The Outer Limits: Friendship and Love

When I was a little girl, I was always in love with somebody.  First it was my uncles, that wasn’t real love; then it was Georgie, and Warren, and Frankie, and of course, Dale, who was the one who got away.  Those were just friends that happened to be boys that I loved as my favorite.  I loved my best-friend-Connie in almost the same way.  When I got to seventh grade, I fell in the head-over-heels kind of love.  That’s when buses shipped the Unfortunate Ones to my school after we got annexed.  That’s when I met Art.  That’s the year life started getting complex.

I bawled my eyes out when I realized I would be staying at my old school and not going to the High School like Deanna did when she got in 7th grade.  I never got the letter telling me I had to stay; every Unfortunate One got a letter.  Mom tried to tell me, but I refused to believe her.  I said “No, Dad said everyone who had to go to my school, got a letter.  I never got a letter.  I must be going to the High School,” I said.  Dad was on the school board.  He knew. Continue reading

Big People Rules

When I was in sixth grade, my world changed.  That was the year after we Annexed:  The Year of the Big Bee, the year Deanna went to High School and my school only went as far as sixth grade.  That’s the year Mrs. Taylor was my teacher, and at the same time, she was the Principal.  Sixth grade was the year I became a Big Person.

No more high-schoolers went to my school, so I guessed nobody climbed up that full flight of stairs to classrooms up there.  Deanna went to The Creek on the high-school bus with Diana and Bob, while Mike and I went to the same school we always did.  Deanna put her hair up in giant hair rollers and ratted it and attached a tiny bow that matched her dress, right in the middle above her bangs.  She looked like those girls on American Band Stand,.  She got up super early, put on a dress, ’cause slacks were against the rules for girls once we got Annexed, and walked half-way to Diana’s house to catch the bus that drove right by our house anyways.  Only so many bus stops were allowed on each mile. Continue reading

Aunts and Uncles and Cousins, Oh My

I often wonder why so often families have such a hard time getting together for the holidays.  Somehow all five of Dad’s brothers and his sister got together over the Christmas holidays.  Of course, they did all live within sixty or so miles of each other.  Still, I think it was important to them to get their families together.  Besides that, they all seemed to like each other so much.  So did all the kids.

Grandma loved Christmas.  She sewed and embroidered and crocheted away all fall, just to have something nice for everybody.  She made me pajamas for my doll, Jonsi-Belle, a dresser scarf and lots of embroidered handkerchiefs, and once she gave me a little triangular box that fit right in the corner of my dresser drawer.  My nose dripped all the time, which is probably why she thought I needed hankies, but those things were tough on the nose, especially the way Mom starched everything.  I kept a handful of Kleenex in my pocket instead; those were way softer.  That little corner box was great, though.  For one thing, red was my favorite color. For another thing I had all kinds of  treasures to keep in there:  my rosary and scapula, my key to the box Grandpa Z made for me, some convex and concave lenses, and that rock Dad told me was a petrified potato.  That last one turned out to be a tall tale or a joke or a lie, I never figured out for sure which one it was, but it was a far cry from a petrified potato.  I just kept it around as a reminder of that old saying about everybody gets fooled some of the time.

Deanna and her best-friend-cousin, Linda

My best-friend-cousin, Debbie, and Deanna’s best-friend-cousin, Linda, and Vickie’s best-friend-cousin, Sandy were at the Christmas party.  Bonita had no best-friend-cousin, ’cause all the cousins her age were boys:  Gary, Jeff, and Jimmy; they all were each others best friend cousins.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Bonita wanted to be a boy so bad.  Those boys were noisy and rough.  I could understand why Grandma always said boys were made out of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails; but she was wrong about that sugar and spice business for girls.  She never saw me and Bonita leg wrestle, or Deanna give the bloody knuckles, or me throw Deanna’s Tiny Tears down the stairs.  Girls were just quieter, that’s all.

Besides Grandma’s presents, I got a present from a cousin.  At some time, I never knew when, names got drawn out of a hat, and I had a cousin to give a present to, and one gave a present to me.  I never got what I asked for, ’cause I never asked for anything.  I always got something I wanted, which was the best kind of present ever:  a surprise present.  Lots of times I got a game, like Kootie, or Mr. Potato Head.  Debbie got a game called Mousetrap.  That game had lots of tinsy pieces that fit on the game board and built a big contraption of chutes and levers and a boot kicking over a bucket. Each player tried to build the mousetrap and prevent their mouse from getting trapped at the same time. All those little pieces got broken and they hurt like the dickens if I stepped on one with my bare feet.

