Houghton Lake Reminders of Life Moving Forward

I have a nostalgic vein that I guess is pretty common. I thought it was just me, but I hear country song lyrics like, “I can’t wait to show you where I grew up…”, “I want to introduce you to my kin-folks, where I grew up”, “I Go Back” by Kenny Chesney, “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert, and others. Wanting to go back home isn’t unusual. What often happens when we do, however, is we discover how much everything has changed. Life has gone on without us.

I get teased about driving friends and family by the house where I lived when I was in high school. The house looks the same but nothing else does. I’ve driven through the neighborhood where I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan many times. The shape of our house on Wellesley Drive is the same. Nothing else is. The houses look smaller and crowded together. The trees that were not much more than sticks when I was little now hang over the houses like huge green hands.

I recently followed the pull of the past and took a drive to Houghton Lake and Cadillac, Michigan. When I was very young, our family vacationed at a small resort in Cadillac called “Wally’s Cabins”. It was in the early 1960s and three or four-cabin resorts were common along Lake Mitchell and Houghton Lake. The photo on the left is what used to be Wally’s Cabins.

My parents had friends with a cottage just down the road from Wally’s. Their main cottage was right on the lake but they were building an A-frame house near the main road. The photo in the middle leads to the cottage by the lake, the A-frame is on the right. In those days there was just a two-lane car path and a swamp on the left where we hunted frogs and snakes.

In 1983 we were introduced to DeClerk’s Resort at Houghton Lake. It was like reliving Wally’s Cabins from my childhood and I loved it! Just like at Wally’s, each cabin included a rowboat and motor. It couldn’t have been better!

In 1983 we were considering having another baby. Our daughter was six and we were reaching the point of “now or never”. Cabin #2 at DeClerk’s Resort proved to be the perfect place for our family to grow. In February of 1984, we had triplet boys. When we returned to DeClerk’s the next summer, Kitty told everyone our triplets had been conceived in cabin #2. I don’t know if there was a rush to rent that cabin or not, but it made a good story.

I talked my precious wife into going back to Houghton Lake when the boys were just five months old. They were still on apnea monitors. They all slept together on a foam mattress in cabin #2, connected to their monitors. It was terribly difficult.

Our daughter loved fishing. I don’t remember her volunteering for cleaning but she was always excited to catch them.

The last time we were at DeClerk’s Resort was 1997. The boys were 13. Our daughter was married the following summer and now has three boys of her own. I wish I could have them little, all together one more time.

On my recent road-trip to the past, I was saddened to see how drastically the area had changed. Life has moved on.

The first time we went to Houghton Lake, I was thirty years old. That was thirty-seven years ago. Seeing what has happened to Funland was the most challenging part of the day. In my mind, I could still see our children and grandchildren on the rides.

Life goes on. Sometimes painfully. Looking back can be painful too, yet we all do it. It’s one thing to think about it, it’s another to actually visit and see just how much has changed.

Seriously Grateful

Blog and Photos by Dale Parsons

I followed the WordPress Discovery Prompts for 30 days. The last prompt was the word grateful. Rather than writing something serious, I chose to make it light and goofy. For example, saying I’m grateful my name isn’t Sigmund. Sigmund isn’t a bad name, I’m just grateful it’s not mine. I should have taken more time and expressed serious gratitude for so many things, and people. I’m doing that now.

Grateful means one thing to me. Family. It isn’t possible to put everything family means in a post like this. Or a book. Or a series of books. People spend lifetimes putting together scrapbooks of black and white photos, then Polaroid color photos, then color photos developed by Kodak, then printed digital photos, and now they’re viewed on a tiny screen, thousands of them, stored in a little flat box not much bigger than a business card you carry in your pocket. Not only that, but you talk to people with your camera now, and you can watch TV, listen to the radio, and look up all kinds of things. The one great thing about it is that instead of your family photos being stuffed in large books on a shelf at home, you carry everything with you all the time.

I don’t know if we ever dreamed we would have eight (at this point) grandchildren, but we do. We have reached the point where getting everyone together in one place is difficult. They’re all so busy with their families and work. Life recycles. When we were younger we had to travel to see my family and my wife’s family. Now it’s happening again. We’re the ones who often travel to see everyone. We love it.

