that the “God” element is “Love” which every cell is made from, but that is already under doubt with scientists trying to prove that love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain to help maintain a species – a survival instinct.
Once I had thrown all of that out, I moved onto the important things in my life that I do believe. Food has always been important in my life because I am decent at whipping up a meal that can keep a group of people happy. Once I had expounded on that thought, I began reciting a Jim Gaffigan bit in my head and specifically the line:
“I hate that guy.”
“Cake in the conference room.”
“I should see how he is doing.”
Not wanting to attempt to recreate that genius, I moved on to other topics. Without any fruit available from the tree, I am left thinking that I don’t have any true beliefs; just a series of ideas and hopes. But not to leave the task alone, I will share one idea that I do hope can evolve into a belief one day in way more than the 500 words alotted.
One thing I think that Hilary Clinton was right about was that it does take a community to raise a child. I remember hearing it bounce around the media outlets when it was said, and it passed just as quickly. It seemed to be just another slogan to bolster a political career, another catch phrase fad to warm the hearts of a skeptical America. An idea that had foundation and creedence, but the effort required would mean change which meant work. I have seen what America thinks of drastic change. It is great as long as it stays an idea. Once the need for work arises, daily life squelches the idea into a conversation topic that provides a soft place to rest your head and nothing more than that. Look at the Green Movement.
I am a product of many different parents. None that I love more than my natural, birth parents, but those responsible for my upbringing are a diverse bunch. With a father that worked more than eighty-hour weeks to keep food on the table and a mother that created and sold countless arts and crafts to pick up the fiscal slack, babysitters where a necessity for me and my three sisters. Each caregiver teaching me something new that I still carry with me today.
For the convenience, family is a great source of child care. I remember spending hours with my maternal grandmother to split pea pods, green beans and prepping many other fruits and vegetables for meals or canning. It is amazing how something that is such a tedious, menial task can be so enjoyable when I was young. I always had a sense of pride from helping my Mamaw create these edibles, and her canned green beans always tasted infinitely better than store-bought anyways. She is the person that I ask these days when I am planting my own backyard garden. I only hope I inherited at least some of her growing ability.
Other than Mamaw, the Cronin kids ran the aunt circuit while growing up. My mom’s younger sister Dodie was the first to take on the task, and the hours of fun that I had growing up as her and her husband Tommy’s surrogate child. The things I remember the most from stays with them (other than the swing in the backyard, ice pops and the neighbors’ pool) was my aunt always testing me on many topics, but mainly math and how both of them were so generous to not only me (spotting me the quarters to play poker, then letting me win and keep all of the winnings), but everyone they knew. That eternal generosity at their own expense still amazes me to this day, and I occasionally strive to give as much as they have.
From my dad’s side of the family, my Cronin crew had also spent many days with my aunt and uncle, Gayle and Barry. With them having two children of their own at the time, me and my sisters had a new family with playmates about the same age. What was great about the Overstreet family, outside of video games, movies my parents wouldn’t let me watch at home and a male peer to cause havoc with, was that my uncle Barry ran a vending business. Coming from a home where candy was reserved for holidays for the sake of health, teeth and whatever other crap a child doesn’t want to hear, staying at a place where there was mountains of soft drinks and candy bars is the Holy Grail of destinations. All of this sugar-infused joy did come with a small price. At the end of each day, an exhausted Barry would come home with a ton of coins that had to be sorted and one-dollar bills that all had to face the same way so the bank would accept them. But for me, seeing this money, and getting to hold it was awesome. I got to see what Barry’s work had gained for him that day. Later in life, when I helped Barry run the vending route for a summer, I fully came to understand why he was exhausted at the end of each day and those bags of coins and stacks of one-dollar bills don’t seem to equal the amount of determination and work he puts in to his route each day.
As I got older, my mom’s youngest sister, a scant eleven years older than me joined in the rearing of me and my sisters. In her high school years, my older sister and I were taken on a date with to see The Little Mermaid. (Little did I know that the VHS of that movie would be the bane of my existence in a few years when my youngest sister, Danielle was learning that she could sing.) This is the same aunt that first showed me the Star Wars Trilogy that she had on VHS and took me to see all three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies in the theater for my birthdays and between her and Papaw, taped all of the Star Trek: TNG episodes which meant marathons whenever Pete’s Dragon wasn’t in the VCR. My sisters and I would fight over who got to go to U of L with her on a late night so she could meet her deadline at the paper, which would carry the fight on to see who got to spend the day with her at 84 WHAS radio and get to see all of the local newscasters from the radio and television news between doing tedious, menial jobs that seemed amazing at the time, like erasing four-tracks for the next batch of radio commercials. Once, I even was interviewed by Terry Miners on the air after my aunts news report. I had arrived in this world; I was on the radio.
Outside of family, we had several baby-sitters that we stayed with while my parents were out making it possible for us to continue on in the world. Some of them I remember better than others, but all taught me something. Like the family we would occasionally stay with that had the father we never saw, but was always there asleep due to his third shift job. It never occurred to me that it was possible to stay up all night, much less that people had to work during those hours. My own third-shift experiences in college proved to be quite horrible for anyone wanting to stay connected to reality.
The most memorable surrogate family I had in my childhood lived right up the street from my house. Every weekday in the summer, my mom would drop us off and the adventures would begin. The mom, a dedicated, evangelical vegan taught me about the people that aren’t right in this world; the people that stand off on purpose. I don’t care what you do to it, you can not trick me to think that tofu is meat. You can however, home school your kids and scare me with the thought of having my sisters as classmates every day. You can also take the unexpecting Catholic children to the occasional Saturday service at your local Seventh Day Adventist Church and expose me to a whole different way of religion. The forced naps, and strange cuisine aside, I couldn’t have asked for a more eye-opening series of experiences. The world was never quite the same after the time spent with that family.
With all of this, but yet so much more all occurring before my teenage years, I entered those teen years as an amalgamation of experiences that gave me a solid starting point to be who I am today. My inquisitive mind open to all experiences that lay before me, I feel that I had a great point of view to shape and reshape my world view as more unfolded in my life. I hope that many more children have the opportunity to have so many parents to impart such diverse lessons that can help create a more open-minded, well-rounded society.