Every uncle except Uncle Ellis had a whole passel of kids.  Uncle Ellis and Aunt Doris only had one boy, Craig.  I guessed one boy could only make so much noise by himself.  Craig’s blue eyes got wide and his lips pulled in a little when he saw all those kids, ’cause he lived in the Motor City, and only got together with the rest of us every once in a while, mostly on holidays.  I could  tell that commotion was pretty darn peculiar to him.  Craig never had hand-me-down clothes; so no stains or patches, or frayed cuffs around his coat sleeves.  He was kinda quiet like his mom, Aunt Doris.  The rest of us knew how to deal with commotion, even when we weren’t visiting.  I could read a book while the house fell down around me; I was that good at blocking out commotion.  Sometimes I never even heard Mom call me to set the  table; that’s how good my concentration was.

Grandma didn’t have a house of her own anymore, she lived with Uncle Merle, who lived across a field from Uncle Frank.  Those two were friends, but Uncle Merle was my Dad’s best-friend-brother, ’cause they were as close to being twins as two brothers could get.  Uncle Merle was so close to my Dad that he refused to go to kindergarten without his little brother.  Well, kids back then never knew they could have their own opinion, but Uncle Merle cried every day, until Grandma got fed up, and marched both little boys, one who was just four years old, and who would be my dad some day, to the schoolhouse.  Grandma was super-quiet and kinda shy, but when she looked you straight in the eye and talked to you, well, you knew you better listen.  So next thing ya know, two kindergarteners instead of just one.

I never heard Grandma shout or talk mean.  Uncle Glenn told me once if he cried or pitched a fit, Grandma just laid her hand on his and breathed in deep and that was the end of that.  I bet she was praying, “Please Lord, make this boy shut up, before I blow a gasket.”  I only think that ’cause six boys in one house is an awful lot, especially with only two bedrooms. Aunt Barbara was quiet, just like Grandma.  She grew up to be a teacher.  Maybe she always wanted to get kids to tow the line and learn a thing or two.  I never heard Aunt Barbara yell or act cross, but lots of times Moms keep things quiet in front of other people.  Sometimes when my Mom was mad, when the phone rang, she turned right around and sounded sweet as honey   She said, “Hello?” and her whole face got soft.   After she talked to a grown-up for a while, her mood changed for good and she forgot all about being mad.

When the cousins started becoming teenagers, we got together less frequent, until finally our Christmas tradition disappeared.  Then weddings started the whole get-together business revived.   I think the cousins missed each other as much as the aunts and uncles did.  I know that’s true for me.

Labor Day Laborers

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

Clouds Get in My Eyes

When I was a little girl, my TV only got in three channels all kind of fuzzy and most of the programs were for grown-ups.  I never even heard of video games, and computers were as big as my whole downstairs.  I knew that ’cause I read about it in my Weekly Reader.  I spent most of my free time reading or outside.  That’s how I learned to like clouds so much.

Mom could see stuff in clouds.  She said when she was a little girl, she and her brothers flew kites and made up stories about the dogs, and cats, and dragons and snakes they saw in the clouds.  She said to me, “See the walrus up there?”

“Where?” I looked up at the sky, with enough blue to make a pair of britches. That’s what I cared about, ’cause that meant it was going to be nice all day.

“Right there.  See the grey body and the white head, and up near the top; see the giant tusks coming out of his face,”  she stooped down, her dress, parachuting out all around her, making her legs disappear.  She took my hand in hers and pointed it up at a big gray and white cloud.  Mom sure looked pretty with her head tipped back looking up at the sky.  I could almost imagine what she looked like out there flying kites with Uncle Ken and Uncle Gene.  She had a sister, too, but Aunt Annie was born way later than anyone else, so Mom was like an only daughter, so she had to do all the work that me and my five sister did.  Mom thought boys would be working all their grown-up life, so there Continue reading

Tarzan of the Hayloft

In spite of all the work I had to do when I was a little girl, I still had plenty of time to play.  The best fun of all was building forts with Bonita and Tommy. Together we were a great team of invention, independence, and perseverance.

The best forts were in the hayloft.  It was against the rules to play around in the barn, and against the rules for boys to be up in the loft without Dad around, but me and Bonita sneaked anyways, and we let Tommy come up there and help us.  The bales of hay and straw were just like giant bricks for building.  I saw how Grandpa built things with bricks:  one solid layer on the bottom, then stack the next layer, overlapping the cracks in the first layer.  That was kinda like the way we stacked the bale at baling time, only at baling time, everything was flat, and with forts, we built walls up high, with tunnels connecting everything.  Hay bales made the best walls ’cause they were heavy; we used straw for the roof.  The roof was hard to make:  the walls had to be just the right distance apart, too far apart and the top bales fell through, too close, and we got just a hallway, no room at all.  Tom got inside the room and balanced the bales, while me and Bonita adjusted the walls.  When I got into building like that, I forgot all about how hot is was up there and how heavy those bales of hay were and how much everything up there made me sneeze and itch.  Well, to be honest,  I sneezed and itched almost all the time, anyways; that’s why Mom sewed pockets in every single thing she made me, ’cause I didn’t go anywhere without Kleenex. That hay and straw smelled so good and green and musty all at the same time.  Sometimes, if I was lucky, I saw streams of sunshine coming through the cracks in the barn walls, just like beams from heaven when the Holy Spirit came down and said “This is My Beloved Son,” only no voice and only barn pigeons, and lots of bits of dust riding on the sunbeams.

