Monday, February 24, 2014

"I have tried to know absolutely nothing about a great many things, and I have succeeded fairly well. ~ Robert Benchley

It was my first year of teaching in a beautiful 2-year-old junior/senior high school in the southern-most part of South Omaha, NE. My art room had everything an art teacher could desire, including 7 classes of 35 students each! All my 4th period students were in the midst of a contour drawing of a huge still life I had created in the middle of the room. You could actually feel the students' concentration. It was thrilling to me! 

Contour drawing is a technique that requires the artist to make a drawing of the subject using just ONE continuous, free-flowing line. It takes nearly perfect concentration to make an elegant drawing with this technique, and these students were achieving it. The still life was composed of farm implements I'd gathered just for this drawing lesson. There was an ancient scythe, a well-used shovel, a leather ox yoke, a heavy fishing net, and other amazing items. It even included 3 large metal milk cans filled with the weeds I'd found in the vast open land along side of our school. All of that still life perched itself on a large wooden table nearly reaching the ceiling. It was glorious, with enough variety to cause each student's drawing to be different from the next.

I strolled among my students, helping if they were stuck, and purring every time I saw beautifully flowing lines that are the mark of a REAL artist, as opposed to the nervous, cranky, scratchy lines of "wanna-be artists." I was soooooo proud! Heck! I was gooood!

The door of my classroom opened, and in strode the principal... perfect timing, I thought. This man must feel lucky to have hired me... maybe in time, he would name me the art department chair... then the district art specialist... just think, I was only 21 years old, and already I was goooood!

"Miss Kingston, may I see you out outside for a moment, please?" (Here it was... he was going to tell me what a wonderful teacher I was... how lucky he was to have hired me... he was...)

"Miss Kingston, where did you get those weeds in the milk cans?"

"Why, out in the field along side of the school, Mr. Tolen. The whole field is full of them! Aren't they beautiful? As soon as they die, I can go right out there again and fill the cans with more!"

"Miss, Kingston... that is MARIJUANA! You have 3 huge bunches of marijuana stalks in the milk cans! Please get rid of them during your conference period!" said Mr. Tolen and he walked away...

... and I wasn't even fired! Sometimes, it can be good to be stupid. I always loved that principal!  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another." ~ Katheryn Paterson

I walked into the "Women Teachers' Lounge" during my conference period at the junior/senior high school where I was teaching, only to find the whole room was giddy with laughter! One of the teachers had intercepted a note floating around her classroom, and, as was the "rule," she'd saved it to pass around for all of us teachers to have a good laugh.

A girl had written to her friend, "i finnaly did IT with Johnny last night! im scard (spelling and punctuation wasn't this girl's forte). will I get pregant now?"

Her friend had scribbled, "how long did you do IT?"

"about five minutes i guess!!!!!!"

"don't worry!!!!!!! Jenny told me as long as you don't do IT more than 15 minutes you can't get preggers!!!!!!!"

Well, I wasn't laughing as hard as they were. Shouldn't someone tell this poor girl more of the facts of life than the hear-say of life? Of course, with that "information" traveling all around, I was SURE of having a teaching job for the next 100 years at the rate that children were going to be spawned!

When I was young, we saw a movie on "reproduction" in school. I never could figure it out. There was a big happy round circle floating in some kind of lake. It seemed to be a girl circle because she had a ribbon in her hair. Coming toward her were these little fish. They seemed to be boys because they had caps on. When the fish saw the circle, they all wanted to pop her! Most of the fish just bumped their heads on her and then swam away, all sad. One fish made it into the circle, though, and she didn't explode like a soap bubble... she just smiled! Then, for some reason, there was a baby bubble inside the girl-circle! The teacher turned off the projector, and said, "And that's how babies are made!" She DIDN'T add, "Any questions?" I had plenty of 'em...

When Mike and Cathy, my cousins, came to our house one day, Mike and I left the two "youngsters" behind by walking down the alley where a horse lived in a very long backyard. Cathy and my little brother never did have the stamina to keep up with us all the way there. As we ate the wild raspberries that lived at the bottom of a fence along the alley, I asked Michael about the whole deal... what were the fish and the circle all about? Mike told me, in no uncertain terms, EXACTLY what that all meant.

"My Mother and Father never did such a thing!"

" Yes, they did, too!" he said. 

"Did NOT!"

"Well, they did it two times for sure!" Mike laughed. 


"They got you and Jack, didn't they?" He had me there...

"The Day of the Faculty Room Note" was the same day that Doris, the shy old-lady teacher ventured into the "Women Teacher's Lounge." Thank heavens she hadn't walked in about 20 minutes earlier! Doris taught English, and she wasn't the sort of lady to read that letter or to listen to our laughter. She was a sweet, long-time teacher who'd never been married and was from a tiny little town about midway in the state. Doris told me that she lived on the same long, long street I drove down to go back-and-forth to school everyday. We talked for a while, and it was settled. I would pick her up in the mornings and drive her home in the afternoons. She was pleasant company, and we could tell our teaching woes to one another on the way home...

One day as we drove home, I noticed that cloud-filled sky was the color of mustard! I'd never seen that before! Doris said, "Terry, we're going to have a tornado! That mustard-sky is the sign of it!" California and Connecticut where I'd been raised don't have such things as unruly tornados... I mean, it just wasn't DONE! 

When I got home, I hugged Clancy, our Old English Sheepdog, took him out for his walk and fed him. Then I called the pizza-delivery man and told him to deliver the biggest, cheesiest pizza they made, ASAP! Richard was on a business trip to Chicago, and that automatically made it "Pizza Night for Terry!" After changing my clothes, I went into the living room of our first house, a little brick Tudor home, and cuddled up with Clancy to wait for my dinner.

Suddenly, there were sirens! Not police sirens... No! Sirens that could be heard across the whole of Omaha, Nebraska! TV shows were subjugated to news flashes screaming, "TAKE SHELTER NOW! TORNADO SIGHTED! TORNADO TOUCHED DOWN! TAKE SHELTER NOW!"

I grabbed Clancy, a blanket, a pillow, a radio, and down the kitchen stairs we ran to the basement. Our little home was built on a steep rise, so the basement was underground on one side, but it was nearly ground level at the other side with a small window high up on that wall. 

Clancy and I, with backs against the wall, faced that menacing window across the basement from under the blanket, where I could peek out. If the tornado came close enough, that window could shoot glass at us, but I was sure the blanket would protect us... uh huh!  

...nothing happened! ...more nothing happened! ...even MORE nothing happened!

SUDDENLY TEN TRAINS ROLLED OVER OUR ROOF! I've never heard noise like that before or since... NEVER! Then, all at once, came the quietest quiet I've ever heard in my life............  an eerie absent of any sound......... 

Then the phone rang! Should I... or shouldn't I.......? I SHOULD... it might be Richard calling...

