Tag Archives: siblings

Ship

For much of my life I believe I was quietly waiting for my ship to come in. I say quietly because I didn’t talk much about it. It wasn’t secret exactly but the feeling percolated beneath the surface as I went about my life. That “ship” was vaguely defined; it could have been a great man or a great job or writing success, for a few examples.

The ship never came. It isn’t coming. What I see now is that the ship is already here. It always was here. Your life is your ship. What you build is the ship. If you sit around waiting, what you’ll have is a big pile of materials that never got used, that were never crafted into a sea-worthy vessel.

I’ve used a ship metaphor on the blog before when, a couple years ago, I said my life needed some tweaking & compared it to a ship in need of a change in direction. Ships don’t turn on a dime. They creak and groan, reluctant to leave the path they’re on, as they churn forward on momentum. The older you get, the slower changes come. I’m not talking here about quick or abrupt changes later in life that come, say, when someone has a heart attack or stroke and is then impelled to modify all sorts of things about their life. Or the person who abruptly leaves a long-time relationship or family for a fresh new one. Those seem different. Lifestyle changes generally are more gradual with age.

My mother was always “waiting.” She did not model for me the idea that a person is – must be – self-motivating. My father harangued and railed but didn’t teach skills or demonstrate how to build a life. Not surprisingly, none of my many siblings were especially adept at this self-directing business either, at crafting a grand ship for themselves to sail through life on. None of us, I believe, understood that you were your own ship and that it could be no better than what you designed. Further, I don’t think any of us truly grasped the role of setbacks and failures, that they should be expected and handled. Our blueprints were no good.

I do now see my life as a ship I built and continue to “tweak.” I put on a captain’s hat and found my way to the bridge. It may not be grand but it’s most certainly mine. I stopped waiting.

The Monopoly┬« man is a strange fellow

Recently I’ve seen two different promotions featuring the Monopoly┬« man, the older mustachioed gentlemen with the top hat and cane. In the last month or so, his image has been everywhere and on top of that, I needed to come up with his formal, original name for a crossword answer. It turned out to be “Rich Uncle Penny Bags.” Rich Uncle Penny Bags? What kind of name is that?? I’ve heard of “Money Bags” but Penny Bags doesn’t make him sound all that rich.

Seeing his image takes me back to childhood memories and how much I loved playing the game with my brothers & sisters. There were times, when I was very young, we played as a whole family. In some instances, my slightly older sister and I were made to play as one person. We didn’t argue; it was basically a condition of getting to play with the older ones. I remember one time in particular, when my sister and I as our little tag team were losing and about to be eliminated from the game, so one of my older brothers was good enough to try to sneak money to us in his shoe under the table (he had long legs). As you might imagine, this was a clumsy affair that the others were quickly wise to, especially as my brother sunk lower and lower on his side of the table.

I’ve also been reminded that I found the Monopoly┬« Man a bit unsettling. He wasn’t exactly kid-friendly and he didn’t look like any of MY uncles. On closer examination today, I see that he’s an odd choice, especially as a mascot for what has long been largely a children’s game. It’s something in the eyes, at least in one characterization where he has these large, dead-fish eyes (there’s more than one version of him). If he’s not exactly sinister, he’s shifty-looking. I can see why I didn’t exactly warm to him. He looked like he was up to no good.

Interesting side note from Wikipedia: The character initially appeared on the first game produced in 1936 but the artist who rendered him remained anonymous until 2013 when his granddaughter came forward to identify him as Dan Fox. That’s a long time for a culturally iconic image to go uncredited.

I realize now also that Monopoly is a game of capitalism, which was entirely wasted on me as a child (I sure didn’t know the actual meaning of the word “monopoly” either). I didn’t know what capitalism was; it was just a fun game. Buying property and building houses was utter fiction to me (sadly still is). I really didn’t like ending up in “jail” but that too and the game’s white collar crimes that led to it meant nothing in my limited experience. My monetary knowledge was enough that I understood fine the accumulation of the fake money; I delighted in collecting rent when other players landed on my property. The railroads were especially desirable. I thought trains were terribly exciting (I still have a fondness for them) even if my experiences were largely limited to seeing trains or waiting at train crossings on the proverbial road trips to Grandma’s house in the country.

I had an idea a long time ago I never did which was to get a Monolopy┬« board and hang it on the wall as decoration. I wouldn’t go buy a new one; it’d have to be a yard sale or thrift store find. It’s funny to me. Basically, my favorite childhood game features a theme which is largely the antithesis of things I value as an adult – nobody ever accuses me of being money-hungry or any stripe of capitalist. I still like the little dog, though, and the hat. Those game pieces were a piece of brilliance.

