Keepin' It Real Since 1977

Mostly true stories from then & now

Merry Christmas, and God Bless Us Everyone…But Mostly My Parents December 25, 2011

Filed under: My Awesome Childhood — Melissa Lewis @ 1:19 am
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I'm probably asking Santa for a Care Bear.

I always find it amusing that, when my brothers, sister and I get together and reminisce about the olden days, our memories about certain events don’t always match. Here are some fond Christmas memories that I KNOW are true.

Christmas Pageants A Plenty 

I grew up in a small church, but most of the kids in our congregation were within a couple of years of each other and therefore we were often the stars of… everything. Our specialty: Christmas Pageants. I’ll admit, some of our performances were better than others. My favorites were the ones that did NOT feature musical instruments mainly because I played the piano, flute, and violin. My sister played the clarinet, by brother played the violin and he, along with a couple of other kids played the saxophone. None of us could play our instruments very well but my congregation couldn’t seem to get enough of our “heavenly sounds.”

The Christmas programs I lived for, were the ones featuring costumes, lines, and a children’s choir. If only talent scouts targeted church pageants…

One year, our pageant performed at a local nursing home. My sister was not too thrilled about the idea from the get go. When we arrived, she experienced the trifecta of disappointment. 1.) It was hot. Really hot. Between each musical number, my sister would whisper to me some sort of complaint about how warm the room was. (I probably should have taken her more seriously when she started swaying in big loopy circles.) 2.) The “old people smell” was really getting to her. I’m not fond of the smell of nursing homes either, but after a few minutes, I had forgotten all about it. My sister, however, had not. “I mean it,” she whispered. “I feel like I’m going to barf.” 3.) Gesticulations from the gentleman parked in the front row. “That guy keeps playing with himself. He’s really gross.” She whispered. (Looking back, I’m pretty sure the gentleman was trying to sit with his hands on his lap, but his Parkinson’s had other ideas.) It didn’t really matter though because before she could get out another complaint, her body swooped in one final circular loop before she face planted it right there on the tile floor. She had fainted and was passed out cold. Dad, quickly swooped in from the side, picked her up and quickly carried her away. Just in time too, because without the pageant director having to say a word, I stepped up to, where only minutes ago my sister had been sprawled on the floor, and sang her solo. I saw the whole situation as a true Christmas Miracle.

The voice of an angel. Apparently the theme this year was white sheets, gold tinsel and A LOT of blush.

A few years later, our Christmas Pageant didn’t have such a happy ending. My brothers and sister deny this event, but I remember it with great detail. It took place during the height of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. My sister had gotten, not just any Cabbage Patch Kid, she had gotten a preemie. His name was Jonathan and he had been volunteered to play the role of the Baby Jesus in our church Christmas pageant. Mary was to carry the Baby Jesus, up the middle aisle of the sanctuary, place him in the manger, and ogle  at him while the angel choir sang songs about his blessed birth.

Unfortunately, before the service even started, my sister and our friend Sara were getting into a heated argument over Jonathan. Sara wanted to play with it, my sister didn’t feel like sharing and a tug-of-war ensued. My sister had Jonathan by his little round plastic bald head, and Sarah had a firm grip on his legs. After a few hearty tugs, there was a ripping sound and just like that, poor Jonathan had been decapitated.

My sister’s only saving grace that night was that the Baby Jesus was wrapped so tightly  in his swaddling clothes that it was impossible to notice that his head had been completely severed.  I distinctly remember being terrified that Mary would trip on her robes and Baby Jesus’s head would go rolling up the aisle stopping at the shepherds’ feet. Fortunately our Mary was quite talented at walking and kneeling so the congregation was none the wiser.

Terrifying Gifts

When it came to Christmas gifts, I was never disappointed. Terrified? Yes. Disappointed? No. As a kid I loved games, clothes, toys, and socks. (I don’t think my aunt ever believed me when I told her I wanted socks for Christmas, but due to my extreme repulsion of bare feet, it’s no wonder why I love socks so much.) There was one year though, when not only I, but all four of us kids, received the most terrifying gifts ever. Our uncle had given us each a large framed velvet painting of, what could only be described as, “scary-ass clowns”.  I never liked clowns, and these things scared the crap out of all of us. In fact, I’m pretty sure we made Dad put the paintings in the garage that night; that way, when they came to life and climbed out of their frames, they would at least be locked in a safe place.

