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The Anniversary Marj
Part Three - Conversations

Part Three




PARENTS CAN BE some of the funniest people in the world. Mine are. I've had them all my life and, as time goes on, their conversations tickle, confuse, and entirely delight me .... I never know what they're going to say next, but when my phone rings and a voice says: "Sister?" I pick up a pencil and start taking notes.

I was christened Marjorie Irene and everybody called me Marjorie until I was nine going on 10. That's when my brother, Bob, was born -and from that moment on, I lost my identity in the bosom of my family and became "Sister."

Here, then, are some of the columns printed during the last 20 years that have delighted readers who never met my parents but could see them through the printed word ....



“Thousand Island Dressing”


AT EASTER Sunday dinner at my house, my mother chided my father with wifely severity.

"Sister," she said to me, "do you know what your father did?" Her voice and manner were stern.

I sneaked a look at father, who gave no sign that he was aware he was about to be put on the carpet. He helped himself to another biscuit.

No, said I, what did father do? (I make a dandy straight man.) 'The other day when I went away, I told your father that if he got hungry, he should help himself to the homemade pimiento cheese in the refrigerator. He could put it on crackers and that would hold him until I got home.

"When I got back, I asked him if he wanted supper and he said, no, he'd already eaten, so I went to the refrigerator to get something for myself and DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR FATHER HAD DONE, Sister! "

"Please pass the pickles," said father. Mother passed the pickles. "Your father," snorted mother, "had eaten half a jar of my homemade Thousand Island dressing' By mistake. He never touched that pimiento cheese! "

Under my breath, I said to my father-Can't you tell the difference between mother's homemade pimiento cheese and her homemade Thousand Island dressing?

"I was watching the ballgame," said father.

"Robert, how on earth could you eat all that Thousand Island dressing!" demanded mother.

"If you had eaten the cheese the way I told you, you would have had your protein. You were low on vitamins, too. Why on earth did you eat Thousand Island dressing!"

"I was low on islands," said father, never losing a stroke on his steak. Mother did not think that was funny.


“Mother Catches a Fish”


THEN THERE WAS THE TIME, in July, 1961, when mother caught her first fish ...

MY FATHER, who retired nine years ago for the express purpose of fishing every day, has done just that-fished every possible day, at least 300 out of each 365, right off his own front yard.

My mother, who went right along with my father, hates fishing, won't eat fish, won't clean fish, won't look at a fish, doesn't like the smell of fish and has no interest in talking about fish.

Every morning, a few minutes before my father drives up to the mailboxes for the day's mail and gossip, he baits a hook, and sets his line, bracing the pole with a little rock at the edge of the bank. Then, as he and the dog get in the car and prepare to drive away, father always calls out to mother: "Keep an eye on that reel. If you hear it go 'round, reel in my fish."

"Oh, yes," says mother with heavy sarcasm. “I’ll do just that," she says

and never again looks in the direction of the fishing pole.

This has been going on for nine years. It never varies. It did the other morning.

Mother was sitting outside in her old-fashioned lawn swing, wearing her apron and her sunbonnet and reading a novel when father and the dog started out for the mail.

"Keep an eye on that reel," said father. "If you hear it go 'round, reel in my fish."

"Oh, yes, I'll do just that," said mother, never taking her eyes off the printed page.

Maybe 10 minutes later, the sound of a reel "going 'round" penetrated mother's concentration. She looked at the pole. Yes, the reel did seem to be "going 'round." She went back to her book.

But the reel KEPT on "going 'round" and mother's conscience began to needle.

Something had to be done. So she did it.

"I remembered how they do that deep-sea fishing on television, you know, Sister, when they sit there on those big chairs in the boat and they brace the poles and lean back and reel in those big fish," said mother, later.

"So I just braced that pole in my apron pocket and reeled. And there on the end of the line was a FISH!

"And I didn't know what to do because I didn't have a bucket or a net and he kept going under the boat dock and I kept reeling in and your father wasn't anywhere in sight and I couldn't let that fish get away because your father would skin me alive if I did and I reeled in some more, and that fish--oh, he was a big one, sister, four and a half pound carp, your father weighed him-that fish was right there at the end of the pole and I couldn't reel in any more so I just picked up the pole and then your father and the dog drove in and your father took my picture before he'd put the fish in the live box and, my, Sister, that was a time!"

