Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

My parents’ friends have a house on top of a hill and it has lots of woods all around. It is the only house up there. One time they invited us to a party at their house. Lots of people came and it was summertime.

In the back of their house was a big garden. A really big garden. Bigger even than the one my grandma has. They grew all kinds of things back there and my favorite thing they grew was basil. I didn’t even know what it was called then, but the smell of it filled up the whole back yard. It smelled just like summer, and the sun was going down and the sky was all pinky purple and the stars were starting to come out and the whole world smelled like basil.

Then we got to do something really fun. We got to stomp grapes. We rolled up our jeans and got into this big barrel thing and just stomped and stomped. The grapes came from their yard and they were going to turn the stomped grape juice into wine. I wonder how they could do that. The grapes were squishy between my toes and these little flies were flying around and my feet got cold and itchy-sticky. But it was still fun to stomp on those grapes.

There was a fire and everybody sat around it and talked. We stayed outside until the stars were out and the fire was big and the shadows of it jumped around the whole yard and then the smoke smell mixed with the basil smell. That was a magical day. I think about that day every time I smell basil.

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I’m going to get a new baby brother or sister tonight. Before I went to bed, my mommy told me the baby was coming except it wouldn’t be for a while, so I still had to go to sleep. When she tucked me in she promised me she would wake me up in time. But then I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. I kept trying to close my eyes but it didn’t work. I was laying in my bed and the light in the hallway was on and I just couldn’t sleep so finally my mom said I could get up.

There was a little bit of a problem. The baby was coming soon except the doctor wasn’t there yet. It was snowing outside, lots and lots of snow in the middle of the night and the doctor was out there somewhere, trying to make it to our house. I kept running to the front door and looking out the windows, but I couldn’t really see anything except dark and snow and more snow. It was really windy and the snow was piling up all over the place.

My mom had me in the hospital. She did not like that. They strapped her legs down so she couldn’t move them and I was pretty big, so they pulled me out with these head smasher things, and then she had a fever after I was born so they wouldn’t let her hold me. So she decided not to have any more babies in the hospital.

So we were waiting and waiting for the doctor and he wasn’t coming. Then my mom thought she had to go to the bathroom and when she was on the toilet, she almost had the baby! So she hurried up into the bedroom and right then and there my little sister was born. My dad helped get her out since the doctor wasn’t there. Then, just that very minute when she came out, the doctor finally came! He said that everything was just fine and he helped my dad cut off the cord and clean her up. She was pretty red and slimy when she came out, except she had lots of black hair, not like me. I was mostly bald until I was two.

Then there was lots of family over. It was the middle of the night, but they all came: my aunts and uncles, my parents’ friends Mike and Patty and my grandmas. It was like a baby party right then and there. Bonnie didn’t even really notice since she kept falling asleep. We took turns holding her and everybody was so happy. I finally had a baby sister after waiting for four and a half years.

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To my mother

I remember you teaching me how to read. I remember crawling into bed with you on dark winter mornings after dad went to work. I remember throwing up all over you and your nightgown in the living room, and how you weren’t mad or disgusted. You just got up, covered in my puke, and quietly soothed me as you took us to the bathroom to clean up. I remember you, mama bear, defending me and comforting me when I had square peg troubles at school.

I also remember horrible fights. I remember feeling lost and confused and so small and just wishing we could get along. I remember not being able to give up or give in, even when I was wrong. I remember you doing the same. I remember trying my best to hurt you, because I felt a bottomless kind of hurt myself and I wanted you to know what it felt like. I didn’t know where that came from; I still don’t. I remember not having the words to explain. I remember making up, hugging, feeling safe and secure again. I remember when I was afraid of sirens and you’d come in my room and tell me it was ok. I remember, now that I am an adult in years if not in maturity, that you were just a girl when I was born. We grew up together and that was both a blessing and a curse, for both of us.

Now that I am older and have a little mileage between then and my current self, I can look back with so much sympathy and love and forgiveness. You always tried your best and I always had a sense of that. My early childhood was magical; you somehow managed to put a layer of chicken fat between me and the cracks and potholes of the grownup world. Although I was the oldest, “experimental” child, I also had the blessing of being blissfully ensconced in the warm, fuzzy arms of happy parents for more years than my sisters.

When I think about you, one word immediately comes to mind: dignity. You sometimes lost it, broke down, despaired. But through all your trials and difficulties, I always sensed that you had a kind of quiet personal dignity that transcended whatever hard times you were experiencing.

I remember your sketchbook, of a girl in braids holding a ripe ear of corn, of bald infant me on a crocheted afghan in the back yard. I remember that you threw that sketchbook away, maybe frustrated with or critical of yourself. I wish you had kept it. You are an artist, mom. Keep on sketching, whether it is on paper or in rich, loamy soil.

I love you.

