SOMETIMES (part 3 of 8)
A memoir of a kid who changed the way the world was pushing her
Closer to the Holidays, a woman came in to the pharmacy to drop off a prescription on this one Saturday. It was a coded script, so I had to ask for ID. The woman showed me her license and I took note that it was a NY Drivers License. She told me she was visiting friends.
A closer look at the license and I noticed the name and address was very familiar. Yonkers. Turns out they lived around the corner and up the street from me back in the day. I knew the family to some remote degree!
I made the mistake of telling her I lived in Yonkers and not far from her, as a kid. When I told her my name, she froze to a halt. There was silence, and then she looked down and said, “That was a horrible thing that happened with your family.”
If that wasn’t a shock. I wanted to hide under the counter. I should have expected that, but I didn’t. I was speechless.
When tragedies happen around or in families, we never know what to expect years down the line with those who knew you or those connected with you and the tragedy that happened. I’m sure there was much talk in the neighborhood back in that day. Today, I think we might handle it a little differently, but back in the day, it was different. Most everyone had something they kept locked up in their closet for generations that only the family spoke about.
When one of the skeletons got out, all the vultures were there to pick the bones with their thoughts on how, why and when it was going to happen anyway. “It was just a matter of time.” And then there were those who knew nothing of the family, and listened to gossip from the surrounding voices of blame. This woman didn’t know us personally. And it was over 10 years since the incident. But it was still a milestone in her memory. I’m sure they are still relating the story today in some form.
42- The House
I had occasion to visit ‘the house’ when we returned to the east coast with my husband and children in 1999. I had driven by the property a few times over the years when we visited NY. I stopped this one day while my husband waited outside in the car. Ringing the bell, an older gentleman answered the door, and I explained who I was, and that my mom and dad had built the house back in ‘51.
He invited me in and the first thing I saw was the brick fireplace my dad had built. Many a winter I came in from sleigh riding or ice skating on the Kessman’s pond or the pond at the bottom of our street, and sat on the warm hearth by the fire, frozen and waiting for my feet to regain feeling from the ice cold weather.
The house was ‘State of the Art’ for the time, with radiant heat in the first floor. That was a system where hot water pipes were directed throughout all rooms in the house, submerged into the cement foundation under the floors of the first level of the house. The heat from the hot water running through the pipes under the floor would radiate upward through the floors, and rise into the room, heating the rooms from the floor up. This type of heating became very popular, I understand. It was a heating system that worked wonderfully, with the exception of a pipe ever bursting, you’d never be able to tell where it was. You’d have to dig up the entire first floor to find the leak. I suppose that never crossed anyone’s mind, until it happened.
Although the fireplace hadn’t changed, the floors were now carpeted and I assume the radiant heating was ditched somewhere along the way.
The kitchen was smaller than I recalled. The sink had been replaced from the one I remember getting bathed in as an infant. I can still recall very vividly being carried to the sink as it was filling with bath water and watching the pot scratches on the bottom, wiggling around with the rippling of the water. The overhead light in the kitchen always made the sink look very yellow to me. The feeling of being eased into the warm basin of water was most wonderful, and then after being washed, I was carried to the kitchen table, put on a blanket and powdered. I can still recall the white metal can with holes in the top being aimed at me, and then the cool, light feeling of the powder hitting my body, as my mom would always say, “powder the donut!”
My recollection as an infant is uncanny and clear. My thoughts were just as clear. Whether it was necessary to be so lucid at such a young age, or just a particular fluke, I have no idea.
The whole house, it seemed, was much smaller than I remembered. This always happens when we revisit a place we haven’t seen since being a child. I took a look out the back door, the enclosed porch was still intact, but the big maple tree was no longer.
The maple tree was the biggest tree on the property, standing taller than the two story house. It was beautiful and over hung both the yard and the outside patio. The backyard was on a slant, so it really never lent itself too much in the way of doing much other than rolling down it. Even when the pup tent went up, I had to decide which way I wanted the slant to go.
I always had a fear of the tree being hit by lightening when I was a kid. In fact, I vocalized it on several occasions. I deduced that if it fell, it would hit our bedroom on the second floor. I was assured this would never happen.
So I inquired, “There used to be a big maple tree right here in the back yard.”
“Yeah, it was hit by lightening during a storm and fell over onto the house. It hit the second story, right over there. Came right through the roof!” (my bedroom)
Before I left, I took a very long look at the fireplace again. My eyes welled up with tears. I hadn’t seen the inside of the house since my dad passed. That was in 1965. At that time we were emptying out the house. I wondered what this man and his family might have known about the history of the house. I wonder what questions he had for me that he wasn’t asking. I felt him to be very sensitive to my questions and hesitant to ask others.
Glad I was able to have a look. I left in somewhat of a somber and pensive mood.
Another Family Summer participation was going to see my Aunt, Uncle, and their daughter, who was my sister’s age, in Parkchester. They lived high up in a tall apartment building, where halls echoed with the slightest of noises. There was Aunt Mildred, a cousin of my mom’s, and Uncle Frank who wore size 14 shoes, and who I adored. He was always kind and made me feel like I didn’t blend into the furniture in the room. Their daughter, also very, very nice, Carole, oddly enough looked a lot like my sister. They were all very nice people. I typically enjoyed visiting them.
The three of us kids would be required to dress for the visit, and I would always find myself back in one of my starchy dresses I had for church or school, crinoline slip and black pumps. So, uncomfortable before we arrived there, my shy self looked forward to the visit, but hated the dress-up. All I could think of was that Aunt Mildred and Uncle Frank and Carole had never seen me in anything besides that starchy dress! They must have thought I lived in that outfit. In fact, at one point they said to me, “ Is your favorite color Pink, Christine? You seem to always wear pink.” The truth is, I always wore that dress. I only had a few, and this was the one I felt was the most up to date, without looking like it was a hand me down from Darla Hood.
