Category Archives: Sibling Stories or How To Get Even

Standing Room Only

When I was a kid, television watching was a full contact sport.

Our black and white TV was a giant metal box that dominated our living room.  It was 50’s brown and sat on a black wire stand that allowed it to be twirled swiveled for better viewing.

In our tiny house, there were many, MANY more kids than there were seats to hold them.

Dad got priority with the wooden backed rocker as he suffered his whole life from a bad back.    He sat on his throne and ate bitter sharp cheddar cheese on saltines, or maybe an apple that he’d peel in one long strip.  On really hot summer evenings he’d have half a cantaloupe with a scoop of ice cream in the middle.  His snacks were ignored — until the ice cream came out.

Mom, relegated to doing five thousand loads of wash a day, came in and out but she had a reserved place on the couch.  Anyone sitting there must immediately vacate the position.

That left two seats on the couch and one other chair…for seven kids.  It was full-contact musical chairs, until someone invented “Saved for me.”  Don’t ask me why this worked on a bunch of wild animals, but it did.  We stood up, put our hands on the chair and shouted the magic words.

And then one day, my older sister calmly walked over to a saved chair and said, “Changes. Saved for me. No changes.”

Kapow!  That was a game changer.  Now when a kid stood up – to maybe go try for a scoop of Dad’s ice cream – the entire room held its breath.  Would the idiot leave with only saying “Saved for me”?  Sometimes they would.

I can still remember the feeling of satisfaction of being the one to claim a chair with the statement, “Changes. Save for me. No changes.”   Perhaps I can remember the feeling so well because, we still use it to this day.

 

 

 

A Table the Size of a Plymouth and Other Stories of Home

The rooms in the house I grew up in were used and they were used hard.  That’s what happens when you cram eight kids and two adults in a two bedroom, one-bathroom house.  The single-story home was built by Grandpa and his three brothers-in-law, none of which had ever hammered a nail.  Completed in time for Grandma to birth Dad in the front bedroom it, along with every other room in the house, was worn out before I was born.

The cracked-down-the-middle concrete front porch, sagged toward the dirt road that passed in front of our house.  Every time a car drove by, layers of dust billowed our way.

I spent warm days swaying to and fro on the paint-peeled porch swing and counting the number of dusty licks it took to get to the middle of a Tootsie Pop.  Due to a severe case of motion sickness on my part, only a limited amount of to and fro-ness was allowed.  If a brother or sister wanted the swing to themselves they only needed to give the swing a big push and off I’d go, to tattle to Mom about the unfairness of it all.

I'm Telling Mom!

I’m Telling Mom!

The house was built with two front doors within six feet of each other. One entered the living room and one the dining room. Mom declared the living room door should be nailed shut and tugged a bedraggled brown sofa in front of it on the INside.  Not the OUTside because only poor white trash did that.  Never mind the grimy white chickens roaming through our front yard.

Once a year or so, when Evil Grandmother Nellie came to visit, Mom assigned a kid the task of removing all the books and dusting the shelves of the two bookcases on either side of the fireplace.  The last time my sister did it, she found a snake living behind a set of Encyclopedia Britannica.  My snake story involves stealing big brothers velvety soft sheepskin coat, stuffing eggs in the pockets, spotting a snake and then face planting on the concrete floor attempting to escape.  Turns out sheepskin and cracked eggs don’t go together so well.

For many years the fireplace chimney tilted drunkenly away from the siding.  One summer Mom rescued a pregnant cat from “town” because the twenty-two barn cats roaming around weren’t enough.  The kitty climbed up, and then down, between the two-by-fours and gave birth to a large litter.   Unable to get back out she wailed for hours, until Dad ripped enough exterior boards off to yank out rescue her and her kittens.  The next day, she dragged them all back in again. Immediately upon depositing the last kitten, the cat began her mournful cry.

Which caused Mom to begin her mournful cry. “Lewie, do something!”

His “something” involved pulling down the entire chimney.  The cat and her kittens moved on, but the hole in the side of our house stayed.

