Post #54: “Catch the Moments As They Fly”

img_4183

It’s done for my own safety.  Really it is.

I knit together the pattern of my days with the soothing and rhythmic clack of the needles, stitch upon stitch, row upon row.   The pattern is regular and even.  Honest and expected.

I am grateful.

And yet?

Sometimes I have to appreciate the dropped stitch. Or two.  For the occasional unraveling of the yarn. Because only then do I look up to see the wild rumpus, the crazy helter-skelter, the marvelous phantasmagoria of sights and sounds and feelings that otherwise would  fly away like dandelion puffs swirling in the wind.

I can’t let them get away! Maybe I  can catch them. So of course I try.

  • the jolt of connection
  • the satisfaction of caring 
  • the exultation of loving
  • the joy of simply saying what needs to be said

*the laughter that rattles and roller-coasters through the room

*the mutual embrace of kindness

Nothing more. But nothing less either.

When will these marvelous events occur?  Do we know? Do we care? Does it matter? The expectation is a mystery and a thrill all its own.  But they are coming! They always do.

My eager fingers reach out to catch the puffs, dancing away in the wind.  I grasp them and carefully weave them into my pattern. I work to gather up any dropped stitches. 

I reach for the needles once again. The pattern continues row after row.  But please look up.  I do look up. Reach out.   Robert Burns said it best:   “catch the moments as they fly.” *

I won’t forget. I won’t ever forget!  Oh, how could I?

***

Photo: Big Nick, a lifelong appreciator of moments that fly. Also an appreciator of flies in general.

*from Here’s A Bottle and an Honest Friend by Robert Burns reprinted in The Norton Book of Friendship, edited by Eudora Welty and Ronald A. Sharp, W.W. Norton & Company, c 1991

Post #53: A Climb Through the Clouds

IMG_4316

Meditations on Friendship

Well, there it is! Stretching invitingly out before me like a sweet and sinuous pull of taffy, curving around hills and sweeping around vistas.   The trees are massed tight and are swaying in the wind like kids at a campfire kumbaya. It’s Woody Guthrie’s true “ribbon of highway” and my car banks the curves of the road with the rhythmic skill of a skier mogaling gracefully downhill.

As we move further west the land flattens. I can’t see the destination ahead or the point of origin far behind. I feel alone. Friendless. But am I? I look out and see that the sky has spread its arms wide to embrace the earth, so close that I feel as though I could climb the clouds into the pockets of quiet, to companionship and solace. So, of course, I do.

***

The Sweetness of Friendship

“Okay, so what’s the plan, what’s the plan, what’s the plan?”

At my house there is ping-pong, and People Magazine and the pool. Walks to the corner market for peaches and cherries and grapes, to the drug store for Mars Bars and Milky Ways and Twizzlers, We can maybe even walk the dogs. Charlotte the sheepdog on one leash for you, Tina the chihuahua on another for me. Want to splash together Vernors Floats? Mash together chocolate chip cookies? It will be so fun!

At yours?

We will swing so hard and so high that for sure (well probably) our swings will wrap themselves around the swing set just like in a Tom and Jerry Cartoon.   Spread Monopoly or Scrabble or The Game of Life all over the living room floor and play beginning to end, all the way through. We’ll take piles of McDonald’s burgers from your freezer and zap them back to life in that microwave thing. Be very careful. The pickles will be extra hot.

Different interests, different schools, different lives. Winter or summer. Rain or shine. During the week we each walk alone. But every single Saturday, your house or mine?

Someone finally asks us, “How have you two been friends for so many years?” We shrug and grin at each other. It never occurred to us not to be friends.

***

An Interwoven Friendship

Well frankly the miracle was that I managed to get a top bunk. You, a double session girl, are top bunked too of course and in a choice corner spot to boot, right across from me. You have the coveted Levis to my Danskins, the braces to my buck teeth, the cool, shambling walk of an athlete to my short stepped shuffle. And yet? While playing a desultory game of flashlight tag I spot you! Curled up in your bunk passionately scribbling away in that notebook. No one, but no one, writes a letter home like that. You weren’t writing a letter home.

I am soon to find that you are not what at first you seem. But then, it would appear, neither am I.

