The Bobbsey Twins, Dad And Me

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I love hearing the soft splatter of rain against my bedroom window in those shadowy moments between sleeping and waking up. As I snuggle under the warm quilt, still half asleep, I feel silent anticipation surround me. It’s raining and from the rhythm of the drops as they splash the window it sounds as if it’s going to rain all day.

As I become more alert and in touch with reality, I realize that my happiness is flowing from the past. I learned to love the rain years ago. My dad was a bricklayer and when it rained he couldn’t go to work. I remember waking up on those rainy mornings knowing that it would be a bookstore day. I don’t know when the tradition started, but my memories seem focused on the year I learned to read. I loved books from the moment I could read, and my happiest childhood memories are of the days we roamed through the second-hand book stores, each of us searching for our favorite authors.

Dad would browse through the different cookbooks, and Mom would go digging in the dusty piles looking for Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’d gather up every volume of The Bobbsey Twins that I didn’t already have, and I’d quietly spread them out on the counter beside my father. He would talk to the bookstore owner for what seemed like hours, but eventually he’d turn to me and ask, “Jean, are you really going to read these books?” As I eagerly nodded my head he would call over to my mom and ask, “Grace is she going to read these, aren’t these books too old for her?” (I was only seven.)

It was his standard question, but I wouldn’t breathe until I heard my mom assure him, again, that I’d devour these books. “Well, just pick out two of your favorites,” he’d say each time.

I’d whisper to myself, “I want The Bobbsey Twins At The Seashore, and The Bobbsey Twins At School.” As I returned the others to their shelf, I’d change my mind. I wanted The Bobbsey Twins On Blueberry Island, and The Bobbsey Twins On The Deep Blue Sea! I wouldn’t make my final choice until my dad was ready to pay.

After he paid a nickel each for them, I’d cradle the books in my hands, and a warm excitement would flood my body. During the ride home I’d arrange the two volumes of The Bobbsey Twins on my lap, slowly brushing my fingers across the faded covers. Peeking into the book’s yellowed pages was like eating a root beer popsicle in August.

As my father opened the front door I’d run past him, back to my bed; back under the covers with the sweetest possessions in all the world, two volumes of The Bobbsey Twins!

Bert and Nan, the older twins, did their best to keep Freddie and Flossie out of trouble, but it was hopeless. The two little ones bounced with energy, and they just ran wherever they pleased, charming everyone with their antics. I loved the two toddlers with their honeyed curls and round cherub faces. Their wild spirits and endless curiosity often led them into dangerous situations, but thankfully, their parents, or the older twins, always came to their rescue before they’d get hurt.

As I read each volume I knew that I could count on a sticky sweet happy ending, with hugs and kisses all around. Their escapades removed me from my life. As I absorbed the words my mind danced through each adventure with the twins. My eyes flew across the dusty pages, scanning entire paragraphs in a glance, and before long I’d feel the last few pages between my fingers. I’d force my eyes to slow down and then I’d try to read each sentence, desperate to keep the story from ending. It always ended too soon. I’d read both books the same day, and by supper time I’d be longing for one more rainy day and another visit to the book stores. I must have reread each book a dozen times.

The dad in The Bobbsey Twins adventures loved his children. He taught them in a firm, yet kind and caring way. My dad could be that way too; until late each afternoon when he’d begin to drink. I didn’t understand why my dad drank, but I learned at a young age how to fade into the walls. My books let me run away from home when I had no place else to go. They showed me another world, a world apart from the emotional violence and the verbal abuse. They gave me hope, and without realizing that it was survival tools he was handing to me, my dad bought me my books, until I turned nine and started to haunt the libraries.

So, that’s why I love to wake to the sound of rain drops splashing against my window. It reminds my heart of the love my father was able to show, the treasures he bought me, the surprise in his eyes when he first realized that his little girl could read, his reluctance to let me grow up. The soft wetness surrounding my ears soothes the bad dreams; it chases away the nightmares; and it lets me forget the angry, crazy man that my dad had become by the time I had children of my own.

