Amanda's Epistle

The continuing story of my life in Thailand


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Life with Jam (Part 7)

Jam was always the good one, well-behaved and never got into trouble.  I was the one getting into trouble (and Deb usually the one getting blamed).

But Jam had her moments too.

When I was a baby, there was a time that Jam stepped on me (not that I actually remember this).  Dad then chased her down the hall and gave her a spanking, which makes me believe she did it on purpose.

Another time, the two of us teamed up and managed to break a clock.  I don’t remember this either, but Deb certainly does.  Mom insisted that Jam and I were too small to have broken the clock, so Deb was the one who got in trouble for it.  Most likely, Jam was using her puppy-dog eyes on Mom to show how innocent she was.

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Jam did have lovely big brown eyes, but she always had to hide them behind glasses.  And when she was a kid, she HATED her big thick brown glasses.  I think she also got picked on at school for those glasses.  She finally got fed up enough to leave them out in the yard.  We had a black and white beagle named Aspen at the time, and he happily chewed those glasses up for her.

 

But for the most part, Jam was one who wanted to play it safe, follow the rules, have a routine.  She actually would have fit in very well over in Thailand, where everything follows tradition.  When I first came over to work here, people would ask me who was at home taking care of my parents.  After all, the Thai retirement plan is to make sure your kids will take care of you, usually in exchange for you babysitting your grandkids.  So I told them Jam was at home with Mom and Dad, so I was free to work in Thailand.  They found this to be acceptable, although they found it terribly strange that my other sister was unmarried and lived alone in her own house.

 

I’m beginning to think little Johnny will be a lot like Jam.  He’s going to be the middle child (although he was our firstborn, we took in Ben, who is older) and has a tendency to be a quiet child.  Sometimes I find the house to be too quiet and wonder where Johnny has gone.  Just yesterday, I went to wake Johnny up to find he wasn’t in bed.  I then found him in the kitchen, quietly looking around for something to eat.

 

Yes, little Johnny will be a lot like Jam.

 

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Life with Jam (Part 6)

For those of you who don’t know, Jam passed away on Saturday morning.  It was evening over here and Mom used Skype to call my cell phone, as we were up in the village.  Little Ben actually cried.

Ben also said, “Auntie Jam is happy but the rest of us are sad.”

Auntie Jam is happy that she doesn’t have to suffer from cancer anymore.

She’s happy she no longer walks on a crooked foot with a metal plate in her ankle.

She’s happy she no longer needs corrective lenses, as everyone in heaven has perfect vision.

She’s happy she no longer has high-frequency hearing loss.

But most of all, she’s happy because she’s with Jesus.  

And while the rest of us are sad, we also have a few things to smile about.

Like the fact that Jam left behind absolutely no debt.  When our Uncle Frank died, Dad had to send all his creditors a death certificate so they would stop calling about this debts.  But Jam actually learned something from Dad.  She only used her credit card for gas and paid it off every month.  My parents will be able to use her assets for the memorial service without any financial strain.  

She also left behind some great memories.  We’re currently going through pictures for the slideshow and found quite a few we had forgotten about.  Like the one of all three of us in bathing suits in Florida…and we’re actually skinny! (Sorry, but this photo will NOT be included in the slideshow.  My Thai husband would kill the rest of the family if they allowed a picture of his wife in swimwear to be displayed in public).

They also found the picture of Jam at the grand piano at our local Carnegie Arts Center, where she would have her piano recitals.  That was the time she played The Entertainer, which she spent months practicing and learning to play.

We found a great picture of her with Lady, our big yellow lab.  Lady was the dog we had the longest and also the dog that scared the neighborhood boys so they stopped bothering us.  They also stopped playing baseball so they wouldn’t have to fetch the foul balls out of our yard.

They still need to find the picture of her falling down during the ski trip.  I risked life and limb taking that one.  But at least I have the picture of us walking Stacy, Mom’s basset hound.  Stacy actually died of cancer too.

