Small place, big personalities

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‘The Colorful Characters of Clinton County’

I was watching a clip of Donald Trump slip-sliding his way down that ramp at West Point and immediately thought of Dennis Rose. “Gription,” Dennis would have said. “Trump’s shoes ain’t got enough gription.

Well, if “gription” isn’t a word, it oughta be. Dennis used it to describe what was wrong with his own sneakers during a basketball practice one afternoon long ago in the Carlyle High School gym. (I didn’t witness this word coinage myself, those being pre-Title IX days, when the sportiest we girls could get was playing dodge-ball in that same high school gym. While wearing bloomers. Honest. Bloomers.)

Dennis’ locution was colorful, but, trust me, there were other Clinton County denizens who made him seem pasty-pale in comparison.

There was the guy named Bill who rode his bike everywhere. Sure, no one bats an eye at an adult on a bike now (even sealed in Spandex), but back then a grownup riding a bike caused, well, comment. Indeed, we kids were told to “stay away from that man.”

Kids riding bikes was another kettle of handlebars entirely. We went everywhere on bikes. Well, except not to school. Bike riding to school–even on a swell banana bike like Rog’s–was considered very uncool and just was not done

Come to think of it, there was at least one other bike-riding adult in my very small town — Orie, the guy who ran the Linotype machine at the Carlyle Union Banner. And yes, I stayed away from him too. But mainly because he didn’t suffer summer-job-holding high school girls gladly. (Read about these, my first workplace adventures, in “Those Were Banner Days Indeed.”)

Me, in the Carlyle Union Banner office. I wish I still had that dress

In addition to Bill and Orie, the bike-riding adults, we had Skinny Man and Skinny Lady. (Note the capitalization; this is what they were called, by one and sundry.) Skinny Man and Skinny Lady was a mother-and-son duo — and we are talking a grown son here, like in his forties — who were indeed very skinny. Maybe because they walked everywhere. They walked to church. They walked to church chicken-and-noodle suppers. They walked to church fried chicken suppers. They ate a heck of a lot of pie at those suppers. And still they were very skinny.

Alas, I have no photo of Skinny Man or Skinny Lady. So I will share another shot of my colorful Dad. Not eating pie, but balancing a spoon on his nose

Oh, before I forget, there was also Regina, whom I dubbed the “uncleaning lady.” Regina had the most colorful language of anyone in Carlyle or even Clinton County. What came out of the mouth of that tiny little lady would make a sailor blush. I missed most of her tenure, my mother not having “help” when I was growing up. But I sure heard the stories. “Out of your nests, you $%#&%&* kids!” she’d shout as she stomped up the stairs to move dust around and gather laundry to shrink. Bless her heart, she was a terrible cleaner, but no one had the heart to tell her, much less fire her. Besides, she adored my Dad, whom she called “Henry Dale.”

Henry Dale and his clan at a hot sweaty Henry Reunion in hot sweaty Carlyle sometime in the early aughts

One of our town’s most colorful characters — besides my Dad himself; we’ll get to him in a sec — just passed on to the Technicolor Land On High. My Middle Younger Brother Roger, he of the scandalously short shorts in the photo above, sent me the obituary. Until I read it I never knew his real name was Clarence. This guy, known by one and all, young and old alike as “Dugie,” was a legend in his own time.

When Dugie wasn’t playing wiffle ball (“He put the game of wiffle ball on the map,” Roger says) he was hanging out at the Texaco Station, trading stories and Dugie-isms with the other local characters. One day, completely out of the blue, he announced he was getting married. “Man can’t spend his whole $#@!!! life hangin’ out at the Texaco Station,” he famously proclaimed.

Here, just to break things up, is a rather colorful float in a Clinton County Fair Parade, mid-90s

Speaking of the Clinton County Fair. My Dad, as previously mentioned, was pretty darned colorful himself. Not only did he have a wide circle of Coffee Buddies he would regale with stories every morning at the McDonald’s at the edge of town, he did things like compete in a Clinton County Fair contest called “Mr. Legs.” Well, maybe it was the Chamber of Commerce. But at any rate, some civic group cropped the heads off photos of a bunch of local men wearing shorts and displayed the photos around town, whereupon the citizenry was urged to vote for the one with the prettiest legs. Dad, of course, won.

