And climb the stairs to the beach...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remember An Afternoon

I have this book called "A Writer's Book of Days". I turn to it whenever I am stuck for a topic. It has a chapter for each month of the year and suggestions for each day. For example in November one of the suggestions is "You're eating breakfast." or  "Returning takes too long." They are just little phrases that spur on the muse a little. Another suggestion for November was "Remember an Afternoon" and I didn't have to reach far this year for that one.

It was warmer than usual for November. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving and it was sixty degrees outside. The leaves were for the most part off the trees and some that hadn't been raked up yet were swirling in the wind across the still green grass of the school yard, landing in a small pile against the stone wall of the old bandstand that sat between the two buildings that we used for our Junior High.
The bandstand between the two school buildings today. Photo, courtesy Melinda Connor

I had just left the white building, a tall wooden two story school that my parents had attended before me, although in their day it housed all 12 grades. I was on my way over to the Center School, a low long brick building built for us baby boomers. I was in the 7th grade and in November we were only a couple of months into our Junior High experience and changing classes was still a bit of a novelty. Our little town was growing so fast that the two buildings could no longer even hold the two grades at Sudbury Junior High School. My homeroom and most of my classes were in the white building. The Center School was where I had "new math" with Mr. Joyce and gym and lunch.

But on Fridays, one of the last classes I had was chorus. It was held in the cafeteria in the new building. The cafeteria also served as a fallout shelter, a phenomenon my kids will never understand. The yellow and black civil defense signs along with the aroma of vegetable soup, clung to the walls and guided us down the steep winding stairs which turned at the landing before heading down another half flight. It was mostly below grade, except for one wall with small high windows and a door that opened out to stairs that went back up to the school yard.

I rushed to get a seat at one of the half a dozen tables that were left up for us, situated against the one wall with windows. All the other Formica  tables and their attached benches had been folded up and stowed away by the custodians. The vast expanse of the tiled floor already cleaned and polished in preparation for a weekend of emptiness, gleamed in the pale autumn afternoon sunlight.   

Mr. Ingersoll stood at his music stand, tall despite being bent over his sheet music, focused entirely on making notations.  I took a seat and quietly chatted with friends, waiting for the bell to ring. Mr. Ingersoll was still new to us and not really one of those charismatic teachers that I associate with music. He was all business as he stood up straight and raised his baton without a word, waiting for us to give him our undivided attention. We warmed up our voices with a few scales and ran through "Autumn Leaves" and "I Believe" before he asked us to pick up our copies of "Shoheen".    

This was a song, based on an old Irish lullaby with a haunting melody. It was a beautifully arranged piece with lovely harmonies and we enjoyed singing it. Just as Mr. Ingersoll raised his arms to begin, a teacher came into the room and whispered something to him. At the same time the voice of Mr. Mayor our principal, came over the intercom and announced that President Kennedy had been shot. We were told that they did not  know how badly he was hurt, but the buses were already on their way to the school and we would be taken home within the next ten minutes.

Mr. Ingersoll waited for the murmuring to end and looking at us all in the eyes as he spoke, something he seldom did, said to us "Before we leave, I think we should all bow our heads in silence and say a prayer for the president." A moment later, he said to us, "We will end today's practice by singing "Shoheen" and dedicating it to the president." And some of us sang with a lump in the throat or tears on our cheeks, but we got through it and silently picked up our books and jackets and headed for the buses. 

Still unsure of the details of the shooting, we all boarded our buses with hushed conversation or in silence. By the behavior of the adults around us, clearly it was very, very bad,. The buses were packed back in those days. We had three in a seat and an aisle full of standing students, hanging on to their books in one hand and the back of a seat with the other. One boy had his transistor radio with him, something we all had at the time, but seldom brought to school. He had it up to his ear and was repeating what he was hearing to a busload of silent junior high students. One report said he was shot in the arm. Another said he had been shot in the head. It was unconfirmed, but he was reportedly dead and what would happen now? Jackie was unhurt. Governor Connolly had been shot, too.' It went on like that for the remainder of the ride home, but somewhere along the way, we all knew our president, the young one from Massachusetts, my own state; the one with the really pretty wife who wore pill box hats; the one whose little baby had died while I was at camp the summer before; the one with the two little kids, was dead.

