Memories of a Lifetime

Monday, April 13, 2009

In which I lose my Daddy

I will never forget the night it happened. It was January. I was sitting in semi-darkness at the kitchen table talking to my boyfriend on the phone. I watched from the table as my father left the house at about 9:00 pm. He said goodbye to my mother and me. I remember the house was warm and it was cold outside and I wondered why he was going out. Lately, that hadn't been too unusual for him, but still, this time there'd been no provocation that I had noticed, it was just a normal Monday night. I was 13 and in the 8th grade.

In the middle of the night, I heard the phone ring. We only had one phone at the time, and it was downstairs. I didn't get up, but I heard Leah get up and figured if there was anything I needed to know someone would come and tell me. No one did so I went back to sleep. I remember having a fleeting thought that it might have been something with my Aunt Jean, who had just had surgery and was still in the hospital.

When I woke up next morning, I got ready for school, almost as normal. Maybe it was the middle of the night phone call, maybe it was the atmosphere in the house, but one thing I did that was atypical was to not listen to the radio as I got ready.

When I went downstairs, Leah was there (Eric was away at college) but Mom wasn't. She told me that Mom had had to go to the hospital and that we were to go to school as normal, that everything was fine. Again, the fleeting thought that something was up with Aunt Jean, but didn't think too much about it. It was weird for Mom not to be home, not so weird for Daddy not to be home as he always left before we were even up. But the secrecy, not so weird. In our family we learned at an early age to keep the secrets and just go with it.

As I recalled it then, and as I still recall it, all was normal at school also. Until gym class. This part requires a little back story. As usual for high school gym teachers ours were a little -- ahem -- masculine. One of them also taught Math and had had my brother as a student. She loved him. Hated me and Leah, but loved Eric. And another important thing, Eric's given name is Paul the same as my father.

After our showers, I'm in the locker bay with my friends getting dressed. I remember I only had on my underwear when I heard Miss White walking down the locker room aisle, swinging the lanyard with her whistle on it and bellowing, "Where's Konicki?". (Keep in mind the bitch hated me.) Thinking I had once again done something to piss her off, I timidly stuck my head out of the locker row, wearing nothing but my bra and panties and holding my shirt in front of me like a shield. In a small voice I said "I'm right here." but in my mind I was thinking "I'm right here where I should be you bitch."

She's not even to where I am standing yet and she hollers, "What happened to Paul?" Confused, I answer "What do you mean, what happened to Paul, he's in Minnesota at college." She says, "No he's not, he was shot this morning over on the East End."

I remember there were faces popping out of the locker bays during this exchange and suddenly all the pieces fell together in my head. I collapsed, sobbing, saying "no, it's not my brother, it's my daddy!"

I don't really remember what happened after that. Somehow, I got dressed. One of my friends must have helped me, because the next thing I really remember is being in my next class and the guidance counselor coming for me. She explained to me that it had been on the news all day (Remember how I said I didn't listen to the radio that morning?) and that most people had thought that I knew and had just come to school. She told me I could go home and I said no, I couldn't, that my mom had wanted me to be in school and in school I would stay. I did find out later from a friend that it was true, most people did know what had happened and assumed that I did too and was just toughing it out at school until there was news. And kids being kids, no one really knew what to say, so they said nothing. Except for Miss White, who had the subtlety of a Mack truck.

When I got home that afternoon, I was a little weirded out to see Mom standing at the stove browning ground beef and onions, as though life were totally normal. She told me to come in and sit down, that she had something to tell me. Wanting to spare her having to tell me, I told her I already knew. She asked me how I knew and I told her the truth about what had happened that day.

(Needless to say, this little tidbit really upset her. She didn't like Miss White much anyway because of the way she had treated Leah, and the way she treated me. The next day she went up to the school and read the principal the riot act for what Miss White had done. Miss White ignored me for the rest of the school year, gave me B's in gym and the next year I was in the other masculine gym teacher's class.)

The next few days were a blur of Mom taking trips to the hospital and trying to run the house. We went to school as normal. I only went to see Daddy once in the hospital, and never told him goodbye because we all thought he was doing better. (I also think there were some silly age restrictions and they had to sneak me in, but I'm not 100% sure of that). The bullet had gone in his side and even though there had been some internal damage we all thought he was going to get better. What happened in the wee hours of January 31 was therefore even worse, because it wasn't supposed to happen that way. It should never happen that way.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In which I invent a game whose name never dies

Another important part of my extended family when I was growing up was my Uncle Ned and his family, my Aunt Jean and my cousins Rachel, who is 4 years younger than I am, and Tom who is about 7 years younger than I am.

