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Eat At Home by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Mealtime

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This doesn’t look anything like my kitchen table, but at least it’s round!

Growing up, my family had dinner all together every night. Breakfast was catch as catch can, except on Sundays when we had lox from the deli down the street and fresh bagels from the bakery a block past the deli, but even then I’m not sure whether we all ate that repast together or not. Lunch also may have been a haphazard affair, I have no specific memories about it. But dinner was sacred.

We ate in the kitchen at a big round table that had plenty of room, even when there were seven of us there.

We ate in the kitchen at a big round table that had plenty of room, even when there were seven of us there, including my grandparents. My mother was very emphatic about the virtues of a round table. No matter where one sat, she pointed out, everyone could see and talk with everyone else equally. My middle sister says “I remember being taught that round tables are the only tables that are good tables.” She has a round dining room table, and my oldest sister and I both have round kitchen tables, so we all obviously learned that lesson. (The featured image looks nothing like our table, which I can still see in my mind. But after spending a couple of hours searching for a round kitchen table, pedestal base, 72″ diameter, and finding nothing that looked like ours, I gave up and settled on this one.)

The table was in one corner of the kitchen, very close to two walls. (For those who read my kitchen renovation story, this did not change when the corner was pushed out, as that was a different corner.) We each had our own seat, which, while not assigned, was understood to belong to that person. My father had the seat in the corner, both because he was the least likely to get up to get anything, and because there were phones mounted on each wall which he needed to be able to reach. One phone was the office number and one was the house number. Frequently during dinner the house phone would ring and he would answer it. It would be the answering service (remember answering services? we referred to it as “the service”) calling him to tell him about somebody who was on the office phone. Then he would either give the service a message (of the “tell them to take two aspirin and call me in the morning” variety) or he would pick up the office phone with his other hand and talk to the person. This was considered acceptable behavior at the dinner table, because presumably a patient wouldn’t call after hours unless it was important. On the other hand, if one of us kids had gotten a call at dinner time, I’m sure we would have been required to tell the person we would call back later.

The conversation at our dinner table was always lively. Often it would be about things that happened at school. Sometimes my father would describe patients he had seen or operations he had performed that day, but when we all began to turn green listening to the gruesome details, my mother would make him stop. He also enjoyed encouraging debate. His favorite phrase was “Now just for the sake of argument. . . .” Then he would take a position on a controversial topic that he wanted us to argue with. My oldest sister was the only one who would engage with him, but I guess he kept hoping that my middle sister or I would argue too.

Another benefit to him of sitting in the corner was that sometimes he would fall asleep leaning back against the two walls. We would giggle about it and stay quiet so we didn’t wake him up. He was exhausted because he worked all the time. His medical office was attached to our house, and when he wasn’t seeing patients he was working on their files, and of course he went to the hospital at least once a day to make rounds. However, he was always with us in the kitchen for dinner, every single night. And so were all the rest of us. If we ever had any evening activities (and I don’t remember any, but there may have been), they must have taken place after dinner.

I do remember TV Dinners, and I’m trying to figure out when I had those. It must have been on the rare occasions when my parents were going out for dinner, leaving us kids at home with our grandparents. Rather than burdening my grandmother with cooking for us (and knowing that we probably wouldn’t like what she made), we got to have TV Dinners. I thought they were great, with each item in its own section of the tray, and even a dessert. As far as I remember, we ate them at the kitchen table like a regular meal, not in the living room in front of the TV. I don’t think I even realized that they were called TV Dinners because you were expected to eat them while watching TV.

In college, of course, meals were provided in the dorms, and mealtime was a nice opportunity to visit with people. The trick was to arrive around the same time as your friends. I can remember many times when I sat down with a group, and it turned out that they were all almost finished eating, so they left when I had barely started. Then I had to pick up my tray and move to another table with people who still had food on their plates.

In the years between college and marriage, when I lived with one or more roommates, we sometimes ate together but often did not. It was too complicated to try to coordinate our schedules, for the most part. Although my first year of law school, my roommate and I decided that we would cook and eat together, and that was really nice.

Once I had children of my own, I followed the same pattern I had learned as a child. We all always ate together, no matter what. If we had to eat a little earlier or a little later than usual to accommodate someone’s schedule, we did that, so that we could have that family time at dinner every night. I did start out with the idea that they had to eat what was being served, even if they didn’t like it, because we weren’t running a restaurant. That had certainly been the case when I was young. But eventually I gave in, and let them make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or ramen, or mac and cheese. And once Molly developed all kinds of digestive issues, we started buying frozen dinners that were non-dairy and sometimes vegan, and she could heat those up in the microwave. But she still had to eat her special meals at the same time as the rest of us. Different foods were okay, but not different times to eat them.

None of my kids have kids of their own, so I don’t know if they would continue the pattern or not. I like to think that they would.

