Looking for answers to life's questions

Archive for the ‘creative non-fiction’ Category

SUZY Q Dancing on the Dresser

It seems a natural thing for children to dance, a spontaneous action to their inherent joy. It becomes an issue when children dance on high things and don’t always pay attention.

It took all her strength to sit still there

My younger sister liked to dance, anywhere, anytime without a care in her mind. She was as happy and playful as I was serious and responsible. Her joy and playfulness fed my soul. She had rhythm where I had none. Her balance came later. I have to admit to finding no photos of her dancing anywhere because our parents were too busy to take photos.

By the time the youngest was that age, dancing on the furniture was photo worthy.

I heard the cry and ran into our bedroom. Mom ran in too. Mom saw the blood and started to panic. The drawers were pulled out of the dresser to make stairs so my sister could climb them to the top. As she had been dancing on the top of the dresser, it dumped her over and her head hit the corner of a drawer.

There was blood everywhere and mom didn’t know what to do. This was a new one for us so it seemed like the thing to do was to ask someone who might know about these things for some help.

I ran upstairs to the apartment directly above us. Mrs. Markum had three boys. Rowdy, mean boys that were always tormenting me if they saw me outside and they were also always covered with scrapes and cuts from their antics. A younger one was my sister’s partner in crime. Mrs. Markum would know what to do with blood.

We were on the bottom left of this building. Mrs M was directly above Photos taken in 2006 when we returned for a visit.


These were big buildings with several rows of them behind us.

I knocked and she answered. I pleaded my case and she immediately ran downstairs to help. Putting pressure with a clean cloth on my sister’s head, the bleeding slowed and then she scooped up my sister and took her and my mother to the base medic. When they got back my sister has a couple of little stitches at her hairline and a Band-Aid. She was happy once again and mom had some color back in her face. I had stayed home to watch my brother while they were gone and mop up some of the blood from the floor. Who knew heads bled so profusely from small cuts.

Mrs. Markum said that when the head bleeds like that, just put a clean cloth with some pressure on the cut. I was happy she talked to me like a grownup and realized that I would understand and know what to do. Thank goodness because this was only the first of seven times in that year my sister would need to be treated for what I called “holes in her head” during that year. She was like a bull in a china shop, running, dancing and plowing into things that made her head bleed.

How could you ever be angry with a face like that? Age 3 inside our apartment.

Our dad would often comment when we said something he thought was not too bright that we had rocks in our heads. When my sister said or did things he would think not to bright, she had holes in her head. It never stopped her from dancing though.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself


Suzy Q at School

My little  sister wanted very much to go to school with me every day. At three, four and five, there was no school for her on our Army base in Aschaffenburg, Germany.  Our mother would have liked nothing better than to send this curious and very active child to school.

The school building was just a block away from our apartment building. There was no enticing playground equipment. It was a basic building in an L shape with no frills. Our days were spent inside trying to learn hard things like arithmetic. I loved school with all the pencils, paper and notebooks. I could bring mine home to do my homework. My sister loved them too. We started playing school where I was the teacher about that time.

One afternoon in the middle of class, an office worker summoned me to the principal’s office immediately. I had never been to the principal’s office and was very surprised to see my little sister out their window with her arms full of paper, pencils and crayons. She had a smile on her face and seemed so pleased with herself.

I was told to take her home and then come and clean up the mess she made by turning over the big trash barrels outside to get all this wonderful stuff that had been tossed out. Wow, I thought to myself! How did she know all that good stuff was in those trash cans and how did she manage to dump them over? When I asked her about it on our way home, she said she had seen them tossing stuff out and wanted some of it to play with.

My little sister caught up with me in size quickly. This was taken a couple of years later by the grandparents with a camera our parents didn’t have. I was 9, she was 4 here

Well, I couldn’t fault that or the ingenuity to get it done but when I looked down at her feet I realized she was wearing my slippers, not her own. I asked her why she was wearing my slippers outside and all she had to say was she didn’t want to get hers dirty. Mom would be mad at her if she did. There was that devious mind I knew and finally grew to love.

Remember the slippers? Our Oma gave them to us and we loved them. Mine were never the same.

Always the wise, resourceful little dickens but it was one more fun thing she was not allowed to repeat. I was really sorry about that.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q The Iron Gate

Frau Zanker was a long time friend of my mother’s. We had apparently (I was too young to remember) lived close by when I was quite young. She had raised her two boys quite well. One of the Zanker boys was several years older than I and the other closer in age. We spent a great deal of time together in those early years prior to our leaving Germany for the three years my dad was stationed in other places. The friendship resumed on our return and they came to visit often.