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Life with Jam (Part 5)

Jam with Johnny  Feb. 2012

Jam with Johnny
Feb. 2012

It was nice that we lived only two blocks from the school.  Jam and I always walked to school, with the exception of the one year we had to ride the bus (which we hated).  One time it was snowy and icy and we had a hard time getting up the hill.  My solution was to walk in the neighbor’s yards, as frozen grass is easier to walk on than frozen pavement.  But Jam, always a stickler for following the rules, said it wasn’t polite to walk in someone’s yard.  So she walked on the street and kept falling down.  Then, when we got to the top of the hill, a neighbor poked her head outside and called to us, “Hey you kids!  Don’t you know school is closed today?”

I was laughing.  Jam was mad.  We then sat on our butts and slid back down the hill.

We loved snow days.  Since we lived at the bottom of a hill, we would take out sled out and slide down it.  Unfortunately, the hill was also a road, as well as an emergency snow route.  So they usually plowed it pretty quickly and ruined our fun.  We would stand outside with the other kids and BOO at the snow plow.

Another time we got to go to Colorado for a youth conference over Christmas break.  This was when we both discovered that skiing is NOT our thing.  We spent most of our time hanging out in the lodge.  I also had a camera and had fun taking pictures of people.  I really wanted Jam to fall down on her skis so I could get a photo of it, but Jam refused to do so.  So I just waited until she really did fall down…and then took a picture before I would help her up.

Jam was pretty mad about that too.

Just as we never got the hang of skiing, being from Kansas where there’s nowhere to ski, we never really learned to swim either.  Mom took us to swimming lessons with Deb when we were really small, but both of us were terrified.  Jam didn’t want to pick her feet up off the bottom of the pool.  I didn’t want to put my head underwater.  So as it was, Deb was the only one who ever learned how to swim.

Not that we had much chance to swim either.  The only two pools available were downtown, and Dad the cheapskate only took us there once or twice a summer.  Even when we went on family vacations, Dad usually opted for camping rather than hotels that had pools.  If we were lucky, the campground would have one.

One of these vacations was in Branson, in which our tent was pitched on top of really hard rocks.  And it rained all night and the tent leaked.  The only thing we actually liked about that vacation was going to Silver Dollar City.

But most of our vacations were in Colorado, where our Dad grew up and where our grandparents lived.  We actually got to ride horses and go fishing out there.  One of our relatives still has a log cabin up on a mountain that was built in the ’20s, so we always wound up going up there.

In spite of nearly burning it down.

Jam and I were sleeping up in the attic of the cabin, along with Deb and our cousin Rachel.  Then cousin Stve came running upstairs and said there was a fire!  We all went outside in our nightclothes and saw Uncle Frank and Uncle Les, along with cousin Colin, trying to put out a fire in the woodshed behind the cabin.  Actually, we didn’t SEE them doing anything.  None of us had time to put in our eyewear, so all we could see was a bunch of blurry figures running around.

There was a drought that year, so a fire was terribly dangerous if we couldn’t get it out.  Cousin Steve jumped into his car and drove down to the lodge to report the fire.  They did get a fire squad up there, but by that time, the others had put most of it out and we were all able to go back to bed.  We later told the story to our parents (and also Steve’s parents), who had been staying in another cabin and slept through the whole thing.

We had a lot of adventures on vacation, or afterwards.  One year, Deb and I had to fly back from Colorado early, as I had to go to band camp and Deb had to work.  When we arrived, we had a lot of hassle at the airport, as my luggage didn’t show up AND there was a bomb scare in the parking lot.  Then when we got home, we get a call from Mom saying Jam broke her leg.

It seems they were having spaghetti, Jam’s favorite, but didn’t provide parmesan cheese. When she got up to get some, she tripped over the table and her leg hit one of the metal posts. Dad then had to drive her into town to the hospital…and the dog ate Jam’s spaghetti.

Jam was pretty mad about that too.

I’m rather glad I missed out on the trip back.  Mom said they found out which rest areas provided good handicapped bathrooms and which ones did not.  Jam had to be in a wheelchair with such a huge cast on her leg.  But when they finally arrived home, it was then MY job to help Jam around the house and in using the bathroom.

But I did win the bet.  Since Mom never told us which leg Jam broke, Deb and I made a bet as to which one it was.

Jam didn’t care for us gambling at her expense either.  But she was at least glad she was already done with school.  That would’ve REALLY been a hassle.  Jam was able to recover and walk again, but her foot was never fully straight after that.  She also had metal pegs put into her ankle, so we were never sure if she would set off metal detectors or not.

