Tag Archives: Judy Dykstra-Brown essays

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/

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take a Chance on Me.” This is by no means the biggest chance I ever took, but sometimes we should really heed that inner voice that says we should not do something.  In this case, it involved eating at a restaurant when from the beginning, I felt there was something wrong!

DSC00991 How a hamburger and fries should look!

                                                           Dinner at Uncle Zack’s

It’s hard to believe that someone has had a presentiment of disaster after it has happened, but since I am the one who had the premonition, I’m going to remain true to myself and admit that I had a feeling of disaster the minute we walked into the restaurant. It wasn’t our first choice, or even our second, but we knew the first choice was closed and when we arrived at the second, although it seemed full of people having some kind of a meeting, the sign on the door said, “Closed.” I was all for stopping by McDonald’s for a fast hamburger, but my friend said she didn’t like fast food, so we settled on our third or fourth alternative, depending on which of us was making the choice. We opted for Uncle Zack’s.

It was a stark room with two other tables of diners and a table near the kitchen that sported a big chunk of prime rib that someone must have been carving on since lunch time, since when my friend asked if they had any rare, the owner, overhearing, came and said that they had carved away all the rare meat. Hard to believe, since one would think the rare meat would be in the middle, but I judged her to be lucky not to be eating any meat that must have been sitting there most of the afternoon. It was 5 o’clock, we were fresh out of seeing the movie “Blue Jasmine,” a bit depressed and pretty hungry for a dinner that would lift our mood.

Right.

Our adventure began when my friend asked the waiter if they could serve her a Cosmo. “Well, I don’t know what that is, but I could probably figure out how to mix you one,” he admitted, without too much enthusiasm.

My friend opted for water, unsure of whether she wanted a barman/waiter who had never heard of a Cosmo to mix her one.

“Well, to me alcohol is just something you clean out a wound with,” he admitted, as he hurried off for her water and my Diet Coke. I swear to God he said this.

They arrived in tall glasses with plenty of ice and a lemon slice. Her water was fine .   My Coke was flat and tasted of disinfectant.

When the waiter came back for our orders, my friend was unsure of what she wanted to order. I told the waiter about the Diet Coke and asked for a glass of water and a hamburger, well-done with fries.

A very very very long time later, our waiter returned, apologizing by saying he had been attending to my last complaint. By that I took it that they were washing the disinfectant off the soda dispenser and aerating it, yet he offered me no new glass of Coke, and I had no intention of ordering another one.

My friend asked if the turkey Reuben was fresh turkey or luncheon meat. After a trip to the kitchen, he admitted it was luncheon meat but then in a flash of inspiration, admitted they might be able to use the turkey they were cutting off the same steam table that contained the bones of the Prime Rib.

In the interim between the time we ordered and the time we finally got our meals, I experienced a few additional sights that made me regret our decision to eat with Uncle Zack. The first was the sight of the other waiter picking pieces off the prime rib and eating them. The other was the sight of him scratching his nostril soon after and making no hasty exit to the sink to wash his hands.

I knew if I mentioned this to my friend, that we would be out of there. He was not our waiter, we hadn’t ordered the prime rib, so I remained mute. It was her hometown. I didn’t want to embarrass her, and to be truthful, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by appearing to be a difficult customer. Hindsight. Only in hindsight did I gain the knowledge that we should have left then.

Our meals arrived some time later. I bit into a fry enthusiastically, only to discover that it was soggy on the outside, raw on the inside. When I commented, my friend slid the only crisp French Fry out of the stack and pronounced it fine. I then handed her one of the limp others, which she agreed was still raw. I bit into the hamburger, which sort of rebounded off my teeth. It was the consistency of rubber—slightly resistant to chewing. When I tried to cut it, I had to saw at it as thought I was trying to slice a rubber ball. I took a bite. Tasteless. I cut it in half horizontally, thinking it might help and that I could at least eat the cheese and bacon, but they were equally tasteless.

My friend ate most of her Reuben, which she pronounced as tasteless as the hamburger, if not as difficult to masticate.

At the end of our meal, the young man waiter asked if I wanted a doggy bag for my hamburger and fries. No. I did not. When he brought the check, he asked if we had enjoyed our meals. No. We had not. I suggested that he instruct the cook to actually cook the fries and that the hamburger had a rubber consistency reminiscent of meat left in the freezer too long. “Oh,” he said.