Naughty or nice, no child deserves this.

For awhile, the Clown paintings lived in a box in the basement. I’m not sure why they didn’t go straight to the curb, but one day we were out playing and there they were. Curbside, leaning up against the garbage can. Good riddance.

Shortly thereafter, my brothers had been playing in our neighbors’ house and when they came out they said, “You’ll never guess what we found in Brad’s bathroom.” Sure enough, one of our clown paintings had found a home hanging over the back of a toilet. I guess the saying is true. “One man’s junk is another man’s scary-ass bathroom art.”

Santa Pulls An All-Nighter

Every year, my family drove from Des Moines, up to Minneapolis to visit our grandparents for Christmas. It was a four hour drive full of caroling, bickering, giggling and family fun. At Grandma and Grandpa Lewis’s, we had traditions like sneaking  Grandpa pieces of fudge, listening to Manheim Steamroller, and getting a running start so we could leap onto the beds in order to prevent being clawed to death by Tippy the lethal cat who liked to hide under furniture.

One Christmas Eve, we went through our tradition of opening one present before going to bed. The one present always happened to be pajamas. In fact, one year while packing, I asked Mom, “Which pajamas should I take?” and she looked at me like I was being ridiculous and said, “Don’t you think Santa will probably bring you pajamas?” Fair enough.

We put on our new pj’s and headed up to bed. We were very quiet that night because we didn’t want to miss the sound of reindeer on the roof. Instead, about an hour later, we heard the garage door opening. I popped my head up and leaned over the window. (I didn’t want to get out of bed just in case Tippy was hiding out.) “Dad’s leaving.” I reported to the others. “The van just pulled out of the driveway.” We chatted for the longest time about where he could be going and eventually fell asleep.

The next morning, the wait to open presents was excruciating. Mom sent us back up the stairs three times saying,”It’s too early. Your dad’s still sleeping. Go back to bed.” Each time we reluctantly climbed the stairs and leapt back onto our beds. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Mom told us we could go down stairs and open presents. I’m pretty sure that was the year I got Cabbage Patch twins. Who knows for sure. Childhood Christmases all blend together. What I remember most about that Christmas was Dad was really tired.

A wonderful Christmas morning at Grandma & Grandpa's.

Years later, when we were all sitting around talking about “The Year Dad Wanted to Sleep Through Christmas,” Mom finally told us the real story. Our parents used to wrap our presents and sort them into four garbage bags to keep them separated. That Christmas Eve, when they thought we were sleeping, they went out to the van to unload our presents. Only, instead of four bags, there were only three. One of our bags of Christmas gifts never made it into the van and was sitting back at home… in Des Moines. Knowing that all the stores were closed and not wanting to disappoint, Dad had opened the garage, backed the van out and drove all the way back home. Four hours later, he pulled into our driveway, ran into the house, grabbed the lonely sad sack-O-gifts, got back into the van and drove 4 hours back up to Minnesota.

Michael and I at our Foster Care Christmas Party. I believe, Professor, this is what we call irony.

Even more years later when I was in college, I volunteered to help out at a local Foster Care Christmas party. One of my professors had asked each of us to share a story about a Christmas experience. She suggested to me, “These kids probably don’t have a lot of Christmas traditions, so I think it would be neat if everyone shared a variety of traditions. Maybe you could tell them about your Kwanzaa experience.” Hmmm… after I asked several friends, my mom, and Google what Kwanzaa was I decided to tell the story of forgotten Christmas presents instead.  When I finished, one of the foster mom’s jumped up and clapped enthusiastically while shouting, “That’s my favorite! That’s my favorite!”

Yes, enthusiastic lady, that’s my favorite too.


