Watermelons and station wagons

I think I was around 10 or 11, which means we lived in the Prospect House. It was summer. We went on a vacation. A family vacation. I’m not sure what spurred this vacation. I have no idea why. We never went on vacations. We never did family outings. We never did family pictures. We never did family stuff. Not that that is bad, we just never did. 

The destination was Arkansas. Why? I don’t know why. I don’t think we knew anyone in Arkansas. The trip was taken in a station wagon. You know, the colored panel ones with a crap ton of room. We could spread out in the way back and not have to worry about being seat belted in. It was not a law then. We could sleep way in the back and be comfortable. The humming of the engine, the sound of the tires rolling down the interstate made it easy to relax and fall asleep. That gentle noise always put me to sleep. 

It seemed like we drove forever. Forever in kid time. It had to have been a couple of days at least. I remember when we got “there,” we stopped at a grocery store. We bought a watermelon and some other items. I only remember the watermelon. It had to be solid dark green though. That’s what dad wanted. Those were the best kind of watermelons. Why that is significant to me, I’m not sure. We went to the place where we were staying. It wasn’t a hotel or anything like that. It was a house. It was a cabin/house in the woods with lots and lots of trees. There were no other houses close by. It was strange. It was like a scary movie. I wouldn’t realize that then, but now, that’s what I feel. 

This house was big. It had lots of room and a big deck on the back. We played outside. I don’t remember doing any other kinds of activities while we were on vacation. One of the days I went out back and was playing in the “yard,” if you could call it that. There really wasn’t a yard, just trees. The deck was sloped, so there must have been a walk out basement in the house. 

The details are vague. It’s weird, I remember the watermelon clearly and the next incident clearly. That’s it. I remember nothing else about the trip. I remember nothing about why we were there. I remember nothing of what the inside of the house looked like, just the outside yard and the deck.

I went out to play in the back. I noticed that I could hang on to part of the deck and swing under it, like gymnastics bars. I wondered if I would get slivers from the wood. I thought I would try it. I was bored. There really wasn’t anything to do. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, my typical summer attire. I don’t think I was wearing shoes. I grabbed the deck. It was good. No slivers. I started swinging by hanging on to the boards with my hands and swinging my legs up underneath the deck. I felt something. It felt like fire. It was stinging. I wanted to let go, but I couldn’t. If I did I would fall on my back or my head. I had to wait until my legs came back down and then out from underneath the deck. My leg was burning like crazy. Once I could let go, I looked at my leg. The pattern was a circle, then another circle in that circle and finally the center. My skin was red and puffy. Huge bubbles of skin. Red bubbles of skin. Skin on fire. Stinging skin. I was screaming and jumping up and down. 

Unbeknownst to me, up underneath the deck was a flying ant nest. I never even knew there was such a thing. After I had run back in the house and told mom and dad what had happened they went out and looked. I wasn’t going anywhere near there again. My leg was on fire. It hurt for days after that. I think mom put something on it to help with the sting and the swelling, but it didn’t seem like it helped much. 

So that was the extent of the family vacation. I can’t remember anything else about it. I used to envy my friends who went on vacations every summer. After that vacation, I didn’t care if I ever went on another one again. 

Tis The Season

If you don’t know me, you may think I am intimidating, bitchy, even intense. However, if you do know me, you know I am nothing like that. You know I have a big heart and love to help people. 

You may also know that my partner, Chris Schreiber, and I, own The Underground Private Training Studio. It’s private. It’s a training studio. It’s by appointment only. We love it. 

This year, we wanted to give back. We wanted to help more people or help make Christmas special for people. My heart will always be with the Veterans, but this year I thought we would do something different. 

I contacted Maryhouse. Maryhouse is a nursing home here in Pierre. I was in contact with their Coordinator, Leticia Brewer.  I told her what we wanted to do. She said absolutely. She was kind enough to put together a list of the residents, along with a few things they would like for Christmas. Us and our clients picked names on the list to buy presents.

Their wants were simple. Almost child-like. Candy, chocolate, salty snacks. There was a common theme. Several of the residents wanted warm socks and blankets or robes. Some wanted crossword puzzles, books or drawing supplies.  It was so cute. Reading the list was so touching. One lady wanted ribbon candy. How absolutely adorable, yet heartbreaking at the same time. It really made me sad. 

They loved the attention. It was easy to see they loved having company. One gentleman’s wife was in his room with him when we walked in. She was combing his hair. She was not a patient, but she spent a lot of time with him there. His room was comfortable. It had a woman’s touch. We stayed in his room for at least ten minutes. We watched him open his presents. At one point his wife scurried to get her camera. She told him to look up and smile. It was absolutely adorable. He gave a cute little smile and she took the picture. She was worried that his hair wasn’t quite right. He got candy. He opened the next present. Both of them were touched. It was a beautiful sweater and a pair of really nice socks. He loved it. She had us sign his book. It was heartwarming. I’m glad he had her company. I’m glad she was taking such good care of him. She was so patient. They were a team. 

There was a handful of husband and wife residents/patients. They were together in one room. Living just as if they were in their own home or apartment, except the reality was they needed assistance. The reality was they needed help to care of themselves. The reality was they were there for each other as best they could. The reality was they loved each other and took their vows seriously. They were together until the end. Until they became parted by death. Touching and heartbreaking all at the same time. 

