Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pickled Pigs Feet

Makes my mouth water just typing the words...PICKLED PIGS FEET.  Yum! My Uncle Marian made me this delicacy whenever I wanted it.  He always made it for my birthday.  I used to take it to school.  If you want to gross out your classmates, I can show you the way.  No one ever knew his recipe.  He took it to the grave.  My Aunt Thelma tried to make it once, epic failure.  Her specialty was jello.  I think she made thousands of jello molds over the years.  You name a fruit, it showed up in a jello.  I will talk more about Aunt Thelma in a future blog.

My Uncle Marian was the second husband of my Aunt Thelma.  They were a match made in heaven.  You always hear the stories of people who were meant to be together, they were one of those matches.  Uncle Marian was a great chef.  He could make so many wonderful things.  They lived in a house by the hospital.  I think that was by design because he had a bad heart.  I always thought that really sucked.  He was a wonderful person with a bad heart.  Why not give the bad hearts to the nasty people?  I still wonder that. These are the kind of things as a child that made me question the existence of God.

Uncle Marian was Polish.  REALLY POLISH.  He listened to Polka music, fixed polish food, knew Polish, talked with a Polish accent.  He was skinny with black hair speckled with grey.  He was quiet.  He was such the opposite of Aunt Thelma.  She was tall,  loud, boisterous, and had a huge hairdo.  Her hair was like a foot off the top of her head.  She was bossy but in a good way.  They were my favorites on my mom's side of the family.  They oozed of love not in the lovey-dovey touching each other all the time way, but in the way they looked at each other and took care of each other.

After several close calls, Uncle Marian had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital.  I still don't understand how they could live across the street from the hospital and he couldn't make it that far.  That was such a sad day.  I don't know how my aunt stayed in that house.  I guess the love that she felt while he was alive continued even after his death.  That is eternal love.

I can still see and taste Pickled Pigs Feet.  I can still remember the bowl he would bring it in and how it was covered with foil.  I can still see the smile on his face when he would give it to me.  He knew how happy it made me.  I think it made him happy to make it.  For him I am grateful.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Only by the ghouls who are dead...

Damn straight I am scared of the dark.  I am not afraid to admit it.  If you had been through some of the things I have, you would be too.  It started when I was a little kid and stopped when I moved out of my parents' house.

When we lived on Roeske Ave, I had my own room.  It was a 70s theme - shag carpet with a rug rake, pink and orange psychedelic flower decor with 2 windows, a corner room. Totally bad ass.  When I was 7 I started having people visit my room.  People who didn't live in my house; hell they didn't live anywhere, they weren't alive.  I would come to the breakfast table and ask my mom why she was in my room so late last night.  She would say, I wasn't in your room.  I would respond, yes you were...you came in, pulled the curtain back, and looked out the window.  She would say, that wasn't me.  Holy Shit...I don't think I knew the word shit back then, but if I did that's what I was thinking.  After that first time, when that person came to visit me I would cover my head with my blanket and hold as still as possible.  I am lucky I didn't pass out from holding my breath.  I know for a fact (yes I do) that several times the person stood there next to my bed looking at me.  I could feel it.  Makes my hair stand on end just writing about it.  Holy shit, I hope they don't come here.  Dammit that would be bad.  You know we had a dog.  Why didn't our dog warn me of the spooks and ghosts.  Wasn't my breath supposed to show when it happened?  What the hell?  Okay I am really getting freaked...

So when I was 10 we moved to Kenwood Place, an upscale neighborhood, we had a big, dark, and spooky house with an effing basement.  Most kids are thrilled to have a basement not me. I never walked up or down those stairs.  I ran up and down just to be sure nothing grabbed my feet. Why is it that everyone in my family stores all the food in the basement.  What is that???  OH MY GOD AND THE STORAGE SPACE RIGHT NEXT TO MY ROOM!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately the dead people moved with us. They hung out in the attic, storage space, and basement. They never visited my older brother Eric, but they did visit Darren and my mom, so I have real proof they "existed."  My mom finally came clean about the whole ghost thing when I was older. Are you ready...here it comes...are the little hairs on your neck standing up?  Here are the most memorable moments:

Time #1:  when I was 7 my mom had gotten up in the middle of the night.  She had gone into the bathroom that was next to my room.  She saw the apparition in the hallway.  It scared her so bad she couldn't leave the bathroom.  She ended up sitting on the toilet and sleeping there. That was the first night I remember being visited.

