Tag Archives: family

On the mystery of porches and alligators

Porches hold a certain nostalgia and mystery for me, probably because I grew up in old houses fronted by large porches. The house that we lived in for most of my childhood had a huge wraparound porch with large arches and columns. The space between each column was the perfect size for sitting on to read. On the hot, lazy days of summer, we spent hours playing in the shade of the porch.

My friend, Maggie, reminded me recently that she wished we could sit on the porch swing and play alligator like we did when we were kids. Up popped my nostalgic bent. The idea was that the person who was it had to lie underneath the swing and everyone else sat or stood on the swing, while the alligator tried to nab someone’s foot or leg. I have no idea who created that game. Probably one of my brothers.

Mother taught piano lessons after school, so we were often relegated to the porch to keep the house quiet. Unfortunately for her, there was a small window that looked into the piano room from the porch so we spent most of our time annoying her by trying to distract whatever friend was taking a lesson.

Sometime during my early teens, my parents decided to enclose the porch to create an office for Dad. Big mistake. Don’t tell my mom. She probably realized it later on. We really missed that porch. All that remained was what city folk call a “stoop”. Not the same as a porch.

So when I got married, my first two houses had nice sized porches on which our kids often played. The white wicker swing on which we played the alligator game hung on both of those porches. I remember the day Maggie and I taught our four daughters (her two and my two) to play the alligator game.

Our third (and current) house, though, lacks a real porch. The front porch has enough room for one wooden slat chair and one large, pesky queen of a cat. It was replaced about 15 years ago after my left leg went through a weak spot, causing serious injury to the tendon (in the leg, not the porch). The back porch was even smaller and in recent years, sadly in need of serious repair (i.e. replacement). In fact, last summer we hung a “do not use” sign across it.

So there I was minding my own business in the hospital, 120 miles from home, when my wise friend, Mary Ann, called to chat. Had I talked to Jeff Laing about replacing the porch? I had, but that was months ago and long before he got busy with more important summer projects. She mumbled something about him working in her neighborhood, so she’d track him down and mention it for me.

This is small town at its best. A few days later, my husband called to say that he was trying to solve a mystery. He’d returned home from work to find a new porch had been installed on our back patio. He had his suspects, since he’d seen a few of Jeff’s workers strolling around our back yard earlier in the day.

So now there is a beautiful wooden porch on the back patio. Each time I use it, I think of that little boy I used to babysit for…now a contractor who stands about a foot taller than me and has a huge heart. 

There’s still no room for a swing on either of our porches. Sorry Mags. But that’s not to say there couldn’t be a bigger porch added to the front. Or maybe that’s for the next house. After all, there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood — including my favorite little Pannabecker cousins — who need to learn the family alligator game.

In the meantime, Jeff, thanks for the surprise.

History from five perspectives

It’s funny how family stories get told and retold in so many different versions that no one really remembers the truth. As daughter number 1 says, these variations may be “interpreted as you will”. She should know — she’s a direct descendant of two families who are masters at “remembering” events in colorful variations. For some reason, though, she thought only the Steiner relatives did this until my four brothers came through with their own memories of August 11, 1956.

I can’t speak much for the truth of any parts of this story since it so happens that it was the day I was born, and I can recount only what I’ve been told. This I know for sure: I was born at Bluffton Hospital and because we lived down the alley from the hospital, my dad — always one to avoid unnecessary use of a vehicle — carried my mother to the hospital after her water broke while she was hanging clothes on the line.

Okay, that might not be true. Maybe I just think she was hanging clothes on the line because that’s what moms did in those days — pregnant or not. 

I’m going to blame a recent revival of this story on my brother, John, the historian. He came across some records about our paternal grandmother, which led him to remember Aunt Dora and Uncle Dave, who lived next door on Kibler St. Somehow that reminded him of August 11, 1956 — more likely because it was the day before his eighth birthday, as opposed to the day of his baby sister’s birth.

Anyway, this perpetuated a series of e-mails between my brothers, my daughter, and me, followed by a brief comment from our mother. This is kind of how this went:

John (one day less than 8 years old on August 11, 1956): Aunt Dora’s and Uncle Dave’s alley is the one that Dad ran
down August 11, 1956 carrying Mother and Mary to the hospital. Still quite a vivid image in my mind it seems. Do any of the rest of you remember that?

Me (tongue-in-cheek): Yeah, I kinda remember being in a nice, warm, floaty place and all of a sudden, things got kind of bouncy and no longer fun.  You probably have a different visual of that day.

