Tag Archives: midwest

The Fat Soldier Costume


I’m re-posting this blog I wrote a few years ago:

When I was a girl, our costumes were solid. We were ghosts, vampires, Mickey or Minnie Mouse. We were firemen, doctors, and hobos. Our costumes were made from salvaged cardboard and other found materials, or sewed with a bit of help from our moms. We went trick-or-treating without parental supervision, and arrived home at the agreed time with huge sacks of candy, which we poured out and bartered with our siblings. It was a simpler time. Life was good.

Let me take you back. Waaaaaay back. The year: 1973. The place: a small town in northern Illinois. I’m nine years old. Close your eyes . . . can you hear Don McClean singing American Pie on the radio? Can you smell the burning leaves on the cool October breeze? Can you taste the warm apple cider pressed from apples grown at the farm just down the road?

“Daddy, Daddy, do you think I’m big enough to wear the Fat Soldier costume THIS year? I’ve been waiting FOREVER!”

That’s me. I’d grown up hearing stories from my father and my aunts about wearing Grandpa’s WW II uniform on Halloween when they were children. It was legendary, and pretty much regarded within the family as the most excellent Halloween costume ever. But first you had to be big enough to fit into it! When I asked my Aunt Linda about it a few years ago, she said, “it was warm, and the people loved to see it.”

My Grandpa Koppen was in WWII and served with the military police in Europe. He was away at war when my father (his first born) was born in May, 1944. I wish I had more details about what he saw during the war, but he never wanted to talk about it. I feel proud of his service, since nobody else in my family has ever been in the military. After Grandpa and Grandma passed away, I was given several small yellow-jacketed photo books which held blurry black-and-white photos of Grandpa with guns, tanks, and other smiling soldiers.

I will never know what happened to Grandpa during WW II, but I do know he loved his family deeply . . . and he always made us laugh. He passed away the year my first son, Patrick, was born and honestly, I have never stopped missing Grandpa during these past 24 years. He was one of my very favorite people. He was smart, loving, and most of all, hilarious. He had a “bawdy” side to him of which my cousin Bridget and I are often accused of inheriting (thanks, Grandpa!). There’s no better compliment than when one of my aunts says, “Okay Bernie,” after I say something a bit risque. I am a legacy.

Back to the costume: We called it the Fat Soldier costume because even though my Grandpa was tall and thin when he wore it during the War, we were children. To make it fit, we had to stuff a pillow into the front and roll up the pant legs. I remember it being a dark greenish brown, made of scratchy wool, with a jaunty cap. I wore it two years in a row before we moved to hot Arizona where you could suffer heatstroke in such a get-up!

I wonder where Grandpa’s uniform went. The houses in the Midwest have huge spaces for storage and I’m sure, one of these days, someone will come across the uniform in one of the many attics and smile while thinking of all the stories it could tell.





It’s been quite a month of travel for me.  I’ve had exciting adventures and slept in many different beds, so how wonderful it felt to get back to my own bed this weekend.  I slept like the dead–until about 7am when my ears were accosted by the sound of tweeting birds, which is very unusual at our house. These birds were serious about their songs; they did not let up, and after an hour, when (half asleep and half awake) I weighed plans about getting ridding of them (BB gun pellets? Sharp bird pest strips planted on the roof?).  I woke up enough to realize it was Hubby’s alarm clock that we both had slept through. ON A SUNDAY MORNING. I seriously wanted to punch him.  I told him he needs to go back to the old-fashioned BEEP BEEP BEEP alarm or else I will be slumbering in a different room.

Hubby is gone for a week to Georgia on a business trip so his alarm clock will not be disturbing me, but I still haven’t slept well for days.  The last night I was in Illinois, I sustained 60 mosquito bites–45 on my left leg and 15 on my right.  These were not the pesky little mozzies we have here in Tempe whose bites disappear after an hour.  These big-ass Midwestern mosquitos left some sort of toxin in my skin, causing each bite to swell to the size of big red nickels . . . and they are so itchy it’s hard to keep my fingernails off them.  It’s been a week and they show no signs of healing.  If they aren’t better by Monday, I will seek medical attention.  I keep wishing I’d used the bug repellant spray offered but nooooooo, I didn’t want the chemicals on me.  UGH.

