Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)

The excitement was killing me. It was my favorite place to exist. It was my favorite place to escape. Hurry up. Hurry up. Almost time. Saturday morning.

Winter was over and spring was beginning. It was the new season. The fun season. Something to do on the weekend season. 

I was in grade school, probably 5th or 6th grade, possible even junior high. We lived at the Prospect house during that time. We actually moved to that house when I was in 4th grade. 

The corner of Euclid and Capitol was the place to be. Every Saturday morning.

This is where the cool kids hung out. I remember getting there early because I was so excited. It’s been a curse my whole life. I can’t do late and on time is late to me. I have always been places early. I never disappointed.

Was it still going to cost 40 cents? Was it still opening at the same time? I wonder if I would wear the same size. I just didn’t know and I just couldn’t sit around and wait to find out. I had to leave early and get there. I had to be in line. I just had to. 

I’m not sure if Sherry was with me or if I just went by myself, but I remember sitting on the sidewalk, taking off my shoes and the guy came out. He was the guy. The guy who took our money. The guy in charge of in charge. He always wore boots and jeans that seemed too high waisted. He always wore a belt and a t-shirt. He was tall and skinny. He was just different enough to be dangerous. He always teased us. He told us the price was $1. I about died. I wouldn’t have enough money. He must have seen that I was ready to cry. He said he was just kidding and started laughing. I wish I could remember his name. 

We had to step up the high step in order to get in the building. This was a boat marina in the front of the building and the basement had boats. The upper floor, behind the store part was the most amazing roller rink. There was a long counter, made of wood, with shelves behind it full of roller skates and then there was a door into the marina store. They had candy for sale. We couldn’t buy candy when skating. Well duh, because could you imagine if something got on the floor! The floor was a gorgeous, shiny and smooth. It was made of hardwood. You always knew which skates were the best and you secretly hoped you got the same ones every week. The sound of the skates being plunked down on the counter was music to my ears. It was loud and made me giddy. I remember the smell, musty. It smelled good. I remember how it looked. It was my favorite place. There were benches to sit down on all around the circle floor. I remember by the door going in there was just a huge pile of people’s shoes. And then jackets and coats, partially hanging up and partially on the floor.

The announcer — the guy, would play the music and would call out what kind of skate it was. It was forward, just backward, couples, and singles. Sometimes just girls and sometimes just guys. Sometimes three people would skate and most times it was just everyone. 

I remember the Badger boys. Gary and Merle. Badass motherfuckers. Merle had an eye patch sometimes. He wasn’t a pirate, he had a glass eye. All the girls wanted to skate with them and all the boys wanted to be them. They had swagger. They were fun to skate with. I skated a few times with Merle and once in a great while with Gary. Jim Hull and Vonda Thompson skated as a couple and they were both amazing skaters. They were skaters to watch because they were amazing and talented skaters. We called him Jimmy back then. I still call him Jimmy as I think about it. I wanted to be like them. I always tried to perfect the backward skate. That was always something to work on. You knew you arrived when you could skate backwards with the leg crossover. The whoosh sound of the air as we went faster and faster and faster. The music was loud. The louder the better. All different songs, all different artists. I clearly remember the guy playing Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)  by Looking Glass almost every time I went to the rink. 

We skated for hours. Non-stop. A short rest when we needed or we would sit out from couples skating. Tired and sweaty at the end of the time. I never wanted to quit. I wanted to skate and skate and skate. It was social, it was fun. Everyone was nice, nobody was a jerk. We all had fun. We all forgot about everting except skating. We had a blast. When the time was over, it would still feel like you were skating. The legs were tired and we were tired, but we never wanted to be done. 

I loved the roller rink and I was so sad when they moved it down behind McDonald’s. It was never the same. It just wasn’t as fun. The roller rink was located like I said above at the corner of Euclid and Capitol, the current Olinger Law Office building. 

I heard Brandy the other day. It took me back to skating and the memories came flooding back. Some of the other songs I remember were: Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me; Brand New Key; The Lion Sleeps Tonight; A Horse With No Name; Rockin’ Robin; Black and White; and Joy To The World. 

It was a simple time. It was a great time to be a kid time. 

