Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Reliving some memories

When I was a little kid, my dad would work all hours of the day and night.  He and my mom had gotten divorced when I was four and my sister was five.  Dad raised us with the help of his mother.  He'd drop us off at 5 in the morning, Grandma would let us sleep a little longer, feed us, get us ready for school, and make sure we had something good in our lunch boxes...

After school, we'd return to Storms Court, the horseshoe-shaped street Grandma and Grandpa lived on.  Depending on the weather, my sister and I were always outside playing with the handful of kids that lived in the neighborhood, making sure to be back at 5:30 for 'supper'.  My grandpa was pretty strict about things; if you were late (and this included the time spent in the lavatory washing up), you didn't get to eat.  Of course, that just meant you had to sob silently to yourself in the living room while everyone else ate, and then Grandma would heat up a plate for you after Grandpa went out to the garage to tinker around with his ham radios.

A lot of times after 'supper', my dad would fall asleep on the sofa (or 'davenport' as Grandma called it) while waiting for my sister and me to finish up the dishes.  And sometimes it was really hard to wake him up.  Other times, he'd mutter funny things while we were trying to tug him awake... things that would make us scream with laughter, all the while thinking he was really sleeping.  Finally, he'd get up and we could go home to our whole other world.

My best friend, Cozette, lived two doors down from us and there was an empty lot next door to her.  We would spend hours out there playing kickball or making up games to play.  Cozette went to the Catholic school, and my sister and I went to the public school.  Right across the alley from us was (is) the St. Mary's Convent.  Next door to that used to be the Catholic elementary school (burned to the ground in '78), and across the street from there, St. Mary's Church.  We loved the nuns.  Sister Claire was my favorite; she would give us lemonade on hot days when we were out playing on the jungle gym.  She would let us into the hushed coolness of the convent and play ping pong with us in the basement.  She would come over to our house for my dad's homemade ice cream.  I wanted him to marry Sister Claire, but was too young to understand that strange concept of 'giving your life to God'.

Now, every once in awhile, Sister Pat would unlock the school and let us play hide and go seek.  The cool thing about this school was that it smelled good.  I used to love just going inside and sitting in the library while everyone was looking for me.  I thought the place smelled that way because it was a Catholic school.  My school certainly didn't smell like that.  The other cool thing was the gym was on the top floor (third).  The fire escape was an enclosed curly-que slide.  My sister and all our friends loved this thing.  I tried to go down it once, got about 1/3 of the way and clawed my way back to the top in a state of extreme panic.  Don't know why, but I just don't like small, dark places.  Instead, I would run down the three flights of stairs and pretend like I went down the slide so no one would make fun of me.  I kept in pretty good shape as a kid, I'll tell ya.

And, of course, summers were always the best.  As we got older we became latch-key kids and didn't have to rely on Grandma to take care of us as much.  It was an experiment for my dad; he thought we were the smartest kids in the world, and if he left us enough chores, we wouldn't have time to get in trouble.  Yeah, right...  Washing the kitchen floor was the best chore ever.  My sister and I would dump a few buckets of soapy water on it (after removing the chairs and other small things on the floor), attach sponges to our knees with electrical tape, grip sponges in our hands, and saaaaail!!!  It was like a four-legged, roller derby... with water.  Tons of fun, and Dad was never the wiser... but that floor would be sparkling clean!

Nighttime in our neighborhood was always something magical for us.  The bats would come out from the church, the lightning bugs would be everywhere, the cicadas would be singing in that undulating fervor they're famous for, and every kid in our neighborhood would congregate in the lot to tell ghost stories, or play kick the can or sardine or whatever until it was time to go home.  My dad had the best way of beckoning us, not with a shout or a whistle or a bell (each family had their own way of rounding up their livestock), but with a light.  He had installed the brightest light he could find at the peak of the roof... when we saw that light go on, it was time to head home.  You could see it from three blocks over at the Readshaws.  No lie.  Having grown up in a time when Batman was on tv right after dinner, it always reminded me of Gotham City's call for help.  "Here we are, Dad!  We'll save you!!"

Once home, he would let us watch a half hour of tv, then it was off to bed.  Before we got our own bedroom upstairs, we used to all sleep in the same room.  My sister and I slept in 'Mom-and-Dad's' bed, and Dad slept on one of the twin beds.  We would go to sleep, but Dad would stay up til the wee hours, tinkering on something in the garage, or maybe having a few whiskeys.  If one of us would wake up in the night and he wasn't there, we'd cry out for him and he'd come running (yep, there were intercoms all over the place... even in the garage).  Finally, though, we figured out that he wasn't going to leave us.

Come morning, Dad would get up at his usual 4:30 rising time, make his coffee, shower, get ready for work, etc.  Now, the thing about my dad (for many, many years after Mom left) was that he would sleep in his clothes.  He'd work 10-12 hours days at Freesemeyer's Dairy, Monday through Saturday, then on any given night he'd mow the neighbors' yards, re-wire my Aunt Patty's house, help Herman build his radio tower, remodel the house (an on-going project that lasted FORever and which meant that every room my mother had painted in beautiful pastel colors was treated to the ugliest wood paneling imaginable) or anything else he could do to keep busy.  He built the garage one summer with only a few hours' help from my grandpa.  All this activity (and possibly with the help of a little whiskey from time to time) made my dad a tired tired man.  So yeah, he'd fall asleep wearing his work clothes.  And in the morning when he'd get up, I would sneak over to his bed while my sister was still sound asleep, and pick all the loose change out of the sheets.  We only got 50 cents a week for allowance, and I was an enterprising little kid.

I'm not sure what made me think of all this.  I think it was the change I had in my pocket last night that I pulled out and set on the desk.  Or, maybe I was just thinking about my Grandma... Whatever it was, I'm glad I remembered some of the happy times.

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