Little Girls: Then and When


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.

It’s Memorial Day

When I was a little girl, I had an Uncle Gene.  He was Mom’s brother.  Most of my uncles were Dad’s brother, except for Uncle Gene and Uncle Ken.  Uncle Ken lived far away, Uncle Gene lived right next door to Grandma and Grandpa Z with his two kids and Aunt Marion.

Mom said Uncle Gene was full of fun and mischief when they were kids.  I only knew Uncle Gene when he was solemn and kinda grumpy.  That’s on account of him being in the War.  Grandpa wrote about it when he wrote down all his memories back when he was about 95.   (Grandpa’s name was Frank and Grandma’s name was Stella.)  Here’s what he wrote:

The war still going on and we had Germany in a bad way and ready to give up, but Japan was still giving us a lot of trouble.  The army and navy needed many more men and were asking for enlistments and were drafting.  We knew that before long Gene would be called, and him still in high school.  There were a lot of urging by the teachers and others to enlist.  The enlistment was only for the duration of the war.  Gene did want to enlist so badly that Stella and I finally let him do it.  At this time, Stella was in the Saratoga Hospital and after being discharged, Dr. Granger wanted her to stay at his house until she felt better. [Dr. Granger was Grandma’s brother.]

I decided to visit her, and while there, Gene kept bugging me about him enlisting.  Stella and I talked it over and Detroit was the only recruiting office as Flint did not have one.  We thought of taking him there and maybe it might be several weeks or more before he would be called and hoping that it would not happen.

So Gene and I went to downtown Detroit where the office was and after finding the place and getting in there was no waiting.  He was written up and in no time and no further waiting was told that he would stay there till morning and would have to take the physical.  This did kind of surprise Gene and he just didn’t know what to say.  He was told that if he passed the physical, he could go home for a couple of days and then go to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago.  I myself could hardly believe it to be true and felt very much alone going back to Stella.  Then she asked how we made out and I said that I left him there as they wanted him right away, but he would be home tomorrow some time.  It was kind of a shock to her but as she said, “There is nothing we can do.”…..

Gene was aboard the Saratoga somewhere in the Pacific.  I just can’t say how long he was in, but something was going on that we were not to know.  Till one day Dr. Granger let it slip that the Saratoga was hit by Japanese planes.  He would say no more.  It made us kind of uneasy and not long after that we got a letter from someone in Hawaii.  It was from a buddy of Gene’s and it was quite difficult to get the meaning of it.  Many words were blanked out, but it was enough to tell us that Gene was okay and we would be hearing from him before long.  There was nothing said about the ship nor where Gene was, only it did should like it was the island. This did worry us considerably and we waited what seemed like several weeks and finally we did get a letter from Gene.  It was from Seattle Washington and saying that his ship was damaged and they were in for repairs.  Shortly after that, we got a letter from Bernard Granger. [I did not know who Bernard Granger is.]  He said that Gene was in the navy hospital in Seattle for a check up and that Gene had a leave due him and would be coming home. That more or less did quiet us down and sure enough he did write and said that he was leaving there but not coming home.  Instead he was being shipped to a rest camp in Sun Valley, Idaho.  He would not say for how long. At least we knew now that he was okay…..

As the train [from Chicago] stopped, Gene was already standing on the step ready to jump off.  Was he glad to be back.  He looked kind of tired, but otherwise okay.  It was a two week leave while the ship was being repaired.  He had a lot to tell us and did have a lot of fun with his buddies here.  But the time kept slipping away and there were only a few more days and I began to see that Gene hated to go back.  He was told that when the ship was repaired it would go back to sea.  I never will forget that day when Gene was to leave.  I went to his bed room to get him up and he laid there awake and when I told him it was time to go, he had cried and didn’t want to go.  He asked me if I could possibly get in touch with the Red Cross and get an extension to his leave.  I called the Red Cross and they told me what to do.  I told Gene what I was doing, but in the meantime, I told him to get ready…It was a sad day for all of us.

