Thursday, February 28, 2008

Of Kirkwood and Art Linkletter

Today my profile says I come from the Middle of the State, but it once read that I was located in Kirkwood, Missouri. Yep, that Kirkwood. The Kirkwood that was in the paper 3 weeks ago tonight, splashed across the world as the City Council shootings unfolded. I was horrified along about this tragedy with the rest of my little suburb and the rest of the country and even the world. Here are some articles to read to catch up on the happenings in case you were living in a cave. It has been in every paper, on every news station, and on the minds of everyone back home. I knew 3 of those murdered, 2 of them well, and even drove back for the funeral of the councilwoman who was to be running for mayor in April. And she would have won. I lived in Kirkwood for 20 years, and no matter where I move to in the future, it will always be home to me. One of the starkest images was driving back home for Connie's funeral and seeing not one Kirkwood police on the streets. The community was being protected by Missouri Highway Patrol and other municipalities. I heard the procession for the younger of the two cops rode through 7 miles of town and took 2 hours to complete in temperatures that never got over the teens. The black bunting still drapes City Hall. We (and I still consider myself a part of that little berg) will never be the same. You can say it was about black vs. white, right vs. wrong, the big guy vs. the little guy, growth vs. slums, stagnation vs. blighting, but in the end, it was one man who snapped over what he thought was injustices and went far far, too far the wrong way. He volunteered at my daughters' elementary school and could only be described by those of us who barely knew him in town as a "teddy bear." Now his family must live in the same town where he took 5 vital members of the community. Those who died that night will forever be known as The Kirkwood Six because he was one of them, too, shot and killed in the end. My heart continues to weigh heavy with sadness over this horrifying tragedy.

Ok, it took me 3 weeks to get those words out. My heart still hurts.

So I was thinking about my niece's upcoming 40th birthday and recalled what I was doing 40 years ago today. (I have older nephews, having become an aunt at 7.) 2 weeks prior to today 40 years ago I got my first pair of glasses. Imagine red hair, freckles, divorced mother, no car, and now put glasses on my face. Oh, I was a looker. 40 years ago today on a Tuesday morning I was hit by a car. The hip smacked into the grill, my chin collided with the hood ornament, and I was thrown to the asphalt, skidding about 20 feet (although it could have been 10 feet or 50 since I had spacial problems back then, too). I had borrowed my sister's blouse that morning, a blue-green blouse with a huge circle collar that laid outside my black jumper, both sewn by our mother. I was 10 to her 15 and had no business borrowing her clothes. I was soon to be found out. My glasses that, as you recall, I had just gotten 2 weeks earlier, flew off my face, did a half gainer, and landed, temples pointing down, in the rain grate, found later unscratched. The beautiful circular collar of watercolor was now soaked in blood, and I recall someone saying, "We have to call the police," and my remarking (while still on my knees in the middle of the street), "Don't call the police. I didn't do anything wrong." Hey, I was a kid with a single mother who knew the word truant.

I remember the neighbor boy (who would later give me several of his private collection of MAD magazines) running to get my big sister, whose blouse I had borrowed, and I remember looking up at my house and seeing her take the 11 porch steps in ONE LEAP. I knew she was going to bean me for borrowing her now blood-soaked blouse. I knew fear. The two of us sat up front in the ambulance while whizzing through town with the siren blaring, going 70 miles an hour without seat belts. Gotta love the 60s. The same ambulance driver would eventually drop my big sister off at high school where a teacher had to tell her that there was blood all over her outfit.

