Load ’em Up, Head ’em Out

Dad took two weeks of vacation every summer. One week was for getting ready to go, and one week was for the actual vacation. He always took us camping. Dad learned how to camp in the army, but he learned how much fun it could be from Mom. Mom camped when she was a little girl, and that’s before there were even campgrounds.

First off, we had to bake cookies for the trip. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up with home-baked cookies.

Deanna baked Cherry Winks, yucky, I hated those: marachino cherries and corn flakes. I hated Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops for all those free cereal bowls and juice glasses, and marachino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt.

Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies, that’s the first thing I learned how to make in 4-H Cooking; except for learning how to make a root beer float,  that’s just scooping and pouring. Any do-do bird can do that.

Bonita made peanut butter cookies. Yum, those were best still warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I liked to hold a bite of cookie in my mouth and let the milk soak in. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass. Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules.

I made chocolate chip cookies, my very favorite kind, and the kind I got my first blue ribbon for in my first year of 4-H. Each of us Big Kids made about 10 dozen cookies each. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramel-good smell with melting chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside and it seemed like those cookies just begged to be eaten. That left a big greasy stain on the newspaper, so I put new cookies on those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched cookies.

Making cookies took a long time, ’cause I could only bake one sheet at a time, and each sheet took exactly 12 minutes. Let’s see, that’s 12X10 or 120 minutes. Okay that was only 2 hours of baking, but then there was the mixing and washing the dishes, and finally packing into the tin, with a perfect circle of waxed paper between every layer of cookies. Holy smokes, that was a project. Twelve minutes was too long to just sit around staring at the oven, so I liked to read in between. The only trouble was, if I got lost in my book and forgot to set the timer, pretty soon somebody was yelling,

“The cookies are burning,” which was usually Mom, ’cause nobody else paid attention to smoke like Mom did. Grandpa was a fireman, so she knew all about fires and she was scared to death of our house burning. She was always saying, “Are you trying to burn the house down?” That was another one of those questions I wasn’t supposed to answer.

Once I wondered what she would say if
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Memory Waves on a Rainy Day

Death was part of life on the farm, when I was a little girl.  Cats died from milk fever, dogs got hit by cars, the cows and pigs we knew by name got sent to the butcher’s and returned as beef and pork for dinner.  People only died when they got really old, like Dziadzia, he was my great-grandfather, or like that truck driver Mom and Dad knew who had a heart attack when he was 43.   People always lived a long time.  Except for Bobbie-Jo.

My sister Deanna’s good friend, Cleta, had a big sister, Bobbie-Jo. Cleta and Bobbie-Jo rode my bus to school.  Bobbie-Jo wore big skirts with three can-cans underneath, so she barely fit through the aisle of the bus. She swished past me, heading for the back of the bus where the slick teenagers sat, but not in the very back seat.  The hoods sat in the very back seats, with their DA haircuts all slicked back except for a slippery curl in the middle of their foreheads.  I could smell just a whisper of lily-of-the-valley after Bobbie-Jo squeezed by; I tried to hold that smell in the back of my nose and not let go, she smelled so good.  I probably smelled like wet straw, from doing morning chores.

Bobbie-Jo’s hair was dark brown, even darker than Bonita’s, and pulled back in a tight, high ponytail that she brushed into a loose ringlet.  When she walked, the tip of that curl brushed against the back of her neck.   Bobbie-Jo was always laughing and smiling, that nice kind of smile that meant ‘I really like my life’ or maybe her ponytail just tickled her neck all the time.  Sometimes I just wanted to tug on her skirt and say, “Hey Bobbie-Jo, you can sit by me.”  Of course I  never did, ’cause my best-friend-from-the-bus, Betty, got on first and always sat right down next to me, and besides, Bobbie-Jo was a teenager, she only liked other teenagers.  And her sister, Cleta.  Of course she liked Cleta.  Mom said you have to be good to your sister, you will never find a better friend, ’cause your sister’s gonna know you from the time you’re born. No one else will know you  forever like that.  A sister will always be there for you.

Bobbie-Jo learned to drive and got a part-time job after school over in the City.  Sometimes, she had to drive home kinda late at night, especially on the weekend.  One night when it was raining really hard, a man drove right into her lane and hit her straight, head-on.  Bobbie-Jo never knew what hit her.  She died right then and there. I know that because I heard it straight from the guy at the funeral parlor.

Cleta’s phone was on the same party-line as my phone.  If you had a party-line and if you heard a voice on the line, you had to hang up really fast.  Listening-in was super rude and an invasion of privacy.  Besides that, Mom got hopping mad if she caught anyone listening-in.  Deanna could lift that phone up and cover the receiver; she listened-in without anyone knowing.  I tried sometimes, ’cause it was kind of interesting to hear boring stuff going on at somebody else’s house, but usually whoever was talking, mostly Lois, my best-friend-from-the-bus, Betty’s, teenager sister, would say “Hang up the phone!” in an angry voice.  I hated people getting angry at me, even when they didn’t know it was me.  Anyway, when Bobbie-Jo got in that car wreck, I stayed right away from that phone.  I only picked it up once, and I heard Cleta’s mom crying to the undertaker.  That was the worst kind of sadness I ever heard.

