Trees and Tinsel

Everybody has their traditions, especially around Christmas.  We had lots of baking, sewing, decorating, and making construction paper chains; and of course,  getting the Christmas tree.  I’m not sure where we got our Christmas tree when I was really little, but I sure have a lot of memories of cutting down our own; right out in the field on our farm.

Dad had a good friend from work named Don.  I was never allowed to call him Don, ‘cuz that’s disrespectful, and I had to respect my elders.  There’s no commandment about elders, just parents.  Still, my parents said I had to, so if I didn’t, it was still a sin against honoring mothers and fathers.  Anyways, I called Dad’s friend, Mr. B, cuz that’s respectful, the same thing for his wife, too, only she was Mrs. B, of course.  Anyways, Mr. and Mrs. B bought some land from Dad and built a house, and became our neighbors.  They had a son, Scott, and a daughter, Sandy.

Scott’s dad and mine got a grand idea to have a Christmas tree farm.  They hoped to sell Christmas trees someday and make a whole lot of money, then they could say, ‘money grows on trees.’ But that never happened.  For one thing, it takes a long time to grow trees, and they sorta lost interest.  For another thing, it takes a lot of tending to get good-looking Christmas trees: pruning and training the branches to grow straight, and those two dads were way too busy working overtime for Ma Bell, to be out in the field babying Christmas trees. In the meantime, Scott got asthma from drinking drain cleaner he found under the kitchen sink, and the whole family moved to Arizona where the air was easier to breathe and Mrs. B’s hair stayed as straight as a pin and never got frizzy like it did in the summer when she was our neighbor. Those are stories for a different day. This story is about Christmas trees.

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Yesterday’s Thanksgiving

The seasons seemed so long when I was a little girl.  I couldn’t wait for summer, by August it seemed like the sweltering heat would never leave and make way for fall.  Once school started, I wondered when-o-when would the snow arrive.

I jumped out of bed when it was still dark, just to see if any snow fell.  The ground was white and the willow branches sparkled stiff.  Hurray, it snowed.  My heart gave a leap in my chest and at the same time I looked at Bonita, she looked at me. 

“It snowed,” we said right together, then “You owe me a Coke,” ’cause the first one to say that, wins.  We don’t really get Coke, it’s just a game. 

Mom never buys pop, except for Vernors if somebody is sick, or when she’s making that special fruit cocktail she makes by throwing a whole bunch of different of fruit together and then pouring brandy all over it, and letting it sit for a couple of days so all the flavors blend together. Yuuummy.  

Mom scoops the fruit cocktail into a beautiful glass that looks like the kind movie stars drink from with a skinny stem that you hold with three fingers and curl your pinky out in the air.  I saw Hoss on Bonanza do that once.  He’s my favorite Cartwright brother.

Right before dinner, Mom poured some Vernors on top of the fruit, and sat one glass in the middle of each place setting.  I had to sit still, which is kinda like torture, ’cause for one thing it looks so pretty, and for another thing, the Vernors bubbles up into my nose and makes me want to sneeze and breathe in deep at the same time ’cause of all that gingery smell mixed with the juicy, fruity smell. 

I waited until the prayer was over before digging in, then I was super careful, ’cause it’s a glass-glass and a delicate glass-glass, so easy to break.  I bet you guessed already, but Mom only made that stuff on special days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I was all dressed up.  Another big reason to be careful and stay clean.  I was terrible at that.  Somehow I got dirty even when I tried not to.

Anyways on days when I thought the first snow fell, I got electricity going in my legs and arms, so quick as lightning I got out the door to feed the chickens and do morning barn chores.  Darn it all, nothing but a heavy frost.  The grass looked all blue-white in the dark, but it crunched underfoot like a million robin eggs got dropped from the trees.  Nothing to scuff with my toe; nothing to roll into a ball; nothing to scoop up with my mitten and taste, all crunchy-clean in my mouth.  Darn it, only a heavy frost.  Man-o-man, when was it ever going to snow.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

I looked up at the sky:  not a cloud in sight.  The Milky Way spread out above me as far as I could see and the constellations twinkled bright as Dad’s eyes did when he tried to keep a secret; only the sky was navy-blue velvet and Dad’s eyes were light-light blue. 

I only knew how to find the Big Dipper.  I looked for my name up there in the stars like St. Therese did.  Nope.  I looked back at the grass all blue-white, teasing me into thinking it snowed.  Maybe God’s a practical joker; it was time for snow to come. He knew that; He knew everything, so He knew how much I wanted it to snow.  That would be a mean joke, like Uncle Gene’s, not a funny one like Dad’s, where even if it’s not all that funny, I had to laugh ’cause of his eyes, and ’cause the corners of his mouth twitched up begging his whole face to smile and begging me to smile, too.  That made me laugh out loud, even when I didn’t get the joke.  