These guys are our closest buddies, just a few miles from where we live. The photo is a few years old. The one in the middle is now taller than I am, and I’m 6’3”. At least I used to be.

This is what always happens to me at some point or other. I didn’t find out until years later the little guy on the left was copying me. He’s not really sleeping!

The little one I’m holding just celebrated her 1st birthday. Our son’s family lives in the Chicago area where he is an adjunct professor of Philosophy.

This young man will carry on the tradition of model railroading. We passed the family Lionel trains to him.

The little man in my wife’s arms is the youngest of our grandchildren. He lives with his family in the Nashville area where his mom and dad are on staff at a great church.

This is so cute!!

We are so grateful for an amazing son-in-law, and three beautiful daughters-in-law. They are all incredible, talented people. We are so blessed they are all part of our family.

Stories don’t make it. Photos only try. Just one word.

Grateful.

Cody the Wonder Dog Goes to Houghton Lake

In over forty-five years, we have owned several wonderful golden retrievers. I don’t know how a golden could be anything but wonderful. Copper was our first.

Lady, the princess, was our second golden. We raised her from a pup, she helped us raise our triplet sons, had a litter of twelve puppies, and left us all too soon.

Cody was a wonder dog. He was already a year old when he joined our family. We purchased him from a couple who raised retrievers and he was the last of their most recent litter. He was terribly shy and wasn’t sure he wanted to go with us.

When we arrived at home, I let him in the house and he immediately ran into the living room and went behind the big console TV in the corner. All we could see was his head and his big eyes watching our every move. Our daughter came down the stairs, saw him and said, “Is that real?!”

I was the pastor of a small church at the time and we were preparing to build a new facility. Since we sold our old building, my office was in our kitchen. I had a very thick file on a shelf with all of the contracts, invoices, and everything else. We blocked Cody in the kitchen overnight and when I opened the door in the morning, the floor was covered with small shreds of paper. Cody mangled my construction file. I laughed and kept the secret between me and Cody.

Cody was absolutely wonderful. He wanted only to be a companion. He was gentle, quiet, big, squishy, lovable and kind. Everyone was a friend.

I think Cody might have had weak eyes because he was afraid of anything new, like a paper plate lying on the floor. He backed away from it like it was threat.

Cody loved riding in the car and he loved going on vacation. One of our favorite places to spend a week was Houghton Lake, Michigan. The resort we returned to every year was a perfect match of relaxation, swimming, fishing, and boating. There were six small cabins. In the years we vacationed there, we used all but two of them.

There was an old wooden dock with enough rowboats for each of the guests to use. Cody loved swimming, but he especially loved chasing the ducks that were always nearby. He chased them and the ducks let him get just close enough so he didn’t lose interest. They flew back behind Cody and he turned around and started the chase all over again. He played with the ducks until he was too tired.

Cody loved riding in the boat. He didn’t hesitate to jump in and the sound of the motor didn’t bother him at all. He was the perfect fishing dog. Each year we rented a pontoon boat for a day so the whole family could be out on the water together. Cody loved it.

Cody loved our little Shih Tzu, Heidi. The two dogs were pals for life. Heidi was tiny compared to Cody and he was very careful with her.

Cody was showing his age with white hair around his eyes and face. We began to see indications of something that wasn’t quite right. Cody was slowing down and we saw him stumble a few times. As the days passed, Cody’s condition grew worse. The doctor diagnosed him with diabetes and he did our best to treat him.

Cody started having severe seizures and we knew we were nearing the end of this gentle wonder-dog’s life.

I held Cody in my arms and tears streamed down our cheeks as he slipped away from us. Always gentle, always kind, loving until his last breath.

Cody is forever a part of our family. We still laugh about him, and we have an hour-long home movie called, “Cody Goes to Houghton Lake.”

Our love of golden retrievers has carried over to our kids. This is Lucy, our granddog. She’s a big, strong, lovable, happy retriever with a huge voice. Now she has a two-year-old girl and a six-month-old boy to help raise. She’s doing a good job.

