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

O Johnny, O Johnny, Heavens Above

When I was a little girl, Mom brought home a little brother she and Dad named John Ellis:  the last of nine, the third boy.  Well to be honest, I was not such a little girl anymore; I was 14, and in 7th grade.  My little Johnny was a bit like a puppy who I could cuddle and love and talk to endlessly,   a sweet oasis in my otherwise tumultuous life.    John gave me a reason to stay a child a little longer,  and helped me appreciate life.

Seventh grade was a mixture of fun and heartache:  On top of adolescence,  I had 60  city kids join my 30 country classmates;  I had more than one teacher, all of which I’d never seen before; I fell in love with Arthur, one of the city kids, who broke my heart; and President Kennedy told school kids to get in shape, and then he was assassinated.  Amidst all that, there was my Johnny, a sweet bundle of pure joy —Well, almost.

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                                    Johnny, Frank, Julie, Marcia, and Loren

John needed lots of attention because he had severe allergies which affected his skin and gave him asthma.  Twenty minutes, every two hours, according to doctor’s direction,  I helped bathe John in Balnetar bath oil, which helped relieve his itching.  Then I greased him up in Crisco, which Dr. Cookingham, the specialist, said was the best skin moisturizer around.  John went without a diaper, again Dr. Cookingham, but sometimes I thought this was a practical joke from the doctor, because John peed all the time, and his bottom was the only  skin clear and soft as a, well as a soft as baby’s behind.  Mom made John thick mittens out of flannel and the tops of old socks which I pinned, high up on his shirtsleeves and pajama-legs, so he couldn’t scratch in his sleep.  Most people smell talcum powder and think of babies, for me it’s pine tar and shortening:  what a sweet smell.

There was a whole bunch of stuff that John stayed away from:  wheat, milk, soy, eggs, chocolate, barley, dust, dander, pollen, mold—including anything with a fermented ingredient—no bologna, no mustard, no catchup, no cheese; you get the idea, I’m sure.  We had to replace a real Christmas tree with a plastic one, we carefully spaced any baking with eggs, absolutely no frying of an egg, and we could only cook a tom turkey for Thanksgiving dinner because of John’s egg allergy. Once he had an asthma attack because Mom switched from Gerber to Beechnut rice baby cereal; it turned out Beechnut added coconut oil; that was before food labeling requirements.  Once when he was a toddler, he got his hands on an oleo wrapper and collapsed on the floor.  No EMTs, no ambulances, Mom rushed him to the hospital, 30 minutes away, for an epinephrine shot.

In those days, every child got a smallpox vaccination; not me.  That was too dangerous for John:  he was at risk of  contracting the disease.  When he was still a baby, not talking yet, Mom gave him a his first haircut, which led to a skin infection over his entire body, yet another rush to the hospital, this one the most serious of all.   Mom came home one day and told me John might not make it, the infection was so severe, the doctor had John packed in ice.  My little Johnny stretched out his hand and said his first word, ” Mamma” to a mother, who I could see, even through all my teenage angst, felt absolutely powerless to help him.

What my little Johnny gave me was lots of storytelling time while I bathed him, some of which was about my woeful teenage life, because he didn’t care;  permission to still play like the child that I almost wasn’t anymore; lots of experimenting with wheatless, eggless, milkless recipes; and of course lots of laughs.

John ate Rice Krispies and 7-up for breakfast, had his own drawer of special cookies, and he didn’t have to eat anything “that makes my throat itch.”  Believe me, he learned to work that one.

Mom had a special song for John:

Oh, Johnny, Oh Johnny, Heavens above,

Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, How you can love,

You make my sad heart jump for joy,

And when you’re near I just can’t, sit still a minute.

He loved that song.  I had one, too:

Johnny get ang-ery, Johnny get mad.

Give me the biggest lecture, I’ve ever had.

I want a brave man, I want a cave man.

That made John ball up his fists, bare his little, baby teeth and hiss at me, then we both laughed, a wild abandoned laugh.

Mom always told us to eat our spinach (or green beans or tomatoes, or whatever) and we would grow hair on our chest like Popeye.  John, ever the puzzler, asked Mom, pointing to his crotch, “What do you have to eat to grow hair down here?” Deanna, Bonita, and I covered our mouths to stifle our shy teenage giggles.

John stayed my buddy, he even offered to be my ring bearer when I got married. He joined the wrestling team in high school, he took his date to the prom in a vintage Mustang, and he let a greased pig go in the middle of the high school, and married a beauty who is his best friend.   He doesn’t remember that much about me, because I was grown and he was growing, but thanks to Mom, I kept up with my little Johnny.

I still love talking to him, except now it’s much better, because it’s a two-way street:  what he says is as important to me as his listening skills.

Many years ago, when he was remodeling the old farmhouse he and his family now live in, he asked me, “When will people stop thinking of me as the baby?  No one listens to me.”

He paused, considering what he wanted to say next. “Loren says the exact same thing I do, and people listen to him.”

“Loren’s got one thing you don’t, John.”  I told him.  He looked at me with his clear steady eyes, just like our father’s.

“He’s got grey hair.  Just give yourself a little time.”  I said.  You’ll be surprised how much more people will listen when you have a little grey in those curls.”   John’s pulled on his chin and looked far away like he was thinking through a riddle, then he raked his fingers through his hair, and a smile started up one side of his face.  “You could have something there.”  he said.