Swept Away by the Dream of Friendship

After the play. After the after party. After hours.   I am not sure exactly when I am supposed to be home but it certainly is well before this. But it is 3 am and I am perched high on a stool in your kitchen and rooted to the spot. How can this be?   My dreams are echoed in your words, my hopes are buoyed by your thoughts, my brain prickles with yearned for connection. Oh! My breathing is ragged and my heart is expanding and expanding and expanding yet again. I will risk all for the sheer pleasure of this conversation, I can’t leave, I just can’t, it will break the spell and that would break my heart utterly.

But I do leave.

In the daylight I spot you. I can feel myself curl inward, like a styrofoam cup melting in the fireplace. I avert my eyes. I don’t stop. Instead, with nary a stutter step, I keep walking by myself.

But why?

***

In the True Spirit of Friendship

The creature of habit, day after day I am sitting in the seat I’ve claimed as mine for the history of music class. And you in yours. Right next to me. Do gregorian chants bring to mind the tight harmonies of the Beach Boys? A sublime Mozart aria, the zing of Django Reinhardt? Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever , the muscular thrum of Buddy Rich?

I gamely toss in For Me and My Gal and you firmly lob Gene Kelly and Judy Garland right back.   You serve up On the Waterfront and I complete the volley with Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Adam’s Rib with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is a total slam dunk.

When we graduate, you’ll fly to the left, I’ll fly to the right. Our dreams will take us from one end of the country to the other.   But I Know Where I’m Going!, dear friend. As do you.

***

And here we are on the road once again.   The path ahead is not a straight, unblinking journey at all but rather seems to fold back upon itself in the gorgeous, jagged unending pattern of a fractal. Memory does that. On the road for sure, but not alone. Never really alone.

To all of my old friends, even if connections have been gnarled or twisted, the pattern continues, time untangles.   Friendship, whether felt in a burst of connection or a lifetime of longing, is a privilege with the possibility of a kaleidoscope of joy. I am still a bit besotted with all of you. As well I should be.

As he neared middle-age, Henry David Thoreau wrote “I sometimes awake in the night and think of friendship and its possibilities.”*

I reach out my hand and my heart in possibility to all those friends I’ve known and loved. And I extend my hand as well to those friends I hope to know and hope to love someday in the future.

Looking forward.

 

*Thank you to the marvelous Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org) website for the reminder of this lovely quote.

 

 

Post #52: The Voice of Inanimate Things

IMG_0341 (1)It’s perfect.  Like a verdant, ruffled mop of hair, the green strands sweeping and swaying in the breeze, I am sitting in a bravely untended and dearly loved velvety nest of grass.   Even if every presharpened color in my box of 64 Crayolas was a different shade of green I couldn’t color it all right. I dig my toes into the damp coolness as my neck cranes up and up and up for my face to reach toward the warmth and light. I am expanding, growing, shifting—yet rooted to the spot—until I’m called in for lunch.

My sandwich is cut into four neat little quarters, the carrots sticks stacked in a pack, the tomato soup perfectly portioned into exactly a dozen mouthfuls. Tiny bite, tiny bite, tiny bite. And then finally, at last, I’m done.

I go back outside. But where is it? What happened? The screen door smacks shut behind me. I am mystified and then bereft. My phantasmagoria of tangled green has vanished. In its place is arrayed a precise and formal tightly clipped regiment. A moment of inattention and it’s gone! But is it?   I take a deep breath and the suddenly essence of grass caresses my nose, expands my lungs and delightfully coats my tongue.

***

It’s so early that if the sun had a face it would be rubbing the sleep out of its eyes. So early that the neighborhood seems to snore in unison, so early that the paper hasn’t yet been slapped onto the front porch.   Doesn’t matter, time to go. Drag open the car door and climb into the vastness of the front bench seat. Hand crank the windows all the way down, doesn’t matter the chill. Slide from side to side, bumping the door with every right turn.

We know where to go! Where else would we go? This is the only store with lights this early on a Sunday morning.

My mother pulls open the door and we are embraced by a whoosh of steam. The bagels are just coming out of the ovens. They tumble from their trays into the wire baskets, like giddy bunches of children released from school. The New Yorker Onion Rolls, the bialys, the flaky ones are already done, slabs of Russian Coffee cake, the Crumb cakes, the sprinkle cookies are proudly lining up in the glass cases.

