Archive for the ‘childhood’ Category

And I say,

August 28, 2013

When I was 5 I had a plastic phonograph in my room. I would carry in my mom’s stack of albums, push the stubby black spindle through the Apple sticker on Magical Mystery Tour and sit back, eyes closed, to enjoy Baby, You’re a Rich Man and Fool on a Hill.

My mother, who attended a Beatles’ concert in the 1960s, also has a thick piano book called ‘The Compleat Beatles.’ Thanksgivings of my childhood meant Uncle Rob and Chauncey standing behind her with their guitars while her fingers scooted around the keyboard.

Uncles Monty and Hot Shot and all the wives would be gathered around singing. We would shout requests until 3 in the morning. Nobody made me to go to bed and miss all the fun.

I know Uncle Hot Shot’s favorite is Run for Your Life, Monty’s is Martha My Dear, and  Mom hates to play Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

I know all the words in that thick book.

Someone always wants to sing Here Comes the Sun.

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.

This is a beautiful song.

But I can’t stand it.

I would never say the sun was coming up. I don’t say the sun rose or set or went behind the mountains.

The sun is holding still.

I always say we’re turning away from or toward the sun.

I try to sing along, but I sound silly singing “Our part of the Earth is turning toward the sun, little darling.”

It’s not all right.


The dance story

June 5, 2013

This is the anniversary of my daughter’s eighth-grade formal.
Her father had taken her shopping for a new dress. They found a breathtaking one. It must have stopped the music. She was a picture in it.

I have a memory from my first night dance.

My children hate this story.

When I was a kid I was sure I was the only girl in the whole junior high who had never kissed a boy. The prospect scared me. I was sure I would do it wrong. I would be taunted and hated.

Once a boy tried to put his arm around me and I jumped up with a transparent excuse. I didn’t want him to notice I was shaking. After that, he and the other boys sang Cheap Trick’s “She’s Tight” when I walked by.

The night before my dance, my father took me shopping for a new dress. I got a turquoise-and-white striped stretch top with matching mini skirt and braided headband to go across my forehead. I wore white tights and gold ballet flats. I thought I looked better than anyone ever had or would.

And I must have, because early in the evening Barry Sparks asked me to dance. Surely he could hear my heart thudding over the opening notes of “Heat of the Moment.”

This is the boy I was head over heels for. Still, I shook my head like a wet dog and said, “No way!”

I wanted to dance with him more than anything.

I was in pain over this for years.

My children hate this story because their hearts break for Barry.

I hate that their hearts don’t break for me.

This is what’s in a name

May 17, 2013

I was born with an unusual name. It’s not an uncommon word, but it was spelled differently so teachers mispronounced it.

I hated the way kids and some adults felt they had to make a comment when they were introduced to me.

Often people would say, “That’s your name?” which was always followed by “Where are you from?” or “What nationality are you?”

I was from here, same as Jennifer and Suzy.

Once, in elementary school, I was getting a drink at the fountain and a boy I had a crush on said loudly, “See that girl? Her name is  (insert name here.)” The boys laughed and I cried.

I started trying to get people to call me different names at age 3. I was Rose, Mary, Linda and Dianne. At age 10 I found one that fit, and it’s my legal name today.

I had a normal name for 13 years, and then I married a man with a last name people giggle at. It was destiny, I guess.

My children are great sports.

Last week my daughter performed in a concert. There were thousands in the theater.

The woman to my left said, “Look at this kid’s name.”

Her son looked at her finger on the program and read my daughter’s name aloud. They tittered.

I imagined identifying myself, which made my ears hot and my heart pound. I am a great big chickenpants.

An hour later my daughter’s group took the stage.

The woman said, “Here comes that kid with the funny name.”

The boy said her name. This was my chance.

I turned to her and said, “That’s my daughter.” My heart was thudding and I was breathing funny. I’m not cut out for confrontation.


“The child you’re laughing at.” I faked calm.


What? “No,” I said my last name.

She effected a puzzled face. “We were talking about Chivus.”

She’s insulting me with denial now?

I didn’t respond. She turned toward her son, put an arm around him and kissed his hair.

I debated telling the children what happened, but I can’t have a story inside me and not tell it.

They took it well. They asked, “Where was she from?”