Whenever I see Lucy, I think of Cody the wonder dog.

Discovery Prompts Day 19: One Plus One Equals Three

In ninety seconds we went from a family of three to a family of six. We knew we were going to have triplets six days before they were born. The due date was April 10. They were born ten weeks early by cesarean section. We had no idea what to expect. We were supposed to have our cesarean class the afternoon of their birth.

The morning began like any other day. Any other day with the knowledge we were going to be the parents of triplets. During the last weeks of the pregnancy the doctor was becoming concerned because my wife was gaining more weight and size than was considered normal.

“The same thing happened when I was carrying our daughter”, my wife said.

“This is not the same thing. You are beyond where you would have been normally. We need to make sure everything is okay”, the doctor said.

He scheduled my wife for an ultrasound. The day of the procedure as the technician was doing the scan, the screen appeared to be covered with arms and legs.

“My God! It’s triplets!” the tech yelled.

My wife began hyperventilating, I tried not to pass out. The tech left for room to get help. Another tech came in, looked at the screen and said, “No, it’s just twins”. We were supposed to be relieved. It didn’t work. The doctor scheduled us with a specialist at a large medical center about thirty miles away.

A few days later we made our way to the medical center that very soon would become our home. We met with the specialist, a wonderful obstetrician. He gently began another detailed ultrasound that included measuring bones for comparison. He measured the two babies. As he was about to finish, all of a sudden he said, “Young lady, you have three in there.” Two were head-down, the third was across the feet of the other two.

The doctor did his best to assure us everything was going to be okay. He told my wife to go home, go to bed and stay there. Our weekly visits with our local obstetrician would continue until the babies were born.

The day began uneventfully with our normal visit to the clinic to meet with my wife’s doctor. We were quickly ushered into an exam room so she could lie down while waiting for the doctor. Our local doctor was a gentle, elderly man who was a trusted figure in our community. He often carried a corn-cob pipe, which was with him today. He did the normal exam, then leaned back on the table.

“We are really looking forward to the birth of these babies. We have a team of doctors who will be meeting this afternoon so that we can plan our strategy for the birth, for caring for the babies, and for you. This is the thirtieth anniversary of our hospital, and it has been thirty years since triplets were born in our community.”

We listened intently, and felt more calm the longer he talked. Then everything changed.

“Of course, all of our plans are shot down because you are in labor and you need to go to the medical center right now. Are you not feeling anything? he asked my wife.

“No”, she answered while tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“You are beginning to dilate. You are having contractions and we need to get you to the medical center as soon as possible”, the doctor said.

An ambulance was considered, but the doctor assured us I could drive my wife to the hospital. He told me to go home to retrieve anything my wife would need and come back to pick her up. We were soon on our way. I drove eighty-five miles an hour, hoping to see a State Trooper or Sheriff Deputy, but none were to be found.

When we arrived at the medical center, our doctor came in and really tried to comfort us, but he wasn’t successful. He then tried to explain what was going to happen.

“We could give your wife a drug that would stop the labor. However, if the drug doesn’t work and the babies are born anyway, your wife now has a drug in her system she doesn’t need, and the babies do as well. If we go in and get them now, we have all the people here that we will need. If we wait and they are born in the middle of the night, we might not have the team here that we need.”

I didn’t know what to think or say, but then had a thought. “Doctor, if she was your wife, what would you do?” I asked.

The doctor then examined my wife again and said, “This decision has already been made for us. She has dilated more and we need to go in and get them now.”

A nurse standing close by said, “Doctor, they were supposed to have their cesarean class this afternoon.”

“They told me they already had their class”, and he looked at me and winked.

“That’s right”, I said. I was taken from the room and dressed for the procedure.

When I next saw my wife, she was lying on an operating table, surrounded by equipment, doctors, and nurses. She had a sheet just below her chin that blocked her view. Her arms were stretched out to the sides with IVs in each. I was seated on a stool close her to head and encouraged to talk to Mary and try to keep her calm. They forgot to appoint someone to keep me calm.

