Protecting Us From Evil

Mom was more conservative than Nancy Pelosi is liberal. The definition of conservative according to Merriam-Webster: an adherent or advocate of political conservatism; a member or supporter of a conservative political party; one who adheres to traditional methods or views; a cautious or discreet person.

As children, the rule was we were allowed to see Disney movies, and only Disney movies. You know, The Love Bug, with Dean Jones, Bambi, The Parent Trap and all those fun flicks. However, there were exceptions to the rule like The Sound of Music, where I had to wear a dress just to go to a movie theater! The Taming of the Shrew was a film we saw by default because that’s what was playing on either the Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth, I can’t remember which.

Remember Paint Your Wagon? I had to wear a dress for that one too. Mom may have had a crush on Clint Eastwood, I don’t know, but we watched Lee Marvin act like a drunkard, and when the boob scene came on, Mom hurdled a seat and smashed her hands against my eyes. I think I was ten. She didn’t want me to see a pair of boobs that I would develop in less than 6 years. Actually, I was underdeveloped in that area and forty plus years later, I’m still waiting. But I digress. The film was filled with boobs, bullets, and wife sharing. Where was the little red Radio Flyer wagon?

The rules of movie-going came under attack when Denise begged and begged Mom to let her see The Graduate. All her friend’s Moms were letting them see it. Why couldn’t she go too?

“No,” was the answer Denise heard over and over. “I’m not your friend’s Mother, I’m your Mother and I say, NO.” How could Mom humiliate Denise like that? She would be the laughing stock of Queen Anne High school if she were the only person void of the sexual information that this movie would provide a teenage girl.

Denise was so angry that she went straight to Dad. “Sure, I’ll take you to see The Graduate,” he said. So, Denise saw the movie after all and Mom was livid. How was she supposed to protect her children from the tarnished world when they go behind her back to their “never say no” father? It was an impossible task for sure.

Mom tried her best to protect her kids from the horrors of the world, i.e., movies, unsavory people, and the Vietnam War. I knew there was a war, and for years I wore a POW wrist band until it ripped off during a water ski wipe-out.

But as prudent as Mom was, she could not protect us every minute of every day. For example, one chilly afternoon as Denise walks home from high school, a big sedan full of black teenagers drives by slowly, casing her. (In 1968, it was uncommon for black kids to be in our neighborhood.) Denise walks faster. The sedan disappears around the block, but as Denise starts down Warren Avenue, the kind of hill where if you were on horseback you’d have to lean backward to avoid lurching forward, the sedan pulls alongside her and stops. A girl jumps out and runs in front of Denise, ordering her to hand over her purse.

Denise freezes with fear, like a young impala cornered by a hungry cheetah with nowhere to run. She is oblivious to everything except the knife in the girl’s hand. The girl slices at the front of Denise’s parka, then again, and keeps slicing until the stuffing oozes. Having cut Denise’s purse strap, it falls free and the assailant grabs it, jumps into the sedan and it speeds away. Denise falls onto her knees, looking at our house – she was that close.

Rattled and shaking, Denise skedaddles home with bloody knees and tells Mom her traumatic story. Mom immediately phones the police, and when Denise tells him the story the officer asks her to describe the girl.

“It was rusty,” Denise said. “It was rusty.” She was so focused on the knife, that it took her a while to describe the girl as black, and that there were a lot of teenagers in the white sedan. Later, Denise’s drivers permit was found a few blocks away from the scene.

After a traumatic experience like that, I fail to see how a little movie like The Graduate could corrupt a teenage girl’s mind. Mom meant well. She was trying to do her job, which was to take care of her kids to the best of her beliefs and abilities. However, we were forever challenging her conservative parenting technique. One night when I was fourteen, Mom comes into my bedroom and sees a beam of light leaking from under my comforter. She yanks off the comforter and catches me red handed doing the unthinkable. Yes . . . I am reading. She steals the book from my hand, raises an eyebrow into that upside-down V and reads the title out loud.

The Happy Hooker!” she hollers.

“You said I should read more!”

“I meant read things like Anne of Green Gables.” She looks down at me and then at the book, shaking her head.

“I got this from the bookshelf in your bedroom,” I said in my own defense.

