Monday, December 19, 2011

Commit, Don't Hesitate -or- How I Rolled an Impala

Confession time:  I used to drive like a freaking maniac down country roads.  My family thinks I'm an impatient driver now?  19 year-old-me would pass 50 year-old-me, and for the brief moment while parallel on the road, I would give me "the look" for having the audacity to be in my way.  

The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year at Purdue, I worked in the McCutcheon Hall kitchen on campus.  While at school, that's where I lived for 2 years (even though the homestead was only 20 minutes away - 15 if you drove like I did), and it was the dorm where a lot of outside groups stayed over the course of the summer.  It was my job to help feed them.  

I worked the lunch shift one hot afternoon and was very eager to get home.  My sister and her family were coming to visit for a few days, and I hadn't seen them in a long time.  I jumped in my parent's 1977 Chevy Impala, rolled down all the windows, and took off.  It was a hefty car.  It looked like this:

The stretch of road between the dorm and the homestead included a curve at the top of a very steep hill.  A gravel crossroad met the road at the very bottom of the hill.  Overgrown weeds and bushes forced a driver to pull up to the very edge of the "T" to check for oncoming traffic. The scene loosely looked like this, with me speeding down the hill in the bright yellow car:

From near the top of the hill, I saw a vehicle at the crossroad (we'll call him Jeep Guy, because of the illustration)  and Dull Yellow Sedan far off in the distance.  Jeep Guy pulled out, supposedly wanting to turn toward me.  Then he must have seen me, barreling down the hill and the guy coming from the other direction, and stopped.  The idiot completely blocked the road.  He was in the process of trying to back up when I slammed on the breaks.  

If Jeep Guy wouldn't have hesitated and followed through with the turn, I wouldn't be writing this now.  To this day, I believe that if you start doing something stupid behind the wheel, follow through.  Well, within reason.  It's likely to have a better outcome than hesitating and trying to correct your actions in the heat of the moment.  

Nothing about 1970's cars were as efficient as they are now.  Breaks tended to lock up when you tried to stop a car traveling down a steep hill at 65 miles an hour.  By the time Jeep Guy got out of my way and Dull Yellow Sedan saw was was happening, I had skidded over to the left side of the road and rolled down the embankment.  

I remember the side-view mirror being torn off and the windshield crunching.  I don't remember being tossed around the cab of the car, but from the bruises that appeared later, it must have been like I was inside a clothes dryer.  (Seat belts?  Cars had seat belts?)  The next thing I knew, I had crawled up the embankment.

Jeep Guy took off.  It's a good thing, because adrenaline can make you do crazy things, and I probably would have choked him or her.  Dull Yellow Sedan came over to see if I was OK, and at some point, went into town to call the police.  Mr. Policeman showed up soon after, and I was ushered to the front seat of his cruiser, shaking like a leaf.  

I take the blame for speeding, but I still say Jeep Guy caused the accident.  I was convinced of that, even though I got the impression Mr. Policeman had formed a different opinion.   He didn't give me a ticket, but I could tell what he thought.  I kept thinking, "Go find 'Jeep Guy'!!  If nothing else, arrest him for being a leaving-the-scene jerk!!  For all he knew, I could have been fatally wounded, and he just left!!"

We sat in the police car, on the gravel crossroad, going over the incident for the third time.  Because of the overgrown foliage, I could see only a small patch of the main road and the weeds that were mowed down on the far side by my car.  Then, of all people, Denny sped by in his gold cargo van.  Without thinking, I said, "Hey!  There goes my brother!"  Mr. Policeman flipped on his siren, hit the gas, and took off after him.  Never mind that I was still shaking, in shock, and again, sans a seat belt.

Denny stopped and we pulled up next to him.  He looked confused as to why a cop was stopping him, then he saw me sitting in the cruiser and was surprised, to say the least.  I explained to Denny (and his dog, Bender, who was riding with him) what happened and where (you couldn't see the car from the road).  He went into town and called Dad.  

Explaining to Dad.  Ugh.  That was worse than telling rude Mr. Policeman for the umpteenth time.  The tow truck came,  drug the car up to the road, and off to a garage.  I can't remember, but it had to have been totaled.  It was in pretty bad shape.

All my dad had to say about the whole thing? "You better thank your lucky stars, Joan Marie.  You better thank your lucky stars."  

And I most certainly did.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Walking Beans

As I typed the title of this post, I realized that anyone who didn't grow up on a farm is probably thinking I'm going to talk about kidney beans with legs.

Sorry, but no.

The definition of "walking beans":  When a person travels on foot between rows of soybeans growing in a field, cutting out weeds with some sort of sharp implement or tool.  When we did it, we had a tool that had a shaft like a golf club, but with a sharp hook on the end.

Talk about slicing the ball!!  HA!  (Sorry.  I couldn't resist a little golf humor there.)

Anyway...  I walked beans with my dad and was paid a whopping $10 per field.  OK granted, that was early 1970's money, but I think I was still fairly cheap labor.  Dad stayed about 10 rows away kept track of our path through the field.  We walked the rows, wrapping our hooks around the bottom stem of any unwanted foliage and tugged.  I used to try to make a nice, quick slice, so that the taller weeds fell like trees in a forest - almost in slow motion.  Doing this all day, you had to find your kicks somehow.

When I was around 12 years old, Dad and I were walking beans on a very hot, summer afternoon.  I was  strolling along, felling mini forests along the way.  I was wearing my white knock-off Chuck Taylor tennis shoes - completely inappropriate footwear for this sort of work.  I pulled my hook back on particularly stubborn weed stem and felt the hook hit my shoe.  No biggie.  But then a few yards down the row, I noticed my right tennis shoe had turned red.