 

The End of the World, part two by
200
(239 Stories)

/ Stories

Molly taking pictures at the 9/11 memorial in 2014

Four years ago I wrote a story about 9/11, which seemed like the worst imaginable tragedy.

But in the last eighteen months, there have been so many tragedies that I couldn’t even say which was the worst.

Covid-19 brings death and isolation everywhere. Many deaths preventable, but people refuse vaccines and masks.

Police murder of black people reaches new extreme with the public killing of George Floyd.

January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

Texas anti-abortionists as the American Taliban.

Climate change – the West is burning up, the East is flooding – this may really be the end of the world.

/ / /

In the last eighteen months, there have been so many tragedies that I couldn't even say which was the worst.

RetroFlash- 100 words


 

Note:
Since only three people currently writing have read or commented on my earlier 9/11 story – Betsy, Charles, and John S. – I invite the rest of you to read it via the link at the top of this story.

 

 

Take the A Train by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Going to Work

/ Stories

I was going to call this story Ticket To Ride, but I already used that title for my story about Woodstock. My thanks to Duke Ellington for this title.

I was going to call this story Ticket To Ride, but I used that for my Woodstock story. My thanks to Duke Ellington for this title.

My father went to work by walking to his medical office, which was attached to our house. He didn’t even have to go outside, just walked out the kitchen door, through the vestibule, and in the back door of his office. When I was little I assumed everybody’s father was a doctor, since mine was, so I probably would have also assumed they walked to their offices, if I even gave it any thought.

My own working life started with two summer jobs, in 1968 (McCarthy campaign) and 1969 (Planned Parenthood), in Washington, D.C. I lived with my sister and brother-in-law on Capitol Hill and took the bus to work both summers, because there wasn’t any subway yet in D.C. – the first segment opened in 1976. The buses were all air conditioned, so it was a pleasure to ride them, after waiting at the bus stop in the sticky, humid heat.

In 1970 I had a summer job at Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co. in Boston while subletting an apartment in Cambridge. The commute couldn’t have been easier, just taking the Red Line subway (see Featured Image) between Harvard Square and Park Street, which was four stops. Houghton Mifflin was at 110 Tremont Street, about half a block from the Park Street station. So it was a short ride, barely enough time to sing all the verses of “Charlie on the MTA.” Looking at a map of Cambridge now, it appears that my summer apartment would have been closer to the Porter Square subway stop if that had existed then, but at that time, Harvard Square was the end of the line.

After college I got my first permanent job, which lasted from December 1972 to August 1974, with the U.S. Department of Transportation at its Cambridge think tank, known as the Transportation Systems Center (TSC). TSC was located in Kendall Square, near M.I.T., and I was living in a house in Inman Square. If you are familiar with Cambridge geography, you will know that it was a straight shot down Broadway from my house to TSC, not much more than a mile. Since there was plenty of parking, I drove my Plymouth Valiant that short distance, which took about five minutes. But in January of 1974, during the gas crisis, I didn’t want to wait in line for hours at the gas station, so I just left my car parked next to my house for a couple of weeks and took the bus to work. It was an easy bus ride, and I was grateful for that. It snowed heavily during those couple of weeks, so by the time I wanted my car again, I had to dig it out of a huge mountain of snow and ice. Even though the bus was so easy to use, I confess that I went back to driving my car once gas became available again, because parking was free and plentiful at TSC. (You would think that there, of all places, they would want to incentivize using public transportation, but no.)

One of the projects being undertaken at TSC at the time was a cost-benefit analysis of BART, the new transit system under construction in San Francisco. Everyone wanted that assignment, because it would mean multiple trips to San Francisco, but as one of the most junior people, I had no chance of getting it. Instead I got to evaluate a transit system in Morgantown, West Virginia. This meant fun flights to West Virginia from Boston, which at least were shorter than the flights to San Francisco. And if not for that project, I might have gone my whole life without ever going to West Virginia! A few years later, when I was living in California and actually had the chance to ride on BART, I wondered what my colleagues’ report had concluded.

I eventually left TSC for law school at the University of California, Davis. After graduating and passing the bar, I got a job with the Attorney General’s Office in Sacramento. I was still living in Davis, fifteen miles west of Sacramento. The drive to and from work was brutal, because in the morning you were driving due east into the sun, and in the evening you were driving due west, also into the sun (except in the middle of winter when the sun had already set before 5 p.m.). Plus, there was a waiting list to get a parking space in the building. I put my name on the list, but in the meantime, I discovered that there was a Regional Transit bus that stopped a few blocks from my house and also had a stop right by my office. So that was pretty convenient. It was about a 30-minute ride, and I would often fall asleep on the bus in the morning. Just before downtown Sacramento, the bus would go over a bridge where the metal roadway vibrated, so that would wake me up in time to get off at my stop. It was a fail-safe system.