Time #52: One night my mom was in her bedroom, it was late and we were all in our rooms sleeping. She heard Darren's door open but didn't hear any footsteps of him going to the bathroom or anything. Then there was a knock at her door.  She looked up and there was no light under the door.  No kid in our house moved about without turning on the hall light.  She got scared.  She hadn't heard any footsteps to her door.  She turned over, covered her head with her bedspread and hoped for the best.  She then heard her door open, no footsteps, then someone sitting on the bed and coming up behind her.  Whomever it was gave her a big hug.  She was petrified with fear, then the phone rang.  Holy hell, that is serious movie timing.  I would have died for sure, right there, and I would have pooped.  Uncle Wilmer really loved my little brother Darren.  Darren is deaf and Uncle Wilmer and he developed a special way of communicating.  My Uncle Wilmer got sick with cancer and was in the hospital. The phone call was from the hospital, Uncle Wilmer had just passed.  He came to say goodbye to Darren and my mom.  I know she wasn't crazy cuz I heard Darren's door open that night and when Darren came downstairs the next morning, he asked my mom why she came into his room so late and gave him a hug.  Hair standing up now????

Time #89: One night my mom and dad were in their bedroom.  They heard some banging around on the stairs coming upstairs and down the hallway, then there was a knock at their door.  My mom sat up and said, Shelley, you better have a good reason why you are being so loud this late at night.  Then she looked under the door - there was no light.  She knew I went no where in the dark.  She reached around and said, Jack, Jack wake up.  The person knocked at the door again.  Jack got up and saw there was no light under the door. They just looked at one another.  They knew it was not me.  Just then I came home and came into the house.  They were both a little freaked out.

My mom shared many other stories from over the years.  She said the ghosts were our relatives who had come to live with us.  She said that they were friendly, that they wouldn't scare us if we didn't want to see them.  I am pretty sure I didn't want to see them and they did whatever they wanted anyway.  I am still totally creeped out when I go back to my childhood home.  I absolutely hate it when I have to spend the night.  I leave the lights on in the room.  Not that it will help, but at least I get a little sleep.

Every once in a while when I am walking around in my home I catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye.  I always poo poo it away, but you never know.  Maybe they are more respectful of my fear these days.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Uncle Bob and Pedro

So Uncle Bob was my great aunt Dorothy's husband. He was a really tall man and he was big. The thing though that was most impressionable was that he was mean. He never smiled, like ever, and he had this little chihuahua named Pedro.

If you really thought about it, he was a very interesting man. He had been an assistant warden at the State Prison. Imagine the things he saw every day. The worst criminals, the worst examples of human beings found in the state of Indiana. Rumor had it that there was a big scandal during his time there. I guess that would make me crusty too. The prisoners used to make automobile license plates. I don't know if they still do. Uncle Bob had all kinds of license plates nailed to his walls and ceiling rafters in his basement. You could spend a lot of time down there looking at those plates. He was a chain smoker. One after the other. And he drank. At the time that was the thing, drinking and smoking. I think he may have said about 10 words to me over my childhood.

Whenever we went to Uncle Bob's and Aunt Dorothy's house, you would enter the front door and there he would sit in his Lazy Boy chair - Uncle Bob and that nasty little dog Pedro. Pedro was a tan chihuahua whose tongue didn't stay in his head so half of it sat outside of his mouth all hard and crusty. It was a challenge to see if you could get close enough to the dog to touch it. Heaven forbid that tongue would touch you, YUCK. That dog would growl and bite. Uncle Bob would let it down just as we came in and it would immediately go for your ankles. After nipping someone, he would return to the chair, get a pet as his reward and Uncle Bob would give that evil little grin. We got that dog back once. I don't remember why but we took our Great Dane over there one time. When Mandy came in the door, that little dog pooped right there in that moment. Felt kinda good.

