Monday, March 9, 2009

"Baby" Lauren 'n Me

Lauren is about 2 years younger than me, and is the baby of the family. We were together constantly for the first 4 years of our existence, and maybe that's part of the reason why we were not as close once we branched out to play with other friends outside of the family.

I think I tried to pass on to her the same treatment as Patsy gave me, but whereas Patsy was 4 years older & so had the muscle to back up her attitude, Lauren was too close to my size, so she was able to fend off any abuse from me. In short, she just would have none of it, so we were at a stalemate. And since I have never really had an agressive personality & didn't really FEEL any animosity, it was easy for me to drop it. So we got along fine when there were no other friends around, and we easily gravitated toward others of our ages when available.

Lauren - Brownie Scout, ca. 1955Besides our times as Girl Scouts, I remember Lauren & I playing with our Ginny dolls for much of the time, and we spent many of our days twirling Hula Hoops around hips, arms & necks. Countless hours also passed as we played "House," always arguing over which one got to be "Mom." Then there were millions of games of "Clue," and "Chutes & Ladders," and "Mr. Potato Head," & too many others to mention. There are so many memories swirling around in my head! Speaking of heads, remember the times we played with the paper dolls that came with the home permanents that Mom made us suffer through? And speaking of paper dolls, remember Betsy McCall? We'd tear into each new issue of McCall's magazine for the paper dolls - what fun!

Lauren - Hula Hoop
We also had a unique game we invented, called "TV Guide." That magazine's cover often featured people caught in the middle of doing or saying something zany, so they frequently had funny expressions on their faces. Our game was to stand next to each other facing a mirror, & on the count of 3, we'd each yell, "TV GUIDE" while we screwed up our faces, crossed our eyes, stuck out our tongues, plus anything else we could think of to look funny, then freeze, as in a picture. I guess you just had to be there, but we found it hilarious....

Even though we were close in age, that mere 2-year age gap might as well have been a whole generation when it came to the impact of the Beatles from Liverpool! The "Fab Four" captured Lauren's heart & mind instantaneously, while they repulsed me & left me cold. It was 1963. Lauren was a Sophmore in high school; I was a Junior in that same school. But we were separated by a virtual "Grand Canyon" of culture! I was old fashioned - still loved the classical music of my parents & found the Beatles' foreign bobbed hair styles shocking, their music jolting. I resented their intrusion into my American world & still clung tenaciously to my roots - folk music and artists such as Peter, Paul & Mary, Johnny Matthis and my own personal heart throb, Ricky Nelson (sigh).

These differences drove a deep wedge between us, so much so that it seemed our relationship resembled that of a parent-child rather than siblings. Lauren recognized it much more quickly than I did. I remember one heated exchange, when she remarked that I was "the most UNCOOL & UNNATURAL teenager she ever knew!" (she was right!).

Lauren, her best friend, Yvonne, and a couple of her other friends were absolutely captivated by the Beatles & the culture upheaval they inspired. In addition, they were fascinated by a famous model of the time, also English, named Jean Shrimpton. Lauren & her 3 friends studied everything they could find about Jean Shrimpton, Liverpool & The Beatles. They dressed like them, learned to think like them, & even mimicked their accents until they sounded just like Liverpoolians. They even memorized places & addresses in Liverpool where the Beatles lived & hung out! Each one of the 4 picked a personality to "specialize" in. Lauren "became" Jean Shrimpton, & I must admit, she was really good at it!!

Lauren & her date for her high school promI still remember my secret pride when I found out that Lauren, Yvonne & her other friends had taken their charade to a local radio station. They posed as English high school exchange students, from Liverpool, England, of course. The station interviewed them in depth and aired the interview as genuine! We who knew the truth were astounded that they got away with it, but they did. As I remember it, they even claimed to know the English Mopheads personally! They carried it off splendidly, maintaining their accents & characters to the end. I don't know how they were able to go on the radio & not get caught, and I don't remember how they got around linking their school with the story, because that would have surely called attention to them. All I do know is that they had a blast doing it, & to this day Lauren can jump into her Shrimpton character at a moment's notice, instantantly speaking Liverpoolian like a native. With talent like that, I've always thought she missed her calling - she should have been onstage, but she says that she's so intensely self-conscious, the stage fright would have killed any budding career on the spot. Too bad!!

