Category Archives: nostalgia

Oh the shame…

When I was in kindergarten (before the homeschool years), Thursdays were music days for us and the preschoolers.  We had a music teacher (or just some woman who could play the piano well enough to impress a bunch of 3- to 5-year-olds) come in and play the piano and lead us in song.  One of those songs was something about peanut butter and we had to snap our fingers when we got to the bit about “crunchy peanut butter”.

Friends, I could not snap my fingers.  Oh the secret shame of a 5-year-old!  That song is actually burned in my brain because I remember trying desperately to mimic my classmates while praying that they could not tell that my fingers made no sound at all.  My older sister and brother tried to teach me at home, in preparation for music day every week (we sang that song a lot), but it felt like a lost cause.  I was doomed to be the girl who couldn’t snap her fingers for the rest of her life.  It was my cross to bear.

I’m happy to report that, years later (no joke, I was probably around 11) I did finally learn to snap my fingers.  But tonight I’m going to share with you a couple other things that nearly everyone else I know picked up real easily and I could simply never do.

Swim
Yup.  Can’t swim.  My parents enrolled us in swim lessons at a local university (the only place with a semi-public pool)… it was one of those set-ups where your level was the name of a fish: polliwog, guppy, minnow, etc… I never graduated from polliwog.  😦  My brothers surpassed me easily, leaping off the diving board and swimming out in the deep end, while my teachers were getting more and more frustrated with my lack of buoyancy.  That was what held me back – an inability to float.  I’d lay on my back, with the instructor holding me up… I’d be totally relaxed, totally zen.  And then she’d take her hands away and…. glub glub glub.  I’d sink like a stone and have to be hauled, flailing, out of the water.  After being held back 3 times in a row, I begged off swim lessons and my parents agreed.  I can doggie paddle enough that I’m certain if I get knocked into the river or something one day, I’ll be able to make it to something solid to hold onto.

I actually spent a while dating a guy who had been a really serious swimmer most of his life, breaking national records and whatnot.  He always offered to teach me, and I always found a reason to put it off.  I felt like seeing me panic and thrash about once my head went under the water would not be good for our relationship.

Whistle
No joke, I can’t whistle.  When I attempt it, some sound comes out, but calling it a whistle would be mighty generous delusional.  And it’s weird, but I make no noise at all when exhaling, but am able to make more whistle-like sounds when inhaling.   (Incidentally, there was song that involved whistling in kindergarten too.  It was terrible).  Is there a way that someone can learn how to whistle?  Or is that something that comes naturally to people?  How do I learn this elusive skill?

I feel like sharing 2 of my inadequacies with you is probably enough for one night.  If you want to share anything that you don’t know how to do, I promise you’ll hear no judgment from me 🙂

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The Things We Do for Money

After I waxed nostalgic about my fishing lake job yesterday, I started thinking about all pre-“real job” careers we all have.

Entertainment Company
Between the ages of 13 and 18, I worked for a neighbor who owned an entertainment company.  We dressed up as costumed characters from children’s shows  and worked kids’ birthday parties, parades, carnivals, and company parties.  It was terrible, but the hourly rate we got paid was awesome…. no matter that we only worked a few hours a month.  In those 5 years I was:  a Rugrat (ugh), “The Purple Dinosaur” (apparently “Barney” is copywrited.  Man, I got punched a lot in that costume), the Easter Bunny, Winnie the Pooh, Minnie Mouse (as the only teenage girl working for this dude, I was the only one who fit in the costume.  I got in trouble once at a carnival when I was about 16 or 17, because – while in costume – I was spending my time flirting with some firemen instead of taking pictures with snotty and screaming little kids), Baby Bop (Barney’s friend), and the yellow Power Ranger (one time, at a company picnic, I actually had to have a security escort because of the gangs of junior high age kids who wanted to see me “fight” and would therefore try to karate kick me.  Apparently, power rangers fighting back against the kids is discouraged).  That job was a nightmare.  But no one else around us was hiring kids under 16.

Burger King
After I decided I wanted more reliable work than being a Power Ranger, the only two options in my town for people under the age of 18 were fast food or housekeeping in the hotel next to the truck stop.  My parents nixed the hotel idea, so I was stuck with Burger King.  It was terrible.

