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MEMORIES

     In the hospital: Chicken pox covering my body, I sit in a crib and cry to the tune of foghorns coming from the river that flows alongside the building that imprisons me.
     Kindergarten, my first day: who likes that dumb teacher anyway?  Not me!  So when she isn’t looking I go to the little closet, take my coat off the hook, and put it on, making sure to hold the sleeves of my blouse so they don’t  roll up, I strut silently out of the classroom and walk home to Mama.
     Summer camp: I'm sitting on my cot in my bunk with the other nice little girls. Our counselor makes me sick. "I hate Miss Matilda," I say, and fat Miss Matilda with her big eyeglasses is standing across the room staring at me.  She’s in pain; I did it. Who cares!
     School – Class 2A: Evelyn Sondberg, the doctor’s daughter with her "boyish bob," starched dresses; a new one every day.  And me! Stupid Buster Brown haircut, I own three dresses, gifts from the Salvation Army; not starched -- in fact, they’re creased. Mama never did learn how to iron. Chubby, fashionable Evelyn -- skinny, frowzy me.  But I’m bright.  I skipped 2B and they put me in 3A In the middle of the term because I’m smart.
      I look at my report card – B+ in work. I can’t settle for less than an A, So I cry.
     My little sister beats me up: And she is three years younger than me! I can’t stand it!
     Eating supper: Mama really knows how to cook lamb chops.  Everybody loves me; they all give me the fat from their chops. Boy, am I lucky!
     Coney Island: Sitting on the porch in the sun doing my embroidery; I love to embroider, I love the sun, I love Coney Island.
     The Indian Lake in Crotona Park: "Everybody got your skates?"
"Thin Ice” signs. Too bad my little sister didn’t read them. So we laugh, Sylvia and me, as we schlep her out of the icy water. Later that year I "teach" my friend Gerry to skate. "Follow me," I order.  And I fall and break my arm. We lift my arm, put my hand in my pocket, and walk home through the park.
     The man who exposed himself: He smiles, "Hello, little girl." I scream! And run home to Mama.
     And the day poor, strange Penelope cornered me in the park and kissed me on the lips.  I got away that day too.
     Every Saturday: Chinese food, thirty-five cents for my sister and me.  We share. Mama gives us eleven cents apiece for the movies and a nickel for a box of sourballs.  "One for you and one for me.” I bite the extra candy in half; we share. The movie’s scary, little sister is afraid; so she sits on the floor under her seat, as I tear the box that held the candy into little pieces.
     Every Sunday: Gerry with her long blonde curls, and me with my long blonde braids play with our stamp albums, climb rocks, pretend we’re detectives. We call ourselves "Goofy" and "Gerry," Or "Nutsy" and "Netsy." We have supper in Gerry’s kitchen. Her mama loves me too.
And then we listen to the radio. "The Shadow Knows, Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Daddy comes to take me home. I hold his hand and we talk as we walk through Crotona Park back to our house.
     Camp Bluebird: The beauty contest; I am voted the second prettiest girl. It isn’t fair; her legs are brown in the front and white in the back, and mine are brown all over. My little sister’s in a play: she dances with a group of girls to the tune of Shortnin’ Bread." She kicks up her heels as she’s supposed to, but her shoe flies off into the air. She cries.  Poor little sister -- cheap shoes.
     The library: I walk through the park -- I love to walk alone – and up the stairs -- to the children’s library. So many books! I start with the A’s: What haven’t I read by Burnett, Dickens, London, Longfellow, Stevenson, Spyri, Tarkington?  Who wrote "The Secret Garden?"
I climb the big rocks to get to the park. I walk home with my books, my free treasures in my arms. A few years later I’m eleven; an adult.  I make new friends with the books in the library downstairs.  My first best friend now that I’m a big girl is Anna Karenina.  She killed herself, and I loved her. What a waste!
     I’m growing up: I’m transferred to Junior High School 44.  I’m not as smart as I was and I’m skinny; my legs are like sticks. And Sylvia is my new best friend. I don’t see Gerry as often anymore. (She climbs rocks by herself these days).
     Sylvia and I love boys, a new one every week. I remember their names, and the order in which I loved them: Irving, Donnie, Stanley, Willie, Lenny, Joey, Bobby, Davie, Al, Herbie . . . .
and Pete, who becomes the love of my life. I meet him when I’m fourteen on the boardwalk in Coney Island. We have a song, "It Had to Be You."
     Pete joins the Navy, My sailor, "My Blonde Sailor" writes to me, sends me presents from ports all over the world. He enters my photo in a beauty contest published by “Our Navy” magazine, and sends a copy to me.
     I’m sixteen, the war is over and Pete comes home. He visits me, and wants to marry me.
But how can I?  He lost his front tooth. Instead of fixing the tooth, the Navy dentist pulled it.
     And besides, I have a new boyfriend; Sol, the boy I will marry in two years.  So I leave Pete
and he writes me a letter: "Guys in the Navy commit suicide because of girls like you."
     I’m proud – I’m a heartbreaker. But Pete wasn’t the first boy to succumb to my "charms."
Joey, the orphan from the boys’ home on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island carved my initials in his hand with a knife and stole jewelry from the five and dime for me. And Sol walked one day
from where he lived in Brooklyn to where I lived in the Bronx.  He didn’t take the train as usual,
because I had complained that he was always early. That day he was twenty minutes late – served him right.
     I was eighteen in March, and married in June: I was a princess during the ceremony,
Then Sol and I danced To the "Anniversary Waltz."
     Ten months later Daddy died: I didn’t cry. I was afraid that if I started I wouldn’t be able to
stop.
     Stevie took Daddy’s place: My baby, my little boy. We lived, Sol, Stevie and me
in a tiny apartment. The baby screamed every night, all night. But he was beautiful nd I loved him so.
     It bore fruit, my family tree: Stevie was followed by his brothers three, and I didn’t know what to do, because my house was like a zoo. And the boys grew.
     I cleaned house, cooked, watched soap operas, read books, knitted, played cards, "socialized," belonged to the temple and joined the Sisterhood.  But I didn’t Grow.
     One day Alan, my baby number four, went to kindergarten for the first time. And I went to work. I worked for ten years and I made new friends.  But I didn’t Grow.
     And then I chose to leave my job, to go to school, to find my Self:  I earned my degree,
learned to decorate the inside of me.  I began to become the woman I had always wanted to be.
     More than thirty years have passed since I wrote this piece, and I hope that I have continued to grow. I’ve worked very hard and four of my books thousands of my stories have been published. My kids have all grown and married. I love their beautiful wives, and I adore each and every one of my nine grandchildren and seven, going on nine, great-grandchildren. Family members and good friends have helped me through the most difficult times of my life.
     Stevie and Ronnie are both gone and the hole in my heart can never be mended. Nothing in this world can replace them. Someone once told me that "It takes a year" to get over the loss of a child. But those of us who have lost children know that it takes a lifetime. We will remember them every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.




 

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