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(if you do too, you might want to skip this post)

I don’t really like peas very much. Mostly my mom gets the sweet little ones, which are ok, but sometimes she buys the mushy ones on accident. I hate those. I also don’t like the crunchy skin part of a baked potato. One time at dinner, I tried something sneaky. I said to my mom and dad, I have to go to the bathroom. I’m just going to take my plate with me so I can finish my dinner in the bathroom. I thought maybe they would tell me to leave my plate at the table, but my mom and dad looked at each other and smiled, and my mom said ok. There is this little bathroom next to the kitchen. It is so little that only a toilet will fit in there, so you have to wash your hands in the kitchen. So I went into the bathroom and I scraped off my plate into the toilet and flushed it down. I waited a couple of minutes and then I came out and said, yum, those peas and potato skins were just delicious. My parents laughed. I got away with it.

* * *

One time my mom was having some people over for “brunch.” That’s when you wait until later to eat breakfast, so you get really hungry. My mom made this thing called “quiche.” I usually like most of the stuff my mom makes, but I took one bite of the quiche and I gagged. Since I don’t usually do that, my mom said I didn’t have to eat any more. I got some toast and cereal instead.

* * *

Sometimes I throw up when I get that too-full feeling in my stomach, or when I think about a food too much, like maybe something mushy, and it makes me throw up. One morning I couldn’t finish my cereal, so my mom said flush it down the toilet. I told her the mushy cereal was too much like throw-up and I would get sick if I flushed it in the toilet. She said then I should just finish my cereal. But my cereal was already gross and mushy and looked like throw-up and I knew I’d get sick if I ate it. So I was in a stuck kind of place. I argued with my mom some more and then I finally took my bowl and poured the cereal in the toilet. It made that throwing up sound when it went into the water. So then I threw up because that sound makes me throw up. Anything that reminds me of throwing up makes me feel that throw-up feeling in my stomach. Like the time Bonnie threw up all over the place and I went into my mom and dad’s bedroom and turned the radio up loud and plugged up my ears so I couldn’t hear her throwing up. My mom said that was a silly thing to do but I really hate throwing up. Every night I pray to God about two things: number one is to please not let me wet the bed and number two is to please not let me throw up. I never wet the bed, but sometimes I still throw up.

* * *

One time my mom made me a nice half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a pear for lunch. Pears have this funny kind of sandy feel in your mouth. I threw up.

* * *

One day for lunch my mom asked me what I wanted and I said a cheese sandwich. So she made me a cheese sandwich. Then I felt like I really couldn’t eat it, so I said could I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead. My mom wasn’t very happy about that but she said I had to promise to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then she would make it for me. When I got the peanut butter and jelly sandwich my stomach had that throw-up feeling and I couldn’t eat that sandwich either. My mom got frustrated and said I already made you two sandwiches! She said I had to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich or else I’d get a spanking. Even though I don’t like to get spanked, I hate throwing up, so I said I’d get a spanking. But then I wasn’t sure. I was scared it would hurt. My mom must have been tired or something because when I came up to get a spanking she just lightly patted my bottom and sighed.

* * *

I was staying overnight at my grandma Joyce’s so that my parents could have a little break. My grandma made spinach salad, and I ate some of it but I didn’t like it. I like really crunchy lettuce salads, and spinach just has this mushy feel. After dinner I was watching TV upstairs and I started getting this really bad pain in my stomach, not like usually when I throw up right away. That pain just kept getting worse until I ran downstairs and threw up all that spinach salad in the toilet. My grandma brought me home and I sat on my aunt Faith’s lap in the car and she had a pan in case I had to throw up in the car. I did. I guess my parents didn’t get a break after all.

* * *

My dad’s favorite restaurant is this place called The Bier Stube, which has lots of German food. I didn’t know if I’d like it but once we were there, I just kept eating and eating and telling my dad and mom how delicious the food was. Then all of a sudden I got that sick feeling right there in the restaurant. So I started throwing up at the table and my dad put his beer mug under me to catch my throw up and that was really gross so I threw up some more. My parents were really embarrassed. We left that restaurant.

* * *

One time I found a little blue robin’s egg in my mom’s garden. It must have fallen out of the nest. I thought it would taste just like a regular egg, so I ate it. It was NOT like a regular egg. But I didn’t throw up.

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3. Snapshots

Patty was in a car accident. She had a light blue car called a Bug and a big truck came and hit her in that little car. She has a scar underneath her eye and sometimes a little piece of glass will come up out of that scar. I guess the doctors couldn’t get all the glass out. We were sitting at the kitchen table. My mom was there. They were drinking coffee.

* * *

Bonnie is getting potty trained. Mommy has her baby toilet in the little porch room at the back of our house. Bonnie has just a shirt on and no diaper and she’s playing out there. Every time she goes pee in her little toilet mommy gives her one of those little chocolate bars. Bonnie really likes chocolate so she’s doing a good job of getting potty trained.