With her two boys in tow, Frau Zanker had convinced my mother to let her take my sister home with her for several weeks. She knew I was needed as mother’s helper with two more babies in our home. Frau Zanker thought she would be borrowing a younger version of me. My mother relented, not having the energy to continue explaining to Frau Zanker that my sister was a larger handful than she could imagine. What could go wrong, right?

Augsburg was only 25 miles or so from our home and my mother had not learned to drive yet. Frau Zanker was going to bring her home and we were going to get some much-needed rest. Mom sent her off with six pairs of jeans and shirts. Of course, there were a few of the mandatory dresses all little girls wore.

Shortly after the incident with the neighbor lady accusing my sister of painting the bicycles in the basement, my mother got a call from Frau Zanker asking if mom could come and get her right away and please bring more clothes for her.

Mom had dad drive us down to Augsburg to get my sister. Their house was surrounded by a huge wrought iron fence and gate with pointed arrows at the top of each post. The fence was over six-foot-high and my sister was well under that at the age of three. She was safe inside the yard.

When we arrived, there was no sign of my sister. The distraught Frau Zanker said my sister had figured out how to get over the fence and disappear into the city leaving bits of torn clothing behind…daily.

It looked something like this.

I was sent to find her once again along with the younger Zanker, who had been hunting her down each time she escaped the yard. He had an idea of where she might go. We walked quite the distance and across a very busy street until we found the park. It took awhile and I was getting frightened by the large city traffic, noise and large amounts of people. We did finally find her and brought  her back in another pair of torn jeans covered in mud she found somewhere in her adventure.

Mom thought Frau Zanker was kidding when she said my sister needed new clothes. Every pair of jeans and all her shirts had been ripped as she climbed the fence or the trees in the park. My sister was on holiday and enjoying herself very much. She was having fun but not pouring paint on bicycles.

The one thing I can say about all those years with a sister like mine,  it was good preparation for when I had a daughter very much like her. Fearless little Houdini’s that could disappear in the blink of an eye over the tallest of structures. I wish I had one iota of that fearlessness.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself


SUZY Q Bicycles covered in Paint

I was in the house helping mom with my little brothers when the banging on the door started. Someone on the other side wanted to make sure they were heard. Mom went immediately to stop the noise before my baby brothers started to cry again.

The woman standing there was someone we didn’t know. She asked where that rotten child was because she had done a lot of damage and we were going to pay for it. Mom sent me to see what the lady was talking about. Off I went down to the basement on her half of the building. Not somewhere I spent any time. I  stayed out of the basement area because it didn’t feel safe to me.

Then the lady pointed to her children’s bicycles with paint dumped all over them. Oh, my goodness! That was a mess. I could see why she was upset but something didn’t feel right about it. The lady kept raging on about little kids running wild and being destructive as we walked back up to our apartment. She was absolutely certain my sister was the hooligan that had done all the damage. As I got closer to our door, I was trying to figure out why it didn’t add up. She was yelling so much I didn’t get a chance to think until mom opened our door and she told me to go find my sister and bring her home to be punished for the damage.

Then two things dawned on me. This was a destructive and malicious act which was not what my sister would do. She might be daring or thoughtless but not mean or malicious. As I started to think about where to find my sister, I looked at my mother and said “she’s not here, she’s in Augsburg with Frau Zanker this week.”

My sister was twenty-five miles away on loan to Frau Zanker for two weeks so she could have a little girl around for the first time. Frau Zanker had two boys closer to my age and was so envious of mom having girls that after much begging, mom had given in after a stern warning that things were often not as they appeared. My sister was a handful and Frau Zanker was getting in over her head. Two boys were nothing compared to my sister.

The yelling lady stopped yelling. My sister was not in town and could not have done that damage. My mother looked at me and I could see her mind trying to wrap itself around the idea that she had assumed as everyone had, that my sister had done this deed but also how she did not realize immediately that my sister was not there to cause it.

