Category Archives: Family

Material Things (Two Word Challenge) : Six Gifts for My Sister

 

Six Gifts for My Sister

 

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Six Gifts for my Sister

 Older sisters are our teachers, our critics, our cruelest enemies and our best friends. When we were younger, my sister was no exception. With age, however, some of these roles have fallen away. The others I often take for granted even though I know they are still there.

This year I will be, as I have been for most years in my life, far away from my four-year-older sister, Patti, for Christmas. Betty, my 11-year-older sister, unfortunately started to leave us four years ago and now lives in a world we are not a part of. Both Patti and I fear the same thing happening to us and we’ve made some Thelma and Louise pacts to that end. Hopefully, we’ll never have to use them and will fade peacefully away in our dreams when we are well over 100.

If this sounds excessive, you are right. I am a glutton for life and probably part of the reason is the capacity for play taught to me by my sister, who was always my most imaginative playmate. Even when I’m sad, I love living and want for life to go on for as long as possible, so long as I remain relatively pain-free and retain my mind, my sense of humor and my girlish good figure. One of these things does not belong. You can probably guess which one.

Since I live in Mexico and my sister will be in her home near Phoenix this year, we have sent gifts early. Mine sits on top of the armoire in my beach rental in its blue wrapping bag with curly ribbon. I have added a pelican feather and gaudy ribbon streamers. Since I’ve chosen to spend this Christmas far from friends and other relatives, it is my only gift and I am hoarding its mystery until the last possible minute. Perhaps I’ll open it at 11:55 P.M. on December 25! I’m sure my sister has not opened hers, either.

A usual tradition in our family was to do Christmas stockings to which we all contributed. (Well, except for my dad, who instead donated the cash we all used to purchase our stocking stuffers.) With that in mind and feeling sentimental, I’d like to assemble an imaginary Christmas stocking for my sister to open right now—as soon as she sees this. It’s a not such a large stocking, but as in all things imaginary, anything is possible; so I’m sure all the gifts will fit.

I need to start at the top, with the lightest most crushable items, and so the first gift she will find sticking out of the top of the stocking will be something flat, rolled into a cylinder before wrapping. When she rips off the paper in her usual unceremonial fashion, she will know exactly why I have given it to her.

It is a folder of Debra Paget paper dolls with snub-nosed scissors taped to the front to encourage her to actually cut them out. I have visions of them decorating her tree for the remainder of its life this year, or even better, my sister on her stomach on the living room rug, cutting them out while she listens to “Our Miss Brooks” or “The Shadow” on the radio, then assembles the material for a paper doll house: Kleenex box beds and sofas, tuna can tables covered in tissue tablecloths. Since she taught me these imaginary games, she’ll figure out the rest. Then I want her to imagine me there playing with her. She can be Debra Paget. I’ll be anyone she wants me to be, as was the norm way back then when we constructed our first paper worlds.

The next box she pulls from the stocking will be long, narrow and flattish. It will weigh practically nothing. There will be instructions on the front to open it more carefully than usual, for it is fragile. When she folds back the paper, she’ll find a box of the old aluminum tinsel—the extra long and extra skinny type that only she knew how to put on perfectly. It was an art, this distribution of tinsel on the tree. One had to be sure to spread it out evenly in bunches of only three or four strands. For maximum beauty, it had to be hung on the ends of branches so it hung just to the top of the next branch without lapping over. In our house, it was never thrown! I am absolutely sure that now, as then, Patti and I are the only ones with patience enough to do the job right, so she will have to do it for both of us.

I’m sure that what the next gift is will be obvious. It is a Christmas tradition started by my mother, who would tuck a small box of Russell Stover Chocolates in each stocking. At times, she would succumb to temptation and all of the boxes would be empty as she generously absorbed all of their calories herself. I am making one small change in tradition and tucking in a box of See’s Chocolates in lieu of Mother’s poor taste in chocolate. Helen Grace would be even better, if I knew where to buy them.

