Packing Day Again

Wow, how did this happen? Another month gone already? But I’m not quite ready to move on. Still have to cover so many things:

  • I missed a month of school in sixth grade. I don’t remember how I got pneumonia, but I do remember nearly coughing up a lung every morning until I was exhausted. My teacher, dear “old” (certainly younger than I am now) Mrs. Brown had all the kids in my class write me letters during my illness. They were funny, silly, sweet and corny and I kept them for years. My mother was preparing for my sister’s Bat Mitzvah, baking all kinds of goodies for the reception while I lay in bed reading and listening to KSFO on the radio. Her friend Nettie came over and they baked rugeleh and mandelbroit together, and the smells were intoxicating. Almond and cinnamon…the aroma hung in the air even after the baked goodies went straight into the freezer. My pediatrician made a house call and we were both embarrassed when he listened to my chest. I kind of wished my mother had been in the room. I made a full recovery, but my mother never forgot that I’d had pneumonia and used this as a reason to get me out of regular P.E. in my new school. Good news and bad news. “Special P.E.” was a special kind of hell, but I made a very good friend, a friendship forged on our mutual hatred for the teacher and all the lame-ass stuff she made us do instead of running. 
  • Moving to El Cerrito meant that I had my very own room for the first time in my life. My sister and I split up the bedroom furniture between us. We each had two twin beds in our rooms, and for a little while, anyway, we slept over in each other’s rooms until we got used to the idea of being alone. My room was (my choice) painted what I liked to call “passionate purple,” but was really lavender.Over the years, I put  tons of bubble gum cards of the Beatles on my closet door. Later on, I had a large poster of Elizabeth Taylor up on my wall. Trying to remember why. I think because we each had big eyebrows. Who knows?

It was all about the eyebrows

  • New furniture! Before we moved, my parents totally replaced all their old mismatched furniture with new stuff: Danish modern in the living room and dining area, trundle beds and white furniture for my sister and me, and new walnut dressers and headboard in their room. It was a small house, but still — they replaced everything and even worked with a “decorator,” which is why we ended up with huge, colorful ceramic ashtrays as “accent pieces.” No one smoked. I remember dusting those ashtrays, but I never emptied one.The decorator liked unusual lamps too. And orange. All that stuff came with us to the new house. The love seats and chairs got reupholstered and re-purposed as family room furniture, but it took years to finally get something in the living room.
  • My Bat Miztvah. I don’t have any pictures from this event. I saw one once, but have no idea what happened to it. I wore a custom-made dress of blue velveteen and my first pair of high heels. The shoes were a black imitation reptile of some kind, with wing tips. Thus began my lifelong affection for shoes with wingtips. I was trained for my Bat Mitzvah by a lovely Israeli woman who looked like she was ten months pregnant. We worried about whether she would deliver her baby before I delivered my speech. I think I won that race. But the rabbi at the time didn’t really believe that girls ought to be allowed to read from the Torah and he was reluctant to let me do any of the traditional things, like wear a tallis, for example. He was pretty crabby about the whole thing. I could not tell you what I said in my speech, or what Torah portion I read or anything else about the ceremony. Here’s what I do remember: I got a string of pearls, a nice pen, a lovely book about art (from that decorator!) that was inscribed to me with a well-known quotation from Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”  and– the piece de resistance: a peignoir! Yes, today I am a woman! Better believe it.The peignoir was a lovely lemon color, like lemon chiffon pie, with yellow satin around the neckline and white lace trim on the sleeves. Oh, how elegant I felt floating around in that outfit. I loved the couple who gave it to me and I guess they loved me too — they named their daughter after me years later.
  • Boys, boys, boys. So many boys at my new school. My first experience of being “the new kid” didn’t pan out too well with the girls, but the boys seemed eager to get to know me, and by the way, my eyes are up here! Deer caught in my headlights. My friends had always been mostly boys, so I had no problem making friends with them at the new school. What I didn’t realize at the time was that things were very different in my new social milieu. And what the girls didn’t realize was that I didn’t give a damn about their rules of engagement vis a vis boys and the tightly orchestrated minuet of interactions. And I did pay for that attitude, at least at first. See Mean Girls, Part 2.

  • Michael..A wonderful boyfriend. We were one of two interracial couples in my high school sophomore year. Took a certain amount of heat about it. At around this time, Janis Ian recorded “Society’s Child.” She was just about my age when she recorded this song, and then sang it on The Smothers Brothers show. My story was slightly different from hers, but the end result was the same. Except, in my case, it was Michael who said, “I can’t see you anymore, baby.” I learned the difference between what my parents said and how they really felt when I brought home a black boyfriend. He saw it before I did, of course, and didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. He was a sweet boy, and we stayed friends through high school. It’s a bittersweet memory.

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