Vickie: The Littlest of the Big Kids

When I was a little girl, I had a little sister named Vickie. Vickie was the first baby I remember Mom bringing home, mainly because I was always trying so hard to get a peek at her.  Vickie was the littlest of the Big Kids.  The Big Kids had the most responsibility when we were growing up.

I had to stand on my tippiest-tip-toes to barely see Vickie wrapped up tight in her pink striped receiving blanket in that eyelet covered bassinet. Once, or maybe more times, I tipped the whole kit-n-kaboodle over on top of me and spilled Vickie right out into my lap.  There we were, under the bassinet, little rays of sun coming through the basket weaves, like a cozy hide-away smelling like Ivory Snow and baby oil.  I felt like I just swallowed one of those sunbeams, until Mom sucked in her breath really hard, as if she was getting ready to blow up a balloon , as big as the giant one that I saw outside the Dodge car-store.  I knew that sound meant trouble.  After that, Mom gave me a little stool to stand on, then I could see Vickie with no trouble at all.

img037Vickie had blond hair and blue eyes and a beauty mark on her cheek; not the cheek on her face either, the other one that only people who are really close to her ever get to see.  I helped Mom change Vickie’s diapers, so I saw Vickie’s beauty mark lots of times.  Having a beauty mark means the angels marked you special ’cause you’re so beautiful.  Mom had a beauty mark too, on her big toe; she told me once that she almost got missed, but an angel grabbed her by the big toe, just as she was diving down from heaven.  I don’t have any beauty marks.

Mom read us a book one time about a little angel that couldn’t get her star shined up good enough and kept getting in trouble with the head honcho angel, probably Michael, but the book didn’t point any fingers, you’re not supposed to tattle.  The littlest angel always tried really hard to keep up with the bigger angels; she just kept rubbing and rubbing her star, never quite satisfied.  For some reason, Vickie always made me think of that angel; probably ’cause her white hair floated around her head like a halo and her eyes were so true-blue, she must have gotten them in heaven, and her lips were like a little rosebud; or maybe because she tried hard to keep up with the other Big Kids.

Dad drilled  holes in two boards, and threaded big thick hemp rope through the holes;  he tossed the rope over a giant limb of a boxelder tree growing right outside the house, and voíla,  we had two swings.  Sometimes Deanna, me and Bonita pumped way up high and jumped out to see who could jump the  farthest.  We did this so much, the grass just got tired of trying to grow around there; not even weeds would give it a try, and we had weeds everywhere.  If it rained, a big puddle of rain-water sat there right under the swings, then we had to run and jump to get on the swings and not get our shoes wet.  One day Tom and Cathy, from next door, and Doug and Nancy, from across the road, were over and we had a big swing jumping contest.  Two at a time jumped and then we marked a line in the dirt, so the next jumpers could see how far they had to go to be the winner.   All us kids got really excited and we lost track of where Vickie was; she was too little to jump, she couldn’t even get up in the swing by herself, that’s how little she was.  I guess she wanted to be a Big Kids ’cause the next thing I knew BAM! one of the swings hit her right in the mouth.  That swing almost knocked one of her dog-teeth right out of her head.  The tooth just stayed that way, all loose and dangly, reminding me that I let her get hurt,  until she got to second grade and it was supposed to come out.  Then the tooth fairy left her a whole dollar bill, and a note thanking Vickie for taking such good care of that tooth for such a long time.

We had a cousin, Janet, who was the same age as Vickie;  Janet was Uncle Gerald’s and Aunt Millie’s little girl.  Janet had the same angel-blond hair and angel-blue eyes as Vickie’s, and the two of them sucked the same finger of their hand when they got tired.  Sometimes I asked Vickie if I could have some of her finger juice; she just shook her head “no” and laughed; that was a pretty funny joke we had.  One Sunday, Vickie got right in Uncle Gerald’s car when it was time to go home.  Uncle Gerald turned around in the driver’s seat to count his kids; he saw Vickie there and thought she was Janet.  I guess he was a bad counter, ’cause he had one extra little girl.  When he got all the way to his house, and Aunt Millie sat the supper-table, they realized they had an extra kid.  Uncle Gerald just laughed because he thought Dad was playing a joke on him; those brothers were always playing jokes on each other.  In the meantime, everybody else searched frantic-like for Vickie.  Whenever something was lost and Mom wanted it found, I dropped everything and started looking, ’cause Mom got super-grouchy when she was looking for stuff and nobody helped.  We even had a special prayer to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things: “Tony Tony, look around, something’s lost and must be found.”  That day  St. Anthony must have dropped everything, because everyone was praying, even the non-catholics.  I bet a whole lot of  prayers were left unanswered,  on account of all the ones going up about Vickie; and the entire time she was at Uncle Gerald’s having a bowl of ice cream.

