Nostalgia: The Discovery

“Don’t forget to take all your junk by the laundry room,” my mother yelled, just as I started to pack my things in the car.

As is our holiday tradition, at the end of each festive celebration, I am forced to take back trunkloads of things I have been storing in my parents’ house for decades.

At Christmas, it was boxfuls of old photos and yearbooks, and a vegetable steamer that still remains in my trunk. This Easter, it was my Jack LaLanne Power Juicer with booklets containing over 100 heart-healthy recipes, and a large cardboard box labeled in blue permanent marker: Jenny – Nostalgia.

I set the box on the island in my mother’s kitchen and gently lifted the lid, the dried masking tape snapping off in the middle with a puff of dust. Immediately, I was struck by the smell. It was the earthy scent of old paper and velvet ribbons, the smell of the back aisles of a thrift store where they keep all the musty books and record albums.

For over an hour, my mother and I sifted through old awards and citizenship certificates, elementary school homework and creative writing exercises. Without thinking, I started making little piles of certain items and pushing others to the side.

“You’re going to write about those, aren’t you?”


Through this brief journey to self-discovery, I remembered how much I enjoyed telling stories and drawing pictures as a child. My first true novella, which I shall share with you someday, was aptly titled, “The Bird.” I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I can tell you that it involved love, mystery, fear, abandonment, and fierce loyalty. And squirrels.

But to begin, I would like to provide a glimpse into the difficult family life that shaped me into the woman I am today. I don’t talk much about him, but I have an older brother, Matt.


Digging through the archives of my youth brought a lot of memories to the surface.

Fortunately, I documented most of them, with illustrations.

This first piece, entitled “Matt the Greedy,” was created in December 1977, when I was six and a half and he was nine. My mother had given us a carton of malted milk balls to share. I’ll let the drawing explain the rest.


As you can see from my detailed drawing, my brother has hoarded almost all the malted milk balls, leaving me with only one. He is smiling with eyes closed, like the contented cat that swallowed the canary. I, on the other hand, am featuring a prominent frown and sad eyes.

I’m sure some people may take pity on my brother, given that he has such a deformed club arm, but even with his disability he had no trouble gathering up all the malted milk balls and leaving me with but one.


As I grew older, I learned to express my anger and frustration by writing scathing and poignantly crafted letters, taping them to my brother’s bedroom door, then knocking and running away. Below is one of my finer works from this period – circa 1978.


Yes, open it up, won’t you, Mr. X-brother?

[click to enlarge]

Zing! Touché! Indeed, the pen IS mightier than the sword!

Surprisingly, my wicked words did not break his spirit, and eventually he grew up to be a doctor. Though the memory still stings, slowly but surely, through the years, he has been able to repay my malted milk ball debt in free eye exams and a standing offer of a 10% family discount on Lasik surgery.

26 Responses to “Nostalgia: The Discovery”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I’ve been pouring through some boxes of nostalgia lately as well…haven’t decided what to post/write about yet.
    I’m not quite sure how to take the brother comments here…meaning, I’m not sure if you are serious about the ‘I don’t know what happened to him’. If you are, then I’m sad and curious as to what happened there. If you are not serious, then this is a very funny post.
    I’ve left similar missives for my own stupid brother.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    Don’t take this the wrong way, but in that photo you look like a ventriloquist’s doll. What a precious picture! Maybe it’s just that your arms look so long. It’s adorable! Then again it might be your facial expression– that long sideways smile. You were such a cutie!
    And isn’t it amazing how love and admiration of siblings surfaces during childhood? Oh how we survive and enjoy each other now that there are no milk balls to fight over.
    P.S. Can’t wait to see you in NYC!

  3. Cheryl Says:

    Now I really, really, really, really want to read “The Bird.” You could run it as a serial next time you’re on vacation, the way that Ann Landers posted “classic columns” when she was out of town.

  4. jenny Says:

    Sarah: Thank god for early commentators like you who help me edit. Melodrama has been removed. He’s alive and well, handsome and smart and living in WI. Or at least he was at xmas. ;)
    Viv: Is there a “good” way to take a comment that I look like a ventriloquist dummy? :) No, I know what you mean – I’m doing some weird thing with my mouth… perhaps hiding malted milk balls?
    Cheryl: Ha! You’re brilliant! An excellent idea… although I’m not sure my novella can hold an audience the same way Ann Landers could!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    P.S. That is the biggest strawberry on a little girl shirt ever. It’s so sweet!

