One of my favorite childhood memories is of listening to my Aunt Marian’s bedtime stories when my sisters and I spent the night at The Girls’ house.
“The Girls” was what everyone called my father’s four unmarried sisters. They lived at home with their widowed mother until her death, and then continued to live together until the last remaining sister went into a nursing home in her nineties. Since there were four of them and three of us, it meant that each one of us had the full and undivided attention of at least one adult at any given time. All the time. It was pretty creepy when we were teenagers, but we loved it as kids.
Especially at bed time.
Marian was the youngest of the four, and she loved to tell stories about her childhood – particularly about her family’s pet goat, Lindy. She also talked about Chippy the dog and TB the cat, but Lindy was the star of our favorite tales.
At bedtime, Marian would come into the room with us and sit down on the edge of the bed to wind up her big old-fashioned alarm clock. The little bells on top of it would chime as she turned it back and forth in her hands to crank the dial on the back, and the noise would make all of us shiver in anticipation of what was coming next. Crank. . . bong! . . . crank . . . Bong! . . . Chunk, as she plunked it down on the dresser.
Marian would then stretch and yawn theatrically, give us a sleepy smile, and head for the doorway, wishing us all “sweet dreams.”
“Tell us a bedtime story!” We clamored. “Tell us stories about when you were a little girl! Tell a story about Lindy!”
She would heave an aggrieved sigh, roll her eyes and begin: “When I was a little girl,” she always started, “I always went right to bed and right to sleep. So did Lindy. We were both good kids. Now go to sleep.”
“Marian!” we wailed. “Tell us a real story!”
And she was off. It didn’t matter that we had heard the stories hundreds of times or that we knew how each was going to end. We knew each tale by heart. Lindy was a little black and white goat, a runt whose ears “hung down like pigtails” because my Uncle Lawrence’s bigger, meaner goats used to chew on her ears. She followed Marian and The Twins (Dad and Uncle Don) everywhere they went.
Lindy was more like a dog than a goat. She followed her masters to school and feasted with them on leftover popcorn from the neighbor’s popcorn wagon. She once hung herself from the porch railing and had to be rescued in the nick of time. But the most-requested Lindy story was the one that told of her untimely end.
Lindy Stories took place during the Depression in a small, poverty-stricken town in Southwest Michigan. Like most Americans at the time, the family was poor and hungry, barely managing to eke out a living. One of the most crucial elements of their survival was the gas ration sticker on the bumper of my grandfather’s truck. Without that sticker, he couldn’t buy gas for his vehicle; without gas, he couldn’t drive to any of his random odd jobs to earn those few pennies that meant the difference between feeding his family and letting them go hungry.
So of course Lindy ate the gas ration sticker off my grandfather’s truck.
In a rage, Grandpa gave Lindy to the neighbor, an equally poor and hungry man with the unfortunate nickname “Mushrat.” Marian and The Twins stopped by Mushrat’s house after school to visit Lindy every day until the sad day when they arrived to find two things missing from Mushrat’s place: Lindy the goat, and the gas ration sticker from the bumper of Mushrat’s truck.
Lindy was never seen again, although Mushrat’s children seemed suspiciously well-fed for the next several days.
I have my own kids now who are all well-versed in the Tales of Lindy. I love perching on the edge of their bed and regaling them with stories about “Marian and Grandpa Dean”. They ask for stories about my childhood as well, although I freely admit that the stories about my sisters and me aren’t quite as high on the playlist. Our suburban upbringing simply can’t compare with goat-eating neighbors during the Great Depression.
I think Lindy will outlive us all in stories. This past summer, my daughter helped take care of some of the younger girls at a three-day dance camp, and she entertained them with bedtime stories of Lindy. They couldn’t understand the abject poverty of the era, or what it was like to play outdoors all day with nothing but a runty goat with shaggy ears, but they loved the stories as much as my children did – and as much as my sisters and I did all those years ago.
In an odd twist, I once had a roommate that Marian recognized as Mushrat’s granddaughter. “I know,” my friend sighed when we asked her about it. “My Grandpa ate your family pet.”
Apparently, Mushrat’s kids liked bedtime stories too.