Mom sighs heavily, tosses the book onto my bed and walks out. Was she throwing in the towel? Her youngest child was reading The Happy Hooker, and a year later when she saw me reading Helter Skelter she came unhinged. The Graduate was looking more and more like a Disney movie.

Continued later . . .

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 4, Continued.

The Vocabulary Lesson

“Hey, Dana, are you a virgin?” blurts Jesse from across the lunchroom table. I look up from my mashed potato’s and gravy. She’s grinning. So are all the other fourth graders sitting around her. I have no idea what a virgin is. But I dislike the word and it sounds like she’s accusing me of being something bad. “No way!” I say, “I’m not a virgin!” Laughter erupts and my face flushes hot. I’m so embarrassed I want to slide under the table. I sit clueless as they all laugh at me.

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After school I tell David what Jesse had said. He takes me – and a stolen pack of Mom’s Taryton 100’s from the freezer – into the old playhouse on the front lawn. He lights a cigarette. He can do this because he’s 13. He explains what a virgin is as if he’s “the” authority on sex.

“A virgin is a girl who’s never done it before.”

“Done what before?” I ask quizzically.

“Let a guy put his thing in your thing.”

“Huh?”

“Like what we saw on the train in Spain.”

“Yuck!” I had admitted to Jesse and her friends that I’ve done that disgusting thing. I am more embarrassed at this moment than I was in the lunchroom.

“Here, take a drag off the cigarette,” David said, “like this.” David shows me how to do it. “It’ll make you feel better.” I suck smoke from the cigarette and my lungs catch fire. I cough and choke and accuse David of trying to kill me.

Then, it happened.

“David! Toad! Come on, it’s time to go,” Mom hollers from the front door. Oh crap. We’re busted. We have to go somewhere in the car and we reek of smoke.

“Don’t worry,” whispers David. “She smokes so she won’t smell it on us.” He’s a lot smarter than me.

We climb into the back seat of the Mercedes, waiting, faking innocence. Mom gets in behind the wheel, turns around, flares her nostrils, and drills her sharp brown eyes into us. I shake with fear.

“Have you two been smoking?” David and I stare at each other deciding how to lie because we hadn’t corroborated a story, because the smart one said Mom was immune to the smell of smoke!

I panicked and blurted, “Yes . . . but I just quit.”

Mom laughs out loud and I relax a little. She composes herself, gets serious and lectures us on the evils of smoking. I remember thinking, but “you” smoke.

 What Do You Smoke?

As kids we explored the rocky shores of the lake and collected little pieces of cottonwood from the trees that lined the bay. We’d light the ends with stolen matches from the gray cabin and suck in the smoke through the stick’s porous gut. I refused to inhale because it hurt my throat before it ever got to my lungs. Even as a wimp, I still felt cool and glamorous mimicking my Mom, and pretending to be on the cover of a magazine.

Mary Jane was extremely popular when I was in school. Every morning I knocked down a wall of marijuana smoke just getting in the door at McClure Junior High. Even at the lake, the place where Mom took us to escape the horrors of the city, there was Mary. One summer my cousin asks me to hide his baggie of pot for him. I am disgusted because I am just 15 and he is a year younger! Anyway, I agree to do it and I hide it in my plastic Tampax holder in my crocheted shoulder bag. After a day or two I realize I still have his pot, and papers. I am curious. I shove the baggie into my jeans pocket and take a solitary walk into the woods.

I roll a clumsy joint, bulging with cannabis and threatening to burst. I light the end, take puffs and wait for something to happen. In the process I scorch my eyelashes. No, I don’t know how. I roll another one, smoke it, wait. Still nothing. I get bored. Deciding that smoking pot, or anything else, is a stupid thing to do and a huge waste of time, I emerge from the woods and return to the cabin.

When my cousin asks me for his baggie, I hand it to him. He holds up the nearly empty bag and has a conniption fit.

“Did you smoke all this?”

“Well, yeah. But it’s not very good because I didn’t feel anything.”

“Shit! You must have done it wrong. This stuff is Maui Wowie. You can’t get any better than this! I bet you didn’t even inhale.”

“I can’t inhale! It hurts.”

He walks away shaking his head. He never again asks me to store his marijuana stash.

