Aging & Attitude
The pedaling of an old man riding a wide-tire bicycle grabs my attention as I drive Acoma road. The methodical around and around of the bike’s wheels is mesmerizing. I press the car brakes, slow to a crawl and drop back, to give the senior space, as we approach the corner stop.
He wears red Ked shoes and a large droopy straw hat shades his face from the morning sun. He sports a long sleeve plaid shirt and hazardous baggy Dockers. The blue and chrome fender bike has no basket or hand brakes.
Behind him rides a man in a metallic Speedo shirt and black skin-tight shorts. He wears a helmet and mustache, and he does not pass abruptly. Instead, he moves to coast gently beside the elder, a solid traffic barrier. They ease the corner together, dance a Minuet synchronized to Chopin.
I stop at the corner, turn right, and follow, absorbing their relationship.
It is paternal; head, back and shoulders are an older/younger version of each other. The son peddles ahead deliberate not to look back, allows his father to ride independently while protected. The old man’s bike wheel does not wobble and the handlebars do not shake. There is an air of pride accompanying his movement. I drive by and see his wrinkled face, guess he is eighty. A full head of peppered gray hair surround a son’s face with minimal expression lines and suggest he is sixty.
My mind conjures a past Father’s Day,
Imagine it is 1958, the father wearing the same plaid shirt, Dockers and Ked shoes, the son, jeans and a white t-shirt, both much younger. The father, teaching, leads the way with subtle protectiveness and allows the son to celebrate his newly acquired skill, riding a bike.
“Daddy, look at me!” He yells with a big smile.
Today is Father’s Day 2012. I watch the pair celebrate with a simple act of being there if needed, pedaling their bicycles.
. . . . just saying
A Lost Pearl
The last time I saw her, she was young; youth sparkled in her eyes. Now the sparkle is gone, the jade blue color diminished by time; her convictions etched in lines across her face. Her once narrow nose is broader, broken from standing up for others. Her chest sunken with anger, not there the first time we met.
“Pearl is that you?” I inquire.
She strains to turn towards me, her range of motion greatly compromised.
“Yes, I’m Pearl,” Her voice recalls dignity, and she pauses to ask, “Have I had your acquaintance?”
It was 1971; we got on the Concourse Avenue bus each with a child in hand. She took notice of my bruises and we became friends.
I take the seat alongside her and gently touch her forearm, “Pearl, it’s me Rosa . . . . Rose, remember. . . .” I expect her to ooze with gladness, say, “Lordy, Lordy, Rose, how are you?”
Instead, she says “Rose? Can’t recall a Rose, refresh my memory child.”
If she remembers me, she would never mention beatings, and hiding in safe houses. I remind her of Bainbridge Park; how we would meet after lunch, let the children play in the sand box then walk them to sleep in strollers.
“Yes, I remember sunshine and playgrounds, how is your boy . . . ?”
“Danny, Dan, he’s at Fordham University; studying to be a lawyer.
Danny was five when I made the decision to leave the morning after a beating. I phoned my sister, asked her to get him from school, and left a note for John saying I didn’t want a divorce, and wouldn’t fight him for our son.
I worried about leaving Danny behind. Pearl said, “Don’t fret; your boy be fine,” and hooked me up with people.
John was a New York City Police officer and protected by his brothers, but the force would not ignore his beating a child.
Sill, I moved every four months with a new identity.
Three years later, the Richmond Virginia Newspaper reported the hunt for the killer of John McGill, a NYC Police Officer shot in the line of duty. I went home; stood next to his coffin, widowed with a pension; my eight-year-old son at my side.
John had never mentioned I was gone to anyone on the force.
Now Pearl dozes next to me, and her head bobs from side to side startling herself. “What was I saying?”
“We were talking about the time we brought the boys to the Bronx Zoo and rode the train around the park ten times. You packed potato salad and fried chicken; a stranger asked to buy your picnic lunch.”
The mention of potato salad crystallizes in her milky eyes, “I remember the day you left, bruised and wearing borrowed clothes; it broke my heart knowing I’d not see you again. How you been?”
“I never got to thank you, Pearl. . . .” She interrupts my attempt at gratitude and explanation of regret .
“Hush, Woman . . . tell me something that will make me smile.”
. . . . just saying
Mr. Wonderful* weaves his way through the house, ignoring a house rule, not to start a conversation unless we are both in the same room, and calls out; “Have you seen my cell?” There is no water running or hair dryer blowing in the bathroom so, I hear him and come out.
He is having a conversation with himself, “I just called Marshall, I just had the damn thing, I was sitting in my chair and put the phone on the snack-tray, but, it’s not there.”
