D.A. Driving

My Aunt Annie was way too young to be an aunt.  She was just a kid on a tricycle when my sister, Deanna, was born.     I have no memories of the little girl Aunt Annie, but I do remember the teenager Aunt Annie.  She was fourteen years younger than Mom.  She was nothing at all like Mom.  Aunt Annie and Mom didn’t even look like sisters.

Mom was the most beautiful Mom in the whole wide world.  She had soft wavy brown hair and a laugh that made my heart bubble around in my chest until nothing but happiness could exist.

Aunt Annie had a turned up nose because she pinched it between her fingers when she sucked her thumb back when she was my age.  Least that’s what Grandma said.

Aunt Annie had a D.A. haircut and she giggled.

“See,”  she said, and turned around so I could see the back of her head.  “See how the hair comes together in the back.  It looks like a duck’s ass.”  She combed  back through her hair on both sides and started singing “Kookie Lend Me Your Comb,” using her rat-tail comb for a microphone.

“Maybe I see it,” I said, tipping my head to one side.  I studied the back of Aunt Annie’s head.  “We just have chickens.”

Aunt Annie giggled behind her hand,  mischief danced around in her eyes.  Dad had dancing eyes, and mischief, but Dad’s mischief was the kind that made everybody laugh loud.  Aunt Annie’s mischief was the kind that made Grandma say, “You little stinker.”  Everybody knows being a stinker is a bad thing.  Being a stinker won’t send you  to hell or anything, but it will make people stay away from you.  Well, maybe not all people.  Aunt Annie had lots of teenage friends.

I got to be in backseat when Aunt Annie learned to drive.  That’s because in summer I  got to stay one whole week at Grandma’s all by myself, with no brothers or sisters soaking up the limelight.  Of course I had to help pick raspberries, and help Grandpa out in his shop making inventions like rototillers that could work on both sides of the beans, and putting together movie credits for his home movies, and building secret things like boomerangs.  Helping Grandma and Grandpa was more like fun than work.  Anyways, Drivers’ Training happened in summertime, and that’s how I got to see Aunt Annie learning to drive.

“Put both hands on the steering wheel,”  Grandma said.

Aunt Annie, cocked one of her eyebrows at Grandma.  Aunt Annie’s plucked her eyebrows into thin arches, so she always looked surprised.

“Mr. Mann said to keep the left hand at nine o’clock and the right hand relaxed on my lap.” She smoothed her fluffy skirts.  Her can can slip rustled underneath.

“I don’t care what Mr. Mann says,”  Grandma squinched her bottom lids up.  Everybody knows that’s the signal for I’m getting mad.

“He’s the teacher,”  Aunt Annie said.  “He knows what he’s talking about.”

“I’m your mother,”  Grandma said.  The skin on her jaws rippled and her lips just about disappear. Aunt Annie kept on driving with one hand on the wheel and  the other in her lap.

Aunt Annie looked over at Grandma and arched the right eyebrow up, and pulled her mouth into a crooked smile.

“See,” she said.  “Nobody’s dying here.”

The little curl at the base of her neck wagged at me as Aunt Annie shook her head back and forth and clicked her tongue in the back of her mouth.

“I see it,”  I clapped my hands down on the front seat.  “I see it.”

“What do you see?”  Grandma said.  Her eyes darted all around and her hands flew over in front of nobody in the middle seat.  Mom always did that when she had to stop fast, so baby Frankie wouldn’t fly into the dashboard or onto the floor.  Aunt Annie grabbed the steering wheel with both hands.

“The D.A,” I said pointing to the back of Aunt Annie’s head.  “It looks just like a duck waddling.”

Grandma and Aunt Annie sucked in their breath.  Grandma threw her head back and laughed that same kind of laugh Mom did.  The kind that made the whole world seem happy.

“That’s a Duck’s Ass, alright,”  Grandma said.

Aunt Annie gave me the one-eye-brow-up look through the rear-view mirror.

“You little stinker,” she said.  Her eyes danced.

Being a little sticker is sorta fun.


Talkers and Story-tellers

Mom’s family was way the heck different from Dad’s family.

Mom’s family was full of fast talker.  They had so much to say, their words stumbled over each other trying to get out in the world.  Uncle Tony and Grandpa, and Aunt Mary and Aunt Clara all had something to say about everything going on in the world.  All those uncles and aunts lived to be about a hundred or more, and the whole while they talked up a blue streak.  Sometimes I wondered if anybody was listening with all that stuttering, and shouting and waving of hands.

Dad’s family was full of story-tellers.  All those brothers laid out stories about this person or that dog, or maybe a cow who jumped fences or a fish that could do tricks,  ’til I never knew what was true and what they made up.  Aunt Barbara told stories, too.  She was quieter than her brothers.  Still, she could tell a story so I never forgot. Continue reading

Sauced by Cranberries

Most holidays had several things in common when I was a little girl:  lots of company, extra church time, presents, and no school.  We had little holidays like Memorial Day, those were more like snow days for spring time, just a parade, no company, no special food and no extra cleaning, and no church either.  Thanksgiving was different: no church, no presents.  Of course if there was a holiday and company over, that meant lots and lots of extra cleaning and cooking.  I had tons of work to do before the fun began.

First there was all kinds of cleaning.  That’s the way it always was with holidays; that’s the first clue I had that a celebration’s coming.  Clean, clean, clean.  Deep down clean:  mop and wax the linoleum, vacuum under the furniture, starch the curtains with those darned prickly curtain stretchers, iron all the clothes, Continue reading

Camping It Old-Style

In the Michigan Immense Public Park (Sleeping ...

