I invite you to click on the tab “Little Girls Then and When” for interviews with generations of the little girls that I meet throughout the week. Oh, and I will be adding to my stories. You can still find the most recent story below this post.
For those of you waiting for my novel, I’m almost finished! I will attend my first writers conference this summer. The tough job of getting the right publisher will begin. The working title of my novel is A Land of Milk and Honey.
When I was a little girl, supper time was an important time of the day. I was on my own for breakfast, and lunch was flexible, but at supper time, everyone came together. No one could start eating until hands were washed, everyone was at the table and the prayer was said.
Mom said no books, no games, no homework, no newspapers, no elbows on the table during supper. No radio, no TV, that was in the fronch room anyway, but still it had to be turned off, and no singing at the table during supper. That left lots of room for talking, asking questions, and laughing.
No matter what was for supper, if I was the table-setter, I put down a plate with a fork on the left, knife on the right, and a teaspoon right next to the knife, plastic glass above the knife, glass glass for Dad, he didn’t like the feel of plastic. Of course, the baby only got a bowl and a spoon on the tray of the hi-chair pulled up, to the corner right there between Mom and Dad, no one would give a baby a knife and fork.
At our house, Mom sat at the head of the table in the rolling chair, so she could get up fast to get stuff. When I was the table-setter, I got to sit in a rolling chair, too, ’cause then I got to be the hopper. Sometimes when Dad had to work overtime, his chair was empty. I always sat a place for him anyway, just in case he got home, so it was a tinsy bit like he was there, even if he wasn’t.
Dad liked a whole bunch of special stuff that I thought was disgusting: blue cheese, sardines, and that white stuff in the middle of the meat bone. Whenever Dad had his special food, Bonita and Deanna and Vickie begged to have some. I was pretty sure they liked it just ’cause he did, and I had a mind of my own, something that got pointed out to me at least once a day; sometimes it seemed like a good thing, “Way to go. I always knew you had a mind of your own;” and sometimes it was a bad thing, “Why can’t you just do what you’re told, instead of always having a mind of your own.”
Once I told Dad that blue cheese smelled like his feet. That made him hopping mad. Dad hardly ever got mad at us kids, but when he did, it was usually at me. He kinda liked me having a mind of my own, but not so much me saying all my thoughts out loud. I figured out later, with the help of Mom, that I hurt Dad’s feelings by saying his feet smelled like blue cheese. Dads sometimes got mad when their feelings got hurt, instead of just saying like moms do, “Hey, that was mean, now say you’re sorry,” then after that, everything gets back on track. With Dad, sometimes I needed help figuring things out. I always hated being off track with people, especially Dad.
That’s probably how Jesus and all the Apostles felt at the last supper: all off track. Here they were having a nice Passover supper, ’cause no Easter yet. First everybody started fighting about who would sit next to Jesus, just like Deanna and Bonita and Vickie fought over getting some of that white stuff from the meat bone. Then Jesus announces that one of his best friends was gonna turn against him, and all the apostles started saying “not me, not me,” and looking around, trying to see who had the guilty look on his face.
That Judas was a bad guy for turning Jesus over, but I felt sorry for him anyways. I got to thinking maybe he just had a mind of his own, and thought he was doing a good thing, ’cause afterward he felt so sorry he hung himself. Sometimes my ideas turned out all wrong, like when I took a bite out of the rubber spatula just to see how it tasted, and then it seemed like nobody wanted to listen to the reasons why I did it. I was just in trouble. Maybe Judas should have talked thing over with Jesus’s mom before he got the whole ball rolling. Mary was probably good at figuring things out, ’cause most moms are. Or maybe he should have just spoke right up, instead of sneaking around and making all those plans by himself. Then somebody would for sure have said, “Wait just a minute now, that’s not nice,” and everything could get back on track.
With all my ability to reason with a grown up mind, this story continues to puzzle me. Why must the story of our salvation be such a sad and confusing story of mistrust, betrayal and brutal suffering? Once long after I was no longer a little girl, a nun asked this provocative question: Could Jesus’ death have the power to redeem, if he had not been executed and instead, died of old age? I asked Loved-One that question and after pondering it a bit, he said, “Well, maybe it’s good we only sinned as much as we did, because sometimes living a long time and dying of old age means enduring boat loads of suffering.” I asked Mom that question and she said, “For the love of Mike, sometimes I just can’t believe the things you think about.” Right after ‘thinking for myself’, ‘thinking too much’ is the next most often compliment-complaint I hear.
This Christmas I got carried away with my hand-made gifting. Mom called and asked me: How are you going to knit three sweaters before Christmas? And she’s a super knitter/crocheter/sewer giver! Nine pair of PJs, seven hats, and three sweaters later, Loved-One exclaimed, “You really are working your fingers to the bone!”
It must be all the cancelation that made me do it. COVID-19 sure has wreaked havoc on what I have come to expect at this time of the year. Until last night, we didn’t even have snow.
