Lyric Essay (Memoir)

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Writing

A – Albany, Georgia. That’s where I was born, but I grew up in neighboring Leesburg (home of Luke Bryan and Phillip Phillips!). When asked where you’re from, you still would say “Albany” (pronounced all-BEN-ny). It’s sort of like people who live just outside of Atlanta. It’s easier to say “Atlanta” rather than explain where your little town is. It’s also known as Agony, Georgia, which if you’ve ever been there, you’d understand. There’s precious little to actually do there and a large portion of the city is run down. They are, however, trying to “revitalize” downtown. There’s even less to do in Leesburg, but it’s still nicer than Albany.

B – Belize. It was one of the stops on a cruise we took in 2008. We had to anchor at sea and then take a smaller boat into shore. I should mention I have a fear of water. Especially water that I can’t see the bottom of and that might have things in it that see me as a snack. Actually, I think I’d be a good dinner, but that’s another story. The fact that my husband got me to go on a cruise was huge in and of itself. I squelched my fear the whole little boat ride to the dock. Upon getting off the boat, there was a tiny crack between me and the dock. As I’m frozen in place, staring at this gap, my husband says, “Hon. You’re not going to fall through that little bitty crack.” Through tears, I respond, “There’s nothing rational about fear!” At that moment, a big, dark hand enters my field of vision and I hear a deep, Belizian voice say, “C’mon baby, I gotcha.” I have two regrets from that trip. One of them was not looking up to see who belonged to that hand and voice. Wow.

C – Cats. I love cats. I’m also allergic to cats. I wasn’t always, though. I tell people that my allergy developed after I moved away to college and away from my cat, but I don’t really believe that. It actually started before I moved. I had friends who had a shit ton of cats in their tiny apartment and didn’t clean up after them very well. It seems nicer to say I lost my immunity to my allergy when I moved away. Also, I found Heaven and Hell and it is Cat. Home one weekend, lying in my bed, my cat, Boots, jumped up to join me. He was a black and white “tuxedo” cat who looked so debonair when sitting with his white chest out proudly. I loved that cat. He curled up at my shoulder, was purring in my ear and digging (“making biscuits”) in my hair and I could feel my eyes watering, my nose stuffing up, and my neck getting itchy. I told him, “I don’t care. You can stay.” 

D – You guessed it, Dogs. As a kid, I loved my dogs and cats immensely. As an adult, I tolerate dogs. Cats are low maintenance. Dogs want attention. Constantly. Cats don’t care. I’m allergic to dogs as well, but not as badly as cats, so we have a dog. Ginger is a lab-chow mix and I admit it… I do love her too. As long as she doesn’t lick my face. That’s just gross. We got her when my daughter, Taylor, was three. She looks like a yellow lab, but has the purple tongue of a chow. She’s protective of us, but especially of Taylor. Like a chow, she barks at anything in her perceived territory. Even the bird up on the power line. Taylor is now thirteen and Ginger has a white tip on her tail and white on her ears and muzzle. Taylor says she wants a pug after Ginger. I’d prefer a Russian Blue (cat). We haven’t told Brian yet. He’d prefer neither.

E – Episcopal Church. My husband and I met on a BBS (Bulletin Board System – early days chatroom / forum environment) in 1994. The internet was new and AOL hadn’t contaminated it yet. I was born and raised in the Episcopal Church and had no interest in changing. Because I was also born and raised in the (predominantly Baptist) Bible Belt, I had always worried about finding a spouse and how we would handle church if we’re different denominations. It was around one o’clock in the morning and we were on our respective computers: him in the lab at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), me in my dorm room at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. We started discussing meeting in person and he says, “Fair warning, I’m going to church Sunday morning.” I said, “That’s fine. What church and can I join you?” When he responded, “St. Stephen’s EPISCOPAL CHURCH” (emphasis added, duh), suffice it to say I’m surprised I didn’t wake my whole dorm.

