Flashback 1976

I married in 1974.  For the first two years of marriage we lived in Newark, Delaware at English Village apartments. Our apartment was a dark garden level unit with two bedrooms, two baths, a tiny galley kitchen, and a small room that was both living and dining room.

Each day on his way to work in Wilmington my husband passed a certain little ranch house.  It was brick with a small front porch and a one car garage. We were thrilled when it came on the market.  We toured the house, and loved it, but it was $48,000 big ones, way more that we could afford.

However he kept stalking our tiny dream house.  Christmas Eve of 1975, on our way home from my parents, he suggested we once again drive past the Fawkes Drive house.  Lo and behold, tacked to a huge tree in the yard was a sign advertising the house was to be sold at Sheriff’s sale.

He ripped the notice off the tree, made a few calls and we decided to attempt a purchase.  But in order to bid we needed $10,000 cash on the day of the sale.  We didn’t have $10,000.  What we did have was credit card debt.  We approached our parents about loans. All four were eager to help us get into our first house.  His parents and mine each ponied up $5000, along with a carefully worded payback agreement.

The sale took place on the Wilmington, Delaware Court-House steps.  Daddy left work to meet hubby and witness the possible purchase.  The early bids were made by investors hoping to flip the place.  My young husband was the last bidder standing. We got that three bedroom, one and a half bath home for $34,200!

I was standing in the teacher’s lounge when the loudspeaker summoned me to the office to take a phone call.  We were thrilled to be home-owners.

But the place was a filthy disaster. The former owners had a miserable marriage.  The husband had punched holes in doors and walls. His angry, round wife met us when we did our walk through. She called us “the co-conspirators.”  She was gathering her things and moving back to Albany, New York.

My parents and our many friends came to help scrub walls, knock out a wall between kitchen and family room, and lay new vinyl flooring in the kitchen.

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On the left is friend Sue, me in the middle, mom on the right.  We are standing next the wall that’s about to be ripped out, joining family room to dining room.

 

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Sue and I sticking our heads through to the kitchen side.

 

Mother and I wallpapered the laundry room with a bright yellow and white trellis design.  The full bath we papered in a dark brown and pink floral.

Back then it was trendy to buy full size bathroom rugs and cut them with scissors to custom fit.  Ours was chocolate-brown.

When we got done with that little house we thought it was exquisite.  Today I stumbled across old photos.  Sitting here in my Floridian kitchen I time traveled back to 1976.  Our “exquisite” home seems hilarious from this vantage point.

Get ready to be wowed!

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Yes, that is a yellow, green and orange plaid vinyl floor.  We unrolled it and installed it ourselves.  When Daddy noticed air bubbles trapped between vinyl and floor he simply stabbed them with an ice pick and tromped around until the air was expelled.  We had friends, Debbie and Chris, who loved this floor so much they put this yellow version in their kitchen, and a blue version of the same design in their laundry room.  Mother made the drapes and seat cushions.
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When my parents got married in 1939 my father insisted furniture would just tie them down.  He wanted to rent fully furnished apartments forever.  Mother made a deal with him.  If she could find an unfurnished apartment and purchase furniture for less money per month than a furnished apartment would cost, could they then buy furniture?  He relented, never imagining she could do it.  She bought this table and four chairs. She set up credit and paid a small amount monthly for a couple of years. In 1974 that kitchen set became our first dining table.  Mother also got a sofa, chairs, a cobbler’s bench and two end tables.  Those end tables were in her family room until she died in 2000.
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View into the jazzy family room.  The basket in the foreground came from Exit on Main Street where I worked.   I wrote about Exit on June 14th.

 

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Here we have the elegant “Herculon” sofa purchased at Levitz, a low-end furniture store. Herculon was supposedly indestructible.  The Levitz sales man, dressed in a white polyester shirt and navy “Sans a Belt pants”, stabbed a ball point pen through the fabric to prove it couldn’t be harmed.  The artwork on the very left was done by Robbie the boyfriend I’d been mad about Freshman year.  I drew the critter on the right.  Marilyn and Rob gave us the Navajo sand painting.   We found the old trunk at a garage sale and refinished it. On it is Mother and Daddy’s used lamp.  We added wall to wall dark brown carpeting.  We thought this was beautiful.

