Saturday, February 11, 2012

CHAPTER 5 – GRANDMA’S HOUSE

                “Aaaah, aaah,” I heard as I neared the house. The rocking chair slammed repeatedly on the linoleum floor and bumped against the wall.
                “Creek, crack, thump, aaah!” kept tempo for the flipping and tearing of Montgomery Ward catalog pages. That was Wanda, my adult aunt who suffered a brain hemorrhage at birth. Grandma says she heard a loud crack as Wanda was born. Others in my family blamed combined family genes for Wanda’s affliction. Grandma and Grandpa first met at a family gathering, and according to folklore, Grandma competed with her younger sister for Grandpa’s eye. They married when Grandma was only 14 -years old and she had yet to come into womanhood.
                Wanda’s body was 35-years old, but inside she was much like an 18-month old baby. She struggled to walk with a stumbling, uneven gait, grabbing clothes and hair to help her balance. She was unable to speak, but expressed herself with loud cries and coos. When excited, her cries became deafening roars, accompanied by a steady stream of drool escaping from the corner of her mouth. She was possibly inspiration for hillbilly offspring depicted in Hollywood films and ridiculed by comedians, but when I looked into Wanda’s gentle eyes, I could see there was much more inside. I saw a small girl, desperately wanting to share the secrets of life.
                My friends were scared of Wanda and would hide in another room when she visited. To me, she was just Aunt Wanda – someone to stack blocks with and even though I was only seven-years old, I knew to withhold my aggression when she stole my share of blocks that I had diligently counted out evenly for her, my brother and me to build wooden masterpieces. The blocks were worn and chewed. The square corners had been rounded and splintered decades ago. They likely belonged to my older sisters or even my dad and his siblings. Grandma and Grandpa never threw anything away. Cabinets were filled with recycled butter tubs and Mason jars. Grandma kept every thread spool, every toilet paper roll and every scrap of fabric. My dad says he knew as a child that when he was sent to the grocery store to buy flour that it was in his best interest to choose a bag pattern that he could tolerate, because Grandma made many of his shirts from the flour sacks. Unlike most hoarders, Grandma had perfected the skill of reusing resources by clothing her family and creating intricate craft items to sell in her dollhouse. She covered toilet paper rolls with crocheted yarn, making unnecessary home d├ęcor that resembled candles to display on top of toilet tanks. Old clothing and scrap fabric were future quilt pieces and spools became furniture for dolls she made from peanuts and wooden clothes pins.
                “Grandma!” I exclaimed as she danced and swayed her way to the door, wearing a floral dress and clashing apron, hands covered with clumps of flour and chicken residue.
                “How-dee!” she yelled as she wiped her hands on her apron before hugging and tickling me. A piece of raw chicken skin fell to the floor and was quickly devoured by Daisy Mae, the small pooch who I was just sure was Satan himself. Daisy growled and showed me her teeth as I stepped into her domain, daring me to make a sudden move. I slowly shuffled to the side, fearing she would feast on my shoestrings before enjoying my eyeballs for dessert.
                Grandpa scooted toward the commotion, rambling unintelligible nonsense, then broke into laughter at his own clever wit. He was short in stature and his belly had succumbed to his age, shadowing his belt and drawing his shoulders forward, providing a resting spot for his sagging chest. I had never seen the hair my grandpa wore as a boy. I only knew the horseshoe shaped design that grew between his temples, forming points above his ears. His black horn-rimmed glasses and thick eyebrows accentuated the mad scientist character he portrayed. He was dressed in a red flannel shirt that through the years had become part of his identity. I had seen my grandma buy stacks of them at a time during our trips to the local Walmart. My brother and I looked at each other and smiled before becoming targets of a good-ole-boy, back-slapping combo hug. We both winced at the painful beatings our backs were enduring through our thin t-shirts. I’m certain Grandpa never knew how much we dreaded his affection.
                Grandma and Grandpa made their way outside to help my parents and older sister with the luggage, leaving my brother and me alone with Daisy Mae and Wanda.
                “Ahh-boo!” Wanda yelled, rocking her chair with increasing vigor. We stood clear of the rockers, remembering how every toddler who graced their home had fallen victim to smashed fingers or toes.
                “Hi Wanda,” I said in my best baby dialect. She kept rocking and yelling, smashing her chair into the wall, causing the rockers to dance from side to side. She threw her catalog onto the ground and wobbled out of the chair, like a child making his way off of a fast moving carnival ride. ‘Whoa Nelly,’ I thought to myself. She limped toward the sliding glass door that had been left unattended, providing the perfect opportunity for her slow escape.