I don’t know if they ever found out who did that damage to the bicycles in this woman’s storage locker, but I was so happy my sister had nothing to do with it. This is not the end of this story though. More on the other end.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q Juicy Fruit Gum and Jail

During my sister’s third year of life, she was more or less a Houdini. My mother would send her out to play because that’s what you did with children that would not quietly sit on the square of a blanket and play quietly with their toys. That is how things were done back then. My sister would find another neighbor kid banished to the out-of-doors and hang out until called for dinner.

I was always the one sent to get her but finding her was always the challenge. Our base area was not gated in or walled off like many are. School was right next door and up the hill maybe half a mile was our non-denominational church. Another half mile or so was the commissary (grocery store) that children were not allowed to go into. They had a caged area in front for us to wait for our mother to finish her shopping. like little monkeys.

Most of the time mom would leave the kids with me while she did her grocery shopping so we didn’t have to be in the cage. In my search for my sister I found her and another little boy sitting along the back of the closed commissary munching away on packages of Oreo cookies and they had many packages of Juicy Fruit gum spread all around them.

They were so cute sitting there with their picnic and I asked where all the cookies and gum had come from. Maybe the little boys mother gave them packages and packages of cookies and gum. But that didn’t feel like the answer I was going to get. I asked again, “where did you get the cookies and gum?” “From the jail my sister responded.” “What jail” I asked?  My sister got up and showed me all the little windows lining the bottom layer of the building on a side I had never noticed. The little windows had bars on them. She pointed to one that was partway open.

Sis and her friend had wiggled into the basement of the commissary and carried out all those packages of Oreo cookies and Juicy Fruit gum and managed to get back out with them. I couldn’t imagine how they did it but I knew this was not good. I had them scoop up their loot, and I walked the boy back to his apartment and then walked my sister back home. She was pleased as punch with herself for discovering this treasure trove.


I’m hiding her behind me. Notice the slippers, They will be important later.

My dad was less pleased. He told my mother and I that she was not be outside of the house for any reason for at least two weeks in case someone might see her and identify her as the thief. He knew that if someone found out, he could lose his stripes over it and that would reduce our income. Then he went to visit the little boys family to make sure they understood what had transpired and the ramifications.  I’m pretty sure my mother was well on her way to a breakdown after those two weeks with my sister confined to quarters. I’m also certain there was some stiff corporal punishment along with the confinement so that she never went near the commissary again. In the meantime, I developed quite the lifelong taste for Juicy Fruit gum and Oreo cookies. Yum. My baby sister, the procurer of contraband. How I loved that child. I smile every time I think about it.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q The Bicycle

A couple of months after my eighth birthday mom brought home another little brother. So there we were, an eight year old, a three year old, a one year old and an infant. I’m pretty certain that is why my sister managed to be so elusive for my mother. Our play was required to be quiet and sedate. Not exactly descriptive of my sister. We were in military housing and things had to remain perfect for our exit inspection. They always were. No hand prints and no marks on the walls or floors. Kind of a neat trick. Go outside and play was the constant refrain.

Mom and dad must have somehow managed to afford a shiny new 24” skinny tired bicycle with green fenders for my 8th birthday. I was so surprised and delighted with this vehicle of freedom that I was off riding any of the few spare moments I had.

One afternoon I was inside helping mom with my little brothers when something caught mom’s eye. There were GI’s in the windows of the barracks across the street  with frantic looks on their faces.

Mom knew that look. She had seen it before and probably would again. “Where is your sister” she said. I went outside but didn’t see her at first glance. A moment later I saw a flash of green flying by. My three-year-old sister was straddling the lower curve of my bike with her arms outstretched to reach the handlebars and her feet and legs back behind her peddling for all she was worth. I stared just like the GI’s with my mouth and eyes wide as she weaved expertly in and out of the parked cars in front of our building. Then she turned in the other direction and rode back down the side of the street where no cars were parked for some distance, turned,  then repeated the pattern between the parked cars.

I was sure she would hit one but somehow, she managed to awkwardly turn the handlebars at just the right moment and keep going. When I finally had the presence of mind to call her name, unable to apply the brakes at that awkward angle, she just jumped off the bike and let it crash-land. Apparently, she had taught herself to ride it while I was in school but hadn’t figured out the braking part yet. All those crash landings would take my bike from shiny new to well-worn to all but destroyed in a matter of months. Somehow she remained unscathed.

So much for my freedom rides. My sister had them now. The odd part was she looked so happy riding that bike and I rarely had time. Nothing was going to slow her down.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q Dancing in the Window

Our little family of four made the move back to Germany when my dad was reassigned there for three more years. I’m certain mom was glad to be back in familiar territory with her family some distance away but at least on the same continent. Not long after our arrival, my first little brother arrived.

