A real Meme

Communication is the key to getting out the news that there is a family emergency. Some one had been on the phone almost every moment since the accident. They were either checking on Grampa, Uncle and Aunt or finding our when the funeral would be or offering condolenses or being notified of the mess. Mom got home and went right from hugging us hello to the the phone.

I apologize to all of you that want the world to be filled with sweetness and light. It's just not built that way. Pretending won't make it so. We are taught to deal with a variety of emotions in a socially correct manner as we grow up. We are not taught how to grieve and deal with loss. Everyone just fumbles through the best they can and kids watch how they do it.

For our house pain, loss or diasasters called for humor. Grim, dark, and bloody humor. Dad breaks his leg, "Half a pair of pants costs less." His mom dies, "Now I don't have to figure out what to get her for Mother's Day." Some of it is actually funny and we would laugh, then feel guilty for having a good time when someone else wasn't. Some of it was just plain gallows humor, barely funny and not usually socially acceptable, but ok if no women or kids were around. It was the way we learned to cope.

Everyone learns a different way. For most people it's repression, controling their emotions in public, keeping the old stiff upper lip. A few lucky societies actually have public grieving. Everyone gets together and cries and wail till the tears are done then they bury the body and have a big party to help themselves feel better. I don't know which way is right.

I have had different reactions to different deaths. Losing Grama and Aunt Mary was the first time I lost people I loved for me. At twelve I was just beginning to see myself as a self apart from my family unit. I was smart, quick witted, tender hearted and used to being a leader of at least the rest of the kids and the kids I baby sat for. I was able to put myself in another's shoes and relate to their hurts or upsets. I could handle basic first aid and knew when to call in the reserves if I was over my head. I learned that I could also be cold, hard hearted and selfish.

Mom and Dad were really busy handling funeral details and family notifications as Grampa was not doing well enough to take care of things himself. Then I found out the funeral would be on Thursday, my birthday. I was shocked. You can't bury people on someone's birthday! It will wreck the party! I couldn't belive they would do that to me.

I was so torn. I loved my Grama and I liked Aunt Mary alot. They had both been good to me in their own ways and Grama loved me back. Grampa loved me, too, and he was very sad right now. He needed us to help him feel better. But I was too upset to help him feel better.

It was my BIRTHDAY! It's supposed to be fun. Presents given and recieved, cake and ice cream, parties at school and at home and I didn't have to do any chores all day or share my new toys for a week! It only came once a year and was better than Christmas because it was all about me!

I went back and forth in my head debating what to do. Mom had PROMISED the cupcakes but she obviously wouldn't be able to do them tonight, she was still on the phone with people and it was almost nine o'clock. I could make them myself but my cakes still fell so they wouldn't be as good. We would have to get up two hours early to make them in the morning. I was starting to see it was not going to work out at all.

I didn't want to remind her about the baking while she was crying on the phone and did finally catch her between calls. I ran up to her and put my hand on her knee and asked, "Can we make the cupcakes now, Mom?" She looked at me like I was an alien, then her brain shook out the fact that tomorrow was my birthday and dinged next to the promise of cupcakes and she got such a sad look on her face, I knew I was screwed.

"I am so sorry, Valerie, I just won't have time. I still have to call 4 more people and then get all our clothes ironed for the funeral tommorrow. You won't be going to school anyway, so you don't need the cupcakes."

Well, that did it! She didn't love me anymore! I burst into tears of self pity. "I am so going to school and I am taking a treat because it's my BIRTHDAY, I stammered out through the rising flood of hurt and tears, "I HAVE TO take the other kids a treat! EVERYBODY does it!" I rubbed my eyes with both fists and tried to wipe the tears away so I could see but it was a losing battle. The loss I felt for Grama and the pain of being shoved aside for dead people was just too much and there was no stopping yet. And then mom started to cry.

"You HAVE to go to the funeral, it's for your GRANDMOTHER! It's how you show you loved her and everyone will expect you to be there!"

I took a deep breath and used her own words on her, "I am NOT everyone else and I want to go to SCHOOL!" and then I stamped my foot. That blew it.

"You get right up to your room, young lady and STAY THERE until I come for you," she shouted!

With a loud wail of total pain I ran up the stairs as hard as I could, stomping on each one, I slammed the door behind me and threw myself on the bed, almost in hysterics. I cried and cried. The other girls couldn't come up when I was being punished so there was no one to comfort me.