                “Ahh-boo!’ she yelled to my dad.
                “Hi Wani-girl,” he said. “How are you?” He pulled his pipe from his mouth, dropped his bags and gave her a big brotherly hug.
                After what seemed like twenty minutes of welcoming embraces and cordial greetings and laughter, we were all in the house, standing among 1970’s floral luggage at our feet. The smell of chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits filled the home.
                “Oh, I gots to tend to the cobbler,” my grandma said as she rushed into the kitchen, Daisy Mae nipping at her heels in hopes of catching some gourmet hand scraps from her apron.
                “I call dibs on the clubhouse!” shouted my brother as he ran to the two-by-fours nailed to the wall that lead to a small balcony with an angled four-foot ceiling.
                “No,” mom said. “Jacki is sleeping up there. You and Patti will sleep in the family room.” Grandma always laid out scraps of foam for us to sleep on. The foam was brown from years of use and stained with body soil. Tiny foam balls covered our pajamas after a night of rest on our make-shift beds. One particularly peculiar piece had a circle cut from the center of it. It wasn’t until I was older and subject to medical nuisances, myself, that I realized it was a custom-made therapeutic cushion for Grandma’s hemorrhoids.
                “Who likes fried chicken?” asked Grandma.
                “I do,” I said, “but can you leave the pepper off of mine?” I was born with what I was sure must be scientifically relevant taste buds, so sensitive that I could sense one fleck of spice hidden in my food. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would ruin a perfectly delicious piece of fried chicken by adding black pepper in hopes of enhancing the taste.
                “I made some extra special chicken legs just for you, Patti Duke,” she said as she poked my belly. I giggled and felt a sense of relief from the potential dinner crisis. I had been known to throw food across the room as angry hunger was sent into a state of fury when meals were not prepared exactly to my liking. I once refused to eat toast at a restaurant because it had been buttered on the wrong side.
                Grandma placed a cookie sheet on the table and a large oval plate inside of it. The plate resembled a food trough, overflowing with biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy. Grandpa escorted Wanda to the table and tied a dish towel around her neck. She grabbed the tablespoon with her fist and assaulted her food, splattering the mushy mixture down the front of her and onto the cookie sheet. Grandpa continued to supervise Wanda’s feeding while Grandma put the finishing touches on our meal. By the time Wanda was full, Grandpa wore mashed potato accents in his hair and across his flannel shirt.
                After dinner, my brother and I anxiously awaited our coveted time with Grandma who was sure to have a craft project ready for us to express our budding creativity. On previous visits we had painted turkey bones to resemble Jurassic creatures, searched for large leaves for Grandpa to trace and cut out of wood using his jigsaw and painted polka-dotted bathing suits on Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottles. That night we would cut big-eared, buck-toothed faces and arm holes out of brown paper bags to wear over our heads and tiny bodies. I was not the expert paper cutter that my brother was and I cut my eye holes in the wrong place. Grandma thought for a moment, then cut the top off of it, rolled it up to hide my mistake and molded it into a pirate hat. She fashioned some trousers out of the bottom half of the bag and cinched them tight around my waist with one of Grandpa’s belts.
                We modeled our paper bag costumes for my parents, sister and aunts while Grandma used a roll of film to document our fabrications. Cheering and accolades filled the dining room as we strutted along the catwalk into the kitchen.
                Corey pulled me aside and whispered, “Let’s send Grandma on a scavenger hunt!” And off we went on our next adventure. We placed small notes in what we thought were the most comical places – the washing machine, under the toilet lid, inside her shoe and in her underwear drawer. The last note read, as it always did, “Read us a bedtime story.” We couldn’t have realized it at the time, but Grandma was unable to read. She was the oldest girl of eleven children and attended first and second grade before her mother needed her at home to help with the younger children.
                “You show me how smart you are. Read this to me,” she said and I proudly performed my oral reading skills. She clapped and marveled at what a smart child I was, who would likely challenge Einstein in his scholastic accomplishments. Upon delivering the last message, she said, “I don’t have any books, but how would you like to hear some tales of Brer Rabbit?”
                “Yay!” we cheered.
                “You two varmints go get your PJ’s on and I’ll get your beds all ready for you,” she said.

CHAPTER 4 - TRIP TO BRANSON

“Are we there yet?” I asked Jacki for the seventh time since we hit the road to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Branson, Missouri. We had only been traveling for about 25 minutes. The trip seemed to take all day. We lived in a rural town, just north of Columbia, Missouri called Centralia. Branson was just over 200 miles away.