The next box is small and may have slid a bit farther down in the stocking when the others were removed, so I’ve attached a streamer that extends well out of the top of the sock. Pull the streamer and the little box will pop out. Inside is a key. Looks like the key to a car. Actually, it is the key to a little tan Scout whose top can be taken off to make it a convertible. Here are the instructions I’ve written for Patti and wrapped around the key:

There is room for the driver (that’s you) and one more friend in front. (That’s me.) I am sitting there in honor of friends no longer able to: Patty Peck, Diane Looby, Mary Jo Kuckleberg. I think Karen Bossart is so slim that she could also squeeze in front with us. In the back, along the side benches and on the floor, if you really pack them in, there is room for at least eight others and I have written them all to be expecting your call. Billy Francis, Clarence Rea, Mick Penticoff and Bobby Brost are all must-rides. Since the male friends of your youth have outlasted most of your female friends, Billy and C.J. and Mick can bring their wives to sit in for Patty, Diane and Mary Jo. If my buddy Rita North were going to be in Arizona for Christmas (she isn’t) she could tag along as both of us always longed to do—and sometimes we were actually asked! Jim, I don’t think a Scout is your style, but be a sport and ride along in the back with the guys! You’ll discover formerly undiscovered levels of fun bumping along in this replica of Patti’s and my first wheels. And there is always room for one more in the back of a Scout!

The next gift is merely an envelope. Inside are two tickets to Africa. The accompanying note reads:

—To complete our journey that was once curtailed by a revolution and shooting that sent you off to bravely face the rest of the trip alone. It’s about time we tried it again, hopefully with happier endings. Since then, you’ve been back so many times that you can probably pick the agenda better than I could, so it’s an open ticket. You fill in the blanks.

So, we’ve finally come to the bottom of the stocking, but anyone who has plunged into the depths of a Christmas stocking knows there is always something left in the stocking’s toe. In this case it is a small but substantial box wrapped in rich gold paper with a shiny silver cord. Inside is a slide with a large diamond set in gold. Although I know that gold and diamonds are no longer my sister’s “style,” this one is a wonderful modern design with an emerald-cut stone set in a flat gold setting. It is this gift that I’ve chosen to show her worth to me and for that, nothing but the best will do!

Merry Christmas to all. Especially to that sister who has been there for me every single time and who need never worry again about being mean to me in our youth. That, too, is what older sisters are meant to do. It gets us ready for the world, which will not always be paper dolls and U’ing main in a Scout chock full of friends.


This is a reblog of a piece I wrote three years ago. The two word prompt this time was “Material Things:” If you want to play along or see other blog entries for this prompt, go here: https://teresacreationsblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/daily-two-word-prompt-121/

Following: NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 13

The NaPoWriMo prompt today was to write a ghazal. A ghazal is formed of couplets, each of which is its own complete statement. Both lines of the first couplet end with the same end-word, and that end-word is also repeated at the end of each couplet.

daily life color242My sisters and I. Strangely enough, there is not one photo of my mother and father and the three of us girls together. The only family photo ever taken was before I was born.


Following

 The youngest of three, every day down unpaved roads, I tracked my sisters’ footprints.
Nancy Drew wannabe, who needed  fingerprints when I could read their footprints?

My mother’s closet a treasure trove, hidden wonders lay obscured on the tallest shelves.
I fanned her dresses with my fingers, slipped into red high-heels that bore her footprints.

Careful where you walk, my father warned, parting tall grass near the homestead ruins.
Fearful of snakes, I fit my own feet to matted grass that marked my father’s footprints.

That frightening choice of colleges facing me, I knew no other way to decide
than to go where she’d gone, and follow in my sister’s footprints.

The obligation of college over with no more paths worn by other feet to follow,
I chose  Australia, Indonesia and then Africa––following imagination’s footprints.

My niece’s teeth clamped to the old saxophone as its mouthpiece snapped in two,
worn by each of the girls in our family and then by her, as she followed in our footprints.

Untold Stories

Untold Stories

When her death left us all behind,
so many questions came to mind.
Why couldn’t I have asked them when
she could have answered, way back then?
What she told voluntarily,
about her life and family tree
was always very carefully chosen—
the details all rehearsed and frozen.

The same stories she told over again
about the things that once had been,
but so many things she didn’t say,
afraid, perhaps, she might display
sad facts of life she always hid—
the underside that she forbid.
We would laugh and joke and kid.
Unpleasantness we never did.

She was a good mother. Supportive, kind,
always helpful in a bind.
Generous and always there.
Full of loving, thoughtful care—
that same care that I tried to show her,
although, I fear, I did not know her.
That little girl who lost her dad
and favorite sister.  Was she sad?

