The cabin, the lake and a fireball

A few years ago I had occasion to spend a long weekend at a Minnesota lake with some of my childhood friends and a new friend too.  It reminded me a bit of when we used to go up to this lake in lakeWisconsin with all the neighborhood families (Tricarico’s, Rouses, Sieferts, Weils, us) and we would meet the Carlson family up there.   Mrs. Carlson had what seemed like a dozen kids and was raising them on her own after the untimely death of her husband years before.

My dad thought it would be a great idea to get one of those “pop up” campers when Keith and I were in Jr. High.  I think he thought we would use it all the time, go camping on weekends, take these great fishing trips and the like.  I recall exactly 2 times when we took it out of the driveway and one of them was to take it up to the lake to hang with the Carlson family and all the other neighborhood families.

It was a summer weekend.  Keith and I were each allowed to bring a friend on this trip, so I invited Karen Green.  She wasn’t much of a “camper”, but she was game to go.  Karen came to our house on a Friday afternoon, we packed up the car and headed out.  We picked up Keiths friend and got as far as the high school when there was a loud KACHUNK!  and SCCCRRRAAAAPPPEEEEEE!  My dad pulled over to investigate.  Evidently he hadn’t locked the hitch down on the ball, so we had hit a bump, the hitch popped right off and we had dragged the trailer by the chain along about 100 yards.

After about an hour delay,  we got back on the road and headed north.   When we arrived, all the rest of the families had already been there much of the week.  The Rouses and Weils had cottages next to each other, the Tricaricos had the super-cool A-Frame house they got every year (I LOVED that place!), the Carlsons had their cabin and we being only along for the weekend had our pop up camper.

There was a lot of wandering around the lake, going from house to house, playing in the water and general camp ground fun to be had for the kids while we were there.  The parents were usually split during the day with the men off fishing and the women huddled around a picnic table gossiping and playing cards.  On this particular weekend visit, all the kids we were over at the Weil’s cabin waiting for dinner to be fixed.   Some of the ladies had been consuming adult beverages…..which is important to the rest of the story.

From previous stories, you may have learned that these ladies, when they all get together, get loud, laugh, giggle and basically forget about anything else that is going on (sounds familiar!).  They get wrapped up in whatever the subject of the day is.  Margaret went into the kitchen to start the oven in preparation for dinner and came back out to the table, got a bit distracted and when she went back in to check on the oven (cigarette in hand) and opened the oven door, it caused a fireball.   Turns out the oven was gas and the pilot was not lit causing a gas fume buildup.

It was 1975.  Polyester was new and very popular.  Margaret always had a great tan and to show that off, she was wearing a pair of white polyester pants with the seam down the front and was wearing sandals.  Poor Margaret’s pants melted right to her legs from the fireball.  We heard the boom outside and before we could get inside, Margaret was out of the house grabbing ice.  Us kids were all scared, but  on the plus side the melted portion of the pants peeled right off. After the initial shock, lots of ice on her legs and even more ice in the cocktail glass, and the weekend was saved.  Lord knows, it could have been so much worse.

That was the last weekend we went up to the lake camp in Wisconsin.  I don’t think it had anything to do with the accident, but more that Keith and I were getting older, he was really good at baseball which means no open weekends and we ended up getting rid of the camper the next spring.  I

In a parallel universe, and about 40 years later; while my girlfriends and I were all together in Minnesota on the lake, at a cabin, there was a similar incident.   On our last night, while roasting marshmallows after a day on the lake and a visit to a bar to play the meat raffle, a small fire started on the lower deck.   The fire was put out quickly, but it reminded me a bit of the oven fire on the lake in Wisconsin all those years before.

The Turkey Platter


There is a story to this platter, but then again, there is a story to everything, right?

The story of this platter goes wayyyyy back to my earliest Thanksgiving memories at our house on Windsor Road.  Each year, my mom hosted Thanksgiving at our house.  My Nana was in charge of the turkey and would cook it at home, stuffing INSIDE the bird and bring it to our house to finish off in our “tornado” oven in the basement.  Early on, we had the extended family for Thanksgiving as well; Aunt Shirley and Debbie, Aunt Glenna, Nana, our family and eventually Todd’s wife and kids and Neal’s (then fiance) Robin.  Aunt Shirley always made a strawberry jello salad (still a favorite of mine), mom made candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and just for me she would make creamed spinach.