John: My visual is one of the back of Dad running with a horizontal-type package down the alley to the right of Uncle Dave’s house, but with the “package” at an angle, seeing only the back of Mother’s head and feet off to an angle, with me standing with Mary Naas on the other side of the alley from our house. Was this funny at the time, or only later? Then waiting for about 15-20 minutes and Dad coming back down the alley. Was this possible (that fast)?

James (age three in 1956): Mine is remarkably similar to John’s, except I was in the yard of the red brick house (our house).  I first thought Mother was sick, but when someone reminded me she was going to have a baby, I felt confused about how you could be “healthy” but need a doctor and a hospital.  I also seem to recall Dad coming back fairly quickly before disappearing again.  Was he checking on us kids, to be sure Mary Naas had us under control?

Me (tongue still firmly in cheek): Probably didn’t trust the four of you.

Tom (age two in 1956): I thought he had left me in charge, but I don’t recall a single thing.

Phil (at age nine, the eldest): All right, let me interrupt my busy day to clear this all up.  As I recall, we were on the porch swing initially, then probably ran around all over after Dad took off with Mother.  Elaine Naas was there too.  I’m sure Anna Mary was too, since we were still pretty young.  And the picture is still clear in my mind, as is that of Doctor Rodabaugh in his Ford Thunderbird flying down Kibler and squealing around the turn onto Harmon Road a few minutes later. 

The only trouble is I remember a 58 T-bird and even though he bought them as soon as they came out, that T-bird wasn’t around until a couple years later.  I guess that shows how clear my memory is.  I do remember a nice sunny day.
James: Thanks, Phil, for clearing things up.  Of course, Mary, you realize this means you’re not as old as you thought you were, and it also explains why I remember that day so well (I was 5 instead of 3). 

Lindsay (born in 1983 with a Pannabecker silver tongue in her mouth): It’s nice to know that my Pannabecker family has the same tendency towards story “variations” as my Steiner family. Interpret “variations” as you will…

Mother, who must have her own memory of that day, chose not to correct any of us, or even add her own variation, instead simply commented: I love to read the things you remember from when you were “young”.
It’s just too bad Dad and Doc Rodabaugh aren’t around to add their own two cents worth. Especially to clarify that question about the 1958 T-bird. Of course, knowing the two of them, we still wouldn’t know the real truth.

Random thoughts about raising daughters

Oh my. It occurred to me this morning while walking with my oldest daughter, that she’ll turn 28 on her next birthday. We’ve had countless discussions during our walks over those 28 years. Our walks have morphed from the early practice of taking along a bag in which to carry the treasures she found along the way, to cautioning her to stop at the next intersection and not cross the street until I caught up, to our present-day routines of walking as fast as possible.

The important thing, though, is the conversation. Which, as I understand, is something many parents don’t do often enough with their children. Maybe they don’t have the time, or don’t take the time,  or think they have nothing to talk about. An old friend once told me he hoped he would someday have the same kind of relationship with his daughters than I have with mine. I just wanted to say to him that it’s all about respecting his daughters and encouraging them to be individuals. If they make choices that differ from what he wants them to make, he shouldn’t criticize them. Don’t expect perfection. Let them make mistakes and allow them to learn from them. And tell them how much he loves them and is proud of whatever they do. I don’t think I said any of that. I’m not sure he’d have gotten it.

My friend, JP, and her daughter were weeding my garden recently, when she came into the house to tell me how much fun she was having. It wasn’t about the weeding. It was about the conversation that the two of themf had; she didn’t give any details but simply said how much she had learned from her college-age daughter while they worked side by side.

This is something I learned long ago. If I want to really engage in a conversation with one of my daughters, I have to find some alone time with her. The interesting stuff really comes out when you’re doing something together like walking or gardening. Don’t interrupt. Just let them talk. Don’t laugh at them, but laugh with them. If they say things that shock you, let them keep talking…keep the criticism to yourself.

Admit your own mistakes. Come on, you made them. You know you did. As they grow into adulthood, you have to treat them as such. They’ll appreciate knowing you weren’t perfect and did some silly things along the way. Do things with them even if you have other plans.

Here’s an example. A few years ago, my husband’s office pool of OSU games produced for him the tickets of the decade: the OSU-Michigan game when they were 1 and 2. I was finally going to go with him — he’d always taken the girls to those games. We were in the car with our youngest daughter when she asked if he still wanted to go to the Doo-Wop show of some of their favorites (i.e., The Drifters), and then named a date. Same date as the game. Suffice to say that he sold the game tickets at a hefty profit. We went to the concert.

Moral of the story: Listen to your kids. Really listen.