I screamed "DAD!!!" at the top of my lungs, even though he was only a few rows away.  Now, my father was not a small man.  He was approximately 6' tall and was of solid, big-boned German heritage.  But on that day, my dad moved like a svelte track star, hurdling over soybean plants in a matter of seconds, to see what had happened.

The hook had sliced the side of my inappropriate tennis shoe, and obviously cut my foot.  He carried me back to the truck, we went home to get Mom, and took off for the office of doctors Mc Kinney and Stolz.  The cut was on the side of my little toe.

2 stitches.  That's it.  You would have thought I cut my leg off from (a) the amount of blood the wound produced and (b) my crying, whining, sobbing and being an overall baby about it.

I don't know if people still walk beans.  Herbicides are probably much more efficient now than back then.  But I'm thinking that with better footwear, I'd like to walk beans again.  Get my exercise and make $10 doing it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's impossible to stroll down memory lane today.  Here's why-

No. 1 -
We just returned from Costa Rica.  What a beautiful country!  I think we've found where we want to retire!  The best part?  It was free.  We only put out for souvenirs and for someone to stay at our house and watch our dogs.
John used to be a rep for Kumho Tires, and that's who funded our little trip.  Because the Kumho sales people were required to go and schmooze customers, John would have gotten to go - not me.  But because he is now a customer and buys Kumho tires for his new company, I got to tag along.  Picture me smiling!  And because the tire industry is like every other, the faces stay the same and only the business cards change.  I've been on quite a few of these trips and met a lot of the sales people, regardless of where they worked and their spouses.  I got to see some old friends and make some new ones.  We ate a lot of good food, drank a lot of good drinks, and took a boat trip down the Rio Tempisque in the Palo Verde National Park.
And we got more freebies!  A bag of coffee, a bag of gourmet chocolate, a wooden bowl that came with flowers in it (sadly, the flowers had to stay behind), shirts, hats, backpacks and - get this - a Kindle Fire, with a $30 gift card to download books right away.  Score!  So I can't possibly think about my past today.  I'm too busy playing with my new toy and tending to various sunburned and bug bitten body parts.

No. 2 -
My ex-boss is testifying to the US Senate Agriculture Committee about the MF Global bankruptcy debacle.  How can I think of anything else when the guy I used to sit 3 feet away from is on C-SPAN??

So I leave you with these photos.  Happy December.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Little Things, Part III

Even more odd childhood memories!  Will it ever stop?!

We had wooden stairs at the homestead that led up to 4 bedrooms.  There was an exposed nail head in the corner of one stair riser, and the wood around it made it look like an eye.  When I was really little, I thought it watched me going up and down the stairs.  For the 18+ years I lived there, I couldn't help looking at it every single time I climbed the stairs - well, at least during daylight hours.  That was also the stair step you had to skip when you got home after curfew because of a very noisy squeak.

I barely remember my oldest brother living at home.  John graduated high school when I was around 4 years old.  My clearest memory of John being home is this--  Before Mom and Dad installed facilities upstairs, we only had one bathroom off of the kitchen.  On my way downstairs to the bathroom one night, I missed the top step and bounced all the way to the bottom.  I let out a blood curdling cry.  Mom, Dad, Joyce and Denny ran down to see if I had indeed cracked my head open.  Luckily, I just had a lot of bumps and bruises.  The next morning when he got up, Mom told John what happened during the night.  He looked at me, chuckled, and said, "I thought I heard something."

One day, Mom told me that we had to go into town to pick up a "Lazy Susan."  I seriously thought I was getting a little sister.  I ignored the 'lazy' part.  I remember Mom trying to explain to me what was really going to happen, but I would have none of it.  I was too excited about having someone/something new to play with.  I was really disappointed when we came home with something that looked like this:

We lived in a farmhouse, and farmhouses get mice from time to time.  Mom had traps and poison posted in strategic locations (away from where I could get to them).  One night during supper, a deranged mouse scampered out from behind the refrigerator and ran in circles in the middle of the kitchen.  We watched him for a minute until Dad put an end to it by stepping on it - with no shoes on.  Barefoot.  That was one of the few times Mom let me off the hook and didn't make me eat the rest of my dinner.  

Like I mentioned before, Mrs. Thrush was our music and art teacher.  I think I was in 5th grade art class when she instructed us to draw a profile self portrait.  Having glasses, I drew mine like this:

She said it should look like this:

My 10 year old self was correct, but she insisted.  I was very upset by this because for the first time, I realized teachers did not have all the answers and were not always right.  I know, I know...  it's time to let that one go.  

The first thing I remember wanted to be when I grew up?  An archaeologist.  I loved digging around in dirt, and I was fascinated by anything I found.  I was wandering around in a field on the far side of our pond one day and came across the footprint of some sort of long-gone building.  Poking around out there kept me busy for hours.  I found one little piece of metal, probably from some sort of tool.  That's it.  But it was the thrill of the hunt that did it for me.  (Come to think of it, I'm still like that with clearance aisles and garage sales - digging around all day for the one wonderful nugget.)  I think I would have pursued archaeology as a career if it weren't for all the stupid science classes.  Talk about a killjoy.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I've told you about Coonie, the raccoon and Zeke, Denny's beautiful Basset Hound.  But there were plenty of other critters on the farm...

Cats.  As you can see, we always had plenty of cats.

I'm sure they appreciated all the lovin and squeezin I gave them.  I think the one that made the great escape in this photo is Fry-Fry.   Fry-Fry was a big, orange tom-cat, that looked like Morris from the 9 Lives cat food commercials.  He was always fairly aloof.  And how did Fry-Fry get his name?  We got him from a family with the last name of Fry, of course.  