IT Maintenance
For 4 summers, I worked for my dad setting up computer labs in a school and providing tech maintenance.  The first summer, I worked nights after my shift in the Burger King was over.  the next two summers, I worked during other jobs.  The last summer, I worked full-time.  All those summers I was the only girl working, and also the only one small enough to fit up in the ceiling to pull cable.  The worst time was when I spent over an hour crouching and balancing on thin metal strips, with a bandana over my face to fend off insulation and dust.  When I finally got down, I just laid on my back on the floor while my muscles spasmed out of control for over ten minutes.

The Embroidery Factory
At the same time I was working for my dad, I was also working at a small factory, bent over embroidery machines all day before I spent 5 hours at night on ladders and stretching into the ceiling.  That was the year my lower back started hurting all the time….

The Forest Preserve
Also worked here at the same time as the IT job.  It was lovely. 🙂

College Jobs
Dishwasher/Caf Worker
Track & Field Manager
German office helper
Health/Physical Ed office assistant
Babysitter (okay, this one wasn’t through the school, but I emailed all the profs I knew who had kids and begged them to hire me when I stopped being able to afford to do my laundry).

What’s the most random job you’ve ever had?

Early Morning

In the summer of 2001, one of my jobs when I was home from college was working for the local forest preserve at a fishing lake in my county.  There were two shifts, opening and closing… and since they overlapped for only two hours, you ended up working 6 hours by yourself.

Generally, I’m not a morning person.  I’m not super sunshiney or chipper.  I’ll communicate before 7 am if I have to… but I prefer not to have to.  But friends, I tell you, I loved that opening shift at the lake.  The concession/bait/boat rental stand – where I worked – opened at 6, so you had to get there by 5:30 to unlock everything, start the coffee for the early fishermen (it was all men at that time of day), put out the bait, get the window opened, etc.  There was a dedicated group of guys who would be there every morning waiting patiently for the forest preserve employee to open the gates, ready to get in their hour or so of fishing before work.  And if there was someone new that day who expressed impatience with the 30 minutes it took to get everything opened, they would step in and set that guy straight so I wouldn’t have to.  And if they felt I was rushing myself at all, they’d tell me to take my time.  Early morning fishing is not supposed to be about rushing, you know.

After that initial group of men, no one else would come up for at least an hour or so.  The stand smelled of coffee, the sawdust we used to pack mealworms, and the minnow tanks; it was almost totally silent except for the birds waking up, the hum of those tanks, and the occasional voice drifting across the lake toward me.  Even in August, the air was so cool I would have to wear a sweatshirt those first couple hours.

There are times when I really miss that job.  I miss the simplicity of renting boats and writing fishing licenses, of packing bait and handing out life jackets, of hauling the boats back up onto the shore at the end of the day and driving  on the back roads while my windows down and radio blaring.  I miss grossing little kids out by the fact that catfish blood bait was kept in a fridge just like their Gatorade was.  I miss the junior high boys who came to fish and, once they found out I was from the same small town they were, would stand around and talk to me about how tough the local high school could be sometimes for kids from our town. 

There was no pressure then.   I was working to pay for school, which seemed stressful at the time, but in retrospect is a lot less stressful than working to pay my rent and my electric bill.  My job was to sell things, to answer questions, and to chat with people and make them feel comfortable coming to the lake…. and get them to come back again.  Getting ready in the morning involved rolling out of bed, brushing my teeth, and pulling on my jeans and forest preserve polo shirt.  No point in showering before work when you’re going to end up smelling like bait and fish anyway, right?  (side note: until I renewed my driver’s license last year, it had a picture on it that had been taken right after my shift at the lake.  I was wearing my forest preserve sweatshirt and every time I looked at that picture, I knew I smelled like fish that day).

It’s hard to get that early morning feeling here in the city… but sometimes I get a similar one when I walk around on my second job’s “lunch break”, between 5 and 6 in the morning.  There aren’t as many birds, and it doesn’t usually smell like bait, but there’s that same sense of newness in the day.  When the predominant sound is delivery trucks being unloaded, and there are no crowds yet on the sidewalk, and even Michigan Ave feels a little bit peaceful.  When I can still take a deep breath without feeling stifled, the air is clear and clean feeling, and while the sky is light, the sun isn’t up far enough to be seen. 

There aren’t a lot of easily accessible wide open spaces in the Big City, but at 5 am – for a few brief minutes – I can regain a little bit of the calm, the anticipation of the day to come, the newness from those early mornings at the lake.

