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. 

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