Thursday, May 7, 2009

John and the Creek

Our house on Brambleton Avenue in Roanoke, Virginia was across the street from a large city park. Roanoke is in the Shenandoah Valley and has rolling hills and creeks all through the city. So the park was a wonderful place for my brothers and me to play.

I would take my baby brother John to the park with me and, unknown to my mother, I would swing in the large park swings with him. I held on to one swing chain and wrapped my arm around the other chain and John at the same time. I would then swing as high as that swing could go – very dangerous, but tell that to an eleven-year-old girl playing mommie with her baby brother.

My brother John was about 6 months old when our cousins Mary T. and George Lynn came to visit with their families. All of us took off for the park. It was warm and the creeks were very enticing. All six of us were wading in the creek, well five of us were – I was holding John because he was too young to walk. Someone yelled, “SNAKE!!” It was probably Mary T. because she did that kind of thing. We called her Mean Mary. As everyone ran from the creek, I sat John on a big flat rock (easier to run without holding a baby!) and proceeded to run from the creek, too.

Now picture five kids, 12 and under, standing on the side of the creek looking at the baby sitting on a rock! All the others kept telling me to go get John out of the creek. However, the thought of a snake in that creek was powerful enough to keep me from going back in right away. My brothers and cousins said they were going home to tell mother that I left John in the creek. I summoned up all my courage and waded back into creek to save my baby brother from the snake that probably never existed.

All of us agreed never to tell what happened because we knew death was a certain result if our father found out. (Not really, but we thought so at the time.) And we kept the snake-in-the-creek event secret until our parent’s 50th wedding anniversary party. When we told our parents, my mother was horrified and asked, “What else did you do to my baby?”

It’s probably best that she never knew about the swings! And, yes, John did survive my sisterly care and grew up basically undamaged.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Money is money...

There are certain sounds or smells that bring back childhood memories. Some of them are season specific – one of those is the ice cream truck. Everywhere we’ve ever lived, except out in the country, an ice cream truck always came down our street on summer afternoons.

Ice cream was a treat for us. It wasn’t something that you could find in the freezer any time you wanted some. The refrigerators we had in the 50’s didn’t really have a freezer compartment. All they had was a small section for the ice trays. Now there’s another relic of bygone days – the ice tray! So when the ice cream truck came down the street, all the kids lined up to buy their favorite treat. We didn’t get ice cream everyday. Money was tight, what with three kids, college, etc.

Bob especially loved ice cream. I remember him crying if it was a day that we didn’t get to buy any. One day after we had been told that there wasn’t money to buy ice cream, Bob and a couple of his little friends (they were about 3 years old) showed up happily eating their popcycles. Mother asked them who bought the ice cream for them and Bob proudly announced that he did. When Mother asked him how he paid for them, he told her he used money, which was very interesting because Bob didn’t have any money. Or so we thought.

Further investigation brought to light that the money Bob had used for the purchase was play money I had in a toy cash register. Obviously the ice cream man knew that it would be useless trying to explain to a three-year-old the difference between real and play money. So he very kindly “sold” them their ice cream. Mother tried to pay the ice cream man the next day with real money but he refused to take it.

So, thanks to Bob, we got ice cream that day! The play money disappeared after that and Mother wouldn’t let us buy any more – ever! But that was just the beginning of Bob’s wheeling and dealing – he has always gotten the best prices on things!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Never Returned

One of the places we lived in Roanoke, Virginia was 515 Fugate Road. I remember numbers – it’s just one of my brain quirks. Actually it’s a family trait, but that’s not what I’m writing about. There were about 6 identical houses in a row with open common back yards. I now think of them as common yards due to the fact that every house in California has a 6-foot fence around the back yard that makes them private and I prefer that. We lived in the second house from the corner.

The Leonard family lived in the corner house. All the families that lived in these houses had numerous children – four seemed to be the minimum. So the backyards were more like a playground. In the summer there was almost always a badminton net set up and there were daily games of softball and touch football. I didn’t play any of these games because I was and still am athletically handicapped. I just plain suck!

Anyway the Leonard’s had an old black car parked between their house and ours. It was a really old car from the 30’s or 40’s. Budd may remember what kind it was, I don’t. I do remember that the back doors were suicide doors and there were pop up jump seats behind the front seat in addition to the back seat. There was a lot of room in the back seat! We played and had meetings in the car until the Leonard father forbid us to play in it anymore. And then one day the car was gone – never to return.

