I committed to last month’s 100words.com challenge, where I wrote 100 words a day for the month, and the site posts your entries upon completion. You can write about anything. I decided to finally start putting down some specific memories from when I was little that I’ve always wanted to write about. Pretty broad topic, huh. I have to start somewhere. So here are my posts for April 2015. I feel better about having them here on my blog anyway. Maybe you’ll pick up on some themes. Thank you for reading. (BTW I’m “Jenny” on 100words.com. Crazy right? Still, I can be unfindable.)
25 years ago, I stared at USA Today in Mrs. C’s language arts class. We “got to” read the newspaper every Friday. For an hour. In 5th grade, I had been kicked into the hallway (twice) for questioning Mrs. M’s use of sarcasm and passive-aggressive nature, so I kept my opinions to myself. I would not read USA Today after that year, lest I return to my 6th grade intellect.
Our desks formed tables. Windows open. Myself, always freezing. But I had a clear view of Tom, huddled over his Sports section. He didn’t seem to mind.
“Eye!” I announced. Blank stares of my classmates complemented the sickening silence.
“Eye!” I tried again. What’s wrong with me? Say the word.
“EYE!” My brain won’t work.
“EAR-ICK-COY” my friend and project partner hissed.
“IROQUOIS!” I yelped.
I don’t remember anything else about the Iroquois. 5th grade wasn’t bad, but unimagined fears had begun to creep in. For my social studies presentation, it was like trying to scream in a dream.
I once witnessed this at a wedding; the bride could not speak.
114 days til my vows.
The first day of kindergarten I walked to the bus stop with my mom, who stood with two other moms. Five kids sized each other up. Then we got to work: parading in a circle, stepping on five large rocks that edged a yard.
I can feel the repetitive march: two smaller rocks, the long “boat,” one more small, then a big jump to the largest.
There were the twins, the girl who would become my best friend, and her brother.
I later learned not every bus stop had rocks for stepping. I wondered what those kids did. Boring.
In Saving Private Ryan, tanks approach at a snail’s pace in the town of Ramelle, France. But the earth shakes long before the soldiers hear. When the sound shook me in the theatre, it wasn’t in fear of Panzerkampfwagens.
If I heard the growl of the school bus while putting on my coat, it meant running. It meant I was late before I started. It meant waking mom up. If the driver saw no kids, she’d accelerate downhill. My window was narrow, but open.
The temptation to stand still grew stronger than the reward for succeeding.
I rode the school bus from 1983 to 1992. The seats went from dark green to tan puke, and seatbelts appeared. But it’s hard to wear a seatbelt when you’re standing, so they were weapons or tools with which to bury candy wrappers into the seats. The made for TV movie Long Journey Back had proven that 1970s school buses were in need of additional exits, not seatbelts. However, train tracks weren’t my concern. Wheels too close together, the sides stuck over cliffs as we crawled up narrow hills. They’d close the school if we tipped over. Right?
In kindergarten, I had Mrs. Richards until she got sick. My friends and I searched for her every morning: “Investigate for Mrs. Richards,” we’d declare as we hunted around the room, holding invisible magnifying glasses.
I remember Letter People. I remember the boy who was…problematic. He sat grinning in the teacher’s chair at reading time, wetting his pants. I thought, “I shouldn’t be seeing this.” He moved soon after I attended his birthday party. His house smelled like boiled hot dogs.
The lights are off in those memories. School-dark is a specific kind of dark.
We had a beach party in 3rd grade. February. We were told to wear “beachy” clothing. We also had to bring “white food.*” Naturally, I wore: white stirrup pants, white turtleneck, and a sleveless pink sweater. A sleeveless pink sweater.
Bring an umbrella, they said. Mine was blue with white hearts. We put our umbrellas up on the classroom floor, sat on beach towels, ate our white food. I had a cheese sandwich.
The teachers played “Beach Blanket Bingo” on a tape deck.
Not the first or last time I thought, “This is it?”
In 6th grade, I wrote a poem that won an award: a group came to my school to perform it.
I have a lot of socks
Not two of them the same
and when I find them ‘neath the bed
I think they are a pain
True story. Don’t remember the rest. Should have copy written it. Who knows what publication it illegally made it into? Probably stolen by one of the performers. They knew poetry gold when they saw it.
Who WERE those people? Who else wonders what happened to the ReReReReReRecycle man?
I still can’t match my socks.
4/9 [on 100words.com, 4/8 is duplicated. My fault, but the site owners don’t respond to emails. so there is will stay, wrong.]
Mr. D. was known for giving. Pieces of rock, bark, goldfish, plant cuttings. Sometimes he let students “borrow” a reptile for a week, like an exchange student. I’m sure Moms were thrilled.
I received a small potted plant. My mom had so many, she didn’t mind. But I took care of it. Ledebouria socialis. Silver Squill. Patient and tolerant and pretty.
