I woke up yesterday morning with a song running through my mind. But not an entire song. Oh, no. Just a few simple melodies and a random word here and there. Sort of like “Something something ENOUGH, never something SOMETHING, Uh-HUH.”
I drove my co-workers crazy with it, partly because I am tone deaf and should never ever sing, but mainly because my co-workers are all much too young to remember the classics from the 80’s. But at last, I finally remembered enough of the song to Google the lyrics, and voila! I had the title, artist, and video.
“Room at the Top” by Adam Ant.
Oh, Adam Ant. Sigh. I had such a crush on him. My first concert was him and the Romantics, although that was early enough in his career that he was still Adam and the Ants at that point. Long before his big hits like “Strip” or “Goody Two Shoes” or, of course, “Room at The Top.”
When I went to his concert, his hits were all songs like “AntMusic” and “Dog Eat Dog.” I mean, who else wrote lyrics like “Leapfrog the dog and brush me, daddy oh”? But it was more than his music. He oozed sexuality. My little teenage hormones went into hyperdrive when I saw him dance and wriggle all over the place.
So I was all set for a steamy trip down Memory Lane yesterday when I clicked on one of his videos to remind myself of just how sexy he really was.
Um . . . well, that was . . . not quite what I remembered. Perhaps I had him confused with some other sexy artist of the 80’s. Maybe Billy Idol?
Maybe Brian Setzer?
Not a whole lot of testosterone going on there, guys.
I started frantically searching through 80’s videos to see if any of the men I thought of as sexy were as breathtaking as I remembered. So far, this is the most masculine and powerful image I found:
Gotta be honest here, folks. If I were a lesbian, Annie Lennox would SO be on my radar.
But since I am straight and single, I am now totally confused about just exactly what I ever saw in those pretty boys of the 1980’s? More to the point, I really need to look at pictures of men that I find attractive now.
I’m having trouble breathing, Mr. Gage.
Fireman. Need I say more?
(Okay, so that last one’s not a celebrity. We may be divorced, but I still think he’s kinda cute.)
Okay, all better now. I’m coming to terms with the realization that my tastes in men have definitely evolved a bit over the years, thank goodness. And while I know I’m never going to go out with Sam Elliot, Taye Diggs, Eric Allan Kramer, or Randolph Mantooth (or my ex!), I can always dream, can’t I?
At least now, I’m not dreaming of men who wear more eyeliner than I do!
What about you? Have your tastes changed over the years? Who do you find most attractive now?
When I was fourteen, I learned about the power that comes with being a woman.
My sisters and I spent our summers with our four unmarried aunts at their cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, and we practically lived in our bathing suits. I was self-conscious about my weight and my new curves, but I had grown up on a beach and was so used to wearing a bathing suit that it didn’t bother me as much as it probably should have. I may not have been comfortable in my skin, but I was comfortable in my Spandex.
Prior to that summer, I was all about swimming or reading in the sun. But that was the year that my sisters decided it was time to induct me into their secret society, which included tanning, trying to look older, and boy-watching. We didn’t use the lake for swimming anymore; rather, it was a place to rinse off the sand and splash ourselves so that the water glistened on our young, tanned bodies.
It was usually well before nine a.m. by the time our morning chores were done and we were ready to cross the street to the beach, but it was still too empty. There were the usual beachcombers and dog-walkers over there, but no one worth our time.
And by “no one worth our time” I mean boys.
Boys in bathing suits.
Lifeguards, to be specific.
Lifeguards who came on duty at nine o’clock sharp.
The summer I was fourteen, my aunts still insisted that we had to spread our towels directly in front of the lifeguard stand if we wanted to go to the beach unaccompanied. We acted offended, even insulted. After all, we whined, we were old enough to go to the beach without constant adult supervision. It was ridiculous to treat us like children. It was stupid to demand that we set up for the day right there in front of the lifeguards.
It was also exactly where we wanted to be.
Come on, the lifeguards wore little red swimming trunks. And nothing else. Well, they wore sunglasses and whistles, but I really didn’t notice those things.
We got to know all the guys by name. There was Randy, who was so cute that even Aunt Marian referred to him as “Precious,” and his brother Tim, who looked remarkably like a blonde Christopher Reeve. There was Dave, who was terribly worried about having to go into the water and potentially damage his Sebago Docksiders. And there was a freakishly tall fellow whose nickname, “The Big Wazoo,” always made me blush and glance involuntarily groinward, because I was naïve but not that naïve.
