1945—Paper Dolls and Radio Shows

I am thirteen.

The rain streaks down the kitchen window. It’s midafternoon on Sunday, and it’s rained all day. Because it’s November, the short days make Sundays particularly gloomy. I wish the rain would change to snow, but there’s not much chance. Not until December. No one likes Sundays. It means the weekend is over, and it’s back to school tomorrow.

“Mommmm,” I whine. “I don’t know what to do. What can I do?”

First I get the standard reply. “You can clean your room, that’s what you can do.” Or some other distasteful chore.

No help from that quarter. There’s no one around to play with either. Except my little sister, Mary, and she’s mostly a pest.

It occurs to me that I haven’t taken out my paper dolls for a while—cutouts of glamorous movie stars such as Lana Turner, with her shimmering blond hair draped over one eye. Or the famous pin-up, Betty Grable. I have both dolls on little cardboard stands. I draw sexy evening gowns for them out of art paper and color them with Prang water colors. The paint comes in a long black box with a little solid square of each color and a brush that fits into a long slot next to the paint blocks. Sometimes I use colored pencils.

When a dress is drawn and painted, I cut it out carefully leaving little flaps at the shoulders, waist and hips to secure it on the doll. If I’m really into a project, I glue little sequins on the dresses. This effect is particularly striking on slinky black dresses.

After finishing my laborious work, I put on a fashion show using whatever outfits remain from previous times playing this game along with the ones finished today. The fashion show is actually somewhat of an anticlimax. Mostly it means I’m tired of the paper doll project for the time being.

Anyhow, by this time our favorite Sunday night radio comedies are on—Amos and Andy, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly. My mother, sister and I gather around the kitchen table and laugh for four hours. It’s one of the few times I see my mother relaxed and pleasant.

At thirteen I’m still a child. No dating yet. No running around malls. There are no malls. Movie magazines shared with a friend are the biggest thrills I get. On days when we’re shut in, my best friend Jackie Larkin and I pore over them by the hour, admiring Van Johnson, Guy Madison, Frank Sinatra, and other hunky guys. Sometimes we write dumb fan letters which provoke gales of giggles. Mostly we never send them.

The only real life thrill I get is catching Mary Jo Mackin, a  next door neighbor, kissing her cute boyfriend Tom Trettin on their back stoop. They don’t know they’re being watched from our living room window. He holds her face in his hands, while she closes her eyes. They’re pressed close together.  Drat.  I’ll never have such good luck. What would I do for a boyfriend like that!

1940—Fishing with Dad

I am eight years old.

My father is at the kitchen table fussing with fishing flies in his tackle box. The pull-out compartments are full of colorful baits and lures, hooks, bobbers, sinkers, extra fishing line and a jackknife. He’s agreed to take me fishing on Lake Keesus today. “Get your galoshes on,” he orders me. “We’re heading on out.”  I scurry to find them in the junk closet.

The day is overcast—perfect for fishing, my dad says. When the sun comes out, the fish won’t bite. “It’s chilly on the lake,” my mother says. “You’d better take a jacket.” She goes to the closet and pulls out a red and black lumberjack shirt. “Here, put this on. And here are some sandwiches in case you and your father get hungry.” Oh, good. That makes It a true expedition.

Down at the pier, our rowboat bobs in the water. There are cushions to sit on, fishing nets, a can for bailing out the boat if it leaks, my dad’s casting rod, a knife, pail strung over the side of the boat for fish, and other odds and ends.

“You’re going to row” my Dad says. I feel important, elated. I’ve never been asked to do this before. I jump down into the boat onto the bench between the oar locks. My dad sits in the front of the boat, his casting rod in hand. His tackle box is open at his feet so he can change lures whenever he wants.

“All right. See that point out there? Head slowly for that point. Don’t make any noise. Don’t splash the oars in the water.” He stands at the helm, ready to cast. I concentrate on setting dead straight ahead, dipping the oars in the water gently. Soon he begins casting.

For 30 minutes or so, this is an excellent pastime. Then my mind starts to wander. I watch the oars plop in and out of the water, forgetting any noise I’m making. I don’t realize it, but as my mind wanders, so does the boat. I’m no longer headed straight for the point.

Suddenly I’m jerked back to reality. “Didn’t I tell you to head straight for the point? What in the hell are you doing? And the oars are making too much noise.”

In the next hour or so, my focus degenerates. I can’t seem to row in a straight line. Or I’m going too slow or too fast, or the oars are making too much noise. My father doesn’t appreciate the game I’m playing with the oars, trying to rile up some seaweed. After all, I figure I deserve some fun, too.