Our brown paper bag is crammed full with our hot bakers dozen. I get to hold it. The open bag warms my lap as we ride home. A generous schmear of hot bagel scent fills me almost to bursting!

***

The cloud of gently floral spice wafts down the stairs, meanders through the living room, makes a short stop into the dining room before emerging full blown into the kitchen. My elegant and beautifully pressed father, not a hair out of place, arrives in the room a few minutes later. He has been announced.

A riffle through the mail, a bolted shot of orange juice, a quick flick of his wrist to check his watch, and he’s on his way for the day.

But the scent lingers…

Years later, I will buy his cologne and wear it myself, just to keep him near me.

***

What ho, to the great outdoors! Crack of dawn a winter Saturday morning, I am bundled beyond recognition and wedged on the Blizzard Ski Bus on my way to Pine Knob or Mount Holly or Brighton. As we pick up speed the rhythm of telephone poles blur into a Kandinsky. The roads are slick, the slopes sure to be slicker. The bus bounces over the pot holes, fishtails crazily when we turn…or don’t. Cool kids sit in the back. I sit in the front.

At last we careen into the parking lot, there are the mountains looming icy and distant in front of us. Our bus is parked with dozens of other buses disgorging hundreds of skiers on the mountain like ants spilling over a jelly sandwich. Clumping down the bus steps in my ski boots, I take a deep breath of good clean mountain air.   I am ready!

Years later I am walking the streets of New York on a hot summer day. I pass a city bus and am baffled as suddenly I get a jolt of good clean mountain air, just like that of the snowy ski mountains. How can this be? A bit more investigation proves, of course that the “good clean mountain air” I associated with skiing was actually the heady and intoxicating exhaust of bus fumes.

***

As I type this the smells of a good dinner caress the house, melding with the comforting, slightly musty scent of old, beloved books and cats warming at the windows. I can breathe in a soft hint of wild strawberries and wince, only slightly as I catch a whiff of slightly stale socks. It’s all here. Mary Webb says it best in her marvelous essay The Spring of Joy when she notes that “fragrance is the voice of inanimate things.”

I close my eyes to sniff the fragrances of memory, to remember and most of all to keep it all close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #51: Filmstrips

IMG_8678Filmstrips

A casual flick and the lights snap off. A thrilling zing pings through the darkened room, passing through each of us like jittery kernels hitting the hot oil. The machine whirrs, the sprockets spin, the audio crackles invitingly, black and white images flicker and blur on the screen in the front of the room. We are ready, so ready! The filmstrip is about to start. We are rapt and enraptured primed to sit tight and watch straight through from beginning to end.

Well of course. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?

***

Scene 1: SRA

Brandishing jump ropes, the girls gather in tight little gaggles on the playground, their eyes hooded, arms folded identically tight. I circle like a hungry sparrow, swooping down by the teetertotters, sweeping around the swings, up to the monkey bars searching and searching for a few crumbs, a place to roost.   Finally I slip back to the empty classroom and take a seat. A deep breath and I dive right in: The SRA Reading Box. I am up to Silver, already, I am the only one! I start reading and in a moment the ugly florescent lights, the ridiculous yet scary duck and cover drills, the hardened faces of the girls fade away. Only one more level to the very top, on to Gold!

Scene 2: Nothing Revealed

Chalk clutched in her manicured fingers, Miss Borocks floats to the board, and with a flowing, florid script maps out the assignment:

“Write about your deepest fear.”

She smiles beatifically on the class, her eyes hovering on me as she mentions (again) that both she and I are left handed. We are the only ones.   She dots her “i” s with tiny hearts. I do not do that, I will not do that, I cannot believe anyone would do that. Ever.

I am not actually certain what my deepest fear is, but if I knew it I certainly was not about to write it in an essay for Miss Borocks.

So I return home and write an essay about fearing to write this essay, pouring over the dictionary to squeeze in as many obscure words as possible, sweating to make the essay unreadable in class. Please don’t read this in class.

Aha! I have revealed NOTHING! At least I don’t think I have.