The platter was for the turkey.  It was the only time of the year we would ever see this platter.  I don’t even know where my mother stored it when it was not in use, but it was always there faithfully every year to serve the turkey on Thanksgiving.

We never ate Thanksgiving dinner in our dining room.   Our dining room was far too small for all those people.  In our basement we had a ping pong table, which makes for a great dining table when the net is down and a bed sheet is used for a tablecloth.   At some point, the ping pong table, having been sat on and broken, was replaced with a pool table.  We used that for a table for Thanksgiving as well, with another bed sheet making due for a tablecloth.  No matter where we had our Thanksgiving dinner, we always had The Turkey Platter to serve the bird.

After my mother died and my dad was selling the house, myself and my brothers’ wives were brought to the house to pick out a few things we may want.  I wanted some special Christmas ornaments, but had forgotten about the platter…..until we started hosting Thanksgiving at our home after Michael and I were married.  For several years, I mourned the loss of The Turkey Platter as an opportunity lost and wondered which brother may now have it or was it gone altogether.

Then one day the phone rang.  it was my dad and he was packing up to move into a senior apartment, so lots of stuff had to go.  He asked me if I wanted this platter he found.  I immediately got excited and asked “is it The Turkey Platter?”.   He didnt know exactly what I meant so I asked him to describe it to me, which in hind sight was silly given he could not see very well anymore.   He was having trouble describing it and I just kept saying “is it The Turkey Platter?”.  He said, “well, yes, it has a turkey on it”.   We agreed he would send it to me so he wrapped it up nice an cozy and shipped it to me.  I was giddy like a little girl when it arrived and as I unwrapped it found it was indeed “The Turkey Platter”.

I was so proud to use the platter that Thanksgiving and have used it each Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter since.  Each time I unwrap it for the event we are hosting, I remember back to Thanksgivings in the cold basement on Windsor Road, eating around the ping pong dining table covered with a bed sheet and smile at the memory just as I am now.

I hope the Turkey Platter will be able to be passed down to my girls and they will have some of the same good memories of Thanksgivings will family or Christmas dinner with the  LaCombe family.  We don’t have a basement or a ping pong table, but I have been known to use a bed sheet as a table cloth…..and it worked great.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone…………..gobble gobble….

A Town With No Name – Erin Allen (3rd grade)

A Town with no name Picture Slide1 Slide2

Those who work with me are often forced to listen to me read the stories written by my daughter.  She has a quick wit and a wild imagination and has some really funny stories to tell.    While cleaning her room recently, she ran across some old papers with stories she wrote in grade school.  She knows how much I love them so offered me the papers.  I called over my neighbor to read a few to him and in a few cases was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe.  One of those stories is written below – I used her words exactly, so the grammar may not be up to par.  I have also attached the originals with a accompanying picture.  Read and enjoy:

An angry mob gathered in the middle of town square!  Mayor Phipps saw the torches and pitchforks of the crowd from his window.  He went outside and called a town meeting to see what the problem was.

Everyone gathered at the courthouse at once.  Two cousins named Jack and Jill told the mayor that the citizens wanted their town to have a name.  Just then Jimmy, the town grump burst through the door “NEVER!”  “I like living in a town with no name!”

They tied Jimmy  up and put him in a spider infested closet.  Jack and Jill suggested that a contest be held to come up with a name.  Everyone submitted their idea, but they were all lame.  So they left the town as no name, released Jimmy from the closet and sold the spiders to a pet store.

The End.

Mom’s Little Sister


My mother’s youngest sister Glenna was a piece of work, as they say.  As the youngest of 4 girls born during the depression, she was a bit of a wild child.  She was the most petite of all the girls, wore ruby-red lipstick and had platinum blonde hair, right until the day she dies.  Those attributes, along with a wild child attitude and Glenna had eloped with her boyfriend before she was 18 years old.

