My dad gets along with everyone. He’s a gabby, gracious, and attentive hugger of a guy. However, my dad has one known mortal enemy. Squirrels.
Growing up, the household would move about peacefully to a soundtrack of 50’s and 60’s music. Mom was singing in the kitchen, my siblings were riding bikes around the neighborhood. I was playing orphan or typing adventure stories on my mom’s old typewriter when suddenly – BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! My father would be pounding on the dining room window to scare away whatever squirrel had scurried its way up to our birdfeeder. Sometimes he would camp out on a chair crouched behind a potted fig tree and some African violets and wait for the squirrels to skip across the tree branches. He’d wait until they were on the tip of the branches closest to the feeder, biting his nails in anticipation, and as soon as they’d leap for the feeder – BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! The squirrel would go somersaulting in the air, and scamper away frightened out of its wits.
Much to my mother’s dismay, my dad started setting live traps in the yard luring the pesky squirrels in with promises of walnuts and peanut butter bread he himself had taken bites out of. The problem with the live traps was that squirrels weren’t the only ones who liked walnuts and half eaten peanut butter bread. Birds and rabbits did too. My mother, haunted by a mean rooster on her family’s childhood farm, refused to deal with the live traps when one of the less fortunate animals was inside. That job was left for me. I’d get home from school and mom would plead with me to please go outside and free the starling stuck in dad’s trap. As I walked around the house toward the cage, the bird would start panicking. Now, I wanted to free the animal, but it involved moving a latch that was right next to the cage portion, and for those of you familiar with starlings, they’re rather predatory and aggressive birds. The bird’s wings would start flapping uncontrollably and its beak would come jutting out at my hand. Eventually, I’d get the metal flap of the opening to slide up and the bird would come shooting out like a rocket.
On days when the trap served its purpose and Dad caught an actual squirrel, he’d pick up the cage and load it into the back of the station wagon. He’d drive out to the woods in the farmland area known as Hebron, occasionally starting wars with my grandfather and uncle, releasing the squirrels on their property to spite them and go after their feeders.
Convinced the squirrels were finding their way back to our house somehow, Dad took the squirrel wars to a new level. He and my brother took to staking out in our shed with BB guns and firing at any squirrel who dared steal birdseed from his feeder. My brother would come in the house and regale the family with the impressive tale of how he shot a squirrel in the butt! For those of you picturing a backwoods house in the country, let me set the scene straight for you. Our house was on the corner of the busiest street in town, and generally we were a respected family with a large garden who kept the grass mowed.
I’m afraid my father’s influence took a heightened level in my brother’s actions when we discovered one day that a muskrat was burrowing under the family pool. My dad was worried the varmint would chew through the lining of the pool, and Lake Witkins, as grand as it sounded, didn’t belong in our backyard. Convinced he would save the day, my brother and a friend staked out from the deck one afternoon and completed the mission: the muskrat was killed. But this was in late fall, and neither boy had sharp, gnarly muskrat teeth to burrow with, and the ground was too frozen to bury the animal, so he put the ugly creature in a big white bucket, pooling blood and all, set it in the garage and left.
My mother was informed the muskrat was now resting in peace, and had told my dad to get rid of the thing and thought he had. She then entered the garage and noticed a big white bucket. The next thing my mother will tell you about is that she sprained her ankle and tore a few ligaments after twisting to get away in a horrified moment of panic. My poor mother crawled her way up the steps to our house and through the kitchen to get to a phone where she could finally call for help. I don’t believe my brother was allowed to help dad with the animal wars ever again.
Recently, on a trip home to see my family, my sister brought over a book from the library she was reading to her two year old daughter. The book was titled, Those Darn Squirrels and I was tickled to present a dramatic reading of the tale to my father. Then, we went page by page and counted the similarities between Old Man Fookwire and my father. We also taught my niece to shake her fist at grandpa and say “Those Darn Squirrels!” Dad may not have bought lasers and trapeze equipment like Old Man Fookwire, but spring is coming, and if you give a squirrel a walnut, he’ll probably invite his friends.