While I usually walked the six or so blocks from my house to the bus stop, sometimes if I was running late I drove there and just parked on the street. The bus only came every half hour, so if I missed the one I was trying for, I would be seriously late to work. It was no problem parking near the bus stop, there was generally nobody else parked on the street. So I would jump out of my car and get on the bus. The car, which had been a law school graduation present, was pretty distinctive in Davis, a silver Alfa Romeo convertible, and lots of people knew it was mine. One evening, I got off the bus and saw that there was a piece of paper on the windshield of my car. I thought, how sweet, somebody left me a note to say hi. So I walked to my car with a big smile on my face. Until I opened the note and saw that it said “I’m sorry I hit your car,” with a name and phone number. Then I noticed the big dent in the side. My beloved car, that wasn’t even a year old! The other person (or their insurance) paid to have it fixed, and it looked as good as new after the body work was done, but it was still pretty traumatic.

Within a few months after that, I bought a house in Sacramento and left Davis for good. I still had not reached the top of the list for a parking space, but luckily another woman from the office lived across the street from my new house. I had known her slightly in law school, but she was two years ahead of me, and had already been at the office long enough to get a parking space. So we carpooled for a year or so, until she decided to quit her job, sell her house, and move to Spain. By that time, hallelujah, I had become eligible for a parking space of my own.


For my stories about my actual jobs, see Nine to Five on the Working prompt, and Maybe I’m Amazed on the My First Paycheck prompt.

Fixing A Hole by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Home Repair

/ Stories

1960s GE Wonder Kitchen – not ours, but the best image I could find online

In early June of this year, we had a plumbing disaster. It started when a new housecleaner came to do a “deep clean,” used too much water on the bathroom floor upstairs, and caused a flood in the kitchen below it. This led to numerous visits from the plumbers (first to diagnose the problem and ultimately to replace the pipes), many holes in the walls and ceiling to get access to said pipes, and weeks of patching up all the holes after the plumbers were gone. The plumbers warned us there would be lots of holes, and they weren’t going to fix them, because that’s not what plumbers do. So we had to find someone else to fix the holes – not to stop our minds from wandering, but to make the house look normal again. It was a nightmare that lasted a full two months. But here’s the worst part: it never occurred to me to take any pictures, even though we had already decided to do a Home Repair prompt, so I should have been preparing for it. I guess my mind was wandering.

Someone had to fix the holes the plumbers made, not to stop our minds from wandering, but to make the house look normal again.

That’s not the home repair I want to write about anyway. It’s still too painful. And it wouldn’t be thinking back very far. Here’s a story from my childhood.

The house I grew up in had an L-shaped kitchen, with a back porch behind it. (Actually, calling it a porch makes it sound grander than it was. It was more like a vestibule. We kept umbrellas there, and snow boots in the winter and folding lounge chairs in the summer, but it wasn’t big enough to do anything there except pass through. Oh, and the milkbox was there, where the milkman left us full bottles of milk and we left him the empties.) In 1960, my parents decided to push out the interior of the L to make it a rectangle, decreasing the size of the back vestibule. Along with moving the walls, they would upgrade all the appliances, which were probably original from when the house was built in the 1930s, and add that most wonderful new appliance, a dishwasher. Dishwashers were fairly unusual at that time – the internet tells me that they did not become commonplace until about 1970 – but my parents were always early adopters of new technology.

This is what our old stove looked like, except it was yellow. Gas, of course. It was replaced with an ultra-modern electric cooktop and two ovens, one above the other, built in to cabinets to the right of the cooktop. All-electric kitchens were the wave of the future in 1960, probably thanks to a concerted campaign by General Electric. Now, apparently, stoves like this one are a collector’s item.

 

 

Our old, small blue refrigerator was replaced with a much larger white refrigerator that had a huge separate freezer compartment instead of the tiny one inside the old fridge. Here’s what the interior of the old refrigerator looked like. In the old freezer there was room for one carton of ice cream, a few cans of frozen orange juice, and maybe a couple of steaks or chops. The new freezer had enough room for anything you could imagine, including those newfangled frozen vegetables from Birdseye or Green Giant.

We also got a new sink with a garbage disposal. It must have been a GE brand, because it was called a Disposall (emphasis on ALL), and to this day that is what I call them, no matter what brand they are.

However, the best new appliance was the dishwasher. Before that, there were always so many dishes to be washed by hand, with seven of us eating there, since my maternal grandparents lived with us. I was young enough to be spared dishwashing duty, but it would have come to me eventually. Once we had the dishwasher, I was excited to get the job of turning it on when it was ready to run. I think it had a dial, like a telephone dial, and you turned it to the cycle you wanted.

