A humiliating Eighth-grade memory

The book I am currently devouring is Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing.  I just read a passage that ignited a firestorm of memories.  Natalie told me, (No she didn’t come to my kitchen, admire the three enormous cows on our wall, sit at our center island and discuss writing.  But her writing is so informative and passionate is sure felt that way) “In order to write, you have to be willing to be disturbed.”

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Boom!  Right then, as I digested that small sentence, I was mentally transported to a terribly disturbing experience.  It happened in the summer between eighth and ninth grades.

My family belonged to the Newark Country Club.  We were social members only.  Daddy didn’t play golf, stating “golf is the worst excuse for a game ever invented”.   Mother had disdain for the women golfers, with their one brown/one white hands.  She didn’t respect them for wasting time away from their housework. Personally, I admire people who prioritize joy over the drudgery of dusting baseboards, crawling on hands and knees to clean floors, and scrubbing out toilet bowls.

Our membership allowed us to dine in the club dining room and use the swimming pool.  The Newark Country Club is a quintessential example of early 60’s architecture.  The pool was a small rectangle that smelled strongly of chlorine. Next to it was a  cement block building housing changing areas for both men and women. The floors were slick with pool water.  The pool was probably the nicest in town.  We could walk to the turn stand, order frozen Milky Ways and sit in the grass to watch them melt in our hands.

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But the summer after eighth grade I wasn’t interested in going The Club to swim.  All my friends belonged to the Oakland’s neighborhood pool.  It was a short stroll away.  Late each summer afternoon neighbor kids wrapped in beach towels, hair dripping wet, skin tanned, walked the slight hill up Sypherd Drive as they returned from a day at the pool.

I wanted to be with my buddies, so even though my family didn’t belong, I began going to the Oakland’s pool.  We all lounged on the pavement, laying on towels, smearing on baby oil and iodine and listening to our transistor radios.  I remember hearing the Everly Brother’s Unchained Melody a lot that summer.  I also remember getting many painful sunburns.  Baby oil and iodine for a redhead?  Not a great idea.

My trespassing went on for the better part of the summer.  Each and every day I was at the Oakland’s pool.  I wonder where my mother thought I was? Probably at Newark Country Club.  One day in early August as I stepped through the entrance the lifeguard, Tommy, blew his whistle and demanded I come to the guard stand.  Somebody had tattled.  He berated me, loudly, in front of all the true members of the pool and threw me off the premises.

I was mortally, horribly, humiliated.  I gathered my radio and towel.  Every person at the pool stared at me in silence as I crept to the exit.  I cried the entire way from the pool, up Sypherd Drive, to our home on Hullihen where I promptly hurled myself on my bed and wailed out my shame.

What I couldn’t have predicted is that my friends would turn on me.  Not one single playmate called for the rest of the summer.  My grandparents and cousin Janet came to visit several weeks later.  I was mortified when Janet inquired, “Don’t you have any friends?”  We were standing in my blue bedroom next to the canopy bed.  Janet had just shown me her pointed padded bra.  After buttoning up her sleeveless white blouse she popped the embarrassing question.

I don’t know what I said.  Likely I mumbled they were all away on family vacations.  But the truth was that no, I didn’t have any friends.  That sad state of affairs lasted for a long time.  Well into the school year.

It would seem the logical consequence of my bad behavior would cure me from fibbing.  But it didn’t.  More on that later.

Sixty-Five sure is a lot less painful than thirteen. Continue reading “A humiliating Eighth-grade memory”

Meditation on my Horse

 

In March I began to meditate regularly.  I sit in one of two places.  The big red chair on the patio, or the tan swivel chair in the family room.  I glance at the clock before taking a long deep breath and closing my eyes. There are no hard and fast rules how long I will stay put.  But it’s interesting to note that as months have passed I’m able to empty my mind far more easily and remain sitting breathing for greater periods of time.

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Natalie Goldberg in her terrific book Writing Down the Bones refers to the crazy that wants to usurp serenity as “monkey mind.”  Mine is “small-brown-hamster-on-the-wheel” mind.  When I first began the practice of mediation that rodent on the wheel inside my skull stubbornly refused to stop running.  Now she is readily lulled to sleep as I gently inhale and exhale.

