The Meanest Thing I Ever Heard

Life’s Lessons

My family moved from Wisconsin to Kewanee, Il when I was eight.  I loved change and the excitement of a new place.  That excitement increased when I found out that a girl my age lived across the street . Her name was Mary.

My mother informed me that Mary had Cerebral Palsy (  I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t care–I had someone to play with right across the street!

When I met Mary, I was full of curiosity. I was curious about Cerebral Palsy and how it effected her.  I was curious about the braces on her legs. I was curious about the crutches she used to walk.  But I was especially curious about her wheelchair.   I can’t begin to tell you how many ways I fantasized about using that wheelchair.  Just riding it down the hill in front of our house would be a blast.

Once a week Mary’s physical therapist would come to her house and run her through exercises.  I had so many questions, “What is that exercise for?”  “How many does she have to do?” . . . I must have been distracting because he looked at me one day and said sternly, “I think it would be best for Mary if you waited for her out there!” pointing to the next room.

The more time I spent with Mary the more I tried to help her.  I would turn the tv on and off and change the channels (no remotes),  get things for her, help her straighten out her clothes.  One day her sister, Patti, reminded Mary she needed to get the mail.

Without hesitation, I told Mary I would get it.  Her sister turned around instantly, pointed her finger at me and said the meanest thing I have ever heard! She said, “Don’t you dare help her!  She needs to do things for herself!  Do you understand me?” I didn’t but I wasn’t going to her Patti angrier, either.

Later at home, I was telling my mother how mean Mary’s sister, Patti was.  When my mom asked me why, I told her that Patti warned me not to help Mary.  Mom smiled, sat down with me and explained that things were difficult for Mary but she needed to learn to do things herself so she could be less dependent on others to do for her.

I didn’t understand at the time but it turns out that making Mary do for herself was a very good thing. Mary went on to graduate high school, earn a Bachelors and Masters Degree and spent her career  as a Parent Educator at the Developmental Disabilities Center at University of South Carolina and as a counselor to children in the after-school program at St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Columbia.

I guess Patti really wasn’t being mean!

I Might Gag a Little


“…I think I might gag a little!”

A visit from my grandson, Tim,  reminded me of a winter evening meal I had as a child.

My family lived two blocks from a city park with a pond that was open for ice skating in the winter. I loved skating!  I wasn’t good at it but I loved it. I loved being with my friends. And, I loved hanging out in the shelter house.

The shelter house had a large fireplace with a blazing fire and benches all around it. My friends and I would sit by the fire and drink hot chocolate to get warm.  We would tease each other and talk silly and just enjoyed being together.

One night, I was looking forward to going skating with my friends. I had finished my homework  and I planned on going right after dinner.

My dad was already at the table when mom called me to come and eat. Mom was setting our plates at our places.  As I looked at my plate, my stomach started to churn.  There before me was the dish that I dreaded the most-creamed chipped beef on toast.  It looked like vomit to me.

 To make it worse, one of my other least favorite foods, peas, surrounded it. To my relief, she also served us a dish of canned pears.   I wasn’t going to starve!

I ate my pears first, of course.  Then I poked around on my plate avoiding the inevitable.  I  ate a few peas swallowing them whole so I didn’t have to chew the disgusting  morsels.    After, what seemed like a lifetime,  I asked to be excused.

My dad replied in a stern voice “Not until you have eaten your dinner.”

“But Dad, I am full! I told my friends I would meet them at the park!”  I argued.

“You are not going anywhere until you have eaten your dinner.”

I knew that when my dad said something, he meant it. Now, I faced a choice:  Eat this vile dish or stay home. So I reluctantly picked up my fork and started taking little nibbles from the bare pieces of toast.  But soon I reached the dreaded pile of yuck.   I cut the smallest piece I could and still pick it up with the fork.

My stomach churning, I slowly put the fork to my lips.  Before I could stop it, I was losing my dinner onto my plate. I didn’t look at anyone. I put my napkin to my mouth, feeling sick and embarrassed, I ran straight to my room.  I knew I wasn’t going skating.

There was never a word spoken about this event-not even that night. Of course, I have never forgotten it.  The memory of it came back to me clearly during the visit with my grandson.

He was at our house for dinner.  When I put his plate in front  of him, he said quietly, “Grandma, I might have to eat this in little, bitty bites because otherwise I might gag.”

I smiled and  assured him, ” It is  ok if you don’t like it.   I am proud of you for trying.”



No Solicitation!

Do you remember your first encounter with a grouch?

No Solicitation Allowed

No Solicitation

My first recollection of encountering a grouch was when I was eight and living in Racine. My friend,  Susan,  and I were trying to think of something to do on a particularly hot summer day. After some discussion, we decided it was a good day for a lemonade stand.  Our mothers helped us get  everything together– probably looking forward to some time without us underfoot.

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First Love

It’s Valentines Day!  The perfect day to repost “My First Love”.

 I was eight years old and living in Racine, WI. My family lived in a single story apartment with a large picture window that faced and identical apartment across the courtyard. I spent a lot of time watching out the window hoping to get a glimpse of our new neighbor’s son, Tony.

 Tony was my age and he was CUTE! He had big brown eyes, dark hair and olive skin.  I would sit at the window for hours hoping to get a glimpse of him  and every  sighting was a thrill. Once in a while, if Tony got bored enough, he would play with my friend, Susan, and I. He would only play with us if we played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers–no girl games. Susan and I didn’t mind as long as we got to play with Tony.

