154 Rose Lane

(For Sue, 1940-2014)

When I think of Green Bay, Wisconsin, I think of summer and my favorite aunt Sue. She had the best laugh in the world – it was a chortle – goofy and hearty, wholesome and infectious. Quite often she threw in a snort, just for good measure. My brother and I spent a few weeks every summer in Green Bay with Suzie, my uncle Dick and my cousins Bryn, Lee and Heather. I absolutely loved it. Green Bay was summer. I was young, out of school, not a worry in the world, and I was away from home. I felt more than free; I felt carefree. Green Bay was Bay Beach, cheese curds at Kroll’s diner, Sue making me pizza and chocolate pie. It was Lynn and Nancy, who lived just down the road. It was magical.

Rose Lane seemed idyllic to me. It wasn’t a cul-de-sac but the lane itself went up, around and down forming a bell curve of sorts. 154 and 139 (where Lynn and Nancy, my “summer best friends” lived) both fell in the top part of the bell – in this analogy we weren’t A’s nor were we F’s. Years later I would find myself explaining this basic bell curve to one of my graduate school professors. “It’s a bell, you see? Not a ‘U.’ You are grading unfairly.” She changed my grade from a 2.1 to a 4.0. She still didn’t grasp the idea of the bell but with my 4.0 in tow, I smiled and walked away, offering no further explanations.

My uncle had a glass-blowing studio in the backyard. Us kids would form a line on the grass hill in the yard and watch in awe as he would take the glass in an almost liquid form and it would shape, mold and move, as he spun it on the end of a big metal rod. We asked a thousand questions and he answered all with astounding patience. I have a few of the pieces he made and whenever I look at them, I am transported back to a member of that audience on the lawn.

Crush
For me, life on Rose Lane was all about Lynn and Nancy and their older brother Steve, my secret crush. His senior picture hung on the wall in their living room and one day I snuck in there and snapped a photo of it. “Isn’t he so cute?” I would ask my friends, proudly displaying this picture of the framed photo on the wall, off-centered and blurry, with a bright flash in the middle, reflecting off the glass in the frame.

All out of love
Lynn and Nancy used to iron for hours. They ironed absolutely every article of clothing – from t-shirts to underwear to towels – everything. I have zero memories of my mom ironing so this was both fascinating and appalling to me. They would iron and we would talk about boys, giggle and listen to 45s. During the “Summer of Air Supply,” all we listened to were sappy love songs. My brother and cousin would sling Sue’s purses over their shoulders and pretend to be Air Supply, insinuating they were effeminate. So when a bully who lived down the hill (on the “F” side of the curve, I presume) shot my brother in the butt with a BB gun, I thought it was the funniest story I’d ever heard in my life. At the end of that summer Lynn and Nancy sent me off with the 45 of “All out of love,” by Air Supply, and they had both written messages to me on the outside sleeve. I cried all the way home on the Greyhound bus back to Minnesota.

Undercat
Lynn and Nancy had a German shepherd, whose name I have blocked from my memory. I was terrified of this dog, and with good reason. This was a trained watchdog that guarded their father’s business. They loved to demonstrate how the dog would protect them by having me pretend to attack them. I really hated that dog. I would get upset and stomp back along the curve to 154 and to where my aunt and uncle had a beautiful collie named Farrah. I always thought that was such a perfect name for a collie and this dog was so sweet, except when my cousins would wrap bologna around the cat’s neck and Farrah would chase the cat to try to eat the bologna.

Sue would come to the cat’s rescue of course; she always stood up for the underdog (or undercat as it were), which is one of the many things I loved about her. And not just the undercat, Sue was always my ally. No matter what , she was on my side. She made me feel like we were in it together; we had a special bond and we were a team.

I was surprised that she seemed so genuinely happy to have these extra two kids join her brood of three. But Sue adored children. When she would take us kids to Bay Beach and later – the ultimate – Great America in Chicago, I don’t know who enjoyed it more. She loved to see us having fun and she would laugh and laugh – all my memories of Sue are of her laughing and smiling. She was always so generous with her love of us and made us feel like we were absolutely welcome in her home. But more than anything, she was generous with that wondrous laugh of hers.

Because she was also a teacher, countless children got to hear her laugh, have her on their side and have been graced with the opportunity to bask in her glow of their own happiness.

I cannot explain in words how much my summers at 154 Rose Lane meant to me. Or how much she meant to me. Rest in peace, dear Suzie. I know wherever you are, you are laughing.

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Aunt Suzie

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Hockock and Hernan: A story about real love and imaginary friends

This is a story about my father who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and our journey together. It was written to honor his life, rather than focus on the disease that is taking it.

This story has been published in Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing

Found on this blog under: Stories/Hockock and Hernan

Campingness

As I recline on a lawn chair in the midst of giant Douglas fir trees, sipping coffee and mesmerized by the dancing fire; the smell of bacon wafts over me, and I am overcome with campingness.

Douglas fir canopy.

Last weekend I was tent camping with my best friend for the first time in over 20 years. I scrounged up a classic picture from our last camping trip where we are staring down at the tent lying flat on the ground, dumfounded as to how to put it up. We reenacted the photo for this trip, even though we are now pros.

Then and now.