“Is everyone ready?” the doctor asked. “I’m going in.” He then proceeded to make an incision and immediately a great deal of liquid poured from my wife’s abdomen. Within just a few seconds, the doctor lifted a very small baby and said, “Baby number one is a boy”, and handed the infant to a nurse who quickly left the room. “Baby number two is a boy”, and again the baby was literally run from the room. “Baby number three is a boy”, and the same thing happened again.

I noticed a tear rolling down my wife’s cheek and I asked, “What’s the matter? Everything is fine. They’re okay.”

“I don’t hear them crying”, she said.

I told her the babies had all been taken from the room immediately and they were doing fine, even though I hadn’t yet seen them.

The head of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) came and asked me to follow him. We went into another room, and there were our three sons, each lying on a table surrounded by a team of specialists working to stabilize them. The doctor told me the condition of each of the three boys. “Baby A” was sixteen inches, 4 pounds, “Baby B” was fifteen and a half inches, 3.3 pounds, “Baby C” was fifteen inches, 2.9 pounds. Each of the babies was on a ventilator.

I stayed with my wife four days. It wasn’t until the fourth day that she was able to see the boys for the first time. I had become somewhat accustomed to all of the machines, IVs, and constant care the boys were receiving. My wife cried when she saw them. Their little chests were rising and falling with the pressure of the ventilator. Their tiny bodies looked like bones with skin stretched over them.

My wife was finally able to return home from the hospital on day four. We hated leaving our little boys. From that day on, we went back to spend time with our babies every day, sometimes twice a day, until they were all able to come home. We didn’t get to hold them until the ventilators were removed and they were able to breathe on their own.

Over the next ten weeks there were ups and downs, gains and losses, and surgeries. There were moments of incredible fear, but there was also constant encouragement from the amazing doctors and nurses of the NICU.

When all of the boys were finally home after ten weeks, it was time to learn how to care for them constantly. They were released on apnea monitors, so we were trained in infant CPR. We had apnea alarms, but thankfully, we never had to use CPR.

Where have the years gone? Trace Adkins has a popular song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This”. If you haven’t heard it, you should. The early days seemed like years. Now the years seem like moments. I wrote a book many years ago (unpublished) called “One Plus One Equals Three”.

These are the boys with their older sister. Two of the boys are identical, one is fraternal. The doctors called them “a pair and a spare”.

This was our Christmas photo two years ago. Another grandson has joined our family since then. Life has been good. Very, very good. It’s been thirty-six years since we proved one plus one equals three.

And now, time for coffee.

Discover Prompt Day 4: Our Street

We have actually moved to the small town where we live three separate times. No, I’m not joking. We purposely moved here three times. The picture on the left is beautiful. The old buildings in our little village don’t look anything like it. But it’s our town, and we love it.

One of the things we loved to do as our children were growing up was going “alley riding”. One of the communities we lived in had a pretty large business district for a rather small town, and there were lots of alleys. We rode our bikes down one alley after another. If we rode all of them, it took about an hour.

What I loved most about alley riding was ending up at the “big parking lot”, next to the railroad tracks. The parking lot wasn’t that big, but that’s what we called it. Our three boys loved riding in the open space. I loved watching trains roll by.

One day I decided to go alley riding from our little street where we live now. It took ten minutes. I wasn’t disappointed though, we love our street. We love our town. It’s a great feeling.

The first time we moved to our town was 1987. Our daughter was ten, our triplet sons were three. I taught in a private Christian school and was the youth director and assistant pastor at the school’s sponsoring church. We moved a year later. I was invited to return to town in 1996 to become the senior pastor of the same church. We lived here eight years. After thirty-one years in ministry, I retired in 2004. We moved again, to another small community thirty minutes away. My wife, who began teaching in our public middle school here in 1997, made the thirty-mile drive every day. After four years, we moved back again. This time, we bought a beautiful two-story bungalow that we loved for nine years.

In fact, we still love the house, even though we moved again, three years ago. My wife has always been wonderful at making our house, wherever it was, our home. The house had French doors between the dining and living rooms. We loved the long front porch and spent many hours rocking.

Now we live on our street. She is old and bent over, but she’s ours. She has a family name, well-known in town, also carried by the hardware store, a lumber yard everyone remembers, but no one sees because it was lost in a fire twenty years ago, and a museum. She is mostly pleasant but sometimes allows younger drivers to go too fast. Something frowned upon by people like us.