When it rains I forget the names he called us, I don’t care about the things he smashed, the holes he punched in the walls. I remember the love and the pride in his eyes, a hidden smile behind his words, the rain pouring down outside the converted garage that we called home, and his playful question, “You don’t want to go to the bookstore today, do you Jean?”

Thirty years ago my ex-husband carelessly lost my entire collection of First Edition Bobbsey Twins along with my Nancy Drew mysteries. The books fell off the back of our moving truck, and although I searched the streets he had driven on, I never found them. I’ve refused to buy shiny modern reproductions. I want my softly worn, second-hand friends, the books that whispered my dad’s message to me while the rain fell around us, “I do love you.” The gifts that spoke the words he could never say.

A few months ago, as I browsed in an antique store in downtown Collinsville, I found a 1913 First Edition copy of The Bobbsey Twins At Snow Lodge, with the original jacket still intact. I bought that old friend for four dollars and fifty cents. That’s all it was worth to the antique dealer, but I felt as if I had won the lottery when I took that time-worn book home, and gave it a special place on my bookshelf.

The author, Laura Lee Hope, will never know how her stories encouraged my timid spirit, or how she set my mind on fire, burning with an obsession to read and igniting a lifelong love affair with words.

My dad? The men he worked for called him a genius. Whether his hands touched bricks and field stone, or pastels and charcoal, he created masterpieces. Sometimes he’d take my tiny hand in his, and we’d walk through the gorgeous gardens that he and my mom had designed and nurtured. He’d talk to me about the wildflowers they had transplanted from the mountains and the woods of New England. Then there was his cooking; he could out cook the finest chef. I can still smell the delicious aroma of his sour dough bread baking in our ancient, black wood stove.

My dad? Today he is homeless, lost in the crowd of mentally ill who roam the streets in every city and town across America. He is an alcoholic who first lost his mind, and then his family, because he couldn’t walk away from the bottle. Family members search for him, but he doesn’t want to be found. He tells the few people he talks to that he doesn’t have a family.

The cherished edition of The Bobbsey Twins catches my eye every now and then, and I pause to brush my fingers across the worn cover, especially when it’s raining.
He couldn’t say the words, yet the rain still whispers to me, “I do love you.” I whisper back, “I love you too, Dad.”

PUBLISHED IN THE HEALING WOMAN 1997

Update: My dad died in 2000 and was buried without a headstone, or family present because
family was never able to find him or his death certificate. Recently, my sister, with the help of two military friends, has found where Dad is buried.
October 16, 2019 he will be honored by the military and by his family. He will finally have a headstone. RIP Dad.

 

The Head Exam

Last night I examined my husband’s head. He put his finger on his head and said, “What is this?”
“It is your head,” I replied.
“No, no, what is this bump?”
I have had no medical training and do not possess any particular medical skills, but I felt more than qualified to examine his head because I have been rubbing his head while he falls asleep for 30 years.
Hmmmmm. My first diagnosis was that it was a bug bite. Or maybe an allergy to shampoo. Maybe a spider bite. Hmmmmmm. Wait a minute. Another spot.
“Two spots. This is serious now,” I said. “I think you have been in the sun way too much and this may be skin cancer.”
I described the bumps to him.
“They are raised and looked healed, but they are red. Could be eczema or maybe lesions. Maybe it’s those worm bugs that get under your scalp like we saw on the Discovery channel. The integrity of the skin has been broached for sure. (I learned that phrase when I saw a dermatologist who cut out a piece of my ear last week.)
“I’m not sure. I can’t look if you won’t hold still.”
I parted the hairs over and over but couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing. He almost fell asleep.
Until without warning, I dumped his head out of my lap and went running from the bedroom.
I shouted back to him, “I really can’t see so I’m going to go get the Magnabrite.” I was so excited that I even had a Magnabrite!
By now he had changed his mind about having his head examined, but it was too late. I was on a mission. I came bouncing back with the Magnabrite and a flashlight.
“Now, you’re going to have to hold still,” I warned him, “because I have to balance the Magnabrite and the flashlight while I part your hair and you don’t want either one to smack you in the head. They are heavy.”
I was giggling at the thought of solving this mystery and he was for sure trying to sneak back over to his side of the bed, but I grabbed his hair, flipped my knees back under his head and held on tight. I had a job to do and I would diagnose these bumps.
Balancing all my instruments was difficult, but then I tucked the flashlight under my left arm, held the Magnabrite in my right hand and used my left hand to part his hair. I looked down into the Magnabrite.
I was shocked and I started to scream. “Oh my God,” I hollered. “Oh my God!”
He hollered back, “What? What? What’s wrong?”
“Wow,” I said. “I can see every single hair on your head! This Magnabrite is so cool!”
“You’re crazy,” he said, as he moved away from me. “I’m going to sleep.”
“Okay, but I’m making you an appointment with the dermatologist,” I threatened. “This could be serious.”
With a pout, I set the Magnabrite and the flashlight on the bedside table.
Jeepers. I would have been happy to have someone examine my head for free.

