Midge, GI Joe, Nuns, & Tonsils

As a child of the 60s, I had a front row seat to the changing roles of gender in society. Sometimes they were about serious stuff like Moms working – sometimes they were about things that didn’t really matter at all.

Mom in the living room, between bouts of tonsillitis

Mom in the living room, between bouts of tonsillitis

My mom had terrible problems with tonsilitis when we were young. Max and I got sick pretty often, we would give it to mom. We bounced back but she didn’t.  One of us would get sick and pass it on, about the time we all got well one of us would get sick again. It was a constant recurring cycle that only got worse once I started school. Our family doctor told her that a tonsilectomy was pretty serious for an adult, but was simple and safe for children. Max and I could have ours taken out at the same time, all we had to do was wait until Max was old enough and we could break the cycle.

I'm sure I was asked to show the photographer my tonsils in this shot

Here I am showing off my huge tonsils

I was in Kindergarten when the time came. I was at an age where I was all about playing with Barbie. I loved all the accessories. The first Barbie I had was a hand-me-down from the neighbor across the street. It was a Midge doll. I didn’t really care for her. She had brown hair and freckles, I thought she looked too much like me, I hated my freckles. My mom loved her for the same reason I hated her. My mom’s name was Barbie and she loved the idea of a fashion doll, so she was thrilled when Midge came our way.

Freckle-faced Midge - I couldn't wait to trade her in on a newer model

Freckle-faced Midge – I couldn’t wait to trade her in on a newer model

Skagg’s Drug Store rand a trade-in promotion when the new Barbies with the twisting waist came out. Bring in your old Barbie, and get the new one for a buck and a half. I knew mom liked Midge too much to let me trade her in so I managed to get Grandma to take me to trade her in for the newfangled twisty Barbie. Mom saw me with the new Barbie and I could tell she wasn’t happy that I made the trade, not because Midge was a wonderful doll that might be worth more than a discounted Barbie, mostly because she hoped having a beautiful doll with my features would be good for me. Me – I wanted the twisty waist and was glad to see the freckles gone.

Who wouldn't dump Midge for this new Twist-and-turn Barbie?

Who wouldn’t dump Midge for this new Twist-and-turn Barbie? Real eyelashes! Bending legs! 

Max had just gotten a GI Joe and I was smitten – I mean Joe came with all kinds of cool accessories. Guns, knives, goggles, scuba gear – you name it Joe had it. Next to Joe, Ken was a wimp. The thing that put him over the top for me was that Joe could do one thing Ken couldn’t – he could ride a horse. I guess Ken could as long as he rode sided-saddle with his legs sticking straight out, but how much fun was that? I was wishing that Skagg’s would have a Ken trade-in. I wanted a Joe! I asked my mom for one and she told me that GI Joes were only for boys. I just didn’t get that, after all why would it matter. I could play with Ken and he was a boy. Eventually I just started playing with one of Max’s Joes.

Not much of a manly man - Ken couldn't even ride a horse.

Not much of a manly man – Ken couldn’t even ride a horse.

What does all this have to do with tonsils? I’m getting there, I promise.

My brother and I went into the hospital together. It was a Catholic hospital and many of the nurses were nuns. I had never seen a nun before and my first impression was that they were kind of scary. As soon as we were admitted to the hospital they wanted a blood sample. I had never had anyone take blood before, and having a tall nun in a black habit come at with a huge needle freaked me out. She grabbed my arm so I pulled it away and locked my fingers together behind my head so that she could not get at the inside of my elbow. She called for help. Two more nuns, a doctor, and my mother came and forced my arm open while I kicked and screamed bloody murder. Max sat on the stool next to me wide-eyed watching this all play out. I think I was upside down facing the floor when they finally got my elbow open. Things had not started well.

Max and I - That's my new Twist-and-Turn Barbie

Max and I about tonsil time – That’s my new Twist-and-Turn Barbie

That night my Grandma came to see us after work. She would stay with us until we fell asleep. She brought some things to keep us occupied with her. She brought Max’s favorite GI Joe along with a new accessory kit. For me she brought me my very own Joe sailor with a scuba diving kit. I was ecstatic – so far it had all been worth it.