I don’t have a photo of him holding his Mr. Legs trophy. Darn it. But here he is in his pickup truck. Too bad he’s not wearing shorts

Now it’s time for me to wave bye-bye too. Until next week, here’s wishing you shoes with great gription, a banana bike to tool around town on, and a bunch of buddies to hang out with at the Texaco Station. Or whatever colorful equivalent floats your particular boat.

Amagansett, New York. June 2020

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said my wise mother.

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‘”You’re going to be a grownup for a very long time.”‘

I had my heart set on using this seriously cute photo of The Child wearing my shiny brown hand-tooled cowboy boots. (They look more like hip boots on her three-or-four-year-old form.) In this lost photo she is also sporting a pair of big ole dangly pearl clip-on earrings. Painfully cute.

Never fear. I have a plethora of painfully cute Child photos

I could keep on looking, but the clock just keeps on ticking and it’ll be Wednesday before this Tuesday post is done if I don’t just forge on ahead.

Speaking of clocks ticking, I’ve had time on my mind as well as on my hands during this period of pandemic pandemonium. Mostly as in “gosh time goes by so quickly.” I don’t know about you, but it seems like the part of the day where I’m drinking coffee turns into the part of the day where I’m drinking wine alarmingly fast.

The Incest Mug. Grab a cup of java and read all about it here

But back to the bit about The Child dressing up. She was, of course, pretending to be a grownup. I used to do the same thing, only with my Mom’s high heels instead of cowboy boots. (I doubt if my Mom ever owned a pair of cowboy boots, though nothing would surprise me. She was once thought to be what was known at the time as a “Party Girl,” which wasn’t in fact the case, but sure made a great story.)

Not only did I raid Mom’s closet, I begged to paint my nails and wear lipstick. And don’t get me started about the Bra Thing. I wheedled my way into a “training bra” (training for what exactly?). Oh, and I used to round my age up to the next year. To this day I have to stop myself from doing this. “No! You are not 69 yet. That’s not until November.”

Me, flanked by my Peterson Grandparents, proudly sporting my “training bra.” You can read about that in “I Seen Smallah”

At any of these antics, my wise mother would simply shake her head and say, “Don’t be in such a hurry. You’re going to be a grownup for a very long time.”

And, boy was she right. It seems like it’s been about a century since I declared myself a Grownup with a Capital G. (It wasn’t when I turned twenty-one; it was when I got married. Which was at Age Twenty; early marriages also being a Thing in the Olden Days.)

So, at this point in my life I’ve been a Grownup for, like my mom said, a very long time. Of course, she has been a Grownup for even longer.

Grownup on the left is The Child. Grownup on the right is my very wise Mom

Anyway. The Corona Craziness has had me thinking about all this more than I usually do. And hoping against hope that my Mom’s saying holds true — that we all can keep on being grownups for a very long time.

Amagansett, New York. May 2020

Capitalist Tulle

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‘Bad pun, but a pretty good story if you like stories about slips.’

I must have underwear on the brain. Last week I wrote about tights and how these days I have to sit down on the bed to put them on instead of balancing gracefully on one leg like a ballerina (or stork). Now, this week it’s slips. Let’s hope I get diverted from this path before next week rolls around.

I also got in trouble for posting an underwear pic. Well, here we go again. Just be grateful this is not a current shot of me in a slip

To be honest, it wasn’t that long ago that I thought “tulle” was pronounced “tull”. But then, I also once asked who the heck was this “Al Kyda” guy everybody was talking about. (See “Paging Arry O’Nassis” for embarrassing details.)

But “tulle” is “tool.” And, for you whippersnappers out there, “Capitalist Tool” is what Malcolm Forbes called his private jet. (No, I never rode on that jet, but The Dude and I did stay in one of his houses — his Palais Mendoub, in Morocco, on our honeymoon. And yes, there is a story here too: “Malcolm and the Duchess.” Enjoy!)

