Maybe we're ragged or funny

Even though our family wasn't rich we had great holidays. Oh, I know - everyone says, "Back when I was a kid..." or "...When I was younger.." It was better, worse, harder, slower, faster, whatever. Mostly claiming the way things were done "back then"were better. Like Holidays. It's not always true but things are new and fresh to children and seem more vivid, I believe. That may be what makes them seem better.

When I was a kid holiday meals were always at the grand parents place or the great grands. We had one for each side of the family. Two huge celebrations of the season filled with belts, waist lines, skirts, slacks and shoes of aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles and the faces of our cousins (we were short then).

For my father's family we had tables and counters and end tables full of food that scented the air with tempting aromas. In the kitchen it was SRO with cooks. The oven and stove were on full time with last minute dishes still being prepared. Little kids were delegated to haul stuff to the tables or fetch last minute ingredients while the cooks stirred on.

The ambient temperature in the house was 100 degrees from the cooking and the bodies crammed into too little space. The furnace would never run after the first hour. Men's jackets and ties were off and, with the ladies sweaters, littered the backs of every available chair as the coats piled on the bed reached the ceiling and there was no more room there, except the top corner where the babies were changed.

We were always early to visit with those we hadn't seen since last year. With empty tummies growling all around us in anticipation, conversation levels well into the "shout to be heard" range and a football game on the TV ear plugs might have been a good idea. There was no thinking, you couldn't hear yourself to do any..LOL!

The "kids" always had their own table and I was the oldest so it was my job to clean up spills, stop food fights and maintain a semblance of order. Most of the time it was ok. All the cousins and 2nd and 3rd cousins got along and liked each other but we were a bunch of scamps. Pigtail pulling, devil horns during photographs, stuffing a cookie in a pocket for later from your neighbor's plate, and other food snatching entertainments along with the occasional chair pulled out from under the person attempting to sit down were pretty prevalent. I was doing well if I could just keep them quiet during the blessing.

And it was good. The fun, football, food and family were the elements of a day to remember.

On my mother's side things were a little more toned down. There were not as many of us there so the heat and noise levels were lower. There was just as much and just as good food prepared in the same friendly and slightly over crowded kitchen way. There were fewer cousins and if my uncle didn't bring his family there were just the five of us for the "kids table" which, of course, was still created to make enough seating for everyone.

We kids would help set the table, just so, with all the best china and the silver from the big box in the sideboard. Then we would go watch the parade or a movie until it was time to eat. Mom and Grama would finish putting out the food, the call to dinner would sound out and we all sat quietly while grama gave thanks for all of us.

After the final crumb was eaten the female kids and the ladies in both families would clear away the dishes and package up the leftovers then do the dishes up and put them away while the men watched sports or a movie and visited.

And there was the bone in my craw. I thought that it was totally unfair that the men and boys didn't help. I would sneak off with the guys every chance I got. I'd find a spot on the floor beside a handy set of knees and watch the TV with them. Mom would notice me missing and send a sister to find me. I would ignore my name call but the creepy cousins would point me out and I would have to go back to the "girl chores". I swore in my youth that this would change when I had my own home. I kept that oath!

For that story go to the other blog.


Breakfast with the Family

calm breakfastSo we had all the wide world to play in but we had all the same duties and chores as other kids that lived in the country. Even then, there was just not enough time to have fun!

Our day started early. We had to be at the bus stop by 7:10 so we were up at 5:30 or 6:00. Mom and Dad were getting ready for work, too and there was only one bathroom. We got around it by using our rooms to get dressed in but we still all had to shower and brush our teeth and such like that in the morning. It was first come, first served but the parents out ranked us and could call dibs on next.

Then came the morning fashion fights with Vee and Mom and the slob fight with Mom and I. My sis was born to be a current trend follower. Being raised in a church going house hold when mini skirts were hot made her life a constant challange. Myself, I threw on whatever was handy and if it wasn't perfectly matched, Oh WELL!