Well, THEN what did you do?

"Why, then I went in the house and baked a fresh peach pie." No, no, I mean what did you do with the fish? Eat him?

"Oh, my, no, Sister. He's in the live box. His name is Herkimer."



“Leftover Pie Dough”


SOMETIME IN 1956, I casually mentioned a baked tidbit called a "pocketbook" made with leftover pie dough. Readers requested the recipe. This is what happened when I asked my mother how she made them ...

IT WAS THANKSGIVING MORNING at Grandma and Grandpa's house in the country.

The whole family was in the living room with Grandpa and Zipper, the dog, and Teddy, the cat, when I came in the back door in the wake of the big roaster full of oven-fried chicken that had just come from my own kitchen two miles away. I held the door, my brother carried the chicken, and my mother didn't even look up from the stove. "I'm ready to make the gravy, Sister," she said, "where's the you-know?"

Jackie's carrying it, I said, referring to the glass jar of crispy oh-you-know with the melted butter from the bottom of the frying pan which my sister-in-law was trying to carry without spilling.

It was somewhere between the gravy-making and the pie-cutting or maybe it was the cream-whipping that I got a word in edgewise about the pocketbooks.

"I figured you'd ask me that, Sister," said mother, "so I'm ready for you. You just take whatever pie-dough you've got left over and you roll it out nice and thin and you smear some soft butter on it ... "

You mean spread the butter, I said, having in mind the practical writing of a recipe.

"Smear," said my brother, filching a broken piece of crust from the pumpkin pie pan. "If you spread it, it won't taste right."

" ... and then you sprinkle some sugar around on the butter," said mother as if she had never been interrupted. She sprinkled her fingers in the air over an imaginary piece of pie-dough smeared with soft butter. She put on quite a bit of sugar as I could see. "And that's all," she said, wiping her sugary fingers on her apron. "Now hand me those plates," she said to my brother, who shoved the plates with his left hand, his right hand hiding a big taste of something or other.

That CAN'T be all, I protested. Isn't there cinnamon in there, too? "Oh, yes, Sister, you can't make pocketbooks without cinnamon," said mother, running a silver knife around a pumpkin tart she'd baked in a muffin tin. "I made these little ones for the kids," she said. "There are five tarts so don't anybody get one of these by mistake. You big kids eat the pie."

I counted the tarts. Five. I counted the spaces in the muffin tin. Six.

My brother had a crumb sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

You big kids eat the pie, I reminded him. "Sure," he said, reaching for the pie. Mother slapped the side of the knife against his knuckles. "Add cinnamon if you want, Sister, and roll it up and that's all there is to it."

But that doesn't make a pocketbook, I protested.

"No, that makes pinwheels," said mother, taking muffin tin and pie pans over to the sink.

I KNOW it makes pinwheels, but why do we call them pocketbooks, I insisted.

"Because you always called them pocketbooks, Sister," said mother, pushing son and daughter out of the way as she stirred something on the stove.

"That'll teach you to go around asking questions," my brother grinned.

But WHY did I call them pocketbooks if they were really pinwheels, I had to know.

"Because I didn't use to make them the way I do now."

I was too close to the truth to be put off. How DID you make the pocketbooks before you started making them like pinwheels, I gasped, weakly.

Mother started dishing up cauliflower. "Well, you cut your pie-dough into little squares, Sister, about so big," and she measured in the air with her spoon. It looked like about three-inch squares to me. "And then you put your butter, and your sugar, and your cinnamon in there - here, put this on the table and hand me that other dish over there, I'm ready to take up the dressing-and you fold the four corners over to center and bake and that's ... "

All there is to it, I know, I said, wearily. And I KNOW I'm crazy for asking again but I've just got to know. WHY did I call something like that a pocketbook instead of calling it something else?

"Why, you used to help me make them, Sister," said mother. "When you were about three years old, you named them pocketbooks and we've called them that ever since."