“Let me see that bear”

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I got my first teddy bear when I was 16. A guy friend – platonic – from school gave him to me. For some reason, I just never had a teddy bear. I owned other kinds of stuffed animals, though. I know I had two small stuffed rabbits. And a misshapen cat my older sister sewed – its head always flopped to the side like someone had wrung its neck. (While the floppy head bothered me, fortunately I never thought about any neck-wringing business at the time.)

The closest thing to a teddy bear was a pink stuffed fox who had the basic shape of a bear. It was definitely a fox though. I don’t want to turn this into a crappy story from childhood – because that’s not the point (not today, kids!) – but the back story of the fox should be told.

It was my seventh birthday. Tradition was that my mother bought the gift, although my father got involved sometimes, especially for my brothers’ gifts (definitely my younger brother’s). Anyway, nobody had got me a birthday present. At seven I was old enough to notice but naive enough to not think too badly of it. At the 11th hour, my mother sent one of my older sisters out to the store to get me something and she came back with a pink stuffed fox. I was perfectly pleased; what the hell did I know? It was cute and I did like it.

I have to say, while my mother had a reputation for not giving the best gifts, and sometimes giving them late on top of that, in all fairness, the missed-entirely event stood out because it was rare. And, if she could chime into this post, or somebody wanted to chime in on her behalf, it would probably be to point out that she had a lot of kids to buy for, so what can you expect. Okay, I’ve been fair and said it, yay fair me!

Moving along. So, I’m 16 and my friend gives me this beautiful, soft, cute as can be, teddy bear. What a great gift! He didn’t know I’d never had one so it was all the better.

I had a mess of older siblings, and in a big raucous family like ours, it was par for the course to have a lot of in-jokes, usually at someone’s expense, although not always. We kids were quick on our feet, tossing out one-liners and punch lines, the more so as we aged as a group and the years between us became less pronounced. Certain lines became part of family lore, to be repeated for years to come. This was one such time.

We’d gathered at the house as we often did, both the kids who still lived at home, and those who’d moved out, but stayed in the area (tellingly – one way or another – none of us ever went far). Hanging out in the living room with my siblings, I had my new teddy bear, dubbed Taddy, with me. I was holding on tight, as this wasn’t a crew to be trusted, especially one of my older brothers, whose comedic exploits – when he wasn’t in a foul mood – were legend.

My brother spied the teddy bear.

“Let me see that bear.”

“No,” I said, “You’ll hurt him!”

“I won’t hurt him,” my brother said in conciliatory tones.

I handed my bear over. My brother, standing, immediately took the bear in one hand and pretended to smack him about the head with the other, complete with added vocal sound effects: “Smackety, smackety, smackety.

“Taddy!” I cried, jumping up from my seat on the couch to rescue my bear.

Never was I to be so tricked again. For years to come, any time somebody seemed to be up to no good, someone else might slyly insert these code words into the conversation, “Let me see that bear.”

Halloween

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When I was a kid, while there was talk of razor blades in apples and poisoned unwrapped candy, it was still the norm to go trick or treating on Halloween. Or should I say┬átrickortreating because we said it as if it was all one word, and frankly, I didn’t understand either “trick” or “treat” in this context; I knew only that candy was going to be extracted. We played no tricks.

I loved it all. The costume. The unusual privilege of a┬ánight trek – supervised by an older sibling when we were little – on a cool October evening. The excitement. Examining the haul at night’s end. Sadly, examining was pretty much the extent of the fun with the candy. After selecting one piece each, my siblings and I had our loot confiscated by our mother (the kill-joy who was forever going on about “rotting your teeth” and who “pays the dental bills”) and never directly accessed by us again. Had I any sense, I’d have been sure to have┬áhidden a stache of candy or minimally EATEN a bunch of it whilst on our outdoor excursion. Nope, not me.

Many other kids roamed the town at will with their oversized pillow cases crammed full of candy, but we were permitted only a short range. Not only did we never tote pillow cases, there’d have been no point, given the modest amount of goods we could expect to accumulate. Mecca was apparently the apartment complex down the road because all the savviest, greediest kids bee-lined to them since they could hit a dozen doors in a matter of minutes. These kids knew their time management. I doubt I need to say┬áapartments with strangers were definitely NOT in our permitted zone.