A table the size of a Plymouth, proudly purchased on long-term credit from the furniture store in town, dominated the dining room.  Instead of holding meals, this landing strip held clothing.  Hundreds and hundreds of pieces of clothing.  In the wee hours of the morning, Mom gathered up the dirty clothes, kept on the floor of our rooms, and when washed and dried, deposited them on the tabletop.

Get in here!

Get in here!

The rules required me to pick out my clothes, fold them and return them to the dresser in my room.  That never happened.  Once in a while, when evil Grandmother Nellie headed our way, Mom screamed and merrily said, “Clothes Folding Party!”

We kids sat in a semi-circle around the massive table.  Mom held up a ragged pair of cut-off jeans.  “Mine,” I’d shout.  And the shorts would sail my way.  By the end of it, my entire wardrobe sat by my side in a teetering tower.  Trying to save myself an extra trip (ten steps down the hall) I’d balance the tower in my arms. At least until a little brother did a run-by shove and then,

I'm Telling Mom!

I’m Telling Mom!

after I tattled to Mom about the unfairness of it all, I’d haul the pile of clothes to the back bedroom where I would stuff them into the two bottom dresser drawers assigned to me.

The cramped kitchen with its chipped and worn brown linoleum floor was built around an electric stove large enough to feed three families – if both ovens and the burners had ever all worked at once – and it ran almost non-stop.  Walking through the doorway I always wished some mouth-watering aroma would engulf me, but Mom was a terrible cook.  A pot large enough to bathe a small child in, sat on the biggest burner and just about every meal came from it.  Boxes and boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, industrial sized packages of spaghetti and something we called goulash that involved pasta shells and ketchup. An entire childhood of bland food including my favorite, a mayonnaise sandwich, which was served to us when every other item of food in the house had been consumed and there were still two days until payday.

Shoved up against one wall was a formica table designed to serve two comfortably.  We managed five at a time, with meals eaten in shifts or not at all.  The rickety table sported a set of rusted chrome legs that – due to the frequency of shifting the table right or left every meal, required reattaching a few times each month.

Tired of seeing dirty dishes stacked to the ceiling, Evil Grandmother Nellie purchased a dishwasher for us.  Dad never hooked it up permanently so this elephant-sized appliance sat in the middle of the room.  For a few months we took the trouble to attach the hose to the kitchen faucet and run the thing, but after a while, the top became a new surface to stack dirty dishes.

In one corner of the kitchen, by the back door, there was a line of crooked nails.  Installed to handle Dad’s farm coats the kids eventually commandeered them.  Overwhelmed by the number of sweatshirts, jackets and egg-stained sheepskin coats, the poor nails gave up and the coat rack became the coat carpet.

People often ask about our sleeping arrangements with all those kids and only two bedrooms.  I imagine there was a lot of shifting as new members of the family were added but I don’t really remember.  I do know I shared a bed with my sister and in the corner of our room was a crib where one brother slept until he went to kindergarten.  Several brothers slept in the front bedroom and Mom and Dad slept in the living room on … this is where the story peters out.  On a sofa?  On the floor?  Where did Mom and Dad go at night?

HOME SICK FROM SCHOOL

GO AWAY

GO AWAY

I’m fourteen years old, home sick from school, and someone is pounding on the front door.

Who comes out to the country and wants to visit in the middle of the day? No one I want to talk to.

The dogs outside are barking like crazy so I pull my pillow over my feverish head and roll over. The pounding continues.

My room is on the second floor of a cobbled-together addition Dad built last year. I raise my head and look out the crooked windows. A large yellow sedan is in the drive.

I stagger out of bed and take two steps before I realize the knocking has moved from the massive old oak front door, to the dilapidated back door. My foot is on the first step, when the cardboard door crashes open.

I run back to my bedroom and drop to the floor, ready to roll under it and hide. Only, there’s so much of my crap under there I can’t fit.

Just as a footstep hits the first tread of the stairway I run to my brother’s room and slide under their crap-free bunk bed.