Mom never talked of it so we
simply let the subject be.
The stepfather she didn’t care for—
what were the details and the wherefore?
How did it feel to give her hand
to a stranger, then to move to land
so bare and rolling with grass like seas,
empty of people and of trees?

Was she lonely? Did she have friends?
How did they come to make amends
the time she left my father and
took my sister by the hand
and went on home, angry and bitter.
Did my father come to get her?
All these family stories bold
were hinted at but never told.

My mother’s foolish Southern pride
would not permit the underside
of life to show. She tucked it in—
to display unhappiness was sin.
To please her, we followed the rules.
Joking and kidding were the tools
we used to hide unpleasantness
and thereby circumvent the mess

of sadness and humiliation.
Easier to show elation.
We told our secrets to friends, but we
withheld them from our family.
What stories took they to the grave,
my parents, generous and brave?
All those things they thought to spare us
come about to greet and stare us

in the eye on occasions when
we reminisce about back then.
“I  wonder what?” is perpetually
my thought about my family.
With parents gone, I don’t know how
we’ll ever know the answers now.
And because I barely knew my mother,
I am still looking for another.

 

 

The Day 10 NaPoWriMo prompt—yes, two days late—was to write a poem that is a portrait of someone important to you. The WordPress prompt was “pleased.”

Wish List of a Youngest Daughter


Wish List of a Youngest Daughter

Off and on, I’ve been wishing
my dad and I could go fishing.
I guess my sister could go along
so long as she does nothing wrong
like catch a fish bigger than mine
or tease or hum or brag or whine.

Perhaps she’ll sit back in the bed
and not up in the cab instead,
so Dad and I can be alone—
the truck a sort of “private zone.”
He’ll hit the bumps real hard so she
will wish she was in front with me.

Just like I always pray and pray
her friends and she will let me stay
with them, when they come for the night
and play without me, door shut tight.
Marvelous fun had down the hall,
but not with me.  I am too small.

That’s why, when Dad tells me a joke,
I’ll laugh real loud until I choke;
and my sister, sitting there behind
might feel left out, but I don’t mind.
And when we get to where we’re going,
to the stock dam, cattle lowing,

Dad will bait my hook for me
and sister, too, and then we’ll see
who will catch the biggest fish.
I guess it’s obvious that my wish
is that I’ll catch the biggest one,
and sister will go home with none!

The prompt today is “Fishing.”

Mama Milk My Goat

Mama Milk My Goat

Whenever anyone in my family was feeling sorry for herself and expressing it to a point where it was noticeable, another member of the family could be counted upon to use the family saying for such occasions, “Well, Mama milk my goat,” we would say, and if the person’s nose wasn’t too far out of joint, they might snap out of it.  Or, alternatively, stalk away to seclusion where they could fully feel the full extent of their misery without anyone trying to dissuade them from it. Why did we say this? Because my mother had told us all that it was what my grandmother, her mother-in-law, used to say.

My grandmother, a master at martyrdom, used to say it with a small uptake of breath, in a trembling voice.  I can remember hearing her do so, although it may be that sort of childhood memory that grows out of a family tale being told again and again.  Needless to say, I had no reason to question its frequent usage until I got to college and again and again was met by a blank look when I issued the rejoinder.  Finally, when I reported this strange fact to my folks over the dinner table during a trip home, my dad got a twinkle in his eye and confessed.

What my grandmother, who was Dutch, actually used to mutter when when she was feeling sorry for herself was, “Mama Miet mi Dote!” (Mama might be dead.) Only my mother (her daughter-in-law), who didn’t understand Dutch, thought she was saying “Mama Milk My Goat.”  My dad thought this was funny so never told us differently. So even now, “Mama milk my goat,” is occasionally what I say to anyone who is playing  the martyr, and if they have any curiosity at all and ask me why, I tell them this story.

Note: For those of you who speak Dutch, I know that “Mama miet mi dote” is not how “Mama might be dead” translates into Dutch.  Might might be “machen” and dead might be “dood,” but the whole phrase doesn’t translate into “Mama “machen mi dood,” either. Perhaps it was a local dialect or perhaps my ear heard the words differently, or perhaps it is just one of those family stories half legend, half fact.  At any rate, if you speak more Dutch that I do, I am more than willing to be informed about what it was my grandma really said. (I only know the alphabet, taught to me by my grandma, and “Mama miet mi dote!”)

