Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On The Telephone

I am not much for talking on the telephone. I used to be but now I find the telephone to be a necessary inconvenience. I used to know phone numbers for everyone by heart. I even knew phone numbers that were no longer in service.

Then one day I realized that all those numbers were taking up a lot of space in my little brain. I decided to un-memorize them all. I was so successful that now I cannot remember numbers at all. Even my home number takes some work to recite. The only number I could not get rid of is the number we had for about four months that we lived in one little town. It was 246J.

I have a cell phone. I feel that they are a wonderful tool. It is good to have a way to communicate in case of an emergency. If you are away from home and have a flat tire for instance. Or if your home phone is not working you have a way to call and find out why. I do not know what the number for this cell phone is.

But I absolutely cringe whenever I see people walking around with their phones stuck to their heads like a security blanket. I do not want to be that connected to anyone.

My first experience with a phone was when I was 5 years old. My mother answered the phone. It was for me so she gave it to me and left the room. The caller was a girl I went to school with. She and her family were having a "carnival" and she was inviting me.

I had to have permission so I went to ask Mom. Before I left the room I replaced the phone in its cradle. When Mom came in of course there was nobody on the other end. No problem... Mom would just call back. Problem... I did not know the little girl's last name.

Somehow my resourceful mother found a way to get me to the carnival. They had little booths, refreshment stands, and even a side show. Each thing cost a penny. I had a grand time.

I lived in Nebraska growing up. The population is small. Party lines were used in most areas because they were cheaper for the phone company to set up. A party line is when at least 2 and up to 8 or 10 phones were on the same line. They had the same phone number. Sometimes they would have a letter or number modifier and sometimes the operator had to connect you to the right phone.

When any phone on the party line rang you would hear your phone ring. Each phone had a distinctive ring of its own. You might get two shorts and a long, or three longs, or a long a short and a long. You had to know your own ring and only answer that one. In one town we were on the same line as the drug store.

If you picked up your phone while another phone on the line was in use you could hear the conversation. It was considered bad etiquette to listen to any of those conversations. It was called rubbernecking or rubbering in. You also had to keep your conversations to a minimum so that tha line was available for others to use.

I went to high school in a fairly large city for the area I lived in. My high school had several offices, each of which had their own phones. However it was far too costly for each office to have its own line. So we had a switchboard. It needed an operator to connect the calls and that was also a huge expense. The solution was to have students (meaning female students because boys should not have to do that type of job) man the switchboard.

Every day instead of going to study hall I reported to the office and the switchboard. It looked just like the ones you see in old movies. There was a big upright board containing all these wires. The wires came in pairs and each pair was the same color. Beneath each wire was a light. There was a phone dial slightly to the right in case an outgoing call was being made. And of course there was my headset so I could hear and speak to the person calling.

When a call came in I took the wire above the lighted light, plugged it in, and answered the phone appropriately and asked how I could direct the call. As soon as I knew where the call needed to go I pulled the other wire of the colored set, plugged it in to the corresponding phone line, and pushed a button that would signal for that office to answer the phone. Then both lights were lit. As soon as the parties had finished their call and disconnected the lights would go out. Then I would unplug both wires and they would recoil into the board waiting for their next turn.

There were so many pairs of wires so that many calls could be in progress at once. It was the latest thing in technology.

Strange things happen to me on the phone. One time I called my mother and my sister answered. She said, "Heeeeeeellloooooo." in a slow lazy way. Playing along I said, "Heeeeelllooooo. " back at her. I said "Whatcha dooooiiinggg?" "Ooooh noooothing muuuuch." Suddenly I realized I was not talking to my sister! I had dialed the wrong number.

Once I called the information operator. As she was looking fo the number I needed she began to tell me what a bad day she was having. I was sympathetic. The call progressed to her telling me about the big fight she had with her boyfriend the night before. She had thrown out his clothes. I was on the phone with her for well over an hour and would you believe it? I did not get the number I needed.

I called to talk to my mother. My sister answered so I was chatting with her. Suddenly I asked her if she was eating Cheerios. She was surprised and said, "How did you know?" I told her I could smell them.

All of my friends would sit and make jokes about the obscene calls they had received. I never got one and I was feeling a bit slighted.

One evening while i was trying to cook supper the phone rang. I said; "Hello." I heard "mmmnedc gtortbnksnfwethn". "I'm sorry I did not catch that. What did you say?" "mdfwkjhgwu9fwpghs;has" "Could you please repeat that?" "sdoghprghsfbdo;ghudgnb;ad" "Please speak a little slower. I cannot understand you." "f,w'fhreu9thrguroguirg"

As it suddenly dawned on me that this was my obscene phone call the caller hung up in frustration. It was obviously his first time too.

It took me a long time to realize that the telephone is mine. If I choose not to answer it I can. With the innovation of voice mail anyone who has something important to say can leave a message if I am busy or just do not feel like talking. I will call back at my convenience. So call me... maybe.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Father Of My Children

I just realized that you have not met my husband. I suppose the correct title is ex-husband but I not only find the term a little "tacky" but it is too long to say all the time. But now you know the status.

I am going to call him John here. That is not his real name but husband is just too long and impersonal to write every time.

John came from a family of nine children. He had three older sisters, three older brothers, and two younger brothers. His family was like mine in the fact that we had very little in the way of material things. But also like my family the love was there and what more do we really need?