Scene 3: Spring and Fall

I am curled up happily in hardbacked booth at Drake’s, Russian Caravan Tea unsipped and a grilled cinnamon roll untouched on my tray, my eyes prancing over the pages of poetry. I am reading Hopkins. Only the top of my mussed dark head is visible, but that’s enough:   I am spotted. Red-headed Mr. Kenworthy, my English professor, is hovering smilingly, tray in hand.

“May I join you?”

I nod nervously and my eyes dart back to my book but that’s it, I can’t read anything any more.

He squeezes into the booth and starts straighten his papers.   “You’re reading Hopkins,” he says, squinting at the title. Do you have a favorite?”

I do, of course. I love Spring and Fall.   I wonder if I’ve made a good choice.

 

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

 

“What do you think of it?” he asks. He is drinking Russian Caravan as well.

I catch my breath then speak in all a rush, “It’s not simply about a child missing the beauty of the fall leaves, or about the loss of innocence, it’s that devastating last line: ‘It is Margaret you mourn for,’ it feels selfish to me. The little girl is not innocent so much as selfish.”

He pauses, “That’s extraordinary. I never thought of that before. Never heard it mentioned. ” He looks at me with a new found respect.

“Well,” I continue quickly, “I studied the poem in high school.” And just as quickly, his eyes cloud over and his attention shifts elsewhere.

I cringe into my cooling cup of tea. I neglect to say that what I had noted about the Hopkins was my own insight from high school as well.

Oh, how could I?

Scene 4: Stacked

I’m here at last! Shelved on the 9th floor at 50th and Third, happily fenced in my cubicle by pile after pile of teetery first editions.   The boxes come to us, the lowly assistants, first. We see the finished books before the editors, before the writers, before everyone! Only after we’ve gorged ourselves, then do we share.

I am like voracious Saturn in the Goya, almost wishing I could greedily devour them all, page by delicious page. All for me, all for me, all for me!

Then my empty stomach rumbles—my slender wallet holds little more than subway fare.   What else to do? Oh right! Simply read and reread the cookbooks — Julia Child, Patricia Wells, Maida Heatter — ravenously, gluttonously, insatiably dreaming of dinners— paychecks—- to come.

Scene 5: The DK Pocket Books

Oh they loved them so very much. So small and compact they could hold them in their tiny hands. And so they did, carrying them everywhere, to their twin beds, to the car, to the bathtub, to the playroom, to the playground. Some pages were gritty from the sandbox, other warped from being accidentally left out in the rain. They carried them and they hugged them and they kissed them and they read them. The DK Pocket Books, from Insects to Volcanos, Dinosaurs to Earth Facts, Ancient Rome to Reptiles.

Tiny bursts of knowledge for very tiny boys. Watching them I learned more than I ever did from any book I had ever read.

***

We are primed to watch the filmstrips of our lives moving in a herky-jerky fashion forward progression, thing to thing to thing. And yet, when we flick the switch for the rewind, the film sometimes sticks. It’s blurry.   Where were we?

That’s okay. Look back more closely though and the scenes start to glow golden and gemlike as the segmented jewels of a Klimt. Refocus. Watch them again and again. Like a shaken tin box of fancy cookies, your scenes have left their frilly paper trappings and jumble together. Pick through them, taste them: they can still be sweet.   After all, they are yours to relive, rethink, reexperience, retell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #49: Diving Deep

FullSizeRender (3)

I was so little that reading still meant whispering words out loud when on whim I dove headfirst into the pages, down down down, deeper and deeper and deeper. There seemed to be no bottom, no ending, to it all. But who wanted one?   I’d never felt anything like it, the phrases pressing and swelling around me, ideas glowing like an Atolla Jellyfish, a Clusterwink Snail, these incredible luminescent creatures of the murky and mysterious deep. I almost didn’t know where to look first, riffling the pages this way and that. But like one born to it, little by little I learned to slice through the waves of words with shark like precision. Or was I more like a whale, opening my jaws wide to feed with words like millions of plankton slucing over my tongue to nourish my whole self? It was all there, confronting me, challenging me, inviting me. Sometimes reading I would find that I was actually holding my breath—my excitement so great that I’d forgotten to come up for air. That font of knowledge, that cornucopia of thought, that mélange of ideas right there in our living room. There it was: The World Book Encyclopedia.

