Thursday, 14 July 2011

Summer Memories

Like everyone else, I can say my parents weren't perfect and my childhood was not idyllic, but I had a great childhood.   There were many things that made it so and I think part of it was because my parents were older (although they would not be considered so today).

In our neighbor's garden.   Mama once pulled back the leaves of similar plants in this garden and found a copperhead snake coiled.   The garden was planted by an elderly gentleman who worked and lived on the neighboring farm.   He was always called Preacher.   He called the snake a pilot snake.   He told Mama that in a few weeks a rattle snake would come through, on the same path.   Sure enough, he showed Mama the dead rattlesnake a few weeks later.   Mama did a little research and found out that copperheads and rattlers often den together.   The copperhead often goes out a few weeks before and the rattler will follow the same path.

My parents never entertained me.  I was supervised, but left to my own devices to entertain and amuse myself.   The only crafts or projects I did were those my sister, who was ten years my senior, did with me or those I did at school.   Mama taught tole painting classes to adults, but she simply provided me with craft supplies and gave me pointers or answered my questions.   She taught me to cross-stitch when I was seven, so I was able to sit with her and cross-stitch or do that by myself.

We played card games and board games as a family on occasion, but my mother wasn't a big fan of games, so I was more likely to play cards with Daddy.  I consider this normal family social time, so I don't count it as entertaining me.   He taught me to play poker (we bet with toothpicks) and we played countless games of King's Corners.   I have yet to find another person who is familiar with that game.   Like all things, Daddy played to win and never faked his play to allow me a false victory.

A typical summer day for me from the age of probably about six looked something like this:

--Wake up and fix myself breakfast.   My favorite cereals were Raisin Bran, Froot Loops, and Frosted Flakes.   After I learned to make muffins, I would make those once or twice a week.   Mama only cooked breakfast on weekends, except Grandma and Grandad visited.   I still love oatmeal because it reminds me of Grandad.   Mama had usually been up since 5:00 and had watered flowers, weeded beds, done chores related to the animals, possibly prepped for supper, cleaned, lots of etc., etc...   She had also probably consumed at least one Tab, and later Diet Coke!

--Fix breakfast for my dolls.   I had a full kitchen set, a small table with four chairs and a high-chair.   I fixed my dolls breakfast and fed them at the table.   Mama said she never thought a thing of hearing me talking when I was alone because I was always talking to my dolls when playing mommy or to my "students" when playing teacher.

--Outside time:   Forced, I tell, you!  It was NOT an option.   Mama made me get out of doors before the worst heat of the day.   When I was older (double digits), my chores, including mowing, increased and we worked in the morning.   Sometimes, I played with Barbies, made gravel cakes in the driveway (twigs as candles), climbed my favorite tree, or just sat in a chaise lounger (aluminum, with net-weaving, remember those?) and read.   Oh, the joys of summertime reading!!

If friends came over (usually the children of Mama's best friend, Carmel), we would play things like:

--Co-Op (as in Farmer's Cooperative):   We would raise the window in my room and one person stood inside (prime spot)  and was the clerk at the co-op store.   Outside, the other kids would go to the window and place their orders for feed.   We had hand-written receipts and everything.

--Toll Booth: Our 16 acres sat a the end of a 1 1/4 mile long road that ended at our circle drive-way.   Our front door was just feet from the driveway, so I used to watch for the school bus at our picture window and just walk from the door right onto the bus.   At the middle of the circle, we had a huge mailbox, mounted on a metal pole, with a flat bracing bar.   One of us would be the toll collector and the rest of us would ride our bikes around the circle.   Every time you passed the toll booth, you would drop a handful of gravel down the bracing bar to get past.   Grass never really grew in that spot or we would NEVER have been allowed to do that.   We had two huge picture windows in the front of the house and gravel in the grass was a constant concern of ours when mowing.

--Barbie Fashion Show:   I was literally, a card-carrying member of the Official Barbie Fan Club and I was the President of our road's club.   I had the pink visor and I could sing the fan club song (to the tune of Georgie Girl, by the Seekers).   Seriously.   We would take Mama's folding sewing cutting board and set it up, unfolded enough that it stood on its own.   We would draw different scenes on pieces of paper and tape them to the bottom of each section: western, clothing store, wedding.