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Tail Gunner’s Daughter Chapter 4

“In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett

Ping-pong balls sprayed the room like bullets as Mr. Wilson, a young, exuberant math enthusiast shot them from an air gun. The other kids thought it was fun and flapped their hands like canary’s wings to catch the balls. I ducked for cover.

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“If you catch a ball, read the fraction written on it and then simplify it,” said Mr. Wilson. “Those of you with balls will be called on to give your answers out loud.”

I had no balls of any kind. I trembled under my desk, silently beseeching him not to call on me, but he knew where I was. Oh, the horror of fourth grade.

P.E. was worse. Time after time I stood in my stupid dress in a lineup of kids waiting to be picked for a kickball or soak’em team, my head down, thinking the captains would not see me if I avoided their eyes. With everyone picked for a team, and standing alone, I’d hear a team captain say, “Jeeze, do I gotta get Dana?”

This was all documented on my report card, which weighed 300 pounds as I handed it to Mom. She stood in the kitchen wearing her cat-eye glasses surrounded by a cloud of blue smoke. She opened the small manila envelope and read the following report: Language Arts, C; Math, F; Social Studies, C; Physical Education, D; Science, C. (These may not be the exact grades, but the F in math is accurate, and the rest represent my grade school intellect).

Mom said nothing, took the last, long drag from her Tareyton 100 – I heard the paper and tobacco sizzle as she did so – then smashed the stub in the ashtray and looked at me. I anticipated those tranquil brown eyes to solidify and pierce through me like steel blades, but she remained calm.

The following day she marched up to the school with me in tow and demanded to see the principal and this ping-pong-ball-shooting math teacher. We sat in the principal’s office together, and I listened to my savvy mom question the math teacher.

“If Dana was having so much difficulty with fractions, why didn’t you notify me? She clearly will not understand other math concepts if she doesn’t get fractions.”

“That’s what report cards are for, Mrs. Dewey,” replied Mr. Wilson.

“Well, in my opinion, you should have recognized that she was having difficulty so we could rectify the situation before the permanent report cards came out.” Go Ursula! Sometimes she really lived up to her name – Ursula in Latin is translated into “little bear” or “she bear.”

The principal apologized for the mix-up and then Mom walked me to my class.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were having trouble with fractions? I could have helped you,” she said. I had been too embarrassed to tell her.

I came to her every day after that with the same agonizing question: “How can one-half of one-and-a-half possibly be three-fourths?” She hired a tutor.

In fifth grade, Mr. Burkhalter, modeling a black suit that looked like it could use a good cleaning, stared at us from behind thick, black-rimmed glasses with his beady brown eyes. He was explaining an assignment that he had handed out to the students.

“Read the passage and determine which sentences refer to the pronoun ‘she’ and which sentences refer to the noun ‘she.’”

After I had stared out the window for several minutes wishing I were outside, Mr. Burkhalter whacked my desk with a ruler. What’s with the rulers at this school? I flew out of my seat and nearly pissed myself. I jumped back into my seat and started reading the passage. I didn’t get it. “There she blows” could have been the wind or that sexual thing, which I admit at the time I knew nothing about. Or what about “her starboard side,” which could have meant she had a ginormous ass? “She” appeared so much on that paper that my eyes blurred from strain.

I struggled to write something down. I wiped sweat from my forehead. There is no difference between “she” the woman and “she” the ship, dammit! I looked around at all the diligent students, crumpled up my paper and sat brooding. After a few minutes I unwrapped the assignment and guessed my way through it.

Thankfully, a distraction from my failing school work came to our house early one morning for breakfast. I have to back up to the night before. Dad was a member of the Washington Athletic Club where he bowled on the team. Every Monday night, he’d bowl and then have a drink or two. On this particular night he went over to the neighboring Hilton Hotel and sat at the bar drinking a martini. At the other end of the bar he saw a man sitting alone. Dad thought he recognized the gentleman and asked the bartender, “Hey, isn’t that . . . ” Dad decided that it was, and walked over to the man, bought him another drink, introduced himself, and invited the man to our house for an early breakfast the next morning. It had to be breakfast, and it had to be early, because this gentleman had to catch a flight out of Seattle at 0600.