Then last night Ruby the Wonder Spaniel got me up FOUR TIMES to go out and do her business between 2am and 5am.  She’d eaten so many cicadas before bed that her tummy was literally buzzing.  She does this every year, and while watching her leap about the yard for her summer snacks is Youtube-worthy, those crunchy treats always give her a case of the runs.  I gave her a Tums that she licked at loudly for a good 15 minutes, but then we were back outside soon after that.  Complicating the situation is that I’d taken a Benadryl to try to calm the itch from the bug bites and couldn’t figure out which way the door was!   Several times in the past few weeks, I’ve woken up in the dark thinking Hubby and I are still in our fabulous British hotel room with the magical view of the Tower of London.

Next week school starts and I will be back to an “early to bed and early to rise” schedule. It will be a difficult transition after a summer of staying up past midnight either reading or watching Netflix, waking up with no alarm clock, then napping mid afternoon.  But I am excited to meet the new staff members, new parents, and most of all our students . . . and be living a useful life again after the long, restorative summer break.






I present to you a random list of topics on my mind during this second week of January:

Today I saw a baby driving a car. For reals. I passed a total slow poke on Baseline and as I went by, I gasped at the sight of a man slouched down behind the steering wheel like a gangsta . . . with a toddler laying on his chest! Both the toddler and the gangsta had one hand on the wheel of this boat of a sedan. Going 25 mph down Baseline Road. #who’sdriving?

I’m giving serious consideration to begin parting my hair on the left instead of the right. #girlstuff #badhairday

Today while grating cheese (the WORST kitchen job in the world) I decided to chop it instead. AMAZING KITCHEN HACK. My enchiladas tasted exactly the same. #kitchengenius #pattingmyselfontheback #itsthelittlethings

For Christmas, Eve gave me the most thoughtful, creative gift I received this year: An Outlander coloring book. She knows how much I love these books by Diana Gabaldon, and says she’s started reading them herself. Can’t wait to begin coloring Jamie in his kilt #dreamysigh

Every morning in the Kindergarten class where I serve as assistant teacher, we “do the calendar.” Today was our 95th day together. I became verklempt (that’s Yiddish for becoming choked up when one is overcome with emotion) realizing that I have only been in my new workplace for approximately 100 days . . . yet I feel completely at home, as if I’ve been there all my life. I pretended I had copies to make and ducked into the bathroom to compose myself and dab at the couple of tears that escaped. (Side note: It’s interesting to me that as I grow older, I cry more frequently and when I do, it’s not because I’m sad or angry, but instead, I’m moved to tears by something moving, meaningful, or hilarious.) #lifeisgood #bucketsofgratitudetotheuniverse

I’m giving serious consideration to begin pronouncing the word “neither” and “either” with a long “i” sound, instead of with the long “e” as I’ve always done in the past. I saw it in a movie and thought it was fancy. #poshtalker

After having the family home all holiday break, Ruby the Wonder Spaniel is sad to be alone for seven hours each day. She is retaliating by grifting stuffed animal Beanie Babies from a basket clearly NOT intended for dogs and carries them around and licks them during our away hours. Poor pup. Thank goodness she has the cats to keep her company! (Side Note: I recently discovered we own two very rare Beanie Babies, which are currently listed on Ebay for $10,000. I do not know where they are but have started to look for them under beds and in closets!) #lovemypup #MakingbankonBeanies

