The Indian In Our Cupboard

More wisdom from fifteen-year-old me:

April 4, 1991

If you ever feel like you have a tiny house, get out an ice cream pail, a scrub brush, and a cloth, and start scrubbin’. It makes the floor stretch on endlessly. I think I put my kneecaps out of place today. No. I probably didn’t. But my hands smell bad.

We lived in these government-subsidized duplex buildings that year–well, quite a few years, actually. Eight I think, in the same one. Which is about eight times longer than I’d lived anywhere else. They had some kind of vinyl flooring throughout every room and up and down the stairs, and while my mother wasn’t too picky about clutter, she was a stickler about clean. She used to say that you could tell if someone was a good housekeeper by looking in the corners, not the middle of the room.

We did a lot of  deep cleaning.

The neighbors, I think when we first moved there, were an interesting family. In addition to a bunch of other  kids, they had three little triplets cuter than anything–one of whom we drove to the hospital while desperately performing the Heimlich manuever on. Why do I remember it being me holding that kid upside down on my lap wacking her between the shoulder blades? Surely it would have been the mother holding the kid? Maybe I was babysitting.

Anyway, their father was something like seven feet tall.  Or seemed like it to me. He was one big Indian. Which, to me,  was much scarier than one, big white guy. (Can I say that in a public forum? Will the NAACP come after me now? Can we relate how we really felt anymore, or do we have to pretend like we didn’t have some seriously ingrained prejudices when we were kids?)

The duplexes were made of stucco, and had big horizontal timbers between the upper and lower windows for decoration. One night my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night to see this dark face, with two enormous white eyes staring in our window. The father had had a little too much to drink (sniff? inhale?And yes, it was from this association that I came to know what pot smells like ) and had decided to climb around the outside of the building looking in windows. Eeeek.

The only other time I remember seeing someone’s face at that window was the night I was putting my brothers to bed and fell asleep reading them a story; I didn’t hear my parents pounding on the front door, and so they had to break into their own home. I think my brother woke up before I did, and unlocked the window for them.

Speaking of that family and banging on doors: I think this is the woman we hid in a secret closet we’d cut into the area under our staircase. There was all this empty space there, with just a coat closet under the tallest part of it, and my mother didn’t have a pantry, so she cut a hole in the sheet rock, behind the coats, put in a folding door, and even though we had the exact same floor plan as every other unit in the complex, you’d never know we’d gained a good twenty or so square feet of usable storage space. Anyway. I think her husband must have had too much to drink on at least one other occasion, because I remember her hiding in there and this guy pounding on the door. Shiver. I just remembered her name, too, because I could hear him shouting it.

Do you remember this Nena? Tell me I”m not making this stuff up…


22 responses to “The Indian In Our Cupboard

  • Alicia

    Wow! How scary! I would totally freak out if I saw someone looking through my window.

  • kati

    Kimber I remember that family… cute and busy little triplets but what I remember was that she hung her newborn babies from the ceiling in a little hammock type thing. I thought that was so strange but the baby really liked it. I also remember that there was a board that went from her house to your house and Ginger told me that the lady used it to “escape” from her house to yours. I cant remember where the board even was just that it was there

    • kimberlybbert

      I don’t remember the hammock things! Everyone else does though. What a good idea… way easier to mop/sweep under than a bed, don’t you think? The board was in the fence that separated our yards–our sliding glass doors were right next to each other with the fence in between. Otherwise you had to trek up stairs, outside, all the way around the building to the other person’s front door.

  • Nena

    Yep, you are right on the money with all of that! The dad was like 7 feet tall because i was smaller then you and I remember him being the biggest Indian I had ever seen! And he was Scary when he was drinking (I don’t remember him sober) Is that wrong?… The mom was a nice lady and they also had a son… close to my age… he liked to play soccer… We would go over back behind by the big dumpsters and play over there because of the fences. The triplets I remember were identical… Not often do they get that and probably even rarer in Indians. I think we were the longest running family that ever stayed in those apartments… and yes I remember cleaning that house! Funny, I still clean all my corners first…
    I can still name most of the kids from that apartment complex… Like the girls Bea Trix and her sister, they could never play with us because they had to go to bed at 6pm… Benji that boy that lived in the far end… the list goes on and on!

  • Nena

    Yes I do remember the flooring quite well at that apartment… Awful looking stuff!

  • christinaslittleworldtwo

    ah! i shivered with you on that last part haha.

  • ginger

    I remember swinging the 3 babies to get them to sleep. Don’t remember a board but I do know she hid in our house. I remember wall washing and door washing. Yes I to have cleaning issues. It seems to happen when we are going somewhere or when I am mad or frustrated. The fridge and oven as well not to mention around the toilet! I don’t ever remember the dad…just the mom. I know mom was her best friend. The girls had really odd names…..can’t remember them. Anyone remember our hospital beds? Painted like rainbows! I remember a huge blue thing of water in that hidden space! I remember the planks of fence gone between apartments so we could just go over and not have to walk around the front!