My breathing gives way to talking to God.  I have had different versions of God in my mind.  In March I described God as a “benevolent force.”  Now my God is a horse.  A tall shiny chestnut with a white star between her eyes.  I ride in an easy chair saddle with wide armrests and a soft back.  The fabric feels like velveteen.  Very sensual my saddle.  Sometimes there is a sunshade attached to the chair.

Occasionally God Horse pauses to graze or drink from streams.  That’s when I reach into the magic side saddle that comes up with daily cream cheese sandwiches on gluten free bread.  Plus single serving size bottles of Pinot Noir.  God Horse and I happily relax and fuel ourselves.

God Horse has no bridle or reins.  She rambles at will.  When she stops, looks over her shoulder and nickers a bit, I know I’m supposed to dismount.  There is something here God Horse intends me to do.

Curiously my easy chair saddle disappears when I get down.  Dismounts are done from a bareback God Horse.  I slide down her wide flanks, land lightly, lean into her neck and smell her fine horsey scent.  What I do in each place varies.  I do what she intends until she signals it’s time to move on.  She paws the ground with her right hoof and gives a little whinny.  Our work here is done, she’s telling me.  I mount again, my chair is back.  Off we go.  Today she wandered through a small clear mountain stream.

Once we ended up in a rushing river.  I had to hold tightly to her mane and trust she would get us both safely to dry land.  I talk to her.  She never speaks back, she simply keeps wandering.  It feels random to me.  I suspect she knows exactly where she is headed. I love giving the power over to God Horse.  It frees me up to look around, take in the details.  I notice squirrels bustling in oak trees, sun reflecting off rippling water, the scent of distant rain.

When at last I bend over and wrap my arms around her neck, I know it’s time to leave her, stop my meditation, open my eyes and start my day.  All this happens without ever leaving my red or tan chairs. Once I open my eyes it takes a moment for me to orient myself.  My limbs are heavy, my mind at peace.

Oddly enough, even after the meditation ends, God Horse seems present for the rest of the day.  Since beginning the wonderful meditation journey my former habit of worrying has ceased to exist.  I have absolute faith all will go as it is intended to go.  Lovely to drop the reins, ride along and enjoy the abundance that is my life.

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Toddlers and their tantrums

Last week my eighteen-month-old grandson Tate was doing his job, acting his age, throwing tantrums and frustrating Mom.  Mo called, miserable.

I was immediately transported to the early 80’s as a first-time parent dealing with a willful toddler. Like all toddlers, Matt was masterful at the art of explosions.

Two instances stand out in particular.  Once Matt raged on interminably, his screams bouncing off walls, rattling windows, and bringing me to the point of considering doing something regrettable.  Afraid to stay within arm’s length of him, I grabbed the harvest gold Princess wall phone, stretched the coiled cord as far as possible and shut myself in the powder room. I called my friend Lynn.   While Matt continued to wail on the other side of the door, Lynn talked me down.  She let me rant, then centered me enough that I could open the door and deal with a baby who was simply acting his age.

The second clear memory I have is snatching the kid into my arms, taking the stairs by twos and dropping him into his crib.  Was that cold?  Probably.  But the other choices I was mentally entertaining were far more chilling.

At the time I complained to my pragmatic sister. She said, “The good news is he’s still little enough to drop into a crib.  When they are teenagers the options aren’t that simple.”  True that, Marilyn.

I don’t have many memories of Mo tantrums.  I’m sure she had them, but once you’ve been steeled by the first child, the second kid’s meltdowns don’t have the same impact.

Friend Sandy recently visited.  She has four daughters.  Her youngest was a talented tantrum throwing toddler. Sandy had weathered three other headstrong cherubs.  By number four she found Shannon’s fits purely amusing.  She said she would stand in the grocery store aisle as Shannon exploded, look down and laugh hysterically.

Sandy tried to imagine herself behaving that way.  Can you picture it?  Being so pissed off while waiting at the deli counter that you hurl yourself to the floor, beat the tiles with fists, pound your head against the floor, scream like a banshee and sob with misery?  I’d love to do that!

