March 4 2015

Floating Loans

When we were kids we worked. I got a paper route delivering the Indianapolis News six days a week from the time I was eleven until I had two years in when I was thirteen. Mom made us keep the News route for two years so we would qualify to get the scholarships the newspaper offered. Supposedly if you carried the morning paper, The Indianapolis Star, you had to have had your route for two years or more and still have it at the time you graduated from high school. If you carried the afternoon paper, you just had to have had a route for two years to qualify. So we were bullied into keeping our routes until our two years had passed. My brother and I each had half of a sort of rough apartment complex called the Country Club Apartments located near Troy Avenue and Brill Road on the near south side of the city. We had a lot of trouble with people moving out without paying their bills. We always had pocket money and got pretty good at saving a portion of our income, even going so far as to open savings accounts at Indiana National Bank where there was a nearby branch at US 31 and National. If I recall correctly, at one point these savings accounts were paying eight percent interest, unheard of these days.

When mom would go grocery shopping, an almost nightly occurrence, we would often beg to tag along. Mom would be in the checkout line and invariably come up a few dollars short of the amount on the register. She would look down at us, at least I know she did it to me, and say, “Can you float me a loan?” We would gladly hand over the few dollars needed if we had it, proud that we could help out. This happened often, and eventually I learned not to carry much cash with me or not to go along at all, or I would suddenly not have any pocket money to spend at my discretion. Mom was pretty cool about it. She kept track of how much she had borrowed from us on a piece of paper she kept in her cigarette case. I did, eventually, get “paid back” in the spring of 1984, when I wanted to buy my first car, a 1974 Dodge Colt Wagon that was a dull chartreuse green. It was $795 dollars and I had part of that amount saved, but mom and dad came up with the amount they owed me from all the floated loans over the years to pay the rest of the money toward the car. Looking back, I’m not sure if floating these loans wasn’t some devious trick to get us to save our money unknowingly. We ought the car and got it home then took it to the mechanic for the once over. It turned out that what looked like just a lot of rust on the rounded insides of the body under the hood was actually rust on the frame of the car and required some pretty serious welding on of additional metal to make the car drivable. Dad was a barber, and not exactly mechanically inclined. I was a senior in high school before I got the Colt and then it took quite a while to get it fixed up and drivable. I had gotten my learner’s permit when I was fifteen and taken driver’s education which I had to pay for myself to the tune of over three hundred dollars. I got my license as soon as I was eligible after turning sixteen. Then mom and dad informed me that they could not afford to pay for auto insurance on both me and my older sister and since she had more driving experience they were giving it to her, so from the time I got my license at barely sixteen until late in my senior year two years later, I was not allowed to drive at all. I was upset, but what could I do? They couldn’t afford it, so I couldn’t drive. It never occurred to me to ask if I could pay the cost myself or even how much it would be. They never offered that option either. It wasn’t like my sister had a car to drive, she could drive mom’s nine passenger station wagon when mom wasn’t using it and that was it. The benefit to my parents, especially mom, was that my sister could drive to the store to grab a few items or pick one of us younger siblings up from an after-school event if need be and mom could get on with making dinner for the family. My sister was likely honored to be entrusted with this added responsibility and mom was likely thrilled at the freedom another driver afforded her. Then I got the car and was about to begin working the summer between high school and college and suddenly me having insurance was a necessity that could no longer be avoided. I had a car and was able to drive myself back and forth to work, pump and pay for my own gas and be responsible for my own car repairs. I loved that little wagon! It represented adulthood, freedom and responsibility to me. We probably never should have bought it. Although the body looked fairly decent and the interior was in good shape, with the rust on the frame members, it most likely belonged in a junk yard. It served me well for a couple of years before the engine gave out and it simply wasn’t worth putting that kind of money into it, so it did end up in the junk yard after all. One never forgets their first car. (965 words)

March 3 2015

Youthful Activities

When I was growing up, I was one of four kids in a family with two parents. I was a bit of a minority because my parents were both my blood parents and still married to each other. All my siblings were full siblings, not steps or half siblings in our family. Both my parents graduated from high school and valued education for us kids. They always expected us to do our best no matter what we were doing. Mom always said as long as we could honestly say we had done our very best it was good enough. We were all good kids and did well in school. The three of us girls were avid readers reading most anything we could get our hands on. My brother read well enough, but never seemed to take to it like us girls did. I can still remember mom yelling at us older two girls to get our noses out of the books we were reading and help her clean the house. This usually happened on a Saturday mid-morning.

Mom had a system for assigning who cleaned what area of the house. She had four kids and areas to be cleaned each week, so she made up a chart and set up a rotating schedule. We each had a turn cleaning each area once every four weeks. We got our cleaning assignments that first week and were told the rules. We had to clean our area once that week and if we didn’t clean it, we would have to keep that area and get the next area to clean also for the next week. Whoever was supposed to rotate into the area you didn’t clean would get the week off from cleaning. This almost never happened, because after the first person messed up by not cleaning and we figured out Mom meant what she said, we knew we better just clean our assigned area each week. I used to like when it was my turn for the bathroom because it was such a small room it didn’t take all that long to clean it and have it looking really good. That chart is still inside the cabinet door where Mom taped it all those years ago, written in red ball point ink on a 4 x 6 index card, a little piece of parenting history err genius just waiting to be discovered.

