The Naked Truth, From My Perspective

Sometimes memories are clear as a bell, sometimes cloudy.  Most the time memories are different depending on who’s remembering.  One such memory as vivid as if it happened yesterday for me and two of my brothers.  Oh how different our memories are:  some of the facts are the same, but the emotion is completely different.

I told you before about our camping trips.  All eleven of us slept and changed in one big army tent with wooden poles and canvas army cots.  The only time we went in the tent were:  to change clothes, to sleep, to put things away after clean-up.  That last one is the one that got me into trouble.

When I was a little girl, taking turns was part of everyday life, like breathing.  Especially with work.  Even on vacation I had jobs; only I liked the jobs better ‘cuz everything was outside.  I liked to stay in my bathing suit all day long, but most mornings the first week of August it was too cold, so  I wore jeans, and a sweatshirt.  Sometimes I wore the sweatshirt inside out, ’cause the right side was dirty. I only had one small box for clothes, so I get inventive. I was messy and Mom hated that.  She said even poor people could afford soap, so there’s no excuse for being dirty.

Anyways, I had to do dishes after lunch, just my turn that’s all, and I was in a hurry, on account of the rain clouds breaking up, and the sun was shining down, and well, pretty soon I was going to be hotter than blazes.

The dishes got stored in the tent.  So of course I marched myself right in there, lickety-split, and was marching myself right out again when I heard my name called out in an angry voice. Uh-oh, how could I be in trouble for putting things tidy and neat.  Still, that happened to me more than I liked to say, ‘cuz some times, just when I thought I was doing a good job, blammo, trouble came knocking.

“What are you doing?”  Dad said.

Yup.  That was his angry voice, all right enough. Continue reading

Memory Waves on a Rainy Day

Death was part of life on the farm, when I was a little girl.  Cats died from milk fever, dogs got hit by cars, the cows and pigs we knew by name got sent to the butcher’s and returned as beef and pork for dinner.  People only died when they got really old, like Dziadzia, he was my great-grandfather, or like that truck driver Mom and Dad knew who had a heart attack when he was 43.   People always lived a long time.  Except for Bobbie-Jo.

My sister Deanna’s good friend, Cleta, had a big sister, Bobbie-Jo. Cleta and Bobbie-Jo rode my bus to school.  Bobbie-Jo wore big skirts with three can-cans underneath, so she barely fit through the aisle of the bus. She swished past me, heading for the back of the bus where the slick teenagers sat, but not in the very back seat.  The hoods sat in the very back seats, with their DA haircuts all slicked back except for a slippery curl in the middle of their foreheads.  I could smell just a whisper of lily-of-the-valley after Bobbie-Jo squeezed by; I tried to hold that smell in the back of my nose and not let go, she smelled so good.  I probably smelled like wet straw, from doing morning chores.

Bobbie-Jo’s hair was dark brown, even darker than Bonita’s, and pulled back in a tight, high ponytail that she brushed into a loose ringlet.  When she walked, the tip of that curl brushed against the back of her neck.   Bobbie-Jo was always laughing and smiling, that nice kind of smile that meant ‘I really like my life’ or maybe her ponytail just tickled her neck all the time.  Sometimes I just wanted to tug on her skirt and say, “Hey Bobbie-Jo, you can sit by me.”  Of course I  never did, ’cause my best-friend-from-the-bus, Betty, got on first and always sat right down next to me, and besides, Bobbie-Jo was a teenager, she only liked other teenagers.  And her sister, Cleta.  Of course she liked Cleta.  Mom said you have to be good to your sister, you will never find a better friend, ’cause your sister’s gonna know you from the time you’re born. No one else will know you  forever like that.  A sister will always be there for you.

Bobbie-Jo learned to drive and got a part-time job after school over in the City.  Sometimes, she had to drive home kinda late at night, especially on the weekend.  One night when it was raining really hard, a man drove right into her lane and hit her straight, head-on.  Bobbie-Jo never knew what hit her.  She died right then and there. I know that because I heard it straight from the guy at the funeral parlor.