Now imagine exhausting yourself with your fit.  Settling down, opening your eyes and finding a circle of laughing shoppers standing over you.  Tantrums are pretty funny when you divorce yourself.

BTW: Some adults actually do throw temper tantrums.

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Attempting to reinvent myself at Sixty-Five. What am I doing?

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I am reading Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  She is a master with language and peppers her writing with terms both wise and witty.  Sometimes she grumbles and whines. I like that.  Today is a grumbling, whiny day for me.

She tells me I am to simply bang out my first draft, have fun, be crazy, play.  It will be shitty, she assures me of this.  But in the shit, I might find a sentence, one little line or maybe only one tiny word that will dredge up….Oh for phuck sake.  Today I can’t get there from here.

I meditated.  I’m kinda’ centered.  Blah Blah Blah.  Yet I find myself with nothing to say and who the hell am I saying it to anyhow?

(Alice, dear, you know you are supposed to be thinking only positive thoughts in order to attract positive energy into your world.  Pretend all the stuff you want already exists and it will magically manifest as your “new reality.”   Yes, Random-Whispering-Voice in my head, I know, but some days it’s easier than others, so just shut up about all the manifestation crapola for twenty minutes.)

What the heck am I doing this for?  At sixty-five I’ve decided to reinvent myself as an author?  On good days I think, “Hey lady!  You got this.  You invented yourself into a product designer at fifty.”  But on days like today taking my past-middle-aged self and turning into a writer seems a preposterous dream.  As if I could become a bagel just by breathing, believing and thinking, “I am a bagel. I became a bagel the day the local bakery spotted all my warm potential bagel deliciousness.”

Okay, Alice…think about Grandma Moses.  I just did a Google search.  Old Granny Moses didn’t get serious about painting until her seventies.  She lived to be 101.

I will channel Grandma Moses, replacing her brushes with a keyboard. I’ll keep slamming on the keys, making shitty first drafts. I made a boatload of shitty paintings when I first began working with watercolors.  I actually sold some of those dreadful pictures and gave several away.  One particularly embarrassing piece comes to mind.  A raccoon wandering a snowy field under a full white moon.  He casts long blue shadows as he roams in front of a weathered barn.  Herbie and Barb were my victims. I’ve pleaded with them to toss that painting out, but they’ve refused.  Your crap paintings live on to haunt you.  The good news is after a while, my watercolors improved.

As a fledgling product designer, I had no idea what I was doing.  I just doggedly kept at it, drawing lines on paper.  Boss Mary Beth said she gave me a box to grow into.  My first box was the size of a Sunkist raisin single serve container. When I outgrew that box she gave me a full-size Honey Nut Cheerios box.

Ultimately I outgrew all of her boxes and went on alone to design for a Chinese factory, walking the design wire without a net.  The earliest product I created, a classic fountain made of resin, got a roll-out at Costco.  It was carried in every Costco Warehouse from the here in the USA to Canada, United Kingdom, and Mexico.

Now, I will occupy writing boxes.  My current container is as small as a ring box.  I’ll keep pounding keys until this one becomes too snug.  Then I’ll crawl into a larger carton, dragging my laptop along with me.

For today, I’ll quit beating my head against the keyboard. I’m doing a drawing of peridot eyed, gray and white Smokey the cat.  He had to be put to sleep last week.  Perhaps the drawing will be a nice keepsake for Smokey’s owner.

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I painted Mike the pitbull for Mo.  I think I did it a bit too soon following Mike’s passing.  She opened the gift box and immediately burst into heartbroken tears.

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I won’t write today.  And that’s good because I will get to spend the day coloring and reading my book club book, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.  It’s a spellbinding story set against the icy backdrop of a 1920s Alaska winter.  A despairing childless couple, in an unusual moment of levity, builds a child out of snow.  In the morning the snow girl is gone, but they glimpse a young child running through the woods.  It reads like a frigid fairy tale.

 

 

Destination Disneyland!

In 1959 our parents rented a travel trailer and our family took off driving across the country from Delaware to California.  The reason? Mother said, “Someday you girls will want to travel to Europe.  You should experience your own country first.”