After high school, Lauren went on to college, graduating with a degree in textiles and weaving. She has always been known as the family "flower child," and was at Kent State in 1970 when the infamous "May 4 Massacre" occurred. Lauren is still very much a "hippie" at heart, with a love & respect for all things natural. She is retired now, but was an art teacher for over 20 years. Now she delights in having the time to pursue the arts, and enjoys it all, from weaving to drawing, painting, pottery, and more. She and I enjoy a very close relationship, and the three sisters (Patsy, me & Lauren) have a great time whenever we can get together.

Lauren, I love you very much - I'm so GLAD you are exactly who you are, and especially that you are my sister! My memories of our childhood are full of light, warmth & love, and I've found while writing this that they've even improved with age (just like us - right??)! Maybe that's one of the best things about aging & having "senior moments..." Our memories are sometimes burnished with time & burn brighter, like the patina that gathers on fine polished brass over the years. I've enjoyed going back in time to write of our beginnings, & hope you enjoy the trip as you read it! All in love,

"You keep your past by having sisters. As you get older, they're the only ones who don't get bored if you talk about your memories." ~Deborah Moggach

Friday, March 6, 2009

Patsy - Part 2

Photo: Here's my only closeup of the 3 of us. The year was about 1950. Left to right: Niki, Patsy & Lauren.
Now, back to my story...
I was about 8 or 9 when things finally came to a head. I had been tattling like crazy for some time, and Patsy was getting fed up with my interference in her life, ESPECIALLY with the porcelain horses that kept came up crippled! So one day, I found a note on my bed. It said, "Meet me behind the church at 9 - alone - OR ELSE!" Now the church was a little brick Protestant church next door to our house. We used to bang tennis balls off its backside, where there were no windows, and it was very dark on that side of the building at night....spooky & DARK! But I knew that I could show no fear, & putting on a show of bravado was the thing to do. So I went, alone...

Patsy had a best friend, Karen, who was always with her in those days. When I arrived at the meeting place, I was not surprised to see that there were 3 there to meet me - Patsy, Karen, and Chips. Patsy quickly took her place as the leader, telling me that she was tired of me ratting on her, and that I'd better quit if I knew what was best for me. I countered with something brave but completely lame, like, "Oh yeah?!?"

Honestly, I don't remember exactly what was said, until Patsy challenged me with this: "If you don't quit ratting on me, I'll sic Chips on you." To that, I said, "Oh yeah? Chips would never hurt me!" She replied, "Oh yeah? He would if I told him to!" Of course, having far more blarney than brains, I blurted, "Oh yeah?!? - well Chips loves me - he'd NEVER hurt me!!"

That was it! Next thing I knew, Karen had me held tightly from behind, and Patsy was yelling at Chips - "Get her, boy - Chips - sic 'er! Get her, boy!!"

It was over before it began - Chips went from being MY dog, loving me & knowing me - to a rabid attack dog, growling me, circling me, snarling & barking, ready for the kill! It happended in a nano-second, & I was beaten. I gave up, sobbing & shaken, and Patsy was the victor.

She and Karen took me out to the front of the church, where there was a large black metal sign with the church's information on it. The back of the sign, where the black paint scratched off easily, suited their purpose well. They had already made their marks - the letters "P" + "K" and an = sign. There, I was made to make an "X", so that the message read: "P + K = X". I was instructed that (on pain of death) I would never disclose what had happened, and that if I ever did, I would pay with my life (or worse)!!

Things settled down after that, but a short time later, Patsy invited me to go with her to see the "fort" she & Karen had made. That was a high honor indeed, and I accepted on the spot! But they insisted that I could only go if I was blindfolded, so that I wouldn't be able to find their fort again after this visit, or tell anyone else how to find it. (There was a gang of older boys in our neighborhood, feared by all, even Patsy, who were known to destroy any "foreign" forts they came across!)

Patsy & Karen led me through the woods, along paths and through thickets, until they removed my blindfold for a rest. We were in a lovely little spot that looked like a fairy glen. The sun slanted prettily through the trees, and there were several little hills covered with soft green moss. I was just relaxing, enjoying the place, when Patsy announced that we would not go any further until I kissed the moss on the little hills! Now I LIKED the place; I even LOVED the spot. But I didn't know what kind of bugs lived down inside the moss on the hills, and had no desire to KISS anything there! But that was the only way I could go on - so I dutifully knelt down & kissed (yuck) the moss.

Meanwhile, my anger was kindled at this humiliation, & I determined, deep inside, that I would SOMEHOW find my way back to this spot, & on to their fort! From that point onward, I made mental notes of our progress....a big rock, then a left, crossing a stone wall, a small stream, etc. Finally, we made it to their fort. They removed my blindfold & I saw that it was indeed a real neat place - they had made a stockade-type of fence, and there was a thatched roof fort, complete with a "lookout tree" that had cut branch steps nailed to it to make climbing to the lookout platform was an ideal fort, & had taken a lot of work to make! In spite of myself, I admired their handiwork. Blindfolded once again, I was led home. But I did remember...