When I got off the bus, I practically ran all the way home from the bus stop to tell my mother what we'd heard. My dad's car was already in the driveway, something unheard of in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I found them both watching our black and white television in the den, a place we would all be for the next three days.

After thoughts:

This is what I looked like at about 12 years old, 50 years ago.
I thought more about life and death in those next three days than I had in the previous 12 years. There was a lot of fear around the whole thing.  After all, if the president isn't safe, who is? But it was also a time with my father I will never forget. He explained everything  as we watched it unfold and I learned so much from him as he helped me understand what was going on and what the significance was of certain rituals and traditions. I wasn't concerned with politics or current events at that age. But I was very swept up in the emotion, the respect and the patriotism of it all.
I remember the crowds at the rotunda waiting to pay their respects. 

And I remember John John's salute.

I remember Jackie's black veil and wanting to see more of her face, but being so sad when I did.

I remember the redundant drums and the casket being brought down the stairs, while my dad explained that the pall bearers were supposed to keep it level the whole time, and just how difficult that was. Such respect.

It was the first time I ever saw a flag being folded and presented to the widow that way.

There are other flashes of footage that have been replayed over the years that I remember well. But the riderless horse, following the casket, being led by a soldier who never broke stride and looked only straight ahead, is what I remember the most from those three days.
The horse was called Black Jack, named after General Pershing. He was born in 1947 and during his 28 years in the military he had participated in the funerals of three presidents, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and JFK, and General Douglas MacArthur. He is one of only two horses buried with full military honors. The man leading him that day was PFC Arthur Carlson from Mobile, age 19. The day after the funeral, Private Carlson was summoned to bring the horse's tack, saddle, bridle, blanket, etc. to Jackie. It all remains in the Kennedy Library today.
The horse walked quietly for a time, then his head would bow down low and he'd pull it back up quickly, and dance and prance sideways, showing everyone how spirited he was, and maybe that he'd just like to get away from there. He was never settled, really, appearing defiant and fearful at the same time, pawing the ground protesting his being there. The only thing moving fast and out of line in that slow procession. To my twelve year old mind, the horse knew why he was there and was simply reacting to grief. And the soldier leading this poignant symbol of his fallen Commander In Chief carried out his duty, never wavering or losing control of the powerful animal and it made me feel proud of our country and I knew it would be okay. That image was very touching to me and is forever burned into my memory. It was poetic. 

This week I searched the web and found the song we sang in the president's honor that afternoon in chorus as we waited for the buses to arrive and prayed for the life of the president. It took me a long time to find the arrangement we sang but I found it.  It was written by Perry Starr and Frank Wells, names I can't find anywhere else on the web. Here is a link to a Youtube video of a group performing it followed by a transcript of the lyrics. Some of my fellow chorus members who read my blog may well remember it.
Click Here if Video Doesn't Open

Sleep little loved one, safe and warm.
Shoheen, Shoheen lo.
Little dark head in the crook of my arm, God's youngest angel, guard thee from harm.
Shoheen little loved one, sleep.
Dark thou art and thy father is dark.
Shoheen, Shoheen lo.
Wild and free and swift as a lark
Lovely and strong as the bright moon's arc.
Shoheen little loved one, sleep.
Soon he will come to us over the sea.
Shoheen, Shoheen lo.
For sweet and true is his love all to me
A gold bud of love that blossoms to thee.
Little dark head, sleep, loved one sleep.
Sleep little loved one sleep.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rescue Me!

My dear husband had some surgery to repair a disc in his neck and a nerve in his elbow last week. We have been preoccupied by that ordeal so I haven't posted anything lately. He is finally beginning to feel a little better and his pain is easing just a bit. So, I think he is heading in the right direction. But he will be 6 weeks in a hard cervical collar and another 6 weeks before he can play golf. I don't know how many old Perry Mason episodes he can watch, but he seems to be going for the Guinness World Record. He has taped a gazillion of them and today he actually saw the one episode when Hamilton Burger won a case. Me, I just walk through the living room and groan. I never liked Perry Mason back in the day when it was one of my mother's favorite shows, and I certainly don't feel like watching it now.
Ed, as I said earlier, loves Perry Mason, but he really loves the old westerns most of all. Shows like Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman and so on are all on cable now. If he's not watching these old black and white shows, he is watching  the History channel, which I do enjoy sometimes, too. For Ed, if there's something about the Civil War or anything about any president, Ed will be watching. And of course, there are certain times of the year, like now, where there seems to be a football game on almost every night of the week. I seldom watch a game. I am such a girl.