Spent the day working at home, cleaning and organizing my desk and closet. In the midst of the dust upheaval, I unearthed my bin full of old journals and literary magazines. Thought I’d share a poem of mine published in Spires Literary Magazine, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Spring 2005. The summer before I returned to school my mother’s father moved in with us due to his decreasing health. I wrote this while sitting in the kitchen at home one night.
When Grandpa Came to Live With Us
When Grandpa came to live with us–
it was because he needed oxygen
think with rainwater,
similar to the
which stewed outside
Strange enough, Wisconsin summer,
humidity so thick I couldn’t breathe
In the house
a whole woods full
a cowbird’s call
in Grandpa’s cough
seven june bugs
like pill bottles
The stir of leaves
cracks of sticks–
an oxygen machine
The long blowing
of the grasses
and tree branches,
steady hum of a sleeping
It’s evident I’m the youngest, isn’t it? A bit self-absorbed, over-imaginative, still wants presents from her parents. But I’m also a bit of an oops baby, a party crasher if you will. There my parents were, living out the American Dream, happily running their own restaurant, raising three children, forming friendships that would last them a lifetime. And then yours truly showed up, rolling to the party during a Friday Night Fish Fry. Of course my parents will tell you I was a surprise, and for my siblings who range 7-13 years older, I was a live doll to
torture play with. Here’s the thing, they started out by including me, they let me play games, use their toys, eat candy, and entertain them with talented impressions of Steve Urkel from Family Matters.
But then, we started playing new kinds of games, games called “Experiments.” We learned what would happen when your teenage sister asks you to close your eyes and hold out your hand. A cascade of clacking noises follow and little hard lumps topple into your hand. It could be candy, you think with anticipation. It’s not. It’s your teenage sister’s collection of baby teeth. That’s right, she dumped her teeth in your hand. “Why do you have these?” you scream, your face contorted in horror. There is no reply, she is laughing too hard.
Gross, but harmless fun, right? Well, that was before my brother got a microscope for christmas. This time when you’re asked to help “experiment” they tell you to hold up your index finger. They proceed to wrap a rubber band around and around and around the tip of your finger. They wait while your finger changes from its healthy, fleshy pink coloring to a purple blue bulging nub. Then, they do the inevitable, they tell you to close your eyes again. You should run, you should know this means trouble, you should call for help, but they’re so much cooler than you are, they can ride bikes and pick out their own clothes, and most important of all, they’re family, they wouldn’t hurt you. “Owwwwww!” Turns out they can hurt you. In fact, your siblings stabbed you. They wanted to know what blood looked like under the microscope.
This is why I played alone. And why my favorite game was called Orphan. And it’s another example of why I’m convinced I have multiple lives. But the truth is, I love my siblings. I love them for helping make me a stubborn, and overly imaginative child. If I’d have had a harmonious childhood, I’d have had nothing to write about. And really, what’s a little blood in the name of sibling?
How about you readers? Were you the mad scientist in the household, or the Frankenstein freak being tested on? I’m thinking about starting a club someday, TITHAFYS, Teeth in the Hand Alliance For Youngest Siblings, I’ll be needing a strong leadership team, put your nominations in for VP, treasurer, and secretary. Happy writing!
Ever wonder why your parents made some of the decisions they did? No, you cannot take the turtle into bed with you! No, you may not watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall with your brother! No, you may not eat double stuff oreos, and I don’t care if Liz’s mom lets her!
My mom is a great mom. She writes in perfect cursive penmanship, has impeccable spelling, pays attention to detail, writes long letters and mails them with real stamps and envelopes and everything. She likes to sing, read mystery books, bake a variety of coffee cakes, and spy out the windows.
But I have one bone to pick with my mother. Throughout my childhood, on countless trips to the grocery store, she would never let me get double stuff oreos! This woman who rarely enforced rules about vegetables, or clean plate clubs, who married a baker, son of a woman who enforced dessert before dinner, wouldn’t let me eat double stuff oreos! Hell, I had coca cola in my sippy cups!!! (That may be why I stopped growing in eighth grade.)