But WHY, I started to say again ...

"Because," said my brother, starting to laugh as he traced an imaginary three-inch square of pie-dough on the kitchen table, "you'd watch mom smear the butter, sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon"-he went through every motion-"and then after she had all four corners tucked into the center, you'd open one corner and look in and say, 'Peek-a-boo. It's a pocketbook!'" And then he laughed like a crazy man.


"Yes, you did, Sister," said mother, from the depths of the oven. Well, how do YOU know so much, I demanded of my brother. If I was three years old when I made such a startling discovery, you weren't even born yet!

"I may have arrived in this world nearly 10 years AFTER you did," said my brother, ducking into the dining room, "but I got over here this morning BEFORE you did. I stopped here before I came over to your house for the chicken, and I got the low-down. Peek-a-boo!"

Little brothers!


“A Wedding Day”


THEN THERE WAS THE TIME "Third and Main" had a story about a couple married 49 years who had a mix-up in their marriage license ... and the day the story appeared, my phone rang ...


(Automatically, at the sound of my mother's voice on the phone, I reach for pencil and paper because I never know what she'll come up with next ... )

"Sister, everybody swears up and down that was your father and me who had that mix-up with the marriage license 49 years ago!"

Why, no-I picked up that story from the couple themselves, and they're no relation ...

"Well, I had a hard time convincing people it wasn't us. They said it sounded like something that'd happen to your father and me. And NOTHING happened at our wedding. Except, of course, we forgot the license."

What? Why, you never mentioned that before!

"Didn't I? Well, I guess I never thought it was important. Goodbye, Sister."

Hey, wait a minute-you mean you never HAD a license?

"Oh, yes, Sister, we had one. We forgot it-and your grandmother ran down the middle of the street waving it in her hand and almost scared the horses and ... "

Whoa! Begin at the beginning. How did the horses get in this? "Why, Sister, your father hired a hack with two horses from Luthman, the undertaker ... "

Oh, boy, some slicker!

" ... and the driver wore a plug hat and a cutaway coat and white gloves and a white carnation in his buttonhole, and the whip had a big white satin bow on it and the horses had white satin rosettes on their harnesses ... "

Big-time spender, eh?

" ... and we were driving down to the parsonage to get married when your father put his hand in his coat pocket and he didn't have the license. So we had to turn around and go back home for it and before we got there, here came grandma running down the street, yelling, 'Helen, Helen, you forgot your license' and she was waving it in her hands and almost scared the horses, and ... "

What was grandma doing in the middle of the street? Why didn't she go to the wedding?

"Oh, no, Sister. Your father said it was going to be a very quiet wedding-only the best man and the bridesmaid and the preacher."

And you two, of course. "And Charlie."

CHARLIE? Who's Charlie? Where did HE come from?

"Oh, I don't know where 'he came from, Sister. Somewhere in the house, I guess ... "

WHOSE house?

"The parsonage. Charlie was the preacher's little boy and the preacher asked us if we minded if Charlie watched because he had never seen a wedding before, and we said it was all right because I guess we didn't much care about anything right then ... "

Well, THEN what happened?

"We got married and then we had our pictures taken and then we went back home and grandma had a lovely reception and all your father's people came and we had a nice chicken dinner with ice cream and cake."

Well! That's the first time in my whole life that I ever heard that story about my own parents. Why haven't you told me this before?

"Why, Sister, I always thought you knew we were married Goodbye, Sister."

March 20, 1900



“Father the Jokester”


IT RUNS in the family!

There's a two-foot high evergreen tree in my yard. The other early morning when I walked around the yard before getting in the car to drive to Dayton, I did a double-take.

On that hot morning, my evergreen tree's branches were lined with snow. That's exactly what it looked like,

That's exactly what my father wanted me to think it looked like, too.

That old boy's a card, if you ever met one. He drops by my house nearly every day when I'm at work, No matter how old I get, my father still thinks I'm not old enough to remember to turn out lights, shut off faucets or close windows all by myself. So he comes in to look around and see that everything is under control.

His big white Samoyed named Lady comes with him. She checks the yard while he checks the house. Her luxuriant coat of fur sheds drifts of white during these hot days.