We actually have two lots, which is very nice because we only have a close neighbor on one side. The house on the other side, although occupied by lots of stuff (we’ve been informed) has no people. Our back yard looks like a park. We have bird feeders that squirrels enjoy. Deer have visited several times. There is a creek that flows across the back of our property, so there is just a hint of sound, if the water is high enough, of water trickling over rocks.

Streets get old. People do too. People on the street come and go, the street stays. Sometimes streets need repair, just like people. Streets do feel bad when people they have loved leave, but it’s part of life.

If we listen to our street, we learn a lot.

“I may look old and broken, but my foundation is still strong.”

“I need fixing sometimes, but my path is always the same.”

“There is a beginning, and an end. Both matter, but real living is somewhere in between.”

“Lots and lots of people helped me be what I am.”

“A street without people is just a connection. It’s the people that make being a street fun.”

“My name is just a tag so people can find me. Who I am is the people around me.”

We love our street, and our town.

Seniors’ Discount Coffee

Let’s admit it. Coffee is not about the taste as much as it is about having a cup in your hand. Trips go better with a cup of coffee. And it doesn’t matter how long the trip is. If you have to be in the car and actually drive somewhere, then it’s coffee time.

I am well into senior land, but the first time I received a seniors’ discount, I was only 45. In fact, it was on my forty-fifth birthday. My wife and I were in the drive-thru at McD’s, and I asked for two small coffees with one cream in each. When we arrived at the window the girl said, “That will be fifty-two cents.” I said, “I ordered two coffees.” “Right. I gave you the seniors’ discount.” My wife and I just looked at each other, I didn’t know what to say. I took the discount.

I wonder if seniors’ discount coffees are skimped in some way to make up for the loss in revenue. Maybe they pull the cup out from under the magic coffee spout just a little early and add hot water. Maybe they have a “seniors only” pot that only contains three-fourths the amount of grounds that a normal pot does.

Isn’t the idea of a discount backwards? It seems, after having four children, that there should be a range of discounts for parents with kids, depending on how many you have. For example, thirty-six years ago, we had triplet boys. Total surprise, boom! We went from one child to four. Coffee should have been free from that point until our kids were out on their own. At the window the McD person could say, “Do you have children? How many? Three? Ok, your order will be twelve dollars and ten cents, instead of eighteen dollars and forty-two cents.”

I have to admit we had the McD meal down to a science. We got one large drink, split if four ways. Four hamburgers, one large fry – four way. Loads of ketchup works like gravy or soup if you have enough.

Bill Knapp’s, God rest it’s soul that is so missed, was like heaven for us. Since our kids’ birthdays are all within a week of each other, we always headed to Bill Knapp’s. We could get a free chocolate cake for EACH child for their birthday. We walked out of there loaded with chocolate birthday cake, which lasted about a month if we froze some! Man, I miss that! No wonder they went out of business!

Seniors’ discount coffee doesn’t taste any different, no matter what they do or don’t do to it. But ask yourself. What does the seniors’ discount mean? Are we being rewarded for actually making it to this age? Are we being emotionally penalized for still being around? Are they saying, “We don’t expect as much from you, so we’re not going to take as much”? Or are they saying, “We know your taste is fading, so we’re not going to charge you as much for something you can’t taste anyway.”

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know the seniors’ discount is available. Coffee at a lower price. What could be better?

Where’s my coffee?

Another Dog Who Loved Us

After our golden retriever, Lady, left us it was some time before another dog found us.

One summer afternoon, I played a terribly dirty trick on our little boys.  I retrieved a new tent I placed on layaway and put it together in the back yard.  I went inside where the boys were eating lunch and said I had a surprise for them.  I went back outside and yelled, “Here!  Come here!  Here boy!”  I whistled, then went back inside.  Of course, they were all excited, “Did you get a puppy?!”  I took them outside and when they saw the tent they started crying, “We thought you got a dog and it’s just a tent!”