Well, maybe God was busy trying to feed the hungry people in China. That seemed more like the God the Sisters told me about in catechism.  I took one more look up at the heavens before I headed back to the house for breakfast.  Nope, no snow-clouds and no  “A”; just the Milky Way and bright stars all over heaven just a-giggling down at me.

Grandma told me the older she got, the faster time passed, until the seasons just blurred together.  That seemed so strange back then, but now I have that same experience.  It seems like summer just left, and now I’m getting ready for Thanksgiving and before I know it, Christmas will be here. 

Each season is alive with beauty: new growth in springtime, flowers in summer, crisp colors of fall.  Frost has its own sparkling beauty, disappears before I have my fill.   

When I was little, the seasons seemed so long, yet I missed the splendor; now that I’m older,  all that beauty just seems to slip away before I’m ready to let go.

Perhaps God does, indeed, enjoy a good joke.

Happy Thanksgiving. For most of us, it’ll be different. Maybe the most memorable of all!

I just want a Hoola-Hoop

When I was a little girl, Hula hoops were a new thing.  Everyone had one. Pretty soon everyone knew how to hoopla hoop.

I had to practice and practice.  My belly ached from trying, but I figured if Deanna could do it, so could I. I had to practice outside, cuz hula hoops are outside toys, not for crashing around inside with and knocking over precious things or decapitating stuff. Outdoors had lots of obstacles, too, like little kids underfoot, and mosquitoes buzzing and biting until whack, I gave them the death penalty.

I don’t even remember when we got hulaa hoops.  It wasn’t Christmas and it wasn’t a birthday.  Most toys come with a holiday.  We didn’t get toys just for no reason at all; unless you count inner tubes, which were for camping and were next to free at the gas station. Hula hoops cost something and even though they didn’t cost much, especially if there was a blue-light special at K-Mart,, multiplied by nine kids added up to expensive.  So ‘course we didn’t each have one.  We might have had three or maybe even four. For sure we had at least two, cuz we had contests, and cuz Nancy from across the road taught us hula hoop wars.

Me and Deanna and Bonita and Cathy and Tom from next door liked to have contests to see who could keep the hoop up the longest. Cathy had a fancy one with beads inside that swish-swished as she spun the around and around her waist.

 Nancy loved hula hoop wars a whole lot more than plain old keep-up contests.  For wars, you had to walk with the hula hoop spinning, and run into another Hoola-Hoop.  The winner was still spinning their hoop, while the other kid’s was down hanging dead as a door nail, around her ankles.  I could hardly walk with my Hoola-Hoop, let alone keep it spinning after running into something, so I usually lost at wars.

 Hula-hooping is easy as pie once you get the hang of it.  I could keep mine up for hours, if Mom didn’t have some chore or other for me to do.  Sometimes I got two or three going at once. I could even spin one starting at my neck and work it down to my knees.  I never did that for long, cuz for one thing, it’d be selfish to hog hula hoops all to myself and practice, and for another thing, every kind of play is more fun with someone else.  Even solitaire is better playing doubles.  Even reading is more fun when someone is sitting on the sofa reading along with you.  Especially if that one person is Mom, cuz she’s a super-duper reader and makes a story feel real.

Now that I’m grown, I still love to hula hoop.  I can’t make the K-Mart versions stay up.  I have a fancy, exercise hoop that’s weighted.  I can keep it up at least 3 minutes.  After that, I think of chores I need to do.  Besides, for whatever reason, my body doesn’t believe I can hula hoop for hours anymore. Still, I do have a lot of fun hula hooping with grandkids.

Recently, I got a chance to sit down and talk to Leela Mae, a professional Hooper.  She’s having the time of her life.  Read more about it Here.  I wonder if Leela Mae ever went up against Nancy at hula hoop wars.

Fighting the Weasel Monster

I posted this back in 2010.  Yesterday, a small cat crossed in front of the car.  She had short little legs that made her almost slink.  If it weren’t for the slight calico markings on her dark coat, I might have thought she was a weasel.  Mom and  the weasel popped into my head and I started to laugh.  

When I was a little girl, I lived in a big house full of mysteries.  The windows had shutters operated by ropes inside the house, except paint made the ropes stick and there was one window which had shutters that never opened.  I could only see the shuttered window from the outside, so sometimes on rainy days, I searched the inside, looking for the secret window.  The basement floor was dirt, and sometimes animals like moles would make their way into the house.  Once a skunk got in there and got scared, and woke us all up in the middle of the night to a dreadful smell.   There always seemed to be places to explore and mysteries to contemplate in that house.

The bottom corner of each bedroom door had a half-circle of wood missing. Maybe  a hungry wood-eating monster took a bite out of each door.  Mom said squirrels lived in the house before we moved there because  the house was empty for a while.   I tried hard to imagine that house empty, no one there at all, and it seemed impossible, my house was a house that needed noise.   Continue reading

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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