Sharing My Back Story

From the desk of Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy………………..

Back Story

            Our blue collar working class neighborhood equaled the world to us in my childhood.  Those narrow streets lined with tired, worn houses provided shelter and a familiar refuge.  We shopped at the small markets within a few block radius, went to school, to church, and to our relatives, most of which lived within the same area.  St. Joseph’s Hospital – known in the ‘hood and community as “Sisters” – was where I was born and where the old folks went to die.

            Growing up there my life seemed destined to follow a particular path.  I’d grow up, go to the same high school my mother attended, graduate and get married to a boy from the neighborhood.  He’d work at the brewery a few blocks away, the same one with the whistle everyone used to keep track of time.  Or maybe he’d work at the packing house like my dad did or another factory or at Quaker Oats or if he were really a go-getter, he might become a postman like my uncle.

            I’d work, maybe in a nice office somewhere or if not, I’d be a waitress or sew hatbands onto men’s hats at the same sweatshop where my grandma worked.  Or I could wash the hospital’s dirty laundry including the priest’s smalls like my Granny.  If we could, maybe I’d be able to quit work when the inevitable kids came and if not, they’d go to Granny’s just like I did from the age of two months until school began for me.  The years would pass, the kids would grow and I’d get old, living the same lifestyle that nurtured me.  I’d go from girl to Granny myself in a few decades but it would be the natural order of things, the way of it all.

            Except I never quite fit the pattern.  Somehow from birth I was never quite the perfect little girl with ringlet curls and sweet demeanor my mother expected and as I grew up, I dreamed of another life, somewhere else and something different.

I may have left the old neighborhood behind but it lives within me, baggage that serves me well.  Along with the teachings of my family members, especially my Granny, I have the stubborn, fighting spirit that brought me here to keep me moving into the future.

            Girls from my old neighborhood, from my rough river rat hometown aren’t supposed to grow up and write novels or anything else.

            But one of my grandfather’s handed down a saying, “there is no such word as ‘can’t’” and so I grew up believing I could.  My father encouraged me to soar beyond the confines of the nest, to try my hand at writing and anything else tempting my fancy.  When I headed to college, he applauded and when I ran out of money before starting my senior year, he funded it.   He didn’t try to keep my home when I took off for California or stop me when I moved in with a man.  We won’t even talk about my mother’s reaction but let’s just call it classic and stereotypical. 

            If I hadn’t lived my back story, I probably couldn’t write the stories I do.  If I hadn’t left home and visited other places, maybe I wouldn’t be able to write the stories.  But the background, the neighborhood remains a foundation.  Instead of becoming my life, my growing up turned into my springboard to farther places and my past remains a touchstone.  I couldn’t write the stories without it either.

            Someone once made a lot of money by writing a book claiming everything he learned was in kindergarten.  I wouldn’t go as far to say I learned everything in the neighborhood which cradled me but I learned a lot and it travels along with me, baggage of my soul.

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Twitter: leeannwriter

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