Teacher took the whole class to the funeral home to pay our respects to Cleta and her family; it was only three blocks away, so we all walked down there at Noon Hour.  I think the whole school went to the funeral home that day.  Lots of adults stood around saying how good Bobbie-Jo looked.  That body in there did not even look like Bobbie-Jo to me:  no smile, no can-cans fluffing her dress way out, and no ponytail at all, just a fancy curly hairstyle, kind of like her mom’s, that Bobbie-Jo never, ever wore in real life.

Now Cleta had no sister at all.  Who was going to be her friend for life? I was so lucky, I had five sisters.  Five friends for life.  Cleta only had Bobbie-Jo.

Rainy days like today are good days for thinking about sad memories.  Somehow we manage to keep going after deep losses; I guess it’s just what’s called human resiliency. But sometimes the memories come swelling up from way deep inside like a wave.  The kind of wave that I can hardly see approaching until all of a sudden, I’m deep in over my head.  I hope people like Cleta find someone who can be as good a friend as a sister is.  I thank God everyday that I have five sisters far away, yet close in spirit.  Everybody needs friends like that.

(Just for the record, my brothers are pretty darn keen friends, too.)

You ain’t heavy….If I just keep lifting

When I was a little girl, I had a calf named Tiny.  She was a little Holstein heifer; she was not Belle’s calf, Dad bought her; she was such a runt, I have a sneaking suspicion that Tiny came cheap.  I loved Tiny.  I loved Tiny as much any kid loved their dog, as much as Bonita loved Nikki, our German Shepherd.

The grass was still frosty in the morning when Dad showed me how to teach Tiny how to drink from a bucket.  First I mixed up a powder milk formula for her; Belle had her own calf, plus we needed some of her milk for the house, so Tiny drank formula.  I used warm water so Tiny would think she was drinking from her mother, then I wet my fingers with the formula and put them in front of Tiny’s nose.  She gave a little sniff, licked my fingers, then slurped all my fingers into her mouth and started sucking them like there was no tomorrow.   It almost the same way as when I put the vacuum cleaner hose up to my cheek and I thought my whole face was a goner, only really wet.

I gotta admit, it was atinsy bit scary and at the same time it made my skin have those happy tingles like when somebody remembered  my birthday with no reminder at all.  Slowly I lowered my hand into the bucket as Tiny kept on sucking.  Then I pulled my fingers out.  Up came Tiny’s head all puzzled-looking thinking, where did my teats go? So we started all over again.  Eventually, Tiny didn’t need my fingers at all, but I still let her suck on them, ’cause by then it just felt like her way of saying she loved me, too.

Dad lifted Tiny up and moved her around, just like she was one of his own kids.  I lifted Tiny too, but it was hard for me to walk with her, ’cause her legs dangled down almost to the floor, probably because I was  a whole lot shorter than Dad.

“If you lift Tiny everyday, you’ll be able to lift a full-grown cow when she’s grown,”  Dad told me.  “But you gotta lift her every day.”  Dad’s eyes got damp looking and twinkling like they did when he was telling a story about a telephone extension he sold when he was fixing someone’s line  in the city.  Those stories always ended in laughter, but not so this day, he was all solemn looking in the face, like he was in church, except for his eyes didn’t look so dazzley in church.

I would be about the strongest girl in school, even stronger than Jeannie. She was super strong, ’cause she had four brothers and no sister.  She was tough as any boy.  I never saw Jeannie cry and she could hit a baseball harder than any boy in my school.  I had mostly sisters, I wasn’t all that tough, I cried easy, but I was stronger than most of the kids in my grade.  I knew because I could beat them at arm wrestling and pull-ups.  That’s because of the bales of hay and buckets of silage I lifted doing chores with Dad.

Twice a day and sometimes more, I went out to the barn to feed Tiny and lifted her up as far as I could, burying my nose in her soft hair that smelled like fresh straw and damp skin all at once.  If she was lying down, I snuggled right up beside her and told her all about my day, with a soft voice, so only she and I could hear.  There’s something about the way any baby smells, a kitten, a puppy,  piglet, Tiny or my baby sister, Julie, maybe it’s all the milk babies drink. The smell just opens up my heart and makes me want to breathe in deeper.

