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


Hurray for the Fun is the Pudding Done

These 40+ year old sleds are completely origin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a little girl, summer lasted an eternity. I thought school would never start again. Once school started, I looked for snow.

Before I went to bed, I knelt in front of Mom and her part-knitted mittens going round and round on four needles for the next kid who poked a thumb through last year’s.  Mom was a knitting maniac.

Way away in the spring I was gonna make my first communion, so I practiced the Act of Contrition kneeling down in front of Mom and her knitting. The Act of Contrition is the prayer I had to say after I confessed all my sins and had my soul scrubbed clean for Jesus. It’s a special pray to say you’re really sorry for all the bad things you did or might be planning to do, and you promise with all your heart to keep away from sinning and not to even think about it. Prayers say things fancy for God. I had to say, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended thee,” instead of just “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, God.”  I guessed God likes fancy words.

My friend Beth got to pray with her own words.  She was Methodist. If I could do that, I’d pray for snow, that’s for sure. Anyways, I had to say fancy words like “I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishment.” Being Catholic sure was good for the vocabulary.  Mom said God knows what everybody needs.  No sense in bothering him, if he already knows everything.  He’s different from Santa, who only knows Continue reading

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.


Free Bird? Maybe; Or Not

I remember childhood as free.  Free to roam, free to read, free to eat when I was hungry, get up when I woke up, and go to sleep when I got tired.  Oh to be that free again.

Wait a minute.  (Imagine the sound of screeching brakes.)  When I was a little girl, none of these freedoms were real.

First of all, I could only travel so far.  Down the road to my first best friend, Betty’s house, out in the field, down Terry Lane.  If I had permission first.  Later, when I got bigger, I got to ride my bike around the mile, and even later, Bonita and I rode the horses.  Mom always knew my whereabouts.

For sure, I could read when I wanted to.  As long as I finished my chores, and no Little Kids needed watching, or I wasn’t babysitting for the kids in the Little House.  I could sit for as long as I wanted, and read and read and read.  I even got to finish the rest of the page, before I had to get up and do something Mom asked me to do.  Unless, somebody needed help right this very minute, then I just finished the paragraph or the sentence.  I could never, ever leave a book in mid-sentence.

Sure, I could pick something from the garden and eat it any old time I wanted to.  The rest of the food was on schedule, sort of.  I ate breakfast when I got up, and fixed lunch for the Little Kids, and ate with the family when Mom told me to.  I never kept track of the time, and I never went hungry, so I just felt like I was free.

Course I went to sleep when I was tired.  Lucky for me I got tired at the same time every night.  Even when I was too little to tell time, I knew I had to go to bed right after a certain radio program.  That’s why I tried to turn the radio off.  Cuz for sure Mom would forget to make me go to bed, if she never heard her program.  You can just guess how well that plan worked.

My life was full of structure:

  1. Get up and get dressed.  Nobody got breakfast before getting dressed;
  2. Brush my teeth and get the snarls out of my hair;
  3. Eat breakfast:  Oatmeal, whole milk and Tang;
  4. Go #2.
  5. Get in line for Mom to brush my hair pretty in ringlets or a ponytail;
  6. Feed and water the chickens;
  7. Get out and down to the road to wait for the bus.

The chores changed as I got older, and sometimes breakfast changed a little.  Mom ran a tight ship.

I remember one of the first times I created structure of my own.  Mr. Kopczynski tried to teach me Polish in the fifth grade.  I loved Mr. Kopczynski.  I even stayed inside at noon hour so I could learn.  Over the summer, I decided to if I just scheduled Polish every day, I could learn it.  I could.  I didn’t, but that might be because I made a great schedule with way, way too many things to do in it.

I think of myself as working best untethered and free to be creative.  I prefer the Ta-Da list to the To-Do list.  I create a Ta-Da list at the end of the day, with all the things I did get accomplished.  So much more satisfying than a list of things I want to do, and can never quite get all checked off.

The truth is, I need a little structure.  Maybe not as much as I had growing up.  There’s so much I want to do; so much to accomplish, I forget what I want to do next.   I have goals and priorities; I just need to organize them.   I’m going to get a little more structure in my day.   I think I’ll start with 1-4 from when I was a little girl, and build from there.

What do you think?  What’s your natural style?  Are you an automatic list maker?  Do you have goals and a To-Do list, or do you prefer the Ta-Da list?

I have this picture hanging where I see it every day. I like to think of myself as neither of these, floating free on the lake, not tied to the dock at all. The truth is, I’m probably a little more like the docking on the left.

All the links in this post are links to earlier “Once a Little Girl Stories.”  Perhaps you will enjoy stories about the Little House, or the chickens, or my smarter than my mom stories.  I’ve got some about Little Kids, and school buses and a bunch of other links, but too many links seems sorta distracting to me.  Please feel free to browse around, comment, or send me an e-mail.  Your comments help me think of more stories.

If you like the picture “Different Philosophies,” you can browse the artist’s gallery at his website:

I thought up the “Ta-Da List” on my own.  I guess lots of other people did too!

Snapshots in Black and White

Kodak SIX_20 'BROWNIE' E

Kodak SIX_20 ‘BROWNIE’ E (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Best Friend-neighbor Betty, loved to take photographs.  She’s the girl who lived ¼ of a mile away from my house, when I was in kindergarten.  I got to walk to her house sometimes, with her mom watching from her porch, and my mom watching from mine.  We played in her yard, under the clothesline at the end of the narrow sidewalk that led from her house.  .That part matched my house, everything else about Betty’s house was different.  Once I ran lickety-split from Betty’s house to the clothesline and landed on my foot half off and half on the sidewalk.  It hurt like the dickens for over a month.  Of course, I only got to go inside the house when Mom went with me and had coffee and chatted Extension Club stuff with Mrs. S.

Betty had an older sister, and an older brother, just like my Best Friend-ever, Connie; only Betty’s sister was oldest and Connie’s brother was oldest.  All my brothers were Little Kids, and Loren, all by himself in the middle.  I only had one big sister, Deanna and she was just a year older than me, which was next to nothing.  Connie and I had lots of Little Kids in our families; Betty had nobody she could boss around and be in charge of.  She was the baby.

Babies of the family are special our baby, Johnnie.  Betty was nowhere near as special as Johnnie, ‘cause for one thing, she was the youngest of three, and Johnnie was the youngest of nine, which was way specialler.  Plus, Johnnie almost died from getting a haircut, and from sucking on an oleo wrapper, and from breathing the smell of a hen turkey on Thanksgiving, and a bunch Continue reading