On the Lam

When I was seven years old, I made my First Communion.  It was very good day, despite the fact that we walked into the church in order of height and I was made to go first even though I was not the shortest one in my class – my friend Jerry was quite obviously shorter than me.  But I made it through the indignity of my perceived status as “smallest”, made it through wearing incredibly itchy tights (there are multiple pictures of me standing around the altar with the other kids, and I’m scratching one leg with my foot), made it through being forced to give my younger brother a kiss in thanks for flowers he gave me…

After church, the whole family headed back to our place for the party… and I got a bunch of gifts: the usual rosary, bible, and other religious-themed things appropriate for one’s First Communion.  Being a huge fan of sheep, there were also some sheep dolls in there as well (which are also totally religious, if you happen to be Christian).  Finally, there was a card from my parents that said that I would shortly be receiving two live sheep of my very own!!!!!amillion!!

SO EXCITING!  Big Brother had his pigs, Big Sister had her chickens.  And now I was totally one of the big kids with animals of my very own to care for!  I couldn’t wait.

The day my sheep arrived, I did what any newly pious 7-year-old Catholic girl would do: I named them after Greek mythological characters.  Io and Persephone.  What can I say?  I was kind of a weird kid.

I took care of those sheep every day, so pleased to be trusted with this great responsibility.  One day, while we were sitting at the dining room table doing homeschool, my mom looked out the window to see Grandma’s giant dog tearing off behind the barn.

“Mairin, did you leave the gate open?”
“What?  No!  I shut it, I know I did…. I’m pretty sure I did… I think it was shut all the way…”

Mom, T (big sister), J (big brother), and I ran out the door, past the open gate (SHIT!), and behind the barn to see what Buddy was chasing.  And what Buddy was chasing…. was sheep.

Double shit.

Now, if the sheep had simply gotten out and started wandering by themselves, we might’ve been able to corner and capture them.  But by this point, they’ve been chased around by this guy:

Buddy and I are about four years younger here than we were for the Great Sheep Chase, but still... big ol' dog.

And they are thoroughly freaked out.  They took off in opposite directions: Io toward the road and beyond with Mom and 13-year-old T giving chase, and Persephone into the tangled mess of our wooded, brambled property while 11-year-old J and I (age 8 by then) tried to keep up.

J and I had absolutely no chance of catching Persephone.  All we tried to do is stay close behind her as she made her way through the brush until Mom and T could catch up to us.

Speaking of Mom and T, they were chasing Io across a neighboring field, down the highway, with cars stopping to watch and truckers singing Mary Had a Little Lamb and Baa Baa Black Sheep out their windows.

They saw the terrified sheep run into our neighbor’s barn and breathed a sigh of relief: she was cornered. 

They were sure to catch her now; they followed her into the barn and saw her… on a rug by a couch and a TV.  Because the neighbors rented the barn out and someone was living there. 

Poor Io did what all scared, cornered animals do… she peed.  All over the rug.  And then the renter walked in, demanding to know what Mom and T were doing in his home.  And then he saw the sheep.  Peeing in his living room.

While he sputtered out his confusion (and I’m sure disgust), Mom apologized, gathered up woolly boolly Io in her arms and walked out the door.  Then she walked almost a mile home, carrying my sheep, while truckers sang nursery rhymes along the highway.   (correction, thanks to my mom)  My mom did what any reasonable person would do: asked the neighbor to sit on the sheep until she could go get the truck and load it up to bring home.  My mother really, REALLY loves me (although I’m pretty sure she wasn’t feeling it just then).

Mom and T locked Io in her stall and came to find me and J.  I was sent back briefly in an attempt to calm Io, who was freaking out and all but running up the walls of the barn.  However, it was quickly noted that we needed 4 people to corner poor, exhausted, terrified Persephone and I was summoned once again.

If I remember correctly (it was the end of summer and very hot that day, it’s possible I’m entirely wrong), Persephone didn’t actually get that far.  J and I managed to get her to go around in circles instead of a straight line out across the cornfields and it didn’t take that long for Mom and T to find us.

It finally came to an end hours after Buddy ran behind the bard, in the middle of a massive stand of what we would later realize was poison ivy.  We had a pie tin, filled with water from our creek, that we slid in toward Persephone.  I was talking to her to try to keep her calm and drinking while Mom snuck up behind her and wrapped her arms around her.  And then carried the limp, exhausted sheep almost a mile through the brambles and bushes to put her in the stall with Io. 

Poor Mom had not had allergic reactions to poison ivy prior to that day.  But it turns out, when you’re sweating a lot, it opens up your pores and all the poison can really get into your skin.  She had it over most of her body for days afterwards, and actually got really sick from it.  Have I mentioned lately how much I really, REALLY love my mom?  She’s really the best mom ever.

