A Few Of My Favorite Things – An Old Card

5 09 2012

My reputation is that of the ‘keeper’ in my family, the one who keeps way too many things, you know the one with the overflowing closets and the oddest keepsakes.  The one most all  the relatives shake their heads about and cluck over “… whatever in the world was she thinking to keep this silly old thing?” And while I don’t have the first dollar I ever earned  I do have the first Social Security card I ever received.

Back in 1953, when I was still 13, my grandmother wanted to take a small summer  vacation from her job as dishwasher and chief doughnut and biscuit maker in the little cafe in our country town but she didn’t want her boss  giving away her job in the mean time. As always my grandmother came up with a practical solution to her dilemna that we both thought just about perfect.  Come summer  I’d be out of school and while I was not a cook by anyone’s good measure I could wash dishes quite well. The thought of a real job and it’s possibilities made me almost giddy; real wages, thirty-five cents an hour, for a set amount of hours every week.  For three whole weeks.  It was going to be a great summer.

 In 1952 a Kansas hero who’d  grown up in Abilene less than 30 miles from our town was elected  President.  Irving Berlin wrote a song for him.  We wore his ‘ I like Ike‘  buttons.  Heck, we felt like we practically knew him and Mamie.

Folks were in a patriotic mood that year, Ike was going to end the war in Korea and bring our boys back home. We’d had enough losses. In many places that November people lined up at the polls before dawn on their way to work.  Ike won by a landslide.  His inauguration the next  January was followed by “the most elaborate inaugural pageant ever held”, a two and one half hour  parade that included three elephants, Alaskan dog teams and an atomic cannon named  ‘Atomic Annie‘.  The country was closing the door on the old war era and walking right into the cold war era.   Later that year Stalin died, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, Swanson sold it’s 1st TV dinner, the 1st TV Guide was published as well as the 1st James Bond novel  and the 1st Corvette hit the road.  CERN, NASA,NATO,NORAD and a National Highway System were established that year.  In a darker turn GE announced  it would fire any worker who was a communist, Fidel Castro and his brother were  setting the stage for the Cuban Revolution and the CIA sponsored  a panel to discuss UFO’s.

Holding that old card  in my hand it would be easy to fall prey to the nostalgia that the memories of being 13 in that time of such great enthusiasm conjures up. We were full of optimism, the world was full of possibilities, we expected to work hard and succeed, we liked Ike and every good patriotic thing he stood for. Looking back now, through these adult eyes  sharpened  with the cynicism of  time and hindsight, I know the McCarthy hearings  are coming, that polio is not yet down for the count, that the cold war will continue till the 90’s,  that  school desegregation and civil rights  will come only at a high price; and that many things that look like progress are really just another  retreat in disguise.  Our world changes and we make accommodation. My old card could not be used today because it carries the stipulation ‘not for identification’.

None the less progress  was made that was real, that  endures.  The Cold war ended, the Salk vaccine stopped Polio cold and many other childhood diseases are rare.  We have a wealth of devises not even imagined then. In so many ways we are blessed with success beyond our  dreams.  Today the  Americans I know remain  full of optimism towards the promise of the future, believing in the best of  the ideas that unite us  but perhaps not quite  as naively as that long ago teenager.

And they still like Ike in Abilene. This summer they showed that love with another parade.

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The Captive

30 08 2012

I’m writing about sounds this week as part of a challenge and thought this episode from my past might  be worth telling as it shows some ways that sounds influence our life, our emotions and our memories.

Port Arthur

Port Arthur (Photo credit: Mathew Knott)

In the late 60’s I moved  myself and my five children, a son and four daughters,    into a beautiful old 1920’s  house along the ship channel in Port Arthur,  Texas while my husband built office buildings in Houston.  He stayed with a brother there  during the work week coming home to us late  Friday then returning on  Sunday.  Through the rest of the week I was a ‘single’ Mom.  Money was tight so several things had been  postponed till later while we got the Port Arthur  household set up and the kids enrolled in school.  A phone  and a TV were  on the ‘postponed’  list but I’d grown up without either so it was not a big  deal.  The library was close  and we had neighbors.

For a family from the middle of Kansas it was like living a great adventure  in a foreign  country.  The  street our house sat on was lined with palm trees,  from our  front porch we could watch the barges and ships navigate the channel, feeling as  well as hearing the melancholy booms coming from  the horns of the passing ships.  The sea wall was within walking distance for a son who loved to fish.  The beach was a short drive away.

On one  side of the house lived  a tree  so overgrown with  entwining wisteria  it’s vines created a green, cool, intensely  fragrant  bower-like  cave. The kids spent many make-believe hours playing inside this enchanted space calling  it “Heaven”.  In the evenings after dusk the  songs of backyard crickets, cicadas  and frogs  blended with those of the ship  horns to create a comforting if not melodious background  to accompany our end of the day routines.

One evening, after we were all upstairs in bed, the kids quietened at least  if not quite asleep and me reading a book,  I heard a different kind of  sound. One I did not like.

Quietly, I put down the book and concentrated on listening very carefully.

Again I heard the familiar but disconcerting sound of wood slipping against wood. I thought back, going over all the steps in my ‘closing down the house’ routine. The doors were all locked – I was certain of that.  We’d had some windows open downstairs letting in a cool breeze.  Surely I’d checked, closed, and locked each window  on the sun porch and the kitchen.  But what about the ones on the back wall of the dining room or the living room? Unquestionably, I knew I had not checked every window downstairs.

Again that sound slithered through the quiet of the house.

Heart pounding I slipped out of bed and put on a house coat.  Remember, we had no phone, it was on the postponed list  and these were pre-911 days.  On silent feet I moved carefully across the hall to my son’s room knowing there was a baseball bat in a corner there.  Shaking him awake gently while telling him to keep quiet,  I whispered to him that I thought I had heard someone opening a window downstairs, I thought there was an intruder.  Retrieving the bat from a corner I told him my  plan, he was to stay close behind me as we moved down the stairs and towards the doors directly beyond the stairs.  When we got to the doors  he was to  run next door and get the neighbor while I stayed at the bottom of the stairs with the bat. You run no matter what happens, I told him, I have the bat and it will be enough till you get back with the neighbor.

Scared, filled with dread we made our way as noiselessly as we could through the dark, down the hall and carefully down the top three steps, me with the bat, my son right behind me when once again that slipping sound wedged itself into us.

“Mom, it that what you heard? It that the noise that scared you?” my son whispered.

“Yes.”  I nodded in the dark.

 “Mom, that’s my frog.”

“What?”  me, not quite  so quietly.

“My frog”  he said again “the one I’ve got in the coffee can  in my closet. When he jumps,  he hits the lid of the coffee can and it moves a little bit across the floor and it  makes that noise. Come on – I’ll show you.”

End of that  story.








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