He is wearing a heavy hooded sweatshirt and pants. I am dressed similarly. There is a cold wave in Florida. This morning’s outside temperature is 52 degrees; inside the thermostat reads 65. It is much too early to turn the heat on, besides if I remember correctly, AARP reported Arctic air increases life expectancy and being cold burns more calories. Maybe it was not AARP, maybe it was . . . whatever, who can remember; I’ve agreed to enjoy the cold or at least to pretend.
“Did you look in your sock draw?”
“Why would I look in my sock draw?”
“You put on clean socks; did you look in your sock draw?”
He looks at his feet, frowns, and checks his sock draw. The phone is not there, nor on the bureau top, and he says, “This is ridiculous I just had it. It’s in this house, somewhere.”
I pick up the land-line, “I’ll phone you.”
“It’s off, I turned my cell off.”
“Are you sure? I dial his phone and listen as the call goes directly into a message box, and say, “Well maybe ‘The Borrowers’ have it.”
“You know, ‘The Borrowers,’ little tiny people who live in walls and borrow people’s stuff to survive.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You never read the book, ‘The Borrowers’ by Mary Norton? The dad, Pod, risks his life daily getting a potato, afraid he’ll be ‘seen’.”
“No, never heard of them.”
“Pod is a handyman, makes furniture from thread spools and kitchen sinks from Altoids Mint tins. Their home is wallpapered in discarded notepaper and birthday cards. That’s why I’m not upset one of my favorite earrings is missing. The possibilities are many.”
“You’re right it could be anywhere.”
“No, the re-purposing possibilities; the earring is made of wood, and is probably now a table or firewood. The Borrowers like having company for Thanksgiving dinner.
Not amused, Mr. Wonderful does not get it and says, “If they’re so tiny how could they talk on a cell phone?”
“Your cell is more likely their big screen television; they’ll add an app and stream the football game.”
Mr. Wonderful’s retort, “Will they be paying the bill?”
. . . just saying
*Mr. Wonderful is my husband, aka, Bob.
Aging & Attitude
Daily Prompt Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life
An Irish Hand-Me Down
Smiles tell the story of joy and happiness in this Baptism picture. My Uncle is holding our six week old son, and my seventy-five year old grandmother, Gertrude, is clutching her purse. Judith Andrea, my sister and baby’s Godmother, is behind them.
It is the best picture I can find of the dress.
My mother, Patricia DeSalvo Boylhart and her sister, Carol DeSalvo Connolly were Christened in it, as well as seven siblings and myself. My son was the first of many grandchildren and great-grandchildren to wear the hand me down.
There is history in this dress.
Still in our possession, it was handmade by my mother’s mother, Mary Ellen Doherty DeSalvo. The fabric is Batiste (Fine Cotton) and Irish lace, that her mother; Myra O’Rourke Doherty, brought from Ireland.
The bodice is hand embroidered, and the seams French to prevent fraying and unraveling. My memory says it is similar to the pictures below.
The mock neckline has no collar and the back is open to allow dressing over the infants head. Numerous round mother of pearl buttons sewn along the passage await to be fastened by silk thread eye loops. I recall a decision to leave the top buttons unfastened, hoping my son would not cry. The dress is sheer, and a full-length slip underneath necessary to hide cloth diapers and mandatory plastic rubber pants of early times. It is a delicate dress and has always been hand washed, rolled in a towel, and then laid out to air-dry.
Katherine Boylhart Ferreira, my sister Abigail’s daughter, was the last child to be christened in the dress in 2006.
I am traveling North soon and hopefully can take a picture of the actual dress that is more than a hand me down.
. . . just saying
I love the way a dear friend captured the nostalgia of eating ice cream and asked her to guest blog. The inspiration came from her love of ice cream and July being national ice cream month. Please leave a comment for Glenda as she doubts others will find it enjoyable.
The Franklin Ice Cream Store by Glenda Cunard
“You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Isn’t this the mantra for most little children in the good ole USA?
I remember my twin brother and sister sitting beside me in the back seat of our car and all of us chanting this little rhythm every time we got close to an ice cream store.
It all started in the 1930’s when I was about 4 yrs old and lived on Bellview Street in Indianapolis. (Now a rundown dilapidated street with shabby rental homes.) But, it in the golden days of my childhood there stood the most exciting building in the neighborhood, The Franklin Ice Cream Store.
In the afternoon, after our bath and clean clothes we would sit on the front porch waiting for Dad to come home. One could look to the left across the street and see the 8th Christian church, which was catty-corned from Public School 51. When you looked to the right there stood the Franklin ice cream store. It was on the corner of Bellview and 16th street. A busy intersection that we could never go down alone. I thought it the most beautiful ice cream store I had ever seen. It looked like something from a fairytale. It was a rather small white stucco building with a most unusual roof. The roof was sculptured all around the top like small snow-capped mountains with icicles hanging down on all sides of the building.