 

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Mother made the curtains.  The coffee table we found at a used furniture dive and hubby refinished it.  Originally dining height he sawed off the legs and turned it into our coffee table.  I painted the little canvas to the left of the window.  The lamp is wicker.

 

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I purchased that Philodendron at Exit on Main and babied it with daily misting and weekly plant food.  Our television was brand  new. Those are my many photo albums parked under the TV.  Sadly they all got destroyed in the infamous Grove Avenue sump pump disaster of 2008.
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We painted the fireplace brick white.  Marilyn and Rob gave us those three small sand paintings, as well as the basket from Africa.  All the metal hanging pots came from Exit.  The planter on the floor belonged to my great-grandmother.  Shells in the jar were gathered at my brother-in-laws mom’s beach house.  When we visited there one cold, windy April the water was teeming with horse-shoe crabs.

 

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Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you stumble into the patriotic powder room.  Yes, I stenciled the toilet seat and stitched up the red and white rick rack trimmed sink skirt and window treatment.  Interesting how nicely the colors coordinate with the yellow, orange, green and brown theme we’ve got happening in kitchen and family room.  You can’t tell it here, but there is wall to wall red carpet.
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Another room! Another opportunity to change color schemes!  Our upscale guest bedroom boasted my parents early 40’s cricket chairs, now painted pale green and draped in gingham.  Accent color is hot pink.  Mother did the oil painting at her Newark New Century Woman’s Club art class.  For several years in the 50’s mother had been President of that club. I decorated the lamp shade with more gingham and white ball fringe.
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There’s the other cricket chair.  Mother made the drapes. I came up with the addition of fluffy white sheer pull backs.    The double bed had a dust ruffle to match the curtain.  An old dresser I found on the street got painted pale green graced the wall near the bed.  Wouldn’t you give your eye teeth to stay in such a chic boudoir?

Now, this is where the fun truly begins.

Drum Roll, please.

Let’s allow the suspense to build just a few more moments.

 

Scroll,

 

Scroll,

 

Scroll.

And here at long last!  Tah Dah!

I present for your viewing pleasure the beautifully appointed master bedroom.

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It doesn’t get much prettier than this, does it?  This is a small wall between two closets.  Hunter green and peach for our dazzling new color scheme.  Even the trim was dark green.  The ceiling above our heads was painted a pale apricot.  The basket and palm are from Exit.  No memory at all where the two Asian prints originated.  You’ll be surprised to learn this room soon becomes even fancier.  Just turn around and prepare to be dazzled.
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Fantastic, isn’t it?  That is fabric on the walls.  Our well-healed friends gave us their very expensive drapes and comforter when they remodeled.  My sister suggested we glue the fabric to the walls using liquid starch.  It works great, but we didn’t realize the fabric would shrink as it dried.  Not a problem.  I purchased peach upholstery trim and put it along the top of the walls to hide the gap.  The lovely gold lamp? Spray paint!  It had a pleated plastic shade. The bird-cage was from Exit.  If I could have gotten a peach rotary phone I would have.  Sadly we had to settle for white.  The small black parsons table is from Levitz.
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Mother sewed up the matching drapes. We got the lamp at Goodwill. We named it “The Gordonian Lamp” and I whipped out my handy can of spray paint again.

What I don’t have photos of are the living room, dining room and hallways.  We had visited Williamsburg and loved the look of white washed walls and the chalky blue that covers many buildings throughout Colonial Williamsburg, most notably the Blue Bell Tavern.  We chose to paint living room, and halls Williamburg Blue.  We added chair rail in the dining room and used blue below and whitewash above it.

In 1980 we sold that little house for a tidy profit and moved up the road to Hockessin, Delaware.  That home’s decor was equally fascinating. We lived there when Matthew and Maureen came along.

Long after we had moved to Chicago I returned to Delaware for a high school class reunion.  I decided to take a ride down memory lane.  On a whim I pulled into our old driveway, walked up the front porch and rang the door bell.

When the homeowners answered, I told them it had once been my home and tentatively asked if they would mind showing it to  me.  He and his wife were happy to share.  As we toured the house they regaled me with stories of how horrible it had been when they purchased it.  “You wouldn’t have believed the ugly kitchen floor, the wild bedroom walls, and dreary blue walls.”  The wife mimed shoving hers finger down her throat and made gagging noises.

