Family Jewish Stuff Memoir

Moving Beyond Where I’m From

The place I grew up. My parents still live there.

i’m from a little gray ranch hidden behind overgrown bushes on a steep hill.

i’m from beneath the willow tree and a field-stone wall, peopled by imaginary friends.

i’m from high expectations. from complex equations left unfinished on the backs of paper restaurant menus; from pink plastic flowers; a bedroom with curtains that matched the wallpaper and the bedspread.

i’m from praise whispered in one ear and criticism hissed in the other. from “stand up straight” and “every penny counts” and “be a big girl.”

i’m from confuzzled truths and secrets and lies.

i’m from strong Judaism watered down. from Torah and tallit and kippot, lox and bagels, noodle kugel and matzah ball soup. from a broken Borscht Belt, stories of what once was, memories of a dark pew in a fire-bombed synagogue.

i’m from want. from a hot-headed Polish Papa who once threw his plate on the apartment floor. from his ketchup and eggs, like bloody clumps soaking into the carpet. and my Nan who silently cleaned up his mess.

(don’t tell me this isn’t true. i was there.)

i’m from a fractured family of brothers who tried to make a business work. from Muriel who nurtured her garden but didn’t do as well with her children. from Ruby who spent too many hours at the store and on the golf course, and smoked too many cigars.

i’m from cracked paint and faded couches; the girl hiding under a blanket in a drafty room.

i’m from a crooked house on a steep hill that rarely houses guests. from parents who were present but also not. from powerful magic love that made me feel invisible.

for too long a sense of obligation tethered me to all that grey.

i am done trying to please them.

time to take care of me.

Where are you from? Throw me one line.

• • •

This meme was very hot a while back, but I was not confident about sharing such a personal piece. Since then, I feel less afraid.

Thanks to Jenny Hansen for encouraging me to move beyond the first sentences and to Sharla Lovelace for inspiring Jenny. If you go to HERE, you will see this exercise is based on a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From,” and if you’d like to try it yourself, the original link is there.

34 thoughts on “Moving Beyond Where I’m From

  1. This is incredible, sharp, and real – makes me want to hug you! The criticism and praise part? Familiar, and so the first thing that jumps to mind is i am from being judged by one who would never admit how judgemental she was

    1. Oh Andrea, I would totally take that hug. I am truly a wounded girl trying to find her way in this world. I understand the concept of being judged by someone who denies she is being critical. That is precisely the kind of painful stuff that I hope didn’t heap on my son.

  2. This is really a vulnerable piece and something that is quite possibly necessary for each of us to examine … where we are truly from. I think it helps to guide and shape where we’re going?

  3. I love this post, and you’re inspiring me to do my own! I think I’ll also do this with my students. Just. Let. Me. Plan. My. Day. First…

  4. Fear stifles, courage fulfills.

    Renee, I stand up and applaud your courage! I might even do a chearleader cheer for you if don’t tell a soul afterwards. 😉

    Parental affirmation (as well as patient constructive criticism), ultimately in the spirit of love, is a huge thing to children. As teachers, you and I know this in our classrooms. Student’s faces and hearts LIGHT UP when you let them know how well they did on an assignment, test, or project! Do they not? Your family sounds similar to mine (and likely most?) in general terms. Paternal side was primarily former & current military; discipline & high expectations out the whaazooo! I get it Renee.

    Where am I from in one line? Sit down Renee and take a very deep breath. LOL

    I am an eighth-generation Texan, born in Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX from two parents with long, dancing “Waldensian” heritages of the Bonnet-clan of Chambons-Mentoulles of Cluson Valley, Italy and Lyon, France, and the Konzack-Tacquard-Miller Freethinking families of Picardy, France, and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Germany, most of whom were fleeing Roman Catholic persecution and Inquisition-death brigades before immigrating to Virginia and Maryland in the 1740’s (paternal), then Galveston, Texas in 1844 (maternal).

    By the way, my parents were BIG on geneology, 😉 …probably because we were considered heritics in Europe by the religious powers, and we wanted to our heritage to survive. Apologies that my one-line was so freaking long. Hope your not blue in the face from no oxygen after reading all of that —I’m a bit proud of my heritage. Thank you Renee for bearing with me. (((((hugs)))))

  5. My son had to write a piece similar to this–it’s based on a poem by someone (can’t remember who now!) and I love the cadence of it. I have had a similar entry in the works but can’t quite seem to say in as few words as I need to . . . kudos for pulling it off!

  6. I love the courage and insight it took for you to write this.

    I’m from:
    *Eat everything on your plate (any connection to my weight problem?)
    *You should make straight A’s like your sister (I love her anyway)
    *You may not transfer to TCU because Duke is more prestigious (so I graduated with no local network of contacts like my friends who stayed here had)
    *We don’t discuss such things-they’re not front parlor (don’t know what effects this one may have had on me)
    I’d have to think too hard to come up with all the other “I come froms”

    1. Yeah, those family truisms are interesting in the way they shape our lives. I’m trying to create my own truth these days. It’s not easy. Those voices of disapproval tend to ring in my ears. Thanks for sharing some of your story with me.

  7. I am from the house down the street, just like yours. Only I never knew it was just like yours or any other house for that matter, only as an adult did I find out I wasn’t alone growing up in a house just like “ours”… <3

  8. I come from down the hill.
    I come from being envious of all things new.
    I come from a very diffeent place now…
    but for some reason, my thoughts come back to you so often – Bubbly little princess, now brave, resilient woman shining light into so many dark corners.
    I come from love…. BRAVO ♡

  9. That could be my home, I know. Renee you are very courageous. We are all fighting a battle of some sort. It’s not easy to make it look effortless – because it isn’t. That isn’t an excuse, but perhaps a glimpse of why and how it could be any of us. May peace be with you and all of us.

  10. I think that many of us come from homes of unrelenting pain, of families split apart over the stupidity of harsh words thrown back as unrelenting grudge, where alcoholism created arenas of domestic and sexual abuse, and furthered fractured generations that followed, proof that sour grapes do leave a taste in the mouths of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, an unrelenting bitter taste…

    Renee, you are not alone. The addresses change. The ‘isms may differ. Siblings may be more or less. The pain is the same and threatens to swallow us all. Thank you for sharing where you are from. <3

    1. Dalta, those are the nicest words. Really. It’s easy to feel alone with all of this stuff. But you’re right, we all carry invisible baggage. Perhaps that will be the title of my book that I write. Eventually. Can we meet for coffee some afternoon? I’d like that.

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