My goal was simple. I just needed to know everything.

***

And so I’d dip in a random:

How wrenching that Beethoven was completely deaf and couldn’t even hear his 9th symphony performed, nor listen to the rapturous applause!

Did F.W. Woolworth really build his “Tower of Nickels and Dimes” out of nickels and dimes?

If the Egyptians mummified their pets, it meant that they adored them, right?

How on earth did Nellie Bly pack for an 80-day trip around the world in her tiny handbag?

My heart ached for Elizabeth I, her hair thinned, her life shortened from a lead based make up.

My spirit soared with George M. Cohan’s lyrics to Give My Regards to Broadway!

***

Bits and pieces, everything this way and that way. I never knew what I would find, what I would learn, what I would think what page my eye would fall on.

Each breath of knowledge became a pinpoint on my own personal map, a zigzagged line of inquiry. But to what purpose was I collecting all of this? And where, exactly was it leading me?

I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I needed to know. Or try to know.

It was a shock, really.

At some point I realized that beyond the World Book the universe of knowledge was constantly expanding, making my childhood quest to know everything both absurd and Sisyphean. But you have to wonder, is a task really Sisyphean if it’s a joy?

And so the quest continues. I read and read and read. There is no end. Because I hope that somewhere in that lovely pile up of facts and ideas, my hodgepodge collection of pocketed, billeted and cherished tidbits will be there when I need them most. I’ll be ready to extract just the right phrase at just the right moment when someone needs it.

This is not a simple goal. But in some ways it is everything, after all.

 

Post #48: Night Itself

IMG_1374You hear it first. Really, how could you miss it?

It sweeps through with the breathtaking blur of Gene Krupa’s flailing sticks badgering and barumphing at the skins, cajoling wave after wave and whoosh after whoosh of sound. Millions of tiny jubilant splashes in a muscular trill, a cacophonous drumroll of rain.

The truth is I wasn’t expecting the storm at all. As always, it was night itself I was after.

***

Drive-in Movie: 1965

it was the pajama ride of our dreams. The three of us rattled around the expanse of backseat like kernels sizzling in a popper. We had pillows but no one was going to waste time sleeping. It was just getting dark as my Dad pulled into a parking spot and fitted the receiver onto his window. We made it! The dancing hot dog on the screen said there was just enough time to get to the snack bar. Hurry, hurry, hurry! We wanted Good ’n Plenty! We wanted Milky Ways! We wanted Raisinettes! We got a box of popcorn. For the three of us. To share.   If I stood up I from my spot in the backseat I could almost see the bottom half of Mary Poppins through the front window. No, we were not going to lay out on the hood of the car like those other people.

I turned my back to the movie and instead looked out the slanted rear window. I could see the whole sky, black as licorice. There were stars. They sparkled like Sno-Caps.   My very own snack bar, my very own show.

***

Oak Park Boulevard: 1967

It was all wrong, completely wrong, totally wrong. Which of course made it feel so very right.

A quick scissor kick (I was learning to swim) and I was free of the covers. The summer darkness in the house was damp and foggy. I gingerly felt my way to my hearts desire, left conveniently on the floor. There it was! I had it.

Light sliced from the bathroom and slanted through my doorway just so. I was drawn to it like a nightgowned moth. Very carefully, very quietly I cracked it open.   Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I loved this so much. I couldn’t wait until morning. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had an upside down house.   You could jump over doorways! You could swing down stairs! You could sit around her chandeliers and pretend they were campfires! An upside down world where everything was just right.

Looking out at the comfort of the darkness I wished that night was day and day was night. An upside down world where everything was just right.

***

Wawa, Canada: 1972

We were not exactly roughing it, unless you consider roughing it taking an overnight on the camp bus and pitching a tarp in a local trailer park. Grudgingly we took a walk into town to forage for food, proudly procuring a few Coffee Crisps, several Mackintosh Toffees, a whole salami, and a can of Pringles. We hoarded this stash shamelessly. But it was going to be okay. We just might survive our time in the wild.