We worked for days together like that, ’cause we could only do so much before somebody was hollering for us, to come for supper, or trying to find out what was taking so long, or just because.  Sometimes, I got a hay-hook out, and pretended I was a mountain climber, grabbing the side of the hay-mountain with the hook and pulling myself up.  Once I missed and the hook went straight into my knee.  Holy mackerel, that hurt like the dickens and the next day even more.  I had a heck of a time walking for a couple of days, which made me miss a special 4-H field trip where I could have seen how artificial insemination worked.  That’s what Dr. Friese did with the teacup of hot water and vial when he came over and I had to stay in the house.  Dad didn’t know I knew, but I figured it all out by reading the calendar he had out in the barn:  first the cows rub their heads together, then they play piggy-back, and then next thing you know, there’s Dr. Friese asking for a teacup of hot water.

Bonita and I found a box full of pulleys and ropes lying around in the tool shed, just idle, so we strung them up all around the hayloft and flew around like Tarzan through the jungle, only we had a seat made of rope to sit on.  Wheee!  That was super fun just gliding all over the place, fast as lightning.  We got one rope rigged to go straight to the ladder down the hatch to the manger, and one time Bonita slipped off and went right down the chute.  I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants.  She was just fine on account of all the soft hay and straw down there, but it sure looked hilarious.  That set of ropes and pulleys was so keen, I just had to tell Dad what good inventors me and Bonita were.  I knew he was going to be so darned proud of me.

He wasn’t.  He clamped his teeth together so tight little ripples went up his jaws and disappeared behind his ears.

“You could slip down in this loop, and strangle.”  Dad widened out the rope loop stuck his neck in; his eyes bulged way out and his tongue hung loose against his cheek, like they would on a strangled man.  I was thinking my armpits would probably get in the way and the rope would tangle all around my arms first.  “But Dad,”  I said.

“But nothing.”  he said back, which means something like ‘Don’t talk back’ or ‘Shut up’ in Dad talk.  Anyways Dad was always thinking about how kids can get hurt and telling me not to do fun stuff.  “Take all these ropes down.  Right now,” he said.

I must have looked as sad as I felt, ’cause right then, he came up with another idea. He showed me how to slip a small piece of baling twine through the pulley and hang there by my hands.  That way if I slipped, I fell free of the pulley and just fell down on some hay, kinda the same way Bonita fell through the hatch into the manger.  That was even more like Tarzan of the Jungle.

Years later, long after I was grown, Mom told me that Dad had a horrible experience with rope in the hayloft.  One of his German shepherd dogs was in heat, so he tied her up in the loft, so no male dogs could get near her.  That dog was so anxious to get a mate, she broke right through the wall of the barn, and hanged herself.  Dad saw her just hanging there when he went out to do chores in the morning.  I bet when he saw his little girls whirring around on rope having a grand old-time, he could see a tragedy in the making.  It’s a tough thing for parents to have enough experience to expect danger, and to have enough courage to let their children stretch their imaginations, muscles, and minds. A really tough thing.  Wheeee!!

Red Winged War and Peace

When I was a little girl, I had a genuine Daisy rifle.  Bonita and I each got one for Christmas.  Santa left the rifles smack-dab in the corner, right behind the Christmas tree.  I dropped to my belly and army-crawled back there to get my gun; Bonita was right beside me.  We got so excited, we knocked the whole tree down.  Whoa!  Now that’s one, no two, very excited little girls.  I believe our excitement overcame any anger Mom or Dad had about the mess created.

Dad attached a target to some bales of straw in the barn and he taught us all about gun safety:  never put the barrel of the gun in the ground, always aim carefully and know what else is around that might come into your line of fire, never leave the gun loaded, and never, ever, never aim a gun, any gun, even a toy gun at a person.  Dad was in the army during the war; that’s where he learned all those rules and that’s why he took pointing a gun at a person so serious.  He never wanted us to even pretend to shoot a person.  “Guns are not toys,” he said.

Gary, who moved from down-south and lived across the street in the Russells’s house after they moved to a town with a better school, had a B·B gun too, so he came over to target shoot sometimes, but only if Dad was there.  Same thing for Tommy next door, but Tommy didn’t have his own gun, so he just watched and waited for someone to take pity and give him a turn.  It was against the rules to have boys in the barn, unless Dad was home.  My gun had to be cocked every time I wanted to shoot. We each took a turn shooting, then walked up to the target to claim our hole in the target.  At first, the target was clean, everybody missed, but before too long we were arguing who got the bulls-eye.

When springtime finally came, I sat some cans and baby food jars on the fence Dad made of old telephone pole cross-arms,  and shot the cans and jars right off there.  Bonita and I pretended to be just like Lucas McCain on The Rifleman, except we could only fire one shot at a time, before re-cocking our gun.

Continue reading