Later in his life, Uncle Bob got diabetes and lost part of each leg. I think that must have been really hard on him after being such a tough and hard man to be at the mercy of others. He was really lucky to have Aunt Dorothy. She was amazing. I will write about her in the future. The day though that I remember Uncle Bob the best was just before he passed. They were at our house for a party, maybe it was the Fourth of July. I remember it was warm and nice out. As they were leaving he was being wheeled by me and he grabbed my hand. He looked me in the eye and said "you are a beautiful little lady." None of them talked to me like that. Ever. It is a great memory. Pedro outlived Uncle Bob. When he died, my stepdad went over to their house and buried him. Aunt Dorothy got another chihuahua, Taffy. She was a good dog.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

So several of my posts talk about not so happy times, this post is nothing but good. When I was a kid I loved to sing. I sang in several talent contests and even won one. But the best time of all was winning second place in the high school talent contest junior year. It was Kelly, Marilyn, Amy and me. We decided to tackle Meatloaf's song and it was phenomenal. Kelly was the girl's voice, she was an amazing singer. I was the guy's voice. Marilyn played piano, actually she played every instrument, but all we needed for this was piano. Amy was the voice reciting the baseball game. We had made up a set that looked like a car dashboard. I still remember how it felt to be up there in front of everyone. There is no better feeling in the world than being in front of people and performing. Amy started with reciting the game while we were in our make believe car throwing clothes around, then Kelly belted out "Stop Right There, I gotta know right now." Sing it with me people!!!! You know the words. If you don't you will be looking them up after reading this. Bat Out of Hell was a great album.

These girls were fantastic. Marilyn and I had been great friends for years. I really hope they are all doing well right now. I still remember when Kelly went to Billy Joel's concert and he kissed her. Holy moly. I am surprised she ever washed her face again. Great times, great memories. I was never one who lacked confidence. I still sing in my car, it's great fun to crank up the music and just belt one out.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Falbos

The Falbos, I don't even think I knew their first names until I was an adult.  They just were always Mr. and Mrs. Falbo.  Vic was a steel mill worker.  Jean worked at the hospital.  They had come from Pittsburgh.  They were so Italian.  Vic was an amazing gymnast.  He had won event National Championships in 1948-49.  He was in great shape into his 80s.  He had significant positive impact on gymnastics in our area.  He didn't even have a grey hair on his jet black head until he was into his 70s.  Jean was so nice - always -  and had a shrill voice.  I could recognize it anywhere.  I can still hear her calling him - Viiiiiiiiic!

Mr. Falbo was a big church-goer.  He was there every morning at 6 then off to Mc Donald's with his buddies.   Jean helped save me when I was 3 and had an epileptic fit.  Maybe that's why they were so important to me.  Or maybe it was that Mr. Falbo taught me gymnastics in his front yard and would flip me through the air.  Maybe it was the way they loved their dogs - a long line of Pekingese.  The basket we have of toys for our dogs - I learned that from them.  Maybe it was because they always had a picture of me (my family) sitting with the pictures of their family. Maybe it was because they were supposed to be a symbol to me of what good was.  Maybe it was everything.

I never lied to them or made up stories to tell them.  I always felt safe with them.  If anything, I didn't treat them good enough.  Didn't visit enough as they grew older.  They always had a cookie and a glass of milk for me.  Always wanted me to tell them what was going on with me, and then with my family as I grew up.  They lived very long lives.  I am lucky and blessed to have known them.  I should have been better to them.  I think they were in my life to show me how to be kinder, better and I didn't get it.  I get it now.  I will work to be better.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


As I sit here in the airport waiting on my plane, I can't think of a better thing to do than write about fuzzies.  You are probably thinking what the heck?  Or you are thinking, right there with ya sister, we definitely need therapy.