Here’s another poem I wrote a few years ago about my grandma and her sister Susie:

“Sisterly Squabbles”

A little weep, a little sigh,
a little teardrop in each eye.

Grandma Jane and her sister Sue,
one wanted one hole, the other, two

punched into their can of milk.
(All their squabbles were of this ilk.)

The rest, of course, is family fable.
They sat, chins trembling, at the table.

When my dad entered, we’ve all been told,
their milk-less coffee had grown cold.

The prompt today was “martyr.”

Jump

When he wasn't ranching or farming or drinking coffee in Mack's Cafe, this is where my father could normally be found.

When he wasn’t ranching or farming or drinking coffee in Mack’s Cafe, this is where my father could normally be found. When he died, the only thing my young nephew wanted of his was these disreputable boots, which my nephew wore until the soles flapped. They are the only pair of work boots I ever remember my father wearing–wrinkled into creases by repeated wettings and dryings and pullings off and on.

Jump

Once the grass had grown waist-high,
some summer nights, my dad and I
accompanied by the shake and rattle
of his old truck, would go watch cattle.
In the twilight, barely light–
but not yet turning into night,
he’d drive the pickup over bumps
of gravel, rocks, and grassy clumps,
over dam grades, then he’d wait
as I opened each new gate,
and stretched the wire to wedge it closed,
as the cattle slowly nosed
nearer to see who we were,
curious and curiouser.

We’d park upon some grassy spot
where a herd of cattle was not,
open the doors to catch a breeze,
and I’d tell stories, and dad would tease
until at last the cattle came,
and dad would tell me each one’s name:
Bessie, Hazel, Hortense, Stella,
Annie, Rama, Bonnie, Bella.
Razzle-dazzle, Jumpin’ Jane.
Each new name grew more inane.
Yet I believed he knew them all,
and as they gathered, they formed a wall
that grew closer every minute
to that pickup with us in it.

Finally, with darkness falling,
and the night birds gently calling,
with cows so near they almost touched
the fender of the truck, Dad clutched
the light knob and then pulled it back
as the cows––the whole bunched pack
jumped back en masse with startled eyes
due to the headlights’ rude surprise.
Then he’d flick them off again,
with a chuckle and devilish grin.
As the cattle edged up once more—
the whole herd, curious to the core—
again, my dad would stage his fun.
Again, they’d jump back, every one.

He might do this three times or four,
then leave the lights on, close his door,
and gun the engine to drive on home
as stars lit up the heavenly dome
that cupped the prairie like a hand,
leaving the cattle to low and stand
empty in the summer nights
to reminisce about those lights—
miraculous to their curious eyes.
Each time a wondrous surprise.

Life was simpler way back then
and magical those evenings when
after his long day’s work was done,
laboring in the dust and sun,
after supper, tired and weary,
muscles sore and eyes gone bleary,
still when I would beg him to
do what we both loved to do,
he’d heave himself from rocking chair,
toss straw hat over thinning hair,
and make off for the pickup truck,
me giving thanks for my night’s luck.
These were the finest times I had––
these foolish nights spent with my dad.

The prompt word today is “jump.”

Family Harvest

Family Harvest

Sanguine, he was charismatic,
while she was choleric and emphatic;
so when their child was born phlegmatic,
the mother found his moods too static
while the father ruled his wife fanatic:
too moody, crabby and dramatic.

Their melancholic second child,
both parents found to be too mild.
Too analytical and quiet,
they put her on a special diet
of jalapenos in her suppers
and other culinary uppers.

Still, she grew up to be a judge,
while their eldest remained hard to budge.
Too relaxed to find employment,
he lacked the necessary deployment––
preferring to stay safe at home,
as lifeless as a garden gnome.

With dad the life of every party
and mother volatile and arty,
their family life slowly eroded.
Then one day, simply exploded.
Each unique personality
split off to be what they could be.

Thus would sage Hippocrates
class this familial demise
as differences in temperament.
Each following his special bent,
once fallen from the family tree,
did best when allowed to roll free.

 

Four temperaments is a proto-psychological theory that suggests that there are four fundamental personality types, sanguine (optimistic and social), choleric (short-tempered or irritable), melancholic (analytical and quiet), and phlegmatic (relaxed and peaceful).––Wikipedia

The prompt today was Dramatic.