Coonie - the cat - was a fat tabby.  Or maybe she was just always pregnant.  She must have had 200 kittens in her lifetime.  Sometimes I would find the new litters hidden away in the barn, and sometimes I wouldn't.  When I did, the kittens would mysteriously disappear over the course of the next few weeks.  I found out many years later that my dad took it upon himself to keep the cat population in check.  (My sister-in-law, Christy, mentioned to Dad one time that she wanted a mouser for their place and Dad said that he would "save one" for her.)  At some point, Coonie was involved in some sort of accident that left her with only a 3" tail.  Her stubby tail made her look fatter and only added to her cuddle quotient.  

When I was in junior high school, we adopted Missy.  Mom saw a listing for Missy in the paper - a Persian - and thought I would like to have a beautiful, white, long haired cat.  When we picked Missy up, we found that she was not Persian at all.  She was a white, short haired, regular cat that was pregnant.  We took her anyway.  She turned out to be a complete nut case.  She spazzed out on the way home and ran all over the inside of the car - hair flying everywhere.  Even though she was declawed, she managed to catch a lot of mice.  The only thing was that she never actually killed a mouse.  She would present them at the back door and toy with them until Mom came out and finished the job.  Mom hated that cat.  For the short time we had Missy (2 years?) she ruined every pair of nylons my mother had.  A new pair was like a magnet for that cat!  In the time it took Mom to walk from the house to the car, Missy would dart out of nowhere and snare Mom's hose.  How she did that without claws, I have no idea.   She was just that good at being that obnoxious.

Most people wouldn't count pigs as pets.  I considered them something in between a true pet and an all-out farm animal - at least when they were babies.  I obviously sucked my friends into believing the same.  But pigs grow up too fast, and then they become huge, obnoxious and mean.  Sad, but true.

We had orphan calves or calves that needed a little TLC from time to time.  Dad would put calf milk or  formula in a glass Pepsi bottle with a big nipple on the top, and I loved to help feed them.  I named one of these poor things Bennie.  Like the cute little pigs, Bennie grew up too fast and was put back with the rest of the cows (I don't even know if Bennie was a boy).  For years after that, when we would have hamburgers, Denny would ask if we were having "Bennie burgers".  Funny.  Really.

We had sheep too, and it seemed that lambs wanted to be born on the coldest nights of the year.  I was home for break my sophomore year of college, during a real brutal stretch of weather.  Dad brought a sickly newborn lamb to the house one evening and we set up a nursery in a corner of the kitchen.  I held it under a heat lamp, swaddled in blankets.  I remember my boyfriend called and asked what I was up to.  He was a city boy from the Chicago suburbs, and when I answered, "Trying to keep a lamb alive", it took a moment for him to wrap his head around it.  That poor little lamb shivered all night.  It didn't make it, but I like to think I made it's brief time on earth a little nicer.

I had plenty of hamsters and mice.  The little guy I'm showing to my niece, was Squirt.  I think I named him that because of what he tended to do every time he was held for a little too long.  

Lucy was a good hamster, and even survived "the ball" incident.  I used to love putting her in one of those plastic balls, where she could run around on the floor.  She was in her ball one day while I was cleaning out her cage and I wasn't paying attention to where she was.  She rolled down the hallway and bounced down the stairs.  I found her with all 4 limbs stretched out in the ball as if she where saying, "DUDE!  Make it stop!"  

We had animals that visited often too.  This is Christy, Dennis and baby Bender.  

I had a love/hate relationship with Bender.  (Hate is too strong of a word.  It was more like a love/uneasiness thing.)  He's a cute, little, adorable puppy in this photo, but Bender was a Doberman Pinscher. He grew up to be a pretty big one too, and he could be intimidating.  He made it apparent that he didn't particularly care for people with light colored hair.  When you sat in a chair, Bender would sidle up to you, wedge his nose under your hand and flip it up on top of his head - as if to say, "Pet me now, minion."  When I was in college, Den and Chris had to travel, so I stayed at their place to care for Bender.  Bender needed medication for some forgotten ailment, and I was supposed to administer a huge pill to this huge dog every day. He never fell for the hide-the-pill-in-a-clump-of-food trick, so I was instructed to pry his mouth open, throw the pill at the back of his throat, clamp his mouth shut and rub his neck until he swallowed.  Uh-huh.  Sure.   

Looking back, with the fish in the pond, toads and the chickens across the road at my aunt's house, I practically had my own personal zoo.  That's something you don't fully appreciate until you write about it a few decades later. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Little Things, Part II

More odd, little childhood memories...

I don't know if the back of the big box of Crayola crayons still includes a sharpener, but it used to.  I liked my crayons sharp in second grade, thank you very much.  Roger, a kid in my class had an odd way of speaking.  He watched me, turning every color I had in the sharpener.  He shook his head at me and said, "Yous wastin yous crayons."  Yes, Roger.  I was.  And I have no idea why I still remember you saying that to me.

That's about the only thing I remember in second grade, because I faked being sick that year more than any other.  Mrs. Richardson was my teacher that year.  She was nice.  But when she couldn't be at school for whatever reason, (and she was gone a lot that year) her husband Mr. Richardson stood in for her.  Mr. Richardson was a HUGE man - at least to my 7 year old self.  His salt and pepper hair was combed upward somehow - not as extreme as Kramer on Seinfeld, but it was similar.  I swear his hair brushed the top of the doorway when he walked through it.  He was also a preacher.  I never heard him give a sermon, but I imagine it was of the fire and brimstone variety.  He sounded like Foghorn Leghorn without the stutter, and he was LOUD.  He scared me to death.  So I stayed home. They must have taught kids to spell that year, and I blame my severe lack of ability in that area on my fear of Mr. Richardson. Thank you, spell check, for coming to my rescue.

