Tuesday, March 10, 2009

sibling rivalry

Of course, now that I have laid the foundation of sibling harmony, I must tell the counterpoint, the inevitable sibling rivalry. Actually, I only felt it toward one sibling, my next younger sister, Judy, the one who came into my life two and a half years after I was born and upset a good thing. My brother, Jim, no problem...he was a boy, five years younger, so not a threat. My youngest sister, Mary Ann, was seven years younger and I only felt motherly toward this cute little thing. I taught her her colors. Or at least I felt like I did. I contributed to her name. I suggested Mary, to make it balanced in the family: 2 D's--Daddy and Debbie; 2 J's--Judy and Jimmy; so we needed an M to go with Mommy. I suggested Mary, and they spiced it up a bit with the Ann.

So, all those feelings of resentment had but one natural focus: Judy. Not that the sibling rivalry was all-consuming, or even very bad, but it did have to come out sometimes. As far as I can remember, I only got spanked twice, and both times were for hurting Judy. The first time, we were in the basement, and clothes were hanging on a clothesline, along with a bag filled with heavy wooden clothespins. Judy was a toddler. Suddenly, an irresistible opportunity presented itself. There she stood, on the other side of the clothesline, on the other side of that bag of clothespins. I could not stop myself. I grabbed that bag and swung it with all my might, and really whapped her right in the face, knocking her over. To this day, I can remember feeling that the spanking was worth it.

The second one was borderline. It was Judy's birthday. We were having her kids party in the basement (what is it about the basement that brought out the worst in me?) We were playing the standard kids' game, Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I was the first to put on the blindfold, and lo and behold, I discovered that I could see through it! No one knew this! What to do with this wonderful opportunity? I swear, I really believed it would be hilarious if I pretended to miss the donkey picture on the wall and poked Judy in the butt with the sharp pin. It was always funny on the cartoons! Turned out, not so much in real life. I blame the media for that spanking.

Friday, February 27, 2009

how we're different

I have also realized, as childhood memories come back, that much of what comes to mind first involves how we were different from other families. I suppose all people define themselves in some way by what distinguishes them from others. But why would I still remember how the Swansons dried their dishes differently than we did?

Another way we always noted that we were different, and a good thing it was, is that other kids hated their siblings. I mean, all my friends routinely talked about how they hated their brothers and sisters, and they fought a lot, and they thought that was normal. I thought this was really strange, and also sad. Good sibling relations were highly promoted in my family. (And yes, we did suppress sibling rivalry, which sometimes came out anyway. That's for the next post.)

We took family vacations together. We ate dinner together. On Sunday nights, we got to eat in front of the TV on the card table and make crackers and cheese and other snacks--special weekly event, always together. We played games together. And the expectation was that we would love each other and like each other. I believe expectations can lead to reality quite often in parenting.

My 3 sibs and I are still close, and all of our children are close with their own sibs and their cousins, and I have to credit my parents big-time for this.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


It just struck me that already in a few posts, I have managed to mentioned 2 of my top 10 favorite foods--buttered popcorn and raspberries. And if you count butter as a separate food, and I really should, coming from this family, then that's 3. Buttered popcorn is my ultimate comfort food. And fresh raspberries, plucked off the cane and popped right into the mouth, are absolutely the most heavenly taste treat. I must conclude that the sensory experience of tasting food is heavily influenced by emotions and memories.

In fact, I believe my other top foods also fall into that category. Tea, of course, I didn't drink as a child; but I did really get into it in college, and there is a definite emotional and comforting aspect to tea for me. The other favorite foods that come readily to mind that are associated with childhood are cheese and ice cream. Well, I did grow up in a dairy state in a Norwegian family.

Here's an ice cream memory: Every October, my dad took us to Baskin-Robbins to get a pumpkin ice cream cone. You could only get it in the fall, and so it was a very special once-a-year treat.

And cheese? I generally feel that a dinner is not complete unless it involves cheese somehow. Did I learn that from my mother?

My mom was a very good cook, and I was always proud that she sometimes made more adventurous and unusual dinners than my friends' mothers. Hawaiian Pork Chops and Sunshine Chicken (the rice being made with orange juice instead of water) come to mind right away. That may not sound adventurous now, but in the '50's it was very daring.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I was a reader and lover of books from the beginning. I'm told I impressed people by "reading" books when I was four, but in fact had just memorized them, having heard them so many times.

My favorite thing to do after school, all during my elementary school years, was to sit at the dining room table reading my current book, (and I always had a current book, mostly fiction) while eating buttered popcorn. I would pop 4 batches of popcorn and store it in a big Tupperware container. Each day I would take out a bowlful and pour melted butter on it (or re-butter it, if it already had butter on it from a previous day. I loved re-buttered popcorn.) My mother didn't like me to do that--she thought I should be outside playing after school. But this is what I really wanted to do, what I looked forward to.

What books do I remember? I loved the Maud Hart Lovelace books, the Betsy/Tacy series. I liked Henry Huggins. In fact, I liked all of Beverly Cleary's books. I liked Nancy Drew. One book that made a strong impression on me was about a girl who found a Star of David and started wearing it, not knowing what it was. Other kids assumed she was Jewish, and to fit in, she pretended to be. The book's lesson was basically "Oh what a tangled web we weave..." I wish I could find out what the name of that one was.

My father read us C.S. Lewis's Narnia series at bedtime. Those are some of my all-time favorites. In my teens, I enjoyed sharing the Edgar Rice Burroughs books about Mars and other planets with Dad. I liked books with adventure, fantasy and imagination. About the only kind of books I didn't like were horse books. I remember a lot of girls went through a phase where they read tons of horse books. I never got that. Now if the horses had been talking, magical flying horses, that would have been different.

