Tag Archives: Grandmother

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?

Embarrassment Factor: 9.2

Over the last few weeks I’ve been climbing down the branches of The Crazie Family Tree. Big Sister and Big Brother stories have been shared and I should be next in line.

I'm not ONE, I'm TEN

I’m not ONE, I’m TEN

Sibling Position #3

At Christmas Eve, I told my family I planned to skip over myself and on to First Little Brother.

“NOT FAIR!” Crazie Family shouted. “You have to share an embarrassing story about yourself.”

“Umm, I thought that’s what I did every week,” I said.

“Tell the one about running away,” Big Sister said.

“Already did it.”

“Write about the time you got your elbows stuck in Grandmother’s chair,” Big Brother insisted.

“Wrote it.”

“How about the time we euthanized a mouse?” First Little Brother asked.

“Done and done.”

Over the next hour they tried to come up with a story about my childhood that I haven’t yet told, and would sufficiently embarrass me.

“Remember how she was too short to reach both pedals of a bike?” My Aunt said.

“Oh, yeah,” Big Brother said. “Dad put a step stool on the side of a hill so she could get a rolling start. Then she’d push the right pedal down until she couldn’t reach, then the left pedal would be high enough. She had to ram into the side of the barn to stop.”

“Ha, ha,” Second Little Brother laughed. “She walked around all summer with a big goose egg on her forehead.”

“That’s a good one.” I laughed along with them and then stared at my husband, sending the ESP message not to tell the story about my latest shopping experience.

He was a good husband and did not share, but in the spirit of fairness and since its now obvious to me that no one from my family reads my posts anyway, here it is.

I was in the dressing room of a nice clothing store trying to find something to fit my latest personality switch. Halfway through a dozen outfits, a massive hot flash struck me.

Normally, before I leave a dressing room, my OCD requires that I return everything to its proper hanger and hand the items to the clerk. Not this day. With sweat running into my eyes, I left the clothes in a pile on the floor, grabbed my coat and hurried out the door to stand on the sidewalk in the freezing air. The hot flash now gone and my teeth chattering, I quickly buttoned up my down coat and headed off to meet my friend for lunch.

Climbing into the booth, I removed my coat and immediately sensed something was wrong. Perhaps it was the questioning look on my friend’s face, then again it could have been the goose bumps breaking out on my arms.

It seems, in my hurry to exit the dressing room, I left my shirt in the pile of clothing on the floor.

To ease the embarrassment factor on this story, I will tell you that, thanks to my love of all things Spanx, I was sporting one of their industrial strength tank tops.

But, then to crank the embarrassment back up, I had to return to the nice clothing store and, in front of everyone waiting to pay, explain that I’d forgotten to put my shirt on before I left the store. Without a word, the clerk turned around and using the two-finger “I’m holding something disgusting” method, handed me a small bag containing my blouse.

See what you’ve done, Crazie Family? As I write this, I’m suffering another hot flash…from embarrassment. Happy now?

I fell out of the Crazie tree and hit every branch on the way down – Part Two

Cuckoo Clan

p_v11agy64zae0464This week we start with my parents, Lewis and Virginia. (If you missed last week, click here.)

Mom grew up an only child, an unwanted one at that. My Great Aunt Margie told me that when Mom was little, if you asked her name, she’d say, “No, No, Virginia!” In grade school she was molested by the janitor. She ran home and told her mother who said never to speak about it again.

Mom graduated early from high school and went away to K-State at sixteen.  She said the minute she left her mother’s house, her life began and she rarely returned home.

Dad’s upbringing was the opposite. He had two sisters and was the beloved boy in his family. He served at the end of WWII, but the only danger he saw was while guarding AWOL prisoners.

Escorting a soldier to the privy, the guy stopped in his tracks and said “Would you shoot me if I ran?”

“I don’t honestly know,” Dad said, shaking in his boots. “Should we find out?”

In their last year of college, Dad as president of his fraternity, asked a popular girl to  the fall dance. At the last minute she cancelled so Dad called a young woman that had been hanging around him. Mom was so excited to be going with Dad she wore the name tag with the other girl’s name printed on it through the entire event. (Why I hate name tags.) Dad said Mom set her sites on him and he never had a chance and, besides, he didn’t have the heart to send her back to her miserable mother.