“No!” said my sister, beginning to lose her patience with me. “We’re only in Columbia. It’s going to be at least another four hours.”
“Ugh! I’m so bored,” I complained as I stood up in the bed of the pick-up truck. Mom and Dad were in the cab. The three of us kids rode in the truck bed with the luggage, protected only by a camper shell above our heads.
“Patti, sit down,” I heard my mom say through the speaker in the intercom system Dad had rigged just before the trip. Dad was a self-taught engineer and could assemble anything from scratch. The garage was filled with spare parts for go-carts, motorcycles and dune buggies. Metal frames were scattered across the floor. He had one or two motors that rotated through his designs, leaving deserted go-cart skeletons to lie, waiting to be looted for spare tires and headlights.
“Mom, I have to pee,” I said as I pushed the mustard-colored talk button on the intercom.
“Sit down,” Dad’s voice spoke through the box. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time you stood up in the truck bed?” I did remember. Dad had stopped quickly, launching me forward, knocking out one of my teeth. It had been three years and there was no sign of the tooth growing back in.
I returned to my pillow lying on the truck bed, against the cab, between Jacki and Corey.
“Here, lay your head on my lap and try to sleep,” offered my sister.
I tossed my head onto her lap and stretched my legs out. Her skinny thighs offered little comfort, so I rolled onto my back and rested my neck on just one of her legs.
“Get your feet out of my face!” yelled my brother.
“Mom!” I screamed into the intercom.
“Don’t make me pull over,” warned Dad.
“Here, trade places with me and lay the other way,” said Jacki.
“Bump-bump, bump-bump,” I felt the seams in the road under the truck bed as the molding wore bruises on my tail bone. Dad had tried to soften the ride by laying a three-inch thick piece of foam in the truck bed, but it offered little comfort.
“Four little speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log,” my sister sang softly as she twirled the curls in my hair.
“Bump-bump, bump-bump.” I soon drifted to the rhythmic cadence.
I awoke as the truck slowed to a complete stop.
“Are we there?” I asked tiredly.
Dad opened the tailgate and said, “Come on kids, let’s get out and stretch.”
“Is this the pie cone place?” I shouted with excitement.
“It’s pine cones, not pie cones, dork,” my brother snapped.
“I have to pee!” I said as I hopped out of the truck.
“You’ll have to go over there behind a tree,” Dad said as he pointed to the wooded area. I already knew the drill.
Jacki walked me to a tree while Mom unloaded a cooler filled with sandwich supplies. Dad and Corey headed for the look-out tower. It stood over eighty feet tall, with ten small sets of steel stairs leading to tiny room at the top, where firefighters had once watched for smoke in the distant hills. Many towers were built in the 1930’s and 40’s to spot forest fires early before they devastated the area. They were rarely used anymore for their intended purpose and a rope hung across the first level supporting a sign that read, “Do not climb tower.”
Dad and Corey ignored the sign, ducking under the rope and heading for higher levels.
“Don’t climb very high!” my mom warned. She was terrified of heights and saw potential hazard in anything more than ten feet from the ground.
As I squatted behind the tree, I saw pine cones, hundreds of them. Grandma collected pine cones and incorporated them into her crafts. Many times they served as Christmas trees for her wooden doll dioramas.
“Look, Jacki!” I yelled. “We need to collect all of these pie cones for Grandma!”
“We will, but Mom wants us to eat first,” she said.
“Lunch is ready!” Mom called. We ran to the table to enjoy a picnic lunch.
“Liver cheese for you,” Mom said as she handed me a flimsy paper plate.
I grabbed a plastic knife and cut small shapes into my liver cheese before popping them into my mouth. I dangled the lard binding in front of my brother’s face. “Here, Corey, want some worms?” I pestered. He slapped my hand away from his face and the lard went flying across the grass.
“Patti, quit being so gross,” said my mom.
My fingers were soon stained orange from cheese curls and I tried to lick them clean, but traces remained under my fingernails.
“Can we collect the pie cones now?” I asked anxiously.
“It’s pine cones for the hundredth time!” yelled my brother, to which I stuck out my tongue and mocked him.
“Go ahead,” said Mom as she handed me a brown grocery bag.
Pine needles covered the forest, making it challenging to collect my treasures. I filled the large bag to the top with prickly brown pine cones, double-checking each one for imperfections. I ran back to the truck, spilling the over-flowing portion of the cones at my feet. I knew Grandma would be excited to get this many of them.