I shook my head, suitably aghast and feigned no knowledge of those hideous decorating issues.  They never learned all that bad decor had happened on my watch.

 

 

 

Fishing with Grandpa

Earlier this week I wrote a post about my high school boyfriend, Greg.  Dredging up those memories took me on a journey to our garage where I unearthed a box that hasn’t been opened since 2000, the year my mother died.  Marilyn and I spent a week in Newark, Delaware boxing up Mother’s belongings, loading the containers into moving vans and sending half of them to Colorado and half to Chicago.

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This box relocated from Newark. It lived in the attic of my marital home until 2002 when I chose to move along.  I didn’t take much of our furniture, but I was sure to bring along the Jay Family slides and films package.

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The box then moved to my first home, lovingly referred to as “the little dump at the top of the stairs.” It was a sad run down second-floor apartment I rented above a real estate office in an old Barrington, IL house.  It was on a busy street corner.  All day and night huge semi trailers drove loudly past.

The steps were outside, very steep and led to my front door which opened onto a large room I decorated with a black desk and rolling chair found at a garage sale and my parent’s furniture from the early 1940s including two cricket chairs and a matching sofa, with no cushions.  My sister, Marilyn, came to visit and she helped me find foam and upholster it with a red matelasse throw.

When Richie and Ann came to visit he took one glance around and asked, “Where am I supposed to sit?  I ain’t sittin’ in those F’n baby chairs!”  They really were tiny.

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Sandy loaned me a twin bed for the guest room and in my “master bedroom”, a tiny frigid box, I set up my childhood canopy bed.  She also loaned me a dining table.

When my friends from the old neighborhood came to visit they shuddered.  In retrospect, I realize it was a miserable place, but to me at the time it represented freedom.

Later I chose to buy my own house, a 1920s Sears Bungalow, and the box moved to the basement of 221 Coolidge Avenue.  Happily, it survived living in a wet basement.  Ultimately I had a french drain dug around the basement to dry it out.

I loved my crooked vintage home.  It had a big front porch where I often slept on hot summer nights prior to adding air-conditioning.  The former owner left the porch furniture and I recovered it with cabbage rose print sheets from Target.  I painted a tiny garage sale table to match.  My home was decorated on my shoestring budget.

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Sleeping on the day bed was a lot like camp without the enema.  (See my Girl Scout camp post if you don’t understand this reference.)
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My girlfriends and I had a lot of laughs at that round table.

20170628_171742.jpgI couldn’t afford to remodel the first-floor bathroom so bought some Home Depot “oops” paint for the walls.  Painted the tiles black and white, sewed a valance for the tub shower and stapled fabric into existing shutters. I did put a new top on the vanity.  In winter I hung my towel over the radiator.  It was so roasty toasty following my shower.

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The overstuffed furniture I got wholesale at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.  Garage sale lamps, a table I painted.  Another wonderful radiator.

 

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The house had three bedrooms upstairs.  I chose to turn one into a large girlie Parisian bathroom.  I wish I had pictures of the other side of the room. There are two white vanities hung white vintage looking medicine cabinets.  I got the lamp at Target then decorated the shade with fringe and rosebuds.  The artwork on the wall is reverse painted glass I did and mounted on pink paper.  A garage sale table painted black. The pink and black hatbox holds a darling fedora I picked up when Jim took me to New Orleans.

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Glorious Master Suite.  That’s my old childhood bed sans canopy.  You can see it’s had better days.  The wacky lamp is from Sandy.  Those three holes in the wall are the air conditioning feed.  I have no memory of that side table.  

 

The box only had a short tenure in my Coolidge basement.  When Jim and I moved to our 1870s teeny front-porch-swing house on Grove Avenue it went to live in our cellar.

The cellar was accessed from outside.  A set of uneven steps led down to a stubborn sticky door.  To get in we had to slam that door with a hip.  The ceilings were low, the walls made of old rocks.  I rarely went down there because the place was full of spider webs and occasionally mice.  Jim had it well-organized and he could easily put his hands on whatever we needed.

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That small white gate next to the twisty tree led to our cellar.  Jim hated twisty tree because is was dirty.  I loved it for its charm.