Up the basement stairs I ran to answer the phone at the top of those stairs! "Hello?"

"Lady........  lady....... lady....."

"Yes! Who IS THIS?"

"It's me, lady, the pizza guy! Lady... Lady.... Lady, I'm sorry, but I won't be able to deliver your pizza tonight......  a tornado just hit our building..."

"PIZZA?????? PIZZA?????? HIDE! HIDE! HIDE!" 

"OK, lady... I just wanted you to know..."

As I slammed the phone down, I could see white mist outside of each of our kitchen windows! Our house was very close to the house behind us... but there was no house there... just white mist! White mist and no sound whatever...

As I flew down the stairs to the basement, Clancy was looking up the stairs at me, tilting his head, wondering... I grabbed him, and shoved him under the blanket with me... well, as much of that 85-pound dog as I could hide. And right then the TEN TRAINS rumbled over our heads again! The sound was louder than anything ever in my world!

When it was over, I turned on the radio, to hear another human voice, mostly. The tornado had hopped this way and that, over the 4:30PM homeward-bound freeway traffic, above the race track with the horses still running, stopping to flatten the post office, and then headed for Happy Hollow where we lived! It had hopped over us, landing 8 blocks a way, though, before it went back to its home in the sky!

They said no one should venture outside that night. The lights were out in many places and there was danger... You know what I did? Like the fool that I was, I got into my car to see what the aftermath of a tornado looked like! I did! 

The first thing I saw in that black, black night was a flipping, flopping, fireball at the end of an electric wire. It had been torn in half, and looked like an angry, injured rattlesnake. That was also the last thing I saw, because I backed my car up, and drove it into the garage, closed the door, and tried to call Richard again. That was before cell phones. A recording said that no one could call out or receive calls because "the lines were full! The telephone could only be used for emergencies."

The next morning I got in my car to look at the neighborhood. One of the fir trees in our front lawn had a piece of cardboard driven half-way into the bark of that tree... cardboard... into a tree! The galloping electric line had been lassoed, and I drove past it, hoping against hope that it wouldn't come to life again. When I got to the housing development 8 blocks away (new houses NOT built with brick), all I could see for blocks were toilets and chimneys standing alone on top of what looked like pillow stuffings! There was nothing else standing!

The TV announced later that the tornado was bigger than any tornado since the "Tornado of 1913!" Only one person had been killed. A man who had decided to climb up on his roof to see the tornado better was killed. Imagine... only one person during the rush-hour, home-bound traffic, and kids coming home from football practice, and people shopping... only one!

For a week, every morning as I'd drive to school and when I came home, too, I had to stop at the command of National Guards toting Army machine guns, asking to see my driver's license to check that I actually lived in our neighborhood. It seems at about midnight the very night of the tornado, the looting had started! The National Guard was guarding us well.

The most amazing thing to me was what happened to a friend of mine across Pioneer Park about five blocks away from us. On Sunday she'd had a birthday party for a relative, and she'd made two kinds of punch for the party. One she'd put into a priceless crystal family punch bowl. The other punch recipe was in a cheap glass punch bowl at the other end of her dining room table. She was planning to wash those bowls when she got home that day, but she had to take cover because of the tornado. When it was over that night, she was escorted out of her house by the police, along with the rest of her neighbors, because they had been hit hard by that whirlwind. 

When she was allowed to return, she went right to the dining room... what was left of it. After crying at the sight, she found the remains of one punch bowl. It was just shards and dust. The other was across the room, so carefully wrapped in the tablecloth that it was like she had readied it for a birthday present. When she unwrapped it, you know what she found, don't you? The perfectly wrapped bowl was the cheap one, and the splinters were what was left of the family treasure!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

...then there was Bobbi... Bobbi was the nicest, kindest, prettiest, girl I've ever known. The last time I heard from her, a long time ago, she was married to a farmer, and they were raising pigs in Colorado! I wouldn't have predicted that future for Bobbi, but in that letter she also said that she'd named every one of those pigs... so like Bobbi! "In fact," she'd written, "Josephine is in our freezer right now!"

Bobbi had an older sister Sally, who, when she was just 16-years-old, actually sat in their living room and SMOKED, right in front of their Mother! It was the most amazing sight to me. Just a couple of years later, after we'd moved to Connecticut, Bobbi wrote me that her sister had become a dancer at the Copacabana night club in NYC. Then she wrote that Sally'd married an Italian man much older than she was... Finally, Bobbi sent me a photo of Sally holding their baby, standing next to her husband dressed in a pin-striped suit with a black shirt and tie and dark glasses. I''ve always wondered how her sister Sally ended up clear across the country in NYC... how she found a job dancing at the Copa... why she married an older man when she was so pretty and young.  I'm sure her life is an amazing tale, and I've wondered about the details and the why's and wherefore's...

But Sally wasn't Bobbi! There was only one Bobbi, and I was so happy to be her friend. We'd giggle, we'd talk about boys we "liked," we'd talk about what our futures would hold, and we'd talk about school. She told me once that we were closer than she and her sister ever were. For me, Bobbi was the sister I wished I had.

You know, I don't remember Bobbi ever being snide or sad or crabby or mean or even late with her homework! I don't even know if she was a straight-A student, because Bobbi never bragged! The best thing about her was that she wasn't fake! Bobbi saw the good in people, in places, and in things, too. She didn't seem to fit in with her family, though. But, then, you don't choose your family.

It was clear that Don, the cutest boy in our whole class "liked" Bobbi. Don played every single sport, and he played them well. Sometimes, he even raised his hand in class to answer the teacher's questions! They made a perfect couple in my eyes. But then, I was busy writing stories about ant armies fighting beetle armies through the grass in my front yard, and drawing pictures of horses, and reading lots and lots of books. I had some boys who had crushes on me, too, but none of them were as tall as my chin!  Don't get me wrong, though... I wasn't at all jealous of Bobbi. She was my "sister!"

One day I was invited to a party at Larry's house. We all were. Now, the top of Larry's head came just a little above my elbow, and, of course, he had a crush on "Bony Moroney" Terry Kingston! Bobbi and Don were going, and so was I.

When I was dressed and ready for the party, Dad drove me over to Larry's house. Larry answered the door and said the party was in the backyard. Outside, I saw a lovely little one-room log-cabin in the yard! I could see through its window that there was even a fireplace all ablaze. It was a magical locale.

Most of the kids were there, all of us 8th graders, except one. A tall, handsome boy was leaning against the wall in the midst of a flock of giggling girls. Joanie was there in the middle, of course. She was the prettiest girl in the whole junior high, it was a known fact! And I expected her to be right where she was. But who was that boy? Larry said that he was a friend of Don's who lived on his same street, he was 14 years old, his name was Chris, and then Larry grabbed me to dance.

