HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

In my journal I wrote:

Friday, when I was driving Emma to my house, half a block away we saw two turkeys strolling nonchalantly down the sidewalk. I looked around for someone they might belong to but didn’t see anybody. “I wonder if they’re wild and flew here from the cornfield down by the freeway,” I said. That was the only place I’d ever seen turkeys. “Turkeys can’t fly,” Emma stated emphatically. Then this morning, driving back from the pool, I saw a line of them exit that same cornfield through an opening in the chainlink fence and go scuttling down a jogging path like they were on their way to a fire. Or maybe they were just imitating the joggers they’d seen taking their daily constitutionals and figured it was as good a way to get their heart rates up as any. (Actually, I’m pretty sure turkeys can fly—at least the wild ones. Maybe the domestic ones have been so beefed up for Thanksgiving dinner, they can’t get off the ground?)

Yup. I just checked Wikipedia, which said that wild turkeys are agile fliers, though they usually fly close to the ground and for no more than a quarter of a mile.

Above is the first drawing to appear in my childhood art scrapbook, done when I was five. Below is the “update,” I created in Photoshop a couple of months ago.

 

TO A LIGHTHOUSE – Part I

From A Patchwork Memoir:

“Hi! It’s me!” I greet Earl when he answers the phone. “Hi, me!” he humors me. (Pippa, his boarder, tells me when Earl recounts one of our adventures he always begins, “Me and I…”) “I’m feeling stir-crazy,” I complain. “Wanna go for a drive?”

The day is bright and chilly, with a blustery wind, I discover when I sally out to his red truck. “I guess the beach is out,” says Earl—and suggests we drive inland to the wine country. Not easily deflected from my purpose, I trot back inside for my mittens and earmuffs. Earl says wryly that he’s going to have to find himself a landlubber for days like this.

“It’s not going to rain, is it?” I wonder out loud. “The weather man says no,” he assures me. But I’m not convinced. I’ve been waking to brilliant sunshine, nodding off again—I’ve been sleeping especially fitfully lately—and waking later to a dark, disgruntled sky dumping rain all over everything. Typical November contrariness. A couple of mornings ago, the whole east had a deep pinkish gold glow at dawn, as theatrical as a sunset. But an hour later, it was grim and stormy. “Uh-oh,” I say, spotting a single puff of cloud on the horizon, at this distance the size of a marshmallow.

The ocean is simply too blindingly bright to look at without sunglasses when we reach it. “I doubt our nudist is out today,” I observe as we pass high above his beach. He’s there, but bundled up.

We continue south to the second Pescadero Beach—there are two in a row; the more distant one, we discover, is barely walkable, it’s so littered with stones. Golden brown and ranging in size from a fist to a hassock, they’re covered with blackened seaweed—small rubbery leaves and fibrous clumps like Brillo pads.

Through a channel between boulders, I see the water seething oddly high above me. Intermittent gusts of wind are blowing flurries of foam at me, wads of it, pelting me like bullies throwing snowballs. It must have bombarded a lot of beachcombers before us, because there’s foam everywhere, settled among the rocks like snowdrifts. When I round a bend, I see an entire foam bank, impassable because you can’t tell what’s under it. I proceed carefully from stone to slippery stone around its perimeter. The illusion is you could step between them, but I quickly discern there are tide pools underneath.

I make my way gingerly out on a wall of rock, finding sure hand- and footholds, to get to a position where I can take pictures facing away from the sun. Even then I know there’s probably too much contrast—but I take snapshot after snapshot anyway. (The great thing about being a novice photographer is you get to live in a fool’s paradise, since you’re not all that clear about the limitations of film yet.) When I’ve taken a dozen, I notice belatedly that the lens is covered with a fine mist. “Ratso Rizzo!” I think peevishly. He was the character Dustin Hoffman played in the movie Midnight Cowboy, I realize, upon wondering where that expression came from. Earl hollers to me that he’s getting cold—and heads back to the car.

So we drive further south to the Pigeon Point lighthouse, which has tours on Sundays. After we’ve bought our tickets, we have to scuttle to catch up with the last tour.