In 4th grade, our art and music teacher, Mrs. Thrush, made the class stand to sing a song one day.  Evidently, standing didn't cramp the diaphragm, allowing one to sing to the best of his or her ability.  I'm sure this made all the difference to a bunch of off-key 9 year olds.  Anyway, we were all standing, singing our little hearts out when all of the sudden, a kid in the back of the room came running up the aisle, his hands over his mouth, with puke spewing everywhere.  It sounded like marbles hitting the floor.  We were stunned.  We all thought, "Wait.  Did that really just happen?" Those of us on either side of the aisle looked down at our desks and seats.  Let's just say I am forever grateful to Mrs. Thrush for making us stand to sing on that particular day.

I loved the Schoolhouse Rock stuff on Saturday mornings.  "I'm just a Bill", "Conjunction Junction", "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here"... Great stuff.  To this day, I can recite - no - sing the Preamble from watching those little videos. (OK, I can recite it, but the song still goes through my head while doing it.)

I used to sleepwalk quite a bit.  I would come downstairs, sit in my favorite chair and watch TV for a few minutes and then Mom and Dad would coax me into returning to my bed.   I would have no recollection of doing it the next day.  Mom told me that I came into their room one night, announced that there was an ape in my room and she needed to come tie him up.  And I used to wake up under my bed more times than I care to admit.

When my oldest brother, John, was in the Army, he was stationed for a time in Washington D.C.  I went with Mom and Dad to visit him there.  Sorry John, but I only remember two things from that trip:
1)  The miniature commemorative tea set that I brought home as a souvenir, and
2) looking down from the Washington Monument and saying to Mom that the cars looked like ants.
That's it.  That's all that stuck.  Out of that whole trip.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stupid Allergies

When I was little, I loved it when Dad would bring a load of corn in from the field in the big, red truck.  I would watch for him to arrive at the grain bins and run out to meet him.  At the back of the truck, Dad would hoist me up and throw me on top of the huge pile of corn.  I would scramble across to the other end of the truck bed as he raised it to let the corn slide out the back, onto a conveyer belt.  I would ride the pile of corn as he unloaded it, crawl back up and slide down, over and over again.

It got harder to do as the truck bed was raised higher, so time was a factor.  Climbing up a pile of lose grain as it nears a vertical slant is not easy.  I had to get as many "rides" in as I could, as fast as I could.

One day, I had to stop before I wanted to because I could no longer see anything.  I slid down, leaned against the inside of the truck bed with corn rushing past me, and yelled in the direction where I knew Dad was standing, "I can't see!"

He stopped raising the truck bed and the corn eventually stopped sliding out.  He stopped the conveyer and saw that my eyes were swollen shut.  He carried me to the house and Mom put me in the bathtub.  After the swelling went down enough that I could see, she called the Dr. Stolz's office and got me in right away.

Allergies.  Among other things, I ended up being highly allergic to molds and other stuff that thrives in a  load of freshly harvested corn.  Stupid allergies ended my corn rides in the back of the red truck forever.

Stupid allergies even ruined my cartoon watching!!  The doctor decided that the best way to treat me was shot therapy - two shots in each arm every Saturday morning!!!   Back in the day, as they say, we didn't have Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon on television 24/7.  Saturday morning was the only real cartoon viewing time our 3 TV channels dished out.  I had to get 4 shots, right in the middle of prime cartoon time.  While I did get to see some shows, I grieved my cherished time with Bugs Bunny every weekend.

Before our recent big move, our realtor told me the St. Louis area is the allergy capital of the United States.  I thought, as long as my eyes don't swell shut and I can see a cartoon once in a while, I think I'll be OK.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

There's a case of beer in it for you if you get the dead animal out of my engine.

Notice:  This isn't a childhood memory but the tale begins at the homestead.  Here we go.

After Hannah was born, John and I determined that it wasn't worth paying to have two kids in daycare, so I  quit my illustrious purchasing career at Pre-Finish Metals and became a stay at home mom.  Not working allowed for more trips to the homestead with the kids .  I would kiss John goodbye, load the mini-van and set out for the 2-1/2 hour trip south.  Jim would fall asleep in his car seat before we hit the first stop light and wake up as I drove down the lane to the farm.  I was lucky to get 45 minutes of peaceful drive time out of Hannah.

I loved going there with the kids.  They got to spend some quality time with Grandma (doing quiet things like reading books and drawing pictures) and Grandpa (riding the golf cart up and down the lane).

When Jim was around 5 years old and Hannah was 3, we visited Mom and Dad at the end of June or the beginning of July - during the Warren County 4-H fair.  Lori (former 4-H fair queen) was visiting her parents with her two girls at the same time, so we took all the kids to the fair late one afternoon.  After dinner, seeing the animals and lots of rides at the midway, we arrived back at the homestead well after the kid's bedtime.  Even though the days were hot and sticky, the nights were still very cool.  In fact when we reached the farm, I remember getting out of the minivan, looking up at the full moon and thinking it was way too cold for that time of year.

For some forgotten reason, we had to be back home in the Chicago suburbs early the next day.  We left that morning, while it was still cool outside.

A couple days passed.  I was cleaning up the kitchen after lunch and took the trash out to the garbage can in the garage.  It smelled really nasty out there.  Then I saw them.  Flies.  Flies covered the entire driver's side front quarter panel of our Dodge Caravan.

There was something dead under the hood of the van.