Mom and Kathleen eating popsiclesSo she packed away her taffeta dresses, her girdles, stockings and her high heels and moved with Dad to the family farm. Picture a less glamorous version of the TV show, Green Acres.

Dad neglected to mention to her that farm wives fix dinner (lunch to you city folk) for the men and the hired help working in the fields. The morning after their honeymoon, Mom’s new mother-in-law arrived early to help cook, only to find Mom in bed, reading a book.

Cooking was not Mom’s strong point so I can only imagine what got served that day. After that, Mom was relegated to setting the table and washing dishes while the farm women fried chickens, mashed potatoes, opened jars of their home-canned vegetables and served pie.

Dad with uncles in front yard

This picture of Dad is the way I like to remember him. Tall and lean with a dark farmer’s tan covering his arms. He was a heavy smoker and would roll the bottom of his jeans into a thick cuff where he shook the ashes.

Dad graduated with a degree in agriculture and was chomping at the bit to apply everything he’d learned. Unfortunately, Grandpa liked the old system and that’s the way it stayed.

The land (and the house we lived in) belonged to my Grandpa who would decide, on occasion, to pay Dad a share of the farm income. My entire childhood I heard Mom yelling at Dad, “You go over there and get our money right now!”

I said to my older sister the other day, “Remember mayonnaise sandwiches? I loved those.” She sighed. “Do you remember we had them because there wasn’t any food in the house?”

When Mom and Dad could no longer feed the family on what the farm made, Mom went back to school and became a teacher. Dad worked extra jobs where he could — laying asphalt for the city, helping Uncle Harold collect change from his juke box machines, and one long miserable year as a realtor.

He once applied for a job with a chemical company and they called him in for an interview. He had to take a train to the main office and was gone for a couple of days. Mom cried the entire time, terrified that he would take it because it would mean he would be gone a lot. They offered him the job but he turned it down.

Making money was something Mom and Dad never figured out how to do. But, one thing they were good at, was having kids.

ONE

ONE

TWO

TWO

THREE

THREE

FOUR

FOUR

FIVE

FIVE

SIX

SIX

SEVEN

SEVEN

And a few years later…

EIGHT

EIGHT

Tons of Fun

Tons of Fun

With Dad’s passive personality and Mom’s fiery one, it made for quite a roller coaster ride for us kids, but our parents were devoted to us and I never for one moment, even during my worst teenage years of hating my parents, felt unloved by them. We ran to Mom when we needed a hug and to Dad if we needed an ice cream cone.

It’s true, they didn’t know a thing about making money, but they did know how to make a family.

I would do whole thing over again, exactly the same way.

I fell out of the Crazie tree and hit every branch on the way down.

Two Branches From the Crazie Tree

Mom's Parents

Mom’s Parents

Nellie and Walter  were city folk and lived in Kansas City. Grandmother, who worked as a legal secretary well into her eighties, was a tiny tyrant. She was written up in the newspaper because, when a purse snatcher tried to grab her pocketbook, she refused to let go and beat him with her umbrella. I know, I know. She looks so sweet. That’s what everyone said when they met her. Here’s just a small dose of her horribleness. When Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Grandmother sent a Get Well card with the following note. “At least now you’ll be able to lose those extra pounds.”

Grandfather was a tall, quiet man.  He was the personal driver and property manager for a wealthy businessman. When I think of Grandfather, I picture him sitting with his knees to his chest in the too-small chair assigned to him by Grandmother , smoking a cigarette and nursing one of his bourbon and waters (without the water). He taught me the importance of learning things the hard way. He loved to play Monopoly and it didn’t matter if you were five or fifty, if he could bankrupt you he would because that’s how the game was played.

Dad's Parents

Dad’s Parents

Ben and Irma, were farmers who lived in Tecumseh.