John was born in the house he grew up in. Literally. His oldest sister was the midwife. She told me that helping her mother deliver a child was the hardest thing she had ever done.

My mother-in-law often told me what a pretty baby he was. I believe her because he was father to four beautiful babies. She once told me, "Well now you know Emma, Johnny always was my prettiest baby." My daughter has a photograph that her aunt gave her. Johnny was about 2 years old along with his older brother who was about 5. He was a pretty little guy.

Johnny was several "hands full" of a child. I have a hard time believing some of the things that happened.

He followed his older brother and his friends around. Most of the time they did not mind. If nothing else they could get him to do the dirty work parts of the things they were up to. They lived in the country but were not technically farmers so the boys were free to wander the countryside much of the day.

They could climb the hills and climb the trees. They would go fishing. The older boys went swimming but John did not know how to swim. So the bigger boys decided it was time for him to learn. They paddled their raft out to the middle of the river and told him they were going to teach him to swim. He was excited. That is until they picked him up and threw hem as far as they could into the water.

When he violently hit the water it was cold. When he went under the water he panicked. Then he almost drowned. His brother finally gave in and pulled him out. John never did learn to swim. He would go wading in shallow water if we took the kids swimming but after only a few minutes in the water he would turn blue and start to shake. He would get out and sit on the beach with a towel wrapped around him until it was time to leave.

There were times that the boys were downright cruel. I heard many tales of blowing up the chickens with firecrackers. Ick.

My mother-in-law was almost as round as she was tall. But she managed to keep up pretty well with those unruly boys. Her word was the law. Unfortunately they did not always keep to the law. Mom was a busy woman.

One day the boys rigged John with a noose around his neck so it would look like he was hanging from a tree halfway up the hill. The also has a rope around his waist so there was no danger of him really hanging himself.

Then the older brother and friend went running to the house screaming, "Johnny hung himself. Johnny hung himself."

Mom came running out of the house at top speed. She ran up the hill, hurdling a fence just like a track star. John's head sort of fell to one side and his tongue was hanging out.

When Mom jumped the fence John had to laugh and he could not stop. He tried to stop and it only got worse. Of course his mother noticed. By the time she reached the tree and John she also had a switch in her hand. After she got him out of the noose she got her revenge.

Speaking of switches, Mom usually had the boys go out and cut the switch that she would use to try to keep them in line. John learned a good trick. He would break the switch in half then stick it back together. Those green switches had enough moisture in them to hide the break if you were careful.

Then when Mom would begin the whipping, the switch would immediately break. She would think she was hitting them so hard that she was the one who felt bad.

When he was about 14 John got a scooter. It was not a motorcycle but to him it was the next best thing. I have an old picture of him straddling over it like he was ready to ride. His sister is standing next to him. It was one of the high points of his life.

John was not a good student. He was not interested in school. So he dropped out. He could not read or write but he was very intelligent. An education was not a necessary thing for boys in those days so he got a job.

He eventually had enough money to buy a car. He and his friends had a new freedom. Free to drive over those country roads at night, who knew what kinds of mischief they got into. That was the car he owned when I met him.

That summer he decided to get a different car. It was, I believe, a 1953 Ford. It had a spotlight like the ones found on police cars.

There was a large state park on the edge of town. Hills and trees and the little viewing areas to the side of the road made it a favorite place for lovers to spend time alone. A group of us were driving slowly through the park bedeviling those parked cars with the spotlight.

We came upon one car that looked like no one was in it. John shined the spotlight over it. Nothing. He kept shining the light that way and suddenly two heads popped up. We all started to laugh. The male began to shout obscenities (I wonder why?) as he started the car. We followed that car down the hill all the way out of the park. The whole way the guy was waving his fist at us and screaming while trying to get dressed using the other hand.

John discovered another unusual feature on this car. On Saturday nights all the kids would drive what we called the loop in town. Up one street, over a block, and down the next street. Over and over all night. We were cruising.

One night simply by accident John discovered that if he popped his foot off the clutch just as he gave a hard hit on the gas, the front end of the car would pop up into the air. It was a great adventure until we popped into the air and the drive shaft fell out.

There will be more about John in the future. I just wanted to introduce you.

John died a couple of years ago. He had cancer. We were no longer married but we respected each other. I will not say that we were friends but we were certainly not enemies. We were connected by virtue of the fact that we have four wonderful children.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Green Frosting

My sister is four years younger than me. She is the middle child of the family. On top of being number four of seven, she has two older brothers and two younger brothers, one older sister and one younger sister. She has middle child syndrome in spades.

She was always a prissy child. I do not mean necessarily feminine because she was not always what is considered as feminine. But she could sashay around with her little bottom wiggling with the best of them. And this started when she started to walk.

She always believed that she was adopted. There was no way she could have been born into such a crass family. As the older sister I was extremely understanding and sympathetic. I told her; "Why on earth would a family with this many kids want to adopt one? And if they did want to adopt a child, why would they choose you?" She was not amused.

As a matter of fact I called her on her recent birthday. (She is 62, chortle, chortle, chortle) I asked her if she still believed that she was adopted. She said that she had finally given up the idea. After all she looks just like our mother.

Remember the old wringer washers that we did laundry in? Mom liked to set up the washer outdoors if the weather was decent. It was easier to get to the clothesline that way.

My sister was about 2 or 3 years old. Mom was doing laundry. At that moment she was hanging clothes on the line. Then she heard a huge thud and scream.

