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Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

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The day before yesterday, a woman I had once gone to kindergarten with, died. 

She was not a woman I knew well.  I don’t think I’d see her since I was sent by my parents to my eventual girls’ school. 

I remember her very distinctly, however, because for some reason–completely inexplicable to me–she forms one of those sharp and distinct memories of childhood that will not quit, no matter what.

For a long time, we rode the school bus together–Patty and her sister and me.  Her family had a small house on an absolutely enormous plot of land, all lawn, sloping up into the distance past where we could see. 

And Patty and JoBetty had the reputation, in school, of having the most wonderful and distinctive clothes.  I think their mother made them, but I’m not sure.

What I remember is Patty getting off the bus, clutching a little stack of books in her arms,  while the starched layers of crinolines under her skirt swayed and bounced with her movements.

I have no idea why this memory should be so clear for me, but it is.   And because it is, I found hearing about her death sort of shocking.  It came via a FB post by a member of our once mutual school class, a man who has grown up and stayed in town and kept in touch with everybody.  Periodically, he invites me to come to the annual quasi-reunion gathering of the tribe, even though I went away to school and didn’t graduate from there.

Patty Foshay is dead, and in my mind I can still see her walking down the aisle of the school bus, books clutched, skirt flashing.  I have no idea if JoAnne Coffey is alive or dead or what, but I can still see her, too, in a set in a middle of a row at the Palace Theater downtown, just behind me, screaming her head off.

She wasn’t ill or wounded.  We were at a matinee showing during the theatrical release of A Hard Day’s Night, and she was screaming at the Beatles.  We were not, by the way, together.  I remember her and what she was doing, I think, at least in part because I was so astonished at it.  I had heard of girls screaming at the sight of the Beatles, and I had seen the Ed Sullivan Show when the Beatles were on (and half the audience was screaming girls), but I think that somewhere in the deep wells of my brain I didn’t quite believe it.

When we all came out of the theater into the day, JoAnne had screamed herself hoarse.  We all went down to the little coffee shop owned by my brother’s godfather and JoAnne sipped at something, unable to say a word.

Sometimes it seems to me that all my memories of the time before I was in college are essential trivial–that they’re about things that didn’t really matter very much.

There were some, of course, that were not trivial.  I can remember where I was and what I was happening when each of my grandmothers died.  My mother’s mother died when I was very small and we’d just moved into the house in Stony Hill.  My mother waylaid me in the bathroom there and sat down on the edge of the tub to explain it to me.  The bathroom was a riot of Fifties elegance.  It had black wallpaper with pink flamingos on it.

My other grandmother, the one I’m named after, died when I was twelve, on a bright day in late spring.  I was in the kitchen of that same Stony Hill house when the call from the hospital came.

But then, I remember something else.  I remember my grandfather, my father’s father, clambering onto our back porch in the middle of the night, pounding and pounding on the door and saying, “George, George, come quick now.  Mama–mama is passing away.”

My father’s father imigrated in his twenties from Asia Minor, sick of being a citizen of Constantinople in Istanbul.  He never got rid of his accent.

My grandmother, my father’s mother, came from Samothraki, and by the time she died she had no accent and owned half the town she lived in.  Sometimes when I’m down that way, I make a point of passing by the place she owned, a solid little house with a long building to the right of it.  My grandparents bought it when my father was still a boy, and raised chickens there.  My father sold hot dogs from a stand built a bit to the left. 

By the time I came along, the chicken coops had been refitted as cabins for a cheap motel.  The hot dog stand had been refitted as a single apartment for rent.  I spent long week-ends in this place, playing Communion at a window with a wide ledge just a few steps up from the living room on a strange little landing. 

I was going through a period of violent envy of all the girls in my class who were Catholic.  They got to make their First Holy Communion in special white dresses with veils.

Here’s something else I remember, so well it might as well have happened this morning.

My father had a friend with a daughter who was about my age, but went to school in a different town.  One afternoon, our entire family went over to visit them, and I was left outside on the lawn with the girl.  I don’t remember her name. 

I do remember that there was a croquet set on the lawn, and I had never seen a croquet set.  She offered to teach me how to play, and I agreed.  She proceeded to knock her ball through all the hoops and declare herself the winner.  I not only never got a turn, I still don’t know how to play croquet.