TO A LIGHTHOUSE – Part II

                                                                 Outside the lens

As I’ve said:

After we’ve bought our tickets, we have to scuttle to catch up with the last tour. A hundred and thirty-five steps, our guide tells us. (Earl essays them despite his bad leg.) I’m secretly grateful for the pauses at various landings while she instructs us—and try not to huff and puff too wheezily, so no one will know how out of shape I am. Now electrified, our guide explains, the lens used to be turned by a weight on a pulley that sank into a six-foot well at the base of the lighthouse. The wrought-iron steps were ordered from San Francisco, then couldn’t be assembled without help from the manufacturer because no one could figure out the numbering system—and, of course, they had to be arranged in descending—er, ascending?—order of length. They’re anchored to a wall within a wall, she continues, since wrought iron is subject to corrosion by the elements.

At the top is a Fresnel lens, designed by the French physicist in 1822. It’s like a four-ton cocoon of prisms—a thousand of them, arranged in vertical rows to magnify and bend the light of the thousand-watt bulb within. In the days before electricity, the guide informs us, the lighthouse keeper had to climb inside to cut the wicks of the oil-burning lamp and polish the prisms ceaselessly to wipe off the soot.

There are drapes half-drawn across the windows that surround us. At the Point Reyes lighthouse—where Earl and I have also been—they have to keep the drapes closed on the land side, she tells us. Otherwise, the lens would focus the sunlight like a magnifying glass and set fire to the hillside.

                                                                   Inside the lens

TO A LIGHTHOUSE – Part III

On the road again, we head north to the town of Pescadero and Duarte’s restaurant, famous for its artichoke soup. It’s a rustic tavern with wood-paneled walls and huntsmen’s trophies overhead—sets of deer antlers with and without heads. I marvel again at how beautiful deer faces are and wonder how anyone can bear to shoot them.

Earl tells me about his friend Hank from his Greenwich Village days answering a classified ad for a used something-or-other—and after going to buy it from the seller, commenting to Earl ingenuously, “And isn’t it a coincidence that his name was Norman Mailer, just like the novelist?” Earl’s circle of friends and acquaintances back then included Jack Kerouac, as well as Mailer, and other up-and-coming writers and artists of the time. He lived on the fourth floor of what had been a factory with his wife Moira, who was also a painter—and looked like the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, he swears. The “loft,” as they called it, was 2500 square feet (with the requisite skylights), which his friend Jimmy and he partitioned into three studios and a living space, using the wood from packing crates they scavenged in the neighborhood. He and Moira had a Siamese cat named Sheba that gave birth to a strange litter of kittens—Eightball, Oddball, Blackball, and Fink, they called them. Eightball, the one they kept, was huge and curly-haired, which led them to speculate he might have been sired by a bobcat. He used to climb up the back of Earl’s easel and jump up into one of the skylights, where he hunkered down on a beam and watched Earl paint with rapt attention for hours on end.

“Did you and Moira have a church wedding?” I ask. They were married by a Unitarian minister, he says, and Moira wore a blue cocktail dress. They had to cut back the guest list when her father, a graphic artist who worked for Disney, among other jobs, went bankrupt for the umpteenth time, and they realized they were going to have to pay for the wedding themselves. But the celebrated painter Hans Hoffman, Earl’s mentor, attended with his wife. And their weird friend Syd, who, after poring over the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum, showed up at the Hoffman School, announcing at the reception desk he wanted to learn to paint like Delacroix. “That’s good enough,” said Hoffman, who happened to be standing nearby—and promptly admitted him.

When Earl talks about Moira, I think to myself, “She was the love of his life.” And I wonder how much competition had to do with the failure of their marriage. “If I was the better painter, she was the better artist,” Earl once told me. But the art world has always been an exclusive men’s club—and so while Earl won prizes and was offered teaching positions, Moira was left to watch from the sidelines.

