Image by derekskey via Flickr
I asked the counter person at Arby’s today if they had senior soda. They did. So I got a small soda with my great Jr. Buffalo Chicken sandwich for a total of $1.07. As I sat eating my sandwich, feeling fortunate that I am a “senior” I reflected on 20-30 years ago, when my sister and her husband hit hard times.
It was winter in Texas, and not a lot of yard work to do, which was how they lived from week to week. They were also dumpster diving resellers. They would fix the broken, polish the dirty, and resell their “free” treasures. It was hard enough just to keep warm, much less keeping something in the pantry.
One afternoon, they went into a café, and ordered hot water. Then they mixed the hot water with ketchup, and ate the crackers on the table. Back then, crackers were on the table with the salt, pepper, and sugar, ketchup and mustard. When they finished, the waitress gave them the bill for 16¢, what the waitress decided was fair for the 16 packs of crackers they ate. They couldn’t even pay that.
So the waitress called the police to have them thrown in jail for vagrancy. When the officer heard the story, he looked at the waitress in disbelief. He reached into his pocket, plopped a quarter down telling the waitress to keep the change.
I miss my sister. She had a very hard life, and died of cancer two years ago. My head holds back the tears in my heart thinking of this story. Human kindness of that police officer kept the two out of jail…but what about the waitress? Did the event have any lasting effect on her? I hope so. I have forgiven her, someone has to.
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My mother would take classes to learn new things, like upholstery, sculpture, painting, then teach her new skill to us girls. One of those classes happen to be on the Art of Belly Dancing. We were able to get the gist of it, “In in the knees, girls, the movement is in the knees,” I remember her saying.
I was 17. My new husband was older than me, and not that well. OK, that is a nice way of saying he was a sick man. In more ways than one.
I danced for my husband occasionally. He had this great idea I could make more money as a dancer than simply being a hostess. He valiantly tried to convince me that my dancing was a marketable skill. I did not think it would be. I was right. Let me explain.
The interview consisted of performing a series of dances on stage, in costume. I though of Isadora Duncan, and her famous Dance of the Seven Veils. My “costume” left very little to the imagination. Ultimately, I was to reduce the costume to the sparkly undies and pasties. The more “professional” dancers teased me by blowing a horn of sorts, off-key. They were testing my ability to overcome distractions, I am sure, to make me a better dancer, NOT BECAUSE THEY WERE JEALOUS OF MY YOUTH. I was off that stage in a New York second with tears of embarrassment. (A New York second is faster than a southern second). I did not even finish the first musical accompaniment. My husband was disappointed to say the least.
I am sure this is difficult for my son and grandchildren to fathom: Grandmamma was a nightclub dancer…for 90 seconds or so anyway.
As the new year waltzes in, I began thinking of stories that I had written long ago, long before I ever knew what bipolar even meant. In my time, manic depressive was a whispering in the shadows. I do not know what the condition was called before that, say in Virginia Woolf’s time. But there was this one story I keep thinking about because of it’s irony, especially now. It is about a nurse. I don’t even remember what I titled it. My professor asked me to publish it. It would have been my first published piece of work. I should have been elated, well, I was as high as a person could get…without medication, self or otherwise, simply for the compliment.
It was personal. It was a silly string of clichés that made somewhat of a story with a bazaar ending. That is how I presented it anyway, for a grade. But I didn’t want others to see it. I was okay with my professor reading it, but no one read my stuff. No one. It had secrets. Other people would discover things about about myself, my family. My family would find out about me! Secrets like my those in charge actually had to separate my sister and I because she wouldn’t talk. Why she wouldn’t talk is because I did ALL her talking for her. Patricia was chronically sick. She had scarlet fever twice as an infant, and numerous other ailments causing her to be quite fragile. You see, my younger sister wanted to be a nurse. Pat received a nurse’s play uniform with a nurse’s hat, cape and accompanied with the medical bag with candy medicine, play thermometers, giant rubber needles to give us shots, and a working stethoscope to listen to our heartbeats. It was our best year ever. I got the magical new shiny red bicycle. FREEDOM!
One great thing in my life that made its mark was that bicycle. It turns out that Dad and my brother Alan spent hours and hours in the garage revamping my older sister Paula’s old blue one. All of the girls of the family had to stay away from the garage, even Momma. Paula told me about this later, much later. As she said, “You are the mother of a eight year old for Christ sake.” My shock and surprise came as I marveled our family could keep that fact from me over twenty years.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about our family. I was the, little eyes with big ears standing still in the back of the room while the big people talked. And talk they did. Time unraveled I did not have a clue as to the workings of our family. Once while Mom was shopping for some work shoes at Sears, a nosy lady came up to me asking question about my mommy and daddy. My mother wasn’t to far away and over heard the conversation. Back then we were not as afraid of evil doers, we did not even have seat belts in the cars.