TERMS OF ENDEARMENT AND FAMILY . . .


How well I remember the night I sat down in my livingroom and watched the movie, Fargo. I’d heard many comments about “the insulting manner in which this movie presents people who live in the midwest.” I’m a fairly well educated individual who enjoys my career in human services. Perhaps that is the reason why I decided to watch this movie without forming any prejudgements. I have to tell you that as the movie progressed, I found myself repeatedly laughing aloud. I found it to be a truly hilarious “take on the midwest.” (It seemed to me to be far more a characature of sorts than any kind of reality-based documentary.) It was the last half hour of the movie that had me most heartily laughing; particularly as the foot with the white sock was being crammed into the woodchopper by a true “putts of a murderer.” This brings me to my processing of this movie and some of the midwestern attitudes that I actually do find quite habitual if not also, quite hilarious.

It was while at my office one day that I found myself using what is probably a true midwestern expression. As I typed a note to our I.T. Department, I stated, “Please help. I’ve found myself in that cotton-picken gray screen again and I can’t get out!” When I heard back from the I.T. Department, the I.T. person commented, “Gee, I haven’t heard that expression in a long time!” I responded with an e-mail saying, “Guess you sure can tell that I’m a native Minnesotan! lol”

This prompted me to reflect upon some of the expressions I frequently use; many of which I sometimes find myself thoroughly enjoying passing-on to my grandchildren. Why? It’s funny, but in thinking about it, I realized that this is one way in which I honor and preserve my grandparents’, parents, aunts’ and uncles’ memory. I’d honestly never given any thought to the many terms of endearment as well as terms of frustration I’ve held close to my heart through the years. These people who came before me, each had their own way of interpreting the world and the folks around them. By the same token, they had their own unique ways of reacting to the world and the folks around them! Some of which I still enjoy laughing about, others that continue, even after all these years, to quite thoroughly warm my heart.

Recently, my third, beautiful grandchild was born. As I doted over her I found myself referring to her as “such a precious little tyke” and, exclaiming, “you’re such a beautiful little dolly!” Both were terms my grandmother often used whenever she would speak in affectionate voice tones of one of us as we were growing up. I also realized that as I spoke these terms, while my heart was being thoroughly warmed by hearing them spoken aloud, I was also experienceing gra’ma’s love all over again. At the same time, I was also experiencing the thought of my son and daughter-in-law, “Now I hope that you two will choose to adopt these expressions of love and affection and use them in your everyday language as well.” I realized that my motivation in doing so was that I know the secret of the love of those wonderful people who came before me which I experience all over again, each time that I use those terms. Naturally, I want to pass that secret on to my own beloved children and grandchildren. There are times when I suspect that my son, who is now forty-two and the child most like his mother (me) may already have stumbled upon this precious secret. I’ve wondered because occasionally when talking about his grandmother, I’ll notice an expression of love and longing cross his face ever so briefly before he quickly brings himself and his thoughts back into the moment.

Then, of course, were the occasions during which my mother, my aunt or my grandmother would reach the proverbial “end of their rope” with all of the mischevious antics in which we children would relentlessly indulge ourselves. Those were the occasions when I would hear one of them exclaim, in a frustrated voice tone, “Oh, hell’s bells!” Now, granted, countless are the times that I’ve attempted to imagine hell . . . not one of which has ever included bells! I must admit that I find the thought extemely funny. In fact, even as a good catholic child, I had to struggle to hold back my impish smile and laughter whenever I heard one of my elders use this expression! Looking back, I’m grateful that while hearing this expression communicated the fact that we needed to immediately cease whatever annoying behavior we’d been exhibiting at the time, it also was not an expression that caused us to experience any fear or trauma.

How I love to be reminded of my grandmother (on my mother’s side of the family – I never had the opportunity to meet my grandmother on my father’s side; she died before I was born.)


Staying at gra’ma’s, my little sister and I would snuggle down into the sunshine, fresh summer air-scented sheets together for the night. I can still feel how crisp and freshly ironed those sheets gra’ma had hung outdoors on her makeshift clothesline felt. Falling asleep I’d take my one last, long, deep breath and inhale the fragrance of the outdoor country air that clung to my pillowcase. Gra’ma was an excellent housekeeper and cook. Of course, she’d had many years and many children for whom to prepare meals! One of my most fond memories is of Gra’ma baking homemade bread, scooping it up and out of the oven ever so carefully, then buttering a slice just for me! I can still smell that unequalled, intoxicating fragrance today.