Nod of the head, meaning “Yes.”
Mom: ”Aunt Mildred can’t hear your head rattle, answer her.”
I wasn’t sure pink was my favorite color, but now I at least had an answer to that question should anyone ever ask me again, much like the Yankees/ Dodger question. My favorite color had just become pink.
I was proud of who I REALLY was...a kid who dressed in dungarees and climbed trees and walls, and built things and took her rabbits for a ride around the neighborhood in the basket of her blue Schwinn bike ( from the Salvation Army for $10). I danced to music and I loved to act out scenarios that I thought of in my mind. I wanted to show them my pets and the tricks they did. I ran and danced and laughed and cried and loved Art. I wanted them to see I had a life beyond crinoline slips and black patent leather pumps, with the straps that spun around to the back of the shoes, and pink dresses. I was a tomboy and all they knew of me was a quiet little flower that sat in one spot and never talked.
The ride to their house in the city was filled with subtle innuendos back and forth between my sister and brother in the back seat. I was positioned between the two of them for, I can only guess, at least two reasons. Since I was the smallest, I got the ‘hump’ seat in the middle of the floor, plus, I think I might have been used as the wall between my brother and sister to keep them from fighting and killing each other, for fear either would draw blood before we reached our destination.
Mom would threaten us with embarrassment just as we parked, to behave and not argue or fight in front of anyone.... “or else.” I took this as word, to the extent that I would sit for hours of duration on their comfy couch in agony and utter nothing. When asked a question, I would shake my head and mom would remind me that no one could hear my head rattle, again and again.
When I get nervous, somehow my digestive tract acts up, and I can get overwhelming gas pains and like most things in nature, it finds its way out. I had never, in all my time of visiting Aunt Mildred and Uncle Frank, ever seen their bathroom! Scared to death to move from the couch, merely for fear of being embarrassed by basically letting everyone know I had to use the bathroom, I became so prolific with farting. I found I could expel just enough ‘wind’ in increments to be absorbed by the couch cushion and alleviate any chance of room odor. To my knowledge no one ever suspected I was eking out silent but deadly farts for most of the time we sat there. I was totally expecting the cushion to have burn marks when we eventually stood up to leave.
With my shyness, I didn’t have the nerve to stand up and announce that I had to use the bathroom and then march to that room in front of all of them. I just knew they would be sitting there wondering if I was taking too long and if I was pooping or peeing, and if they could hear me farting from the bathroom all the way to the living room. And what if I stopped up the or toilet? It was exhausting just thinking about that one trip to the bathroom.
Mom was a nurse and somehow, bathroom practices were very important to her. It wouldn’t be unusual to emerge from the bathroom, and mom to ask me in front of everyone there, “Did your bowels move?” How many times I wanted to tell her they moved to another state, and were never coming back. So not moving from the couch at all, solved all that embarrassment.
44- Bye-Bye Birdies
On one visit to Mildred and Frank’s, it was late afternoon, and we had a formal-type dinner at a large table set up in the living room. Mildred sat by the window earlier, snapping green beans for the dinner, with her parakeet on her shoulder who would talk to her in garbled REAL sentences. Aunt Mildred was home every day and spent time teaching the parakeet to talk. It was actually audible and we marveled at this. One thing, though. Mildred trusted her parakeet so much that the bird flew freely about the apartment daily. There were towels placed on the backs of the chairs and couch that caught the bird droppings throughout the day. I especially recall the towels on back of the couch, under a big wall mirror. The towel, located directly under the mirror was always spotted with little black and white pearls from the bird. I assume it liked sitting in front of the mirror often.
Mildred would also leave her windows wide open on beautiful Spring days and said parakeet would see this as an invitation to fly out the window on cue, never to return. So Mildred would buy another parakeet and teach it to talk, and again, that bird would, also, eventually find its wings on some bright sunny day. We didn’t really know how many parakeets they had gone through in the course of time, but it seemed there was a new one on several visits. Each bird seemed prettier than the one before. They were generally an ice blue in color, each new one with some variation.
45-Mildred and Grace
The dinner this one afternoon looked picture perfect. As the bowls of warm food were presented to the table, I so was excited to dig in. When we all got seated and before the bowls were passed around, Mildred asked who would like to say Grace. There was silence. We never did that as a family in our household. “OK, so I’m learning something here,” I thought, “ pay attention.”
Mildred announced, “Let’s have Christine say Grace!” I looked up at my mom who was staring at me with hopes that somehow, some way, I knew enough not to embarrass her. I had never said Grace and neither did any of my family. I could sense the expectation coming from the adults, and relief coming from my siblings, that they weren’t asked.
“I don’t know how to say Grace”, I whispered.
My Aunt said, “It’s okay, Christine, just say Grace”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Just say Grace,” my Aunt insisted.
So I did.
There was hesitation, like they were waiting for the prayer, but it wasn’t coming. and then everyone laughed, and began to pass the bowls of food. My Aunt Mildred and Uncle Frank were wonderful people. I will always remember them fondly.
Being the youngest by many years in a family can be fun or miserable. It all depends on how you see it. It has its perks, but it also has its burdens. There are times you feel special, and there are times you feel invisible and even ‘stupid’. I can laugh, now, at the scenarios, or most of them, but they were real.
After dinner, or at some time later on during the visit, it wasn’t unusual to find Aunt Mildred sitting at the piano with all of us gathered around, singing the old folk songs we all knew so well.
When the relatives visited us during the summer, mostly for my birthday because it was two days from the 4th of July, the barbecue ended in the evening, also, with everyone sitting in the enclosed back porch, singing song after song as a group. I think that was one of my best memories of the relatives visiting.
My brother was the James Dean of the neighborhood. Both good looking, exceptionally smart, and naturally born with a ‘Momoa’ physique. He didn’t have to lift weights to impress. He gained his respect through fights and reputation.