The box has since moved with us to Florida.  For a while, it was in a storage unit while we hunted for a house.  Four years ago, when we moved into our current home, we parked the box on a shelf in our garage.

This afternoon I tore into it only to discover everything was covered in mouse poop.  I put on rubber gloves and wiped each item down with a damp rag.  Gross.

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I wouldn’t let the mouse droppings deter me.  I was determined to find photos taken the spring of 1967 when I was getting over the first of many big break-ups with Greg.  I finally got the box unpacked and found a live roach running around on the bottom.  Eek. Floridian critters are disgusting.

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Do you see the box marked Alice and Grandpa Jay?  That’s where the slides from spring of ’67 were.

I also discovered Daddy’s old slide viewer.  He loved labeling things. Happily, it still works.

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Finding these pictures was a thrill.  Grandpa Jay kept me company on the pier nearly all day every day.  He usually had a cigar in his mouth.  I was fifteen, just a little kid with a broken heart.

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I even sat outside and fished at night.  That’s when I finally landed my biggest catch.  I had to call loudly to get Grandpa running from house to pier.  He helped me net it.

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No idea why my ears were so weirdly white in this and the next photo. Look like albino Dr. Spock ears.

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He cleaned both fish in his workshop, a treasure trove of rifles, handmade fishing lures, rattles chopped off the rattlesnakes he killed with one of his many handguns, armadillo feet, and all sorts of fascinating ghastly darlings.  When we were growing up we would periodically get cigar boxes from Grandpa in the mail.  They were filled with random creepy crawly body parts.

Now, time to load the piles of slides and film into a new clean box where they will probably reside for another seventeen years.

To see the rotten awful High School sweetheart, here is the link if you’re interested.

 no good very bad boyfriend

Marijuana and Me

I was an art major in the early 70s. Everyone in my circle smoked pot so I did too.  We’d get together, roll joints and get stupid high.  My joints were always loose sloppy blobs. I never developed the art of rolling a nice neat hard one.  One night I got high with fellow art major Dale.  He and I spent an entire evening at the U of D drawing studio, writing inane non-sensical notes backwards on the wall. They were hilarious when we were a mess. The next day not so much.  Dale was married with a kid. I wonder if his wife knew he was getting stoned with a fellow student?

I gave my roommate, Terry, a plexiglas bong for her birthday.  If you’ve never used a bong I’ll do my best to describe smoking from one.  You put the pot in the little bowl attached to the “stem”, put your lips on the inside of the mouthpiece, light the bowl, and place your thumb over a hole in the cylinder across from the stem. Inhale deeply so the cylinder fills with smoke, remove your thumb as you’re inhaling and the smoke zooms into your mouth, lungs, and moments later blows the top of your head into outer space.  Your brain matter spatters all the way from Earth to Pluto.

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Terry’s father found her bong. Terry told him it was an art project I’d done in my sculpture class.  He didn’t buy it.  Her bong and weed were promptly confiscated.

I once asked my father if he would ever try pot, a question I never would have tossed to Mother.  She would have freaked and begun telling me how if a person smokes pot they are immediately transported to a sleeping bag under a viaduct. Not Daddy.  He quietly reflected on my query, then calmly replied, “No. I probably already have enough vices.”  That memory still makes me smile.  No hysterics for Daddy.

Here’s the thing, I got high but I never really liked it.  It made me paranoid.  I’d cackle extremely loudly then suddenly stop and think, “All the other laughers are laughing at not with me.  They think I’m a fool.”

My memories of being stoned are mostly of driving really slowly, eating mountains of food, giggling uncontrollably, then getting crazed that everyone was mocking me.

After college I can only remember one pot smoking incident.  It was at Terry’s house with Bab’s. The drive to Terry’s home took Bab’s and I about twenty minutes. The return trip was twice as long, us crawling along the right hand lane at possibly fifteen miles an hour.

Fast forward to 2014.  After pot became legal in Colorado Jim and visited my sister Marilyn’s home in Breckinridge.  She and my brother-in-law, Rob, remodeled a little old miner’s shack right down town within walking distance to shops and ski-lifts.  It’s gorgeous.  Marilyn is a gifted at remodeling.  They rent it on Airbnb. Check it out by googling Plum Cottage Breckenridge Colorado.