“I’m now going to McDonald’s to get a real hamburger and fries” I said. We paid the bill, left a 20 % tip to let him know we weren’t just trying to stiff the establishment and the waiter, and drove to McDonald’s, where in place of an order of fries (I was totally “off” hamburgers at that point) and a Diet Coke, we were served a regular Coke and a Diet Coke instead.

As we sat at the drive-up window waiting for our correct order, my friend told me that when the people in the booth next to us were served their prime rib, she heard the waiter apologize and say, “The next time you come, we’ll give you a bigger serving. We sorta ran out of prime rib tonight.” Will they be back? Will we?

Sometimes, it’s better to eat at home.

Note: The name of the restaurant has been changed to protect the guilty.  Perhaps it was just an off-day?

Abba – Take A Chance On Me

True West: Social Stereotypes in a Small South Dakota Town

Prompt: West End Girls. Every city and town contains people of different classes: rich, poor, and somewhere in between. What’s it like where you live? If it’s difficult for you to discern and describe the different types of classes in your locale, describe what it was like where you grew up — was it swimming pools and movie stars, industrial and working class, somewhere in between or something completely different?

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True West: Social Stereotypes in a Small South Dakota Town

I grew up in a very small town (population 700) on the prairies of South Dakota. I was not aware of a wide disparity of classes at the time; but looking back, I see that there really were classes based on economic and racial factors.  Since my town was situated quite near to several Indian reservations, there was often at least one native American in my class.  In the second grade, it was Clifford Leading   Cloud–14 years old and placed in the second grade.  Needless to say, he towered over the 7-year-olds. No doubt this was why he was constantly stoop-shouldered and his demeanor was apologetic and shy.  He was a wonderful artist, and I still have several of his drawings.  “Clifford drew this for me!” I proudly wrote beneath two colored-pencil sketches in my scrapbook, but when I took them home to show them to my mother,she said, “Be sure to always wash your hands after you touch those.”  Obedient at this stage of my life, I remember complying, but I was always puzzled about why.

Since my name began with a “D” and our placement was always determined alphabetically, I sat behind or in front of all of the Native American kids who joined our class for a year or two before disappearing: Clifford Leading Cloud, Phoebe Crazy Bear, Nordine Fink (Who was my assigned “date” for Freshman initiation, but who somehow disappeared during the year.) Phoebe had very long black hair that I loved to brush during Geometry. (In spite of former warnings from mothers who told us to be careful not to contract lice from the “Indian” kids.) She was a good student, and I liked her dry sense of humor; but although I invited her to slumber parties, she never came and she, too, vanished by the end of our Sophomore year.

I know there was a division in our community between the white population and the Native Americans, many of whom still lived in tents along the railroad tracks because it was federal land and the head of the railroad allowed them to live there free of charge.  When I was given release time from study hall to teach P.E. and reading to first graders my Jr. year in high school, the sweetest and most beautiful first grader was another Leading Cloud–who, probably due to living in a tent with no bathroom facilities and no running water–had such a strong stench that it brought tears to my eyes to stand over her for long as I guided her in her reading.  My mother attributed this to the use of “bear grease” in the hair, but I think she was a few generations behind in her thinking.

The factors of difference in culture, living arrangements and economic factors divided us from the Native American citizens of our town so that aside from actual classes as school, they faded away into the environment in a manner that should have been impossible in a town as small as ours.  They did not attend games, dances, or participate in any of the extracurricular activities of the school. They did not attend church or hang out in restaurants.  I do remember my mother asking us to sit in front  and back and either side of her when we went to the movies in White River–32 miles away.  Closer to the reservation, there was a higher Native American population and my mother, sensitive to smells, wished to take all proper precautions.

My mother was not unkind. She fed any hobo who showed up at our door. She took boxes of clothing out to the dump and set them where foragers could easily find them.  She also told me never to mention that clothing had been mine if any of the Native American kids showed up wearing one of my give-aways. But she was the product of an age where we had not yet thought to struggle against racial stereotypes.  My father regularly employed seasonal workers from the reservation and even learned to speak some Sioux.  He was a natural born storyteller who loved gleaning material from all and sundry and a broad-minded thinker. One of the few Democrats in town, he counted everyone among his friends–from his Hunkpapa Sioux employees to the Governor of the state.

Yet, should the doorbell ring when my dad was not at home and  if my mom were to see that it was someone from the reservation stopped at our house to ask for work on his way into town, she would tell us not to answer the door and would cower in the hallway out of sight. Again, I know my mother well enough to know it was genuine fear that prompted her actions, not meanness or hatred.