So Mom would be explaining to Vee why she was not going to school dressed in that scanty skirt and then I would rumble down the stairs in my jeans and a top and Mom would turn on me to get a top that matched the green cordory jeans, blue was wrong. Wear green, white, tan, brown, black - anything but red or blue - and go back to convincing Vee to go change while I trudged back upstairs for another, more Mom approved shirt.

Meanwhile the rest of the bunch would be getting their breakfasts, someone would spill a glass of milk or tip over a cereal bowl, Vee would leave the room crying dramatically that NO ONE wore skirts to their knees anymore and she'd NEVER have any friends, much less a boyfriend and stomp up stairs while Mom lectured who ever spilled whatever that day on the cost of food and how far it had to stretch until they cried in guilty sadness that they had been so careless.

Then Dad would come in looking for his coffee and griping it was boiled, not perked and everyone would settle down to avoid annoying him. Just about then I would be back with a print shirt on with lots of colors in it and Mom would roll her eyes and give up on me. Not so for Vee. She would stomp back down the stairs and slam the door with her "church acceptable" outfit and glare at everyone till it was time to leave for the bus.

Breakfast was usually cold cereal and toast or oatmeal and toast if it was cold outside. Our milk came from Grampa's cow. Our eggs from Grampa's chickens. About a year after we moved to the red house gramp put a trailer on the back of the property. He still had the truck with the camper topper to travel with but he wanted to have a place of his own again.

Once the trailer was in he built the shed and chicken coop and put a milking cow and the chickens in place. It was nice to have him there. He taught us a lot of neat stuff, like how to milk cows and kill and pluck a chicken..LLLL! Not that we thought it was fun at the time, but I won't go hungry anytime soon, thanks, gramps!

We only had to walk about two blocks of main road to the house next door for the bus. Most of the time it was no problem. Heavy rain or thigh high snow banks built by the snow plow presented difficulties but we got used to it. There were two boys and a girl that got on with us. The bus was a world in itself ruled by the bus driver and populated with kids of all ages.

We were about the third stop so the very back seats were taken by the big boys who got on before we did but most of the bus was still available. The girl who got on with us, Sally, would take a window seat up front. I would take a window near the front and the rest would scatter out and take what they were most comfortable with. Vee would start rolling her waist band to shorten her skirt the minute she got a seat.

I sat by a window because it was one less side to be annoyed on and I liked to look out or use the light to read by. If I had a hot book going I would only put it down for classes, I even read walking in the halls sometimes.

Then it was stand and defend until we got to school to be educated. You couldn't sit with someone else's boyfriend and, if you had a best girl friend, you had to save the place next to you for her or she would be mad at you all day. You had to keep your seat, protect your lunch or lunch money, watch out for your sibs (if you were an "oldest"), and do all this in a way that didn't catch the bus driver's attention or you went on report and started your day in the principle's office. This would be reported to your parents by phone, too. A fine line to walk!

If all the kids were polite, well mannered, courteous, and thoughtful the bus would have been a great invention. They weren't then and they aren't now. There were trouble makers, jokers and bullies to dodge and some of them were even girls! (gasp!) Most of them were boys, however and I resented everytime I had to put my book down to deal with one of them messing with my sibs.

I wasn't mean but I wasn't a 'fraidy cat, either. And there were five of us so we outnumbered most of the bunches that rode with us. Usually they left us to ourselves pretty much.

But some days it got exciting.


Making it ours

While Mom had us racing to see who could roll the most old, rusted barbed wire fence in the biggest roll the fastest in teams of two she used the lawn mower to take down a field of now fully grown swamp grass and graze.

You know the routine. Tip up the front of the mower, roll it ahead, lower it slowly over the very tall grass until it is back on the ground - repeat until the mower quits in protest.

We were trying to clear some of the ground between the pond and the house. I guess someone had a horse or a cow there years ago. The fence posts were so rusted they broke off more often than they pulled out. The barbed wire was rough and nasty with rust and more; spider webs the size of beach blankets, weeds, and mystery stuff.