Snowy winters often brought out the ‘bad’ kids in the neighborhood, and snowballs would be hurled at you without even knowing the person who threw it.
This one day, I recall, some kids from another block started a snowball fight with me and a friend or two, and they had the upper hand as they were older boys and could hit harder than us. When I had enough of it, I put down my snowball, and with purpose, walked over to the two kids who were not only throwing snowballs, but also hurling words that weren’t kind. They stood proud, like Kings of the Mountain until I said in a very authoritative voice, “Do you know who my brother is?”
They threw the same words back at me, but in a different tone, like one of a whiny baby, “Do you know who my brother is?..”
I calmly, but again, with purpose, said his name.
Those two words suddenly filled every particle of air around us in slow motion. They dropped their snowballs where they stood, and ran away.
I walked back to my friends and said, “Fight’s over!”
That was the power I had back in the day. Brother was my idol, my protector, my real hero. Superman.
All this worked until on one occasion. Brother had always said he would ‘take care’ of anyone who did me wrong, telling me all he would do. I heard countless promises and stories that would suggest he would, indeed fight the world to protect me. This one time, I was having a terrible time with someone in the neighborhood, and I thought Brother would settle a score I was having with another kid in the neighborhood. So I came home, pulled up a chair, and told Brother all about it. I fully executed him to jump up, and go find that kid, and beat him up. Didn’t happen. Instead, he told me to ignore him. On that day, it became obvious to me that I would not be able to recruit Brother at all to fight my battles for me. It made me stronger, but my heart got a little weaker.
47- The Nurse
Somewhere in 3rd or 4th grade I had a friend who didn’t live next door or up the street, but on the way home from school. Robert was a good looking kid with sandy blond hair and huge blue eyes and we hung out together often. The only problem with Robert was that he was a pathological liar. Anything he said was never true. Ever.
If I could overlook that, we had a great friendship. He was never course or got me in ‘Dutch’ as I used to say. He dressed well and lived in a very nice old stone house. I suspect his dad had a very good job.They were a class act.
Robert decided to take up the saxophone and I was intrigued with all the buttons and such on it. He tried to show me how to play it one afternoon, but he had some trouble, himself, making a formidable sound come out during his demonstration. He had an older brother and sister that were already in college, and we often found ourselves at his house in the afternoon, just hanging out.
Neither of us had any cash to speak of this one day, mine having had probably already gone to candy. We decided to go to Carroll’s hamburgers this one day, located across the vacant lot from my house. Robert found a big old copper looking coin in his dad’s coin collection and said his dad wouldn’t mind if he used it. I wasn’t so sure, but he insisted. I had this vision that it was actually some rare piece that was worth perhaps a few cool thousand dollars. That’s the kind of house they had; nothing in it was from the five and ten.
Before we placed our order at Carroll’s, Robert asked the young man behind the counter what we could get in exchange for the coin. After much coaxing from Robert, we were told we could get fifty cents worth of food in exchange for it. We each got a milk shake and french fries and sat down on a rock and sucked down those warm fries and cool shakes while we talked about all sorts of things. He was a good friend but as I mentioned, he never told the truth about anything. My mom said it was an illness when people didn’t tell the truth like that. It got him into a bit of trouble in school, and when kids find these things out, they run with it.
Robert’s mom became ill at some point and his dad heard me say that my mom was a nurse. She had cancer and there was no hope of her recovering, but she didn’t want to die in the hospital. So mom volunteered to care for her during her off hours from the hospital. I think they appreciated her help and Robert remained a good friend. When we left Yonkers, he was one of the kids I never heard from again. I don’t know what ever happened to him.
46- Mama Stern Sucks
Mom was always helping people. Especially if they needed some kind of medical help. It was her calling, I suppose. We never went to doctors. Mom was our doctor and didn’t believe in taking medication unless necessary. But she wasn’t adverse to dispensing penicillin she obtained from the hospital and give us a shot when we looked like we needed it. Penicillin was the miracle drug that seemed to cure everything from a hangnail to pneumonia. And she dispensed it whenever she felt it was necessary.
While at the kitchen table one Sunday evening with dinner, we all heard a big ‘CRASH!’ Not a good sound when it’s dark outside, especially.
We jumped up from the table, and ran outside. My friend’s brother had been hit by a car while riding his bike. He was hit with such impact that he flew up in the air and landed on the car, his head smashing through the windshield, and then he went bouncing back to the pavement.
Robbie lay there in a pool of blood. Mom was there, once again saving the day, and the child, holding his head together until the ambulance arrived. Mama Stern even heard the crash from their house and came up to rubberneck at the scene, just to be nosey. I stayed back, always afraid of seeing blood and harm. I’m sure Mom was gallant as I would expect. And didn’t Mama Stern have the incredible gall to bend down in the crowd, leaning over to mom and and say to her, “Marion, I thought you didn’t like these people.”
Keep in mind that Mama Stern didn’t even know them. Her question didn’t deserve an answer, a civil one, anyway. Mom ignored her, as well she should have, but never forgot her comment. Our friendship with the Stern’s didn’t go up the hill from there. I don’t know who really was close with the Stern’s. We sure weren’t at that point. And not ever after.
FYO...I’m happy to say Robbie lived and became successful in time to come.
48- The Entrepreneur
The Easter Bunny brought two white baby bunnies one Easter. One for my sister and one for me. My brother wouldn’t have wanted one. Mom didn’t feel Brother needed another animal to add to his collection of boards in the attic. Thumper and Snowball. Mine was Snowball. Snowball took sick soon after we got him, and mom gave him a shot of penicillin, but he didn’t pull through. We buried him outside in the cemetery that seemed to be developing in the back yard. Thumper then came down with the same thing and mom caught it in time and and the penicillin worked. But it seemed that Thumper’s front teeth started crossing as a result of the medication. He got past it and lived for about 7 years with his crooked teeth.