As to the actual construction project, I don’t remember much about the process of knocking down the walls and building the new ones. My sisters and I all recall that we were still able to have meals in the kitchen while the work was going on, so it wasn’t too disruptive. (You might have thought we would eat in the dining room instead. But we never ate in the dining room except on Thanksgiving. That was a rule that could not be violated!) The best part of the whole project was that once the new walls went up, they remained bare sheetrock for a while because painting or papering them was going to be the last step in the process. And during that period of perhaps a few weeks, my sisters and I were allowed to write and draw on the wall as much as we liked. Writing on the wall felt deliciously like doing something forbidden, and yet we wouldn’t get in trouble for it. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Fast forward almost 35 years, and my daughter Sabrina singlehandedly peeled all the ugly plaid wallpaper off the walls in her bedroom. At first I was annoyed with her, since she hadn’t gotten permission, but I had to agree that it was ugly. So I told her she could go ahead and write on the one big wall behind her dresser, because we were going to paper over it anyway. Then it turned out she liked having a graffiti wall so much, that we never did paper over it until many years later when Molly moved into that room. For Sabrina’s 9th birthday party in 1994 (before Molly was even born), one of the activities was for everyone to draw pictures or write messages on the wall.

Here are just a few of the girls, intent on their artwork. Sabrina is the one turned sideways, examining some pens. She is wearing fairy wings because, why not? She was the birthday girl!

And here is a portion of the mural they created. I wish I had taken a panoramic photo of the whole wall, but instead I have lots of pictures of small segments.

Prior to the party, both Sabrina and Ben stood with their backs against the wall and we traced them, then they colored themselves in. Somebody at the party wrote on the drawing of Sabrina’s face, but I don’t think she minded.

Sabrina (age 9)

Ben (age 5 1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder if the things my sisters and I drew on our kitchen wall in 1960 were anywhere near as creative as these.

I Remember It Well by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Senior Moments

/ Stories

We met at nine
We met at eight
I was on time
No, you were late
Ah yes, I remember it well.

I find myself walking into a room and saying "What did I come in here for?" This happens more often than I care to admit.

We dined with friends
We dined alone.
A tenor sang
A baritone.
Ah yes, I remember it well.

This song from Gigi captures very cleverly the tricks that memory can play. The two characters are elderly**, and it is intended to make fun of the forgetfulness of the old, but really, I have had conversations like this with people at every age. Someone will say remember when we went to X with Y? No, you’re actually thinking about the time we went somewhere else with someone else. Everyone remembers things differently, and how do we even know that in the song, Hermione’s version (italicised) is right, rather than Maurice’s?

So many people our age have trouble remembering names, but I am still pretty good at it. Trying to think of instances where someone’s name has escaped me, the only one I can think of is Benedict Cumberbatch. No matter how often we talk about him (and it is surprising how often he comes up in conversation), I can never remember his name. Is that my age, or is it just that he has such a weird name?

Another type of senior moment seems to be misplacing things. My husband, who is exactly one month older than I am, loses his phone at least once a day. Fortunately, he has the “find my phone” app, and I frequently hear its unmistakeable pinging. Since my hearing is better than his, I can more easily follow the sound, so I find it for him. He also loses his wallet, his keys, and even his glasses, and doesn’t have apps for finding those. It generally doesn’t take long to find them, but still, it’s annoying for him. However, so far, at least, I haven’t been plagued with this problem, I always seem to know where to find whatever I need. (I’m probably tempting fate by saying that, see my story on the Superstition prompt.)

However, while I still can remember names, and faces, and generally don’t lose things, I increasingly find myself walking into a room and saying “What did I come in here for?” This happens more often than I care to admit.

I also often have the feeling that there is something I am supposed to be doing that I have forgotten. Generally it turns out not to be the case, or at least if it is, I never discover what it was that I forgot to do. Still, it’s unnerving.

I write everything down on my desk calendar (yes, a paper calendar), and consult it frequently, so I don’t forget. It seems to be working so far.

But my birthday is in nine days, and I will be turning sev–  no, I can’t even say the word. I fear that it is all downhill from here.


** I was appalled to discover that at the time Gigi was filmed, Maurice Chevalier was 70, and Hermione Gingold was 61. How could that be? Were they made up to look older, or did people just age faster in those days?

When Will I Be Loved? by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Dating

/ Stories

I was first introduced to the idea of dating dos and don’ts when I was eight years old and my two older sisters, aged thirteen and fifteen, started dating. Apparently the biggest “don’t” was don’t be ready when your date arrives to pick you up, because you will look too eager. (Corollary: don’t answer the telephone on the first ring, for the same reason.) So it was my job to answer the door and then entertain the guys for anywhere between ten minutes and half an hour, til the sister being picked up decided she had kept him waiting long enough, and came downstairs. I actually enjoyed this a lot. I don’t know if the guys did or not, but it was probably much less intimidating for them to make conversation with me than it would have been with one or both of my parents.

I was first introduced to dating dos and don'ts when I was eight years old and my two older sisters started dating.