We were technically in Base housing but not isolated or walled off from the city in general. There were five or six large concrete buildings one behind the next that had six apartments on each side and there were two sides to each building with a floor below for storage and a floor above each side that help maids quarters and a playroom at each end. The top floor and bottom basement that had storage units for extra personal things were the only floors that connected the two sides. Each apartment I believe had three bedrooms and one bathroom. There was no outside play area provided.

Mom holding my sister’s hand to keep her in the photo, Aunt Helga and one of her sons sitting in front of mom. Perpetual cigarette in hand. I took off my glasses for the photo

Directly across the street were rows of barracks facing us. Single GI’s lived there or those without families or without families along.. They worked odd shifts so they were there infrequently and stayed to themselves.

My little sister loved to dance and thought she was quite good at it. She didn’t even need music. I think she had her own music playing in her head. She was always happy and carefree with more energy all of us combined. Mom had her hands full and was in a chronic state of overwhelm so my sister just ran. She would sneak out and mom could do nothing till I got home from school as she had a newborn to requiring constant care.

I came in from school one afternoon to see mom staring across the street at the barracks across the street. The GI’s were looking up at the top of our building, which was almost a mirror image of theirs. Mom asked me to go upstairs to the 4th floor where the playroom and empty maid’s quarters were located and see if my sister was playing with the neighbor kids up there.

As I walked into the playroom, I saw my sister up on the wide window ledge with the windows open, dancing. She thought she was entertaining the troops and her friends, having the best time ever. She waved at the GI’s as they held their collective breaths. My heart stopped.

I may have only been 7 but I knew an accident waiting to happen when I saw one. Somehow, I managed to calmly talk her down without incident and took her home. As a hyperactive two year old, listening was not what she did well.

I was just grateful that my sister came down when asked. Probably one of the few times in her life she did as she was told. I wish that was the last time she was in that window or that someone had the foresight to put bars on them but I never saw that happen.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q: Her Name

Dad called her Suzy Q all the time though that was not her actual name. Sue was her middle name. I asked him once what the Q was for. He said it was for questionable. I think the question was mostly what she would get into or up to next. Right from the very beginning with her first toddler steps, it was apparent my sister was a pistol and born without the fear gene. Tiny toy pistols were exactly what Santa got her for her first Christmas.

We celebrated it in Colorado Springs. Dad was reassigned to Fort Carson after he got back from his tour of duty in Korea. He found a little house for us to rent and part of the rent was refinishing the floors. After sanding the floors and putting fresh finish and wax on them, mom would set the two of us on an old GI wool blanket and drag us across the floor to polish it. The polishing was done once a month and it was our favorite activity. Mom developed a very strong back and arm muscles dragging us around.

Mom had to keep my sister in jeans and a t-shirt all the way back in the 50’s. Sis was not still enough to keep dresses intact. Rough and tumble, into everything, mom ran herself ragged trying to keep her out of danger and mischief.

Keeping an eye on sis

If sis was no longer interested in eating the soup we had for lunch and mom refused to remove the bowl, sis would turn the bowl upside down on her head letting the soup drip over her face and clothes. Quite pleased with herself, she cared not one whit about the spanking that followed. Food was not something that we were allowed to waste, no matter how bad it tasted. Mom was not much of a cook and groceries were not plentiful. There were plenty of spankings but she would just strap on her toy gun belt with twin pistols and charge on.

bowl on her head

On that same Christmas, I received a doll. Only one gift each, it was quite precious to me. I came home from first grade after the holiday and could not find my doll. My one-year old baby sister had somehow managed to get the doll past our mother and take it outside, tossing it in an open sewer pipe. Fortunately, she had only tried to bury it, not dismember it. She told us in what words she had that she didn’t like the doll. It had to go.

We were only there six months, then it was off to Fort Riley, Kansas for another six months before his next tour of three years in Germany. Oh, what fun my sister was going to have there.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q Introduction

Two months after my fifth birthday my mother came home from somewhere. I don’t remember her being gone but I do remember her placing the baby in my arms. Somehow in my mind, that baby was a gift for me and she was mine. We were living in a tiny flat above Leo’s market across the street from my father’s family while he was doing a tour of duty in Korea. My sister was already several months old before he ever met her.

