Friday, August 3, 2018

The Closet, the Banister, and Just Flip it Over Really Fast

"Who's watching me tonight?" Having three older brothers meant never having a babysitter, just one of them taking their turn. And whatever that evening might hold.

There was the time Paul was watching me and rain flooded the basement. I didn't think to tell him. Instead I just kept playing with my Barbies in several inches of water until my mom got home. When Michael was in charge, he rode his bike into an iron gate, and an ambulance driver that just happened to be in the neighborhood knocked on our door to inform the rest of us that he was taking our brother to the ER. When it was Jimmy's turn, he forgot he was filling the bathtub, went outside, and all of that water rained down on our kitchen. Then, there was the time I call "the closet, the banister, and just flip it over really fast".

My parents were at one of my cousin's weddings, and Michael was watching us. A bunch of neighborhood boys came in and played an all house hide and seek game. My sister Vicki and I were happy spectators down in the living room. Just as whoever was counting called, "Ready or not, here I come!" there was a slow motion rumble, and a huge grunt from upstairs in my mother's closet. The entire contents of the closet's top shelf and double pole of clothes collapsed onto our neighbor John Stewart. Laughing, I did tumblesaults back and forth in the living room while Vicki went up the stairs to slide down the banister, but her foot got tangled. She tumbled over the side and landed on her arm at the bottom of the stairs. Hide and seek was over.

As she lay there surrounded by Michael and Jimmy and all of the other boys, she told them that she couldn't move her arm. "Just flip it over really fast." John Stewart instructed her while he demonstrated, turning his arm over. "My cousin had that happen and he flipped it over really fast and it was fine."

Vicki protested that she couldn't flip it over, so they rang the doorbell of our next-door neighbor Pauline because she wore some kind of medical uniform. But she couldn't help. Then, they called our Aunt Julia who came with our cousin Jimmy who worked at the local hospital. I don't know what he did there but I had seen him in his scrubs. Jimmy and Aunt Julia engaged in a little argument, where he said there was nothing he could do at the hospital, and she insisted that if he went in and told them he worked there, they would motion him in with open arms. Somewhere in all of that, they left with Vicki. My brothers and the other boys switched to playing cards in the dining room.

Meanwhile, Pauline and her husband were having a party. She invited me because she felt sorry that I was sitting in a house full of boys. I was actually fine with all the boys but didn't want to waste an opportunity to hang out with my very young and hip neighbors. Her friends showered me with attention and at one point one of them said, "Look at this poor thing! She looks so tired!" I proceeded to purposely look more tired for the effect. Pauline took me up to her toddler daughter's beautiful girly bedroom and offered to let me sleep there. I had never been on a sleepover and this looked like fun, but I got nervous and said no. Back at my house, I laid on the living room couch and watched Oliver! even though I thought it was creepy. I woke up to the sight of my mother and Aunt Loretta in full length dresses finding out about the "just flip it over really fast" arm. The next morning Vicki had a brand new cast on her broken arm, and my mother had a closet to rebuild.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Train

There is a beautiful Andrew Wyeth painting called, "Chambered Nautilus" of a woman sitting up in bed staring out a window. For fun, I channeled that image for an illustration of a little girl looking out as the train passed by. That was my childhood bedroom. The Long Island Railroad Port Washington line was eye level with my window.

That sounds so quirky now. But it was so fun then.

I would hide as I changed in the morning, just in case the Manhattan commuters looked in. And although I barely heard the roaring engine, friends would bolt up when they slept over. My father told any little kids visiting that he had his own set of electric trains. He ushered them to the backyard. "I just turned on my train! Here it comes!"

Since it was up on a high wall, the train's guard railings were perfect height to attach a basketball hoop. It ensured many years of tournaments for my brothers and their friends. When I became of age, I would shoot out there for hours, until the basketball inevitably bounced up onto the tracks. The ladder reclaimed from our old picket fence was pretty scary, so I usually opted to wait until my brother Michael got home to get the ball. He knew how to scale the wall with a running start.

The sound of the train on Christmas morning was extremely special. It meant it was time to walk down the block and greet Grandma and Uncle Jimmy at the station for their visit.

Those trains were such a deep part of our neighborhood little gang of friends. We waved at them, called up to the passengers, and sang at the top of our lungs if one was approaching. One time we heard unusually loud honking and the train stopped abruptly right above us. The conductor got out and looked down on the tracks, so we had a good view of him from below. We giddily called up to him, but he had a pained expression on his face. He got back in, and slowly reversed the train. Someone had committed suicide.

As we got older, the train took on a whole other challenge: how late we could leave our house and still make it. Some of my siblings left with enough time to walk down the block for their various jobs, but Michael ran for it. We would leave the house at the same time. I made a left, running to the city bus for high school. Michael made a right, sprinting to the train in his suit. Years later it was my turn to do the train sprint when I went to college in Manhattan. I could do the long block, full art supplies in tow, but the the huge set of stairs up to the platform were a killer. I missed my train more times than I care to admit.

There were a childhood full of train rides: to Grandma’s house, parades, the circus, first dates in high school, concerts, late late night dancing, and finally to become one of those Manhattan commuters. My first apartment after I got married was on that same LIRR line, just one more stop east. My father knew which train I took in the morning, and he would sometimes sit out in the backyard holding up a homemade sign for me. "Hello, Patti!"

 That Wyeth inspired illustration captures one moment and a lifetime.

Andrew Wyeth "Chambered Nautilus" 1956

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Cartwheel

In grammar school, I had a sweet and quirky friend named Margaret who told me she was only able to do a cartwheel if she heard the song, "My Sharona."

If only I was so lucky. My Sharona didn't help my cartwheel. But it didn't stop me from constantly doing a terrible one.

On the first day of the fifth grade cheerleading team the coach had us sit down around the mats.

"Who can do a cartwheel?", she called out. Lots of girls got in line. When everyone was finished, I whispered to my friend Meg, "Maybe I should try." She encouraged me, and I raised my hand as a late entry.

I walked over to the now very quiet front of the mat. I lunged forward and landed on my knees with a loud grunt. When I sheepishly walked back to my spot, Meg said kindly, "I've seen you do better." I wasn't chosen as captain.

My friend Carol got to go to a gymnastics class. She would come back each week executing splits, back bends, and front walkovers, all perfect.

Carol and I made up a game we called Olympics. We'd each take a turn doing our routine, two cartwheels one way, and two back.  Then we'd walk back to our imaginary coach who'd yell at us in fake Russian, Chinese, German, whatever we were that day. We'd switch and play the role of the upset gymnast, out of breath and nodding their head while being reprimanded for poor performance.

Of course, Carol would do perfect one handed cartwheels, and I'd attempt awful regular ones. The pretend coaches yelled at us equally.

And here I am, many decades later. If there's someplace pretty, my husband and daughter know the drill. I'll do my sorry cartwheel, and they will take enough shots so I can find the one that kind of looks right. I even still do the grunt.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of my Mom's passing. I wrote this little book not too long after that. I never finished it or knew what to do with it. You should be able to scroll down to see all the pages, or click on the upper right corner icon to view it as a Google Doc.