26 years later: Not only do I still have the plant, but many of his descendents. I brought him with me to college, and everywhere I’ve lived. For years I’ve given parts of him away. Just like Mr. D.
In fifth grade, we studied myths, so we ate pomegranates. I didn’t understand how or why anyone would eat them but I liked how they burst in my mouth. I don’t remember why we ate fruits one day in Mr. D’s class. He taught science and social studies. We all had to bring in a fruit and share it with the class. I was assigned mango.
Everyone sliced up their fruits and distributed them. My mango was like pumpkin guts, and it slopped onto each classmate’s plate, stringy and orange. It wasn’t my fault.
I grew up before they invented playdates, but I did get “put” with other kids sometimes. Friends of my mom’s kids. I don’t remember the conversations that came before these encounters. What did they think we would “play” in fourth grade?
I decided around then that I wanted to kiss Peter. I never got the chance though. For a while, he was on The List.
One day when we were “put together,” he said, “lick the palm of your hand, then smell it. Gross.” Boys are disgusting.
But he was right.
For a while, gym was fun. They don’t call it gym anymore. Oh and don’t call a gym teacher a gym teacher– they don’t like that.
We used to do this parachute thing. It lay in the middle of the circle and we each picked up a handle on the edge and probably there was some music or the lady was talking, and we had to lift the parachute up and down. Point?
Dodgeball in second grade was played with semi-inflated pink balls. I thought I was pretty good.
This, before I became very bad at sports.
Then we had to run “The Mile.” As an eleven-year-old, I questioned the use of that article. Why just that one? Not that I could run another. As would be true in later in life, I felt a sense of behind. It seemed some kids already ran. Like on purpose. Some even ran quickly. I looked around me for others who were baffled. Didn’t anyone else think that this was nuts?
When I ran my first 10k two years ago, I heard it was a flat course. At mile 3 I saw the hill. Same bafflement.
Why wasn’t The Mile hard for all the kids? Had they practiced in their free time? Had I missed a homework assignment? A letter home? I found myself with the heavier slow kids. I wasn’t heavy, and I had never been accused of being slow.
We would be bussed to the middle school, to the track, to be timed on The Mile. This, when the white-sneakered, khaki-panted contingent deemed us ready.
We practiced by running circles in the gymnasium. They played a boombox. And the same song every day: “Pump up the volume. Dance. Dance.”
I’m fairly sure I hadn’t deemed myself “ready” to run The Mile when the day came. I wonder what I ate for breakfast that morning. Whatever it was, I’m sure I ate half of it. I never could eat in the morning.
So there we went. Probably 25 kids, running around a track for a total of 8-14 minutes. One stupid mile. The chunky kids did a lot of walking, or spoke of medical problems like hypothermia. Oh wait, that was the whale watch, not The Mile.
The first mile’s still the hardest.
Breakfast wasn’t the only meal I had trouble finishing when I was little. I wasn’t a picky eater, I just wasn’t hungry a lot. I ate when I was told to, usually. Only a couple times did I try to bury evidence of not being able to finish a meal. Once was in the bathroom garbage. That did not end well.
Once I left something in my backpack. I don’t know what it was, but I found it in the summer. I was horrified and fascinated and scared.
The backpack had to go. Not as easy as it sounds.
Some rituals will never make any sense.
I think they invented those mini cheese wheels covered in wax in the 1980s. My friend had one each day at lunch. She would peel the cheese, eat it, then keep the wax balled up in her hand when we went out to recess. Then we’d walk over to the wall, near where kids in trouble stood, and she would stick the wax on a brick. One piece per day, neatly lined in a row. Up high where you couldn’t notice.
Her family had food mine did not. Like bagels.
In preschool I barfed on my teacher while she was holding me.
I had been sick, I guess, like regular kid throwing up sick. But we had a field trip coming up. My mom said I could only go if I was better. I think it was to a farm. Or probably some field where they were tapping maple trees. Either way it was not to be missed.
I wonder how I convinced my mom I was fine. I was so afraid, at four years old, of missing out on something.
Sometimes it’s not all mental.
My mom left me with my preschool class. We congregated in front of school. I felt the queasiness returning.
I tugged on Mrs. VanHorsen’s coat. I couldn’t keep up the charade. “I don’t feel well.”
There was talking, crowds, buses. I’m sure I repeated myself. She picked me up.
I remember when I threw up, it was down her back. I don’t think I had control over where it went or time to aim.
Mom arrived home to the phone ringing. I was always so sorry when I threw up. Sorrowful and sorry.
Downstairs we had a single step: up to the kitchen, down to the family room. Everyone passed up and down throughout the day. What better place to sit and color?
Daily I sat with my art supplies. All the way over to the right, near the shelves where keys and library books were kept. The shelves had each family member’s birth year painted decoratively. Mine is last: 1977 sits atop the shellack in a different color. There is some lesson there.