When we arrived back at the farm after the fair, some unsuspecting animal must have thought it was pretty darn cold that night too, crawled up under the hood of the van to get warm, and made the fatal mistake of sleeping in the next morning.  It was a goner when I turned the key.

Good grief.

I loaded the kids in the smelly van and went to see if John's Uncle Chuck could help, but he was just as disgusted as I was and told me to take it to a service station.  I called John.  He said to take it to one of his customers - a muffler place by our house.  The three guys who worked there - all of them named Tom - would help me out for the low cost of a case of beer.

I drove the van to the shop and explained my situation to Tom, Tom and Tom.  John was in the midst of a meeting with his sales staff, but curiosity got the best of him and he took the time to call the shop for a status update.  He put the call on speaker phone, so the whole room heard Tom #1's play-by-play of the scene.  John and his crew thought it was hysterical when Tom #2 pulled something that looked like a long piece of dried jerky with some fur on it out of my engine.  That ended up only being a third of whatever overcooked mammal had lodged itself next to the battery.  Jim, who was munching away on cookies, was very intrigued by what was going on, and started climbing up the van grill to get a better look.  Tom pulled more pieces out only inches away from Jim's face.  I managed to jerk Jim away from the van, not drop Hannah and keep my lunch down all at the same time - a motherly trifecta.

I immediately loaded the kids back in the van and went directly to a store and bought Tom Cubed a case of Old Style.

Best $8 I ever spent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Bat

Notice:  This is not a childhood memory, but it happened at the homestead, so it's okay.

Things got pretty quiet on the farm after all of us kids were grown and off doing our own thing.  Mom stayed at the house for a few years after Dad passed away.  We all worried about her, getting along in years, living in that big old house by herself and being so isolated - even with my oldest brother living across the road on the property where Sis' house once stood.

I visited her one weekend.  Just me - John stayed home with the kids.  I can't remember why it was just me - maybe some event, like a high school reunion?  Whatever the reason, it was during a hot and sticky stretch in the summer.

Mom didn't change her routine much, regardless of who was visiting.  After supper, she would watch some TV, change into her blue nightgown that had a sheer, robe-type thing over it, have some sort of little snack around 9:00 and go to bed around 10:00.

I slept in my old bedroom, and it looked about the same as it did when I was in high school.  Mom's bedroom was across the hall, and there was a door that accessed the attic in her room.

That attic was creepy and intriguing at the same time.  It was dark, dusty and filled with cobwebs.  The only light came from a small dormer window.  There was a trunk up there that my grandfather brought over from Germany.  That's where some of Dad's WWII stuff was kept.  Antique pictures of old relatives in oval frames and my grandmother's wedding dress and shoes were stored up there as well.

I usually slept in during these visits, but felt antsy one morning and got up around 7:00.  I got dressing and headed downstairs.  It was odd that Mom was still in bed.  She was always up before me.  But I shrugged it off and headed outside to walk down the lane and get the newspaper.

I took a couple steps outside and saw Mom's sheer, blue robe laying on the patio, directly underneath her bedroom window.  What the...??  I looked up at her window and didn't see anything unusual.  But the fact remained - my mother was throwing her clothes out the window in the middle of the night.

(And why did so many weird things end up happening on our patio!?!)

Upon further inspection, I noticed a small, dark object tangled in the robe.  I pulled back the fabric and found a dead bat.

In the middle of the night, the bat squeezed it's way through the attic door and flew around my mother's room.  Somehow, she snared it in her robe, hit it against something hard enough to stun or kill it, threw the whole mess out the window, and went back to bed.

Sleeping in the next morning was well deserved.

And for a short time, I felt a little better about Mom being alone on the farm.  Something told me she could fend for herself.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The spanking

When I was in 7th grade - 12-13 years old - I got spanked by the school principal.

Let's just let that sink in for a moment, shall we?

Spanked.  With a paddle.  In junior high school.

The whole class was in the gym, one afternoon after lunch, killing time before afternoon classes started.  I was "going with" Mike at the time.  Terms have changed over the years, so I will make this clear:  Mike was my boyfriend.  (I hear nowadays, kids "go out" instead of "going steady" or "going together".  Whatever.  I can't keep up with terminology.)  One of my best friends, Laura, had a boyfriend too, but I can't remember who it was.  (He had to be one of the popular kids, because Laura didn't date any slouches.)  Anyway, Mike and I were standing by the bleachers, chatting with Laura and Boyfriend.  Both Mike and Boyfriend had one of their arms resting on top of our shoulders - like this --

It was the kind of thing pals or buddies do.  There was no hugging, no smooching, no cuddling - no other contact of any kind.  I don't know about Laura, but I didn't have my arm around Mike at all - both hands, free and clear.  No PDAs (public displays of affection) - just one arm, placed across our shoulders.  

But apparently that was too much for our principal, Mr. George Taylor, to take.  He marched up to us, ordered us to report to his office at once, and stomped off.  Laura and I waited outside his office while Mike and Boyfriend went in.  We heard loud talking and...  a paddle?  Being used on a back side??  That couldn't possibly be what we were hearing.  The boys emerged from the office, walked past us with smirks on their faces, and Mr. Taylor called us in.  Keep in mind, the boys were in his office for less than 10 minutes.  

We went in and started to sit down in chairs across from his desk, but he told us to stand up and turn around.  And he spanked us.  With a paddle.  And it hurt.

Laura and I didn't have the luxury of leaving soon after like the boys did.  Oh no.  Mr. Taylor had a point to make.  We had to sit there, trying not to cry, and listen to his lecture.  He were told that if we kept up with that sort of behavior, we would get bad reputations, and no upstanding young lady would want that.  He said that one thing leads to another, and he wouldn't want to see us "get in deeper trouble" (like having an arm put around our shoulders was akin to a gateway drug?)  He warned us that he would not tolerate such behavior on his school grounds, and that our cheerleading careers would come to an abrupt end if he saw it again.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

He lectured us on womanly virtues - for an hour.

