Writing My Life

Now and Then


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Vanity, Your Name is Renae: A Halloween Story

OCTOBER - A month of many splendored things: Indian summer punctuated by crimson and golden leaves against crystal blue skies; harvest time accentuated by crisp mornings and crunchy apples; and longer nights that portend coming ghosts and goblins on All Hallows Eve. That latter event reminds me of Halloweens-past, especially since stumbling upon a few childhood photos.

While I don’t remember all the costumes I donned for Halloween parties, parades, and trick or treating, I do recall I wanted to look pretty! No scary ghouls or silly vagabonds for me! If I were a child of this era, I am pretty sure I’d be one of the scores of Disney princesses skipping from house to house with a cape swirling about me.

Back in the 1950s, however, costumes were most often created from whatever moms could find around the house or were sewed by those dedicated mothers. That’s not to say store-bought costumes were unavailable, but they were usually unimaginative, plastic, and easily torn. Furthermore, I was a costume snob who wouldn’t consider wearing such a thing.

1955: Two little gypsies, a favorite costume and dress-up. Mom made the boleros, but the skirts, jewelry, sashes, and head scarves were from her drawers and closet.

Once my two friends Diane and Leah wanted the three of us to dress up as “hobos” – a vintage word from the Depression era that referred to those who “rode the rails” looking for work or handouts or both. Now such individuals are called homeless, but I really don’t see many neighborhood youngsters dressed as bag-ladies or panhandlers these days. When I was growing up, however, hobos were a popular Halloween choice, and my friends thought it would be fun and easy: pile on some worn-out clothes, maybe adding a few more rips and holes; slather cold cream over the lower part of your face, followed by pressing coffee grains onto the cream to simulate week-old whiskers; and add a sloppy hat and a fake cigar cigar butt, available at most dime-stores, to complete the transformation. I would have none of it! I was a geisha girl instead – not knowing exactly

Mom's "duster" with a simple "obi", recycled Sacajawea wig from a previous Halloween, Kleenex tissue flowers, eyebrow pencil and Voila - a Geisha girl.

1959: Mom’s “duster” with a simple “obi”, recycled Sacajawea wig from a previous Halloween, Kleenex tissue flowers, eyebrow pencil and Voila – a Geisha girl.

what that was, but perhaps being influenced by Sayonaraa popular movie of the time that actually dealt with racism – a rare topic in 1957. I think my friends were not happy with me, and I noticed they are NOT in the photograph with me, but I think I see their shadows lurking near by.

My ALL-TIME favorite costume was Sacajawea or “Bird Woman”, famous Indian American who traveled with Lewis and Clark. She was an early female hero to Idaho students, and I knew the legends about her – many, of which have been revised since my childhood. Nevertheless, I admired her then as I admire her even more now.  So there you have it. Vanity in a nutshell. Thanks, Mom, for helping me feel pretty even at Halloween! Love you!

Sacajewea dividing the bounty with my little sister Connie. Mom made my Indian dress.  I LOVED the wig! Connie wore one of those "plastic" costumes and ended up being the cutest little clown ever!!!

1957: Sacajawea dividing the bounty with my little sister Connie. Mom made my dress, and I LOVED the wig! Connie wore one of those “plastic” costumes and ended up being the cutest little clown ever!!!


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First Day of School – September 7, 1954

“School days, school days – those good old golden rule days.

Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

September often takes me back to those years when school actually started in the ninth month of the year – right after Labor Day, and we bid farewell to the school year just before my birthday, May 30 – the traditional Memorial Day. This past August I perused many “back-to-school” pictures that Moms proudly posted on FaceBook, and a few days later while organizing our storage bins, I stumbled upon my own “first day of first grade” photograph, and here it is.

Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

                 Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

I’m standing in the driveway of our new home in Pocatello, Idaho, and I’m wearing a spanking new dress probably purchased at Montgomery Ward, as that’s where I remember buying our clothes. I LOVED this dress with its navy and white pinstriped bodice, bright red belt, and navy skirt. The shiny new shoes – Buster Browns, I think – were “T-straps”, and I image the socks matched the skirt. Mom often shares the story about buying my school clothes when my cute little sister Connie could hardly stand being left out. Once the clothes were in the bag, she decreed that “Renae will have to change her clothes the minute she gets home!”

Another family story involves the lunch bucket/box that I’m carrying: a kind of football shaped silver rocket ship! I know this was the era of early space exploration – pre-Sputnik, mind you – but I don’t remember seeing many of these beauties around. I recently searched the Internet for vintage lunch boxes to see if I could find anything like this one, but failed. Anyway, it seems that Mom decided to treat me to a 7-Up for lunch and poured the beverage into the thermos. You can imagine what happened by the time noon rolled around. Mom and I remember this incident; we’re just not positive that it happened on my first day of first grade. (I don’t see how a thermos jug could fit in that oddly shaped box, and I think the incident involved an Annie Oakley lunch pail.) Regardless, it is an explosive story that had to ruin my cold lunch, especially when you consider that my sandwich was wrapped in wax paper. No Saran wrap or baggies to liquid-proof the contents!