Rowing has become stale. It’s no fun anymore. The thing is, my dad doesn’t have anyone else to row for him. Grandpa will never do it. He won’t even ask my mother.

Before long my father is spending more time telling me how to row than he is casting his line.

Finally he barks, “All right, dammit. That’s it! I’ve had it. Head for home.”

The sun peeks out as the sky starts to clear. I probably won’t be asked to do this again.

1944—Laundry and Lambs in the Basement

I am twelve years old. The basement of my house on Garfield Avenue includes a fruit cellar, laundry room, workshop for my father’s carpentry, and furnace. The fruit cellar contains preserves put up by my mother and grandmother—mostly strawberries, raspberries and other fruit picked in season—and nonperishable produce such as potatoes and onions. The fruit cellar is dark, with dirt walls and sometimes the tiny scampering sound of mice. Spiders crawl over the walls.

At the other end of the basement, the laundry area has an electric washing machine with a wringer installed just above it. Soiled clothes and linens are delivered to the area by a chute leading from the kitchen to the basement. My dream is to take a death-defying trip down the chute to the basement. By the time I’m old enough to have the nerve, I’m too big to fit in the chute.

Like everyone else, we have no clothes dryer. We never heard of them. Everything is hung in the back yard on a line after most of the water is squeezed out by the electric wringer. On a sunny day, the clothespins can be pulled off the clothes after a couple of hours and the dry laundry brought inside.

Laundry day is always Monday.  My job is to strip the beds and force the sheets down the laundry chute. Laundry baskets in our bedrooms are emptied into the chute. In the basement the lid has been removed from the square, industrial looking wash machine, with mother pouring fels naphtha laundry soap in the water.  Next she pokes clothes deep into the water with a long stick and jiggles it around the be sure they’re distributed evenly. Once Mother is satisfied, she turns the rotor on. As I watch the clothes swish back and forth, back and forth, the water turns grey. When mother has determined that the laundry is clean enough, it’s time to turn off the rotary blade and turn on the electric wringer, installed just above the machine.

This is the part I like best. “Can I run the wringer this time, Mom? It’s my turn. Pleeeze?”

“Your sister hasn’t had a turn yet, Barbara.”

“But she’s too little, Mom. Let me do it. Please?”

“No, it’s too dangerous.”

Even at the age of eight I know something is wrong with her logic. It’s true, the wringer is dangerous. You get your fingers too close and they’ll be mashed. At least that’s what Mother says. It hasn’t happened yet.

Sometimes the basement also serves as a temporary shelter for animals my father or grandfather brings home. This is always a happy surprise event. We don’t get any forewarning. If we did, Mother would never allow it.

We once have three beagle puppies at a time, thanks to my grandfather, who can’t resist puppies. They’re housed in the basement and named Spottie, Tiny, and Smokey Joe. My mother, fearful of my father’s frightening temper, doesn’t say anything when the whimpering puppies are carried to the basement. After a few nights of nonstop howling and barking, it’s too much for her. She doesn’t sleep a wink that night. To my dismay, the puppies are exiled to the garage.

We keep turtles and frogs in the basement, too, but somehow they always escape during the night. I never figure out where they go, although I suspect my mother has a hand in it.

The most exciting pet is a newborn lamb. My grandfather brings it home from a fresh meat market next to his and my dad’s produce business on the waterfront. The lamb is only a few days old and has to be bottle-fed every two or three hours. The worst part is not the nonstop feeding, but the nonstop pooing and peeing on the garage floor. Clean-up is my job.

Sometimes I take the lamb for walks around the block. By this time he has a name—Curly. I love the sensation Curly causes in the neighborhood. Of course, he’s right on my heels because that’s what lambs do. One day, my parents and fifth grade teacher agree that I can bring the lamb to school. I am very popular that day. The glow lasts for a day or two. Then a kid brings in a snake.

My mother puts up with a lot, but a newborn lamb is too much. Luckily, our family doctor, Dr. Wheelihan, agrees to give Curly a happy retirement on his family farm. Every Christmas we get updates on the sheep’s health. He lives to a ripe old age, old enough so that by time I’m sent off to college, I’ve forgotten about him.

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1941—Attic and Basement Adventures

I sneak into the attic sometimes to light matches when my parents are out. There’s a big box of kitchen matches by the fireplace, so full that no one will notice a few missing. I can’t resist the thought of the match scraping a sandy surface and springing to life. The flame blossoms almost immediately, blue at the bottom, yellow at the top. A sulfur smell reaches my nostrils. Too soon, the matchstick starts turning black and shriveling as the flame begins to lose its life and flickers dangerously close to my thumb and forefinger. I blow it out and throw it on the floor just in time. I use eight or ten matches before I quit—no more. I don’t want to hear my dad shouting, “Who in the hell took all these matches?”, something I know will bring down the house once a culprit is identified. Part of the appeal of this exercise is the risk.