It's hard to dance with a boy who only reaches to your shoulder, but there is a plus to it... You can watch everything in the room while you dance.  Larry was so busy trying not to step on my toes that he'd forgotten all about the rhythm of the music. I'd forgotten all about Larry because this stranger was looking at me! 

It made no sense! Joanie was right there in front of him, too pretty for words, but he was looking at me! Every time he moved, Joanie was right next to him, talking and giggling and just being an 8th grade temptress like always. But he kept looking at me and even smiling at me!

All at once, he boldly walked over to us and tapped Larry on the shoulder. I'd only seen that in movies! Larry, keeping an eye on his feet, said, "Whaddya want?"

"I want to dance with her!"

Larry said, "No! I'm dancing with her, and it's MY HOUSE!"

The young stranger took my hand, and then he and I began to dance. Meanwhile Larry kept on looking at his feet and dancing. It was at least 5 minutes before he realized he was dancing alone!

But I wasn't! I was in heaven! He said his name was Chris, and he'd found out my name was Terry. I got tingley when he said my name!

By the time the third record was playing, and Chris and I were still dancing, Joanie gave up. I saw her in the corner having a conversation with three other girls and shooting daggers at me with her not-so-lovely-now eyes! At least, I think that's what she was doing. All I really knew for sure was that I was floating!

I'd noticed once that Don and Bobbi stopped dancing for a minute, and Don had gone over to turn the lights a little lower. Larry had chased right behind him and turned the lights to their brightest, shooting me an angry glare. Lights, shmights... Who cared.... "Dream, Dream, Dream" by the Everly Brothers was playing, and I was in the midst of one heck of a dream!

Then he kissed me! It was a tender kiss, but it had landed a little wrong. Our lips met. It was bliss for about a minute and a half. But then the kiss continued and continued some more... Our lips were fused against our teeth and his nose and cheek were shoved against my nose and cheek, and I couldn't breathe! Yes, I was going to die!

As you may have guessed, I'm describing my first "real kiss." I had no idea of how to kiss or what to do... I was afraid to move. I thought that it was possible that I really could be smothered to death, but I wasn't going to be the one to stop this kiss! If I died, I died! What better way could there be, anyway? Of course, my parents would have to know about our kiss, as the ambulance rushed my dead 13-year-old body to the morgue, but I figured they had probably kissed a couple times in their lives, too.

I don't remember how that kiss ended... it could be that I was unconscious, briefly! But when I was aware again, I was still dancing with Chris to a replay of "Dream, Dream, Dream." It seems that Chris had decided that was "our song," and he commanded Larry to keep it going! At the end of the 22nd replay of that Everly Brothers tune, Chris asked me to "go steady! I think I nodded and smiled, but who knows. I DO know for a fact, that I couldn't talk right then. I was too busy floating among the clouds!

When I finally had to take a break and go to the "ladies room," Bobbi went with me. She said that Chris and Don wanted me to come to her house the next day so we four could play baseball. How romantic... I swooned, and said I'd be there... went back to the log cabin, fell into Chris' arms, and we danced in circles some more.

All at once some rude, socially unacceptable fool was saying, "Terry, it's time to come home. Terry, we're leaving..."

Dad! DAD! My Dad had come a little early to pick me up, and home we went.

"Did you have a good time, Terry?"

'Yes, Dad."

The next day Mom took me over to Bobbi's house, and there were the boys, all fitted out in baseball shirts and jeans, sitting there, throwing baseballs up in the air and catching them, and talking on Bobbi's front lawn.  The four of us wandered over to a baseball field in a park, nearby, and we played and talked, and it was Paradise... I was not just Terry Kingston! No, I was Terry Kingston, "the one who is going steady with Chris!" You see, he'd given me a ring to wear around my neck that very day.

The very next day when Dad came home from work, he and Mom told my brother and I to come sit down in the living room... he had something to tell us... Dad had been given a huge promotion, and we were moving to Stamford, Connecticut to live so he could commute to NYC for his new position in the company. We'd be moving in a week!

Bobbi wrote that there were other parties that summer, and Chris would go, but he wouldn't dance with anyone. He'd just lean against the nearest wall, stare at the floor, and look sad. Bobbi said that he'd ask her about me every time he saw her. And my tears didn't stop dripping from my eyes for a long, long time. 

And that's how I found myself living across the entire country, visiting NYC often, but never running into Bobbi's sister Sally... or ever seeing Bobbi again...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty."  ~ Sicilian proverb

I had three "best friends" in Culver City, all at the same time! Linda, Bobbie, and Sandy all were my best friends, but, boy, were they ever different people! None of them liked the others, but they all liked me. I guess it wasn't until a lot later in life that I realized that I had a little bit of each one of them inside of me. How does that happen? Were those parts of me to begin with, or did each of those girls emboss their personalities onto mine? Don't know... It's something I do wonder about sometimes...

Linda was an only child, and she never had to put up with a little brother like I did. Mom would drive me over to her house, and Linda and I would go into her backyard and climb the two huge avocado trees that had limbs the size of horses' backs. Linda would "ride" the "palamino branch," and I would climb up a little higher and "ride" the "black horse with the white mane and tail." There probably is no such coloring for a horse, but this avocado tree always cast a magical spell over us, and I could have any colored horse I wanted! We would gallop over the plains and have make-believe adventures on those branches all summer, and I loved it.

One day, Linda called me. Her Mom and Dad had bought her a horse ...not another avocado tree, but a real, LIVE horse! I could hardly wait until Saturday to see him! Linda's Mom drove us to the stables to ride Cholla. He was a red-and-white paint horse, not young, but very crafty. Linda made me brush him after she led him from his stall. Then she brought out the saddle and the blanket. I watched Cholla take a deep breath and puff out his stomach. As soon as Linda threw the saddle on him, tightened the girth, and stuck her foot into the stirrup, Cholla exhaled. Linda jumped out of the way as the saddle, blanket and all, swiveled, ending up squarely on his stomach right between all four legs of that sly old horse. He turned his head to watch his trick, and I swear to you, he giggled!

This got to be the norm... Cholla would be a kind old guy to us until Linda put the saddle on him. She found out what to do, though. It seemed cruel to me, but so did Linda telling me that to ride Cholla, first I had to shovel the manure out of his stall for her! Anyway, she'd throw the saddle on him, and then she'd punch him in the side. I know it sounds horrible to you, but Linda was a young girl, and even my little brother could have beaten her up! When she'd punch him, he'd exhale, and then, if she were quick, she could cinch the saddle so she could sit on him safely. 

Then it would be my turn to climb up and sit right behind Linda. I don't know if you've ever ridden behind a Western saddle before... suffice it to say, all those actresses in the old Western movies, who were pulled up onto the back of a horse by the handsome cowboy, could tell you a thing 'er two about how uncomfortable it is!