Two sets of black booted feet walk by – inches from my face.

“Hurry up, Jimmy,” the small booted man says.
Robber #1

“Hold your horses, cousin,” big booted man replies.
Robber #2

I listen as they ransack my brothers’ room. Books crash to the floor. A box that one of my brothers carved, lands on the floor next to me and the false bottom drops open.

So that’s where he hides his stuff, I think. Little sneak.

Cousin says, “I’m going downstairs, you check under the beds.”

I see Jimmy’s ankles bend as he prepares to kneel down. I roll over two times and plant my face against the wall.

“Cousin,” he calls. “Wait for me. I think this place is haunted.” Jimmy’s boots pound down the wooden stairs.

For what seems like hours I hear the bang, crash, clap of possessions being ripped from our home. After the noise stops, I lay there counting to a hundred and then another hundred.

I slip out from my hiding place and tiptoe back to my room to look out the windows. My knee hits something solid on the bed. It’s a jagged knife with a long black handle. I use my pillow to slide it out of the way and peek over the windowsill. No yellow sedan.

I creep down the stairs to the wall phone and pick up the heavy receiver. With a shaky finger, I pull the round dial seven times. I ask the school receptionist to find my mom.

“It’s urgent,” I whisper.

While I wait I look around the family room and wonder how the robbers could have made so many trips through the house and not knocked over our month-long Monopoly game sitting on a rickety card table.

Mom’s irritated voice comes on. “What is it now?” she asks.

I start to cry and she says over and over “What is it? What is it?”

“We were robbed,” I wail.

“Did they?” Mom gasps …

TO BE CONTINUED.

I’M A SLOW LEARNER

The back door to the house I grew up in, swung out onto a set of narrow concrete steps. With no handrail, opening the storm door on a windy March day was like raising full sail in a hurricane. That was the kind of day my Dad called a “Winnie-The-Pooh-Day and the kind of day I called fun.

I'm Telling Mom!

I’m Telling Mom!

After the school bus dropped us off, I would convince one of my younger brothers to open the sail door first. With little brother flapping in midair, clinging to the tiny plastic handle and screaming how he was going to tell on me, I’d casually unlock the house.

After dropping my books on the floor of the hallway, I’d turn around and head back outside.

Slippery Slide

Slippery Slide

An orange rusted swing set stood a few feet from the back steps. The swings had long ago busted and been removed, but the metal slide still survived.Polished to a sheen with Mom’s precious waxed paper, it became a treacherous and savage ride.

Turns out, little brothers are also perfect for experimenting with the trajectory and uncertainty of a safe landing, depending on the number of bricks used to raise the end of the slide.

Now, where did that little brother disappear to?

Now, where did that little brother disappear to?

The frame of the swing-free swing set became my jungle gym. I started out stepping from the crossbar and grabbing the top pipe, then dropping to the ground, but progressed to hanging upside down by my knees. This was much more enjoyable when accompanied by Mom screaming through the kitchen window, ” Teresa Carol, you get down right now before you kill yourself!”

On one particularly daring day, I began to swing back and forth. The aroma of a slow-cooked pot roast wafted through the kitchen window and it guaranteed that it wouldn’t be long before I heard what I wanted.

“If you fall, I’m not taking you to the emergency room,” Mom shouted.

I waved and smiled.

Through the corroded window screen I saw her finger jab to my left, indicating a little boy with a broken arm. “I’ve already been twice this week from your brothers shooting off that slide!”

Not content with the amount of screaming coming from the kitchen window, I took a move from the Summer Olympics and decided to throw myself forward and land on my feet.

To my surprise, that is not what happened.

I fell flat on my back and, with a simultaneous thump and whoosh; all the air left my body. I tasted the tang of blood in my mouth and time slowed unbearably. Like I was underwater I heard Mom’s muffled howl, “Mike, save your sister!”

My older brother’s face appeared above mine.

I made note of the ha-ha-you-look-like-a-wide-mouth-bass-gasping-for-air smile on his face and vowed to pay him back…just as soon as I could get the oxygen to return to my burning lungs.