F – Fall. I absolutely LOVE Fall. Not because of Pumpkin Spice or football, just… FALL! The leaves are beautiful, changing from countless shades of green into reds, yellows, and oranges. The temperatures are perfect, breezes are frequent and the combination of the wind and cool temperatures is incredibly freeing. When I’m walking along and feel a cool breeze beginning to blow through my hair and and around me, I have to stop, close my eyes, inhale deeply and bask in the moment! My dad, who was born in Minnesota, says I’d make a good Yankee.

G – Gohman. My maiden name. German-Norwegian. My great (great?) grandfather came over from Europe as Gohmann and dropped the second n. From hearing other immigration stories, it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t his choice to drop it. There’s a town in Minnesota where if you mention Foss (my great (great?) grandmother’s maiden name), they know instantly who you are. I thought about taking German my senior year of college but it was offered at eight a.m. and I had vowed not to do those anymore.

H – Huntsville, Alabama. That’s where my husband is from. When we met, he was a freshman in college and I was a fifth year junior (I was twenty-three; he had just turned nineteen – scandalous!). We met on a BBS (bulletin board system – early days chat room / forum environment) called Skynet. It’s still around, but last time I looked, it was primarily a hacker site. Skynet was based in Holland so we like to tell people that we met in Holland. My parents had always told me and my two brothers that we weren’t allowed to move any farther north than Macon, Georgia. Being the youngest and the only girl, I pushed that limit by going to school in nearby Milledgeville, Georgia – just a hair north of Macon. I completely busted it when, upon graduation from college, I moved to Huntsville to be near my then boyfriend / now husband. My first apartment was in an area where if you heard a car backfire, you weren’t quite sure it was a car backfiring. My first Sunday there, the Gospel reading was about Jesus walking on water and Peter having faith to step out of the boat. My mother and I were in tears. I had two jobs lined up prior to moving and had quit both of them before getting there. I survived on temp work and lots of help from my parents and boyfriend. It was several months before “temp” turned into “permanent”. I loved temp work and would gladly do it again as long as it wasn’t my sole means of support. It was thrilling to get dropped into a new situation, figure out what was needed, and run. Clerical work had started off as my “fall back” position and it was here that I learned how much I enjoyed it and that I was good at it too, dammit!

I – Introvert. That would be me, though if you look at my Myers-Briggs personality type, I’m pretty close to being able to go either way. In other words, I can put on the mask of an extrovert if I have to, but will absolutely need alone time afterward. But please don’t make me put that mask on. Please.

J – Judging. Let’s stay with Myers-Briggs! My personality type is INFJ. J is “Judging” but not in the sense that I’m judging anyone. It means that I prefer decisiveness and planning. Maybe that’s why it drives me crazy that my in-laws can’t make a decision on where to go for dinner. The opposite of J is P (Perceiving). They’re more laid back. In a psychology class many years ago, there was one lady who kept interrupting, asking questions that if she would have shut up for two seconds, she would have heard the answer. She piped up, “So if I’m a P and this other person is a J, does it mean we can’t be friends?” I snapped, “No! It means that when we make a date and you show up 15 minutes late, I’m gonna be pissed!” So maybe I am judging a little…

K – Keith Alton. Brian and I had his name picked out before we were even married. When I got pregnant in 2002, we delayed picking a girl’s name because the tech had said, “Well, I don’t see anything hanging down, so I’m gonna say ‘girl.’” (We did have a girl. We picked her name about a month before she was born). Keith was my husband’s grandfather’s name. Alton covered both sides of my family. Taylor was born Jan 8, 2003 and came home on her daddy’s birthday, Jan 20 (premie, long and amazing story). Keith was born Sept 8, 2010 and came home on my birthday, Sept 12. He died Nov 18, 2010. Official cause of death: Undetermined. Ambiguity sucks but it’s nice to know it wasn’t anything we did.