Sure enough, a week or so later, I retraced my steps with the help of my best friend, Susie D. We found the fort again, and with her help, I destroyed every piece of it! We demolished the fort, scattered the pieces far and wide, took their food & provisions they had inside, and even tore down the steps & platform of the lookout tree. When we finished, it was levelled, & there was hardly a sign that there had ever been a fort there. Then (in true Indian fashion) we wiped out our footprints & left as quietly as we had arrived. A few days later, I heard Patsy talking to Karen about the destruction. Apparently, she never thought that I would be capeable of such a monumental feat. It gave me great satisfaction to hear her telling Karen about how "the boys" must have been behind the destruction of their fort, because it was done so thoroughly (I've rarely felt such a rush of pure pride in any personal accomplishment since)!

After that, our relationship became more tolerable and Patsy's dislike of me was less pronounced, though it was still there. High school began for her, and I continued through the elementary grades.

Oddly enough, Patsy's hatred of me did not fade away, but it quit in an instant. Many years later, she told me how it happened. She was in her junior year in high school, and one afternoon she was outside when I got home from school. She said that as she looked down the street at me getting off the bus, her hatred of me just "fell off" and she realized that she didn't hate me any more at all! That was all there was to it - she never said anything until years later, but after that day she felt differently.

For me, there was no defining "moment" when our relationship was healed. But I do remember noticing a change in Patsy. It was subtle, but real, and slowly we began to talk to each other as real sisters, and eventually as friends, and later as very close, loving sisters. She married young & moved to a small town. I have many fond memories of weekends spent at her house, and when her children came, I was able to stay for a week or two to help out.

Our relationship today is still very close. You would never know that we were once such fierce adversaries. Life is strange sometimes, and I'll never completely understand why there was such animosity between us when we were young. Most important, I think, is that now, as all 5 of us qualify as "senior citizens," we value each other more than ever. We know that each day that all 5 of us still walk the planet is a GOOD day, and each time we get together for any reason is another blessing. We try to make the most of any such time.

Patsy - I love you so much - you are the BEST! We have overcome much together, and still (Lord willin') have more time to spend together.


Here are a couple of pictures of Patsy at about the age where she "lost" her dislike, plus one a few years later, just to show off how pretty she was (still is!!).

"Whatever you do they will love you; even if they don't love you they are connected to you till you die. You can be boring and tedious with sisters, whereas you have to put on a good face with friends." ~Deborah Moggach

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Me 'n Patsy

Patsy is my "big" sister, & we love each other as much as or more than any sisters ever did. But that was not always the case. When we were small, Patsy hated me. I knew it & she knew it - Mom & Dad knew it, & probably the rest of the family did too. The only thing we never really knew was, why?

Mom said it was because a miscarriage occured between Patsy & me. The children were evenly spaced out at every 2 years, except for the 4 year gap between the two of us. Mom always said that Patsy was used to being the "baby" of the family & resented me for usurping that role. Maybe so, maybe no. The fact remained, she was vehemently opposed to me from our earliest years, and the ill will persisted most of way through our childhood.

I remember that she would refrain from using my name, preferring to call me "it" most of the time. If we were both going through a tight spot, like a doorway, she would turn to the side & back up against the side, so as not to touch me. Our younger sister was accepted, and Patsy would play with her, but never with me.

Curiously, I don't recall returning her hate when I was little. I didn't even feel too bad about being so intensely disliked, that I remember. It was just the way things were. She never hit me or physically attacked me - I think she just really wanted to avoid any contact, as if she wished I wasn't there.

Patsy loved animals. Of course, all of us also loved animals and we had our share of family pets, especially dogs & parakeets. But it was Patsy who had a special way with critters, and we all recognized that animals bonded & responded to her more eagerly than to the rest of us.

Our most beloved dog was a collie named "Chips." He was a beautiful dog, and closely resembled the famous TV & movie collie, "Lassie." Chips was Patsy's dog. I mean, he was the family dog, & loved us all in his own way. But when Patsy was around, his focus was on her. One day, when I was about 8, that fact was proven to me. Patsy issued this challenge, "He's MY dog & will come to ME. He isn't YOUR dog." "Oh yeah?," I countered. "He's NOT your dog - he's MY dog!" "OK," she said, "We'll see. You take this treat & go to that corner; I'll go to the opposite corner with the same size treat & we'll both call him. We'll see whose dog he is then!" The sad thing was, always the optimist, I really was hoping he'd come to me, but of course, I lost.