 The weekend M and R loaned us the house there was a summer street festival.  The air along Main Street was perfumed with clouds of pot drifting on the breeze.  I was transported to the early 70’s and all the illegal pot I’d smoked.  Now it was truly legal.  I turned to Jim and impulsively declared, “I have to go to the pot store.  History is being made here, and I want to be a part of it.”  A lot of my life is ruled by impulse.  Thank goodness I’m married to a man who knows how to slow down, consider, think.  I’ve rarely thunk.

Jim didn’t look too comfortable with the notion, but as always he let me be me.

The pot shop, named The Cannabis Club, was easy to find–it had a line circling the building. I got into the queue, waited my turn, and eventually entered a wee teeny store filled with large lidded apothecary glass jars. Each container was brimming with marijuana and bore a label stating the effects to be expected by smoking that particular type.

Plus there were edibles.  Little gummy bears shaped like cannabis leaves, breath sprays, cookies, chocolate bars, muffins.  I talked to a clerk and explained my past paranoia issues. He suggested a tiny “Hershey” bar about three inches long.

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I made my purchase along with a mandatory seven dollar zip lock bag to tote it in. The shop guy recommended only eating a quarter of the candy bar at first.

When we got back to Plum Cottage I unzipped the bag, ripped off the candy wrapper and broke off twenty-five percent of the bar.  Half an hour later I didn’t feel a thing, so down went another quarter.

Ultimately I gobbled up the entire candy bar.  Then the effect slammed me.  I was nearly catatonic.  The next morning I was still ruined.  I stumbled around Breckinridge in a fog, believing everyone on every street was making fun of me.

Believe me, in the unlikely event I do it again I’ll pace myself better.

A little internet research has taught me the body reacts differently to edibles. The Martha Stewart of Edibles , Laurie Wolf, has shops in Oregon.  She had a big write-up in the New Yorker. She is some sort of cannabis rock star.  When Laurie heard a similar tale from a naive edible consumer she was horrified. Her products all state exactly the amount of THC in each one.  You supposedly control the madness by doling out appropriate amounts.  Don’t these look yummy?  I wonder if they are gluten-free? I wonder if there is cannabis cream cheese?

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Today I dug The Cannabis Club receipt out of my Moleskine journal.  Couldn’t find the candy wrapper.  I bet I was too messed up to think about saving it.  I notice the date is M and R’s wedding anniversary, September 12th.  FYI you two, the zip-lock bag is locked in your owner’s closet.  It’s your anniversary gift.  Go forth and get stoned.

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Asleep at the Wheel

Today I slept until noon.  NOON?!  I was panic-stricken when I woke.  I have THINGS to do. Important things. World changing things.  Life altering amazing dazzling stuff to tackle.

They are as follows:

#1 Meditate

#2  Pen three pages in my composition book

#3  Write a blog post

#4  Take Bronson to the vet for flu shot

#5  Clean out the refrigerator.

I shared my angst with Jim. My gentle could-be-a-labrador-retriever laid back husband suggested maybe I’m sleeping late because I am relaxed.  Relaxed?  I never relax. Hammy, the hamster in my brain, won’t allow it.  She scurries on her wheel relentlessly all day and night.

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Is it possible Hammy was asleep at the wheel?  That’s twice now she has fallen asleep.  Yesterday I slept until eleven.  If this trend continues entire days will be lost, me nestled in the feathers until dinner time.

Okay, gotta’ triage. Which important thing to do first?  I am doing thing #1, blog post.  Thing #2 should be meditation.  I missed it yesterday due to Hammy sleeping at the wheel and a fun birthday party.  Item  #3 ought to be writing in my composition book.  #4 cannot be shunned.  Bdog needs the flu shot.  He’s going to school again.  The shot is mandated.

Oh Well….looks like I’m not gonna’ have time to clean the frig!  Yay for Hammy falling asleep at the wheel.  I don’t have to do that detested chore.

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Wait a  minute.  Who is that other hamster with Hammy?  Is it possible she has found love?  Oh No! Hamsters reproduce even more thoroughly than rabbits.  In weeks there may well be a whole litter of the little critters romping night and day on their wheels in my head.  I’d better enjoy Hammy’s sleepiness while it lasts.