Mom recovered, Io and Persephone recovered, and I never accidentally left the barn gate open again.  I did however, once leave the door to the stall where we kept the feed open.  Someday I’ll tell you how my mom and dad stayed up all night burping the sheep after they got into the malted grain.

The Farm (or, 4-H Gone Wild)

So, I’ve referred to my somewhat rural upbringing in the past.  My siblings and I were homeschooled until high school, raised/running free just outside a small, Midwestern town.  We had a small (very small) farm, with a variety of animals at different times, some (many?) of which started out as 4-H projects at some time or another.  I figured I’d take a moment to introduce you to the farm animals I’ve helped take care of/run away from in fear over the years.

Geese
We had a variety of geese when I was growing up… most were kind of anonymous.  There was one old male we called Poppy and we also had an Emden (it’s a breed) pair who had individual names.  For some unknown reason, I was allowed to name one when I was really little, and she was saddled with the unfortunate name of Miss Hissy.  The male was kind of aggressive and mean and my parents named him Muammar Gaddafi.  Sometimes I forget that most people of my generation did not grow up knowing that name because of an excessively mean goose who would grab your pants leg in his beak and yank you off your bike as you rode past him.   Miss Hissy had several nests of eggs over the years.  Only one egg survived, and grew up to be Gentleman Johnny.  Woe to anyone who stumbled across a nesting goose in the deep grass across from the pond.  Seriously – geese are truly vicious animals.

Every fall, those damn geese would try to walk south for the winter, and the four of us kids would have to set off across the fields to herd them back home.  It’s super awesome to try to explain to a school bus driver that honking at the goose standing in the middle of the road just makes it think you’re talking to it. 

Ducks
We had a plethora of ducks.  Most didn’t have names, but I remember a few.  There was Jim Bob and these two little ducks named George and Gracie.  The ducks mostly minded their own business until it was time to eat.

Turkeys
I maintain that turkeys are some of the dumbest animals ever to live.  We didn’t name those guys, because we ate them (ps: they were delicious).  There was one big old, ugly-ass white one though… we called him the Phantom of the Opera.  Man, that sucker was hideous.

The turkeys used to fly over the 4 foot high chain link fence around the barnyard, but they had no idea how to get back in.  So every afternoon, we’d have to round them up and herd them through the gates so they could be locked in the barn at night.  They also had a habit of getting up on the roofs of cars and sliding down the windshield.  I have a very distinct memory of having company and looking out the window and seeing turkeys on their car… the company had to be distracted while we snuck outside and chased those morons back into the barnyard.

Chickens
We ate some of the chickens too, and a lot of them looked the same, so many of them did not have names.  I remember one tiny little thing whose name was Conan.  She was a tough little bird.  Turk was thus named because her coloring resembled a turkey.  I’m sure there are other names I am forgetting… but I seem to mostly remember anonymous chickens who were mostly for laying.

And then there was Socrates, a rooster named by my older brother who was really into philosophy.  Socrates followed me around the barnyard while I did my chores and would chase away the meaner roosters when they tried to peck me.  He was such a gentle rooster who eventually died of natural causes.  Three times.

The first time Socrates died, my brother found him on his back in the barnyard, legs up in the air, stiff as a board.  Being the loving big brother he was, he offered to bury him for me out back behind the pond.  About ten minutes later, we heard horrific screaming coming from the direction of the burial, when Socrates decided he had enough of being dead and hopped up and ran away.

The second time Socrates died, it was too cold to dig a hole, so we had to put my beloved bird in the trash.  Where he stayed for a while, until we heard scratching and pecking on the inside of the metal can.  Again, Socrates still had a little livin’ left to do.

The third, and final, time Socrates died, we left that poor bird in the yard for at least a day before we were sure he was dead.  Our hearts just couldn’t take the shock of a resurrecting rooster anymore.

Pigs
We had four pigs.  Well, my older brother had four pigs, as they started as his 4-H project – one male and 3 females.  They were giant and scary and their names were Spot and the BUS’s (Big Ugly Sisters).  We would sit on the fence in the back and watch my sister feed them (she was the only one completely unafraid of them) and I swear those suckers would see us sitting on the high wooden fence, and intentionally ram into it to try to knock us down.

Pigs are obstinate.  They walked right through an electric fence one summer to come join us at our 4th of July picnic.  They got away at a fair one time, and broke my mom’s arm when she tried to stop them.

We ate them too.  Best sausage I’ve ever had.

