Tag Archives: childhood

Uncle Mike

I remember Uncle Mike was always around when I was younger. Uncle Mike wasn’t actually my uncle, not by blood anyway. But Uncle Mike was my parents’ best friend, which meant he was family to us. All throughout my childhood, I can remember Uncle Mike being single. I think he was married and divorced before he met Aunt Kathy, but I’m pretty sure everyone hated her. I can remember one of his favorite songs was “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” by the Spin Doctors and the lyrics were something like “…since the bitch left town.” I think he liked this song because it was his angry divorce song.

Growing up, Andrew and I adored Mike. He was the cool uncle who always played with us whenever he came over. We nicknamed him “Monkey Bars Mike” on account of the fact that we would hang on him and crawl all over him and under his legs. I don’t know how he never got tired of us…I know I would have.

As long as I’ve known him, he’s always had a beard, or at least a goatee. I’m pretty sure that’s his thing. As he’s gotten older, he’s changed, as everyone does as they age, but he still looks like the Uncle Mike I remember from when I was a young girl.

When Uncle Mike met Kathy, he knew she was the one. She brought out the best in him, and she was just so gosh darn funny! What I loved about her is how honest and blunt she was. I was about 13 when Uncle Mike met Kathy. She was the “cool aunt” who told me all the stories from her teenage and college years. She didn’t treat me like a little kid, which I appreciated. When he realized he better hold onto her, they got married. I can remember going to their wedding. I wore a dress my mom made me. I think it was the tan one with white polka dots and the white collar (what was that thing called?) with lace trim. My mom curled my hair and I got to wear a touch of makeup. At the wedding, we danced all night, and I even flirted a little with Aunt Kathy’s younger cousin Mark, who was a little older than me.

A few years after the wedding, Jason came along, and boy was I enamored with him! He was the cutest little kid ever, and I loved to play with and take care of him. When I was in my final year of college, Uncle Mike and Aunt Kathy let me move in with them. I was student teaching in Clear Creek and since they live in Baytown, which was 45 minutes from my school, they let me live there for about 5 months. I loved living with them. Jason would come in early every Saturday morning to wake me up by jumping on my bed, Aunt Kathy gave me a lot of grief for my way too messy room, we went to Shipley’s Donuts on the weekends, and we had dinners together in the yellow kitchen that Kathy hated. I’ll always be grateful for them taking me in.

We lost Aunt Kathy last August to Covid. I still can’t believe she’s not here.

Fourth

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

F is for Fourth

Tell me a memory from the Fourth of July. Where were you? When? What was the like light? Why this particular Fourth?

There’s magic in the Fourth of July. It’s the heat of the summer, so there’s always water involved, whether you’re in a swimming pool, boating across the lake, or just running through the sprinkler in the backyard. Everyone comes over, and there’s a lot of How’ve you been? and I haven’t seen you in forever! and Man, have you grown! The barbeque pit is working double-time, as the men man the grill, fresh hotdogs and hamburgers for everybody.

No two Fourth of Julys were ever exactly the same when I was growing up. They all had the same basic recipe of food, family, friends, and fun, but the location sometimes changed, as did the people and the events. But one thing that remained constant was the fireworks show. Fireworks and the Fourth are synonymous. I can remember going to the fireworks show with my family when I was younger, around 10 years old. After all the festivities at home, we’d load up in the car and drive to Post Oak Mall, the only mall in town. We’d have to get there by 8:30pm to get a good spot, because the show always started at 9:00 on the dot. I remember laying a blanket down on the hood of the car, where we’d lay to get a good view of the night sky. Looking back now, I’m not sure if we actually laid on the hood of the car or on the ground next to it, but I think it was the car. At least, I want it to have been the car.

With that first explosion of light in the sky, nothing else mattered. With a smile plastered on my face, my brother and I trading Did you see that one?‘s and the quintessential oohs and aahs, all of our bickering was suspended. We were sharing a magical experience, one that only came around once a year. The finale always came too soon, and while it was our favorite part, we never thought it was enough. We always wanted more.

Source

Rereading Childhood Favorites

As an avid reader, I’ve been in love with books as long as I can remember. My reward for any good deed I did as a child was a trip to Hasting’s or Half Price Books where my parents would buy me a book (or two or three if I was convincing enough) of my choosing. Frequent visits to the public library were a staple in my summer life. The Scholastic Book Fair was one of the most exciting weeks of the school year, where I was given money and allowed to buy any book my heart desired. Anywhere I went, I carried a book, never wanting to waste a spare moment of time I could have been reading.

Needless to say, I amassed a long list of favorite books as a child, ones that I recommended frequently, sharing the joy they had brought me when I read them. By the time I got into chapter books early on in elementary school, I wasn’t a re-reader. Despite falling in love with different characters and series, I thought it more important to devour new titles rather than spend my time re-reading a book I’d already finished. However, as an adult, I fondly looked back on these childhood favorites and longed to read them again, in hopes of them taking me back to a simpler time, allowing me to experience the joy they once brought me.

Although what I’ve realized through this read down memory lane is that the good memories I have of reading these books as child don’t always translate into my adult reading life and preferences. Oftentimes these revisits leave me empty, wondering why I fell in love with the book in the first place, souring me on the title altogether. It’s a bit like your first love. You look back fondly on the relationship, reliving the highlights, romanticizing the person and wondering why you ever let them go. But when you see them again, you’re let down, doubting your memories and left wondering, What was I thinking?!