Speaking of Ruby, have you ever noticed how many songs are written for women named Ruby? Which is weird since I don’t know anyone named Ruby. Unless you count my Great Aunt Ruby who passed away in 1988 or so. Interestingly, she had sisters named Opal and Pearl (who I never met). Aunt Ruby was so sweet and so very fashionable, always dressed to the nines even when she was in her nineties. She and my Great Uncle Max (my maternal grandpa’s brother) wintered in Scottsdale, and it was their abandoned furniture that furnished my first apartment (they became too old to winter in Arizona). Grandpa and his three brothers were epic huggers. At the very least, it would take you minutes to catch your breath, straighten your hairdo, and check for lost jewelry. Uncle Lot especially would squeeze you so hard you’d wonder if you might have a broken bone. Whenever I am in Illinois, I drive by the homes where my dear great uncles lived, pausing to remember their kind faces and the firm hugs those Mid-Western gentlemen gave me so long ago. #missthemstill #familyisforever


Happy Birthday to My Sister


Today I wanted to write a few words about my sister, Peg, who happens to be having a birthday today. I so wish I could have taken her to lunch or joined her for a beer this evening, but since we live 106 miles apart, it’s not that easy. I did send her a box of birthday goodies, including sexy undies and a pretty necklace.

I have known Peg almost my whole life. Margaret Elin Koppen was born on January 12, 1968 at Swedish American Hospital in Rockford, Illinois. I don’t remember much about that time except I was happy to get a new baby. It was boring being all by myself. It seemed to take a long time for her to become interesting, and about that time our brother Paul was born, just a year later. The three of us had so many adventures together, whether it was playing tag across the backyards where Mrs. Beasley would yell at us for going under her pine trees where her dogs were buried, or riding our bikes down steep Sullivan Street. We were always hanging out with our cousins, and aunt and uncle who lived right across the street. Peg and I shared a room with purple walls upstairs in that old house on Grover Street. Vivid childhood memory: I rushed to the window one winter morning and found it had snowed overnight. I woke Peg up so she could share the magical scene with me, heaps of that sparkling white fluffy stuff as far as the eye could see. I remember school was cancelled and we got to play in the snow all day.

We still shared a room when we moved to Arizona. We had an awful “corner unit” set of beds which had to be pushed in so as to make more space in our tiny room. I remember the awful orange and yellow bedspreads (it was the 1970s you know). I remember reading the whole Little House on the Prairie series to Peg by flashlight in that room, since she was still a beginning reader and we had an early bed time. We shared a room until I was 15, which is when we moved to a larger house. It took a while for me to get used to being alone, but Peg was always right there across the hallway. How great to have a sister to share jewelry and clothes with (though only tops since she was so much taller than me)!

Speaking of clothes, when we were teenagers, we LOVED to shop. Most weekends you could find us at the mall or at Marshall’s. This was back in the day where we wore our jeans (Guess brand, of course) so tight that to put them on, you’d have to lay flat on your bed and wiggle into them. There simply wasn’t room for underwear, so I remember many an occasion being in the fitting rooms and having to borrow her underwear or vice-versa to try on some new pants. As we got older, we covered for each other when sneaking in after curfew, and I still remember one time at dinner when my mother looked at my neck and saw a hickey. “What is THAT on your neck?” she demanded. My eyes widened, and my heart filled with terror. I did not want to get grounded AGAIN. That’s when Peg says, “It’s just chafing from her new sweater.” I think I choked a little on my lima beans, then gave Peg an appreciative wink when nobody was looking. Especially fun was fooling each other’s boyfriends when they called on the home phone since our voices are so similar. We were young and cute. The World was our Oyster. There were always lots of boyfriends. We thought we were All That and a Bag of Chips . . . and we were.

And now? Now we see each other a few times a year at the beach, and a few times a year Peg arrives at the Vaughan B&B with a dog, some good bottles of wine, her hubby and son, and we spend a weekend catching up on each other’s lives. 106 miles doesn’t sound like such a long distance, but we’re both so busy with raising our families and working it’s hard to coordinate a visit. Even though we are so very different, we have so very much in common. We both love Mexican food, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice, tequila, good beer, a fine red wine, handsome men, Timothy Olyphant, Barry Manilow, oceans, travel. We both love to curse like sailors, and both of us are simply gaga over our pets. I love you, Sweetie. I hope you had a fabulous day!