My Life and Times
"I believe that every life, irrespective of its events and setting, holds something of unique value, which it should be possible to communicate, if only one can first see one's experiences honestly and then set them down without too much dressing-up." ~Iris Origo, Images and Shadows
by AlecSandra Rose Bihlmaier
I was born to Leroy and Bertha Barrett on January 31, 1958. I was a month overdue and weighed in at 8 lbs 10 oz. I am the youngest of 8 (9 if you count the still born...William). My oldest sister, Ruth, is 21 years older than I and she already had two children of her own at the time I was born and she was pregnant with her third child, who came to be my best friend while we were growing up.
My birth name is Sandra Ellen Barrett. My parents didn't know what to name me and many people had suggestions so they had them put their choices for names in two bags, one for boys and one for girls. When I was born my parents chose my name from the bag for girls. They were not too impressed with the first few names so they kept drawing names and my name became Sandra Ellen. My understanding is that my oldest brother Russell put the name Sandy in and that is the one they drew. Many years later I changed my name, but that is another story all together.
I grew up on a farm in SE Michigan, near Lake Erie. We only had 5 acres and when times were tough my father actually sold 1 1/2 acres to my uncle, so we really only had 3 1/2 acres, but we played on all of it. There were numerous trees, many of them bearing fruit. We had apples trees, pear trees, peaches, and more. We had bushes that carried berries, like raspberries, elderberries, etc and a half acre patch of strawberries. Well, it seemed like a half acre. I really don't know for sure how big it was, but I know it was huge! Mom had a nice garden behind one of the barns and she grew everything under the sun there, from tomatoes to onions and melons, etc. I loved to go out there and pick fresh produce, wash it off with the garden hose and eat it. When I was about 10 or so my brother-in-law brought some ponies out to the farm and rented space from us for them. I learned how to care for them and and raise them. We also had chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits, a few goats and a zillion or so cats...barn cats. We also had two dogs names Mutt and Jeff. They were miniature labradors...very cute.
Our house was big, with 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms. One bathroom was in the basement next to Mom's laundry room. The other was on the main floor down a hallway past my parents' bedroom. My parents put the bathrooms and indoor plumbing in the year I was born. There was a pencil sharpener on the wall next to the bathroom. I still do not know why it was put there, but it just was. My parents room didn't have a door but a curtain. They were always very open to us and would allow me to crawl into bed with them in the middle of the night when I was scared or it was storming out. Until I was 9 I shared a room with my sister, Pam. She was 7 yrs older than I and it was difficult to share a room with her. She was a teenager and I was just a little kid. When my brother Randy moved out we pulled straws to see who would get his bedroom and I won. His room was directly above the one she and I shared. My brother Rolland had the other bedroom upstairs. We had a tin roof and the rain sounded so awesome on it. I wish I had that now. I like the sound of rain on a tin roof...so soothing.
When I was four years old my parents put in a built in pool just outside the back door. From that point onward our house became the center of everyone's lives in the summer. We always had people over and lots of bar-b-ques and pool parties. I learned how to swim when I was just 4. I was watching my sister Ruth teach her daughter Karen and I just started swimming. I became a water bug after that. The picture to the right is my mother enjoying the pool we had. We also had a billiard table in the basement and a nice rec room, with a fridge and small bar, so our place was always bustling even in the winter time. We were very involved in our religion and we knew a lot of people. One summer we used our property to host a lot of campers from all over the place who had come to Toledo for a convention. That was very nice and I met a lot of people.
When you walked in the front door of our house you entered the dining room. We had a large table there and a piano on the opposite wall. Mom played around on the piano quite a bit. I think we all did, at some point. I learned to do the scales on there but not much more. Our dining room table was the center of all activity in our house. We played games there, ate there, did our homework there, in general it was the hub of our home. The phone was in the dining room, on the wall just by the living room. Our living room was a good sized one, with a mural on one wall and a large picture window. We had a console TV unit in there that contained a record player and radio in it. Dad had a recliner that was his chair and Mom had her rocking chair. She rocked me to sleep every night until I was about 5 years old in that chair. Off of the dining room was also the stairs to go upstairs to two bedrooms and my sister Pam's room (which I shared with her til I was moved upstairs). The kitchen also was off the dining room and a hallway to Mom and Dad's room and the bathroom. Our kitchen had a pass hrough window from the dining room and a large broom closet. We had a small breakfast table under the pass through window and it is where we ate most smaller meals. It was also where the kids sat at large family gatherings. The sink was directly under a big window from where we watched for the bus on school days. When I was about 5 I put my play iron into the broiler part of the stove and forgot about it. When Mom turned on the stove for dinner that night, the stove caught fire and we lost part of our kitchen. The fire was caused by my toy iron being in there. I learned the hard way to not put things in the broiler.