Cleta’s phone was on the same party-line as my phone.  If you had a party-line and if you heard a voice on the line, you had to hang up really fast.  Listening-in was super rude and an invasion of privacy.  Besides that, Mom got hopping mad if she caught anyone listening-in.  Deanna could lift that phone up and cover the receiver; she listened-in without anyone knowing.  I tried sometimes, ’cause it was kind of interesting to hear boring stuff going on at somebody else’s house, but usually whoever was talking, mostly Lois, my best-friend-from-the-bus, Betty’s, teenager sister, would say “Hang up the phone!” in an angry voice.  I hated people getting angry at me, even when they didn’t know it was me.  Anyway, when Bobbie-Jo got in that car wreck, I stayed right away from that phone.  I only picked it up once, and I heard Cleta’s mom crying to the undertaker.  That was the worst kind of sadness I ever heard.

Teacher took the whole class to the funeral home to pay our respects to Cleta and her family; it was only three blocks away, so we all walked down there at Noon Hour.  I think the whole school went to the funeral home that day.  Lots of adults stood around saying how good Bobbie-Jo looked.  That body in there did not even look like Bobbie-Jo to me:  no smile, no can-cans fluffing her dress way out, and no ponytail at all, just a fancy curly hairstyle, kind of like her mom’s, that Bobbie-Jo never, ever wore in real life.

Now Cleta had no sister at all.  Who was going to be her friend for life? I was so lucky, I had five sisters.  Five friends for life.  Cleta only had Bobbie-Jo.

Rainy days like today are good days for thinking about sad memories.  Somehow we manage to keep going after deep losses; I guess it’s just what’s called human resiliency. But sometimes the memories come swelling up from way deep inside like a wave.  The kind of wave that I can hardly see approaching until all of a sudden, I’m deep in over my head.  I hope people like Cleta find someone who can be as good a friend as a sister is.  I thank God everyday that I have five sisters far away, yet close in spirit.  Everybody needs friends like that.

(Just for the record, my brothers are pretty darn keen friends, too.)

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.

 

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

Absent a Miracle Worker

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Vickie, Loren, and Bonnie-Jo

I started babysitting for other people’s kids when I was ten years old.  I suppose parents thought I was a pretty good bet, being I had the Little Kids around me all day long.

I got my first job babysitting for Bonnie-Jo, Marian, and Wade.  I told you before about babysitting them while Mrs. D drove around in her Corvair  because Wade opened the door and fell out in the gravel when she took a big dog-leg turn.  Deanna or I stayed with the kids at the Little House, where they lived.  Bonnie-Jo had straight chestnut hair, and big brown eyes and a little body heaped full of energy, just like my Bonita.  Marian had super-curly hair the color of carrots and was just a tinsy bit chubby.   I don’t remember the color of her eyes, ’cause all  that hair curling off like that snake-haired lady, Medusa, kinda distracted me from looking at her face.  Wade had blonde hair and blue eyes.   Bonnie-Jo and Marian were pretty nice kids.  Not Wade.  He was  the awfullest kid I ever knew.  Mrs. D let him get away with anything ’cause he was deaf.  She was just like the mother in The Miracle Worker.

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Pearls and Movie Star Kisses

That's me in the back seat of the car.

The summer before I went into seventh grade, I fell in real love.  Of course I was in love before.  I loved Dale, the boy I never did get to kiss in kindergarten.  I loved Warren in first grade; that is, until he got a buzz cut, and that was it for him and me.  I always loved Georgie, he was my best boy-friend ever.  But John.  John was a whole new kind of love.

John lived about a mile away from me, but I never met him because he went to Catholic School.  I don’t even remember how we did meet, but I do remember he was the shining memory of that summer.  That summer when I knew I was going to the high school.  I knew it.  That was the best.  Then I met John, and the best became better.