My sister had climbed up on the washer to see what it was doing and pulled it over on top her. She had a big gash on her eyebrow. There was no doctor in our town so Mom and Daddy took her to the next town over and she got three stitches. She still has a bit of a scar.

My younger brothers were her older brothers. They had been given BB guns for Christmas that year. It was summer and they were playing cops and robbers. I was in the house reading. My sister wanted to play with them. They were only to happy to have her. They needed a bad guy.

Apparently she was found guilty of her crimes and sentenced to death. They had her stand in front of a corrugated metal fence to face the firing squad. They began firing. Yes. The guns were loaded.

My sister began to scream and turned her back to them to try to escape the pain. Unfortunately she was wearing one of those little sunsuits that tied at the neck and had no back.

By the time Mom rescued her my sister's back was full of BB's. She screamed and Mom picked the BB's out one by one.

One year for Christmas my sister got a kitchen set. It had a stove, refrigerator, and kitchen table... the works. She loved it so much. but we were going to visit our grandmother after Christmas so she did not have much of a chance to play with them before we left. They would be waiting for her when we got home.

Our house burned. No more kitchen set. She has always wanted another one.

My sister always said that she never ever got her way. That was not true. What she meant was that she did not get her way immediately. Middle Child!

As we got older my sister became a bit of a wild child. I was married then. I stopped by my parents' house one day to visit. After I had been there for a while I looked around and asked where my sister was. I figured she was out with friends.

My mother very quickly and almost violently said that I did not need to know where she was. Red Flag! I said, "Oh, yes I do."

After much coaxing I was finally informed that she was in a home for unwed mothers. Which one? I did not need to know. I finally got them to tell me where it was. It was about half a mile straight up the street from where I lived. When could I see her? I could not see her. Eventually they gave in and told me they would let me know when my visiting rights began.

I used to walk up to visit her often. She was afraid. She was very young. She would be giving the baby up for adoption.

I talked to my husband and we decided to try to adopt the baby. I did not want to lose a member of the family. At that time they did not allow direct adoptions. My husband and I were newlyweds. It would not happen.

She had a little girl. My sister saw her only right after she was born.

Many years later that baby found us. She had been searching for a long time and was just about to give up. She decided to give one last try and found us.

She has had a wonderful life. She was adopted by a couple who loved her very much. She has a brother who was also adopted. Now she has two families to love her. And she had a much better life than my husband and I could have given her.

When she found us she had a little boy. He is grown now and has a little boy of his own.

For a while my sister calmed down. Then one day she disappeared. We scoured the city looking for her. We could not find her. Neither could the police.

After three years I got a phone call. It was my sister. She had run off and got married. Her husband was in prison and she wanted to come home. She was worried that our parents would not want her.

Of course they wanted her. But I told her if she needed some time she could come stay with me. She was coming home.

I called my parents who were thrilled and relieved. When my sister came home she went to live with our parents. I knew she would.

She is on her third husband now. I think this one is going to last. It's been a lot of years this time. And she is more secure in herself.

She has one son. He is fairly newly married so no children yet.

My sister is a bit more ruthless than I am. Therefore she has been more financially successful than I am. She has been careful to always put herself in a position to advance. I envy that quality a bit.

But you want to hear about green frosting.

When our last sibling was born we were so excited. We were having a new baby in the family. My sister and I were hoping for another sister. The boys had been in the majority or equal since they started coming.

It was a boy. I was old enough to go to the hospital to visit Mom and see the new baby. Yippee.

While we were at the hospital my sister decided to make a cake. She had been making cakes for years. As a matter of fact she makes excellent cakes. And remember we made them from scratch.

She mixed up the batter. Then she went to put it in the pan. But she could not find a cake pan. She did find a cookie sheet. Good enough. In went the batter.

While the cake was baking she made the frosting. What she needed was confectioner's sugar, butter, vanilla, and a little water. She found everything except the confectioner's sugar.

My sister is very resourceful. Flour looks a lot like what we called powdered sugar. So she used that instead. Her favorite color is green so she added some food coloring to make a pretty green frosting.

We were all looking forward to cake. She proudly sliced it and served it to us. One bite and we all spit it out. You have never tasted anything so terrible. Now none of us will eat a cake with green frosting on it unless it is a small amount and not on our plate.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Moving To Washington

I had always lived in Nebraska. We lived in many little towns and on many farms but they were all in Nebraska.

Then Daddy got a job on a dairy farm just outside of Spokane, Washington. He went ahead and Mom took care of packing and getting everything ready for the move.

We were all excited. We were going to Washington on the train. My youngest brother at the time wanted to ride in the caboose.

Mom was busy rushing around trying to tie up all the loose ends. Since she was not going to be at home she had my aunt come to keep an eye on us. My uncles were there to help moving boxes. A couple of cousins came along too. They were around my sister's age.

Mom was gone and we decided to play outside for a while. Some of us were sitting on the hood of the car talking. I was there because I liked to hang out with the older kids and my aunt and uncles were kind of a captive group that day.

We were watching the weather because it looked like it might rain later. Off in the distance we saw something unusual. It was a tornado.

We sat on the hood of the car forever it seemed. We watched that tornado for well over half an hour. We later learned that it had almost completely destroyed a town between 50 and 100 miles away.

Then we watched the train. It seemed like we always lived near train tracks. In the summer the train engine would come through every so often with the little flame throwers that were attached and burn off the weeds that grew up too close to the tracks. Sometimes the smell of the hemp weed burning was unbearable.

