Princess Stephanie


Tuesday August 13th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I am still working every day to pare down my piles of clutter. I took two boxes of accumulated trinkets and baubles to a friend of a friend that will hopefully be able sell it all on Ebay, and then brought a couple of bags of clothing to a Salvation Army store. Little by little, it’s getting done.

   I witnessed something at the Salvation Army store that disturbed me greatly. There was a cute little curly red haired girl of maybe six or seven who was with a war pig that I assumed had to be her grandmother. Judging by her sour demeanor, it would be a major stretch to imagine any man sleeping with her recently enough to be the mother of this angelic little sweetheart. What a bitch.

   She was constantly scolding the kid as they walked through the store, and heaven forbid if she wanted to stop to look at something or play with a toy. I really felt for her, and could clearly see the look of hurt in her eye get worse every time the older woman would start getting on her case.

   She was a little kid. What kind of harm could she do in a thrift store full of donated junk people didn’t even want anymore? So what if she would have dropped a glass or something. How much would it have cost to replace it, a quarter? The old lady made it seem like it was a museum of art.

   Unfortunately, this was all too familiar of a scenario. My German grandmother had a similarly icy cold domineering persona, and I remember walking through stores with her catching the very same hell when I was that age. I couldn’t touch or look at anything or have any fun whatsoever.

   My grandmother was a dented can herself, but it wasn’t an excuse in my opinion to turn around and be so cold hearted to a kid. What’s the reason? I’ve read where people do that because it’s all they know, but one would think it would be the exact opposite – at least I would. But it isn’t so.

   I remember having my infamous one on one with my father when I was 31, and he told me that he’d had a face to face with my grandfather when he was the same age and told him he was upset about the way he was treated. Then he said something that chilled me to the bone. “And I turned right around and did it to my own kids. Isn’t that odd?” Odd? Uh-uh. Uncalled for? Absolutely.

   It has always scared me to death to have children because I was afraid I’d carry on that hideous tradition that has been so prevalent in my family. I’m sure it’s in every family to a certain degree, but mine takes it to a high level. I can’t think of any relatives who got to enjoy a childhood filled with Hershey bars and Archie comics – which is exactly what childhood is supposed to be about.

   After several minutes of watching this poor kid get yelled at, I felt like I had to somehow break the tension. I wanted to punch the old bag in the face, but I knew that was the wrong option so all I could think of was to drop a glass on the floor when they weren’t looking and break it. That got both of their attention along with a store clerk, and I immediately put all of the blame on myself.

   “OOPS!” I said aloud as the clerk came quickly over with broom and dust pan. The girl looked up with her pretty blue eyes as if she’d expected the old lady to spank us both but I said “I know a good kid like YOU would never break something like that, would you? That was MY fault.”

   I know how that works from when I was a kid. Someone else screwing up was a relief in that it took the heat off of me for at least a little while. I wish I wasn’t so familiar with this concept but I totally am. Life was full of constant tension as we waited for what would set the old man off.

   I figured that I would take some of the heat off the kid at least for a few minutes. The glass that I chose was only fifty cents and already had a crack in it, so I figured I’d make the investment for the kid’s sake. I knew it was none of my business – but it totally was. I could feel that kid’s pain.

   “She’s a BRAT” snapped the old lady when I said the kid was good. I wanted to kick her in her two ax handle wide ass right there. “NOOO, I think she’s a sweetie pie. I know a good kid when I see one and she is IT! Look at all those BEAUTIFUL red curls and those PRETTY blue eyes!”

   I could see the kid’s face start to light up as I said it, so I kept going. “Are you a PRINCESS?” I asked. She laughed out loud and said no, but I knew I had her going. “Well, I think you’re the prettiest girl in this whole place, and from now on you’re my new Princess. What’s your name?”

   “Stephanie,” she said barely audibly and with a slight lisp ala Cindy Brady. What a sweetheart.

   “Well, from now on you are PRINCESS Stephanie!” I said as I bowed low in front of her. “All hail the BEAUTIFUL Princess!” and I grabbed her hand and kissed it. The store clerk spoke very little English, but she was smiling as she finished cleaning up the glass. The old lady didn’t smile once, and grabbed Stephanie by the arm and they went on their way. I wanted to cry right there.

   I took a lap in the store to gawk at all the junk, even though I’m trying hard to divest myself of as much useless garbage as I can. I guess it’s force of habit, as I’ve gone through thrift stores for as long as I can remember. It’s cheap entertainment, and I had a few minutes to kill before lunch.

   As I walked out of the store I saw the two of them in line to check out. Stephanie smiled at me as I passed by, and I bowed low in front of her once again and waved good bye. She waved back but I could see that it was irritating the old lady so I didn’t say anything else. I did what I could.

   This whole scene really bothered me all day. I’m sure the old lady had a closet full of problems of her own, but she had no idea that she was in turn making Stephanie’s life miserable and giving her unpleasant memories that would last a lifetime. That age is so impressionable for every kid.

   Who can’t look back and remember something that happened when we were six or seven like it was yesterday? Good or bad, memories at that age are very vivid, as often it’s the first time we’re experiencing something. How good did the candy taste then? How fun was it to go down a slide?

   On the other hand, how scary was it to awaken from a nightmare or get chased by a mean dog? That age is supposed to be filled with golden memories on which we build our lives, not hellish torture we spend the rest of our lives trying to forget. Nobody’s childhood is perfect, but some of us have it happen like it’s supposed to. Dented cans spend our adulthoods overcoming our pasts.

   My heart goes out to all the Stephanies of the world – and unfortunately there are MILLIONS. Most of us start out as that cute kid, and then life starts happening and we go our separate ways. Everyone reacts differently to both heredity and environment, and thus we’re all individuals.

   I don’t claim to know everything, and never have. I know that I struggle on a daily basis to get over many unpleasant aspects of my childhood as do all dented cans. Some choose to drown the pain in drugs or alcohol. Others become entertainers to become someone else. Either way, we’ve all got a Princess Stephanie somewhere inside but if nobody tells us we’re good we’ll never have the fun in life we’re entitled to. I do hope I made that kid feel good today. She’ll need it later.

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3 Responses to “Princess Stephanie”

  1. Bill Lawrence Says:

    Dobie,
    Great blog…I know you gave that little girl a lifetime memory. As for that old battleaxe, get over yourself. Life’s too short to wallow in cruelty and misery. Amem.
    Bill L

  2. Scott Cashman Says:

    Culture, especially a microculture like a family, is a powerful thing. BUT, people either embrace their culture or rebel against it. One characteristic of culture, because of this, is a constant changing of values and norms of behavior. This is why we deal with racism (civil rights act), sexism (voting rights, equal pay) and gay rights (marriage rights) – for example. The norms and values associated with all these groups in America have changed radically in the last 100 years. Dobie, any kid would be doing well with you as a parent. You are the rebel advocate of change in your family values and norms.

  3. Tammy Says:

    I loved reading this Dobie. I was fortunate enough to be raised by Grandparents that were the greatest parents! I strive every day to be a complete opposite from my Mother, and can relate and sympathize to anyone who has had mental illness of your parent affect your life. You made Stephanie’s day and gave her some much needed self esteem.

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