I had shared with Susan how much I liked Tony (which was pretty obvious).  Then Susan had a great idea: Let’s write Tony a note!  I do not remember the exact contents of the note but I am sure it was something classy like, “You are so cute. I love you. With the note written, we just had to work out the details of the delivery. This was problematic because I didn’t want to give it to him face to face. Susan suggested that we slide it under his family’s front door, ring the bell and run! A plan was born!

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Do you know how to prevent fires in the kitchen? My husband, Tim, was a volunteer firefighter so I thought I knew.  But I was wrong!

We were approaching Valentine’s Day and I decided that I would make Tim a Butterscotch Cream Pie.  It was not his favorite kind of pie, but it was mine and he would eat anything sweet.

Tim had gone to bed but I was wide awake and full of energy so I decided to go ahead and make the pie while things were quiet.  That way Tim would have a nice surprise when he woke up.  I just didn’t realize how much of a surprise it would be.

I made a graham cracker crust and; then,  with the recipe in hand, I started making the butterscotch custard filling in my glass saucepan.

It smelled so good and was starting to thicken nicely when I heard a loud popping sound and turned to see the pan in pieces on the stove with the custard spilling out on the electric element.

When the butterscotch hit the element it burst into flames. My brain froze.  I couldn’t think.  I just stood there in a panic.  I turned off the burner but it was still flaming. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw the  flour canister on the counter and I thought, “I will smother the fire.”


In spite of the little voice in my head that was asking, “Are you sure you want to do that?”, I dumped the whole canister of flour on the flaming caramel.  Within seconds there was a loud boom and flour and burning butterscotch were shooting up towards the ceiling.  Now the ceiling was on fire.

I started yelling for Tim who was already on his way down the steps having heard  the loud boom and smelled the burning caramel.  He grabbed a large pan lid and put it over the flames on the stove and then proceeded to put out the flames on the ceiling.

Tim turned to me, grabbed a box of baking soda and said calmly, “Baking soda or salt–NOT FLOUR!”

My gift for Valentines Day was a fire extinguisher!



What’s the Password?

How do we keep our children safe from abduction? When my children were

My daughter on her first day of school

Sarah on her first day of school

small, I was very diligent about teaching them not to get into a car with someone they did not know.  To make it easier for them, we created a password and they were not to share this password with anyone.

If someone were to offer to give them a ride or to take them somewhere, they were to ask them for the password.  If that person did not know the password, they were to say no.  We created our password and I hoped that they would never need to use it.  Occasionally, we would practice to make sure they remembered the password (luckily this was before the electronic age and we only had one password to remember).

I will never forget November 4, 1980, because that was the day my husband, Tim, injured his eye.  When we arrived at the emergency room, they took him right to surgery.  I knew that I would not be home in time to pick up my daughter, Sarah, from school.  So I called my sister-in-law, Jane, and asked her to pick Sarah up from school.  Jane agreed and I didn’t give it another thought.

Until about  3 p.m., that day.  I was paged overhead to go to a phone and dial the operator.  I did that and they connected me to a call from Jane.  I hardly got out the word “hello” when Jane blurted out, “What is the password?  Sarah won’t get in the car with me unless I know the password!”

I never worried about Sarah getting into the car with a stranger again.


Family Reunions

What makes family reunions special?

As we are approaching the end of summer, I have been reminiscing about reunions I have attended over the years.  I have many fond memories of reunions–the good ones and the bad ones.  Oddly enough, one of my favorite reunion memories is from one that I did not attend. But Don Taylor described it in detail in a letter he wrote to his nine cousins.  With Don’s permission, I have included the text from the letter he sent to his Buck Cousins after the 1992 Gibbons Reunion.

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Do I Smell Bacon?

Weekends on the Mississippi were often a break from the oppressive heat of July and August. Fortunately for us, Tim’s parents owned a houseboat which they would let us use on weekends they were not using it. We would invite friends to go up the river with us for the weekend.

The year we took the Buisker’s and the Dinges’ it was exceptionally hot! The humidity was high, there was no breeze and even the water felt warm. But this didn’t keep us from having a good time.

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What Would You Have, if . . .?

My father was thinking all of the time.  He could be physically present with you in the room but he was not really there.  He was working on a new design or pondering a problem he had encountered with a new project or who knows what was going on in that brain of his. When Dad was deep in thought, you could feel an intense energy–one that you could not interrupt.  Every once in a while, he would break the silence and share his new enlightenment.

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Cold Cash

My mother was an avid reader and that is the way she ended most days:  She would lie in bed and read until she fell asleep.  I would often hear Mom through the bedroom wall telling Dad about something she was reading.

One of her favorite sources of material was the “Reader’s Digest”. One night she read an article about an ivy that grew through a crack in a stone wall and continued to grow through a cork in a bottle of red wine.

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I am keeping it!

The visiting hours were coming to a close and people were starting to say their goodbyes. My mother was sitting alone next to the casket.  She had her silvery, white hair  combed back in a neat bun. Even in her sorrow, she was beautiful. Her skin shimmered with a natural pink hue and although she was in her eighties the wrinkles of time had eluded her.

Her left hand was draped over the casket and  resting on the now lifeless hand of her husband of 65 years. Her head was bowed and resting in her right hand as though in prayer–the grief was visible.

My niece, Jonelle, noticed this and went to give her grandmother comfort. She kneeled down next to her and said lovingly, “This must be so hard for you, Grandma. What are you thinking?”

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When Helpful is not Helpful!

It is officially spring and I am planning what to plant in my small garden. One thing is certain–I will plant radishes. I am not really fond of radishes. So why plant them, you ask? That is a good question and the answer is quite simple–penance! Purely penance!

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