We spent days in the backseat of our red and black Buick station wagon.  Daddy made a drop leaf table that hung on the back of the front seat.  We could lift it and have a surface on which to color.  Each day we were allowed to purchase one soda. We didn’t call them “soft drinks.”  I had my first Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak near the Grand Canyon.  Marilyn’s favorite was grape. We’d drop the soda bottles off for deposit at the next gas station.

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This was our model Buick, but ours was way cooler because it was red with black top.

We also read millions of comic books.  I liked Little Lu Lu and Betty and Veronica.  Marilyn was into Mad Magazine.

Each day at lunchtime we stopped, climbed in the trailer and had lunch.  Cream cheese on white bread for me.  I have no idea what they ate. There were mosquitos, ants, insects of all shapes and stripes.     Mother often wanted to picnic outside. Daddy refused. Eating outside wasn’t his thing. There were mosquitos, ants, and bugs of all shapes and stripes,  In Kansas, the flies were big, buzzy and aggressive.

Daddy wired our toy pink plastic Princess phones from the trailer to the front seat of the car.  We were sometimes allowed to ride back there because we could easily communicate if we needed anything.  Illegal?  Yes.  But I’m sure my parents got sick of our constant chatter.  Marilyn and I had this silly sing-song ditty we would repeat over and over ad nauseum.  First, in sad slow voices we’d chant, “School boo boo hoo!” followed by an upbeat squealing, “Flower!  Ha ha ha ha.  Ha ha ha ha.”  Can you imagine how fed up they got of hearing that for hours on end?

In those days cars weren’t air-conditioned.  My parents were advised to drive the Mohave Desert at night.  Marilyn and I were in the trailer the night we crossed.  I was sleeping in the upper bunk overhanging the station wagon.  I recall rolling myself into a small ball in an attempt to warm up.  I tried calling from the pink phone, hoping they would pull over and find me an extra blanket.  Theirs must have been off the hook.

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Whenever my parents saw an Airstream, their dream trailer, they would yell “AIRSTREAM!” and we’d all peer out the windows.

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Each night we’d be a different trailer park.  Daddy had special language he used when hooking up the sewer, electricity, and water.  We called it, “Under the trailer talk.” Those were the only times we heard Daddy curse.  When there were no electrical hookups we lit gas mantle wall fixtures.

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Some of the experiences we had traveling from East to West and back again:

Our first view of the Rocky Mountains.  It was astonishing to see that majestic mountain range rise up before us.  When we were finally on the peaks we stopped and made summer snowballs.

Watching fluffy black bears raid trash cans in Yellowstone Park.  They looked cute and playful and it was tempting to approach them.  While in Yellowstone we bumped into Newark neighbors and friends, the Browns. We had not known they were going west that same summer.

The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and seeing Esther, the 1500-year-old mummy.

Hearst Castle at San Simeon.  The views, the opulence.  In every room, our guide shared amazing stories of astonishing wealth.

Floating in the Great Salt Lake.  I got a terrible sunburn that day.  Marilyn reminded me how floating in the lake caused stinging in places you really don’t want to sting.

The brilliant neon-lit Las Vegas Strip.  We were too young to go into the casinos.  Mother and Daddy gambled at slot machines we could see with our noses pressed against the windows.  They would bring their winnings to us, we’d drop them into Mother’s red plaid fabric eyeglass case.  They were doing well,  the case was heavy with change when Daddy came out, took it and promptly lost all their winnings.  That experience cured me for life of any desire to gamble.

But for Marilyn and me the real goal, the point of the trip, lay at end of those 3,000 miles. Disneyland!  We set up camp in a trailer court near enough to see the Matterhorn from our little plot of California soil.

I just emailed my sister and asked how she remembered our Disneyland experience.   Her reply echoes my memories.

“Walking into Disneyland was magic. Main Street USA was another world, with Cinderella’s castle right there at the end.
We had seen the construction of Disneyland on TV, probably on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Actually being there was a dream come true.

For kids from Delaware, making it to California was sort of unbelievable. Among other things, this was the home of the Mouseketeers!
I remember we had to “drive the desert” at night so the car wouldn’t overheat. Somewhere in the Magic Kingdom Daddy laid down on a small patch of grass and fell asleep.

Memories include the Matterhorn , the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, and the spinning teacups. It was one of the best days of our whole childhood.”

