Dinner Time and Holy Thursday

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.

The Last Supper

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. We had a lot of “no’s,” but 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. 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.

At our house, Mom sat at the head of the table in the rolling chair, so she could get up fast to get stuff.  The table-setter sat in a rolling chair, too, ‘cuz the table-setter was the “hopper,” hopping up and down to fetch things.

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 ‘cuz 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.   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, ‘cuz of 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 figure out who had the guilty look on his face.

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, ‘cuz 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, on account of 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 G-Money 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.

Hurray for the Fun is the Pudding Done

These 40+ year old sleds are completely origin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 pray 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

Great Dining Room

There was no such thing as great-rooms and open space, when I was a little girl.  Every room was distinct. You might think the dining room was for dining, but that was just the beginning. Everything went on in the dining room at my house.  The dining room led everywhere, and everyone ended up there.  The dining room had four doors:  one to the back room, one to the frunchroom, one to the stairway, and one to the kitchen.   The dining room was for bringing together and sending out.  The dining room was for fortifying and uniting.

One door led to the back door.  That’s where I wrote my name in blue crayola.  It took me so long time learn how to write my name.    Mom taught me the right way so all my Valentines would come out right, I knew better, but there was no wallpaper or pretty colored paint or anything back there by the door; just a white Continue reading

Working to Relax

Last Saturday, I read this story at a local music festival.  Telling or reading a story is so different from writing it and waiting for a response. It was the second year for me at the festival. Last year, I got to know the real definition of stage fright. You know when people say they are so nervous might pee their pants? Yeah. No exaggeration. I was that scared.  This year, I was much less nervous.  People laughed in all the right places. I think I like this story-telling gig.  I just might do it again. Here' my story:

When I was a little girl, every August Dad took two weeks off from working at Ma Bell for a vacation.

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.

Mom camped when she was a little girl, back when Times Were Tough, before campgrounds. Grandpa had to put bees’ wax on his tent to get it waterproofed.

Grandpa just drove the family around until Grandma said “dinner’s ready.” She had food cooking in a pot under the hood of their engine.

They camped right beside the road; wherever they stopped. Usually by some lake or river.

The first thing WE had to do to get ready was bake cookies. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up.

My sister, Deanna baked Cherry Winks. Yuck, I hated those: maraschino cherries and corn flakes. I hated Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops so all eleven of us got free cereal bowls and juice glasses. Besides that, maraschino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt.

Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies. Vickie was the littlest Big Kid, so she got an easy recipe.

Bonita made peanut butter cookies. I liked those warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I held a bite of cookie in my mouth and added the milk. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass.

Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules.

I made the chocolate chip cookies. Those were my Blue Ribbon specialty. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramelly-good smell mixed with melted chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside. Taking cookies left greasy stains on the newspaper. I put new cookies on top of those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched any.

I had to go to confession for that: stealing, lying, disobeying. I never knew how I should categorize it. Or was that three sins in one action I had to be careful, cuz not confessing a sin was a sin too.

Sometimes I forgot to set the timer and got lost in one of my Book-mobile. Pretty soon Mom was shouting:

“The cookies are burning,” and “are you trying to burn the house down?” That was one of those questions I wasn’t really supposed to answer.

I just kept my smart-aleck thoughts in my head where they belonged and shook my head ‘no.’

Girl on tractorDad got busy fixing up stuff in the barn to make it easy for Ralph. He was one of the teenagers Dad hired at haying and vacation time. He lived three miles away, so if the cows got out while we were gone, they could be wandering for hours before Ralph knew about it, with our phone ringing off the hook and neighbors knocking our door down, and nobody to get the cows back behind the fence.

Cows are super-smart about discovering bad fences. Dad said they put their chin hairs up against the wire to see if it tickles. No tickling and they just barged on through.

Good fences are more important than anything before vacation.

I helped Dad make sure the fences were in tip-top shape. That was fun, ’cause he let me drive the tractor, and test the fences for grounds. It was quiet out there in the pastures with the cows all around, and Queen Anne’s lace blooming up to my shoulders making everything smell like green carrots.

Sometimes a sweat-bee would buzz around me.

Mom knew how to show a sweat-bee who’s boss. Just swatted ’em straight down toward the ground; then the bee would buzz off all dizzy, hardly knowing which way was up. You can do that to a sweat bee.