Fuzzies are all those little pieces of whatever on your carpet before you vacuum.  Now if you live in a regular household you get out the vacuum and sweep them up.  Haven't you figured out by now, I didn't grow up in a regular household.  Oh no, apparently children were created to clean up fuzzies.  Bad little children, which we seemed to always be.  This was one of a select group of punishment options if we did something wrong - we had to pick up the fuzzies from the living room carpet.  All of them.  We would be on our hands and knees for long periods of time.  Cinderella has nothing on me.  Usually it came after a battle at the dinner table over not wanting to eat something.  You know the "you must eat at least 3 of that before you can leave" philosophy.  If you didn't eat it after sitting there for at least an hour, it revisited you as your breakfast.  I don't know why I didn't train myself to vomit on command when forced to eat pea soup or asparagus.  I was not a quick reaction kid.  Man I wish my mind would have worked like that.

So you say what is the good that came from this?  I do tend to figure out how these events have benefitted me in some way.  Well, let me think...I can get a knot out of a shoelace or necklace with little to no effort due to the extreme dexterity created by this tedious fuzzie exercise.  I can see the smallest specs on a carpet from a long distance and worry everyone else is distraught by their presence as well.  And I know this wasn't the worst of my punishments so actually picking up fuzzies was a relatively good thing.

My kids have no idea how good they have had it.  Through these little stories they are starting to realize that even the things they didn't like, weren't as bad as picking up fuzzies.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fat is not Failure

I am inspired to write this as I walk on the treadmill keeping healthy.  Just today someone talked to me about a weight loss contest.  Why are we so obsessed with weight?  Why do some define others by it?  Why are little girls on diets?  I would much rather have my 25 extra pounds than be super thin.  I am certain they would come in handy if I ever get sick, which seems to impact the "little" folk way more than it has impacted me. Wear clothes that fit.  Be proud. Be confident. Live life.  

Ever since I can remember people have said something to me about my weight. When I was young, adults in my family would call me fat. I prefer the term Shelley.  I am Shelley. If I ate 4 cookies it was going straight to my hips.  If I ate the whole can of beefaroni it was just packing on the pounds. But that was followed by "eat everything on your plate." WTF? If my clothes were a little tight it was time to look in the husky section.  Mrs. Hodonos and Mr. Karstens always let me know I could stand to "lose a few."  I have lost weight a few times, but was never committed to keeping it off.  My grandma teased me relentlessly about it.  God she was mean.  I wonder if she ever regretted the things she said when I was the one visiting her in the nursing home. Is it bullying if it is your family?  I was so ashamed as a child I never wanted photos taken of me.  I didn't wear swimsuits and I didn't go to the beach. What was I thinking?  What did I miss...

But this isn't a story of failure, this is a story of success.  At 46 I have become incredibly comfortable with who I am, extra weight and all.  I DO remember all the good stuff:  I got straight As.  I graduated with honors from college. I played many sports and have many trophies that show my talents.  I ran a 6.3 sec 50 yd dash - I was fast. I have been married to the same man for 24 years.  I have raised 3 amazing girls who are smart, confident, and beginning to do their own amazing things.  Weight does not define me.  I think it defines those who tortured me about it.  I am healthy. I am happy.  I have success.  To the cheerleaders who laughed at me during tryouts, yes, I would like fries with my drink.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

1216 Ohio Street

So when we were little kids we always hung out at 1216 Ohio Street.  This is where several of my grandmas lived.  There were various other folks who were in and out as well - mostly Aunt Thelma.  The house was a grey-blue color and was homemade - meaning my relatives had built the house many many years ago and it wasn't quite square.  It contained 2 floors and a full basement.  It was where Christmas Eve was each year.  That basement tho - you may remember it from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I believe they called it the Hell Mouth - bwahaahaahaahaa.

I remember running up, down, through and around that house.  I was a terror.  My grandmas who lived downstairs had a poodle - a little white one.  He was my best buddy.  I would make him run around the dining room table until my grandma chased me with a flyswatter to make me quit.  He would be panting so hard, his little heart just beating away.  I loved him so much.  I have no idea why she thought a flyswatter would be a good device for punishment. Hell, half the time it didn't kill the flies.  On occasion we would go outside and run around.  The best days were when the white bed sheets were hanging on the line.  We would run by and pull out the pole propping up the line and the sheets would drag the ground.  Man that made some old people mad.  I have no idea why we did it other than to just be contrary.  They always told my mom and we always got beat, so there really was no motivation to do it again, but we would.  I think the worst thing we ever did (other than put water in ashtrays, hide glasses or teeth, or hide ourselves when called) was when my brother sprayed my one mean grandma (I'll talk about this later) in the face through the screen with the water hose.  That was a pinnacle event of our childhood at that house.  