When you went by my parents' room and the hallway, there was a door and steps to the basement and outdoors. When you go through that door you went down a few steps and the door to outside was there. Just outside the door was our swimming pool. There was a landing inside that we sat at to put on and take off our shoes and a place to hang our coats. When you followed the steps downstairs you came to our basement. The first room you came to was a very big room and it basically was used for storage. I remember having my grandmother's huge loom there and Sue and I tried our hand at making things on it. Under the stairs was a small room, just off the main area of the big room, and it was my playhouse. Sue and I spent many hours in that room, playing house. After you passed through the large room, you came to another section of the basement, to the left was Mom's laundry area and a bathroom and a cellar. I remember Dad had some cider in there that he let get hard. If you went to the right you came to our rec room. We had a pool table in there and some old car seats to sit on. We also had my grandmother's big old Motorola radio down there with a tapestry of hers on top of it.
When you go out the door, you see the pool and an area around it where we would sunbathe in the summer time. I remember Mom having some flowers planted around the diving board part of the pool. She had 4 o'clocks and Lady bells among other types. We had a changing room where visitors could change into their suits. There was also a pump for our well next to the pool. Just past the pool was our 2 car garage. It also had a work area for my Dad. There was an attic in the garage where a few of the cats would go to have their litters. We stored old clothes, etc up there so it made some nice bedding for the cats. Between the house and garage my dad had put in a gas grill. It was the center of our cooking on summer weekends, when Dad would man the grill. From the fence area surrounding the pool you could see the 3 barns we had and the trees and property. We had a pit where we burned trash. The pit used to be part of a milk house. Between the pit and the biggest barn we had there was a huge oak tree that had a tire swing on one side and a wooden swing on the other. The wooden swing must've hung down 15 feet at least. It was one of my favorite places to be. My brothers had a basketball hoop on the side of the barn and I learned how to shoot hoops there. Many games of "horse" were played there. There was also an elderberry bush there and mom made the best elderberry jelly from that. Inside the barn was just the barn cats domain until Tony brought his ponies there. Along the back of the "yard" was another smaller barn, mostly a garage area. My dad had an old DeSoto parked out there along with a few other cars over the years. We used to play in those, pretending to go somewhere. I can remember Bill and I arguing over who got to drive, cuz he said "boys do the driving" and I never agreed with that! My brother Rolland used part of that barn for his car when he got one. Beyond where he parked was many of my grandmother's books which we stored for her when she went into the nursing home. Beyond that was a great open barn that we used for the campers when they came to stay one summer. My uncle Ken had a small trailer parked out there that Sue and I used to "camp" in during the summers. There was another barn/garage too. It also had a chicken coop in part of it. My brother-in-law used to work on cars out there. It also had an outhouse with 3 holes in it...small, medium and large. We used that outhouse when we were out playing in the yard, summer and winter. In the front of the house we had a couple of big trees that we had to cut down because they were dying. Along the road, near the mail box, mom had a couple of lilac bushes.
Our closest neighbor on our side of the road, to the east was 1/2 mile away and on the west was 1/4 mile away. The one to the east was a cattle and dairy farmer. He also had land all around us where he grew corn, green beans and soy beans. We were allowed to go into his field and get what we could use. On our property we had two creeks, one that went through it and one at the northern border of our land. The one that went through our property also went behind my best friend, Barb's, house, about 1/2 mile away. Barb and I would ice skate on it to go to each other's house in the winter time. We lived on a gravel road and the grader would come down our road a few times each summer. that was always a thrill, to watch him come. Across from us, behind the field owned by our neighbor, the Dansizens, was a private archery club. When it was closed we used to go over there and practice our archery and pick up arrows that were left behind. I also used to pick wild violets for my mom along the road.
I spent a lot of time playing outdoors as a child. With the openness of the land around us I was able to play just about anywhere. I spent a lot of time playing with the tamer of the barn cats, epsecialy one named Mama and her litters. One year she got ran over by the neighbor's plow and lost her life. She left 3 kittens who were not weaned yet so we fed them with doll bottles and named them Healthy, Wealthy and Wise (my brother Rolland always had weird names for the animals). Anyway, Healthy was my kitten. I spent a lot of time with him outdoors. Mom was allergic to pet dander so we never had any indoor pets. I also had a pet snake, named Foxy. He was a fox snake. We also had two miniature labradors named Mutt and Jeff. Mutt ran away after a couple of years but Jeff stayed around.