It was a hot, muggy day. We did not get any rain but the humidity made us uncomfortable.

My aunt suddenly realized we had not seen my sister and cousins for a long time. She sent me into the house to find them. They were not there.

We looked around the yard. No girls. My aunt sent some of us up the train tracks and some of us down the train tracks to see if they were there. No girls.

There was a lake in the woods just outside of town. We were not allowed to go there because we did not know how to swim. I decided that they had gone there and drowned. I was a melodramatic child.

My uncle and I rode bicycles to the lake to look there. I knew we were going to find bodies. But the girls were not there. We went home.

My aunt was becoming panicky. She started screaming the girls names. So we all did the same. She told us to be quiet because she was sure she heard them in the distance.

She yelled again. She listened. She heard them We did not. She was sure they were answering her. She followed the sounds she thought she heard. We followed her.

My aunt went around the house. Now we could hear the muffled sounds that my aunt had been hearing. They were far away.

As long as we were passing the outhouse (outdoor toilet that I detest) my brother decided to make a stop there. He could not get in. But the girls were screaming from behind the door.

The girls had gone to the bathroom together as girls tend to do. They hooked the hook into the loop that locked the door to keep unwanted visitors out. When they got ready to go out they were pushing on the door and trying to lift the hook. The door would not open because the hook would not unhook.

The more they tried to lift the hook, the harder they pushed on the door. It would not open. They were practically hysterical from thinking they would never get out. And they were soaking wet because of the heat of the day. They poured out when we finally got the door open.

When we finally were finished with everything at our house, we went to my grandparents' house. Our train was to leave in a few days and we got to stay there until then.

It was late when we got there. We just had time to eat and go to bed.

We were settling in for a good night's sleep when Mom rushed in and told us to get dressed right away. The train station had called. They had enough seats available on the next train if we could get there in time. We had not quite an hour to do this.

My uncle drove as fast as he could to get us there. The train was almost ready to leave. We had to hurry.

My oldest brother was having trouble dealing with the escalator. We had never seen moving stairs before. But with a lot of pushing and rushing we just barely made it.

My youngest brother was screaming that he wanted to ride in the caboose. Mom told him we would be in the car next to it. Actually we were fairly close to the engine but he was satisfied and we got on the train.

The car we were in was a double-decker. In the upper portion you could look out and see a lot of scenery that you could not see from the windows in the lower part. And riding the train was nice for us because we could go from car to car. I do not know how much the other passengers liked our mobility but we loved it.

Mom was sick for the whole trip. She had a migraine headache for one thing. She had them from time to time and they made her miserable. Later she found out that she was also suffering from motion sickness. Because she needed eyeglasses her eyes did not see the passing scenery correctly. Her brain tried to correct things so things would appear as they should. Her brain became confused and made her sick.

Luckily there was a nice younger couple who helped her out. They were very much in love but they were nice enough to try to keep us occupied. They even got off at one stop and came back with bags of candy. It was the first time I ever had candy kisses. I still like them a lot.

We arrived in Portland, Oregon, at about 9:00 at night. Daddy was going to pick us up in the morning. Mom wanted to get us a room at the hotel. Unfortunately she did not have enough money left. The food on the train had cost more than she had expected.

The management of the hotel were nice enough to allow us to spend the night in the lobby. I'm sure they felt bad for the young mother with five children. One of the younger shildren even got sick all over the lobby floor. They cleaned it with no complaint. Mom was so grateful.

Daddy was there first thing in the morning. He was so happy to have his family with him. We were just as happy to have our father again.

He took us to get something to eat and we started the last leg of our move to Washington. On the way we stopped for ice cream. What a treat.

Finally we reached our house. It was at the very top of a small mountain. There were evergreen trees everywhere. We had all sorts of space. And our whole family was together again.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Father-In-Law

My father-in-law was Irish. Because of that all his children and grandchildren consider themselves to be Irish. I know little about his life before I met him.

What I do know is that he had brothers and sisters. I met his brother and two of his sisters before my husband and I married. By then they were older. They all lived together and were quiet.

Dad was a character. He was quiet too. He would sit in his chair with a wicked little smile on his face and act like he was oblivious to the world. But he was so much more.

It was tough when he married my mother-in-law. The economy was terrible. Dad worked hard to make sure that his family was fed. He was not ashamed to take any kind of work that would feed his children.

Dad and his brother were both strong from doing hard work all their lives. And both were boxers. When a famous prize fighter came to town he needed sparring partners. Dad and his brother were chosen.

And of course there were stories of brawls they were in. I always thought they were tall tales told by old men trying to prove that they had at least been vital once upon a time. But my mother-in-law told me that many of them were true. She did not lie so I know the stories were true.

One time Dad and his brothers were in a bar. I can't remember details well but I'll try. A fight broke out. Dad and his brother took turns tossing one man after another at each other. As a man came at them they would punch him senseless then toss him out the door. Eventually the fight was over because Dad and his brother were the only ones left.

He worked at the meat packing houses there in town. Those were wild times and they were not too far removed from what had once been a "Wold West" attitude. Often when employees would get out of line, management would come to Dad to settle things.

So he would settle things. He would knock a few heads together and toss the offenders out of the plant. Occasionally that would be by way of an upper window.

He hurt his leg working at the packing house. It caused him to have problems for the rest of his life. Some days he would be in terrific pain. But he kept working until the packing plants closed and moved to bigger cities.