At fourteen, I had a lot of friends who were boys, but no actual boyfriends. I liked boys. I liked spending my time with boys who were my friends, but as soon as I liked one for anything more than that, I lost the ability to think and/or speak. I felt fat and plain and stupid.
Being on the beach, in my bathing suit, just a few yards from hot older boys in bathing suits, did all kinds of crazy things to my hormones. One minute, I’d have the confidence to strut my stuff past the lifeguards, carefully placing my steps in line just right to give my hips just enough swing. The next minute, I’d want to throw a baggy sweatshirt over my bare skin and bury myself in the sand.
I knew the lifeguards were all too old for me, but that didn’t stop me from learning to flirt. We’d turn up our little battery-operated radio to WLS out of Chicago and giggle to Larry Lujack’s “Animal Stories” while darting sidelong glances up at those lifeguards in their red trunks and sunglasses, and then my sisters taught me how to slow down and make a big show out of rubbing Hawaiian Tropic or Bain De Soliel oil on my skin.
After a day in the sun, we’d stroll casually past all of the boys on the beach and break into a run when we got close enough to the cottage to race for the shower room. We’d battle it out, dress in cutoffs and spaghetti straps, paint on our royal blue mascara and Bonnie Bell LipSmacker, and set up our beach chairs on the front porch for the night’s show that began near sundown.
Back then, there were no beach curfews or noise ordinances. Local teenage boys and young men would jump into their muscle cars or even their family station wagons, and dedicate the next three hours to slowly circling Lake Shore Drive at a roaring speed of less than ten miles per hour. They played their music much too loud, with thumping bass notes that stirred something I so desperately wanted to be stirred but was too afraid to really let go.
My sisters and I would rock our chairs back and put our feet up on the railing, almost – but not quite—giving a perfect view of our butts in our cutoff shorts. We got whoops and hollers and more than our fair share of catcalls, and quite possibly a few mild fender-benders that could have been blamed on us, but my sisters always advised me to almost ignore.
We never hollered back or even waved. Just an occasional half-smile or quick bit of eye contact, but that was it. We were good girls; we weren’t ever the type to jump into a car with any of those boys, even though the other girls in neighboring houses were always squealing and giggling and going for a ride with someone at less than ten miles per hour.
Years later, I learned that the local boys referred to us as “The Girls Behind The Wall” because of the white wall that surrounded our courtyard. They also called us “The Blonde Girls” or simply “The Sisters,” along with a lot of other not-so-nice names that, in retrospect, we probably really deserved. We were snobs, and we treated those boys deplorably, but it sure was good for my ego.
And it was fun.
When I was fourteen, I learned how to flirt, and how to feel both beautiful and powerful. For good or for bad, I learned the word tease.
This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When I was fourteen . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kerrie from Diagnosed and Still Okay, and Dana from Kiss My List. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!
I remember waking up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Back then, there was no Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, and the single fuzzy PBS station was a little too kid-friendly in slightly creepy and condescending sort of way. I still have nightmares about that crazy Romper Room lady who insisted she could see us all in her mirror, although I’m also a bit pissed off that I never once heard her say “I see Amy.”
Sunday morning TV was a wash. We could watch Rocky and Bullwinkle and try to understand all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor that usually sailed over our heads, or we could try to sit through the awkward stop-action Davey & Goliath that always left me feeling vaguely uneasy.
I always wanted to be the first one awake on Saturdays so I could see shows like Clue Club and Speed Buggy before my older sisters took over the TV. My middle sister and I especially liked the live action shows; we both crushed on the little blonde boy from Sigmund the Sea Monster, and we spent hours re-enacting scenes from Isis and Shazam! We all three loved playing Bugaloos, but I always had to be the little fat firefly kid whose butt refused to light up. I never got to be the pretty princess or even Witchipoo from H.R Puffnstuff.
No, I take that back. I got to be the princess one time, and wore my favorite hand-me-down-dress with straps that tied on the shoulders. The little neighbor boy came over to play, and I remember him staring at me with buggy eyes and crooning, “You look beautiful! Will you go swimming with me?”
Ah, yes, my first date, at the ripe old age of five.
I could write volumes of blog posts about the lessons learned that day about beauty or male shallowness in the face of revealing summer clothes. But I’ll take the high road here instead and go back to my Saturday mornings.
