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Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Attack of the Girl-Locusts

When I was a kid, we spent a great deal of time with our cousins. They lived about 2 miles from us in Minneapolis. In an unusual coincidence, my aunt Karen and uncle Tom had four daughters and no sons. Exactly like in my family. Eight cousins all staggered in age. One big wiggly mass of bad, tangled hair, giggling, bickering, and compulsive sugar consumption.

We would all pile into our cars to take the 5 hour drive up to the cabin in the upper peninsula of Michigan. These were the days before minivans. Squashed into each of our family sedans were 4 young girls, a dog, two parents, 6 sleeping bags, coolers of food, and enough supplies to get us through seven to fourteen days in a log cabin with no electricity or running water. Again, that was in each car.

I could write another post entirely, just describing the cars my parents drove growing up. They were usually old by the time we got them, and they continued their rapid decline once in our possession. We had a rusty Ford Maverick with holes in the floor and a bad exhaust system. We could see the road passing underneath our feet as the fumes wafted up to hover over the back seat. We tried to claw over each other to stick our heads out the window to gasp for fresh air. My father was driving this very car on a busy Minneapolis highway doing 60 MPH when the rusty hinges connecting the front hood to the body of the car snapped, and it flew right over the windshield, over the roof of the car and landed a few hundred feet behind him where a school bus nearly ran over it . We inherited cars from relatives. They usually smelled funny and were so unreliable that our mother must have repeated silent hail mary’s throughout our 5 hour journeys up to the cabin. Before my parents quit smoking, we would sit in the back and fight off the nausea as my mother and father sucked cigarettes down to the nub all the way through Wisconsin and into the U.P.

Typically at least one sister would throw up along the way, and another sister would fall asleep with their butt sticking out, hogging more than their allotted 4.2 inches of seat space, setting off a screeching girl-riot of indignance. Sharp elbows, bumper-toe tennis shoes and tube socks would fly. These altercations typically ended in my father bellowing “GODDAMMIT, IF I HAVE TO STOP THIS CAR!!!!!!!!!!” We would quickly sit up straight, hold our arms to our sides, and try hard to look as innocent as possible while whispering threats of bodily harm under our breath to whichever sister had it coming.

We would limp out of the car at a liquor store in Hurley Wisconsin where our parents would pick up cases of beer with pull-tops, and we would get free candy and have our one shot to line up to go pee. If you had to wee-wee before we hit Hurley, you were shit out of luck. You didn’t dare make a peep. You just held it and squirmed in agony lest you draw the rage of our father who had typically run out of patience before we even left the greater Minneapolis Metropolitan area. He was not afraid to turn red and yell, or swat a hand towards the backseat.

The excitement would mount as we got our first glimpses of Lake Gogebic. Shimmering beams of dancing yellow sunlight jumped behind the thick, tall pine trees that lined the remote two-lane Highway. We would wiggle and squeal as we turned the corner into the long driveway and got our fist glimpse of the cabin. A vertical log cabin with bright orange shutters, two stone chimneys and a matching three-seater outhouse that boasted a big hole (Pa) a medium hole (Ma) and a little baby hole.

Once up at the cabin with all eight girls, we would impatiently lug our belongings up the stairs so we could finally run outside and down the hill to the lake.

We followed unwritten rules of conduct when all the cousins were together. If the girl was your sister, you could resort to physical violence ranging from punching, shoving, scratching, or as a last resort, hair-pulling . In doing so, you risked a parental reprimand or swat to the butt. If it was your cousin, you were limited to tools of psychological warfare. The more twisted you were, the higher up you ranked on the chain of command.

Being the second oldest of all eight girls, I was high up in the rankings, however my cousin Tiffany, who was 10 weeks younger than I, typically one-upped me in the shrewd and bossy department. She had superior skills. I excelled in subtle passive-aggression and victim manipulations, but she clearly had the upper hand when it came to overt power plays. Julie, who was older and bigger, was President, Tiffany was V.P. and I was resigned to act as the Secretary of state in our Lake Gogebic Government Council.