Dad had climbed two stories from the top of the look-out tower, Mom squawking tirelessly from the ground.
“Bill, come down! Don’t you go to the top! Bill!” she pleaded. But Dad pretended not to hear her cries.
“Beee-illl, get down!” she screamed. I could hear the fear in her voice.
“Fine then!” she conceded. “But don’t expect me to help you when you fall!”
Mom stomped to the truck, slammed the passenger door and pouted for the duration of the stop. Dad never once looked her direction.
“Mom,” I said as I tapped on her window. “Can I climb the tower too?” I was never good at sensing windows of opportunity.
“No!” she screamed at me. I backed away, frightened by her reaction.
“But I only want to go to the second level,” I said quietly.
Mom glared at me momentarily, staring deep into my soul and said calmly, “You just do whatever you want.”
I ignored the sarcasm in her voice and ran to join my brother on the look-out tower.
“Slow down!” she screamed at me.
The second floor was actually quite boring and I wanted badly to climb higher, but I could see Mom in the truck, distressed and frightened. I retreated to the ground and hopped into the truck with her.
“Did you see all the pie cones I found?” I asked, trying to distract her from the potential catastrophe.
Before long Dad and Corey returned, and we were all safely piled into the pick-up truck once again, on our way to Grandma’s house. Corey and I sang 999 Bottles of Coke on the Wall, testing my sister’s patience. Once in awhile we pushed the intercom button, screaming the tune loudly for Mom and Dad to hear. I don’t know what Dad said to Mom, but she was soon smiling and found our entertainment amusing.
“I smell Grandma’s house!” Mom’s voice said through the intercom.
“Yay!” we cheered. I looked out the window and saw the tall landmark sign, high in hills, shaped like a candle that read ‘Candlestick Inn.’ We crossed a long bridge stretched across Lake Taneycomo. A huge cliff stood in front of us where Grandma’s house sat high in the air.
“I think I smell Grandma’s house too!” I giggled.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

CHAPTER 3 – MY FAMILY

                “As the mouse went behind the re-re-refrig –refrigerator?” I read, then looked up at my sister for approval.
                “Very good!” she said with a smile. “Keep going, you can do it.”
                “He saw a slice of pep-per-oni!” I exclaimed.
                Vicki giggled and said, “Can you imagine a silly old mouse eating pepperoni?” I laughed at the thought and continued reading to her.
                Vicki was my second-to-the-oldest sister. She had married her high school sweetheart, Tinker, when I was just four years old. Despite a near casualty just days before her wedding, involving my brother, a huge rock and some stitches, I was the chosen one – the ceremonial flower girl. My mom begged the doctor to save my beautiful long, blonde curly hair for the sake of the wedding. I had only received three stitches, but my tender head made combing the thick locks painful to endure.
I was pretty convinced at the age of four that most people go to weddings merely to see the flower girl and ring bearer’s performances. At the ceremony rehearsal, regardless of the numerous pep talks from my sisters and mom, I assumed my job was to skip my way to the altar carrying a basket of spring flowers. My brother walked beside me, carefully balancing a pillow on his palm. It wore tiny, gold-painted plastic rings in the center of it. We began our journey down the aisle, side-by-side before I gave into the urge to swing my basket high in the air, skipping to my destination.
                “Whoa, whoa,” said the preacher, but I didn’t hear his caution.
                “Good grief,” mumbled my brother, shaking his head in disbelief.
                I put my heart into my assigned task, giving my basket a spirited ride and skipping clumsily with my knees raised above my navel with each step. Just as I neared the wedding party, my basket slipped out of my tiny hand and launched into the air, sailing across the room and landing behind the pews.
                “That’s it!” my brother yelled, throwing the pillow to the ground. “I’m NOT walking with her!”
                The following day, the preacher chose to send my brother down the aisle by himself. He was dressed in a powder blue suit and black shoes. As much as I hated to admit it, he looked handsome. He took careful steps, concentrating on the pillow.
                “But I’m s’pose to go with him,” I argued.
                “Well, let’s let him go first so he doesn’t slip on any of your beautiful flowers,” the preacher scrambled. Apparently his excuse sounded reasonable enough to me because I waited quietly for my turn. Once given the go-ahead, I slowly removed each tiny petal, one-by-one and dropped it to the ground. I knew how important the flowers were. It’s all I had heard about for the past month, and I wanted everything to be perfect for my sister’s entrance. In the back of my mind, I wondered why the preacher wasn’t worried about her slipping too, but I guessed she had special shoes that possessed magic non-slipping powers. I saw Dad place a lucky coin inside one shoe just before the ceremony. I walked side-to-side down the aisle, making sure the entire area was covered evenly with a carpet of flowers. I eventually reached the front and was quickly swiped to the side by one of my sisters.