The McWilliams’ family lived on the other side of us. They had four preschool children that I babysat occasionally. The father, Bill McWilliams, took me to school each morning. I was in the 7th grade and the school I went to was downtown near his office, so it was convenient for both of us. Plus I didn’t have to get up as early to catch a bus – I am not now and never have been a morning person.

One day, Mr. McWilliams and I left for school/work as usual. Just another day. We talked about whatever we talked about and he dropped me off at school. I came home from school at my normal time. He did not come home from work at his normal time and he has never been seen or heard from again. He never returned.

The next few days must have been awful for his family. The police questioned me, but I knew nothing. There wasn’t anything unusual to tell them about our last morning’s trip to school. His car was found several weeks later at the Richmond airport, but no sign of him was ever found. It was speculated that he chose to disappear and had it all planned. His wife said they didn’t have marriage or financial problems. It was a great mystery. I’ve always wondered what really happened to him…he never returned, no he never returned and his fate is still unknown….

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Southern Upbringing

I should tell those of you that don’t know that I am the oldest of four children and the only girl and we grew up in the South with traditional Southern upbringing. Now traditional Southern upbringing means that there are boy things and girl things in life and never shall they cross, meet or come close together. I always thought this was terribly unfair since being the only girl meant that I was stuck with all the house stuff such as cooking, cleaning, being a gracious host, etc, etc. And as far as I could see, the boys didn’t do anything except take out the trash and do the lawn once a week and there were THREE of them to accomplish this. So lets get one thing straight – I was a terrible disappointment to my Mother because I hated cooking and was never what you’d think of as a Southern Belle.

Our father was a very strict disciplinarian and we knew better that to question him. My brothers and I have always said that when Dad said, “Jump!” we asked, “How high?” on the way up. To me, the worse punishment from him was to have him say he was disappointed in me. He expected perfection and I spent all my formative years trying to achieve it for him so he would be proud of me. It didn’t happen, (the perfection) but I tried. Physical punishment was rare in our home and our father never physically punished me. His rule was that you never hit women or girls under any circumstances. I didn’t realize how fortunate we were until much later in life.

We moved a lot because of Daddy’s work. Promotions took us to a new city about every year or two, so we became a self-sufficient family. By this, I mean we relied on each other for friendship, love and support. We also relied on each other for arguments and general nonsense. There were times when my brothers and I would stick together to save one of us from getting in trouble and other times – well, sometimes you just have to let the bad guy get his due!

We learned the basis things every kid growing up in the South learns:

You always answer adults with “Yes, man or sir” and “No man or sir.” There is never an exception to this rule.

No adult is ever called by his or her first name. It is always Mr. or Mrs. Or if they’re close family friends Aunt or Uncle, even if they’re no relation.

There are certain topics appropriate for dinner conversation. Politics and religion are not on the list of approved topics.

Everyone observes a “quiet time” after Sunday dinner (which is really lunch after church) so the babies can rest. This is just an excuse for the adults to take a nap.

You are kind and respectful to those less fortunate than you, but you do not socialize with them.

And the most important rule – You will always act like ladies and gentlemen and show no outrageous behavior in public. This includes holding hands with a girl/boy friend and God-forbid kissing in public!!!

I haven’t lived in the South for a long time now – have any of these rules changed?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not Your Normal Elvis Memories

Since August 16th was the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death, I thought I should acknowledge it with a couple of “Elvis” memories. I have always been an Elvis fan.
From the beginning of his career, I was a fan. I bought fan magazines with my allowance or babysitting money and made Elvis scrapbooks that I wish I still had.

Once Christmas, early in his career, I asked for Elvis records for Christmas. I also asked for a record player that played 45RPM records – they are the small records (vinyls) with the big hole in the center. My grandmother Hawk didn’t approve of this hip swiveling upstart that sang “black” music, but she also wanted to grant my Christmas wish – so I got my Elvis records. However, the only ones I received from her were his recordings of religious music. This was one of my first lessons in being more specific about what you ask for…they were the only ones she approved of. I still have them and needless to say, they weren’t played very much, so they’re still in good condition. I don’t have the paper jackets they came in, so their value is probably very low.

“Love Me Tender” was Elvis’ first movie and I begged to go see it. I was in the 5th or 6th grade then and my family didn’t see many movies at all, much less an Elvis movie. I was finally allowed to go to the movie ALONE. I still can’t imagine why or how this came about, but my father dropped me off with instructions to speak to no one, come straight out as soon as it was over and he would be waiting for me. A couple of things still stand out in my mind – it was raining and there was a larger-than-life cardboard Elvis next to the ticket window.

