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A Red Faced Right Of Passage

A Mom Shares The Agony Of Waiting For The Nostalgia Of Childhood To Kick In

The day that I have dreaded for nearly six years has finally come. My son, who has always felt I was so interesting he couldn’t leave my side, is quickly losing interest in me. Yesterday, when he thought I wasn’t looking, he brushed off my regular drop-off kiss. The comforting family rituals he once welcomed are now open to debate, with the endless board games evolving into him preferring Playstation. Worst of all, our weekend scavenger hunts at junk shops are dying a slow death. The same child who used to happily run ahead searching for old treasures that evoked memories of my childhood now sulks and lags behind. Instead of the laughter that used to fill our rides home, I now hear exaggerated sighs because he is irritated by the “pointless ole junk” he now demands I hunt solo. It hurts to the core, but I can relate. In my family, grave shame is a rite of passage.

I grew up in a town with no traffic lights. Most people are still farmers or phosphate miners. Children were not encouraged to pursue college, but to continue family traditions, no matter how unprofitable or unfitting. My grandfather was affectionately known as "the sausage man.” In his make-shift factory in the back of his pasture, our family helped him process beef and pork into sausage, steaks and specialty meats for the family freezer. When my sister and I were old enough, we were stuck helping. Everyone who would normally care for us was arm-deep in spiced pork and we were expected to take over one day. I am sure in the beginning, I delighted in being with those who loved me, but somewhere in time, I grew to resent my mandatory presence.

Since our sausage was so popular, everyone knew of our sausage internship, much to my horror. I found the work to be gross, inhumane and very beneath me, though I hated myself as much as the work. No one was more deserving of gratitude than my grandparents. When my parents divorced, they ensured we were never latch key kids, and dutifully, without complaint, drive us 50 miles round trip to little league. Instead of being appreciative, we were embarrassed at how out of place we thought they were. In Dickies and large straw hats, they would proudly present a homegrown vegetable or sausage sample to any one who would accept. We wished they were not so friendly and that the item would have rotted in the truck. We hesitated to bring friends home. They were always given an extensive tour of the sausage house complete with carcasses awaiting their stint as sausage. I used to not-so-secretly wish to be somewhere far away.

My change in attitude was not sudden. It evolved over time, not fully complete until I had my own children, but I vividly remember when my discomfort edged toward warmth. A sausage client gave us free professional football tickets. By halftime, it began to pour. Buying overpriced ponchos was out of the question. Instead, my grandfather went to his truck and returned with a clear plastic tarp he used for his livestock. After very lightly brushing off hair and grass, he haphazardly threw it over us. People stared or laughed. Crimson, I prayed the tarp would spring a leak so we could go home. As the rain continued, people actually stopped to ask my grandfather where he got the tarp and did he have any more? Most people were forced to leave; the rain was so hard there was no toughing it out. As I noticed we were one of the few left and started to relax, I realized how fortunate I was, not just because I got to stay, but because I was warm, dry and cuddled up with those who loved me. We settled in, drank hot chocolate, and had a great time on a day that could have been a disaster.




Gradually since that day, my opinion of my grandparents has dramatically changed. Now that I fully understand the full-time, exhausting and often thankless demands of childrearing, I am overwhelmed at selflessly they gave to me. Over time, I came to see them as endearingly eccentric rather than embarrassingly weird and eventually used people’s reactions to them as a kind of barometer. Like an old dog or young child, they could immediately zero in on well-hidden character flaws. When they surprisingly loved a boyfriend who had never even eaten sausage, I knew he was a keeper. When we married, I asked my grandfather to walk me down the aisle. I had come to realize there was no one who put more time, effort and patience into my upbringing.

I am sure it is no coincidence that today I much prefer rainy days to sunny ones, that my grandfather‘s wedding ring is one of my few essential possessions, and that I just commissioned an artist to make a replica of the sausage house for my mantel. The place I vowed to burn to the ground upon my inheritance represents nothing but comfort and warmth to me now.

As my son perfects the fine art of eye rolling and slowly distances himself from me, I realize this is only the beginning of him wishing I was something else. But I also know that between here and adulthood, some of his dislikes will evolve into the things he most cherishes. Until then, I will be long-suffering, but my time will come. Like myself, Kyle will learn that the things he now sees as embarrassing flaws are actually, like the items which he calls junk and I call fine antiques, only waiting for someone to discover their value-added character.

Photographer: Beverly Walden



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about shannon m. dean

Shannon M. Dean is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about women and family. In addition to magazine articles for women's and family publications, she writes memoirs and life stories to be enjoyed by generations. Her website is

shannon m. dean

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