There were two families of Sioux lineage in the town who did manage to bridge the gap of cultures.  In one case, it was a handsome young man who was an incredible basketball player whose name revealed his mixed Sioux and French genes. He was the secret heart-throb of many a girl, and his sister, as beautiful as he was handsome, was a cheerleader and generally accepted, I believe, although they were enough older than I am for this all to be hearsay.

The other family that was able to bridge the two cultures was also of mixed lineage–white and Sioux.  Another beautiful family, their son was also an excellent ball player and both of their daughters were cheerleaders.  (This was the highest rank of success in our town–far above Valedictorian.) In both cases, the cultural differences were only a matter of skin color.  They were not living in tents along the railroad tracks or migrating back and forth from the reservation.  In  most respects, their lifestyles were no different from our own.  Still, I have heard that when one of our most popular young men married one of the popular young ladies I’ve just mentioned, that his mother was heard to say, “He’s marrying that half-breed!”  (Or, perhaps, “He’s marrying that squaw.”  Of the two discriminatory statements, the second seems even worse than the first, although it was commonly used to describe any “Indian” woman when I was growing up.)

It seems as though the major factor, then, that created a class structure in our town was one of culture coupled with economic duress.  Yes, there were poor families in our town and many times they did not participate as fully in what little social life there was in our town, and yes, although I started out inviting everyone in my class to parties, in time the parties got smaller and the guest list included mainly those friends from my neighborhood or those I found to be the most fun or who participated in the same activities I participated in.

This narrowing of social circles is natural, I think, but when I look at who was excluded, I don’t feel as though I used any criteria other than whom I enjoyed being around.  I would have loved it if Phoebe had come to my slumber parties.  She was smart and even then I had a curiosity about other cultures and other ways of life.  I was the first friend of any new girl who moved to town–a fact that caused some resentment on the part of my old friends, I now see clearly.

We all make excuses for ourselves when it comes to discussing our own prejudices, and I am no exception to the rule. Native Americans were stereotyped because the most extreme cases of behavior were the most obvious. The few women from the reservation who came to drink and lay sprawled in the street created the stereotype that all “Indian” women were “drunken squaws.”  No one ever saw any of the mothers of the children we went to school with.  They were no doubt at home trying to scrape out a meal or school clothes for their children’s next next day at school.  And their fathers were probably out working in the fields for our fathers.  But we did see the drunks on the streets every Saturday night as we exited the movies, and so this is the stereotype that formed in our minds, no matter how much our actual experience with kids at school rivaled that stereotype.

Many years ago, I started to write a book called “Vision Quest” about a young Native American boy who grew up in our town.  This was a work of fiction, but I drew of course upon actual experience for details of plot.  I know I came back to it at least twice, but never got beyond the first few chapters, probably because I had so little experience to draw upon; for in spite of the fact that I grew up in a state that contained numerous reservations and in spite of the fact  that all of the surrounding towns contained a Native American population, in fact our cultures were so widely divided that I had as little insight into their lives as they must have had into mine.

The term “Native American” had not been coined when I last lived in my hometown, and neither had the sensibilities that I hope go with it.  When Dennis Banks and Russell Means were heroes to much of the rest of the world, they were outlaws and trouble makers to those non-Native Americans who lived in their midst.  To someone stopped from driving on highways where they had always driven, they appeared to be highwaymen or brigands.  It is hard to make a hero of someone you grew up feeling superior to, and hard not to stereotype any race or cultural group according to what you know about the few representatives of that group with whom you have come in contact.

But I have to say that coming back to my town and hearing one of the supposedly kindest and admittedly hardest-working members of the church I grew up in describing the wife of a local boy as a “N—–” and scathingly speaking of the Native American Rights movement of the seventies made me take a really long look back at my own past as well as to reappraise my former affection for this woman whose small-mindedness revealed itself at a time when I myself was in love with an African man, teaching African children and living with African housemates.

The last time I visited my hometown, I did not go to see this lady and by the time I next went, she had passed away. Hopefully with the demise of these last citizens of the old ways, prejudice will pass away with them.  I am afraid, however, that prejudice is born anew in each generation–perhaps towards yet a new group of immigrants or transplants who threaten the so-called “American Way of Life.”  It would do us all well to remember that America was meant to be a melting-pot, and as in any recipe, it is made more palatable by a variety of spices.