Vickie was the last of the Big Kids:  Sometimes I was trying my darndest to be like Deanna, who just wanted to be left alone, Vickie was trying to be like Bonita, who was trying to be Dad’s best boy.  Maybe we were always in some version of that swing contest, we just kept swinging and jumping and trying hard to make our mark, and once in a while something got knocked loose.  I guess we all got lost now and then, sometimes we didn’t even realize it.  The  most important thing is that someone is always there to dust us off when we got knocked in the teeth and someone is there to celebrate when we find our way again.

Happy Birthday, Vickie

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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

Celebrations fit for a King: Giving from the Heart

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 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.

Aunt Millie, the teensiest Aunt.

We lost Aunt Millie earlier this month.  I stopped by to see Uncle Gerald.  We hugged for a long time.  After that, we talked about aunt Millie.  He loved her since high school. That’s the kind of love everyone wants.

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When I was a little girl, I had all kinds of people around me.  I never had time to get lonely.  I never even had a chance to be alone.  Even in the bathroom, someone else was always there; taking a bath, brushing their teeth, or just sitting on the side of the tub, gabbing away.  There was always something to talk about.  That’s one thing everybody at my house did the best:  talk.  That’s why Grandpa called us The Magpies, because we were always talking.

Debbie was my best-friend-cousin.  She lived Uncle Gerald and Aunt Millie and her brother Jimmy, and Sandy in a tinsy, tiny house with a great big yard.  That yard was the most fun; just wide open space; enough to play baseball with a outfield big enough to have no automatic home run area.  No worrying about knocking a neighbor’s window out either.

Uncle Gerald and all the Aunts.  Grandma’s the one in the apron.

Uncle Gerald was the youngest of all the brothers and the tallest.  Dad said Uncle Gerald never lost his baby teeth, that’s how everybody knew he was the baby, ’cause no one could tell just by looking at him.  Uncle Gerald had straight hair that always slid into his eyes in corn silk shocks, so he was all the time brushing it out of his true-blue eyes.  Those eyes were just like Dad’s, still laughing when the rest of his face was relaxing.

Aunt Millie was the smallest of all my Aunts; she was itsy-bitsy and she Continue reading

A Ferry Fun Vacation

Sometimes we went way, way far away from home to camp.  That took forever.  Mom and Dad scooped us right out of bed, still in our pajamas, and put is in the car so early in the morning, it was still dark and headed Up North to Brimley Park.   That was way up in the Upper Peninsula, across the Mackinaw Straits.  We had to take the Ferry over there.  That was really fun.  I never saw a boat so big it could take thousands of cars over, all jam-packed together like sardines in a can.  Once Dad got the car in the Ferry, we squeezed out and took a walk around, and watched the white caps crash up against the ferry.  The smell of the lake filled up my nose and reminded me that this week was going to feel like it lasted forever.  Still I couldn’t  dilly-dally yet ’cause if we weren’t in the car when the Ferry got to the other side, our car would hold up everybody else, and people would be mad as wet hens at us.  That’s no way to start a vacation.

Once Grandma got the bright idea to send Mom’s cousin Joey along with one of her girlfriends.  Grandma was always thinking Mom needed some help with all us Magpies.  Grandma had two boys first, then Mom way before she had Aunt Annie.  Uncle Gene was a big teaser from the get-go, and Uncle Kenny was a pee wee until after he got out of school, then he got big and strong, but it was too late to be much help for Grandma; besides, she didn’t believe in boys doing much work.  Mom didn’t either, but Mom had four girls before she had any boys.  That was the best idea Mom ever had, ’cause she put us girls right to work, so by the time she had any boys, she had a whole bunch of girls to help her out.  Grandma should have done that, ’cause then she would know that all the help she tried to give Mom kinda backfired. Continue reading

Jumping off the Dock

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 forget the first time.  I’d never been to Myers Lake before.

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.

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, ’cause lots of different kids and no high-schoolers, so everybody just got mixed up and in different seats than on the way to school.  I liked to sit on the bump; the wheel was under there, so if the bus driver went over a bump, Continue reading