Not long after my ill-advised stunt, my wife saw an ad in the newspaper for a rescue shelter.  There on the page was a very cute little terrier-beagle mix with adorable eyes saying, “Please, please take me home!”  We went to the rescue and the puppy adopted us.

Our boys were excited as they could be.  They played with the puppy in the back seat of the big car I was driving when all of a sudden, “Dad!  She’s pooping!”

Sure enough, the pup was hunched over in the familiar pose, leaving a warm pile of fresh steamer filling the car with an aroma never mistaken for anything else.  I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and cleaned up the mess.

Libby grew quickly but was never bigger than a small beagle.  She loved playing with the kids and was very attentive to them.  Her energy never ended.

We moved to another rental home to get close to the university where my wife was attending classes.  Now that our boys were in school, she was studying to complete her degree in elementary education.  Our neighbors had a boy who was about the same age as our triplet sons so they spent a great deal of time playing together.  One afternoon our Libby grabbed the neighbor boy, but luckily did not break the skin.  She was very protective of her turf and her boys.

We accepted the pastorate of a small church in a distant town which meant another move.  We quickly settled into our new home, our children into a new school district.  The church we pastored was in the beginning stages of building a new facility which was going to be on the same property as our home, which was also owned by the church.

Sunday morning was always a very tense and anxiety-filled time for me as I anticipated speaking to the people.  Five minutes before the morning worship service was to begin, with my anxiety peaking, a church leader walked into my office and with his familiar exaggerated gesturing, said, “Your dog bit the builder!!”

I pictured a limb torn and tattered, and expected the builder to be furious.  The truth was much less dramatic.  The man went into a metal shed in our yard to retrieve something he needed.  When he came out, the dog grabbed just his pants but no skin.  It was becoming apparent that a change was going to be necessary.  Our Libby was unpredictable and that was making us nervous.  As she got older, she was becoming more protective.

We had Libby for two years but determined it was time to find her a new home.  The wiry and energetic little dog would no longer be running around our yard.  We would not have to worry about her anymore.

Once again, we were without a dog.  A ten-gallon fish tank and several gold fish took her place.  Fish don’t fetch and they’re hard to cuddle, but they generally don’t jump on or bite anybody, either.

(The dog in the picture is not Libby, but looks just like her.)

Dogs Who Love Us

Our lives would not be the same without the many dogs who shared our home.  Each in his or her own special way brought happiness, love, laughter, and heartache.

Lady was a beautiful golden retriever who claimed us as her own when she was just a pup, a few weeks old.  (I realize the photo is terrible, but it’s actually Lady.)

Lady was a real princess, and all puppy.  She was the perfect addition to our family and she showered us with love and play.  Lady was happy to ride a rubber raft in the waves when we were able to spend time at the beach.  We still have furniture with Lady marks on it.  It’s not damage, it’s memories.

Lady was with us for a temporary move to Tennessee.  She liked riding on the back seat window ledge behind our daughter and three boys.  By this time, she was a full-grown playmate and loved romping with the kids.

After a year in Murfreesboro, we prepared to move back to Michigan.  We were down to one car, an Olds Cutlass that had seen much better days.  The fan only had one speed that was equal to a breath of air.  I found a small oscillating fan and attached it to hang in front of the vent.  I thought it was a perfect solution.  When we loaded the car for the long trip, the kids were in the back seat, and I tried to put Lady in the front.  She took one look at my motorized contraption and flew over the back seat onto bare legs.  We started the trip with screams and scratches.

We settled into a rented two-story house, Lady had her own little house in the back yard.  There were two old ladies living next to us who took a strange interest in Lady.  We started receiving anonymous letters in the mail condemning us for having our dog hooked to a leash in the back yard.

After returning from a trip out of state, during which we had friends feeding and taking care of Lady, we arrived home to discover our dog looking at us through the fence of the old ladies’ yard.  I was furious!  I couldn’t lift her over the fence, so I went to their front door and demanded they return our dog.  I should have called the police!

On a cold snowy winter morning, Lady gave birth to a litter of puppies. They were a mixed breed, half of the pups were black, the others looked like purebred retrievers. For the first several weeks, Mary snuggled each of the puppies every day. One of the males was taken by family friends who named him Charlie.  Charlie was a great dog with all the character and appearance of a beautiful golden.  For many years, even though we might not see our friends for quite a while, when we visited, Charlie came bounding through the house to climb on our laps as if we were his long-lost parents.  Our friends said he didn’t act like that with anyone else.