                “What’s going on? When is she coming?” I asked my sister, Jacki.
                “Shhh,” she said.
                “But I want to see her. And I don’t have any flowers left. Can I get a flower?” I continued on. Jacki tried her best to distract me and spoke in whispers, hoping I would do the same. Suddenly the crowd rose to their feet as the organist pounded a single chord multiple times to announce the grand entrance.
                “Where is she? I can’t see her,” I asked my sister, getting restless from her attempt to contain me.
                “Shhh! Look, where’s Daddy?” she asked to distract me once again. I looked around, then darted into the aisle.
                “There he is!” I yelled loudly. “There’s my Daddy! Hi Daddy!” I yelled as I waved to him. He smiled and gave me a small wave while holding Vicki’s arm. ‘Maybe she was afraid of slipping on my flowers,’ I thought to myself. ‘Good thing Daddy is there to help.’ Suddenly I felt the entire crowd staring and giggling at my toddler antics. Jacki pulled me aside again and held my hand firmly for the duration of the entrance.
                “Belch!” said the mouse as he finished his pepperoni. And off he went to his hole in the wall. The end,” I read.
                “That was very good reading, Sweetie,” my sister said. “Now let’s put these books away and go tell Mom what a great reader you are.”
                I hopped to my feet, threw the book on the bookshelf at the end of the hallway and ran down the stairs, leaving the rest for my sister to pick up.
                “Mom, guess what! I read the whole book and I even read the word ‘excitement’,” I said as I bounced into the kitchen where Mom was washing the lunch dishes by hand.
                “That’s good,” Mom said in her exhausted voice.
                “I need to run,” Vicki said.
                “Congratulations, Vicki,” my mom said with a wink.
                Vicki gave her a shy smile. “Thanks,” she whispered and gave Mom a quick hug.
I followed my sister out the door and waved goodbye from the front step. I always loved it when Vicki came to visit. She gave me lots of attention and encouraged me in whatever silly project I was interested in for the week. One time we spent hours curling strips of paper for a quillery project. Another time we replenished my mom’s stash of potholders with my weaving loom.
My oldest sister, Cheri, had moved out of the house before I was two years old. I don’t remember what it was like for the year that all five of us kids and my parents lived in our tiny basement while our house was being erected above our heads. According to Mom, ground broke on the house the day I was born. Cheri had two children of her own and her hands were full. Her visits were usually accompanied by chaos and me screaming at her two kids for trashing my bedroom. One particularly disheartening calamity occurred when my 45 records were strewn across my bed. Her son, Ladell, spotted my little league softball bat in the corner, grabbed it, raised it above his head and slammed it down onto the bed, shattering my 45’s into multiple pieces. My favorite record, “A tisket a tasket, a green and yellow basket,” would never play again. I cried authentic, devastating tears this time and ran to my mom to tell her of the injustice.
                “Why were your records on your bed?” she questioned, instead of seeing the obvious crime that had taken place. As far as I know, she didn’t punish Ladell for destroying one of my favorite possessions.
                Jacki was the middle of our five children and had become known as the gentle peace-maker. She was ten-years old when I was born and not yet interested in boys, so some of the menial child-rearing duties fell on her – most of which involved entertaining my brother and me. As she got older and spent less time with us, I would resort to pouncing on her for attention the moment she walked in the door.
                “Jacki, can I do your latch hook rug with you?” I would ask.
                “No, you’ll mess it up,” she would say.
                “Well, can I hold the yarn for you?” I bargained.
                “No, you’re too little,” she said every time.
                Then one night, she must have had a change of heart. We were snuggled next to each other on the couch, watching TV – well, she was watching TV. I was studying her every move with the rug, latch hook and yarn when she said, “Hey, do you want to sort my yarn pieces for me?”
                I was so excited. I had finally won her trust. I dumped all the yarn on the couch and put each color in its designated compartment. I even got to hand her the small yarn sprigs as she asked for them. I got good at it too and could anticipate which color she needed next.