When Dad woke up Mom at midnight she had a conniption fit. She flew out of bed and banged around in the kitchen doing whatever she did to the sourdough starter for her famous sourdough pancake batter. Then she flew through the house like a whirling dervish cleaning up for a prestigious guest, then woke up everyone starting with Denise.

“Get up, get up!” Mom hollered as she yanked off the blankets. Denise was in high school studying Contemporary Problems, so she thought our nation was in peril at three o’clock in the morning.

“What’s happened? Is it nuclear war?” asked Denise.

“No, no, nothing like that. Chet Huntley is coming for breakfast!”

“Yeah, right.” Denise pulled the covers back over her head.

“I’m serious! Your father picked him up at the Hilton bar last night and invited him to breakfast.”

Denise hauled her butt out of bed and Mom woke up Daylene, David, and me.

I knew who Chet Huntley was, NBC newscaster with David Brinkley, but I wondered, why would he agree to come to our house for breakfast? Mom tossed clothes at me and ordered me to get dressed, so I did. You didn’t argue with Mom about these things, especially when you were eleven.

So, on a morning in 1970, in the zero hours, Daylene, with her learners permit, drove Dad to the hotel and picked up Chet Huntley who came to our house for breakfast and enjoyed homemade sourdough pancakes. I would later learn that the Huntley-Brinkley Report’s audience was so large that by 1965, Huntley and Brinkley were more recognizable to American adults than Cary Grant, James Stewart, or the Beatles.

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Chet Huntley was educated at the University of Washington and began his career in radio, with jobs in Seattle, Spokane, and Portland, which sort of made him a Northwest icon.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report’s ceremonial closing, “Good night, David,” “Good night, Chet” was last heard on July 31, 1970, but Brinkley altered his words to “Good-bye, Chet,” as he signed off. Huntley retired to his native Montana to develop the Big Sky resort, which he talked about at length over breakfast at our dining room table.

As our family said goodbye to Mr. Huntley at the front door, he turned to my brother and said, “Good night, David.” And my brother replied, “Good night, Chet.”

Mom would later tell Dad that Chet Huntley wasn’t her favorite newscaster. Really? I thought it was extraordinary to see him sitting in our dining room and not on the television. Dad later explained that he invited Mr. Huntley to breakfast for a simple reason; because Mr. Huntley sat alone at the bar with no family or friends and no one was talking to him. I imagine Dad would be hauled away in a straightjacket if he approached Anderson Cooper or Bill O’Reilly and invited them to his house for sourdough pancakes.

The lesson learned here is, if Dad hadn’t asked Chet Huntley to breakfast, he’d never have eaten sourdough pancakes at our dining room table and we would not have met him.

To Be Continued . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tail Gunner’s Daughter: Ch 3, part 3

Benevolence

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Mom did her best to keep us grounded. She told us how she had grown up in a small cabin in Montana and that she knew what it was like to go without. I believe that’s why she volunteered at the Seattle Milk Fund delivering groceries and goods to less fortunate families. I often went with her on deliveries, even when I was as young as five years old, and was amazed that people lived in shacks and sat on couches that looked like mice condominiums. Children toddled around while the mom had a baby in each arm.

It was normal for one or two men to flee out the back door as we entered a dwelling, leaving an awkward silence in the room. Mom would later say, “The men were more than likely living off the woman’s welfare check and weren’t supposed to be there. I’ve never seen men run so fast, thinking I was with Social Services coming to bust them,” she explained.

I remember one delivery where a man stood in the small living room wearing a white tank top and ripped pants, a cigarette dangling from his lips. His eyes squinted against the smoke shrouding his face. Although I was afraid, I reached up to offer him the food basket I held in my arms. Even through the haze of smoke, the look on his face remains indelible in my mind. He was embarrassed. It made me sad, so I moved the basket closer and he finally took it. In a timid voice he said, “Thank you.”

Mom was benevolent and thrifty. She had made our clothes for the trip to Europe; Jackie-Kennedy style clothes, little suits, smart, sleeveless dresses with geometry and dot patterns, and what she didn’t make she bought at Sears bargain basement. She would wash Styrofoam coffee cups in the top rack of the dishwasher until all the recycling eventually disintegrated them.

