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.