Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Cousin Kim

My cousin Kim.

Growing up in Aberdeen I was lucky enough to have my grandma and grandpa Beck living in the same town. We lived a couple of miles away from their home until I was in the third grade. At this point we moved to a house and we lived right next door. Grandma and Grandpa were both very loving and caring and taught me by their example.

Aberdeen, Idaho
Since Kim lived in Las Vegas Nevada, we didn’t get to see her very often. In today’s world we could just call, text, skype, email, facebook, or any other form of communication, but back in my younger days we didn't have all of those options. We mostly communicated by writing letters. That was only when we had enough money to buy stamps, which wasn't very often.

I can remember when we first had a telephone installed in our home. Telephones had been invented before I was born, but very few people in Aberdeen Idaho had them when I was real young. When we finally broke down and had one installed, it was a big event, but there was a learning curve to the new device. Even when I graduated from high school and moved away from home we still only had one phone in our home. It was a rotary dial phone. 

Rotary Telephone

During the early years we were on a party line system. Every single home within a few miles radius was on the same party line. Now if you hear the words party line, you think of a political group, but back in the late 60’s we were talking about our phone system. If a person in a “party” or household was talking on the phone, the other families on the same party line would have a busy signal if any outsider tried to call them. If you were the one on the phone, any other family who decided to pick up the phone in their homes would be able to hear your entire phone conversation. If a call was made to a neighbor it would only ring in the home the call was going to, but the call would cause every phone that was on the party line to get a little bleep to their phones. Also, if someone on your party line started dialing the phone it would also bleep. For this reason, you would always know if anyone on your party line was making or receiving a call.

It was very much a part of the culture to listen in on everyone else’s calls, just so you would know what was going on in the neighborhood. No one in our household ever listened in on any calls because my mother was very much against it, not to mention the fact that our household was never quiet, so it was impossible to go undetected. Our phone hung on the wall in the kitchen and had a very short line from the receiver, so you couldn't be more than a foot away from the wall when talking. We did know however when others had been listening in on our calls. They would mention things from the calls in a future conversation. It was a common occurrence and many times the listeners would forget they were eavesdropping when they found certain things out.

If you had an emergency call you needed to make and the line was tied up, you would interrupt the call and tell the neighbors you needed to use the phone. All parties would need to agree to hang up the phones to clear the lines so anther call could be made. After the call went through, then anyone could pick their phone back up and listen in on the call. It was a bit tricky, and had a learning curve but it was possible to listen in and go undetected if you knew how to play the system. If the eavesdropping party picked the phone up too soon, the call would not go through, so you have to start the call again by clearing the lines. Sometimes while dialing, if you didn't keep the consistency of the dialing steady, the call would not go through. If you pushed the circular motion too fast or too slow the call would not go through. Basically, anytime you would try to make a call a person could potentially plan on the call taking three or four tries before it actually went through.

Another problem with the telephones back in those days was if you didn't get the phone hung up all the way. Some of the phones would stick so they looked like they were hung up, but they were actually still off the hook and tying up the line. It’s funny to me to think of the saying, “Your Off The Hook,” which usually means you are no longer being held responsible for something, and yet in reality, if your phone was off the hook, you were the one who was totally responsible. Every few days we would find our phone not working and no one was currently talking on the phone. This is when we would have to use our investigating skills to listen to the background noise to figure out whose house had the phone off the hook. We would then get on our bike, ride to the person’s house and ask them to put their phone back on the hook. More often than not, it was grandma who had accidentally left the phone off the hook.

Telephone Off The Hook

This embarrassed grandma so much. She would realize that she had been tying up the phone, and even worse, all the neighbors could hear her household conversations. For this reason, grandma rarely used the phone. When she did call on the phone, she didn’t stay on any longer than she absolutely had to.

Because of the time I grew up, it made it very hard to keep in close contact with our cousins from Las Vegas. Grandma felt very bad about that. She loved her grandchildren so very much and worried and prayed over them constantly. She had a large bookshelf in her living room that she proudly displayed the most current picture of all of her grandchildren, lined up in a row. At one point she had a grandchild in every age. Danny, David, Laurie, Kim, Tony, Pollyanna, Doug, Christie, Amy, Jeremy, Derik, Aaron, Joel, Jared, Daniel, Sara.

She also had a large full length mirror in the living room. Taped to this mirror she kept the pictures of Laurie, Kim, Doug, and Derik. I used to ask her why these were the only pictures she had on her mirror and she said she kept them there because they lived the farthest away so she needed to remember them the most.

Many times while we were spending time with grandma, she would call my sister Christie by the name of Kim by accident. Grandma told Christie she couldn’t help it because Christie reminded her of Kim. Christie and Kim both had dimples and looked somewhat alike. Grandma said they both walked across the floor with grace and elegance. As grandma would watch Christie, many times I saw her secretly crying. I would ask her what was wrong, and she would always try to hide her tears. The only think she would ever tell me was she just missed Mel’s children so much.

When Kim did come to visit, we would all be so excited we could hardly sleep. We would go over to Grandma’s house to help her get ready for “company.” Grandma always kept a very clean house, but when company was coming she did an extra special cooking and cleaning regimen. She wouldn't even take a small break each day like she normally would to watch her favorite television program, “The Price Is Right.” She would work around the clock in preparation mode. Grandma would wash and iron everything, including all the bedding, drapes, table clothes, napkins, etc. She would cook up the most fabulous foods like pies, cookies, cakes and rolls. She would take special care in making sure there were healthy options prepped and ready to eat as well. She would clean and cut carrots, radishes, and celery and put them in ice-water in a mason jar in the fridge. Grandma didn’t drive until she was in her 80’s and she had such a large honey do list for grandma so we would take grandma to the store to grocery shop too. When the cousins were coming into town, she would only buy the name brand items at the grocery store. She would tell us she rarely got to see them so nothing but the best for Melvin’s kids.

The sad thing was, she would wear herself out so much getting ready for them to come, that by the time they actually came, she would fall asleep in her chair with us playing all around her.

One Beck family tradition we had was for Melvin to bring his kids and Lucille to bring her kids for opening day of fishing season. This is the one time a year we would strive to all be together. I remember one year Kim told me she had a cookie in her van and wanted to know if I would like one. Of course I did, so we snuck off to the van to get a secret treat. To my utter amazement, it was a store bought cookie. To my best recollection, it was the first time in my life I had ever had a store bought cookie. I don’t know how old I was, but I can remember it like it was yesterday.

Kim also introduced us to the baton. We had never heard or seen a baton routine before Kim. A few years later there was an episode on the Brady Bunch where they were twirling a baton, and I thought to myself, well, hey, I already know all about that, because my cousin Kim taught me how to twirl. She brought her baton and taught us a few moves so we of course had to have one for Christmas the next year. We would practice and practice and try to be just like Kim. The only one who ever really mastered the art was Christie, but I knew that would be the case, because of course, she was “graceful like Kim.”

Kim Taught Us How to Twirl a Baton

Many years later after we were all adults I found out some very sad things about Kim. She had some very tough times including an abusive husband. In fact the anti stalking laws in the state of Nevada were instituted to protect women after an incident that happened to Kim. I am so sorry that we were not in closer contact and able to help her in that horrible time in her life.

I am very grateful to call her my relative. I sure wish we lived closer.

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