She reupholstered our furniture and refinished anything made of wood. She and Grandma painted birds perched on branches on the living room wall. Although, one of the birds, I think they were robins, looked like it was flying upside down. They were beautiful though, red breasted with inlaid gold along their feathers. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen on a wall, and the most beautiful. Mom knew that the wall would be better if she put a bird on it.

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The bird wall – I think David is telling me a secret. Daylene has a leg up. Around this time Dalene changed the spelling of her name to Daylene because people kept calling her Darlene.

David was also benevolent. I found this out when Dad locked David and me in a bedroom when I was six and David was eight. We sat on the edge of the bed and Dad loomed over us, dressed in a nice suit and tie.

“Which one of you stole some Kennedy half dollars from my safe!”  It was an accusation, not a question. I was scared, but David treated it like any other bollocking. Each time Dad asked us the question his voice grew louder.

“One of you stole my 1964 Kennedy half dollars! Which one of you did it?” he hollered.

“It wasn’t me!” I shouted back. WHACK. My butt was ablaze. Then Dad grabbed David and smacked his bottom, too. Every time one of us denied the accusation Dad whacked both our bare butts.

“It’ll go on like this ‘til one of you confesses,” Dad barked. I couldn’t confess to something I didn’t do! My butt cheeks were hotter than the devils’ own. This discipline party went on for about half an hour.

“David, just tell the truth!” I screamed through my hiccoughs, tears squirting from my eyes. After a couple more whacks, David finally confessed to stealing the coins.

“Dana, you can leave,” Dad said. I ran from the room, flew down the stairs as fast as my short legs would take me – had I slid down the banister it would have caught fire – and body slammed my mom, burying my face in her evening dress.

“Dad spanked me! Over and over and over!” I screamed. “I hate him!”

“No, you don’t,” she said, rubbing my back.

We heard the cracking sounds of Dad’s hand to David’s bare butt. David apparently had no idea that the 1964 Kennedy half dollar was minted in ninety percent silver, and was part of Dad’s valuable collection. On second thought, maybe he did know their value, because back in the bedroom where Dad asked David why he took them, David said:

“I stole ‘em pecause there’s a poor girl who sits next to me at school and she needed money so I gave ‘em to her.” Dad would admit later that it hurt him just as much to spank us like that as it did for us to get the spankings. I believe it did. Sometimes benevolence is painful.

Dad was a big, tough guy who hunted and came home with an elk, or a bear, and a beard that he scraped against my cheeks. He had guns, axes, and chainsaws, which I saw him use frequently at the lake. But he did something that revealed his soft heart.

It may have been sparked by David’s attempt to help a poor girl, but at Christmastime Dad had asked the principal of our elementary school what the less fortunate kids needed. The principle replied, “Lunch.” Dad wrote him a check for X amount of dollars and the principle looked at Dad and said, “Thank you, Mr. Dewey. This will feed a lot of kids for a very long time.”

This do-goodness had an impact on me, too. When I was in eighth grade, I volunteered on a committee to help less fortunate people in our community. The committee would deliver Thanksgiving baskets for the holiday. One day after school, I walked with a committee member to her house to help organize the fundraiser and to decide on the contents of the baskets. She lived a long way from the school, in a part of Queen Anne that was foreign to me. Her home was in a ramshackle building, held up by spindly sticks that I feared would snap and send us crashing down the hill. It looked like the Milk Fund houses I had visited years before. I was nervous walking in the front door.

We worked diligently, planning, organizing, and spit-balling. She had several good ideas, many more than I did. I stared out the window a lot, waiting for the house to break apart. Dad picked me up on his way home from work. On the ride home he said, “Is her family on the charity list?”

“No. She’s on the committee to help.”

“I don’t mean any disrespect, but it looks like her family could use some help.”

“She doesn’t see it that way.”

I don’t remember her name, this girl who felt others were in greater need than she and her single mom were, but I remember that she held my respect.

 

To be continued . . .

 

 

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Chapter 3 – Please Don’t Eat the Daisies!

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Every Wednesday we had a housekeeper. Mrs. Mangor was Norwegian, tall, and strong, who hauled her buckets, mops, and rags around the house, while wearing a dress! I’d see her upstairs, downstairs, on the stairs, and I always scrammed to keep out of her way.