The Dream. The Hope. The Promise.

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Christmas is hurtling toward me again. My fifty-third Christmas season. The emotional burden of Christmas Past swoops down from the twinkling lighted trees and brightly lit homes that surround me. The blue and red flashing bulbs wring me out until I resemble a soiled, sour dish rag. I resist the waves of regret and remorse, work and work on my computer until my shoulders are on fire, EBay until my arms are no longer able to function. Work around the house until I can’t trust my twisted, deceitful hands (hands which used to be so petite, so pretty) to hold a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm coffee without letting it fall to the floor.

I’m tired. It’s time to lie down and accept my lashes. Lashes of regret for all the loved ones whom I’ve hurt, for all the loved ones who have slashed me with the tree switch of dysfunction, my remorse that has no cure, my rage that burns inward, my self-destructive urges to destroy the vessel that encloses my anguish. My sobs break free, my muscles clench, my flesh trembles from the anguish of forcing the traumatic memories back down; but still I see the cherished faces of nanas, grandfathers, mothers, daughters, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, fathers, sons, lovers and friends.

My ties bind me to people whom I’ve lost to foolish games; codependent lies, contaminated love, mine and theirs.

Each time I close my eyes, Past flashes me like a crazy pervert naked beneath his raincoat. Therein lies Justice because there is no place to hide from myself and myself is where Past lives.

I try my meditation. Relax my entire body starting with the top of my head, working down to my toes. Picture a warm pot of honey and Pooh Bear with a fluffy, yellow dipping wand. He encloses me in a cocoon of warm honey, swirling his sweet warm around me, gently starting at my head. Pooh doesn’t make it past my shoulders before I shove him aside.

I want to slice the pain away, run to the bathroom, and take a razor to my wrists until I have slashed through the skin that protects my veins. I want to cut and slice until the unbidden, unwanted memories Past forces on me leave me alone, my brain waves registering a zero.

But I can’t. After numerous botched suicide attempts, I’ve decided that life is an obstacle course with Heaven as my reward and I’ll pass God’s test if I don’t kill myself or any one else. Therefore, I am trapped, imprisoned in Earth’s orbit, each moment reminiscent of a corny Star Trek film where Captain Jim can’t break free from the aliens. I am captured by that damn, “Thou shall not kill-anyone!” clause.

So; instead, I cry raggedly into my poodle’s soft pillow which he left behind when he followed his daddy to bed. I wrap my little girl Barbie blanket over my arthritic swollen joints and I weep.

I remember the carefree crazy days when I carried two razors at all times, one in my left shoe and one tucked into my size 36 AAA bra so I’d always be prepared to self-destruct at a moment’s notice. (I broke that habit when I sliced open my pregnancy induced 38 C breast by roughly pulling off my bra before I removed the blade.)

That night, I put down the bottle too, cause hell, I was high enough on impending motherhood and each time I drank, I wanted to kill me or the baby’s daddy, maybe both.

I wasn’t able to put down the Southern Comfort the next time around, and although the scar on my mature breast has faded, my second baby still bears the thumb print of my addiction on her forehead.

Past is a stubborn, relentless enemy. He sucks, he tears and he drains, he holds me prisoner under the soft lie of a safe Barbie blanket. I wet her smiling pink face with my faucet of tears.