* * *

Sometimes my mommy and I go to St. Louis to visit great grandma and great grandpa. They live in this little white house with this funny little room by the kitchen that grandma calls The Omnibus Room. I don’t really know what that means except there’s lots of junk and stuff in there that most people would put in the garbage. Their bathtub is filled with stuff too, like lots of newspapers and a couple of boxes and other old stuff. I ask my mommy how do they take a bath? Mommy says they take sponge baths. I don’t think that is a very good way of taking a bath. I like to be in the water. They have two big dogs that are part German Shepherd but they are kind of a white color. They must not vacuum very much because there is always a lot of dog hair everywhere. Grandma says buttermilk is good for you so she always gives me a glass but it tastes too funny. Grandpa has a little office room, too. He has some pretty cool stuff in there. He has a tiny little globe that sits on his desk. I really want it but it would be rude to ask to have it. I used to ask people if I could have things a lot, but mommy said it’s not polite to do that.

* * *

There is a picture of me with my friend Sarah. Sarah lived in the apartments next door. There are always new people moving in, and other people moving out. Nobody stays very long in those apartments. I don’t know why that is. Sarah moved away too. Her mom was pretty and had two different colored eyes, one brown and one green. When she moved away her mom gave me a big hug and said she was going to miss me. In the picture we are both smiling and you can tell there is something in my mouth. It is a piece of banana. What you can’t see in the picture is that I have a banana in my hand. Sarah already finished her banana and she kept saying hurry up, finish your banana! But I couldn’t hurry up. I’m a slow eater.

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2. The Big Woods

Bonnie and I were smooshed up in the backseat of daddy’s car and we were driving at night. We were going to Wisconsin! It was nighttime and it was the darkest it could be. Then there was a problem with the car. The lights went out and then it was so dark you couldn’t see anything. It was a big problem. Daddy stopped the car and got out. He opened the hood and he just had to feel the wires and he said we were lucky because he just wiggled one thing and the lights worked again so then we could go on our way again. We kept going forever in the dark and Bonnie was sleeping when we finally got there, but not me. I don’t really sleep in the car because I like to stay awake to see the dark out the windows and listen to the radio and mommy and daddy talking quietly in the front. Sometimes I close my eyes, and mommy says I think she’s asleep and I don’t say anything because I like how they talk about different things when they think I’m asleep. Then we were there, and there was snow even though there wasn’t snow back home. All I could see was snow on the ground in the headlights and the front of a little house and the woods all around. And then my daddy’s friend whose name is also Mike came out of the house. We got out of the car and went inside. It was a kitchen and then a living room and a bedroom and a bathroom except you couldn’t use the toilet or the bathtub or the sink. I thought it was funny to have a bathroom that you couldn’t really use like a bathroom, but Mike said it was because the pipes would freeze since it was winter, even though it was only fall in Illinois. But then in the summer you could turn the water back on. So we had to use the outhouse to go to the bathroom, and milk cartons filled with water for in the kitchen. This was bad at night because I always had to pee a lot. And when I try not to have to pee that’s when I always have to pee even more. I tried to hold it as long as I could, but then I had to wake up my mommy and she sighed because she had to get up and put on my coat and boots and her coat and boots and get the flashlight and walk outside in the snow and then I had to sit in the outhouse over that dark black hole and it made me scared because I could not see what was down there. Then we had to walk back inside and take off our boots and coats and lie back down in the living room, which is where we were sleeping since Mike and Patty were in the bedroom.

Then it was daytime and we visited some friends of Mike and Patty who also live in a house in those same woods, only their house had a basement. They had a little girl and we were playing in one room in the basement and she said we should go in this other room to see something, so we did. It was a deer hanging upside down by its back leg and its skin was all off. It was kind of a weird thing to see.

One night we went for a walk. Only it was sort of light outside because the moon was big and round and the stars were big and shiny and the leaves were off the trees, so we could see to walk. I could hear the crunch crunch of my boots and I could smell that cold winter smell. Then Mike said stop, listen. So we stopped and listened. We heard a HOO HOO sound and Mike scrunched down by me and pointed up in a tree. So I looked up and heard the HOO HOO sound again and there was a great big owl in the top of the tree. I saw the owl, and it saw me. It stopped saying HOO HOO and just looked at us, down there in the snow. I said hi to it in my mind, and I felt a shiver like it heard me and was saying something back only in its mind too. Owls are like magic.