The Lewis Family Animal Hospital (Now Hiring) November 10, 2011

Filed under: My Awesome Childhood — Melissa Lewis @ 7:04 pm
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When I was 10, Dad gathered us around the dining room table, placed a large cardboard box in the center of it, and announced that he had some good news. He had found a stray kitten on his way home from work. I have never been a cat person, but my sister, who loved them, reached for the box.

“Now hold on,” Dad said, pulling the box toward him. “I found this kitten staggering around in a puddle. We are not going to keep it, but it’s going to stay with us until I can take it to the vet tomorrow.”

Now we were all intrigued. We quietly watched as Dad opened the box, reached in with both hands, gently lifted the kitten out and placed it on the table. Our excited faces were transformed into horrified grimaces. We silently surveyed the kitten as it struggled to take a few steps. The first thing I noticed was how matted its fur was. Tufts were missing, revealing open sores that were beginning to ooze and scab over. One ear was mangled, as if it had been bitten off by another animal. One eye was completely matted shut and the other one darted around trying to make sense of the four of us staring at it.

At this point, Mom entered the room, and leaned over me to see what we were looking at and shrieked, “Vincent! Why is that thing on my dining room table? It’s disgusting!  Kids, don’t touch it.”

As we continued to watch the kitten fumble around on the table, I noticed that it kept walking into the cardboard box.

“I’m pretty sure it’s blind,” Dad said as he nudged it to walk in the other direction.

“Here kitty kitty,” my sister called to it. “Come here kitty.”

The kitten continued to fumble aimlessly in circles.

“And I’m pretty sure it’s deaf,” Dad added.

“Alright kids. That’s enough.” Mom intervened for our safety. “Vincent. I don’t know why you brought that disgusting thing home.”

I have to admit, I was pretty horrified. It was the most pathetic looking animal I had ever seen and I didn’t even want to think about what kinds of infections or parasites it had. Dad placed the kitten back in the box, and I was relieved to not have to look at it anymore.

Mom was convinced the kitten was flea infested and insisted that my dad put it in the garage. Nobody objected.

That night, while I was waiting for sleep to come, I thought about that poor blind, deaf, ratty looking kitten staggering around in a cardboard box in the dark. Surely it must be hungry, if not, at the very least, lonely and scared. The only solace I found that night was in knowing that a cardboard box in a warm garage was better than a puddle out in the cold.

The next morning, my parents left for work and we got ready for school. We kids were uneasy about leaving the kitten alone in the dark garage all day. A few minutes before we set out to walk to school, we decided that the least we could do was give the kitten something to eat. I went to the cupboard, pulled out a large cereal bowl, and filled it with milk. The four of us put the bowl of milk in the corner of the box, wished the kitten a good day, and left for school. All day long, I was comforted by the idea of the kitten in its cozy box with a stomach full of fresh milk.

The walk home that afternoon took less time than usual because we ran most of the way. “I want to say goodbye before Dad takes it to the vet,” my sister had said. We were all eager to check up on the kitten one last time.

When we got home, we unlocked the door, dropped our book bags in the middle of the hallway and made our way to the garage. My sister ran to the cardboard box and peered inside. Instantly the excitement drained from her face. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at me. Without saying a word, she walked right past me back into the house.

My brothers looked next. They too instantly became silent. Suddenly I found myself filled with dread. I didn’t want to look. I already knew. The kitten didn’t make it. It had been sick and weak. The vet was probably going to have to put it down anyway. At least it died knowing that it was cared for right? I slowly stepped up to the box and looked inside.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. The poor deaf, blind, vermin filled kitten had somehow managed to slip and fall into the giant cereal bowl filled with milk and drowned. Guilt punched me in the chest like a fist. I had spent the whole day, consoled by the fact that we were saving this kitten. We had rescued it from the scary outside world, given it a warm box to keep it safe, and were going to get it the help it needed. Instead, we killed it.

Needless to say, it was a long time before Dad brought home any more strays.


carnage in the hamster cage August 15, 2011

Filed under: My Awesome Childhood — Melissa Lewis @ 4:06 am
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Like many middle class, midwestern families, we had our fair share of pets when I was growing up. Some were common household pets; cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits… while others were a little less common; crawfish, chicks, shetland ponies (yep- when I was a kid, my parents bought me a pony… sort of) Most of our pets were wanted, while others, I simply tolerated.