When I was twelve, my oldest sister got engaged to a guy who was going to law school in New Jersey, although she was at college in Cambridge. He was at loose ends while she was gone, and he would often come over and hang out at my house. He and my mother got along famously, as did he and I. A couple of times he took me to the movies. I felt very sophisticated being out with him, and wanted people to think it was a date. But since I was twelve and he was twenty-two, he wanted to be sure people knew it wasn’t. It hurt my feelings when he made a point of telling people I was his fiancée’s little sister.

I finally had my first real boyfriend my senior year of high school, when I was sixteen. (I’m not counting Vicente, whom you met in last week’s story, because dating in Mexico is a whole different thing.) Of course he did all the asking out, and all the paying for things. Mostly we just went to the movies, which wasn’t very expensive in those days, but I would never have dreamed of offering to pay. He drove everywhere we went, and he was expected to open the car door for me to get in and to get out. I can remember at least once when he got out of the car and started walking down the street, and I just sat there, not getting out of the car, until he came back and opened the door. That was the rule, so I was not going to open the door myself. I know it seems silly now, but that’s what everyone did.

After we had been dating for a while, he was no longer satisfied with a little kissing after the movie, and he started trying to touch various parts of my body. I would say “no” and take his hand away, he would say “why not,” and I would say “because.” He would keep trying every week, and every week we would go through the same routine. I knew the rule was that if I let him do something once, I had to keep letting him. You couldn’t go backwards. So it seems like we spent a lot of time tussling. When I graduated from high school and left for the summer, it was a relief to stop seeing him.

In college, dating was a lot less structured. For one thing, there were no cars involved, because we all lived on campus and walked everyplace. If we ate dinner with a date, it was in the college dining halls, so nobody had to pay. Other than going to parties, the main dating activity was going to the movies. And the guy was still expected to pay. However, at some point they expected to get something in return for spending money on a girl. And eventually it seemed to be the case that “dating” was just a euphemism for “going to bed with”. . . .

After I graduated, for the next ten years, from 1972 to 1982, I had some combination of respectful dates, where you went to an event and did NOT have sex, and casual dates, which were mainly about sex. Almost all of these dates, of both types, were with guys I met at law school or else through work at the Department of Transportation before law school, and the Attorney General’s Office afterwards. On two different occasions I was fixed up with guys by women who were mutual friends. With the first fix-up, we dated for a while (but didn’t go to bed) and then he broke up with me because he had met the woman he wanted to marry (and is still married to, 43 years later). With the second fix-up, I married the guy. (See So Much in Common.)

Since 1983 I have always been in committed relationships or marriages, so I haven’t needed to worry about dating any more. I have known a few people my age, widows or divorcées, who have found new partners through online dating sites, but I’m happy that I don’t have to learn to navigate that world.

Summer of ’66 by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By That Summer

/ Stories

It was a magical summer – exotic, and romantic, and educational too! I will never forget That Summer of 1966.

It was a magical summer - exotic, and romantic, and educational too! I will never forget That Summer.

It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I was fourteen years old, turning fifteen at the end of August. My cousin Alice, five years older, was majoring in Spanish at Douglass College, and was going on a summer program at the Universidad de Morelos in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she would live with a local family for six weeks and take courses at the university. Since they had a program for high school students too, we decided that I should apply and go with her.

Here is the brochure for the program, which I only discovered this week with my other papers.

We didn’t request (or want) to be placed with the same family, and we wouldn’t be taking the same courses, but were happy to be able to travel down and back together. In fact, we flew down early and spent a couple of days in Mexico City with some friends of my Aunt Daisy and Uncle Ed, Alice’s parents. These friends were wealthy and Jewish, and gave us a glimpse of another side of life in Mexico.

After this visit, Alice and I took the bus together from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, a trip of about two and a half hours, and then parted ways to go to the houses of our assigned families. I still remember the address of the family I lived with: M. Salinas #3B (they write the house number after the street name). The featured image is the front of the house, courtesy of Google Maps. It didn’t really say “Prof. Miguel Salinas” down the middle of the street, that was added by Google. And I never knew until now that the street was named after this professor, who lived in Cuernavaca from 1878 to 1912. So thank you for that, Google. I only have a vague memory of the outside of the house, so I can’t say if this is how it looked fifty-five years ago. I remember the interior much more clearly. If I had any artistic ability, I could probably draw all of the rooms pretty accurately.

The mother was a widow, and she made a living as a seamstress. She had two older sons, who didn’t spend much time at home, and a daughter, Marina, who was a year younger than I. There was another American girl staying there too. Her name was Cindy, she was from California (how exotic, I thought), and was a year or two older, but still in high school. The mother had two employees for her sewing business, and I think they also did the cooking and cleaning.

Marina had probably learned some English in school, but the mother didn’t have any, so we were forced to speak Spanish all the time at home, which greatly helped us in becoming fluent. Sometimes Cindy and I would slip and start talking to each other in English, but we quickly realized how rude that was, and made ourselves stop, except when we were alone in our bedroom or walking to school.

