In my day we had only a stick and a few stones to play with. Not quite but somewhat true.
My toy collection was sparse to begin with. But as soon as I laid down a toy and ignored it for a while, my mother gave it away to the farm. On this farm some distant relatives lived with seven children. I asked my mother where a certain plaything was and she said, “Gone to the farm up north.” I never cried or questioned this since she was a dead end. Not one single toy survived my childhood.
I remember playing with small, colorful plastic beads that might have come off a Christmas decoration. With these beads, I made up stories and played with them as if they were toy people. I remember some sadness when one of the beads got lost in the innards of a living room recliner. With only a one hour a day allotment of TV given to me, entertainment had to come from somewhere. Not counting the Etch A Sketch, the television was my only screen since computers did not exist for everyday people.
Another favorite toy, but not a toy, was my colored pencil collection. I didn’t use them for drawing much but I played with the pencils in a manner similar to the beads. I was a poor artist, but imagining each individual pencil as a character in a make-believe story amused me for hours. My favorite pencil was seafoam green, still my favorite color.
I remember the heavy, brass gates that enclosed the elevators in the Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit, Michigan. An elevator attendant closed the gates before the doors shut and took us up or down to a new floor. The elevators moved customers through 17 floors of retail space. The building had a total of 32 floors, counting multiple basements and floors reserved for business offices. It had been the tallest department store in the world before it closed in 1983.
Of all the 200 departments spread out over the 17 floors, my favorite one was on the first floor. I remember spying the small glass case from afar that housed the marzipan candy display. The colorful, almond-flavored candies were crafted into small replicas of fruits and vegetables. The glass case was illuminated to show off the bright jewel-toned sweets. It was a tasty mush of ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. Almost too beautiful to eat.
My mother bought me one most times we went to Hudson’s. One time my good fortune allowed me to have a second piece after I ate the first one. The marzipan treat was a unique experience in my childhood since I was allowed few extravagances. A singular pleasant memory in a past not so sweet.
I remember my grandfather as a silent man that followed directions. I was told that before I was born, he had been a bully.
Throughout my childhood he spent summers standing and hand-watering the lawn. Neighbors said my mother and grandmother abused the old guy. Somehow they wrested control from him and kept punishing the patriarchy by becoming the bullies.
Meticulous watering and diligent hand-pulling of weeds made my mother’s lawn the best on the block. Then she attempted suicide three times. She alienated friends and family alike by blaming them for all her problems. Between suicides, she kicked her parents out of the house.
That’s when the lawn became schizophrenic; it went from the best to the worst in the neighborhood. I tried to maintain it with no success. My mother opposed weed killer with the zeal of an environmentalist. But the planet was not her concern.
The eyesore of a lawn symbolized her pain, advertised her unhappiness. She cultivated her unkept lawn as fiercely as she cultivated the picture-perfect one.
My old lawn was ahead of its time: no toxic chemicals, no depletion of water resources, no machine noise pollution since the manual push mower pushed the limits of a twelve-year old instead of using the polluting power of gasoline. A blanket of yellow dandelions made it Green. Born in the wrong time.