I thought Jacki was so beautiful. Her long, feathered hair formed large rolls down her cheeks. She wore shiny lip gloss that lived in a peanut-shaped applicator we bought from our Avon-selling cousin. I wished so badly she would let me wear it, but her basement bedroom was off-limits to me. Sometimes I would sneak down the stairs and stand outside of her closed door to listen to her and her friends talking about boys. I couldn’t hear every word, but I assumed they were talking about kissing.
Then there was my brother. He was not fun, nor was he beautiful. He was mean and wore a constant scowl on his face when I came within three feet of his perceived bubble. If only I could make him like me.

CHAPTER 2 - POTTERY

                I was covered in mud, head to toe as I sat in the middle of the filthy construction site of our new next-door neighbors’ house. The builders had dug a foundation for a modular home, leaving an enormous pile of dirt in their back yard. Dad was intrigued by the modern concept and kept his eye on the progress through the living room window.
                “Let’s make pottery!” I suggested to my friend, Barby. “The mud looks just like clay.”
                “I think it is clay,” she determined.
                I had known Barby for over half of my life. We met at a baby shower when we were only four years old. Since then we played on the same summer softball team, were in Brownie Girl Scouts together and this year, we had agreed to sit next to each other in Mrs. Bohlmeyer’s second grade class. She wore tiny freckles across her nose and strawberry blonde hair that had been tinted green from spending full days at the city swimming pool. When she smiled, she exhibited two large front teeth that she wouldn’t grow into for several more years.
                We gathered buckets of dirt and used puddles of rain to loosen the consistency. Several earthworms wove through the dirt and we tossed them in a bucket for Barby’s weekend fishing trip. I patted and molded the thick mud into a large bowl, perfect for serving popcorn or rice crispy treats.
                “Let’s make a whole set of dishes,” said Barby.
                “That’s a great idea,” I agreed. “We need four of everything.”
                We worked for hours in the mud, molding plates, bowls, cups and even salt and pepper shakers. I used a stick to poke quarter-inch holes in the lids of the shakers. The mud seeped through my fingers and became trapped under my fingernails.
                “We need to let them dry so we can paint them,” I said as I picked the sun-dried mud from my skin, which was adhered tightly to the tiny hairs, making it painful to remove.
                We gathered our pottery creations and placed them neatly at the end of the driveway, directly in the sun to dry.
                “Dad, do we have any paint?” I called to him in the garage.
                “What for?” he asked.
                “We’re making pottery and we need to paint it,” I said as Barby and I entered the garage.
                Dad, who was working tediously from his bench, turned around and let out a long, over-extended chuckle at the looks of us.
                “You two are a mess!” he said. “And you’re tracking mud everywhere. Go on back outside and I’ll see what I can find.” We ran back to our pottery, relieved that we hadn’t been scolded for making a mess.
                Dad joined us at the end of the driveway, delivering three large cans of latex paint and two gnarly paint brushes left over from our bedroom redesigns.
                “Good Lord, what do we have here?” he asked as he approached us.
                “It’s our pottery,” I explained. “We’re going to paint them and sell them. I might give this one to Grandma,” I said, pointing to the bowl. Grandma loved homemade crafts and I knew she would be impressed with this breathtaking piece. We had a trip to Grandma’s house planned in just a few days and I always made a special present to take to her.
                “That looks like mud to me,” he declared.
                “No, Barby says it’s clay and she would know because her Mom uses clay all the time,” I said.
                Dad looked at Barby who smiled shyly. He paused for a moment, contemplating his response, then said, “Well, you would know better than I would, I suppose.” He gave me a skeptical wink, then left us alone to build our pottery business.
                “We painted the dishes the same pale pink that coated my bedroom walls and accented them with baby blue overlay from my brother’s room. The clay wasn’t dry yet, so brown secretions oozed through the thick coats of paint.
                “This bowl is the extra special piece for Grandma,” I said. “Let’s paint stripes on it.”
                “That’ll be perfect,” agreed Barby.
                It was growing darker outside as we put the final ring of color around the bowl – just in time.
                “Girls! Bill! It’s time for supper!” my mom called from the house.
                We jumped to our feet, abandoning the pottery and brushes at the end of the driveway to dry. I swung open the front door of the house and we both raced inside.
                “What on Earth?” my mom screamed. “Get outside, NOW!”
Mom was angry. “Bill weren’t you paying any attention to them?” she asked scornfully. Dad gave a playful laugh.
“Get outside!” she yelled as she opened the sliding glass door, leading to the back yard. “And Bill, you get to hose them off,” she commanded.
Dad’s laughter grew louder as he joined us outside, which fueled Mom’s rage.