When I slept overnight at Margie Swanson's house, I made sure to keep a book by the bedside. She always slept hours longer than I did, so I just laid in bed happily reading till she woke up.

We went to library regularly, and those were always happily anticipated outings. Ah, the excitement of discovering new books to lose myself in!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

my other house

As long as I'm setting place, which seems to important to the story, I might as well describe the 2nd house that I remember. From around age 11 to 16, I lived on Casco Point in Navarre. The church built a brand-new parsonage right next door to the church. It was square shaped, with redwood siding, and very modern. Also expensive, early 1960's standards, at $40,000. I believe there were some church members who objected to building such an expensive house for the pastor.

This house was at the end of a short street off Casco Point. There were only a few houses on this street, maybe 5, and in front of our house was the turn-around with a grassy island in the middle, a small hill. You'd call it a cul-de-sac now, but we didn't know that word in 1963. We just thought it was cool. Between our house and the church, and behind our house, were what I called woods, although it was probably fewer trees than it seemed to me then. We were free to play in the woods as we liked. There was one winter when it snowed so much that the path my dad shoveled between our house and the church had walls of snow on each side that were taller than me.

While I don't remember the furnishings of home #1, in this house we went with Danish Modern. We had a huge round teak coffee table, with an abstract orange glass vase in the middle of it. At Christmas time, my mom put a big Nativity set on it, with foot-tall figures. I thought our modern house and our Danish modern furniture were way cooler than my friends' places.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My house

And so, the house I actually lived in, and the yard I mostly played in.

When I drove out to Spring Park to show my kids the house I lived in as a young child, of course I was surprised to see that it was pretty much a small starter-type house. It was plenty big enough for me then.

First, the important thing about the yard: the big raspberry patch that took up half the back yard. Although it probably wasn't the forest of raspberry canes that it seemed back then, it was certainly big--rows cut between the thickets of prickly sticks and sweet red berries, always enough there to pick and eat whenever we felt like it. Enough for my mother to make many jars of raspberry jam. We had to help pick the berries for jam-making, and that was scratchy work.

Second, the other important thing about the yard: between the garage (behind which was the raspberry patch) and the house was the swing set, and the picnic table off of which we kids took "flying lessons" (never did attain flight, but always did believe that on my next leap off the end of the table I might actually fly), and the tree into which my dad had screwed metal pipes at various heights, kind of like spider legs sticking out and then bending at right angles to the ground. We all loved to climb on those and hang from them upside down. No other house in the neighborhood had anything like it.

And now, the important things about the house: my sister Judy (2 and a half years younger) and I shared the upstairs bedroom. As in houses of that style, the whole area underneath the roof was one big room, with a ceiling slanting down in both directions and storage built in behind the walls where the space became too low. I thought it was a huge bedroom, and also special because it was away from and above the rest of the house. Our own private space.

I really don't remember a whole lot about the furnishings. For sure, the fireplace in the living room with the big mirror over the mantle. I spent one whole afternoon perched precariously on that mantle trying to get through the looking glass like Alice did. (If you're getting the impression already that I readily believed in all things fantastical, you are right.)

We had a dishwasher, which most people did not in those days. There were french doors going out to the back yard. Our basement was basically a big playroom with a linoleum-tiled floor that our parents let us ride our trikes on. It was also where we put on plays and circuses. No other kids in the neighborhood had a deluxe set-up like that, so our basement was a popular gathering spot. And that about covers what I remember about the inside of the house. Other than the toys, of course. But that's another entry.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My first neighborhood

Realtors chant it: location, location, location. The neighborhoods I grew up in hold my memories like a nest holds eggs. I cannot write about my childhood without first describing where it happened.

From about age 3 to age 11, I lived in Spring Park, Minnesota. We lived on a street that ran about a mile, connecting one busy road to another. It was not a busy street, and we were free to cross it from a young age. Across the street from our house was one of the bays of Lake Minnetonka, so all the houses on that side of the street were lake homes. Oddly, I don't know what was behind our house. My world ended at the end of our back yard.

My best friend, Margie Swanson, lived directly across the street from us. They had a big hill in their back yard going down to the lake, which we liked to roll down. There was a swamp next to their property at lakeside, which we enjoyed mucking about in.

I spent a lot of time in Margie's house, and can visualize it as well as my own. I got to know her family well. Her dad liked to make coins magically appear from behind our ears, and he called me "Stebbie." He'd say, "What's your name?" and I'd say, "It's Debbie." He'd say "Oh, Stebbie." I'd laugh and say, "No, it's Debbie." "Oh, Stebbie." Somehow it never got old. When we did dishes at Margie's house, her mother made us wipe each piece of silverware individually and put it away before doing the next. Margie had 3 older sisters, and one younger brother. The oldest sister was a stewardess, which my mother found somewhat scandalous. The sister just older than Margie was named Barbie, and we played with her often, mostly dolls. We played hide and seek in their house a lot. One time, I hid in the back of a rack of coats being stored in their sunroom. I found a box of books being stored behind the coat rack, and got so lost in reading that I didn't hear them call "Ally ally all sound freedom." I didn't emerge for quite some time, possibly hours. Everyone was amazed when I finally appeared. Word got around the neighborhood on that one, and even adults I didn't really know teased me about it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

playing tag

Every evening in the summer all the kids gathered in Terry Heller's yard to play needle tag. That was 4 houses down from ours in our Spring Park neighborhood. Needle tag involves freezing when you get tagged, with your feet spread apart. To get unfrozen, another kid has to crawl through your legs. When everyone's frozen, the last one frozen becomes "It". That's all there is to it, and yet, we played with such joy, such free abandon every night. It was so democratic. Everyone played, and you didn't have to be athletic to have fun.

Finally, we would hear our dad's piercing whistle calling us home when it got dark. Game over. See you again tomorrow night.