Category Archives: childhood

Admit Impediments

Connie and I were the last two kids to live in our houses. We were the same age and only saw each other through the fence between our postage-stamp size backyards. She never came over to my yard to play and I never went over to her.

We passed a few small things back and forth between the fence, maybe some leaves or flowers or very small toys. We could never hold each other’s dolls. And of course human contact is not easy through chain link.

Was this fence the beginnings of the self-inflicted barriers I placed on my personal relationships throughout my life? Maybe it is why I crave isolation.

I suspect my mother and grandmother had their reasons for maintaining this barrier. They were distrustful and critical of other people. Better to keep a distance. Our two houses were destined for demolition so why bother to cultivate friendships? They would never go out of their way to find Connie’s new house and take me there for a visit. And they certainly wouldn’t want extra kids over at their house.

I still think about Connie at times and wonder what path she took in life. Does she remember the incarceration?

Advertisements

Nobody Home

DAILY PROMPT
Our House
What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/our-house/


An old, two-story, two-family home in the city. The upstairs was an exact footprint of the downstairs: three bedrooms, one bathroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen.

A very small patch of a yard both front and back. No driveway, only an alley to the garage. The pathway between the house and the neighbor’s was so narrow that you could stretch your arms out and touch the sides of each house.

A girl my age lived in that house so close to us. I played with her through the fence. I don’t remember ever playing with her in the yard. I don’t know why.

The neighbor lady on the other side of us kept boarders. I remember watching her iron clothes one night through a bedroom window that looked into her dining room. About six or seven of her boarders sat around and watched her iron clothes that probably belonged to them. Sometime during my peeping experience, one of the boarders spied me spying on them through the window. They laughed and I ran off.

The key to the house was the hollow, barrel type that may have last been popular a hundred years ago. I still have it since it is an interesting looking thing. If I were crafty I would display it in a nice memory box. No such luck, I have no artsy motivation.

Before I was born, coal used to get dumped through a basement window to power the furnace. The company that probably delivered the coal was People’s Ice & Coal Company. I know that because I still have an awl with their company name imprinted on it, possibly a marketing tool (literally) for their customers. The ice they sold for those ice boxes used to keep food fresh before the electric cord took over. Their motto: Save Food, Flavor, Money With Ice.

The kitchen had neither counters nor cabinets. A pantry right off the kitchen made up for the lack of storage space. An old gas stove sat about a foot away from the wall because it was connected to a large pipe that sat between it and the wall. I remember because I used to hide back there sometimes.

The china cabinet in the seldom used dining room had a ring-style door pull that I repeatedly tried to unscrew from the inside of the door. They said I would become an engineer because of this curiosity in how stuff works. They were so wrong.

Victrola from the attic

Victrola from the attic

When we were moving, the attic was empty except for a wind-up Victrola. They let me ride my tricycle in the attic that day they packed up. From the attic level, the stairway had no railings, it was only a rectangle hole in the floor. I rode toward the hole and down the stairs. I survived as you can see. The Victrola did not, it never made it to the new house.

The day we moved, I stayed in the empty house with my grandmother. I had the house key which was attached to a ribbon. I was terrified of the unoccupied upstairs flat and yet I kept running up and down to the second level, throwing the key out the open window. I must have done this dozens of times before my mother came back to bring me to the new house.

Now the bottom floor was deserted too. I don’t think we locked the door. Soon the wreaking ball came and leveled the house.

Bloodsuckers

The room held a battleship-gray metal desk along with two chairs. That huge chipped and dented desk dominated the small room. For all I knew, it probably saw action during the last world war.

The doctors deemed that my 11-year old tonsils needed yanking out. Doctors in the 1960’s were ready to slice and dice those things out as soon as a kid had a few sore throats.

First they said I needed blood work. That’s how I ended up with that desk sitting in one of those chairs.

An older girl, maybe six or eight years older than me walked into the room and sat across from me.

A enormous needle connected to a huge glass vial appeared on the desk. She took my unwilling arm and jabbed me with the needle. And jabbed and jabbed, dozens of times (or so it seemed). Finally the torture ended. She left and I was sent to my hospital room.

An older woman walked in holding a basket with more needles and vials! She said that the torture I had just undergone yielded no blood work after all. I said impossible, I can’t go through this again.

Before I knew it, the woman inserted the needle in my arm, filled the vial with blood, and left the room. Rather painless.

So I was a guinea pig for a novice in training. That’s what happens when you’re a nobody with no one to protect you, no status, no wealth. Surely those Kennedy kids never got any medical personnel in training.

Life is not fair.

A Life of Reading Dangerously

In the third grade, I fell in love with Nick Naroni. Nick had black hair, green eyes, and was actually a taller third-grader than I was. He also read Greek and Roman mythology or at least versions of those stores that could be found in a public elementary school library. So being in love as I was, I adopted his interests and also began reading mythology. Nick failed the fourth grade and I lost sight of him, but literature remains a passion of mine.

