Family Stories

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I grew up with stories my mom told about her own childhood. Most of them were oft repeated, yet they were more like parables than stories with a plot, characters, and a central conflict. Nevertheless, I’m reluctant to just let those stories fade away. They form a part of the backdrop to my own childhood. They carry a meaning, at least for me, that goes beyond the simple events they often recount. So I plan to tell some of them, as much as I can remember of them.

My mom was born Iva Lorraine Green, the first girl after four boys. Her older brothers were Marshall (named after her dad), Herman, Hershel, and David. She had two younger sisters, Emogene and Donna. As the first girl, she got teased a lot by her brothers and had to shoulder the responsibilities of “women’s work” on the farm as soon as she was old enough to stand at the sink and scrub dishes or boil water on the stove. Her brothers used to have real pissing contests. They would take turns pissing on the side of the barn. The one who could make his mark highest would win. I can imagine Iva, her green-eyed round face framed in dark curls, peeking around the corner of the barn to watch them. On the farm, there wasn’t much place for the prudishness of city life. She saw hogs castrated, kittens drowned, chickens butchered – all the normal business of farm life so foreign to urban and suburban dwellers.

I don’t know how old she was when Hershel was killed. It may even have happened before she was born, or she may have been too young to remember it. Herman and Hershel had been out sledding. They were on their way home, Herman trudging along the country road to their home, pulling Hershel on the sled. A car came hurtling over the hill. The driver, a neighbor who was drunk, did not see the sled with Hershel on it. He ran it over, killing Hershel. Herman blamed himself the way children do when anything bad happens.

Some time later—months or years, I do not know—Herman developed appendicitis. It’s a condition that runs in my family. Some of my siblings and some of my children have had it. Like them, Herman endured the pain uncomplainingly far longer than most people do. By the time he acknowledged being in pain, it was too late to get him to a hospital. His appendix burst. Before he died, he cried out to those around him, “I see Hershel and the angels coming for me.” I’m sure that this is one of the incidents that made Iva so certain of her faith in later life.

I think Iva was in fifth grade when she first saw Chuck, a boy a couple of years older who went to the same school. I don’t know know where or how they first met. At one point she was at a school program with her parents. She turned to her mother and said, “You see that curly headed boy in the second row? I’m going to marry him some day.” That boy was my father. They fell in love in high school, and she quit school to marry him when she was only sixteen. They eloped to Kentucky, where she didn’t need parental permission to marry. She still needed to be eighteen, though, so she wrote the number 18 on a slip of paper and put it in her shoe, all so she could claim without technically lying that she was “over eighteen.”

While Chuck and Iva were dating, they went with some friends to a swimming hole in a nearby river. Anyone who has ever gone swimming in a river knows that the water is not clear, especially after a few swimmers have stirred up the muck from the bottom of the river. Another feature of river swimming is that one was sometimes joined by other swimming creatures, particularly snakes. Iva wore a modest, black swimsuit with a top that tied around her neck. As she was swimming, she saw a long, black ribbon slither by in the water near her. Screaming in horror, she jumped up out of the water only to find that the top of her swimsuit had come undone. With every eye on her, she ducked back into the water to put her swimsuit top back on.

One of Chuck’s classmates, another boy named Ray, also admired Iva. The three of them went on a hayride together along with other friends. Snuggled down in the hay, Chuck reached his arm around Iva. Ray likewise reached his hand toward Iva, hoping to hold her hand without anyone noticing. Instead his hand met Chuck’s, and he grabbed it thinking it was Iva’s. Chuck and Ray held hands through the whole hayride, Chuck never letting on that he knew the hand he was holding was Ray’s.

These are some of the stories I heard from my mom during my childhood. They were told over and over, so I’m sure my brothers and sisters also remember them. My dad will also recognize them. I invite them along with Donna and Emogene to comment, share other stories they might know, and correct me where I’m wrong.

 

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5 Responses to Family Stories

  1. Kathy Hellman says:

    You mentioned the pissing contest. Our parents and we were raised in a time when convention was clear about words considered appropriate for public (mostly meaning women & children) and those that were not. The word, “piss” fell into the latter category. I remember a story Mama told that went something like this:

    When she was very young, she was playing cards with her brothers David and Marshal and a girl one of them was trying to impress. When her turn came and she didn’t have a card to play, intending to say, “I pass,” she (mis)spelled it out, “I P-I-S-S.” Her embarassed brother corrected her with, “Oh, Iva, it’s A-S-S!”

    It may be hard for some today to understand what a breach of etiquette this was and how embarrassing it was to the gentelman. I recall being instructed in the finer nuances of “bad words” that we should not use. Gosh and Jeeze were both considered a mild form of taking God’s name in vain, and thus, off-limits. Honestly, I still cringe inwardly when I hear them flung about today.

    This story our Mama told us reminds me of one of my own. I was working at a library at at time when patrons had to approach the window and ask for DVDs and audiobooks that they wanted. One homesexual couple that frequented the library asked me to get a couple of movies for them. As I brought them to the window, they asked me how many disks were in the set. I opened the case to look and annouced, “there’s two dicks,” clearly a Freudian slip.

    As a Librarian and a reader, I understand that it is our stories that connect us and help us relate to one another more than any of our political or religious opinions/ideals or the place we live. I look forward to hearing more “Family Stories” as others weigh in.

    As Dad said, thank you, Chip for doing this.

    • Chip Burkitt says:

      I almost included the card-playing story, but the way I remember it, it was Grandma Green who said it. Then, realizing what she has said, she got to giggling, and laughed so hard she did it.

  2. Chuck Burkitt says:

    I am glad to see you doing this Chip. A couple of things though. Mama definitely knew her 2 younger brothers, Herschel and Herman. I don’t know how old she was when Herman was killed, but she recalled how devastated her Dad and Mom were. She was also more perceptive about how Herschel was affected by his brothers death. Also she was in the seventh grade when moved to Mt. Sterling. She first saw me when her family was visiting a neighbor whose farm was for sale. I and my brothers were there and as boys will, we were showing off on our bikes. That is when she told her Mother that she was going to marry me. I don’t have any recollection of the other incident. Again I am happy to see you doing this No I hope that your siblings will help you out with some of their own memories. Happy New Year to you and your family.

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