Since Sister didn’t show much interest in feeding the pets, Thumper became my responsibility and I started teaching him tricks. Sister also had a parakeet who sat in a cage all day and she kept forgetting to change the cage or feed it. Sister named him Pretty Boy. We called him Cinderella.
At one point we had a duck, a skunk and a rabbit at the same time. They all got along, and I was bound and determined to have my own little circus. So I taught them all tricks and then advertised the show for ten cents admission. A few kids showed up, but only Tommy and one or two others showed up with a dime in hand. Mom got wind of my entrance fee and told me to return everyone’s money. I gave everyone their money back, but Tommy wouldn’t take his dime back. He said it was a good show and really worth it.
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t always think of making something or performing something and selling it.
One year I dragged an empty refrigerator box up to my house from an appliance store down the hill on Central Avenue. It was a big enough box that I could stand inside it and move around. A big window cut into one side of the box and door that flapped open and shut in back made it a perfect little ‘shop’ to sell lemonade. I drew flowers on it, brought in a wooden chair to sit on from the child-sized table and chairs we used inside the house, and made and brought out quarts of lemonade and a stack of paper cups.
I added a big sign on the outside that said ‘ Lemonade 5¢’, and I was in business.
Within minutes, Elise, who lived diagonally across the street, came out and set up a table in front of her house. Her mom marched out with a canister of lemonade and set her up, with a little sign taped to her table...”Lemonade 5¢”.
I rushed into the house and complained to my mom, “She copied me!”
And mom said, “ Imitation is the best form of flattery, now go out and sell lemonade if you want”. So I did. I think because I had a decorated ‘box’ shop , it attracted attention. Maybe another 30 minutes went by and Elise, who had no sales at all, pulled up shop and went back inside. I continued to sell lemonade for two days.
Another of my ArtGirl Ads….taken from that experience….
One hot July day, I thought,”Whew, it’s HOT!”
So I decided to open a lemonade stand right outside my house.
I built a stand from a refrigerator box and I decorated it with flowers.
Then I squeezed a bunch of lemons from our lemon tree, took ice cubes, and lots of sugar, and filled tall paper cups and sold lemonade for 5¢ a cup.
I was doing really well, and then Elise from across the street opened up a
lemonade stand, too, that afternoon.
My mom said,”Imitation is the best form of flattery” and then told me to go out and sell lemonade.
I sold a ton of lemonade and people showed up the next day and the next. They said it was really good lemonade.
Elise went to her Grandpa’s for the summer.
Accept no substitutions.
A born entrepreneur from the start, I was always thinking of ways to market something, some way to share my ideas and inventions.
At a very young age, I remember that a big frustration was cars getting flat tires on the road, causing accidents. It was depicted on TV all the time. I must have been about 7 years old or so when I came up with the notion that they should fill tires with a hard foam so that when a tire goes flat, it will do it slowly, and it will be safer.
It was years after that, I heard someone else had eventually come up with the same idea. Since I’m not familiar with ever having seen it in action, I’m guessing it didn’t become popular. But I still believe it is a good idea.
And electronics always intrigued me. I remember first learning about batteries and electrical current. I ran home, found an empty cardboard toilet roll, and some color-coated copper wire that the telephone people left outside when they worked on the phone lines. Along with a small lightbulb from an actual flashlight, and, of course, batteries, I was set. I rigged it so I could have an ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch, able to break and re-connect the current. And voila! I had a working flashlight. I showed mom, but I’m not sure she was impressed. Whatever I learned in school on any particular day that I found interesting, I came home and recreated. Chemistry sets were a favorite of mine. I’m surprised I didn’t blow up the house. I’m not sure too many other kids did this, now looking back.
I remember looking around the house and seeing all the wires from lamps, TV, toaster, percolator, and electric frying pan. From an early age, I knew there had to be a way that someday wires strung all over the house would come to an end. We are just getting there now. I knew the day would come that we wouldn’t have to get up to change TV channels. But how?
I’m still convinced that having outlets for devices and such installed in windowsills is a stellar idea, for holiday decorations in windows. A feature that could be upgraded as times change, hidden in the sill. No one needs to see wires hanging from window sills to make the outside appearance of the house look good during the holidays. All this will help until someone sees the advantage of creating electric current that works without wires.
And no one really needs to go around changing batteries, throwing away the used ones into trash that wind up in land fills or the ocean. So, we need to start using rechargeable batteries more. When we purchased our last house while it was being built, I asked the builder for an outlet in the middle of the floor to be installed. It was a very large room with a high ceiling and I pictured a Christmas Tree in the middle of our very large room without an extension cord trailing across the floor to trip on. This was an idea I thought of after attending Balanchine’s ‘Nutcracker’ at Lincoln Center. And so we did, in fact, have a very tall tree, smack in the middle of our room that you could walk around without tripping over wires.
The builder thought I was crazy. He reluctantly fulfilled my request. Interestingly enough, I noticed that the house he built a couple of years later for his daughter, also had the big room, and there in the center of the floor....was an electrical outlet!
It was done in a room that had another level of sorts below it. The room was over the garage. I never regretted that feature. Next house, I would additionally do the window sills as I mentioned.
49- That Vacation
A summer vacation in 1957 turned out a little differently than expected. Mom, my sister and I set off to drive to the Catskills to spend two weeks at Lang’s, a lodge of sorts. Dad didn’t join us, and I believe my brother was in ‘sleepover’ camp. Lang’s had a big pool, and horseback riding. Every vacation had to include horseback riding or I didn’t consider it a vacation. Not far from Lang’s was a place called The Catskill Game Farm, where all kinds of animals walked the premises and one could mingle and feed them special food you bought from vending machines on the premises. How exciting that would be! My affinity for animals of all sorts made me consider veterinary years later. I was jazzed.
