Sugar And Spice And Not Always Nice


I had forgotten this picture was safely tucked away on a shelf in an upstairs closet.   The dresses are cute but those hair styles, well all I can say is Mom curled our hair and it’s a good thing we were young enough to not worry about how our hair looked.  I don’t think those hair styles would fly today.  As I look at this picture I’m reminded of someone else……I know, Princess Leia from Star Wars.  Roll those bunches of curls on the sides of our heads and we had Princess Leia buns long before the idea of Star Wars was conceived.   I think Sister #5 was crying tears of joy that she had no hair to curl; or one of the two little angels holding her pinched her.  Both are possibilities.  I believe I was close to 11 years old at the time this picture was taken and from left to right top row is Sister #2, me, seated left to right is Sister #4 and Sister #3 (the main characters of the following stories), the baby is Sister #5 and Sister #6 had yet to make her appearance.

Sisters #3 and #4 appear to be innocence personified but I can assure you that looks can be deceiving.   This picture was definitely taken around the time of the “cookie caper”.   I had previously posted the following stories a few years ago but since that posting, Sister #3, the victim in the cookie caper story passed away unexpectedly a little over two years ago.  It’s been difficult for me to tell my sister stories so I thought I’d start by re-writing and re-posting these two stories again. They are funny, at least we always thought they were, and I still smile when I remember what happened.    Every time the cookie caper story came up at one of our sister meetings Sister #3 would laugh along with the rest of us.  I’m sure she’s smiling with me now as I remember that long ago day and share the stories again.

          Remember that old saying about little girls being made of “sugar and spice and everything nice”?  I can assure you that is not always true as was proven one fine summer day by Sister #4 when she did what she did to her older Sister, #3.

          It was a beautiful Saturday during the summer I was 11.  Dad had to work so we were spending the day with my maternal grandmother who was ill.  Mom planned on doing the household chores that were difficult for our grandmother who was dealing with cancer. Sister #3 was 9 years old and Sister #4 was 8 years old at that time.  We were all outside playing in the yard, enjoying the day and actually getting along while munching on the ginger snap cookies that our Grandmother had given us.  The ginger snaps were to be the end of some of us getting along.  Sister #3 wolfed her cookies down and started nagging Sister #4 for some of her cookies.  After more nagging and whining, Sister #3 managed to snatch a cookie from Sister #4 and promptly shoved it in her mouth so Sister #4 couldn’t take it back.

          I watched as Sister #4 walked away while looking around the yard as if she’d lost something.  I saw her bend down and then pick something up that she had found.  When Sister #3 came back at her for more cookies, Sister #4 said “Here, take this” and handed over her cookie.  Sister #3 again quickly popped the whole cookie into her mouth.  I can still see the stunned expression on her face.  Her big blue eyes went wide with shock at the exact moment she realized it wasn’t just a ginger snap cookie.   Evidently Sister #4 had spied a pile of dog poop while walking around the yard.  When I saw her bend down and thought she had picked up something she was actually scooping dog poop between two of her ginger snap cookies. This was what she gave to Sister #3 when she came back and demanded more of her cookies.  

          Sister #3 immediately spit the cookies out, and kept spitting then holding her mouth wide open while trying not to swallow; all while jumping up and down and waiving her arms and screaming.  I could see all the brown mush, a combination of ginger snaps and dog poop, coating her tongue and teeth.   She continued to wail, one long banshee shriek after another, loud enough that our mother came running out of the house to see what was wrong. We were smart enough to stop laughing when we saw Mom coming. She quickly figured out what happened.  She probably smelled the definite odor of eau de dog poop coming from Sister #3’s mouth.  I stood there looking at my younger sister totally amazed that she actually did what she did. I don’t remember what she said when Mom asked why she did it but she took her punishment while Sister #3 continued to cry, spit, lick her arm; do anything she could to get rid of the taste of dog poop in her mouth. She continued to cry and complain about how mean Sister #4 was as Mom took her inside to clean her mouth. Of course we all started laughing again once they were inside the house.  