Never try that with the kinds of bees that like to live in wood piles behind the church. Those will chase you right into the church and pretty soon all the women who’ve ever been moms, or ever had a mom will be swarming around, putting ice on you or baking soda poultices and ointment; oooing and ahhing like nobody’s business. If that didn’t feel so good, it might be embarrassing.

Tons of stuff in the garden got ready for picking right about when we were ready for vacation. Early in the morning, us kids picked beans and tomatoes and cucumbers and corn.

Mom was right there in the kitchen we baked cookies, canning away, so nothing got wasted. Besides canning, she packed things up so we had fresh stuff to eat while we were camping. That saved money.

Nobody ever said so, but I was pretty sure God gave some extra points off in purgatory for being thrifty.

Mom and us kids dragged all the camping gear down for the attic: A huge tent that was about big enough for a circus, and wooden tent poles and stakes. Dad said it was an army tent. We could’ve fit all the Little Kids in the tent bag and had ‘em come out one by one, like a clown car. Tarps, canvas cots, sleeping bags, ice box, Coleman stove, lantern, flashlights, pots and pans, clothesline, clothespins, water bucket, dipper, dish pans, hatchet, and lots and lots of playing cards.

Mom gave each Kid an empty beer crate for packing our clothes: new shorts and shirts Mom made specially for the trip, a pair of jeans, our beach towel, sweatshirt, underwear and bathing suit. If it didn’t fit in that beer case, tough luck, it was staying home. Anyways, most of the time we wore our bathing suits; clothes were only for if it got cold or we went to town.

Each Big Kids helped a Little Kid pack up their beer crate.

Mom packed all the food and Dad packed up the trailer.

Nobody helped Dad pack the trailer, except to hand him stuff, ’cause he had to have the trailer ‘just so.’

Nobody knew what ‘just so’ was, except Dad. It took lots of studying and adjusting and loads of time.

By the time Dad got everything packed ‘just so’, he was letting out low grunt noises and rubbing the back of his neck up there where his head sits, and pinching the top of his nose between his eyebrows.

Amidst all this hubbub, the house was getting cleaned from top to bottom: dusting, mopping, scrubbing, and vacuuming. The whole place got Spin-n-Span and smelling like pine and Bon-Ami. It looked like company was coming on Easter Sunday, when we finally got in the car to go UP NORTH. Mom said, she didn’t want anyone coming in a messy house if we got in a car accident and died while we were on vacation.

I always said a Sincere Act of Contrition when Dad started up the engine. I said sorry for all the bad things I did, forgot to do, or forgot I did. I wanted to be on the other side of the Pearly Gates before the neighbors started talking. I’m pretty sure criticism gets a busy signal in heaven.

I hear a lot of talk about how life was simpler back in the good old days. Maybe some things were. But it sure seems like it was a whole lot more work to relax back then.

Itching For a New Nose

This is the time year when I close the windows and turn on the air filter.  I begin days when Jack Frost paints the fields with a layer of white icing.  Years before I knew Ragweed was my enemy, I wished for the sweet relief a killing frost would bring.  A world of itching filled late summer and early fall, when I was a little girl.  The real kind, not the figurative kind that’s good for us all.

My skin itched like crazy.  Sometimes, Mom taped popsicle sticks to the inside of my arms, so I had to keep my arms straight.  She thought that would keep me from scratching.  I scratched the back of my knees, and my ankles.  My skin itched from the inside out.  I needed to scratch down to the bone; not like the picky itch that a wooly sweater gives, or the sweaty itch that humid heat gives, or even the itch of a dozen mosquito bites.  It was an itch from the inside out.

“Stop that scratching,”  Mom said.  I looked down, and sure enough, there were my fingers right under the hem of my dress or wrinkling up my pant leg,just a-scratching away, without my permission.  I knew what it meant to have an itch that couldn’t be scratched.  Mom put a thick, white cream on my skin to help the itch go away.  Maybe it helped; maybe the itch would have been worse without that metallic smelling cream smeared all over me.

I knew the worst was on its way when my throat started itching.  I could get at the top of my throat with the back of my tongue, but that was just the beginning.  My eyes itched, the inside of my ears itched, and my nose itched. I pushed my nose up with the palm of my hand and rubbed it around and around in circles just to get some relief. That traitor nose Continue reading