I was flipping through the stations the other day as I was driving our ’97 Buick (there is only a radio or cassette player), and I happened upon the song Puff the Magic Dragon on an oldies station. Immediately I was transported back to my childhood and found myself in my cousin Pammy’s (aka, Pamela, our co-blogger (I am the only one still allowed to call her Pammy) bedroom on the farm. As little girls we would sit in her room and play with dolls, and more often than that we would sit and sing along with our favorite tunes, and ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ was one of them. We would sing it over and over again. Looking back, I am sure that we drove Laureen (Pam’s mom) crazy!
You may remember the controversy surrounding this song. Myth had it that the song was about marijuana and drugs, but later the writers of the song vehemently denied these rumors. They insist that the song is about the innocence of a childhood lost.
Regardless of what one wants to make of the song, I loved it as a child. And in some way, it fit my own childhood, and probably Pam’s as well. We both saw challenges within our families, and we both realized young that life does not always go the way of fairy tales.
Pammy is just 6 months younger than I am. Growing up, we were as much like sisters, as my own sisters are to me. We spent almost all our childhood together.
First, sharing farm life as we went between our farms playing, and later, after we each moved to town, we would trek across the city to each others houses often. And more often than all of that, we found each other at grandma’s farm. Grandma’s farm (okay grandpa too, poor guy always gets overlooked and that’s only because he was as quiet and soft as my own dad) was always a fun time. My brothers and older cousins built a tree house and we spent so much time imagining all sorts of ideas in that magical place. We often played in the woods, one of our favorite things to do was to play ‘make believe house’. We would make mud pies and put the younger boys to work “cleaning” (poor Lonny, Craig and Jason). I laugh now looking back as we actually had them sweep the ground (the dirt was just never ending), lol!
We would wander the farm, hiding in the buildings and climbing to the roof of the lower ones, only to jump off to the ground (how we didn’t break limbs is beyond me). We did all the things we weren’t supposed to like climb in the corn bin and play (yep, it was full of corn), again I am unsure how we survived much of our childhood.
If I was yin, Pam was yang. We look not alike, she taking after her mother, and somehow also looking like our grandma (when she was young) with darker hair and grandma’s height. I take almost entirely after my dad, fair, blonde and blue eyed. I was always a bit more reserved, and Pam was usually the adventurer. She always had the best ideas, and even though I was older, I generally followed her lead, though we definitely had similar ideas most of the time.
As I reflected back to so long ago, I couldn’t help but be so thankful for this sister-cousin (my sisters and Pam will giggle at this term, inside joke) of mine brought to me still via family, once removed. For so many years we have had the best of relationships, and truly I cannot remember a time that we fought. Possibly when were kids, but if we did it was short lived and must not have been dramatic enough for me to recall. Instead, ours was an easy sister-cousin friendship where we can step away and come together easily, and never miss a beat.
Years ago, when Daren lay fighting for his life in our local hospital, I called Pam to come to our house. She must’ve came right over. She stayed for some time as I remember blips of her there but honestly, I cannot remember her coming or going, only that she was there, and that I felt the need to have her close.
She, of course, was in my wedding. It was never a doubt, she was ‘a given’ to stand with me, along with my own sisters.
As we have grown older, we have not had the chance to see each other as much as we would like. However, when Ally, Dawn, Roxy and I decided to start this blog, I felt compelled to include Pam as truly, she is my sister as well. It is not to take anything away from all of my other amazing cousins, Jodi, Kim, Angie, Dawn (yes, we have 2 Dawn’s) and Ronda were also so essential to our past (girls cousin club), and they also hold a special place in my heart, as do my boy cousins. It is only to say that geography and timing played a huge part in mine and Pam’s relationship.
I think back over the years and I smile as I do, remembering so many good times spent with someone who is so different, and yet so like me. On the outside we seemed an ill fitting pair, but we worked well together as a team. When one faltered, the other took charge.
As children we both loved similar things; dolls, playing theater, playing school, house, and we were always up for any new adventure that would set us on a scavenger hunt around the farm. Once when we were running around the farm playing, we were playing tag of sorts and unbeknownst to me, they had a strung a barbed wire chain across the road leading out to the pasture. As I came running down that road I was taunting the boys (that would soon backfire), and looking backwards at Pam just behind me. I remember the look on her face when she saw the barbed wire chain (neck height for me) as she slowed to a stop, and her face gave it away, but as I turned to look it was too late, I ran right into it at a full run, neck height. The barbed wire put deep gouges in my neck and knocked me back, and for a minute all my breath left me. I just laid there, stunned and bleeding. Pam took one horrified look at me and set off at a dead run for my dad, who came quickly in tow and looked as pale as I had ever seen him when he saw me. He picked me up and to grandma’s house we went as quickly as dad could carry me. Grandma took in the whole scene and being the calmest woman I had ever known, instructed dad to lay me on the bathroom counter and she started mending my wounds immediately. In the end, it looked worse than it was, but dad was still pretty shaken. He admonished us kids for not realizing the dangers on the farm, and to always be careful. On top of my injury, I felt humiliated and sad at dad’s reaction. I went back outside with my cousins and brother. Soon dad found me, and in his own way said he wasn’t mad and he was just very worried about me and he was glad I was okay. That was my dad, so soft and he carried so deeply any hurt that he thought he inflicted. Looking back, I know that he was just so scared himself. The whole time Pam stood in the doorway patiently waiting for me to be mended, and then we set about a quieter play for the rest of that day.
Pam and I both loved animals, often doting on any stray cat that would let us get a hold of them. Hide and seek was one of our favorite games, and more often than not the boys were always “it” (a sad fact of bossy older girls). For all of our similarities in play, we had key differences in our personalities. Pam always gravitated to older, more unique items, where I like things newer, and a bit more streamlined. Where Pam was more eccentric, I was more conventional (but I have to admit that I loved her extraordinary ideas and styles). Where Pam was confident, I was always more insecure and unsure. But where we are most alike is our view on family. To us, there is nothing more important. At times we seem the glue to hold it all together for each of our prospective families, often playing peacemaker.
That is in part how we came up with the name The Art of Anderson for our blog. Growing up Anderson meant that we understood stretching a dollar, if we had one at all. It meant realizing that although we did not grow up with unlimited means, we did have everything we needed, mostly. It meant understanding hard work such as carrying pails of feed, walking beans in the field and being helpful around grandma’s house, or our own, always. It meant being a caretaker for our younger siblings, even though we may have grumbled about it. It meant that at any given moment we could beat each other up or tease one another, but God help the poor non-family member that tried to do the same. It meant that no matter what, we would always be family and there for each other, which meant the porch light would always be left on as a beacon to “home”.
Pam is as much ‘home’ to me as my own siblings are. She is a link to my past as are my siblings, and I look forward to growing old with her, as I do my own sisters (though not exactly the gray hair, wrinkles and aging mind-though that may be fun as we can pretend we don’t know what we are doing in our old age).
As I reflect back on my sister-cousin, I am thankful for all of the memories, especially the ones where we are sitting in Pam’s bedroom as little girls, still innocent in life, singing songs about lost childhoods via a pot-smoking dragon floating down the river. Ah, the vision…..