LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES: DeAnn, doing dishes and Elvis Presley

J.T. Knoll
Me and Dee doing the dishes

No doubt anyone who grew up in the '50s with an older sister or brother will be able to relate to this week’s column by Gary Gleason, which is excerpted from his essay “Boyhood Days in Pittsburg, Kansas.” Gary is now retired and living with his wife in Gainesville, Georgia. — J.T.K.

A typical teenage girl, my big sister DeAnn lived in her own world — which consisted of boys, girlfriends, boys, Elvis, pajama parties, boys, Tab Hunter, 45 rpm records, boys, bobby socks, and boys. Did I mention boys?

Being her kid brother, I didn’t really exist in DeAnn's world unless I dare set foot in her room, then all hell broke loose. DeAnn's room was off limits per Mom and DeAnn. That’s precisely why I had to check it out. Besides, the record player was in her room and I had my own records to play. DeAnn's first boyfriend was Jerry. He had a bitchin 48 Chevy coupe that we all heard coming from two blocks away.

To get to school at St. Mary’s, we took the bus. One morning we waited in the freezing cold for the bus to arrive on the corner of Lindburg and Broadway, then boarded for a 45 minute ride around Pittsburg on the crosstown city bus before eventually being dropped off at the Post Office, two blocks away from St. Mary’s.

Christmas by the tree

This ice-cold morning, we jumped off the bus to begin our daily race to school. Half way there, DeAnn tripped over a raised crack in the sidewalk and her shoe flew into the sky as she skidded face down on the cold cement sidewalk. I ran by her lying on the sidewalk. Then I turned around, pulled her up and saw this huge bloody skid mark in the middle of her forehead and bloody scrapes on her knees and elbows. I never felt as sorry for my sister as I did then … but all I could think to say was, “I win"  (What a snot!) I carried her the rest of the way. And it was picture day at school. No Joke!

When summer arrived, Dee knew one direction only from the house. Down Catalpa Street directly to the Lincoln Park Swimming Pool.  All summer DeAnn hung out at the Lincoln Park pool with her friends Mimi, Carolyn, Jonet, Dottie and Suzy.

DeAnn and I were tasked with doing the dishes each night after dinner. We did them together, she washed, and I dried. She didn’t wash fast enough. I didn’t dry good enough. I would wander off to watch TV letting dishes stack up in the rack. The longer in the rack the less drying required was my reasoning. DeAnn didn't agree. It evolved into a daily battle, we ended up fighting, always something to argue about.

Why Mark and Carol weren’t washing dishes I’ll never know; being too young was no excuse as far as I was concerned. By the time Mark and Carol came of age, we had a dishwashing machine. One evening DeAnn found a helping of mashed potatoes on the windowsill behind where I sat. I hated lumpy mashed potatoes so I hid them, or anything green, on the windowsill behind the curtains knowing I could clean up when we did dishes.

My eating habits were poor, Mom tried to put me on a guilt trip by feeding me a bowl of Cheerios at dinner every night while everyone else got the regular meal. This was supposed to be punishment. She actually thought it would make me feel guilty. To the contrary, I loved Cheerios and was happy to comply. I could eat cereal three times a day everyday. This went on for days until one evening Dad had had enough. 

Knowing I was enjoying the punishment, he dumped the bowl of Cheerios over my head then made me eat everything Mom put on my plate: mashed potatoes, green beans, all that crap. My “Cheerios for supper” days were over.

I believe to this day that DeAnn ratted me out, told mom about my potatoes on the windowsill. It wasn’t long after the mashed potatoes incident the dishwashing schedule was altered. DeAnn and I did the dishes on alternate days. Separately. 

DeAnn was a be-bopper — a beautiful girl, a cheerleader at St. Mary’s. Crazy about Elvis; pictures covered her room. She had Elvis records, Elvis mittens, Elvis bobby socks, Elvis everything.

Dad dropped DeAnn and her girlfriends off to see Elvis’s first movie “Love Me Tender”. I got to ride along. When we pulled up in front of the Cozy Theater, they screamed as they piled out of the car. Dad and I laughed all the way home.

DeAnn and her girlfriends would have overnight pajama parties in our basement. I would entertain them by coloring sideburns down the sides of my ears with brown Crayola and playing my tennis racket guitar while lip syncing “You ain't nothing but a hound dog.”

     — Gary Gleason

If you have a remembrance and/or photo to share, send it — along with your name, address and phone number — by email to or by land mail to 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, Kansas 66762. You can phone and text photos to 620-704-1309. — J.T.K.