Sometimes to supplement his income, Dad would go into a cave there in the Loess Hills and make a barrel of whiskey. He would trade whiskey for things his family needed.

He and my mother-in-law were admired in the area. It was a tough time for everyone. If someone needed food, Mom and Dad got others together and they were fed.

There were a lot of community get togethers. Everybody would contribute what they could. It was a social life that included the whole family. In those days people did not use babysitters. If you could not take the children, you did not go.

Dad loved politics. He was a strong supporter of John F. Kennedy. Until the day he died he had wonderful things to say about our president. Of course he hated Communists. They were they boogey man of the time. Everything wrong with the world was their fault.

What I did not know was the extent of his political passions. When he died there were so many people who visited the funeral home to pay tribute. Many of them I did not know.

The night before the funeral was the time for individuals to pay tribute to Dad. One man stood. He gave his name. He was a senator to the state. He told of the gatherings that he remembered from childhood. His father, like most people in the area, was a believer in one political party. Dad believed in the other party.

The man said he remembered Dad getting up on a stump and giving his views and his arguments about why his views were the right ones. He was a persuasive speaker. As a matter of fact, this state senator had abandoned his father's party and was a member of Dad's party. He said he would never have become interested in politics and run for office if it had not been for my father-in-law. I felt so proud.

Dad was well known for his driving too. He never gave an inch and he always had the right of way. People just gave in and got out of his way.

Once my husband and I were riding with him in his pickup truck. We were in the downtown area of the city. Now I will have to clean this up a bit so quotes are not necessarily the words he used.

Dad turned onto a street and immediately had a near head-on collision with another vehicle. He said, "Gosh darn sons of dogs. Can't they see this is a one-way street?!?" It was a one-way street. We were going the wrong way. Of course I laughed.

The snow can get very deep in this part of the country.  Often after a heavy snow it can take a long time for snow plows to clean the roads. What you do is find the rut made by previous drivers and follow it. You have to hope that you do not tear your muffler off in the process but it helps to keep you from getting stuck.

One year my brother-in-law and his family went back to visit Mom and Dad in the winter. The snow was deep but there was a good rut leading out of town to the farm. Then my brother-in-law looked and said, "Oh, expletive! Here comes the old man." He knew better than to try to jockey for road space. He just drove right into the ditch.

Dad boldly drove up in his truck and stopped. "Gol-durned city people." He got out and just shook his head when he saw that it was his very own son. Then he went back to the farm and got his tractor to pull his wayward son out of the ditch.

When my mother-in-law was told that my husband and I wanted to get married, she told us not to "tell Dad". She was worried that he would be terribly upset.

Dad worked at the same hospital I worked in. I was in the food services department and he was in the janitorial department. What Mom did not know was that Dad was telling anyone who would listen that I was going to be his daughter-in-law.

As I said Dad was quiet. Mom often told the grandchildren not to bother him because he could not hear. (He could hear just fine. He had selective response.) She also said he was "childish" meaning that his mind was going.

My children treated him like Grandpa. They would talk to him and wanted to do things with him. He was only too happy to oblige. When my youngest son was still in diapers we were visiting the farm. Dad smoked little cigars. My son was fascinated. He found a small piece of a stick that he thought looked like Grandpa's cigar. So my son followed Grandpa around with his own cigar. Grandpa loved it.

Dad hated houseflies. In the summer he had a fly swatter in his hand at all times. My daughter and her cousin had gone to visit. They took my niece's two children.. So my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law who lived there on the farm, my daughter, my niece, and my father-in-law were all sitting in the living room talking.

My niece's children had been in and out all day. Every time they went through the door it would slam and make a lot of noise. Someone unhooked the spring so it would not make so much noise. Then the door did not close and flies would come in. Dad was not happy.

The kids ran out yet again. Dad had enough. My daughter saw an evil look cross his face. He just hauled off and hit my niece on top of her head with his fly swatter. Mom and my sister-in-law both started to yell at him. My daughter looked at him and said, "There was a fly there wasn't there, Grandpa?" He merely smiled at her and nodded his head.

After a while my darling daughter looked at Grandpa. She said, "Look , Grandpa. I think there is another fly there." Mom and my sister-in-law jumped up waving their arms and screaming, "No, Dad, no!" Dad just smiled a wicked smile. My daughter laughed. I guess she got something from me.

Dad had moved his family around a lot from place to place. When they finally bought that farm Mom put her foot down and refused to move any more. He always talked about picking up and moving to Minnesota.

Dad developed dementia as he got older. Mom was older too and not well. My sister-in-law had always lived there on the farm. She was also ill. Dad got to be too much to handle.

He had occasional violent spells. Once they had to get a man from down the road to help get him off his tractor (which he was not supposed to drive) in order to keep him from running over the propane tank in an effort to blow up the house.

Another time the same man stopped by for a visit. Dad was sitting in front of the house. The house was on fire. He just said, "Let 'er burn, Dickie, let 'er burn." Dickie put out the fire before any major damage was done.

Dad would get up in the middle of the night and wander. Once he went out and sat in the middle of the road during a rainstorm. It is a busy highway. Mom and my sister-in-law tried to coax him into the house. Every time they would go after him he would run. Luckily they got him into the house before any cars came speeding down the road. He would have been hard to see in the dark.

Eventually it was just too dangerous to have him in a place where there was no one who could deal with him. It broke Mom's heart but she had to put him in a home. They went to visit him every day if they were able.