I traded in my tonsils for my very own GI Joe

I traded in my tonsils for my very own GI Joe

I could hardly sleep that night, not because I was having surgery in the morning, but because I couldn’t wait to wake up and play with my very own Joe. Sister Helen came in to get us ready to go to the operating room. I asked if Joe could go with me and she told me that he was a boys toy, I should be playing with a girls doll. I know I shot her a look, no nun was going to tell me what to play with. I hugged Joe close in case she decided to take him from me. Max and I both had our Joes as the wheeled us to the operating room. They told me to count backwards from a hundred and I think I might have gotten to 96 before I was out.

When I woke up I had the worst sore throat of my life. It hurt to even try to talk. Worse yet, Max had his Joe, but mine was nowhere to be found. The nuns asked me how I felt, but had no interest hearing about my missing Joe. They offered ice cream as a distraction – at least that’s what I thought at the time. No one thought that finding my Joe was a priority.

Have you seen me? I may have been kidnapped by nuns!

Have you seen me? I may have been abducted by nuns!

Grandma came by again to spend the evening with us, finally someone who understood the urgency of my situation! She hunted down that nun and got my Joe back for me. I think she may have given her a piece of her protestant mind while she was at it. I ate some ice cream and tucked Joe under my pillow for safe keeping. Grandma made sure all my accessories were safe – now I could go to sleep. Late that night Max woke up and needed to go to the restroom. I pushed the call button and a male nurse came into the room. Max insisted that a man couldn’t be a nurse, only girls were nurses. He would wait until morning when a proper nurse could be found.

"No - I want a real nurse!"

“No – I want a real nurse!”

In the morning Max, Joe, Joe, and I were discharged with sore throats and lots of accessories. Mom’s throat issues got a lot better, I developed a healthy skepticism of nuns, and I got my very own GI Joe.

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The Candle Shoot

Our backyard was not an urban oasis. It was not a landscaped sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of life. It was a crazy obstacle course surrounded by a 6 foot cinderblock wall.

Our backyard was rarely pretty enough to photograph - a couple inches of snow dressed it up nicely.

Our backyard was rarely pretty enough to photograph – a couple inches of snow  and – Viola! it’s dressed up nicely.

You entered through a 12 foot wide sliding glass door off of our living room – the three panel wide door was partially obscured by the worlds largest fake mediterranean couch. The slider opened onto a large concrete patio. It had an awning cover salvaged from Grandpa’s house. In addition to the standard issue BBQ grill there were a number of other items on the patio, under the awning protected from the desert sun. Dog food bowls, a giant sewing machine cabinet, a home-made metal forge, mini bike parts, and huge assortment of tools – actually anything that you might need to tinker with at a moment’s notice.

Our covered patio housed a variety of essential items - one never knows when they will need a sewing machine or a pottery wheel.

Our covered patio housed a variety of essential items – one never knows when they will need a sewing machine, a shop vac, or a pottery wheel.

There were always a variety of dogs and other pets. Rabbits, birds, a skunk, quail, ducks – Mom was an easy touch, she rarely said no to a new pet.

Amazing creatures abounded in the great outdoors that lay behind our house on Isabelle Avenue

Amazing creatures abounded in the great outdoors that lay behind our house on Isabelle Avenue – this is Faux Pas playing in the scrap wood pile.

Off to the left there was an old clothes line. After we upgraded to that new-fangled clothes dryer Mom used this area to grow a vegetable garden in. Mom loved to garden, prior to getting the new dryer this farmer’s daughter managed to squeeze strawberry plants or artichokes into the flower beds, so a six-foot-wide patch of the earth was the equivalent of inheriting the family farm. She tilled and weeded everyday until the fall harvest was over.

To the right there the washroom/workshop/storage room/metal shaving museum tucked into the side of the house. Along the fence line there was a barn-shaped metal storage shed – it housed the lawn tools, welding equipment, and possibly all the missing Philips screwdrivers and end wrenches. It was like a vortex. Tools went there to die. On the roof you might find the hide of last year’s deer as Pop experimented with methods for tanning leather.

This is a tanning experiment in the front yard - more successful than the hides left to dry on the roof of the shed.

This is a tanning experiment in the front yard – more successful than the hides left to dry on the roof of the shed. This also served as an impromptu educational exhibit for children walking past our house to the elementary school at the end of our block. Yes, Virginia, that was Bambi. Ahhh the circle of life.

My pop had a foot thick slice from a large pine tree on a stand in the middle of it all. It was a target for us to practice throwing tomahawks at. I know that the tomahawk target is practically standard issue in most backyards – right up there with the BBQ grill. I’m sure there was one in your backyard too.