Over the years Glenna had kids, divorced her husband and moved around a bit.  My memories of her when I was little include; her living at and running a “campground”, which was really a place in Wisconsin where families rented trailers and spend a week or so at the lake.  She had a bright red pickup truck with wood guard rails on the bed – painted on the side were the words ‘Lil Red Truck’.  She wore far too much Amway perfume, smoked, didn’t take care of her diabetes and struggled financially in her later years.  Each year on her birthday my mother would take her out to wherever she wanted…..inevitably they would end up at The Cheetah Club on Milwaukee Road & Rt 22 in Lincolnshire to watch the male stripper show before they opened the doors to the men about 11 pm.

Aunt Glenna was always looking for love.  In the late 80’s when personal ads were becoming more mainstream, Aunt Glenna was in the thick of it.  She was living with my mom and dad at the time, working to get back on her feet…..and mom and dad were living with my brother and his wife helping out as they just purchased their first home and had 4 kids to contend with.  Glenna was writing to men all over the country, sweet talking with them on the phone and a few times going to stay with them for a week or so to “test the waters”.  She was looking for a husband.

It was during one of these visits when my mother got a phone call from a social worker in Wisconsin.  Evidently, Aunt Glenna had taken a bus up to stay with a farmer she had met through the personal ads.  After 2 weeks of Glenna living there, she confronted the farmer about when they were going to get married.  When he seemed surprised by the question and responded “I was never going to MARRY you, she grabbed a kitchen steak knife and proceeded to stab the man in the butt several times.

The police were called, she was put in jail and since she didnt live in Wisconsin and was staying with my parents at the time, the court appointed social worker called my mother.  Mom sent bus fare to get Glenna home, engaged social services in Illinois and eventually Glenna got back on her feet.  The incident was long forgotten until Mothers Day 1992.

By this time, my parents had both retired and were living in a small town in Wisconsin not far from Kenosha.  On this particular Mothers Day, my Nana, Aunt Shirley and Aunt Glenna all drove up to spend the day at my parents house.  As they arrived, my father was helping my Nana into the house when Glenna collapsed in the driveway.  With the volunteer rescue squad just down the street help was there quickly, but it was too late.

My mother and Aunt Shirley went to the hospital later that date to take care of the death certificate and other arrangements and while waiting in the hallway my mother was approached by a police officer.  “Mrs. Geitner, did your sister ever live in Wisconsin?”.  “No” my mother responded, “Why?” The police offer proceeded to tell my m other about the outstanding warrant for Glenna’s arrest for assault and battery as well as jumping bail.  My mother had forgotten all about the incident with the farmer.  As it turned out, when she sent Glenna money to pay for the bus fare and her “fine”, it was actually bus fare and BAIL MONEY.  My mother was horrified.  Aiding and Abetting a criminal!

I can remember the day my mom started to tell me that story like it was yesterday.  When she got to the part where the police officer asked her if Glenna had ever lived in Wisconsin, I knew exactly what was coming next.  I had never forgotten that story and had told it often.  My husband and I joke about it still – I tell him “dont make me mad, I have a kitchen knife and I know how to use it!”  and we both laugh.  My kids are in on it too.

I loved my Aunt Glenna and all her crazy ways.  She added color to our family… most often in the vein of ruby red lipstick on your cheek.

I Love the smell of carburetor cleaner in the morning

There are people who can work on cars and those who cannot.  The trick is to know which one of these categories you fall into.

My father fell into the CANNOT category, but he thought he was a CAN kind of guy   Disclaimer:  my dad could repair most anything around the house including gas and electrical as well as appliances and more; and has walked me through many a repair over the phone to repair my washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, lay floors……

Example picture, not Bessie


My memory of my father’s inability to work on a care (or any combustion engine for that matter) goes back to an old baby blue Chevy station wagon we lovingly called Old Bessie.  Bessie was a 1961 Chevy station wagon (or thereabouts) with matching blue interior and a crank down rear window.  She had rear fender wings and chrome detailing down the side.  Those corner side windows that my dad would crack open in the winter to flick his cigarette ashes out of.  Over the years, my father had attempted to work on various parts of Bessie; the engine, brakes, the back window and more.  By the time we took Bessie off to the metal scrapyard in the sky, she barely ran and the back window hadn’t been able to crank up or down for a few years.  Being half-down, the back window was covered with plastic and held there with black electrical tape – my dads favorite.