L – Lecil. My first niece, born when I was 13 years old. My oldest brother, Phil, and his now-ex-wife, Lorie, thought they were having a boy and were going to name him after her brother, Cecil Lee, who had died in Viet Nam. Well, “he” turned out to be a “she” so Lorie combined the names and came up with Lecil. My brother agreed on the condition that he chose the middle name – Renae.

M – MUD. Not wet dirt, but Multi-User Dungeon. It was an online role-playing / Dungeons & Dragons kind of thing. Text-based because it was early internet days (seriously, Windows wasn’t a thing at this point). My character’s name was Libby and, because “evil” was easier to maintain, she was an evil mage who had only two things at 100%: her sleep spell and backstab ability. If I needed equipment (or anything, really), I’d find someone with it, cast a sleep spell, backstab them, get what I needed and leave. She was pretty awesome. I got a newspaper clipping in the mail from my dad one evening. He’d written across the top, “What do you and this guy have in common?” The guy in question had stolen a tank and gone on a rampage running over things. I had just spent an entire day casting sleep spells and backstabbing people so my first response was laughter. It was quickly followed with, “Wait. No. That’s bad!” What did we have in common? He had a sticker on the window beside his front door that matched the one I had on the back window of my car: Mean People Suck.

N – Night Shift. I was an adult before I realized / learned that my dad had worked nights at the post office for most of my childhood. I had always wondered how he was able to take me to the library so much over the summers, to the pool for swim lessons (which I flunked), and to my piano and clarinet lessons. My dad was sacrificing sleep to spend time with me. 

O – Organ. I’ve been playing organ for about fifteen years. I was a reluctant learner. I had a piano teacher who told me that playing organ was “like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips!” Band geek that I was responded, “My idea of an entire orchestra at my fingertips is me here and them there,” gesturing to where an orchestra would be in relation to its conductor. It pains me to admit she was right. It truly can be a bit of a power trip when you get just the right setting on just the right piece of music. If you’ve never seen an organ, there are a lot of switches and buttons for different sounds, at a minimum, there are two keyboards and then another set of “keys” (called pedals) at your feet. I do minimal pedal work, though, because I’m just not that coordinated.

P – Piano. I’ve been playing piano (more years than I care to admit) since Kindergarten. My mom told me I had to do it for three years and only then could I quit if I wanted to. My piano teacher lived across the street from us and had a son about my age. I stayed with them before and after school. After three years, I told her I wanted to quit. She said, “Are you kidding? That’d be like letting my own daughter quit! You’re not quitting.” I’m glad now, of course, but I was a junior in college before I actually enjoyed practicing. I started playing for churches when I was a teenager. It started off with Vacation Bible School at the Baptist church up the road from my house. When I was about fifteen years old, I started playing for my church on a regular basis. At one point, I got burned out on it and didn’t touch it for almost a year – not even to hit the bottom A as I walked past heading toward my bedroom. To this day, I’m in awe of my mother’s restraint in not pushing me to play again. Now that I think about it, I should also be in awe of my dad’s restraint!

Q – Queen. When I was in Kindergarten, we had to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew a picture of a nurse wearing a crown and standing out in a field. When my teacher asked about it, I explained, “I want to be a queen or a nurse when I grow up.” My mom was into cake decorating at the time so for my birthday that year, she made me a blue castle. Atop the turret, there was a Red Cross flag. In the moat, and on the ground not quite to the moat, there were little plastic toys: kings, queens, and all kinds of medical people.

R – Recruiter. Shortly after high school graduation, I got a call from an Army recruiter. He asked for “Lisa Gillis.” Lisa was a friend and I knew that, alphabetically, I was right below her in our school roster. I said, “Check the name just below that.” 

     “Excuse me?”

“The name just below ‘Lisa Gillis.’”

     “… Elizabeth Gohman?”

“Yep. That’s me. Can I help you?”