Looking back on that time I still can’t help but laugh when I picture Sister #3 in my mind standing in the yard crying, spitting, and wiping at her mouth, but never quite getting all of the brown stains off her teeth.  It was funny then and I still find it funny 50 plus years later.  Now, however, those memories will sometimes have tears mixed with the laughter because she’s no longer here to laugh with me.  I once asked Sister #4 what made her think to do something like that. Her answer was simple; Sister #3 was always taking things from her so when the idea came into her head she went with it.  Sugar and spice and definitely not always nice. You wouldn’t think that looking at them in the picture above.

Growing up, we all learned to give as good as we got, so don’t feel bad for Sister #3 because she got even with Sister #4.

          It was chicken butchering day at our house and I still shudder thinking about it.  We knew what was coming when we saw Dad put a large pot of water on the kitchen stove to boil.  Dad would bring the dead chickens into the kitchen to finish the process.  the kitchen table would be covered and we’d sit at it to pluck the feathers off the birds after he dipped them in the boiling water.  He’d hold the birds over a low flame on the stove to burn off any pin feathers.  I can still smell the odor of wet, burnt feathers and it isn’t a pleasant memory. The rule was that if you didn’t help pluck and clean the birds you couldn’t eat the chicken at meal time.  I think I was the one to opt out of eating chicken the most because I hated cleaning those chickens at the kitchen table.

          This particular day Sister #4 opted out of eating chicken so she stayed in the bedroom sleeping.  Sister #3 (eater of the poop cookie) wasn’t happy that she was cleaning birds and Sister #4 wasn’t.  She took a severed chicken head, snuck into the bedroom and placed it so it was hanging by the beak off Sister #4’s bottom lip while making clucking sounds.  That woke Sister #4 who started yelling and swatted the chicken head away.  She covered her head with the blanket so no more chicken parts could be shoved in her face. Hearing the commotion, Mom went to check it out, trying to pull the blanket off Sister #4 to see what was wrong.  Thinking it was Sister #3,  Sister #4 started swinging her hands and connected with a face.  She quickly discovered it was Mom she had hit and to make it worse she had also knocked off Mom’s glasses.  Sister #3 had quickly moved away from the bed when Mom came into the room.  I don’t know where the chicken parts went and I also don’t remember what, if any, their punishment was.  I do remember the smug look on Sister #3’s face when she would look at Sister #4 and cluck like a chicken.


This picture was taken about five years ago and is, I believe, one of the last pictures taken of us sisters together.  Left to right back row in this picture is Sister #6, me, and Sister #4. Front row left to right is Sister #2, Sister #5, and Sister #3. As you can see, Sister #4 was still clearly up for a bit of mischief at Sister #3’s expense even at our advanced ages.

Looking at that older picture of us I see so many things and remember so many things.  Sometimes at our monthly sister meetings I will look at my sisters searching for the little girls we once were.  The years and life’s experiences, I’m afraid, have taken its toll on us.  I do miss those little girls, all sugar and spice and everything (sometimes) nice.   I think, maybe, we older gals might still might have some spice left in us too.



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Lemon Meringue Pie and the 15th of August

I am positive that somewhere in the world the 15th of August is important to someone.  It could be a wedding day, birthday, first day of a new job, the date of someone’s death or the birth of a new baby.  To someone somewhere, something about this date will either create a new memory or bring back old memories.  For me it was a posting on Facebook that today is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day.  I then remembered that the 15th of August was my parents’ wedding anniversary, and the mention of lemon meringue pie sparked another memory of something I had written a couple of years ago about lemons and this date.

It’s not that I’m living in the past because I have been working very hard at keeping the past where it belongs, in the past.  But memories are funny creatures that can grab you and not let go until they are finished with you.  Good story or not I have to go with it because the memories and the feelings those memories evoke won’t let me go until I do.

Dad had been admitted to the hospital a few days prior to their wedding anniversary August, 1982.  The Doctors hadn’t exactly said what was wrong with Dad, they mentioned asbestos poisoning, TB, pneumonia but nothing definite.  I knew, I’d known since the first time I went to visit with him after he was admitted.  I knew as soon as I entered his room but I couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself to say the word; to admit to myself or anyone else what was wrong.  I remember entering his room that first day and asking what was that smell.  No one else in the room smelled anything different other than the usual hospital smells.   It’s weird I know, people can’t smell cancer but I did that day.   I didn’t say anything, I just buried the knowledge and fear deep inside and refused to accept what I knew.