Here, obviously, but I wish I had asked her anyway. Meow.

The Playboy story

February 24, 2013

Headlines say Seth Rogan will be on the cover of Playboy magazine. He will be the eighth man to do this.

I’m excited about this headline, not because I like Seth Rogan, but because I have a Playboy magazine story.

When My Oldest Friend and I were about 11 we were on our town’s tree-lined, Main Street-type strip. We were in the corner drug store. It was an old-fashioned store, not like the corporate chains you see today.

The store’s side facing our cozy downtown was window from floor to ceiling. There was a magazine stand that ran along this.

At her suggestion we spread open Playboy magazines all along the display rack facing the window and ran out of the store.

Good times.

Grampa’s jacket

February 15, 2013

I can’t find my grandfather’s jacket.

It’s an ugly, dirty jacket that’s too big for me. I look like a bag lady in it.

When I was 12 I had a flu I’ll remember forever. On the first day of it, my grandparents were over for dinner. I was balled up on the couch with chills.

Grampa crouched by me, kissed my forehead and took off his jacket. My eyes were closed, but I remember feeling him drape it over me. It was warm from him — a curing, comforting warmth. I haven’t found that same relief from fever chills since.

Decades later, he kept Tootsie Rolls in the pockets for my children. He always had them there. I imagine him filling those pockets before he left the house.

My children were 4 and 6 when he died of an early morning heart attack.

He used to call my daughter ‘The Baby.’ He must have been having delusions in his last moments, because right before he died he said, ‘The Baby’s bringing me cookies.’

She’s 17; I still call her The Baby.

And I’m hysterical, because I can’t find the jacket.

My dad used to say…

February 11, 2013

Today one of my students was complaining, “It’s too hot in here.”

I told her, “My daddy used to say, ‘It’s not hot; you’re hot.”

Know my my dad says now? It’s hot in here.

The stairway-door story

February 7, 2013

One of the girls in my high school clique used to say, “That’s my dream house” when we drove by an old haunted-looking thing with a turret and broken windows.

She said she would fix it up and put a carousel horse in the picture window of the turret.

Skip 20-plus years later to tonight, when her husband gave me my first tour of it. It’s a dream house for sure.

My son said, “I’m jealous you have a door to the stairs.”

The old house I grew up in had a door at the bottom of the stairs. It had a jiggly aluminum doorknob, and locked with a turn of a knob on the downstairs side.

Between our ghosts and attempted break-ins my mom and I were skittitsh girls.

One afternoon we walked in the house and saw and heard the knob turning. My mom ran up to it and turned the lock. As we ran out of the house we heard it rattling violently. Someone was trying to get out.

We were only three blocks from the police station and on the same street, so we drove there. We ran in in a panic.

Within minutes three patrol cars, lights aflash, were in the driveway of my house. They entered the house with their backs to the walls. Their guns were drawn.

They got in position around the stairway door, nodded to one another and opened it slowly.

My cat got off his hind legs, took his paws off the doorknob and ran out.


What would we have done?

February 5, 2013

My Oldest Friend and I had a lot of summer afternoons to fill.

Sometimes we would hop on the banana seats of our little bikes and ride to the library or the park. Mine was pink and had strawberries on it. Hers was blue with white paisleys.

Other times we would tie the wagon to the back of a bike, and one of us would pull the other to the library or park.

There was naught but the library or park to visit, if we didn’t have money for the corner store where the candy lived.

There was even handlebar riding. There were never helmets.

At some point in the voyage, one of us would usually say, ‘What would you do if . . . ?’

‘. . . I fell off; I got hit by a car; I suddenly died.’

I don’t remember what our answers were. I only remember being happy that we both wondered the same things.

The butter story

February 3, 2013

Tonight as a dinner side dish we had rosemary-lemon bread, which I had made from scratch. I used rosemary and lemons that we grew in the yard, and had set the dough by the heater before bed last night for 18 hours of rising.

My husband joked, “If you really loved us, you’d have churned the butter fresh.”

I once tried this.

When I was about 10 my mom and I bought cream for this purpose. It was going to be great fun. We put it in jars, put on a Chubby Checker album and went sock-foot onto the hardwood floors to shake it up Twist-dancin’-style.

We shook and we shook and we shook. It didn’t turn into butter.

