I Hate You, I Love You

When I was a little girl, moms were not real people.  They were mothers.  Moms were kinda like s guardian angel, who kept kids on the right path, only no wings.  Sort of like that picture Grandma had in the bedroom I slept in when I stayed over.  The one where the angel kept a boy and a girl from falling off a cliff and getting killed, and the kids just walked along happy as larks, never even realizing they were in danger.  A mom never ran and played, or caught frogs, or fell in love with boys with silky hair like Warren, or stamped her feet because nobody would listen.  Sure, moms got mad, but that was only because their kids were naughty or shoes were lost.  A Mom never got her feelings hurt or wished for things to be different.  I remember the first time I got a clue that Mom was a real person.

I was way upstairs in my bedroom.  I was supposed to be taking a nap, but I was jumping on the bed, ’cause I was in kindergarten, almost in first grade, and I wasn’t the least bit tired.  I jumped right on top of my white bedspread with all the bumpy tufts on top that I was supposed to pull back before I got under the covers.  All the ballerinas on the wall danced in the different poses as I flew higher and higher.  I could almost touch the pointy crystals dancing around the light fixture way up there on the ceiling; the fixture my best friend from the bus Betty said she thought was so spiffy ’cause it made rainbows dance on the walls so it looked like my room was filled with ballerinas and fairies all at the same time.  Betty asked me if I was rich, ’cause of those crystals.  She wanted one crystal to take home with her.  It’s kinda strange how someone Continue reading

A Special Sister Gift

When I was a couple of years too old to climb onto Santa’s lap with a wish-list, I did just that.  All I wanted was a baby sister.  That’s all I thought about; that’s what I tacked on the end of my bedtime prayers, right after “bless Mom, Dad, Deanna-Bonita-Vickie-Loren-Julie-Frankie.  I already had four sisters and two brothers. Why, oh why, did I want more?  Of course Santa can’t deliver babies, but I like to think my prayers and wishes were responsible for planting a seed of a new miracle, because nine months after Christmas, I had my baby sister.   I still like to think of her as my personal gift from God.

Mom brought another sweet bundle home and told us her name was Marcia.  Aunt Pat said “Oh my.  Don’t you know Marsha means swamp water?”  Aunt Pat was the tallest woman I knew.  Just being tall made her look like she was smarter than everyone, because the only way she could see me was to look down.  Aunt Pat married to my Uncle Ken, Mom’s baby brother.  He was way up there, even taller than Aunt Pat.  Those two looked like movie stars with Continue reading

Laugh and Learn

When I was a little girl my Mom could not only knit mitten and sew clothes,  she learned how to build things just from a book, and she knew how to fix anything that broke without any help at all.  She was the smartest person I knew.  A regular genius.   I learned how to do a lot of things from Mom.

I told you about my little filly, Abou’s Pride and how I had to train her.  Mr. Robinson taught me to ride, but Bonita, Mom and I taught Abou’s Pride how to let me ride her.  Mom brought home a book from the library that showed her how to build a training ring and we built it out of old telephone poles and cross-arms that Dad brought home from Ma Bell.  When Ma Bell had Dad and his buddies put up new poles and Dad brought home the junked ones; Dad was a genius at bringing home junk and convincing everybody it was treasure:  once he brought home brick from a torn down building and told Mom that was her new fireplace.  Then us kids had the job of cleaning the old mortar off the bricks.  I only had to get a dozen bricks each day cleaned, but those darned bricks kept breaking on me; I had to start all over again.

Anyways, Mom studied that book about training rings, paced off the space, and told everybody where to drag those poles. Sometimes she took that book right out to the field and plopped herself down one of Ma Bell’s old poles; there she sat, almost covered by tall Queen Anne’s Lace and wild coffee, in the spot that would pretty soon be the center of the training ring.  She looked at that book, then at the poles, then at the book again, studying and studying, with those lips of hers in a tight straight line, like she was about to get mad, but nobody was doing anything wrong.  Still, when I saw that look, I decided to tread gently, ’cause sometimes something to get mad about just popped up out of nowhere.

Next thing I knew, Mom was digging post holes with the tractor, and we were sinking poles and building that training ring.  It turned out perfect.  Mr. Robinson came over and gave her a big grin, like he did when Bonita did a great job on her horse, Peaches.  Peaches was just a green-broke horse, so Bonita had a lot of horse to handle for a little girl younger than me.

Mom fixed cars, too.  For a long time, we only had one car.  If Mom wanted to use the car, she drove Dad all the way to work in the city, then had to go get him at night.  Then one day, Dad brought Mom home a car.  An old-old car that some old lady only drove to church and back at 35 mile per hour.  Mom got so happy about that rescued-from-the-junk car, you would have thought it was brand new, by the big happy grin sitting on Dad’s face.  That car refused to go over 35, until Mom lifted up the hood and convinced it with a wrench and a hammer.  Mom was pretty good at convincing kids they could do things they thought they couldn’t,  and she was good with cars, too.  Some days that car refused to start; then she showed me how to hold the butterfly open, while she turned the key.  I liked the way it smelled all greasy and dusty at the same time, and the heat coming off the engine reminded me that Grandma said she used to put a pot of stew under the hood and cook supper there when she and Grandpa went out for a Sunday drive, back in the old days when just driving around was how people had fun.

More than once, Mom just opened up the car hood, took a part out, put it in the trunk, and away we went.

“A car’s just like you and me,” she said.  “There’s a lot of parts we can spare and still run smooth as silk.”

“Like tonsils?” I said, ’cause I got those out twice, on account of the roots being left in, so they grew back like a bad weed.