That year was especially eventful because Lewis and Clark was a brand new elementary school. Mrs. Rhea was principal, and I was assigned to the most wonderful teacher in the world – Dallas Quidor, master teacher extraordinaire. I remember being so relieved not to “get” Mrs. Allard as she had been my kindergarten teacher for the couple of weeks kids attended in the summer. I think Kindergarten met on the second floor of Alameda Junior High, and the curriculum consisted of graham cracker snacks and naps on rugs, all under the guidance of a very strict, somewhat ornery teacher.

I think Mrs. A. dyed her hair black and wore it in finger waves that were popular in the 1930s, and I seem to recall she also kept every wave in place by wearing a hairnet. Her powdery white make-up, rouged cheeks, and bright red lipstick completed the guise that would frighten any 5 or 6-year-old – much like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte! SCARY!!

Some of the new friends I remember from that far-away time are Paula Lystrup, Donna Partner, Kay Donaldson, and Trudy Halpin. I recall several boys, too, but can only think of their first names. When I find a class picture, I’ll update this post! Gosh, that was so long ago, but tiny flashing moments are so clear that 1954 seems like yesterday. Those were good times just as the present brings much joy to my life as well.

Thanks for walking to school with me today!


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Mom & Me – Mother’s Day 2014

Unlike many baby-boomers, I am beyond fortunate to still have my “greatest generation”, rascal of a mother with me. At 88-going-on-89, she still makes us laugh at her quick wit and other shenanigans! Case in point: the other afternoon when I set about sorting her pills, I congratulated her for remembering to down her evening menu of pink, white, and yellow-striped capsules. She is faithful in taking her morning allotment, but is hit-and-miss with the latter.

Seconds into my sorting routine, she shyly said, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

Panic rose as several scenarios screamed through my brain, the first being, “OH NO! She took all her night pills at once!” And then “OH NO! She dumped them down the toilet!” (They aren’t exactly cheap!)

But I calmly asked in my sweetest, slightly teasing tone, “What did you do?” (Smile)

“Well, I poured them all into an empty pill bottle,” she said – rather sheepishly, I might add!

“Why? Am I that mean when I tease you about forgetting them?” I asked as I remembered a childhood of hiding empty Jello boxes  after I consumed the contents – “raw” Jello was a precursor to Pixy Sticks in my time.

Like me, I guess she hates “getting into trouble”, and we can both be a little sneaky to avoid that!

One of the sneakiest things she did, however, dates back to spring, 1966. I can’t remember if it was yearbook day or Senior Sluff day, but a bunch of us planned to spend the afternoon at the beach. Yes, there was a beach in Southeastern Idaho – The American Falls Reservoir, not exactly Malibu or Santa Cruz, but somehow, we made it work.

For the occasion, I bought a  2-piece swimming suit. Far from being a bikini, the lime-green and white pleated skirt bottom with daisies covered my belly-button, and though the square neckline was cut a little lower than normal, it was still something Annette Funicello would feel comfortable wearing on a Disney set. At least, I thought so. Unlike popular Jantzen swimsuits of the time, this two-piece was made from a duck-cloth type material, and I paid a pretty penny for it at Fargo’s Department Store where I worked part-time. I think I put out $25!!!

After the purchase, I took it home and modeled it for Mom and Dad who smiled approvingly. Or so I thought. A few mornings later when I headed out the door to my day of high school adventure, I grabbed my beach bag packed with towels, baby oil, and the new swimsuit. When we arrived at the beach – a rather cool, windy Idaho day, as I recall – the girls had to change into their suits in cars, a dubious affair that required performing acrobatics under beach towels.

While twisting and turning to get into mine, I realized that it was not exactly the  one I bought! The 2-piece had been modified! Yes, it was green and white with a pleated-skirt bottom, but the top was different! It was still white, edged with green piping, but it was cut higher, and a row of matching green buttons ran along a seam that marked the addition of more white duck-cloth to raise the neckline!

Shaking my head in disbelief, I was shocked, but not upset. It was adorable! Mom had jazzed up a rather plain top into something fun as well as modest. And she had performed such a professional job that no one could tell I did not buy it that way.

I don’t remember the discussion that night as I talked with Mom, but something tells me that when I modeled my purchase for her and Daddy and then bent over to retrieve the shopping bags, she knew changes needed to be made before I paraded my swimsuit-clad body across the sands of the American Falls reservoir in the spring of 1966. I presume she thought I would be angry with her so she decided to seek forgiveness instead of permission. Yes, she is sneaky like that. Thanks, Mom!