Now, if you've been traveling down memory lane with me lately, you've probably come to realize that my parents were not into corporal punishment.  My mother's discipline came through loud and clear without it, thank you very much.  She was not pleased when I got home that afternoon and told her what happened.  She asked for all the details and went to the school the next day to have a chat with Mr. Taylor.  I have no idea what was said, and no amount of pleading could drag any details out of her.  The only thing she said was "That will never happen again."

And it didn't.

Principles used to get away with a lot.  My sister will correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember a photo in one of her yearbooks from the late 60's - The principle (Mr. Horn?) had a line of girls standing in the hallway, their backs to him, bent over, with their hands on their knees.  Apparently, if he could 'see anything' the skirts were too short.  And having a rule that the skirts had to touch the tops of knees didn't seem accurate enough?

Extremes in being treated with kindness (my Aunt Sis) or otherwise (Sue the bus driver and George Taylor)...  that stuff really sticks with a kid.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Remember when...

... I told you about the Warren County 4-H fair?

About how my sister made us matching dresses, and I couldn't find the photo?


See that little thing on my shoulder?  That was a pin shaped like a mouse.  It had red eyes and a loose, dangley tail.  I loved that thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The bus, part II

Winters can be harsh in Warren County, Indiana.  When I was growing up, school could be called off for days at a time, and our dead-end road was one of the last in the county to get plowed.  We had huge snow storms in the winters of 1978 and 1979.  One year we were snowed in for 2 weeks straight.  The other year, we made it into town after one week to get groceries, it started snowing again before we got home and we were stuck in the house for another week.

But it was November of 1977 when our school bus got stuck in the snow.  I'm not talking about your normal "stuck," where you get a little too close to the edge of the road and get pulled into a snowbank.  Our bus got wedged.  

It happened on one of those blindingly bright winter days - not a cloud in the sky, with the sun reflecting off of every snowflake and icicle.  The bus was traveling down one of those nameless county gravel roads, somewhere between my house and Independence.  The snowplow had made a single pass, so there was one lane open on a road that stretched at least 3 miles.  (What happened if you met vehicle coming from the opposite direction?  Drivers got out of their cars, played rock-paper-scissors and the loser backed up?  I guess that speaks to how often that road was traveled...)  The snow on either side of the road was piled half way to the bus windows.  

The snowplow hadn't scrapped all of the snow off to the sides.   The packed down stuff that remained on the road was a little slippery, so the bus driver (not Sue - the nice one) was traveling at a slower than normal speed.  About a half a mile down the road, the bus started slowing down.  We heard some crunching noises, and the bus stopped moving.  The driver revved the engine and the tires spun.  Our bus was sandwiched between two hardened snowbanks.

The bus driver opened the emergency door in the back and jumped down to take a look at our situation.  He got busy doing...  something.  I didn't pay much attention to that.  I was just glad we were going to miss some of the school day.  The bus only carried about 20 kids at that point, and we were all thrilled at the break in our normal routine.

But the thrill wore off as time marched on...  I don't remember if buses had radios back then.  The driver might have had to walk to the nearest house to get help.  Either way, a guy with a tractor finally showed up and de-wedged us.  We arrived at school, just in time for lunch.

Our little escapade even made the local newspaper!  I saved the clipping!

Two Warren County school busses unaccounted for early this morning were located shortly before 11a.m. and school officials said at least three others - some with students in them - were stuck on county roads.
Supt. Bob Johnson said the drivers of the once-missing busses had set out at the regular time to pick up students with he lost contact with them...  Johnson said those busses were not full.  Another school bus became stuck northeast of Independence but a farmer used his tractor to free that bus...

The worst thing about that day?  Having lunch, going to two classes, and having to get back on the bus.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The bus

I spent more time on a school bus than a child ever should.  By the time I reached high school, three school districts had combined and I didn't graduate from Pine Village High School like my brothers and sister did.  I had to ride the bus for a solid hour to Seeger Memorial High School, located clear across the county.  (Three high schools combined, and I graduated with a class of 126 students.)  There was even a central location where a bunch of buses met and some kids had to switch for the remainder of the commute.  I'm not sure, but I think I lived farther from that school than any other student.

The big difference between school buses now and then?  The seat backs.  Now, they're tall and padded.  Back then, they were a foot shorter, with a metal bar across the back - right at teeth, nose and forehead level for the kid sitting behind.  Shorter seats made it much easier to harass your neighbors and get into all kinds of mischief  - and for the bus driver to see it.

When I was in grade school, Sue Johnson was our bus driver.  Sue was a guy.  Yes, if you are of a certain age, Johnny Cash singing A Boy Named Sue will now be stuck in your head for the remainder of the day.  (You're welcome.)  Sue was the crustiest, surliest person I had ever met - a classic curmudgeon.  He was short, with a dark complexion and deep wrinkles in his face.  His posture was slightly bent and he had gnarled fingers.  He wore the same faded, dirty cap every day regardless of the weather.  He was never without the stub of a nasty, unlit cigar tucked in the corner of his mouth.  Sue was a walking caricature of a little, mean, old man.

He was not a pleasant human being.

Yet some school official thought it was a swell idea for him to tote children all over the county, so we were stuck with him.