--Store:  Mama had the neatest older adding machine.   Big, heavy keys that really clicked when you hit them and she kept us stocked in adding machine tape.   Real tape, just like the store!!!    We took turns with our carts and fake foods.



--I liked having picnics in the summer.   I'm sure Mama liked the mess being outside.  I usually spread out a doll blanket and ate sandwiches with lemonade.   Sometimes, I (gasp) fixed it myself!   Mama never cooked for lunch, unless we were having company.   She made the BEST sandwiches and salads.   I don't think that's just a sentimental statement.   Several of my friends say the same thing about her sandwiches and salads; we just can't duplicate it.   I LOVED hay-hauling time because she would make a huge plate of sandwiches and we always had chips then.   Her favorite were Fritos and Daddy's favorite were Lay's, so we always had those.

--Now, comes the really horrid part.   After watching the noon news, I watched soap operas from 12:30-3:00.   My friend Amber and I look back and can't believe we did that, or that our mild-mannered mothers allowed us to watch them.   Our family was a CBS soap opera family and I will say that CBS didn't go trashy until I was in college, about the time I stopped watching them.   My grandparents listened to Guiding Light on the radio and the members of the families of Guiding Light and As the World Turns were almost like members of our family.   Guiding Light was originally a Christian show, thus the name.  The Bauers were the main family and on As The World Turns, the Hughes who were the primary clan.   Even Daddy would watch the Christmas episode each year, because cast members who had long been off the show would return for the holiday gatherings.   Mama would usually watch the Guiding Light because it was too hot to work in the yard.   I remember she would sometimes make popcorn in a skillet; it was the BEST popcorn ever.  Often, we ate watermelon on tv trays together.   We would drive into town and buy a Washington Parish watermelon from the stand set up outside the East Louisiana State Mental Hospital.   True story.

The rest of the afternoon I could either play outside or inside while Mama cooked supper and we waited for Daddy to come home.   We always ate at 5:30 unless Daddy was running late.   I liked to sit in the kitchen with Mama while she cooked and when I got older I helped.   I set the table for supper and put ice in all the glasses.

--Then, we did dishes and went outside to brush the cattle.   Our cows were so gentle that it almost made them hard to work.   Our Brahmans would put their chins on our shoulders and stretch their necks out to have their necks scratched.   Once we had a bull named J.R. (at the height of the tv show Dallas).   We did all of our breeding by A.I. (artificial insemination), so we sold bulls when they were mature.   When we had cattlemen visit, my sister would sit in the middle of the pasture.   J.R. would run out to her, stop, lay down, put his head in her lap, and get his stomach rubbed.   We sold him to a friend and even after he came in from "being with the cows," he still wanted his stomach rubbed!   Daddy also bred for factors like temperment.

--When I was much older, I had a special daytime cow activity also.   Friends would call and ask what I was doing.  "Watching cows."   They thought I was joking, but I was serious.   I spent lots of hours sitting in a lawn chair just watching cows for signs of their being in heat.   Since all of our breeding was done artificially (cost-effective way to breed to the best bulls), we had to catch the cows in heat.   Then, they were bred after sundown and again in the morning before sunrise, since those were the coolest times of day.   I'll just say that it was my job to hold either the tail or the flashlight.   And I got paid a $1 for every cow I caught in heat.   And we had a liquid nitrogen tank in our bathroom closet.   Interesting stories when you grow up on a farm.  

Our farm, in the fall, judging from the pecan trees   The gas tank in the front was controlled by a switch above the oven in our kitchen so no one could steal gas.   It was my job to flip the switch on and off; I'd watch from the picture windows.


--Finally, baths, a little tv (we watched more in fall and winter) and bedtime.   I seldom had story time.     

This is a typical day, but sometimes we spent the whole day in Baton Rouge.   Thursdays were the big garage sale day then, so we usually went to those in Zachary and Baker every week.   We did shopping and doctor appointments early before it was too unbearably hot.   We usually ate lunch at Piccadilly Cafeteria.   Mama tried to plan things for Mondays because she loved liver and onions (ugh!!) and Picadilly was supposed to have wonderful liver and onions.

For a couple of summers, we had another Monday activity.   Mama was an extreme couponer before it was cool.   She found out that the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate paper would credit a store for its left-over Sunday papers if they just gave the paper representative the front page.   So, Mama asked convenience stores what they did with their papers.   She asked them to save them for her and they did.   Well, there was one that obliged, but with a catch.   They would put them on the top of the dumpster.   You could see that dumpster from the interstate, so Mama figured one day there would be a front-page picture of her leaned over a dumpster with a "LSU professor's wife...:" headline.