“Now take those filthy clothes off and throw them on the porch,” she said to us.
Dad retrieved the garden hose and spray nozzle from the front of the house while we reluctantly stripped to our underwear.
“Mom, the neighbors will see us,” I argued.
“Oh, it’s dark,” she said “and apparently nobody is watching you two anyway.”
Dad sprayed us down with ice cold water, laughing at our objections to the humiliating outside shower.
“Dad, make the water hot!” I shrieked, which only encouraged his loud hoots and cackles.
Mom tossed two dry towels onto the porch. “Now get in here, get dressed and eat your supper before it gets cold,” she ordered.
We wrapped the cozy towels around our freezing bodies and dashed to my bedroom where dry clothes awaited us on my bed.
Supper was delicious. Mom had made my favorite meal – roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. I filled my plate twice during dinner and cleaned my plate, still hungry for more. Mom was the best cook in all of the neighborhood. She had mastered domestic skills, only achieved by the most devoted stay-at-home moms. She made certain I never once missed a meal or waited for clean laundry.
“We need to make signs for our pottery sale,” Barby suddenly remembered as we hopped from our chairs and headed to my bedroom.
POTTERY - $2 EACH, my sign read. I couldn’t wait to convert my Kool-Aid stand into an artful kiosk of treasures in my front lawn. I had my very own iron liberty bell, left over from the town’s bicentennial celebration, that I used to alert my neighbors of my big sales.
“Kool-Aid for sale!” I would announce as I rang my bell from my bicycle throughout the neighborhood, just moments before opening for business. “Come and get some ice-fresh Kool-Aid!”
The neighborhood kids would inevitably rush to my stand with their quarters. I had a secret Kool-Aid recipe that I would never share with my patrons. I doubled the mixture, making it so sweet that they would return with a second quarter, sometimes even a third. One day, a stranger in a car gave me five dollars for a cup of my secret recipe.
“Barby, your mom just called. She’s on her way,” my mom said as she peeked into my bedroom.
“But we’re going to sell our pottery tomorrow,” I argued.
“You’ll have to do it another time,” she asserted.
Our plans had been thwarted. We had worked so hard for the grand opening of our pottery boutique. Barby called her mom to beg for one more night, but to no avail. She was already on her way.
“Crackle, crackle,” we heard as the driveway gravel shifted under the station wagon tires. Barby’s large vehicle could transport half of our softball team in the back bed, where we sat in a circle, playing clapping games and singing songs for the duration of the trip.
“She’s here!” mom called.  “Your clothes are in this bag, washed, but not dried yet. Don’t forget to give them to your mom so your clothes don’t mildew,” she said as she handed a plastic bag to Barby.
Barby and I ran outside, grabbing a flashlight from the junk drawer in the kitchen to show off our creations.
“Hi Mom!” called Barby.
“Did you girls have fun?” she asked.
“We made pottery,” said Barby excitedly. “Get out of the car and come see!”
We walked behind the car to the end of the driveway, shining the flashlight toward our collection.
“Oh no!” I cried. “They’re broken!”
Chunks of painted dirt remained where our pottery once sat.
“Uh-oh,” gasped Barby’s mom. “I thought I ran over something,” she confessed apologetically.
Every cup, every plate was crumbled to pieces. My hopes of dazzling my patrons with collector’s pieces were crumbled too. We stood, dumbfounded and shattered, staring at the dirt.
“Oh my goodness,” said Dad as he approached the crime scene. “You left your art in the driveway.”
“I’m so sorry,” said her mom.
The tears were building and I tried my best to hide my disappointment. The driveway was silent as Dad and Barby’s mom scrambled for a way to lessen the pain.
“Look!” said dad cheerfully. “Your bowl is in perfect shape.” Thank goodness I had left my special dish in the grass next to our painting station. It wasn’t a complete loss.
Dad rescued the bowl, saying, “I’ll just move this one to the garage where it will be safe.”
Barby gave her mom the bag of wet clothes and jumped into her car, relieved we had one piece to show for our hard day’s work.
“When I come over next Tuesday, we can play eenie, meanie, miney moe for it,” she said with a smile.
“Okay, see ya!” I called as they left the driveway. Little did she know, but I knew all the tricks to that game and I always won.
That night I slept well. Exhaustion had consumed my body.
The following morning, I popped out of bed and skipped to the garage, excited to see my cured masterpiece and marvel at my creativity.
There, lying next to the step was the bowl, broken into four pieces, with cracks all throughout.