Of course I was right, I always have been a pretty smart cookie.  The house turned from a ramshackle ruin to a beautiful home, then John took another risk and started his own business.  He’s everyone’s go-to guy in a psychedelic electrician’s van.  Still and all, he’ll always be my sweet little Johnny.

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                          John, Mom, and Loren

Shhh… help me keep that last part a secret.

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

The Naked Truth, From My Perspective

Sometimes memories are clear as a bell, sometimes cloudy.  Most the time memories are different depending on who’s remembering.  One such memory as vivid as if it happened yesterday for me and two of my brothers.  Oh how different our memories are:  some of the facts are the same, but the emotion is completely different.

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.  The only time we went in the tent were:  to change clothes, to sleep, to put things away after clean-up.  That last one is the one that got me into trouble.

When I was a little girl, taking turns was part of everyday life, like breathing.  Especially with work.  Even on vacation I had jobs; only I liked the jobs better ‘cuz everything was outside.  I liked to stay in my bathing suit all day long, but most mornings the first week of August it was too cold, so  I wore jeans, and a sweatshirt.  Sometimes I wore the sweatshirt inside out, ’cause the right side was dirty. I only had one small box for clothes, so I get inventive. I was messy and Mom hated that.  She said even poor people could afford soap, so there’s no excuse for being dirty.

Anyways, I had to do dishes after lunch, just my turn that’s all, and I was in a hurry, on account of the rain clouds breaking up, and the sun was shining down, and well, pretty soon I was going to be hotter than blazes.

The dishes got stored in the tent.  So of course I marched myself right in there, lickety-split, and was marching myself right out again when I heard my name called out in an angry voice. Uh-oh, how could I be in trouble for putting things tidy and neat.  Still, that happened to me more than I liked to say, ‘cuz some times, just when I thought I was doing a good job, blammo, trouble came knocking.

“What are you doing?”  Dad said.

Yup.  That was his angry voice, all right enough. Continue reading

The Wet Pants and the Diaper

Untitled clippingI was born in charge.  That’s what Mom told me once after I was all grown up.

Maybe.

For sure, I can remember always being responsible for someone else.  I always, always, took care of the Little Kids, and even when it was just Bonita and me, I was in charge, and I made sure she was safe and I took care of her.  Even though she was only one and a half years younger than me, somehow she never seemed to catch up to me in responsibility.  I rescued her from the 4-H Fair when Black-Eyes dragged her in the dirt.

I took care of other people’s kids from the time I was 10 years old.  I got paid for it too, which was proof-positive I was responsible and in charge.  Once I overheard Mrs. B say to Mom, “Look how she plays with the kids.  She hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid herself. “

I loved taking care of kids, and I vowed I would never, ever forget what it was like to be a child.  How could I?

Of course, I made a lot of mistakes.  I was really a kid myself.  Still learning.  Still sorta inside myself, and full of myself, and looking at the world from one perspective: mine.

My Pal, Frankie, the Little Kid I was most responsible for, remembers some of my mistakes.  The biggest one:  The Wet Pants and the Diaper. Continue reading

Secrets in the Boys’ Room

Statue of Scouts at the Cockrell Scouting Cent...

Statue of Scouts at the Cockrell Scouting Center of the Boy Scouts of America in Houston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never heard of Girl Scouts when I was a little girl.  We had 4-H instead.  I did know about Boy Scouts, because Dad’s friend Hal King was a Troop Leader.  He had a uniform and everything, just like he was still in the army.  Loren Dee-dee-bopper was still in diapers and my other brothers were just twinkles in Dad’s eye when he took me and Bonita and Deanna to the Boy Scout Camp.  That’s why we knew next to nothing about boys.  Deanna’s best friend Nancy from across the street went along, plus her dad.  Probably all the moms and Dougie and probably little Vickie and Loren Dee-dee-bopper, but this story is about an eye-opening discovery made by little girls.

Hal King’s Boy Scout Camp was way far away in the wood, full of tall pine trees all growing close together.  I loved to climb trees Continue reading

Lessons on the Mis-shapened Baseball Diamond

A baseball field drawn roughly to scale

A baseball field drawn roughly to scale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring time is baseball time.  That’s the way it is now, and that’s the way it was when I was a little girl.  As soon as the ground was dry enough, sometimes before, we were all out tossing the ball around, choosing teams, and swinging the bat.  We had just our own organization.  Parents only got involved if we played at a picnic or a re-union.  Then, of course, all the uncles got a chance to play.  Dad and his brothers loved to play just about any game a kid liked to play.

 

My friend Mike and his big brother Bobby and his big sister Diana from down the road, and my sisters Deanna and Bonita and Vickie, and Tom and Cathy from next door and Nancy and Doug from across the road all got together and tramped down the grass and weeds in the pasture to make a ball.  Whatever we could find, we used for bases: big sticks, old gunny sacks, or scraps of cardboard worked for us.  Sometimes we used ant hills for bases; after a lot of frantic scurrying at the beginning of the game the ants went underground until the game was over.  The distance between bases changed a lot, depending on who played, how many played, and where the ant’s tried to make their home.  The Queen Anne’s lace looked like sad skeletons sticking every which way, so we stamped it down, otherwise we got poked when we fell down.  Falling down and grass stains were part of baseball.  Bobby was way better at baseball than anyone else, so he batted left-handed and only got one strike; Vickie was almost a Little Kid, so she had unlimited strikes until she finally hit something.  That way everything fair. Continue reading