Turns out, they do a good job so people don’t have that problem.  Jam was able to fly out to Thailand with everyone else twice.  The first time was supposed to be for my wedding, which was delayed.  So my family stayed in a guesthouse near my tiny rental room.  They also sat on my bed…and it broke in half.

Thai beds were not made to hold up four Americans.

Jam did get a bridesmaid dress out of the deal, even though she never got to be in the wedding.  This was good, as in my husband’s tradition, I’m supposed to give a gift to my older sisters for marrying first and “surpassing” them in status.

Deb says she’s still waiting for her gift.

The second time Jam came out was when everyone came to meet little Johnny.  We actually had our truck by this time and didn’t have to rent a vehicle for everyone.  Jam got to ride inside, being so tall, while Deb and I were usually stuck in the back of the truck.  They stayed in our house in the village, where we had put in a mattress for Mom and Dad and a pair of sofas for Deb and Jam.  The sofas were too short for Jam though, so in true Thai  style, she slept on a mat on the floor.

That was the last time I got to see her in person.

 


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Life with Jam (Part 4)

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By virtue of age, Jam and I were more of a twosome on a quest to drive Deb nuts.  Deb was more of a second mother and regular babysitter, not to mention bossy.  We used to go downstairs on Saturday mornings to watch Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the family room, which was right next to Deb’s bedroom.  Deb was always livid when she had to wake up to…

CONNECT THE DOTS!  LA LA LA LA!

Dynamics changed when Deb left for college.  On one of our visits to her, she looked up at Jam (literally) and said, “How dare you get taller than me!”  Then when she would come home, she’d call out, “It’s big sister!”  I would then run down and give her my version of a flying football tackle.

When Deb graduated, she decided to pursue a masters degree while living at home.  This was when we really became sisters more than just underlings.  Jam and I were in high school and Deb introduced us to the coolest thing ever…the internet.  She had to use it for her degree program, so we were some of the first kids at school to use email.  We shared an email account and called it Jamanda.

Deb also showed us a great new card game called Nerts.  The three of us would play it on Saturday nights while listening to Night on the Town, a radio program that played Broadway and film music.  Jam would keep score on an old chalkboard she still had and we even had several “invisible” players in the game in case on of us got stuck.  To this day, we can’t listen to Broadway music without thinking it’s not the same without a card game.  Nor can we play cards without missing the music in the background.

Another Christmas tradition was watching the movie White Christmas.  Not only did we love Bing Crosby, but we always liked singing the Sisters song together.  Another favorite was Meet Me in St. Louis, since it has four sisters in it.  When Frozen came out, Jam told me it was a great sister movie as well, but as I now have boys, I’ve never been able to watch it.  They’re far too interested in superhero films.

 

 

 


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Life with Jam (Part 3)

The three of us with Dad on Christmas morning ('92 or '93?)

The three of us with Dad on Christmas morning (’92 or ’93?)

Holidays are always great fun when you have sisters.  Our most memorable Halloween is still the one where Jam wanted to dress up like Smurfette, complete with blue makeup.  I was Tinker Bell that year and had cardboard wings.  That was also the one year we had to ride the bus to school, as they were building the high school and didn’t want us walking through construction.  Jam and I hated riding the bus.  We were the last stop, so we always had to sit in the far back, where a bunch of older boys would tease us the whole way to school.  They were especially mean when we showed up in our costumes, as Jam had a blue face and I had my jacket on backwards so my wings could stick out the back.

Deb didn’t care for that year of school either.  She came to pick us up from school at one time, and they sent her to the principal’s office for walking through the construction zone.  Deb just rolled her eyes, as she was in high school and said an elementary principal couldn’t do anything to her.

Thanksgiving always involved Mom and Deb cooking in the kitchen while Jam and I watched the Macy’s parade, usually while peeling potatoes.  Deb hated peeling potatoes.  I always preferred baking, so Jam and I would make the pies.  We always had to have an apple pie along with the pumpkin pies, as that was our favorite.  Sometimes Mom wanted mincemeat pie, but she either had to buy it or make it herself.  We both hated mincemeat pie.

