Sunday, January 4, 2015

I Remember: a collection from my early life

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 (I was peeping out from under the blindfold).

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 Spaghetti-Os, right out of the can, and I asked if I could eat dinner at her house every night.

I remember discovering that shoes made for boys were more comfortable than shoes made for girls.

I remember having my fortune told by an older girl in a gypsy costume at a school carnival.

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 the performer Tiny Tim on television, playing his ukulele, and being embarrassed for him.

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 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 reading Little House on the Prairie during a long train ride from New York City to Florida.

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 learning how to type on a typewriter that didn't have any letters on the keys.

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 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 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 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 eating all the cherries out of the canned fruit salad.

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 all those times I read a novel from beginning to end in one day.

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 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 being afraid of Jack O' Lanterns.

I remember the satisfying sound of vacuuming up a penny.

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 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 the summer I read nothing but Russian novels and said things like "woe upon woe" much too often.

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 my first kitchen disaster: burned toast.

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 being the only one among my 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 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 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 thinking that the word "graffiti" was a curse.

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 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 feeling sorry for my first grade teacher because she only had two dresses, a navy one and a brown one.

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 did 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 everyone being surprised when it turned out I was great at geometry.

I remember dancing and singing with gusto, up until the age of 11, when self-consciousness and self-criticism crept in.

I remember when our postal "zip" code changed from 63 to 10463.

I remember wearing a corsage for my birthday, every year in elementary school; sometimes it was made from flowers and sometimes from candy or bubble gum.

I remember wishing I'd been named April so no one would ever forget my birthday month.