Tomahawk Target - one of the backyard essentials

Tomahawk Target – one of the backyard essentials

We threw tomahawks and knives several times a week and visited the emergency room at least once or twice a year.

This is not our backyard, but we did this back there. Note Max's way cool waffle stompers.

This is not our backyard, but we did do this back there. Note Ronnie’s form and Max’s awesome waffle stompers.

We always had a dog or three back there so there was always poop to scoop. The dogs back here were “outside” dogs and they included the very creatively named “Goldie.” She  came to our house when I was six and died peacefully under the old clothes line when I was in my early twenties, having lived a full and exciting life. In her prime she had stopped and cornered a burglar who had broken into the house next door. She was a sweet dog as long as you came into the yard through the house. Over the fence or through the gate meant that you were an intruder. This didn’t bode well for the unfortunate meter man who happened to come when no one was home.

This is not Goldie, this is Minka - she spent her formative years in our backyard on Isabelle Avenue.

This is not Goldie, this is Minka – she spent her formative years in our backyard on Isabelle Avenue. A caffeine addict from puppyhood she drank several Big Gulps each day.

All in all it was place of utility and chaos. After a long day of car repair, Budweiser, and New York strips it was the place where many a Saturday night took an interesting turn.

One autumn Saturday we had the whole crew there. Poore Boy, Red, TJ, Tiny – I think they had attempted to repair a car earlier in the day – they may or may not have been successful, I can’t recall. Pops fired up the grill and sent us all out into the backyard with shovels to scoop up the dog poop. He had something different in mind for the evening, and it required a clean yard. After dinner he had us arrange lawn chairs out in the middle of the yard facing the brick wall behind the clothesline. My brothers and I threw a few tomahawks – Pops and the guys had a few more Buds.

Right about dusk Pops showed us what he had up his sleeve. He brought out a 2X4 with 3/4” holes drilled about 12 inches apart. He set up on the ground and placed an emergency candle in each hole. You know, those candles you keep in the pantry in case the power goes out. He lit the candles and announced that we were going to have a candle shoot. We used .22 caliber rifles to attempt to shoot out the flames on the candles. The idea was not to hit the candle and knock it over – the idea was to snip the wick with the bullet, snuffing out the flame.

The idea is to shoot at that little gap between the candle and the flame - poof!

The idea is to shoot at that little gap between the candle and the flame – poof! It’s dark!

Remember – we were not on a farm or out in the country – this is downtown Las Vegas. Oddly, location was not one of the considerations that Pops contemplated when he devised his little spectacle.

Isabelle Avenue is on the left hand side about half way up - perfect spot for a shooting range.

Isabelle Avenue is on the left hand side about half way up – perfect spot for a shooting range.

Everyone, kids included took turns and with a bit of practice, everyone could snip the wick. I know I felt like Annie Oakley the first time I did it. As the evening wore on the guys would shoot a bit, drink a bit, shoot some more. Round by round the snipping became tougher and tougher. By about 9:00 the only ones able to make the shot were me and my brothers. The excitement was wearing off with each miss. Something was needed to liven this party back up and Poore Boy had an idea.

Nothing like a little amplified music to add ambiance to the sound of gunfire.

Nothing compliments the sound of gunfire like amplified music.

He took Red inside and they brought out my brother’s electric guitar and amplifier. Red plugged in the guitar and started playing – he turned the volume up to the max and started playing the Star Spangled Banner – Hendrix style. Poore Boy emerged from the sliding glass door with a 12 gauge. Everyone laughed – you can’t shoot a shotgun in your backyard in downtown Las Vegas! Steve didn’t seem to care. He loaded it up, leveled it at those candles and fired – BOOM! Flames, wax, buckshot – all spattered against the brick wall, with the sound of the shotgun only barely modulated by the national anthem. Their eyes went wide, the guitar went silent – then without speaking they grabbed their guns and ran into the house giggling like little girls. They all sat silently in the living room waiting to hear the sirens that never came.

Here's a shot of a candle shoot in my yard - a safe and legal 4 miles from the city.

Here’s a shot of a candle shoot in my yard – a safe and legal 4 miles from the city.

A family tradition was born that Saturday. At my place there’s a Memorial Candle Shoot every year on or near January 29. There will be grilling, good friends, candles, and gunfire. Guitars of all calibers are welcome. Shotguns are prohibited.

Stop by if you’re in my neck of the woods.