Every time the phone rang I was hoping it was good news, but no word.  I was trying hard to make Gene understand that he would not go to sea again because by now the ship was probably on its way.  Furthermore, you are in no condition to go and there will be a fresh crew to take your place. I tried so hard to make him see that the war was almost over and I was willing to bet that in maybe a month you will be on your way home.  He cheered up a bit and we heard the sound of the train and soon it was at a stand still and time to get in.  How he hated to go and stood there in the doorway till he disappeared in the distance.  We also stood there looking until the last coach no longer was to be seen.

When I read, Grandpa Z’s words, my chest gets tight and tears fill my eyes.  I can’t imagine what it was like for him and Grandma to see their son off and depend only on letters for updates. I will never know what it was like for the night-yet-out-of-high-school Uncle Gene.  The Saratoga was in several battles and on one occasion was hit by a torpedo.  To read more, click here.

On Memorial Day we remember those who lost their lives during active military duty.  Even those that came home physically whole, often lost a part of themselves at war.  Some are never the same.  Neither are their families.


Wake up World, It’s Easter Again

When I was a little girl, waking up Easter Morning was the second best time of the year for me.  Right between Christmas morning and the First Day of School.  The night before, we put our Easter Baskets by the front door, and in the morning they were gone, hidden somewhere in the house.  Anticipation of the goodness waiting for me, if I just searched hard enough, made my stomach jittery like too much coffee does now.

Forty days and forty nights ago, all the statues and the crucifix got covered in purple cloth and the little bowls of holy water at the back of the church got emptied.  I thought I’d never remember to forget about blessing myself when I came in and out of church; no point with an empty blessing-cup.  Finally, no holy water was normal and then comes Easter morning:  Surprise, everything is changed again;  bright and wonderful.  At church, it was glorious ’cause everything was like brand new.

Easter was when I got to put on my new hat, and the brand new dress Mom made just for Easter. All the girls and women had on new straw hats, with flowers in the ribbon, and the dresses looked like a field of flowers: pink tulips, red roses, yellow daffodils, and purple hyacinths.  Starched stiff, with bows tied straight across behind all the girls dresses, just like we were freshly wrapped presents.  Even Father looked like sunshine with his white vestment embroidered with a crucifix across the whole front and back with golden rays of sun just a-shooting out of it.

The whole church was full of Easter Lilies, and the  two sets of three candles were lit on the altar, not just the one lonely candles on each side like all during Lent.  Most of the time, I held my breath when the my friend Mike’s big brother Bob, who was an altar boy, came out to light the candles.  Girls couldn’t be altar boys, ’cause only boys can get to be priest, that’s another one of those rules.  I guess when he was building the church and making up the rules about who could run things, Peter forgot all about the Marys and Veronica, who stayed right by Jesus when he got tortured and nailed on the cross and died.  Mom said that a smart woman lets the man think he’s running things, ’cause then his feelings don’t get hurt.  That was another one I had a hard time catching on to, like keeping my lip zipped.

All during Lent, just one candle on each side got lit, that was a low mass:  pretty quick.  If three candles got lit on each side:  high mass, never during Lent.  High mass meant gobs  of singing in Latin, on and on, Ed come spur tutu, oh and dominoes Nabisco, until I thought it would never end.  I thought it was polite how Bob sent out a little signal with the candles like that, then I knew whether I had to get ready for the long haul with a bunch of day-dreaming.   On Easter, right behind the gospel side of church, stood a brand-new-taller-than-me Pascal candle, which Bob had to reach way up on tip toes to light.

On Easter it was always high mass, except it seemed like it was so long ago that Father did a high mass that all that singing, one note over and over, then everyone changing it up a bit all at the same time like they learned to sing that way when they were still up in heaven before they got born, made my stomach feel all relaxed and happy, like after having a cup of hot chocolate.