But off we'd go... into the Culver City wilds... Culver City was surrounded, then, by fields planted with California crops, and we could ride all day and be safe from cars. In fact, when we were hungry, we'd stop Cholla behind a little hamburger hut, and Linda would go inside and get us each a hambuger and a Coke. I had to stay on top of Cholla so he wouldn't be stolen, or more likely, wander away. That horse... stolen! He would have figured out a way to make those thieves wish they hadn't ever seen him!

Linda always, always told me NOT to ever, ever kick Cholla in that space between his stomach and his hind leg... I don't know what you call that place, but DON'T DO IT, EVER! As we rode along the dirt path along side of a strawberry field, we were talking about which of the boys at school we had a crush on, and as I was dreamily thinking of Jim... BOTH my heels accidentally relaxed themselves into nudging against Cholla's forbidden place. I'd barely touched him! Suddenly, he laid his ears back flat against his head and went careening across the field right straight for the 4-lane highway, bucking all the way. Somehow Linda got him to run parallel to the cars whizzing past, but I was being bucked off that horse. Only my long, spindly legs and my iron-grip on the back of that saddle held me on his back! Cholla bucked for blocks until he finally ran out of energy. When we got back to the stable, and Linda was carrying the tack back to wherever she stored it, and I was rubbing Cholla down, he turned his head to look at me, slowly backed up until he had just the right angle, and stood on my foot! 

We had survived, though! The very next Saturday there was a knock at our front door. It was Linda with a squirming little fur-ball puppy in her arms. She gave him to me, and said she was sorry about Cholla. Well, I loved that puppy, Inky, and he was just what I'd hoped for, BUT the top of my foot was still dark blue and inky black... hence my new puppy's name!

Linda ended up moving the same summer that we moved to Stamford, Connecticut so Dad could commute to NYC every day to his office. Linda and I wrote to each other for years. Once she wrote that she had been named the town's "Rodeo Queen." Well, Cholla had given her enough experiences for her to become the Queen of All Rodeos, in my opinion! And my left foot is still a little flatter than my right one. Mil gracias, Cholla...

But Linda, in that small town where they'd moved, learned lots quicker about the ins-and-outs of life than I ever did in "New York City's bedroom community" of Stamford, Connecticut where we'd moved! I guess that we "creative types" are slower to learn things than we are to watch, and dream, and watch some more...     

Monday, February 17, 2014

"We should say to each of our children: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel! And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?   ~ Pablo Casals

Just walking down to the corner store to buy Lik-M-Aids or those paper straws filled with flavored sugar for a penny-a-piece was an adventure when I was little! To get there we had to walk two blocks... but what blocks they were!

Mom would give us our allowance on Saturdays. Jack, my little brother, would get the same amount ( a quarter) as I did, and it wasn't a bit fair!! I was 3 1/2 years older than Jack, and that should count for something, I thought. But that was life in Culver City on Berryman Avenue. We'd walk past the house of a high school boy who, as far as we could tell, did only two things: go to school, and practice the high jump in his backyard, PERIOD! He had an Olympic-replica of a high jump bar in his tiny yard, complete with a sand box affair at the end. We could see him, running, leaping, and then falling into the sand box everytime we walked to the corner store and back. A few years later, Mom read in the newspaper that Joe had actually competed at the Olympic games where he came in fourth in high-jumping!  But Joe was too old and too focused on his future to ever talk to the likes of us.

We were always more focused on a house across the street from us where a kid named Jerry lived. No one had ever seen Jerry's parents, but, boy, did we know Jerry! He was a few years older than Jack and I, and for fun, he'd stand on the rooftop of his house and throw rocks at any passers-by. His aim was perfect, and I was always scared. The rocks flying through the air weren't as scary, though, as the laughing noise he'd make when he aced his shot...

The best part of the walk was just before we'd turn the corner to go into the tiny market to buy our candy. We'd walk across the alley, step up on the curb, and there we were... at the taxidermist's shop! There were all sorts of creatures standing, lunging, stalking, and even just sitting in the large window of the little shop, and it was scary! Each of those animals had been REAL and ALIVE! Now they were frozen in time! The owner would even let us walk into his shop and watch him when he was "stuffing" an animal. The walls surrounding him were lined with stuffed birds in flight. But this wasn't the best part... 

If we were very, very lucky, we'd even get to see "Fearless Fosdick!" If you've ever seen an MGM movie, you know that just before the movie starts, a lion's head appears on the screen and the lion roars. Well, that roaring lion lived right above the taxidermist's shop in his small apartment with him. "Fearless Fosdick" was the taxidermist's pet lion!

Once, when we were walking by the shop to get our 25-cents-worth of tooth decay, we saw "Fearless" sitting in the front seat of a little car. He was BIG! The taxidermist came out of his shop, locked the door, jumped into the car, gave Fearless a pat, and off they went! ...and off we went to get that candy that was supposed to last us for the whole week! 

One day, though, when we got our allowance, my brother told me he wasn't going to the corner store to buy candy! There was something else he wanted more. He said I could see it when I got home. 

I was sure that he wasn't telling the truth, though. You see, that morning Mom had left us for an hour while she went to the grocery store. Perfect! I used that time to do one of my scientific experiments... on my brother! I would chase him all over our tiny house, and he'd turn around and chase me back, but eventually, he would fall down and land on the floor. I knew that I could make my brother completely helpless if I jumped on his stomach at that exact moment. Then I'd pin his shoulders with both of my knees. That way when he flailed, he couldn't hit me. He was helpless! I already knew from one of my earlier "science experiments" that he was ticklish in his armpits. He would laugh and then he'd cry. But when you're in the midst of a new experiment, you couldn't let that bother you, could you? I wanted to see if he was as ticklish on the bottom of his feet as he was in his arm pits... It turned out he was... Ha!

Lest you side with my Mom and think I was being awful to him (which I was), let me assure you that HE was at fault, too! He'd brought me an egg earlier that morning that my Mom had "blown out" for an Easter egg ornament she was making. My lively little brother had found a spider, and forced it into that tiny opening in that empty egg shell. Then he'd told me that he had a present for me, and I should break open the egg. I did! I screamed! I chased him! But Mom said I had to understand that Jackie was only a "little boy," and I was his "big sister," and la la la la la....  All the while, Jack stood just behind Mom and stuck his tongue out at me and stuck his fingers in his ears and made faces too. That was certainly worth a "science experiment" to me!

When I got back from the store, my brother met me. "Come here..." he said.  So we both went to the backyard.

There was a big blackish, metal THING with plugs sticking out of it and wires and such! Jack said, "Jerry sold this to me for 25 cents!"

"What is it?"

"It's a car battery! Don't tell Mommy, though."

I went into the house, and I didn't tell... only because I forgot about it that quickly.

About two hours later there was a knock at our front door. Mom told me to answer it, so I did. A tall, blue-uniformed policeman with a badge on his shirt and a shiny-billed cap on his head said, "Little girl, is your Mother home?"