I get up to get a tissue though, because not even Past can force me to wipe my snotty nose on Barbie’s Sweet-n-Low smile. She’s the dream, the hope and the promise. She’s the little girl still hiding inside my haggard, worn body. I drag my butt to the bathroom for the Angel Soft tissues.

Sleep would be a blessing because I’ve learned to stop my dreams by staying awake until I’m exhausted, but Awake won’t let me close my eyes.

By the way, I just had to stop writing to go back and edit all the sentences where I had slipped into second tense in this ménage a tale of woe, because that is how I distance myself from myself, a survival trick that I learned long ago to attain comfort in chaos.

I’ve surrounded myself with pink and yellow, but the blue remains. A three foot Barbie is decorating my pink Fiber Optic Christmas tree from the Dollar General, pink dolls drip from the branches, a pink and cream handmade afghan drapes over my night gown covered knees, sunflowers burst from sky blue and sunshine yellow vases. The window behind me is open and the sharp winter’s breeze cleanses my Marlboro filled lungs and airs out my smoky living room.

Still, inside I am black. My dark, tortured soul beckons to me and my gut begs me to give in to the insanity. “Just let go,” they whisper.

Psychiatrists say that the truly insane don’t even know it, so maybe I’m simply deranged, damaged goods, but either way, I keep a viselike grip on my minute drip of reason because I’m not going down that black hole alone again. Not even I am that brave.

I decide to stay sober for just one more day. I decide to stay alive for just one more day. After all, I’ve put together over thirty years of sobriety by promising myself, for just one more day. The dream. The hope. The promise. My Barbie blanket and me.

Jeanne Marie tagged a photo of you. Today 6:00 am (written by my son, Last Ditch Effort)

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These are the words that get me through lately.
I look for them over coffee and a cigarette, before the sun breaks.
A smart ass remark comes to my head every time I see them.
It says “Yeah right, Jeanne Marie isn’t fast enough to tag me!”
But that one remark in my mind is immediately greeted by a tailspin of thoughts.
“Yes, she is,” I laugh, trying to pull my mind out of this tailspin, because I know it’s going to keep charging towards the ground until it reaches that cold December day in 1978 when we first met face to face and then slowly gain altitude through a mist of memories until it’s over and it meets me here, where I started.
“She is fast enough, she moves differently than you! She is calculating and precise, while I move zigzag and fast, all over the place, wasting energy, while she plans her next move like a chess player.”
I giggle it, over and over in reality, hoping that laughing about it will take me back to the present day and I won’t have to make this 1,000 mile per hour journey through my past until I finally reach myself when I was young.
But to no prevail.
It’s not that I mind. I have so many great memories of my mom, and I can’t wait to see the two of us young, in that sun that seems more orange than it is today, laughing.
But I also know I cannot control the memories.
I couldn’t stop from hurting her feelings, the way that I can watch the things that come out of my mouth today.
I am much smarter now, but the things I said in the past were at times dumb.
Things I said when I thought I knew everything, with no intention of hurting her.
I just wanted her to see how smart I was…even if that meant I had to prove her wrong.
(I know now that I rarely proved her wrong, but she would listen to my rationalizations and kindly shrug her shoulders yes and say “hmm”.)
Jeanne Marie tagged a photo of you.
Has she always been doing this? Before The Facebook was here to tell me she was doing it?
My mind firmly tells me yes. Jeanne Marie has never been far from my thoughts,
but it wasn’t till now that I realized that I haven’t been far from hers.
Jeanne Marie tagged a photo of you.
I can’t wait to see what photo caught her attention this time.
Is it something that made her proud of me?
Is it something that gave her the warm feeling of being a good mom and a sense of family?
Is it just a silly snapshot that was taken, that when done, turned into a captured moment that we treasure?
Did I ask her not to take this photo, only to thank her later for taking it?
Jeanne Marie tagged a photo of you. Today 6:00 am.