Goats
One year, for reasons unknown, we purchased a pair of pygmy goats at auction:  Annie and Pepé Le Pew (those were their names when we got them).  Pepé was likely given that name because he REEKED…. probably due to his unfortunate habit of peeing on his own head (yeah, figure that one out).  Annie was pregnant when we got her, and gave birth to two sets of kids over the years:  one set around Valentine’s Day that we named Cupid and Valentine, and one set around Christmas that we named Gabriel and Jesús.

The goats were grown when we got them, which meant their bad habits and particularities were well-formed.  For example, they did not like our rain ponchos, so we would have to leave those on the barnyard gate and walk through the rain to the barn, to avoid having them charge us.  Annie hated the color of my mom’s winter coat.  Pepé only liked my older sister (coincidently, she was also the only one strong enough to grab hold of his horns and hold him at bay).  We became quite adept at doing our barn chores in what my brothers and I referred to as “The Ninja Way”.  Essentially, it meant we went through the rafters and over walls, so as to avoid being speared by goat horns. 

The goats were mean enough that they only lasted a few years before we sold them.  The babies sure were cute though.  Especially when they’d ride around the barnyard on the woolly backs of the sheep. 🙂

Sheep
Some people think it’s weird that I got a couple live sheep as a First Communion present.  I think it’s totally normal.  I named them Io and Persephone (What?  Those are totally normal sheep names.  I was really into Greek mythology at the time…).  I was also the only one who could tell them apart (duh, Io had a longer, cow-like face.  Why else would she have that name?).  My family insists that the sheep were the dumbest of all our animals, but they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about (it was the turkeys, remember?). 

The sheep were definitely exciting, and lead into a whole post all of their own.  Let’s just say you haven’t lived until you’ve spent a hot spring day chasing runaway sheep across highways and fields.  Also, I only ever accidentally left the gate open one time.

Memories

Today is my birthday.  Instead of talking about how awesome my weekend was and how much fun I had celebrating myself, I’ve decided to share a childhood memory instead.

When I was 12 or 13 I tried out for, and was accepted to, a professional youth chorus for children ages 12-17.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time tooting my own horn, but I was good.  Really good.  Not only in terms of vocal talent, but in sight-reading and memorizing music and following my director.  I also joined midway through the year, while the rest of the kids had either been in the chorus for several years, or had come up from the younger children’s chorus.  I was an outlier.  An outlier who got praised weekly by the director.  It did not go over well.

The girl who stood next to me, let’s call her Judy, did not care for me.  In fact, she used to spend practices whispering that I was going flat and ruining the song.  I knew I wasn’t flat.  I knew I wasn’t ruining the song.  But my 8 years of homeschooling had left me woefully unprepared for how to deal with vicious little girls, even when I knew they were wrong.

Mostly I ignored her, and continued to receive positive attention from the director.  Until it all came to head at the end of the season…

During our Spring Concert, all dressed up, under the bright lights, in the city’s performance hall, Judy took advantage of a break between songs and started whispering out of the corner of her mouth that I was going flat.  I simply couldn’t take her negative energy anymore.  So I shifted ever so slightly to the left, with a smile on my face, and stood on her foot.  For the remainder of the performance… about 30 more minutes.  She couldn’t yell, she couldn’t move, she couldn’t react at all because it would ruin the show. 

After we were all finished and I met up with my parents, one of the first things my mother asked me was, “What did you do up there?”.  Because my mother recognizes that smile.  Thank God my director did not.

Judy never bothered me again.  >:-)

Sigh :-)

Have you seen this?

It’s all kinds of fantastic.  In fact, as much as I love Newsies, I love this version of Seize the Day (Chorale) even better than the original.  And I love Newsies.

This movie came out when I was about 12, which means I probably saw it for the first time when I was about 13.  I imagine it was probably rented as a video for the family to watch, but I was completely mesmerized by all these adorable boys and their dancing, what with their suggestive pelvic thrusts and all….

What?  Wait, where was I?  Right, 13-year-old Mairin.  13-year-old Mairin who was having her first celebrity crushes ever.  And guess what kids?  As there was no internet in my house in 1993, being in love with celebrity was considerably harder back then.  I think I had to wait until it came on TV and taped it myself onto a VHS tape.  And even then, we only had the one TV and pretty strict rules about when we were allowed to use it.  Life was rough for a 13-year-old in love with fictitious 19th Century newspaper boys.

And now I have this video.  Sigh.  I love it.   🙂

One last thing:  If you have never heard of the Newsies, you should rent this movie immediately.  It helps to pretend you are 13 when watching it.