I slammed the door in his face, ran to Mom, and said, "Joe Friday is at our front door!"

"Joe Friday? Terry, Joe Friday is only an actor on TV....... Oh,my gosh!" and she ran to open the front door.

"Ma'am, do you have a little boy with a part of a car here?"

"I have a little boy, but he doesn't have a car part, Officer!"

"Yes, he does, Mom. He's got a battery in the back yard..."

"Terry, what are you talking about? Jackie doesn't have a battery!"

"Go look, Mom!'

And Mom and the policeman and I walked to the backyard and looked, and there it was, just like I'd said!

"Officer, I don't know how my little boy could have a car battery in our backyard!"

"I do, Ma'am. It seems that there is a boy living on this street that dissembled an entire car, part by part, and sold the parts to all the kids in this area."

"His name wouldn't be Jerry, would it?"

"Yes, Ma'am, it is. Do you know him?"

Everyone in the neighborhood had seen a this car! It was quite an oddity. The car was a 3-wheeled electric car with one wheel in the front and two wheels in the back. The motor was in the back of the car, and the entire front of the car was its door. None of us had ever seen a driver climb in and out of the front of his car before! We didn't know who the owner was, but that tiny car was always parked in the alley just down from the taxidermist's.

It must have been too much for Jerry... It seems that in the night, he'd pushed or pulled the little car into his backyard, and taken it completely apart... completely! Then, on the sly, he'd told all the little boys in the neighborhood that they could buy the car's parts. So they came from blocks away to give Jerry change and take a car part!

When the man found his car was missing, he naturally called the police. Those poor policemen were tasked with finding as many of the car parts as they could to give back to the owner, I suppose. And I can't remember if my brother ever got his 25 cents back, either.  

All I can say is that I hope Jerry is a happily retired auto mechanic today, instead of the "hit-man" that I always guessed he would become. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

"You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts."   Cochise - Chiricahua Leader

As I walked past the trophy cases that lined the high school's entrance and came out into the sunshine, there was one of my senior guys sitting on the cement, leaning against the building's wall. He was staring hard at nothing. 

That 17-year-old was smart... so smart that I often prayed that he'd apply for college and straighten out his life. I liked that kid, but then, I liked all "my" kids. He was a "full-out" gangster, though.

"How're ya doin"?"

He looked up at me, and then went back to staring...

I stooped down to talk to him. "You know, you're SMART! You're really, REALLY smart! Have you ever thought about applying for college?"

He looked up at me and made a snorting sound. "I can't..."

"I know you're in a gang, but I read something in the paper yesterday. You were "jumped in," but it said that you could also be "jumped out."

"I can't..."

"Now, I know... They'll beat you to a pulp, and then you'll go to the hospital, but you'll heal. Then you'd be free of it, and you could start your life all over... You're still young and there's a whole world out there for you..."

He looked up at me with such lost eyes... "You don't understand, Mrs. W. You don't know..."

"Maybe you could just leave after you graduate... I mean just drive somewhere far away... You could go to Nebraska or somewhere like that. They'd never find you..."

"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!  You don't understand..."


"Mrs. Waldron, I'll be dead before I'm 21."

The truth is that I DIDN'T know what I was talking about. The place that you are born into and the person who bears you are not a choice for any of us. Many people have a gift given to us when we are born, and we don't come to understand that right away... and sometimes we never do.

When I first came to California with my husband, I began teaching art at a wonderful junior high school close by. The very next year I was asked to switch to teaching English, and, since I also had a degree in English, I was as happy there as I'd been the year before. Each of the students in my classes were pretty wonderful in their own junior-high way. Lucky, lucky me... truly lucky.  

As time passed, there was one particular family that began to stand out. Every year I would have one of their kids in a class, and after four years, I realized that EACH ONE of these four teenagers that I'd taught was beyond wonderful! I kept thinking that these kids were going to grow up to be the "pillars of society" just like their parents. In fact, the night of "Open House" one year, I told those two parents, only half-jokingly, that this country ought to PAY people like them to just stay home and have children! Whatever they were doing was magical. Besides being wonderful students and great kids, their children were never absent! At the very least, these two parents ought to teach intensive courses to any parent who was at a loss about to how to raise children.

The fifth year was the same as the previous four years... There she was! Another of their kids in one of my classes. Lucky, lucky me! This 14-year-old girl was bright, pretty, and polite. What more could any teacher ask for. Well, sure, she didn't always get her homework in on time. And, no, she wasn't getting straight A's like the other four before her, but she was the "baby" of the family, and any teacher knows that you have to make a little allowance for the "babies" of families.

First quarter was over, and we were well into second quarter, when this darling girl was absent. That was a first for that family, but anyone could get the flu. Days passed, and she didn't return to school... Then a couple weeks had passed. Finally, one day she did return to school, looking well enough, and saying nothing about her absence. 

About a week later, I received a memo from the principal that there would be a meeting with the girl's parents and all of her teachers. It was a mandatory meeting. 

When I walked into the conference room and sat down at the long rectangular table, her parents were sitting there already, both in tears. When everyone arrived and the principal closed the door, we found out why...

This beautiful 14-year-old girl had "run away" with a 34-year-old man for a 2-week tryst! Her Mom and Dad had asked for a meeting with all the teachers. This whole thing was "out of my baileywick!" I had no answers because I couldn't even figure out what the questions would be. These two parents were my ideal of what I would have liked to have been.

Her father began. He was tearful, and seeing his tears and hearing his wife's gentle sobs started my water-works. 

"We asked for you to meet with us because, as teachers, you know a lot about kids. Please, please, please, tell us what we should have... could have... What did we do wrong as parents for this to happen? Please, tell us the truth... What is wrong with us...? We LOVE our kids... We LOVE her... What should we have done?"

It was completely silent except for muffled sobbing... I think someone finally mumbled something inane, because none of us could understand any of it... and because the shock was so stunning... and because...

He turned to me. "Mrs. Waldron, you've had all of our five kids in your classes. What did we do wrong? Please, please tell us... we need to know..." and he was awash with grief.

The professional Mrs. Waldron became an hysterical wretch who blurted out between gasping sobs, "Nothing... you didn't do an-an-anything wrong! You have four-or-or ex-ex-ex-examples to prove it! You're per-per-per-per-perfect parents..."

There was silence... a long.......long............... silence. What was there to say? What would you have said?

These parents had been ideal parents, maybe the best twosome to bring up kids that I'd ever met. What more could they have done? I pondered that one for years afterward...

But there is an answer. It's not helpful, but it is true. And that fact can cause the deepest pain, maybe in the whole world. Each one of us will make our own decisions in our lives, and we, alone, are responsible for our choices. There is no one else to blame. ...and we carry those triumphs and those scars of our choices with us. The blame for our actions is us! Just us... that simple and just that devastating... 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Being inexhaustible, life and nature are a constant stimulus for a creative mind. (Hans Hofmann)

I had graduated from university, and I was an art teacher in the most beautiful junior/senior high school I'd ever seen! Right through my classroom's back door and through the "kiln room" was another art teacher who was exceptional! Zita Madden was her name, and she answered my endless questions and helped me through those first years of my career... She was a saint!

