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Oklahoma

My First Job

Mason jar of lemonade

I was finally going to make some real cash. I was tired of being broke and unable to have the finer things in life. Becoming an entrepreneur and selling my own product was a sure-fire way to guarantee home ownership.

This is what I told my two homeless Barbies the summer of 1978. I just celebrated my sixth birthday and was having regret that I didn’t ask for the pink and yellow Barbie Dream House I saw in the Sears catalog. My Barbies had never owned a house. Instead, they lounged around my parent’s house all day. When bedtime rolled around, they retired to the cramped quarters of my old Raggedy Ann and Andy lunchbox. I apologized to the plastic beauties every night as I shoved them inside and blanketed their contorted bodies with piles of tiny clothes and accessories. “I am opening a lemonade stand; I’ll be able to buy you a home soon,” I promised as I closed the lid on their hopeful faces.

Thanks to my Grandma Schmidt, I already had a fine collection of inflatable furniture for my Barbies’ future home. I had a living room, bedroom, and kitchen set. The orange floral print of the couch, chair, and coffee table didn’t match the green design of the bedroom furniture, but it wouldn’t matter once inside the Dream House. The kitchen furniture was yellow. The refrigerator didn’t stand up on its own very well once filled with air. Its cardboard doors were covered in a stretchy plastic and when opened, you could see a painted picture of nourishing staples inside. I remember thinking it was funny there were bottles of pop and veggies in the fridge. But what really cracked me up was the whole turkey that was sitting in the freezer.

My older sister wasn’t into Barbies anymore, so she gave me a plastic Barbie bathtub she acquired years earlier. I don’t remember there being a toilet, sink, or vanity – surely I had those too, right? The bathtub was cool though – it made bubbles. With a little bit of water, a drop of kitchen soap, and a few pumps of a button at the foot of the tub, I was able to create a mountain of fluffy white suds.

When I told my mom about my career choice, she was supportive. She even helped me procure the supplies necessary for my lemonade stand: a Tupperware pitcher, a stack of Dixie cups, and a tiny packet of yellow lemonade. I insisted on making the tart liquid myself. Mom smiled as she backed away from the counter and let me take charge. I had seen her do it thousands of times – empty the lemon-flavored powder into the pitcher, add sugar and water, stir, and then add one more cup of sugar. Okay, my mom never added a second cup of sugar, that was my idea. Nothing but the best for my customers – the more sugar, the better.

Real estate was easy to come by for my business. I simply chose the front yard of our house. Between the street and sidewalk, I erected a folding T.V. tray and metal chair in the grass. I placed the pitcher of lemonade and stack of small Dixie cups on the T.V. tray – I don’t remember displaying a sign, but each cup of my lemon brew would cost consumers 10 cents.

My mom suggested I have a change box in the event someone gave me big bills, like a dollar. I repurposed an old “My School Box” that previously held Kindergarten supplies. What once housed pencils, crayons, scissors, and Elmer’s School Paste (I can literally smell that paste as I write this!) now held loose change for my lemonade business.

I only had one customer that day, but I will never forget him. Not because he was my one and only customer, but because I damn near killed the man with the thick, sugary beverage I had the nerve to call lemonade.

He was a police officer. One of Chickasha’s finest, who patrolled our small Oklahoma neighborhood. I waved at him as he approached my stand in his police car. When he pulled up against the curb, I could see inside the passenger window. There were lots of flashing lights and buttons on the dash.

“Whatcha got going on over here?” the police officer asked as he exited his car. His thick brown mustache couldn’t hide the handsome smile on his face.

“I’m sellin’ lemonade. You want some? Ten cents a cup!”

“Why, I was just thinkin’ I was thirsty,” he said reaching for his wallet.

Ecstatic, I immediately went to work, carefully pouring the yellow juice into one Dixie cup. The police officer held the cup for me; the pitcher was heavy – I had to use two hands.

Once filled, I handed him the cup and he, in turn, handed me a crisp one dollar bill.

“You can keep the change,” he informed me as he lifted the cup to his lips and took a swig. Suddenly, he started gagging and coughing uncontrollably. I watched in horror as he attempted to catch his breath and gain some level of composure. His eyes were watering and bulging at the same time. When he could finally speak, he muffled, “It’s good.” He managed to choke down the rest of it and handed me the empty cup with a weak smile.

“Good luck with your sales,” he said as he walked back to the driver’s side of the police car, still coughing. Bless his heart, the overly sweet concoction must have given his system an unexpected jolt.