KISSING GAME

In a box of childhood mementos, I came across my Bluebird autograph book with the entry above. In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote:

The Cow Pasture wasn’t one, and there wasn’t a single desiccated cow pie to prove it ever had been, as far as Wolfy and I could discover. It was a rural patch of land in the middle of the city, belonging to the Farm Campus of the university. On the other side of a busy avenue, it was bounded by thistles that deterred all but the undeterrable, for whom scratches, like skinned knees and mosquito bites, were normal summer accoutrements. Beyond the thorniness was an expanse of brush that formed a low, dense canopy with tunnels between the trunks—a labyrinth just high enough to crawl through. Behind it were small poplared hills, which shimmered silver in summer, gold in the fall. On one especially grassy slope that we dubbed “Lovers’ Lane,” Wolfy and I devised a hit-and-miss kissing game more dicey than Spin the Bottle. The rules were we had to roll down the hill together with our eyes shut and smooch whatever we bumped into—knee or elbow, stump or stone. From second through fifth grade, Wolfy was my boon companion. When I set out to write and illustrate my second children’s book, as I explain in my bio, “It started as a story about Wolfy’s and my escapades together but quickly became a fairy tale about an opinionated little princess who didn’t believe in fairy tales and her savvy little fool, who knew better.”

If you go to my Home Page and click on the second selection,”READ,” you can view the entire book, which I entitled Sir Little Fool and the Skeptical Princess.

 

SEASONS

In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote:

For my first English 1A assignment in college, inspired by Thoreau’s dense, poetic prose in Walden Pond, I made my first creative writing attempt, entitled “Seasons”:

 “Two summers ago, I went back to Minnesota, and one morning I walked up Doswell Street to see my old home. The house had aged—the ivy vines had been ripped from the stucco walls, showing them cracked and discolored. Last winter’s leaves were brown and decaying where they lay tangled among the stems of the lilac bushes. I pushed aside the brush and looked where there had been lilies-of-the-valley when I was a child, but I didn’t see them now. A little girl came to stare at me over a hedge, and, feeling uncomfortable, I strolled around to the back of the house.

“I followed the dirt alley that sloped down to Scudder Street between rows of blackened wire incinerators. It reminded me of spring. When I was young, spring was brought by robins. Brisk and billowy clouds were reflected everywhere in a world of sidewalk puddles. In knee-high boots, we scampered from one to the next, and, gazing down, each splashing leap seemed to shatter the sky. We sought out the last muddy patches of snow that shrank against the shadowed corners of the houses, and, letting our mittens dangle from clips at our cuffs, we crunched the snow into hard little balls that dripped water when you squeezed them tightly. We crumbled them down each other’s necks or filled our pockets with them and forgot. And when the glacier melted off the back alley, we went out in corduroy pants that got soaked at the knees to comb the alley for the agates that sprang up each year with the first aggressive weeds. Sometimes, just as miraculously, there were marbles, coins, or a gumball machine toy. There was suppressed joy in all the twittering and sprouting—joy in the trickling of a melted winter, along the gutters of the city.

“Then quite suddenly, as though the sewers had swallowed up with the water the freshness of the world, it grew hot. Children lived on cherry popsicles until mid-July, when the banana-flavored ones arrived at the corner market. The night breathed mosquitoes, and sleepers threw off their damp sheets in drowsy anguish. Summers were slow, made of sweat, bug-repellent, and torpor. Down at the end of the alley was the Triangle, a block-long wilderness of bugs, nettles, and ragweed. My brother and I went there every day to thrash among the waist-high weeds with our butterfly nets. On the way down, it gave us great satisfaction to level all the ant hills between the cracks in the sidewalk, a ravaging army of two, just because it was so annoying to have to rouse yourself in the heat and go to catch an insect supper for your lizards.

“At last, the fall. Wolfy’s maple was scarlet glory with green spinners that twirled everywhere when squirrels scrambled through the topmost branches. Behind Alvin’s house was a shack, where Kilroy had been. From its roof we used to jump into mountains of crackling oak leaves that danced when we plunged into them, the crushed fragments tickling and scratching as they caught in our collars, our pants legs, and even our socks. From the top of the shack you could see the Cow Pasture fence and a row of poplars with yellow-lacquered leaves that twinkled in the breeze. After sneaking some sweet, wormy apples from the Old Troll’s yard, we escaped down the block, cheeks full of apple, across Knapp Street, to take refuge in the pasture. Then we were off to explore the marsh, or, armed with plump, brown cattail spears, to hunt each other in a forest of brittle cattail stalks until the air was thick with their down. Autumn was flannel-lined jackets, morning frost ferns on the windowpanes, and the incessant dry whisper of leaf-swept streets.

