Bedtime Stories With Aunt Marian

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.

Gas Ration A Continue reading

Snow Day


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?

Music Woman

Put together a musical playlist of songs that describe your life, including what you hope your future entails.

Not as easy as it sounds.  I sat down and compiled a list of over twenty songs that trigger memories of different “firsts” in my life:  first album I bought, first kiss, first slow dance, and so on.  But I wanted to narrow it down to songs that represent turning points in my life.  They may not have been my favorites at the time, but they are special for different reasons.

1970 Something” puts me in a nostalgic mood that takes me back to childhood.  He sings about toys and events I remember – everything from Stretch Armstrong to a Rubik’s Cube, from the death of Elvis Presley to the day the Challenger exploded. It’s a fun, easy summary of the first twenty years of my life.

How Can I Help You Say Good-Bye?” makes me think about the first major turning point in my life:  My mother’s death.   Mom passed away just a few weeks after I turned twenty-one.   She didn’t go easily; it was a long, drawn-out struggle with breast cancer that turned a smart and vibrant woman into something I wish I could forget.  With her gone, I had no choice but to be a grown-up.

When I said good-bye to Mom, I said good-bye to childhood.  From that moment forward, I had no safety net, no home base to return to when things went bad in my life.  That was the day I became an adult.

Then there’s “This Song Remembers When”.  I was twenty-six the first time I fell in love.  Not infatuation, not a crush, but love.  The first time I actually gave my love away without fear, without reservation.   He was a good man; we didn’t end with anger or bitterness.  We were both smart enough to accept that the relationship had simply run its course.

The song is about hearing music and being transported back to a time in life when love was fresh and new and exciting.  When I hear it, I can’t help but wonder where he is and if he ever thinks about me.  It’s not about wanting to go back to him or to that point in life.  To me it’s about music helping me remember someone fondly while still being content in the present.

This is a very nice segway to the next song on my list.

“That Was a River” is the perfect soundtrack to the story of meeting my husband.  We had both been in love before and had issues with trust.   But like the song says, that was a river, this is the ocean.  Basically, yes, I loved someone else before you, but that wasn’t as strong as what I’m feeling now.

Just Another Day in Paradise“ is about day-to-day happenings of married life rather than the roses and love songs of early romance.  It covers the seventeen years I’ve been with The Big Guy – date nights have become delivery pizza, hand-holding turned into laughing at the funny faces he makes sometimes; cozy nights in our big bed are often interrupted by children with nightmares.

Then came the June night when a maple tree landed on the van I was driving.  In the hours that I lay strapped to a backboard fighting off waves of panic, I hung on to sanity by mentally reciting the lyrics to the longest song I could think of: “The Day The Music Died”    From the moment I knew the kids were safely out of the vehicle, through the extrication and two ambulance rides, through CT scans and a claustrophobic meltdown in the MRI, that song ran in an endless loop through my mind.

I know the song is really about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper.  But for me, it is now about the night another chapter of my life ended.  Every page after that is about life with a disability.  I have had to deal with depression, anxiety, self-pity and PTSD, and it’s just now, eighteen months later, that I am finally beginning to heal on the inside in ways I never can on the outside.

I guess the music didn’t really die for me; I just had to learn new songs.

Gloria Estefan wrote “Coming out of the Dark” after breaking her back in a bus crash.  For me, that song represents my hopes for the future.  I want to keep coming out of the very dark place that has held me prisoner for far too long.  I want to keep healing and growing stronger, inside and out.   I want to keep coming out of the dark.

And there it is:  the soundtrack of my life.  A bit darker, more maudlin than I expected it to be, but I like the fact that it’s ending on an upbeat note, full of hope.