THE MUSIC OF MY LIFE

Music transports me as does nothing else.

Chopin will always remind me of all the years I studied piano. He was my favorite composer to perform. Nocturnes, mazurkas, waltzes. All the sound of growing up and living in music because the world was too painful.

Music. All music takes me to other places. It’s why I can’t listen to music and drive. I’ll wind up in a ditch. Every piece of music reminds me of something. Johnny Mathis take me to my tormented adolescence. Any of Beethoven’s symphonies take me somewhere, I’m not sure where, but it’s not here. I like wherever it is.

Old show tunes — West Side Story especially — brings back memories of my middle and late teens when I thought it was the most romantic story ever. Even though it was a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but I thought that was swooningly romantic too.

Gigi took me to Paris. It still does. It’s the Paris I want to visit, but can’t, because it no longer exists. Maybe it never did exist.


The Transporter - Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

SNOW DAYS

Growing up in New York, snow days were a special treat. Of course, it snowed every winter, but snows deep enough to close school weren’t common. Once per winter, maybe.

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I would sit, nose pressed against the picture window, watching the snow pile up and hoping it wouldn’t stop. “Keep snowing, keep snowing,” I’d whisper. I wanted to wake up to a white world. To that hushed, near-silence of a morning following a heavy snow.

Finally, no school! We would put on all our winter clothing — at the same time. Back then, kids didn’t have as much clothing as they do now … and it wasn’t nearly as warm. When we were finally all bundled up, we’d clomp to the garage to get the sleds. Drag them to the hill at the end of the street.

And now, back to our snowstorm, about 14 hours in progress with another 12 to go.
And now, back to our snowstorm, about 14 hours in progress with another 12 to go.

It was quite a hill. Steep. Icy. You could go really fast if you were in the right position. If you got it perfect, you could almost fly. If you hit a rock or a ridge of ice, you might really fly. We didn’t think anything of it, no matter how many times we limped home, dragging our shattered Flexible Flyer behind us.

My feet always froze. They hadn’t invented insulated footwear or Uggs. Our coats were just cloth. Even wearing all the sweaters we owned, we were never entirely warm. I was usually the first kid to give up for the day. My feet would go from cold, to numb, to painful icy lumps. Hands, too. Galoshes leaked and my socks would freeze.

Worse, rubber boots had no tread. It was a thrill going downhill, but going back up would be increasingly difficult as the day wore on. Ice would glaze. Eventually, there was nowhere to walk where you could get any traction, not even along the curb.

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Sometimes I could get my big brother to haul my sled and me up the hill, but pretty quickly, he’d lose interest and go off with the big boys to do big boy stuff, whatever that was.

I was the smallest of the girls. Scrawny and short. I remember going home, and defrosting my feet in cool water. Wow, that hurt. I think I was minutes from actual frostbite. I don’t know how anyone lasted all day, but some kids did.

deck and snowy woods

That was almost 60 years ago. Hard to believe so much time has passed. I can still see it in my mind’s eye. A frozen memory. Especially on a day like this, the big picture window framing the snow as it falls. It’s falling fast and hard and has been for hours. Garry keeps going out to dig a path for the dogs. More than four feet of snow in just over a week.

It’s winter in New England. I live about 250 miles north of where I grew up. Snow days are a regular feature. When we have a particularly hard winter, kids have to go to school extra days at the end of the year to make lost time.

It’s snowing hard. I wonder how many inches this time?

SHARING MY WORLD – WEEK #4

Share Your World – 2015 Week #4

Where did you live at age five? Is it the same place or town you live now?

I lived in a very old house in Queens, New York, when I was five. It was, as it this house, surrounded by oak trees. It had, as does this house (after remodeling) a big picture window in the front. Maybe I have — in some sense — gone home again.

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I lived there until I left for college. I never went back, except to visit. The house in which I now live, reminds me very much of the house in which I grew up, but it is in New England … quite far from my original home. I don’t even know anyone who lives in New York city any more. We have all moved somewhere else.

You are invited to a party that will be attended by many fascinating people you never met. Would you attend this party if you were to go by yourself?

These days, I don’t feel safe going places alone. I’m a bit fragile and I get fearful when I have no one to call for help. So the answer is these day, no. But I would have gone by myself in the past — without a second thought.

Did you grow up in a small or big town? Did you like it?

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I grew up in New York city, but the neighborhood was very much like a small town. The city had grown around it, leaving it’s semi rural nature intact.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer. I wanted to be a writer when I was studying to be a musician. There was never really a choice for me. I was born to be a writer.

KINDERGARTEN – THAT FIRST DAY

September 1951.

1952 with my brother
1951 with my brother

I am probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am. I’m certainly the smallest. Everyone seems so big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. The school looks huge. Monstrous. Many years later, when I come back to visit, it will be tiny, a miniature school. Even the steps are half the height of normal.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old. She’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some. The ones everyone can use are broken and colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out about all this stuff.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write things in her book.

It’s a long day. I have almost a mile to walk home. Mommy doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s only that it’s all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this stuff?

By the time I know the answer, it won’t matter any more. School has become the ordinary stuff of life and why no longer applies.


First! – Tell us about your first day at something — your first day of school, first day of work, first day living on your own, first day blogging, first day as a parent, whatever.

Note this is a rerun — a double rerun having been first a weekly writing challenge, then a daily prompt. This is my original response to the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t see why I can’t rerun the answers if WordPress is going to keep rerunning the questions. Besides, I like this piece. And I love the picture. Little me with the fuzzy hair and my big brother.