By the time I had kids, they had access to cartoons 24/7. I always worked on Saturdays, so I usually didn’t see them until late in the afternoon on those days. I only found out recently that my older kids used to tiptoe downstairs to watch Saturday morning shows after I left for work but before their father woke up for the day. We had satellite TV, of course, but on Saturdays they turned off the satellite and watched the Saturday morning lineup on the same channels that I watched as a child.
They have the same kind of memories that I have: wrapping up in an afghan on the couch, eating endless bowls of mushy cereal and watching TV with the volume turned down low to avoid waking their parents. It didn’t matter that those same shows were available in a constant rotation on other channels during the week; Saturday morning TV has never been about the shows. It’s about watching the shows, whatever shows they are.
Nutritionists and health experts are still bemoaning Saturday morning TV with as much vigor as they did in my era. Of course kids are better off outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Of course they shouldn’t eat multiple bowls of sugar-encrusted cereal in one sitting. Everybody knows that.
But it creates a childhood memory, and isn’t that important, too?
Now, I am at my desk on a Saturday morning, catching up on my writing while I down my fourth cup of tepid coffee. My teenagers are in their rooms upstairs, either sleeping in or playing on the internet with tablets and Galaxies and X-Boxes, oh my. The Little Man spent last night with his cousin (and occasional partner in crime), and the house is shockingly, disturbingly quiet. What I wouldn’t give to hear an annoying theme song right now; I don’t care if they’re singing “Gotta catch ‘em all, gotta catch ‘em all!” or “Call me, beep me, if you wanna reach me . . .”
My nest is getting empty, but never as empty as on this quiet Saturday morning.
My favorite decade was the eighties, of course! The fashions, the music, the TV shows – what wasn’t great about the eighties?
Okay, I could have lived without seeing Don Johnson’s rumpled white suits and bare ankles. And George Michael’s suntanned lips were pretty creepy. And I could seriously contemplate self-harm if I ever have to watch a Toni Basil video again. But we also got MTV, Max Headroom and REM. The eighties gave us Moonlighting and launched Bruce Willis on an unsuspecting TV audience. The eighties gave us leg warmers and pegged jeans and slouch boots. Slouch boots! Who didn’t feel gorgeous in slouch boots?
I wore earrings in the eighties that could have doubled as fishing lures. Seven earrings up the left side, one super-long dangler on the right. A big gold hoop with a spare key dangling from it. The true question of the eighties is how on earth I managed to come through both earlobes intact.
And the colors. Jewel tones and bright geometric prints. Socks that matched the collar that matched the ginormous earrings that matched the bejeweled hairclip. Color-coordinated matchy-matchy outfits that worked perfectly for someone with my fashion-impaired sensibility. It was so easy to put an outfit together, like Garanimals for grown-ups. I wore royal blues and vibrant reds and shades of fuschia that could be seen from outer space.
But my love for the eighties isn’t just about the fashions and the music. It’s more personal than that. The 1980’s were the decade when my life really started.
I started and finished high school in the eighties. Started college, but didn’t finish. I got my first real job, left home, got an apartment. Lost my first job. Hated the apartment and moved into my sister’s basement, got a better job.
I lost my Aunt Ida and my mother and my grandmother in the eighties.
I sold my first article in the eighties, to a now-defunct magazine called “Amazing Heroes.”
I became an aunt in the eighties. That moment is still right up there as a close second or third behind becoming a mother (a nineties event, not part of today’s post). Some of the most wonderful people in my life were my aunts; I still find it hard to believe that I have been lucky enough to be an aunt to eight little people. Not so little, actually; only one is still shorter than I am, and I expect him to pass me in about three years.
And only three of them were born in the eighties, but I’m the kind of aunt who can never brag about just one niece or nephew.
We make fun of the fashions of the eighties now, but the truth was that I felt beautiful then. Maybe it was because I spent my late teens and early twenties during that decade, and most women begin to recognize their own beauty at that age.
The big, big hair was perfect for me. Even now, I still have enough hair on my head for a small village. I wore it long and spiral-permed and pulled it back with scrunchies and bow-shaped barrettes. And don’t forget the banana clips! Oh, the banana clips! Decorated with faux pearls and rhinestones and enough flash and sparkle to blind anyone in a ten-mile radius.
