Archives

Good, Bad and Ugly

Tears rolled down my seven-year-old daughter’s cheeks. I looked up from wrapping the toy to beg, “Tammie, please don’t cry. I know you want this toy for yourself, but yesterday when we bought your friend’s birthday present, you knew it wasn’t for you. Besides, you have several of your own Pretty Pony toys in the toy box.”

        A sob caught in Tammie’s throat as she complained, “But, none of mine glow in the dark like this one does.”

        Fastening tape to the pink wrapping paper to hold it in place, I thoughtfully enthused, “This gift is a very, very special gift. It probably will be the best present your friend will get for her birthday this year. Do you know why?”

        My little daughter stopped crying and looked at me in surprise to ask, “Why?”

        “Because the very best gift you can ever give is the one you love and really, really want for yourself. This is especially true when you give the gift without letting anyone know how badly you want it for yourself.”

        Tammie was silent for a few moments before saying, “Okay.”

        “You’re such a good little girl.” I complemented my daughter. “I have a feeling Santa’s going to give you a glow-in-the-dark Pretty Ponies this year.”

        When I first entered motherhood, I had no idea I needed a class titled, Motherhood Philosophy 101. No one gave me a listing of job skills I would need. My initial concern had been merely to share my faith with the children, to keep them fed, bathed, clothed and obedient.

Continue reading

Advertisement

Born in a Barn

A pile of old newspapers stacked on the floor in front of our large living room window nearly caused me to fall. I was eager to see if it had started to snow yet. There was no change in the overcast December afternoon weather. Everything looked just as it had, when I came in from playing in the yard before our noon meal.

A proper Christmas snow needed to be deep. We had snow on the lawn and flowerbeds, but I didn’t think it was deep enough. There were bare spots here and there in the yard. Christmas was in only ten days. I ruefully speculated, “If there’s any snow in those clouds, it’s refusing to fall.”

At ten years of age, I didn’t believe in Santa Clause anymore, but I did want Christmas to be perfect. Glowing memories of past Christmases guided my fevered holiday expectations. Trying to sled on the sparse snow on the barn hill in the forenoon had been disheartening. Feeling restless, I decided to go outside, but not to play in the scant snow again. I wanted to spend time in the barn instead.

Leaving the living room, I crossed the hallway on my way to the entryway. My coat and boots were kept there when I wasn’t using them. A loud scream startled me. My sister was on her knees scrubbing the floor in the kitchen. Her face was red with exasperation. She snarled, “Were you born in a barn? You’re walking on my freshly washed floor!”

Glancing around, I noticed the linoleum underfoot was indeed damp. I volunteered, “My feet are clean.”

My sister screeched, “I don’t care if your feet are clean. You’re leaving footprints!”

Continue reading

Craving Christmas

Mom put down the spoon she was using to stir soup, and turned away from the stove. She instructed me and my sisters, “Tonight’s the eve of Saint Nicolas. After supper I want you to write your letters to Santa Claus.”

My sister Mary volunteered, “Kathy’s in first grade. She doesn’t know how to write yet, so I’ll write her letter for her.”

Although I was still too young to write my own letter to Santa Claus, I knew December 6th was the official start to the annual Christmas count-down. At bedtime we would put our letters to Santa in bowls at the place we always sat at the table. In the morning, the letters would be gone and we’d find the bowls filled with peanuts, angel food candy, bridge mix, candy canes and an orange.

For me, time dragged by too slowly between Saint Nicolas Eve and Christmas. I fretted and fussed. I wanted the tree up. I wanted to constantly hear Christmas songs. I wanted fun, Christmassy things to do. Most of all, I wanted to open a big pile of presents. The craving for all things Christmas was intense.

When I grew up in the 1950’s, Christmas was hardly mentioned before the first week of December. Luckily, my emotional agony didn’t start as early as Halloween as must be the case for children now, since stores promote Christmas sales two months in advance.

Continue reading

Snow Build-up.