I waited until it was dark and everyone else was asleep. Silently I untwisted from my sleeping bag and crept from the bus. With small, stealthy steps I quickly made my way down the path to the lake. The dark around me was dense and verdant, packed with muffled sound. I kept my flashlight beam low. Then I snapped it off. Why would I need it? The whole sky above was massed with stars, a swirling and twirling marching band before my eyes!

No one would ever believe it. I had found Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in Wawa, Canada.

***

Dominos Pizza, Ann Arbor, 1981

He pounded furiously, stretched gently, then casually flung them into the air and then down the line. Dough after dough. Never missed!   I was the toppings girl, plunging my hands into various vats of pepperoni and onion and mushrooms as if I was playing a never ending game of Whackamole. Sausage was awful and sticky. I had to keep plunging my fists into the olive juice just so I could scrape it off my hands.   I dreamed of graduating to saucing and cheesing. But not just yet.

I got off at 2 am.  It wasn’t at all quiet. Let’s get real: here at night any night percolated with adventure! But I headed for home. My plan was to be up and out by 8 am. Because that’s the quiet time here. I grabbed it.

Had my Piggle-Wiggle dream come true?

***

Riverside Drive: 1993

They are so tiny, so very small. “I’ve bought chickens bigger than that!” someone squawked as I hurried anxiously past with the double stroller. I know. They were identically fed from droppers, one boy in my arms, his brother in a rocker. I switched their places every 15 minutes. It took over an hour to feed them, each time every time. They had to eat every three hours around the clock. They took turns sleeping but they were too small to know that there was no turn left for me. Day and night blended to charcoal.

Around the corner, Big Nick Burger lit up the dark. Everything you could wish for hot and ready 24 hours a day. I wanted it. We were, after all, in the city that never sleeps! All I had to do is get off the couch…

***

Our House: Just now

The storm itself has taken a breath but the rain continues, a ready steady strum. At last the night is what I was looking for, deep and velvety and enveloping.

There is no noise to speak of. There is so much to hear. I’m listening…

Dawn always catches me by surprise.

Post #47: The Cartographer of Malleable Memory

IMG_1854I scribbed and scrawed and scratched and scroobed. At first with those thick lavender elementary school trainer pencils, sometimes with a nothing more than a nubble of broken crayon. In flowing royal blue fountain pen ink or a smudgy stub of pencil. I dreamed of typing in a tree house but instead I scribbled in backseats or on busses, while wedged behind a fliptop schoolhouse desk or hunched over a sticky kitchen table.

Like Livingston on a lifelong safari, I am off to capture the prize.

My middle finger is marked by a callous from gripping the pencil so earnestly, even desperately, my hands are forever stained with ink. Scraps of paper, half finished notebooks, missives tucked into books. Tantalizing clues and ciphers and keys! All for me.

The cartographer of malleable memory, I am making a map.

***

BRAVE: Oak Park Boulevard

Ah ha! Nobody is watching. My moment has come. I kick my tennis shoes off into the summer grass and gingerly ease my feet onto the hot sidewalk. I am expecting a sizzle but it doesn’t happen. Step by step by step. I can do it! Like the firewalkers that boldly skitter over hot coals I am brave enough to walk the fiery pavements of Oak Park Boulevard with my bare feet! But even so I make certain to step carefully over every single crack. Because I love my mother very much.

***

AWAY: Hudson’s Department Store

Like a moveable steel Everest it loomed imploringly before me.   Each step rising up and up and up and then somehow folding away into some mysterious and inviting heavenly realm. Where did it go, where did it lead? I had no idea. All it took was just one tiny step and I was on my way, lofted upwards on a moveable stairway to adventure! As my mother turns I wave and then, in an instant, I am out of sight.

***

BEAUTY: The Beauty Parlor near Coolidge

It’s Friday and all the ladies are there ready to be made behived and beautiful. With enough hairspray the hairdo will last for the whole week. Each lady swathed in a plastic apron, they face their mirrors without ever making faces, and they sit in chairs that spin without ever spinning wildly. How do they do it? The air is thick with chatter and cumulous clouds of hairspray. But if we are quiet, there is a quarter for each of us.