This anti-oreo rule never made sense to me. I was a child who liked milk. I had contests with my father over who could drink their milk the fastest at dinner. I don’t know if you’re aware, but milk and oreos are like made for each other, best friends forever, kindred spirits from the galactic orbs of destined to be together soulmates! I bet if you eat an oreo without milk, your heart shrinks a little.
I reiterate my mother’s inconsistent lessons about the value of a nutritional diet; my mother had her days where cooking was not placed on the top of the list, in fact it was scribbled out and snipped straightly off the bottom of the notepad. Those days were called Sundays, or any other day one of her favorite TV shows was on. On these days we ate popcorn for dinner. Popcorn and slices of cheddar cheese. Maybe, maybe I’d have to eat like 4 slices of an apple. I never complained. I loved popcorn nights! Those of you who know me can attest I have an affinity for airy, crunchy snacks at mealtime.
As the years passed, I grew older, she refused to buy double stuff oreos. When I first moved out and began to buy my own groceries, I followed her approach in mastering the marketplace. Simply put, take your sweet time going up and down every aisle. You can make a list, sure, but it’s fun to add to it with new items that sound exotic and delectable like bagel chips. Is it more bagel or more chip, I don’t know, but their deliciousness drives me mad!
On one such shopping trip, I happened down the cookie aisle and low and behold on the very end, right at eye level, was that familiar looking Nabisco symbol in the corner of the shiny blue packaging. I picked up the package, looked side to side to see if anyone was watching, looked up to see if lightening bolts were crashing down and it appeared…no one gave a damn. So I put them in my cart. But as I wheeled around the aisle to the checkout, I couldn’t help but smirk. Take that, Mom!
What are the ridiculous rules your parents enforced? Did you ever protest? Did your rebellion taste as sweet and chocolately as mine?
I’m reporting again. On March 9, 2011 the Wisconsin State Senate voted on the budget repair bill without democratic senators present. What has been proposed for two weeks as the only way to balance our state budget, and described as an economic plan, omitted every part of the bill that mentioned fiscal issues, thereby making the democratic representatives’ presence unnecessary. The result, an unchecked and unbalanced vote to end labor unions and collective bargaining rights. Senate members met illegally without due notice and voted on a bill that was not even present at this meeting, and never available to the public. The following is the footage from the actual voting process and a spoken word I wrote in reaction to this shameful event.
I grew in a state where houses
were sprinkled from a watering can
where budding cities sprouted like beanstalks
and the families, its leaves,
called out Forward!
Fifty years of paving progress
only to be wiped out
in one shady chamber room.
Shame! To you Governor Walker.
Shame! To you politicians
who don’t speak for your constituents
and ignore their educated,
respected, and collected VOICE!
Do you not see the eyes of 50,000 faces
staring into your windows,
which should be THEIR windows
waiting for an invitation into their own home?
Can you not hear them knocking?
They come to you as equals
and still you won’t look at them without lies.
Holy, holy, holy
who marched on the capital stairs
with their families and their signs,
sleeping on the sidewalks,
spilling out into the streets
they beg to have a word,
but still you haven’t heard!
What times are these
when human rights
are fallen on deaf ears?
you’ve left our communities
fearing but not quite believing
our democracy could end.
But with crafty hands
you penned a legislation
not even present at the voting table,
and yet so evil
it was voted in “aye!”
God bless you,
for standing up against
the murderers of the middle class!
We are a grieving public.
But our anger and our fear
will be mended
one signature at a time,
oh yes, we will sign!
For the voices in that room
did not represent our state
we will change the faces
that sit in that shady chamber room
that took away our voices,
yours and mine,
we will meet again
when we send you
that sweet forgotten postcard,
our love note to our capital,
that check in a ballot box,
we’ll sign it,
“wish you weren’t here!”
For you are not Wisconsin’s governor!