As a matter of fact, I do get caught one day when my parents pull in the drive unexpectedly and come in the house calling my name. What can I say that I’m doing in the attic? Looking around at my future bedroom? That will never fly.

There I am, with a box of kitchen matches in hand coming down the steps as my father turns the corner. With the murder weapon in my hand and the smell of sulfur in the air, I’m caught dead to rights. My father’s wrath is quiet and chilling. “You! What in God’s name are you doing up there with matches?” He runs his hand through his hair and leans against the wall, as though weary. “How many times have we warned you about fire! Your own father is a firefighter, for God’s sake!” Go to your room.”

This isn’t the worst. I know that they haven’t finished with me yet. I do know that I won’t be lighting matches again anytime soon.

The other forbidden fruit is a 100-pound sack of bread flour my mother keeps in the attic for her frequent baking projects. I love to go up, open the string on the flour bag, and plunge my arms deep into the floor. The cool virgin flour welcomes my hand and arm without resistance. When I’m in up to my elbows, I wriggle my fingers and pump my arm up and down a few times to experience the lovely, clean, almost liquid feeling. I imagine that it’s just like mercury.  After a few luxurious plunges, I remove my arm and run quickly to the downstairs bathroom to wash the flour off my arm. This activity, too, is always done when my parents are gone. I never get caught. It will unleash my mother’s unholy wrath if I do.

I’m more afraid of my father than my mother, but Mother’s anger is more wearisome than scary. She makes me stand in the kitchen while she delivers a long harangue, usually at least 30 minutes by the wall clock. She outlines all my defects of character, including my lack of gratitude for my undeserved blessings and my failure to appreciate my kind parents and our beautiful home. I don’t catch many of the details of the lecture because I stop listening after the first 5 minutes or so, a fact my mother picks up from my glazed facial expression. “Did you hear what I just said?” she asks in a loud, sharp voice.

“Yes,” I answer woodenly.

“What?” she is now strident. That’s ‘Yes, Mother!”

“Yes, Mother,” I answer, putting as little feeling into my response as possible. It’s no wonder she gets angrier as we go along. I find the subtlest possible ways to grate on her nerves. If my father happens to be in the house, I hear him leave after the first few minutes.

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New Year’s Resolutions for INFJs

We INFJs, like the other fifteen Myers-Briggs types, have our weak spots—vulnerabilities that sometimes bring us into conflict with others or cause personal problems. To be healthy and fully functional, we need to take advantage of all eight Myers-Briggs traits: introvert (I), extravert (E), sensing (S), intuitive (N), thinking (T), feeling (F), judging (J), and perceiving (P).

I am a good example:

As an INFJ

  • I tend to prefer solitude or the company of only one or two friends (I). Crowded social scenes turn me off.
  • My intuitive nature (N) blesses me with creativity, fresh insights into the future, and the ability to second-guess others—sometimes a source of annoyance to them.
  • As a feeling (F) type, I am mindful of the effects of my actions on others and concerned about their well-being, although I can take my emotional tendencies too far.
  • The judging tendencies of my personality (J) make me prompt, reliable and conscientious, but sometimes overdemanding.

My News Year’s Resolutions 

1. This year, I won’t be such a mole. When invited to a social event, I won’t go straight to my default “NO.” At least I’ll say, “Let me think about it,” or “Let me check my calendar.”

2.  I’ll answer the phone every time it rings unless caller ID tells me it’s a telemarketer.

3. When the doorbell rings, I won’t pretend that no one is home.

4. When I do my taxes this year, I won’t make numbers up. I’ll actually look for my records.

5. Sometimes, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” I’ll give them an honest answer.

6. If I want or need help, I’ll ask for it.

7. Instead of fretting over personal conflicts, I’ll go straight to the source.

8. When a problem arises, I’ll press for a straightforward talk about it.

9. I’ll offer sincere praise and thanks to others when it’s due.

10. I’ll allow others to explain their opinions and objections without countering every argument.

11. I will not confuse my intellectual excitement with hands-on achievement.

12. I will listen to others, even when I don’t agree with them.

13. In an argument, I will look for common ground  before focusing on differences.

14. I will find something to  praise in the arguments of another person.

15. I will not be condescending or sarcastic.

16.  I will smile genuinely at least once during an exchange of points.

17  I will remember that listening doesn’t mean agreeing.

18. When  disagreeing with someone, I will avoid rude comments and insults.

19. Rather than end an argument angrily, I will thank the other person for his or her time and opinion.

20. Before leaving an argument I will extend the hand of friendship.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Squirrel Wars

squirrel-feederFor more than twenty years I have been fighting squirrels in my backyard. It’s a battle of wits that I’m losing.