We went again four years later. It was still wonderful, but nothing matches the magical first-time experience.

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The Power of Positive Thinking — Awaken and Breathe

Today is Saturday.  On the weekends I let other bloggers do my talking so I can sit on my wide backside and read books.  I like what this blogger had to say about Positive Thinking.  Enough outta’ me.  Time to go back to my current read “Bird by Bird.”

Positive thoughts are empowering. They make you feel good. Sometimes, however, that’s easier said than done. Negative thoughts have a nasty habit of sinking their teeth into our brains and it can be challenging to fight them. Negative cycles It is easy to get trapped in a cycle of negative thinking. If you are unhappy […]

via The Power of Positive Thinking — Awaken and Breathe

The time Richie Sold my Jeep and Another Embarrassing Moment.

Richie is my rascally teasing friend.  He constantly makes fun of me, calls me a “fake redhead”, and endlessly drags me over his hilarious Richie coals.  Richie peppers his speech with the “F” word, using it as a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb.  I occasionally use that word, but I mentally spell it with a “Ph” so it doesn’t count.

I took frequent long walks with his wife, Ann.  We spent hours hoofing from one end of the ‘hood to the other.  One day I drove from my house to hers, left my maroon Jeep Cherokee on their driveway and off we went.  They live on a large corner lot. On the hike back I spotted my car parked in their side yard.

“Ann, I think that’s my car….”

“Did you leave the keys in it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you have only yourself to blame.”

Sure enough, Richie had moved my Jeep and plastered it with signs advertising it for sale.

“For Sale.  Cheap Like Owner.”  and  “For Sale.  Lots Of Miles, Like Owner.”  He added my phone number.

Richie saw us approaching and walked out their garage to taunt me.  As I was chastizing him, four Mexican yard workers pulled up.  They climbed out of their battered white pickup truck, wandered around my Jeep, kicking tires and pulling open doors. They were raising the hood when I insisted Richie go send them on their way.

Shortly after I got back to my house the phone rang.  A man with a thick Spanish accent was on the other end.  He asked how much I wanted for my Jeep.  I was certain the caller was Richie’s buddy Rick.  They were always pulling pranks of one sort or another.

I replied, “Well, there is a requirement for the sale of my Jeep.  You see, the buyer is obliged to take me with it.  In the back seat.  Frequently.”  The caller was silent for a beat, then replied, “I will think it over and call you back.”

Comical, right?  I then dialed up Richie and let him know I was on to him.  His reply, “Honey, Rick isn’t in on this.  I didn’t call him.  That guy must have been the Mexican who was looking at your car.”

Sitting here at my kitchen counter, fingers poised over the keyboard, the memory of what happened next still makes me giggle.  The phone rang again.  I picked up.  The man with the thick Spanish accent was calling back.  He had thought over the terms of the sale and agreed.  Yes, he would take me in the back seat.  Frequently.

Naturally, I killed the deal.  That rapscallion Richie.  I have hundred’s more Richie stories to tell.  Hang in here gentle readers, I’ll share them all eventually.

 

My Lifelong Love Affair with Philadelphia Cream Cheese

For the better part of my childhood, I refused to eat anything but cream cheese.  It started when my father took me to Rhodes Drug Store.  He ordered me a cream cheese sandwich on soft flannel white bread.  You know, that wonderful bread with no nutritional value?  I love that bread.  Rhodes served their cream cheese sandwiches with a slice of dill pickle on top.  My favorite bit was where the pickle had dribbled some juice.  Yet, never in a million years would I consider actually eating the pickle itself.

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I have no memory of my parents ever trying to coax, force, bribe or beat me into food submission.  They simply gave in.  The kid wants cream cheese?  Let her eat cream cheese.

Once, when the A & P store was out of cream cheese, Mother brought home an imposter.  Neufchatel?  No thanks, no way, not for me.

Somewhere in a box of old family photos is a black and white shot taken at our Thanksgiving table.   The turkey is as juicy and luscious looking as the one depicted in  Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want.  Our little family of four is seated around the table. Mother, Daddy, and Marilyn have empty plates before them in anticipation of hot turkey and gravy.  In front of me is a dish holding an entire block of unwrapped cream cheese.  I remember I attacked it with a fork.