One day she came through our "kiln room" corridor and said, "Terry, you've got to see this!" Zita had a smallish class of all boys that period. She had admired the huge floor-to-ceiling still life that I'd amassed in my art room, especially the old, sun-bleached steer skull that I had picked up in the pasture of my brother-in-law's farm in central Nebraska. It was an interesting thing for the kids to draw, so she'd asked her classes if anyone happened to have one for her art room. Well, one of the boys did! He was thrilled, and early the next morning he came into her art room and plunked a cow's skull on her desk. And THAT's what she wanted me to see...

I walked in, only to see a cow's skull, alright... but it was FRESH! It had bits of skin and flesh and blood clinging to it! It seemed that her student's brother worked in the slaughter house lugging beef, and one of the slaughterers told him he could have the head after they'd taken all the meat off it for the hot dogs they were mixing in the next room!

Teachers: Be very, very careful what you ask for from a class!!!

That summer when school was out, I became the children's art teacher for the Henry Doorley Zoo in Omaha. The zoo was fairly new and had attracted lots of attention nation-wide because of its brilliant new ideas about housing the animals in moated enclosures, instead of the usual penal colony cement "houses." It was a beautiful facility, and the powers-that-be told me that I could have my class meet in the morning hours before the zoo opened to the public, and that we could roam freely everywhere and draw to our hearts' content. Wow! Me, the kids, the animals... and it would all be ours, ALL OURS from 8:30AM to 10AM!

The invisible staff, the folks who no one sees during visiting hours, opened doors into a world that I had only seen in movies and books. I'd read about Africa, especially Kenya, since I was 10 years old, and here was a very safe form of it, all open to me!

I would arrive at 8AM and ramble around the zoo for that half-hour before the kids arrived. My favorite of all the animals was Casey, the large silverback gorilla. I'd studied gorilla life carefully, and I knew the proper way to behave around this huge male. I HATED that he was stared at by people everyday of his life, because I knew he must have been so frustrated by the lack of manners of those oglers! I quietly approached the fence in front of his moated island.

They had given him lots of food, huge braches of leaves, hay-like grass, and bananas, before the crowds would arrive. He was sitting across the wide moat with his back to the fence, calmly having breakfast. Suddenly, he turned and saw me, and he jumped up and pounded his chest and made a face at me. I, so very wisely, dropped my head so as not to look him in the eye, and turned my shoulder to him, too, in obesience to this king. I'd studied my books well, I thought smugly. I ought to be a teacher of zoology!

...and then I was hit by a flying piece of branch! He was angry... no, he was ANGRY! He roared at me, and grabbed everything he had, and threw it ALL at me! ME, his devoted servant! I KNEW I had read that book correctly... don't look him in the eye, act subserviant and he will accept you. All I can say is that he must have really hated the perfume I wore, or maybe it was my green eyes... Whatever it was, he looked for me every day at 8AM, and waited until I reached "my place" at the fence, and went through the same routine. Casey hated me, and that was that! Luckily, he didn't have that good an aim!

Well, onward... The keepers would grab huge firehoses early in the morning and wash out the enclosures of the animals. I'd watch. One day, I asked the oldest keeper there, "If one of these animals got out of its enclosure, which one would you most fear? The lion, right? No, no, I know... the tiger! That's the one!" 

He looked at me with a crooked grin, and said, "There's no contest, lady... the polar bear!"

"Polar bear???"

"Lady, as long as I have this firehose in my hand, I could hold off any animal EXCEPT the polar bear... He'd run right straight for me, right into this water that can knock down anything, staring at me all the way, and he'd kill me, just like that!"

I'd never read about polar bears... WOW! POLAR BEARS!!!

Then it was time for the little artists to arrive. I'd meet the kids at the front gate, and in they'd come with drawing tablets in hand, pencils behind most of their ears, (I kept extras in my purse), and off we'd go to draw. I'd pick a different location everytime, and we'd have adventures, and they'd do amazing drawings of these wild, live models.

Once when we were at the giraffe enclosure, petting their noses as they bent down to us (there is no velvet on the market as soft as a giraffe's nose), the huge door swung open and a smallish 10-foot giraffe broke loose and ran toward us! I yelled at the kids to hug the wall. I'd read that a giraffe can kill a lion with one kick of its front foot. The kids were scared and so was I! 

The keeper yelled at me, "STOP HER!!! STOP HER!!!"  ????????????????????????????? Did he want ME to throw myself in front of a galloping giraffe?????????  ME???????? Was he NUTS???????? The keeper ran by us, chasing that giraffe, yelling, "WHY DIDN'T YOU STOP HER?"

We never went back to the giraffe compound for the rest of the summer, no matter how much the kids begged me!

The orangutans led the entire zoo on a not-so-merry chase for a couple of weeks that summer, too. Every morning when the keepers arrived, they woud find the door to the orangutans' sleeping quarters wide open! The orangs would be happily snoring in leafy nests they had constructed overnight in nearby trees. The keepers couldn't open the zoo until these "kids" came back "home," though. No one could figure out how it was happening until, after days of careful searching, they found the answer. The oldest orang had worked the key out of the lock one day and had kept it hidden it in the deep pocket of his left cheek!

The last day of "Art Class at the Zoo with Mrs. Waldron" came, and I herded the kids to the area closest to the parking lot so the parents could pick them up one last time that summer. In this area there were some large, circular, roofed enclosures with sturdy trees cemented into each floor. In about fifteen minutes our class would be officially over for the summer. The kids and I were looking at some sort of baboons. There was a male strutting around the floor of the pen, showing off a bit... HUGE teeth... knowing eyes, bright red behind, and all. At the very top of the cemented tree was a female, sunning herself. The kids were interested, and so was I.

All at once the male looked up at the top of the tree and grunted very loudly. Nothing... He did it again, more insistantly... still nothing. The third time he was angry as he looked up at the female. I will never, ever forget her response! She stood up on that treetop, looked down at him, and heaved the biggest sigh I'd ever heard! She shrugged her shoulders, and grudgingly slid down the tree. At the bottom she looked at her "lord and master" and sighed again, loudly. Then she turned around and stuck her bottom in the air... He seemed pleased... and walked over to her... and need I say more?!?!! Suffice it to say, ALL the kids turned to me and said, "What's he doin', Mrs. Waldron? What are THEY doin' now, Mrs. Waldron? Tell us!!!"

I never had kids of my own! And I don't know what you parents would have told them! All I could think to say was, "There's a rare white monkey in the next enclosure, class... C'mon... Let's go see it... The baboons are just playing..."


