Now, not to be outdone by spring and summer, fall and winter also kicked butt in the Novak household. Fall is my favorite season. It was a special time at the Novak house too.
When I was pre-K it meant spending days at home with whoever else fell into that range (Kendrick, Emily, Theresa, Anna, and Molly [variably]), and mom. When I was younger, my mom was a substitute teacher. This meant that some days she would go to work and some days she would stay home. We had an interesting array of babysitters over the years and some were definitely better than others. Anyway, fall meant the start of the school year, and I remember waiting excitedly the whole day for my older siblings to come home–looking back I wonder why I wasted my time. Anyway, I loved everything about the fall. The smells, the sounds, and the traditions. We went apple picking and to the pumpkin patch–not at the same time, but in the fall. I love the crinkle of leaves and raking them up for the purpose of jumping into them. We had so much fun gathering up leaves. Sometimes, one person would hide out in the pile and we would scare each other by popping out as someone came running up to jump in. Classic. Fall also meant soccer games. I loved soccer. I think all of my siblings, so far, have played at least one season. It is a staple of childhood for suburban kids to play soccer. Soccer games meant orange slices at half time; whichever mom was on schedule for the week brought a huge bowl filled to the brim with orange wedges and by the end of half time they were gone. It’s amazing how many orange slices eight kids can eat in fifteen minutes.
Another part of my childhood, especially during the winter and fall, was trips to the UofM where Anna (and later Jeph) had doctor appointments. On the way down, there was a giant tunnel, which was created by an eight lane overpass, and, of course, we had rules about the tunnel. You had to hold your breath from the second you entered until the car exited the other side. As you held your breath, you made a wish. If, for whatever reason, you let your breath out, your wish would not come true. Of course, for little Novaks, holding your breath meant proving to everyone else you were holding your breath. So our cheeks would be puffed and our fingers would be holding our nose closed. That way no one could say you were cheating. I always wished for McDonald’s, we never got it, but I really believed if I wished hard enough one time it would come true. The other exciting part, for a little Maria, was parking at the U. There is a parking ramp close to the hospital and that is where we parked. Except, we did not park on the first or second level; no, we went all the way to the top and parked up there. It was the same for visiting Mom in the hospital after she had a baby, we went all the way up to the top of the parking ramp. Now, realistically, we probably didn’t park at the top every time, but the few times that we did left an impression on me and I remember it as every time.
Winter was a magical time at our house. Every year there would be a giant snow fort in the front yard–sometimes two. There was the requisite snowman. And sleds everywhere. We had the best sledding hill by us and I loved going. We had two toboggans (I think my Grandpa Novak built them) which are the best sleds ever. We would pile six to eight of us on one and fly down the hill. Sometimes we crashed before the bottom and we always tried to get further than we did the last time. Not only did we go sledding religiously, we also went ice skating a lot when I was small. My dad had this big brown canvas bag full of ice skates. No matter how neatly he put them away the year before, the following year there was always a night where Dad had to untangle the skates. He also had to find a pair for all of us which took some time. After we got the skates sorted out, Dad and Mom would take us to a local rink, fasten on our skates, and take us out onto the ice. I am sure as soon as everyone was skate ready, some one would decide they didn’t want to skate any more and were too cold to stay outside anymore. It seems like a lot of work for a little pay off. In hindsight, I am so grateful that my parents did all of this for us. I do not know how they had the time, energy, or patience. They just really love their kids. Anyway, while winter fun was great, I always liked coming inside. There was an endless supply of hot chocolate in the winter. We would come inside, peel off our frozen attire, ditch it either in the foyer or down by the furnace, and race upstairs for our hot coco with mallows. Our hot chocolate was amazing too. My parents would get out the biggest pot and pour the milk in. Milk heated on the stove makes the best hot chocolate. We would always fight over who had more coco mix in their cup and who sneaked an extra marshmallow (we had the jumbo ones). It was all the same. Mom would dish up the coco mix and put the marshmallows into our cups– she let us stir, but that’s as active as we were in the process. Still, in our family, there was no getting around fighting.
Half of my memories are of a quarrel with one sibling or another, but it was the best kind of fighting. We are explosive people, but, after we explode, it’s all over. So we would scuffle one minute and be best friends the next. As a semi-adult, I really appreciate the fighting now. My siblings are so honest. I never had (or have) to guess about how they feel about something. If I screw up I know it, and then we all move on. I can’t handle the passive way other people handle things. I even struggle with people who are not comfortable with yelling (obviously these are personal areas of growth for me). I love looking back at the fights we had (the stupid stupid fights) and laughing at how quickly we resolved our issues.
One final memory for the road. I don’t think this one has a particular season, but it makes me laugh. We used to have these long benches that we would sit on at dinner. You could fit like four of us on each one. Well, we used to turn those benches on their sides and play church with them. They used to become pews and we would pretend we were at church. Someone (usually a sister) would pretend to be the priest (I know, heresy!). I think our interpretation of Mass was really bad and completely inaccurate. We used potato chips and crackers for Eucharist. I don’t think we followed any of the form; mostly we just wanted Communion because we were too young to partake at church. Kids always want what they can’t have.
I have come to the end of the post and I look back at the seasons and so many more memories come back to me. I didn’t mention Christmas at all, or any holiday. I didn’t explain summer family vacations. I didn’t talk about many of the “oops” moments my family had (and there are plenty). And that’s okay. Right now, these are the memories that are important to me. These are the little ones that shaped me.