I liked being in the barn anyway, especially when Dad was there.  The cats gathered in back of Belle while Dad milked, and sometimes Dad squirted milk in the cats’ mouths.  If he missed his mark, the cat got all offended looking, as if Dad did something on purpose to disgrace her.  He always gave the cats a little shallow bowl full of milk.  As soon as he finished milking he gave a little “Haruph” and hoisted himself off the stool and limped his first step,  like he’d been sitting there for days and he was all stiff.  The cats all stood six inches back from the bowl, waiting all polite-like for the milk to be poured.

Once our old sow, Red Rose’s eight piglets got out of the pen and came a tripping over each other running like it’d been a month since they last ate, and didn’t already just nurse from Red Rose.  They slobbered and grunted in that cat dish, spilling milk and putting their front feet right in the dish.  The cats sat back on their hind quarters and put their noses in the air at each other.  I could just hear them thinking, Well! I never. All smug and prissy. If a cat could turn up their little finger, our cats would’ve.

I did pretty well, lifting Tiny, all though the summer.  Then we went on vacation camping.  We were gone a week, and Dad said he wanted to stay another week.

I started crying, “I gotta get back to Tiny.”  So we went home and didn’t stay an extra week.

Mom said it had nothing to do with me, and I just let her think that, ’cause she and Deanna and Bonita, and Vickie, and the Little Kids, if they were big enough to think at all, would be mad at me if they thought we could have stayed an extra week if it weren’t for my blubbering.IMG_5528

When I got home, first I hugged the carpet in the frunch-room and rolled around on it for a bit. I was so happy to get home.

I had to see  Tiny.  There she was happy to see me, looking like she hadn’t changed a bit.  I scratched her neck and she pointed her nose right up toward the sky in delight; she sucked at my fingers just like always.  But I was unable to lift her. I pulled and tugged, but no luck. Just like Dad said, I had to lift her everyday, if I wanted to be able to lift a full-grown cow.

I have grandchildren now, I gave up on lifting calves.  When my  first grandson was still a toddler, I told him that if I lifted him everyday, when he got to be a full-grown man, I could carry him down the aisle on his wedding day.   By eleven I could still lift him, but his feet were starting to brush the ground because he’s almost as tall as me. He’s sixteen now and has a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t see him as often as I used to. That’s probably the reason I can’t lift him up anymore.

 

Endless Summers Behind and Ahead

Of course, when I was a little girl, the first day of school was the very best day of school, but the next best was the last day of school.  All the summer stretching out ahead of me was just marvelous, with no particular plans, except vacation in August.  I had animals to tend, the garden to hoe, lawn to mow, and I had to help with the cooking and cleaning and watching the Little Kids, but other than that, free time, like no other time of the year.  Plus, I got to ride my bike to school and wear shorts on the last day.

School was about five miles away, in town, so I had to get an early start.  Deanna and Bonita and Vickie and me from my house, Nancy and Doug from across the road and Cathy and Tom from next door, then we picked up more kids as we got closer to school:  Mike, Diane, Bob, and Annette and Brenda. We went single file for a half-mile down the paved road, until we got to Brenda’s house; the rest of the way was on dirt roads, so we could spread out any old way we wanted. Continue reading

Story-telling Dad

When I was a little girl, fathers were not as involved in raising children.  My dad worked a lot of overtime, and when he was home, he had work to do around the home.  Our family ran more like one of today’s small corporations:  Dad was the Director, and Mom was the Manager, with lots of independent decision-making authority.  Dad had an open door policy, but he was a little removed on a day-to-day basis, so sometimes it was more comfortable to go to Mom.

I loved it when Dad was home, still, I was a tinsy bit afraid of him.  He had a whole life that was somewhere I was not.    Most the time he was off at work for Bell Telephone Company, Dad called work ‘Ma Bell’.  I liked the way that sounded, work could take care of him, no matter what.  Dad always told stories to Mom about the people he met.  He fixed the telephone lines, by climbing up poles; sometimes the poles had metal rungs on them for climbing, but most of the time Dad hooked big giant spikes to his shoes and strapped them tight around his legs.  Then up the pole he climbed, keeping steady with a belt that hooked around his waist and the telephone pole.  I knew what that looked like ’cause lots of times he brought his climbing gear along on vacation, and when he got bored up a tree or pole he would go.  Maybe that’s how I got the idea climbing trees was so much fun.  Way up there, he could see all over the city, and into houses, because sometimes people forgot to close their drapes.  That made Dad embarrassed, so he climbed all the way back down, knocked on the door.

“Excuse me Ma’am, I just want you to know I’m working on your line right outside your house,” he said.

It was always ‘excuse me ma’am’, cause all the men were at work.

Once a pretty lady who was just wearing flimsy nightie opened the door.

“I was waiting for you,” she said leaning against the door jamb with one arm over her head, like she was trying to keep it from falling down, or something.   “I saw you out there from my bedroom.”

Dad told Mom he was at a loss for words, which I could hardly believe at all.  He said he just said what came into his head first.