Birthdays and blues

The tradition. The birthday tradition. I don’t remember when it started. I don’t remember why it started. I can’t imagine a young foodie like myself would not have liked regular birthday cake. I also can’t remember if it was just me who had the alternate birthday cake tradition. Did Sherry have it too? What about Jeff? Wendy? Maybe. I only remember me, because after all it was about me. It was my day. It was my birthday. 

I looked forward to my birthday every year for the angel food cake. For the strawberries. For the cream. We never had birthday parties. Just us. 

Yesterday was my birthday. Yesterday I had the tradition. Angel food cake, strawberries and whipped topping. It was good. It wasn’t quite the same though. I healthed it up a little bit. I used fresh strawberries and canned whipped topping, instead of whipping the cream myself and instead of using the sugar-laden strawberries. The traditional strawberries were those little tin frozen containers that you had to use some type of key wrench-type thing to open. They were doused in sugar syrup and tasted heavenly. The kind of sugary sweet that you wanted to let run in your mouth when the container was held above your mouth. It was so good. So sweet and so comforting. The angel food cake was more dense than the traditional round ones. It was a rectangle shaped frozen one. I just had to let it thaw. It still tasted good. The strawberries are what I prefer, fresh. They actually had flavor. And the whipped cream in the can, it worked for its intended purpose. 

I got out my plate and carefully measured out each ingredient. So many grams of cake. so many grams of strawberries and so many grams of whipped cream. It is amazing once you start measuring things out how much you can start to see where you went wrong previously. You start to see where you would overeat. It is eye-opening. I have lost over 30 pounds doing this and I am not going back to the before. I won’t let myself. I saved room for my tradition today. I wanted to feel like I did when I was a kid. I wanted to be excited. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I did. 

My tradition seemed like it tasted just as good. I enjoyed it just as much. I thought. Towards the evening I started to feel a little sad. Not sure why. Maybe because none of the kids were here. Maybe because the house was quiet. Maybe because I wasn’t a kid anymore. Maybe because I was missing dad. It just felt like any other day, except I had cake. It didn’t feel like a birthday day. It didn’t feel like a special day. Just a day. 

It is so easy to feel sad about days gone by, about being a kid and being happy at the littlest of things. Missing the simplicity, perhaps. But, at the same time, I love being present for the now, for the exciting things happening. I love watching things unfold and happen how they are supposed to. I love being positive. I love seeing positive things and I love getting to live this life, even if the birthdays or the cake or something else makes me a little bit sad once in a while. 

Tayler’s Cupboards

First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth.

The memories packed in the cupboard. 

Pencils and glue and hair ties too. 

Tape and markers and super balls to bounce. 

Barbies and papers and trinkets and a bell. 

Two cupboards filled to the brim. 

Full of memories from the life of a kid. 

Standing, nightgown on. 

Tinkering and playing and thinking out loud. 

Far off places and toys that talked. 

Books of angels and animals and even rocks. 

Stickers and lip gloss and dice.

Standing there for hours playing until she knelt. 

Imagining and singing and laughing to herself.

When she was done she shut the cupboard and said goodnight.

Just because she got older didn’t mean she discarded her belongings as junk. Far from it. 

She stored more memories.

The cupboards are full. 

It’s been over 16 years. 

I can’t clean them out.

It makes me miss her being little still.

The life she made. The memories she made. 

A huge part of her childhood is buried in there. 

She won’t let them go. 

It’s something I can’t bear.

The child who is now an adult. 

The child who entertained herself for hours. 

The child, self-sufficient in everything she did. 

The child who grew up. 

And the mom who did too.

The child who still peeks into those cupboards and laughs out loud. 

Memories of more simple times. 

Memories of fun and laughter. 

Memories of a lifetime. 

Always there. 

Jump Rope Contest

Remember last week when I told you about learning how to do double jumps and how hard I worked to perfect them? Well, every year there was a jump rope contest. Each school was represented. There was the girls and the boys contests. The PE teacher, who was Mr. Bucklin at the time, chose who from each class would represent their school at the contest. 

We practiced and practiced and then practiced some more. I was in 4th grade at the time at Lincoln Elementary School. The house was the Prospect House.

Every recess a bunch of us girls jumped rope. A lot of times I played football with the boys, but it was jump rope season now and that meant practicing every chance I got. There were several good jump ropers in our grade and we all wanted to go to the competition. 