My mom said, “No problem. We can add sugar to it and we’ll have whipped cream.”

So we did, but we didn’t. Guess what happened after it sat in the fridge. It hardened into butter. Sugary butter.

It was awful on garlic bread.

The map story

January 30, 2013

Tonight’s story was my son’s choice.

When I was in seventh grade I had Mr. Snodgress for social studies. Mr. Snodgress was one of the best teachers I had, and I remember many things he taught or said.

But he was funny about maps.

Every week he passed out a blank map with a couple of continents on it. We were to get Color-Rite pencils, color at a 30-degree angle with a light touch and rub over the finished product with a Kleenex to soften the lines.


The he started going on about the compasses. Mr. Snodgress wanted compasses with more pizzazz. We were slow to learn he didn’t want a plain cross with N, S, E, W at the points.

Cheeky punk that I was, I drew an elaborate full-figure Popeye, arms outstretched toward east and west. It took up the whole Atlantic Ocean.

It was a masterpiece. It was shaded and detailed from pipe to shoes. It was rubbed with a Kleenex. Vigorously.

The next Monday he was handing back the maps. He made it plain he recognized the sass, but he chuckled and breathed deeply before clarifying his compass request.

I don’t remember all the words. He started with something like, “When I said to make your compass nice…,” and ended with something like “not what I meant.”

But I remember the middle exactly: Probably the best drawing of Popeye I’ve ever seen.


January 14, 2013

Three years ago I was substitute teaching some for extra money, (my real job is as a copy editor.)

One day I was at my old junior high school taking over a friend’s English class on what I still think of as the archery field.

The children were fascinated to know PE class used to include a week of archery. I was fascinated that anyone would think this was a good thing. Archery terrifies me.

And as so often happens, I started explaining, and it started sounding ridiculous to me….

Every year in spring Mrs. Tilson marched us across the campus in our little white shorts and bright yellow — which they cooled up by calling ‘gold’ — striped T-shirts. We stood with our backs to the busy street, facing blocks of hay with targets on them, and heard about the dangers of the feathers.

That’s right, the feathers.

‘Don’t get your fingers in the way of the feathers,’ is how the speech began. ‘When they whiz by, they’re like razors. They will cut your fingers.’

And then came the worst part. Mrs. Tilson told about the kid who held the arrow too close to his face, and when he released it, a feather sliced his eyeball in half.

In preparation for writing this entry, I Googled ‘archery dangers,’ ‘feather dangers’ and ‘archery safety tips.’

Guess what. Mrs. Tilson is the only one who knows about the feathers.

Naming babies is dangerous

December 29, 2012

As you may remember, I was born with a terrible name that inspired comments from adults and teasing from the mean little people at my elementary school before I changed it.

No, I will not tell you what it was. It’s too heinous.

After yesterday’s post, I replied to Fred‘s comment asking what name he had planned if he had had a girl: Alice St. Eve. Beautiful.

And happily, it reminded me of a story.

One of my many aunts was set to deliver long enough into my childhood to be wary of names that fueled mean little elementary-school people. (Likely my troubles weren’t on her mind at all, but this is my blog and I can’t pass up the opportunity to make everything about me.)

She was having a girl. On arrival, my aunt announced she had found a name that was lovely and tease-free: Summer Eve.

Guess what product was introduced on store shelves a week later.

The woot bew story

December 23, 2012

My cousin Sterling and his bride Alison arrived today.

He’s turning 32 next month, but I still see him as a 4-year-old who hums the theme to Star Wars and can’t say the R sound.

Our grampa used to tease him. One afternoon Sterl wanted a root beer.

Grampa waxed confused, “Woot bew?”

Sterl was patient, “Not woot bew, Grampa, woot bew.”

Everyone tried not to laugh.

“I’ve never heard of that. What’s woot bew?”

Sterl got impatient, “Not woot bew, woot bew!”

“Honey? Do we something called woot bew?”

Tonight I asked Sterl if he remembered this. He remembers hearing about it. He’s still a little sore.

My husband said, “One day you’re going to do it to your kids.”

“I know,” Sterl said. “And that’s why.”

Pay it forward, baby. Ya gotta get revenge somewhere.


December 19, 2012

I’m agnostic about everything. I’m afraid to commit to believing, but I’m no skeptic.