In my 8 year old opinion, Sue had a low tolerance for noise.  It's a school bus for crying out loud!  If I was ever a contestant on Family Feud and asked to name a loud thing, I would hit the buzzer and yell, "school bus!"  So about every other day, the rowdiness in the back of the bus would surpass Sue's tolerance level and he would pull the bus to the side of whatever country road we were traveling.  He would pull himself out of his driver's seat and stomp down the isle, glaring at the perpetrators.  He would point his crocked finger at them and start yelling.  He wasn't the thunderous screamer you would think he would be.  He had a low, gravely voice and sitting toward the front of the bus, I couldn't hear what he said.

Don't get me wrong - I was no goody-two-shoes that always sat in the front seats.  I did get in trouble for doing something once or twice, but I can't remember why and I have no idea what Sue said to me.  I only remember that knobby finger pointing at me.

I don't know what happened to Sue.

Years later, we got a nice, normal bus driver.  I don't remember his name.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The little things

Is it just me, or does everyone remember odd little snippets from their childhood?  I sure do.  Then I get told about some huge event of which I should remember every last detail, and it's not even on my radar.

Very odd snippet examples:

I drove my brother Denny nuts.  I was the little sister.  That was my job.

For two years, we went to the same school.  Denny was a junior and senior in high school, I was in 4th and 5th grade.  He got to drive his car to school (I think it was the Chevy Vega), I had to take the bus - but for one time.  Denny was not happy about having to drive me.  He stopped to pick up Doc Cottingham, and I rode in the back seat, directly behind Denny.  I don't know why, but I decided it would be a good idea to shave the yellow-gold paint off of all my #2 pencils on the metal head of my clipboard.  Doc looked back, saw the paint shavings accumulating on the car floor and busted me.  Denny attempted to grab me by the neck and swerved all over the road.  I'm just glad I didn't cause an accident.  I can't imagine us explaining that one to Mom and Dad.

My sister used Dippity Do on her hair.  

Man, I loved the smell of that stuff.  She used to put that on her hair, flip the sides into curls and affix them to her cheeks with pink tape until they dried and set.  I thought that was just beyond cool.  

(Note:  The Depression made a huge impact on my parents and they never wasted anything, especially food.  Cereal boxes that were not properly closed or a roast that was the centerpiece for a 4th meal - you finished what was in the house before replacements were purchased, and cleaned your plate or went hungry.)
My parents, Denny and I were having chili one evening for dinner.  In an uncharacteristically courteous manner, Denny held out the saltine sleeve and very politely asked if I would care for a cracker.  I was stunned.  I sat there for a couple seconds and then took the last two saltines in the package.  That's when I realized they were so stale you could practically bend them, and Denny chuckled as he opened a new package.

I went to the grocery store one day with Mom and practically forced her to buy not one, but 3 cans of spinach.  I had never had it before, but if it was good enough for Popeye, it was good enough for me.  We returned home and she complied when I asked her to prepare a can for me.  I took one bite and was completely appalled.  What the heck??!!  Popeye was a lunatic for eating this garbage!!  Like always, no food was ever wasted.  I had to gag down that horrid can of wilted, slimy greens.  I don't know what happened to the other 2 cans.  I'm sure they were used in something.  But to this day I can't eat plain, cooked spinach.

There was a girl that lived around the corner from our dead-end road.  Kathy was a few years older than me, so we didn't hang out very much.  But I do remember one time, while we were walking down  the lane to my house, we saw buzzards circling overhead.  She grabbed my arm, told me to stop walking and stand very still or they would swoop down and attack us.  Buzzards circle for a long time, so who knows how long we stood there like frozen idiots.

When I was in third grade, we had some sort of lesson on dental care.  We all received a little kit with a toothbrush and a mini tube of toothpaste.  (I LOVED the miniature tube of toothpaste.  I don't think I ever used it, because it was too cool to open and spoil.)  During the lesson we were given little pink pills to chew.  The vibrant pink color "stuck" to the places on your teeth that were not thoroughly brushed and clean.  The kid sitting in front of me turned around and smiled.  He had the pinkest mouth I'd ever seen.  How gross!  Hopefully, he took the lesson to heart.

My sister, Joyce, and I shared a bedroom.  One day, she returned home from college, and her suitcase lay open on our bedroom floor.  Being curious about all the cool stuff she had carried home, I looked through her things.  I pointed to some large, white rectangular things and asked what they were.  She replied, "Napkins."
"Oh.  Can we use them at dinner?!"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My bangs

Mom used to cut our family's hair.  Before marrying Dad and having babies, that was her job. I think I was in high school before I saw the inside of a salon.

At some point, she decided I should have the classic "pageboy" haircut - straight, chin length with bangs.
When I was around 6 years old, I sidled up to her in the kitchen one afternoon, pulled on her skirt, declared that my bangs were in my eyes and she needed to cut my hair.  NOW.  (My lack of patience became apparent at a very young age.)  She said she would cut it when she finished whatever she was doing.

I waited for what I thought was an appropriate length of time - probably 3 1/2 minutes.  I begged, pleaded and whined again.  Why, I was practically blind from all that hair in my eyes!  And once again - she said I had to wait.  She would get to me and my follicle emergency as soon as she could.

I got mad.  I pouted.  I stomped.  I threw my entire hissy-fit arsenal at her.  Nothing.  She didn't even look up from what she was doing at the kitchen sink.

Then I thought, how hard can it be to cut bangs?  I found my mom's sewing scissors (a HUGE breach of household rules -   nobody but Mom touched my mother's sewing scissors!) and went to work.

By the time she found me, my forehead had suffered collateral damage.  My bangs were much too short and shaped like a bar chart.

She didn't yell at me.  She didn't say a word.  She just took and hid every pair of scissors in the house.  The whining and pleading to fix my hair fell on deaf ears.

