Once I became accustomed to the new grade school, I settled in and, since the school went through eighth grade, spent the rest of my elementary years there. Then it was off to the high school on the right, a large one putting together graduates from five grade schools. After finally figuring out how to navigate the small school, I now found myself bewildered by the huge new place with its endless hallways, double staircases, raucous cafeteria and loud bells to signal class periods starting and stopping. Worse yet, only four minutes were allowed between classes which were often at opposite ends of the other floor. Running was forbidden, but we really hustled.
I soon discovered that graduates from one grade school ruled the place, and I hadn’t attended that one. After realizing that social standing was impossible, I immersed myself in studies. The curriculum was challenging since there accelerated offerings in most courses. Eventually accelerated offerings would be eliminated being blamed for “shaming” less academically capable students. But it gave me a steady cohort of friends and an identity. Yes it was an identity as a “grind,” a dateless grind at that, but I felt at home.
The best years of my life? No way. And I will always find myself bewildered by those who claim that title for high school.
In the summer of 1958, when I was eleven, my mother, siblings and I spent two months with my grandparents. They lived in Buffalo, New York and also had a summer farm in Pike, New York. We traveled by train, arriving in Buffalo hot and tired, ready to spend time there until we all decamped to Pike. Above is a piece of the map illustrating my grandparents’ house and the adjacent streets.
We lived in a neighborhood with no sidewalks. The area had pretensions of being in the country and forbid any commercial enterprises. To my amazement my grandparents’ house had a long sidewalk in front and sidewalks forming grids in each direction. I promptly put on my aunt’s discarded roller skates and learned how to race up and down the walks. Most wonderfully of all, the house was two blocks from Hertel Avenue. Hertel Avenue, a commercial street, offered candy and comic books. My eight year old brother and I could not believe it when the adults said we were allowed to walk up to Hertel Avenue on our own. So for our time in the city I skated around and around a four block circle and occasionally walked up to Hertel Avenue.
The benefits of this kind of neighborhood over the one I lived in made a lasting impression on me. When I first bought a home of my own, I insisted on sidewalks and a corner store. When we moved to Connecticut, I again listed sidewalks as a non-negotiable feature. Since much of Connecticut has the same prejudice against sidewalks, this limited us somewhat. Still we found our home, sidewalks galore, with stores and shops an easy walk away. No more “planned communities” for me.
I lived in the Cape house on the left from 1950 until 1955 when we moved into the large ivy covered house on the right. While I don’t remember moving into the Cape, I vividly remember the relocation when I was nearly eight. By then I had established ties with all the neighborhood kids, the neighbors, the shortcuts and my school. But my mother was expecting her fourth child and the house had only two bedrooms and a somewhat converted attic. When the neighbor’s aunt died leaving him the large house, my parents bought it from him.
Everything was new and very disorienting. My new school rarely gained new pupils, since most families had been in the area for a long time. In fact, many of my new classmates were the younger siblings of students already well known to the teachers. It was the middle of March when I joined the second grade class of Miss Horton, and I didn’t fit into the well established pecking order of the girls.
The new house was enormous, mostly unfurnished, and very isolated on two acres. I didn’t know any neighbors nor was I familiar with the geography. Meanwhile my mother gave birth to my little sister on April 5, just two weeks after the move. As an adult I can see how difficult that was for her. As a child I just experienced intense loneliness.
Sometimes moves can go smoothly for kids. This one was a severe jolt to my understanding of the world. I had to start from scratch in a way to get to know the other kids, the school and the neighborhood. The transition was challenging to say the least. Looking back I have deep compassion for the child I was. Fortunately I lived in that house, finding my own way with friends, schools and place, until I left for college.
Unless you are the first born child in your family, you may not understand the first jolt of a new reality that hit me just two weeks after my third birthday. In the photo above you can see that I am less than pleased with the development currently slumped on my lap. Yes, my mother had brought home a baby after being gone for a week. Apparently after inspecting him briefly, I asked when she could take him back.