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I was the kid no parent wanted their child to bring home for dinner.  What to feed the little red-headed monster?

Lisa McClendon’s mother insisted she could “cure” me.  Lisa’s parents had a tiny cabin on the Chesapeake Bay.  Mrs. McClendon assured my mom if she took me to the cabin, she would have me eating “real” food within days.  Off we went.  I loved playing near the steep cliffs.  I enjoyed sleeping in the musty cabin beds.  It was fun going out in the rowboat. I did not, however, like the food.  No memory of what was served, but I do know on about day four Mrs. McClendon went and bought a package of Philadelphia cream cheese.

My childhood was a happy cream cheese on carbs filled existence.  Saltines.  Triscuits. English Muffins. Cream cheese on yellow braided challah bread is scrumptious.  Weekly mother would arrive home from the Acme, dump the brown paper bags on the counter and I would immediately ferret through the sacks looking for something new on which to smear cream cheese. Oh! How fabulous when she bought a freshly baked loaf of caraway seeded rye bread. Every single iteration of cream cheese on carbs was excellent.

Once, while in college,  I went to Wilmington to meet Daddy for lunch.  He took me to a local eatery that made any kind of sandwich into a “hero”.  I ordered a hero cream cheese on pumpernickel.   Two-inch thick slabs of rich white fat slathered black bread.  Heaven on a plate.

I was steadfast to my cream cheese addiction throughout my early school years.  In Elementary and Junior High packing a lunch was acceptable.  By High School that wasn’t cool.  What to do?  I replaced cream cheese with butter.  Every single day I shuffled through the lunch line and ordered two things: two slices of white flannel bread smeared with butter and one Fudgesicle.  The lunch line ladies were used to me.  My buttered bread was always prepared on a green plastic plate, covered with plastic wrap.  Occasionally I surprised them by ordering two extra slices.  That sent them to the kitchen to “cook.”

I have a beloved Aunt who maintains when we visited her in Atlanta one long ago Easter, she placed a ham dinner in front of me. She claims I ate every bit.  Peas? Mashed potatoes?  I suspect she misremembers. Stubborn about eating new foods runs in the family.  We had her grandson, Jonathan, visit for a week. That child became lock-jawed when I attempted to introduce a grape.  I could relate.  Nothing, no one, could have managed to sneak anything other than cream cheese through my lips.

My day of reckoning arrived May 4, 1974.  I got married.  My new groom didn’t relish the idea of eating nothing but cream cheese for the rest of his life.  The first time I cooked for him he suggested,  “Make it easy.  Just make hot dogs and beans.”

I had seen how hot dogs were cooked.  I boiled two. Beans?  Beans were green right?  So cooked a package of frozen green beans.  As a “side” I offered a slice of canned pineapple with a dollop of Miracle Whip in the middle.  I’d noticed Mother occasionally did that.  Who knew he meant hot dogs, in a roll with baked beans as a side?  I spent the first several months of marriage calling Mom daily, asking what to cook and how to cook it.  Eventually, I learned to like “real” food.

But Philadelphia cream cheese is still my go-to comfort and celebration food.  When I went to Chicago following my grandson Tate’s birth, I celebrated and ate cream cheese on bread like it was my job.

“I have a new grandson!  That calls for cream cheese on gluten-free toast!” ( Yes, celiac sprue/the Universe has snatched gluten from my life.  But no one can steal my cream cheese.)  I now buy reduced fat soft Philadelphia cream cheese and eat it on celery or simply lick it off the spoon.

 

 

 

 

Exit on Main Street

After college, in the mid-seventies, I taught Elementary school art three days a week. The other two days I worked at a little store named Exit on Main Street. I’ve made reference to the shop in this post- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Located on Main Street, Newark Delaware, the store derived its name from the Rolling Stones Album Exile on Main Street.

In earlier years the house was occupied by a college friends great grandmother.  Later it became a Main Street institution store named The Card Shop. All my greeting card purchases were made there. When The Card Shop closed friends Walt and Jeannie rented the space to open their store.