I only stopped wearing a banana clip when I realized LeVar Burton wore one every week as a visor on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Make up in the eighties was totally awesome. Anybody remember the blue mascara? Paired with blue eyeliner, it made my small, close-set eyes actually look big for once. And the lip gloss. Bonnie Bell Raspberry Lip Smacker was my go-to flavor. Glosses and roll-ons with fruit-flavored glitter and sparkle that glistened like drool on a teething six-month old.
My sister referred to that look as “Cum-Lips.” I didn’t understand that in the early eighties, but I caught on somewhere around 1987. Yes, I was a late bloomer.
My sixteen year-old recently had to dress up for “Eighties Day” for her school’s spirit week. I wanted to coach her in how to peg her jeans and do her make-up, but she seemed to figure it out just fine. I wish she would have let me give her “Mall Bangs,” though. They would have made the outfit.
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.
My aunts used to tell a really bad joke about a man who goes to prison. On his first night, several of the other inmates begin shouting numbers.
“Seventy-four!” one yells, and the others all laugh heartily.
“Eighty-nine!” another bellows, and is rewarded with wild laughter and applause.
The new prisoner is mystified until his cellmate explains that the men have all told the same jokes so many times that they have assigned a number to each joke, and they now simply shout out the numbers instead of taking the time to tell the entire joke.
“I see,” says the new inmate. He clears his throat and then roars, “Forty-two!”
When his attempt is greeted with silence, his cellmate shrugs and tells him that “some can tell ‘em and some can’t.”
Dumb, right? But to this day, members of my family will giggle any time we hear the number forty-two. That’s right, the Hyde family recognized the humorous potential of that number long before Douglas Adams decided that it was the Answer the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.
I was reminded of the joke the other night when I cracked myself up by making a Monty Python reference. My kids didn’t catch it, of course. They stared at me, wide-eyed, and wondered why I had suddenly cried out, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”
Being a modern mother, I later talked about it on Facebook, only to realize that many of my friends have never heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Oh, my God.
Somehow, I got old. Old and out of touch. And, apparently, a failure when it comes to teaching my kids about humor.
But then a strange thing happened. Some of my older friends started commiserating, making comments like “Dead Parrot!” and “Crunchy Frog!” And I realized that my generation has become those prison inmates from my aunts’ joke: we no longer have to tell the entire joke or watch the entire comedy routine. We just shout out a line or a few words from a Monty Python bit and collapse into giggles.
For those of you too young to remember the Pythons, it is impossible to convey just what was so great about them. They were hilarious, irreverent, naughty, and oh-so-smart. But watching the show was more than just watching the show. It was an experience. For my generation, being a fan of Monty Python was like being part of an elite, secret club. Joking about killer rabbits or migratory coconuts made us feel so very smart, so cool.
And daring. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that our parents definitely did not approve. Not of the Pythons or Benny Hill or any of the other British comedians that we watched on fuzzy PBS stations late at night while wrapping foil around a battered set of rabbit ears just to get the channel to come in. Our parents didn’t get them, man. They couldn’t understand why we laughed so hard about a pet store clerk refusing to admit that he has just sold a dead parrot; they didn’t see what was so funny about Spam or the word “Abatross!”
It was like a secret code. The Pythons were ours. Terry Gilliam’s manic animation and inability to keep a straight face, John Cleese’s constant air of affronted British dignity and Terry Jones’ apparent willingness to do anything for a laugh. Graham Chapman’s ability to look utterly serious no matter what kind of insanity was spinning out of control around him. There was Eric Idle’s versatility and gift for accents, and Michael Palin’s rubber-faced, wide-eyed cheekiness.
The Pythons have gotten old, and so have I. I sit here and shake my head as I lament that there is just nothing today that matches the humor my generation saw in the Pythons. Okay, I laugh at the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, and Rodney Carrington can make me laugh so hard that I physically ache afterward. Jeff Dunham has made Diet Coke come out my nose on more than one occasion, and I’ve been known to laugh so hard that I have to pause the show before I end up peeing.
But it’s just not the same thing.
Oh, sure, the kids and I will snicker if one of us ends a sentence with “ . . . on a stick” or “Here’s your sign.” I love it when the Big Guy sings about “Titties and Beer”. But we’re enjoying the jokes, not fully reliving the moments.