Simple Solutions

My first efforts were naive. On the advice of friends, I bought a garden pole eight feet tall—having been assured that this would keep squirrels off. My handyman installed it outside my office window so I could enjoy the birds as I worked. Then I bought a cute birdfeeder with perches around the sides.

Within two days, the squirrels were practically waiting in line to climb the pole. After getting a short running start, they would scramble up, their momentum carrying them to the top. Sometimes it took more than one try, but soon it was a cinch. Frightened birds fluttered away.

My handyman suggested a wrap-around metal cone as a guaranteed way to repel squirrels. I had him install one near the top of the garden pole, following the manufacturer’s instructions. It worked for less than a week. After some trial and error, the squirrels found their way around the baffle by gripping the metal edges with their diabolical little feet. From there it was a short distance to the feeder.cone

Now I had a mission. I spent hours researching squirrel repellents. I was willing to try anything short of murder. In other words, this would be a battle of wits, not superior firepower. So far, I had spent $8.98 on a garden pole, $19.98 on a birdfeeder, and $36.95 on a metal cone. Instead of challenging the physical abilities of these little gymnasts, I thought, I’ll challenge their intelligence. With my Stanford-Binet scores, I should have no problem.

I searched on Amazon.com until I found a “Perky-Pet 336 Squirrel-Be-Gone Wild Bird Feeder” for $17.99. It featured six feeding ports with perches and a mechanism that closed access to the ports under the weight of a squirrel. My smugness was short-lived. The squirrels hung upside down on the feeder and never touched the perches. Sayonara $17.99 plus shipping.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

vaselineTime to be creative, I thought. Why not remove the metal cone and grease the pole with Vaseline? My effort was good for entertainment but not much else. On the first few attempts, the squirrels managed to make it halfway up the pole, then slid to the bottom like cartoon characters. Oh, joy! After that, they got a better running start and improved their strategy. Eventually, they rubbed off enough Vaseline to succeed.

My next idea was to drive them away with noise. I took a set of brass wind chimes apart with clippers and wired the chimes, one by one, to the bottom of the feeder. I hung the feeder below the eaves of the house, making access only a short jump away. When a squirrel hit the feeder, he’d be greeted with a mighty clang, be frightened out of his wits, and never come back.

The result was humbling. I was in the house doing dishes when I heard the chimes. Putting the last dish in the drainer, I dried my hands off and prepared to go outside and gloat. Then I heard a combination of a clang and a thunk, almost like a brass chime falling on the ground. Then two more. A squirrel had chewed the wires loose so the chimes did indeed fall to the ground.

Ready, Aim, Fire

My most recent attempt involved buying a water bazooka, loading it, and keeping it next to my desk. I didn’t have to wait long. As a squirrel fed on my sunflower seeds, I opened my office window quietly, took aim, and fired. The bazooka leaked all over my desk and soaked my smartphone.

Game over.c0aab9b7-4cf7-4418-9203-374d5ae705a2_1-b21d9a906bb4313e7118a6e73485011f

 

A Camel—The Perfect Pet

Opening the Gainesville Sun one Sunday morning, I glanced at the “Pets for Sale” section. Not that I need any more pets.

To my amazement, I find that someone is selling a female camel for $3200. Right here in Gainesville! How exciting!

Let’s see, I have an area about 50 by 20 feet in my side yard. A perfect place for a camel. I just have to buy a bunch of straw and a truckload of camel feed, and I’m in business. What do camels eat? Hell, I don’t know. I’ll find out from the person who’s selling the camel.r964423_10400496

Think of it, I can ride my camel all over Gainesville, to the wonder and amazement of all. I will be a celebrity. The $3200 is no problem. I’m making enough money in my freelance business. What better way to spend it than on a camel? (I have to admit, this notion might never have occurred to me after I quit drinking a year later.)

Thwarted

I call the camel owner. No answer. Drat.

An hour later, I call again. What’s the matter with her? Doesn’t she want to sell her stupid camel?

I’m so excited that I call my 40-year-old daughter to tell her about the camel. “You’ll never guess what, Julie!”

“What, Mom?”

“I’m going to buy a camel.”

“What did you say? A camel?”

 “Yeah, I found one in this morning’s paper, and I’m going to buy it and keep it in my side yard and ride it around Gainesville.”