I should be able to tell you that it was the last time I ever tried that move. But, I’m a slow learner.

BILLY BOB’S RURAL COMPOUND

I sat in my car surveying Billy Bob’s rural compound.  A crash involving a battered Barbie car, a hula-hoop and a rusted barrel lay in the weeds. rusted equipmentIn front of me were half a dozen crumbling carcasses of gigantic earth moving equipment.  To my right was a graveyard of broken household items; a shattered mirror, a decomposing sofa, a fry pan missing its handle, and more. So much more.

My older brother, Mike, sat in the back seat as our younger brother, Rick, climbed the rickety stairs and knocked on the door.

Mike and I stared in silent horror as a massive, furry white head emerged from beneath the steps.  The body of a gargantuan moth-eaten dog followed the head.

“Psst.” I whisper shouted. “Hey, Rick!”

He turned around and I pointed to the creature waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs.  Mike and I rolled up our windows. Rick walked down and patted the beast on the head.  “Good dog,” he said and sauntered up the steps to the back, where he continued his knocking. Old Camper 2

While we waited, the door of a vintage camper swung open. I cringed, certain Billy Bob would vault out, roaring chain saw in hand. Instead, a rooster and two hens jumped down from the grimy vehicle and crossed over to the grass to peck at insects, of which I am certain there were many.

After several more knocks on the door to the house, it opened.  A beautiful eighteen-year-old girl, with a killer body encased in spandex, stepped onto the porch.

Mike and I started to get out of the car.

A grimace on the girl’s face caused me to re-evalute my move and her age. Now she was a well worn thirty-five year old woman. “Get back in there!”

We did as we were told.

“It’s down the road. We have to drive,” Girl/Woman said.  She walked over to a camouflage ATV, pushed off a six-pack worth of empty beer cans and hopped on.

We followed her past the chicken coup RV and into some deep weeds.

How do I get myself in these situations?  You could read last week’s post, Unicorns, Mountain Lions and Brush Hogs, or you could just assume that, as the Mayor of Crazie Town, I’m doing my duty and trying to purchase a mower.

Remaining on the ATV, Girl/Woman pointed to a group of trees. Rick and Mike exited the vehicle and whacked their way to the brush hog for sale.

“Any way you could get it out so we could look at it?” Mike asked.

“Nope.”  She punched a thumb toward the house. “He don’t want to get up.”

We stretched a rope between my car and the equipment.

“You better not do nothing to hurt it.” She threw a worried look over her shoulder.

We dragged the piece of machinery into a clear patch and Rick began his expert negotiating tactics.  “It’s not quite what we’re looking for, but we’ll give you $400.”

“No way,” Girl/Woman snarled. “And you’d better put it back where you found it before you leave.”

Mike and Rick gave it a second look and decided it was worth the asking price.  I counted out $500 and handed it over.

Her fingers flashed through the bills and she nodded. Girl/Woman jumped off the ATV, a smile lighting up her face, turning her back into the beautiful eighteen-year-old girl.   “How ya gonna get it in your trailer?  I can bench press three-hundred pounds, so I could help.”

Mike’s plan was for them to tilt the brush cutter on its side, I’d “slide the trailer” under it and they’d flip it on.  Girl/Woman was correct in her bench press statement and with her help, this endeavor went fine.

Unfortunately, Girl/Woman had laid the $500 on the ground to help lift and when she returned to the pile, $20 was missing.  We kicked around in the tall grass searching when Mike joked, “Maybe one of the dogs ate it.”

“Max,” Girl/Woman hollered.  The raggedy behemoth turned his head her way, a luscious $20 bill hanging from his mouth.

We took off before a replacement twenty could be demanded.  As we drove back to our family farm, Mike and I concocted our stories of Girl/Woman’s life.  A stripper who’d made it good, and likely to tell Billy Bob that she’d only been able to get $400 for the equipment.  Rick was appalled by our assumption and insisted she was probably a schoolteacher.

