So… weird story…. I kinda almost died from a very rare tumor in my neck when I was nine months old. My case was something like the 19th documented case of that specific tumor in the world, and at the time, I was the only baby who came out of surgery normal. (Go ahead and insert air quotes around “normal.” All my friends and family do.) I guess that’s one thing that makes me super different from most. I never liked or wanted to talk about it because my family talked about it soooooo much, but I know it’s something to be pretty proud of. Apparently, I’m some sort of walking miracle… No more than most, I suppose. Everyone has their different miracles.
My mother and father named me “Dorothy Anita” after my two grandmothers – Dorothy Jean Colaw Shepherd and Anita Chestnut Cauley. Of course, when I was a child, I was too young to realize how special these two “old-sounding names” really were. Unfortunately, so were some kids in my school, who quickly turned “Dorothy” into “Dorky.” (What a bunch of little jerks….) Today, however, I proudly declare my names are a combination of two of the women who made me – one strong-willed, tough as nails, hard-headed Granny and the kindest, sweetest, most caring human being on the face of the earth – my dear Grandma. Together, these two women are what I strive to be – tough but loving, a strong figure but a woman people view as caring and compassionate.
I grew up on a large cattle operation in the mountains of western Virginia. In our heyday, we bought, sold, and ran around 10,000 head of cattle. That is something a western Montana ranch would laugh at, but our operation was one of (if not, the) largest operations in our county at the time. I sat steadfast on horseback and helped my father gather my first herd at a very young age. Those events usually involved my dad getting pissed in one fashion or another and churning out some ear-burning curses at either me, the cattle, the general situation, or a combination of all three. At the time, it could be quite frightening and/or enraging, but I look back on it now and just grin. My dad worked hard, and even though he didn’t have it all right all the time (who does?), he busted his butt to provide a lot of greatness for his family. I wouldn’t have the beautiful home I live in now if it weren’t for him.
The main thing I remember about my mother were the many, many, MANY hours she spent in our kitchen fixing creamy mashed potatoes, cauliflower casserole smothered in cheese, homemade pizzas, traditional Christmas candies… all kinds of delectable, savory, and heavenly foods and treats. Descending from a family of fine, southern cooks, my mother was humble in her abilities to create an amazing spread. “It’s not like your great-grandmother would have done it,” she moused, but it was succulent to say the least. (All my Stephenson family will attest to that especially when we gathered during the holidays.) My mother also ran the office of our cattle business. Since she was scared of cattle, running the business end of things was the best place for her. (And yes, a cattleman’s wife who was scared of cattle. To this day, it cracks me up thinking of her bubbling out little screams when she actually had to help with the cattle.)
My sister is 13 years older than me, and even though we weren’t around each other a lot when I was a kid, she made sure to send me loving reminders that I did, in fact, have a big sister. She even wrote me a poem that hung on my wall throughout my adolescent years. It ended with the phrase “Although your sister may seem invisible, she’s always there.” Don’t get me wrong – we had our spats, and, might I add, we were and are as different as night and day in a lot of ways, but we love to sit on the porch, drink coffee, and spend hours talking about a variety of different things – just the two of us. My sister also gave our family two other wonderful gifts – my nieces, Rebecca and Suzanna, AKA: “Becca” and “Suz.”
Anyone who knows me well knows my cousins and I are super tight. We are each other’s insurance policy for whatever happens in life. My cousin, David, who is two years older than me, was like my big brother growing up and remains that way today. We’d play all throughout our family’s farm in our beloved “big pasture,” and now, as adults, we are as close as ever. My cousin, Pam, who was like a little sister, lived across the street and was around for the girly things, like playing Barbies. (David preferred Batman or X-Men.) And there are more cousins where David and Pam came from. They all mean the world to me. They are my big, fuzzy, cuddly, warm my security blanket.
My childhood was all about family. I didn’t have many friends that lived close, and truth be told, my best friends were my cousins. I really didn’t have many friends other than them, and that was perfectly fine with me.
I made it through elementary school and high school…. blah, blah, blah….. I was an average student, but my favorite subject was English and writing. (Imagine that?) I played softball and volleyball, ran track, rode horses, but my favorite thing to do was clog. My mother introduced me to Clogging when I was six-years-old, and it’s been a big part of me ever since. (I’ll limit the info about it here because you’ll hear a lot about it in later posts.)
College came. I didn’t know what to do so I majored in Business Management at the nearest community college, which was over an hour drive each way from my home. I eventually got a local job in my beloved hometown of Highland County, got married, and settled in………. I could tell quickly I wasn’t made for a fully domesticated life. I was made for something slightly different. I tried and tried to stick it out mainly for my husband, bless his heart. Even with my warning that I could not be fully tamed, he signed up for a life with me anyway hoping the years would mellow me. Unfortunately, for the both of us, he wasn’t completely correct. In the early years of our marriage, I started my first business – Sundance Studios & Productions, a dance studio that would hopefully assist in growing creative movement in our small, rural area. We, then, started and grew our farm. Along came another business for me – a small, marketing company called Sundance Media & Design – and then a full-time job as the Executive Director of our local chamber of commerce. Couple that with perpetually differing personalities and it was a recipe for a stagnant marriage that would lose it’s luster and romanticism and leave us both unattracted to and untrusting of each other. By the time we figured out what was happening, we feared it was too late. The jury is still out on that……
Thirteen years after we married and 18 years after we started dating, my husband and I are looking at “redefining our relationship.” We prefer that term over “divorce,” which we believe is a horrible, negative sounding word that seems to imply both parties hold ill feelings towards one another. For us (and I’m sure other “redefined” couples), it is quite the opposite – we realize how much we really love each other and while our relationship is not the same as it once was and certainly not what we thought it would grow to be, it is still a relationship of love, caring, and dedication. Just a “redefined” one.
So here I am now, mid-thirties, striking it back out on my own and, like so many women from “redefined” relationships, I am trying to define myself. It’s pretty fun. It royally SUCKED for the first eight months I moved out of my husband’s house, but it is starting to be pretty cool.
I look forward to sharing stories with you. Stories about me, my childhood, my epiphanies, my Clogging, my travels, and all kinds of little things in between. (And I hope to hear from you!) My life seems to be one day at a time right now – figuring things out, learning, living. We learn one step at a time, right? Just like a dance.