I wound down after a while and wiped off my face then brushed my hair. I laid back on the bed and started to try to work it out but it was too late now and I dribbled tears because I wouldn't have a treat.

Finally mom came upstairs. She came in and sat on the edge of the bed and took my near hand in hers. "You really want to go to school tomorrow?"

I nodded, afraid to try to talk for fear of bursting out with sobs again. I was repressing, ya know.

"You really should go to your Grandmother's funeral. It's where you say good bye for the last time."

That was a no brainer for me, "I said good bye when she left and I even said I love you, I don't want to see her dead! I want to take cupcakes like you promised and go to school!"

She looked pretty miserable. Then she said, "I can't make the cupcakes but I will get you a treat and you can go to school if that is what you really want."

"It is," I answered.

She left the room and sent the rest of the kids up for bed. We were emotionally wiped out and we slept quietly that night.


Birthday Parties

With five kids it's hard to finance big birthday parties every year for all of them. We were a 10, 13, 16 celebration division family. You still had cake and ice cream but only with family. For a party with outside guests you had to hit a magic number. First double digit, first teen and sixteen were sort of standard with us for parties.

I have always had a problem with my birthday. I never have managed to celebrate it the way I would like to. When I was younger that meant a party where everyone came that I invited. As I got older it was the traditional drinking free drinks at the same number of bars as I was old and passing out singing with the band in the last one. Now it's all of the above only with a willing piano player and a group willing to sing along or listen while I run through the 400 or so songs I know till I pass out.

My 11th birthday I got a beautiful dress and a pair of rollerskates with a case for the rink. My Dad's folks were over, I know because there is a photo. I must have spent that year visiting them in the summer as usual and seeing them at the family reunions and such. I really don't remember.

I was really wound up tight for my 12th birthday. All the kids had been bringing birthday treats to school but they were lame or store bought. I was going to have really yummy chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing and a chocolate star on top! NOT lame, NOT store bought, really good!

I was expecting a really excellent gift that year, too, as I had been really helping out watching the kids for Mom a lot and she and Dad kind of hinted around me about it. You know how kids are, it could have been a portable am/fm or new books or anything but it seemed big to me. I was primed to turn twelve!

Now my uncle, the drunken astronaut, had gone and got himself a girl friend a couple years earlier. I hated her because he wouldn't play with us anymore and he was always going someplace with her and not taking us, like to the lake swimming and stuff. She ruined our uncle for playing with. They had gotten married and he went in the army.

For the holidays they had leave and were visiting. That would have been Christmas, 1966. We had gotten to visit with them and uncle let us play with his cool toys, like the gyroscope and the real toy typewriter but he wouldn't come and play WITH us. It was kind of a bummer.

They had to go back to base after the new year. So in January, 1967, on the Sunday the 8th, Grampa and Grama with Grampa's sister, my Great Aunt Mary, the uncle, his pregnant wife and the TV they had received for Christmas all managed to get stuffed into Grampa's car and headed south. They spent a night in a motel and started out again on Monday the 9th.

My birthday was going to fall on Thursday. So here I was, all wired up for my birthday in three days. Mom was going to make the cupcakes Tuesday night and ice them the night before. We were cleaning the house because Mom's folks would be coming for dinner and Mom couldn't bear to be caught with her dusting down when her Mom was coming. It was busy busy.

We got home from school on Monday, did our chores, helped get supper around and were sitting around the dinner table enjoying it when the phone rang.

Now I don't know about you guys that grew up with phones as old hat technology but back then when the phone rang you RAN to answer it. If it was long distance you SCREAMED for whoever the call was for and RAN to get them. They RAN back to answer because it was expensive for long distance and it usually meant bad news. Even now I can NOT stand to let a phone ring more than 3 rings and two is annoying.

Mom, closest to the phone, jumped up and stepped lively to answer it. The phone hung on the wall in the kitchen right next to the dining room door. It had a long cord on the handset so Mom could talk to her friends while she did dishes and such. We heard her say "Hello?" and then a second later she poked her head out the door with the phone still on her ear and said, "Arr, it's your Dad, long distance. Come here NOW!" She didn't scream it, but she was commanding. Dad legged over and out of his chair without sliding it back and went through the door. They were out there at least five minutes, then we heard the reciever slammed down and Dad started cussing and Mom started to fuss at him and cry at the same time.