I remember my mother showing up after her cab ride (remember we didn't have a car) and saying, "Ok, so what have you done now? How does the car look?" as if I had been in a schoolyard scuffle. It was her feeble, inappropriate attempt at relieving the tension that she must have felt. As a mother, I cannot imagine my supervisor at work tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Can you come with me" as they gave her the news her little girl was hit by a car. And finally, I remember the doctor telling me I had "contusions, abrasions, and lacerations." I knew I was dying. Sadly, I was wheeled into a room to wait for the x-ray results as my mother was sitting next to a stranger. My mother had no friends, let alone male friends, and I remember thinking it was weird when she asked, "Do you know who this is?" Of course not, Lady. I was hit by a car. I don't have amnesia. Turns out it was the man who hit me. He worked at the Federal Pen up the street and had driven to work the same way for 25 years until that morning. He decided to shake it up a bit. In the end, he drove us home and even carried me into the house as I no longer could walk because of the aforementioned contusions. As an adult now, I cannot imagine the anguish he went through after hitting a little kid with his car. My mother took the rest of the day off while I watched Art Linkletter. Another big sister took off from college and stayed with me the rest of the week until I recuperated and returned to school the next week. I can't imagine not having sick days to take care of my kid(s) or having to ask my college-kid to take off from school to watch my kid. Looking back, my pain was minimal over that of the adults involved.

Two weeks later I became an aunt for the 3rd time. I so was the most popular kid in 5th grade for those couple of weeks.

Holy crap, Art Linkletter is still alive.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Counting M&Ms and Findings Buttons

Funny title... I know. But you'll get it soon enough.

The answer growing was was never "go outside and play." My mother worked nights until I was 7 and worked days after that so was never home during the long summer days when you might hear a mother answer "go play outside" when a kid was bored. It was never the answer. Outdoors was not a reward for us small city kids. It was where we went when there was a slight breeze that made it cooler than the stifling heat of the un-air conditioned apartment we lived in. Cooling off involved sitting in metal tubs that only accommodated a body when scrunched up with knees to chin filled with cold water. To date, I have never climbed a tree.

Adventure took on a whole new meaning in my house. My sister roller skated up and down the High Street sidewalk crashing and colliding way too often for me to take skate key in hand. (You young readers are wondering "what the hell is a skate key?" Google it.) Adventure to me was locating 5 matching buttons from the button box when my mother was sewing something. Hey, that could take all afternoon for a bored kid. While my sisters were voracious readers, adventure to me was setting M&Ms out in a row in front of the tv (that I sat 2 feet in front of on the floor),ordering them by color, eating them in conscious fashion of comparative numbers, no color having more than the other while watching Gilligan's Island or Brady Bunch. Adventure was filling up jugs of water when the Water Company called to tell us that they were turning off the water for failure to pay the bill. What an adventure. Adventure was crossing the main street in town to catch the city bus for school each morning. This Feb 28th will mark the 40th anniversary of the day I got hit by a car on that adventure. See, I wasn't too good at some of those adventures.

But going outside was never the solution to being bored for a kid like me. Going outside meant more allergies, more asthma, more sunburns. You young readers can't imagine life before air conditioning or antihistamines, but I was a miserable walking snot ball as a child because of the grasses, weeds, and trees. You never closed the windows in the summer because there was no air conditioning so I suffered greatly as a child. Plus, living downtown we had few neighbor kids to start of a game of softball or basketball or stickball. And if you recall, that street was far too busy to play in. My sisters and I did not take up the cause of Title IX which guaranteed girls' participation in sports. My big protest was staging a sit-in to allow girls to wear slacks to school when I was in 8th grade. I got sent home but felt victorious in my rebellion, and I'd like to consider it an adventure, but we all know it didn't call for athletic prowess. Oh, gym class. Don't even get me started. Gym in grade school meant tetherball, which I was pretty good at (You basically stand still for this "sport.") And do you remember that torturous goddamn rope bolted to the ceiling of the gymnasium? Who invented that torture device.

So what's my point? I am not an athlete, never was and never aspired to be. (I was the kid in grade school who promised to do your homework if you would bat for me.) Didn't join sports teams, growing up with sisters in a city environment. Never played outside as an answer to "What can I do today, Mom?" So I find myself in love with a man whose middle name is "outdoors," who lives for adventure, who wants to spend the rest of his life moving, going, doing and wants a partner to do those things with. Half the things he mentions, like hiking, swimming, sailing, I have never tried or desired to try. The other half, like skiing, skating, horseback riding, I have tried with disastrous results. Horrible experiences. And now he ponders ... is love enough? Will I ever be good enough? Will I be nothing more than a disappointed left behind? I contend I am willing to try, but at 50, is that a pipe dream? Or a hip waiting to break?

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