Load ’em Up, Head ’em Out

Dad took two weeks of vacation every summer. 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, but he learned how much fun it could be from Mom. Mom camped when she was a little girl, and that’s before there were even campgrounds.

First off, we had to bake cookies for the trip. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up with home-baked cookies.

Deanna baked Cherry Winks, yucky, I hated those: marachino cherries and corn flakes. I hated Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops for all those free cereal bowls and juice glasses, and marachino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt.

Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies, that’s the first thing I learned how to make in 4-H Cooking; except for learning how to make a root beer float,  that’s just scooping and pouring. Any do-do bird can do that.

Bonita made peanut butter cookies. Yum, those were best still warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I liked to hold a bite of cookie in my mouth and let the milk soak in. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass. Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules.

I made chocolate chip cookies, my very favorite kind, and the kind I got my first blue ribbon for in my first year of 4-H. Each of us Big Kids made about 10 dozen cookies each. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramel-good smell with melting chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside and it seemed like those cookies just begged to be eaten. That left a big greasy stain on the newspaper, so I put new cookies on those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched cookies.

Making cookies took a long time, ’cause I could only bake one sheet at a time, and each sheet took exactly 12 minutes. Let’s see, that’s 12X10 or 120 minutes. Okay that was only 2 hours of baking, but then there was the mixing and washing the dishes, and finally packing into the tin, with a perfect circle of waxed paper between every layer of cookies. Holy smokes, that was a project. Twelve minutes was too long to just sit around staring at the oven, so I liked to read in between. The only trouble was, if I got lost in my book and forgot to set the timer, pretty soon somebody was yelling,

“The cookies are burning,” which was usually Mom, ’cause nobody else paid attention to smoke like Mom did. Grandpa was a fireman, so she knew all about fires and she was scared to death of our house burning. She was always saying, “Are you trying to burn the house down?” That was another one of those questions I wasn’t supposed to answer.

Once I wondered what she would say if
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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

Castro’s Dominoes

When I was a little girl, everybody was afraid of atomic bombs because of  Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoe.  Plus he put Castro in Cuba with Communism.  I prayed every night that Castro would stay on his side of the Bay of Pigs, and not bring his dominoes over to Florida and turn everybody into Communist, and get rid of all the Catholics.  For some reason communist dominoes were dangerous.  Not like American dominoes.  American dominoes were safe as apple pie.

Fallout_shelter_photoOur neighbor across the street built a bomb shelter.  My school had a bomb shelter too, and sometimes we had bomb drills.  My mom and dad thought there were more immediate things to worry about, like getting the garden weeded so we could put food on the table, and letting kids like me know not to poke her fingers into the tiny hole in her Keds and make it bigger, cuz money doesn’t grow on trees, and you only get one pair of shoes for the summer, and you should know better.

Nancy and Doug and Noreen lived across the road from me.  Nancy was Deanna’s age, Doug was Bonita’s, and Noreen was Vickie’s age.  Nobody was my age; that was okay, ’cause everybody let me play with them anyway, even though I was kinda in the gap between ages.  Nancy’s dad put a paint mark on the inside of the garage door that marked each kid’s height:  green for Nancy, blue for Doug, and red for Noreen.  Once a year, Nancy’s dad put a new mark above the old mark, so he could see how much each kid grew.  I guess he got tired of that, ’cause Noreen only had one mark, and it was way down there as small as my little sister Julie, even after Noreen was a big kid.   Dad said he was going to put a mark on our garage too, just one, ’cause somebody would always be that size at one time or another.  On the other hand, if he put a mark for each kid, every year, he coulda had the whole garage painted.
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Once I Was Bad (Maybe More than Once)

St. Pat's 7I like to think I was a good girl.  Most the time I was.  But… once I was bad.  Well maybe more than once.  I did think for a while that maybe I was my mother’s punishment for when she was a bad little girl.   She was full of mischief.  She never told me that, but I was a good listener, and sometimes I heard her laugh about stuff she and her brothers did when they were kids.

Church could have been boring when I was a little girl.  All that Latin, and trying to follow along on the English side of my missal was dull.  That’s probably why the altar boys, my friend Frankie and his big brother Red, rang those bells every so often:  so everybody out in the pews got reminded to wake up, and so we could get back on track with the missal.  Anyways, my missal had a little red picture of bells every so often, so I could slow down or speed up, depending on how fast I read.

first communion handsSometimes I said the rosary during mass.  Lots of people did that, especially the ladies.  My rosary was white crystals.  I got it for my First Communion.  Mom’s was black.  Mom’s rosary beads were smooth from so much praying.