Chris and I laughed that day. We laughed a lot. We also cried. So many emotions. Many times that day I felt sadness bubbling at the surface, tears about ready to burst through. It was hard a few times to hold it together.

We walked into her room. It was spotless. It was immaculate. It was a grandma’s room, or in this case, her home. Her bed had a beautiful bright colored quilt, I think it was yellow. She had her windowsill decorated for Christmas. Snowmen. She was sitting in her chair. She was wearing gray slacks and a navy blue sweater. She was beautiful. Dainty and dignified. One look at her and you wanted to hug her. She was beautiful. We told her who we were and that we wanted to bring her a Christmas present. I put the present in her lap. She looked up and was saying something to us, but we couldn’t really hear or understand. Then she started crying. She was so touched and so grateful. She kept wondering why we were bringing a present to her. She was beautiful. She kept hugging us and holding Chris’ hands. She would have held our hands all day. And if we could have, we would have held hers all day. She was beautiful. 

It was so cute to be able to watch some of them open their presents. Another beautiful little lady, got a collapsible clothes hamper. It was so touching when she said, “Oh, how nice. I really needed one of these.” Of course they never remembered what they had asked for. The surprised looks on their faces said it all. She hugged us too. She gave big squishy hugs. She was adorable. 

Every single one of them said thank you. Many of them wondered why we were doing it. A few weren’t too sure about where we came from, “The Underground, sounds illegal,” they would tell us. We just laughed and laughed. 

Those nurses and aides and Leticia are absolutely amazing. Those residents are in good hands. God bless them. 

That day was so special. That day we will never forget. I have not stopped thinking about those people. 

But why wait until “tis the season?” How about any time? Those people are the forgotten generations. The ones who are done. The ones who need us. The ones who need some attention. We need to give it to them. 

Sing, sing a song…

The big day. The big production. The Spring Concert. Lincoln School, fourth grade. We lived at the Prospect house. It was about a block from the school. Very close. It was convenient. 

We worked all year for this. It was a big deal. Everyone dressed up. We were expected to look nice. Girls usually wore dresses. Not this girl. My idea of dressing up was not jeans, so some weird dress pants and a sweater, usually a long-sleeved shirt with a sweater vest over it. Very classy and dressy looking. For me, it was. 

We practiced forever. Our music teacher was Mrs. Newman. She looked so young. Like she did her whole life. May she continue to rest in peace. Pretty sure it was her first teaching job. I can’t imagine being a music teacher. Maybe because I can’t imagine myself being able to learn music. I love it. I wish I could read it, or even know what a note is. I can’t. I don’t. I’m going to work on that this next year. I’m going to learn. 

I liked music class. Singing was fun. I remember one assignment we had to find a song with a certain count or beat or whatever it’s called. We had to bring in the 45 record, remember those? We had to show her and have the class listen to the song and find that beat or count or whatever. I brought in the 45 Lorelei by Styx. It’s a good song, but I don’t think I got the assignment quite right. It was a good song though. 

The reminder was yesterday. I was training one of my clients and the song Country Roads by John Denver came on the Spotify playlist. At the time I changed the song because I didn’t want to listen to it. It was such an old song after all. I told my client my fourth grade class had to sing that song at our spring concert. We laughed and talked about those concerts for a minute and then moved on. 

Fourth grade Peggie went right back to the concert. The concerts were held at Riggs High School in the gymnasium. Each class had a designated place on the bleachers. We were told not to be disruptive and to listen to Mrs. Newman. Of course we were and of course we didn’t. Fidgeting was going on big time. As much as being a kid is fun, there was a lot of nervous energy flowing around, anxiety if you will. We were all nervous. Well, maybe not everybody. I was. The gym was filled with parents and relatives and other spectators. The time was now. Singing time. Everything we learned time. Mrs. Newman time. 

I remember clearly we sang Country Roads by John Denver, and the song Sing, by The Carpenters. It was fun. I liked to sing. When our class performed Sing, we got fancy, some of the kids sang a different part of the song, while other kids sang another part of the song. Harmonies, perhaps? I told you I don’t know music. We sang the songs and I was devastated. I wanted it to be over. I wanted it to be done. I made a mistake singing Sing. I was embarrassed. Maybe nobody could tell. 

The next week in class, we got to listen to the recording of the concert. The click of the recorder playback button made me sweat. It seemed extra loud for some reason. The song started. Sing. The la, la, la, la, la part, is pretty prominent in that song. The recording kept playing and in that one part of the la, la, la, la, la part, plain as day, clear as a bell, there was an extra la. It was me. The extra la was me. I wanted to crawl under my desk. I wondered if anyone knew it was me? Obviously whoever was standing beside me during the concert had to have known. I was embarrassed. I felt like an idiot. That mess up, that screw up, was recorded forever on that tape. Why me? 

Things happen, kids make mistakes. Fourth grade mistakes feel like the end of the world mistakes. I recovered. Life went on and school went on. Music went on, but I learned from my mistake. I learned a really important lesson. I learned to never sing out loud at concerts again. La.