Monday, January 25, 2016

We Can't Have Anything Nice Around Here

When we were younger my mom had a plant that was her pride and joy.  I don't know who bequeathed it to her but it started out as a log a couple of inches long.  It seemed like forever before a little sprout emerged and when it did Mom made us all look at it. 

She took care of that thing like it was her 7th child.

It would take years until it looked like an actual plant, and if company came over and remarked about the small tree in the corner, Mom would spread her thumb and finger an inch apart and say, "I'm telling you it was no bigger than this when it started out.  Isn't that right, kids"?  And we would nod and agree for we daily observed its emergence and growth.  Our Mom was the plant log doula.

My brothers liked to play hockey in the family room.  They'd cut their sticks down and wrap the ends in tape, kneel on the floor and then whack a tennis ball back and forth between some nets that they had fashioned.

Mom and Dad weren't fond of this activity because it left black marks all over the tile from the taped-up sticks.  They also weren't fond of their kids nagging them to eat dinner so when Dad got home and was enjoying the paper and a glass of wine with Mom in the front of the house, the boys grabbed their sawed off sticks and started playing hockey in the back of the house until it was time to eat.

One day they had a wild game going when one of them whacked the tennis ball and it sailed right into Mom's plant and broke it.  A sickening hush fell over the family room. We all stared at Mom's plant broken in half like it had just been assassinated.

"Why didn't you stop it???!!!" Terry yelled at Jim.

"Why did you hit it so hard??!!!" Jim yelled at Terry.

"You guys are in so much trouble," I said with glee.

There was some debating and propping and trying to make it look better but there was nothing that could be done.  The plant that had started years ago as a tiny log was kaput.

The boys went into the living room to tell Mom.  I went along to see the show and to be the witness to the day that they were given up for adoption.  Dad's face turned red which was never a good sign.  He and Mom got up to look, the boys following with their heads down like some two-bit crooks busted for knocking over little, old ladies to steal their purses. I imagined how sweet my life was about to be in the big bedroom once the brothers were finally sent off to a new family. 

When Mom could talk (and it was a scary long while before she could) she said the thing that millions of moms have said millions of time, "I guess we just can't have anything nice around here."

*****

We replaced our couch a couple of weeks ago.  Nice things and brothers do not go together.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Ice Rink

I was #4 in a family of six kids - the first girl after three boys born thirteen months apart. A sister would follow me thirteen months later and then another nine years after that. Our house was small.  A slab home on the outskirts of Chicago, it had a bath and a half and three bedrooms. Eventually my dad added on a kitchen (turning the old one into our dining room), a family room, and another bedroom in the back of the house for the boys.

There was no basement and there wasn't an upstairs.  There was no escaping all those people in that small house except to go outside which is where we kids spent most of our time.  Even in the frigid winter temps of Chicago, we would go to the outdoor ice rink six blocks away.  There were two rinks that the fire department would flood in the park every season - one for the hockey players and the other for the recreational skaters.  We would come home from school, get something to eat, change into our layers, grab our skates and head to the ice rink.  We would usually skate until dark, and with frozen feet stuffed into our boots, take shuffling, painful steps all the way home and devour dinner. This was our routine nearly every day in the winter.

The boys often stayed later than us.  With all their gear on and working up a sweat playing hockey, the cold didn't bother them as much as it did my sister and me.  As was typical of that time, kids wandering home in the dark by themselves didn't seem to cause any alarm.  Not for my sister and I and our friends whose ice cubed feet couldn't run from a kidnapper if we tried, not the boys who felt no inclination to leave their game early to protect us from the Boogie Man lurking about, or our mother who loved nothing more than to make dinner in peace and quiet and have it ready by the time we walked in the door.

One year during an unseasonably warm stretch of winter weather with heavy downpours, our backyard along with all of our surrounding neighbors, flooded.  This caused Dad all kinds of worry, mostly because he foresaw a mud pit come spring instead of a sprouting green lawn.  But as the luck of the Chicago Irish would have it, the temps plunged and our flooded backyard became a sheet of ice.

A sheet of skating ice.

Now instead of trekking back and forth to the park with our skates in tow, we need only walk out the back door to the most glorious thing that could have ever happened to us - our very own ice rink. Dad didn't seem to be a fan of this skating rink that Mother Nature had created, and, Mom, well Mom wanted her brood outside, and even if it wasn't as far away as she would have liked at least it was guaranteed to wear us out.

The boys rigged up some hockey nets and did their usual reenactments of a Black Hawks game. My sister and I swirled around the brick bird bath, the swing set and every tree in the yard.  It wasn't the best rink we'd ever skated on - you had to watch for frozen sticks jutting out and uneven ice - but it sure beat hobbling six blocks home in the dark.

One afternoon my sister and I were in the backyard skating by ourselves as the sun was setting when some kid showed up and started skating on our rink.  My sister told him to get lost.  He told her to get lost. This went back and forth for a few minutes until he said, "I don't have to you little bitch," and picked up a stick and threw it at her.  It hit her in face and cut her cheekbone.  She started wailing, the kid took off like a speed skater in the Olympics, and I went running into the house, skates and all, to report the crime to my mom.

"Who was it???" she yelled.  "Who did this to her???!!"

I had no idea.  I'd never seen the kid before.  All I knew was that my sister was bleeding and had just been called a bitch.  Whatever that was....

My brother, Tom, laced up his hockey skates and went flying down the icy backyards, chasing the perp through the frozen tundra until he ran out of icy yards to skate through.  Out in the dark it seemed like he was gone forever and we started to worry that this hooligan, intruding skater had done something to him too. When he finally returned he did a sharp hockey stop causing ice to spray up from his skates.

"Did you get him, Tom?  Did you beat him up, Tom, and make him pay for what he did to Jean?"

"I took care of it," was all he said and I didn't see much cause to worry about a Boogie Man after that.