MY HOUSE ON THE CHURCH SIDE
Being different is not the same as not belonging. It may be a cause for not belonging but being different stands alone. I grew up being told I was different, not because of being the only girl in a neighborhood of boys (and I had two brothers, no sisters) but because we were the only family without a father in the house. It was quite unusual in those days and in our neck of the woods.
We weren’t confined to the back yard but allowed to roam as long as we didn’t cross the busy streets that defined the neighborhood. I didn’t have an ounce of shyness in me then, not even internally. That came later when I would have to push myself forward.
A half block up Liberty Street was a neighbor who also lived in a semi-detached house. He owned two lots alongside his house that were planted in vegetables but mostly in flowers. At 7 years old I would stop my bike and talk to him through the fence while he worked. He never encouraged it but he didn’t reject me either. One summer day I asked, “How come I always see you outside working but I have never seen your wife. You have a wife, don’t you? And how about kids. Do you have kids? I’ve never seen any.”
He explained to me that their children were grown up with households of their own and that his wife was very ill and liked to be quiet. I quickly followed up with, “Why did you build a swimming pool if you don’t have kids?”
These were the days when the only swimming pools were community pools that you needed to pay to get in. Woodlawn was the pool we went to once a week in the summer with the school playground program. It was a 2 mile walk, one way.
He patiently explained that he built his pool (a wooden structure 5 feet high, about 10 feet long and 8 feet wide) for exorcise, told me to never come in the yard without his invitation. I think this came after I told him about my climbing adventures on the church fence. He also invited my brother and me to come swim in his pool on a day he selected, with a written consent from my mother. We went two or three times and loved it, respected his rules and never pushed ourselves on his generosity.
His generosity expanded to giving me fresh flowers for my mother on Mother’s Day after I told him that I rode four blocks away to the cemetery to pick some flowers from the gravestones for Mom on Easter. He kindly but firmly explained why I should never, ever do that again, that if I needed flowers to come ask him. I never picked flowers from the cemetery again.
Monthly Archives: February 2018
MY HOUSE ON THE CHURCH SIDE
I learned early on about not belonging. It came from the 13 boys in the neighborhood and no girls until I was about 9 or 10. That’s a lot of formative years and trying to fit in. It’s what toughened me up and I learned to work harder, hiding my tears when I was hurt, couldn’t let them show, not in a bunch of boys. They would have shunned me for sure.
It was in kindergarten that I found my first friend who didn’t fit in either. He didn’t because Nathaniel was black. In a school of 7 grades, one being kindergarten, and less than 20 kids per grade, there were only 5 black kids in the school. We also had a couple Jewish families, a Mexican family, a couple Irish families, several Italian families, some Polish families, and a family from down south. A block over from my house was Gail, who was blind but she went to a special school for the blind in Trenton.
Our kindergarten class was scheduled to perform on stage at the end of the school year. We had learned to play instruments like triangles, birds (that had water in them and gave a whistle sound) and jingle bells on a string. We also had to perform a dance at which Nathaniel became my partner. I chose him because he was different. I already knew about not belonging and sensed that he knew it too. We remained friends until he moved to Trenton in the fourth or fifth grade.
Of course I did have classmates that were girlfriends even in kindergarten but they lived blocks away. I didn’t get a 2-wheeled bike until I was in second grade. Then I could ride the whole neighborhood (about 8 blocks long and 4 blocks deep surrounded by major roadways) but by then friendships had already been formed and I was always the third person out. I ventured to ride to Nathaniel’s which was on the far side of the square. He only got to my house once because he didn’t have a bike and it was a long way to walk. I pretty much remained a loner until the fourth or fifth grade when Roberta moved a block away from me.
I learned about belonging or not, about being different early in life and it remained with me until I finally embraced it as a blessing. It gave me leadership opportunities, pushed me with courage and taught me to make my own place.
Writing memoir is so healing. . .thank you for this.
One August afternoon in 1967, Mom dressed me in a navy dress, patterned in tiny white polka dots, with an appliqué of paintbrushes and an artist’s palette in primary colors at the hem, and a white Peter Pan collar around my neck. White anklet socked feet, fitting snuggly into blood-red Mary Janes, anchored my chubby legs. While standing at attention in front of my house’s picture window with my feet together and my hands folded in front, I posed with my heels brushing against the yellow marigolds in full bloom under a toasty blanket of Indian summer sun. My birch tree buddy stood tall and arabesque in front of me, extending its tree branches in effort to shield me from the sun. I was present in those moments as I stood before my house and my tree waiting for my picture to be taken. Life was good.
This was my…
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Telling Your Story- Writing memoir is many things to the writer. It’s often a trip down a path that got you to where you are today, showing the result of sometimes funny things that happened to you and sometimes not so funny. You can write parts of that path, starting out at a bend in the road and ending at a bend further down the road. There is no need to try to start at the very beginning. That may overwhelm you, especially if you are older than 30 and have lived a full and varied life. I can promise you that if you write everyday, even if it is only a half hour, you will begin to remember moments you thought you had forgotten forever. It’s true, the more you write, the more you remember without effort. It just comes, sneaking up on you like a kitten trying to get your attention with a soft, tiny paw tapping on your knee.
About a year ago, I began writing about the 15 years of traveling Angelo and I did stopping at horseracing tracks from as far away as Australia, across our country, Canada, and even the Curragh in Ireland. So, look for RUNNING WITH THE HORSES, expected publishing date is August of this year.