Sunday, August 18, 2013

Life at the Laundromat

I first want to thank Ed for writing about the car lot. That was a great post that brought tears to my eyes, and I can't wait to read more.

I was 18 when Mom and Dad moved to Overland Auto. The day they moved in was the day I moved out. Like many teenagers, I was not that helpful and mostly thought of myself. When Dad got after me for not helping out more with the move, I figured it was my time to exit.

With barely a goodbye, I took off for college in a car Grandma McEuen bought in order for me to use. It essentially became my car. I've always felt disappointed in the way I left and for not helping out more.

After living with Grandma Mc for a year, I was so excited to move back home for a summer, and it was me who was bawling when I had to leave that second time.

So that summer was about the only time I lived at Overland Auto, and I loved it.

If Ed moved into the car lot when he was about 6, the family moved into The Wash Tub Laundromat in Heyburn, Idaho, when I was age 4.

Before we lived in the Laundromat, we lived in a home on the Snake River. I loved that home. It was on a cul de sac, and the backyard was the river. But it was probably smart Mom and Dad moved from there, as I'm not sure how many of us would be alive today. I distinctly remember one night when Grandpa and Grandma McEuen were visiting, and Dad and Grandpa went down to the river to shoot some guns. I went down with them, or perhaps I followed them without telling anyone, but I was left down there. I tried climbing up the side of the embankment back to the house, but I kept slipping. Someone eventually saw that I was missing and helped me back. That's one of my oldest memories.

So my parents moved to the Laundromat. I think they moved to the Laundromat, because Mom could stay at home, while at the same time bring in a little income by running the Laundromat. Mom and Dad had an entrepreneurial spirit. In addition to running the Laundromat, Dad also ran a custodial job at nights. During the day he sold cars for Don Ovitt Chevrolet, and was quite successful, even winning a trip to Hawaii for him and Mom when he sold the most cars one year.

A nice home was connected to the Laundromat, and my parents remodeled the basement to have a big, 1970s looking spaceship fireplace.

There was the main floor with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom; an upstairs with two bedrooms and a bathroom; and a downstairs with a family room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. A flight of stairs behind a door in the main area led people to the back area of the Laundromat. In the back area of the Laundromat is where we stored a lot of pop, and we always had plenty of Pepsi, so that Uncle Gail could come get some on a Sunday and not break the Sabbath.

At this time, Mary was "the baby of the family." (Note: Christensons' tell time by who the baby of the family is. "Let's see, Mary was the baby of the family, so it must have been around 1980.")

I have a ton of memories from the Laundromat. Talk about your magical places! This was before Nintendo, and even a little before Atari (or maybe the same time), and the Laundromat had a pinball machine and Space Invaders! And we had a snack machine and pop machine.

At night, we'd strap on our roller skates and skate around the washing machines.

But I think the Laundromat was also a lot of work. Sunday was Mom's only day off. Not only did owning the Laundromat entail the upkeep of washers and dryers, filling change machines, and stocking laundry detergent and food machines; but it also included doing laundry for local motels. Mom would drive around two or three days a week picking up big bags of laundry from local motels, bringing them back to the Laundromat, washing and folding them, then taking them back when she picked up the dirty ones.

And usually she did all this with three kids in tow: me, B.J., and Mary.

Amy, who was maybe about 11 or 12, became Mom's right-arm girl. She helped with the washing and folding. And when we did eventually sell the Laundromat, Amy was hired at the age of 12 by the new owner of the Laundromat to wash and fold laundry. So essentially, Amy's work ethic was born in that place, and now she's a high-powered attorney who still washes people's dirty laundry. (Bah, dum, bum.)

I started kindergarten at Mrs. Thaxton's in Burley, Idaho. This was before Idaho included kindergarten as part of a public education. Dad would drive me to Mrs. Thaxton's, and Mom would pick me up.

