Tag Archives: Family

Bailing Twine and Bubble Gum

Dad proudly announced at every opportunity, “Everything on this farm is held together with baling twine and bubble gum.”  I’m not sure if its a trait of all farmers or just Dad but he was a “good enough” kind of guy and that’s the way I learned things.

Getting the broken item fixed quickly (before Mom’s temper exploded) was Goal One. There wasn’t a second goal.  After the fix, any tool he used was left where it lay or if he was outside, tossed through the door of the ramshackle shed.

It came as a great shock to me when I moved in with Husband and he pointed out that the job was not complete until everything was put back where it came from.  Fast forward twenty years and although I’m not as meticulous as Husband, I’ve come to expect a certain standard of repair and order.

Yesterday I went to the hardware store to buy a five-foot closet rod.  When the salesclerk was unable to find what I wanted, he said, “Well…this will probably work.”  It was a hundred degrees outside and I really, really did not want to go to the big box store so I picked up the “good enough” and headed to the cash register.

A picture of my childhood bedroom flashed before my eyes.  Closet with no door, an unfinished plywood floor and  a rod that collapsed if more than three hanging items were attempted.

I did an about-face and returned the good-enough item and, after wandering the store for twenty minutes, found the exact thing I needed.

I could finish by saying Dad would be proud of me – but that would not true.  He’d be prouder to have walked into my closet and seen a pair of old shoes attached to the wall with twelve rusty nails supporting the handle of an old broom.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Scrubbing Bubbles and Spiders

Today’s another day of asking myself why we bought this house.  Our original intention was to downsize.  Then our house sold on the first day and we found ourselves in an apartment that we hated and we were desperate and…I don’t know.  It must have seemed like a good idea at one point.

This house is what they call a reverse story and half, or something weird like that.  Master bedroom on first floor.  Two bedrooms and two family rooms in the basement garden level. With just Husband and I living here, we’ve tended to stake out our spaces.  I get the upstairs living room for TV watching and a corner of the kitchen for my writing desk.  I keep my areas fairly clean.  Sure, you can write your name in the dust, but there aren’t any cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

Downstairs, that’s another matter.  For months I’ve known that the spiders were taking over down there, but I guess…I just really didn’t care.  Now, two siblings decided to stay for a weekend and something had to be done.

Of course (well, of course if you’re me) once I started cleaning I decided the layout was all wrong and spent the day moving an ancient iron bed from one room to another, exchanging it with a set of twin beds.  And of course I couldn’t just exchange the beds, I had to decorate the rooms – which required finding nails…and a hammer…and a level…and…well, that’s just how I do things.  I bite off way more than I can chew and then add a few more bits for good measure, a bit like this writing every day idea.

FYI:  In between rearranging the rooms, I DID clean.  Really.  Just ask the spiders now living in my vacuum cleaner bag.

 

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 – Part Two

…Click here for where we left off last week

“We were robbed,” I wail into the yellow telephone receiver.

“Did they?” Mom gasps …”Take the TV?”

I say I don’t know and she tells me she’ll call the sheriff and will be home right away.

I tiptoe through the house; terrified the men will return for their knife. I scurry to my parent’s closet and burrow into the dark. I knock over a pair of rhinestone-encrusted stiletto heels that have never seen the light of day. The heavy shoes make a deafening crash when they hit the floor. I push myself farther into the corner, making a curtain of Mom’s old sorority party dresses.

I hold my breath and wait. I don’t hear any footsteps in the house.

Angry barks from the two stray dogs that were dumped off that we adopted filter through to my hiding place. I slip out of the closet and dart to a corner of the living room to peer through the window. I see a sheriff’s car in the driveway.Police Car

I run to the front door. My shaking hand grabs the cool metal knob of the big oak door and I yank. It won’t budge. I slide the thick bolt out of its lock and run out to the porch.

The deputy shouts from his car, “Do the dogs bite?”

I’m teenager enough to say, “Obviously not, right?”

A Barney Fife-looking guy exits the patrol car and approaches the front door cautiously. “Are you sure…” his voice cracks and he tries again. “Are you sure they’re all gone?”

“I…I think so. I d-d-don’t know.”

GunHe draws his weapon and kicks at the already open front door. He crosses the threshold and comes to a standstill.

“Oh my god,” he says. “They trashed the place.”

I look around the room and wonder what he’s talking about.

And then I see the room through his eyes. Our massive dining room table is piled high with clothes. So many that they’ve spilled over onto the floor in a yard-wide radius. When Mom does laundry we are supposed to pick out our clothes and put them away, but it rarely happens, so we just live off the clothes in the pile.

With his gun drawn, the deputy jumps around corners while I cower in the corner.

Mom, Dad and the sheriff all arrive simultaneously.

"Shoot first, ask questions later."

“Shoot first, ask questions later.”

The sheriff’s cheap aftershave enters the room before him and my stomach rolls. I run to the bathroom and vomit.

When I return, the sheriff hikes his pants up over a massive beer belly and commands, “Ya know how to shoot a gun right?”

“I’ve never even touched one,” I say.

He looks with disproval at Dad. “Ya need to teach this little girl how to shoot.” He fixes his flinty eyes on me. “Then, next time someone knocks on your door and ya don’t’ know who they are, ya shoot ’em. If they fall outside the house, ya drag ’em in.”

“B…B…But…” I whisper. “I couldn’t ever shoot anyone.”

He sighs. “The least ya coulda done is shout out your brother’s names. That woulda scared ’em for sure.”

“But what if it didn’t?” I ask. “Then wouldn’t they know for sure I was home alone?”

He dismisses me with a wave of his hand and turns to Dad to continue his lecture on teaching everyone in the house how to shoot.

Mom is over in the corner giving the deputy a list of missing items. “Two portable televisions, the stereo, a shotgun, a trombone…”

My older brother comes home from school and tries to interest the deputy in taking plaster casts of the tire tracks in the driveway, like he’s seen happen on Colombo. The deputy gets excited until the sheriff says that doesn’t happen in real life.

I wander into the kitchen and take the opportunity to steal from Dad’s secret stash of food. I pour myself a Coca-Cola from the two-liter bottle and nibble around the edge of a buttery Ritz cracker.

Eventually the house settles in for the night. I’m walking back upstairs to go to bed when I hear one of my brothers say, “I’ll bet they’ll come back for that knife.”

Robber #1Robber #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.