A ROAD HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining fully-grown white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

The first contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

1952

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.

1953 – Three little girls

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, a battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.

About 6 or 7.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other. It would be years before we learned each other’s secrets and by then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed while we grew up, lonely in our big old houses all those years ago.

CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE: UP IN THE TREES! – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Trees

We’ve been away for a few days and I’m going to need a bit of time to get up to speed. I’ve got some interesting ideas, but it will take me a bit of time to write and edit them, so be a little patient. Didn’t take any pictures. It rained the entire time we were away, so there was no boating and mostly, Garry was trying to learn how to use a microphone and cut audio tracks — something with which I am NOT familiar, so I couldn’t be of much help.

Japanese maple in full leaf

My primary function seems to have been surrendering my Mac to Garry’s professional ambitions. I didn’t use it much anyway.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some trees!

Trees along the river and the pathway to the road

Sun through the trees

ODD OBSESSIONS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve had some random and esoteric obsessions over the years. Only two have stayed with me for decades and are still going strong.

One is the Titanic and anything Titanic related. I saw the movie “A Night To Remember” when I was in elementary school. I then read the book the movie was based on and I was hooked. I continued to read other books that came out over time about the Titanic and her last hours.

Painting of the Titanic going down

I was fascinated by the series of ill-fated coincidences that sealed the ship’s fate. If any one of six or seven things hadn’t happened exactly as they did, the ship might have been saved or avoided the iceberg altogether. I also loved the stories of the people on the ship – from the super rich and famous down to the crew and the steerage passengers.

I passed my Titanic fever onto my daughter, Sarah. We watched the movie “Titanic” together over and over. We frequently flipped through our large Titanic coffee table book with lots of wonderful photos. Sarah has followed all the dives on the Titanic wreck even more than I have. Many of the unanswered technical questions about the sinking have now been answered and Sarah and I share each new revelation with relish.

Photo of the wreck of the Titanic on the ocean floor

My other long-term obsession is the British royal family. I always loved English history, particularly stories about the Kings and Queens and their families through the centuries. I started following Queen Elizabeth II and her young family when I was a pre teen. Charles is close to my age so I was particularly interested in him and his slightly younger sister, Anne.

When Prince Charles was looking for a wife, my soap opera antennae went into high gear. When he met Lady Diana Spencer, my interest became a real obsession. I read everything I could find about them, but mostly her.

Charles and Diana early in their relationship

The day of Charles and Diana’s 1981 wedding, I woke up at 5 AM so I could watch the entire ceremony live. I had a one year old so I was up anyway. On this day, however, I stayed up. I also called my close friend in London and we watched the wedding together on the phone. I almost ended our friendship when I criticized the new Princess’s wedding dress. I thought it was overdone, too pouffy and unflattering. Most Americans shared my opinion. But most Brits, including my friend, absolutely loved the dress and took offense at any negative comments about it.

The infamous wedding dress

I followed Diana’s marriage closely. I applauded her more modern approach to being a royal, particularly after she became a mom. She wanted to be a hands on parent, which was a huge break with British royal tradition. I cheered her on, along with the rest of the world. I loved the new vibe she brought to the royal family. I also related to her increasingly dysfunctional marriage with a cheating husband. I mourned her tragic, early death.

I continued to read about Diana’s boys after her death, but not as avidly as I had when she was alive. When Kate Middleton came on the scene as Prince William’s love interest, I got my passion back.

William, Kate and their two children

Kate has continued the modernization and humanization of the young royals that Diana started. I am particularly taken with her easy, close and natural relationship with William. I applaud her involved parenting style and appreciate her and William’s accessibility. I follow news of her and enjoy photos of her clothes, as I did with Diana. I admire her style and taste and love most of her wardrobe, possibly even more than Diana’s.

Now I have a new royal couple to read about religiously. Prince Harry has announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, a poised, mature and charming biracial American actress. She seems caring and down to earth. She is already involved in international humanitarian causes on her own. She also has rescue dogs, one of whom has come to live with her and Harry in London.

Harry and Meghan announce their engagement

Meghan will be another breath of fresh air in the still stuffy royal family. She’s had a successful career and lived out on her own in the real world. Americans can relate to her and she can relate to the common man, just like her fellow commoner, Kate Middleton.

I don’t obsess over movie stars or pop stars, like many Americans do. I only know about a few of the ‘celebrities’ who appear in “People Magazine”. But I should have many years ahead of me of happy royal voyeurism following the two English Princes and their growing families.