  6. jenny Says:

    Vivian: What about my head? Am I a precious ventriloquist dummy with adorable gangly arms, a cute abnormal smile, a fat fruit shirt and a cherubic melon head? :)
    OMG – I can’t wait until NYC either! ;)

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,

  8. shari Says:

    Vivian, I won’t be in NYC, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real. Honest. Jenny, your hair is killing me in that photo! Soo, sooo cute!

  9. jenny Says:

    Shari: Yes, yes, Shari – we all know you’re real. But what makes you think Vivian is? [Did I totally just blow your mind with that? I was all, Twilight Zone twist at the end, and BAM! You didn’t see it coming.]

  10. sween Says:

    Personally, I love the fact that the biting wit we know and love you for was so well-defined at such a young age:
    “I forgot the best thing Dumb.”
    I’m so down with that.

  11. Jessica Says:

    You are so damn adorable (then and now); I can hardly stand it.

  12. ms. sizzle Says:

    ok, it is up to me to say it. . . that isn’t an arm you drew on your brother but a misplaced penis. take a closer look! ;)
    i can’t wait for the bird story. squirrels!

  13. jenny Says:

    Sween: Yes, I’m certain my scathing wit brought my brother to his knees. In fact, if you look closely, you can see that the note was all crumpled up. If memory serves me correctly, he wadded it into a ball and threw it at my head.
    Jess: Aw, thanks! See Vivian – at least somebody likes my strawberry shirt!
    Sizz: [hugging knees and rocking self back into happy place, traumatized by the talk of brother’s private parts.] :)

  14. Kevin Says:

    Damn, you’re one helluva packrat, aren’t you? That’s awesome! I wish I had that sort of stuff I could write about. See? Being a packrat pays!

  15. The Scarlett Says:

    Ironically, while I was reading this I was eating a malted milk egg from the Easter basket from one of my kids. Just felt like sharing.

  16. Peggasus Says:

    I think your mother is awesome for holding onto these items.
    I also have saved things like this that my boys have written and drawn over the years, as they are the true snapshots of family life. Unlike the Christmas cards pictures with them posed, arms around each other in their good clothes, in front of the fireplace, whereupon they resumed beating each other up directly afterwards.

  17. ashbloem Says:

    What a SCATHING letter you wrote, indeed.
    I am frightened of you and your wicked, wicked words!

  18. communicatrix Says:

    Citizenship certificates!?!?
    I agree that you quite precocious in both the cute-as-a-button and well-crafted-zinger departments, but aren’t you burying the lead, here?

  19. Fish Says:

    I’m going to have to be selective about how I read you, squirrels terrify me.
    See you Saturday (and thanks for having me, as it were).

  20. Ellie Says:

    Oh my God! I swear I’d written notes like that to my bother too. I was laughing so hard I almost fell of my desk chair, becuase the best thing really is that brothers are dumb.
    Not that you asked, but my first story was about stripes. It actually included a lift-up flap. You lift up the flap only to be delighted by blue and green stripes! Totally awesome!

  21. Tracy Lynn Says:

    Hey, I have a brother named Matt, too. He’s my younger brother. I didn’t write him notes, being WAY too busy beating six kinds of crap out of him and getting the same in return. Ah, good times.

  22. jenny Says:

    Kevin: Well, in this case, my mother was the packrat. I was just the lucky recipient of her stash!
    Scarlett: Mmm. Those are the best. I remember having white lips from the candy shell on those malted milk eggs.
    Peggasus: This is only one of the myriad reasons my mother is awesome. And it’s so great that you’re hanging on to your sons’ work… someday they’ll find it as funny as I find all of this!
    Ash: Hell hath no fury like a sister scorned!
    Communicatrix: Wait… let me clarify. These were citizenship certificates as in, “What an honest, upstanding citizen you are, Jenny!” not, “Look, if you want to get into this country, you need to show us your citizenship certificate.” Does that help?
    Fish: Note to self: when you meet Fish on Saturday, do not wear squirrel-tail cap. See you soon!
    Ellie: An entire story about stripes? You must have been an imaginative child!
    Tracy Lynn: Man, I wish I would’ve had a younger brother to beat up on. My little flea punches just made my brother laugh harder!

  23. Dustin Says:

    Oh siblings. A child could have no better friend or enemy.

  24. peefer Says:

    “Nothing says love like a rebate on Lazik surgery”
    Hey! I made Jenny talk!

  25. jenny Says:

    Dustin: True dat.
    Peefer: Hey! Is that another crack about me looking like a ventriloquist dummy? Nice. And here I thought you were different, Peefer.

  26. mike Says:

    You can rest well knowing you got the last laugh, as you’ll probably learn that your brother took penmanship tips from you, and is displaying said prowess on prescriptions pads.