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.
Continue reading

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?

Lessons on the Mis-shapened Baseball Diamond

A baseball field drawn roughly to scale

A baseball field drawn roughly to scale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring time is baseball time.  That’s the way it is now, and that’s the way it was when I was a little girl.  As soon as the ground was dry enough, sometimes before, we were all out tossing the ball around, choosing teams, and swinging the bat.  We had just our own organization.  Parents only got involved if we played at a picnic or a re-union.  Then, of course, all the uncles got a chance to play.  Dad and his brothers loved to play just about any game a kid liked to play.

 

My friend Mike and his big brother Bobby and his big sister Diana from down the road, and my sisters Deanna and Bonita and Vickie, and Tom and Cathy from next door and Nancy and Doug from across the road all got together and tramped down the grass and weeds in the pasture to make a ball.  Whatever we could find, we used for bases: big sticks, old gunny sacks, or scraps of cardboard worked for us.  Sometimes we used ant hills for bases; after a lot of frantic scurrying at the beginning of the game the ants went underground until the game was over.  The distance between bases changed a lot, depending on who played, how many played, and where the ant’s tried to make their home.  The Queen Anne’s lace looked like sad skeletons sticking every which way, so we stamped it down, otherwise we got poked when we fell down.  Falling down and grass stains were part of baseball.  Bobby was way better at baseball than anyone else, so he batted left-handed and only got one strike; Vickie was almost a Little Kid, so she had unlimited strikes until she finally hit something.  That way everything fair. Continue reading

Working at The Grill

A picture of a picture of The Grill. I took this, with permission, at the Railroad Museum

I got my first job when I was sixteen.    I was old enough to get out there an earn some money with a real job.  M-78 Grill decided to give me my first break:  A summer job as a car-hop.  My memory fails to recall the name of the owners, so I will call them Floyd and Mabel.  Hazel was the cook.  I thought I knew so much, at sixteen. I was no longer a little girl.  Yet, I was still a lot younger than I thought.

Deanna already worked at the William’s Drug Store for a whole year.  She made sundaes and sodas and sold people Nickle Cokes and made up special Cherry Cokes, which you couldn’t buy in a bottle back then. A squirt of cherry syrup got mixed into the coke, special at the fountain.  Deanna was Cool; everybody liked Deanna.  Especially Boys; they all came in and ordered Nickle Cokes, just to be close to Deanna.  Half of them were afraid to even say “hi” to her.  Sometimes she worked behind the counter.  Once an old man about as old as Dad came in and asked for rubbers. Continue reading

Baby You’re a Firework

Mom told me she loved the fireworks when she was a little girl: she and her brothers and Grandma and Grandpa, of course they weren’t grandparents then, sat on a blanket and watched with ooo’s and aaahh’s for each new explosion. Fireworks were low on my list of priorities when I was a little girl. One year I found out why, and I longed to repeat that experience.

My great-aunt Anna was somehow related to Dad. She was nothing like anyone else in Dad’s family; Aunt Anna was tallish, and skinny, and she had dark hair. Those were all things that were different from the soft shapes and colors of Grandma and Dad’s brothers and his one sister, but that wasn’t the main difference. Aunt Anna was pinched looking, like my mouth felt after sucking lemons. I loved that feel, first all sour, then like my whole mouth felt cleaned out and waiting for something new. Aunt Anna had that look, like she got all puckered up with something sour, and she would do anything to keep something new from getting in. Her lips were all puckered in like Mom’s got when she was holding in a mad feeling. Aunt Anna’s clothes were always dark and straight and she wore those kinda shoes that I only saw on teachers. Come to think of it, she kinda looked like a teacher.

When I was a little girl, I loved grown-ups, ’cause I could almost always make them laugh or at least smile. I liked to climb right up on a grown-up’s lap and sing this one special song that ended with ‘pull down your pants and slide down the ice.’ I forget the rest, but that last part always made grown-ups’ face look a tinsy bit like a balloon blowing up, with their necks getting taller, their eyes getting big with eyebrows shooting straight up, and their mouths going in a big ‘O’ until a big giant laugh came out like a happy shout. For sure, I would get a big hug and some nice comment like “You’re such a firecracker.” I was the most wonderful kid in Continue reading