After an hour, I decided I no longer wanted a career in lemonade sales. I didn’t want a Barbie Dream House anymore either. I had made a whole dollar – not bad, I thought, for my first job. A dollar was more than enough to buy a new bag of shiny marbles from TG&Y – and that is exactly what I did.

~Viv

Me at a lemonade stand I found while exploring Bodega Bay, California (November, 2021)

 

The Original Ice Castle

Ice Castle

One of my favorite winter attractions is the magical Ice Castles that come alive every January in the small, Swiss-themed town of Midway, Utah. Built on an acre of land, Ice Castles attracts thousands of curious visitors, all looking to unleash child-like imagination and get lost in a whirlwind of fantasy.

Ice Castles are constructed from hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles, ice blocks and frozen walls. Inside, custom caves, walkways, tunnels, mazes, and slides encourage hours of icy play and exploration. At night, colorful lights, synchronized to music from Disney’s Frozen, bounce off the glistening interior and add to the enchanting experience. Without fail, every visit to this winter wonderland takes me back to my childhood. Long before Ice Castles rose to fame in 2011, my sister, Vicki, and I were celebrities in our hometown of Chickasha for building our own icy fortress.

According to weather records, Oklahoma averages a measly two inches of snowfall a year. Winter precipitation, if any, typically shows up in the form of freezing rain, but in January 1977, Chickasha residents woke up to a lot of both.

“I hope they cancel school,” Vicki said while our mom placed our General Electric radio on the kitchen table and fiddled with the tuner knob. We didn’t have email or text messaging back then; the quickest way to get local news and learn of school closings was to tune into the KWCO-KXXK radio show. I agreed with my big sister; playing in the snow was far better than going to school.

The man in the radio read through the list of school closings in alphabetical order, however, he had already passed the “Cs” by the time we tuned in. Disappointed, Vicki and I had to wait for the next commercial break to hear if “Chickasha Public Schools” made the list. Our mom went about her morning routine of preparing cups of hot tea, cold milk, and buttery toast. We still needed to eat our breakfast and get ready for school, she told us, just in case.

As I munched on strawberry jelly toast and listened to Paul Simon sing “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”, I got lost in the busy wallpaper staring back at me. It didn’t match our brownish-gold kitchen carpet or aluminum table with floral-padded chairs. Instead, it portrayed a colorful pattern of coffee pots, cups, and muffins. I thought the muffins were funny and took pleasure in seeing how many of them I could count. At age five, I was still learning big numbers, so my ability to get very far, numerically, was limited.

“Here we go!” Vicki said, turning up the volume. Suddenly, I snapped out of my wallpaper trance and joined my sister in leaning towards the radio as if our hoovering bodies would somehow affect the announcement. One-by-one, the radio man recited school closures – again in alphabetical order. Finally, he said it: “Chickasha Public Schools are closed today.”

Hallelujah! Vicki and I wasted no time putting on our coat, hat, boots, and mittens. Even our mom bundled up to join us, though her mission was to de-ice the driveway, steps, and sidewalk.

I don’t remember who came up with the idea to build the fort, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do with the growing collection of excavated ice chunks. Using a shovel, our mom chipped away at the slippery surfaces while Vicki and I hauled the two-inch ice blocks to the front yard.

One-by-one, we stacked the chunks on top of each other. When I could no longer reach the top, I handed the blocks to Vicki, who used her tippy toes until our fort reached an astounding six feet. With little daylight left, I quickly formed a snowman and rolled his body center stage so he could stand guard and protect our fort from evening intruders.

As days passed and temperatures rose, our lovely masterpiece and snowman started to melt. It was sad to watch them slowly dissipate after so much work – in a matter of days, our fort and snowman would be gone forever – or would they?

I don’t remember his name, but we had a neighbor who worked for the Chickasha Daily Express (now known as the Express-Star) newspaper. He drove by our house on Virginia Avenue every day on his way to work. Unbeknownst to us, he snapped a picture of our fort the morning after it was built. What a surprise it was to us to see our fort among the top stories in the Sunday newspaper!

The caption read: ICE FORT, followed by a cute introduction to our kitty, Snowflakes, whose timing was perfect; she was a great photo-bomber. Our mom cut out the photo and story and placed it on the refrigerator. Our hard work, innovation, and creativity had been showcased to the entire town – it was a proud moment for our little family.

What’s even better than memories are the old photographs that accompany them. Below is the newspaper clipping featuring our ice fort; forty-five years later, it still stands.