I am told I attended Ned and Jean's wedding, but I don't really remember much about it except that Mother made Leah and I matching off-white or yellow dresses with jackets, I think, (think Michelle Obama's inaugural gear) and we had to wear little white gloves. I do remember using Aunt Jean as a "lovey", she had the softest skin. I would sit next to her and just feel her arm for hours it seemed and she would always let me. My mom would say "Jeannie, if she's bothering you just make her get up," and Jean would say "She's fine." And I would be until I got bored and wandered off to find something else to do.

Rachel was the cutest little baby and toddler. The family has many stories of precocious things she did when she barely walking and talking. We have super-8 film of her shaking her diapered booty at Daddy's camera. She has an ornery streak that runs through our family like a golden thread. It turns those of us who have it into charming and funny leader-types. Those of us who have it don't turn against those who don't (well, usually), we just work with them to bring out their latent charm. When we are all together, watch out! The jokes and puns fly freely, along with flights of fancy having to do with absent family members, mutual friends and mutual enemies.

When we would go to visit Ned and Jean on a weekend night so the parents could play cards, Leah would stay downstairs and watch TV or read while I would go upstairs to Rachel's room where she, Tom and I would play. Tom was an introverted child. I fell in love with him one morning when I spent the night with Rachel. Tom loved music. He would take anything handy (throw pillows, record albums, the record itself, etc.) in his hands and sing the words to the tunes he'd learned from his father's records as he spun the object round and round in his hands. He was the record player. He would not only sing, but do the drum parts, the brass or whatever other instrumental parts there were. He was a genius. Anyway, on this particular occasion, I woke up early and heard him singing. I sneaked out of bed and into his room, where he was sitting in his crib. He had a stuffed toy in his hands that he was turning round and round as he softly sang a song that he had made up for their cat. I sat and listened and watched for a while, and then we started playing together...I think we played the baby gravity game, where the baby throws something out of his crib and the other person picks it up and throws it back. We did that for a while, quietly, until the rest of the family got up and his mom took over. We've been friends ever since.

Anyway, on these weekend nights we'd go upstairs to play. I was probably 9, so Rachel was 5 and Tom 3 or 4. Rachel and I played pretty well, Barbies and whatnot, but with the smaller child, we had to come up with something we could all play together. One night, and I don't know how, I hit on the idea of playing a game named "Windstorm in the Closet". Pretty simple game, really. We hauled everything out of the floor of the closet, climbed in and I proceeded to spin out a tale of a terrible windstorm on the way and the only place we had to hide was this closet.

They LOVED it. We played that whole night. Next time we went over they were clamoring for me at the door "let's go play windstorm in the closet!" I remember Ned looking kinda quizzically at me and I kind of shrugged in a grown up way and we went upstairs to play. I think the adults were grateful we had come up with something that kept the kids out of their way so they could play cards in peace without constant interruptions.

Only problem is, the game, instead of being left behind with the other detritus of childhood, has never died! Every time there's a bad storm, with wind, one of us will contact the other and say "hey, that was some windstorm last night, wasn't it?", or "wow, did you hear about that terrible windstorm in Arkansas yesterday?". Then we all laugh as though we just made the funniest joke in the history of humor. Back in the 70's when a tornado wiped out most of Xenia Oh, it wasn't a tornado, it was a windstorm. Last fall, when the hurricane came inland and still had high winds when it got to Dayton, it wasn't the wind from the hurricane, it was a windstorm - a terrible windstorm at that.

Nice in a way, that a spur of the moment game invented to keep the grown ups from yelling at us to stay quiet turned into a shared bit of history that only the 3 of us really understand.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In which I bond with my sister over candy - and see the hand of God

As mentioned before, our summer vacations consisted of going to Aunt Virginia's (that's what we always called it, probably because that's what Mom called it. Never, "going to [their town], or "going to [their state], just going to Aunt Virginia's. Because for Mom, that's where she was going, she was visiting her sister and the rest just didn't matter.)

Anyway, these trips always came spur of the moment. I had friends who in High School would take planned spring break trips to Florida or the Caribbean (pronounced ca-RIB-ee-an, not CAR-ib-ee-an, as we who were the great unwashed would pronounce it). We always just went to Aunt Virginia's and we always knew we were going to have a great time, eat great meals and maybe come home with new clothes. What more could you ask for?

One summer morning my sister, Leah, said to me: "We need to walk to San Rae this morning and get candy and stuff. I heard Daddy tell Mom last night we're going to see Aunt Virginia and we're going to need stuff for the car ride."

Immediately, I was excited. I asked when we were going and she said she didn't know, but we needed to be ready and have stuff to do in the car so we DIDN'T BOTHER DADDY. (Anyone who took a road trip with their parents in the 60's knows why I capitalized that. The jokes about Dads saying 'Don't you make me come back there!' and 'Don't you make me pull over!' were especially true in our family. Children were seen and not heard.)