Mom showed me how to check the oil with the dip stick and then she put some in, ’cause the level on the stick showed almost dry.  She shook her head on that one.

“I just put some in yesterday.  Hmmm,”  she said, and the bottom lid of her eyes squinched up ’til her eyes were almost slits.  She started up the jalopy and took a look around at the tailpipe.  ‘Looks okay,”  she said, and put some more oil in.  She kept doing that everyday, and the dipstick kept getting drier and drier each time she checked the oil.  This one stumped her, so we got in the car and went down to the Standard Station to ask the mechanic.

“Yep, you’re low on oil,” the mechanic had his name, Bill, in red embroidery right on his shirt, so everyone would know who he was.

“Well, I’ve filled it up everyday for the past week,” Mom looked at Bill like she looked at me when she thought I was telling a fib.

“How much do you put in?”

“As much as she’ll take, but that’s not much, just a tablespoon or so,” Mom said.

Bill pulled on his chin a little, and his eyes started to dance just the way Dad’s did when he was trying not to give away a joke.  “Show me where you put the oil.”

“Well, right there where the dipstick come out.”  Mom said with one hand on her hip, the way she did when she told Julie and Frankie to pick up their toys.  Bill took off a big screw cap and showed Mom the oil reservoir.

“It’s pretty hard to get the oil in that little hole,” he said looking all apologetic.  ‘I use this bigger hole over here.  Glad you came in, this reservoir is almost empty.”   Mom threw her arms around her waist and bent over like she had a belly ache, when she straightened up, she was laughing so hard, no sound was coming out; the same way I laughed when Bonita or Deanna tickled my neck and kept it up until I thought I would pee my pants.  Then Bill slapped his leg and let out a big hoot.  Right then I knew what that word guffaw meant that I read in Huckleberry Finn by that man Mark Twain, only that was his pretend name.

Mom laughed like that every time she told that story, sometimes she laughed so hard tears came down her face.   She told that story a lot, ’cause she thought it was so funny.  Then she wiped her tears away and said, “I bet Bill thought I was the most lame-brained person he every met.”

Mom taught me how to knit and how to sew.  How to go back and start over.  She taught me how to read a manual and follow direction, and she taught me how to just roll up my sleeves and try.  Mom showed me I could learn to do almost anything.  All that said, the most important thing she taught me was be the first one to laugh, because mistakes will happen, and a lot of the time, when I think it over, I can see I could have known better.  How about you?

Kicked, Dragged, and Laughed At: All in a Days Work

You might think that animals instinctively know how to grow from babies into adults.  Not so.  Sometimes a calf is almost as big as his mother and refuses to be weaned.  We had such a calf, when I was a little girl, and it was my job, to get that year old calf to separate pasture, away from his mother, to break him from the teat.  All of our animals had names, but I forgot this forever-baby’s name, so I’ll call him Bruno.

At night Bruno stayed in the barn in a pen.  That’s where all the calves stayed until they got weaned.  Bruno towered up over those little calves like an eleven-year old child would in a kindergarten class.  Calves got to nurse from their mother only at night-time ’cause the morning milking was for the family. Bruno wasn’t allowed out to nurse, but he must have smelled that cow’s milk on his little friends’ breath ’cause he never got the idea that it was time to move on.  Bruno was Lightfoot’s calf.

Lightfoot got her name because she kicked.  For some reason, which remained a mystery to me, Dad trained Lightfoot to go into a stanchion right at the end of a narrow passageway that opened into a wide, room.  Once a cow gets trained to go into a stanchion it’s pretty near impossible to re-train her to go in a different one.  New cows sometimes made a mistake and got in somebody else’s place.  The rightful owner-cow squeezed right in beside mistake-maker-heifer and just stood there until the new gal got the hint she was in the wrong place.  If it took too long, the old cow butted the trainee right on out of there.

I never worried about walking behind cows, until I got to the back-end of Lightfoot, then I had to get my nerve up. I stood there behind her, studying her head and hind, trying to get a feel for Continue reading

A Ferry Fun Vacation

Sometimes we went way, way far away from home to camp.  That took forever.  Mom and Dad scooped us right out of bed, still in our pajamas, and put is in the car so early in the morning, it was still dark and headed Up North to Brimley Park.   That was way up in the Upper Peninsula, across the Mackinaw Straits.  We had to take the Ferry over there.  That was really fun.  I never saw a boat so big it could take thousands of cars over, all jam-packed together like sardines in a can.  Once Dad got the car in the Ferry, we squeezed out and took a walk around, and watched the white caps crash up against the ferry.  The smell of the lake filled up my nose and reminded me that this week was going to feel like it lasted forever.  Still I couldn’t  dilly-dally yet ’cause if we weren’t in the car when the Ferry got to the other side, our car would hold up everybody else, and people would be mad as wet hens at us.  That’s no way to start a vacation.

Once Grandma got the bright idea to send Mom’s cousin Joey along with one of her girlfriends.  Grandma was always thinking Mom needed some help with all us Magpies.  Grandma had two boys first, then Mom way before she had Aunt Annie.  Uncle Gene was a big teaser from the get-go, and Uncle Kenny was a pee wee until after he got out of school, then he got big and strong, but it was too late to be much help for Grandma; besides, she didn’t believe in boys doing much work.  Mom didn’t either, but Mom had four girls before she had any boys.  That was the best idea Mom ever had, ’cause she put us girls right to work, so by the time she had any boys, she had a whole bunch of girls to help her out.  Grandma should have done that, ’cause then she would know that all the help she tried to give Mom kinda backfired. Continue reading