Honeymooning at the Palais Mendoub. Nope, that’s not The Dude back there; that’s a Morrocan minion

But back to tulle. I was talking to a good friend on the phone the other day (Hi there, T!), which is pretty amazing since I hardly ever do that — talk on the phone, that is. (When I was a kid, we only had one phone and we had to use it sparingly, since our dad got business calls on it. When I was a teen and liked talking on the phone, my mom would actually go straight to the phone when she got home from, say, Bridge Club, to see if it felt warm. If it did, she knew I’d been using it and I’d be in trouble.)

That’s me, at the age I would have been hogging the phone every chance I got. Fashion note: I made those plaid shorts

Anyway, Phone Friend T mentioned that her older sister had this amazing tulle slip (please don’t ask why or how this topic came up; I honestly don’t know) and I went, “Oh! I had one of those!”

Of course, I didn’t know from “tulle.” I called it my “stand-out slip.” My mom probably got it for me from Sears or Montgomery Ward. (Pretty much everything we wore that she didn’t make herself came from the Sears or “Monkey Ward” catalog.)

I’m sporting a tulle slip under that Easter dress. I’m sandwiched between Oldest Younger Brother Scott and Middle Younger Brother Roger, each sporting a Mom-made sport coat and shorts. That’s Sandy sporting a tulle-like tail

My stand-out slip had bells on it, so it jingled when I walked. It was horribly scratchy, but I absolutely adored it. T went on to say that her sister kept hers all stiff and standy-outy by rinsing it in sugar water. I said I couldn’t imagine my mom letting me do that even if I  knew to ask her — which I suppose is why my slip got gradually less standy-outy.

Me, with my two very favorite things: my Cat Who Never Really Had A Name — and my slightly-less standy-outy stand-out slip

As I mentioned, my Mom made almost all of my clothes. At least she did until I was a teenager. Then I did. I wasn’t half bad at it. I made bell-bottoms, I made a polka-dot prom dress, I made a crushed-velvet homecoming gown. But I hated sewing. I swore that when I grew up I wouldn’t make one stitch of clothing, and I haven’t. Though I have been known to take up a hem or two.

I made that suit. And oh how I wish I still had it! That short guy is (I think) the Lt. Governor of Illinois. We’re at the dedication of Carlyle Lake (again, I think) Oh, I wish I still had that beaded bag too

I could go on and on, but duty — and downsizing — calls. Next week I promise to come up with a story that’s not about underwear. Besides, I’ve already (ahem) covered bras: “I Seen Smallah.

Me, with Gramma and Grampa Peterson after my Lutheran-Church Confirmation. Both dress and the bra under it are from Montgomery Ward

New York City. February 2020

I never did find that darned bedpan

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‘More Memories of my dear funny Aunt Marilyn’

I’ve been feeling a tad emptied out these last few weeks. And not only because our home is, bit by bit, quite literally being emptied of virtually all our favorite possessions. (The Gods of Staging decree it thus.)

Living room with piano and cat bed, on its way to being “staged” for sale

No, I’m feeling empty because my life is being emptied, bit by bit (or soul by soul), of many of my favorite people. (In this case, it’s the Guy — or Gal — Upstairs who decrees it.) A few weeks ago, it was my Mom’s sister, my dear funny idiosyncratic Aunt Marilyn.

Aunt Marilyn in a rare formal portrait. I used to stare at this photo (framed, on a shelf in my Gramma’s house), wishing I owned that fabulous fur neck thing

True, I already wrote a piece about Marilyn. A couple of pieces, in fact. (See “Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”  and “A Very Marilyn Christmas” for some nice reminiscences.) But, trust me, she was such fun and so, well, unique in her enthusiasms, that she deserves another few words.

I already mentioned that, when I was very small, my Dad went off to serve in Korea and Mom and I went back to her parents’ farm to live for the duration. (See “Kissing Daddy Good-night” for poignant details.) Marilyn was a teenager at the time, so she, of course, was in residence.