My daughter and her family went back for a visit. My oldest son went with them. When they went to the hospital to visit Grandpa, he had fallen and broke his leg. He was confined to bed.

Before  they entered his room Grandma warned them that he might not recognize them. When they walked in his face brightened and he greeted them by name. He was happy to see them. My daughter's little boy was walking and Grandpa thought he was a fine boy. He whined a bit to have my sister-in-law wait on him a little.

The sad thing is that from the day he was placed in the home until the day he died he never spoke to his wife again. It broke her heart but I know she had no other options.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Eve

When we were little Christmas was an expectant time. We went to bed early so that Santa Claus could come and leave us presents. We had written letters to him assuring him that we had been good. We let him know what gifts we wanted.

It was so hard to go to sleep. We would try and the harder we tried, the harder it was to relax enought to finally drop off. But eventually it happened.

Christmas morning was glorious. We would get up and file to the living room. That is where the Christmas tree was with all the presents beneath it. There was an order to opening gifts that has been followed from then on. I will tell you more later.

Some Christmases we went to spend the day with my mother's family on the farm. It was fun getting so many people together. But most years it was just our family and that was special.

One Christmas when I was 5 or 6 I awoke to hear the sounds of nuts cracking. That was Daddy. I cannot pass the nuts in the store at Christmas without thinking of him. He loved them so and Christmas was the only time they were available.

There were voices. Had Santa been there?

I got out of bed and went quietly to the door. There were Mom and Daddy wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree. Most people would say that was proof there is no Santa Claus. Of course I know better. He is real.

Every year Santa left a giant Hershey bar for each of my brothers and sisters. Mom and I got big boxes of chocolate covered cherries. They are still my very favorite.

Another year my brother and I woke up early. It was about 2:00 in the morning. We went to the living room and there was the tree with all the presents under it. We were much too excited to go back to bed so we decided to wait quietly until everyone else was awake.

We spent the time guessing what was in each package. The round one had to be a basketball. It was fun. The problem was that even our whispering got louder and louder. Mom got up and shooed us back to bed.

Then there was the year my brother and I decided to play sick and stay home from school before Christmas. We knew where Mom was stashing the gifts and we were going to take a peak. Mom was working at the time so she took our youngest sister to Grandma's. We were alone. Yay.

We went into the closet and went through everything. I found two dresses that I assumed were for my sister and me. Mom sewed most of our clothes. She had outdone herself with these and they were gorgeous. I even tried mine on. Perfect fit.

That was a terrible Christmas for me. I discovered that a major part of the fun is the expectation and surprise in the packages.

When I was about 15 I went to my boyfriend's house on Christmas Eve. I had a wonderful time with his family. He was to take me home so I would be home by 11:00.

There was a terrible blizzard that night. I lived at what amounts to be the top of a steep hill. He drove home the way we usually went. His car could not get to the top of the hill. He tried another way. No luck. We went around and tried to get up the hill past the cemetery. It was steeper than the rest.

Then we decided that perhaps he could go part way up and then turn into a subdivision. By winding through streets that only went up for a block we were finally ably to come out on my street and I made it home. He had no trouble going to his house because it was all downhill.

Because it was so late I went to explain to Mom why I did not make curfew. She understood. She was wrapping gifts for my brothers and sisters and told me I could help so that she could get a little sleep. I was happy to do it.

Then the next morning we opened our gifts from Santa. I was miserable because I knew everything the other kids were getting. I do like surprises.

As we got older the kids started buying gifts for our parents and each other. In order to make room under the tree we opened those gifts on Christmas Eve.

When I was a teenager I realized how much my parents loved Christmas and what they did to make sure that our Christmas was a good one. We did not get gifts for birthdays and other occasions. There were special things we did but money was hard to come by.

At Christmas my parents went all out. They would go into debt or sell something that was precious to them just to make sure that our Christmas was a good one. And they never ever let on. I knew but I never mentioned it to them. That was my gift to them.

One year I got my first wrist watch for Christmas. I was being recognized as the soon to be adult that I felt I was. It was before we had digital battery operated watches. It had to be wound by the little stem to keep it running every day. No problem.

The problem was that it felt hot. I told my parents but they just chuckled and told me that I would get used to the feeling of wearing it soon. I kept complaining and they kept being amused.

Then one day I showed them the blister on my arm where the watch had burned it. They took it back to the store. It seems that the watchmaker had not put in that teeny tiny drop of lubricant that keeps the gears from creating the friction that eventually caused my burn.

As we got older and began having families of our own we still tended to go to Mom and Dad's for Christmas Day. Mom always told us she was cooking and we were all welcome. Just don't get between her and the television during the football game.

Daddy never understood why any of us moved into our own homes, much less why we would want to spend Christmas Day at home. As my family got older I wanted my children to develop happy memories of our Christmases like the ones I had. So we began to spend Christmas Day at our house. Daddy did not understand.

Now Mom understood about Christmas Day. However she had a strict rule about Christmas Eve. Everyone in the family was required to be there, no matter what.

We had baked goods, candy, cakes, and pies. One year she even decided to make every fruit cake from the recipes she had been collecting for decades. I always took some of the things I had made. There were cold cuts and chips, pickles and relishes, vegetable trays... all easy to eat and no work at the time.

We all sat and talked and laughed. The kids played and told the adults what had been happening in their little lives. Daddy just sat in his chair and reveled in having his family around him. Mom even was able to enjoy herself because all the work was done for a time and she could join in without interruption.