After Bessie’s demise, there was the introduction of a 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon.  It was dark green and had fake wood paneling down the sides and across the back.  The way-back had a hidden seat that could flip up and offer an additional row of seating – facing backward.  My brother Neal and his now wife of 39 years dated in that car and eventually my parents gifted it to my brother Todd when his family grew unexpectedly.  The wagon wasn’t a mess when Todd received it, however in typical Chicago style it was a rust bucket by the time Todd took it to the wrecking yard.

Move on to 1977 and an International Harvester Travel All was the Geitner family mobility device.  The Travel All was International’s answer to the Jeep Wagoneer or the SCOUT.  International Harvester (now Caterpillar) made cars you ask?  Why YES, yes they did; though no one else on the planet knew this, but my father.  The International Harvester headquarters were in Peoria, Illinois, where my father grew up.  As it turns out, we had several family members who worked in the factory there, so the stage was set.   I learned to drive in this car and can still hear Sue and Nancy cackling when they saw me driving it for the first time.  I will add, however, that my (our) friend Gini’s dad also had a Travel All – so we were destined to be friends when we met in high school.   Over the years, my dad tried to “fix” things on the Travel All, yet sadly and not so surprisingly, it ended up with the same demise as old Bessie with a back window that didn’t work and all of the pieces taken apart to try and repair it, left to rust in the back and the window no longer going up or down.  Bring in the plastic and trusty black electrical tape, which remained there until my Dad took the Travel All off to the junkyard in the sky.

In case you haven’t noticed, my father did not have a good track record with fixing cars, but I had friends who I loving called Gear Heads and thanks to them I was able to surpass the “Dad” gene and learn how to repair my own vehicles.  It started with my first car, a 1974 Honda Civic named Ben.  When Ben began constantly getting bogged down, sputtering and such  I became friends with  the guys up at the NAPA auto parts store in town because I was up there so often to get a new fuel filter.  Gas was leaded then and clearly I was not getting it at the right place.   That started the trend of repairing my own vehicle and thanks to many of my Gear Head friends I learned how to change oil, tires and recognize the sound of open headers.

My husband Michael is a lover of cars.  He has completely torn down and rebuilt the engine in a tractor, a 1994 Isuzu Trooper and my trusty chipper-shredder.   Thanks to him, our cars will last as long as we want them to and look good doing it.   Years ago when my father’s eyesight was beginning to fade, he had come to visit us out in “the country”.   Michael was working on our F250, giving it an oil change or what have you.  My father wandered out there to “watch” and lend a helpful hand.  Mostly he asked a lot of questions and pointed in directions that did not make sense based on what he was asking about.  Yes, my dad did have failing eyesight at the time, but it was further proof he just wasn’t good with cars.  Nowadays, Michael and I spend a good bit of time watching ‘Fast n Loud’, ‘Wheeler Dealers’ and the GOOD (now defunct) version of Top Gear BBC– the American version STINKS.   Before I met Michael i was listening to  Car Talk on NPR.  I would listen and play this game with myself to figure out what the problem was before Tom and Ray gave their diagnosis and see if I was right or at least in the same ballpark.

Of course, now cars are mostly electronic and fuel injected and I take them into the shop for repair now; which is what brings me back to the title of this little anecdote.  A few years ago my neighbor Steve bought a SWEET 1961 Chevy Impala; the 4 door version of Bessie.  We have named Steve’s car Vlad, the Impala.  Its Chevy blue with a white hard top, white wall tires and a solid metal dash.  The wings on the rear fenders are just the perfect size and if you were in the mob, you could fit 6 bodies in the trunk – easy.  When Steve was working on the engine one morning, I happened to walk out my front door just as he was spraying some carburetor cleaner and caught a whiff.  I had an immediate flashback to high school and my old gear head buddies and shouted down to him…….”I love the smell of carburetor cleaner in the morning, Mr. Steve!”