When Mom and Dad went on trips alone, Mrs. Mangor often stayed with us kids. She introduced me to cheese on toast for breakfast.

“During the war,” she said with a thick accent, “I was young. Food was rationed. We ate cheese. When the Nazis were coming to each house, I take my cheese and toast and hide in the cupboard.” I ate my cheese on toast in silence, thinking of the little girl hiding from Nazis in the cupboard.

Even though we had a housekeeper, David was in charge of emptying all the garbage cans. One Wednesday, Daisy, our Brittany, stole David’s job and tossed the upstairs bathroom garbage cans all over. As I hopped up to the landing I saw waded up toilet paper, Kleenex, and bloody sanitary napkins scattered about. Mrs. Mangor was bent over picking up the mess and became unstitched when she saw me. She cornered me in the hallway.

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Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do . . .  Daisy as a pup. Oh, how innocent she looks. I always thought she had the face of a small cow.

“You must wrap these in bag, like this,” she said as she crammed the bloody pad in a little pink bag. “Daisy leave these all over the house. She likes blood. You must wrap and throw away in garbage where she can’t get them,” Mrs. Mangor declared.

“They aren’t mine!” I pleaded. “I don’t have a period, I’m only nine!”

Mrs. Mangor mumbled something in Norwegian and walked away. I picked up Daisy’s mess with my finger tips, saying to myself that I was in no hurry to have a period and have to deal with this junk.

Daisy was psychotic. Not only did she eat blood from sanitary napkins, she also licked the butter off pancakes and then buried them in the snow, the dirt, or whatever she found to dig in. She was storing up for leaner days, which was cute, but she was not a well-behaved dog. She pretended to be, especially when she rode shotgun in the front seat of the Mercedes. Mom would say, “For cripes sake, you’d think she was the Queen of England the way she holds her head high and looks down her nose at me.” Whenever I had to go somewhere with Mom, Daisy called shotgun.

If you came into our house, it was customary that Daisy gave you a proper welcome; her nose in your crotch. If she approved of your smell, she mounted your leg and humped you. She was confused. When she had surgery to remove her female factory she assumed something was added. It was embarrassing to Mom, who demanded that her children behave (we never shoved our noses in a visitor’s crotch), but Daisy was ill versed in sexual harassment.

After her signature greeting, Daisy would nudge the hand that held your milk, coffee, or gin and tonic so that you’d have to set it down in order to pet her. There were six people in that house who neglected to train that dog. I think all of us tried, a little, but soon tired of the tedious task.

And then there were the mounds of poop, which surrounded the pool area. Nobody wanted to be on poop scoop detail, especially me. I always forgot. Daisy liked to play “catch me if you can” and we’d chase her around the pool, hopping over her squishy, brown piles. Inevitably, someone always stepped on one and that someone was Dalene – in bare feet.

But sometimes it was good to have a psychotic Brittany that liked to run. We’d tie her up to our bicycle handles and she’d run like the wind and pull us along the sidewalk. When it was my turn, my bike always fell over. So, David had a brilliant idea. I held tightly to her leash as she ran along Prospect Street hauling me behind on the skateboard. The cracks and welts in the sidewalk left over from the earth quake made it a bumpy ride, and more often than not I flew off the skateboard and skipped across the pavement. Daisy kept running with her leash flying out behind her.

“Daisy, come!” We hollered. What a joke. She never minded. She moseyed home when she was finished exploring, or we’d have to hunt her down because of a phone call from an angry neighbor lady threatening to call the pound because Daisy had destroyed her flower garden.

Every time we had visitors for a weekend at the lake, Daisy proved to be a great hostess and an Alpha bitch to their dog. She gained the dog’s trust and it followed her into the woods. Three or four hours later Daisy loped back, smiling and alone. Our visitors would ask us, “Where’s our dog?” We’d all look at each other, shrug our shoulders, and mumble that we had no idea. It is said that Homo sapiens are the only creatures in the animal kingdom that can laugh. Not so. Daisy could.

To save face, we’d all pile into the car and holler out the windows for the lost dog. We’d drive a few miles, stop, get out, and holler some more. Several miles up the dirt road the lost dog padded out of the bushes, tired, dirty, and confused. Daisy disliked visitors taking over her territory. She was a bird dog, but rather than enter the woods to hunt and point, she preferred to lose and abandon.