We are a large family. We were not blessed with those soft genteel voices. As we talked the noise level would rise. So we talked louder. The noise level would keep rising and we would keep talking louder. To new members of the family it was disconcerting but they would learn to adjust.

Then came time to open the gifts. We all took our gifts to each other to Christmas Eve. Christmas morning was reserved for Santa Claus.

Daddy played Santa. He did not dress up or anything. He was the person who passed out the gifts. The first gift always went to the youngest member of the family. We would all watch as the gift was opened then ooh and aah at the gift. Then the next in line would receive the next gift and the same oohs and aahs were issued.

After each person in the family had received a gift in the order of their age and the appropriate responses were given, the gifts were not necessarily given in order. But each gift received the same presentation... we watched as it was opened and then appreciated the wonderfulness of it.

As I said we are a large family and there were a lot of gifts. Gift opening took a long, long time. We loved every second.

I miss those huge Christmas Eves. Mom and Daddy are gone. Some of the children are no longer with us. There have been divorces and marriages that have changed who is a present member of the family. Two of my brothers have died. But the spirit of Christmas lives.

I tried to keep the big Christmas Eve celebration going. But people would move too far away so they could not come. Soon it was just my children and grandchildren. There were still enough of us to have a raucous, noisy party.

Now I have moved away. I came back to the part of the country where I was raised and away from the big city that I hated. My children and grandchildren had to stay where their jobs are. My Christmases are quiet now. But I have all those happy memories and they are more than enough.

By the way, for any who doubt, Santa Claus is real. He still leaves presents for me under my tree.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Holiday Season

I love Christmas. A lot of people do the "Bah, Humbug" thing at Christmas. I like the way everything is covered with snow. I like the crisp cold smell in the air.

I love seeing the Santas ringing bells to collect money for the less fortunate. I love the hustle and bustle as everybody shops for their loved ones.

Most of all I love the feelings of love that we have during the holidays. Christmas is a time that we all get together to show the love we feel for others. These feelings are what we feel all year long but we do not take the time to show them. Christmas makes us stop and take the time.

I am not from a religious family. My parents would send us to Sunday school when we were small. I know what the holiday is to commemorate. But few people do that any more.

I am not a religious person. I do believe in being kind and thoughtful to others as well as to myself. If there is a God and if we are called to His home after we die then I believe that good intentions and actions are what will get us there. If there is not a God then I can die satisfied that I have done the best I could to make my part of the world a little happier. Either way I win.

I am also not a shopper. I hate shopping... for clothes, for shoes, for groceries, for anything. Except at Christmas. At Christmas I love going out to find the perfect gift for each person. Something that I want them to have that they will appreciate. Something that they would probably not get for themselves.

I agonize over what to get for which person. I get excited when I find something unique. I am overjoyed when I find something fun. I am in despair when I just do not know what to get for someone. It means I do not know them well enough to be able to choose well.

Then comes the wrapping. I try to make sure they can not always tell what is in the package. I love surprises and I want to surprise the person receiving the gift. Labels that tell "to them, from me" make me feel good.

I love the way the tree looks. All the sparkly colors of the lights. All the brightly colored ornaments, I have ornaments that I purchased. Some are quite old now. I have some made by my children and grandchildren. Some are gifts from family members and friends. They are all so beautiful and when the lights are twinkling they are even more so.

A Christmas tree does not look complete until there are presents beneath it. I love when there are so many presents that they cannot fit beneath the tree and they are stacked behind, beside, and in front of the tree. Each present represents love from one person to another. The more love the better.

I love that the whole family comes together and makes the time to truly enjoy being a family. The conversations and laughter and noise are music to me. There is nothing better than that beautiful chaos.

I love sharing my treats for them to eat. I love that they want to share theirs with me. I even love the messes and spills that always happen. They show that everyone is relaxed and having fun.

I love it when it is finally time for the opening of the gifts. I love the expectant look on the person when they are handed a present just for them. I love to watch them open the package. I love to see their faces light up when they received a gift that they really wanted, whether they knew it or not.

I have to say that watching the others open gifts is my favorite part of the night. I am so happy when they open a gift from me and a smile is the first expression on their face. I would feel silly sitting there and not getting any gifts at all but the real gratification is in watching the others.

I love the winding down of the get together. People are showing off their bounty. Sometimes they are sharing and comparing with another person. It is family.

Many complain that Christmas has become too crass and commercialized. That may be true. But if that is what it takes for people to exhibit caring for one another, I am all for it. If a person really feels strongly about the capitalistic aspect, then make something from your heart. It may only be a loaf of banana bread or a batch of brownies. If you are artistic, paint something. Sew something lovely. Make a nice jewelry box. Gifts that come from the heart are the best gifts of all.

Did I mention that I love Christmas? I do, I do love Christmas. I wish these happy feelings for everyone. Feelings that are meant to be cherished and sent out to those you love.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cookie Day

My mother always baked at Christmas time. As soon as we were old enough all of us kids helped. We had cookies, pies, cakes. And we made candy too. And popcorn. Our house smelled so good from all the smells.

Once I had my own house I continued to make goodies for Christmas. Peanut butter cookies were my husband's favorite. He liked apple pie. When we would go to my parents house we packed a lot of baked things for everyone to enjoy.

I never learned to make "a little bit" because of coming from a large family. It was a good way to share and a good way to not waste the things I had made way too much of.

