Midnight Rides, Trees, and Abou

When I was a little girl, I memorized all kinds of things:  Catechism, addition tables, spelling words, times tables, all the State’s capitols, and poetry.  I loved poetry especially the kind that tells a story that made my heart happy:  Like The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Trees by Joyce Kilmer:

“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree..”

Climbing HighThat said a lot for climbing a tree, hanging in a crook and just smelling all those green leaves and maybe finding a robin nest with little baby birds, just a cheep-cheeping away stretching their mouths up wide, waiting for a chewed up worm from their mama.  It made me want to forget all about memorizing or poetry, or anything except being right there.

Every week, I had a new poem to memorize.  Once my class had a choice, The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendall Holmes, or Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I chose the poem about Paul Revere ’cause it sounded like a song and it had an exciting story.  Most everyone else chose The Chambered Nautilus because 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.)

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

Jumping off the Dock

Back Camera

When I was a little girl, I loved to swim, almost as much as I liked to dance.  Every summer, Mom signed me up for swimming lessons at Myers Lake.  All through grade-school I took swimming lessons.  I learned to swim the first year, still, it was loads of fun to go back each year. I’ll never been to Myers Lake.  I’ll never forget swimming lessons.

Nobody swam at a pool around my house:  there were no public pools around me, and for sure nobody had a pool big enough to swim in at their house.  For Pete’s sake, everybody knew that kind of stuff was just for movie stars and millionaires.  Around me, pools were just for the Little Kids.  Mom bought one of those, but it was a pain in the neck:  grass got kicked into it, the our dog Nikki, drank out of it, Frankie went #1  in it, I think our lamb, Jack, went #2 in it, and finally it sprang a leak and failed to hold any water at all.  Like I said, Mom bought one.  Once.

To get to swimming lessons, Mom drove me to school, where I got on a school bus with a whole bunch of kids.  My friends Daylene and Connie walked to school, so swimming lessons was the only time they rode a bus.  It was different from school.  For one thing, everybody had on shorts and jeans over our swimsuits.  No dresses, not one.  Nobody knew where to sit, cuz of lots of different kids and no high-schoolers, so everybody just got mixed up and in different seats than on the way to school.  On the way to school, it was like assigned seats with nobody telling us which seat to take; we just knew.  I liked to sit on the bump; the wheel was under there, so if the bus driver went over a bump, 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

Valentine Protocol, Penmanship, and Pride

I wish my artwork was (is) this good.

I wish my artwork was (is) this good.

When I was a little girl, I loved February:  Valentine’s Day is in February.  So was my birthday; that’s a story for another day.

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 Continue reading

Talkers and Story-tellers

Mom’s family was way the heck different from Dad’s family.

Mom’s family was full of fast talker.  They had so much to say, their words stumbled over each other trying to get out in the world.  Uncle Tony and Grandpa, and Aunt Mary and Aunt Clara all had something to say about everything going on in the world.  All those uncles and aunts lived to be about a hundred or more, and the whole while they talked up a blue streak.  Sometimes I wondered if anybody was listening with all that stuttering, and shouting and waving of hands.

Dad’s family was full of story-tellers.  All those brothers laid out stories about this person or that dog, or maybe a cow who jumped fences or a fish that could do tricks,  ’til I never knew what was true and what they made up.  Aunt Barbara told stories, too.  She was quieter than her brothers.  Still, she could tell a story so I never forgot. Continue reading