 

My no-good-very-bad High School boyfriend.

Just got out of my chair.  Meditating. Inhaling, exhaling.  Trying not to think about anything.  The hamster-on-the-wheel between my ears didn’t want to sleep today.  She kept asking, “So, whatcha’ gonna’ write about? What’s fun to say? Who’s your audience?  Do you write for that wee teeny audience or for just us?”  Then she said, “What about Greg?  He occupied five years of your life.  Wanna’ write about him?”  I’ve no idea how she manages to chatter on and on when her cheeks are so stuffed with food.

Okay, Hammy, I’ll write about Greg.  He was my first boyfriend.  He was a dreadful boyfriend, never-the-less I kept him on board for a very long time.  So sure, let’s go dredge up memories of those five years.

First time I set eyes on Greg was outside the cafeteria.  Six feet five inches and skinny as a rail, he was lounging against the wall.  Curly hair, bedroom eyes, big nose, huge feet, not terribly attractive but for some reason he drew girls to him like bears to honey.  It was my Sophomore year.

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Our first date was on December 27th, 1967.  We went to the Newark Country Club Belle’s Ball.  I had been on the planning committee.  I wore a ruffled white blouse from Braunstein’s with a long black velvet skirt my mother made.  She also made me a wide gold silk belt. Greg brought me a corsage of gardenias.  The scent of gardenias still takes me back to that night at the Belle’s Ball, standing in the receiving line, with Greg’s hand on the small of my back.  It was cold walking to and from the car.  I wore a white bunny fur stole.

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Other dates I remember are going to the movies to see Romeo and Juliette.  And going to the drive-in theater.  I was forbidden to go the drive-in so every time we did I fibbed and said we were going to the Cinema Center to see “Thoroughly Modern Milly”.  I must have had my parents convinced I saw Milly about six times.  At the drive-in, we’d make out until the windows were too fogged to see though.

Our song was “La La Means I Love you” by the Delphonics.

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The first time Greg told me he loved me, he gave me his class ring.  I was forever wrapping different colors of yarn around it to make it fit.  Sometimes I wore it on a chain around my neck.

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Greg was a drummer in a band called “The Illusions of Soul”.  The band members wore silver tuxedo jackets, white ruffled shirts, and black tux pants.  The lead singer was a black guy named Larry.  I remember going to one venue after another to hear them play.  I hung around with another band members girlfriend.  One night she and I went to the ladies room and swapped clothes.

Greg’s father was a Marine Corps Colonel.  He kept his six kids on very short leashes.  Greg had to time phone calls with a small hourglass and do loads of chores. I never had a chore in my life. Later Greg rebelled, letting his hair grow into a huge afro, smoking cigarettes and pot, and driving around in a battered VW van covered in peace sign stickers.

I am five feet four inches.  Mother loathed my long drink of water boyfriend and was always recommending I hand him over to a tall girl.  She disliked him because he consistently hurt me.  He cheated on me constantly, breaking my heart over and over.

The first break-up was before Easter vacation.  Greg dumped me for Kathy.  In my high school yearbook, I drew horns and a beard on Kathy’s photo.  I’d share that picture but my yearbook died a horrible death when our sump pump sprung a leak.

That spring break my parents and I drove to visit my grandparents.  I curled up in the backseat of our silver Cadillac and cried all the way from Newark, Delaware to Tavares, Florida.  My paternal Grandfather, Grandpa Jay,  lived on a lake. He set me up with a  fishing pole, showed me how to bait the hook and left me to my own devices.  I sat on the pier and fished from morning until evening, day after day.  I got terribly sunburned, but the crying finally stopped.  Mother said she watched me heal with that fishing rod in my hand.  I caught an enormous fish. Grandpa Jay was impressed.

After having my heart-broken wouldn’t you think I’d be done with that foolish boy? Nope. A glutton for punishment I returned to Newark, drove to McDonald’s where all the kids hung out, and circled the parking lot.  Yay!  There was Greg!  Yay! We hooked up again.

Until the next girl.  Debbie, who was and probably still is an awesome dancer and loads of fun.  Then there was Ann.  Followed by Susan.   Those two had been my friends.