To be continued . . .

 

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Tail Gunner’s Daughter: Chapter 3, Part 1

“Anything that hurts that much can’t possibly be fun.”  Ursula Dewey on snow skiing.

When I was eight Dad decided we should all learn to snow ski. He enrolled us in ski classes at Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade mountain range, and David and I were in a class together. The instructor was an eager young man who demonstrated how to turn his skis. He said, “This will also help you come to a complete stop, like this.” He showed us how to dig into the snow with the edges of our skis with the tips together while bending our knees. “It’s called snow plow,” he added.

Us would-be-athletes lined up in a row on the ski slope, waiting our turn. David was impatient, squirming and fidgeting, excited to get going. Finally, he shoved himself down the hill. We all watched, waiting for him to show off his snow plow skills, but he never did. He sped straight down the hill, no turns. I don’t recall what happened to him. For all I know, he was unable to stop and skied down to Seattle. The instructor said, “From now on we’ll call him racer.”

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Diggin’ the Hostess Sno Ball stuck on my head. I think this picture was taken at Mission Ridge.

In contrast, I was all about form. I was going to master this snowplow thing. I started down the hill and landed in a solitary pig pile. Then I performed face plants, ass plants and leg splits. Other times my legs sprawled out on the snow with my skis pointing to the sky. I was getting the hang of this snow plow!

Mom had a different experience. Her bones and muscles ached so much after a couple of hours, she decided to sit in the lodge. “Anything that makes your body hurt that much can’t possibly be fun.” From then on whenever we went skiing, Mom sat in the lodge knitting Nordic sweaters, writing Christmas cards, and dolled out money to the four of us for hamburgers, French fries, and hot chocolate. Snow skiing burned through the calories and Mom’s purse.

Dad made sure we played in the snow even when there wasn’t any. One Christmas Eve while we all slept, Dad and Grandpa Harlan drove a big truck to Snoqualmie Pass and returned with a load of snow and dumped it on the front yard!

Even though it rained constantly in Seattle, it rarely snowed – until January, 1969 – when it snowed forty-five inches. Cars were free-styling down streets and piling up at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill. School was closed and the neighborhood was a war zone of rocketing snowballs. Apparently, I was the best target, especially for David. But when the rougher kids pelted me with snowballs akin to softballs, David yelled at them, and they accused him of treason.

“Hey, I thought you were on our side!” hollered Randy.

“She’s my sister. Only I’m allowed to beat up on her, not you guys.”

David was my hero, sort of. He was also a mad scientist and recruited me as a test subject for his twisted experiments. For example, when I was five, he took the lampshade off a burning lamp and pressed the light bulb onto my stomach, searing the skin. He wanted to see what it would do. He should have been a cattle rancher, because fifty years later I still have the brand. But to be fair, he regrets it, and he was only seven at the time.

Back to the snow storm. Every day snow kept falling, but dad needed to get to the warehouse. He fired up the Jeep Wagoneer and turned the wheel hubs to engage four-wheel drive, and drove all over Seattle scooping up employees. Mom said, “By the time he picks everyone up, it’ll be time to drive them all home again. He just wants to go four-wheeling.”

The snow fell hard, and by Saturday Seattle was shrouded in white. The evergreens frowned under the weight of the snow, but the kids were smiling – even the cranky ones. Who wouldn’t be? Dad brought out the yellow monster skiDoos and gave rides on Bigelow Avenue and up and around the little grassy island in the middle of the street. It was hard to tell who had more fun, Dad or the neighborhood kids.

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I think that’s David giving a ride to either me, or a neighbor kid. The West’s house is the big one straight across the street.

Dad pulled a bunch of kids behind the SkiDoo in a sleigh that looked like a giant dog sled. Every time the sled turned over we laughed until we peed. The sled turned over more often when David was driving. Someone thought this activity was dangerous, because a police car plowed through the snow on Prospect Street and stopped in front of our house.

“How the hell did they get up here?” Dad said, half under his breath. The officers walked up to Dad and spoke to him just as David buzzed along Prospect street towing a sled full of screaming kids. David saw the policemen and stopped the roaring snow machine.

