As a variation on her usual Friday love list, Red Nose recently posted a list of memories she loves to…ah, remember. Basically I’m an Eeyore kind of person, but this seems like it might be a good idea. Well, let’s see…
After my grandpa died and left us some $$, my dad learned from his butcher pal Marty that a resort south of Detroit Lakes was for sale. Marty was going to buy one of the individual cottages, and my dad bought another one. I remember the summer day when I was 10 years old and we drove the 46 miles from Fargo to our new cottage on Lake Sallie for the first time. We walked into this four-room cabin that had an ICE BOX, and a little metal sign in the kitchen that said “GUESTS, LIKE FISH, AFTER THREE DAYS BEGIN TO STINK,” and a FIREPLACE in the living room, and a FRONT PORCH that overlooked the lake and had a ROUND TABLE w/six chairs in one corner and a big comfy bed with plain, not box, springs in the other, and a DOCK, and a BOAT, and a PUMP out back, and an OUTHOUSE with SPIDER WEBS complete with SPIDERS THE SIZE OF BING CHERRIES in them. Mom and Dad slept in the only bedroom, and I remember MY MOTHER LAUGHING when she climbed into bed that night and put her cold feet on my dad’s legs to warm them and he jumped. And I remember rolling over onto the extended side of the little metal cot in the living room and CAUSING IT TO TIP SO THAT IT SPILLED ME ONTO THE LINOLEUM FLOOR. And my mother laughing about that, too, and my dad going “heh heh, heh heh.” And the sound of the CHIPMUNKS IN THE ATTIC.
On the day seven years later when Mom, Dad, and I left the cottage to drive me to the convent in St. Paul, I remember the SOUND OF COTTONWOOD TREES singing in the wind gave me a big lump in my throat.
If I do not sound sad over my grandpa's death, it's because I never met him. He was my only living grandparent, and because we had no car during WWII (from the time I was about 5 until I was 10, when he died and the war was over), we did not travel to see him, or he, us. He lived several states away, and I talked to him once a year--always at Christmas. Dad would hand me the phone. "Say Merry Christmas to Grandpa." I'd take the black receiver. "Merry Christmas, Grandpa." Then I'd add, just in case, "This is Mary Ellen." "Well, hello there, Mary Ellen. Have you been a good girl? Did Santa bring you any presents?" "Yes." He'd laugh like my dad--"Heh heh. That's fine. Do you like school?" "Yes." (I lied....) "Bye, Grandpa." And I'd hand the phone back to Dad, who was standing nearby. Whew!
I remember going to bed on my first night in the convent. We slept three or four to a kind of dorm room, where a private space for each bed was created at night by drawing white curtains (they looked like plain old sheets strung up on wires) on three sides (the fourth side being the wall). I had just pulled on my brand new J.C. Penney white flannel nightgown, when the curtain between my bed and the one next to it was yanked back by one of my roommates, grinning and holding up a bottle of orange pop. She had smuggled it in one of the big pockets of her black underskirt to the dorm from the welcoming picnic earlier that day. She had, however, no bottle opener. I took the bottle from her, hooked the edge of the cap on the metal bed frame, and gave a swift downward blow with my other hand. The orange liquid inside the bottle was warm and shaken, and when the cap popped off, the pop gushed all over my clean sheets. It was now the period called Grand Silence (after night prayer until after Mass the following morning) so we didn’t make a peep, but we were laughing so hard our faces were bright red. My roommate took the bottle from my hand and took a swig. Again, the agitated orange pop gushed out of the bottle—all over her clean sheets. We got one new sheet every week in the convent. On laundry day (I think it was Wednesday), you stripped off the bottom sheet and put it in the wash. Then the top sheet became the bottom sheet, and a clean new sheet (placed on the foot of your bed by the senior novice in your dorm) went on top. And so forth. Since the day we entered was a Monday, we skipped the sheet exchange that Wednesday. So my roommate and I slept on at least one of our sticky orange sheets for three weeks running.
I remember the same roommate’s mother also brought her some delicious ripe Concord grapes from their home vine a month later, and my roommate tried to make wine out of them in a plastic dishpan which she kept in the skate room (there was a room for everything in the convent). Somebody smelled the fermenting grapes, however, and poured it all down the big sink.
I remember in the fall when we kids were in our early teens that we would try to smoke anything. When we ran out of butts from our parents’ ashtrays, we’d smoke dried tomato vines (while they lacked nicotine, to us they had some of the real cachet of cigarettes). One day we decided to crumble some dried leaves and roll them in paper. The only paper we had was some brown butcher paper, so we rolled a nice fat cigarette in it. I put one end in my mouth and lit the other with a farmer match. I took a good puff, and the thing burst into flames, singeing the tip of my nose. Nobody noticed my red nose that night at supper. Thank god for hay fever.
I remember getting our first television set when I was a junior in high school. There was hardly any national programming at first but lots of local news and chat programs, TEST PATTERNS (we watched those, too), early pre-Disney cartoons, and old foreign, i.e., British, movies--subtitles had not been invented yet. The only national programming I ever remember watching was the Ed Sullivan show, Red Skelton, and Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen.
In the years before television, all kids played outside, no matter the weather. In the winter, especially on the rare occasions when we had an actual blizzard and the Fargo schools were closed, our mothers would wrap several wool scarves around our heads over our wool hats so that you could see where you were going but your cheeks and nose and forehead and the tips of your ears were protected from frostbite. Still, I remember sitting behind boys in school and noticing the raw sores where the tips of their ears had been frostbitten.
We would dig snow forts in the huge drifts created when people shoveled their sidewalks. Snow forts were like igloos--they were warm! The temperature of the air could be 20 degrees below zero (or worse--the US had not taken up the nasty Canadian habit of reporting winter temperatures as WIND CHILL), but inside the snow fort/igloo, the temperature was more like the temperature of the snow, which is 32 degrees ABOVE ZERO. You could take off your scarves and eat the pure white snow.