Image via Wikipedia

Setting up camp for a week of camping is quite a project even today.  Back when I was a little girl there was no high-tech, lightweight fabric or flex-cord aluminum rods, no coolers on wheels, and very little pre-packaged food.

Our tent was like a small canvas circus tent, with poles made of wood and no floor.  The cots we slept on were canvas and wood, and Mom brought along a large cupboard with enough food to feed a small army.  Come to think of it, we were a small army.  Once a fellow camper stopped by and asked Dad how he got all his kids to pitch in and work together so smoothly.  A slow grin spread up one side of his face and lit up his eyes, then washed over the other side of his face before Dad said, “Oh that’s easy.  No one can go to the bathroom until we get camp set up.”  Dad had all kinds of ways to motivate kids without raising his voice.

I loved to go to Sleeping Bear Dunes to camp.  For one thing it was a little closer than Brimley, so it didn’t take us a week of Sunday’s to get there; for another thing, the beach was all white sand and we got to set up camp on a site right on the beach.  That was the berries.  The only down side was that campsite was at the top of a sandy hill that we had to lug all that gear up.  Geez-o-Pete’s, that was tough.  Oh yeah, and getting steaks to hold firm in all that sand was kinda tough, too; but that was Dad’s job; I just had to hold the poles steady while he figured it all out.

Dad drove around and around the campground until he found just the right site for us.  It had to be pretty close to the bathrooms, ’cause one Little Kid was in diapers and another was getting potty-trained; but not too close to the bathrooms or people would be traipsing over our lot.  That was no good.  Then Mom walked around and around the site until she found just the right place for the tent.  She told Dad exactly how to put the tent, where the door should face, and how close to a shade tree.  Then Dad set the tent up with all us kids helping.  Nobody in this world could set that tent up by himself, not even two people could do it.  Sometimes it took two Big Kids just to hold one wooden pole steady.  Once the main poles were up and the ropes staked in, me and Deanna and Bonita put in the wall poles, that was pretty easy.  That tent never, ever ended up exactly where Mom wanted it, but once it was up, there was no way in blue blazes it was getting moved.

Lots of times Bonita and I worked together to put the army cots together.  That was pretty easy until we got to the last peg in the hole for the cross-bar, then Bonita held on tight and braced her feet against the legs of the cot and I pulled hard as I could to get that canvas stretched tight and finally: pop, the last cross-bar was in place.  Vickie and Loren carried the cots into the tent, one at the head, and one at the foot, singing ‘We are Marching to Pretoria” or some other song Mom taught us, and Mom got everything all organized and neat, with all the cots in a row, and everybody’s beer box of clothes underneath.  Little Kids slept toe to toe on one cot, ’cause there was no sense in wasting space.  Mom and Dad had this huge double cot with metal mesh and a thin mattress on top; they always slept together, that’s what married people do.

Mom put the cupboard and the icebox in place, right outside the tent door, and the stove on the picnic table, and finally, we were on Easy Street.  Just beach and sand and cookies and ice cream and adventure.  Sure I still had to help with dishes, making supper, and watch Little Kids, but I liked that stuff anyway; well except for the dishes.  Even doing dishes was fun when I was outside.    I told Dad that in the old days, people just used sand to scrub pans, ”cause Brillo pads weren’t invented.  He said that was a great idea, so I should give it a try.

Carefree Camping

After that we never packed Brillo pads, ’cause sand worked super, and it was a lot more fun scrubbing a pan on the beach, with the sound of the waves and the seagulls all around me.    Dad said that was the best idea ever, and I knew he meant it, ’cause those blue eyes of his never ever lied.  Anytime something got burned on, I volunteered to go scrub the pan.  That happened a lot, ’cause when we were camping, Dad cooked breakfast every day: hot Tang ’cause it seemed like it was always cold and rainy outside in the morning when we camped, bacon, eggs, and the best of all things, bread fried in bacon grease.  That was the most delicious breakfast in the whole wide world.   Once Bonita begged Dad to cook that breakfast at home for us.  It about made me want to throw-up.  I guess some things are only delicious when you’re outside all day and you are really, really hungry, and there’s no Cheerios and fresh milk handy.

A big orange canvas tent with wooden stakes. See the portable cupboard Dad made for Mom.

Most of the time we all just ran around, built camps in the scrub-brush, jumped waves and swam all day.  I tell you, every kid should have the chance to vacation like that:  no TV, no radio, hardly any chores to do, just each other.  We got to know each other in a whole different relaxed way.  Want an ice cream cone?  Let’s walk.  So what if it’s three miles?  We’ve got all day with nothing on the schedule.  Now that’s the berries.

The Last of Supper

Every family has rituals whether  planned or just developed over time.  When I was a little girl, going to church on Sunday, a  candy treat afterwards at Glebe’s, and going for  ice cream cones in the summer were all rituals that got passed on from one generation to the next.  Supper turned out of  those everyday rituals that came to be almost sacred to me.

As I hauled up the hill after school, over the ruts Dad filled with black walnuts to get those oily husks off and so he could save on gravel,  the smell of Mom’s cooking made my mouth feel all slippery inside.  Unless she was making liver and onions, then my spit-juices got all thick and my stomach tried to get out my throat.  Or potato pancakes, those made my nose tried to shrink down to a nub and I had to cover my mouth, so I wouldn’t throw up.  I told Mom over and over, those things made me sick, but she thought I was just being dramatic, whatever that meant.  Once, when renters still lived in the frunchroom and my family still fit in the kitchen for supper and I was stuck in behind the table, sitting up tight against the wall, Continue reading