Children of the 70’s and 80’s do more than just enjoy the jokes. We relive the moments of watching the Monty Python show and movies. All we have to do is shout out “It’s just a flesh wound!” or sing “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay” and the Python fans will let us know who they are by singing along or laughing.
The Pythons taught us that comedy could be smart and stupid at the same time. They made fun of everyone and everything, from Hitler to Catholicism (oh come on, you know you laughed at “Every Sperm is Sacred”). They dressed in drag and made garters funny, poked fun at the Olympics and pretention. They could bounce from the most low-brow fart jokes to smart humor about ancient philosophers (sing along with me now: “Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable. . . ).
Crunchy Frog. Dead Parrot. The Lumberjack Song. Sit on my Face and Tell Me That You Love Me. Ministry of Silly Walks. Confuse A Cat.
Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?
For me, “nature” doesn’t mean forest or city; it means water.
My aunts bought The Seashell — as they named their beach house– when I was three years old, but family legend has it that they took my sisters and me to Lake Michigan on vacation even before that. Aunt Marian used to tell stories about having to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of the water long after everyone else had tired of swimming.
The Lake was a big playground for us. My aunts tried to teach us to respect it without fearing it, but I didn’t understand what they meant until the first time I went in the water when the Yellow Flag was up.
There were lifeguards on our beach back then, and they used a flag system to tell us how to treat the water every day. Green Flag meant the water was calm and smooth and safe, Yellow Flag meant there was a certain degree of danger due to strong currents and high waves, and a Red Flag meant no swimming. Stay out.
I was probably about six or seven years old. There were four aunts and three little girls, so we always had the full attention of at least one adult. At all times. In or out of the water. We had reached the age where the aunts let us go in the water without them, as long as they were watching from the shore, and as long as the flag was green. As the youngest, I still had to hold an adult’s hand in the water on Yellow Flag days.
On this particular Yellow Flag day, the aunts decided that I was ready to go in with just my sisters.
We were all just learning to bodysurf at that time, but hadn’t quite mastered the art of “reading” the water. We would wait for the biggest wave, fling ourselves facedown into it with arms stretched out above our heads, and ride the current as far toward shore as possible.
We thought the biggest waves were the strongest. Now I understand that a stong wave can be any size, but a wave that is muddy brown on top is a wave that is strong enough to gouge into the lake bottom and bring sand to the surface. In other words, strong enough to knock you on your ass.
Which is exactly what happened. Sort of.
The wave hit so hard that it drove my face into the bottom of the lake. My legs went up and over like a crazy little-girl-pinwheel. I came up for air and gulped down a faceful of the next wave as it crashed into me. Then I went down again, scraping skin off my shoulder as I bounced along the lake bottom once more.
One of my sisters–I don’t remember which one–hauled me up by my hair and snapped, “Don’t cry or they’ll make us all get out!”
I didn’t have time to cry. I had to catch the next wave. And the next.
There is nothing in my life that has ever matched the feeling of being pounded and tossed about by Lake Michigan in her frenzy. Helpless, disoriented, exhausted, waterlogged and almost afraid. And starved. I remember coming out of the water feeling like I could gnaw on some of my own extremities.
And I felt clean. Inside and out. Purged of all negativity. I was recharged, body and soul.
When I battled the waves, I touched God. And He touched me.
I’ll never bodysurf again because it’s just too risky with my neck injury. But I will always need to return to Lake Michigan when my spirit is aching or my soul is weak. And when the lake is in a frenzy of crashing waves and flying spray, I can almost hear Him speaking to me, telling me to lean on Him.
And then I go home, strong enough to face the world again.
Safe inside, toasty warm, while water pitter-patters on the roof . . . describe your perfect, rainy afternoon.
When I was a kid, my aunts owned a cottage on the shore of Lake Michgan. Technically, I guess it was more of a beach house because it was a bit too big to be a cottage. It had five bedrooms and an enclosed courtyard surrounded by a white brick wall with a gate adorned with the letter “P”.
Aunt Marian swore it stood for either “Push” or “Pull” depending on which side of the wall one stood on. The neighbors said it stood for “Pollack”, the last name of the previous owners.
When my sisters and I became teenagers, most of the local boys decided that it stood for “Prison”.
The cottage was my aunts’ vacation getaway, and life was pretty simple there by choice. We were there for the beach and nothing else. We were up and on the sand by nine a.m., and only came home for the occasional glass of lemonade or a quick sandwich before returning. In the days befre anyone cared about sunscreen, we baked and basted, burned and peeled, and lived by the adage that “first you burn, then you turn.”