Father collected those white drifts of fur from his dog and decorated my evergreen to look like snow.

And I pretended I didn't see it. That's how I joke with him. He won't know until he reads this today that I got the message.

And it fooled me, too!

September 14, 1964



“Mother Who Fries Soup”


NOW I've heard everything ... and I should have known it would be my mother who would tell me!

"Sister," she said, "do you know what happened to that soup your father brought you the other day?"

I ate it.

"You only had a bowlful, Sister. I mean ALL of the soup I made-it was that beef broth with tomatoes, and this time I put elbow macaroni in it ... sometimes I put noodles in it, you know, and sometimes plain but this time elbow macaroni ... "

I know. I ate it. It was good.

"It turned out to be like your pea soup!"

It TASTED like beef and tomato with macaroni!

"Remember when you made that pea soup, Sister, and you made so

much you had it for days and finally you had to dig a hole and bury it?"

I remember. Where did you bury your soup?

"We didn't have to. Your father finally ate it all but he didn't know it." Did you blindfold him?

"No, but after we had soup for a couple days and I still had some left, I browned some onions in butter and added them, and some cheese, and some buttered crumbs and put the soup in the oven and baked it ... "

Baked soup?

" ... and there was still some left over, so the next day I fried it." Fried soup?

"Goodbye, Sister, I'm too busy to talk now."

And if she ever tells you she has to go fry some soup, you believe her -she's not kidding!

December 14, 1961



“Lost Ladies of McKinley”


THE PHONE RANG at my house.

"Sister, as soon as I get all the names spelled right, you can put it in the paper."

Put what in?

"My party."

Did you have a party?

"Not yet. But they'll all be here-Gertrude Appel and Ina Kinzig and Mary Hoyer and Batesy-that's Mrs. Otto Zink Sr., you know ... "

I know, but ...

"And Esther Unterburger-that's U-n-t-e-r ... "

It really doesn't matter, Mother-look-we can't put that in the paper.

"I know you can't, not until I get all the names spelled right. There's Mrs. William Charles, and Mrs. Fred Schweitzer, and Sophie Braunschweiger, and Nell Brown, you remember her, and Nellie Janke ... "

Look, Mother, we can't DO that any more ...

"Can't put Nellie Janke in the paper? Why, she was your teacher at McKinley school ... "

I know. I don't mean that. Look, it's different now. This is a metropolitan area and we have so many other things to report, there isn't room to put in guest lists the way they used to. Please don't ask me to ...

"I didn't ask you to get anything at the Metropolitan. I've got everything ready. You should see how nice the table looks-I put my green candles on, and the flowers-it's for Della Simpson, you know, she's moving to Clearwater, Fla., with Chester, and they're all driving up here -we haven't seen each other for years, not altogether like this, and as soon as they get here I'll find out how to spell Sophie's last name and then you can ... "

Hey, wait, wait. Look, you're a good kid but don't ask me to break a rule. It just isn't possible. There isn't space. Do you realize how many brides and engaged girls and babies and meetings and garden clubs and new fashions and all kinds of recipes and stuff we have to cover every day and there is never enough space to go around ...

" ... and the cake is outlined in blue with a yellow rose in the center of each piece-McKinley's colors were blue and gold, and I guess we can call that yellow icing gold if we want to, and ... "

Are you listening?

"Of course, Sister. I heard everything you said. You can't put it in the paper, you said. I wouldn't ask you to break a rule. I'm only your mother, you know."

Well ...

"But I should think the least you could do would be to leave the office early that day and stop in and say hello to the ladies before they go home ... "

Well, I'll try, but that's a pretty busy day for me and one of the girls is on vacation and ...

" ... and they'll want to see where you live so you pick up your house before you go to work. I don't want the ladies to think you don't know how to keep house."

But I DO know ...

" ... and you come home early so you can see all the lost ladies ... "

Lost? Who's lost already?

"Why, Freida Wilson is one ... "

She's not lost. She lives at 1709 Xenia avenue and has for years.

What do you mean lost ...

"Why, they're all lost."