We worked our way through the food supply like locusts. We started with the contraband, like Faygo soda and tiny boxes of sugar cereal which we were only allowed to eat up at the cabin. Then, we moved on to fresh fruit, next, any remaining non-perishables, finally ending our epicurean tour of duty with the vegetables our uncle Bob brought up for stew. Uncle Bob didn’t have any children, and was horrified by the unabashed voracity with which all eight disheveled girl-monkeys devoured everything in sight. Our parents, who had long ago ceased to be shocked by our ravenous appetites, simply shrugged their shoulders, sighed, and tried to come up with a plan B for dinner.

Once the food was gone, we were left to stretch our own twisted imaginations to entertain ourselves. A week with no television brought out the creative masochists is us. The more of a frenzied lather we could work our younger sisters into, the better. Eliciting horrified shrieks and wails from the younger generation only fed our adrenaline. We were master tormenters of the younger siblings. We knew their weak spots, and made short work of exploiting them. We were junkies, always searching for our next fix.

One covert mission began with a stealth round-up of all the cherub faced dolls our younger sisters dragged around everywhere. The Cabbage Patch Kids. We bound them, gagged them, and placed them in all of the scariest places we could think of. One doll hung by a noose from the rafters of the second story. Another was locked up like a drum in the ancient oven of the wood burning stove. The most unfortunate Cabbage Patch Doll, belonging to the most unfortunate sibling, was left in the July heat in the three seater outhouse with the flies and the spiders and the stench that made us hold our breath while in its confines. That little doll sat there, helplessly soaking up the smell of decades of Devoy excrement. Sitting atop the very same throne my great grandfather sat upon in the first years of the 20th century. Those terrified vacant Doll Eyes searching out the answer to the question “why me? Why here? I’m just a doll. Have you no decency?”

We left ransom notes where the dolls had been carefully placed by their owners. When the younger sisters came back from swimming and found their cherished babies not just missing, but kidnapped, all Hell broke loose. The screaming and wailing began, and so did our adrenaline rush. We giggled and jumped up in down with excitement for the success of our evil plan. I believe we even drew real live tears of anguish which we savored and relished as proof of our evil victory. We had won cabin domination. They were at our mercy.

The panic began to subside as our young, relentlessly tortured counterparts read the clues and realized we had not destroyed their precious dolls, but had merely placed them in compromising positions. One by one the dolls were recovered to their rightful owners, only slightly worse for wear. When all was said and done, I think they would admit that they had some fun in the process. We may have been evil and mean and conniving, but we also provided much needed entertainment to make up for the lack of TV.

It was a magical place, the cabin. It still is.


Anonymous pjindy said...

Your cabin stories reminds me of our family cabin adventures: catching minnow, hot dogs over the fire, unloading the car, learning to scale fish, playing Pitt and gin, water skiing,sunset pontoon rides, raking the beach, making trails in the woods by following our fearless leaders -- I being 2nd eldest and very clever.

Such wonderful memories, tho without any torture of the 5 siblings. Yes, your dear husband toddled behind us on the trails, and on the beach. Joy.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Lin said...

As an only child, I get the biggest kick from reading memories such as yours. Wonderful stuff!

9:34 PM  
Blogger Mary Tsao said...

These are the kinds of memories I want my kids to have, which is why I am starting the "annual family vacation campaign" in my house.

Memories of being tortured on long car rides in hot cars... That's the kind of stuff that sticks with you forever!

10:03 AM  
Blogger Prego said...

Our road trips were always to some other urban centre to sight-see - baseball games in Montreal and Toronto, and museums galore in Washington, DC. It was usually a summer thing - no air conditioning, bad music on the radio and getting hirsute truckers to honk. Fortunately, the car was smoke-free.

By the way, you sure can write, baby. I mean that with the utmost respect.

7:37 AM  

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