A couple of years later, she stole my brand new Girl Scout knife while we were both at girl scout camp.  My father explained to me that she had “problems” and we weren’t going to make them worse by causing an uproar about this.  He bought me a new Girl Scout knife, a better one, thick and green with the Girl Scout logo on one side of it.

Actually, my father was always showing up with the daughters of friends of his, I think as his way of trying to find me somebody to be friends with in years when I didn’t have many. 

One of these was a girl named Kelly Tartanis, whose mother had left the family and who was having trouble finding friends herself.  We ended up going out to the movies together–same theater as the Beatles one–to see a matinee of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  When we came out, all the telephone wires on both sides of the street were lined with birds, packed together as if they’d been glued wing to wing.

It was also my father’s idea that I should join the Rainbow Girls, which was the teenage girls’ auxilliary to the Masons.  It fascinated the hell out of me that they actually used blackballs to decide to keep or reject new members.  I also learned the colors of the rainbow there.  Other than that, I remember very little about it.

Sometimes, it seems to me that memory is a very odd thing.  I don’t seem to remember the kind of things I’m supposed to.  I remember a lot that shouldn’t really matter, and that certainly couldn’t have made much of an impression at the time.

But it’s been that kind of day, and it’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Now I think I’ll go see if I can do something sensible.

Written by janeh

July 10th, 2011 at 10:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah'

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  1. I find that I have some very clear memories of trivial events from my childhood. The brain is incredible, sorting out what . . . for some reason . . . should be kept and what should be discarded.

    Seven years ago my mother and I drove up to the small town in Wisconsin where I lived for five years (ages 5-10). Mom wanted to visit a friend she’s kept in touch with through the years, and I didn’t want her behind the wheel on the highways. It was a good trip. What amazed me was looking at the house we’d lived in. I’d always thought of that house as HUGE, but when I saw it, it looked quite small. Nothing had been removed. It was perspective. Mom thought it looked pretty much the same. We knocked on the door, explain to the nice lady that we’d lived in the house, and asked her to take a picture of us standing on the front porch. That done, she invited us in for a quick look and some lemonade. Wonderful experience. Mom died less than two years later, and I treasure the four days we spent on that trip.

    sarahartburn

    10 Jul 11 at 3:11 pm

  2. I have very few real memories of my early childhood. There are a few – I remember a bit about kindergarten – and there are quire a few more which I probably remember being told about because they were incidents that became part of our family history. I don’t trust memory much any more. I had a lovely story about a boy who was in my class in school who’d been wild and a bully (I think my mother, back when she was better at remembering what happened to which child, said he’d sent me home from school in tears more than once, but if so, I’d forgotten that). He dropped out, and wouldn’t you know it, talk about poetic justice, next thing I heard he was involved with biker gangs and sent to prison for drug dealing. And most of this is perfectly true. I keep making ‘one last trek’ back to my former home town, always at the behest of some relative or other. The last one was as driver for my mother, aunt and brother. It was a very successful trip – and my aunt and brother are both now dead, so I’m glad I could do that for them. One of the old friends brought out old yearbooks to show us, and I just stared. There was the name of my former nemesis on the list of graduates, along with mine. I must have unconsciously invented that little detail to make my moral tale about the bully who never learned to behave even better. I would have sworn on the Bible that boy didn’t graduate with me. Weird. And then there’s the debate with one of my sisters who says it was impossible for all four of us to be in school at the same time. I think she’s wrong, on that one, but I’m not sure enough to actually work out the dates. Not after getting that other bit wrong.

    I know what Sara means about things looking smaller. On one of my other final trips to the old home town, one of my sisters and I, having dropped our grandparents with some old cronies, decided to go to a nearby lake we’d played at throughout our childhood and maybe see if the old cabin was still standing. She had a good memory for distances; I insisted it was a long walk if we left the car at the beach and went towards the old cabin. It was no distance. I was remembering it as a small child.

    I don’t know if any of my former school mates are dead yet. I’ve not kept in touch at all. I do remember that I had a summer job in a playground when I was in high school, and a couple years later I heard that one of the children I remembered well had been killed in a car accident. I can still remember her face, although I’ve forgotten all the others.

    Cheryl

    10 Jul 11 at 5:04 pm

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