In later years, Deb got a job in Topeka, so we got the brilliant idea to have Thanksgiving at her house so she and Mom could use two kitchens.  Jam and I would drive over to Deb’s house in our blue Chevy Lumina the day before so we could make the pies and help with cleaning.  Deb always was pretty bossy and loved making us clean her house.  The first time we did this, we got stuck behind an old truck and made up the following song.

Driving down the road…behind a pickup truck

He’s going really slow…oh what rotten luck

We gotta get to Deb’s…or she will have our heads.

If we don’t make the apple pies…they’ll make mincemeat instead!

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to drive an old blue Chevrolet

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to drive an old blue Chevrolet!

Naturally, Christmas was our favorite time of year.  All three of us loved poking at the gifts under the tree, trying to guess what they were.  We nearly always got gifts in sets of three, so after one of us opened her gift, the other two figured out what we were getting.  This later became sets of two, as Deb outgrew the desire to have stuffed animals or dolls as a gift.  One of the most annoying sets was when Jam and I got hairclips that played music when you pushed them.  Jam’s was black and mine was green and they each played different Christmas songs.  We had a great time driving Deb crazy with those.

Another time, Jam and I spent Christmas Eve playing with a tape recorder.  We loved that thing and had often listened to songs from Sesame Street on it.  We made the following recording, but have since lost the cassette tape it was on.  Not that we could find anything to play it on these days anyway.

It was a dark and stormy night.  The wind is howling and the house is moaning.  For this is the night of Halloweeeeeen!….Wait a minute, I made a mistake.  This is Christmas Eve!

 


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Life with Jam (Part 2)

 

Jam's Senior Picture

Jam’s Senior Picture

Anyone with older sisters will tell you that one of the greatest blessings (or curses) is that you never have to buy new clothes.  This was especially true for me, as I got clothes from both Jam and Deb.  Actually, since Jam is very tall (5’9″), even Deb would get clothes from her from time to time. 

This was a good thing, as Dad was very strict when it came to money.  I actually grew up thinking we were dirt poor until I got to Junior High and figured out Dad was just cheap.  On one occasion, Jam and I were travelling with Dad and he opted for the most el-cheapo motel he could find.  Then at 3 am, someone starts banging on the door looking for someone named “Bubba.”  Dad stormed to the door and yelled at the guy, “I AIN’T BUBBA!”

The good thing about that was Jam and I were able to convince Dad not to stay at the cheapest motels anymore.  We were scared out of our wits.

That wasn’t the only time Dad had to scare someone off.  In high school, one of Jam’s classmates started harassing her in class.  He even started calling her on the phone and making rude comments.  Jam did the wise thing by handing the phone to Dad, who immediately told the boy off in no uncertain terms.  He never bothered her again.

You don’t mess with Dad.

Now there is an upside to growing up with a cheapskate for your dad.  He was actually very money savvy and taught us early on how to manage our finances.  He gave each of us a checkbook in high school with a bank account and an automatic deposit.  The catch was, we could not ask for any other money.  Period.  We had to use our own.

This made me glad that I never had to purchase clothes.  I was able to use my money for other things.  This included paying for school lunches, until we got the bright idea that we could bring lunch from home for free (as Dad still paid for the weekly groceries).

Jam always said that it was school lunches that gave her the habit of eating too quickly.  I read a lot how Europeans and other nationalities think Americans eat too fast.  Jam says it’s all because of the school lunches.  She would spend three-quarters of the lunch period in line getting her lunch and finding a seat.  Once she actually sat down to eat, she would have only three to five minutes left before the bell rang.  This was another reason it was better to bring food from home.

Another thing we paid for was our music lessons.  Dad had tried to get us into sports, but it was all in vain.  Neither of us is very athletic and we simply didn’t enjoy it.  The only game my fourth-grade basketball team won was the one where I wasn’t playing, as I was at a Girl Scout function.  Since Deb had done fairly well playing clarinet in the school band, our parents figured music was a better activity for us.

Jam wanted to play the flute first, but she had just been fitted for braces at the time.  So she opted to learn piano and the flute was passed to me.  I never really had much choice in the matter, although I was given to option of switching to the trumpet at some point.  I decided not to since the trumpet was a “boy” instrument.  I wound up playing the flute on a regular basis for the next fifteen or so years, all because Jam had wanted to play it, but wasn’t able to.  She was fairly content with playing piano though and even inherited our grandmother’s piano, as she was the only grandchild who could play.