Calming A Wild Puppy

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I have rescued several dogs over the years but the most recent addition to the family, Ms. Skeeter, a two-pound Chihuahua/Terrier mix, is the wildest little dog I have ever met. She is a ball of non-stop energy. When I first saw her at the shelter she was timid, curled in a little ball and she whimpered when I picked her up.
Then we brought her home and she became Super-Dog! She chased our eleven-year-old poodle around the house so much that he would bite her to try to get her to stop. She was unafraid and relentless so I knew we had to find a solution because telling her to STOP was just not working. I didn’t want her to get hurt and since the poodle was much older, she was wearing him out.
I don’t like crates and have never used one when training a puppy so I came up with my own solution. If it sounds cruel, remember it was much kinder than crating her and it was a fast way to slow her down gently.
I found a big box and put her favorite blanket and toys inside. When the poodle had had enough of the rough housing, I would tell Ms. Skeeter, “Time Out.”
That meant nothing at all to her, but then I would place her in the open box for several minutes and repeat “Time Out.”
I stood beside the box where she could see me and she was in the box for a very short time, usually several minutes. It only took a few days for her to learn what “Time Out” meant and she was quite happy to see the box get folded and put away.
Now if I say “Time Out,” she stops and looks at me to see if I mean it. When I repeat it firmly, she comes over to me and lies down beside me for a little while.
I have also learned that sometimes all she wants is love and attention, so the other calm down method I use is to pick her up and speaking softly, I pet her for a few minutes.
My groomer taught me to use the softer voice because my calmness actually calms her rather than agitating her and it is true, yelling at her to STOP just made her more excited because she interprets STOP as GO!
The last part of my calm down process involves daily walks, at least one, usually after supper. We walk at a fast pace for about fifteen minutes and the structured exercise goes a long way toward settling her down for the evening. It took several weeks to teach her to walk on the leash because she wanted to run free outside and she didn’t understand her limits. I kept the leash short and taught her to walk beside me instead of in front of me and as she learned to obey, I let more and more of the leash out, giving her more freedom. Our walks have become fun instead of madcap adventures and the exercise is good for me.
Ms. Skeeter is an adorable, loveable little dog and she makes me laugh everyday as I watch her play with the poodle, who weighs almost eighteen pounds. She dances in front of him, barking at him to get up to play with her and they are so cute together. They run, wrestle, play tug of war with the toys, fake bite each other and just have a blast. Her enthusiasm for life has the poodle acting like a puppy again and he loves running around the house with her.
However, teaching her to take a “Time Out,” is what made their friendship possible and it is the reason she has become a much-loved addition to our family.

James Dean Had An Enduro (by Last Ditch Effort)

I want a motorcycle. James Dean had an Enduro. There are far more practical motorcycles in the world. But James Dean had a Enduro.
There are lots of motorcycles in my town to buy.
There are fast ones.
There is the Lime Green Streetfighter from my young dreams.
There are new ones. The latest flat black killer.
There is a hip little Japanese Motorcycles made back when the Japanese didn’t build cars yet, just Motorcycles. I want a motorcycle. James Dean had and Enduro.
I am told they won’t ride nice. They will be rough. And although its seems fun to dream about riding down the trail on your Enduro, you are trapped in the pavement jungle, and that’s all the bike will ride on, and it will be rough.
So much for daydreaming of riding to the riverbank for a picnic.
Enduros are not practical.
I want a motorcycle. James Dean had a Enduro.

Flesh and Bones

Her hands make love to his shoulders

Caress the tension from his neck

Fingers entwined in his soft curls

Her face buried in silver and brown strands.

Inhaling the heady scent that is him

She allows her tightness to slip away

Falling, falling into a dark warm mist

A vapor of safety created by his love.

Absence of pain, regret, loss or sorrow

Blankets of tenderness and devotion

Washed worn by life’s bleaching storms

More precious than diamonds and gold.

His devotion surrounds her flesh and her bones.

Thus, sleep is a cocoon which shelters her

Pillows of passions released time after time

Cradle the woman and her fragile dreams

Rocking her to sleep in his gently flowing river

Drifting on billows of unconditional love.

Floating to euphoria, wrapped around his back

She wonders, how is it possible that her love

Could increase beyond description, young and free

When time has removed the freedoms of flesh and bone?

She loves him beyond explanation, a rare dilemma

For a woman who was born to dance with words.

She loves, she loves and as his love enfolds her, she is sheltered.

She sleeps and she is secure because he is there beside her.

by Jeanne Marie, 2013