Share in the comments below of a time when you built a fort. Was it inside or outside? What materials did you use? Never built a fort? Well, it’s not too late! Build one today and post a picture in the MemoryBlogger Forum!

Original Ice Castle

ICE FORT – This cat stands guard at an ice fortress in the 100 block of Virginia. With all the ice storms, thaws and more ice, it was easy to chip these blocks and pile them up for the brick style fort. A lone snowman stands sentry duty inside the half circle.  Chickasha Daily Express, 1977

~Viv

Nervous Redemption

Water represents MemoryBlogger Vivian Cumins being baptized at age 10.

I asked to go last. There were two adults before me, a man, and a woman, both dressed in the same thin, light blue gown. I was only 10 years old, so my gown was a little big and went all the way to the floor. As I watched them take two steps down into the waist-deep tank of warm water, I suddenly questioned my decision.

I should have gone first, I thought to myself – get it over with. I wanted to turn around and leave, but that was impossible. My mom was in the way. Standing in the shadows with a big smile on her face, she held a fluffy white towel in one hand and a bag of dry clothes in the other. She was proud; she had no idea I was having second thoughts.

Panic invaded my senses as I watched my born-again brother and sister lean back trustingly into the arm of our pastor, Brother Gene Strother. Slowly, Brother Gene guided their bodies into the water until they were completely submerged. Shouts of “Amen!” and applause could be heard coming from the congregation as Brother Gene quickly snapped them to their feet. No doubt, I would receive the same reaction from the congregation when it was my turn, that is, if I had the nerve to go through with it.

Aquaphobia is a fear of water, often developed from a traumatic event during childhood. For as long as I can remember, I have had a fear of water. This is the reason I never learned to swim. You read that right: I can’t swim. I have, however, taken swim lessons – twice. Unfortunately, I was kicked out of class – twice, and my registration fees were refunded – twice. I suspect I am partly to blame. I refused to put my face in the water. The thought of it gave (and still does!) me anxiety. I begged my instructors to teach me to doggie paddle instead. Dogs were great swimmers, and they didn’t put their heads in the water! Neither instructor was impressed with my observation and neither complied with my request; one even told me I was “unteachable.” Now that was a little harsh, don’t you think?

I don’t remember the incident, but I learned years ago that I did, in fact, experience a traumatic water-related event when I was two years old. It was a sticky summer afternoon and my dad, mom, sister, and I were out on a boat on Lake Chickasha. My sister liked to lean over the side so the waves could slap against her bare hands. As is typical for a little sister, I wanted to do what she was doing, except I was at a disadvantage. My arms were much shorter. I ended up leaning too far and falling overboard, face-first into the lake. I was only underwater for less than a second before my dad immediately sprang into action and grabbed me by my life jacket and pulled me out. Less than a second, but the damage was done. From that moment on, I feared water.

Toddler Vivian and mom in boat
Before falling overboard

I didn’t think about being immersed in water when I walked the aisle of Maranatha Baptist Church in search of salvation. All I knew was I loved Jesus and wanted to go to Heaven someday. Nevertheless, Brother Gene informed me that the act of baptism followed salvation as a public expression of one’s faith. I understood and agreed it was the proper thing to do; however, I was afraid. Brother Gene promised he would hold me tight, and I could even hold my nose if I wanted to. I reluctantly agreed.

As my turn inched closer, I realized there was no turning back. I decided to go through with it even though I was afraid. Brother Gene was waiting in the middle of the baptismal with his left arm extended. I grabbed ahold of his hand as I stepped into the water. I was shorter than the two who had gone before me. Instead of my waist, the water came up to my chest and caused my heart to beat wildly. Brother Gene leaned down and whispered, “You are doing great! You ready?” I nodded my head, pinched my nose with my left thumb and forefinger, and closed my eyes tight.

I don’t remember going under, but I remember coming up because my foot slipped, and Brother Gene had to grab me to keep me from going under a second time. Once I regained my balance, I turned my head towards the roaring congregation. People were on their feet clapping and cheering for me. Brother Gene offered me a ‘high-five’  before helping me up the stairs and out of the water. Praise the Lord, I did it!

Aside from the obvious, this memory has a special place in my heart. Throughout life, there have been times when I needed or wanted to do something, but fear incapacitated me. As I grow in faith, I find the strength necessary to take steps forward – to do it anyway – to do it afraid.

I still have a fear of water. I still can’t swim. But, I have driven a jet-ski. I have waded in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I went on a 5-day cruise across the Caribbean for my honeymoon, and crossed the English Channel from Germany to England on a ferry. I have learned that faith plus courage often produces the most precious memories. My baptism 39 years ago is one of them.