The singing, all the hallalulias and hosannas, and the bell ringing  for the high mass just got me reminded how empty all of Lent was, and now it was like everything woke up and came alive, just like Jesus did.  God sure picked a good time to make the most super-duper miracle of all, ’cause the whole world was just like a big rock got rolled back and rose from the dead.

Happy Easter Everyone.

Forcing a bit of sunshine in a somber season

When I was a little girl, Lent was a time of anticipation.  I remember watching a vase of sticks underneath the statue of the Blessed Virgin.  As the 40 days and 40 nights progressed, the twigs turn into beautiful yellow flowers, filling the church with the promise of better days to come.

And, of course sacrifice there was sacrifice.

I always gave something up for Lent. I got to pick my “give-up” except for the one big thing Mom picked out for the whole family, that I had to do whether I liked it or not.

Blood Sister

Connie and Me when we were seven.

Me and my best-friend-at-school Connie, liked to sacrifice by walking to church at Noon Hour on Fridays and doing the Stations of the Cross.  We put on our snow-pants and boots, coats and mittens, and slap-footed out the big double doors; not the ones to the playground, the ones at the front of the school.  Our moms wrote notes giving us permission; still we felt like the high schoolers, who could go downtown every Noon Hour, without notes from home.  Me and Connie walked along with Daylene, who went home for lunch.  Daylene’s mom was Cherokee, something I found out after I was all grown up.  Nobody talked about where they were from, or who their ancestors were, that was as boring as History, we just talked about where our dads worked.  Most of the dads worked in The Shop making cars; my dad worked for Bell Telephone fixing lines and phones and doing installations.  He had all kinds of neat stories about strange people he met all day long and jams he got himself into.  I was proud of my dad ’cause he did something no other dads did.  Connie’s dad was a principal at a school that only had High School kids, not like ours that had high schoolers and grade schoolers and kindergarteners; he had loads of funny stories, too, and sometimes he told jokes that me and Connie didn’t understand, like the one about the Teddy Bear saying he had cotton balls.  Connie’s big brother thought that one was hilarious; we never did figure it out.  Our funniest joke was:  What happened when the Indian drank too much Red Rose Tea?  He drowned in his Tee-Pee.  I never stopped laughing about that one.

Anyways, after Daylene’s house, we walked to St. Joseph’s and did The Stations.  Sister said some people did all The Stations on their knees because they wanted to suffer like Jesus did; there was even a place overseas someplace where people walked on their knees four miles praying and saying the rosary.  Me and Connie didn’t want to suffer that much, and we had to get downtown to buy some Faygo to have with our peanut butter sandwiches, so we just said The Stations in the usual way, except we walked around reading the prayers and genuflecting, instead of sitting in the pew while the priest and the altar boys walked around.  There was no incense, like when the priest does The Stations, so I breathed in real deep to get some leftover smell from Sunday.   I felt a little bit holy when we push the door open and the bright sun hits us in the face.

One year I gave up all candy.  Every Sunday after church, Dad gave me a nickle to buy candy at Glebe’s, unless I was bad in church, then I got a scolding.  Once when I was talking, Mom made me kneel in the vestibule and think about how bad I was for the whole rest of Mass, I didn’t get any candy that week.  Most of the time I was good, though.  The year I gave up candy, Dad let me spend my nickle anyway, and I put my candy away in a paper sack until Easter came.  Every Sunday, I emptied the bag on my bed and counted up the loot. That was the keenest idea ever, ’cause when Easter came I added what was in my paper sack to what the Easter Bunny left, and I had three times the candy as all the other kids.  All that candy tasted three times as good too, since I hadn’t had any for 40 days and 40 nights.  I only did that one year, ’cause I had a bad cases of the runs the next day, and after that, even thinking about it gave me cramps.