My preferences in TV viewing are all in living color and are all less than half a century old. I suppose some people would categorize what I watch as 'guilty pleasures', shows with little or no redeeming value. I love anything having to do with the paranormal or psychics or that sort of thing.

And I love the true crime investigations on the various cable networks like The First 48 or Snapped!

The grislier the story, the better. And combining the two, true crime AND paranormal investigation, well, that's just perfect for me!

And, I have to admit that on occasion I have even watched Finding Big Foot.

But recently I have discovered "rescue" shows. The premise of all of these shows is that experts in the various fields are called in by failing businesses to rescue them and put them back on the road to success.

There is one called Bar Rescue, another called Hotel Impossible and one called Kitchen Nightmares about restaurants. There is a new one coming out where Buddy, the star of the reality show Cake Boss, saves failing bakeries. I think it's called "Bakery Boss" and he sets out to rescue bakeries all over the country that have gotten themselves into trouble, and in other words are no longer "rolling in dough". Ba-dump-bump.

Buddy, the Cake Boss
And, I just saw a commercial for a new one called "Church Rescue" where they combine Business and the Bible to help save churches from foreclosure. Oh, boy I can only imagine what that will involve.
The "Church Hoppers," entrepreneur Kevin 'Rev Kev' Annas, marketing specialist Anthony 'Gladamere' Lockhart, and pastoral counselor Jerry 'Doc' Bentley, team up to empower churches to keep them from the ever-increasing threat of bank foreclosure. They form the story for the new National Geographic TV show "Church Rescue."

So in these shows first we see all the failings of the businesses. Poor hygiene in the kitchen, slow bartenders, bedbugs in the hotels. The expert comes in and retools everything, from staff to menu, teaching bartenders the right way to mix drinks, chefs how and what to cook and managers how to manage. They usually redecorate and sometimes they change the name of the business. There is always some sort of drama between owners and staff. Partners in the business aren't getting along, or particularly in family businesses, some family member is holding the whole operation back. Letting go of the old way of doing things is very difficult for most of these folks and even though they have asked for the help, they are so determined to hold on to the old ways that cause the problems, arguments erupt and somebody stomps off.
Bar Rescue is probably my favorite for some reason. The star of the show, Jon Taffer, is very confrontational, but successful at what he does. He's a "no pain, no gain" kind of guy.

Usually, they all return the next day, an epiphany has occurred and everyone is finally on the same page. As the new and improved restaurant, hotel, bar, bakery is revealed, the owners and staff are overwhelmed with gratitude. Re-energized, the staff welcomes a full house in for the grand opening, and the rescuer disappears from the scene like the Lone Ranger. As credits roll, they update the viewers on how the business has fared in the months since the show was taped. Usually, sales have picked up by 30% and the staff are no longer feuding with each other. Not all succeed, but most do. And we are pulling for them to succeed. We really want them to! We believe in the makeover!

These are just the latest in the "makeover" shows that have fascinated us for so long. From the  magazine makeovers of my youth, with the before and after photos of the mousy brunette turned blonde bombshell, to the extreme home makeovers, the Oprah makeovers, the Biggest Loser, etc. of today's TV programs,  don't we just love to see the transformation of something not quite good enough into something beyond what we thought possible?

We just love the idea of potential realized, and then used the fullest. It's the basis of fairy tales and myths. It's Pygmalian or My Fair Lady, Cinderella and the Phoenix rising from the ashes!  And now Bar Rescue! These all are stories with  some component of rising above adversity and in the end, winning.  Some of these reality shows may not be that real.  Still, we want to believe!

I could pitch a new makeover show to the Learning Channel that would be a big hit in my household. It would be called 'Ed's Spinal Makeover'. After all the pain and Perry Masons he can endure, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes,  he will rise up from his recliner, rip off his cervical collar and pick up a golf club, and then after pats on the back, with confidence and determination Ed heads for the course. As the credits roll over a camera shot of Ed putting on a green somewhere, the update will appear on the screen: Since filming the show, Ed has been pain free, and golfing twice a week. His handicap has been reduced by 30% and he got a birdie! His wife reports all is peaceful at home since they've agreed to watch TV in separate rooms.