As we got older, things stayed pretty much the same from day to day, but I gradually began to feel angry with her. I started fighting back in my own way. I learned that there were many ways that I could exact my revenge - quiet, effective ways...

Patsy was crazy about horses, above all other animals. She had a collection of beautiful china horses which she prized above everything else she owned. They were kept on the bookshelves in her room. Patsy had a room of her own, being the eldest girl, while we two younger ones shared a bedroom.

I used to wait until Patsy was away, then I'd go into her room, just to look (uh huh) around. I thought it was really neat that she had a bedroom of her own, and I really admired those horses! I'd look at them, thinking how pretty they were. Then I'd carefully pick one up, turning it around, marvelling at how delicate it was. I'd take hold of one slender leg & apply just the slightest bit of pressure, thinking, "Wow! It's SO delicate! But I bet it's stronger than it looks. I'm sure it would take quite a bit of - [SNAP] - Oh no! It broke!" It never ceased to amaze me that those little tiny legs couldn't stand up to a little bending!

I'd carefully & oh, so gently place the broken leg under the horse so that it appeared to be complete, & when it was balanced just so, you'd never know it was broken. That is, until you went to pick it up & the leg fell over. Looking back, I realize that I always picked a weight-bearing leg to test. Then I'd beat it back to my own room or somewhere else where I was safe. When Patsy came home, I'd hover near enough to be able to tell that she had picked up the latest crippled horse. She had no problem saying my name then - I'd hear her yell it quite clearly then - "NIKIIIII!" That scene was replayed many times over.

I also became a tattler of major proportions. It was especially effective to "rat" on Patsy to Nana, because I knew that she would probably not bother Mom with reporting the offense, but would just give Patsy "that look" that said, "I know what you did." And she would likely add more chores to Patsy's load while lightening mine a bit. Of course, she would know that I ratted on her, but would be unable to prove it or do much about it, I thought.

But one day I was paid back, and I believe that event was the beginning of the turn-around in our relationship, though it took years to come full circle...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pictures of Nana

Here are 2 pictures of Nana. Larger pic: It's difficult to judge her age, but she looks quite young, anywhere between 20 - 40...

Pic above: Here is Nana (far left) as I remember her. Next to Nana is my Dad's sister, Celia, with her son, Tommy, in front of her. Next to Celia is my Mom, with me in front (just after being casually strangled by my older sister, Patsy). Next to Mom is Dad's brother, Uncle Jim, with "baby" sister Lauren in front of him. And finally, far right, Dad.

More about Patsy and me in my next post...

Nana....Part 2

I start out this post thanking God for my family, and my, for the most part, wonderful, "warm & fuzzy" memories. It is always refreshing for me to spend time in the past, dredging up images & events from a fairytale childhood.

I was thinking again of Nana in the night, and how her snappy, brown eyes could telegraph disapproval of an action, yet still convey her love to a disobedient or rambunctious child.

She operated largely in the background of the family, and does not stand out in my mind as a figure of authority to fear, even though she was. But her presence in my life was a warm, quiet, steady influence that I took for granted as always there, always steady & dependable.

Here is just one example of how Nana made a lasting impact on my life:
One Christmas, observing us ripping & tearing with abandon into the knee-deep assortment of gifts & toys we received, she took quiet notice of one box, about 6" square. In it was a pair of twin dolls - a boy & a girl - dressed in matching blue outfits. My sister received a similar pair, dressed in pink. In all of the confusion, we never saw Nana take them both & hide them away. I am ashamed to admit that in the great sea of Christmas excess that was America in the 1950's, we never even missed them!

Then, one quiet rainy day in the summer, when we were bored to be stuck inside & had been good (for a change), she drew them out & gave them back to us. I will never forget my surprise & delight to see them & get them back (even though I had not thought of them since they disappeared on Christmas). But the knowledge that she cared enough about me, & more, that she cared about the dolls & their condition, made them much more special to me. I took very good care of them & I don't think I ever played with them without thinking of Nana & of her special care of them for me!

She had lived a lean, tough life herself, and was therefore full of wisdom & pertinent warnings, such as the one cited yesterday. But she was also Irish to the core, & passed down to us innumerable bits of humor & wit. Most of her quips are blended together in my memory so that not many stand out as coming directly from Nana, but one I remember clearly.