But Mom wanted yard, not field, so we tugged and pulled and rolled and pulled and pushed and dragged for a whole weekend while she kept stalling the mower. The grass was hip high on us and it was just a standard power push mower. It couldn't take it. She blew it up. There was a loud CRACKing noise, a billow of black smoke and the mower went to mower heaven.

When dad got home she asked him to fix it and he went through the roof about five minutes into the job. It needed a whole new motor and it was a brand new mower! When he asked her what she did to it she said, "Just mowing the yard." and he laughed in her face.

I guess it must have been under warranty as it got fixed and Dad didn't rant about it anymore. Mom got her side yard down to where the spring made it too soft and wet to mow. Another twenty feet and she would have been mowing the bank of the pond.

The path to the pond ran right through the wet spot. Being resourceful kids we dragged an old barn board down and tossed over it. I don't know why we bothered. It kept us from getting our feet wet but two minutes later we would have them hanging in the pond anyway....Kids!


The pond, the dam, the pool below the dam and the creek became ours. We never saw the state there so who cared if it was really "state land". We had paths both ways around it and another down to the creek where the swimming hole was cool and shaded all summer.

You couldn't go completely around the pond without a boat, the swamp at the far end was nasty and deep. So "Our family name here's Path" ran along the west side of the pond and around the "lagoon" and back to the far road while the trails on the other side went back to my stump and over further east to the sand pit, the swamp and the pines.

Along with the cows, horses, chickens, goats and assorted critters we kept as our own over the years there were deer, chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, wild dogs, geese, ducks, herons, cranes, frogs, moles, possoms, porky pines, ground gophers, beavers, foxes, wood chucks, owls in assorted sizes, snakes and many kinds of birds. They were OURS! You did not mess with them! Fishing was ok, but hands off the animals.

The pond below the dam had pan fries and bullheads while above the dam there were large and small mouth bass, monster pike and what we called hammer handles, the little pike, blue gills, sunnies, a few perch, crappies, and minnows all over. Lot's of people came to fish there. In the winter we would have a little shanty town and we were friends with a lot of the people that came out.

We were not, however, friends with the idiot who kept trying to run traps on the pond. We had Ozzie and a cat for mousing now and didn't need them losing a leg. The boy wasn't all that smart, either, he was just little and could have easily gotten snagged by one of the open jaw types this person used tagging after us..

As soon as we spotted the first one in the fall the little kids would take the family path while Vee and I took the trails on the east and we would use a stick to pop all the traps. We were not allowed to "steal" so we had to leave them them but I don't think the guy ever took another animal after that first coon we saw dead and bloody laying under the trees in the sunshine by the bank. Once he started we checked every day and when they were re-set, we re-closed them.

We were not being animal activists, those were our friends! On the shore of the far swamp we had chippies that would come out and eat cookie crumbs from our hands. The Mama Rabbit in the lilacs would let us watch the babies play. The coons wouldn't come close but would sit and chatter to us while we watched them washing their catch in the creek. The big blue heron would let us watch him gobble frogs and minnies.

For active, energetic kids we could sit really still for a long time if it meant we could get a chickadee to land on our hands or see baby coons playing. The youngest girl, Arr, was really good with the critters but we all had our special places and friends. Back by my stump in the swamp were beavers for a few years. I loved to watch them dragging their sticks and patching their homes.

I don't think we ever missed the TV till after dark and back then one TV channel would come over the FM radio so we listened to that as we did chores and homework in the evenings. Moving us out there and taking away the TV may have been one of the best things that ever happened to us.

We had so much that kids can't anymore. Letting a bunch of girls run alone in the woods would not be safe now. Swimming with no supervision, Ha! Riding bikes on a main road, mowing the yard in a swim suit, playing Tarzan and eating wild mushrooms - I was a very lucky kid. I even knew it back then when I could take a book up a tree and read all of a Saturday with the sun trying to find me in the shade of the old oaks and not a soul to bother me. I am so glad I have those special outdoor places and events to remember.

If I ever hit the lottery I am buying it back.