The next year, our hearts were torn apart when Lady began having seizures.  We called the veterinarian who said she would probably not recover.  As cold tears rained down from the sky, our Lady was put to rest. We placed her in a grave as we all cried.  One of our little boys asked if we could sing his favorite song, “Arise, Shine for Thy Light Has Come.”  We held hands and sang as the rain continued to fall.

You’re Lucky To Be Alive!

Some time ago, my wife and I were having dinner at a restaurant with my sister.  As often happens, we started talking about the old days.  Memories can be painful, selective, incorrect, and lots of other things, but the memories I prefer are funny.  The actual experiences might not have been funny at the time, but the craziness makes them funny to talk about now.

We sat down in a booth, which I prefer, as opposed to a table out in the middle of the room.  In booths you have your own little house with two doors which can be protected from intruders.  At tables people can move all around you, which can be unsettling.  I noticed an older couple (older than us) sitting in the next booth, but didn’t think anything of it.

What makes most of our stories even funnier is that the things we did, some of which could have burned the house down several times over, went totally unnoticed by our parents, especially our father.  He was a guy who couldn’t see things right under, or even on his nose, but had a sixth and seventh sense about what we were thinking.  So, the answer was not to think.

In 1961, my grandparents came for a visit from California.  At the time, they had a beautiful 1956 Ford Fairlane, a spotless two-tone green and white classic.  Probably not so much to protect it as to make it easy for my dad to go to work each day, the Ford was parked in our one-car garage.  My brother and I decided to be very helpful, and wash Grandpa’s car in the garage.  So, using Comet cleanser, we began scrubbing the hood of the car.  We didn’t understand why our white rags were turning green, but we must have thought we were doing a great job.  This one didn’t go unnoticed, and the lights must have really gone out, because I don’t remember anything that happened after that.

We talked about the time I made match-head rockets.  I wasn’t outside, in a field, or a parking lot.  I was in the basement.  The rocket worked perfectly, shooting across the string I had stretched between two chairs, the exhaust left a blue cloud that filled the basement.  Who can’t smell a single match lit anywhere in the house?  No one asked about the blue smoke in the basement.

For a while, I was fascinated with chemicals, test-tubes, and bunsen burners.  When I didn’t have a real alcohol burner, I tried to make one.  I had an empty shotgun shell, put a piece of cloth in it, then used a capillary tube to take alcohol from a bottle and drop on the cloth as it burned.  What I didn’t know is that alcohol flame is invisible.  I didn’t see the flicker on the end of the tube as I put it back in the bottle of alcohol.  “Phoooomp!!” Nope, the bottle didn’t explode and set my bedroom on fire, my hair didn’t burn, I still had my eyebrows.  I just didn’t do it again.

I talked my mother into taking me to a store where I could buy some chemistry equipment, including a real bunsen burner.  My sister and I set up a lab, IN MY CLOSET, behind the clothes on a shelf that ran the length of the closet.  We were mixing chemicals, cooking them, with fire, in my closet!  (The house is still standing.)

I loved firecrackers.  I heard someone at school talking about taking gunpowder out of shotgun shells, so I decided to try it.  Standing over the shell my dad never missed, which I had taken from his unlocked ammo cabinet, I used a screwdriver to dig into the crimp and open the shell.  (That almost takes my breath away.) I poured the tiny BBs into the toy box.  I took the open shell still containing gunpowder outside and held a burning match over it.  The powder burned in a flash instead of a bang I expected.  I decided real firecrackers were better, so one by one, I took firecrackers from my dad’s dresser drawer.  He never said a word, even after they were all gone.

We laughed about my memory of shooting a model car to pieces, with my BB gun…on my bedroom floor.  I carefully picked up all the pieces, discovering that each shot left a dimple in the hardwood of my bedroom floor.  Impossible to miss, yet everyone did.