One year several girls went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a week of sun and fun.  My friend Gina’s mother, Mrs. J, was our chaperone.  Greg made the two-hour drive to visit me.  Mrs. J allowed Greg to sleep on the sofa.  The next morning she came after me, screaming and insisting she had seen me having sex with Greg in the middle of the night.  Never happened.  It was year’s before I put it together and realized the person with him must have been Susan.  She had “peanut butter and jelly legs”–easy to spread and very sweet.

They went through a long period of Susan climbing out of her bedroom window and hooking up with him in the middle of the night.  I consistently refused to play around.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned most of the other women had long since given up their virginity.

Then there was Bryn.  She and I swapped boyfriends for a short amount of time.  She took Greg, I hooked up with her guy, Bob.  Then we swapped them back again.

For Senior Prom I wore white lace.  We doubled with my close friend Nora.  Her date was Greg’s buddy John.  Greg’s mother really would have preferred Greg date Nora.  She considered me spoiled.  She was right. I was spoiled rotten.

By the time of Senior Prom, he and I had broken up many times.  Shortly before the Prom Greg severed his Achille’s tendon. He had to wear a cast that stretched from his toes to halfway up his thigh.  He had kissed another girl the day his tendon got injured.  He was clearly looking to dump me again and tried to squirm out of that date using the cast as his excuse.  Probably he wanted to go to the dance with the tendon-day-kissee.  Mother said, “Tell him it will be fun to go and have everyone sign the cast”.  We went together, but it wasn’t much fun.

I broke up with Greg again before my sophomore year of college.  I forget what girl it was about.  To spite me he decided to join the army.  Great move, eh?  This was during the Viet Nam war.  Naturally, as I always did I forgave him.

Before leaving for Viet Nam Greg was stationed in El Paso, Texas.  He invited me to visit.  My parents refused to allow it.  Daddy and I had a terrible screaming match in the family room while Mother sat in a rocking chair crying and praying.

Ultimately they relented.  That burning hot visit to El Paso, playing housewife while my man went off to work all day, cured me of wanting to get married anytime soon.  I spent my afternoons with the young army wives, watching them chase their kids and do their laundry.  No way I was giving up the fun of college for this.  I suspect Greg was sleeping with one of those women, a petite long-haired brunette.  We all went bowling one night.  Sparks were flying between those two in spite of her husband being present.

While in Viet Nam Greg wrote to me, and regularly sent me a percentage of his income to save for when we were married.  I remember spending the money on fudge, shoes, a cute plaid jacket from Lady Bug, and a trip to Florida with roommates.  Not a penny got saved.

He somehow acquired Steve McQueen’s calling card number.  He would phone, long distance from Viet Nam, using that number.  He racked up hundreds of dollars in illegal charges.  The calls came in the wee small hours of the morning. Roommate Tina would wake me, I’d stumble to the phone, mumble into the mouthpiece, sleepily listen to his Viet Nam experiences.  I never remembered a word of our conversations in the morning. He should have saved Steve McQueen the money.

Having a boyfriend in Viet Nam was convenient.  When no one was asking me on dates I could tell myself, “Well, I don’t want to date.  I have a boyfriend.”  I’d take his framed photo out of my dorm room desk drawer and display it during those dry spells.  But if anyone did come sniffing around Greg was readily dropped back into his drawer.

When he returned from Viet Nam I ended the relationship for good.  I had begun dating the man I married in 1974.  The last time I saw Greg was at his friend John’s wedding in Rittenhouse Park.  We were by the river where I had played as a child.  I was wearing a green silk dress.  No memory of his outfit.  He kept giving me long sad looks.

Fast forward about twenty years and I got a call from my mother.  She said,”Greg called me. I recognized his voice immediately. He said he wanted my recipe for chicken and dumplings, but I suspect what he really wanted was your phone number.”

Sure enough, he called.  I was sitting in a parking lot when the phone rang.  He hoped to reconnect.  I was married.  He was married.  Naturally,  I blew him off.

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.

Somewhat related blog posts:

Growing up in a college town was good because…

Rittenhouse Park, Silverbook, Newark Delaware.

Took the plunge and joined a writer’s group.

Looking at​ the fabric of a lifetime. Coming up dry and perhaps with a lie.

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.”  In the picture below I am holding Gee Pee. Remember her?  GeePee

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.

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.

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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