That’s Teen Aunt Marilyn next to the woman with me on her lap (my Mom). That’s Gramma P in back

Aunt M had a cat at the time named Herkimer. (Aunt M was one of the all-time great Namers.) Later on, she had a cat named Dino whose back feet my Grampa P would tickle, making them both (Dino and Marilyn) howl in protest. (Her naming extended to me, whom she dubbed “Lishkabib”, which was a distortion of “Ish Kabibble”, some obscure cornet-playing comedian.)

But back to cats. According to Marilyn, I used to “thread” (her word) poor Herkimer through the slats of my little wicker rocker. After that, the poor cat would climb the curtains in the living room to get out of my way.

That’s me with Herkimer. I’m thinking this was before the Threading Incident

Some of her naming talents must have rubbed off on me, because I famously had a doll (probably the one I’m holding in the photo at the top of this post) named Mrs. Parasott. No one could figure out the whys and wherefors of this name. Not until many years later at my Gramma’s funeral. I was in the receiving line accepting condolences, when a woman introduced herself as my Gramma’s ex-neighbor — Mrs. Parasott.

Anyway. A few more choice bits before I get to the Bedpan Story of the title.

Thats Aunt Marilyn, in front of my Mom, with the rest of the Peterson Kids

Cool stuff, in no particular order: Aunt Marilyn drove a ’65 Mustang and later a car she called the “Al Camino”, kept a stuffed Fighting Illini Rooster on her bed and a framed photo of Dwight Eisenhower on her wall, and greeted every one of her adoring nieces and nephews with an enormous hug she called the “Squeeze”.

Aunt Marilyn the only time she was ever to the far left: in this photo with her many adoring nieces and nephews

She was also an excellent kidder. Marilyn, like my Mom, was a nurse. She worked at the Chrysler plant in Belvidere, Illinois; the same plant where she met her husband Arlyn. He worked there too, custom-mixing paint for, like, the pink cars Mary Kay ladies drove around in. (If you think that’s odd, my Mom once worked as a prison nurse. But that’s a story for another time.)

Once when Marilyn was drawing blood from this big Chrysler-plant guy, she started singing, apropos of nothing, “Blood on the saddle, blood on the ground, there ain’t nothin’ but blood all around…” The guy fainted.

That’s me (with Oldest Younger Brother Scott) at about Find the Bedpan Age

So okay, I could go on and on. But here’s the Bedpan Story. I was sevenish and sharing a bed with the unmarried-because-she-hadn’t-met-Arlyn-yet Marilyn. One morning she woke up, stretched, and said, “Oh my. I really have to go to the bathroom,” (she would never ever say “pee”) but I’m too lazy to get up. Could you please get me the bedpan?”

Eager to be of help, I asked my Favorite Aunt what was a “bedpan” and where could I find it? Well. I looked and looked for that thing. Aunt Marilyn told me later that she laughed so hard she actually needed that bedpan.

New York City. November 2019

 

“Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”

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‘Missing the Most Marvelous Aunt the World Has Ever Known’

The quote serving as title of this story came from the wee toddler lips of my Oldest Younger Brother Scott. When he was very small he would march into our Aunt Marilyn’s room very early in the morning and announce that “everybody” was up — “everybody” meaning him.

That’s my Aunt Marilyn standing in front of my Mom. She wasn’t much more than a toddler herself in this photo. But I bet she was a lot of fun, even then

See, when Aunt Marilyn was in the house you wanted her up and around and with you at all times. She was that much fun. So much fun to be around that we kids would actually fight over who got to sit next to her at family dinners. (I only realized years later that we were unintentionally hurting our other perfectly-good aunts’ feelings — not to mention our very fun mother’s — by doing this.)

Two sisters and their mom, my Gramma P

But kids are kids — and naturally unfiltered — so fight over Aunt Marilyn we did. We adored Aunt Marilyn. Maybe because she was rather like a kid herself. For one thing, she was our mother’s younger sister by almost ten years. She was a high school kid when I was born. For another, she remained single — living in her parents’ (our grandparents’) house — for most of our childhood, so she was always there — and eager for fun — when we visited.