I will not say that I believe in the supernatural: ghosts, reincarnations, psychic ability, television reception.

But I have witnessed things, and I won’t say they don’t exist.

As a child I had a recurring nightmare. Remember the lids from jars of Tree Top apple juice? There were red, green and yellow ones. One was for juice, one cider, one unsweetened. In my dream, people wore them on their heads. The colors meant something, but I didn’t know what. Mine was sometimes purple. Sometimes I didn’t know what mine was, because no one would tell me.

Parts of the dream were always the same. Men in uniform were checking lids. If you had a certain color, they took you and killed you.

I remember waiting with the others. We had been collected and amassed behind a large rock.  They would come and grab a few people, line them in front of the rock and shoot them. Then we waited while they scooted the bodies away and came for a few more.

I always woke up during the waiting.

It was the waiting.

The waiting was bad. It came with sounds: the boots coming to get more people, the occasional pleading, the gunfire. It came with praying I could die by surprise.

I was just a child, 6, I think, when the dreams started.

At 13, in school, I learned about the Holocaust. I thought of the dream, which I had had so many times it began to feel like a memory. I imagined the victims waiting. I thought of the fear and the sounds.

I remembered from my dream, the smell of the fear, mixed with the odor of discharged guns, blood and urine.

I have no idea if my picturing was accurate, but I thought I could picture it just.

Then in high school, with three years of French under my belt, I found the French classes were full. I was forced to start at the beginning and take German.

I loved it. The sentence structure felt natural. Conversation just fell out of my mouth. I thought, ‘Once you’ve learned one foreign language, it’s easy to learn another.’

After two weeks, my mom met my teacher at open house. She came home and said this, “Mrs. Krause said she could drop you in Germany today and you would be fine. She said it was like you spoke it in a past life, and it was just coming back to you.”


That was when I tucked these things I’ve written here into the same pocket.

Maybe I’m just good at languages. Maybe I was just a little girl who shouldn’t have seen the scene in Shogun where they asked a group to select one among themselves to be boiled.

I will not say I believe in reincarnation.

But I think I may have been somewhere I’ve never been.

The piano in a paper bag story

December 2, 2012

When I visited my biological father in San Francisco, he was just moving into an outrageous penthouse home above Ghirardelli Square.

The building was old — in a good way. It was grand. It took my breath away.

From the penthouse terrace we could see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Alcatraz.

This whole building was vacant. My father had been hired to design and oversee a parking structure under it. The digs were provided at no charge.

On this day I arrived he had to go do a thing.

My job was to meet the piano delivery guys. Their job was to get the shiny full-grand piano up to the top floor.

They came in scratching their heads, sans instrument.

“We’re gonna have to bring it up the stairs.” Duh. Were they expecting a larger elevator?

I stared at them, waiting for the point. The staircase was plenty wide.

“We need more guys.” Ah.

“I’m sorry. I’m visiting. I don’t have any guys.”

They laughed at me. I guess they weren’t asking for guys. They said they’d come back tomorrow.

When my father came back he looked around and made a little between-the-brows squeeze.

I remembered my mom said that when they lived in that fourth-floor walkup at Harvard, he carried a piano up in pieces, using paper bags.

So I said to him, “They’re coming back tomorrow. They wanted to buy some paper bags to bring it up in.”

“Hey I did that once!” This is my favorite part of this story. He thought that comment was a coincidence.

His bride made a between-the-brow squeeze. Oh goody! I was going to hear the story first-hand. I’ve known this story about 15 years longer than I’ve known him.

We settled in around the table and heard it told.

My father had visited a shop around the corner from his Irving Street apartment, and gave the owner some amount for an old piano.

He had neither vehicle, nor dolly, nor money for a mover, but he had a screwdriver and a lunch bag.

He dissassembled the whole thing and walked back and forth to the fourth-floor walkup, first with the bag full of keys, then hammers, then strings. He carried the frame in parts too.

My mom opened the door to find pieces strewn all over the floor, and her husband standing over them with a squeeze between his brow, trying to figure out how to put it all together.

He did, replacing ripped pads and chipped pieces in the bargain.

He moved that whole piano all by himself, but the professionals? They needed more guys.

The Christmas shopping story

December 1, 2012

Back in the day, San Bernardino was the shopping destination for anyone in or near my town.

It was a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic, and there was a foul sewage smell that let me know when our offramp was near.

One year my mom and I had a disastrous trip to there.

It started out fine. We pulled into a great spot in the Toys R Us lot and spent an hour or more tossing goodies into the cart with wild abandon. I always say things should be tossed into carts this way. Sometimes I even do a little foot-lift thing.

We stopped at the automatic glass doors leading out. It was pouring rain.

There’s nothing worse than a Southern Californian in the rain, (unless it’s one behind the wheel of a car). (Bonus bad if that person is my mother.)

We leaned over the booty to effect a shelter and made a run for it.

We loaded the goods and jumped in, sopping despite our rush.

Click. Click. No juice. My mom had left the lights on.

After some dramatic exhaling we ran back into the store and borrowed their phone to call for a battery jump from Triple A.

It occurs to me that several of my stories would be non-stories if they had happened in the age of cell phones. This one is doubly obsolete, because now headlights turn off automatically.

Triple A took a long time. I was a kid, so however long it took, it was longer in kid years. It was, like, a hundredth of my life. Who knew there was a circumstance under which I wanted to not be in Toys R Us?

The dude came. Clip, turn, rev. We were all set.

Mom left the engine running for warmth and battery charging while she climbed in the tow’s cab to do the paperwork.

Naturally she locked our car, so no one could steal it or the presents.

Naturally we didn’t realize this was a bad idea until the guy had driven away.

Back in the store we went to call and wait all over again.

After another 100th of my life had passed, we were on the road.

I think we moved four blocks before we ran out of gas.

In the moment an hour later, when I walked dripping and hungry into my home, I had never been and would never be so surprised not to have gotten a flat tire.

Exterminator tents

November 27, 2012

When we were little girls, My Oldest Friend was always interested when we saw houses being fumigated.

I used to tell her that those homes, encased in big striped tents, had kids there whose parents had rented them a private circus.

It’s My Oldest Friend’s birthday today.

Happy 40th, Tia. I love you so much, I would rent you a private circus today if they existed and I had any money.

The Ranchero

November 18, 2012

I have a 1958 Ford Ranchero. I’m not an old-car guy, and I’ve never driven it, but I love it, and I almost lost it.

The truck used to be my grampa’s. On Saturdays until I was about 6 he would take me with him to the dump, which is about the only time he used the truck.

He would open the driver door so I could crawl across the bench seat, and he would always say, “One of these days you’re going to get in through your own door.”

Occasionally he would use it for an errand. I heard him more than once come home and say, “I got another note on the windshield,” as he tacked a piece of paper to the kitchen bulletin board.

The notes all said the same basic thing: I want to buy your truck. Call me.

These put a hardness in the pit of my stomach. Forget that new car smell; I was sentimental about 25-year-old Ford cab smell. 

When I was a teen-ager, Nana said, “We’re re-doing our will. If there’s anything you want to be sure to get, speak up.”

I didn’t hesitate. Tap tap my truck.

Later my grandparents said, “It’s just sitting there. We don’t even use the thing. Why wait for us to die?”

I was married then. I can’t tell you how my skin crawls when my husband refers to it as his Ranchero.

A few years ago my Uncle Sonny started asking around, “Where’s Uncle Albert’s Ranchero?”

He wanted to fix it up. A bunch of old-car guys were fixing up cars together. 

My husband said he was planning on fixing it up in a father-son project. Then it would be what our son drives.

Yeah, my son’s going to get sticky, dirty stuff on his hands. Didn’t my husband read The Birthday Cake Story?

This never came to pass. So in 2003 I told Uncle Sonny he could take it, work on it, do the car show thing, but not have title.

Everybody was happy. I was about to get around to getting it over to his house.

Does the name Uncle Sonny ring a bell? His other mention was the story about how his house burned down.

If I hadn’t been so lazy, it would have been a carbecue.

For now it’s just sitting there. We don’t even use the thing.

But when we do, I’m going to breathe in deep as I crawl across the driver side.

The tissue story

November 12, 2012

When I was in junior high I went to my Auntie Martha’s after school. She lived across the street from campus.

Auntie Martha was one of my grama’s older sisters.

I would snack on the Frosted Flakes she kept hidden in the bottom cabinet and watch General Hospital on her little black-and-white kitchen TV. After that I would push the chairs aside and jump on the Linoleum under Richard Simmons’ guidance.

Auntie Martha watched Guiding Light and then Phil Donohue in the den.

After my workout I went in where Auntie was. We would play gin or backgammon. She taught me to sew.

Then in the evening my dad would pick me up. Sometimes he would sit on the patio and have a beer with Uncle Phil before we left.

One afternoon I went in the living room and she was pulling wadded balls of pretty paper out of a new gym bag and ironing it.

The bag had come stuffed. My mom had just bought a bag like this. I was fascinated by the whole scene.

“This will make nice wrapping paper.” She was making a pile of the ironed. Each sheet was different.

I couldn’t get past that she was ironing wrapping paper.

My dad showed up just as she told me that she also irons her tissues and reuses them.

Dad was in a hurry.

This was too much. We went back and forth with ‘You really do?’ ‘I really do’ as he dragged me out.

I never knew Auntie Martha to be cheap, and that was disgusting. My incredulity was consuming.

The next afternoon it was the first thing I wanted to talk about.

“Auntie, I want to buy you clean tissues. I think it’s gross you iron and reuse them, all full of mocos.”

I wish I hadna said that.

I’m sure you’ve deduced she meant tissues for gift wrapping, not Kleenex. I’ve been teased it about it these past 28 years. This kind of embarrassment spreads fast through my family.

And 28 years later, I’m still using the wrapping paper I went home and pulled out of my mom’s new gym bag and ironed.

The time my mom sewed

November 3, 2012

My Oldest Friend was having a parenting dilemma. It was the day before the first day of school, and her boy wanted a lunchbox that she feared the other kids would tease him for.

It was an expensive lunchbox, and she would have to pay shipping to boot, because it was available only by order.

At issue was paying for the thing, and then having him abandon it after a day because of the mean kids.

Which of course reminds me of something that happened to me as a child.

My mother, who doesn’t sew, made me an outfit.

She has a machine, and all the accouterments. She has always had a fully stocked sewing kit. One day she drove herself down to House of Fabrics — because she thought she was supposed to, I guess — and bought bobbins and a tracing wheel.

And then one day she decided to make me an outfit.

This coincided with My Oldest Friend, The Horrible Person and me putting on a home staging of “Annie.” The Horrible Person was the star, and My Oldest Friend and I were orphans.

The Horrible Person instructed us to bring orphan clothes with us on Friday.

On Wednesday I wore my new homemade outfit, because after several months’ labor, it was finished. The pants and blouse were made of the same fabric. Have you ever seen hand-made recycled paper? The fabric kind of looked like that, but in red.

My mom dropped me off in the morning, and The Horrible Person was in the kitchen. “Oh no!” she yelled in front of my mother.

“You didn’t wear that because you’re dressing as an orphan, did you?” She made a disgusting expression on her face that right now makes me want to smack her one.

My mom reacted strongly. That night she took the outfit and threw it out.

I wanted the outfit, teasers be damned.

Based on this, I bade My Oldest Friend get the lunchbox.

She did.

There was no teasing.

The Halloween party

October 31, 2012

When I was a little girl, we were invited to my mom’s coworker’s Halloween party. I got a witch’s hat to wear.

In the late afternoon, Mom got a call. The woman’s little son had stopped breathing and turned blue. I had never heard of this before. It sounded cool.

They were at the hospital. The party was off.

Sometime shortly after we were invited for the rescheduled event. We left the witch’s hats at home. I remember I wore a pretty white blouse under a red jumper.

We were the first ones there. The place was decorated elaborately, and there was a long table covered in food.

I had never been the first ones there before. I didn’t like it. We sat on the couch — 8-year-old me and four grownups — and tried to keep a conversation going.

The hostess complimented my ensemble. I said, “You know I’d never thought of putting these together before.” The grownups laughed, and I didn’t know why that was funny.

Like an hour later, we realized noone else was coming. I was just a little girl but I understood the pressure of that. We weren’t having a good time, but we couldn’t slip out.

It was a long, painful evening for me, blanketed in the disappointment that I didn’t get to see a blue kid.

Clothes shopping

October 5, 2012

Yesterday’s post reminded me of shopping for clothes when I was my daughter’s age.

My mother would hand over her credit card. My Oldest Friend got $20 a month, which she was supposed to budget and accumulate. I was dying of jealousy. That struck me as a fortune.

I did not understand why she didn’t abuse this situation.

I  must have bugged her about it, because I remember her telling me, lots, that Brian was going to ask to see her monthly balance. Brian was her shiny new step-dad.

At one point we signed up for dance lessons together. The next day we walked to the mall to get matching leotards.

The first pair we tried on made it glaring to me this was a bad idea. Tia had glorious hooters and I had naught. Wearing identical stretchy bits drew the eye to my shortcomings.

But I’ve always had more pride than vanity, so I kept quiet and handed over mom’s MasterCard.

The leotards we bought were white cotton, with little puffy sleeves and sprinkles of pink, gray and purple triangles. They must have been pricey, because she was on about having to show Brian her monthly balance.

I double-dog dared her to go in there and stand on one foot.

She never did what I said. That was probably a good thing.

Throwing people in the pool

September 27, 2012

Last night at a party a girl came at my son to throw him in the pool. I know this girl. She is a perfect girl, and she was being playful.

My son is strong, and he is a capable wrestler. She didn’t stand  a chance.

He spun around and threw her in instead. He does not understand his strength, I think, or when to temper it. She got hurt.

I wasn’t there, but I’m understanding she slapped the water flat, and face down.

This reminds me of yet another moment from my childhood I have never gotten over.

We used to celebrate Easter every year at my Uncle Junior’s house. I don’t know why we call him Junior. His name is Bill, and his father was a Korean immigrant, whose name sounded nothing like Bill.

I wore my suit, but only to sit on the step. I never learned how to swim, and was afraid of the water. Specifically, I was afraid of putting my head under.

One year my Uncle Hot Shot grabbed me from the lawn area and started running toward the water. I screamed for all I was worth. He laughed and hurled my tiny flailing body into the deep end.

Chlorinated water burns when you gulp and inhale it. I remember not knowing which direction was up, and feeling my hands go numb. They do that when I panic.

At some point I made it to the edge of the pool. When I got my lungs working, I yelled at Hot Shot. “I hate you! I hate you so much!”

My mother, who was on a lounge chair poolside, fully clothed, turned beet red and started yelling at me.

I got in big trouble.

Now that I’m a mother, I’m more upset with her than Hot Shot. In fact, knowing Hot Shot, I’m sure he saw I was on my own, and was making an effort to include me in the antics. He may have thought my screaming and kicking was part of the game, but my mother knew I couldn’t swim. A word from her to stop him would have carried some weight.

And afterward, a little understanding toward me would not have come amiss.

I, on the other hand….

September 16, 2012

Each of my children has gotten lost once. I used to get lost a lot.

My mom likes to tell this story. I remember when it happened.

We were at a large mall, at the Sears department store, when I looked up from whatever clothes rack my mind had wandered in and realized I didn’t know where my mom had gone.

I found a saleswoman and asked where customer service was. I told her I couldn’t find my mommy.

She took me down the escalator to the basement level. The walls and floor were shiny and white. She held my hand and made kid talk.

She led me to a counter where I gave my name and my mom’s name. I was articulate at 4, and comfortable speaking with adults.

They paged my mom.

When she came to collect me, the saleswoman was effusive. She told Mom she waited to tell her how impressed she was.

She said I knew where to go and what information to give. She said I was calm and friendly.

Shoot, for me it was just part of going shopping.

It was a fabulous experience, because my mom seemed so proud.

The mysterious mail story

September 9, 2012

Shortly after John Lennon was killed I came in from school with an envelope from the mailbox.

It was for me, and the address was handwritten.

I gripped it in my little kid hand all the way to the kitchen. I wanted an audience, and found Mom making dinner. Dad was at the table with the paper. I sat across from him and opened my letter.

There was no letter.

It was a newspaper clipping. I didn’t know which side was relevant. It was either an announcement about a toy drive or a sketch of the late Lennon, who was four days gone.

I flipped the clipping over several times, looking for a clue.

The sketch was an elaborate line drawing of his face with tight spirals in the glasses lenses.

The bit had been cut out with pinking scissors and folded in half.

I didn’t think of anything other than puzzlement until my mom said, “Why would someone send you a picture of a dead man?”

Great. Now it’s threatening.

My dad gave her his you’re-so-dramatic-about-everything eye roll he had lots of opportunity to master. “He’s not dead in the picture.”

Well that’s some comfort.

I said, “Mom! Somebody sent me a picture of a dead guy!”

She rolled her eyes at me. Team switcher.

“He’s not dead in the picture,” she said, as if I were unreasonable.

I think she thought I couldn’t hear Dad, who I was actually closer to me than to her.

I never learned who sent it to me or why, or which side of the clipping I was meant to care about.

And I didn’t contribute anything to the toy drive.


September 7, 2012

Sheila Lukins died last Sunday. She was diagnosed with brain cancer three months ago.

She’s the author of The Silver Palate cookbook, which was one of my mother’s can’t-live-withouts; and Celebrate!, which is one of my can’t-live-withouts.

In honor of her life, my mother made chicken marbella, Lukins’ signature dish, last night. We went over and raised a glass to her memory.

The Silver Palate was one of the first cookbooks my mother gave me when I married and had a lifetime behind me of failed dinners, save the one delicious lasagne my date dropped on the floor.

My mother likes to tell about my attempts to make cookies as a child. Her favorite of the batch is when instead of 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, I once put 3/4 cup baking soda in the dough.

I have come so far. Thanks, Sheila, and rest in peace.

Mom’s voice in my head

August 20, 2012

I cleaned my house the night before my birthday party.

Our other house took days to clean. It was like painting the Golden Gate bridge.  I really appreciate having half the space and a more modern home when I clean.

My son came home in the evening, and every time he went into a room, he said, “It looks great in here!”

I used to say this to my mom when the house looked good, but she would always say, “No thanks to you.” So I stopped.

I thought of this, and how nice it was to hear that my work was noticable, and I just said, “Thank you” to my boy.

Mom called.

“Shall I come over and clean your house?”  At 8 p.m.?

“I cleaned it already.”

“Since you got home from work? It can’t be very clean.”

“Well my son came home and said the house looks great.”

“No thanks to him, I’m sure.”

I actually did not see that coming.

Adverb humor

August 9, 2012

Today is My Junior High Best Friend’s birthday.

It’s also my High School Boyfriend’s birthday, the boyfriend from The Trumpet Story‘s birthday and the copy editor from The Palm Tree Story’s birthday.

But I’m giving the post to my Junior High Best Friend.

We used to fancy ourselves grammar police, which everyone knows makes you popular at parties.

My focus was verb tense, and Kelly’s was adverbs.

When somone said, for instance, ‘I’ll just do it real quick,’ she would mutter ‘-ly.’ She was always muttering ‘-ly.’

My running joke was that when she was born her mother named her ‘Kel,’ and Kel popped her mouth off the breast to mutter, ‘-ly.’

Knock knock

August 6, 2012

Tonight we took my grama out to dinner, and we were talking about funny things people said or did.

Nana shared that when she and Grampa took me to see Annie for my 10th birthday, I saw a photo of ice in a glass in the program and said loudly, “There’s subliminal seduction in this photo.” (I had read the book and learned how sexual words or images were hidden in ad photos. This is neither here nor there.)

Everyone near us in the audience turned to look at me. This is neither here nor there either.

I said, “But remember on the way home, when we were doing knock-knock jokes, and each answer had to be a song?”


“You said, ‘Knock knock’ and Grampa and I said, ‘Who’s there?’ and you said, ‘Wendy’ and we said, ‘Wendy who?’ and you sang ‘Wen-dy deep purple falls….

“Then Grampa said, ‘I have one!’ ”

“Knock knock”

“Who’s there?”


I miss him so.

Marco Polo

August 2, 2012

It’s summer. We have a pool. Sometimes I hear, “Marco!

I was wondering this afternoon what about Marco Polo inspired his name’s being used in this way.

I wouldn’t know. The only thing I remember from my seventh-grade social studies lesson on the explorer is that he’s from Venice.

Here’s why I remember that.

Mr. Snodgress — the one who made us color maps — told us that Marco Polo suffered a terrible injury to his eyes.

And that after that he was a Venitian blind.