All this made me think of one of my favorite childhood memories. One where everything seemed to go wrong. Maybe 2020 will leave behind memories that we look back on with appreciation, if not fondness.
For my loyal readers, yes, this is a repeat story. But wait, isn’t that true of all the best Christmas stories?
Just like any little girl, I could hardly wait for Christmas. I studied the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards catalogs daily and made up my list for Santa. The things I wanted could fill Santa’s sleigh up all by itself, so I knew only some of the gifts I asked for would arrive. I marked a star by the most important ones: A cowboy hat and a derringer just like Bat Masterson’s on Have Gun Will Travel.
I prayed for snow, ’cause how was Santa going to get to my house without snow? The grey clouds only spilled down raindrops and the heavy frost in the morning would never do. I knew, ’cause when I took my sled out on the frost, Mom yelled at me, “That’s going to dull the blades. Take your sled back in the garage.” I dragged my sled back over the grass and down the little sidewalk to the garage.
“Good Lord, that sets my teeth on edge,” Mom said covering up her ears. How could a sound hurt her teeth? I thought, Guess that’s what happens when you get old.
I was probably selfish praying for snow, ’cause I just wanted Santa to come. Anyways, it didn’t snow; it just got warmer, until not even frost was on the ground. Mud was everywhere.
“When I was a little girl, Grandpa told me Santa came to houses alphabetically, and our house was last because our last name was Zyber,” Mom told me. “That’s why some years there were just a couple of toys left in Santa’s bag.”
Holy Makerel! At least my last name started with C. There I was being selfish again. All that selfishness might land me on the naughty list.
In bed at night, I heard Mom’s sewing machine whirring away like mad. In the morning, everything was closed up tight, the sewing machine tucked down into the cabinet and not a thread in sight. Hmm… that was super-strange.
Christmas Eve, Deanna, Bonita, and I got the biggest knee-high stocking we could find out of the odd-sock bag and hung them over a chair. Santa came in the keyhole at our house, ’cause we didn’t have a fireplace and the chimney landed Santa in the furnace with no way out. Mom wanted a fireplace like nobody’s business, ’cause she said our house was the draftiest thing she ever lived in and when she died she was gonna be cremated ’cause then, at last, she would be warm.
Just like always, I got down on my knees and said my prayers out loud so Mom could check me. I was memorizing the Our Father ’cause I had to know that for First Confession along with all my sins; Our Fathers got assigned for penance after Confession scrubbed my soul clean. Catholics only said memorized prayers; we never made up prayers on our own, like they did over at my friend Betty’s house.
Up the stairs to bed, we went, ‘Slap the Bear’, just like always on the way up. That’s where somebody yells “slap the bear, everybody included,” and starts slapping the hind-end of the person in front of her. Only the first person in line had a slim chance of getting away, and of course, the last person who had nobody to slap at. Mom probably invented that game to get us up the stairs faster than blue-blazes.
We brushed our teeth, and climbed into bed. It was Bonita’s turn to sleep on the cot, so I cuddled up tight to Deanna to keep warm. “Get your hair out of my face,” she said. She hated my hair, so she drew a line down the middle of the bed with her hand, and told me to stay on my side.
“We forgot the cookies and milk,” Bonita sprung up like a jack-in-the-box, looked out the window, just in case Santa was out there on the lawn, like in that poem.
Everybody has their traditions, especially around Christmas. We had lots of baking, sewing, decorating, and making construction paper chains; and of course, getting the Christmas tree. I’m not sure where we got our Christmas tree when I was really little, but I sure have a lot of memories of cutting down our own; right out in the field on our farm.
Dad had a good friend from work named Don. I was never allowed to call him Don, ‘cuz that’s disrespectful, and I had to respect my elders. There’s no commandment about elders, just parents. Still, my parents said I had to, so if I didn’t, it was still a sin against honoring mothers and fathers. Anyways, I called Dad’s friend, Mr. B, cuz that’s respectful, the same thing for his wife, too, only she was Mrs. B, of course. Anyways, Mr. and Mrs. B bought some land from Dad and built a house, and became our neighbors. They had a son, Scott, and a daughter, Sandy.
Scott’s dad and mine got a grand idea to have a Christmas tree farm. They hoped to sell Christmas trees someday and make a whole lot of money, then they could say, ‘money grows on trees.’ But that never happened. For one thing, it takes a long time to grow trees, and they sorta lost interest. For another thing, it takes a lot of tending to get good-looking Christmas trees: pruning and training the branches to grow straight, and those two dads were way too busy working overtime for Ma Bell, to be out in the field babying Christmas trees. In the meantime, Scott got asthma from drinking drain cleaner he found under the kitchen sink, and the whole family moved to Arizona where the air was easier to breathe and Mrs. B’s hair stayed as straight as a pin and never got frizzy like it did in the summer when she was our neighbor. Those are stories for a different day. This story is about Christmas trees.
When I was a little girl, summer lasted an eternity. I thought school would never start again. Once school started, I looked for snow.