I am the youngest of four children. A “surprise” if you ask my parents, a “mistake” if you ask my siblings, and a “party crasher” if you ask me. Being seven years younger than my closest sibling, much of my childhood was spent watching movies, reading mystery books, and writing fantastical short stories to be later performed as a one woman puppet show in my room.
Seeing as I had only myself for entertainment, my imagination ran wild with adventure and tales of great woe. Seeing as my parents were the age of my classmates’ grandparents, I was convinced they would be dead before I graduated eighth grade. I thought, I’d better prepare myself for how to live alone. Thus began the many escapades of Jess, lone street rat and orphan girl, hiding out by day in her makeshift cave and creeping by night stealing fruit snacks from the pantry cupboards. She was not to be toyed with!
The stairwell in our house had a banister at the top with a few bars running horizontally for looks and structural support. The space between the stairs and the first bar became the secret crevice to enter my hideaway and had to be crawled through on one’s stomach. Once safely in my room, a string or jump rope was tied from the dresser handle across the room to the plant stand which doubled as a storage unit for my mass quantity of Cabbage Patch Dolls (Annette, Lanny, Paula, Patti, Heather, Tay, Humphrey, Barney, Keri Ann, Sara, Sloane, Chrissy, Pat, Camilla and Suzette). After the string was tied, blankets were thrown over the line creating a secret canvas covered hideout or puppet show theater depending on your mood. Hidden behind these draperies the cries from the streets of “Riffraff!” and “Scoundrel!” could not harm me.
The challenge while playing orphan was to go as long as possible being unseen. So, to sneak food, one had to crawl through the secret crevice over the stairwell, descend the steps, slide down the frame of the door, quickly crawl under the dining room table and wait until opportunity came. Then, you crab walked into the kitchen, silently opened the pantry door, pulled out a fruit roll-up or box of croutons, and crab walked back under the table to delight in your stolen afternoon snack.
Another challenge in the game of orphan could only be played when left alone in the house for short periods of time. The game was called “don’t touch the carpet” and it counted how many times you could get around the living room using only the furniture before you slipped or fell onto the carpet. Here’s how an expert at this game does it.
- Begin on the couch.
- Bounce across its cushions.
- Step onto the end table, avoid coasters and magazine piles.
- Jump onto the loveseat.
- Repeat step 2.
- Stretch legs to the rocking chair and go!
- Steady yourself, or pretend to surf for awhile.
- Stretch onto the smaller end table.
- Move to the chair in the corner.
- *Note: The final task is extremely difficult if playing in sock feet, proceed with caution. Step 10. Crawl onto the TV, and cling for dear life on the frame around the screen, when a good distance jump is there, jump back to the couch. Repeat steps 1-10.
One thing I learned while playing orphan is that you get lonely. You really need a sidekick. Soon I had two, a cat named Carmel and a dog named Tipper. Make sure your sidekick is someone you can trust with secrets, such as your hideaway whereabouts. Sometimes when you’re an orphan, a secret language must be developed so you can leave written messages to your pals without an invader knowing what it means. These can then be conveniently pinned to your canvas with a clothespin.
So if you’re thinking about playing the game Orphan, here’s a list of supplies you may want to include.
- blankets to build your hideaway/take a nap
- stuffed animals/dolls for trusty sidekicks
- junk food for the road, the days are long are arduous as an orphan
- paper and pens/markers because orphans are extremely intelligent and creative
- a tape recorder and microphone because orphans are known to burst into song when they’re safely hidden in their getaway home
What sort of games did you play as a child? Who would you take as your sidekick?
I know the rules of blogging platform. We are not supposed to dive into the political, so if you don’t want to listen just click on my Jane Austen post instead. But I can’t silence my head. I’ve argued with people, paced around the house, drove around listening to NPR, and spent countless hours worrying about the future and my family. If you didn’t know, Wisconsin is in an uproar regarding Governor Scott Walker’s plan to end all unions. Thousands of state workers and teachers have rallied in protest at the capital all week long. I really do understand the downsides to a union, in fact, in my job I educate new hires on why our company opts to do without a union, but four people in my family are union members through WEAC or other state positions. And with the plans Governor Walker wants to put forward it will mean less pay every year for our educators and increased pay ins for health benefits. All I’m doing is sharing a spoken word I wrote today because it’s heavily on my mind. I thank you for listening, and whichever side of the struggle you fall on, please send support to my family as I know a battle lies ahead.
