Childhood

I remember riding in the car with my parents. I don’t remember my brother being there. I remember having my tonsils out, and having my kindergarten photos mixed up with Tommy Starr’s. I remember giving my teachers a really hard time and my parents an even harder time “talking back”, they used to call it. I remember Roger coming back from Word of Life camp on Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks and trying to get me to “take Christ as my personal saviour”. We were staying in a house on Lake Ontario. He scared me to death! I thought he was crazy. The waves in the lake were huge and crashed on the shore just like the ocean. My brother didn’t convince me. The seasons were important, growing up where we did. Piles of leaves you dived into, melancholy without knowing why it came in fall—burning the leaves and smelling the smoke. Great Halloweens—my grandmother made the costumes—once I was Miss Muffet with a fabulous spider with wire coat hangar scary legs and a fat black sewn body, then Pocahontas from head to toe, beads and fringes on everything. When I’d come home from school I was always afraid Indians were hiding in the house. Skating, snow and sledding till you felt frozen solid—your mittens could stand up by themselves—forced to use the side door and leave the layers of thick leggings and suspenders, hats, boots all over the place to thaw. There was a little pantry at the side door, full of canned food. Christmas—my parents were really good in the tree department. My father hung the tinsel a strand at a time—it was perfect! Burning old broken duckpins in the fireplace, brought from my grandfather’s bowling alley in the Bronx under the El.* My father always bought my mother a purse and an automatic appliance for Christmas—a square frying pan, stuff like that. Pageants at church. Believing in Santa Claus way past the time you ought to. Spring: buds, mud, daffodils! Melting snow—no more skating when the ponds started to turn to slush. Pelham had huge trees, blossoming fruit trees in spring—dogwood, apple, pear, quince blossoms. Robins like crazy. Summer—sitting in a window seat in my room (which I had insisted be painted dark green, and my parents acquiesced). From that window seat I first encountered God, in the form of three huge trees in our back yard, and the stars shining above and the sound of summer night’s breeze hissing and softly rattling through the leaves of those maples and maybe one oak. I loved the way the moon shone on it all. Look at this, all this writing about childhood and so little about people! Didn’t I love anyone in those days? My father, I think. And my grandmother, who made my doll and my doll’s doll and me all the same outfits—dark red double-breasted woolen coats with heart-shaped buttons and jaunty beret-ish hats to match. I still talked back to them all. Maybe the seasons were my best friends. Summer also meant Jones Beach, every good Saturday, with “cousin” Janet and Robert, distant relatives. I remember little except the size of the waves at the beach—towering, or as small and gentle as a cup of coffee spilling over. I had a yellow bathing suit with black polka dots and puckers down the front, and I’d burn to a fiery red every time we went. I don’t remember anything about the people. My father and Uncle Charlie, who owned a gas station, used to set up their fishing poles early. The sand was murder on your feet walking from the parking lot to the beach. A beautiful beach—I hear it still is. Miles and miles of breakers, right out there on the Atlantic Ocean, so close to the city. *Elevated railway in the Bronx that went underground when it reached Manhattan. Return to stories menu