In the corner, in the back is the Soda Machine! My sisters and I stand transfixed. Red Pop or Orange or Rock n Rye?

I am the oldest so I already know which is best. Without hesitation I drop in my quarter and twist the dial. In a moment a tall bottle of Faygo Grape is in my hand.

I swig right from the bottle and I think maybe that being made beautiful just might be worth it.

***

VICTORY: Camp Walden, Girls 9

High noon on a sunny day. We are inside, of course. That’s where the real action is. The floors are hard and swept and smooth.   You could bounce a quarter off my hospital-cornered bunk. I know. I tried. I am toe to toe with my halter-topped, feathered-haired adversary. I’ve got this. Then with one practiced hand I knock the jacks into a perfect arc and with the other I flourish the ball in the air. My left hand sweeps through the maze and in a flash it’s all over.   I am the official jacks champion of Girls 9.

***

WELCOME: Kingswood

The Oldsmobile pulls around the circle. I get out and the car pulls away. I am here. Knee socks and loafers, pale blue blouse and a brown jumper with pockets. I desperately need the pockets, where else can I put my nervous hands? I walk up the steps and pull open the doors. I am in the Green Lobby, a simple name for a space so exquisitely beautiful no fancy words could hope to ever do it justice. My heart skips a beat and then it almost explodes from my chest. How can this be?  How can you come home to a place you’ve never been to before? But I have. At that moment I know part of me will never leave. Or perhaps it is that this wonderful place will never really leave me.

***

BELONG: Carnegie Deli, New York City

Sunday morning, 8 AM, Seventh Avenue. The doors of Carnegie Deli are unlocked before my eyes. Where are the crowds? I cannot figure out where everyone is. Don’t all real New Yorkers rush out at pre dawn hours on Sunday mornings?

I sit uncomfortably on a bentwood chairs at one of the long tables and I wrestle with a menu that is as massive as the Ruben’s Triptych.   Pen and pad in hand the bow-tied, black-jacketed waiter is waiting. And waiting.

I panic. So I order the first things that come into my head.

In a few moments he places a warm baked apple and hunk of Russian Coffee Cake in front of me.   I take a few bites and I start to relax at last. It is very good.

When I look up to pay my bill three other people have ordered exactly the same thing.

I have done it. I belong.

***

SEALED: Haagen-Dazs, The Upper West Side

We stood there together, our noses pressed against the glass case. I hardly knew him. So will it be chocolate or mint chip or strawberry or mango? Rum raisin or butterscotch or fudge Ripple or plain vanilla? Cup or a cone? Sprinkles or sauce? Can an ice cream choice define you? Of course it can.

“I’d like an egg cream,” I said. His eyes, behind his round tortoise shell glasses, were wide.   “That’s amazing,” he said. “Me too.”   The kiss, and the life together that follows, is especially sweet.

***

JOY: Riverdale, 16th floor

The identical little people in identical pajamas were so small they couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds without toppling over onto each other. That didn’t matter. They fell down they got up, they fell down they got up again. And they laughed, a rich and rollicking and rolling laugh that blended into a jazz trumpet duet that would have knocked Old Satchmo, Louis Armstrong himself, back on his heels. My oh my!

We never got the joke. Just the joy.

***

MEMORY LANE: Around the corner

He traveled that route like a tiny King in a Yankee cap. Perched proudly in his green wagon he had the presence and bearing of Caesar himself. I pulled the wagon. Down the street, around the corner and a curve through a cave of trees, back and forth day after day to take his brothers to  elementary school. It was my job, but small as he was, he was certain it was his.

Then when he was old enough, for a time he walked with them. And then, older still and the only brother left, he walked Memory Lane alone.

Except for this last time. It was his last day on this beloved path at this beloved school. He asked me to walk with him. No wagon necessary. I did. We walked the path together one more time.

And in front of everyone he held my hand.

***

For me memory isn’t solid at all but truly more like shimmery green jello. I love jello. It shifts in the light. It wobbles. It changes. Memory I think is meant to be stretched, sometimes reshuffled or perhaps rolled like dice from a cup to continuously recreate the treasure map of a happy life. Follow the dots wherever they lead again and again on a zig zagged path to happiness.

.