I remember always sitting on the floor by my great-grandma watching the "stories."  They weren't soap operas, they were stories - Young and the Restless, As the World Turns, and Days of our Lives.  5-8-8-2-3-0-0 Empire...I can still  remember the jingle of the commercial playing in between each show.  I think I thought these stories were how people were supposed to live for some reason - you know, drama all day every day, great clothes, lots of sex, never a dull moment.  My life didn't seem to live up to that (hence a future blog - What is the truth?).

I didn't visit the upstairs in the house very much.  Another grandma lived up there.  I still don't quite understand the relationship.  I think she was the wife of the brother of my great-grandma's husband.  Yeah, that makes great sense now that I write it out, not.  She never smiled, like ever.  I think I was mostly afraid of her.  She was like a dark figure that I would hear walking around up there and would occasionally see at the top of the stairs the 2 floors shared.  Sometimes I would sneak up those stairs and if the door was unlocked would peer in.  I think I equated her to the witch in Hansel and Gretel.  I have no idea why.  She was alone up there.  Her husband was dead too.  All the husbands were dead.  Sad really.  A lot of women without lived in that house...which leads us to the basement.

Now the basement was and remains the MOST SCARIEST PLACE I HAVE EVER BEEN, WILL EVER GO, OR HAVE EVER DREAMED ABOUT.  It was classic scary movie stuff.  There were 3 rooms all cold, dank and damp.  One had the washer and roller thing that squeezed the water out of clothes for drying.  The middle room had the freaking light switch on the opposite wall and had one wall covered in curtains.  Are you beginning to feel my panic?  The last room was full of boxes and had a wall covered in curtains.  I was told those were hat boxes.  BULLSHIT I SAY!!!  I never saw one of those women wear a hat.  There were dead people parts in those boxes.  It was cold enough down there to keep them, you know, from rotting I guess.  I rarely went into the third room.  I don't think my heart could have taken it.

So regularly I would have to go into the cellar of terror...er, basement, to get lunch stuff.  All the beefaroni was behind room #2s curtains.  So I would open the door, Jesus, my heart is pumping...  The stairs went straight down at like a 179 degree angle.  If you fell, forget it - death was imminent.  So I would get down the stairs with the light from the upstairs.  At the bottom of the stairs, I would peer into the room that I am certain was part of all the Saw movies.  The beefaroni was a 2 second run from the bottom of the stairs to the middle of wall behind the second set of curtains without any light.  That's right.  The damn switch was on the opposite wall and the beefaroni WAS BEHIND THE CURTAINS.  It took all I had each day to make that move.  I would stand at the stairs for like 5 minutes while Aunt Thelma yelled at me that I was taking forever.  It wasn't her that was facing all the dead people, ghosts, and whatever else that 2 second run threw at me.  It wasn't her losing precious years of life with the fear of the darkness.  But I loved beefaroni more than I was afraid.  It was worth the potential each day of someone grabbing me in the dark room and putting me in one of those boxes one room over or pulling me behind the curtain and torturing me just below where my grandma was watching stories.  So I would do it.  I would make the mad dash from the stairs to the curtains.  Plunge my hand behind the curtain, hope for the best, grab a can and run back upstairs hopefully before the guy behind the stairs grabbed my ankles and pulled me through.  Occasionally I would grab the wrong can.  Too effing bad, I would eat it.  I wasn't going through that twice in one day.

Funny, even now I think about that basement and all those days being terrified.  Of course now I know if I would have said something, maybe someone would have showed me it wasn't terrifying at all and there weren't dead husbands of old waiting to drag my little body into the hell mouth.  Maybe I didn't say anything because I wanted the excitement.  Probably the latter.  My imagination worked overtime at my grandmas.  I will remember it always.