Long pause.

“I hate to tell you, Mom, but you can’t do that.”

“And why not?”

“Don’t you know that camels’ feet are ruined on cement? They have to walk on soft ground, like sand in the desert.”

I am crestfallen. “Well, rats. I guess I can’t buy the camel then.”

“Probably not, Mom.”

Well, there goes one great idea out the window.

Tricky Daughter

A year later, the subject of the camel comes up in a phone conversation. We are both laughing at my folly. I say, “Good thing you knew that about camels’ feet, Julie, or I might actually have gone out and bought the thing.”

Julie smirks. “I just made that up, Mom. To talk you out of buying the camel.”

Caught Skinny-Dipping

For exercise, I swim in a small pool in my back yard. My privacy is protected by a six-foot wood fence around the yard. Before stripping off my clothes and jumping in water, I place a bedside clock on the deck to keep track of my swim time.

My workout consists of swimming against a powerful current produced by an underwater pump. Wearing snorkel gear, I can stay submerged for a long time—coming up only when I want to check the time or when water seeps into the breathing tube.

Surprise!

One afternoon I am swimming—naked, as usual. When the breathing tube starts filling with water, I pop my head out.

What’s this? The clock is turned around!

I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what this means. Someone has come in the yard through the back gate, seen my backside surfacing in the pool, and decided that before leaving quietly he will turn the clock around.

Very funny.

Who could it be? Few people enter the yard without my permission. It can’t be the pool cleaner. It’s not his day. The yard maintenance guys were here earlier in the week. I haven’t called my handyman, a plumber, or an electrician.

Whos Guilty?

I know only two friends who would look in my backyard when I don’t answer the doorbell. Oh, you rascals, I think. I decide not to call them but confront them in person. I want to watch their faces when I ask, “Did you come in my yard when I was swimming and turn my clock around?”

I do this, but it’s clear from their facial expressions that they are innocent.

Who, then? I doubt that the visitor was out for an erotic thrill because I am an overweight old lady. The only thing I know is, he has a sense of humor.

Fortunately, so do I.

 

Which Are Better—Dogs or Cats?

According to many people, dogs are the ideal companion animals—better than cats, that’s for sure. They find cats irritating. Other people favor cats. The opposing camps maintain that the two species are like day and night. Forget that cats and dogs aren’t far apart on the phylogenetic scale and, in the bargain, they’re the two most commonly domesticated animals.

When dog supporters and cat lovers face off, you’ll sometimes hear them say, Hell, dogs and cats even hate each other. The dog is ready to shake a cat’s neck in its jaws until it’s dead. The cat, on the other hand, will jump on a dog’s back and ride it to hell.

Those of us who own both cats and dogs know this reasoning is more a reflection of the source than of reality. Humans are notoriously ego-invested in their pets. When people are vehement about the virtues of one species over the other, there’s something going on.

A guy has a Weimeraner he’s training as an attack dog. To him, Bruno is an extension of himself. This man has nothing but great things to say about dogs. They’re macho (his dogs, anyway), strong, brave, and self-sacrificing. They would die for you. In other words, everything a guy needs to feel good about himself.

This man hates cats. In his eyes, they are sneaky, self-serving, effeminate, and vain. He’s almost ready to forgive a close friend who has just adopted a cat. (If you can imagine such two guys being friends.)

In the cat-lover’s book, his friend’s Weimeraner is a dirty, unfriendly, sloppy suck-up. The cat lover believes there’s nothing more enchanting than Chloe’s feline grace, discrimination, and independence. He doesn’t expect her to whine with pleasure at the prospect of getting a treat. He admires the way she comes and goes without permission. He even gets a kick out of her clawing on the furniture occasionally, bringing a dead rat in the house, or waking him up at 4 am in the morning.

They’ve both got a point.

 

 

Airboats—An Abomination

I spent the weekend at Cedar Key, Florida, a village on the Gulf of Mexico. The business district, such as it is, faces the Gulf. The back side of Cedar Key overlooks numerous bayous. That’s where I was—high up on a house of stilts, enjoying the tides going in an out, watching gulls swoop down to catch fish, and listening to the wind blow.

Ah, peace.
Until the waterboats started. These fimgreslat-bottom motorboats are built to negotiate the shallow waters of bayous and marshes. They can do this because they use an above-board airplane propeller rather than a standard outboard motor. The propeller is driven by a powerful engine with no mufflers. Air boats are deafening. The noise is an abomination. As the motors roar across the water, the sound carries for miles. Birds scatter. The sound is enough to blight your weekend.

Have these people never heard of noise pollution? Is anybody doing anything?