We piled into the big 1951 light green Plymouth sedan with the three of us in the front seat one early July morning, and headed off to the Game Farm. There was no such thing as seatbelts in those days. And sister always ‘got the window’ by virtue of her birth order. It went without saying, I got the middle seat, unless I wanted the back seat. But not today, I wanted the front seat. So I plopped myself between Sister and Mom.
Off we went on this bright, sunny summer day to have the time of our lives! We seemed to be the only ones driving on the old cement road, when I heard a horn blowing behind us. It was a solid, long sound and it seemed to be getting closer and closer very quickly. I turned in my seat to see a car speeding up over the rise behind us. Turning back around, I silently said to myself, ”They’ll slow down when they get to us”. I can remember thinking that exact thought, still.
All of a sudden, within seconds, and simultaneously, I heard and felt a deafening deep-toned CRASH!, and our car flew off the road, rocking about, recklessly, into oblivion. As my sister and I were thrust over the front seat to the back, I saw the sky through the front window. Shaking in all directions through the front windshield, the big fluffy cumulus clouds against the very blue sky, were doing flip-flops as I seemed to travel effortlessly backward. The vehicle eventually landed well off the road, in a ravine of sorts. The vision of the sky as I was thrown over the front seat has never left my mind. I also recall there was absolutely no pain associated with that little journey to the back seat.
When everything came to a halt, I found myself on the floor in the back seat with my left side UNDER the back seat. Sister landed on the passenger side, on or by the seat, leaving her with a bloody gash over her one eye that gave her a most impressive black eye in the end. The front seat had folded over mom’s calves, and when she finally broke free, she was outside trying to figure out how to get us out of the car. All the windows had become void of glass, and the doors were all crammed shut, so the only exit was through the windows of the vehicle.
I also recall that we lost our shoes as a result of the impact. I didn’t know this was a ‘thing’ in situations like this.
Sister exited with little effort, I’m told, as she could climb through the side window. On the other hand, I was a different story. They had to lift the seat back up and drag me out while reaching in from outside of the vehicle. My arm was visibly affected by the impact of the seat rising and then crashing down upon it. I think it was safe to assume my arm was broken at the time, especially because of the pain I apparently experienced as they removed me from the vehicle. I literally have no recollection of that particular process. It is erased from my memory. I recall every other detail, but not that one.
Next thing I knew I was stretched out on a grassy area awaiting help. I recall seeing the man who hit us, walking about, through the crowd that gathered, with bloody hankies up to his nose. I heard many years later that he had been drinking and passed out at the wheel, with his foot on the gas pedal. Apparently his wife, who was seated next to him, was leaning on the horn in an attempt to warn everyone ahead to clear the way.
As I lay quietly on the grass, waiting for the ambulance, a man walked up to me, knelt down and took off his fedora and held it over my face to shield me from the hot summer sun in my eyes. He asked if that was ‘better’ and I said ,”yes”, feeling grateful.
He got into conversation with someone on the scene and his hat started to stray a bit, no longer shading my eyes. I was quick to remind him with a ‘Hey!’, that the sun was in my eyes again, and he laughed and reset the position of his hat.
Mom had quite a bit of pain in her legs for sometime afterward, but, like sister, nothing broken. It was said that if I had been riding in the back seat when the impact happened, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the accident.
Riding in the ambulance was somewhat exciting and somewhat scary. Being at the other end of one of those sirens was frightening, and I wondered just how grave my condition was. My sister didn’t make it any better when she started crying and seemed genuinely worried about me. She never worried about me. She never liked me, and now she was worried about me. Jesus. I thought, ”I’M GOING TO DIE!”
No, not really. But it crossed my mind. I told her I was okay, and ‘not to worry about me, but just worry about herself’. I can’t believe those words came out of my 6 year old mouth. I sounded like John Wayne in a True Grit movie....Too many westerns in my tv viewing, perhaps. She eventually stopped crying and started looking genuinely worried.
Sister had a tendency to be very emotional and dramatic, (we called her Sarah Heartburn) and I was the one who kept the stiff upper lip, telling myself over and over in my mind, ”Step away, this isn’t real. Don’t be emotional, it’s a weakness.” Brother had a very strong influence on me, so that my tolerance for pain has remained with me so far.
Every time I fell off my bike, got my finger slammed in a car door, tripped and got winded, not able to take a breath, Brother would look at me and say, ”You’re okay, right? You’re tough.” And I would pull myself together and put a smile on my face. That train of thought worked only for myself. Later when I had kids, I became a blubbering idiot every time they farted. I felt their pain.
I continued to be somewhat focused on the little pin hole design in the inside roof of the ambulance to keep my mind off of the real issue at hand. I learned about 25 years later that this was the best way to give birth..I could have written THAT book.
Eventually arriving at the local hospital, they took x-rays and gave me a sling. Turns out the top of the arm by the shoulder was broken/crushed. They didn’t want to touch it, so we took the next train to Yonkers from the Catskills in the morning. Air conditioning was not an amenity at the lodge, nor the train, so trying to be comfortable with a broken arm in a humid 90° all night and day didn’t win brownie points with me. The next day’s train ride wasn’t much better.
When we arrived at Bronxville station after what seemed a very long trip, my orange kapok-filled life preserver used as a pillow, I was just a hop, skip and a jump from the hospital mom worked at. Dad greeted us with a high back wicker wheel chair there on the platform. His words to mom when he saw us were, ‘she better be okay’. .. one of the phrases that made so much sense later on. Any excuse to be violent.
My hospital stay was 6 weeks. They immediately knocked me out and put my arm in traction. Not three days later, I fell out of bed in the middle of the night. My body crumbled onto the floor while my broken arm dangled in mid air, with weights on the other end of the pulley. “Nurse! Nurse!”
Next day, they put me back ‘under’ again, and arranged my arm across my chest, and then ace bandaged my arm to the rest of my torso to keep it stationary, for six weeks. And much to my chagrin, they also put rails on my bed.