This time around we were in the Pacific Northwest, not the Midwest; children and husbands accompanied us, and we brought real food that we prepared instead of a bag of chips and a cooler of beer. But we laughed and connected with each other just like last time. We even made friendship bracelets, a nod to our tenure as Girl Scouts.

Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the good times?
Camping as kids, before we even pulled into the site my brother and I would start fighting over whose turn it was to “pop-up” the camper. We loved to turn the crank and watch that Jayco come to life. After that, we had zero interest in helping with any other tasks. Instead, it was on our bikes to explore the campground before commencing the “begging to go to the beach” ritual.

We would spend all day in the lake or playing in the sand. Even if I came out of the water covered in leaches, my tears were only a momentary break. Mom pulled them off, covered the wounds with smiley face “dambaids,” and I was back in the water to face the next adventure.

We played board games inside when it rained, and the deafening sound of rain on a plastic roof is one of my all-time favorite sounds. I remember feeling simultaneously scared and safe inside that camper.

The fish and game commission has raised the legal kill limit on campers to three
Some of my favorite camping trips involved imminent danger. One summer at YMCA camp, after backpacking all day to the top of a hill, our group of 12-year old girls and our camp counselor, all of 18, had settled into the tent and were playing cards, just as the sun started fading. I looked up and saw a black bear perfectly centered in the middle of the triangle opening of the tent and filling up all the tiny squares of the screen door. He was about 10 feet away, his side facing us, his front paws stretched up on the rock where our packs were leaning. From a 12-year old perspective and seated position in a flimsy nylon tent, he seemed 20 feet tall. I was laughing so hard (I laugh when I’m scared) I almost couldn’t spit out,

“Oh my god, there’s a bear.”

Something in my tone, despite the laughter, made the rest look at once. The counselor, who had read somewhere that loud noises scare off bears, grabbed a flashlight and hit it against the back of a small metal sauce pan.

“Ting!”

It was a noise so soft I wondered if the bear even heard it. He did. He very slowly tilted his head sideways toward us, as if to say, “You have got to be kidding me.” He finally ambled off to try to get our food down from the tree. The counselor suggested we quietly exit the tent, put on our shoes, and slowly walk away. We fled in a panic in our socks, running at full speed back down the hill.

Here’s an update on tonight’s dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal.
Everything smells and tastes better outside. And the fresh air mixed with the rudimentary cookery and makeshift prep brings a rustic charm to each meal. Our pop-up camper had one of those stoves that slid outside. We would fry up bacon and make “eggs in a basket” – buttered bread with a hole cut out of the middle and an egg fried in the center.

Inside, we sat at the table that would later fold down to become my bed and ate off square, primary colored plastic plates. Since we camped in the Midwest, we couldn’t eat outside unless we were safely confined in a screened-in tent, because of the mosquitos. Every meal tasted like it had a slight hint of Off! bug spray. We ended each day around the campfire roasting marshmallows for s’mores or baking “pies” in the pie iron, made from Wonder bread and cherry pie filling.

If you let me, I could be your good friend
When I was older I got to bring a friend along and we would take the canoe out to “flip it.” Flipping a canoe on purpose is thrilling, but not that easy. Once it’s flipped, you can swim underneath and pop your head up in the space between the water and the bottom of the canoe, which is now on top. We would rest our forearms on the bars in the middle of the canoe, tread water, and share secrets. To the outside world, it might be an abandoned upside down canoe floating down a river or resting in a lake. To us, it was an aluminum fort oasis.

The kids are brats, the food is hideous
Ahhh, summer camp. I had my first boyfriend, first kiss, first dance, and first heartbreak at a summer camp. It was also my first taste of independence, which was delicious. I felt powerful and liberated. Camp was where I could make instant new best friends, develop several crushes, and acquire skills and confidence, all while having unbridled, non-stop fun. I was devastated each time it ended.

I have so many fond memories of summer camp that I got married at one. The festivities spanned an entire weekend and guests stayed in cabins with bunk beds, laughed around bonfires, and danced under the moondust… that drifted down from heaven…

Cabin

Cabin at Olympic Park Institute. Photo by Jenny Jimenez.

Makin’ It
Whether acting as a verb or a noun, the word “camp” makes me smile. As soon as I hear it I get that rush of camping happiness – “campingness.” The feeling is a mixture of fond memories, nervous excitement, and a sense of freedom, mixed with a peacefulness found only when immersed in nature. The feeling is describable and indescribable, universal yet personal. It comes from being surrounded by people you love, sharing stories and laughter, stoking campfires and relationships.

It just doesn’t matter!
A few things have changed since I went camping as a kid. Alcohol is involved, and I no longer dare ride a bike or don a swimsuit. I have the same canoe but wouldn’t dream of flipping it. I still light the marshmallow on fire for my s’more, but the pie iron is now used for gourmet grilled cheese. We play music and tell stories around the fire, but music from an iPod and stories laced with profanity. We all – even the kids – have smart phones and can update our Facebook status from the tent.

But the feeling is the same.

Millston

This is a story about small towns, the midwest, Wisconsin, family, grandma.

Found under: Stories/Millston

Legs

This is a story about hunting, deer legs, childhood, parents, and gifts.

Found under: Stories/Legs

A 100-word version is published in RiverLit