S – Switzerland. Our second year of marriage, we went to Europe with UAH’s “Alumni & Friends” choir. This was the group the director called on when she needed additional voices. Brian was alumni, I was a friend. He’d already been once and had vowed to take me. It just so happened that, on our second anniversary, we were in Switzerland. We had a wonderful dinner outside at a little cafe and shared a bottle of red wine that had the picture of a devil holding a tray with the same bottle of wine on it. No idea of its name, but it was wonderful! The most interesting part of the night, though, was listening to all the noises of the night going on around us. Laughter, music, people talking, but especially the music from a cafe just across the lane from us. It was a mariachi band. In Switzerland. 

T – Taylor Nicole. My darling daughter (You have to say it with an English accent for full effect). Born a month early but still weighed eight pounds, nine ounces. No, the due date wasn’t off. I had gestational diabetes. At delivery, she got stuck at the pelvic bone. Her head was too big (thanks, Brian). They used forceps to get her through but then her shoulders got stuck and the cord was wrapped around her neck. They give newborns a score called an “Apgar Score.” Zero is dead, ten is completely and utterly healthy. Her first Apgar was a one. She was purple and her organs had started to shut down. My doctor took care of me, then locked herself in a closet and cried. She went home that night convinced she’d just lost her first baby. By far the largest baby there, Taylor spent twelve days in the NICU with the first week or so being really touch and go. I took her to my six week check-up and that’s when I learned my doctor’s response to that day. She looked at Taylor in the car seat and said, “That can’t be… that CANNOT be the same baby!” With the way they got her out, at the very least, she should’ve had a crumpled right arm. We knew she’d have some developmental delays but wouldn’t know if there had been any brain damage until she got older. When I called the follow-up clinic about developmental services, they asked her weight at birth. I said, “Eight pounds, nine ounces” and was met with silence. The nurse finally asked, “And… why, exactly, are we seeing her?” I said, “Because she was a month early and almost DIED.” Taylor is now thirteen years old. She started dance when she was three (quit when she was eleven), tested into the gifted program in Kindergarten, used to do these crazy detailed 3-D paper models – my favorite was of the bus stop and included the bus, stop sign, bench, and three or four people. She started science olympiad in third grade (asked us if it was okay for her to try out for it and when we said, “Of course!” She said, “Good, because I already signed up for the test.”), started and quit math team in sixth grade (it was “boring”), plays my clarinet and bass clarinet in band, is in honor society and pre-ap classes, has two stories she’s written on her Wattpad account, and I dread the day she gets her first B. Seriously. She’s never gotten a B (though she’s likely to get one in Science this nine weeks, and yes, she freaked). My husband was crazy smart too, but still, neither of us has ANY idea where she got that from. 

U – Unconditional Love. This is one of many things I learned from my mom. When my oldest (unmarried) brother asked her if she was ready to be a grandmother, she had to make a choice: condemn him and the relationship she didn’t approve of or show love. She showed love. “No, not really, but…” When I was seventeen, I was sitting in the living room watching TV when my mom came in with a piece of paper in her hand. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying, it could well have been both. “Is this … is this your way of telling me something?” I liked to lie on my parents’ bed to talk on the phone and had had pregnancy test instructions in my pocket that apparently fell out. We had a long and tearful conversation on what-ifs. I don’t recall what was decided if it had been positive. I suspect I would have kept the baby and they would have helped me raise it. I’d already made it clear that abortion wasn’t an option. We both had reservations about giving it up for adoption as well. Where was my dad in all this? He kept walking through the living room, looking over at us and trying to figure out what was going on. My mom eventually clued him in. The next morning, I did the pregnancy test and it came back negative. They then insisted that I go to the doctor’s office for a blood test and to be put on the pill. On the car ride over, my mom informed me, “This, by no means, means that I condone what you are doing, but I’ll be DAMNED if I’m going to see you get pregnant!” That was the beginning of a stressful time in our relationship – it involved counseling for the both of us. The fact that she went with me for counseling and was in it as well meant a lot to me and our relationship came out stronger afterward.