MY REMEMBERER IS BROKE

Forgetter Be Forgotten?

My forgetters getting better,
But my rememberer is broke
To you that may seem funny
But, to me, that is no joke

For when I’m ‘here’ I’m wondering
If I really should be ‘there’
And, when I try to think it through,
I haven’t got a prayer!

Oft times I walk into a room,
Say ‘what am I here for? ‘
I wrack my brain, but all in vain!
A zero, is my score.

At times I put something away
Where it is safe, but, Gee!
The person it is safest from
Is, generally, me!

When shopping I may see someone,
Say ‘Hi’ and have a chat,
Then, when the person walks away
I ask myself, ‘who the hell was that?

Yes, my forgetters getting better
While my rememberer is broke,
And it’s driving me plumb crazy
And that’s really not a joke.

Jim 1999
James Casey

How come what I remember of the past bears almost no resemblance to the memories of the people I knew while I was growing up? I get notes from people with whom I went to school. High school — even elementary school. I’d swear they went to different schools than I did.

They have wonderful memories of our relationships while I remember them as brats who gave me the cold shoulder. Wouldn’t even talk to me because I wasn’t one of the “cool kids.” I recall them as petty tyrants and bullies, but they swear we were the best of friends. Which is interesting since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even invited to their parties. Or ever visited them at their homes.

Is it me? Is my memory damaged?

I grew up in the 1950s. I get a dozen emails a week extolling that decade as “the best of the good old days.” I do not remember the 1950s as a better time. Just a different one.

Racism was rampant. Sexism and ageism weren’t even part of our vocabulary. Women and old people were treated horribly and it was just fine because that was the way it was and no one was trying to fix it. They didn’t see it as broken.

It was not a simpler time either. Sure, we had less technology, but we were constantly embroiled in trying to get whatever it was we had to do the job for which it was intended. Our refrigerators were layered in ice, our ovens couldn’t maintain a constant temperature. Our televisions barely registered a signal, even if we were lucky enough to have an antenna on the roof. And people were so happy, they were building bomb shelters in their yards so when someone nuked us, they could survive. Clearly better days.

GoodOldDays

To my mind, the social issues were no less complex than now. And we were busily polluting our environment. Enthusiastically polluting our environment, I should say. We are still cleaning up the mess we made in those good old days.

Life was not easy. Assuming you had a decent job, your pay probably allowed you to live reasonably well, but a lot of people — anyone of color, for example — was lucky to get a job at all, much less one on which a family could be supported.

Nor was childhood all sunlight and roses. Abuse was common and by a kind of silent, cultural consent, never spoken of. No laws protected us. No agencies would aid us.

A few years ago, Garry went to his 50th high school reunion. He came back shaking his head, wondering what school they went to. It obviously wasn’t the same one he attended. I chose to avoid my high school reunion a couple of years back. I kept getting notes from former classmates about the great years we enjoyed at Jamaica High School.

I don’t have those memories. I remember a racially divided school with bigoted teachers, bullying classmates. Cliques of privileged kids who ostracized anyone who was different. Sad teenagers lost between childhood and a frightening, uncertain future. Hoping for help from counselors who denied the existence of the problems many of us faced at home.

Is it me? Am I the one who is broken?

ON BEING TWELVE AGAIN — NO SCHOOL IN SIGHT!

ZOLTAR’S REVENGE: In a reversal of Big, the Tom Hanks classic from the 1980s, your adult self is suddenly locked in the body of a 12-year-old kid. How do you survive your first day back in school?


School my foot. Who’s going to send me to school? The ghosts of my long dead parents? My son? The dogs?

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I’ve got all the diplomas I’ll ever need, thank you very much. Just because I get back a young body won’t give anyone proprietary rights over me. I’m an adult with all the privileges (???) thereof. Social Security. Pensions. Senior discounts might be a bit tricky, but hey, I think I could explain this is a very new kind of plastic surgery. I’m pretty sure I could sell that. By 12 I had my full height and I was a smart as I would ever be.

Smarter. We reach our maximum intelligence in our early teens. Seems like a waste, but it isn’t really. That’s when we are collecting the knowledge that will enable us to decide what want to do with the rest of our lives. In this case, I already know. I know what I want and I know how to get there.  I know what to avoid, which may be the most important part. It’s a perfect second life. With all the body parts still working and a foreknowledge of what may come.

So. To the good part. A 12-year-old body you say? Before I broke my back. I get the chance to protect my spine and avoid the big problems I’ve got today. How long do I get to keep it? Permanently works for me.

There are some issues to be worked out. Young, growing bodies have needs. But in my head, I’m old and wily, so I know what to do. I have the body of a youngster, the brain of a senior. Oh joyous best of both worlds! Garry has to be 12 too! This wouldn’t be fun without him.

We will have legs that can run and minds that remember everything. But this time, without dysfunctional parents and all those stupid rules? Zoltar, if this be revenge, how sweet it is.

Bring it ON! I am so ready.

THE FIRST DAY

September 1951. I am probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am. I’m certainly the smallest. Everyone seems so big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. The school looks huge. Monstrous. Many years later, when I come back to visit, it will be tiny, a miniature school. Even the steps are half the height of normal.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

There were no air conditioners when I went there. We just sweated.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old. She’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some. The ones everyone can use are broken and colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out about all this stuff.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write things in her book.

It’s a long day. I have almost a mile to walk home. Mommy doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s only that it’s all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this stuff?

By the time I know the answer, it won’t matter any more. School has become the ordinary stuff of life and why no longer applies.


Memoir Madness – Weekly Writing Challenge