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Still Thinking about That Time-Travel Wish

Today G.E. and I finished off one fine Labor Day  weekend by going to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler, starring Forrest Whitaker and Oprah – what IS Oprah’s last name anyway? The film is inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House from the Eisenhower to the Reagan administrations. (Remember that when a movie is “inspired” by actual events, there is very little correlation between the two.) Nevertheless, the movie was excellent, and it served as a time-warp for us both as we sat through some of the tough times of the 50s and 60s.

While we remember the Civil Rights’ headlines and the TV news stories, G.E. and I both remarked how insulated we were from the horrors of those events. Growing up in Utah and Idaho, we knew very few African-Americans. In fact, I can only remember one girl I worked with at Fargo’s Department Store in Pocatello. We often met in the break room at the same time and talked of ordinary, but unimportant, things. So that brings me to the other reason I’d like to that that trip back in time: to be more aware of all that was happening around me; to take a serious interest in those world-shaking events, and to do something about them. Not always big things, but something more than nothing – regardless of the distance between Idaho and Alabama.


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Wishful Thinking

If I could be granted my own “make-a-wish” desire, and if it were truly possible, which Ronald Mallet believes it is,  I would sign up for time-travel. Instead of heading for Swiss Days over the Labor Day weekend, I’d tell the ticket agent me “when” I wanted to go instead of where. For my first trip, I would head back to my own childhood to soak in thousands of details I thought I would remember forever but have sadly eluded me. I would bask in those less-than-significant family moments with Mom, Dad, and Connie  that added up to what I remember as happy times.  time_travel

While I’d enjoy revisiting monumental experiences, I really yearn for those tiny times – eating Dad’s toast and cocoa breakfasts he whipped up for Connie and me; watching Sunday night’s Kennecott Neighborhood Theater but listening to Mom’s rhythmic beating a batch of fudge; or sitting  at the vinyl and chrome kitchenette and talking. I remember the food more than the conversations – why is that? I’d love to listen in to what we chatted about while eating corn fritters, the main course that usually preceded paydays. I hated corn fritters, but I’d eat them again if it meant I could drop into 1958.

Upon my return, I’d record all those particulars that meant little to me then but everything to me now.


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Thanks for the Memories, as I Can’t Find Mine!

More than once I’ve commented upon my absent-minded behaviors. Thank heavens I have kind friends and family members who help me keep track of myself. Among those is a clever colleague who just left our school district’s curriculum office.

For sometime, Luann watched me leave the office and return for my purse and again for my phone or for my glasses or my laptop.  Once I couldn’t leave because my keys had totally disappeared, NEVER to be found. Another instance, I had to enlist the help of our young custodian to rifle through his large trash can to find my cell phone. And a few times returned home to retrieve my work laptop that I forgot!

One day about a year or so ago, I was packing up to head home and Luann walked to my desk.

Reminder 1“See this little check-list posted here,” she said. “I did that as a reminder to gather your critical necessities BEFORE walking out the door.” Even though I had not noticed the flashy reminder during the day, I was delighted!

“That’s perfect!” I said.

“Oh, but that’s not all,” she answered. Then she led me past the 5 cubicles that lined the aisle to her desk. “Here is a second checklist just in case you forget to refer to the first one!” Reminder 2

Thank you, Dear Luann. You don’t know how many times these little checklists have saved me trips and time.  I especially appreciate the last two items on the lists: “smile” and “mind”. I will ALWAYS smile whenever I look at these as they will remind me of you! Many hugs to you, my friend.


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I Miss Me

Every time I pull up my iGoogle page and see the last entry I posted on “Writing My Life” was in March, I am sad. I miss my written reflections whether anyone else does or not. I think about life and its crazy characteristics all the time, but until I record those thoughts, I don’t feel as if I’ve truly reflected.  Besides, those hit-and-miss ideas are fleeting.

So, with a few weeks off work, I hope to capture those momentary meditations before they take flight and confine them here. That won’t be easy because some are long-gone, but I know I want to record the follies of growing older. The process is really quite humorous.

For example, yesterday I was talking to G.E. as I finished combing my hair. When I started hair-spraying the styled coiffure, he yelled, “Stop! Stop!” and  tried to grab my arm.

“What?” I said, pulling away. And then I noticed the Windex in my hand. Can’t say the spray increased the shine, nor did it help my “do” hold up in this Windexheat, but maybe the ammonia brightened my highlights???!!!!

Remember Gus Portokalos, from MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING,  was convinced that Windex could fix anything. Now my Grandpa B. claimed the same of VicksVicks Vapor Rub – maybe I’ll use that instead of mousse. =)

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