They haven't even GOT there yet. How can they get lost? Didn't you tell them which way to turn out of Arcanum?

"Sister, they're ALL lost. They know how to get here." OK. You win. Now I'm lost.

"No, Sister, you never were a member of that group. It was only some of the last members of the PTA when they took McKinley away from us."

You mean when the school burned?

"No, when it changed from a grade school to an occupational school.

And there wasn't any more of the old PTA. That's what they called themselves."

Who did?

"The Lost Ladies of McKinley." You're kidding.

"No. The Lost Ladies stayed together all these years and I'll bet we talk a mile a minute when they get here. Your father says he's not going to stay around the house with a bunch of talking women, he's going to get his lunch down at the restaurant, well, if he'd rather eat someplace else instead of that good fried chicken we're going to have, that's a man for you ... "

He's smarter than I thought.

" ... and I hope it doesn't rain, I thought we'd sit out in the swing under the tree and I'd better tell your father to be sure to wipe off those chairs before he skips out. Sister, I wish you wouldn't talk so long. I've got work to do. Goodbye, Sister."

June 24, 1958



“Count Marco and Mother”


BECAUSE a friend of mine is hospitalized with a broken ankle, I thought I might lend her my copy of Count Marco's book. Nothing should be funnier to a woman with her leg in a cast than reading how she should gct up early in the morning and put on her high heels ...

The book was at my mother's house, so when I talked with her that day I asked if she were finished reading it.

"No," she said. "I'm going to fire it right out the window ... "


"The very idea!" she snorted. What happened?

"Why, that Marco isn't talking about a real woman. He's talking about, about ... "

Oh, come now-you know better than to get upset with him. He's only teasing ...

"I'll tease him with the broom! Why, do you know what kind of woman he wants a woman to be?"

What kind?

"The kind your grandpa had a name for. Why, the very idea that a woman should put on her high heels early in the morning with beds to make and dishes to do and maybe little children not even in school yet ... "

He's kidding you! He's got his tongue in his cheek.

" ... but your grandpa had a name for the kind of woman that Marco writes about."

What did grandpa call them?

"Never you mind."

I don't remember grandpa saying much of anything except Nope and Yep. I remember he sat and rocked and smoked a lot while grandma did the talking.

"Oh, he talked all right. He just never mentioned anything like that in front of you-you were too young."

For hevvins sake, WHAT did grandpa say? You've skirted it three times and I'm nor roo young now!

"Well-maybe I shouldn't say it on the phone. Somebody might be listening."

If they are, their ears ought to smoke. Are you going to tell me, or nor?

"Your grandpa called a woman like that a huzzy!"

A what?


You mean hussy?

"That's what I said. Buzzy. That Marco wants all women to be huzzies, the way he talks. You come get this book. I won't have it in the house!"

Don't take him too seriously, mother ...

"Are you going to throw that man's column out of the paper?" Why, a lot of people like to read it ...

"They do? Well, so do I. Goodbye, Sister."

March 13, 1963



“Birthday Hats”


EVERY YEAR I rack my brains to find a gift my mother would like on her birthday. Every year I ask-and every year she says, "Nothing, Sister." When last I was in New York, shooting the breeze with Tony Unger, the hat man, I suddenly had an inspiration.

Look at me-I said to Tony-and visualize somebody who looks like me, but 20 years older, a little shorter, and with long gray hair that she wears in a neat roll. She wears no lipstick, likes to bake bread, wears sensible no-nonsense shoes ...

"I know EXACTLY what you mean," cried Tony, brightening with enthusiasm. "She's the real, old-fashioned mother type. I'll bet she never wears her skirts short, either."

You're right. Now, what kind of hat would she like?"

Tony flew to the "back room" and in a minute returned-two hats in hand.

"Try this one," he commanded.

But if it fits me, it's wrong for my mother, I protested. It has to be too big and too-well ...

"I'm visualizing, I'm visualizing," said Tony. "Put this on." He thrust at me a lavender straw. I put it on. It was too big for me and toowell ...

"Perfect," he nodded. "Now, this one."

I crossed my fingers, hoping she'd really like the next hat-a black feather one for fall with two white wings at the front. I admired itbut would she?