That’s All-American Teen Aunt Marilyn, complete with saddle shoes and bobby socks, between Perfectly-Fine Aunt Shirley and my Gramma P. My Mom is holding “Everybody’s Up!” Scott while I glower through the car window

Even after she found the Amazing Arlyn and got married, she didn’t “settle down”. She continued to play croquet and badminton (See “Howie and the Muscle Shirt” for a funny badminton story) with youthful gusto and was apt to say things like, “Who wants to go out in the snow with the rodel?” when it was, like, a zillion degrees below zero. (I just googled “rodel”, which is a kind of sled, and found one that looks just like Aunt Marilyn’s for sale for $1,175.)

That’s Marilyn, in bridal gown, natch, greeting well-wishers in the background. That’s my Starter Hub and me front and center

Aunt Marilyn hated the hot summer and absolutely adored winter. And not just for the skating and skiing and rodeling. She was a Major Fan of Christmas. I can remember like it was yesterday going to our Gramma P’s for Christmas. Marilyn was always in charge of the fun, both before and after she and Arlyn got hitched. (Arlyn, bless his little Dutch heart, really got into the swing of those Swedish Christmases. Though I bet he didn’t really have much choice.)

A scene from a Marilyn Christmas. That’s my Mom whispering her wish to a plastic-bag-bearded Santa

Since we were Swedes, the festivities were always on Christmas Eve. You can read all about these special festivities and even watch a video of the Very Last One in “A very Marilyn Christmas”. If you listen carefully, you just might be able to hear Nat King Cole on the stereo.

Aunt Marilyn in the kitchen stirring up some fun. I’m thinking this wasn’t Christmas, since the cooking is happening on top of the stove

Ironically, it was during her favorite season, while she was skiing with my mom out in Colorado (pronounced by Marilyn as “color” with “adoh” on the end) when she first felt the manifestations of the Parkinson’s Disease that would torment her for decades and ultimately take her life just last Saturday.

Winter won’t be winter without you, dear Aunt Marilyn. And as for Christmas? I feel like just skipping it this year. But that wouldn’t be at all what you would want. So I’ll break out the gumdrop tree and the teensy cordial glasses in your honor. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll skip the homemade brown paper “oven bag” to roast my turkey. I’ll no doubt burst into tears, but I’d rather my turkey not burst into flames.

Rest in peace, dear Aunt Marilyn. Christmas — even with teensy toasts and gumdrop trees — won’t be the same without you

New York City. October 2019

 

The Summer Selfie, Seventies Style

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‘Taking a look–and a photo–back in time’

It’s funny how genetics works. My Dad was a numbers guy; a civil engineer who worked with a slide rule designing bridges and roads. My Mom was a science-y person too; she was a nurse who in another time and place would surely have been a doctor.

My siblings and I? Not so numbers-y, science-y. My Only Sister is a writer turned real estate agent, my Middle Younger Brother a filmmaker, my Oldest Younger Brother a photographer. And me, you know enough about former copywriter ad girl me.

The only one who followed that science-y path? My Youngest Younger Brother, a neuroscience nerd turned optometrist, who in grad school was studying the effect of cocaine on the brain. Or maybe it was heroin. Whichever. All I remember is that he had to go to the lab several times a day to make sure the rats got their “fix”. I also remember that he would joke that he wanted to outfit the rats with itty-bitty doo-rags and switchblades.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug takes a houseboat break from his lab-rat drug-dealing duties

So anyway. Enough with the genetics. The reason I’m going on about this is that my Photographer Brother, recently retired from his news-photography career and looking for something to do besides go on zillion-mile bike rides every day with his gorgeous squeeze in the equally-gorgeous countryside around his home in Marin County, has started sorting through his photo files dating back to 1965.

Said Scott, “I just bought a new scanner…this should be interesting”

This new scan-gajillions-of-photos project reminds me of something Scott said when our Dad was presented with a computer at his retirement party: “There go the roses.”

Dad was a prize-winning rosarian. Until he got that darned computer. (Note: Scott probably took this photo too)

Well, I don’t know if Photo Bro has any new-hobby-endangered roses, but he has been busily posting discoveries from his stash almost daily. He generously posts them on a family share site for my sibs and I to enjoy.