Another favorite memory is of waking in the early morning in Gra’ma’s big bed to the sound of a hundred different birds singing melodiously outside our partially open bedroom window. Every morning was not only happy then, but exciting as I’d awaken anticipating each day’s new adventure. How I loved living in that big old house. I don’t think that we tried gra’ma’s patience too much, but if we did, she’d say, under her breath, “Oh, hell’s bells!”

At Christmas time, Gra’ma always decorated the Christmas tree with lots of shiny, silver strands of tinsel, white reflective icicles and with the old fashioned bubble lights! I can remember gazing into those old, colorful (and very hot-they were later outlawed) bubble lights for minutes at a time while daydreaming about magical places and dreams I hoped would one day come true. Christmas morning was extra exciting though – my little sister and I would get out of bed early in the morning before anyone else was up and tip-toe downstairs to see what treasures awaited us underneath the tree. If gra’ma heard us, she’d say, “Oh you two little monkeys!” Those mornings were nothing short of magical! Once Patty and I had gotten up in the mornings, eaten breakfast and gotten dressed, out Gra’ma’s front door we’d fly!

Our daily adventures in the bull pasture that abutted Gra’ma’s back yard would then begin. One of our favorite pastimes was to build little imaginery houses inside the heavily wooded Sumac that lined their long driveway. It was always so much cooler underneath the red leaved branches of the small Sumac Trees which felt especially good in the hot summer afternoons. There, of course, was the huge old Box Elder Tree that stood just inside the turn-about driveway on one side of Gra’ma’s house. This tree had one very thick branch that extended straight outward at a ninety-degree angle from itself where we’d love to climb up, sit, then dangle our feet while giggling for hours. This tree was just on the other side of several gigantic lilac bushes that lined the top of the turn-a-bout. Each spring those bushes bloomed with dense layers of white and purple lilacs that filled Gra’ma’s yard with the intoxicating fragrance of lilacs. Directly in front of the house stood a beautiful Catalpa Tree that Patty and I also loved to climb. Each spring it bloomed with thousands of dainty, white blossoms. To one side of this big back yard stood Grandpa’s apple orchard. How Patty and I loved to see the first small, green apples every spring. We’d eat them with caution though. Gra’ma had warned us about the terrible stomach ache we could get if we ate too many, too quickly. On the other side of the apple orchard stood Grandpa’s pear trees. It was a truly picturesque place.

The backyard was lined b a horse pasture owned by neighbors who lived at the top of the hill where two or three horses usually roamed leisurely. These neighbors also owned a mink farm. Fortunately, my little sister and I never figured out that they were feeding the horses to their mink! She and I loved the horses and would spend whole afternoons petting them. Once in awhile, the older girls in their family would take us horsebackriding! Those times were the absolute best times of all!

Our children’s swing set stood out in the backyard. It consisted of two swings and a teeter-totter. We spent many of our days playing there. I used to love to swing for hours and sing songs Mama had taught me and songs from Gra’ma’s Broadway Play records. I used to love to spend hours during the cold months of the year listening to all of Gra’ma’s old 33 and 78 records on her record player.

The swing set faced Grandpa’s garage. It was an old, gray, garage that had never been painted and the wood was badly weather-beaten. To our right, stood the old unpainted outhouse (“two-holer” they called it) we’d had to use for a bathroom until Gra’ma and Grandpa could afford to install indoor plumbing.

Those were very tough times for our little family of three. Mama had walked three or four miles down the railroad tracks to and from her job at the Holiday House Restaurant just outside St. Peter where she worked as a waitress. Whether it rained or snowed outside, Mama had to walk to and from her job. She didn’t know how to drive a car at that time. Mama somehow managed to buy a tiny, old, rickety mobile home (“trailer”) that was eight feet wide and had only a tiny living room, kitchen and bedroom. In the bedroom was a toilet that sat next to the double bed. There was no bathroom sink nor bathtub. The back door was located right in front and to the right of the toilet. Mama had somehow managed to attach a big, old one room shed to the trailer which we had to walk through in order to enter the trailer through the front door. It wasn’t too long before Mama had to get rid of the trailer though, because the toilet began to sink through the bedroom floor. I still remember how cold and drafty that old, tiny structure was in the winter-time. Mama finally got hired at the St. Peter State Hospital where she worked fulltime as a Nurse’s Aide, and much later on, she became a Licensed Practical Nurse. Patty and I were always so very proud of her.