August 15th came and I baked a lemon layer cake with lemon filling and whipped cream topping.  The family gathered together and we celebrated Mom and Dad’s 29th wedding anniversary in the hospital lobby by the elevators.  I also remember how much Dad enjoyed that lemon cake.   When the Doctor gave Dad and the family the diagnosis I wasn’t shocked like everyone else.  Looking back I believe Dad, too, had known all along what was wrong.

That memory led to another, of how I prayed nightly, asking God to heal my Dad and not let him suffer.  Every night I prayed and hoped and waited for my prayers to be answered.  When Dad died a short 8 weeks later I was angry, so very angry, another layer of anger added to what I already held buried deep inside.  I stopped praying, stopped going to Mass, stopped believing.  I held my anger to me like a shield keeping grief, sorrow and guilt away.  I pulled back from the people I loved most because I didn’t know how to deal with what I was feeling and I didn’t believe I was deserving of their love.  You see, I didn’t believe I was good at showing love.  I had learned to hide and bury my feelings so I wouldn’t say or do something to hurt others that I’d later regret; like I had been hurt.  I felt guilt for all the times through the years that I was angry with Dad for the hurtful things he’d said and done.  I felt regret that I’d never get the chance to actually speak with Dad about those times and ask him why, to be able to understand why.  Though I never heard the words I believed Dad loved me.  I could see it in his eyes, especially at the end, he loved us and didn’t want to leave us.  I loved my Dad but I never said the words to him either and I carried that guilt too.

It took several years but I was finally able to see the truth.  God had heard my prayers and He did answer my prayers.  It was just not in the way I wanted but in His way and in His time.  Dad’s illness lasted a few short weeks and for that I should have been and am now grateful.  Dad was able to die where he wanted to be…at home.  I am ashamed to admit that it was a very long time before I was able to express that gratitude to God but I know He understands.   Perhaps memories sometimes serve the purpose of helping us see things clearly, at a later time, when we’re better able to understand those things which are incomprehensible at the time.

At the age of 63 I am still a work in progress, imperfect but still making progress slowly but surely.  I remember telling my sons when they were much younger that parents aren’t perfect, they’re human beings and will make mistakes. Being a Mom and Dad doesn’t mean you’re always right in everything you say and do.  When I said that to my boys I can’t help but wonder if subconsciously I already understood that included my Dad too.  That understanding has helped me to begin letting go of things I’ve held on to for far too long. Words have power and you shouldn’t be afraid to use that power when necessary.  I’m sorry, forgive me, I love you.   Simple words that can make such a difference to someone, especially those you love…and that includes ourselves.  It’s still not easy for me but I try to give hugs more often and say “I love you” more often. Regret isn’t easy to live with, I know this, so I try to always remember that hearing the words is important too.

It’s funny how the mention of the word lemon and the date, August 15th, can stir so many memories and feelings.  The difference is this time it’s with a much lighter heart.


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A Stitch In Time


I started this piece of embroidery early August, 1973.  At that time I was a young 19-year-old bride of 7 months living in Iceland with my husband who was stationed at the Naval Base at Grindavek.  We did not qualify for base housing so we lived in an apartment in Keflavik.  I absolutely loved the whole experience and totally embraced the new adventure of living in a different country.  Our apartment was modest but the view from our living room window was priceless; the Atlantic Ocean in all it’s glory and I remember thinking I’d never take that view for granted or forget.  I shopped at the local stores, including going to the fish market every day for the catch of the day.  Our mail came through the military base but I’d stop at the local Post Office just to visit with any one who was there at the time.  Conversation was never a problem once it was apparent I was an American; they were as fascinated about Americans as I was about them.  Our neighbors were wonderful, friendly people who always welcomed us into their homes with such hospitality and graciousness. Icelandic was not easy to speak but I did my best and was never made to feel foolish when I inevitably butchered their language.  I’d receive smiles from the shop keepers or the person I was speaking with and then they would help with the words and phrasing.  Since the winter nights were so long in Iceland you would have many different hobbies to help keep you busy.  A neighbor introduced me to the art of embroidery and instead of starting out with something simple as she suggested I picked this ambitious piece.   It was so large that I had to use a standing frame to hold the piece.  She told me that as I worked my tapestry the back should be as neat as the front so I began working slowly and carefully.