For what seemed like weeks (probably a couple days), I had to look in the mirror and see what I had done to myself - the result of my impatience.

And here is the worst part:  I had to go to church with that hair.  I'm sure people asked about me and my uneven locks...  Something to the tune of, "Did Joanie's head fall into a wood chipper?" My mother probably calmly replied that I was a budding hair stylist and had practiced on myself.

She finally fixed them the best she could.  From the looks of this photo, I must have thought Chatty Cathy's bangs were too long and "styled" her hair as well.

I tried to remember Mom's gift for discipline when it came to raising my own kids, but I never came close to matching Wilma's skill.

That woman knew how to make a point.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pestering Art and Wilma

I was really blessed to have great parents.  Art and Wilma got married in their late 20's, after Dad served as a Navy pilot in WWII.  Here is a photo of Dad and his buddies at a Navy dance.  I pulled it out of a scrapbook at some point.  All these guys were so handsome in their dress whites!  My Dad is the only one not looking at the camera, and I love what he wrote under the photo.

"Left for Pensacola, Florida Dec. 16, 1943 and received commission June 6, 1944
15 day leave and gave Willie diamond June 27"

By the time I came along, the youngest of 4 children and when they were 43 years old, Dad had stopped calling my mom Willie.  But they loved each other in a deep, quiet, supportive, partners-through-thick-and-through-thin sort of way.

My oldest brother is almost 15 years older than I am.  My sister is 13 years older, and there is roughly 8 years difference between me and Denny.  There were times when I felt like an only child with siblings.  When there was nobody around to play with and I was tired of amusing myself, I would go pester Mom or Dad.  I used to have one on one conversations with them in what I would call their "natural habitats".

When she wasn't cleaning, cooking or doing other chores, Mom could be found in her sewing room.  It was off the kitchen, and you had to pass through the bathroom to get to it.  In the afternoons, NBC soap operas (Days of Our Lives, The Doctors and Another World) were turned up on the TV in the kitchen, just a little too loud so she could listen to them as she worked.   Just inside the door, the ironing board permanently stood on the right, separating me from my mom sitting at her sewing machine.  I am convinced that if she were ever challenged, she could have sewn a house together.  She made everything from crafts, curtains and quilts, to bathing suits, business suits, and holiday dresses.

(On a side note, Mom went through a period when she made pantyhose dolls, where she had to hand stitch to sculpt the face.  She actually made an almost life size doll that looked like herself.  It sat in our dining room for the longest time, and it would completely freak my boyfriends out when we got back from dates a little after curfew.  We would give her a cup of coffee or a magazine every now and then, just to make it weirder.)

So I would wander into the sewing room, lean on the ironing board, watch her work, and ask stupid questions.  I remember asking her about when she dated Dad, and when they fell in love.  I didn't understand when she said she didn't "fall head-over-heals in love" with my father.  What?!!  Doesn't everybody fall in love they way they do in the movies??  It took me a few years before I finally got what she was talking about.

Somewhere I had heard the term and asked her if I was an "oops baby".  She didn't miss a stitch and answered, "Yes, but a welcome one."

Dad was harder to track down, and was a man of few words when he was working.  His "habitat" was anywhere outside on the farm.  This was his workbench, in our detached, two car garage.

Everything was dusty, dirty, greasy, and it looked like complete chaos - but I always thought there was something beautiful about it too.  I was under strict instructions not to move anything - he knew where every nut and bolt were.  There was a spinning baby food jar organizer that hung off to the left, above the bread box.  Don't ask what was in the bread box - I haven't a clue.  See the vice hanging off the side?  I'm lucky to have both eyes still in tact, because I used to put rocks in that and crank it until they cracked or exploded.

So I sat on a little stool and watched Dad do whatever he did at his workbench.  I was always very fascinated when he used the grinder thing (on the right in the bottom photo).  Thank goodness my fingers and I were smart enough to stay away from that when Dad wasn't around.

Other times, I shadowed him as he tended to things around the farm.  My questions to Dad were always about what was going on at the time.
"What's that for?"
"Where do you put that?"
"Why do you cut the teeth out of the baby pig's mouth?!  Doesn't that hurt??!"
"Where are the cows going?  Can I ride in the big truck?"
"Can I sit up there with you?"
"Why is there only one bull in that pasture and there are so many cows?"
"Can I slide down that?"
"Why do we have to pull the 'hair' off the corn stalk?"
"Can I come with you?"

You get the idea.  I must have driven that poor man crazy.  And of course, I don't remember a single answer.  I probably didn't give him time to reply in between questions.

On Sundays, he would always read me the "funnies" from the newspaper.  I'm sure I didn't understand any of those comics either.  Didn't matter.  I just liked being around him.

Yes, I was the spoiled "baby" of the family.  I like to think that I was mostly spoiled by the time I had, alone, with each one of my parents.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Artsy Fartsy

I need to take another break from my trip down Hoosier memory lane to post a few artsy fartsy photos.

My niece and her family were here this weekend and we all went to the City Museum in St. Louis.  They call it a museum. Psssh.  That, my friends, was no ordinary museum.  Or really, a museum for that matter.  It is the inside of a man's mind that does not think the way I do, and I'm eternally grateful.  Bob Cassilly was the founder and a pure genius.

It's like what every 7 year old wants. Tunnels, cages, slides, vaults, mirrors, turtles, caves, suspended jets and buses, giant praying mantises, ferris wheels, food and more slides.

And believe me, there is a 7 year old in all of us.

Here are my more artsy fartsy photos of our day there.  I've posted more on Facebook.  But these are the photos I played with and like just "because."  Hope you enjoy them like I do.