The best part was when he later told me he was impressed I was able to name that smell.



Me – Kindergarden

I got my hair cut today. Its funny how things come around over time. Our parents take care of us when we are kids and as they age, they become more like children and we end up having to take care of them.

I am the youngest child in my family AND the only girl. If you were to ask my mother, she would tell you they kept trying until they got a girl. My dad would always comment on a little girls hair if it was long and pretty. Me? I never had long and pretty hair. I had long hair for awhile, but I would never call it pretty.

When I was 5, my mother entrusted me to our neighbor, Lisa Rouse, to take me to her hairdresser for a haircut. At the time, I was a toe-head blonde (whatever that means – what does toe-head have to do with anything?) with super-fine hair a bit past shoulder length and it was slightly curly. I don’t recall the name of the place where Lisa took me, but I do remember it was on Old Skokie Road in Highland Park, not far from the pedestrian overpass over HWY 41 and near the scrapyard along the railroad tracks.

The Pixie cut was all the rage in 1967, though I would say far more so for fashionable young women, not so much for kindergarten girls. Nonetheless, I came home with a pretty raggety Pixie hair cut as pictured from my 1st grade picture. My Father was devastated. My Brothers teased me relentlessly and I am fairly sure my mom and dad “had words” about it. Thankfully, my father was never one to hold a grudge. Over that weekend, he went down to the Rouses’ house, they all had an Old Style and laughed at my haircut for the next month or so.

That was when I was 5. I don’t think I cut my hair again until I was at least in my 20’s. From 25 – 40 there were various perms, highlights, trims, bangs, cutting my own hair, letting Jamie cut my hair and lord knows what else, but the length remained relatively long.

I had my first child at 36. I cut my hair to my shoulders. I had my second child at 39 and my hair got a bit shorter. For years I thought about going all the way and really cutting it short. I would think, try to visualize, but never got up the nerve to do it until one day it happened.

I was determined. I found a picture in a magazine and headed up to Super Cuts, one of those walk-in and for $10.00 they will cut your hair any way you want. I had never been there and didn’t know a soul, but showed the hairdresser the picture and asked her to cut my hair. Her name was Pam and she was pretty hesitant. Throughout the cut, she kept checking and I would say shorter!

When she was finished, I was thrilled! Here I was at 43 years old and I had finally found the haircut that made me happy. I will admit, my husband was not thrilled (what is it with men and hair), but he has grown used to it. And…….he likes to see me happy. J

Me now
Me now

Summer Solstice

Wedding Day 1947

June 21st is the longest day of the year.  Summer Solstice is what astronomers call it.  I learned about the Summer Solstice when I was old enough to understand and remember my parents wedding anniversary.  I guess my mother started me out with using major events to help me with my date/time references.

My parents were married June 21st, 1947 only to be separated by death on March 16, 1994.  47 years, still holding hands and thoroughly enjoying their retirement in Wisconsin (when they weren’t in Vegas).  The period that lead up to their wedding was pretty interesting and I am proud to say that I know my mother is the source of my stubbornness.  It is because of her stubbornness, and her love for my father that I sit here writing about this story.

My father was in the Army during WWII.  He never talked about it much other than to say he was in Europe on a “clean up crew”.  I took that to mean he and his team had to pick up the mess left behind after a battle, including the people.  I guess I wouldn’t talk about it much either.

When my dad returned to the states as a skinny 21 year old member of the US Army, he was sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois where at a USO sponsored dance in Highland park, he chanced to meet Jean Briscoe, a 5’8″ dark-blonde who I am certain dazzled him with her dance moves.  My dad could not keep a beat to save his life (thanks for sharing dad), but my mother was a fabulous dancer.  A romance quickly ensued and my father proposed.

When my father and mother went to Grandpa Briscoe to formally ask for her hand, he refused.  It all came down to religious beliefs.  My grandpa was a Christian Scientist and dad was not.  Interestingly, neither were my nana and the girls, but that didn’t matter.  There were tears, raised voices between Grandpa and Nana.  More tears.  My mother and father (ok, my mother) forced ahead to plan a wedding at a church in Highland Park.  Invitations printed and all.