There was one particular house in the neighborhood that was also verboten. It was never explained why it was off-limits, but every year our mother made a point to tell us not to go there. Till the one year she didn’t. I’m sure it was an oversight, she simply forgot to include it in the list of rules & regulations for our jaunt. My sister and I were considered old enough to take our little brother and go without older-sibling supervision and were for once, opportunistic enough to take advantage of our mother’s omission. There were┬ámuch creepier houses and people we visited on Halloween who were considered acceptable (for instance, anyone who belonged to or attended our church, no matter how otherwise weird, demented, scary, or otherwise troubling, was always okay).

On approaching the usually-forbidden house, we saw the lady sitting just outside the door with her candy. She was delighted to see us and knew who we were. I remember the candy as being good stuff, not cheap and scanty. Maybe she noticed we never came by other years, or maybe not. All I know is to this day, given her pleasure in our visit, I’m glad we went there. Come to find out years later, the woman was an alcoholic and that was why our mother told us not to go to her house for trick or treating. The whopping irony of this is that prohibition wasn’t exactly practiced in our own house. Okay then!

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One summer, on a trip back from the neighboring state my parents hailed from and where many of our relatives still lived, our family stopped at a roadside market to buy apples. In addition to a bushel of apples, there were free apple masks for us kids. Apple masks you inquire? Oh yes, seriously. They were simple illustrated cardboard creations, with eye and mouth holes cut out and an elastic band attached to go around the back of the head. Not high-tech but we kids were excited to get this unexpected gift on a boring apple quest.

That year, my sister and younger brother came up with our own idea – our older sisters & mother usually had a hand or more in our costumes – to use the masks and go as a matching trio of apples. Who else would be going as apples? We dressed all in red, donned our masks, and off we went. Those apple masks…they were a problem. Being a flat piece of cardboard, they didn’t stay in place well and slid around. Worse, saliva and breathing dampened the inside area around the mouth opening, so that over the course of the evening, the cardboard became moist and started to shred. This was not a pleasant sensation. Finally, we were most insulted when a neighbor exclaimed over the “little tomatoes!” Tomatoes?! We were apples dammit. Sheesh.

I’m not sure how old I was when I stopped going trick or treating. I hadn’t gone in some years, when I talked my best friend into going out when we were 16. See, I had these masks… No, not the surely long-gone apple masks, but plastic green Frankenstein masks I bought for fun. We dressed in big, black overcoats and clunky boots to accompany the masks. (We weren’t going to be the sullen, unimaginative teens who show up sans costumes on Halloween demanding candy.)

It was a great time and the evening went off mostly without a hitch. If asked by a homeowner how old we were, I pleasantly said “ten,” offering that we were big for our age. People good-naturedly went along with it. Except one house. We were surprised when a boy we knew – a popular, “cool” kid one year older – answered the door. He wasn’t having this “ten”┬ábusiness and demanded to know who we were. He wanted the masks┬áoff. We giggled but got uncomfortable. We were both out of our league with this boy, someone too popular to even speak to either of us under normal circumstances (so deep ran this feeling that once, years later, I about fell over when this young man said hello to me in passing on the sidewalk).

We didn’t want to be outed from our Frankenstein disguises. In fact, we wanted the hell out and literally ran away across the lawn into the night – I don’t remember if we got any candy first or not. I hadn’t counted, however, on my telltale hair, noticeably blonde and recognizable, paired with my Irish best friend’s thick dark hair, showing from behind, and most certainly giving us away. Because with a superior, somewhat triumphant tone Mr. Popular called after us, “Oh, I know who you are…” Busted.

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Now for your viewing pleasure: My MAD┬ę Magazine cover rejection

In a recent post I shared an old cartoon I’d done years ago as part of a submission to MAD┬ę magazine which ultimately went nowhere. This got me to thinking about MAD┬ę which I haven’t even looked at in ages. I never subscribed but the library used to have it. (Maybe 10 years ago I asked a librarian about the possibility of the branch carrying it again and was more or less blown off, so I dropped it.)

My former brother-in-law introduced me and my closest-in-age siblings to the magazine when we were in grade school. A bright, observant man, he must have noticed that his wife’s youngest siblings were kind of sheltered and was good enough to hand us a small supply of MAD┬ę back issues and another similar (knock-off?) magazine. We were thrilled! They were just our kind of humor. We had no idea such a wondrous magazine existed.

One of the submissions I sent to MAD┬ę was a cover idea. I didn’t think I could share it here because of potential copyright infringement, but it occurred to me it’ll be okay if I don’t show their mascot or logo. As was true of cartoons, they weren’t interested in the art so much as seeing the concept.

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