All the way home on the plane, I chaperoned that fragile hat-box with the two birthday hats. I was of two minds-yes, she'd like them; no, she wouldn't.

I didn't even bother going home first. I went straight to the parents' house, and handed the hat-box to mother. Happy birthday for next week, I said.

Quick as a wink, she flew at that box, undid the cord, threw tissue paper this way and that-and came up with the black feather hat. She put it on at once and looked in the mirror. "Oh, my goodness, Sister, oh, my goodness! My goodness, Sister, oh, my."

I translated that to mean THIS one got by OK. But how did she like the lavender straw?

She wore it immediately!

"I didn't have any place to go so I could wear it, Sister, so I just kept it on and washed the dishes," she said later.

June, 1959



“The Compleat Pessimist”


YOU CAN'T EXACTLY call him a true pessimist, my father-because his sense of humor is delicately balanced and, occasionally, delightfully subtle.

On the other hand, he is not a true optimist either-because not only does he see the dark side of any silver-lined cloud that looms overhead, he goes hunting for them when the sky is clear.

He calls it "being prepared for the worst."

He's the one in the family who urges everybody to start on trips, even short ones, so far ahead of time that you arrive everywhere too early. "You have to allow for flat tires," he says. The mere fact that none of us have ever HAD a flat tire does not give us the courage to defy him. After all, we COULD have a flat tire!

This overly cautious attitude on the part of my male parent used to irk me. For every gloomy forecast of his, I'd try to find an optimistic counter-irritant until I made myself sick sounding so Pollyanna-ish.

Then I tried to argue, tease, and debate him out of his predictions of dire doom. But he is a past master of family debate. When arguments get too hot for him, he lights a cigar and routs me every time.

I've finally found a way to co-exist with my father and his optimistic pessimism. I agree with him.

Take our cold weather this week. He loved it. "Going to zero or even below tonight," he said, happily.

Yep, I agreed.

"Maybe even to 10 below." Could.

"That's cold."

Sure is.

"Pipes freeze, you know." Sure do.

"Yours are all right, I suppose?" Hope so.

"It's a terrible mess when they freeze. They could break." That's right.

"If it doesn't get to 10 below, it could snow some more."


"Sometimes snow drifts to 20 feet. Blocks the roads. You have to be

careful driving."

I am.

"Maybe you'd better not drive in to Dayton." It hasn't started to snow yet.

"Well, if it does, the road gets pretty slick." I'll watch it.

"You haven't got your chains on, I guess." Yes, had them put on in Dayton.

"They're no good on ice, you know. Slip easy." I'll watch it.

"You can skid right into a ditch on that road to Arcanum." rn try to skid easy.

"How's your fuel oil?"

Gauge shows three-quarters full. With this new furnace, I don't seem to be using as much oil as I used to.

"Gauge could be stuck." Could. But I don't think so.

"Can't take a chance on it this kind of weather. You'd better order

oil-for the end of the week, anyway. You never know."

OK, I'll call the end of the week.

"Better call ahead of time. They could run out of oil, this weather." I'll call tomorrow.

"Woodpile OK?"

Well, I'm starting to use it faster these days. "It'll be gone in no time."

Oh, there's plenty for a while.

"On the other hand, if it doesn't snow and the roads clear up, you'll be struck out home with your chains on. It isn't good to drive on dry roads with chains."

I'll take it slow to Arcanum and have them taken off before I go to Dayton.

"But then what if it snows hard again? You never can tell ... "

I'll call the garage from the office and one of the boys can put them on before I come home.

(Small silence.)

Then: "You got a dangerous condition there at your house." Where?

"Those back steps. Sharp corners. A little ice on them, you could fall and if you hit a corner, you could hurt yourself."

I started to laugh. I'd countered everyone of his moves but this one caught me off guard. He was really reaching for the gloom THIS time. I couldn't help it - I kept on laughing.

From the other end of the phone came an answering chuckle. He knew the game was over and that the only way he could withdraw successfully was to get away quickly.

His voice imitated mother's. "Goodbye, Sister," he said-and hung up the phone.

December, 1958

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