At that EXACT moment, one of the fathers came walking over to pick up his daughter... "What have we here, Mrs. Waldron?" he said, as he watched the proceedings.

Though my face was frozen, I could feel it burning! "I don't know! I really don't know! But I think YOU'll have a lot of teaching to do, yourself, on the ride home today when your daughter asks you all about what she just saw..."

"I sure will...!"

How do you parents do that, anyway? What exactly do you say... I've always thought that he must have lied just a little bit when he talked to his daughter on the ride home... "Oh honey, they were just playing monkey games..." 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

We have to make a mark, even if it's only a scribble. (John Steinbeck)

My husband has traveled the world for his work. He's even been to the Marianna's Islands, and Saudi Arabia, and, oh, so many places. I was tethered to my classroom, though I got to travel with him a few times. But my tether was long and light, and I loved it!

A few days before school was out for Easter Week, I had the flu... YUCK! The company Richard worked for was trying to decide if they ought to start an office in Glasgow or in Dublin, and he was one of the "deciders." I said, "What's so difficult about that? Choose Ireland, OF COURSE! You KNOW I'm 1/2 Irish!"

"It doesn't work that way, Terry! In fact, you know I'm going to Glasgow and Dublin on Saturday. You could come with me if you're up to it. You're off for the whole week, and we'll be back the next Saturday."

So I crawled to the doctor and told him about my flu. He said, "There is a shot I could give you in the buttox," and I said, "Shoot away!" and he did. I sat on ONE "cheek" the entire flight to the British Isles!

When we landed, a cab was waiting to take us to our hotel. Inside our lovely room I found there was a pants presser! Now I knew what it was because I had seen one once in a catalogue and giggled that anyone would need one of those contraptions... Little did I know that we'd fight over it every night when we'd get back to the hotel... "The damp," you know. 

The next day Richard was ready for his meeting, and he told me that he'd be all day, and we'd have dinner when he got back. I was on my own. He showed me the concierge, that lovely man who would call me a cab so I could wander through an ageless park with a window-and-wood gallery that held a wonderful collection of art.

But first, breakfast. In the hotel's cafe a "bonny lassie" waited on me, and when she heard my accent, she said, "You'll want bacon and eggs, I suspect," at least that's what I thought she said... I LOVED her speaking. It was a musical, but thick-ish sort of English. She was from the Isle of Skye, and over the days we met, she began to tell me how much she missed it there, and how she didn't know if she could bear all the hustle-and-bustle of so big a place as Glasgow. She even cried once. I'd been homesick before and it IS a terrible thing! 

But I didn't want "eggs and bacon." No! I wanted kippers and potatoes. That surprised her and she gave me a warm smile and brought it. She even introduced me to one of the fellows who worked there, and I do think he had an eye for her! His speech was careful and delibrate, and I knew he was being very careful so this Amercian could understand him. I told him to go ahead and speak his "regular way," and he did. I couldn't connect with one word flowing from his mouth! He laughed and was happy, though, and his eyes twinkled. He said that he could only talk that way when he was off work... it seemed that it wasn't proper or something to talk like that to guests. But it was so REAL! And I'm still wondering what he said...

But, I was off to the park to visit the art museum. The concierge hailed me a cab, and it was an old-fashioned kind, long and high and black. When I got into the backseat, there was so much room between the back of the driver's seat and my knees that I could have stowed a trunk there! The cabbie had on something like a chauffeur's cap, and as soon as he found out I was American, he said, "Now you have to be careful with the cabs here. They might try to take you on a run-around though the city on your way to your destination. I won't do that, a'course. Watch how we go so you know!"

I looked out the window, and truly I didn't care how we got there, because I was in "bonny Scotland!" When we arrived, the park was piney and misty, just like a storybook! I took out the Scottish money that I had, and I handed it all to him, and told him to take whatever was the right amount.

He was stunned! "NAE! You can't do THAT, Missy! They'll cheat you! Here... this is exactly what you owe me. Now, look here and I'll teach you how our money works," and he did.

I thanked him and jumped out of the cab, so anxious to see it all. As I walked over to the ticket booth, I sensed someone behind me. It was him! He said, "Now, Missy, I'm coming with you to see if you understand the money and what I taught you. Don't want no one cheating you!" 

No one did cheat me. The lady was as kind as this cab-driver. With my ticket in my hand and my change in my pocket, I listened to some more advice from this kind man... Then he said, "Now, Miss, when do you think you'll be done here?" I thought maybe three hours. 

"Well, I'll be here at the gate waiting, and you will have a safe ride home that way, and nobody will take advantage of your American ways." And he was, and I did!

I was back in time for lunch. I'd strolled though the gallery, petted the Scottish Highland cattle with the long bangs that hang down their foreheads over their eyes, strolled though the piney woods, and caught my cab ride back.

Lunch was a meat-and-cheese sandwich delivered by my homesick waitress. I only like mustard on meat-and-cheese, I told her. And not the French mustard, just the good old yellow mustard! She brought the largest mustard jar I'd ever seen, and I slathered it on my sandwich until it dripped on my lap staining my napkin bright yellow. I took a big bite because I'd worked up such an appetitie, and BOOM! My head flew up to the ceiling and back again! It was the hottest stuff that I had ever tasted! It was good old English Coleman's Mustard, not "French's" like I had at home. The whole staff had a good laugh over that... probably for weeks afterward. Go ahead and try "Coleman's" if you've never had it, and if you have the guts to...

Glasgow WAS "miles higher," just like their city slogan said! But soon we were off on the train to get on the boat to Oban, an island that looked so inviting in the guide book. The train ride snaked through the "highlands." That land was crooked with mountains and dotted with white sheep and  their lambs, all this set in a heavy mist. No Hollywood movie had ever had scenery as wonderous as I saw on that train ride. Sadly though, at the bottom of some of the drop-offs, I saw a sheep or two that had slipped off the edge and fallen in a heap. 

When we arrived at the station, we went to the ticket-master to buy seats for the boat over to Oban. I LOVED everything Scottish, and I hadn't even been to Edinburgh, yet! The Scots were the people who'd held off the Roman troops... the ONLY people to do that in the entire British Isles! The Roman generals were so frightened of the blue-face, naked Scottish "troops" that they build Hadrian's Wall to keep them out of Roman-held England! But they were kind and lovely folks in MY book, and I LOVED Scotland.

I went to buy the tickets for the boat trip while Richard went to get some coffee and a "fizzy lemonade" for me. I stepped up to the old, squinty-eyed ticket man, and said, "Two tickets to "o-BON, please."  Well, he was flummoxed!

"It's O-bun! O-bun, not o-BON! Yah sound like a &%$!!&* dumb *&@&$?/ &**@!*& Irishman! THIS IS SCOTLAND! SPEAK LIKE IT!"