I probably would’ve done a lot better with my flute playing if I had actually practiced.  But as it was, there was just too many good shows on after school.  Jam and I were hooked on Ghostwriter in Junior High.  In the first episode, the character Jamal is called “Jammy Jam” by his older sister, which is how I started calling my sister “Jam” as well.  

Watching Ghostwriter also spurred us into making up our own episodes.  We would spend hours lying on Jam’s bed and creating elaborate plots.  We later did this for other shows we liked to watch, mostly reruns of The Monkees and Dukes of Hazzard.  Mom called it “molting,” as it didn’t seem like we were doing much of anything just lying there.  But those hours spent “molting” with Jam was what inspired me to pursue writing.

 

 


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Life with Jam (Part 1)

IMG_1667I recently received news that my dear sister Jamie is now in hospice care.  She just can’t take the chemo treatments anymore.  So I will now sit back and reflect on our life as sisters, as wonderful, typical, and not-so-typical as it was.

Jam was the middle child.  Our older sister Deb was excited when I was born.  After all, she was eight.  But Jam was three and could really care less.  Soon as Mom brought me home, first thing she did was shove the newborn out of the way so SHE could sit in Mom’s lap.

As my son is almost three and I’m expecting our next child, I have to wonder if he’s going to do the same thing.  He’s already sitting in my lap as I’m writing.

When I was small, we lived in a house on Rose Street and Jam and I shared a room with a bunk bed.  I was on the bottom bunk and discovered one of the bars on the bed could be twisted around, making a squeaking noise.  So every night, I would lie down there and twist that bar.  When Jam asked what I was doing, I told her I was playing with a merry-go-round.

For years, she thought I really did have a toy merry-go-round down there.  It took a while for her to discover that it was just a loose bar on the bed.

Being close in age, we also shared bath time.  And we LOVED bath time.  I used it to make up a miracle product called Double-Tab, which could clean absolutely anything.  Jam sat in the tub with me as I went through a whole infomercial on the wonders of Double-Tab.  Most of the time, we never got around to actually getting clean.

Bath time was never as fun when we weren’t allowed to bathe together.  It then got ruined permanently when I came home with head lice, and of course, all three of us got it.  Deb, as the fussy older child, refused to admit she had head lice until it was confirmed by the hair stylist.  All she shampooing and hair combing took all the fun out of bathing.  It also ruined our stuffed animals, as they had to be run through the dryer and none of them were soft and fluffy anymore.

We had a lot of stuffed animals.  We got some in sets of three, one for each of us.  But I used to envy Jam because she always got one when she had to go to the hospital.  I’ll tell you now, Jam REALLY got the short end of the stick when it came to health.  Deb rarely had to go to the hospital for anything.  I’ve never been admitted to a hospital in the US (my first hospital experience was after I moved to Thailand).  But Jam was ALWAYS in there for something, be it tonsils, eye surgery, ear surgery, etc. etc. etc.  And she’s NEVER enjoyed it…although she did get some great toys that way.

One of these was the Coco Penguin, which our school counselor gave to Jam for one of these hospital stays.  He came with a pen so your friends could sign his belly.  He also came with a little song.

Coco, Coco Penguin marching by

Feet spread out and his head held high

Long black coat and a clean white vest

Coco, Coco Penguin, you’re the best!

Another time when Jam was in the hospital, our youth pastor came to see her.  He was a fun guy that rode a motorcycle and wore a leather jacket.  One of the nurses had to raise her eyebrows and asked my mother, “You mean THAT is a PASTOR?”

This pastor was the same one who led us to the Lord, although Dad did the actual baptisms.  Jam was baptized first, which of course, made ME want to get baptized.  After all, the little sister always wants to do what the big sister gets to do, and Jam was now allowed to take communion.  The pastor finally came by and talked over the meaning of baptism before I was finally allowed to be baptized as well.  Like most kids, I knew full well what it meant to be baptized and follow Jesus, but my primary motivation was still to take communion like Jam did (and go to heaven too).