Kindergarten school photo.

Our mother had been very ill during her pregnancy. I tried to take care of mom when she was too ill to do the dishes or pick up a bit. A lot of her illness may have been about missing our dad or a lot of homesickness. We left Germany before my sister was born and my father’s family was not particularly pleased that we were part of his life. The rest of her illness was because there was apparently an RH factor involved and my sister needed complete blood transfusions after she was born.

Waiting for delivery

There was also not much in the line of groceries in our house or even in my grandparents’ house for that matter. Times were tough and tight with lots of tension all around but that baby made everything feel better. Of course living above Leo’s market helped a lot. I would smile and be rewarded with a treat or carry up something we needed.

In my best apron taking care of mom

This new baby was mine to care for and love. I learned to feed her and watch her when mom put her out on the porch in her pram for fresh air. Mom said babies needed fresh air no matter the temperature outside. She would be bundled up with only her fingers and face sticking out. I would come home from Kindergarten every day to take care of my baby. My baby sister was my first child.  As she grew up, I made it my responsibility to  keep her safe, entertained and hopefully out of the trouble her curious mind always seemed to find.

Pleased as punch with my baby.

That day began a journey that spanned more than 60 years. We are and have always been each other’s friend and adversary on occasion. No one realized what an adventure her life would take us.

Let the story unfold.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

The Voice Returns

I’m a bit on overload this month clearing and sorting while the rain continues to pummel down. At least it’s no longer snow and ice. Bear with me please. In the meantime, the long ago promise of another story.

Part 2

Maddie was agitated and frustrated. What the heck was Public Relations and how was she supposed to be of help to this firm? The Temp service had sent her over to work for an undetermined amount of time and after a week, she was still a fish out of water. She didn’t know what she was doing and it was becoming more obvious the two women who owned and ran the company didn’t know what they were doing either. Thank goodness it was Friday!

Maddie was in a hurry to get out of the parking lot and onto Riverside Drive towards home after another mind numbing day. She and her husband had free tickets to the Pasadena Ice House Comedy Club. Maddie could really use a laugh after the day she’d had and pulled out a little too fast cutting off another car that seemed to be in as big a hurry as she. She waved behind her apologetically. That curve was hard to see around. Just after pulling out, she was first in line for the stop light with the angry man just behind her. She could almost hear him swear at her as the light finally turned green. Maddie put her foot on the accelerator and started to move forward when she heard it loud and clear. PUT YOUR FOOT ON THE BRAKE! But the light was green she thought. Again it came louder this time. PUT YOUR FOOT ON THE BRAKE NOW! So Maddie did.

Looking into her rear-view mirror, she fully expected Mr. Angry and Impatient to drive right over the top of her car. It was in those milliseconds that a flash of white passed in front of her and she heard the most horrendous sound. Looking over at the lane to the right of her and just a half car length ahead she saw the very large woman in her small Ford Mustang flop over sideways like a rag doll and come back up. The white delivery truck had struck her door with full force. No brakes on his vehicle had been applied. His big truck had pushed the Mustang all the way out of her lane. Maddie knew she had to be dead.

When things stopped for a few seconds and the lane was quiet and clear, Maddie drove across the intersection and pulled up to the curb on the other side. Mr. Angry continued on as did as much of the traffic as possible until the police arrived. Maddie waited till they came to talk to her. She was going to be late getting home but she was alive. Why?

When the police came to get her statement, they asked if the truck driver had gone through a yellow light. “Absolutely not” Maddie stated! Our light was green. Maddie couldn’t explain to the policeman that they’d had a green lights for seconds already and why she had not gone. Maddie made it very clear that the truck driver had gone through a clearly red light on his side and was going so fast he was a blur to her.

Big white truck

Big white truck

small Ford Mustang. No competition.

small Ford Mustang. No competition.

It became clear to Maddie that if the truck had hit her, she was eight feet closer and would most likely not have survived. If she had not pulled out in front of Mr. Angry and Impatient, he would have been first in line at the light. He may have gone quickly as the light turned green.

They would not tell her the other woman’s condition but Maddie was hopeful. Drinks at the Ice House once they got there that night did little to assuage her anguish. Why did she hear the Voice and not the woman in the car next to her? She just couldn’t make sense of it.

The next week, Maddie ask the Temp service to transfer her somewhere else.   She needed life to make sense.

Does life make sense to you?

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself