Monday, September 17, 2012

I Remember: Early Years (Under 20)

During the last couple of weeks I received many "I remember" statements from people, as I compiled a collective list of memories for a CommunityWrite Project. 

I found that when I started making my own list I didn't want to stop. So I didn't. I let my mind wander, from year to year and place to place, and came up with these, which I want to share with you here. 

Perhaps you will feel the urge to create your own long list of random memories. You might focus on early years (mine are all from before I turned 20), or on a specific season, or geographic location, or memories of a particular person. There are so many directions in which you could go. 

Such a simple way to start: "I remember." And then . . . . anything can happen. 

I remember skating around the corner and not knowing how to get back home again.
I remember picking all the black licorice-flavored jelly beans out of the bowl and throwing them in the garbage.
I remember cheating at Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey at my cousin's birthday party and getting caught at it.
I remember all the rules my dad had about the phonograph and how to handle LP records.
I remember eating dinner at a friend's house and her mother served SpagettiOs, right out of the can, and I asked if I could eat dinner at her house every night.
I remember being carried to school on my father's shoulders after a gigantic snow storm.
I remember a waiter in a Montreal restaurant bringing my family four whole pizza pies instead of the four slices we thought we had ordered.
I remember mixing ginger ale and orange juice, thinking I'd invented a fancy drink no one else had ever thought of, and calling it Ginger-O.
I remember joining the junior high school band and being terrified of the band leader, who threw a music stand at students when they hit a wrong note.
I remember when my high school boyfriend told me he was gay and I thought that meant he was happy so I said "me too."
I remember my first cigarette, behind the boat house at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
I remember discovering that shoes made for boys were more comfortable than shoes made for girls.
I remember my father telling me to go chase my shadow when he wanted me to leave him alone.
I remember the sound of the nail polish bottle being shaken up before my mother "did" her nails.
I remember lying on the beach at Coney Island, watching the Fourth of July fireworks, licking an all-day sucker.
I remember having my fortune told by an older girl in a gypsy costume at a school carnival.
I remember my patient mother, teaching me how to crochet.
I remember how self-righteous I was, going "trick or treating" for UNICEF and refusing all offers of candy.
I remember my disappointment when I was told that children couldn't even walk into the adult section of the public library, let alone borrow any of those tantalizing books.
I remember watching Tiny Tim on television, playing his ukulele, and being embarrassed for him.
I remember flagging down a taxi on my own for the first time.
I remember always going into the museum gift shop before looking at the exhibits.
I remember my sister and I spent hours at a time studying the photographs in The Family of Man book.
I remember getting into trouble at a dance at the Y, for dancing too close with a boy.
I remember when being cool meant your mother let you wear nylon stockings to school.
I remember when my bathing suit top fell off as I was jumping the waves at Miami Beach.
I remember forgetting my lines in a school play, and just staring out at the audience in horror.
I remember the first time I heard about picnics and couldn't understand why anyone would want to eat on the ground with the ants.
I remember my mother saying we could never live in a private house, we'd always have to rent an apartment, because my father was afraid to step on a ladder to change a lightbulb.
I remember going to see the movie A Patch of Blue with my sister and cousins and afterwards we were all sobbing and couldn't get out of our seats.
I remember Grandma making Guggle Muggles as a special breakfast treat: whole milk (not the disgusting skim milk that Mom made us drink), chocolate Bosco syrup, a raw egg, all mixed up in the blender, with two Stella D'oro "S" cookies on a small plate.
I remember reading Little House on the Prairie during a long train ride from New York City to Florida.
I remember the first time I wore a white button-down shirt and someone said I looked collegiate, and I thought that was the nicest compliment I had ever received.
I remember when my sister and I rode the subway and communicated with each other, over the din, in our own private sign language.
I remember a day in Katz's Delicatessen when my father said I put mustard on a hot dog the way Picasso put paint on a canvas, and I had no idea what he was talking about.
I remember deciding that 6 was my lucky number, just before I bet a nickel on a spin-the-wheel game at a street fair, even though 6 had never been lucky for me before.
I remember when our new neighbors, former circus performers, strung a tightrope in the courtyard of our apartment building, and for months we would all hang out our windows to watch them walk back and forth.
I remember when my seventh grade homeroom teacher got angry at us and said we were acting like little Lee Harvey Oswalds.
I remember learning how to type on a typewriter that didn't have any letters on the keys.
I remember my first pair of high heeled shoes and how I almost didn't mind the blisters they gave me.
I remember reaching into the little coin-return box in every phone booth I passed, just in case I'd find some change.
I remember my first modern dance class, running across the room like popcorn popping, and later slithering across, like melted molasses.
I remember dancing the part of a carrot in a recital, wearing a slinky sateen costume in the brightest shade of orange, sewn by my mother.
I remember thinking a small dust storm in the playground was a tornado.
I remember the tyranny of our gym uniforms, which had to be washed and ironed every week.
I remember putting on my Dale Evans cowgirl skirt, with fringes, the second I got home from school.
I remember my first crush on a girl and I knew I had to keep it a secret.
I remember wondering why the police didn't arrest everyone who went into the store with the neon sign boldly spelling out "drugs."
I remember blowing soap bubbles, pretending they were smoke rings from a cigarette.
I remember when everyone I knew wore peace beads, and we thought we were doing something real to end the Viet Nam war.
I remember when my hands were younger.
I remember all those times I read a novel from beginning to end in one day.
I remember always having to type at least two copies of every school report, and how much I hated those messy sheets of carbon paper.
I remember taking the typing test to be a Kelly Girl temporary office worker, and making so many mistakes that they gave me a job stuffing envelopes for a week.
I remember wearing my Danskin shirt backwards, with the zipper (unzipped) in the front, feeling daring and even a little bit sexy.
I remember searching all over the city for a pair of red suede boots to wear on Balkan folk dancing nights in the church basement near Carnegie Hall.
I remember when a friend offered me a cup of Constant Comment tea, with brown sugar, both of which I considered the height of sophistication.
I remember buying wide stripes of embroidered ribbon in the Ukrainian shops in Greenwich Village, to sew onto the hems of my bell-bottom jeans.
I remember the first day of college, when I vowed I'd never iron my clothes, or shave my legs, ever again.
I remember running down the dorm hall to answer the telephone, but it was never for me.
I remember putting both milk and lemon in my tea, trying to appear sophisticated, and being surprised when it "went bad."
I remember attending a friend's wedding, in the woods behind our college dorm, wearing my best cotton nightgown because it seemed more appropriate than going in cut-off jeans.
I remember seeing Laura Nyro in concert, holding my breath while she sang.
I remember when I wore bandaids on my fingers, elbows and knees, for no reason, just because I liked the way they looked.
I remember how much I hated bringing my lunch to school in a brown paper bag, wishing I could have a Dr. Kildare lunch box.
I remember my sister and I, at a Chinese restaurant, scooping the vegetables out of our egg rolls, then eating the crispy part, slathered in duck sauce.
I remember eating all the cherries out of the canned fruit salad.
I remember I thought it was silly to burn your bra when you could just stop wearing one and not make a fuss.
I remember being very worried after a mean girl told me to go to hell.
I remember the awfulness of wearing hand-me-downs from someone who had such a different sense of style than I did.
I remember drawing an ankh (Egyptian symbol of life) in blue ink on my new leather pocketbook, and how much it upset my Jewish family, who thought I had drawn a cross.
I remember practicing how to roll my Rs the summer before 7th grade, in preparation for starting French class.
I remember how pleased I was when someone called me the teacher's pet, before I knew it was meant as an insult.
I remember the indignity of being seated at the children's table at family parties, after I was already a teenager.
I remember being so pleased with myself when I learned the Lindy Hop and, better yet, the Double Lindy.
I remember hearing Bob Dylan's voice for the first time and it seemed unbelievable to me that people would pay money to buy  his records.
I remember a man named Paul who wore a gold pinky ring and came to our house to give us all haircuts in the kitchen, even my mom and dad.
I remember my 10th grade English teacher telling us that she'd been taken to see the lynching of a black man when she was a little white girl growing up in Alabama.
I remember the summer I read nothing but Russian novels and said things like "woe upon woe" much too often.
I remember being called Sarah Bernhardt because, apparently, I had a flair for melodrama.
I remember being the only one among by friends who didn't like Ingmar Bergman movies.
I remember reading a story by P. G. Wodehouse on the subway, about a woman named Gwladys, and I couldn't stop laughing because of the way her name was spelled.
I remember reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and adopting Gertrude Stein as my literary hero.
I remember being afraid of Jack O' Lanterns.
I remember wanting to wear pleated skirts but my mother was a fan of A-line and circle skirts so that's what I had to wear.
I remember when it was important to know which side of your blouse your circle pin went on; wearing it on one side meant you were a virgin but wearing it on the other side was just unthinkable.
I remember my disappointment when I discovered that Bela Bartok was not a female composer after all.
I remember the satisfying sound of vacuuming up a penny.
I remember how much I loved these books: Black Like Me, A Light in the Forest, Catcher in the Rye, Exodus, Crime and Punishment, The Red Pony.
I remember being afraid to stay home alone after reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.
I remember thinking my kindergarten teacher must be joking when she said no two snowflakes were alike.
I remember dreading the arrival of my piano teacher, every Tuesday afternoon for two years, because she always knew that I hadn't practiced, and she looked so sad.
I remember imitating my grandmother by holding a sugar cube between my teeth while slurping from a glass of hot water.
I remember my first kitchen disaster: burned toast.
I remember being so mad at my mother for forcing me to invite all the kids in my class to my birthday parties, including the boys.
I remember the first time someone called me a hippie I thought they were commenting on my big hips.
I remember standing very still as my mother pinned the little gold pin to my Brownie uniform for the first time.
I remember, at a friend's birthday party, finding the most small words in the larger word, Constantinople, and winning the prize, which was a measly Tootsie Roll pop.
I remember walking into the wrong apartment by mistake and thinking my family had moved out, and another family moved in, during the hour I had been playing around the corner.
I remember when our teacher read us Heidi during the rest period after lunch, and when she got to the end I cried so hard she made me go see the school nurse. 
I remember dressing my Patty Play Pal doll in my old clothes, and thinking they looked better on her than they had on me, because Patty had long straight black hair and I had a bad Toni home perm.
I remember selecting a beautiful Mother's Day card for my mom, at the neighborhood candy store, but it cost 36 cents and I only had a quarter, so I didn't buy her any card at all.
I remember my grandmother teaching me how to sit like a lady, with my legs neatly crossed at the ankles.
I remember feeling sorry for my first grade teacher because she only had two dresses, a navy one and a brown one.
I remember thinking that the word "graffiti" was a curse.
I remember always having to tell people my name two or three times because they never heard it right the first time (because I mumbled).
I remember my grandmother and mother serving "vegetables room temperature" — peas, carrots, string beans — right out of the can, as if they were exotic delicacies.
I remember everyone being surprised when it turned out I was great at geometry.
I remember my freshman philosophy professor saying he would fail anyone who misspelled the word "existence" on the final exam.
I remember dancing and singing with gusto, up until the age of 11, when self-consciousness and self-criticism crept in.
I remember wondering why my father didn't shave his legs and armpits the way my mother did.
I remember when our zip code changed from 63 to 10463.
I remember wanting to have a pen pal so badly, but I never did.
I remember wearing a corsage for my birthday, every year in elementary school; sometimes it had flowers and sometimes it had candy or bubble gum.
I remember wishing I'd been named April so no one would ever forget my birthday month.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

small poems, august 2012

white butterfly
on this August morning
I'd follow you anywhere

Tibetan prayer flags — 
Grandma would call them schmatas —
she'd say it kindly

midnight in the garden —
where dreams and daisies
meet to gossip

little bird
we met in the sunflower patch
I wish I knew your name

mating dragonflies
I try to ignore them  
though they are not shy  

burning through the heart 
of a sunflower —
August afternoon

snow falling
on my pillow
mid-August nightmare

abandoned umbrella
holds a raincloud's

miles apart
my sister and I 
breathing together

August evening
nothing but cicadas —
and then . . . .

stored under winter blankets —
your Olivetti typewriter —

Grandmother Buddha
twiddles her thumbs —
content in her mudra

don't be sad
our shadows
share a happy secret

starting over
again and again and again —
patient spider

waiting for you to return
I wonder —
will the rain ever stop?

your photograph  
taken in dense mountain fog —
you were already disappearing

for miles along the beach
wheel tracks —
runaway baby carriage

50 years later
shaking the conch shell —
one final grain of sand

the last rose
packs up her petals 
and flies away

that park in Paris —
even in summer
snow still falls 
(oh, memory)

hurrying past
the fortune-teller’s window
I trip

the earth —
my skin —
dry —
late August drought

out of the silence
my neighbor's Buddhist lawn mower —

in tall August grass
my neighbor's stone pagoda
still standing

leaving the antique store
she holds the world in her hands 
old globe — young girl

mourning dove
flies into my dream —
landing on scarecrow's head

a last gift from the garden — 
orange flower dust
on her old boots