My doctor during that stay was evidently trying a new type of way to handle breaks like I had. No one had, apparently, ever treated a broken arm by wrapping the arm to the torso. And I thought the least I could get out of this was a cast that everyone could sign and I could keep forever, but it didn’t go that way.
My arm healed well, with no problems at all, to this day, and I came to understand that the doctor became the head of the hospital sometime after my stay.
Because mom worked as an RN at that same hospital I was in, she was able to come and see me every day. She worked the night shift, 3-11, and was able to say, ‘Good Night’ to me every night. She would sing me ‘Jesus Loves You’ or ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and sometimes ,’This House Is One Foundation’ every night on my way to sleep. I got to pick.
Dad visited a few times after he got off work, and would bring me bubblegum cigars, which I loved. They came in pink, yellow and mint green. I tried to share one of them with a friend who was there with her leg in a cast. She had stepped on a piece of glass that injured her so badly, she had to spend a couple of weeks in the children’s ward where I was.
A nurse saw me offer to share one of my bubblegum cigars with her, and snatched that bubblegum cigar right from hand before she could open it. The nurse said they had to analyze it to make sure it was only bubble gum. They ripped open the wrapper, kept it for a few hours and then returned it to her. I guess it passed.
There was an older, bigger heavy set rat-looking boy there in the kids’ ward who seemed like a bully. He didn’t look sick or ailing or broken, so I never knew why he was there. He would wander the halls and the TV room and force you into letting him see your gifts and then break them. I eventually ‘told’ on him after he broke my lucky horseshoe keychain with a shiny penny in it, and he left me alone.
A fire broke out across the street from the hospital, and I watched it all from my window seat. At one point I became so concerned, I began to cry, thinking it was going to spread to the hospital and we would all burn up.
I was assured this would never happen. I’m sure it was something from that accident that made me afraid of the most interesting things! I trusted that the car speeding up behind us would stop, naturally, when it got closer. It didn’t. And then I learned to question adults more.
I have a long time friend who I’ve known since birth. Her mom and my mom were best friends for years while they both dated their future husbands. Her daughter is three months my senior. We were very ‘tight’ and always referred to each other as cousins. Children were not allowed in hospitals to visit back in the day, and Michele had been asking about me. So mom ‘arranged’ a visit from Michele by hiding her under her overcoat and walking her through the hospital, down the halls and into my room. Michele and I still talk about it. It was sort of like ‘spy’ stuff.
One of the nurses on my floor, ‘Murray’, ( I suspect that was her last name) took a liking to me and upon my release from the hospital, gave me a gift. It was a beautiful musical jewelry box, made in the Orient. It was black lacquer with painted Asian writing, a painting of a pagoda, with mother of pearl chips set perfectly along the perimeter of the box. When you opened it, a man in a tuxedo and a ballerina in costume popped up and spun around to the tune of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, lined with pink velveteen. Several mirrors placed around them gave the impression of a room full of dancers, moving and spinning in sync to the music. It was one of my personal favorites of ‘things’ I had. Mom knew enough to bring it with us on our ‘adventure’.
Mom and my brother arrived to pick me up early one day after my 6 week stint in the hospital was up. Brother was home from sleepover camp and I was excited to see him as well as go home and sleep in my own bed. I was also excited to see my friends and tell them about my adventure. I was excited to see Ginger and my rabbits and all my other furry friends. I hoped Sister would be excited to see me as well. What no one expected was my reaction to the ride home.
Mom and dad had replaced the the ‘totaled’ Plymouth with a mauve colored, used Studebaker, with the bullet nosed front grille. As I climbed in the front seat between mom and brother, my memory of the accident suddenly came hurling back to me, almost automatically, unconsciously. I began making breathing noises through my teeth and bracing myself against the seat every time we rolled up behind a car in traffic. It was automatic. I was afraid we would plow into the car in front of us. I was somewhat amused at my own reaction and could do nothing about it. I can still hear brother asking mom ‘what is that about?’ And mom’s response was, ‘It’s from the accident’.
53-In Hind Sight
We had some time left before school started, so we made a return trip back to Lang’s again before school started. But not visit to The Catskills Game Farm! I no longer had a desire for that adventure. Brother joined us and worked with me in the pool to get my hairy little bent chicken wing arm back in shape. By the time we left, the arm was ‘in business again’.
Many years later, in conversation with my brother, we got on the subject of the crash. All he could really say to me was, ‘You were really messed up.. I remember, you were really in bad shape’. I didn’t know what that meant.
So I wrote the hospital and requested my records from 1957, if they still had them. I knew, also, during that time, I had developed infections in my fingers and had to soak them, while in gauze, in a yellow liquid of some sort every day. It was never explained to me what that was all about. Anxious to receive them, I braced myself for what I might find when the envelope arrived. But they didn’t tell me much, except it clearly noted that I had a plaster cast on my arm, which, of course, never happened. So much for hospital records.
I did eventually return to the area as an adult with my own children, and visited the Catskill Game Farm. I can’t tell you the anxiety I had as we drove up to the entrance. I was coming full circle with an unfortunate situation. Leaving the park that day, there was a feeling of completion, and a thought of mom. Maybe she felt I needed to go there. There are so many times I feel I am completing a cycle.
54- DeJa Vu
Not long after I got home from the hospital and settled in again, we became the proud owners of a brand new emerald green 1957 Plymouth with the big tail fins. Very cool car and very low to the ground. It wasn’t too long after that we pulled into S.Klein’s parking lot to do some shopping and someone broadsided us while I was in the back seat. I knew it couldn’t have been because they didn’t see us. I freaked out a little and had to make sure in my mind that I was really okay. Mom was particularly upset and concerned about me, and vowed to never buy another green car. She felt it was a sure target for car accidents.