These days there are countless books about welcoming a baby brother, t-shirts that brag “I’m the big sister,” and long discussions in parenting classes about “demoting” the only child to being one of two.(They don’t call it demoting. That is because they didn’t ask me for a title for the class!) No in the “good old days,” mothers went away for a week, returned with a baby and that was that.
It’s just as well. All the t-shirts, books and talks could never really have prepared me for the shock of ceasing to be the center of attention for two adults. But it happened. Fortunately for me, we moved into a new house shortly thereafter, and became neighbors to a childless couple. After standing on our lot line, hands on hips and declaring to Grace and Don that “this is my properly!” we became very close.
When, three years later, my mother brought another baby home from the hospital I was ready. Being center stage was a fleeting experience, not to be repeated. But I made sure not to marry an oldest son. Who knew if he still hoped to be number one!
After writing the series on the contrast between life before and life during the pandemic, I began to think about other times when either I or the society around me has had to adjust to new realities. As the picture above illustrates, it is difficult to discern the world around until it suddenly shifts. Surrounded by water, the fish has no concept of water. It is all she knows. It just IS.
Many times people recover from a near death experience and report that the world looks completely different to them. They have new understandings of things they previously took for granted, they say. My recent posts have highlighted how many aspects of my life I had taken for granted, from shopping for pants, to meeting a friend for lunch. Clearly the pandemic has brought that “taken for granted life” into clear view.
In upcoming posts, I will share some times when my world seemed to wobble on its axis before it righted itself enough to establish a “new normal.” Stay tuned.
I was on a Zoom conference call on Monday and when someone asked what day it was a friend answered “March 90th.” That sounded about right. At the beginning of March there were no cases of covid-19 in our community. Our little town of 50,000 has now had nearly 2000 cases and 800 deaths(most in a large nursing home here.) And it seems as though March has never ended and we are stuck in an eternal now, vastly different from our normal.
I had my first visit anywhere on Tuesday, to a imaging appointment at a doctor’s office. I can’t say that I was hoping my first foray into the world would be there! I am fine; the facility was very clean, all social distancing was in place, and we all wore masks. However, I met the radiologist for the first time and I had no idea what he really looked like until I came home and looked him up on the radiology website. I realized how much I count on seeing the full face of a new person! Neither of us would recognize each other at another appointment, that’s for sure.
I am just catching up with my friends’ posts after two days away for appointments. I came back to the message that WordPress is switching to the “new” editor. I have resisted for the past year and a half and hope I can still use the Classic Editor. I need to have at least one routine stay the same!
It has been two months since we have been able to fill the sanctuary pictured on the left above. Instead we have been experiencing worship through the app on the right. The Friars have made a Herculean effort to give us many opportunities to gather, just not in the same physical location. In addition to the Mass streamed daily, there are Zoom discussions of readings, Zoom gatherings for group spiritual direction, Zoom classes and Zoom lectio divina(a form of meditation.) The Religious Education team has provided weekly story time, many examples of activities to do activities at home, and shared photos of various families setting up their own spaces to worship.
I had never watched Mass on television, but since I know each of the Friars I am appreciating a chance to see and hear them. This past week they even added a trio of singers(spaced well apart), an organist and a piano. Since the services are recorded and then available on four platforms, I can watch later than they occurred, sometimes two in a row, a kind of Mass binge!
But anyone for whom church is an essential part of their life will understand what is missing. We used to play a finger game when I was a child. “Here is the church, Here is the steeple, Open up the church, And see all the people.” The people are missing. The laughs, the coughs, the rustling, the children squirming, the babies crying (Catholic services include all ages)are all absent. I miss the group of homeless folks, some inside, some outside the church. I miss shaking hands with the Friars and ministers after the service. I miss monthly coffee and doughnuts. I miss being missed when I am absent on a Sunday.
It will be a very long time until we can gather close together for an extended time in an enclosed space(all criteria for rapid spread of the virus.) In the meantime we are doing the best that we can. But I am not one of those who like Emily Dickinson could write, “Some keep the Sabbath going to church, I keep it, staying at home.” At least not for the long haul!