Rainy days sucked at the cottage. We had no TV. Well, we had one, but it had a 10-inch black & white screen and a blown picture tube, so we could only see the screen in absolute darkness, with all lights off and the venetian blinds tightly closed. In those days before cable TV, there was little to watch anyway; we could only catch three fuzzy stations out of Kalamazoo and the occasional PBS special out of Chicago if the wind was blowing across the lake just right.
So we played cards, built jigsaw puzzles, and battled it out over board games. My aunts taught us to gamble at an early age, and they didn’t believe in letting us win. We won and lost pennies by the hundreds in one afternoon of Michigan Rummy or Pit, and my older sister was a true card shark of the worst degree when it came to poker. We played Bingo and mastered Backgammon and even found a way to play chess for pennies.
When too many of us became poor or when we grew tired of the games, it was time to pack into the old green station wagon and head for Saugatuck. There were all kinds of stores in Saugatuck that were guaranteed to alleviate the boredom of a rainy day, but we were interested in only two. We’d start at King’s Kandy Korner, an old-fashioned candy store with barrels of hard candies to buy by the pound. The Girls , as we called our four aunts, would give each of us a few dollars and set us free.
My favorites were the tangy watermelon hard candies and the fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls, although I also had a weakness for Cream Filberts and jawbreakers. But it always took me longer to make my selection because I was fascinated with the pickle barrel behind the counter. It was enormous, almost as tall as I was, and had a flip-up top. There was a pair of metal tongs on a hook above it, and a hand-lettered sign that read:
A giant snapping turtle lives in this barrel so keep your pinkies out!
The pickles were huge and garlicky and sour enough to pucker everything from my head to my toes, but I had a deep and intense concern that I was eating something that had been soaking in turtle piss. That didn’t stop me from eating them, but it was a definite concern of mine.
From the candy store, we would move on to an old Post Office building that had been turned into a gift shop and card store. While my aunts prowled through aisle after aisle of useless knickacks for their already overcrowded curio cabinets, my sisters and I would slip into a hidden nook that displayed the specialty cards.
Specialty was a nice way of saying dirty.
We giggled and snorted and blushed and pretended that we understood what we were reading. Eventually, one of us would comprehend a smutty joke and laugh a little bit too loud, and the aunts would search for us. If Aunt Noni found us, she always took a few minutes to read some filth herself before shooing us out to the Hallmark part of the store.
Then it was time to wrap things up and climb back into the old station wagon to head for home. Aunt Verna always bought twice as much candy as the rest of us and we would all hide ours so we could sample from her little white bag on the ride home. Sourballs, Mary Janes, Neopolitans, Tootsie Rolls. We consumed our body weight in sugar and sang idiotic songs until someone either threw up or passed out, and when we got home the Girls tucked us in to our beds, where we tossed and turned and prayed for sun the next day.
The perfect rainy day? For me, it was a day spent with family.
I remember crowding around my mom’s radio on cold and snowy mornings, barely breathing, waiting for the words that would give me my freedom for the day. It was the WKZO Clock Show – called that because the show was almost exactly the same every single day, eliminating the need to actually look at a clock. We knew precisely where we should be in our morning routine by what was playing on the radio. 6:43, Blue Cross commercial; 6:44, Be-Mo Potato Chip commercial; 6:45, easy listening song, usually by Anne Murray or Sergio Mendes. And so on.
On snowy days, they changed their routine to list the school closings alphabetically. It took forever to get to the letter “P”. My sisters and I would usually start arguing around the letter “K” because Kalamazoo was a bigger district and if they were closed, surely we would be too. We’d get louder and louder until one of us would say, ”Shhhh! They just said Otsego!”
Parchment Public Schools. . . . Paw Paw Public Schools. . . .Portage Public Schools. Ahh, music to our ears!
Mom would sigh and fix herself another cup of instant coffee or light a second cigarette, and start listing our do’s and don’ts. No friends over. Don’t spend the whole day watching TV. Wash our own dishes. Don’t fight with each other. Don’t leave the yard. Then she would leave for work, probably more worried about the safety of her house than the safety of her children.