Photo Bro (in middle) at some forgotten wedding with my Dad and his brother, my Uncle Mike

Invariably, when I check the site I find not only great photos (my bro was and is an excellent photographer who has had his work published in the New York Times, among other places) — but visual evidence of times and places and people that I have forgotten all about. It’s kind of scary that I have such big memory lapses. Almost as scary as seeing myself looking so, well, young.

Impossibly-young-and-almost-unrecognizable-me (again) with Youngest Younger Bro and Only Sister. This time I was the one who remembered the occasion; Scott didn’t

The picture at the top of this post is a perfect example. Not only had I no recollection of what the heck was going on in this photo, but I did not recognize myself. Honestly, I had to show the picture to The Dude and have him verify my identity. “Sure, that’s you,” he said. “Who else could it be?”

Our houseboat, the Sir-Launch-A-Lot (seriously; that was its name) pulled up to a sandbank on this day of photo fun

When I asked my brother was what going on, he said that he had brought a 20-foot cable release home to Carlyle (the town where we were raised and where this lake with our houseboat on it is located) and had us all snap “selfies” with it. (If you look closely at the houseboat shots, you’ll notice we’re holding something with a black cord on it. That’s the cable release.)

Even Mom and Dad got into the act. Note what Dad is holding. Besides Mom, I mean

So heck. I don’t remember this outing, or taking these “selfies”, or even that it’s me in that photo up there. But at least I don’t put the carton of Haagen-Dazs back in the microwave instead of in the freezer like certain Other People Who Shall Remain Nameless did just yesterday.

Amagansett, New York. September 2019

French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

And when we were on these driving vacations, we didn’t stay in motels. (See same reason given for not flying, above.) Nope, we slept outside. Well, not outside-outside, exactly. We stayed in a popup camper. (See our Nimrod in the photo at the top of this post.) In those days these things were too hot or too cold, mosquitoes (and little kids) whined around inside, and when it rained the canvas leaked.

Once in a while on a road trip, we wouldn’t even bother with the Nimrod. Dad would just pull over by the side of the road and we kids would grab some Zs on a mattress that was back in the cargo area of the Ford station wagon. (But, hey, at least it wasn’t outside.)

Getting ready to hit the road back home to Memphis after visiting the Peterson relatives in Northern Illinois. At least our luggage is on top, and the mattress is in the back

We drove and camped our way to Colorado, a trip I associate with the aroma of Alberto VO5. (It was super-hot in the car, no automotive AC available in those days, and the goop had liquefied. Younger Only Sister Laura, who was a mere tot at the time, had been playing with the jar and spilled its contents.)

Regardless of the smell, I also remember walking in the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail and being amazed by the vastness of the Badlands. Great Mom Quote: “Just think, the early settlers rode in their covered wagons straight into the sun for months at a time — and they didn’t even have sunglasses.

A couple of good kids (Scott and me) out in the Badlands

We drove and camped our way to Canada, too, a trip I associate with instant mashed potatoes “cooked” on a Coleman Stove and with “toasting” rinsed diapers on a stick held over a campfire. Heady times. I also recall a side trip to see the WaWa Goose. And I will never forget driving over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the source of many a nightmare of mine to this very day. 

Dinner in the “dining room” — a tent that attached to the front of the Nimrod

Basically, though, these family trips were a lot of fun and made memories to last a lifetime. But I did promise myself that when I grew up I would never ever sleep outside again. And I haven’t.

Not even on the Upper Reaches of the Amazon River did I sleep outside. We had no hot water, but we did have real beds in that boat there in the background

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

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‘The dirty little downside of belonging to a big happy family’

I have this very good friend, Jim, who is astonished that anyone could have grown up in a house with only one bathroom. It’s a good thing he doesn’t read my blog, because he would be shocked (shocked!) to hear that not only did we Henrys share a bathroom — we also shared our bathwater.

(Of course, he told me once he shares a shower with his cat, so there’s that.)

Anyway. Back to the Henrys and their sharing of the suds.

Those of you who do read my blog (bless you many times over) know that I am the proud member of a large, happy family. A large happy family who did a lot of sharing.