So, rather than slog through some of my childhood favorites just to come up short, I’d rather look back on them like an old love, savoring the memories and the good feelings they brought me. In my opinion, it’s better to maintain the illusion than shatter it.

Miss Renda’s House

We all have those places we hold dear to our hearts, that take us back to a simpler time, when our biggest worry was the scraped knee we got when we fell off our bike or the fact that we had to finish our vegetables before we could have dessert. For me, there are only a few places where, despite the years that have passed, I can be taken me right back to that place at a moment’s notice. One such place is Miss Renda’s house.

When I conjure up Miss Renda, images of a spunky, fun-loving, motherly (but in the cool mom kinda way), sweet, yet stern, woman come to mind. Miss Renda looked after me from around the ages of 3 to 7, sometimes all day, sometimes half-day, and sometimes only during the summers. Along with me were her twins, Melissa and Ty, my brother once he was born, and I’m pretty sure another child. When I think back on that time, some things are fuzzy, but other memories are crystal clear, painting this image of a quintessential American childhood.

Her home was warm and inviting, familiar and lived-in. Her house, on a corner lot, provided a huge yard to play in, and its white stone brick exterior, for some reason, didn’t seem to match the inside of the house. The front door, while the entrance my mom used to drop me off and pick me up, wasn’t the entrance we used. We came in and out using the back door, the one by the car port that led into the playroom. The front door was for more formal entries, not casual ones. Isn’t that how it always is? The back or side door, the more familiar one?

In my mind’s eye, I can transport myself back to that place, and while I know I can’t remember all the details (Where was the bathroom again?), I can remember the ones that count. I can remember the wrap-around front yard, where every summer we’d spend hours running through the sprinkler, fighting for our turn on the slip ‘n’ slide, eating popsicles in the heat of the afternoon. You know the ones. The brightly colored liquid in the plastic pouch where, once frozen, you cut the ends off and pushed up to eat. Why were the tiny frozen pieces in the cut off parts so much better than the actual popsicle? I can remember Melissa trying and trying to teach me how to do a cartwheel out there, and me failing every time. I have, to this day, never been able to do a cartwheel. It was in front of Miss Renda’s house, on that stretch of road leading to the dead end, where Melissa and Ty taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels. The pride I felt that day is something every kid should experience.

Her backyard was just as fun! Melissa, Ty, and I would spend countless hours outside, making up games, imagining new worlds, digging in the dirt, playing with leaves and sticks, and collecting locust shells we found stuck to the side of the house. Around the back, there was a swing tied to a big oak tree, and I have this vivid memory of swinging on the swing belting out “Rockin’ Robin.” Later, when we were in elementary school, Melissa, Ty, and I would tease each other with the “Sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song on that very swing.

Inside, I can remember the massive playroom, full of toys, and if I recall correctly, a room that was converted to a playroom from something else (garage maybe?). I can remember nap time, our nap mats in the foyer near the front door. Like most kids do, I fought nap time, and I remember Miss Renda’s constant pleas for me to “just go to sleep.” But my strongest memories are in the kitchen and one of the back bedrooms.

The kitchen was the soul of the house. Miss Renda’s U-shaped kitchen, clad in typical 70’s/80’s fashion was yellowish-orange or green. A large dining table sat off to the side, where Miss Renda’s family presumably ate their dinner. But we didn’t eat there. In the middle of her kitchen, Miss Renda had a small kid-sized table and chairs set up for us, where we’d eat our snacks and lunches. My favorite meal Miss Renda ever made was Cherry Soup and Grilled Cheese. I can remember years later my mom telling me the story of cherry soup. My mom and 4-year-old me were grocery shopping when I asked her to buy me cherry soup. Of course, she told me cherry soup doesn’t exist. Insistent, I told her it does- Miss Renda makes it for me!– and I wanted it. Again, she tried to convince me I was making it up, as there is no such thing as cherry soup. After throwing a fit in the store, my mom asked Miss Renda what it was she was feeding me. Where was I getting this nonsense? Miss Renda laughed and told her it was tomato soup and grilled cheese, only we wouldn’t eat it if it was called tomato soup (no kid really likes tomatoes, do they?), so she called it cherry soup, and we loved it. From then on, my mom made me cherry soup, too.

Sometime in the 80’s, Nintendo came out with their original gaming system and classic games of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. Miss Renda was the only person I knew who had it, which made her the coolest person I knew. I remember it was located in one of the back bedrooms, hooked up to a large, encased-in-wood TV set. We were allowed to play it sparingly, which made it all the more appealing. I can remember sitting on the edge of the bed, taking turns with Melissa and Ty, as we learned to navigate this entirely new technology. Shooting the ducks, we got way too close to the TV, our barrels nearly hitting the glass. Maneuvering little Mario through the mazes of Super Mario Bros. took skill and timing. It was vital to move the controller when you were making him jump. We swapped tricks and helped one another avoid pitfalls by shouting out our advice. I didn’t convince my parents to buy me a Nintendo until much later, when Super Nintendo came out. I still wish I had that first Nintendo system.

As much as my memories are attached to the physical place of Miss Renda’s house, the real memories are my experiences within that place. Miss Renda was such an influential person in my life, and I’ll never forget the care, love, and attention she gave us. I wouldn’t want to change this part of my childhood in any way, and I wish that everyone could have their own Miss Renda.

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A sketch of Miss Renda’s house I made in my writer’s notebook