Gra’ma and Grandpa let us move into their big house since Mama had had to get rid of our trailer and had to work the night shift at the hospital. Patty and I were excited about staying in Gra’ma’s big house all of the time. For about three or four years, Patty and I shared one of the two upstairs bedrooms. The bedrooms had old, dark brown painted wooden floors and were connected to one another by a door into the second one. The first bedroom was located at the top of the stairs. Gra’ma had wall papered both bedroom walls with beautiful flowered wallpaper and each bedroom contained a double bed. The second bedroom also held a crib for relatives who visited and brought along one of our baby cousins. The first bedroom held a large closet that contained lots of blankets and cartons. This closet was the center of much of our play because it had double doors on it’s front, and one small cubby-hole sized door on it’s side. The cubby-hole sized door proved to provide a wonderful hiding place for many games of hide-and-go-seek!

This first bedroom also contained one window near the top of the stairs. I used to love to quietly climb out of bed after my little sister had fallen asleep, stand at the top of the stairs and lean over into that window. I’d gaze out at the stars and the city lights of St. Peter and dream of future adventures to come in my someday adult life!

The only thing I didn’t like about being at gra’ma’s house was that when we first moved there, she thought we were too skinny (and we were.) Gra’ma would make homemade oatmeal with brown sugar and when I’d start to complain that my tummy was too full, she’d say, “My goodness! You don’t eat enough to stick in your eye!” Being an extremely visual person even as a child, I always imagined that to be far less than I’d just eaten!

Then there was the time that gra’ma was cleaning chickens. My grandfather would cut-off their heads with an axe, gra’ma would boil them, then pull the feathers off, then she’d cut open the other end of the chicken, stick her hand way inside and pull out the insides of the chicken! One would think that would have scared or grossed-out a child of six, but not this Minnesotan! After finally persuading gra’ma to let me try sticking my small hand inside the chicken and pulling out the insides, gra’ma exclaimed, “Oh, my stars in garters!” She often used that expression when filled with surprise. It was a very funny image, indeed, that my little girl imagination would conjure-up of each star clothed in a pair of garters just like gra’ma wore!
(I’ve always loved this four generation photo of gra’ma, mom, myself and my first child, my son – my gra’ma’s first grandchild. To this day, I treasure the fact that I was the first to give her that very special gift!)

When gra’ma didn’t like something someone did, the absolute worst word you could ever be called by my grandmother, was a “skunk.” She’d exclaim in an annoyed-sounding voicetone, “Oh! That skunk!” I never heard my granmother use the Lord’s name in vain. It would have so not suited her at all.

Our aunt Evelyn lived a couple of blocks from gra’ma’s house, my uncle Ray and my then four cousins, David, Irene, Sylvia and Judy. Mama didn’t have very much money and so many times when Evelyn bought new clothing or shoes for my cousins, she’d also buy some for my little sister and I. They eventually moved out onto a farm in the country where we’d later spend many of our summer vacations embarking upon countless adventures in the cliffs, woods and along the river outside their house. On the rare occassions when my aunt Evelyn grew impatient with us, just like gra’ma, she’d exclaim, “Hell’s bells!” Up the staircase we’d all scurry just as fast as our little feet would carry us. We never were afraid of her though, but we didn’t let her know that! (Quite a term of endearment!)

I can recall making many, many exciting discoveries in the woods outside our yard growing up and even IN our yard. But the discovery that made a more lasting impression (picture) in my mind, was one night while playing outdoors after dark in some fairly deep, new fallen snow. I was standing underneath a street light gazing down at the perfect, soft snow surrounding me, when I realized that it was as if there were trillions of tiny diamond chips sprinkled throughout that snow and it’s beauty was the first to ever take my breath away. I have loved watching the first snowfall of each winter ever since. (See my blog entry, “Ode to Snow”.)

I suppose that by now I do sound a bit like a native mid-westerner. It’s been in this midwestern state however, (that grows icy cold in the winter and muggy hot in the summer) that I am repeatedly reminded by each and every one of those ever so slight inconveniences of just how very much I’ve been loved . . . of just how very much I treasure the memories of family here. It would be safe to say that with all of the love and affection I’ve known in this mid-western state of Minnesota, inspite of what people may say about the silly movie, “Fargo”, it is often those terms of endearment that remind me how I would not have chosen to grow-up anywhere else!

Copyright by JC Eberhart 2007:

© JC Eberhart and JC Eberhart’s Blog, 1974 – 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to JC Eberhart and JC Eberhart’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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