I remember sitting on the right side of the theater, 3 or 4 rows in front of a family. There was no one else in my row. So I happily settled in with my popcorn and drink to watch my most favorite person in the world – Elvis! I was in bliss until a strange man suddenly sat down next to me. I was startled but not frightened. I was too naive and innocent to be frightened. The father from the family behind me came over and told the man to leave and told me to come sit with them, which I did. The father was angry that I was there alone. And I had no idea why. This family made sure that Daddy was waiting for me when the movie was over and I went home as if nothing had happened. And never told anyone about the strange man.

As I grew up and became more worldly and aware of the evils in the world, I was astonished at how close I came to being molested? Kidnapped? Or worse? I have a very observant unknown father to thank for saving me from who knows what and I didn’t even know it at the time. I do know that as a mother, when my girls were growing up, I was overprotective and paranoid and this incident may have been one of the causes.

I still cannot think of any set of circumstances that my parents would normally allow a 5th or 6th grade girl to go to a movie alone. And you know what – I have never been to a movie alone since then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Old Guilt Trips

When Tisa and I lived in New Jersey, someone gave her 3 little green turtles. They were about an inch and a half in diameter and lived in a “turtle farm.” The turtle farm was a molded plastic dish with low areas to hold water and higher parts that stayed dry for the turtles to climb up on and bask in the air. These turtles were slow and unexciting, but 3-year-old Tisa liked them.

You can no longer buy these turtles for your children as someone discovered they carried salmonella. I never knew of or heard of anyone getting sick or dying because they got salmonella from a turtle, but someone must have as the turtles disappeared from the market and the lives of little children.

When we had the opportunity to move back to Fresno, I had two days to pack all of our things and be ready to go. I managed to do this, but I couldn’t find anyone to take the turtles. We lived on the 9th floor of a 14-story apartment building and I considered just leaving the turtles in the lobby, but there was always a doorman there and he knew me! To give the turtles their freedom meant driving in my car to a park and letting them loose near a creek and I didn’t have time to do that.

In desperation, I threw the turtles and their farm down the trash chute. Not so bad you might think unless you knew there was an incinerator at the bottom! I murdered the turtles!!! And I lied to my child and told her I gave them to the neighbor. And the very worse thing is I STILL FEEL GUILTY after 38 years!!!! I have killed bugs. I have killed mice. But killing those turtles is still a black mark on my soul. I should send this in to Post Secret. I shall live with this angst forever…. I've probably done things worse than this in my life, but killing these stupid little turtles will always haunt me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Life is Short

July was a bittersweet month for me and I wasn’t able to write any of our childhood stories because of the events that took place.

One of my fellow employee’s 3-year-old daughter, Megan, was diagnosed with leukemia the first week of July. This was heartbreaking news for everyone in our company – we are a very close, family kind of company where we all know each other’s families and really care about each other. Megan is a beautiful little girl, full of spunk and very smart. She’s still young enough to believe that the world revolves around her and no one is going to convince her otherwise. Megan’s parents, Joe and Karen, were already in financial trouble when this diagnosis was made. So we (I) decided that the company needed to find a way to raise some money for them and we did. We had a bake sale out of our office that ran two days, got TV coverage and raised almost $6000.00. We set up a trust account for that money and any future donations we receive. All in all, it was a very rewarding and uplifting experience.

The bake sale took place on July 25th and 26th. On the night of the 26th, our neighbor and close friend, Travis, had a massive stroke and was gone within 5 minutes. Travis was Garry’s best friend and loosing him has been devastating for everyone that knew him. There was standing room only at Travis’ funeral – more than 300 people. Travis built, collected and showed hot rods. His hot rod buddies showed up at the funeral in their hot rods! They all parked together in front of the chapel and revved the engines – it was wonderful. I cried. The funeral was truly a celebration of his life with laughter and tears. This is a strange thing to say, but it was the best funeral I’ve ever been to. Now we all have to get used to life without our friend and support his wife as best we can.

The fact that I celebrated 6 years cancer free on July 31 got lost in the roller coaster of emotions in July. However, when I realized it, I was even more grateful to be here.

Our family has been so fortunate not to have our children suffer from potentially fatal illnesses and we’ve had a chance to tell our loved ones goodbye before we lost them. I think what I really need to say is that life is too short to let old disagreements keep some of us apart. I want our family to have a reunion – and Bob, you have to be there too! We never know what tomorrow holds.

Kathy aka Anne