Mom was full of parenting wisdom. With four kids, she had a rule that we could each be in only one activity. My older sister and I were in Girl Scouts and the younger brother and sister played Little League. That rule changed when we got to high school. Mom didn’t seem to mind how many activities we were in then as long as we found our own rides to and from or walked. She worked at Stokley Van Camp’s (which later became Quaker Oats) when we were in high school and her work hours, whether by her choice or not, were from 7:30am to 4pm. She was happy to drop us at school on her way to work as long as we were ready to go when she needed to leave the house, and more than willing to stop by the school on her way home from work to pickup any of us who were outside waiting for a ride a little after 4pm. She made it clear she wasn’t waiting around on us. If we wanted a ride we would be waiting and watching for her to pull up and ready to jump in and go. If we weren’t there, that was fine, but she wasn’t waiting on us. Sometimes we had band that went until later and she would run errands while we were finishing up then come by and get us so we could be home at a decent hour to help with dinner or do our chores. She would often bring us back and drop us off for play practice of an evening, then come back and pick us up at nine or ten when it was over. We just had to make sure we let mom know what we had going on and where we needed to be. We had to be flexible enough to be willing to arrive early or stay late. A lot of our extra curricular activities met before school so getting dropped off around 7am was great.

If we didn’t have a meeting to go to we could always sit and read or do homework in the band hall or go to the cafeteria to meet up with out friends. During my freshman year I was not in a lot of clubs and such because I was so tired of doing the same things as my older sister, so if she was in it I avoided it. I was tired of being her little sister and expected to be just like her. I wanted to be seen and appreciated for who I was not because I was next in line after my older sister. I know it got much worse by the time my brother got to high school because there were two of us to live up to. There were high standards to live up to too. The older three of us were all a year and a half apart in age but in school the oldest was one year ahead of me, then my brother was 2 years behind me in school with our younger sister following three years behind him. All four of us graduated from high school in the 1980s, 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1989. The older three of us were all in band together for one year. There is a photo taken of all of us in our band uniforms standing together outside the house. I wasn’t very musical, probably the least talented musically of all of us. I finally joined band my junior year after taking a beginning band class for a semester. I was never good at sight-reading music. I knew the basics and could figure it out if given enough time, but it was a slow painful process for me. I would write the letters of the notes above my music and then write the letters of the notes in permanent marker on the various notes on my bells for marching band and I could keep up that way until I had the music memorized. I guess they needed bodies more than they needed musically talented students. I was willing, able and teachable, so they took me on and let me play. I always knew I wasn’t good and sometimes had to fake my way through performances rather than mess up where everyone would know and hear my mistakes. (1,127 words)

March 2 2015

Fish

When we were kids, our mother used to breed tropical fish. In the basement, she had built a framework of two by fours into very sturdy shelves for the aquariums to sit on. There were fluorescent lights above the top shelf. Most of the tanks had their own hoods on them. She would get these boxes (in the mail I think). They were brown corrugated cardboard with red printing on them. The boxes were about twenty inches square and maybe ten inches tall. Inside each box was a Styrofoam liner that was maybe three quarters of an inch thick and form fitted to the inside of the cardboard box. There was a lift off fitted lid to the Styrofoam making it insulated like a Styrofoam cooler. She would get boxes of fish inside these foam containers. I think they came in bags like you get when you buy fish in the pet stores, but I can’t picture that part like I can the boxes. Maybe I can see the boxes in my mind because they were so sturdy and thus lived a very long life storing stuff in our basement. I think most of her tanks were twenty gallon long tanks. I remember her having silver and black striped angel fish about the size of a half dollar. She had guppies and mollies too. There were orange and black lyre-tailed mollies, black mollies and fancy, fan tailed guppies. She also seemed to have a lot of snails and cory catfish. I don’t remember what she did with the fish she raised. As I look back, I assume it must have been one of the many ways she had found to earn extra money, but I don’t remember her selling the fish to anyone. Maybe she raised them to sell at pet stores, I’m just not sure about that. She always loved having bright colored tropical fish around. Because we had the fish tanks, I got to be the one to take the turtle home from our classroom tank when our kindergarten teacher went on maternity leave and didn’t plan to come back to teach that school year. I think her name was Mrs. Rider. We had this cute little turtle that swam around in an aquarium with fish I think. I don’t remember much about the turtle itself, just feeling like the winner of the luckiest kid contest for being the one to get to take it home. Perhaps that is why I was so willing to allow Austin to keep the turtle that our former neighbor, Mary’s dog had cornered in her kitchen. We had a lot of work and research to do to keep it because we were unsure whether it was a land turtle or an aquatic turtle. We got Gilligan when he was about the size of a silver dollar. We put him in a small two gallon tank. He grew and grew each time he outgrew his tank, we would put him in a bigger one and he would grow exponentially almost overnight. We finally learned not to be in such a hurry to upgrade the size of his tank. We also quickly realized that Gilligan is a snapping turtle. We should have had sense enough to release it as soon as we figured that out. But, in almost all things, hind-sight is twenty-twenty. Now we have a Frisbee sized snapping turtle in a forty gallon breeder tank, and keeping it clean is a chore nobody enjoys. (582 words)