It was a narrow antiquated two-story home.  Timeworn wooden floors, door knobs of antique faceted glass, ceilings high with deep crown molding. The front two rooms, formerly living and dining room, housed the shop.  An ancient kitchen was the in back, the sink generally overflowing with dirty dishes.  Walt and Jeannie lived above the store. A staircase in the kitchen led to three tiny bedrooms and a wee ancient bathroom.

Walt’s nickname was Peanuts.  He and Jeannie had been a couple since she was in High School.  He was several years her senior.  Both were very amiable, really mellow, and generally quite stoned.

I remember getting a glass of water from the kitchen sink when Walt casually invited me to “fall into an affair.” Rather than being offended or considering it sexual harassment, I chalked it up to his being high. It was the early 70’s.  If anyone was talking about inappropriate work place behavior I sure hadn’t heard it.

Exit on Main Street sold a mash up of house plants, macrame plant holders, large baskets, copper pots banged out in India. The shop was perfumed by incense, which we marketed along with incense burners. It was truly quintessential 1970s in its decor and product line. I learned the names, care and feeding of so many types of flora.  I became informed about mealy bug, spider mites, and how easily a cactus flops and dies when over watered.

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My job involved watering plants, misting those that required it, picking off dead leaves, helping customers most of whom were college age.  Also hippies, also often stoned.

No credit cards changed hands.  Odd to remember a time when people paid in cash.  The cash register was a big brass antique that chimed loudly when you hit the Sale button.  I’d worked a cash register at National 5 and 10 when I was in college.  I had been hopeless at making change.  I clearly remember the dimestore manager teaching me to count back,  one penny/nickel/dime/quarter at a time.  Happily by the time I landed at Exit on Main Street I had change making skill set down.

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Each sale was written down on a small green paged pad with carbon paper underneath the top sheet, creating a duplicate for the shopper.  The originals were slid onto a spike and added up at the end of the day.  I’m sure their numbers were better on days when the owners worked the shop.

People Magazine had just begun being published.  During the quiet times I’d browse People, catching up on all the celebrities. I recently subscribed to People again.  I can whip through my weekly magazine in about a minute and a half.  I have no idea who most of today’s nubile stars are.  I won’t renew because getting People delivered to the door has totally ruined standing in grocery store check out lines and waiting in Doctor’s offices.

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I can clearly recall buying the first issue at Newark Newstand, then crossing the road to work.

For lunch I would wander a few doors down, get a wax paper wrapped bagel with cream cheese and sprouts, dropped into a small brown paper bag. Does anyone eat sprouts these days?  In the seventies they were ubiquitous.

I wore bell bottom jeans, clogs or earth shoes, a peace sign necklace and mood rings. I wasn’t really a hippy, but on Tuesdays and Fridays I attempted to look like one.

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Walt and Jeannie were forced to move shop when the owners of that splendid vintage building made a deal with a fast food chain, sold it and it was torn down.  Many of Newark’s original buildings went the way of the wrecking ball.  But some remain.  National Five and Ten is a fixture.  It’s mostly about University of Delaware T-shirts and memorabilia these days.  When I worked there during college it was a strange smelling low-end Department Store.  Flash bulb moment! I suddenly recalled an incident while working at National Five and Ten that would definitely be termed sexual harrasment today.  More on National Five and Ten in a future post.

Since writing this I got an email from college buddy Eleanor.  She included a photo of a toothbrush holder bought at Exit on Main Street.  She maintains she just can’t let it go. Thanks Eleanor!

A random funny memory

When my kids were little and Matt was losing teeth regularly, Mo was a bit jealous.  Matt got money under his pillow.  Mo got Nuthin’.

The Tooth Fairy was flying in and out weekly, carrying bags of change in her fairy backpack. Mo assumed there must be a fairy for every occasion.  Need a dog?  The dog Fairy would arrive.  In search of GI Joes?  GI Joe Fairy to the rescue.

One early evening Mo was seated on the toilet, swinging her sweet short legs, looking down and considering.  Suddenly she asked, “Mommy, when is the Penis Fairy going to bring my penis?”

This memory still makes me laugh.  Mo is now a mom.  She sends me regular photos of Tate, her darling 18-month-old son.  In no time at all, he will be asking her hilarious, unanswerable questions.

Dear Readers, If you have any cute kid memories, please share.