Mr. Bucklin was super tall. He had blond hair and glasses. He was really nice and we all liked him as a PE teacher. He had a hard job. He had to choose who was going to go to the contest. It was narrowed down between me and Marianne Bassett. Marianne was a really good jump roper. This was going to be a tough decision for him. 

It was the day. The day of decision. The day to see who would represent the Lincoln Elementary School 4th grade class. Would it be me or would it be Marianne? 

I can still picture us on the playground, jump ropes in hand. We were on the west side of the building, near the double doors. That was the flattest spot on the playground. It was good cement, like sidewalk cement, not the other rough stuff the rest of the playground was made of. Mr. Bucklin had us start with plain old jumps, then we moved into criss cross and backwards jumps, criss cross backwards, fancy foot work and double jumps. We got to show off a little bit. I remember doing criss cross double jumps backwards and frontwards. Marianne could do them too. I don’t know how he was going to pick. Why couldn’t we both go? Well, it doesn’t work that way, obviously. He finally picked. He picked me!! I was elated. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to go to the contest. I felt bad for Marianne though. She worked just as hard as I had. 

The contest was a few weeks later. It was at the Junior High school in the gym. It seemed like there were a ton of people there watching. It also seemed like there were a ton of competitors. It is kind of a blur what happened next. I can’t remember if girls went first or if boys went first and if each grade went in order. That part is a blur. I do remember the jump roping part. I remember there was a line of judges and we were facing them. They would call out the jumps that we were supposed to do. I specifically remember doing double jumps during the contest, and jumping fancy footwork style too. I also remember making sure not to miss. I don’t know if points were deducted for missing, but it would only make sense. 

It was hot and it seemed like the contest took forever. When all was said and done, I won!!! I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my parents. At the same time I wondered why they hadn’t come to the contest and watched. I always wondered that. Always. 

Our house was about three or four blocks from the school. I ran all the way home. I always took the shortcut home. Up the alley. That’s the shortcut.  Up the alley from the Zesto. I slowed down when I was almost to the house. I could see dad out watering the grass. I walked up to him with my hands behind my back and was pretending to be sad. He asked me how I did. Instantly the giant smile appeared and the hand came flying from behind my back holding the first place ribbon. 

He was happy for me. I was happy for me. I won the jump rope contest. 

Determined. And stubborn.

 

I was about seven or eight years old. It was the Euclid house. When I put my mind to something, I didn’t stop until I accomplished what I set out to do. Like a goal. You know that about me, if you have read my posts. Remember the broken collar bone? Yeah. I was determined. And, I was stubborn. Some might say I am still that way. I think they are pretty good traits to have, to a point. Determined is great, stubborn maybe not as much. I have gotten way better and have learned to control my stubbornness. I’ve grown. When I was a kid though, it helped me become better at things. 

At the back of the Euclid house, outside, there were steps that led to the upstairs apartment. Two women lived there, Myra and Sharon. They were nice and put up with a lot from us. I am sure we were loud and obnoxious. We were always outside so I am guessing they could hear us all the time. The steps were made of wood. I used those steps religiously to up my jump rope game.

I was learning how to do double jumps. These days they are called double unders. I couldn’t do them. I was mad and frustrated and frankly pissed off. Why couldn’t I do them? They seemed easy enough. You jumped and twirled the rope underneath your feet twice. Big deal. Why should that be so hard? Why couldn’t I just do that? I loved jumping rope. I had a jump rope in my hands most of the time when I was a kid. I loved it. It was fun. It was challenging. That’s why I loved it. 

The rope itself was not made of rope. It was made of plastic. That part had to be perfect. Not too thick, not too thin, just right. Like Goldilocks. Red Owl (now Dakotamart) is where I bought my jump ropes. They had the best ones for sure. I bought a lot of them. The worst part about finding a favorite jump rope was when they were used so much, they wore out in the middle and broke in half. The concrete did that to them. Back to square one. Good thing jump ropes were cheap. They came in many different colors and lengths. The best way to measure was to step on the jump rope at the center and to hold the handles to your armpits. That was how to measure for length. If it wasn’t measured correctly, jump roping did not work. At all. It messed up the timing. 