It happened that one day, as children do, I was digging deeply into a nostril with a finger, fully absorbed in the search for whatever was itching or bothering me.... I didn't know Nana was observing me, until she quietly said with a straight face, "That man's dead, you know." Of course, I immediately stopped what I had been doing to inquire, "What man, Nana?" Her straight-faced reply, "The one you're making the pills for."

Nana was second to Mom in the hierarchy of the household & we all learned to respect her authority. That is, while Mom & Dad were around. Unfortunately for Nana, we sometimes took advantage of her gentle nature when our parents were away. I remember my mother telling me of the time she & Dad left us with Nana to babysit while they went out for dinner at the home of some friends. They had only been enroute for about 15 minutes when they had to head back home for Mom's purse, which she had forgotten. Here is the sight that greeted her when she opened the front door, in her own words to me (now remember - there were 5 of us, between about 3 & 12 years of age):

"You were being chased around the room by Patsy, both of you shrieking like banshees. Lauren (the youngest) was climbing up the rungs of the tippy kitchen stool to reach the cookies on the counter. Mike (the oldest) was swinging by his hands from the upstairs floor where the circular staircase were open, & Kit was sliding down the curved bannister at breakneck speed, screaming as if he was on a roller coaster. All was earsplitting chaos & confusion - and there sat poor Mother (Nana) in the middle of the couch - with her arms up over her head & eyes closed tightly, evidently wishing with all her heart that she was anywhere else!"

Growing up in a big family with a grandmother in residence added a rich dimension to my life. As Nana aged, and especially after she broke a hip, we all began to learn how to anticipate her needs. I am grateful for the lessons learned during that time. They came in handy later on, when my own mother, & later my mother-in-law, came to live with us until age & infirmity took them home. Not many people have had real-life courses in the care & nurturing of an elderly family member as I did. Even in the best of circumstances, it can be very challenging, specially when that person is a resident in your home. I have been blessed.

Thank you, Nana, for all your love, patience & humor, and for your forgiveness when we were thoughtless & careless. But most of all, thank you for the lessons you taught us, - the respect for our elders & the caregiving skills you instilled in us. I love you, have not forgotten you, and never will.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Procrastination should be my middle name! When I typed my first blog installment, my intention was to write daily, for at least 15 minutes. That was 8 days ago, and this is my first entry since then! I can hear Nana, my grandmother, saying,

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
My mother's mother, Nana was a throwback to Victorian times, and indeed had lived in the last years of that era. She was not a particularly comely lady, but she was lovely on the inside, and that is what we children saw.
I don't have much of a detailed history of my grandmother - only the story that I remember Mom telling me. Her name was Loretta McCarthy Fischer, and her husband, Frank, died at about the age of 50, leaving her a very poor widow. My parents eventually took her in, and she lived with us until her death when I was 13 years old.
I was born in 1946, the 4th of 5 children who would make up our family. My mother had a miscarriage 2 years before I came along, so there would have been 6 of us. It was after the miscarriage & when she was expecting me, so I've heard, that Nana came to live with us, both to help my mother and to avoid abject poverty. Our house was a beautiful, large, Victorian farmhouse that was a local landmark, distinctive for its cupola, or "widow's walk," above the attic. Nana occupied one of the 5 bedrooms upstairs & was, in my memory, as much a part of the family as any of us.
Some of my earliest memories of Nana are of quiet times with her in her room. It was, I thought, the prettiest bedroom of all, and was furnished with a matching bedroom set. It was of dark wood, with a delicate hand painted bouquet of roses applied to each piece. There was a tall dresser, a low one with a great round mirror, a dressing table & bench & a bed. That set of furniture, along with her rocking chair, clothing & a few personal items, were the only possessions that she had been able to bring from her long-lost household. The bed had a high, curved headboard & 4 tall posts, and it was a high honor just to be allowed to sit on Nana's bed!
She would allow just one of us to visit her in her room at a time. I'm sure she set up that rule in part to preserve her sanity, but also to be able to give us individual attention that was difficult to dispense in the day-to-day business of a large family. It was a special treat to spend some one-on-one time with Nana.
She would sit at her dressing table & let me use her old fashioned hair brush to curry her waist-length silver gray hair. I remember being fascinated to see it hanging down her back, since her daily style was to braid it and wind the braids around her head. In later years, she had short hair & kept it permed, but the memory of that long hair & Nana in braids still makes me smile.
I am tired & it's time to go watch this week's episode of 24, so I'll stop for now. Tomorrow, I vow I'll continue Nana's story, if for no other reason than to please her.