We were round eyed and apprehensive and dead silent around the table. We couldn't hear well with the door shut but they were getting a little loud. It was something to do with rain, a semi-truck and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We knew it was Grampa on the phone and we knew he was taking uncle and aunt back to base. I thought it might be the car broke down or something but didn't voice an opinion.

We were all near tears hearing Mom start up and when Dad started ranting a few ran over our cheeks even though we had no idea what was going on. It got quieter. Dad stopped swearing and Mom was sniffling but not sobbing...the door opened. Now we were ready for anything, we thought. It was long distance, Grampa traveling and Mom crying while Dad cussed. When they told us there had been an accident Grampa, Uncle and Aunt Cry were in the hospital and that Grama and Aunt Mary were dead we all burst into genuine tears of grief.

We had practically lived with Grampa and Grama for every new baby or group illness and when Mom went to work Grama came to stay with us. She was always there. This was a huge loss to the family and we all knew it. And even though we were young, we knew Dad would be sad and so would Mom. This made us even sadder.

Great Aunt Mary was more like a friend. I stayed overnight several times and we played cards, made fudge and cookies and just in general had a great time. She was my Dad's Aunt and Grampa's sister. They had 11 siblings. Even in a group that large she would be missed. She was just nice, not cranky, not out standing, but a really nice person.

Mom called her mom and Grama came right over so Dad and Mom could go to help with the car, the hurt ones and make arrangements for the funerals. They would be gone two days. It would be late before we all got in and out of the tub and settled down to sleep that night.

I was actually on my way to bed when it hit me! Mom wouldn't be home to make my cupcakes! I was all set to panic when I remembered who taught her to make cupcakes - Grama S! And she would be with us so I was ok for bday treats. So Mom and Dad rushed off into the night with what clothes they could grab and what cash they could scrape up and we said our prayers with tears running down our cheeks that night.

Tuesday at school was strange because everyone knew our Grama died. Grama S had told Mom's brothers, Dad and Mom called Grampa's brother, Uncle Star who told the rest of the family who told their friends and before we had tucked in the night before cassaroles were in the oven* Kids were quiet around me and class just kind of flew by. Mom called that night to tell Grama S what was going on and she assured Mom she was ok, we all left at the same time and she got home right after we did by about 15 minutes.

See, Grama worked, too. She was a seamstress and then a cutter at Richardson Mills. It was not quite a sweat shop by definition but is was by lack of fans. So she got us off to school and went to work then came home and fed us, made us do chores and homework then bathe and get to bed early so we would be "fresh" in the morning.

It really wasn't that bad, despite our whining about over work and no time to play. With five of us chores took very little time but it seemed like forever when we were kids.

During dinner I asked Grama S if she would help me make cupcakes for school. She didn't see how she could but didn't want to say so. So she put me off. I was ok, there were still two whole days before my birthday. Mom would be back Wednesday according to Grama S. Plenty of time.


Brave Girl

All through school I killed spiders, moved snakes and put funny bugs in jars for show and tell. I handled all the stuff that scared the other kids I hung out with and never cracked a sweat.

Then I noticed the first sign of my weakness. It was when we were in the white house. One night, the folks were gone, we had a 15 year old babysitter. She was great fun and we liked her. She was not, however, very brave. She was afraid of lots of things. We'll call her Freaked out Francis.

layoutWe had a lovely black, sleek, male cat at the time. I think his name was Tom. Baby Lion had passed on a while earlier. He was an inside and outside cat, as most of mine are. We were playing race cars in the back room. It was getting pretty loud and silly. The little cars were shooting off the dog leg curve and flying into whoever was sitting there. Between bouts of bouyant laughter we heard the cat scratching at the door.

Freaked out Francis was closest and she reached over to pull the door open. That cat slunk into the room with something in his mouth! He stood right by the door with it, his head hanging low, protecting his kill, when one of the little girls squeeled, "Oh NO! Tom's got a BIRD!"

Freaked out Francis reached down to bravely rescue it from him. Then she screamed, stood up and ran out of the room freeking,"It's a BAT!", leaving the five of us, four of us long haired blonds, alone with it.

That lasted about 2 seconds. The cat jumped when Freaked out Francis screamed and lost his grip on the NOT DEAD bat. As it flapped across the room to land on the window curtain the five of us shrieked in loud unison, the cat skittered out of the room and we followed.