So, in 1962, on that fateful day that mom arrived at my elementary school, little did I know how different life would become. As she entered the doorway to the classroom with the Principal, my teacher was summoned over to join in the conversation. My first glance told me this had to be The Day! Mom never showed up at my school like this before. Ever. I was a good student and never in trouble. And this was completely out of character. I had no clue, until that moment, that THIS was The Day. I was told to gather my personal items from my desk and come out to the hallway.
The only other time I had any contact at all with the school Principal, Mrs. Richie, was a few months prior. I was in 5th grade. Another boy in my class named Mathew and I were called to the office one day. Almost breaking out in complete sobs as we walked the Green Mile to the principal’s office, I did not understand what I could have possibly done, because only bad kids get called to the office.
When we reached the principal’s office, I could see a few other children I knew, sitting on the metal beige folding chairs surrounding her desk. Matthew and I were ushered into the office and took a seat amongst them, as requested. Sitting in complete silence, we all looked at one another anticipating our fate. Did we all have a disease of some sort? Did we all do some heinous thing on the playground? Did we use bad language? Was it about the Stupid Sterns again? What was it? I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure it out. But I did feel better knowing all these other kids did the same thing, whatever it was.
Mrs Richie entered the room and sat down at her desk. As the moment unfolded, I couldn’t believe my ears. We were all chosen to change our classes to a new one that included sixth graders.
It was a new experimental class. A combination class of fifth and sixth grade! I considered myself a decent student, but I guess I was better than I thought. After completing this grade, we would skip sixth grade and go directly to Jr. High School, seventh grade! Wowza! And to add to the excitement, I was now going to have the teacher that both my brother and sister once had. She had a reputation for being very cool and a teacher that everyone wanted. I was set! How lucky I suddenly felt!
So, we all started the class the next day, and I think we all loved it. The teacher was ridiculously wonderful and it was kind of cool being a part of a class of students that were a year older than us. My grades got even better, and I managed straight E’s in the last marking period. I was so excited about the idea of moving ahead to 7th grade the next year. Mom had also skipped a grade when she was in school, and I was sort of following her tradition. My self esteem was finally in a place where I didn’t feel invisible.
One particular day in my new class, the teacher started on some subject that came around to ‘Blue Babies’... babies born without sufficient oxygen in their blood. It seems to have something to do with heart issues and circulation, and also later on the ingestion of water containing nitrates that some blood types don’t mix well with, turning them into nitrites, thus poisoning the blood. Of course I don’t really think they knew all that back in the day, so they did complete blood transfusions in most babies to alleviate the issue.
My teacher announced that she knew of a certain child in her class that was born a blue baby. She wouldn’t reveal the name and, so, of course I was sure it was me. I knew she knew my family, and it wouldn’t be so odd for that information to be shared. Mom, being a nurse, often turned her conversations and humor to medicine. It wouldn’t be unusual for her to share that story.
When I arrived home for lunch, I eased over to stand by Mom at the counter while she was making my lunch. Eventually getting enough gumption to ask, I blurted out, “Was I a blue baby?”
“What? Why do you ask ?”
“My teacher said she knew someone in our class was a blue baby and I know you know her”
“No, you weren’t a Blue Baby”
Whew! What a relief! I ate my lunch with confidence and thought about the poor kid who WAS born a Blue Baby. Who on earth would tell the teacher THAT? I wondered how many kids went home and asked their moms that same question.
Once a year a doctor would come to school and all students got checked by him in the nurse’s office. He would listen to everyone’s heart with a stethoscope and then tell certain kids to lie down on their left side for a while. Then he would check again. And then we would leave to go back to our class. I knew that for certain, every year I would line up for this process, butterflies gathering in my stomach as I approached the beginning of the line, that I would undoubtedly be told to lay down on my side for a while. And without fail, I was ordered to the couch each year. I had no idea and still have no idea why they did this. I asked and no one ever told.
58- June-1962/ Back To That Fateful Day
The day we took off on our adventure, the school year wasn’t completely over, but just a few weeks away. My teacher felt I was in good shape to leave and not be concerned about my grades for the last marking period.
That was all great and fine, and I was all set. “On with our adventure!”, I thought. No tears, just anticipation of what life would be from then on.
Mom and I walked out to the car, a brand new 1962 Rambler that she bought with cash. It was packed to the gills with whatever she could manage to keep us going for a while. Sister was waiting in the front seat, hankie in hand and tears in her eyes. Since this was a ‘compact’ car, I jumped into the backseat amongst our few earthly treasures and necessities. Sister was weeping into her handkerchief while mom was visibly nervous, and I was anxious as my prayers were now being answered. What a crew! I wrapped my arms around mom from the back seat and told her, “Let’s Go!” And hugged her. I was more than ready.
Days that ensued always included the same routine every time we stopped for the night. Mom would inquire the cost of the motel, then go to the room to check the mattresses for bed bugs. $4 a night was our limit, and sometimes we inquired more than once or twice, a necessary part of the adventure. Eating out was a novelty, foreign to my earlier life. There were no McDonalds or Taco Bell’s to be had, but instead, diners and cafes that we stopped at on the road, where hot open turkey sandwiches became my staple. Sometimes I would have two. I was a growing child.
Dessert was never an option. Mom always said that if you wanted desert, then it meant you didn’t eat enough at your meal. I was an active child and somehow burned off every calorie I ate in those days.
Growing up, we had a very nice restaurant on Central Ave in Yonkers called Patricia Murphy’s. It boasted a nice manmade body of water surrounding the restaurant, with a small bridge to walk over to the entrance, and best of all, candlelight dinners. You could drive down Central Avenue and off in the distance see the candles burning in the windows in the evening, and I often thought about how it must be to dine there.
At Christmas time, they displayed living manger outside the restaurant, located just this side of the small wooden bridge. They erected a stable, where there stood beautiful full sized 3-D statues of the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and the rest of the gang, all positioned around the baby Jesus. Hay was strewn on the ground for the live sheep and a soft but focused light made you think you were seeing the star of Bethlehem shining with purpose over the Crèche in the cool night. There might have even been a donkey as well, I’m not sure. The idea that Patricia Murphy’s created this little scene for its patrons made them Number One in my book.