I came up with a plan on how to finally master the double jumps. I thought about it for days. I tested it multiple times. I was sure it would work. How could it not? I was determined. And stubborn, so it had to work. My plan was to start out on the bottom step. I would stand on the step sideways. I would then jump off the step to the side and perform the double jump. I figured I would get higher in the air and then be able to turn the rope faster and therefore be able to get it twirled twice under my feet. A few times I jumped too far to the side and lost my balance. Several times I landed on my knees. But I was determined. And, I was stubborn. I kept trying. Nothing was going to stop me. Timing was everything, when it came to jump rope. If the timing wasn’t there, it just was not going to work.  

I would get off the step and practice other jumps. Criss cross, backwards jumping, backwards criss cross, front criss cross, moving the feet AND the elusive double jump. I still couldn’t get the timing down. Back to the step it would have to be. 

Standing on the step, I got the jump rope behind me and told myself this was it. It was time to get this. Because I was determined. And, I was stubborn. I jumped and twirled the rope at the same time. It felt like slow motion. It felt like this time it was going to happen. I could feel it. The jump rope twirled twice under my feet and I landed on the ground without falling! I was elated. I did it. I did a double jump. I did it! Holy crap, time to try again. I got up on the step again. I repeated everything as before, step by step. I did it again! It worked, again! I was so excited. 

Well, you know what came next, right? Of course I had to try it off the step. I made it a big production, even though I was by myself. I acted like I was on a stage and I had no choice but to do it. I had no choice but to get this jump. I was determined. And, I was stubborn. I got in position. Feet together on the ground, jump rope behind me. Deep breath. 1-2-3. I jumped and twirled. Twice. I got it. Again. It felt good. It felt, almost easy. Had I practiced so much that now every piece was going to fall into place, every dot was going to be connected and all of my hard work was going to pay off? Could it be that easy? Could practicing so much really pay off? Why yes, it can. It really can. That is the only way we are going to get better at something. Sometimes we want it right now. I should say a lot of times we want it right now and we are not willing to work for it. I see it all the time. We need to be patient and we need to work and practice something if we want to get better at it. That should be common sense. 

After I got the one double jump, I started practicing more and more. I started stringing together one after the other, until I could do 25 unbroken double jumps. I then started practicing backwards double jumps until I perfected those as well. I was so happy with my progress. I was determined to reach my goal. And, I was stubborn.

Be determined. And, be stubborn. 

Because It’s Educational

Her name was Debbie. Debbie Sayler. She was my friend. A good friend. She had brown hair and glasses. She was tall and slender. Skinny. It was the Central House. We lived there briefly before we moved to the Prospect house. It was after the Euclid house. Debbie lived on Capitol. Down towards the west end of town, West Capitol.

We played together a lot. Either at my house or hers. It seemed like the time spent at each house was equal. I always liked going to her house. Her mom was really nice. There was always crafty stuff going on at their house. I wanted to be crafty. I was not. 

We played together and sometimes did school work and other times we played games or just did other things. 

On this day, we were bored. It was warm outside so we went out and sat on the front steps. We sat there and talked about things that were important in our lives at that time.  

 At some point in our young lives we both watched Sesame Street. Sesame Street was a very educational series, with puppets. We learned a lot from Sesame Street, particularly the formation of words. Remember the segment where Maria and one of the puppets would have a lesson in sounding out words or forming the word and then putting it all together? A typical word may have been something like the sw sound and then the ing sound. One person would say the sw sound and the other would say the ing sound. Next they both would say the word together. So it would be sw, ing, then swing. Pretty cool way to sound out words. Pure genius. 

Debbie and I did that too. We were having a lot of fun. We couldn’t stop laughing. We played this game for quite a while. I’m not sure whose idea it was. I will concede we were both at fault. Our words were more creative than Sesame Street’s though. Our words were swear words. Because why wouldn’t they be? It was educational. Sesame Street said so. And, we were learning. We were using the lessons we had learned. 

We thought we the funniest kids ever. Over and over and over again, sh— it —shit. We would look at each other as we sounded out the word and then would burst out laughing. That was our main word. The other was damn. I don’t think we did the f word, but it’s entirely possible. We played and played and laughed and laughed. 

I always had fun playing with Debbie. 

Wedding Vows

It’s our anniversary tomorrow (January 10th). It is 21 years. It feels like two. I feel like we have known each other our whole lives, not just 21 years of our lives. 

The promise:

I Peggie, take thee John, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

I, John, take thee, Peggie, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. 

