Endless Summers Behind and Ahead

Of course, when I was a little girl, the first day of school was the very best day of school, but the next best was the last day of school.  All the summer stretching out ahead of me was just marvelous, with no particular plans, except vacation in August.  I had animals to tend, the garden to hoe, lawn to mow, and I had to help with the cooking and cleaning and watching the Little Kids, but other than that, free time, like no other time of the year.  Plus, I got to ride my bike to school and wear shorts on the last day.

School was about five miles away, in town, so I had to get an early start.  Deanna and Bonita and Vickie and me from my house, Nancy and Doug from across the road and Cathy and Tom from next door, then we picked up more kids as we got closer to school:  Mike, Diane, Bob, and Annette and Brenda. We went single file for a half-mile down the paved road, until we got to Brenda’s house; the rest of the way was on dirt roads, so we could spread out any old way we wanted. Continue reading

Story-telling Dad

When I was a little girl, fathers were not as involved in raising children.  My dad worked a lot of overtime, and when he was home, he had work to do around the home.  Our family ran more like one of today’s small corporations:  Dad was the Director, and Mom was the Manager, with lots of independent decision-making authority.  Dad had an open door policy, but he was a little removed on a day-to-day basis, so sometimes it was more comfortable to go to Mom.

I loved it when Dad was home, still, I was a tinsy bit afraid of him.  He had a whole life that was somewhere I was not.    Most the time he was off at work for Bell Telephone Company, Dad called work ‘Ma Bell’.  I liked the way that sounded, work could take care of him, no matter what.  Dad always told stories to Mom about the people he met.  He fixed the telephone lines, by climbing up poles; sometimes the poles had metal rungs on them for climbing, but most of the time Dad hooked big giant spikes to his shoes and strapped them tight around his legs.  Then up the pole he climbed, keeping steady with a belt that hooked around his waist and the telephone pole.  I knew what that looked like ’cause lots of times he brought his climbing gear along on vacation, and when he got bored up a tree or pole he would go.  Maybe that’s how I got the idea climbing trees was so much fun.  Way up there, he could see all over the city, and into houses, because sometimes people forgot to close their drapes.  That made Dad embarrassed, so he climbed all the way back down, knocked on the door.

“Excuse me Ma’am, I just want you to know I’m working on your line right outside your house,” he said.

It was always ‘excuse me ma’am’, cause all the men were at work.

Once a pretty lady who was just wearing flimsy nightie opened the door.

“I was waiting for you,” she said leaning against the door jamb with one arm over her head, like she was trying to keep it from falling down, or something.   “I saw you out there from my bedroom.”

Dad told Mom he was at a loss for words, which I could hardly believe at all.  He said he just said what came into his head first.

“Well, then if you don’t mind me saying, you could use an extension in your bedroom.  Maybe you’d like one of these nice little pink princess phones,” he said to the lady, still leaning up against the door jamb.

Mom just sat there at the dinner table listening away with her elbows on the table and head resting in her palms.  That was okay, ’cause dinner was over, and the rule about no elbows on the table only counted when we were eating.  Mom always listened close to everything Dad said, and asked questions so she understood the story, but not too many questions, so Dad didn’t get off track, like I sometimes did.  She was the best listener in the whole wide world.  Dad told her that’s all you have to do to make friends:  just listen, ’cause most the time, people just want to talk.  He must have gotten tired of listening at work, ’cause when he got home, he talked up a blue streak, and when he was with his brothers, it was almost like nobody else was there, except somehow, it still felt like I could chime in if I wanted, only I didn’t want to because it was just a whole lot more interesting to listen to those guys talk.

“Sure, come on in,” the pretty lady said.  “It’d be great to talk on the phone while I’m in bed.”

Well, what do you know, there was a great big bare-naked man in her bed, and for some reason Dad knew that man was someone other than the pretty lady’s husband. I started thinking how much like Goldilocks and the Three Bears that story was, except Dad was Goldilocks telling Mama Bear, “Somebody’s been sleeping in your bed, and there he is.”  Now Mom was laughing with her head thrown back and all her silver fillings showing, and I started to laugh, too, which made them both stop and look at me, like they just noticed I was there.