“Dad!” I cried. “What happened?”
                He turned from his workbench and smiled empathetically. “Well, hon, I’m afraid your clay is actually mud and mud just crumbles when it dries. Doggone it, I’m sorry.”
                Without a word, I returned slowly to my bedroom. ‘I guess I’ll have to make something else for Grandma,’ I thought to myself.

Friday, January 27, 2012

CHAPTER 1 - BOYS WILL BE BOYS

He was my nemesis. His sole purpose for existence was to remind me of my stupidity and my sole purpose was to prove it. My brother, Corey, the only boy of my siblings, was two years older than me. I wanted to be just like him.
It was a hot July day in our small town. Corey and his friends were playing at a neighbor’s house, wearing only their cut-off jean shorts. Their tan, slim bodies soared through the yard, jumping and dodging with laughter and banter. I studied his actions carefully. On previous occasions, I had been known to scrutinize my body in the mirror to practice looking and acting as he did. ‘What must that feel like to not wear a shirt,’ I wondered as I looked down at my chest. That gave me an idea.
I ran home to my mom and begged her to let me shed my shirt as well.
“No, girls don’t do that,” she laughed at the ridiculous request.
“But why, Mom? I look the same as them,” I argued.
“Because you don’t want to show your boobies to the boys,” she said.
“But, I don’t have any boobies!” I yelled. “What’s the big deal?”
She repeatedly refused my wish to expose my breasts, which only aggravated my women’s liberation stance on the matter. She obviously favored my brother. I reminded her that my chest looked exactly like his and challenged her to explain the necessity for me to cover mine while he ran bare-chested for the world to see.
“Because you’re a girl!” is all she could come up with. I pressed on, knowing her argument was futile.
Finally, exhausted from defending her unjust ruling, she threw her hands in the air and conceded, “Just do it! Do whatever you want!” She was disgusted, but I didn’t allow her time to convince me of my poor judgment.
I raced to my bedroom, tore off my t-shirt, gave myself a quick check in the mirror to see if my masculinity rivaled that of my brother’s and bolted out the door. I hopped on my banana-seated bicycle and headed off to join the neighborhood gangsters.
“Yankee doodle went to town, riding on a pony,” I sang loudly as I pedaled freely up the asphalt street. I felt liberated, unchained from my biological expectations. As I approached the Harrison’s house about two blocks away, I found the boys engrossed in an intense game of freeze tag. I couldn’t wait to join them. Maybe they would finally take me seriously and treat me like an equal, instead of the pesky little sister who continually spoiled their fun. I jumped off of my bicycle, letting it fall to the ground, sailing into a nearby bush. I proudly approached the chain-link fence and was about to enter the manly zone, just as one of the boys noticed me.
“Oh God, Corey!” he yelled. “Look at your stupid sister! She’s showing us her titties!”
Horrified at the vision, my brother angrily yelled, “Go home! You can’t play with us!” Laughter filled the back yard as each boy stopped what they were doing and one-by-one, pointed and snickered at my bare chest. I felt tears forming in my eyes. I was stunned by their reaction. Was it possible that they, too, were unable to recognize the complete unfairness of the situation? Titties? I glanced down at my chest and saw only a thin, partially tanned ribcage, accented with small dark nipples that looked more like freckles than a distinction in my sexuality. If it wasn’t for the rainbow embroidered on my pocket, I could have easily been mistaken for a young boy.
I yanked my bicycle from the bushes, scraping my arms on the scratchy limbs, and raced toward home. I pedaled faster and faster. My vision was blurred from the salty, stinging tears, but it didn’t matter. I could pedal my way home blindfolded. I reached the house, tossed my bicycle against the rock wall and rushed inside, wailing from the humiliation.
“Corey made fun of me, Mom. And everyone was laughing,” I was able to choke out between sobs.
My mom marched to the sliding glass door, slung it open and called, “Corey!” through the neighborhood. “Cor-rey, come home now!” she yelled angrily.
Three minutes later, my brother stomped into the house, screaming at me for being such a stupid sister.
“Mom, she embarrassed me! She showed up without her shirt on and exposed her titties to all of my friends and they were all laughing!” he yelled.
“Then you should have stopped them,” she explained. “She is your sister.”
“Aaaaack!” Corey yelled in a defeated, frustrated voice and ran to his room and slammed the door.
My once distraught psyche, tried to hide the smile looming from within. I had done it. Not only had I gotten my brother into trouble, but now I had him all to myself.

Corey and Patti, January 15, 2012