Love, respect, life, living. Happy, connected, forever, love. True love, soul mate, the one, unconditional love.

Man of my dreams

Life is not guaranteed

Wedded bliss

In sickness and in health

A picture. I was at work today and the picture fell out from some papers I have. It is one of my favorites, if not favorite, picture of John and Tayler. Tayler is about 10 months old in it. John is about 44, a few months shy of 45. John has a giant horseshoe full of staples on his head. Tayler has burned fingers on her hand. It shows the fragility that life is. It shows that nothing is guaranteed, no matter what we may think. It shows.

Life was good. Life was beautiful. Then on June 3, 2000, dad died and life was very, very sad. John got me through it. Every night he held me while I cried the ugly cry. 

A week or so after dad died, John started acting weird. I know, hard to believe right? LOL. We would be sitting there talking and all of a sudden he would just be silent and it was like he was looking right through me. After dad’s funeral, John and I and my sisters and their husbands sat up drinking White Russians, reminiscing and telling dad stories. We knew he was there, because he broke the tree. The tree actually split. No storm, no lightning, just dad. 

John thought maybe he just had a wicked, wicked hangover. He said his head felt like there was an axe in it. This went on for a while and he continued to act weird and to look straight through me. He said he was going to go the chiropractor the next day because he thought maybe his neck was out of place. At the time, I didn’t realize he was having seizures. I actually thought he may be having a stroke when he had a really bad seizure. 

I should have taken him. I don’t know why I didn’t. At that time we lived on the river, right past the Pizza Ranch and down from AmericInn (which was not there then). I watched. I was scared and really, really nervous. I could see his pickup on the bridge. He was going extremely slow. He definitely had a guardian angel that day because he was having a seizure as he was driving over to Pierre to the chiropractor’s office. 

I received a telephone call. John was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. I immediately called his brother, Roy, and he met me at the hospital. We knew nothing at that point. He was being monitored and all kinds of tests were being conducted. 

Ironically, my dad’s physician, Dr. Hoffsten, figured out what was going on. After testing and more testing, it turned out John had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, which disrupts normal blood flow and oxygen circulation. They are typically found in the brain and if it ruptures can cause bleeding in the brain, stroke or brain damage. 

We were referred to Rapid City, to a neurosurgeon. We liked him. Seljeskog. Ed. He reminded me of dad. He made us feel comfortable. Next up, brain surgery. June 30, 2000.

John had to have surgery to remove the AVM. It seemed like the surgery took forever. It was a very long day. The AVM was removed and everything was going to be okay. More angels looking over us and God for sure. 

It seems so long ago that this happened. It seems so long ago that Tayler was little. It seems so long ago that our life was completely turned upside down, yet it feels like it was yesterday. The emotions are there, on the surface, just waiting to spring to life. It can’t be helped. I can’t stop them. I see that picture and the lump in my throat is right there. The tears are waiting to fall. 

I don’t take anything for granted. Things can change in a second. You hear that all the time. It really is true. None of us know how much time we have. None of us. 

So with my time, I choose to live life. I choose to live life with my true love.

Man of my dreams

Life is not guaranteed

Wedded bliss

In sickness and in health

…till death do us part

Tops for 2018

I’ve been reflecting a little bit on 2018. Overall, it was not a bad year. I’m grateful. I feel lucky. I love my life. I love what I do. Some people don’t get to say that.

In 2018, I wrote more than I ever have before. I put out a blog post just about every single week of 2018. I may have missed a few, but that’s okay. Nobody is perfect and perfect is nobody.

I went through the stats on my site and picked out the top 5 most read blog posts of 2018. I always like to add one or two that are my favorites as well. Before i get to those though, I wanted to say how happy I am that you come here every week and read these posts. It means the world to me.

In 2019, I hope to continue with the kid blog post memories. I’m going to have to dig in and remember some more. I already have one planned for next week, so at least the memories are still flowing. Anyway, here are the top 5 of 2018, along with the link.