We shared popcorn in front of the TV, we shared (sort of) the toys in the toy box, we shared seats in the car. (See ‘He’s Breathing My Air’ for how that worked out.) Of course we shared bedrooms. My parents (natch) shared Mom and Dad’s Room, my three brothers shared The Boys’ Room, and I shared The Girls’ Room with my Favorite Only Younger Sister Laura. She and I shared so nicely that she even tried to move on to cohabit my dorm room when I went to college. (It’s a pretty good story, called ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’; you might like to read it after this one.)

We shared chores too. Here I am enthusiastically taking my turn loading our (quite astonishing at the time) dishwasher

And all five of us (plus two parents) shared our one bathroom — and the bathtub in it. When we were little and there were only three of us kids, Mom would line us up in there all in one go: me in the deep end, Scott in the middle, and Roger at the shallow end. Later, when there were more of us, we took turns.

I’m honestly not sure if this was about efficiency — it taking less time to bathe children using the sequential-dunking technique — or whether it was about the fact that our hot water heater couldn’t face the challenge of five tub fill-ups. But I do remember being grateful that I was the oldest and therefore got dibs on the hottest (first) bath.

In my family, bath sharing happened even before I had any siblings. Here I am getting squeaky-clean with my Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy

I guess sharing water was a Henry Thing. Here I am sharing a washtub with some Unidentified Cousin. At least we have pants on

Of course, there was a brief blip before my oldest younger brother was born when I got to have the tub all to myself. (See the photo at the top of this post, taken when Mom and I lived at my Gramma Peterson’s while my Dad was away in Korea, for seriously cute proof.)

Being the firstborn, I got everything all to myself for a while — including the kitchen sink

Being a child at the time, I honestly don’t remember being grossed out or embarrassed by having to share my bath time ablutions. But I do remember being humiliated and horrified when my brothers would dig this particular photo out of the big cardboard box in the attic and taunt me with it. Sometimes they’d even threaten to show it to my friends.

The incriminating photo. It didn’t help that my mother had written “Big Girl!” on the back

The end.

New York City. April 2019

“I seen smallah”

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Underwear’

You just gotta love the Seventies. Well, at least I did. One reason was because in the Seventies, even in the Midwest where I was living at the time, underwear — at least of the brassiere type — was optional.

Me. In the Seventies. When I didn’t wear, um, glasses

See, I hate wearing a bra. Which is kind of funny because when I was 12 or 13 or thereabouts I could hardly wait to wear one. I remember feeling all embarrassed in PE (what you may have called “Phys Ed”) when we girls were changing into our bloomers (honest injun, we wore bloomers in PE) and I was the only one sporting an undershirt.

Do little girls still wear undershirts? Well, I’m sure as heck wearing one in the school photo at the top of this post. You can see its telltale outlines under that big “A”. (My Mom made that dress, and no, that letter “A” was not scarlet.) Continue reading

Lucky Thirteen

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‘A match made in high school heaven’

I once read that some people are so freaked out by the number thirteen that many buildings just skip that floor. Kinda makes you think about that dentist on “14”, eh?

Well, apparently my parents weren’t freaked out — or maybe they just liked to tempt fate — because they were married on the thirteen. I don’t know how many times their anniversary fell on a Friday, but I do know that their umpteenth-gazillionth would have been this past Sunday. I say “would have been” because my Dad, unfortunately, is no longer with us to celebrate. Interestingly enough, The Dude’s parents also got married on the thirteenth. Of, maybe, November. (Why not ask The Dude, you’re probably thinking. Well, I did, and he said “Heck if I know.” Men.)

I called my Mom anyway, because hey, any excuse to call my Mom. She is remarkably fun to talk to. And it gave me a chance to quiz her on some family marital lore.

For example. I had always known that my Mom and Dad didn’t have a fancy wedding, but I wasn’t totally sure of the circumstances. Were they poor? Were their parents mad at them? Turns out that it was a Religious Thing. My Mom’s family was Lutheran (but you knew that), and my Dad’s was Catholic. Not Seriously Catholic, but enough to nix a Church Ceremony. Continue reading