Just looking at the building made you feel cool. At least two times a week and always on Friday evening after dinner, the family walked to the Franklin ice cream store. We looked like we were following the Pied Piper, Mom, the two older girls, me, and my twin brother and sister all following Dad down the street.
This store did not have 31 flavors, sugar-free, all natural ingredients, Neapolitan, glutton free or any other strange-sounding names for ice cream. It just had three flavors – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. But that was enough for us.
People ordered at a small window, much too high for a small child to reach, trimmed in icy cool blue. Our father was a very tall man and we stood around his legs while he ordered for the family; and on a hot summer day it felt like the line would never end.
Some children would run, like all children do, around the beautiful white wrought iron tables and chairs, until someone would hand them their cones. Then they would sit in the princess style chairs. But, we never got to sit in them because we always walked to get our ice cream and then go back home. Dad often got three scoops – one vanilla, one chocolate, and one strawberry. That was the ultimate in cones.
Our cones were just one flavor, mostly vanilla. Mom and the older girls got 2 scoops, me and the twins got one scoop. I can hear Dad still saying as we walked back home “hurry up and lick those cones before they melt and Mom saying “don’t let that ice cream get on your clean clothes,” of course that was impossible.
I still close my eyes, lick my lips and have sweet memories.
. . . . just saying, Thank you Glenda!
New Thoughts on Words
Aging & Attitude
In 1966, during college orientation, we were instructed to look to our left, then to our right, and told one of us would not graduate. The glaring statistic stimulated conversation. Vera, on my right, was from Long Island, and had an unfamiliar accent. She escaped from Hungary as a child and remembered running across the border grasping her mother’s hand. I was watching Betty Boop cartoons while she was chased by Russians. Her experience stayed with me and is incorporated in my fiction story, “Wheels of Circumstance”, published In Florida Writers Association Collection, Volume Four.
Wheels of Circumstance
Mama and I press our bodies flat against the frigid ground and pray the wheels do not stop. A gloved finger to her lips tells me what I intuitively know: we are in danger, and a disturbance may reveal our presence.
The day is crisp; the strong sun’s reflection on clean snow hinders our vision. I am a fawn watching a doe’s movement frozen by headlights, mirroring the behavior. Mama’s fudge colored eyes wide and alert do not move while her lashes flitter.
The wheels stop not by choice, but by circumstance. They rotate in the mud clockwise many times. When the engine shifts gear, the wheels twirl counterclockwise so fast, the steel spokes blur together. The vehicle, encumbered in mud, stalls and several soldiers jump out. I tremble, and see only soldiers’ feet in heavy boots with metal toes from where I am lying. I close my eyes at the thought of a soldier lifting his leg to kick me.
The engine restarts and the uniformed men study the wheels as they spin again. The puddle gets deeper, a chocolate cesspool, and goop splashes, dirtying my face. I watch two soldiers shift metal guns slung on their backs, and ready themselves to shove the vehicle from behind as a driver yells in a foreign language that reeks of anger. The noise muffles the sounds I do not make.
The soldiers rock the truck, making the ditch bigger, and the wheels more trapped. The engine cuts out leaving a quiet sound. The driver jumps out of the cab enraged, a semiautomatic gun raised above his head, and shoots into the air and around the tires.
Mama rolls her body on mine, secures my mouth shut with her hand to muffle any sound, and listens to an approaching noise, another vehicle.
The soldiers, who were pushing the pick-up yell, punch the driver and point to a deflated tire, as the second truck comes to a halt.
With chains and shovels, the angry team of men release the truck from the muck, and afterwards shove and slap each other in good cheer at the success of their efforts.
I start to cry when they drive off.
It is November 4, 1956 and what started as a birthday lunch at the University with Papa is the Hungarian Revolution.
In the morning, we sleep late and dress leisurely for the special day. I wear my favorite navy blue taffeta dress. Mama insists I wear leggings with my green winter coat adorned by gold buttons and a velvet collar, a matching headscarf tied under my chin. The leggings have inside zippers.
Mamma wears a camel wrap coat and a fake fur hat.
My birthday gift is a white rabbit muff with a cord I loop around my neck making certain it is not lost. I skip to the 9:45AM train to Budapest and nestle my hands inside my birthday gift, occasionally, fluffing the rabbit fur on the ride.
We arrive an hour later, and when we step down from the train, the crowd is noisy and the station disorganized. People run in different directions and change course unexpectedly. Papa is at the exit gate not at the University. He whispers in Mama’s ear after their kiss and her eyes droop in disgust. Papa grabs me in a birthday hug that lifts me off the ground and smiles his million-dollar smile.