V – Van Halen. To say I love them is an understatement. My brothers introduced me and I eventually got cassettes of my own instead of “borrowing” theirs. Don’t ask me if I like Van Halen or Van Hagar. Both are very different. With David Lee Roth, they had a blues / jazz kind of influence and sound. Hagar had a rock influence and sound. I like them both. Now… VH III? Sucked. I think Best of Both Worlds was the last one I cared for. Brian and I saw them in Atlanta (Sammy Hagar. Sadly, I never got to see David Lee Roth). We were just dating at the time and I tried to get him to go tell the bouncers he wanted to propose to his girlfriend. The idea was met with an incredulous, “No!!” I begged, “Come on! I won’t hold you to it! We might get to meet the band!!” I got an even more emphatic, “NO!” I called him a spoil sport. And still do.

W – Windom, Minnesota. That’s where my dad is from. It’s about two hours southwest of Minneapolis. The town is small enough you could ride your bike all over it in less than a day. I know this because, during summer vacations there, we frequently did. We saw the (seriously) little yellow house my dad grew up in. We visited my grandmother in the nursing home. She liked us to push her wheelchair because we went faster than the nurses and sometimes did wheelies. We visited my grandfather in a nursing home too, but I don’t remember him very well. The image I see when I think of him is a large beige room with a pool table in the middle of it. I remember looking out onto the window ledge and finding a robin’s nest with three little blue eggs in it.

X – TeXas (work with me, X is a hard one!). This is where my mom is from, specifically the Dallas/Fort Worth area. When she was thirteen, her mother died of cancer. I’m not exactly sure why, but her and her sisters were moved to a children’s home. I don’t know a lot about her time there beyond that it was not good. The two stories I do know give clues as to where I get my rebellious nature from. In the home, they weren’t allowed to have coffee. For that very reason, my mom smuggled in instant coffee. She’d get the tap water as hot as she could and drink it black because sugar or cream would have attracted ants. And because they also weren’t allowed to listen to Elvis (him and his scandalous hip swinging), she also smuggled in Elvis records, though I’m not sure how she managed to listen to them without getting caught.

Y – Youth. – Seriously, the end of the alphabet is hard! 

Sixteen: I was sitting in my parents’ room helping my mom fold towels. I nonchalantly asked her, “Do you know if your car will go as fast as the speedometer says?” She didn’t look up. She didn’t stop folding. “No. But I suspect you do…” (I did. It did.). 

Twenty-Three: Summer 1994. I told my parents that I was going to roam around Georgia with friends before coming home for the summer. In reality, I was driving to Huntsville, Alabama to meet a guy I’d met online (see Episcopal Church). When I realized I wasn’t going to make it home by the time I’d told them I would, I called my mom. At work. This is what I did practically anytime I had something to talk about that I was worried she’d be mad about.

“Are you where we can talk?” 


“I’m not in Georgia.”

    “I didn’t think you were. So where are you?”

I went on to tell her about Brian, meeting his parents, and helping him move out of the dorm for the summer which was why I wouldn’t be home until the next day. She told me to drive careful. A couple days after getting home, I went and got a tattoo. I had been broaching the subject for months. I suspect my mom recognized this as me preparing them for the inevitable. She saw it when it was an hour old (it’s a butterfly on my right shoulder), commenting on how pretty it was, she added, “I’m surprised you didn’t get it sooner.” My dad saw it later that evening and was furious. I later learned that he was griping to my mom about it and she ended it with, “And we were NEVER young and we NEVER did anything foolish…”

Z – Zoo. Our home phone number was a couple of numbers different from a nearby park and zoo called Chehaw Park. It was a particularly busy day at my house and the phone rang. My mom picked up, said, “Hello?” (“Is this Chehaw Park?”) “Nope. But it’s a zoo!” and hung up.