Standing and studying this living diorama, never wanting to leave that spot, I could easily imagine what it was like on that fateful night In Jerusalem. It all came together and I could feel I was right there, in body and soul, a silent participant in the whole process of that famous birth. Later on, I heard it didn’t take place in a stable, but more of a cave, and I didn’t believe that, because Patricia Murphy’s did not show a cave, but a cozy warm stable with wooden sides, layers of hay on the ground of said stable. As long as I live, it will always be a stable. Something about Christmas, made me believe in the Magic of that particular Holiday, because I wanted to. It was the only part of religion I could or wanted to ‘buy’.
So, we visited Patricia Murphy’s each year at Christmas Time, standing and watching the living manger, marveling at the nativity, and then my mind sailed off to that candle light dinner that I mentioned a time or two that I would like to experience. Mom reminded me, “You’d have to wear a dress to eat here, Christine.” Although that thought soured me a little, I would put up with it just to be able to say I’d been there, so, I’d wear that dress.
It wasn’t that I hated dresses, really, it was just that when I did wear them, it was pounded into my brain that you had to sit a certain way, and you couldn’t get them dirty. You couldn’t sit cross legged on the floor and you had to be constantly aware of what part of your legs were showing, and God forbid, someone see your underwear. And there was a particular method to folding your dress under you as you sat down. So they weren’t my favorite things in the world.
Give me my wrangler jeans and any kind of shirt you want, and we can talk. We can jump, and climb monkey bars and swing on the swing, and sit cross legged anywhere we want. Hop Scotch, Scully, jump rope, bicycling, roller skating, and jumping off of walls ...any thing you want. Put me in a dress and i’ll sit nicely, legs closed and I’ll fart through any couch pillows you want.
We never did eat at Patricia Murphy’s, but the Christmas Nativity still remains a good experience in my mind.
60- Music for The Wise Men
Mom and Dad did work well together when Dad was sober and on a mission. This one year, they took on a rather big Christmas project. They constructed a diorama of sorts to put on our front lawn for our yearly Christmas decoration. It was a large shadow box, I’m guessing, maybe 6’x10’, with the three wisemen, traveling through the desert on camels in the forefront. The black painted silhouetted figures were positioned in front of the light blue sky backdrop. In the upper right hand corner was an electric light coming through the background, depicting the star of Bethlehem. Mom painted gold rays of light around the star, against the blue background. It was stunning. They set it up on the front lawn, on cinderblocks, because of the recent snow, which required it to sit somewhat higher to be seen in its entirety.
Mom had recorded Christmas Carols on Brother’s big Webcor reel-to-reel, and propped it up to play out their bedroom window, just to the side of the diorama. When Mom and Dad set out to create anything like that, it was professional looking. They were both Artists in their own right, and did everything to perfection.
What a beautiful decoration that set off the front of the house! Those driving up the street from Central Avenue would see it and stop to appreciate the display.
But those that lived in our neighborhood, didn’t share that sentiment. Most everyone who lived on our block was Jewish, which was fine, but these were the same people (the Sterns) next door who didn’t want to see a tree in the lobby of the elementary school during Christmas. Kids drawing menorahs and trees to hang in the class windows was fine, but it wasn’t long before the tree in the lobby was asked to be removed.
I never thought Christmas trees had much of a direct association with religion, necessarily, but more of the season. It depended on what you decorated it with. And I never saw a Santa in any church I ever attended. Santa brought gifts, but I also don’t ever recall him being a religious symbol. It would have been nice to see the jewish kids embrace this aspect of the season. It did not HAVE to be a representation of anything particularly religious. Only now, do I see people of different religions bringing their kids up with this custom included in their lives.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Mom went to the front door.
“Hi, Joe, what brings you here tonight?” Joe was a Yonkers police officer.
“Hi, Marion, well, we received a call on your Christmas music. Beautiful decorations, by the way!”
“Thanks, Joe! We can’t play music? “
“Well, Marion, you can. But I had to answer the call. Just make sure you turn it off by 10pm”
“Will do, Joe! “
“Merry Christmas, Marion!”
“Merry Christmas, Joe!”
The Sterns were at it again. These were the same people that, when they found out our house was going up for sale at one point, marched up to our door one night, unannounced. I was watching TV when they entered.
Mom offered them a seat in the living room. Then the conversation began....
“Marion, we see that you have your house up for sale. We want to tell you that we won’t stand for it if you sell your house to ‘coloreds’!
Mom stood there with a surprised look, and asked if ‘that was all’.
They continued to go on about how they had a nice neighborhood and didn’t want it ruined by ‘coloreds’.
Interesting, they could clean your house and wipe your kids’ butts, but they couldn’t live next to you.
Mom replied, “I can’t control who decides to buy our house.”
They threatened again. Mom just smiled and asked them if ‘that was all’, once more.
They rose from their seats and marched back out. As soon as the door closed behind them, Mom turned and yelled to Dad, (and I remember this so clearly) “Chaaalie (her Bronx accent for Charlie), call the realtor tomorrow and see if they can find a colored buyer! “
I laughed so hard, I thought my head would explode.
They never did call the realtor, they just wanted to, in theory, feel that the Sterns didn’t have that power. My parents didn’t care who bought the house, personally. They just wanted to sell the house. We never did sell the house until after Dad died. I don’t know how long it was up for sale, but I’m sure it had the Sterns going while it was. I think Mom and Dad were kind of tired of the neighborhood.
Thinking about it now, years later, I couldn’t understand how people so oppressed and mistreated with the atrocities they endured in Nazi Germany, could become so intolerant of others. Since that time in my life, I have come to have many jewish friends in my life who I adore and are nothing like the Sterns. I came to understand that it never had anything to do with their religion, that they were just a family of ugly hearted people.