There is a “change in plan” goes the conversation between tickles to my chin and behind my ears. Mama and I are to take the train to Austria; Aunt Marion will greet us for a Birthday Holiday. Papa will come on the weekend. Mama’s eyes continually question his prediction. I am happy with the promise.
We get back on the train. Papa hands us a bag lunch and an envelope with Aunt Marion’s address and spending money. We wave from the window not knowing it is for the last time.
Mama reads a newspaper on the train, turning the pages quickly and with tears in her eyes. “Who is Aunt Marion? Do I know Aunt Marion?” I ask of her.
“Aunt Marion is Papa’s relative, really a cousin. I have not met her either. It will be nice . . . I think. Yes, Trudy it will be nice. Now close your eyes and rest, we have a busy day.”
Near the Austria-Hungary border, the train stops, empties, and people are rude and loud.
“Is everyone on holiday, Mama?”
“Well, it seems…” and Mama holds my hand with intensity. “Let me ask for directions,” she says and approaches the conductor now standing on the platform. I cannot hear but watch heads nodding and shaking. Mama continues walking tentatively and then with determination.
“I am going to call Aunt Marion and see if she knows another way.”
Mama deposits several coins in a pay phone, and engages in a speedy conversation.
Smiling Mama says, “Sure enough, Trudy, we can follow the road and cut through the pasture. It will be fun and faster, maybe we’ll see a deer.”
Our walk is interrupted by the sound of Soviet tanks, trucks, and gunfire. Mama pulls us down behind tall grass brushed with snow. We listen, hidden until the sounds of people screaming and crying disappear.
Mama explains. “Mean people are invading our country and we must leave, for now. Papa will talk with them. It will be fine. We will cut through the meadow, and cross the border to meet Aunt Marion. She told me the way.”
That was before circumstance and the mud. Now Mama’s eyes close and there is blood on her coat. The fake fur hat sits crooked on her head surrounded by brunette hair curled for my celebration and I grow up fast within these seconds.
“Trudy, run ahead and tell Aunt Marion I stopped to rest.” Her soft words linger as she hands me the envelope and struggles to say, “She will help us. Run like the wind and do not look back.”
I kneel beside Mama. “Let me stay Mama, you need help, let me stay.” My words hang small and meaningless in the air.
Mama opens her eyes, “Gertrude Zimmerman, stop your silliness, listen to your Mama, go find Aunt Marion. Run… I’ll see you in. . . .
I finish her sentence, “Heaven.”
The sounds of wheels stay connected to the loss of Mama, her love buried in my memories.
Aging & Attitude
The Alphabet Series – New Thoughts on Words
Gaudy is a word I heard as a child. My mother used the adjective to describe styles not to her liking. Designs she considered garish, ornate, flashy, kitschy, tasteless, vulgar, and extravagant. Our neighbor’s orange velvet sectional is a good example. The French Provincial Couch covered in plastic stuck to the back of your thighs in the summer and cracked when you sat in the winter. The iridescent fluted fruit bowl filled with shiny fake red apples and ornate oranges that decorated their dining room table was in my mother’s words, “poor taste.”
She told me “Gaudy is derived from an eccentric architect, famous for constructing some God-awful cathedral in Spain.”
The true impact of the word is captured by a visual of the works of Antoni Gaudi, the architect. As an adult I was fortunate to visit Barcelona and view the site she talked about.
Gaudi, born in 1852, is famous for his elaborate ornate architectural style. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and expected to be completed in 2024. That is a 142 year project funded by private donations.
My mother knew about Gaudi but learned her sense of style from her father, Achilles DeSalvo, Pop-Pop to me.
Called Charlie, and never trendy, faddish or snazzy, he knew how to dress. His family owned a tailor shop in Manhattan called DeSalvo & DeSalvo.
I loved him dearly.
Summertime, Saturday morning, Pop-Pop would take the Long Island Railroad to the Westbury station. He arrived wearing a blue seersucker suit, straw hat and spectator shoes, an afternoon addition of the Herald Tribune under his arm.
He wore cuff-links and his nails were polished.
We waited with great expectation for him to remove his suit jacket, and get comfortable in a chair. Surrounded by his four grandchildren he would unwrap one Mounds Bar and divide each half, in half for us to share.
But the best was yet to come.
Concealed in a breast pocket was a cigar. The cigar ban was presented to one of us and worn as a ring, for the day or week…depending on how long we made it last.
We never moaned or complained. We stood with hope and felt his love.
My grandfather got me my first real job at the Plaza Hotel.
Occasionally he would say, “Meet me on the northwest corner of 55th street and Madison on Tuesday at noon, and we’ll go to lunch”.
There was nothing ornate, flashy, gaudy or extravagant about his love. It was genuine. His style memorable.