Before I went to bed, I knelt in front of Mom and her part-knitted mittens going round and round on four needles for the next kid who poked a thumb through last year’s. Mom was a knitting maniac.
Way away in the spring I was gonna make my first communion, so I practiced the Act of Contrition kneeling down in front of Mom and her knitting. The Act of Contrition is the prayer I had to say after I confessed all my sins and had my soul scrubbed clean for Jesus. It’s a special prayer to say you’re really sorry for all the bad things you did or might be planning to do, and you promise with all your heart to keep away from sinning and not to even think about it. Prayers say things fancy for God. I had to say, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended thee,” instead of just “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, God.” I guessed God likes fancy words.
My friend Beth got to pray with her own words. She was Methodist. If I could do that, I’d pray for snow, that’s for sure. Anyways, I had to say fancy words like “I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishment.” Being Catholic sure was good for the vocabulary. Mom said God knows what everybody needs. No sense in bothering him, if he already knows everything. He’s different from Santa, who only knows Continue reading →
The seasons seemed so long when I was a little girl. I couldn’t wait for summer, by August it seemed like the sweltering heat would never leave and make way for fall. Once school started, I wondered when-o-when would the snow arrive.
I jumped out of bed when it was still dark, just to see if any snow fell. The ground was white and the willow branches sparkled stiff. Hurray, it snowed. My heart gave a leap in my chest and at the same time I looked at Bonita, she looked at me.
“It snowed,” we said right together, then “You owe me a Coke,” ’cause the first one to say that, wins. We don’t really get Coke, it’s just a game.
Mom never buys pop, except for Vernors if somebody is sick, or when she’s making that special fruit cocktail she makes by throwing a whole bunch of different of fruit together and then pouring brandy all over it, and letting it sit for a couple of days so all the flavors blend together. Yuuummy.
Mom scoops the fruit cocktail into a beautiful glass that looks like the kind movie stars drink from with a skinny stem that you hold with three fingers and curl your pinky out in the air. I saw Hoss on Bonanza do that once. He’s my favorite Cartwright brother.
Right before dinner, Mom poured some Vernors on top of the fruit, and sat one glass in the middle of each place setting. I had to sit still, which is kinda like torture, ’cause for one thing it looks so pretty, and for another thing, the Vernors bubbles up into my nose and makes me want to sneeze and breathe in deep at the same time ’cause of all that gingery smell mixed with the juicy, fruity smell.
I waited until the prayer was over before digging in, then I was super careful, ’cause it’s a glass-glass and a delicate glass-glass, so easy to break. I bet you guessed already, but Mom only made that stuff on special days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I was all dressed up. Another big reason to be careful and stay clean. I was terrible at that. Somehow I got dirty even when I tried not to.
Anyways on days when I thought the first snow fell, I got electricity going in my legs and arms, so quick as lightning I got out the door to feed the chickens and do morning barn chores. Darn it all, nothing but a heavy frost. The grass looked all blue-white in the dark, but it crunched underfoot like a million robin eggs got dropped from the trees. Nothing to scuff with my toe; nothing to roll into a ball; nothing to scoop up with my mitten and taste, all crunchy-clean in my mouth. Darn it, only a heavy frost. Man-o-man, when was it ever going to snow.
I looked up at the sky: not a cloud in sight. The Milky Way spread out above me as far as I could see and the constellations twinkled bright as Dad’s eyes did when he tried to keep a secret; only the sky was navy-blue velvet and Dad’s eyes were light-light blue.
I only knew how to find the Big Dipper. I looked for my name up there in the stars like St. Therese did. Nope. I looked back at the grass all blue-white, teasing me into thinking it snowed. Maybe God’s a practical joker; it was time for snow to come. He knew that; He knew everything, so He knew how much I wanted it to snow. That would be a mean joke, like Uncle Gene’s, not a funny one like Dad’s, where even if it’s not all that funny, I had to laugh ’cause of his eyes, and ’cause the corners of his mouth twitched up begging his whole face to smile and begging me to smile, too. That made me laugh out loud, even when I didn’t get the joke.
Well, maybe God was busy trying to feed the hungry people in China. That seemed more like the God the Sisters told me about in catechism. I took one more look up at the heavens before I headed back to the house for breakfast. Nope, no snow-clouds and no “A”; just the Milky Way and bright stars all over heaven just a-giggling down at me.
Grandma told me the older she got, the faster time passed, until the seasons just blurred together. That seemed so strange back then, but now I have that same experience. It seems like summer just left, and now I’m getting ready for Thanksgiving and before I know it, Christmas will be here.
Each season is alive with beauty: new growth in springtime, flowers in summer, crisp colors of fall. Frost has its own sparkling beauty, disappears before I have my fill.
When I was little, the seasons seemed so long, yet I missed the splendor; now that I’m older, all that beauty just seems to slip away before I’m ready to let go.
Perhaps God does, indeed, enjoy a good joke.
Happy Thanksgiving. For most of us, it’ll be different. Maybe the most memorable of all!