Leah informed me that I was to take coloring books and crayons, books to read and we were going to go to San Rae and get candy and other stuff to fill old cigar boxes. She had already worked it out with Mom and gotten us some money to spend. We were going to fill our cigar boxes with whatever we could get to keep us quiet. I realize now that my big sister was looking out for me, because I was the impetuous child who couldn't keep her mouth shut when it was best for her (still have the same problem, in fact, part of the reason why I am now unemployed!).

A word about San Rae. San Rae was the name of the street. And at the end of the street was a little strip of businesses. San Rae Bakery and Market was one of the businesses. It was in a neighborhood of WWII era housing, the Dayton Victory Apartments and other apartment houses of the same vintage. These were 4 unit buildings, I think you know the type. Row after row of square Lego-esque blocks with 2 apartments up and 2 down.

San Rae was also adjacent to a little business called Dayton Reliable Tool. Dayton Reliable Tool was lucky enough to have invented the pop top for beer and pop cans. They now take up the real estate where San Rae Market used to be. More's the pity, in my opinion.

San Rae was one of the places we could go pretty much without permission. If we had money. If we didn't we had to ask for money and permission, both were usually granted. We'd get a quarter. Doesn't sound like much, but I could buy 2 comic books and 2 pieces of two-for-a-penny candy with that. Or a nickel Hershey bar, a comic and one of those candy necklaces that left your neck all sticky. You could also, if you were so inclined, get baked goods. The cupcakes were divine and the glazed donuts were the best. The candy buttons on paper were on a big roll behind the counter and when you asked for a penny's worth the clerk would roll off a strip that seemed like it was about 6 feet long and hand it to you. No plastic wrap, no latex gloves.

You could stand behind the glass case where the candy was and ask the clerk, "how much is this?" "What can I get with a nickel?" and they never seemed to mind. Maybe they did, but they sure didn't act like it.

The floors were wooden. The clerks were nice. They knew us. Matter of fact, we could walk in with money and a note from our mother that she needed a pack of cigarettes and they would sell them to us and put them down in the bag with our candy. Sometimes, Mom would realize she was out of something she needed for supper and she'd send us up there to get a can of green beans or corn. We could spend the change on whatever we wanted.

When I was a teenager and needed to make urgent calls to boys that I didn't want my mother to know about I would walk up there and squeeze into the old-fashioned wooden phone booth and drop a dime. Sit in there and talk for an hour. Then come out and buy some candy or gum because I felt guilty for using their phone for so long.

This particular day, we walked up to San Rae and filled our cigar boxes. The only thing I remember buying was pixy stix (LOVED 'EM) and one of those candy necklaces. I'm sure I had other stuff, but I don't really remember.

Then we went home and packed what we needed for the 12 hour car ride. And we waited. Mom was in a flurry of doing laundry and cleaning the house. My older brother wasn't going with us because he had a summer job and she had to keep giving him orders (no parties, no loud music, cut the grass, etc) (all of which I'm quite sure he dutifully ignored).

Finally the big day came. (It was probably the next day or the day after, these things never had a long lead time.) We sat in the back seat all set to go with our stuff. I colored and ate candy. I read for a while and ate candy. Pretty soon we had to go to the bathroom, so we stopped to stretch our legs. (Daddy was good about stopping when we needed to, I'll give him that. I once worked with a man who made his young daughters straddle an old coffee can in the back of his Suburban when on road trips. Child abuse, in my opinion, but I digress.)

Back on the road, I read some more and ate more candy. By now we were in Springfield, Ohio, (I'm kidding, we were probably closer to Cleveland, still not very far into the trip). But it seemed like it was time to start asking if we were there yet. Of course, we couldn't ask, but it sure seemed like it was time to! Leah, Mom and I played the license plate game, and there was the inevitable mooing at cows and neighing at horses out in the fields as we drove past.

In the afternoon, the sun was warm and all were sleepy. Mom had found some music on the radio and we were just riding along in silence. I was leaning my head against the rear passenger side car window, watching the scenery go by and looking at the fields and the clouds. The sun was out and the sky was full of those big fluffy cumulus clouds that change shape as you watch them. One cloud looked like an elephant and then morphed into a whale. You know.

All of a sudden as we went around a bend in the road, I saw a giant cloud that was in the shape of an immense hand with the index finger pointing down to the earth. I shit you not. I was about 10, and going through my religious phase (read: Before I discovered boys) and I was absolutely positive we were going to die. I think I said something out loud, and was probably told not to be silly ("That child has an overactive imagination" - heard that a lot when I was growing up.) This cloud scared me to death. I spent the rest of the road trip in mortal fear. I spent the first couple of days of vacation in mortal fear. Then I got over it. But I never forgot it.

I am still convinced it was the hand of God. But I don't think He was pointing at me.