Take our hamsters for instance. Hamsters? Seriously? Not only do their tiny little grippy toes creep me out, but when they’re not biting you, they’re pooping in your hand. I was never a huge fan of hamsters, but when my family was given two as gifts from a family friend, I did my best to enjoy them. We were told they were both males so we named them Sledge & Hammer after the title character of our favorite TV show. (They aired 3 episodes of Sledge Hammer before they pulled it off the air.  It was awesome a piece of shit.)

Shortly after Sledge & Hammer were added to our family, things took a turn for the worse. I headed down the stairs one Saturday morning to peek in on the little fellas. One hamster, it didn’t really matter that we had named them because they looked exactly alike, had been banished to the corner of the cage. The other one was chewing on some sort of hamster toy. Wait, what? Hamsters don’t have chew toys do they?  I peered closer into the cage and noticed that the hamster toy had little tiny hamster like grippy toes. Oh, and it had a head, and eyes, and OH GOOD GOD! It was a baby hamster. There was a baby hamster in the cage and Sledge, or Hammer, was eating it. I let out a scream and soon we were all huddled around the hamster cage taking in the scene. That’s when I noticed that the baby was not alone. There was literally a pile of baby hamsters in the cage.

My brother Jeremy: “Mom, what is he doing?  Why is he eating that baby?”

Mom: “Why are there babies in this cage?”

My brother Michael: “There’s like 30 of them in there. We have like 30 hamsters.”  

Mom: “He said they were both males. Why are there babies in this cage?”

My sister Chelan: “This is so gross. Those babies look disgusting and that one that’s being eaten is making a horrible noise. I’m going to be sick.”

Mom: “How could this possibly have happened? Why are there babies in this cage?”

The chaos was too much. The four of us kids were hysterical due to the carnage happening right before our eyes. Mom whisked the cage out of the room and out of earshot and somehow managed to calm us down.  She explained that one of the hamsters must have been a girl, and that sometimes the moms eat the runts… To be honest, I’m not really sure what she said. I was too busy trying to decided if I should cry or barf.

Then dad came home.

Mom:  “Vincent.  Look in that hamster cage.”

Dad:  “Why are there babies in this cage?”

Here are the bits and pieces of the aftermath that I do remember:

Dad decided we needed to put the male hamster  (Hammer- it was easier to tell them apart when one of them wasn’t constantly trying to eat its own babies) in a separate cage to prevent him from snacking on his kids as well. Sledge, stayed in the cage with the non-runty babies who were allowed to live.

Now at this point, I must tell you that my parents had refused to buy the fancy plastic hamster cages with the cool attachable tube tunnel thingamajigs that we had wanted. Instead we used the old wire cage that had once housed our rabbit. The wire cage was fine for Sledge & Hammer, if you don’t count all the hamster sex, because they were big. For baby hamsters, however… those poor suckers were falling out of that cage left and right. We didn’t notice at first, but then mom sucked up a couple with the vacuum cleaner. We had to keep the cage inside of a plastic tub, after that, in order to catch the ones who tried to jump ship. (In retrospect, I can’t blame those poor baby hamsters. If I had to chose between risking being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or having my legs chewed off by my own mother while I slept, I would have tried to jump as well.) The worst were the ones who had fallen out of the cage and landed on the radiator. They didn’t stand a chance.

When all was said and done, as soon as the baby hamsters (the one’s who managed to survive the Great Carnage of 1987) were old enough, they, along with their mother, were all given away to other family friends. (You’re welcome.) Hammer stayed with us and lived a long happy life.

That is until, SOMEBODY, left him out of the cage and our dog ate him. Well, not so much ate him, as played aggressively with him until the point of his death. We buried Hammer in the backyard in a cardboard Crystal Light canister. Twice. The dog dug him up the first time because we didn’t bury him deep enough.

I really miss that dog.