Mom made the whole family give up television one Lent.  The first week was really hard, because we didn’t know where to eat our popcorn on Saturday night.  That’s the night we watched Ponderosa.  Deanna liked Adam the best ’cause he was the handsomest.  Bonita liked Little Joe; I liked Hoss the best, ’cause he just looked like he needed a hug and because most of the girls on the show were after Adam and Little Joe, so I figured Hoss needed someone to consider him the best.  Mom always made a big bowl of popcorn, and  put it in front of the TV so  Deanna, Bonita, Vickie, Loren, and I could eat until our bellies popped out and we looked like we were going to have babies.    That first week without TV, Mom just put the popcorn bowl on the floor in front of the TV anyway.  We just sat around in front of a blank screen, chowing down looking like we were watching something.  After that, Mom got Lad a Dog, from the Bookmobile and read it to us.  I liked that a whole lot better than TV; still after Easter, I was happy to see Hoss on the Ponderosa again.

Back then, Lent was a somber time of the year:  We fasted every day, abstained every Friday, prayed and sacrificed things that were important to us.  There was a real sense of community supporting our efforts. Like winter twigs, we transformed, and we grew, and perhaps with a bit of forcing, we blossomed.

It’s difficult to know how good it was for my soul, but I  know it was good for my spirit:  It taught me how to focus and it taught me self-control, it helped me try new things, and it taught me that anticipation can make life a little sweeter. I’ve continued the practice, some years with more enthusiasm than others. This year, perhaps more begrudgingly than some others.

Yesterday, forsythias forced to bloom in front of the Virgin Mary sprouted up from my memory.  I went out in the cold and clipped a vaseful of twigs. I hope they inspire me to do better, be better, and love more throughout the year.


4-H for not quite 100 years.

The County Fair brings back a rush of memories for me.  It’s not the rides or the games or the food.  It’s 4-H.

The first time I got involved with 4-H is was sewing, with Mrs. Tymrack.  Her daughter, Cecilia was a super-good friend of mine.  Cecilia had a lot of sisters, all with names that the Dione quintuplets had.  Dad pointed that out to me.  Mrs. Tymrack was from Poland and Cecilia had to wear dresses below her knees and other old-fashioned stuff.  Still, Mrs. Tymrack made all sorts of Polish food from scratch, like pierogis and kolochkis, which I couldn’t even spell or say out-loud.

The first year of sewing, when I was ten, I made an apron and a tea-towel.  Two things I never wanted to make or wear.  I loved the part where I learned to model and strutted out on stage in an apron, with that silly tea-towel, like I was right out of Good Housekeeping.  Later I learned how to make a skirt and dresses, and a lining, and match plaids.  Always, always, always, the modeling was the best part.  One year I made matching outfits for Marcia and John.  I always got blue ribbons, except one year when accidentally cut a hole in the shirt I made.

Cooking was my favorite, next to showing my cow, Ladybird.  I almost went to the State Fair with my Congo Squares.  And the judges almost ate them all up before giving me my Rosette award.

Showing cows was the best, except for that year Bonita’s Blackeyes ran away and dragged her and she got so embarrassed that she just laid in the middle of the show ring, like she was dead and caused a commotion.  I had to go in and get Blackeyes and finish showing her.  I got so disgusted with Bonnie, cuz I knew she was faking it like she always did when she got hurt.

This year I got to interview a family who have been in 4-H for almost the whole official life of 4-H.  The McCullough family has more than 300 years worth of membership on the year that 4-H turns 100 years old.  Read more 4-H and the McCulloughs here.

I gotta talk to my kids about getting their kids involved.  It’s a great for building skills and confidence.  

I just want a Hoola-Hoop

When I was a little girl, Hula hoops were a new thing.  Everyone had one. Pretty soon everyone knew how to hoopla hoop.

I had to practice and practice.  My belly ached from trying, but I figured if Deanna could do it, so could I. I had to practice outside, cuz hula hoops are outside toys, not for crashing around inside with and knocking over precious things or decapitating stuff. Outdoors had lots of obstacles, too, like little kids underfoot, and mosquitoes buzzing and biting until whack, I gave them the death penalty.