Well, I didn't care how old he was, I could TAKE HIM! "I AM IRISH, and I'll take two tickets to your island, or die trying! Gimme two damn tickets and give 'em to me NOW!"

He snorted, took my money, and threw the tickets at me across the counter, muttering something else under his breath... I'd probably mixed up the money again...

Then my husband, coffee in hand, ambled back towards me, "Did you get the tickets?"  Oh, I got the tickets, alright! I got the tickets...

Well, we went to OBAN, and it was an island. I've seen islands before, and this one was probably glorious, but I guess I "had my Irish up." You see, I'd always thought that the Scots were friendly towards the Irish, and it was such a far cry from my jaunty time with the Glasweigans that I wasn't prepared for such animosity against some of the blood that runs through my very veins! 

You're thinking right now that I was a dolt, and that I'm an American, and who cares what one little, flinty-eyed man thought, anyway? And you'd be completely right! Who knew? Maybe he'd just had doctor give him a flu shot in his left lower "cheek!" 

But I thought of my Irish grandfather who was my favorite person on the planet... the only person who would let me swing round and round on the stool at Tooley's Drug Store in Columbus, Nebraska when he'd order his coffee and my Coke float on our summer visits there... a man who everyone in the entire town liked! My grandfather, who'd bought a little store in Pender, Nebraska eons ago, and sold a little bit of everything to all the folks and farmers in the area. And when the Depression came, and people had no money to buy necessities, my grandfather, Ernest Justice Kingston, accepted eggs, and a chicken here and there, for payment... He WOULDN'T let those people starve. My grandmother told me that he said to her he'd rather  starve than see it happen to them! My grandfather, who lost his store and what little money he ever had because of his kindness to the people, would have been hated... just because he was Irish!

Well, that unites me with soooooo many people on this Earth who are hated for so slight a reason as where their roots began! I don't take this lightly... No one chooses where he or she is born, or who to, come to that. If we're alive and well and here, that's probably enough for any of us to know...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children's letters - sometimes very hastily - but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, 'Dear Jim: I loved your card.' Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, 'Jim loved your card so much he ate it.' That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it. (Maurice Sendak)

Being a kid in the California summer was fun! Nothing was planned for you. You just went out after breakfast to play with the neighborhood kids, and then you'd come home for lunch, and then you'd go out and play some more, and then you'd come home for dinner, and then you'd play some more with the neighborhood kids until you heard your Mom calling you. What luxury!

One day we all went over to Jan's house and played "Indians." But Jan didn't want to be an Indian. She wanted to be a cowboy! So one of the kids said, "OK! Then we'll tie the cowboy to the stake!" It seemed good to all of us, so we did. We found her jump-rope and tied her to the metal post of her swing-set, and then we ran away when she started to yell. As soon as we got to the front yard, we forgot about her! My little brother said, "Let's go find worms," so we went down to Gary's house. He said he had good worms! 

We sat on the curb with our feet splayed out over the eternal trickle of water that always seemed to run along the edge of all Culver City curbs, and Jack, my brother, found a worm. Now worms were not my favorite creature... For one thing, they had no eyes...  Jack brought the worm over to the curb's edge and put it in the water.

"They don't swim!" I said. "But the teacher said that if you cut a worm in two, both sides will still be alive!" 

"No, sir!" said Jack.

"Yes, sir!" said I. So we tried it.

There was a tin-can lid lying nearby, and it was a perfect disection tool. I would be the scientist! I cut him in two. We all stared at the two sides, and they both wiggled! AHA! Wonder if you could do it again... YUP, the four sides wiggled! I'd created FOUR worms, and I hated worms! I think by the time we had 16 "worms," they were all dead, though. And then we heard the screaming from Jan's Mom!


When you're just a kid, ALL adults have the right to yell at you and "tell your Mother on you." That's a known fact! They might even have the right to spank you, too... who knew?


I was already very, very sorry! In fact, I was crying and ran home. NOT because we'd tied Jan to her swing-set. NOT because her Mom was going to tell my Mom. And certainly NOT because Jan had a swing-set, and we didn't. I was crying because I knew that I would never be able to go to "Peter's Pool" again!

"Peter's Pool"... now that was a very special treat, and only Jan had the key to it. All was lost!

I can't remember how, but Jan and her family were distantly related to Joe Pasternack, the famous Hollywood movie producer at MGM Studios. Jan's Dad was an assistant director there, and I even saw his name on the credits of a movie once! The famous Joe Pasternak, nominated for two Oscars, had a son named Peter, and Jan was invited to come to Beverley Hills and swim in "Peter's Pool" once in a while. Because Jan was an only child, and because I was usually nice to her when we played together, she'd invite me to come along. My brother would come, too, and off we three would go in Jan's Mother's car in our bathing suits to Beverley Hills for an afternoon of swimming.

To give you an idea of where we started from on Berryman Avenue in Culver City, here was our house:

To give you a clearer picture of where "Peter's Pool" was situated, here was Mr.Joe Pasternak's home in Beverley Hills:

When we'd arrive, we'd come through the front door into the living room of that grand house and walk past a gracefully-curved stairwell where there was a white panel on the wall. That panel had buttons to punch for the "up-stairs maid" and for the host of other maids that were on those premises! Just once I asked if I could use the bathroom, and I was allowed into that first-floor "powder room." Our entire Kingston house was the size of Mr. Pasternak's first-floor guest bathroom!  

The walk through the living room always seemed endless, but we'd finally reach the glass doors to the backyard, sometimes with Peter, himself, leading the way. The perfectly mowed yard seemed acres long, and there was no pool to be seen. At the end of our hike, there was a slope that you'd walk down, and there it was! "Peter's Pool!" We'd swim and splash and dunk and paddle and play with beach balls and ride on rafts until that fatal call, "Kids, come in now! We're leaving!"

Once, when we arrived at the Pasternack mansion, Mr. Joe Pasternack, HIMSELF, dressed in a dark business suit and dark socks, was lying on the couch, his back to us, taking a nap. We were sternly warned NOT to wake him. We all walked on tip-toes across that plush carpet that swaddled our feet, heading for the "back 40" to swim.

I can attest to the fact, under oath, that Mr. Joe Pasternak, Hollywood producer of 90 movies (like "Love Me or Leave Me," "Where the Boys Are," and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father") snored!

The rest of that summer I was relegated to swimming at the Culver City Community pool. Our city pool was the same size as the Pasternak pool, but, boy, was it crowded. I had fun, but it wasn't nearly as exciting as tip-toeing past a celebrity, trying not to wake him, and surely not as tempting as passing a wall-panel that would produce a maid who'd probably curtsey if you pushed the button... no, not nearly as exotic!

Not to worry, though. Jan forgave me, and by the next summer we were begging our Moms to drive us to the Culver City Roller Rink. By then, going roller skating seemed lots more exciting and grown-up than swimming in "Peter's Pool!"