Grandma Irma was my dream grandma–literally. She died before I was born, and from what I’ve heard, she would have been someone who smelled of fresh-baked cookies and always ready to wrap me in a hug. I miss her.

p_v11agy64zae0426Grandpa Ben never said more than a dozen words to me, yet I remember him wiping away tears at the news of a new grandchild arriving. He lived in a crumbling hundred-year-old stone house just a quarter mile from us. He wasn’t a very committed farmer, as every day after dinner (lunch to you city folk) he’d change out of his overalls, get cleaned up and drive to town to play pool for the afternoon. In his eighties, while scrutinizing a neighboring field, he drove his car into the ditch. Not one to miss his afternoon of billiards, he walked the half mile home, started up a tractor, pulled his car from the ditch, returned the tractor and walked the half mile back to his car. He lived well into his nineties and at his funeral a dozen sharply dressed men from his pool hall told us all about a “Benny” we’d never known.

Wedding Day for Mom and Dad

Wedding Day for Mom and Dad

My parents, Lewie and Ginger, had two separate wedding receptions, one upstairs, because Dad’s family was filled with senior officials from the Kansas Dry Forces. And one downstairs because  Mom’s family was filled with people who drank massive quantities of bourbon and water (only without the water.)

Their honeymoon didn’t go so well. Just to say the word “Ozarks” caused sparks to shoot from her eyes. Turns out, humidity transformed Mom into the Wicked Witch of the Plains. The trip was so bad, Mom never stepped foot in the Ozarks again.

But, they managed to survive the honeymoon and produce this crazie *clan.

Janet, Larry, Tom, Rick, John, Teresa, Mike

Janet, Larry, Tom, Rick, John, Teresa, Mike

*Plus one more.

Craig

Craig

Tune in next week as we explore the lives of Lewie and Ginger and their Crazie Clan.

Does Love Mean, Having to Say I’ll Kill You?

As I’ve written here before, my Grandmother Nellie was a tough old bird.  Things went her way or else.  This worked fine as far as where her furniture was placed or what to have for dinner, but it didn’t work so well with the people in her life.

In high school she dated Lawrence for several weeks, until he was late to pick her up.  Then she dumped him.  Lawrence’s younger brother Walter asked her out and learning his lesson from Lawrence, did everything demanded of him — for the rest of his life.

I imagine things went pretty smoothly for Grandmother, until my mother was born. Children are notorious for not following our plans for them.  Instead of marrying for money as demanded by Grandmother, she married for love; a poor farmer and a Catholic one at that. She then proceeded to have way more kids than proper society (or Grandmother) accepted.

Mom battled her weight her entire life with Grandmother berating her at every turn. When Mom was diagnosed with cancer and told her chemo treatments would be harsh Grandmother sent a get well card. She’d written inside “At least now you’ll be able to lose that extra weight you’ve been carrying around.”

She probably did love my mother and she tolerated her husband. But she adored her pets – at least, as long as they behaved.  One week she’d mention that Fluffy had a cold.  The next time we talked she’d tell me how cute Tabby was.

“Tabby?  I thought your cat’s name was Fluffy.”

“Oh.  I put Fluffy down.”

When Tabby jumped up on a shelf and broke one of Grandmother’s precious knickknacks, the cat disappeared.

A dog she’d had for years that peed on her rug?  Gone.

My dad used to joke that he was afraid to sneeze around Nellie in case she decided to put him down.

Now I’m in the position of having to make that terrible choice with our dog, Lola.  Not because she’s a nuisance, but because she’s in pain and can’t get around.

We met with our vet this week and he says it’s close to time and explains how lucky animals are that we have the power to put them out of their misery.  I’ve always agreed with that philosophy but have never had to put it into practice.

The power, I’ve discovered, is now a curse that haunts me as I look into Lola’s brown eyes and I beg her to tell me if she’s ready to go.  I do love her.  In fact, I love her enough to kill her

I pride myself on being nothing like my Grandmother Nellie, but I wonder.  Am I really?

Continuation of a Mid-Life Crisis

I woke up one day and none of the clothes in my closet were mine.  I’m not making this up.

Okay, maybe I am, but that’s the way it felt.  I tried on 90% of my closet, and nothing seemed to fit – neither my body or my personality.

Over the next several days I bought and returned dozens of items.  A geometric print maxi-dress seemed fine in the store.  Maybe a bit “young” for me, but I was sure I could still pull it off.  And then I got it home, where I realized that, NO, I couldn’t pull it off and back to the store it went.