The school was walking distance from our house, although I couldn’t find it on Google Maps. It’s possible it doesn’t exist any more, or at least not in that location. The only classes I remember are a Spanish language class and a Mexican history class, both of which were required, and met five days a week. According to the schedule I just found tucked into my Spanish book, there were many others offered: Spanish Literature, Sociology, Archeology, Cultural Anthropology, Mexican Art History, and on Fridays from 3-5, Psychology of the Mexican. Two of them are circled in red on my schedule, Archeology and Mexican Art History, so maybe those were my only electives, in addition to the required Spanish and History of Mexico classes. I wonder if I actually attended these elective classes. I still have several pages of my notes, but they are all from the Mexican history class. And since I wasn’t trying to get college credit (or even high school credit), I probably didn’t have to take any exams. Here is the schedule.

I don’t know why the bottom right corner of the schedule is torn off, maybe I was using it to pass notes. On the back of the paper is written, in my handwriting (cursive!), “I’m going home after this class, wanna come?” I wish I knew who I was writing to, and whether they accepted my invitation or not.

Here is my textbook from the Spanish class – apparently I placed into the Level 3 intensive class. You will notice that the front cover of my Spanish book says “Vicente” in two places, and his name and initials (linked with mine) decorate the back cover as well. If you are sharp-eyed, you also saw it written at the top of the program brochure above. This was the boy I had a mad crush on that summer. More on that in a minute.

front cover

back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of the reading matter I probably spent a lot more time with than any textbook. I was fluent enough in Spanish that I could read it as easily as an American comic book. Looking at it now, I am pleased to realize I can still understand it, since the vocabulary is pretty basic and the plot pretty predictable.

On the cover, the man is saying to the woman, “Forget Buzz Baxter, my darling, say that you are mine.” And inside the heart it says “A romantic episode, bitter and sweet, that you could not possibly forget if you lived it.” I did skim through it to see if she ends up with Buzz Baxter or the blond man, a jounalist named Mike Herald, but it ends with a cliffhanger. “All of Patsy’s friends await her exciting future. Will she hear from Mike? What will happen with Buzz? There are more surprises for Patsy and you.” Not my style of literature these days, but apparently it was when I was fourteen.

Now for my romance with my own “Buzz Baxter.” My roommate Cindy had met a local boy named Bruno, I’m not sure where, and he started coming over to see her. When he wanted to take her out on dates, she insisted that I come along, so he began bringing his older brother with him. Vicente was 19 years old, and very handsome. It never occurred to me until right now, as I am writing this, but Vicente may only have been playing at being my date so that Bruno could have time alone with Cindy. But even if that’s so, he played the part very effectively, and I was totally smitten. Neither Bruno nor Vicente spoke any English, so it forced Cindy and me to get much better at expressing ourselves in Spanish. They had a cream-colored Volkswagen Beetle, and they would come pick us up on weekend days when we didn’t have field trips, or sometimes on weekday evenings, and we would ride all over town with them. I was in heaven!

At the end of the summer, we exchanged addresses and promised to write. I think I wrote one letter to him and he never answered, and that was the end of that. I kept hoping a letter would arrive, but after a few months I gave up.

All in all, it was quite a summer. I lived in a foreign country without my parents (although I had a surrogate Mexican mother). I had my first boyfriend, followed by my first heartbreak when he never wrote. I learned a lot about Mexican culture and history – I even went to church with my Mexican family. I became so fluent in Spanish that by the end of the summer I was dreaming in Spanish. My high school Spanish classes for the next two years were ridiculously easy for me, and I got a 743 on the Spanish Language Achievement Test (remember how the SAT subject matter tests were called Achievements?), thereby placing out of the language requirement at any college I might go to.

My only regrets are that I didn’t continue studying Spanish in college, and that I never went back to Cuernavaca.


Been Too Long at the Fair by
200
(239 Stories)

/ Stories

I love Bonnie’s song, and that’s why I chose it as my title, but I disagree with the concept – for me there is no such thing as being too long at the fair!

Despite the title, from a song I love, for me there is no such thing as being too long at the fair!

County Fair

The first fair I ever went to was the Orange County Fair, in Middletown, New York. This was in the summers of 1964 and 1965, as a day trip from my summer camp, Lincoln Farm, which was about an hour away in Roscoe, New York. I have two very vivid memories from that fair, one great and one not so good. I don’t know if they are from the same summer or different summers.