Have a great day!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Falls I Remember

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, to you all! It’s November and I can hardly believe it because just yesterday it was the first day of October! Wasn't it? The clocks are about to fall backwards and for some of you, there is a brisk bite to the air and all but the leaves of the mighty, and  stubborn oak, have fallen and are covering your back yards. I remember trying to put off raking them all up until the first of November when I was pretty sure all that were going to fall had done so. Of course, the oak leaves were always last and frequently continued to fall on snow.  

But today, although the season of fall is here, it’s the word fall as a verb that I want to write about.

Why is it that when we see a fall, whether it’s a pratfall or a fall that someone has taken right in front of us, the first response is to laugh? I am not a mean person, I don’t think. And if I fall, it isn’t funny, I mean at my age it could be disastrous. But there are falls that make me have to suppress a giggle just by thinking about them years later.

Remember President Ford tripping as he got off Air Force One? 
That wasn’t funny. But they did skits about it on SNL and showed the clip all the time. We all laughed. I remember one old home movie we had when we were growing up. We were in Storyland in New Hampshire. My mother tripped as she came out of some little cabin or something, recovering before she hit the ground. It was just a little misstep. But Dad used to play that backwards and forward whenever we watched it and we’d all laugh hysterically. Another film of my brother falling down on his face Dad often played and replayed forward and reverse, forward and reverse, eliciting huge guffaws and giggles from us no matter how many times we saw it.  Why are these falls so funny to us?
Me and Barb at my retirement party.
My co-worker Barbara told me a story once about her poor mother. I wasn’t even there, but I can’t think about it without laughing. She told me that some years ago her family was at the airport to welcome her parents home after a long trip. This was back pre-911 when there were no security measures to stop you from meeting your loved ones as they disembarked. Barb and some of her family members were standing outside the gate area as the plane unloaded and passengers filed out. Her mother, probably in her seventies at the time, emerged from the jet way and was so excited to see her family that she ran around the people in front of her, arms outstretched,  through the waiting area, between two chairs, not realizing the chairs were joined by a metal bar. She fell ass over tea kettle right on her face. The whole family, including her father, burst into laughter and couldn’t stop. Fortunately she was okay, but Barb told me this story years after it happened and she could barely get the story out she was laughing so hard at the time, tears coming down her cheeks while she was telling it to me. And I am laughing as I write about it now both because of how she told the story and the story itself!  Barb is a very kind person. She never wishes anybody ill-will. But something about that fall just tickled her, and it continues to tickle me, even though I never even witnessed it.

One of the times I remember laughing at the misfortune of somebody’ else’s fall, was when I was in the 8th grade. My friend Sue and I, (yes my BFF’s name was also Sue) were walking back home from the local drug store. The walk from downtown to our houses, which were only separated by one other home, was only a half mile or so. The town I lived in was a quiet town of about ten to fifteen thousand while I was growing up. The town was small enough that although we might not have known the names of everybody who lived there, we knew if we encountered someone who didn’t.
The downtown area included our library, the drugstore, Sue’s family’s grocery store, my family’s insurance office, and a few other shops and offices located in a couple of strip malls that were situated at the busiest intersection in town, where Concord Road, running north and south, ended at the Post road that ran east and west.

Our library
This intersection had the distinction of being the first in town to have a traffic light which wasn’t installed until I was a senior in high school. Before we had that traffic light every morning and evening one of our uniformed finest, often my Dad’s best friend Pete, would stand under the spotlight, directing the rush hour traffic, with his white gloves and whistle. But when the policeman wasn’t there, there was a pedestrian light, which with the press of a button we could summon the red and yellow lights that would stop traffic in every direction to allow us to cross. I always felt guilty that I stopped the drivers on their way to some place important. I especially felt bad when there was a lull in the traffic and we could cross safely before the lights ever came on. Then the traffic would resume, the red and yellow would come on, and everyone had to stop for no reason at all. We’d always run after crossing, giggling nervously, feeling like we’d done something terrible to the grownups in the cars. After all, they had places to go and I just wanted to get across to visit my Godfather’s TV and appliance store or to Brown’s bakery where we could ogle the sweet offerings in the glass case and just spend the time inhaling the smell of fresh baked bread.

But the first stretch of our walk home was along our ‘busy’ road, the only road that we were ever warned about crossing. Route 20 AKA the Boston Post Road, was a main drag between Boston and Worcester and it could be really busy.