Dad wiped up across his eyebrows and pulled down on his chin; no more smile, “Why don’t you go play, like the other kids?”

I ski-daddled right out of there, ’cause I could tell by the way Dad’s voice sounded, that he wasn’t really asking a question.  I never even told him how much I liked his stories.

Sometimes, when my uncles were over, I liked to just sit under the dining room table with a couple of cousins and listen to all my Aunts and Uncles.  They sure did have a great time, especially when they played Yahtzee: rolling the dice, talking and shouting out, ‘oh, I have to scratch my Yatzee’, and everybody laughing uproariously.

Once, I wrote Dad a note from down there under the table, I hardly went anywhere except to do chores without a book or a tablet and a pencil.  My note said:  ‘I love you.  Do you love me.  Yes ◊  No ◊.  Check one.’  I folded the note up tight and neat as I could, reached up and put the note on Dad’s knee.   Right away he opened it up and read my note to himself.

“Come on up here,” he said, looking under the table.  He put me up on his knee, took my pencil and wrote a whole bunch of stuff below my name, folded the paper back up, just as tight and neat as before, and handed it back to me.  “This should answer your question,” he said, those blue eyes just smiled stars right down into mine. “I hope you never have to ask that question again.”

I tried so hard to read what Dad wrote, but the letters were all looped together; I only knew how to read printing, and he wrote in cursive.  I stuffed that note right into my pocket, so later on I could ask Mom what it said; she would, for sure, tell me. I could talk to Mom about anything.

Only problem is, I forgot all about Dad’s note and threw my pants in the clothes hamper. The note got all shredded up and spread over the whole load of laundry.  I always forgot to empty my pocket, and I always left Kleenex or paper in there, which always, always, made Mom mad.

I never did find out what Dad wrote on that note.  For a lot of my childhood and young adult life, I stayed a little bit in awe of Dad.  Still, as I grew older, I came to know exactly what he meant when his smiling eyes looked down into mine:  I will love you to the stars and back, until the day I die.  He did, and then some.

Here’s a picture of the two of us.  We’re not smiling, I think we both had a headache, driving in sunshine did that to us.  I like these pictures, because you can see just how much we’re alike, even our body language.

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

That’s Dad in the front seat, same day, same trip

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

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

Jumping off the Dock

Back Camera

When I was a little girl, I loved to swim, almost as much as I liked to dance.  Every summer, Mom signed me up for swimming lessons at Myers Lake.  All through grade-school I took swimming lessons.  I learned to swim the first year, still, it was loads of fun to go back each year. I’ll never been to Myers Lake.  I’ll never forget swimming lessons.

Nobody swam at a pool around my house:  there were no public pools around me, and for sure nobody had a pool big enough to swim in at their house.  For Pete’s sake, everybody knew that kind of stuff was just for movie stars and millionaires.  Around me, pools were just for the Little Kids.  Mom bought one of those, but it was a pain in the neck:  grass got kicked into it, the our dog Nikki, drank out of it, Frankie went #1  in it, I think our lamb, Jack, went #2 in it, and finally it sprang a leak and failed to hold any water at all.  Like I said, Mom bought one.  Once.

To get to swimming lessons, Mom drove me to school, where I got on a school bus with a whole bunch of kids.  My friends Daylene and Connie walked to school, so swimming lessons was the only time they rode a bus.  It was different from school.  For one thing, everybody had on shorts and jeans over our swimsuits.  No dresses, not one.  Nobody knew where to sit, cuz of lots of different kids and no high-schoolers, so everybody just got mixed up and in different seats than on the way to school.  On the way to school, it was like assigned seats with nobody telling us which seat to take; we just knew.  I liked to sit on the bump; the wheel was under there, so if the bus driver went over a bump, Continue reading