The other girls grabbed their hair and raced for the kitchen! The Boy started to cry. I had thought I was going to open the door and shoo it out with a towel, which was my first thought, when I realized I was screaming, had my hair wrapped around my hand and was running after the others. I couldn't stop myself, I was terrified! I was also surprised that I was afraid. When we hit the tile in the kitchen we skidded into a turn and headed for the further safety of the dining room with me bringing up the rear.

Mom had just finished bringing in the laundry before she left. One of the things we were supposed to do before she got home was put our clean clothes away. Like typical kids, we were putting this off until the last five minutes before they got home. There were baskets on three of the chairs in the dining room. This was just bad luck for the Mom.

I don't know where we heard about bats getting tangled in your hair but even the youngest girl knew it and was clutching her hair close to her neck. When we caught up with Freaked out Francis she had a towel over her head and was under the dining room table. She had stopped screaming but was breathing hard and sobbing.

Knowing a good idea when we saw it we all lunged for the laundry. We all took the first thing big enough to cover our heads. This meant some digging because the socks and undies were on the top of each load. Socks flew and undies draped everywhere! In under 20 seconds all five of us had our heads covered and were under the table with Freaked out Francis.

The screaming and sobbing slowed slowly when we realized the bat wasn't chasing us. We must have really interfered with it's audio as we screeched in the high decibels. Freaked out Francis talked us back to calm and we drew up a game plan.

She was going to get the broom, I would take the mop, the little girls would get fly swatters, The Boy would stay there and Vee would go call our folks. Gripping our tightly twisted assortment of slips, towels, and skirts to make sure our hair was covered, we moved out two at a time. Freaked out Francis got the broom, bristles up and I took the mop, also topsy turvey and we stalked toward the back room.

I was shaking and biting my lip to be brave in front of the other kids. I was really terrified! I knew bats could carry rabies and rabies shots were bad. Francis and I peeked around the door frame and tried to spot the bat. I could hear V on the phone and was reassured that Dad would come save us soon but the bat was still here now and there were only us kids to deal with it.

Freaked out Francis spotted him first, on the back door frame. She pulled back the broom like a ball bat and took two tiny steps into the back room. Wham! She missed, the bat fluttered in the air around the ceiling, she ran back to the kitchen.

I had kept my eye on it and now the little girls were on the other side of the door watching it, too. The bat landed on the window curtain across the room. I shuddered around the door, held the mop like an ax, lined up on him from as far away as I could and SWUNG!

Crash! The curtains came down, I ran back to the kitchen, the bat followed me! The other girls screamed and we all ran back to cower under the dining room table, gripping out hair covers firmly and leaving our weapons scattered in a trail behind us.

Various sorties were made by one and another of us with all taking a turn, even The Boy, now that he stopped crying and entered the spirit of survival that was motivating us. We learned we couldn't hit the side of a barn from the inside. The bat evaded us over and over again then chased us shrieking back to our bunker.

Dad and Mom got home about 20 minutes later. Talk about relieved! Poor Francis was so glad to see them she started crying again.

Dad saw us all crouched under the table wearing clothes on our heads and noted the scattered weapons all over the place then he started to laugh. He had a big "Ha ha ha ha" laugh in a deep tone. We felt pretty sheepish.

We watched as he went to the kitchen, got a towel and a canning jar, walked right up to the nasty beast where it perched on the kitchen curtain, held the jar under it and snapped it with the towel. He hit it right on the head and it dropped into the jar! Man, he was SLICK! And the whole time he was laughing his head off at us.

Now that the monster was caged we crawled out and Mom started directing the re-folding of the clothes, the replacing of the weapons and the washing of faces and brushing of hair that followed every upset in our home and helped Francis get calmed down.

Dad wandered off outside and let the bat go. They went back to their card game. We went back to racing slot cars. I didn't see the cat again till bedtime. Tom was hiding under The Boy's little bed. I could just see the tip of his tail twitching spastically still. He never brought another animal into the house - ever.

And I knew I wasn't "girl fear" proof. I felt like such a sissy! It took me a long time to get over the loss of self confidence it caused.


The Throwback

School started! I buzzed through the halls till I located the boy from the farm. Then I scoped out his locker. NOW I had him! I knew where he would be at least twice a day for my viewing enjoyment. And, NO, I had never heard of stalking - I invented it. I was only in 7th grade when this started but we were in the same building as the high school then. So I was like, almost 12 when school started.