When I woke up in the morning there was a big emergency going on. I went in the kitchen and there was this little black thing on the table and it was an ant trap. Everybody was looking at it and Bonnie was crying because everybody was upset. I asked what happened what happened until mommy said that Bonnie was crawling on the floor and she had the ant trap in one hand and her other hand was in her mouth. Bonnie likes to eat weird stuff she finds on the floor like fuzz from the carpet and little pieces of dirt from the big plant in the living room. So the adults were looking inside the trap to see if any stuff could come out of it and then looking in Bonnie’s mouth to see if there was any poison stuff in there. They couldn’t tell. So then there was a big decision to take Bonnie to the hospital just in case she ate some poison. So then everybody was in a big hurry to go to the hospital. Mike and daddy were taking her and I was getting really upset because Bonnie is my sister and she gets into stuff a lot and sometimes she hurts herself. Like the time she climbed up on the kitchen chair and was standing and jumping on it while mommy was in the pantry and then she fell off it and bit her tongue. Her mouth was bleeding and I started crying louder than Bonnie because she’s so little and I bet it hurt her a lot to bite her tongue like that. So I wanted to come with to the hospital but I had to stay and I was too close to the door when they were leaving and Mike on accident closed the door when my head was still a little bit in the way and the door bumped my head. It didn’t hurt that much on the outside but I felt like everybody forgot about me in the big emergency.

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Early memories. Possibly part of an ongoing project.

I get piano lessons once a week. Mommy takes me and we drive there. Mrs. McNally gives me my lessons. Her piano is downstairs in her basement and we go down there for the lessons. I sit on the bench and Mrs. McNally sits next to me. She sits by the high keys and I sit in the middle, so that I can put my thumbs on Middle C. The piano is funny-looking. It is red. It is not like grandma’s piano, which is big and brown and takes up a lot of room in her living room. It is red and flat and tall. Most peoples’ basements are cold but not Mrs. McNally’s. Her basement is hot and smells like her, which is cigarettes and perfume and old lady smell. When she talks, that smell comes out of her mouth and I don’t like to breathe that smell in my nose. There isn’t a lot of air down there and my hands get sweaty and I don’t like that when I play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I bring my lesson books with me. They have songs in them that are pretty easy to play so I don’t have to learn the notes, I just play from my head how the song goes. Some songs I don’t know how they go so I have to look at the notes and it takes me longer to play and Mrs. McNally sometimes has to take my fingers and show me what notes to play. Her hands are big and she has long fingernails. Grandma says I have to cut my fingernails and keep them short and hold up my wrists and bend my fingers under. But Mrs. McNally doesn’t tell me to do those things. Grandma says that you can’t play piano right if you have long fingernails. But Mrs. McNally’s nails are always long and always some different color like purple or pink or red. When I learn to play a new song she puts a shiny star sticker on the page where the song is. Mommy sits on the couch behind me. She takes care of my little sister Bonnie. Sometimes Bonnie starts crying so Mommy picks her up and says shhhhh there there and bounces her up and down.

Mommy used to put me in the baby seat on the back of her bike and she would take us for a ride. It was always a nice sunny day and I would put my face in my mommy’s shirt if the sun was too strong in my eyes. My mommy’s shirts always had a nice smell like wind. Sometimes she would stop at the park and she would push me on the swing. Or she would sit in the swing next to me and show me how to put my legs out then in then out then in and then I could swing by myself. When I was up as high as I could go I would lean back and look at the sky and clouds and that would feel very high and dizzy like flying. Then we would get back on the bike and we would visit my aunt Aimee. Aimee is spelled with two e’s which is the fancy way to spell Amy. She is a very nice aunt to have. She is tall and skinny with blonde hair and she drinks white wine and sometimes my mom has some too. I get grape juice or apple juice. Aimee has a nice house and she is always putting in new curtains or getting a new couch or carpeting. I am afraid to spill something on her nice floor. A long time ago she lived in an apartment with Uncle Tom and I spilled my milk on their floor in the living room. We were having pizza. I felt very sorry and my dad said sorry and my uncle laughed a lot and said Don’t worry about it. Then he said If it was Aim’s couch then you have to worry. Then everybody laughed and I felt better. They lived in a place called Cincinnati once when I was very little and we drove there to visit them. Their apartment was painted white and was big and didn’t really have any rooms. The ceiling was tall and had fans up there and they were white too. Everything in my memory of that place was white and cool and good. Uncle Tom took me to a park in Cincinnati and we were on the seesaw and when he sat down I went up and when he stood up I went down. I really laughed about that. Somebody’s radio was on at the park and it was playing a song called Just The Two Of Us and I liked that song because it was just me and my uncle who is very handsome like my dad but he gives me a lot more ice cream than my dad. When Uncle Tom is at our house I ask my mom if I can have some ice cream and she says Ok just a little and then I ask Uncle Tom to get it for me and he puts it in a cereal bowl not a dessert bowl and my mom says TOM!!! And then she says I am getting too smart and Uncle Tom is not allowed to get my ice cream any more. Uncle Tom laughs and winks his eye at me and I know next time he will still get me my ice cream.

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