Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hand Me Down, Hand Me Up, Hand Me Anything

The Little Jumper That Could
I was definitely a girl ahead of my time.  Long before “vintage” became trendy and someone coined the term “re-purposed,” I served as the poster child for sustainable, responsible consumerism.  That sounds high-principled, but it really just means I wore a lot of hand-me-downs. As the fifth of six children, much of my wardrobe and other stuff had previously belonged to one or more of my siblings. The undisputed Queen of Hand-Me-Downs, I took other people’s cast-offs with unembarrassed glee.
Living at the end of the distribution chain had its joys. Think about Christmas.  Not only did I get to open my own presents, I could watch my two older sisters open their gifts and savor the certainty that the keyless shoe skates would eventually make their way to me.  Time was on my side—that blue and white checked maxi dress would be mine.  All good things came (only slightly worse for the wear) to those who waited.
My family’s total mastery of the hand-me-down concept is embodied in the holy relic I fondly think of as The Little  Jumper That Could. If you look at each of our 1st grade school photos you’ll see what I mean. There it is, the LJTC gracing my smiling oldest sister on picture day –purple corduroy, sweet floral ribbon trim and tiny round white buttons. Four years later it crops up in another school picture, this time on sister #2.  But wait, how did I luck out? I wore the Little Jumper That Could in TWO school pictures: first grade and second. By 1969, when the above photo was taken the jumper had faded to a weary lavender color and the ribbon had curled at the edges.
Sadly, the system sort of broke down when I hit adolescence. My feet would not stop growing. Tagged “gun boat feet” by my brothers, they quickly overtook my sisters’ dainty shoe sizes and threatened to take over the planet. No more hand-me-down shoes.  Oh, and then I got tall—taller than my oldest sister almost overnight.  Passing clothes down the line became senseless.
But I never outgrew my love for hand-me-downs. I still pick up interesting items from assorted family members. Most of my inherited attire these days actually comes from my daughters, Hand-Me-Ups   I love my Grandpa’s plaid Pendleton jacket. My Dad’s big gray sweater has become my writing attire—it’s keeping me warm right now.  Dad wore it so often that putting it on feels like summoning him to act as my muse. Sometimes it just feels like one of his hugs.  No trendy new sweater from H&M can do that. I like clothes with a little history, a little piece of someone I love, a couple of stories to tell. I like my hand-me-downs.
Where do you fall on the hand-me-down continuum? Rather die than wear used? Or do hand-me-downs make you happy?

This post originally appeared on The Peanut Gallery Speaks.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Built-In BFF's

I grew up in a big family. A big loud, chaotic, close, loving, happy family. A unique family culture developed over the years, shaped by the influence of my parents and the six distinct individuals that they spawned.   OK, you are correct . . . "unique family culture" pretty much translates "serious weirdness." But it  sounds better, right? A few weeks ago four of the six siblings gathered with our mom and various spouses to celebrate my sister's fiftieth birthday. (My older sister, mind you.) As always, we laughed a lot and ate a lot and the conversation whirled at a dizzying speed.

At one point I sat back and tried to listen to the banter as it must have sounded to our waitress or to the slightly intoxicated people at the neighboring table. A peculiar lexicon evolves among siblings, based on shared experience and a common way of processing life. We spring along easily with one another's jumps in logic, follow each other's verbal shorthand fluidly. So much Sandholtz-specific vocabulary flew that a random passer-by would have no idea what we were talking about. It made me smile. Few things in life make me any happier than sitting around with my siblings. My life came fully equipped with built-in best friends.

I don't know how my mom did it. No doubt she occasionally longed to trade some or all of us to a passing camel train. Or she could have run off with the caravan and returned after we had all finished high school and become reasonably civilized human beings. But no, she and Dad stuck it out without killing or maiming any of us--even through our most annoying or obnoxious phases. (Mine stretched for more than a decade. The 1970's must have felt like a century to my parents.) And they liked us. No really, they liked us and so we liked each other. Still do. No gift mom and dad gave me even touches the gift of siblings--not even my Burgundy Cherry Schwinn three-speed or the Barbie Beauty Center.

There's something deep and durable about a friendship that develops between two people who share a bunk bed, or a tube tent on a backpacking trip, or the rear cargo area of a Plymouth station wagon on a cross-country road trip. Who called for help when I shoved a rock up my nostril while the parents were gone? Taught me how to cut open a golf ball on Dad's work bench?  How can I not feel devoted to a sister who walked me down the dark hall to the bathroom (all ten feet of it) every night for years because I was afraid of boogey men or a brother who let me climb on the back of his mo-ped and hitch a ride to Livermore High School? Who but a sibling would welcome me and my four kids to stay in his home for seven weeks so that I could attend the last term I needed to finish my bachelor's degree or farm her own children out to friends so that she could fly eight hundred miles to help me after an emergency surgery or take time to read an essay at midnight and give thoughtful feedback? My siblings make me laugh out loud and let me whine now and then and inspire me with their sheer goodness. We fit, like old jeans or broken in Vans--comfortable, familiar, easy. Our pasts are intertwined, our present and our futures as well. We are part of each other's eternity.

What do you love about having siblings? What's your favorite sibling memory?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chaos Theory

Today is my day to post on The Peanut Gallery Speaks. Meet me there to be impressed by my mad organizational skills.