Sunday, January 29, 2012


                “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.


                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


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