I was ready with the first note to be dropped through the slots in his locker. I spent days writing and re-writing it. I think it said "Hello Le, I hope you remember me from the farm this summer. I want to be your friend. Val" It was the first of many. I left him birthday cards, holiday cards, notes on things I noticed him doing....any excuse for contact.

Trying to drop a note and not be seen got tricky as I got older. He knew I did it, he never caught me. I used to get a hall pass for the ladies room or library then race through the halls, stuff his note in his locker and race back to where I was supposed to be. I did this till I was around 14.

I just was stuck on this guy. He was so.....Himself! Le Wonder was a throwback. It was the mid 60's and he dressed 50's style. He was the Fonz before there was a Happy Days. His jeans were always straight leg, tight and cuffed. His t-shirt sleeves were rolled in tiny cuffs with just enough left to flip over and hold a pack of smokes. His hair was cut in a duck tail. He wore black and white high top tennis shoes and white, over the calf socks. If he wore a jacket it was unzipped. I never saw him on a motorcycle but he had the leathers!

He leaned, if he was standing still, on a wall, a locker, a fence, a desk, he was just too cool to stand. And he always had a smoke dangling from one side of his lips, even while he talked. When he got down to the butt he would flip it about a mile. I struggled for hours to learn how to flip a cigarette butt like he did. I finally got it, years later, when I became a smoker.

Working in the hay gave him a great bod to hang all this on but he was a nice guy, too. He smiled with his whole face when he smiled at you. I did lots of stupid things to get that smile aimed at me.

When I found out he went to the roller rink I broke out my new skates, The white ones I got for my 11th birthday, and started babysitting for skating money. It was only fifty cents if you had your own skates.

They had different "dances" at the rink. You know them, grand parade, couples only and others. The one I worked out for was "Ladies Choice". I became a sprinter! Le Wonder was popular and I had to be fast to land him for this skate. It was SO worth it! He was one of those people who can make you feel graceful because he leads so well. Skating with him I was Lila Lightfeet instead of Sally Stumbles and I loved it! It was the only time all week I could have his attention.

I would come flying at him from across the rink and slide to a mostly controlled stop right in front of him. He would give me that smile and I would wordlessly reach out a hand to take his while I smiled like a loon back at him. We would start out side by side and then he would give me a little twist of his wrist and he would be skating backwards with me. Then we danced, swirling in the corners and gliding along the floor. I was in young girl heaven! Whew! He was good!

One time, on my way home from school, he was leaning against the store with some friends. I know he saw me coming. He stood up, flipped away the smoke he had been nursing and said, "Excuse me guys, I gotta walk this little lady home." then turned to meet me on the side walk and took my books for me. I never said a word to him the whole block, just walked on air next to him.

One of my girlfriends in 8th grade lived right across the street from him. I never dared go to his house but it was great to hang with her and keep an eye out. Sometimes I would see him working on cars with his dad or mowing the lawn and it made my day.

Like all things of beauty my love for Le Wonder had to change. It changed when I was in 9th grade. I will remember forever how crushed I was when I saw him walking with Dumb Donna Bigboobs after school one day. I knew in that moment that is was over for me. I couldn't compete with a real girlfriend who had boobs and everything. I left him one more birthday card and he never heard from me again. It hurt to much to lose my first love for us to just be friends.

Now, I was the only one having my first love and we had really just barely been friends because of the age gap. And I had boy friends closer to my age at the same time. But none of those facts changed my feelings. I was utterly betrayed for a woman of loose morals and large body parts. I hated her. Still do, because she broke his heart later and made me mad all over again!

I moped around school like a basset hound pup with a splinter in his paw for weeks. But Le Wonder was only the first boy I fell for. I knew he could never be mine. There were lots more out there. I got over him to the point that I didn't even send him a graduation card.

I ran into him, years later, in a little party store out east of town. He was, grimy, grey and old looking and had a beard but I knew him by his body language, he was leaning on the counter as he waited to be checked out. I said hello as he was leaving and he remembered me. I got that beautiful smile to crawl out from under the mustache and beard and his eyes twinkled the same but I wouldn't have wanted to go out with the man he grew to be. He was still buzzed from the night before but buying more beer on his way out of town. He was dodging the law for some reason. How sad.

Talk about feet of clay! What a let down. He could have been a jet pilot or a fireman and instead he was an alcoholic. God bless Dumb Donna Bigboobs! I could have gone on to mate with this boy in a year or two more if she hadn't snatched him.

Not everything bad that happens to you IS bad. Wait for the surprise ending!