The not so good memory: One of my chosen activities at camp was music. Not a chorus or choir, just a bunch of kids learning songs from a counselor who played the guitar. Since we were pretty good, our counselor arranged for us to sing at the fair. There was a stage, with a sound system that could be heard all over the fairgrounds, and different groups performed there throughout the day. We decided to sing “Guantanamera,” a Cuban song which Pete Seeger had popularized in 1963. Individual campers would have solos on the verses, and then all of us would sing the chorus. I was supposed to sing the first verse (“Yo soy an hombre sincero/De donde crece la palma”), which I knew quite well and was comfortable with. Just before we got up on stage, I was told that someone else would be doing the first verse, and I was to sing the second verse. A piece of paper with the words to the second verse was thrust at me. It went “Mi verso es de un verde claro/Y de un carmín encendido.” The words didn’t seem to fit the rhythm of the music, and I had never sung them before. I did my best, but I knew it was terrible. All afternoon people would say to me “Didn’t I hear you singing earlier today?” and I wanted to pretend it was somebody else. I was mortified. The lesson I learned that day was never sing a song in public that you haven’t rehearsed first, especially if it is in a foreign language!

The great memory: There were lots of games on the midway, and we had been warned that the carnies would cheat you if they could. But we still wanted to play for the prizes. I found one game that I was actually good at. You rolled a ball down a slope, then it had to skip over a middle compartment and land in the third compartment. (I know that sounds confusing, but that’s as well as I can remember it from 50+ years ago.) You had to do this three times to win a prize. So the first time, I got all 3 balls where they were supposed to go, and won some dinky little thing. Then I did it again, and upgraded to a slightly larger thing. Finally, I was going for a big teddy bear that I coveted. The first two balls went perfectly, but the third one veered off course. So disappointing! BUT some other kids from camp were watching, and they claimed that on the third ball, the carny darted his hand out and back so quickly that it was hard to see, deflecting the ball. They accused him, he denied it, and it seemed as if that was the end of it. Then a counselor complained to security, or some other authority figure. That person wasn’t willing to take sides in the dispute, but he wisely decided that I should get to play another round, and the carny would have to stand outside the booth, so he couldn’t interfere. I did it again, and I won! So I got the teddy bear after all. I was so proud of the fact that I had a stuffed animal that I had won myself, unlike other girls who had stuffed animals that their boyfriends had won for them.

State Fair

In my adult life, I have gone for many years to the California State Fair, since it is right here in Sacramento. I have lots of pictures, although the earliest ones I can find are from 2014, so maybe that’s when I started taking pictures with my phone instead of needing to carry a camera.

I took my kids from the time they were so young I would be pushing one or another of them in a stroller. At that age, the most fun part was the animal barns. There were always cows and pigs and goats, and sometimes more unusual animals.

Nigerian dwarf goats

 

angora goats

Llama

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later on, they became fascinated with the county exhibits. Each county makes a display each year that highlights its best features, from skiing in the mountains to grape-growing in Napa and Sonoma, to movie stars in LA. Our Sacramento exhibit generally includes a big model of the state capitol. Here it is the year the movie Ladybird came out, with Molly posing in front of it. This particular year they just had a photograph of the Capitol instead of a model. Budget cutbacks?

 

One year, when Sabrina was about 12 and Ben was about 9 (and Molly was in a stroller), we gave the two of them twenty dollars each and let them go play the games by themselves, as long as they stuck together. At one of the games, Ben won a small stuffed snake, but of course was more interested in the bigger stuffed animals. The carny urged him to keep playing, saying he could trade up (similar to what I did at the Orange County Fair, although he didn’t know about that). He kept playing and playing until he had used up all his money, then came crying back to us asking for more, but we said no.

The food is always an adventure, from standards like funnel cakes to more exotic items like deep-fried Twinkies and shark tacos.

Funnel cake

Deep fried everything

Shark taco and octopus on a stick

We don’t often spend much time on the midway (after that one disastrous experience of Ben’s), although we always like to ride the ferris wheel.

Molly and Sabrina on the ferris wheel

Ferris wheel is magical at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indoors there are all kinds of exhibits, which is great when it starts getting too hot outside, because all the buildings are well air-conditioned.

One year Jelly Belly had a booth where you spun a wheel which determined which flavor jelly bean you got, and after you ate it you had to choose between two possible flavors it might have been. Here’s Molly spinning, and then trying to figure out if the flavor was coconut or baby wipes.

Sabrina took a spin and then had to decide if it was berry blue or toothpaste flavor. She doesn’t look too happy, so I’m guessing it was toothpaste.

There is always a free concert in the evening We have seen a lot of excellent performers over the years, including Huey Lewis and the News, Eddie Money, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Queen Nation (a Queen tribute band). This one was Pat Benatar and her husband/guitar player Spider Giraldo.

We always take the obligatory picture with the Golden Bear at the entrance to the fairgrounds, either at the beginning or the end of the day. When the kids were little, we lifted them up onto the bear’s back. Later they climbed up by themselves. And finally, as here, the choice was to stand next to it.

There are so many other great attractions at the Fair: hypnotists, Chinese acrobats, horse racing, as well as art, woodworking, jewelry, and jam competitions, and vendors of all kinds of unusual products hawking their wares (I buy some new product every year!). I feel as if I could write a whole book about my State Fair experiences over the years. But I will spare you. If the Fair comes back in 2022 (cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid), you should just come to Sacramento and I will take you there to see for yourself how much fun it is.