When I started having my own children I had them help me make the goodies. It was a tradition that I wanted to keep. We had so much fun and made a big mess. I should also tell you that I make a mess when I cook. I do not know how it happens but there it is. I hate the clean-up but it is worth it when all is said and done.

My children did what all children seem to have to do. They grew up. They moved to their own houses. I like my children as well as love them so I missed having them around all the time. And they began having families of their own.

Baking for Christmas is done over a period of time. You just cannot make all those things in one day. I would spend several days baking.

Then I realized that my grandchildren were not making cookies. We could not tolerate that. I invited them to my house to make cookies for the day. Each child would choose a favorite cookie to make. That would be their contribution to our Christmas celebration.

All cookies are made from scratch. There are no mixes or frozen cookies for us. We would spend a fun day making and sampling all the cookies. The children not baking at the moment would play games or watch television. It was so much fun.

My family kept getting larger. Cookie day turned into Cookie weekend. After making cookies for a day, we would go for a drive looking at all the lights and decorations. Then the next day we would make cookies with the children who had not made cookies the day before.

Still we kept growing. Now cousins were coming too. It became difficult to oversee the baking and manage all those children who were not busy. I had to institute a new routine. Girls one weekend and boys another.

The main problem there was that the boys still wanted to come on the girls weekend and the girls wanted to come on the boys weekend. I will never tell any grandchild that they cannot come to Grandma's house so I am not sure I gained anything by having two weekends. But it did allow for baking time to be separated and that was helpful.

I miss cookie day. I moved back to the prairies where I belong. After I retired I realized that it would be much cheaper to live here than in the city. On a fixed income that is a good thing. Unfortunately my children's jobs and families keep them where they were raised. There are no grandchildren here for cookie day.

My youngest son and his daughter continue to make cookies. I am happy that they do because they are both very busy people. I can also see how close they feel when they are working together and that is what it is really about, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Birthday Fun

When I was growing up there were a lot of people who had birthdays close to mine. I told you we lived on the prairies. It was cold in the winter. Television stopped programming at midnight. There really was nothing much else to do late at night except to keep each other warm. That is my theory anyway.

Two of my father's brothers' birthdays are a day or two from mine. My mother's youngest brother is four days after mine. Other aunts, uncles, and cousins have birthdays in late summer and early fall. And of course both my parents and most of my brothers and sisters are within a two week span.

But until I was grown I did not know anyone with the same birthday as mine. I always thought it would be fun to celebrate with someone.

Our next door neighbor had the same birthday as me. She was a bit older but very nice. My husband's friend had the same birthday. Another young man we knew had the same birthday.

We used to have some great parties. These were not gift-giving occasions. They were just an opportunity for friends to get together and have fun.

Because all of us were part of the same social circle we would just have everybody we knew gather at an agreed spot. It was a different place every year.

One year we were going to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I love Mexican food. My husband's friend with the same birthday was married to my best friend. We were looking forward to the meal so we had both decided not to eat during the day to leave more room for our food. It is a dumb thing to do I know but... what can I say?

Before dinner the spouses decided to take the birthday children out for drinks at a bar owned by a friend. Drinks were on the house because we were being treated by the owner. By the time we made it to the restaurant my friend and I were more than silly. The alcohol in the drinks combined with the fact that we had not eaten put the alcohol straight into our bloodstreams. I guess it is a good thing we were among friends.

Another year we went to a bar that had a live band so we could dance. My husband would not dance unless he had a few drinks to loosen himself up. On the other hand I will dance at the first note of a song. Luckily a lot of the dances required no partner so we could get up as a group and dance our hearts out.

There was one couple in our group that was different. She could not dance. He was a dancing fool. He told me once that the only advice his father ever gave him was about dancing. "Most men learn to dance to the slow songs. Then they can move in and get close to the woman. If you really want to please a woman learn to do the fast dances too." Needless to say this guy was always invited to any occasion if there was going to be dancing.

That was also the year that I had my first flaming shot. It is a shot of liquor that is lit by the waitress and you are to drink it while it is burning. I have to admit I blew mine out before drinking it. They just tasted nasty.

Apparently ouzo burns easily. Ouzo is a Greek liqueur flavored with anise. Anise tastes like black licorice. I do not like black licorice. Ick!

As always seems to happen our group dwindled. People moved away. They got divorced. Sometimes there were petty misunderstandings. I miss our parties.

But there were other birthday parties for me. I love birthdays and mine is the best.

When I was managing the band they played five nights a week at one bar. To pick up extra money they played one night each at two other bars.  So Saturday night was the main gig, then Sunday we moved to another place, and Monday was still another.

One year on Saturday my friend came into the bar with a beautiful cake and we all celebrated my birthday. The guys in the band gave me a jacket with the band's name on the back. It was the only one ever made.

On Sunday we moved to the next bar. The band had a birthday table set up for me. It was a fun party.

The next night we went to the next bar. Another friend drove all the way there to bring another cake so we had another party. That was the night the drummer found a closet full of old costumes behind the stage. He put one on. It was full of fleas and they chewed him up.

I feel sad when I hear people lamenting that a birthday just makes them older. My birthdays tell me that I have gained another year of memories. Some are wonderful and make me feel warm inside. Some give me comfort. Some make me sad and sometimes I even cry. But they all mean I have grown as a person.

I will get older no matter how I try to disguise it. So why not embrace aging for the experiences that accompany it?