I just finished reading Andy Miller’s book “The Year of Reading Dangerously.” Last year I read “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead. Both of these authors reflect on how a book or books can affect a person’s life. What a goofball I am, I read about other people reading. Or so my husband thinks I am.

In Andy’s book sometimes you can’t make out where the books he writes about end and where his life begins. His book reading propels him through a sort of mid-life crisis. After many years where parenthood, the hectic pace of life and work interfere with his first love of reading, he becomes determined to make the time to read fifty great books (and two not so great). The books truly connect with his life.

One time, Nick did an oral report in class on mythology. He started asking questions about the ancient gods and I answered every one of his questions. As you know, I’d been reading. Then he asked a question about something that I didn’t read about: “Why is the month of January named after the god Janus?” Janus was a Roman god with two faces. The probable answer clicked in my head right away. “Because one face looks to the old year and the other to the new year,” I responded. All my correct answers surprised the teacher and Nick. I was so proud of myself. Decades later I’m still reliving my moment of glory!

Anyway, the books through my life are precious and have become part of my essence. Thanks Andy (and Nick) for providing me with a blog post topic. I’ve got stories about my book reading too.

Racism and the White Woman, 2

I’m from Detroit. A writer of a recent Detroit newspaper article would argue with me on this point since I never actually lived on any street within the city. I am a phony because I only lived near the city of Detroit.

When I lived in Warren, Michigan, I could look across 8 Mile and see Detroit from my kitchen window. (No, I do not hang out with Sarah Palin.)

Before that, I lived in Hamtramck a couple of blocks from the Detroit city limit. Hamtramck is a small city that is completely surrounded by Detroit.

The street I lived on in Hamtramck created and at the same time broke down some racial barriers. I lived on one side of the street where all the houses were occupied by white people. Across the street, all the houses were occupied by black people. Divided right down the middle. At the age of four, all the white and black people sitting on their front porches sort of looked the same to me.

One of my first observations of racism took place in the women’s clothing section of a department store. I was with my mother and grandmother. Two teenage girls debated over the monumental decision of which blouse they should buy.

My grandmother spoke in Polish to my mother, “Just look at that, black people are shopping here!” Her words implied that these black teenagers should be banned from certain places and activities. This is the first time I remember being fed a racist thought.

This was the late 1950’s and within a few years all the houses on my divided street were torn down. The dismantling continued into the 1960’s.

Sixteen and Counting

Write a post inspired by your sixteenth birthday.

I was sixteen and neither sweet nor kissed. It had been a few years now that no one wanted to be around my mother and me. Mostly it was my mother, I was just collateral. She alienated everyone in our family by now. She made her best girlfriends turn away from her. My father stopped coming by to see me. He could have met me somewhere, I wouldn’t have told. Besides my mother didn’t care what I did and where I did it. But he didn’t come or call.

One of the most enjoyable evenings I spent when I was sixteen I spent in gluing together colored strips of contact paper into a huge chain. Each link represented one day until I turned 18 and could be free from her. I draped it all around the furniture of my room. She didn’t know or care about this odd bit of decorating. Removing one link gave me some comfort.

One time she told someone over the telephone that she could kill me if she wanted since she gave birth to me. I angrily confronted her later on. She said it was none of my business.

I survived to marry a great guy, have a great child, and write this blog. My biggest regret lies in my lack of a worthwhile career. Three out of four ain’t bad.

Instruments of Writing Destruction

I stabbed him. He pushed me to the limit. He kept pushing me while we lined up to walk to the library in the first grade.

The weapon: my freshly sharpened #2 pencil.

This elementary school stabbing elicited very little reaction from the teacher. Although she did give me the evil eye as she took my stabbing victim to the sink to wash off the lead mark I left on his arm.

My mother always told me I was too passive and sensitive and that I should stand up for myself. So I stood up and lashed out. Today I might have been suspended, if not arrested.

On another day, this same teacher’s lesson plan included a writing assignment. I listened to her directions and grabbed a piece of paper to start writing. In a misguided fit of enthusiasm, I pulled out my box of crayons instead of a boring (and deadly) black-lead pencil.

I carefully formed each letter on my paper, aiming for printing perfection. I alternated a different crayon color for each letter I printed. It was colorful, joyful, and beautiful.

After I handed in this assignment, the teacher pulled out my multicolored paper and held it up for the whole class to see. I thought she was showing off my stellar bit of work.

Untitled

Instead of praising my choice of writing instruments and creativity, she used my paper as a prime example of what not to do. Emphatically she said, “Never, ever hand in a paper like this one.” Of course my name was boldly printed at the top of the page and everyone could see who the culprit was of this crayon-writing crime.

In addition to being called out as a coffee-swilling first grader, assault with a pencil and deviant-writing behavior was also added to my record. My public school education was off to a great start.