In the afternoon, Mom would make me take a nap, but I would sneak upstairs to watch her watch Donahue and The Edge of Night. This was also during the Luke and Laura years on General Hospital, my mom's favorite soap opera.

One time, my dad somehow sold a car to someone or something, but we found a big truck outside our home with a trampoline on top.

We could not resist a trampoline on the back of a truck bed. Though dad told us not to jump on it, we of course climbed up there to jump. We all got spankings for doing so, and were told never to do that again.

But Doug and I decided we'd sleep up there in the middle of the night, and awake when the sun came up and no one would find out. And to this day no one has...doh!

I think my dad rented a trampoline for our family every summer we lived there. I remember the Jeppesens coming over, and we'd jump and pretend we were the Greatest American Hero.

"Believe it or not, I'm walking on air, I never thought I could feel so freeeeee. Flying away, a wing on a prayer. Who could it be? Believe it or not, it's just meeeee."
I remember jumping on the trampoline as a way to pass time waiting for my sister Hetty to be born, and how excited we were to meet her.

I've heard stories that my brother Brian jumped out of our home's second-story window onto the trampoline, but I can't confirm said stories. Jumping out of the second-story window was completely forbidden by Mom and Dad, so the likelihood that it happened is pretty high.

Another time at the Laundromat, there was a large potato-hauling truck outside. I have no idea why it was parked there. The truck had two wooden sides that would come down to make a flatbed. I don't think it had a back panel.

At any rate, B.J., Mary, and I decided it would be a great place to play. So Mary and B.J. managed to get into the back of the truck. Mary was leaning against one side of the panels, while I figured out what this chain thing did.


It looks like the chain thing undid the side panel, causing the side panel to swing down. And Mary with it. She landed right on her forehead on the hard rocks below.

I ran to get Mom, telling her I had no idea in the whole wide world how that panel came down. Mary had a large, purple bump forming in the middle of her head. Mom rushed her to the hospital. She looked like the child of Frankenstein, but no permanent damage remained (I hope).

But the Laundromat proved to be too much to handle, and Mom and Dad moved the family to the house on Q Street in Heyburn. We were all very sad. But it was probably a wise move.

The night before we moved, we were with all the cousins at Grandma Christenson's house in Heyburn. We were all protesting the move, because the cousins also liked visiting the Laundromat and being able to skate and play Space Invaders. I remember saying, "Maybe if I broke my leg, they wouldn't move." The logic of a child.

But wouldn't you know it? The next day while moving, Dad asked me to hold the door open for the movers as they transported our large, upright piano out of the house and down the front steps.

I did as a I was told, and the inept movers managed to lose their grip on the piano as it tumbled onto my foot and off our front steps, crashing on the yard below. Though I broke my leg, my parents still moved.

For my second grade year, and during the cold, Idaho winter, I experienced having a cast on my foot. And it wasn't one of these nice, new fancy casts. This cast was a 1980s-style cast that was heavy, and they cut out a section for my toes. And Mom's brilliant plan for walking to school in the snow on that cast was to put a Wonder Bread bag over the cast, followed by a wool sock. The snow somehow penetrated both the wool sock and the bionic powers of the Wonder Bread bag. I was miserable.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Life at The Overland-Auto Pt 1

It has been mentioned on this blog that we are a family of two loving parents and 10 children.  We have now grown to be a miniature army of siblings, in-laws, grandchildren/nieces and nephews.

When I close my eyes and try to envision my family now, all I can pull up are pictures of chaos.  Young nieces and nephews barefoot in the middle of the road, children being snagged at the last second before a fall into water, a brother in-law taking an elbow to the eye to prove his worthiness to be in the family, and many more.  When I think of my family in any circumstance, I am plagued with the weeping disease that mostly plagues my sisters, but I too have been cursed to weep at the drop of a remember that one time?.... kind of moment.