Fire was a recurring fascination.  My brother found a heavy black rock we were sure fell from space.  Bugs made homes in the many small holes in the rock so we decided to burn them out.   In the grass beside the back porch, he lit a small flame on the rock.  I decided to pour gas on it to keep the fire going.  From a metal sand pail, I poured gasoline which immediately ignited, going up into the pail, which I dropped.  My brother was kneeling beside the rock yet he didn’t get spashed with gas, and the bucket landed upside down. We quickly put out the flames, but there was a circle of scorched grass about three feet across.  I was sure we would die as soon as dad got home.  No one ever said a word.

Our dad was a salesman and his work often included entertaining clients, which sometimes meant my parents were gone overnight.  It was great fun for my brother and I since our little sister spent the night with our grandparents.  We watched endless TV and cooked or baked whatever we wanted.  One time we each made our own cake, but since I was using the oven, my brother put his in a broiler, which only made a crust on the top.  He ate the crusty layer then returned it to the broiler again.  I called my grandparents in the middle of the night with a terrible stomach ache.

In the restaurant, we ate, drank coffee, told stories, and laughed a lot.  Probably laughed a little too loud (that was me), and what we didn’t know was that the elderly couple next to us was enjoying every minute of it.  When we stood to leave, with laughter the lady said to us, “We want you to know we really have been entertained by your stories!”  She looked at me and said, “And you’re lucky to be alive!”  We all laughed together again.

Speaking of coffee…

Holiday Fun

Christmas is so much fun! I have always loved it, and have wonderful memories of growing up, looking forward and counting the days to Christmas. I can remember not being able to sleep the night before, and we were never disappointed on Christmas morning.

My mother was an incredible cook and the house always smelled amazing as she prepared the feast. In the early days she baked the turkey all night, so in the morning the aroma coming from the oven just made everything better. I always made sure Christmas music was playing very early in the season. I remember listening to the Firestone Christmas albums while decorating the house for Halloween.

We carried the traditions of Christmas into our own family and it’s fun to see our children doing the same with theirs. We are now experiencing “sharing” our children’s families with the in-laws, so we get them every other Christmas. This year happens to be our turn, so we are excitedly anticipating the arrival of all of the kids and grandkids.

One of the earliest Christmases I remember, my older brother received an American Flyer train set. The train was rolling around the track when we ran into the living room on Christmas morning. My favorite toy that year was an operating miniature washing machine. I loved it! There were even little boxes of Tide and Oxydol! My mom cut little pieces of fabric I could wash.

Another Christmas that stands out was several years later. I campaigned for a new toy called a Vacu-Form. It was a contraption that softened small sheets of plastic with heat, then as the plastic was pulled over a mold, a handle was pushed several times creating a suction pulling the soft plastic down over the mold. What a blast I had with that! (I saw one in an antique store a few months ago!). The only hiccup that year was that I sent a letter to my grandmother’s sister and asked for the Vacu-Form. Of course my mother found out. “You don’t write to Aunt Maxye and ask for Christmas presents!” I didn’t know that, and it worked.

When our kids were young, on Christmas Eve I used to video-tape them while they were sleeping. As they grew older, knowing that I would be taping them became a challenge. One of our boys set a trap for me that sprung when I opened his bedroom door. Now those tapes are in a box, waiting for someone to have the motivation to transfer them to digital media. Probably won’t happen.

It’s funny how the menu has stayed pretty much the same through all these years. We still have the cranberry jello, with crushed pineapple and walnuts, that very few people eat. I sometimes make the cranberry relish my mom used to make, I’m the only one who eats it. I still make Aunt Maxye’s coffee cake. Yes, the same Aunt Maxye who bought me the Vacu-Form. The real stuffing crammed into the turkey’s bottom has been replaced with Stove-Top. The turkey is most often replaced with pork loin (delicious!) We always make chocolate and lemon-meringue pies, not everyone eats those.

This year, my theme is, “I plan to make everyone sugar miserable!” As you can see in the photos, I have made white chocolate covered Oreos, no-bake cookies, homemade cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies for decorating, and I’m not done yet. There will be seven-layer bars, coffee cake, and lots of other goodies.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and enjoy a Happy New Year!

Where’s the coffee?