In any event, I made it out of there with my life and ready to work on my next Crazie Town situation: How to remove a frog from the fresh water tank of my camper, whom I discovered last week, peering up at me from inside the intake valve.Frog

Dental Denial

shutterstock_96127685 copy“Hmmmm” the dental assistant diagnosed as she cleaned my teeth.

She slid from the room and returned with the dentist. Without a word, my mouth was pried open and mirrors and tapping tools inserted.

“Hmmmm,” the doctor confirmed.

“Wha?” I said through the fingers and stainless steel tools. “Wha’s wron?”

“You have a cracked tooth.  Doesn’t it hurt?”

“Nuh unh.”

“How about now?”

“Unh!”

“This will only take a minute and there won’t be any pain.”

Twenty years ago, notwithstanding that my teeth were well on their way to hillbilly choppers, Husband agreed to marry me, on the condition I visit his dentist every six months without fail.

“Why didn’t you just brush your teeth after meals?” he asked with the innocence of a well-raised child.

For one, I grew up in a house with nine people and one bathroom.  I was lucky to get to pee once a day.

DonutsWhile my brothers and sister participated in the mandatory afternoon nap, Little Miss Goody-Two-Shoes (my sibling nickname) clambered up to the top shelf in the kitchen to steal the sweet treat we received for taking a nap. On my tiptoes, I stretched up to the one surviving bowl from my mother’s wedding china and I dipped my hand in. Sometimes I pulled out a Tootsie Pop, my nose twitching as I caught the cherry scent. Other times a sleeve of ‘Nilla Wafers.

Like a starving chimpanzee, I stuffed the delectable treat into my mouth while I scrambled down. Upon awakening from my nap I received a second goodie.

My poor teeth got hit from both sides of the gene pool. My sweet tooth developed in my mother’s womb, requiring her to consume a Baby Ruth candy bar every day of her pregnancy. Dad’s sweet tooth was legendary.  One Easter, an all out war was declared when my sister’s treasured chocolate bunny appeared with one less ear.  While the seven of us kids (yes, for those of you keeping track, good catch!  There are eight kids, but the baby in the group had yet to be born) tried to rip each other limb from limb, Dad sat in the corner with a Cheshire-cat grin.

But, Dad was far from safe on my sweet sweeps through the house.  I found and pillaged boxes of candy from his closet, sodas hidden in his lunch box and gum from the glove compartment of his car.  Somewhere around my tenth birthday I tore the house apart and found nothing.  I enlisted my younger brother Larry who, I was certain if the stash was found, I could easily swipe his share. We came up empty handed and thereafter Dad’s stash was safe from Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found his genius hiding place: the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator.  No kid in our family would EVER look there.

girl with open mouthWhen my toothaches became unbearable, Mom drove me to the wrong side of town to take me to a “dentist.” He’d pry my mouth open and I swear, try to see if his entire grizzled head would fit inside. “Hmmmm”, he’d diagnose with the stub of his recently smoked cigar firmly clamped between his not-so-pearly whites.

“When I grow up,” I swore, “I’m never going to the dentist again!”

It’s amazing what someone you love can convince you to do. I’ve fulfilled Husband’s request, visiting the dentist regularly for countless root canals and more fillings.  Somewhere in the tenth or twelfth year of our marriage, my teeth came to be in great shape.

Well, good shape.

Okay, let’s just say I still have all my teeth.

But I ramble digress.

Here I am, upside down in the fully reclined dentist’s chair pleading for a postponement of treatment. With the fingers and tools finally removed, I began my defense.  “But, a person can’t just DO something like this on the spur of the moment.”

“Sure we can.” The son of Husband’s previous dentist assured me.

“But, I can’t do it right now – I need to mentally prepare.”

“I’m going to give you a shot to numb you up and it will all be over before you know it.”

“Bhu…” The smell of metal and latex gloves smothered me.

“Now, this may sting a little.”

Blinding, white-hot pain shot through my jaw.  I gripped the arms of the chair and felt a tear run down my cheek.  The instrument of torture was removed but before I could catch my breath in it went again.  My back arched, my eyes bulged and I shouted. “HOLY THIT THAT HURTH!”