You would think that being in a huge family is quite unique; however, where I live (Provo, Utah) it isn't.  I serve as a leader in my church and at a meeting one Sunday I asked a group of college aged men how many siblings they had.  Out of about 65 there were probably 15 of us with eight or more siblings and there were some men with a dozen.  In case you haven't connected the dots, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and we stereotypically have very large families, and this group of young men helped confirm that stereotype.

In my mind I have always viewed large families as a scene of chaos that were poor, but I now know that stereotype isn't true.  I have had a chance to interview all these young men and only one has confirmed the fact with me that large families are a riled up ball of crazy.  All the others drove huge fancy vans, had big houses to fit everyone, and I imagine sat around singing songs and reading scriptures.  Essentially, my families opposite.

You may think by now that I view my family as a shaken up can of Redbull that has just been passed around to all my nephews to drink up (could you imagine Ty and Eddie under that influence).  It is like that at times, but overall it is a great adventure.

One of my favorite adventures my family has ever been apart of is the Overland-Auto.

The Overland-Auto was my dad's car dealership.  A few years after my dad opened up the Overland-Auto with his partner and friend, he found out that his partner had some shady business practices and that the car dealership was in crushing debt.  Instead of giving up, my very brave mom and dad decided to keep the business and remove my dad's partner from any further involvement.  My parents took an even braver step by deciding that they would take yet a bigger risk by selling their home and had their family move into the car dealerships main building.  My parents were left with no formal home, five children still living with them, the other children still in college or on LDS Missions, and as said before quite a heavy amount of debt.

This is actually not the first time our family lived in a business.  My older siblings and parents lived in a home in Heyburn Idaho that was also a laundromat.  This is a good time to mention that my dad was actually quite a successful entrepreneur and my mom supported him in all his endeavors.  The fact that we have lived in some of his businesses may seem like he wasn't, but he was, he was just a very humble charitable man.  I will get back to that idea in other posts.

The Overland-Auto may not seem like a great adventure, but if there is one thing my mom taught me is that everything can be an adventure.  I would like to talk more about my mom's adventuring spirit, but I'll save it for later.  This post is to introduce you to how my family ended up living in a car dealership which also had a junk yard of a about 20 cars. 

For a boy who was five, this was the best playground in the world.  I know that some of my older siblings were embarrassed of the fact that we lived on a car lot and probably still are, but when you are six and you want to impress other boy's or girls your age, the car lot couldn't have been better.  I got to take friends and run on old broken down cars, break things, pretend cars were spaceships, start driving by the age of 10, dig big holes, play deer.  I basically got to truly live the "dream".

Although my family moved out of Overland-Auto ending my greatest source of fun, I still find it magical.  It is a place that embodies the American spirit.  It is a place where my two parents said they will stand and work for a better life for themselves and their children.  It was a place where I learned about real charity, love, hard work and the importance of always having something to look forward to.  When I think of the Overland-Auto I can't help but get the weeping disease.  It is the place in my mind that embodies what it means to live in a big chaotic family that was poor in money, but rich in adventure and spirit.  The Overland-Auto series on this blog will chronicle the time that my family learned life's greatest lessons.  You can't tell the story of Karen and Norvel's Family without Overland Auto.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mom's cooking

Our mom, Karen McEuen Christenson, was the kind of cook who you assumed loved to cook. When she was cooking, a calmness rested on the kitchen. She didn't seem harried or frenzied.

One of my favorite Food Network chefs is a woman named Ina Garten. One of the reasons I love watching her is because she's so happy and relaxed when she's cooking. The love for her husband, Jeffrey, comes out in her cooking.

That's how I feel about my mom. She showed her love through her cooking.

Mom was a busy school teacher, but I remember more nights than not we had family dinner. She had a few worn, tried-and-true recipes that she would retrieve from an old, green tin recipe box, a box she probably received as a wedding shower gift.

But most of her weekly meals were from memory. Typical weeknight meals at our house weren't necessarily special, but they were all very tasty. Spaghetti, egg salad sandwiches, baked chicken, potato bar.

