Things Karlee Will Never Know
I have tried to give my daughter Karlee everything I had as a child. Some things, though, are preserved by time, like a curvy-edged black and white photograph capturing a decade in time. I was born in 1966 and was a child in the ‘70s. She was born in 1997 and a child of new millennium. Some things have disappeared from my childhood to hers by modern invention and others by convenience, my choice.
For example, my daughter has not experienced black and white television, with its required warming up time and its concluding with a circle that becomes smaller and smaller until it is a micro dot in the center of the screen. She came after the TV’s turn-style knob, which was used before remotes. When changing the channel involved exercise, or when three channels was a choice, and having one set meant Dad controlled the TV on Monday, football nights. She has never been up at 6:00 a.m. to watch a flag swaying in the wind as the national anthem plays before TV comes on for the day and the Lone Ranger rides out. She’ll never know of the anticipation of popcorn made on the electric stove with a full stick of butter and Sunday nights with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or with Bobby Vinton, the Polish prince and his polkas.
She’ll never know the automobiles of my youth either. Those with vinyl seats that burned the back of my legs in the summer and were stiff with cold in the winter. She would never think of riding with the window down and her arm stretched out, waving to passersby. I wouldn’t let her, remembering Dad’s story of a man who lost his hand. She has never seen full-service at a gas station. When the attendant filled the tank, checked the fluids, and washed the windshield, and everyone paid with cash. When no one went inside and bought a 32-ounce fountain pop. Rather, it was a treat to smell the gas as it wisped in through the cranked-open back window. Unlike her, I was not restrained by a car seat, booster or any other contraption. We rode on the floor and in the back window or four or five on the bench seat of the truck, or, dare I say, in the back of the truck bed, sitting on the sides, anticipating a swimming trip at some lake. Air bags were talkers, not protection.
I call my daughter the air-conditioned kid. Her home has always had central air, as has her transportation and classroom. She has never had a sleepless night because the humidity has made her bedroom too oppressive. She has never had my dilemma of a single sheet making me too warm, but needing a covering nonetheless. Nor has she has ever taken blankets to the basement to sleep on the floor with her sisters to escape the summer’s heavy hand. Neither has she has ever looked out the classroom window, wishing for a breeze as September mimics a second summer and her classmates glisten with perspiration.
It’s my fault, but she’ll also never know the pleasure of hanging clothes on the line. The satisfaction of towels, shirts, and sheets lined up in order, longest to shortest, some even by color. Towels smartly hung by corners and shirts from the bottom, never the shoulders. She’ll never share in the pride and snobbery of my mother’s, sister’s, and my knowing the proper way to display laundry or of our disdain for those who do it improperly. She’ll also never know the feeling of sliding into crisp sheets on a summer’s night and smelling their springtime freshness. She’s never reached for a towel after a bath, not a shower, for a towel stiff from drying outside. Her laundry is electrically dried and even softened with conditioned air.
She has never labored in an acre-sized garden, row after endless row, pulling weeds, watering tomato plants, or picking potato bugs to put into milk jugs filled with an inch of gasoline. She hasn’t walked down rows of corn with only the sky for direction. Her arms haven’t been scratched by sharp leaves. She hasn’t spent hours, days really, blanching corn to freeze, pitting cherries or peeling tomatoes to can. She hasn’t looked with satisfaction at the day’s labor in colorful quart jars ready to put beneath the stairs to use next winter. She hasn’t triumphed for hours in the blueberry patch, hiding under bushes and playing hide-and-go-seek with cousins. She’ll never be in trouble for eating all of her great-grandma’s sour, wine-making currant berries.
She hasn’t incubated eggs to chicks and fed them weeds and grass in the pen out back; she hasn’t had her dad chop their heads off on the end of her swing set slide and watched in mixed horror and surprise as they ran headless around the yard. She hasn’t hauled slop to great grandma’s farm to feed the pigs with endless appetites. She’ll never see her father ride a snowmobile and with a shotgun and shoot an offending runaway pig. Her mother’s Mother’s Day present, a billy goat, has never butted her from behind or thought it was a rabbit with whom it shared a pen. She hasn’t spent Saturdays stacking wood; sometimes 15 truckloads in a day with her family close by, talking of plans and futures. Making two fuels, the heat of work at hand and the heat of burning wood in the winter.
Karlee has never had home-sewn clothes either. Polyester knit, iron-clad clothes. Clothes I was proud of and often used for show-and-tell. My dancing, top hat, Planter’s peanut pants and my freshly-hatched chick pants, the ones that gave me a connection with the The Partridge Family TV show. She’ll never have a twin with matching attire, a daily look alike.
Unlike me, Karlee has never had a mother who didn’t work outside the home. At six months, she went off to daycare, and I back to work. Unlike my mother, her mother did not bake cookies and be at the ready when she walked home from school. Her mother was never the “room mother,” the Christmas party planner, or the field trip volunteer. Rather, Karlee brought pre-packaged treats to school in March to celebrate her birth. I was someone else’s teacher.
And my deepest regret is that she will never meet my grandmother, my mom’s mother. My favorite grandma, Grandma Mary, who died before Karlee was born. I did introduce them once though. I brought Karlee as an infant to the cemetery once. We stood by the headstone and I did the talking. I wish Karlee could have spent the night at her house as my sister and I often did. She would have delighted herself in Grandma’s silver-dollar-sized pancakes, never large ones like my mom’s were. There was no hurrying at Grandma’s.
Karlee could have watched Soul Train with us and giggled at the alien, provocative dance moves. She could have been entertained by Lawrence Welk and the Lennon sisters singing and waltzing to the bubble-making machine. Knowing Karlee, she would have fought with me for a turn to stand behind Grandma in the reclining chair to brush her graying, permed hair.
Karlee will never sit with Grandma in the pew on Sunday and rifle through her thick, ribbon-laden, large-print Bible. She’ll never share a hymnal and sing “I Come to the Garden Alone” or share a meal with her at Ponderosa–salad bar and all. She won’t remember Christmases with an adult and kids’ table or the frequent beef roast and potato dinners. She’ll never have toast with sweet jam after Trufant’s Thursday flea market or admire Grandma’s newest quilt.
But Karlee does have me, not my childhood, but the woman, wife, and mother I have become. In our air-conditioned home with our supermarket vegetables and store-bought clothes. She’ll have me and my memories while making her own.