  1. http://peggielarsen.com/2018/04/11/rest-in-peace-mike/ This post is about a pretty much life-long friend. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. His life was cut way too short. I love him and I miss him.
  2. http://peggielarsen.com/2018/05/16/tayler/ Of course, this is about Tayler, the last kid. She is definitely a good one. Bittersweet.
  3.  http://peggielarsen.com/2018/06/05/buddy/ The day we lost our Buddy boy. Such a sad day. We gave him a spectacular life.
  4.  http://peggielarsen.com/2018/10/24/the-pretty-people/ This is about my husband and Tayler. They are definitely pretty people. My sense of humor definitely shows in this one.
  5.  http://peggielarsen.com/2018/03/07/kid-friends-branch-and-peggie/ This is about my friend, Branch. We grew up playing together all the time. He was a great friend. I will never forget how much fun we had.

The next two are a few of my favorites from this past year. The first one is called Butterflies and Freedom. It’s about the carefree life of a kid. The beauty seen in nature. It’s about being a kid and getting to be a kid without a care in the world. The other one is the flip side of that coin. It’s about how fragile life can be. It’s about giving the ultimate sacrifice. It’s about signing that blank check, giving your life for your country. I struggle with this,  a lot. My son is a Marine Vet and I thank God every day that he survived two stints overseas. It could have turned out so differently. But, this sacrifice, this sacrifice of these young men, happened on home soil. This sacrifice is called suicide. It’s a huge problem and it needs to stop.

  1.  http://peggielarsen.com/2018/10/17/butterflies-and-freedom/
  2.  http://peggielarsen.com/2018/05/28/rainy-days-and-mondays/

As I was going through the posts on New Year’s Day and trying to pick out my favorites, I came across the one about my Dad. I know I write about him a lot. It just helps. I was sitting at the kitchen counter and heard the familiar tap on the window. Tap, tap, tap. I knew it was the cardinal bringing me the message. Telling me he was here. I got up and went to the window and looked out. I saw the flash of red, flying away.

 

  http://peggielarsen.com/2018/06/02/june-3-2000/

 

I’m ready for 2019. I’m excited to bring you more stories.

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. 

A babysitter named Corrine and a Banana Splits lunchbox

It was the Euclid house. It was fall. The mornings were cold. It was a contest. We wanted to see who could make it to the babysitter’s house without wearing a coat. It wouldn’t have been bad, except we rode our bikes, so it always felt like the wind was blowing right in our faces. We rode the whole width of the street. We thought we were cool. Brats riding bikes in the middle of the street. We were every parent’s nightmare. We had to carry our lunchboxes too. We used to have the brown paper bags, but for some reason I begged my mom into getting me a regular lunchbox. Mine was from the TV show The Banana Splits. It was white vinyl. It had a snap fold-over closing. It smelled weird, that strange vinyl smell.  The kind of smell you can’t stand, yet you keep smelling it. 

Every morning we did this. Same time, same place. No coats. Contest. 

I was curious, so I looked up The Banana Splits show. It was around until about 1970. It started in 1968. The puppeteers, Sid and Marty Krofft, made it big after this show ended. Their next cartoon was H.R. Pufnstuff. Remember that one? I also just lost 1 minute and 22 seconds of my life listening to the theme song from The Banana Splits show. It’s called “The Tra La La Song,” and you will never get it out of your head. Seriously. Not even kidding. 

We were going to her house. The babysitter’s house. I always wondered, if we could get ourselves to a babysitter’s house, why did we need a babysitter? Weird. Anyway, it was only about two blocks. I tracked it the other day because I couldn’t remember. We would cut through the alley and out into the street. We rode over to Grand and then two blocks north. Her house was a few houses in from the intersection of Grand and Elizabeth. The house was big. It had a wraparound porch and was painted white. 

She was pretty. She had dark hair and beautiful dark olive skin. She was really tan. Her voice was kind of different. It’s hard to describe. Not high pitched, not deep. Just different. She taught us about life. She taught us about doing our part. She taught us about working. We liked to help her. There was a clothesline in the backyard and a big garden. There were rows and rows of green beans. We picked them for her and ate them the whole time we were picking. We helped with the laundry. We helped with everything. We even helped with cooking and baking.

She let us be kids. She let us play in the dirt. She didn’t get mad if we were dirty or muddy, or if we made a mess. She just let us be. She taught us how to knit and how to put together jigsaw puzzles. The hard ones. The 500 or more pieces ones. I vaguely remember music too. I can’t remember what it was about the music, but something…

She treated us right. She treated us like we were her own. I loved her. 

Thanks Corrine Leidholt. You were a positive influence in my life and I am forever grateful for you.