I close with a tribute to state fairs by Rodgers & Hammerstein, from the very forgettable movie musical State Fair.

Groovin’ is My Hobby by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Hobbies

/ Stories

Around thirty years ago, I discovered among my possessions a recording I had made in my 8th grade speech class, some twenty-five years before that. Written on the dust jacket, in handwriting that was identifiably my own, was my name and the name of the speech teacher, Mr. Fanelli, who taught a unit in our English class that year. It was the size of a 45 rpm record, although it only had a small hole in the middle, not the big one that 45s traditionally have. It turned out to be a 78 rpm record. Our turntable didn’t have a 78 setting, so we played it at 45. It was low-pitched and sluggish sounding because of being much too slow, but I knew it was my voice because it was saying my name, my address, my birthdate, and other information about me.

If a hobby is "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure," my only true hobby as a child was reading.

Remembering as I was getting ready to write this story that one of the things I was required to say on the recording was what my hobbies were (and forgetting that it was a 78 rpm record), I thought I would dig it out, record it on my phone, and then attach the audio file to this story. Unfortunately that will not happen unless I can find a turntable with 78 on it. I don’t want you to listen to the growly voice, although it is pretty amusing.

Listening to it again now, I was surprised to hear myself say “My hobbies are swimming, playing the oboe, playing the piano, reading, and collecting stuffed animals.” I wonder if we were required to come up with five hobbies, because these do not ring true to me. Reading certainly. Swimming in the summer, sure, but only at camp, because we didn’t have a pool of our own or membership in a swim club. Collecting stuffed animals, yes, whenever possible. But playing the oboe I did as a chore because I was taking lessons and had assigned pieces to learn, and because I wanted to be good enough to play in the orchestra at school and at summer camp. Piano I’m pretty sure I had quit playing by this point.

A hobby is defined as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” By that definition, I would say that my only true hobby of those five that I listed was reading. I also loved to play jacks, either alone or with friends. It was a hugely popular activity at camp, and easy to play at home since I could play by myself, sitting on the floor in my room. I was really good at it too, I could bend my fingers way back for the flipping part of the game, and I was adept at picking up the jacks in the other part of the game. I wonder why I didn’t include that hobby when I made my recording.

I never got involved in any of the hobbies that involved kits, as described in the prompt text – paint-by-numbers; model airplanes, cars, trains, and boats; beading and weaving; stamp and coin collecting; paper dolls. I wonder now why I didn’t. But I don’t recall that any of my friends did either. My father had a stamp collection, but I never had any interest in it. I may have done paint-by-numbers a few times, but it seemed silly to me, and not anything like real art.

In high school and college I played a lot of cards, mostly bridge and hearts. (See Bridge Over Troubled Waters.) In more recent years I have immersed myself in playing mah jongg. (See Mah Jongg Blues.) But probably my most consistent, and most satisfying, hobby for virtually my entire life has been singing. I should have included that on my 8th grade recording too, because it was certainly as true then as it is now. I was on the right track when I talked about music, because music has always been an important part of my life, but much more as a singer than an oboist or pianist. My family sang all the time, whether in the car or around a piano (but not played by me). I have always sung along with my records and with the radio. And I have sung in choral groups at summer camp, in high school, college, and as an adult. Basically, I sing all the time.

So if I were making that record now, I would say my hobbies are reading, singing, swimming (now that I do have my own pool), and playing mah jongg. If I were required to add a fifth hobby, I would include writing stories for Retrospect.

Glory Days by
200
(239 Stories)

Prompted By Anniversaries

/ Stories

Anniversaries important to me (in no particular order):

These are the anniversaries important to me (in no particular order).

June 4 – the day I graduated from high school. While I don’t have any idea of the date of my college or law school graduations, I celebrate the anniversary of my high school graduation every year. **

My entire graduating class of 24 students


April 9
– the occupation of University Hall my freshman year of college.

Picture from Harvard Crimson

 

January 1 – my wedding anniversary with husband #2, which nobody remembers but us.

Cutting the cake on our dining room table

 

May 13 – the day, many years earlier, that future husband #2 decided to leave another situation and move in with me.

My house in Davis where he moved in

 

June 18 – my parents’ wedding anniversary, which still reminds me of them. Also Paul McCartney’s birthday.

50th anniversary

 

RetroFlash


 

** When we moved into our current house in 1992, and were selecting a phone number, one of the ones we were offered had the last four digits 6468.
I snapped it up since it represented my graduation date, June 4, 1968. We still have that number, and can never give up our landline for that reason.

(Shutkin Rule: footnotes are not included in RetroFlash word counts)
(Suzy’s corollary: neither are captions for pictures)

 

 

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