    • kimberlybbert

      I think the fence planks are the boards that Kati was talking about. Remember we canned water one year? All those quarts of water had to be carted out from under the stairs and dumped when we moved. And the zucchini canned in pineapple juice that actually really did taste like pineapple?

    • Nena

      yeah and Ben eating the paint when papa was painting them?

  • Ruth

    Mark was very tall but not 7′ – maybe 6’7or8″ though … but at least 6’6″ and he was a very nice man. Each family has unique dynamics – one of theirs was an occasional drinking binge for him and a beating for her. Each knew how to provoke the other.
    She did run into our home one day and hide in our storage (that was built under the stairs). One or two of you were on the landing and had the sense to get the door locked behind her just in a nick or time – maybe even only bolted by pushing back against him as he tried to enter. Your father was fearless and went out the back and around to the front (at a safe distance) and ‘talked him down’ – calmed him enough to divert him until the police could come.

  • Ruth

    Now you know why my doors are locked at ALL times – it is just a good habit. You never know who might come in – that and the configuration of the 12 apartments in duplex buildings around a play area (very nice really)seemed to make some people think that the end door (ours) was the hallway to the building. We lived there 11 years. On year 10,in the fall, I finally dug out along the fence and planted bulbs for spring. We moved in December.

  • Ruth

    It is now politically correct to call Indian people ‘First Nations’ – at least the last time I checked 🙂
    The flooring was a nondescript hard linoleum that was virtually indestructible and did not show dirt because it was a random ‘spots’pattern about the size of finger nails in beige colors.
    The hospital beds were UGLY but free so we painted them gorgeous and finally you all had beds! We let the kids pick the colors and invent the design. I thought you were so creative and clever. We used enamel paint to make it ‘scrub’-able and able to stick onto the metal.
    The ‘Indian Hammocks’ were a part of almost every Native American home with babies and are really quite a cool swinging ‘cradle’ for the babies. She later joined the church and asked me to be her escort when she went to the temple. I would sure love to know how they all are and what they are doing now. Carl, Galena,Oshana,Olani,and Oshawnee and I never knew the 2 youngest. The next one was a boy. They wanted 3 children and had a boy, a girl and were so excited that the next could be either but SURPRIZE – IT WAS 3!!!

    • kimberlybbert

      We should have taken photos of those beds. The thing I remember about those was that Ben “helped” us paint! Got into the paint while we weren’t in the room. Ate some even, if I remember right. That was something else.

  • Ruth

    Those names are likely spelled incorrectly but something like that.
    I bet you are a much lighter sleeper now. Papa had crawled in the window and was climbing over you by the time you woke up – but I thought that was Ginger …
    Really the building was quite secure and the only reason we could break in was because I remembered I had had that window unlocked early and knew it was very difficult to lock so made a guess it might be unlocked. The only reason we even thought to try that was because Mark had climbed around not long before that – otherwise I would not have thought it possible to climb there. It was pretty high.
    You girls did baby sit a lot. I was so amazed you could do triplets! (and proud of you all) One of the triplets did choke while you were helping her one day so I am sure one of you were left with the kids. I took the baby from her and told her to drive – that was one wild ride! or did one of you drive – she was screaming and crying so bad and the baby so blue she had given the baby’s life up. I just said to drive and kept working over the baby trying everything and anything. The Heimlich Maneuver was a new first aid trick we had recently learned and practiced in FHE. Papa and I have usually kept our first aid certificates current. About half way to the hospital (from the west side that would be over 5 miles and maybe closer to 10)the jawbreaker stuck in her throat popped out suddenly. I was so relieved! I had begun to fear for her life. Then the baby really set up a frenzy coughing and choking and sputtering. It seems I gave her to Ramona but if so one of you was driving and she was in the back – I think though that she was driving and I was very afraid of an accident and prayed God to let us get there alive too.

    • kimberlybbert

      I had forgotten those names until I read the first, then they all came back. That episode in the car is puzzling to me–I don’t see why I would have even been there–why wouldn’t it just have been you and her? At any rate, I remember praying that kid would breathe, and then being kind of surprised when that jawbreaker came out. Not that I didn’t believe prayers were answered, it was just so instant.

      • Ruth

        hhhmmmm – our memories get so mixed with what we know and hear or see some times. I almost wonder if you were there and I wasn’t … who knows – and why would we both have been there? At 15 you would have had a learner’s permit. And we had made sure all you kids knew artificial respiration and the HM. I would have had complete confidence you could try to do it as well as I could have. Maybe I knew you knew how to do the HM and so I drove – I do remember the mom was much to hysterical to drive safely and that she did not know the HM – how old were you? I bet I drove – I do know that we just kept trying while speeding to the hospital praying that baby would not die but she sure got to be a terrible color …

  • psphoenix

    After all the details- I feel like I was there. (honestly, I am glad I was not) Fascinating. Good place to have as background for a book about a young girls memories though… (HINT HINT)

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