I Heard the Cry on the Capital Stairs
This is an appreciation.
You’ll have to forgive my fixation
but this crowd-
balled up against the capital stairs
speaking out so loudly
I can hear it from 200 miles away!
Kill the Bill
to those who won’t even agree to listen
yet admit that their legislation
could use a little editing.
Well I learned how to proofread,
but sometimes a mistake
is not so easily repaired by the
force of an eraser on paper.
Sometimes it can never be taken back
and it becomes a mandatory civil disobedience,
a role call of citizens who speak up
and speak out about why
you can’t tear down a structure
like a building and not acknowledge
you’re leaving a mess.
And that is why we are here today!
That is why some of your children
could not attend school
because their teachers chose to walk out
rather than spend the day in denial of their own voice
their own voice
handling the matters that impact them directly.
So if you know a teacher,
are related to a teacher,
and Heaven bless you if you are a teacher,
SPEAK now SPEAK strongly
SPEAK with the conviction
of a child raising their hand and asking WHY?
Never stop asking questions!
Never doubt for a moment that our nation
would never learn how to read or count
or grow without our teachers preparing
every class lesson and opportunity
a child is given
by devoting their own free time
to the success and the future
of the next generation!
Say thank you!
Say you hear them!
Say you know there are changes yet to come,
but not from a tumbling structure undone,
in this day, while we stand
united on the capital steps
let us SPEAK,
even if you find yourself only able
Let all voices be known as a face,
a part of the answer,
not the problem!
Say thank you!
Say you hear them!
Say you have the courage
and the remembrance of a teacher
who has shaped your own life
to SPEAK out
and never stop SPEAKING!
Audio Tracked Peacock Noises
Or How My Dad and I Did the Zoo
My boyfriend tells me that I walk too fast. I blame years of quickstepping after my father around town. I had to take four steps to his one just to keep up. I practically ran, panting to keep up, talking the whole time about what happened at school and at home that day.
If you dig straight down to my core, I am most like my father. I share his vulgar sense of humor, to an extent, his enjoyment of going anywhere, even around the corner, his open book heart which will always try to save the world, his irritatingly reliable hardwork ethic, his constant frigid body temperature, and his thumbs.
My father wasn’t around a whole lot when I was growing up. To pay the bills and put food on the table, he worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week, managing and cooking in our family restaurant. But on occasion, he would take me on trips to the zoo.
The drive to the nearest zoo was almost an hour. Nicknamed “Chatterbox,” I had endless stories to regale my father with during our excursion. There were discussions about my friends at school, a new song I learned, and would piercingly sing aloud, and the clever way I got my older brother, Justin, to stop chasing me by spraying mom’s perfume on his hands. Oh, wasn’t I just the bees knees, dad?
The drive was always the same. A sunny day. Me doing all the talking. We’d pull into the parking lot, hop out of the car, and I’d skip over the grass mounds up to the entryway only to find the gates padlocked shut. We took this exact trip together of locked up zoo gates at least three times! Instead of sullenly turning the car around and driving home, my dad replied, “Well, we’re here.”
Dismayed and full of anguish, I was promised wild animals! Instead, I was dragged around the zoo’s perimeter, while my father cried out, “Listen to the peacocks! Do you hear the peacocks?” We would never actually confirm there were any peacocks as we never actually saw peacocks!
Everything was boarded up, fenced in, locked down, and surrounded by Wisconsin foliage. Basically, you couldn’t see a damn thing! Yet again, my father would call out, “Jess, come here! Look through this crack, you can see bears!”
And sure enough, my dad would have me tiptoeing on some unstable rock of a curb, pressing my eye into a rusty old fence hole, blinking past maple leaves that were bouncing in my way to see far off in the distance some brown hairy mammal that was pacing the rock wall of its habitat.