I honestly don’t remember what my older sisters did on snow days. They probably went back to bed or watched TV, or talked to friends on the phone. Maybe they played outside with me, but I really don’t remember whether they did or not. I just remember that there were always plenty of neighborhood kids around. Kids in my grade with older and younger siblings – kids we didn’t always recognize through the layers of scarves and hats and gloves, most of which were oversized and mismatched hand-me-downs from each other.
In those days, we wore big winter boots that fit over our shoes. To keep our shoes from getting stuck inside the boots, we would put on a shoe and stick the foot inside an empty bread wrapper before jamming it in to the boot. The colorful ends of the bread bags would stick out over the boot tops, proudly telling the world which kids were lucky enough to get Wonder Bread in their homes and which of us were stuck with the generic stuff.
I remember snowball fights and snow forts and impromptu games of Fox and Hen; hikes through knee-deep snow to Lexington Green Park so we could take turns falling off the swings and monkey bars; chasing each other around until we wiped out on the frozen tennis courts. Some days, we’d take our round plastic sleds along to ride down the two-foot hill at the park, pretending we were on a much bigger and scarier hill.
We’d get cold and go home for whatever was hot and easy to grab for lunch. Then we’d squirm back into our still-wet winter clothes and head back out for more.
The best snow days were the ones when we went ice-skating. Mom kept a row of pretty white ice skates hanging from nails underneath the basement stairs. I was a terrible skater, but that never stopped me from feeling graceful and beautiful the moment I laced those wonderful skates on my feet. I was Peggy Fleming! I was Dorothy Hamill!
By some unspoken agreement, we’d each sling a pair of skates around our necks like a scarf, and someone would grab a snow shovel, and we’d walk the half-mile to B&H Hardware store, down at the end of Hanover Street. There was a small swampy area down the hill behind the store, and it gave us the perfect spot to practice a little bit of skating. One of the bigger kids would start shoveling the snow off the pond and the rest of us would sit right in the snow and numb our backsides while we laced up our skates. I don’t know if they still make skates that way, but there was something so satisfying about the precision of wrapping the long white cords left-right-left-right around the tiny metal hooks.
We didn’t know enough about hockey to play an actual game; besides, none of us had any equipment. We pretty much just chased each other around and made up our own games that really had no point other than to keep moving and have fun.
It was crowded on that little pond, and nearly impossible to build up any speed without sending someone else sailing into a snow bank or tree. On those rare occasions when one of us would really start flying, we’d usually hit a frozen stalk of something swampy sticking up through the ice, at which point we’d be launched unceremoniously into the air. Crash landings usually involved other kids going down like so many dominoess, and this would lead to bruise-inducing rounds of bowling with each other’s bodies as pins.
The more dramatic among us worried about falling through the ice and having to rescue each other like we had seen on TV. Of course, the water was less than a foot deep, so there was really no danger. The one time a little boy’s foot went through the ice, his big sister and I wailed and panicked so much that we never even noticed when he turned and squelched home alone in disgust.
As the afternoon waned, we’d all drift off toward our homes, eager to beat our parents home so we could lie about finishing homework and not leaving our own yards.
My favorite part of the day came when I’d peel off those wet, ice encrusted clothes. Sometimes even the long johns were soaked through all the way to my panties. I’d look at the blotchy pink and white skin on my thighs and clap my tingling hands together until the feeling came painfully back into my fingers, and I’d wonder vaguely about things like frostbite and whether or not there was any Swiss Miss in the cupboard. Then I’d put on my pajamas and bathrobe and wrap up in an afghan in front of the TV.
When Mom got home, she would lecture us about spending the day in our pajamas, doing nothing but watching TV. Now that I’m a mom, I realize that she must have known better; there were mounds of wet clothes and dirty ice skates and snowy boots all over the house. But if she had acknowledged the snow, she would have had to acknowledge the broken rules and hand out some kind of punishment. So she played dumb and I congratulated myself for fooling her.
My kids are lucky enough to have forty acres to play in, with waterproof snow pants and thermal-lined gloves. I watch the thermometer and the clock and yell at them to come in before they can get frostbite. I am home all day with them on their snow days, so they come in from the cold to hot cocoa and sometimes even fresh cookies or at the very least , a hot lunch. They have plenty of friends at school, but none within walking distance.
For the most part, they spend their snow days playing videogames or watching TV. I just wish they had to lie to me about it.
Does anybody else think our generation knew how to have more fun on snow days?