“Well, then if you don’t mind me saying, you could use an extension in your bedroom.  Maybe you’d like one of these nice little pink princess phones,” he said to the lady, still leaning up against the door jamb.

Mom just sat there at the dinner table listening away with her elbows on the table and head resting in her palms.  That was okay, ’cause dinner was over, and the rule about no elbows on the table only counted when we were eating.  Mom always listened close to everything Dad said, and asked questions so she understood the story, but not too many questions, so Dad didn’t get off track, like I sometimes did.  She was the best listener in the whole wide world.  Dad told her that’s all you have to do to make friends:  just listen, ’cause most the time, people just want to talk.  He must have gotten tired of listening at work, ’cause when he got home, he talked up a blue streak, and when he was with his brothers, it was almost like nobody else was there, except somehow, it still felt like I could chime in if I wanted, only I didn’t want to because it was just a whole lot more interesting to listen to those guys talk.

“Sure, come on in,” the pretty lady said.  “It’d be great to talk on the phone while I’m in bed.”

Well, what do you know, there was a great big bare-naked man in her bed, and for some reason Dad knew that man was someone other than the pretty lady’s husband. I started thinking how much like Goldilocks and the Three Bears that story was, except Dad was Goldilocks telling Mama Bear, “Somebody’s been sleeping in your bed, and there he is.”  Now Mom was laughing with her head thrown back and all her silver fillings showing, and I started to laugh, too, which made them both stop and look at me, like they just noticed I was there.

Dad wiped up across his eyebrows and pulled down on his chin; no more smile, “Why don’t you go play, like the other kids?”

I ski-daddled right out of there, ’cause I could tell by the way Dad’s voice sounded, that he wasn’t really asking a question.  I never even told him how much I liked his stories.

Sometimes, when my uncles were over, I liked to just sit under the dining room table with a couple of cousins and listen to all my Aunts and Uncles.  They sure did have a great time, especially when they played Yahtzee: rolling the dice, talking and shouting out, ‘oh, I have to scratch my Yatzee’, and everybody laughing uproariously.

Once, I wrote Dad a note from down there under the table, I hardly went anywhere except to do chores without a book or a tablet and a pencil.  My note said:  ‘I love you.  Do you love me.  Yes ◊  No ◊.  Check one.’  I folded the note up tight and neat as I could, reached up and put the note on Dad’s knee.   Right away he opened it up and read my note to himself.

“Come on up here,” he said, looking under the table.  He put me up on his knee, took my pencil and wrote a whole bunch of stuff below my name, folded the paper back up, just as tight and neat as before, and handed it back to me.  “This should answer your question,” he said, those blue eyes just smiled stars right down into mine. “I hope you never have to ask that question again.”

I tried so hard to read what Dad wrote, but the letters were all looped together; I only knew how to read printing, and he wrote in cursive.  I stuffed that note right into my pocket, so later on I could ask Mom what it said; she would, for sure, tell me. I could talk to Mom about anything.

Only problem is, I forgot all about Dad’s note and threw my pants in the clothes hamper. The note got all shredded up and spread over the whole load of laundry.  I always forgot to empty my pocket, and I always left Kleenex or paper in there, which always, always, made Mom mad.

I never did find out what Dad wrote on that note.  For a lot of my childhood and young adult life, I stayed a little bit in awe of Dad.  Still, as I grew older, I came to know exactly what he meant when his smiling eyes looked down into mine:  I will love you to the stars and back, until the day I die.  He did, and then some.

Here’s a picture of the two of us.  We’re not smiling, I think we both had a headache, driving in sunshine did that to us.  I like these pictures, because you can see just how much we’re alike, even our body language.

That’s me in the back seat of the car.

That’s Dad in the front seat, same day, same trip

Queen of the May

In May, the smell of lilacs, Viburnum and dandelions filled the air, just in time for Mother’s Day and the May Crowning.   Bonita and I kept an eye on the lilac bushes, two at the side of the house, and one on the way to the barn.  We prayed they’d be ready to pick by Mother’s Day.  Mom loved flowers.

Every year St. Joseph’s had a May Crowning; the whole month of May was for Mary, but only one day was for everybody else’s mother.  I guessed that’s what happens when you’re the mother of God, but that didn’t seem so fair to me, ’cause Mary only had one son and he was perfect, so Continue reading

What kind of Numbskull Puts Carpet in a Car?

This is an example of custom-made floor liners from Huskie

Every year around this time, my local television station advertises custom floor liners for cars and trucks.  Maybe it’s the muddy weather.  Maybe it’s because people begin to think about buying new cars.  Maybe they say, “never again” as they try to clean the salt and residue from car carpets.

I always think of Dad.

When I was a little girl, our car never had carpet.

“Who wants carpet in a car?” Dad said when Continue reading