I sat beside the step to color and to watch my family. I saw everything.
I tried not to be in the way, but sometimes my crayons would roll sideways. Then I’d endure huffing and exaggerated “let-me-just-work-around-you” looks as people passed by my artwork.
The kitchen floor was green linoleum when I was born, a square and fancy X pattern. When the kitchen was remodeled in 1987, it became modern beige, resembling stones, and cleverly masking dirt.
Sometimes I’d lean against the heat register, sometimes the couch. I was perfectly hidden, but with nothing behind me, able to see all the action. An unlikely place of great perspective.
The step only accommodated one artist, though. When I had a friend over, we needed to NOT sit there, lest my siblings begin to vocalize their annoyance.
But we couldn’t just bring our coloring to any surface. My mom spent a lot of time “putting something down” in my childhood. You want to color? Let’s Put Something Down on the table first. Paint your nails? For God’s sake, Put Something Down. Play-Doh? That could leave a mark. Sometimes, when we Put Something Down, we even taped it. You can’t be too careful around nail polish.
I finally spilled nail polish, as an adult. I say finally because my mother had warned me for years that I was bound to spill it, if I didn’t Have Something Down. And would you know it, she was right? It was 2012, and I was alone, ruthless, with no wax paper taped to a countertop. It happened on an inherited chair, which has since endured additional dog-blamable offenses. Luckily, it hasn’t detracted from the overall decor of my home.
I went many years without spilling nail polish. A good long run of living on the edge.
My family has certain phrases, which, over time grew to some level of fame. One of those is my mother’s assertion that “Nothing splatters like milk.” Legend has it she first uttered those words in the late 1960s. My family was living in Cleveland, and by the end of said decade, had three small children under the age of six, who were causing chaos, and apparently, spilling milk. It’s the kind of phrase that has been repeated for decades since, and whenever anyone spills anything. Because, whatever the substance, you’re lucky it isn’t milk. At least there’s that.
Besides helpful phrases, my family developed recommendations in times of crisis. Like: “if you’re falling down, drop everything you’re holding.” Who knows how this commenced, but it was practiced by my brother Tom, who once went down basement stairs: first carrying, then falling, so dropping, then spilling, dog food.
Since we know from President Ford’s legacy via Chevy Chase, it only takes one false move to brand someone a klutz, I consider myself lucky I’m not known for what I consider high-caliber falls.
Rewards of survival are often cloaked in life lessons I did not seek.
I fell once, dramatically, down my cousins’ front lawn at Christmastime. I suppose it was icy. I was fine, but profoundly embarrassed, so I spent the evening hiding in my grandparents’ guest room. I have no idea why it was that problematic for me, but I was quite upset and would not be seen.
The guest room was the largest front bedroom of the house. I remember the curtains.
Several family members tried to coax me downstairs that night. I finally succumbed to the promise of a Fudgsicle. It seemed they had gone on fine without me.
I fell the night I was dressed as a birthday present for Halloween.
I wore my grey dress shoes to coordinate perfectly with my rainbow-crayoned-me-sized box. But my shoes, coupled with the physics of the box, were no match for the steep, smooth asphalt driveways of our neighborhood.
See, the box allowed for walking just fine, but there was to be no bending: so when I went horizontal, there was no returning to vertical.
I remember my friend’s father lunging after me as I began the descent into the darkness, on my back.
One fall was not “down” but “off.”
It was a normal summer day in 1989, and after arriving home from shopping, I excitedly called Jennifer. Did she want to ride bikes? Of course she did: it’s what we did.
Decisions quickly. Her house or mine?
Slam phone, slam screen door. Garage, bike, driveway, hurry, look both ways, gravel, pavement, down the slope, onto Indian Hill.
Pedal pedal pedal. I couldn’t wait to see her. I don’t remember what I had to say but I was bursting.
Pedal pedal pedal. Standing. Pedal faster.
Pedaling fervently on my purple “Miami Miss” bike, I couldn’t get to Jennifer’s fast enough. A perfect July day, early enough for hours of whatever we could agree on: badminton, riding bikes, walking in the creek, tracking neighborhood mysteries, seeing if the girl with the pool was home, making up words, sneaking thinly-sliced American cheese from the fridge, or making s’mores in the microwave.
Pedal pedal BAM.
Like a rubber band snapping, I was down. In one lightening movement, my left foot slipped off the pedal, dropping my knee to the pavement as the bike continued forward.
Crystal clear thought: “My knee is dragging.”
Time slowed. I became the subject of one of those science documentaries they show in school that explodes the moment in disgusting detail using a magical mix of animation and real organs to illustrate what’s going on in your brain, your tastebuds, or your large intestines.
I felt the pavement mixing with my knee, and I saw it before I saw it. Then, I was down and the bike was down. I threw the bike, and wailing, looked around.
I was exactly halfway between our houses. I had to run.