It must have been Campfire Girl meeting day, because I remember distinctly that we had our costumes on. My mother, our Campfire leader,  always made a distinction by explaining to me that Girl Scouts had uniforms because they were militaristic. We were homemakers and wore costumes. I have never figured out how she came to that conclusion, because I don't remember Girl Scouts carrying guns or anything. But that's what she told me.


Anyway, our costumes in Junior High were quite sophisticated: A navy blue A-line skirt with a white blouse and a red grosgrain ribbon worn under our collars, crossing in front where it snapped together. There was a blazer available, too. But it was too expensive so none of us had that. According to the catalog I found on line, it would have cost $13.95. Way too much for back then.

We were in the Horizon Club, the Junior High division of Campfire girls, having flown up from Bluebirds and then to Campfire Girls and then Horizon Club. We thought we were very sharp and very grown up.

We were Bluebirds in 2nd grade. My mother, standing, holding my sister Cindy. Sue, in a pony tail is standing to my mother's right and I am standing to her left, eating or drinking something.

One of our Campfire meetings before Horizon Club, probably about 5th grade. That's Sue kneeling. I am standing next to my mother, our leader.
Anyway, on those meeting days, we were allowed to wear stockings rather than socks. In the 60s panty hose had not yet been invented. We wore nylons that were held up at the thigh by rubber garters that hung from garter belts. And as we two Horizon Clubbers walked along route 20, enjoying our drugstore candy purchases of Mint Juleps and Pom Poms, Sue stepped in a hole in the pavement. Down she went, onto her hands and knees, in front of all those out of town commuters on the Post Road who were stopped in traffic thanks to Pete. As she tried to recover from the fall, a wind came up, and while she was still on her hands and knees, it whipped her navy blue skirt up over her head exposing her whole bum and the ugly garters we all wore. 

Now had it happened to me, it wouldn’t have been funny for a number of reasons, but the main reason was that things like that happened to me a lot. I wasn’t the graceful,' never a hair out of place' person that my friend was. (I often said I was her Rhoda and she was my Mary.) I was kind of clutzy and really a mess. Sue, on the other hand, was always appropriate and proper and beautiful and I thought she was perfect. So it was the juxtapositioning of that perfection against that fall and the accidental and undignified exposure of underpants and garters that just got to me. 

I started laughing and could not stop. I laughed so hard my eyes watered and only air came out when I tried to speak. Poor Sue stood up, her nylons torn at both knees, her face bright red with embarrassment. I helped pick up her things that were scattered all over the side walk, and still I laughed. What was wrong with me??? I tried to offer her sympathy as she stiffly and quickly walked up ahead, but I couldn’t get the words out. I followed behind her, my sides now hurting, trying to compose myself, but it was of no use. I was sure the entire line of traffic stopped by Pete, were all in their cars laughing, too. And I knew I should have felt badly about that, but I could not stop laughing. I never felt meaner yet even now, 50 years later, I have a little smile on my face as I write this.

Our 6th grade class. That's dorky me in the front row with the white collar. Sue is two people over also in the front row. Looking perfectly quaffed even at 11.
When I finally caught up to her, pleading for forgiveness through my laughter, to my surprise, she wasn’t crying. No, by the time I caught up with her, on the quiet little side street I discovered that she was laughing too. In fact she was laughing as hard as I was, trying to talk through the guffaws. She laughed so hard that mint julep drool actually came out of her mouth while she tried to recap the incident, which made us laugh even harder. In fact the mint julep drool became the catalyst for more laughter, so completely out of character that was for her. The rest of the way home, we had periods of silence, interrupted by outbreaks of laughter. I still don’t know why that was so funny but it was. And the mere mention of the mint juleps would result in waves of uncontrollable laughter all through high school.

I wonder if Sue remembers that. In fact I am wondering if she is reading this. In spite of laughing at her that day, she and I remained friends and to this day she is my oldest and dearest friend, despite my lack of sympathy. I haven't seen her in a while. We are both grandmas now. And I think of her all the time, and she says the same thing. We will always be friends. Although, now that I’ve written this, who knows?
BFFs before that meant anything back in high school. As usual, my hair was sort of messed up and Sue's was perfect. Rhoda and Mary.

Have a great day everyone! And nobody fall!

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