John had a two brothers; one the same age as Deanna and one the same age as Bonita, and a little sister the same age as Vickie.  That’s the way Catholic families are: bunches of kids.  But for some reason, God stopped there for John’s family, where God just kept on giving my mom and dad kids.  Maybe it was account of John’s Mom, Mrs. G. was busy teaching girls how to be secretaries and have good manners, and never wear slacks to school.  She was super strict and grumpy as all get out.  My mom just stayed home and sewed and canned and handed out chores to all her kids and was mostly in a good mood, unless somebodies shoes got lost or she was late getting somewhere, or the house was a rip-snorting pigpen.  If those things happened, she might have a screaming banshee fit, or she might just bite down hard and swallow a lot.

Anyways, somehow me and John met and fell in love.  I should remember how we met, but I don’t.  Almost everyday, he walked across the field one way, and I walked the other way, and we met somewhere in the middle.  We didn’t have any streets to cross, or sidewalks, or backyards.  Just fields.  We talked a lot.  I think we must have, cuz what else would we do?  We were outside with no TV or radio or board games or even a bike. And no one else was around, so we must’ve talked and walked.

When we walked, we kept bumping into each other, like we never learned how to walk in a straight line.  One minute, my feet were straight, and the next minute my shoulder bumped up against John’s.  Once our hands brushed and it felt like I my heart hit up against the electric fence that kept the cows from running all over tarnation.  I’m pretty sure John felt a jolt, too, cuz he and I jumped away a little.  Still, I sorta liked that shocky feeling, so before long, we brushed together again, and after enough brushing of hands, John grabbed mine and didn’t let go.  Tingles went all over me.  That’s when I knew I was in love for real.  Not the kind of Dale or Warren or Georgie kind of love. The love I had for John was the movie kind of love.  I knew it on account of I had that same mushy feeling like when I saw those movie lovebirds kissing in the shower, or when that couple was smootching under the apple tree. Continue reading

Valentine Memories

My whole class got ready for Valentine’s Day for weeks.  Everyone brought a shoebox to school, and we decorated it with crêpe paper flowers and hearts. I had lots of shoe-boxes to pick from on account of everyone getting new hard sole shoes at Baldy’s shoe store way back in September, special for school starting.

Art stuff was hard for me.  I got paste all stuck in my hair and all over my clothes.  I liked to taste paste, too.  The smell got all up in my nose and begged my fingers to put some in my mouth. Yummy.  Teacher said it was no good and would make me sick, but it never did.  Not even a little bit.

Mom brought home little store-bought cards in big bags from the grocery store, and I printed MY name on the back.  Then I got to choose which card went to each student in my class.  I had two Bettys in my class and two Lindas.  I’ve heard about kids being sore or sad that they didn’t receive a card on Valentine’s Day.   I gave a card to everyone, and I got one from everyone, too. That’s just mean to leave someone out.  Who  got which card was the tricky part.  I wanted to make sure I express my love for that certain someone in just the right way.  Should Frankie’s say “Be Mine” or “Forever Yours”?  And what if Frankie’s to me just said, “Friends”?  What if he gave me the ‘teacher’ card that came in every box?  That would be the worst ’cause that meant he never even thought about which card he gave me.

I almost flunked out of Kindergarten ’cause I went haywire on my writing.  Valentine’s Day saved me.  All year, up until I had to get my cards ready for the party, I wrote my name  wrong.   Mom talked about my printing to everyone who would listen:   all my aunts, Grandma Z, and even Betty’s and Nancy’s moms.

Mom said, “Why do you write your name like you’re looking in a mirror?”IMG_2812

I looked at my name, clear as day, just the way it was supposed to be.  What in the world was she talking about?  I wrote just like everybody else.

Mom said I had to get my name right or I might not go to First Grade.  She never said that to me; I just heard

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