“I see one!” I’d cry out delighted.
“Yah, he’s looking for his dinner. I hope he doesn’t come looking for a tasty, little girl! Oh, Mr. Bear, I’ve got her! Raaaaaaawr! Raaawr!” My dad would scoop me up and pretend to lift me over the fence, growling like a bear and pretending to take big bites out of my arms and legs.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst trip you could take to the zoo, if the zoo was really, really small with only one bear and audio tracked peacock noises. Thanks for the quality time, Pops!
Resolutions for the week include:
- Read more Susan Shapiro, Only as Good as Your Word – in progress
- Read each day for pleasure for one hour – Finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, wonderful!!! Currently reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
- Write 3 family memoirs, be brave, post them on your blog – here goes, family memoir #1
Little Sister of Nine Lives
I actually have a hard time remembering my childhood. It wasn’t full of sorrow, it wasn’t maniacally evil, it obviously wasn’t too exciting, either. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I simply don’t remember as far back as most people claim to. If I had to give you a reason for this, I’d call it Self Preservation from my Deranged Family.
You see, my sister will claim to many days of glad tidings and jolly moments where she took me bike riding with our Cabbage Patch Dolls, playing in the park that was across the street from our house. My brother would sneak candy to me and terrorize the neighbor’s lawns on his bicycle with me squished onto the front seat with him. I recall none of this ever occurring. What I recall is being buried alive or left for dead several times over.
To begin, there is photographic evidence of me as a toddler being buried in our sandbox. My face is red, my jaw open screaming, there are tears on my face. My brother crouches over me with a shovel, and waves to one of my parents who undoubtedly stopped what they were doing to collect this fine, familial moment. I don’t know how I escaped, I’ve clearly recessed this memory.
Example number two. My mother, upon driving home from one of her weekly hair appointments, discovers at the corner stop sign, one of her children, the youngest, tied to the pole with a jump rope, crying. Seemingly left for abandon on one of the busiest streets in town for all to ridicule her pain. Notice no one stopped driving to call for help.
Example number three. My father is supposed to be watching me one winter when I was in elementary school. It was late at night, he was shoveling snow. I thought it was a game at first. He began to put shovel full after shovel full of snow on top of me who was playing in the snow bank. Pretty soon, that snow pile got really heavy. Pretty soon after that, I couldn’t move from underneath it. I called to my father for help, who found said predicament extremely funny. He grew up in a sink or swim household and told me to figure a way out myself. Then he went inside, leaving me trapped in a snowbank under a streetlight. Crying in the dead of winter, I eventually managed to squirm like an earthworm until I was uncovered enough to crawl out.
That about brings us up to speed, and would put me at my fourth life if we’re keeping track. If I were going to give you any sort of moral to the story or insight from my perspective, it would be this: don’t let your children babysit your children. And apparantly, don’t leave them with their father either, at least in winter weather conditions. So for all you youngest children, little sisters and brothers everywhere, good night and good luck! And if it helps, I did sleep with a pocket knife under my pillow for awhile, just in case.
Lorine, I came here to find you.
I sought to hear you–
calm, cool voice like good earth, silt.
I imagined us walking together
thick glasses and stockings
side by side
with black leggings, gray jacket,
my red hair.
I was not expecting to see
little boys in search of cattails,
leaves with insect bites,
smelling flowers that have
begun to dry up.
I walked all the way to the bridge
and asked you which side
owned the prize view.
The right, sun setting blaze orange
behind the telephone lines
leading to the industrial park
behind the marsh fields,
or the left,
the river bend that curls
around the woods to the beaver dams,
the heron perches,
the grandfather bluff?
a heron and an eagle
soared past our shadows
making an invisible helix before the heron
gargled out a surrender
and waited patiently, blue neck in the tall grasses,
waded undisturbed nearby.
Few padded footsteps, heels covered in field dust,
the trail exit ahead
I walked feeling like the air was different,
my troubles, not so weighted
like the mud we had to cross.
I breathed blessings
on my walk with Lorine.