We especially loved her tacos, which we thought were southern-California authentic tacos. Mom was raised in Montebello, California, in East Los Angelas County. She would mix rice with hamburger, and she would fry corn tortillas in hot oil for a few seconds on each side. And we always had green taco sauce with them. I still prefer tacos cooked this way more than any other way.

Sunday dinners were legendary, in my mind. Somehow her timing was perfect and everything was ready to eat not more than a half hour after church.

Nearly every Sunday Mom left a pot roast cooking while we attended church. Then we'd come home and Dad would help make the mash potatoes. Mom would make gravy from the pot roast drippings, and I have yet to make gravy as well as she did.

She also always had Jello, keeping that Mormon stereotype alive in our home. I remember Kathy liking to help make the Jello.

For dessert, almost every single Sunday, we had chocolate cake. My dad's favorite food is probably chocolate cake. Mom made the frosting with real butter (a MUST for my dad) and Hershey's cocoa. I yearn for it even now. My dad liked to eat his cake in a bowl with milk over the top. Sometimes I would follow suit.

She knew the value of bringing our large family around the table. We didn't actually all fit around the table. At least two or three had to sit at the counter, but we all took turns setting the table and helping get dinner on the table.

Mom taught me at a young age how to properly set a table with the fork on the left side, the knife and spoon on the right side, and the glass above the knife.

 A few dinners she made stick out in my mind as real highlights.

Some good friends of my parents, the Olavasons, were visiting from Menan, Idaho. Wayne Olavason was a good cook in his own right. I remember the first time I ever had steak was at the Olavason's house. Steak was usually reserved for the adults, but Wayne made sure to grill a lot of steak, and even the kids got to have some. I was in heaven.

Perhaps because of Wayne's generosity when we'd visit them in Menan, Mom decided she would have a nice meal when they visited us. So mom made barbecue ribs. It was the first time I'd ever had them, and I thought they were truly the best thing on earth.

Another time I remember was when Doug, our oldest brother, returned from his mission in Germany. He lived with us and attended the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

Mom decided to experiment with making some German dishes. Each night was a taste explosion in my mouth.

I specifically remember her making a dish called rouladine that was flank stank stuffed with bacon and onions and rolled up and cooked on a very low setting. I only remember her making that once, but I loved it so much.

She also made cabbage rolls, and I loved those as well. Really, there was almost nothing Mom did wrong.

Well, there was this one time I remember that Mom took my absolute favorite dish as a child, which was spaghetti, and turned it into Mexican spaghetti by adding cumin and other spices. I was heartbroken and refused to eat it. I was sent to bed hungry for my ingratitude. Today, I think I would like it. But at the time, I must have been a purist, especially when it came to my favorite dish.

In high school my friends and I formed a club where we would watch movies set around a theme. It was my turn to host the party, and the theme was all things British. We would be watching Monty Python movies.

Mom drove to Albertson's, her favorite grocery store, and bought some crumpets and tea to serve at my British party. Mom was always good to think of little details that would make parties special. I'm not sure I've had crumpets since that party. (Like most British food I've tasted, not all that impressed.)

Mom was especially known for her rolls, pies, and Christmas candies. She made divinity, caramels, and fudge every Christmas to give to neighbors, family, and friends. Her fudge recipe came from a woman who liked Mom and only shared the recipe after Mom swore she wouldn't share it with anyone else. (I'm pretty sure she'll share it with you if you ask.)

For all of our weddings, Mom made these cute little mints we all loved. And because I married a Hawaiian, Mom made some delicious pina colada drinks for my wedding reception that even my Hawaiian in-laws loved.

I wish I had more pictures of Mom cooking. Here is one I took from my sister-in-law Amanda's Facebook account.

This is long overdue, and I know I didn't show it nearly enough while growing up, but I am so grateful for mom instilling a love of food in me. There's few things better in life than sharing a good meal with people you love. Mom understood that value.

And it didn't hurt that it was a delicious lesson to learn.