Sunday, January 9, 2011

Half Pint

Half Pint

Maybe because she was nearest my age, for some years growing up, Karen and I were pretty tight. When we lived in the neighborhood of the house that burned down I remember playing a wedding game based on the wedding of aunt Sally to Duncan. We called it Sally and Duncan. She and I would walk slowly side by side while we sang

Here comes the bride

Fair fat and wide.
Where is the groom?
In a saloon on forty second street.

as loud as we could. Sometimes others joined as a singer or a bride, and we all thought it was funny every time.

Craft projects were Karen's main activity, even when she was really young. I can still see her bending over her work, her tongue out a bit, her page boy haircut flopping down almost touching her work. She always had the craftsman's interest in fit and finish.

Mopsy was a feature in the Chicago Daily News, and on Saturdays, included paper dolls. Karen would not only cut out the clothes, she would get a shirt cardboard from dad's drawer and cut around the Mopsy model making it a properly stiff paper doll.

I think she saved them for a while. The house we lived in had a picture window that faced the south, looking over a field that was slowly growing into a kind of forest. I can still see her and Lois playing with paper dolls in the heat and warmth that streamed in from that window on a cold winter's day.

Later, she was the seamstress of the family. There were fewer ready made pants sold in those days. Dress pants came with legs that were not finished. I wasn't more than about 14 when I began to buy most of my own clothes, and I would almost almost always buy a new outfit for church at Easter time. I would stand on a chair, and Karen with pins in her mouth, would mark and pin were the cuff would be. The pants would come back to me perfect.

Our first family vacation was in, I think, 1947,seven of us in an old prewar Plymouth (which was not as nice looking as the picture,

but we traveled all those hours, 7 in the car, six of us and Dad). We ended up near Hayward, Wisconsin on Blueberry Lake, but Karen did not come all the way with us. We had stopped off in Rockford, where Dad had relatives or old friends, and somehow, Karen stayed there and one of the sons of the family came with us. And I missed her.

The next vacation, when Dad had a new car,

Karen came along the whole way, and she and I started a a game we played for all of the vacations our family took. It was based, I am sure on counting horses. Each of us would buy what came next on our side of the car, and then could lose what we had bought if something bad came around the next bend. I have no idea anymore of how we calculated the worth of our purchases, nor what it was that triggered losses, but we played the game even on our last trip together in Dad's 1956 Ford when we were both teenagers, and, as the tallest of my sisters, Dad could not legitimately call her half pint anymore.

Karen was the only one of the 6 of us who had musical talent, as far as I know. But what I remember most was her lightheartedness. On weekends when we all did some household chores (she and Lois much more than I), she'd sing “Up in the air, Jr. Birdman,” making an O with her thumb and forefinger, and holding them to her eyes with her palms inward and the other three fingers spread on her cheeks, which made her elbows stick out.

Up in the air, Jr. Birdman,
Up in the air upside down.

One Saturday night, when Dad came in the living room and seeing Karen in this mode, he tried and tried to get his hands like hers, and laughed with us for a half hour. Another favorite was

Why'd you go away and leave me in Big Wamu.
You left me for another, alone and so blue...

and there are more words that I can't remember . She sang this country and western style, loud and brassy. Another, was “Some day my prince will come” sung with both a wistful expression and intonation. All for fun.

As we got older, we saw each other less. I began to run the neighborhood with guys, riding my bike to creeks and vacant spaces, or playing sports, and at a young age, working summers for my father. But on many Saturday nights, Karen was still the snack maker--fudge, Rice Krispy Treats, pop corn balls, were all in her repertoire, and one memorable night when just she and I were home, a pizza made with cheddar cheese and breakfast sausage.

After my father died and his will was settled, we saw less of each other as a family. There was no central place to come. But she and two male friends came to my place for a holiday meal (I remember it as Easter, my wife remembers it as Christmas), and one of them was Hal, her future husband. I gave her away at her wedding, and her marriage began her years of traveling and living overseas. She always remembered our children at Christmas and on birthdays, and when we did see each other, it was as if time had not passed. We could be back to that time when she was a half pint, and I was her little brother hanging out with her on a Saturday night.