Then, the papers stopped being saved.   Mama found out a man was getting the papers and investigated.   She contacted him (really) and found out he was recycling them and his civic group donated the money to a children's home.   So, they joined forces.   He picked up papers from his stores and Mama and Mrs. Carmel met at his house and removed all the coupon sections.   Sometimes, they got as many as one hundred of the same section.   We spent lots of afternoons cutting and filing.   You could stack about ten of the same page together, and then staple through each coupon.   That way, you could cut more than one at a time.   I'm a cheap, bargain-hunter now, but honestly, I was so embarrassed at one time!

I also spent a lot of time waiting and standing when we went to Baton Rouge.   When we got our car serviced or fixed, we always waited for it.   Sometimes, it took hours.   When Mama went couponing, it took HOURS and I had to amuse myself in the store.   When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the magazine section (Bop and Star Hits!).   Mama liked to talk and meet new people.   I spent MANY hours standing by a cart as she talked.    

So, here are some positive results I believe came from the way I was raised:

--I don't need to be entertained.   I'm not often bored because I can find enjoyment and satisfaction in little things.   I may not enjoy cleaning, but it's not because I find it boring or monotonous; I find it overwhelming, and often an exercise in futility.

--I can be alone.  Solitude and silence are pleasant for me and I crave them.   I don't have to be with other people to feel good.   I can just be with friends for fellowship and just enjoy them for themselves, without expecting them to entertain me.  

--I still have precious memories of my childhood.   Could I speak of my mother with more love?   And we never did organized, planned activities together.   I also have very few pictures from that time, but the memories still exist.

--I am not patient, but I want to be and I think all the waiting I did as a child helped me see that waiting is not a bad thing and patience is a virtue to shrive toward.

So, my parents got some things right, like so many of their generation.   Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with parenting blogs, articles, etc...   Ackkk!   I'm not out playing with my kids!   I'm not directing and providing opportunities for creativity for my children!   Hello, isn't that counter-productive to creativity?  They've only had skating lessons, gymnastics, and piano classes, and not at the same time.  

Then, I stop and appreciate the fact that my kids can travel well for hours at at time.   They look at the scenery and we talk about it.   They get excited over cows!  Story-time during the day counts for just as much as it does at night.   Coloring and drawing with them means just as much to them as would a planned craft.   I do crafts with them, by the way, but not often.   I'm not wired for directing crafts, not even when I was teaching in public school.   I did them, but not that often, although in the higher elementary and middle grades you don't do them as often.   I think it's great for people who enjoy doing that to do it with their kids and I wish it was a gift with which I was blessed.

Then, at other times, I realize my kids are sitting at the bar, talking to me as I cook.   We're laughing and they're telling me things they only tell me then or seated at meals.   Hey, I recognize this.   It's familiar.   It's how I came to know my mother better and we grew closer.  And it's okay.   Really, it's okay.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

My Baby Girl is 5



It's really hard to believe that my sweet C. turns five today.   Five years ago, my Aunt Betty drove in to watch E. while I checked into the hospital to be induced.   C. has kept us on our toes and brought tremendous joy into our lives.   E. and T. look SO much like Joey, but C. favors my side, particularly Mama's family.   When she looks at me a certain way, I can see Mama in her face.  She has the most gorgeous curls and she stands at the mirror trying to comb them straight, regardless of how many times she is told by strangers that her hair is beautiful.   She is a cuddler who always seems to know just when someone needs a hug or a kind word.



She does everything with gusto!   Joey and I can't believe how our children seem to take after their patron saints.   One of her patron saints is St. Jeanne d' Arc (Joan of Arc's French name).   She is just as fiesty, and stout of heart and will as those two holy women!   She also gets a little of that from her Grandma!   She can make us laugh, especially Thomas.   C. is brave, but also shy when she meets new people.   She cannot stand it when her sister and brother get into trouble and she worries and looks out for everyone.   She loves to whisper to me, "You know what, Mama?   I don't love you the most.   I love God more than anybody."



And He loves you, too, sweet girl.   He knew that our family needed you and everything you bring to our lives.   Thanks be to God for my sweet baby, my C. Bear!

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