Thursday, August 2, 2012
Random Childhood Snapshots, in no particular order......
Father Murphy strides across the sidewalk from the catechism hall to the little Catholic church across the street from our house. Our pink house. He is kind and he seems so tall as he bends down to ask me how I am today. I am fine, thank you. And I am not Catholic. But when the nuns open the front door to the church I try to peek inside. I see candles burning and smell incense sweetly tickle my nose. It is beautiful and mysterious. Haunted, but not in a bad way. I gallop across the grass of the church pretending I'm a horse. So does Annie. She is Catholic, and her mother goes in and cleans the church every day. While her mother cleans, we snuffle and paw our hooves and race against the wind.
I have ridden to the hospital with my father. We have come to pick up my mother and my new baby brother. I am not allowed in the room. I have to sit in the lobby and my father admonishes me to be a good girl...he'll be back soon. And then we are riding home and I'm hanging over the back of the front seat of the car, staring down at my little brother, swaddled in blankets and cradled in my mother's arms. I lose interest in him quickly when I get home. I am, after all, 6 years old. I have more important things to do. But I become exasperated with his endless crying by the end of the day and I ask my mother, "When can we take him back?" It's bad enough I've lost my place in the lineup as the baby of the family, but to this red-faced squalling baby? Enough already.
I am still little enough to sleep in a crib. It is dark when one of my older brothers comes into the bedroom and grabs the rails, shaking the crib, shaking me awake. "Santa Claus is here! Santa Claus is here!" he's telling me, and I am excited because we've been promised all day that Santa was coming to our house. But it finally became late and I was put to bed. My mother comes in and scoops me up in her arms and takes me out into the living room where our Christmas tree sparkles and there is Santa Claus. In the flesh. And his voice BOOMS and he terrifies me and I cling to my mother's neck like I'm drowning, my eyes as huge as saucers. He tries to touch me and I shrink back away from him. It seems Santa had been to many houses that day before finally reaching ours, and he had sampled a lot of Christmas cheer along the way. He was drunk. I didn't know that. He was scary, and I wanted him gone.
My mother was always there. I see her sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a cigarette burning next to her in the ashtray. She is playing Solitaire. Endless games of Solitaire. But I am outside most of the time. I come in for meals. I come in to go to bed. I don't have many clear memories of her doing anything but playing those endless games of Solitaire.
We were going somewhere as a family. I don't know where, but my mother had gotten us all cleaned up and ready to go, finally having a moment to brush her hair and dash on some lipstick. My dad was standing out on the sidewalk, idly jangling keys and loose change in his pants pocket, waiting for her. We kids were already in the car. Dad yelled out, "Aren't you ready yet?" as she came out the door. He hadn't helped with any of the preparations. Dads in the 1950s didn't. And she is smoldering with anger and frustration and she takes the front door and slams it with all her might. She was tiny but she was mighty because the huge pane of glass in the door shattered! Glass fell to the porch floor, tinkling in a million pieces. I'm sure my brothers and I were staring out the car window with our mouths in drop-jaw "O"s. Our dad was stunned into silence. And our mother came out to the car, opened the door, and slid in to the front seat. Yes, now she was ready.
I loved making phone calls. We had an old rotary phone and if we wanted to place a call we didn't even use the rotary. We picked up the receiver and the operator came on. "Number, please," she'd say and we'd give her the number and she would politely say "Thank you" and put our call thru. And then we got new phone numbers. Our town had grown enough where we'd run out of 3-digit numbers. Now they were 7 numbers and we got to use the rotary to dial them! And the rotary would click-click-click as it spun from number to number. We'd hear the other person's phone ring. Oh, it was amazing! We were connected! But I always wondered...what happened to the operator?
I was a friendly and very gregarious little girl. I loved making new students in the class feel welcome. I loved to help the teachers. I loved to play, play, play. We had tons of kids in our neighborhood so there was always someone to play with. We all had free run of the yards and we played rousing games of Hide 'n' Seek, Tag, Red Rover, and one that we created ourselves called Bat. We had dogs named Homer and Punk and Pepper and Spook who followed us around. I had a calico cat named Knucklehead who was a most prolific breeder...there were always new kittens around and my little girlfriends and I would dress them up in baby clothes. There was a little boy named Chris who smoked cigars. An alley that curved around the hill behind our house that I would take as a shortcut to the Safeway store to buy a needed loaf of bread or some milk for dinner. We lived in a logging town and we had three amputees in our neighborhood. Mr. Holloway didn't have an arm. Old Dick didn't have half a leg. And another neighbor man was missing an entire leg; he walked stiffly on a wooden leg that didn't bend. There was an old Greek man named Louie who walked by our house every day, using canes to keep his balance. He gave me a butterscotch candy once and when I showed it to my mother she became angry and told me never to take candy from strange men. I looked at her in disbelieving outrage and said, "But, Mom...it's Louie!" Harmless as a dove, one of the town drunks. There was also Mrs. Miller, a little widow woman who was friends with Mrs. Kilitz. I was only 6 or 7 and I was taller than she was!
My dad. I can remember him always being late, or so he was according to our mother. But I remember sitting up on his shoulders as he strode down the street...I was taller than him up there and I felt I could touch the sky! I remember his strong hands gripping me and pushing higher higher higher on the swings at Lake Sylvia. I can remember him whistling and it was so loud we could hear it a block or so away before he reached home...but it was beautiful. I remember dancing on top of his feet at the end of "The Lawrence Welk Show". I remember the safety of his arms, his own particular smell as I'd cuddle on his lap and feel like all was right in my world.