I’ve done this time and time again.  I’m in some sort of Limbo (the Catholic kind, not the game) where I’m too old for average women clothes and too young for old women clothes.

Last week, I hit bottom.  I gathered all my strength and walked into what I’ve always considered The Old Woman Clothing Store.  As I flipped through the racks of shapeless dresses and baggy capris, I had a running conversation with myself.

“I’m too young to wear these clothes!”

“No you’re not.  Look around at the other women here.  They’re not much older than you.”

“I don’t belong here”

“You do belong here.”

“I DON’T!”
“You Do!”
“Fine! I’ll try something on!!!”

I picked several items off the racks and trudged to the dressing room.  Just as I was stepping into my first outfit, hoping to god I wouldn’t look in the mirror and see my grandmother, I overheard this conversation in the store, right outside my dressing room door.

Salesclerk:  “Here we go.  I’ve put you in the largest dressing room  – where they’ll be plenty of room for your walker.”

Customer:  “Why, thank you dear.”

I ran out of that store so quickly I almost broke a hip.
————

Bonus Blog Post

While I was working on the blog post above, this email conversation occurred with one of my brothers. Caution – I’m leaving in the strong language.  I know, can you believe it?

Mike:  So FYI, I am officially a middle aged woman trapped in a man’s body.  In addition to frozen shoulder, it appears I now have varicose veins.  I found two cysts in my calf this weekend and went to get them checked.  The doctor is 99% sure that’s what it is.  I have to get a sonogram to confirm. Did mom have that?  Fuck!  Getting old sucks!

Teresa:  Well, yes she did, as do I.  But I didn’t think it was worth a dr. appt.  What will they do about them?  Are they dangerous or something?  FUCK YES, I hate getting old.

Mike:  He did not seemed concerned at all and what I can find online seems to say the same thing.  I think there are some cosmetic procedures to make them look better, but I will probably pass because looking good in heels is down on my list of worries.

————–

Enjoy your Fourth of July.  Here are the Crazie Town safety rules from last year, just in case you need them.

I Don’t Want That…

This week I’m taking care of two of my grandkids.  When I woke up the four-year-old in the morning, our conversation went like this.

I kissed her forehead and said, “Good Morning, Sweet Pea.”

She stretched and yawned,  then said.  “I don’t want that for breakfast.”

“I haven’t even told you what I’m cooking.”

“I know.  But I don’t want that.”

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.  I don’t want that…I don’t even know what the “that” is that I don’t want.

In the morning, looking forward to some quiet time, I make my tea, pick up my journal and go to sit in an Adirondack chair surrounded by lush gardens.  But, that’s not what I want.

After breakfast, I go to my office to write.  As I’m driving, I’m working out a problem with my new novel.  I love this story but,  I can’t figure out how to describe the wings the main character is anxious to have removed so she can be like the rest of the teenagers.  Are they dragon wings?  Butterfly wings?  Bird Wings?  I don’t know and now…I don’t want to do that.

I’ve tried shopping therapy — I came home with hives from the stress.

I tried redecorating therapy — I haven’t finished, so now I have paint cans and brushes sitting around my house that have been there long enough, I actually had to dust them.

I even tried hair therapy, but you all know how that turned out..

I catch myself sighing every few minutes and now I’m afraid I’m turning into my Grandmother Nellie, who walked around expelling sighs loud enough to power half  the wind turbines in Kansas.

I heard a self-help guru recently who said if you change something in one part of your life, the part you want to change will happen, so when a friend of mine asked if I’d go with her to get training for a motorcycle license I said yes.  Unfortunately, that’s not until the fall.

Maybe the change I need right now is something that will help me lose those five extra pounds that are hanging around my middle.   I’ll stop at the store on the way home and buy something healthy to cook.

I climb in my car, and at the first red light I turn the opposite direction of the store because, sigh, even though I don’t know what I was going to cook, I know I don’t want that.

—–

Here’s my youngest grandson, dressed and ready to be admitted as the newest citizen of Crazie Town.  Care to join him?

Our new Fire Chief