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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You ain’t heavy….If I just keep lifting

When I was a little girl, I had a calf named Tiny.  She was a little Holstein heifer; she was not Belle’s calf, Dad bought her; she was such a runt, I have a sneaking suspicion that Tiny came cheap.  I loved Tiny.  I loved Tiny as much any kid loved their dog, as much as Bonita loved Nikki, our German Shepherd.

The grass was still frosty in the morning when Dad showed me how to teach Tiny how to drink from a bucket.  First I mixed up a powder milk formula for her; Belle had her own calf, plus we needed some of her milk for the house, so Tiny drank formula.  I used warm water so Tiny would think she was drinking from her mother, then I wet my fingers with the formula and put them in front of Tiny’s nose.  She gave a little sniff, licked my fingers, then slurped all my fingers into her mouth and started sucking them like there was no tomorrow.   It almost the same way as when I put the vacuum cleaner hose up to my cheek and I thought my whole face was a goner, only really wet.

I gotta admit, it was atinsy bit scary and at the same time it made my skin have those happy tingles like when somebody remembered  my birthday with no reminder at all.  Slowly I lowered my hand into the bucket as Tiny kept on sucking.  Then I pulled my fingers out.  Up came Tiny’s head all puzzled-looking thinking, where did my teats go? So we started all over again.  Eventually, Tiny didn’t need my fingers at all, but I still let her suck on them, ’cause by then it just felt like her way of saying she loved me, too.

Dad lifted Tiny up and moved her around, just like she was one of his own kids.  I lifted Tiny too, but it was hard for me to walk with her, ’cause her legs dangled down almost to the floor, probably because I was  a whole lot shorter than Dad.

“If you lift Tiny everyday, you’ll be able to lift a full-grown cow when she’s grown,”  Dad told me.  “But you gotta lift her every day.”  Dad’s eyes got damp looking and twinkling like they did when he was telling a story about a telephone extension he sold when he was fixing someone’s line  in the city.  Those stories always ended in laughter, but not so this day, he was all solemn looking in the face, like he was in church, except for his eyes didn’t look so dazzley in church.

I would be about the strongest girl in school, even stronger than Jeannie. She was super strong, ’cause she had four brothers and no sister.  She was tough as any boy.  I never saw Jeannie cry and she could hit a baseball harder than any boy in my school.  I had mostly sisters, I wasn’t all that tough, I cried easy, but I was stronger than most of the kids in my grade.  I knew because I could beat them at arm wrestling and pull-ups.  That’s because of the bales of hay and buckets of silage I lifted doing chores with Dad.

Twice a day and sometimes more, I went out to the barn to feed Tiny and lifted her up as far as I could, burying my nose in her soft hair that smelled like fresh straw and damp skin all at once.  If she was lying down, I snuggled right up beside her and told her all about my day, with a soft voice, so only she and I could hear.  There’s something about the way any baby smells, a kitten, a puppy,  piglet, Tiny or my baby sister, Julie, maybe it’s all the milk babies drink. The smell just opens up my heart and makes me want to breathe in deeper.

I liked being in the barn anyway, especially when Dad was there.  The cats gathered in back of Belle while Dad milked, and sometimes Dad squirted milk in the cats’ mouths.  If he missed his mark, the cat got all offended looking, as if Dad did something on purpose to disgrace her.  He always gave the cats a little shallow bowl full of milk.  As soon as he finished milking he gave a little “Haruph” and hoisted himself off the stool and limped his first step,  like he’d been sitting there for days and he was all stiff.  The cats all stood six inches back from the bowl, waiting all polite-like for the milk to be poured.

Once our old sow, Red Rose’s eight piglets got out of the pen and came a tripping over each other running like it’d been a month since they last ate, and didn’t already just nurse from Red Rose.  They slobbered and grunted in that cat dish, spilling milk and putting their front feet right in the dish.  The cats sat back on their hind quarters and put their noses in the air at each other.  I could just hear them thinking, Well! I never. All smug and prissy. If a cat could turn up their little finger, our cats would’ve.

I did pretty well, lifting Tiny, all though the summer.  Then we went on vacation camping.  We were gone a week, and Dad said he wanted to stay another week.

I started crying, “I gotta get back to Tiny.”  So we went home and didn’t stay an extra week.

Mom said it had nothing to do with me, and I just let her think that, ’cause she and Deanna and Bonita, and Vickie, and the Little Kids, if they were big enough to think at all, would be mad at me if they thought we could have stayed an extra week if it weren’t for my blubbering.IMG_5528

When I got home, first I hugged the carpet in the frunch-room and rolled around on it for a bit. I was so happy to get home.

I had to see  Tiny.  There she was happy to see me, looking like she hadn’t changed a bit.  I scratched her neck and she pointed her nose right up toward the sky in delight; she sucked at my fingers just like always.  But I was unable to lift her. I pulled and tugged, but no luck. Just like Dad said, I had to lift her everyday, if I wanted to be able to lift a full-grown cow.

I have grandchildren now, I gave up on lifting calves.  When my  first grandson was still a toddler, I told him that if I lifted him everyday, when he got to be a full-grown man, I could carry him down the aisle on his wedding day.   By eleven I could still lift him, but his feet were starting to brush the ground because he’s almost as tall as me. He’s sixteen now and has a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t see him as often as I used to. That’s probably the reason I can’t lift him up anymore.

 

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

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 j ust 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?

Now and Then Friends

Connie and me at 4-H camp

Sometimes I wonder what makes friendships last.  Is it a common history?  Shared interests?  Intellect?  Points of view that mesh beautifully?  When I was a little girl, I had all sorts of friends:  Betty, my best-friend-from-the-bus;  Connie, my blood-sister-best-friend;  Debbie, my best-friend-cousin; Bonita, my best-friend-sister.  I suppose Mom had friends, too.  She had Extension Club and Church, and of course family.

I never thought about Mom having friends, when I was a little girl.  That’s ’cause mothers are not real people.  Well, not real like kids are real.  Moms never get sick, or need anything, or want to do anything except take care of kids and maybe have more kids. Oh, and talk about kids.

Mom visited all the time with Mrs. R, from across the street.  Mrs R was  Nancy’s and Doug’s and Noreen’s mother. Us kids played cowboys and Indians or piggy-in-my-pen, while those two moms talked all afternoon.  Moms never played.  They just watched kids playing.  Most of the time,  they didn’t even watch.  Play kinda bores Moms.

Mom went to Extension Club, same as my friend Betty’s mom.  At Extension Club,  moms got together to Continue reading