Mom rested in her upholstered rocking chair, reading a woman’s magazine. Our house was Sunday afternoon quiet. Curled up on the floor next to the living room heat register, I half-heartedly paged through an old Scrooge Mc Duck comic book. The dreary early December afternoon sky made the living room dark enough for us to have the lamps turned on.

Relaxed in his favorite chair, Daddy slowly examined family photos from the big box balanced on his lap. Some of our family pictures were funny. Like the one my brother Casper took one summer afternoon. He had come home from fishing with one small perch. Trying to make the fish appear huge, Casper hung it from a pole a few feet away from the camera and then had me stand a good 30 feet beyond, staring up as though looking at a whale-sized perch. The trick did make the fish appear large, but over exposure made the fish look like a white, blurry whale.

         Feeling chilly, I cuddled closer to the heat vent. I heard my sisters Agnes and Rosie in the kitchen talk as they washed the noon meal dishes. I suspected they were planning to make fudge. My brother Billy was in the basement cracking open black walnuts. My other brother Casper was in his bedroom down the hall listening to a portable radio. I didn’t know what my sisters Betty and Mary were doing upstairs, but I wasn’t curious enough to leave my cozy spot to find out.

         At four in the afternoon, Daddy left the house to feed the cows and Mom stopped reading to begin preparing our evening meal. While the cows ate, Daddy and the boys would return to the house to eat too. After eating, they’d go back to the barn to milk the cows.

Continue reading

Nighty-Night

The phone rang just as I had my hand on the door knob to step out of the house. A friend I seldom see anymore was on the line. We talked and caught up with each other’s lives.

As we got ready to say, ‘good-bye’, my friend asked, “What sort of plans do you have for the rest of today?”

I admitted, “I’m putting my garden to bed for the winter. If I get everything done that I want to, I’ll be a muddy mess by the time I come back into the house,”

 With the call over, I pulled on my gardening coat and wrapped a scarf around my neck. Picking up a pair of garden sheers, I left the house. Walking across the lawn towards the garden, I thought about the phrase, ‘putting my garden to bed’. It reminded me how I had I hated bedtime as a child, and how Mom had struggled to get me settled.

When my family started to pray our nightly rosary, I knew my evening was over. Immediately after, Mom insisted I put on my nighty, brush my teeth and use the bathroom to prevent a cold, middle of the night trip downstairs in the dark. As I unhappily trudged up the stairs, Daddy would cheerfully call out from his favorite chair in the living room, “Nighty-night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

Continue reading

Going Home

Seeing the movie, Wizard of Oz for the first time, the flying monkeys scared me and when the hot air balloon lifted off without Dorothy in it, my stomach tied itself in knots. Glenda, the good witch of the north’s cure for the change in plans was to made Dorothy to click the heels of her ruby slippers together three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home.”

There really is no place like the home where we first begin to record memories. The feeling of safety, the fascinating newness we found there and all the first experiences of our lives are filed in a nostalgia bin that we carry with us for the rest of our days.

Few people spend their entire lives in the same house they were brought up in. Some families move frequently and most people move when they reach adulthood. Fanciful memories of our first home makes us remember the rooms as larger, stairway banisters as longer, closets as doorways to Narnian adventures and all food served as gourmet quality.

My daughter moved her big family to a bigger home three years after she was widowed. The house came with several acres of land and was in a more convenient location. None of that mattered to the children.

My grandchildren were not happy about having to move. In their eyes, the small home they lived in, sitting on only one acre of land, was a beautiful, desirable place to live, far beyond anything a new house could offer.

Continue reading

Secondhand Memories

Grandpa Jacob Altmann Senior with Mary and Betty and Casper in the background.

One of my sisters reminisced, “Grandpa kept a pint jar filled with hard candies on a shelf by the door. Whenever we visited him, he’d give us a candy.”

Another sister chimed-in, “I remember going to his apartment in the garage that summer after he died. I took one of the candies from the jar and it was chewy!”

Younger than my sisters by more than a decade, I volunteered, “I remember Grandpa falling when he came into our house. I was standing in the kitchen watching Daddy hold the door open for him.”