When it was time to return to the States I only had a small portion done but I wasn’t worried, I was young and had plenty of time to get it finished.    Time, however, had other ideas and before I knew it 5 years had gone by and I hadn’t touched my tapestry.  I remember setting up my frame and working on the tapestry, watching my toddlers play as I carefully stitched away.  I’d set it aside then return to work on it every so often.  Life happens, you get busy, and before I knew it more years passed by so quickly.  It was not finished when my Dad died in 1982 at the age of 47.  At that time I had just about completed the left half of the tapestry to the lady’s shoulders.  I no longer had the heart to work on my tapestry so I packed everything up and put it away in the attic.

More years passed so quickly and before I knew it our sons had graduated High School and eventually left home to start their own lives.    Sometime during the mid 1990’s I was going through photo albums and came across pictures of our time in Iceland.  Seeing those photos reminded me of my tapestry packed away in the attic all those years ago.  I found it, set up my frame, and again began working on my tapestry.  Watching my needle go in and out, filling each space with colored yarn, I gradually realized that when I was working on my tapestry I didn’t think about anything else.  Concentrating on each stitch relaxed my mind.  I worked slowly, trying to complete my stitches so that the back of the tapestry was as neat as the front, just as my friend from so long ago advised.  I changed jobs during this time period so again work on my tapestry was haphazard at best but I kept it close at hand.  Again the years flew by and before I knew it, we had celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.   Our sons married giving us daughters and within a couple of years we were blessed with the arrival of our grandchildren.  There were parties, holidays, celebrations and sometimes painful goodbyes to more loved ones.   Health scares, happy times, harsh words, not so happy times, tears and laughter.  So much simple day-to-day life happened as I worked on my tapestry every now and then, stitch by stitch.

By April, 2010, my tapestry was almost finished except for several rows in the upper right hand corner.   Mom died April 14th that year,  and though I still can’t explain why, this urgency came over me to finish my tapestry.  I quickly realized I didn’t have enough of the colored yarn for that section of my tapestry so off to Michaels I went, sample in hand, to try to match the color.  I wasn’t able to match it exactly but I did find a color that was close enough.  To this day, when I look at my tapestry I can see the color difference in that section and I am always reminded of Mom.  When I told my husband it was done and showed him the completed piece he praised my work.  While the back wasn’t as neat as my long ago Icelandic friend said it should be, he made me feel as if I were Monet and had completed a masterpiece.  He told me we had to have it properly framed and that’s what he did.  We took it to a professional framer and I remember how excited the gentleman was to work with such a large piece of embroidery.  “You don’t see pieces like this very often these days” he said and recommended  the use of conservator glass to protect the colors of my  tapestry from fading due to sunlight.  It took time to pick out the wooden frame and the colors of the matte finish to compliment the colors in my embroidery.  I don’t know why, but I remember shedding some tears on the drive home the day we picked up the finished piece from the framer’s shop.

Seven years later my tapestry hangs on our bedroom wall and as I look at it I realize that each stitch, from start to finish, represents 37 years of my life.  I’m reminded of our time in Iceland, the early years of our marriage, the births of our children and their growing years.  I look at different parts of my tapestry and I’m able to remember certain events in my life both happy and sorrowful.  Until I started this story, however, I also realize that I never really saw the beauty of the piece as my husband did.  What I saw was failure because it took so many years to complete something that I had started so very long ago. Not any more.

My tapestry represents a life….mine.  I am as much a part of that tapestry as the colored yarn that makes up the picture because looking at it now, I remember my desire to create something beautiful when I selected this very ambitious piece all those years ago. Viewing it with different eyes, I also see that it contains my hopes and dreams through all those long years.  There is heartache, joy and life in my tapestry.  Different parts of the picture hold the tears I sometimes cried while working, soaking into the yarn and becoming a permanent part of my tapestry.  My tapestry has absorbed all the love shared during those 37 years, and I now see, as my husband always did, something of beauty, something that holds a part of me in each and every stitch.  I accomplished my desire of long ago to create something beautiful and despite time I did it… stitch at a time.



All rights reserved.  I hope you enjoyed my story but please remember it’s my story so no using or copying any content in any manner without the express written permission of the owner…me.