July 20, 2012

Retro Friday: The Neighbor Kids

Ok, so last week I wanted to share a picture that I could not locate, and it included the neighbor kids. I decided to give up the search and use these two pictures to tell my story. When we moved from the the mountains to the valley, we rented a house in the small town where I grew up, and right next door was a family with three children. Their father worked with my dad, and they were good coworker friends. There was a girl my age named Karen, sister named Cory, and a little brother named Kenan. Karen is seated near me, and her sister Cory is in the front. I think her brother is sitting by the kid, who I have no idea who he is. Their mother was Japanese, and their father was American. Not that this a big deal or anything, its just that in the small red neck town we lived in, it was very exotic to have a different nationality kid living next door. This little girl somehow knew she was special in some way, because she had an air about her in the way she carried herself and interacted with the other kids on the block. Before I launch into the story about her, I will tell you about the pictures. This was my brother's birthday party, and I would have to say I was 4 in this photo, because his birthday is in December( the 23rd! poor kid), and mine is in October. When I turned five, we moved to our brand new home in the country shortly after my birthday. This picture was taken in the spooky Victorian we lived in downtown. To this day I could swear, that it was haunted. Now back to the neighbor kids. I don't know how this little girl wrapped so many people around her little finger but she did. When we lived downtown, I would go next door and ask to play with her everyday! She probably came over to our house maybe twice. I still remember feeling awkward going over there everyday to ask if she could come out and play, yet I did so. Their house inside was so cool, and her mom always had some sewing project going on in one corner of the house. This woman was an AMAZING seamstress. Karen's sister Cory, was a sweetheart, and a gentle soul. Her little brother Kenan was a cutie pie, and sometimes I just ended up playing with him. Like I said, we moved out to the country shortly after my birthday to a brand new custom built house, with our very own bedrooms and lots of acreage to play and just roam. Well, guess who else moved to the country, literally right next door? You guessed it, Karen. I don't know who they got to build their home, but it was huge next to ours and had more bedrooms and bathrooms than ours did. I remember my mom not being too happy with them moving next door, as she really didn't interact with Karen's mom very much. She was a quiet reserved woman, and probably didn't know very much English at the time, to be fair.
I have numerous stories about my interactions with Karen and how she was always that shadow that kind of hung over me for some reason. Both our moms sewed, but her mom sewed like her life depended on it! Every day Karen had a new outfit, no joke. She would go to school everyday looking like a little doll out of a box, and she would come home looking the very same way. My mom use to get so mad at me when I would arrive with dirt rings around my knee socks and just a general mess. She would say, " Why can't you come home looking like Karen!" One time I got so mad, and told her it was because I actually PLAYED and she just stood there and bossed people around. This is pretty much how it went all through elementary school, with a few hurt feelings tossed in because of fights. One time my brother and I were playing out in the field, and a little kitten was caught in a tree. We tried to spook her by throwing a rock next to her to see if she would move down the limb a bit more. Karen witnessed what was going on, and proceeded to slap me, and yell at us. I hit her back, I'm embarrassed to say. She started crying, and said she was going to tell. I ran home like the wind, and hid in my back yard. I heard her telling her dad, who was doing yard work, and he said, " What did you do to her, because she is a nice little girl, and I don't think she would have done that for no reason!" In that instant, I felt vindicated, and forever thought her dad was a cool cat!
You can tell how much this girl affected me when this is one of the longest posts I have written in a long time. Skipping ahead to high school now..... lets just say that everyone worshiped this girl!!! She was a cheerleader, in student government and on and on. She had many boyfriends and also was invited to many parties. Meanwhile I was a loner, and watched her comings and goings from my house. One more humiliating story before I close this already too long post. One summer, I had to weed the front yard in the evening after the sun was not so hot, and I was knee deep in mud and looking a wreck. Up drives Karen's newest beau of the week to come pick her up for a date. They both just stood there watching me and were laughing. She then said to me, "You have yourself a nice evening now." They laughed all the way to the car, while I secretly wished I could just disappear in that instant.
She became homecoming queen, and dated the quarter back of the football team...all the clique things you do when you are "popular."
Then junior year rolls around, and she starts to hit the party scene a bit too much. She wasn't a cheerleader anymore, and her grades must have slipped because she was no longer in student government. I don't know what happened to her at this time in her life, but she continued to be the toast of the school regardless. I personally just wanted out of the small town and studied my way out. I got accepted to a four year college, and I never looked back. Karen......well, she stayed in the small town and last I heard was a receptionist for the gas company, never married, nor did she finish her education as far as I know through small town gossip. Her sister and brother fared much better, and both have families. I think the thing that use to really bother me was when kids at school would come up to me as say,"I can't believe you live by Karen, you are so lucky!!" Lucky how? I just could not understand the fascination with this girl! How is it that there are some people that can create this kind of celebrity in their own little world. To this day it puzzles me.

Did you have a neighbor kid that was a thorn in your side??


  1. Isn't it funny what we remember? I think we all had a "Karen" at one time or another...

  2. I know it was a long post, Elizabeth, and it always takes so long to write and yet so little time for others to read - kind of like making dinner; it can take me an hour to prepare, but they inhale it in under 5 minutes. This is how it was with this post. I inhaled it. And loved it. I am sure that there were "Karens" at my school, but I don't remember much about any of them. I do know that those who were most authentic, at the time, had a better head start in life. As far as your story goes, I can't help but wonder about the connection between your childhood impressions of Karen's mother and her sewing abilities and your over-the-top, out-of-this-world sewing skills and all the unbelievable confections you produce, one after the other, almost as if that is the only thing your machine can produce - perfection heirloom clothing for little ones. Have you given this any thought? Could there be a connection? As I write this, I pause ... I wonder if there is any connection between what I most coveted as a child and what I do now. I will have to give it some thought.
    And your Mom's reaction to Karen's family building a house right next door - maybe your mother could see the "writing on the wall" about Karen's mother and her need to have her daughter be the school "doll" - too precious for reality. It is sad to think that this lack of reality, this lack of authenticity may have had a lasting affect in Karen's entire life ( I am assuming, obviously, as I don't know more than was written here and I am passing judgement on her position at the gas company.) I once ran into a school friend of mine, many years after graduating, and we talked at length. It was bizarre to listen to him telling me what his impressions of me and my family were. I believe, despite Karen's flippant comment while you were wearing, that deep down she knew that you had a very important quality to you - authenticity. I am glad it is so because it is that authenticity that has kept me reading your blog for so long. Thanks for all the food-for-thought.

  3. @ Carolina, You know as I was writing this and reflecting on it, I do think you are correct in thinking that I may have been influenced by Karen's mom and her sewing. My mom was a good seamstress, and was very meticulous in construction, but she didn't spend hours upon hours sewing like Karen's mom did. In high school, I would sometimes notice that her sewing room light was on, in the wee hours of the morning. Even in high school Karen wore a new outfit everyday! The poor woman must have never slept! I remember once walking to the bus stop with her, and Karen saying really mean things about her mom, and I just couldn't believe what was coming out of her mouth, she just always seemed very ungrateful and way too full of herself.
    A fellow class mate told me that she has a not so great long term relationship with a man, but has never married. I think she just peeked in high school and could never top herself.

    I think people touch you in some ways and leave a mark I suppose. This family did in so many ways, as I look back on it. Everything from her dad being such a gentle soul and seeing both sides of stories, to Karen being ungrateful, to her mom and her mad sewing skills! The funniest story is her little brother coming over and watching my mom bake and cook. He loved my moms empanadas!
    Thanks for your lovely comments on my sewing skills, it means a lot. :)