“You couldn’t possibly remember that!” scoffed one of my older brothers. “You were just barely two-years-old, too little to remember. What you do remember, is what we’ve told you.”

Continue reading

Hand-Me-Downs

When I saw the garage sale sign, I pulled over to the curb. Children’s toys littered the lawn around the open garage door. In the yard behind the house, I spotted a swing-set. I thought to myself, “This place looks like the perfect place for me to shop.” Inside the garage I spotted several tables heaped with household items and clothing. Across the back of the garage was a rack of children’s clothing.

After a few minutes of looking through the sale items, I realized that the family putting on the sale had daughters just a year or two older than mine. I picked out several items of clothing that my growing daughters needed. Everything was in good condition and clean. Feeling like I’d found a buried treasure, I rushed to pay for them. If I had bought the same items in a store, I wouldn’t have been able to afford them. The woman took the money from me with a big smile. It was a win-win situation. She needed the money and I needed the clothes.

Being the youngest child of my family, I grew up familiar with the concept of secondhand clothing, otherwise known as hand-me-downs. When I became a mother, I quickly realized that with children constantly changing size until their teenaged years, it makes sense to reuse clothing. The minute I take my garage sale purchases home, I put them in the washer and add soap. That instantly makes the secondhand clothing stop belonging to someone else.

One of the small dresses I took over with my “soap and water ownership” method that afternoon was so cute, I put it on my youngest daughter while it was still warm from the dryer. My husband happened to come home just then and suggested, “Let’s take the girls out for a fish fry.”

Continue reading

Please Don’t

My sister Mary laid on the bed we shared, reading a book. She giggled as she read and turned the pages. I snuggled close to her on the mattress and looked at the page she was reading. To my disgust, there were no pictures of Donald Duck or any other cartoon character on it. Annoyed that I was breathing in her face, Mary sat up and threw down her book. I glanced at the book’s name. It was, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” by Jean Kerr. My opinion of Mary’s cartoonless book skyrocketed as I thought, “What a funny title! Who would try eating Daisies? They smell like they’d taste bitter.”

Agnes and Rosie, my two older sisters had moved out of the house and were recently married. Their old bedroom, with its blue ceiling dotted with silver stars, was now my bedroom to share with Mary. She was sixteen-years to my nine years of age, so I annoyed her on a regular basis. Despite that, she was mostly patient with me.

Mary suggested, “Let’s go for a bike ride.” I jumped to accept her invitation. Who knew how long would it be before she was the next sister to move out of the house and get married? As it was, she already didn’t want to ride bike very often any more.

When Mary and I pedaled back into the yard, she wanted to go back to reading. Finding a shady spot for a lawn chair, my sister opened the book and disappeared into it.  

Continue reading

Sore Leaf

My sister Agnes followed me around the side of my house. Stopping and pointing dramatically at a towering bush beside the living room window, I exclaimed, “Look how big my Pinky-Winky hydrangea bush has grown. I’m glad I didn’t plant it right below the picture window. We wouldn’t be able to see out!”

Each time my sister and I visit each other, we walk through our respective yards showing how the flowers and bushes are doing. Moments before my big hydrangea reveal, we had examined double pink hollyhocks growing beneath the kitchen windows. As we inspect, we discuss what we see and like.

While walking through Agnes’ yard once, I remembered following my mother and her sister Theresa, who was home for her yearly visit, from flowerbed to flowerbed in our backyard on the farm during my childhood. Each year Mom and Daddy made a one weekend visit to visit Theresa, where they did the same thing at her home.

I’m not sure if all families talk and look at plants as much as my family has and still does. Our botanical interest goes beyond common backyard flowering plants. Even the weeds growing in the fields and along the road fascinate us. Most of my family members know many of them by their common names if not by their Latin genus and designation.

I remember walking through the yard with Agnes when I spotted a broadleaf-plantain growing alongside my driveway. My sister Agnes glanced down at it and commented, “When Casper, Rosie and I were little, we called that a sore leaf plant.”

Continue reading