Playing House

 Some things I recalled about childhood, just before my baby sister’s 45th birthday … Rambling in my journal, I wrote:

“Rani Kaye’s always got her nose stuck in a book,” my dad would often say, and not without affection.

“Rani Kaye, get your nose out of that book, and go outside and play,” my mom would sometimes say.

And so I’d go outside, and swing on the swings in the back yard, and look at the trees or the sky, and daydream.

Sometimes I’d climb the bars on the side, and then hang by my knees and swing upside down. I did that more on the swings at school, but I did it at home, too, ‘til I grew too tall to hang from the swingset’s side brace because my fingers would brush the ground. You can’t dangle smoothly if your fingers touch the ground.

I played with my sisters much of the time. We played house. I was the oldest, and in order to pretend well, so that our play would be interactive, I was the one who told the story.

The story was always the same. We were three sisters, all grown up. We had husbands (imaginary men with names we had chosen who had jobs we had imagined) and we had children (all the dolls we’d gotten for Christmas through the years). We all lived next door to each other on the same street. My husband was a police officer. Debbie’s was a fireman, I think. Was Vickie’s a businessman? Possibly. I can’t remember.

House was my favorite game to play, but we were seldom allowed to take our dolls outside. What we could take outside were the “old” toy cars.

Did you know you can play house with toy cars? There was hard-packed dirt beside the driveway where one could draw houses with complete floor plans, and garages with a nail in the wall to hang the roller skates, and sidewalks, roads, and grocery stores and schools.

Same husbands, same children (but now the children had to be imagined as well) and the only thing real were the toy cars. These we drove from house to house and to the store and we had family barbeques and various adventures playing house with the “old” toy cars.

Our one little brother would sometimes play house with us too. He didn’t own dolls, but he did have a Yogi Bear. It was easier for him to play with us outside with the cars. We said he had to be the dad of the Yogi Bear doll, and he didn’t quite know what to do with it. He was good with the cars, though, even as a toddler.

When he was about eight or nine they came out with Matchbox cars, and well into puberty he would create entire towns on the floor in his bedroom using blocks and I don’t know what-all so he’d have a place to drive his fleet of Matchbox cars.

Until my parents moved South in their retirement, Dougie’s Matchbox cars were still at their house, and my sisters’ sons and mine would play with them; but we girls made sure our sons treated those toy cars with reverence. “Those are Uncle Doug’s toy cars. They’re really old. Take good care of them.”

When Doug was two, my parents gave us one more little sister. I was nine by then. It’s almost her 45th birthday as I write this down today. Her name’s Jeri Lynn. She was named after Daddy, or maybe after my mother’s cousin Jeri Louise.

Most of my memories of childhood, though, are before the baby was born. I called us the “Sisters Three.” We used to practice songs together, and then make our parents sit on the couch and listen to us sing. We sounded like the Andrews sisters, or at least that’s what I thought.

Believe it or not, my whole family used to sing together, every time we went for a drive. Mom and Dad taught us to sing “Let Me Call You Lizzy, I’m in Debt For You,” and “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

Grandma and Grandpa (my mom’s parents) taught us songs too. Grandpa taught me all the words to “The Old Kent County Jail” before I was old enough to go to kindergarten. Mom was terrified I’d offer to sing that for the teacher once I started school, and she made Grandpa stop singing it with me.

“Ka-ka-ka-Katie” is a song I learned from Grandma, who also used to sing, “I’ve Laid Around and Played Around This Old Town Too Long.”

When I was in sixth grade and Debbie was in second, The Singing Nun sang a song called “Dominique” and I learned the words and taught it to Debbie. When we sang it for our mom she seemed really, really happy.

The last time I ever sang with Debbie was in the mid-seventies when she was married to, or maybe just dating Dave. Dave played guitar in my mom’s kitchen and had Deb and me sing “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croche. Dave was a music major at Grand Valley. I took a 20th Century American History Class with him at night school not long after that. Pretty soon Dave and Deb split up. Many years later I read in the Grand Rapids Press that he had gained some renown as a composer.

When Jeri’s son got married, she tried to get me to sing Karaoke at his wedding reception. She thinks I have a lovely voice. I do not have a lovely voice, though. She is mistaken.

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