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.)

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

Written in the Stars NaPoWriMo

Again this year, I take the poetry challenge. Writing a poem a day throughout May.  I am taking weekends off. I must rest my fingers and say hello to my family.

Today’s prompt from NaPoWriMo.net is to

take your gaze upward, and write a poem about the stars.

Immediately, I thought of when I was a little girl:

Stars and Saints Forever

Sister said, Therese saw her name written in the stars,

Back when She was just a little girl..

Easier than  a martyr or holy wars.

Sainthood is what I sought back then.

In the stars. Why not? Give it a whirl.

Therese saw what lay in store.

There in the sky, a great big capital T.

I looked and looked and looked some more.

No capital A, no lower case Adela in the heaven.

No crusade or death by sword, nothing written up there.

My little girl’s wish upon a star.

Baby steps: toddle and falter and toddle again.

See goodness, do right,

Honor the holy in all eyes.

Little ways, Little ways, Little ways again.

Sainthood is in the daily chore.

cranky nun

Absent a Miracle Worker

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Vickie, Loren, and Bonnie-Jo

I started babysitting for other people’s kids when I was ten years old.  I suppose parents thought I was a pretty good bet, being I had the Little Kids around me all day long.

I got my first job babysitting for Bonnie-Jo, Marian, and Wade.  I told you before about babysitting them while Mrs. D drove around in her Corvair  because Wade opened the door and fell out in the gravel when she took a big dog-leg turn.  Deanna or I stayed with the kids at the Little House, where they lived.  Bonnie-Jo had straight chestnut hair, and big brown eyes and a little body heaped full of energy, just like my Bonita.  Marian had super-curly hair the color of carrots and was just a tinsy bit chubby.   I don’t remember the color of her eyes, ’cause all  that hair curling off like that snake-haired lady, Medusa, kinda distracted me from looking at her face.  Wade had blonde hair and blue eyes.   Bonnie-Jo and Marian were pretty nice kids.  Not Wade.  He was  the awfullest kid I ever knew.  Mrs. D let him get away with anything ’cause he was deaf.  She was just like the mother in The Miracle Worker.

Continue reading

Pearls and Movie Star Kisses

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

The summer before I went into seventh grade, I fell in real love.  Of course I was in love before.  I loved Dale, the boy I never did get to kiss in kindergarten.  I loved Warren in first grade; that is, until he got a buzz cut, and that was it for him and me.  I always loved Georgie, he was my best boy-friend ever.  But John.  John was a whole new kind of love.

John lived about a mile away from me, but I never met him because he went to Catholic School.  I don’t even remember how we did meet, but I do remember he was the shining memory of that summer.  That summer when I knew I was going to the high school.  I knew it.  That was the best.  Then I met John, and the best became better.

John had a two brothers; one the same age as Deanna and one the same age as Bonita, and a little sister the same age as Vickie.  That’s the way Catholic families are: bunches of kids.  But for some reason, God stopped there for John’s family, where God just kept on giving my mom and dad kids.  Maybe it was account of John’s Mom, Mrs. G. was busy teaching girls how to be secretaries and have good manners, and never wear slacks to school.  She was super strict and grumpy as all get out.  My mom just stayed home and sewed and canned and handed out chores to all her kids and was mostly in a good mood, unless somebodies shoes got lost or she was late getting somewhere, or the house was a rip-snorting pigpen.  If those things happened, she might have a screaming banshee fit, or she might just bite down hard and swallow a lot.

Anyways, somehow me and John met and fell in love.  I should remember how we met, but I don’t.  Almost everyday, he walked across the field one way, and I walked the other way, and we met somewhere in the middle.  We didn’t have any streets to cross, or sidewalks, or backyards.  Just fields.  We talked a lot.  I think we must have, cuz what else would we do?  We were outside with no TV or radio or board games or even a bike. And no one else was around, so we must’ve talked and walked.

When we walked, we kept bumping into each other, like we never learned how to walk in a straight line.  One minute, my feet were straight, and the next minute my shoulder bumped up against John’s.  Once our hands brushed and it felt like I my heart hit up against the electric fence that kept the cows from running all over tarnation.  I’m pretty sure John felt a jolt, too, cuz he and I jumped away a little.  Still, I sorta liked that shocky feeling, so before long, we brushed together again, and after enough brushing of hands, John grabbed mine and didn’t let go.  Tingles went all over me.  That’s when I knew I was in love for real.  Not the kind of Dale or Warren or Georgie kind of love. The love I had for John was the movie kind of love.  I knew it on account of I had that same mushy feeling like when I saw those movie lovebirds kissing in the shower, or when that couple was smootching under the apple tree. Continue reading

Labor Day Laborers

Deanna, me, Bonita, and baby Vickie

Deanna, me, Bonita, and baby Vickie with Dad

When I was a little girl, Labor Day marked the beginning:  the beginning of the fall, the beginning of school, the beginning of catechism.   The beginning of hard frosts and sweaters, of hard sole shoes and dresses everyday, of schedules and memorizing.  Of course every beginning follows an ending.  And Labor Day marked that too.  The end of summer:  the end of white Sunday hats and sandals, the end of baseball.  Right on Labor Day, we had our last big family picnic of the year.   Always, always all Dad’s brothers and his one sister, Barbara, with all their spouses and all their kids.   All Dad’s brothers were laborers, except Uncle Ellis; all the wives were housewives, except Aunt Barbara, she was a teacher.  I guessed Labor Day was for men to stop working and rest a little, and for women to just keep on working, ’cause a woman’s work is never done.  Anyways that’s what Grandma told me.

Uncle Merle worked for Consumers’ Power Company and Dad worked for Ma Bell.   Those two brothers both liked to climb poles and fix things; and they both liked to tell stories.  Uncle Merle was Dad’s best-friend-brother, like Bonita was my best-friend-sister.  Uncle Merle and his family  lived in our house and farmed with Dad, until it got too crowded.  Those two had the same star-blue eyes and the same smile that tugged up the corner of their mouth when they tried to look all straight-faced and tell a joke.

Uncle Frank and Uncle Gerald worked in the Shop making cars, one for Ford and one for Chevrolet.  I could never keep it straight who worked for which, but those two were always arguing about who made the best cars in the whole wide world, Ford or Chevrolet. 

Dad drove a Dodge; he said those were the best, which got his two Shop brothers all riled up and arguing, while Dad and Uncle Merle Continue reading