Other times I just looked around and watched stuff, like flies mating.  Mom said that was disgusting and I shouldn’t do that in church.  She got worried about a lot of stuff I thought was interesting, like whether I could really kill somebody by calling them up and ringing a high-pitched tuning fork in their ear.  I saw that on Twilight Zone.  I didn’t really want to kill anybody.  I just wanted to see if it worked.

Anyways, one Sunday, I guess church was super-crowded, cuz I had to sit up in the front row, away from the rest of the family.  My family took up about two rows in our church.  Same thing for my best friend ever, Connie.  She got to sit up there with me, too.  Next thing I knew, there was Annette, another friend from my grade, sitting right up there with me.  Annette had a super-strict mother who never let her wear slacks, even when she did the barn chores.

The three of us got to giggling and whispering.  I thought we were pretty quiet and not disturbing anybody until Annette’s big sister Marie came and dragged Annette out of there by the ear.  Me and Connie looked at each other and laughed into our hands.

Connie and I did everything together. We are blood-sisters.

Connie and I did everything together. We are blood-sisters.

Connie’s eyes were wet and shiny with the giggles, that’s why I laughed.  No one can resist that kind of look.  It’s catchy, even if the laugher pulls her mouth in a straight line and looks down at her missal.  I gotta say, Connie tried to get serious.  I did not.  I was bad.  I poked her with my elbow.  Laughter stuffed down made me get a stomach ache.

Mom grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back to the vestibule.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” she hissed at me.  She made me look straight into her brown eyes.  Her lower lid pulsed up and down.

My stomach still ached for a different reason.  All the laughter seeped out through my feet.

“Kneel down,”  she said.

I did.  Right under the little bowl of holy water.

“Kneel here for the rest of mass.  I don’t want to see you get up once.  You better be kneeling here when I come out of church. While you’re down there, ask God for forgiveness.”

I did just what she told me to.  My knees hurt.  My back hurt.  I prayed.  Mostly I prayed that Mom would forgive me.  I prayed that my guardian angel would protect me and make me good.

church I stayed right where she told me to stay.  One thing I knew for sure, I better do what I’m told when I see those lower lids pulsing up and down like that; no questions asked.  Never mind if I was out of her view.  Somehow she would know if I moved.  Some people talked about getting the fear of God put into them.  The fear of Mom was way worse than the fear of God could ever be.

All the parishioners filed out of church, dripping some holy water on my head as they blessed themselves. No one said a word to me.  Maybe somebody looked at me; my head bent down in shame, so I never knew.  At last Mom came and  told me to I get up.  She asked me if I was sorry.  Of course I was.

I heard Mom tell Mrs. R. all about it over a cup of tea.

“It wasn’t enough for her to see Annette dragged out of the pew,” she said.  “She sidled right up to Connie and gave her a big grin, without a care in the world.”

Mrs. R just shook her head and looked into her teacup like she was looking for an answer to how a little girl could be so bad.

Right then and  there I thought, I must be my mother’s punishment just like Father W said on Mother’s Day:  If you’re bad to your Mom, you’ll get two bad kids when you grow up.  I bet one of the Little Kids was gonna be bad, too, cuz Bonita and Deanna and Vickie were always good girls.

It sorta makes my throat tight just thinking about those two moms talking about my badness and shaking their heads.  I sure was a puzzle.

Me and Connie and Annette never ever talked about that day.  I guess we were all ashamed.

I was bad.  Being bad felt lonely.

I did other naughty things when I was growing up, some probably worse than giggling and whispering in church.  Still, that day is as bright as yesterday.  Maybe brighter.

I never got any bad kids of my own, so I must have been Mom’s punishment.  Anyways, I have no memory of my kids being bad.  They are smart, and strong-willed, and athletic, and amusing as all get-out.  They did give me a run for my money sometimes.  I do remember that.  My grandkids? That’s a different story altogether.   They are delightful.  They are perfect. They are never even close to bad.  Just ask their mothers.

I wonder if anyone else remembers being bad.  What did you do?

Manger Stories

 Lucky for Mom, she has so many kids to get all the work done.  We had a regular chore rotation: Wash dishes, dry dishes, set and clear the table and sweep the floor, and do barn chores.  We could trade with each other; Deanna always traded out of doing barn chores.  She hated the barn.  Bonita and I would rather be outside anyways.

istockbarnEven in the freezing cold of winter.  Still and all, I felt sorry for Baby Jesus in the manger.  A mangers no place for a baby, that’s for darned sure.

For a long time, part of winter barn chores was cracking the ice Continue reading