I don’t even remember when we got hulaa hoops.  It wasn’t Christmas and it wasn’t a birthday.  Most toys come with a holiday.  We didn’t get toys just for no reason at all; unless you count inner tubes, which were for camping and were next to free at the gas station. Hula hoops cost something and even though they didn’t cost much, especially if there was a blue-light special at K-Mart,, multiplied by nine kids added up to expensive.  So ‘course we didn’t each have one.  We might have had three or maybe even four. For sure we had at least two, cuz we had contests, and cuz Nancy from across the road taught us hula hoop wars.

Me and Deanna and Bonita and Cathy and Tom from next door liked to have contests to see who could keep the hoop up the longest. Cathy had a fancy one with beads inside that swish-swished as she spun the around and around her waist.

 Nancy loved hula hoop wars a whole lot more than plain old keep-up contests.  For wars, you had to walk with the hula hoop spinning, and run into another Hoola-Hoop.  The winner was still spinning their hoop, while the other kid’s was down hanging dead as a door nail, around her ankles.  I could hardly walk with my Hoola-Hoop, let alone keep it spinning after running into something, so I usually lost at wars.

 Hula-hooping is easy as pie once you get the hang of it.  I could keep mine up for hours, if Mom didn’t have some chore or other for me to do.  Sometimes I got two or three going at once. I could even spin one starting at my neck and work it down to my knees.  I never did that for long, cuz for one thing, it’d be selfish to hog hula hoops all to myself and practice, and for another thing, every kind of play is more fun with someone else.  Even solitaire is better playing doubles.  Even reading is more fun when someone is sitting on the sofa reading along with you.  Especially if that one person is Mom, cuz she’s a super-duper reader and makes a story feel real.

Now that I’m grown, I still love to hula hoop.  I can’t make the K-Mart versions stay up.  I have a fancy, exercise hoop that’s weighted.  I can keep it up at least 3 minutes.  After that, I think of chores I need to do.  Besides, for whatever reason, my body doesn’t believe I can hula hoop for hours anymore. Still, I do have a lot of fun hula hooping with grandkids.

Recently, I got a chance to sit down and talk to Leela Mae, a professional Hooper.  She’s having the time of her life.  Read more about it Here.  I wonder if Leela Mae ever went up against Nancy at hula hoop wars.

Past Post-election scars

A long ago memory woke me a 4:15 a.m.

Me and My Big Sister

Deanna and me when we were little girls.

When I was a not such a little girl, one of my dearest friends ran for student council president. She was already destined to be the valedictorian, but I didn’t know that.  She was just my friend, Judy.  I hung out with Patti and Sandy and Judy, when I wasn’t practicing double-jumps or pom-pom routines with my sister-cheerleaders or trying to find quiet places to be with my boyfriend.  My real friends were “eggheads.”  Like me.

Judy was the obvious choice for President.  She already served as the Junior class representative.  She was dedicated, she was smart.  Judy was a Girl Scout, a drum majorette, a Daughter of the Revolution, and volunteered at the Red Cross.

Craig ran against Judy.  Craig was a nice enough fellow.  I had nothing against him, in fact I liked Craig.  He was cute. I might have even had a teensy crush on him.  Craig was not involved in any extra-curricular activities, he wasn’t on the student council, he was an average student.  He wasn’t one of the popular kids and he wasn’t one of the hoods either. Craig was the underdog in the election. Continue reading

The Naked Truth, From My Perpective

Sometimes memories are clear as a bell, sometimes cloudy.  Most the time memories are different depending on who’s they are.  One such memory as vivid as if it happened yesterday for me and two of my brothers.  Oh how different our memories are:  the facts are the same, but the emotion is completely different.  This is a summer story.  Still, it’s on my mind because both Loren and Frank shared their version with me this past year.

I told you before about our camping trips.  All eleven of us slept and changed in one big army tent with wooden poles and canvas army cots.  Man-o-man, those cots Continue reading