~Viv

Baptism Certificate

Marilyn’s Story

Marilyn the pickup truck

She wasn’t much to look at, but her body enticed my husband the moment he laid eyes on her. He saw something others were simply too blind to see. He saw through her shattered exterior. He saw potential.

This is a story of love, devotion, and legacy. This is Marilyn’s story.

For as long as he could remember, Eddy had his eye on a 1971 GMC step side pickup. It rested on blocks at Performance Auto and Marine in Chickasha, Oklahoma. It was just a shell of a truck – no wheels, tires, transmission, or motor. It didn’t even have seats or a steering wheel. The telephone pole imprint embedded in the grill was evidence it had suffered a collision, which would explain the missing hood. Despite its imperfections, Eddy saw potential and every time he and his dad drove by the shop, Eddy looked to see if it was still there.

At age 14, Eddy convinced his dad to drop by Performance Auto and ask the owner, Garry Snow, if the truck was for sale. Garry said he planned to run it across the scales at the Dog Leg Salvage Yard that week. He thought he’d get about $50 for the scrap metal; if they were willing to pay that, then the truck was theirs. With the money Eddy earned roofing houses for his uncle, he happily forked over the cash.

The truck was hauled and stored at his uncle’s mechanic shop, and for the next two years, Eddy and his dad scouted local salvage yards for parts. Piece by piece, the truck was reassembled and slowly brought back to life. However, the build was far from perfect. Although Eddy did his best to straighten the grill, the telephone pole imprint was still clearly visible. It was missing the tailgate, and the wooden liner was so eroded, you could literally see the ground through the rotted holes. The transmission and motor were the final two components needed to complete the project, however, finding ones that fit Eddy’s budget proved challenging. Luckily, both became available the day his dad wrecked the family’s 1964 Chevelle. The car was no longer drivable, but the transmission and motor lived on in Eddy’s ‘71 GMC.

The blue directional wheels and white-letter Daytona Radial tires Eddy bought from Ralf & Sons Tire Center complemented the cheap $400 blue paint job. It was not the prettiest or safest build, but by the grace of God, it passed inspection and was ready to drive just two days before Eddy’s 16th birthday.

Eddy drove and drag-raced his ‘71 GMC until he joined the Air Force at the age of 18. On December 26, 1991, Eddy parked his truck in his dad’s backyard and handed over the keys with the promise he would return soon to reclaim her. He had no way of knowing at the time that this agreement would eventually land his dad in the Grady County jail.

Twelve years of neglect and rodent invasion took its toll and in 2003, an Enforcement Code Officer told Eddy’s dad that the unsightly truck needed to go or else it would be impounded. His dad informed the officer that he had no intention of getting rid of the truck, as it belonged to his son who was currently fighting the war in Iraq. Furthermore, he said, if the officer ever stepped foot on his property again, he would shoot him. Now, threatening an Enforcement Code Officer was obviously not the proper way to handle the situation and his utter lack of judgement cost him an entire evening in a cold jail cell. The next morning when he went before the judge, he provided the same explanation (minus the threat) as to why he was not going to move the truck. Although the judge did not approve of his misconduct, she dropped the charges since the vehicle was indeed owned by a military member deployed to a war zone.

Eddy honorably served our country for 20 years and retired from the Air Force in 2011. He planned to return to Oklahoma and retrieve his GMC soon thereafter, but found it difficult to take time away from his new job. Therefore, in September 2014, his dad hauled the truck from Oklahoma to be reunited with its original owner. Eddy was shocked to see how much it had deteriorated over the years. All four tires were flat, and it had been overtaken with animal waste, nests, and tree remnants. Critters chewed through the wires and left massive holes in the seat cushions and carpet. Eddy immediately began nurturing her and for the next three months, he called his dad every Sunday to brief him on the progress and his vision of turning the ‘71 GMC step side into a ‘68 Chevy short wide bed. Sadly, on December 10, 2014, the phone calls came to an abrupt halt upon learning the devastating news that his dad passed away due to a massive heart attack.

For 7 years, this restoration project was a weekend escape for Eddy. From mechanical to electrical, to paint and body work, he accomplished every bit of the work himself. Though he executed this project solo in our garage, I am confident my husband was never alone. Just like all those years before, my father-in-law was right there with his beloved son – building, smiling, and encouraging. And when the day came to take Marilyn for her first joy ride, he was right there, riding shotgun.

Story also featured in LMC Truck Life.

In loving memory of Pop.

~Viv

 

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