The doctor tsk-tsked and removed the agony-causing needle from my mouth.

“What the hell?” I demanded.  “You said that was going to hurt a little.” I wiped at a line of drool already escaping from my almost paralyzed mouth. That hurt A LOH.  A HEHH OF A HOT!

He smiled a patronizing smile and moved to the next patient where, over the sound of the Muzak version of Chain of Fools, I heard him diagnose, “Hmmmm.”

The dental assistant returned and said “When would like to schedule your next appointment?”

“How abou when Hehh fwezzes over???”

CRAZIES’ CLOWN COLLEGE GONE WRONG

shutterstock_105365543 copyLast summer, in a fit of Crazie, I booked a beach house in the Outer Banks with way too many fifteen family members – another nine were in a house down the block.

What could possibly go wrong with that many loud, loving, abominable, affectionate Crazie Town residents in one place?

Number one concern was bedroom placement. Maybe the bedroom off the kitchen should go to the early risers, or maybe it should go to the person who had the most trouble negotiating three flights of stairs, but then again, that person didn’t want any special treatment, so maybe it should go to ???

How do you plan who gets what bedroom for fifteen people and not just people – Crazie Town people? I believe democratic rules work best so the majority agreed to the First Come – First Served statute.

A few weeks after we booked the house, my younger brother, Rick, asked me what flight I was on. Because I’m a gullible sap, I told him. He used that information to book his flight to arrive before mine.

Our son Fineas’ family, driving down from Connecticut, planned to leave at four in the morning in order to be the first ones there.

My nephew Ben bailed on sharing a car with his parents from the airport so that he and his wife, Kate, could arrive first.

This is just the way my family works. We love each other with all our hearts and would give you the shirt off our backs, but there comes a time when First Come First Served wins out.

Vacation day arrived and we piled into the house, alternately shouting curse words and caring remarks to each other. We crowded onto the deck and fought for the best chairs. While we all talked at once with no one listening caught up on each other’s lives, we discovered the house next door was an exact duplicate of ours and also filled with a large family.
shutterstock_105365543 copy Mirror images of ourselves – only perfect.

While we walked around in torn t-shirts and worn out shorts, The Perfects glided from their pool to their house in starched white shirts, sleeves appropriately rolled up two folds. Waves of aftershave and perfume floated our way.

shutterstock_170330840 copyshutterstock_135088358 copyOut on the beach, our sandcastles were six inches tall, made from red solo cups; The Perfects’ reached to the sky with turrets and moats.

We sweated, grumbled and yelled at each other as we set up our Wal-Mart special tarp. Twenty feet away, two uniformed teenagers set up The Perfects’ canvas rental chairs and brightly colored umbrellas.

Our pool was filled with $1.54 plastic rafts while The Perfects’ pool held elaborate floating chairs, complete with cup holders.

Most disturbing to the woman in our group, The Perfects’ older sister paraded out in a white designer two-piece swimsuit. And, although she certainly was a couple sizes larger than a six, she looked amazing. I suppose that comes from not buying your swimsuit from the clearance rack at Target, but I could be wrong.

My family does actually have a few social skills, taught to us by our Evil Grandmother Nellie so as the week progressed we pulled ourselves together and pointed out that someone (not me of course), might find your red beacon of a nose funny; we said in the kindest possible way, “excuse me but that was my drink you just kicked over, you stupid idiot”; and we toned down our loud guffaws to a more seemly quiet chuckle.

Then, BAM! my nephews, Josh and Jordan, started a water balloon fight.  shutterstock_188671901 copy

For the next hour, five little nieces pounded up and down the deck stairs, squealing in delight while the drenched adults shouted out military strategies. When the battle was over it looked like a clown college had thrown up. Our deck, covered in colorful fragments of shattered balloons and laughing residents of Crazie Town.

Next year – fair warning – we are planning our vacation for the Adirondacks. Please accept my apologies in advance if you end up in the house next to us.