“Son, how old are you?” asked a policeman.

“Twelve?” David replied, as if he wasn’t sure.

The police warned Dad about driving snowmobiles on city property and lectured him about letting David drive. They told Dad to put away the snowmobiles.

“Yes, officers, I’ll put them away,” said Dad. The policemen drove away, and when they were out of sight Dad fired up the SkiDoo and gave rides to the kids who hadn’t had a turn yet. He had to be fair. And he didn’t tell the policemen “when” he’d put away the SkiDoos.

To be continued . . .

 

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The Tail Gunner’s Daughter – ch 2-continued

 

The needle pointed to 100 as Dad sped along the German autobahn. (This photo of the autobahn was not taken in 1967, but I wanted to add a picture, and because Dad had flown over Germany 23 years earlier, it spoke to me.) Mom asked the impossible of us kids; she said, “Be quiet so your father can concentrate.” I think we obeyed, because I only remember a low buzzing sound. The landscape flashed like an automatic camera and I had to shut my eyes. But  when I did, I imagined we crashed and our nice American family was spread all over the autobahn.

I opened my eyes as Dad pulled into a big circular driveway in front of a castle. It was our hotel. My tongue unfurled from my mouth like a flag. Swans were swimming in a pond tucked into a vast, green lawn, and I thought I’d wandered into a storybook where David and I were the main characters.

As usual we ran amok, charging down the hallways exploring every nook and cranny, and pretending to fence with the gauntlet of life-sized armored knights, but we jerked to a halt when we saw Dalene. She would holler at us for running because she was twelve. She was in the lobby waiting for the desk clerk who was attempting to assist a man – I think he was English – asking for cigarettes.

“Do you know where I can buy cigarettes?” he asked the clerk.

The clerk rattled something in German, the problem unresolved. The man turned to Dalene and said, “Do you speak English?”

“Yes!” said Dalene with glee.

“Could you please ask the clerk if he sells cigarettes and if not, where I could buy some?”

Dalene turned to the clerk and said, “Do you sell cigarettes here?”

She probably looked German to the man. I wonder if he ever found any cigarettes.

We took a car ferry to Denmark, and in Copenhagen we went to Tivoli Gardens amusement park (the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world) where we spent all day on rides, eating a lot, and getting lost in the maze of tall hedges. David hunted me down and helped get me out, which surprised me, because he’s the one who helped me get lost.

 

With the Mercedes tucked away on a cargo ship to Seattle, we flew to England and sailed to New York on board RMS Queen Elizabeth. I remember little about the voyage, except in the movie theater where Mom held her hands over my eyes during The Taming of the Shrew. 

Below is a picture of the main hall on RMS Queen Elizabeth.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

One night in New York, we walked along a sidewalk searching for a restaurant in which to eat dinner. It was dark so Mom held my hand. I looked down and saw a trickle of water in a perfect stream, as if someone had left a small garden hose running. In unison, twelve feet stepped up and over the stream. I peered to my right, cranking my head around Mom’s rump, and saw a weathered old man sitting on a stoop with his penis hanging out, and he was peeing! Mom wrenched my head forward, while Denise and Dalene giggled. That’s the only thing I remember about New York; not the Empire State Building, not the Statue of Liberty, but an old man hanging on to his tallywacker peeing on the sidewalk.

It looked like someone let the air out of Dad’s face on the flight to Seattle. He was sweating a fever, and the stewardess, as they were called in 1967, must have felt sorry for us because she moved our entire family to first-class. Dad moaned and groaned watching us eat steak dinners. Mom had a cocktail, which really upset him, because he couldn’t have one, and in first class they gave them away free.

When speaking about the trip to Europe, Dad tells the story of his older brother Ray who questioned Dad’s judgement for taking his family on a European vacation. Dad repeats Ray’s words, “Keith, you should have invested that money in Occidental Petroleum stock. You’d have doubled it in no time.”

“I didn’t even know what Occidental  was,” Dad said. “I thought a vacation would be more worthwhile.”

Personally, I think Mom and Dad invested in building a family by creating beautiful, lasting memories. A fortune in itself.

To Be Continued . . .

 

 

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