Be Careful What You Wish For

Yippee-ki-yay! This was it! Mary Jean had made it! Every inch of her three-and-a-half foot frame tingled with birthday cake, root beer, and victory. Breathing rapidly, she looked out over her audience – a mix of neighborhood kids, classmates, and bored adults with plastered smiles. For months she had slowly accumulated the complete, gen-u-ine cowgirl ensemble, and now she had the pony. Her moment had come. She was off to the Wild West and no one could stop her. Flashing her best Sally Starr smile Mary Jean let out a “whoop!” and dug her tanned feet into the pony’s sides. The pony burped.

The Wolf

“Does Billy want a sweet?” cooed Grandmother. Billy peered upwards from under the floppy brim of his hat and bobbed his flushed cheeks yes. Sam felt a drop of sweat roll down his back. He had been told to watch his brother on the four-hour train trip south.  He may as well have been handed a rabid squirrel in a burlap sack.  Odysseus had an easier journey.

“Smile, Sammy!” Grandfather called as he aimed his Brownie at the boys. Leaning against the station wall, Sam could see over Grandfather’s shoulder to their train car. As the train slowly steamed away, a haggard porter pitched their last remaining trunk onto the platform. A muffled cheer arose from inside the train, drowned out by the train’s whistle.

“Little lamb,” Grandmother chuckled as Billy released the knot of his tie and held out his pudgy fingers for the proffered toffee.


The Twins

They wore the bonnets. The bonnets did not wear them. Always on the cutting edge of fashion, the precocious Janssen twins took Tulip Time in stride.  While other children suffered silently through Holland Michigan’s annual tribute to het moederland, donning traditional Dutch caps and clogs with a resigned Ik zal handhaven, the twins took it to a whole new level.  With their motto of “double the irony” the girls artfully parodied the archetypes and idioms of Dutch fashion, turning Hans and Gretel Brinker into postmodern caricatures that both mocked and celebrated the nationalistic zeal of this quaint patriotic pastime. Wooden shoes became haute couture.  A windmill wasn’t just a windmill.  Here, the twins wear prototypes for their “Escher” collection in which they skillfully utilized their identical appearances to confuse and subvert the viewer’s perspective; who was the meisje, and who was the mirror? Western Michigan never knew what hit them.



In those few seconds, Marilyn knew she had her.  It had taken twenty years, 956 games, 3,824 cigarettes, 1,912 gin and tonics, 1,434 ham and cheese sandwiches, five packs of cards, and dogged persistence, but, by God, she had her.  Doris didn’t know it yet, but she was about to be handed a slice of humble pie.  “This must be what those people feel like when they win the Price is Right,” Marilyn thought, “or maybe Queen for a Day.”  Well, today she would be Queen.  As Doris turned back to her cards, Marilyn sipped her G&T and coolly inquired about the value of Doris and Frank’s new Airstream. 


Bananas, Anyone?

There was always a party in Adele’s room.  If they weren’t listening to the latest ragtime record smuggled into school by Nel, pouring over this week’s Harper’s Bazaar, or scaring one another by reenacting Dracula for the thousandth time, they were generally plotting something that would startle, amaze, and scandalize the entire school.  Today’s scheme involved bananas.  Lots of them.  Pilfered by Blanche from the refectory (already an amazing and admirable feat), the bananas were the key to bringing down the entire sixth form winter ball.  As each girl dutifully consumed her banana, she imagined the moment when they would casually and simultaneously drop the peels out of their voluminous sleeves and under the feet of the unsuspecting dancers.  Marge triumphantly dangled the peel of her fourth banana in front of Lucy’s camera and remarked that she always wanted to know what Annabelle Thompson really wore under all those petticoats.  

*Actual caption: In Adele Corning's room.  Ethel Humphrey, Nel Hosea, Ethelwyne Walton, Josephine Eddy, Din Woodson, Marguerite Otis, Blanche Collins.  Sent by Lucy Holliday.  Circa 1893-94.


A Family Gathering

An awkward silence followed Claude’s toast.  As Minnie mouthed to the photographer to put the camera away, the guests absorbed Claude’s startling revelation.  They all knew that Claude was not like the other boys, but they were unprepared for his announcement that from this day forward he would be living as Miss Camilla Dubois.  Few around the table dared to make eye contact.  Uncle Harry began to methodically count the flowers in the wallpaper pattern.  Walter wondered if this meant he and Claude still had to share a room, and Father’s blood pressure threatened to break all past records. Edith and Martin contemplated the etiquette of leaving before dessert, while George and Teddy wished they hadn’t invited Claude to go camping.  Sarah, however, exchanged knowing smiles across the table with Lizzy, who, a fortnight earlier, had caught Claude inspecting Minnie’s trousseau with unusual interest.  “Please pass the peas!” chirped Lizzy.   


Sibling Rivalry

It was a difficult relationship from the beginning.  Even before he could walk William had made several failed attempts on his elder brother’s life, including tripping Charles headfirst into the coal chute, down the cellar stairs, and once nearly over the church choir loft.  To be fair, Charles continually “forgot” William in his bassinette in such inconvenient places as the outhouse or the middle of the street.  Perhaps it was the day Charles dyed his brother from head to toe with a bottle of bluing left behind by the laundress, or maybe it was the occasion in which William fed Charles’ toy soldiers to the dog (who mercifully threw them back up).  Whatever sparked this Cain and Abel struggle, the rivalry lasted well into adulthood when it manifested itself in the most ruthless competition for top billing on the vaudevillian stage the world has ever seen.