Shortly before the wedding, when my mother, father and even Nana had failed to sway my grandfather, my mother hopped a train and headed to East Peoria where my fathers family lived.  My mother moved into an apartment with my dad’s sister, Ruth.  Without any help from her family financially, she borrowed her sister Shirley’s wedding dress (which was also borrowed), found a church and walked down the aisle to become Mrs. Gene Geitner on the day of the Summer Solstice.  Standing up for her were my fathers sisters, Margaret and Ruth, my fathers brothers Jack and Joe, and Margarets girls Kay and MaryLou as flower girls.

There was one person who attended from my mothers family.  My Nana.  She had begged her husband to reconsider, this was the daughter who wouldn’t have to run away to get married, but he refused.  She begged him to drive down to Peoria and participate; he refused.  So, without my Grandpa’s knowledge,  my Nana got someone to drive her to the train station, took the train down to Peoria and watched her daughter walk down the aisle.

I said earlier that my mother was the source of my stubbornness.  Scratch that – Thank You Nana, for always speaking your mind and standing up for your girls.  You taught them well, and they taught theirs girls too.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad….The Invite 1947

I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes….well, snakes are ok.

Puppy and spider

Isn’t this picture cute?  I don’t know where he finds them, but my husband seems to be able to snag these cute pictures and send them to me a few times a week.  This one in particular, he sent to me after we were talking about that time when he had to get the spider out of the living room.

Several years ago when we were living out in the country, my husband and I would get up early in the morning and drive into work together.  We lived about 45 miles from town and in an effort to save gas, we would drive both cars into town on Monday and share a vehicle home all week, then drive separately home on Fridays.  Every little bit helps as they say.  When I say we got up early, I mean 4:30 in the morning early.   It was about this time of the morning when The Great Spider Incident occurred.  <cue scary music>

Living out in the country, we didn’t have any blinds on our windows.  We had no neighbors and lived on a private road so unless someone was lost, they would never end up down our street.  Being a city girl, this took me some time to get used to, but after roughly a year in the house, I was pretty comfortable walking around in the dark by the moonlight through the windows.

It was any random day of the week and late in spring, so it was starting to get really hot in the house overnight.  We had installed an attic fan in the walk-up attic over the weekend to help regulate and move some of the heat out of the 3rd floor and still had the boxes out on the screened in back porch.  I had gotten up about 4:30 to open some windows and let the air move through to cool down the house a bit.  Maneuvering through the house by moonlight, I had opened windows upstairs and had moved downstairs walking through the rooms, starting with the windows on the front of the house.  As I opened the window in the living room, I turned around to step and noticed something, a shadow or something on the dark green oriental rug.  Even though I didn’t have my glasses on, I knew something wasn’t right.

I turned, clicked on the lamp and was paralyzed by the sheer size and hariness of the spider that was on the rug before me.  It gives me shivers to think about it now 15 years later.  I heard Michael moving around upstairs so, while keeping one eye on the spider, I moved toward the stairs to call for him.  I got his attention and told him there was this huge spider on the carpet in the livingroom.  I told him it was far too big to smush and I wouldn’t go near it.  I am terrified of spiders.

Michael, thinking I am over-exaggerating as if saying a tiny mouse is the size of  a New York Subway Rat, takes his time coming down the stairs.  He walks around the corner to see what all the fuss is about and when he lays eye on what I was talking about stopped dead in his tracks and exclaimed “Holy Crap!”  He stammered a bit, looking around to try to figure out what to do.  It was far too big to put a cup over and slip a piece of paper under like one would with a small spider.  So he asked me to keep an eye on it while he went to get a box.  It felt like 100 years until he came back with the box that the attic fan came in.  It was a bit awkward because the opening was at the top of the box, not on the wide part of the box, so you can imagine that he is at one end, with the opening away from him and trying to reach across with a stick to coax the monster into the box while I watched in horror.    Once the spider was in the box, Michael put it upright, closed the top flaps and put something heavy on it so the spider couldn’t get out while he went off to put on shoes.

It was that time of day where the sun isn’t up, but the sky brightens enough that you can see fairly well where you are going and what’s before you – so long as it is large enough.  Michael now had his shoes on and is ready to dispose of the monster.  He has with him a flashlight, the stick he used to coax the spider and the box and heads out to the garden to set it free.  Michael is big on setting things free (except for that one cotton mouth under the house that one time, but that’s a different story).

The garden was about 100 yards from the house.  From the front door, you went through the circle part of the driveway, turn left to the end of the pasture fence and where the driveway turns right to go out to the road, just keep walking straight to the garden and the shed beside it.  It seemed like he was out there forever.  I had gotten the coffee ready and was cleaning up in the kitchen when he came flying back in the front door a bit breathless saying “I hope you didn’t want that box for anything, because I am leaving it out there and I am not going back anytime soon!”.   Surprised to hear this exclamation, I ask why and this is what he described.

He got out to the shed and gently set the box down with the flaps to open it facing away.  He could see pretty well, so once he was ready, he used the stick he brought out to slowly reach over and pull open the flaps.  When he pulled the top flap up, he saw this hairy leg (paw is the word I think he used) reach over the flap, grab it and threw itself onto the top of the box.  It faced him, reared up on its back 4 legs with its front 4 legs in the air and started to move toward him.  He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, was it the light?  Was this thing really thinking about coming at him?  As he was rolling that through his head, it began to run at him like it was going to lunge or take flight at his face.  Michael was so stunned he turned and double timed it back to the house, not looking back.

I have been known Michael for a long time.  Michael is a Marine.  I don’t think I have ever seen him even nervous about anything, let alone scared.  And for this,  I would not say he was scared, I would call it surprised.  For me, even imagining what he saw scares me.  I can picture every hair on the creepy little crooked leg of that spider.  I imagine the 8 freakish eyes staring me down with its fangs sticking out ready to bite.

As I write this story, it is one of the first warm days of the season.  We have a large retaining wall in the front yard with vines covering the ground from the wall down toward the street.  I have seen large furry spiders, sometimes with babies on their backs, when doing yardwork near the wall.  I always make a face and stare in horror until they go away.  They creep me out, but they are nothing like the horror of that monster spider I found that hot morning in the middle of my living room rug.

It was January, 1999

LOVED being pregnant. I got to eat whatever I wanted, didn’t worry about my body image and had an awesome man for my child’s father. I also swelled up to the size of Cleveland, waddled around (though I truly didn’t ever think I waddled) and at some point had to go buy a pair of really expensive “clog-slippers” because my big fat swollen feet would not fit into anything else. I was most definitely nnot one of those beautiful Madonna-esque mothers to be.

Michael and I had purposely not found out the gender of our child. I told him if I was going to have to go through labor, I wanted some sort of a surprise at the end. On this particular day, I got my surprise. It was 4 weeks until my due date. Thankfully, I had managed a project for my company to implement remote access and given I was a piloting member, I was able to work from home. Being as swollen as I was, I had promised my doctor I would work from home at least 2 days per week.

On any given day, I may have tummy troubles. I have been blessed with a pretty messed up inside and as a consequence, my intestines get tangled up fairly easily. A tangle can equal an awful lot of pain, a visit to or stay in the hospital, or in my case, I got to get a nice chunk of my intestines removed while vising Michael when we were first dating. (That’s another lonnnnnng story or later). This particular day, I was having tummy troubles. It had gone on for a few days and was escalating rather quickly.

Michael and I lived out in the boonies, about 45 minutes west of Richmond. It was a month before my due date and Michael was in a day-long session for work. At some point in the early afternoon, I called him to say I wasn’t feeling well and was going in to see the doctor. Nothing to worry about, I would just let him know what was up after I saw the doctor. By the time I got to the doctor’s office, it was getting worse. My normal doctor wasn’t around, so I had to see some random guy who didn’t know anything about my history.   Without a thought, he decided I was in labor and sent me over to the birthing center.

Now, I have never been in labor before, but I could tell you I wasn’t in labor. I called Michael on my way over, told him I didn’t think I was in labor, but they were going to hook me up to monitor me and check it out. My doctor showed up what seemed to me to be a few hours later. She agreed with me that I wasn’t in labor, but she didn’t know what she should do. By this time, the pain had escalated to a point where I could barely concentrate when people were asking me questions, so I wasn’t much help.

Thank goodness for Michael! He came in about 30 minutes after my normal OB arrived, took one look at me and started asking the right questions. Remember, he had seen this before. He reminded my doctor of my previous surgery and the reason for it. They talked about options for awhile, but the bottom line was, the baby was going to have to get out of the way or I was going to be in some serious trouble.

The neo-natal doctor was called in along with a GI doctor to deal with my insides after the baby was born. They prepped me pretty quickly and wheeled me back into the operating room. Michael scrubbed up and was allowed to be in the room for the baby’s birth. Due to the nature of my illness, they didn’t do the nice little “bikini” cut for the c-section, but had to follow my original scar from above the belly button down. Michael would later describe what he saw as one lady on my right and one on my left side, each one pulling as hard as they could to move the muscles to allow access to the baby. Then when the baby was removed and laid on my abdomen, he thought they had removed my liver!

They took the baby away to clean her up and do all that stuff they do with newborns and in moved the GI doctor to finish the rest of the surgery. They told Michael he could leave or they would raise the curtain, but he asked to stay and watch. The doctor just shrugged and said sure and went about his business. All was well…….they patient was going to live. J

Later that evening, after the baby had settled in the NICU and I was resting in the recovery room, Michael came to say goodnight. He left with me the polaroid the nurses took of him holding the baby with me so I could see our little girl when I woke up.

I didn’t get to see her in person for 2 days, but finally insisted they take me down so I could see her. For showing up a month early, she was still a 7lb 9oz baby – fully baked in most edges of the universe. She was beautiful then and now at 16 is tall, beautiful, brilliant and talented.

I have heard people say that God puts some chemical in our brain or erases our memories to cause women to forget what labor is like almost immediately after birth. They say if He didn’t, then women would never have more than 1 child because they would never go through that again on purpose. I agree.  I remember all the details of that day, everything except the pain and discomfort….

And then………there were two………..



Memories of Christmas Past

This year, as with every year, I took my Christmas decorations down on New Years Day.  I don’t know when this tradition (if you can really call it that) even started, but I have been following this timeline for years.

As I always do when I put UP the Christmas tree, I drift off down memory lane as I put the Christmas tree away as well.  I can tell a specific story about every single ornament on the tree.  Today, I want to share a story about these.

Todds Ornament

The first ornament is not a pretty one.  It is made of plastic and is supposed to look like winter flowers.  My brother Todd made that ornament while he was in Boy Scouts probably 50 plus years ago.  When I was a little girl and decorated the tree, Todd’s ornament was always the first one I would put on the Tree – even on the ugly Silver Aluminum Tree.

Nana's ornaments

The set of 3 are a small example of how my Nana would spend her time in the late 60’s.  Even with her arthritic hands, my Nana would spend hours upon hours in a chair watching the Cubs play (she was a die-hard fan) and making Christmas Ornaments.  These are made by starting with a satin covered Styrofoam form, stick pins, pearl beads, ribbon, sequins and whatever else your imagination could come up with.  Between myself and my mother, I suspect I had over 100 of these at one time.  Not one exactly like the other, they are all amazing and I truly cannot pick a favorite.  Unfortunately, over many moves, I am down to about 20 of these ornaments now.

Jills first ornament

One of my favorite rememberances, however, is that my Nana taught Keith and I to make these ornaments.   In hindsight, I assume my mother sent us down to Nana’s house to get some time to herself, but I loved to hang out down there and make ornaments.  The ugly sequined ornament pictured above is the very first ornament I had ever made.  When I put it on the tree each year, I have flashbacks to sitting with my Nana and Keith, watching the cubs on her console TV in the hot summer days and her patience as she showed us how to make ornaments too.

I have been telling these stories to my kids for years.  Not just about these sequin ornaments, but each one on the tree.  Now they tell the stories without me even asking as they admire each ornament while decorating the tree.  One day, I hope they will do the same with their kids.

THIS is how family stories are shared…….