“Then one night, winter would come, soundlessly. By noon the next morning the white yards along Raymond Avenue were tablets of snow angels. In front of many homes, watchmen were erected with carrot noses and brooms to sweep away trespassers. Saturdays the whole community of children lumbered, fur-lined and waterproofed, through the streets to College Park, sleds trailing behind. The ropes jerked with every step, and the sleds leapt forward on the icy walks and bumped us about the legs. Then winter’s mood darkened. Chapped hands cracked and bled, and foreheads ached where woolen scarves didn’t cover. Nights were made of frozen silence. In the dim yellow light of old street lamps, the snow shimmered relentlessly through a season so long, it seemed eternal.

“Now I stopped, for I had reached the end of the alley. Before me, where there had been the brambles of the Triangle, there was a fresh lawn with spiraling water sprinklers and a light brick building. I waited for the red light to change at Como Avenue, on my way back to Dad’s apartment. ‘Eternal,’ I thought, ‘until April.’”

Actually, this was my second creative writing attempt, which I didn’t know until recently because I hadn’t yet found “Myth” among my high school papers. (See my 7-13-19 blog.)

COMMUNITY

                                        From left to right, me, Kathy, and Carol Balcome.

I was seven when we moved into the upper half of a duplex on Raymond Ave, an apartment only a fraction of the size of our Dudley home and, speaking of losses, the first thing I remember is my cat, Timmy, running away. More than once we went back to the old neighborhood to search for him—without success.

In the living room we had modern blond-wood furniture, a sofa with stylized fish on it, matchstick blinds on the front window, and, to either side, a small, framed print of San Francisco that Mom had brought from California. The room looked out onto a residential street lined with elm, oak, and maple trees, and, unlike in Berkeley, the view wasn’t obstructed by telephone poles and wires—or fences around or between the houses either. And, as I said when I wrote my blog “The Expurgated Version,” there were cases of butterflies, moths, and beetles all around the room.

After first grade at University Elementary School in Minneapolis, I decided that I wanted to go to the local school with the kids who were my neighbors instead. My parents acquiesced, and in the fall Doug and I started at brand-new St. Anthony Park Elementary School. (“Gutterdump” had been torn down.) When I look back on this decision of mine, I realize I was needing a sense of community that was lacking in my life.

I soon became best friends with my neighbor across the street, Wolfy, and down a long block, Kathy. Before long I was taking modern dance lessons in the basement of the local library with girls from my class—Mary, Margie, and Susie—and had joined Bluebirds, where I remember making a tom-tom out of a coffee can and a rubber tire, as well as a paper mache cat that I decided was ugly. At Christmastime we sold peanut candy door to door. Summers, Kathy and I went to Bluebird camp on Lake Cheewin, where we swam, rode horses, and learned songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “The Happy Wanderer” that we sang as duets year around. Or we sang rounds like “White Choral Bells”:

White choral bells upon a slender stalk

Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk

Oh, don’t you wish that you could hear them ring?

That will happen only when the fairies sing.

On the fourth of July all the kids in St. Anthony Park gathered for a costume parade at Miller’s Drugstore and marched down Como Avenue to Langford Park, where our school stood. There was a bandstand with music, games and races, a treasure hunt, and, in the evening, fireworks.

In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote:

Since Wolfy’s younger sister Mary was my brother’s friend, we were liable to make mischief as a foursome. Winter evenings we sat around telling spooky stories in my dark, starry bedroom. We’d turn out the lights and put a flashlight under an overturned wicker laundry basket, projecting constellations all over the ceiling, like at the planetarium. Weekends we skated at College Park, where they flooded the tennis court to make an ice rink. We staged races, tearing across the rink and plunging headlong into a snowbank to brake our speed. Or we skated to music at the Langford Park rink, which had a warming house that smelled of wet wool. Summers we played kickball in my neighbor Alvin’s front yard, where the trees were perfectly spaced to serve as bases, or, chauffeured by one parent or another, we swam at Lake Josephine or Johanna, taking the road past the water tower out of town. On the way home we’d always stop by the Roadside Drive-In and order fried chicken over a gizmo like the speakers at a drive-in movie. Summer evenings, drenched in mosquito repellent, we played Moonlight, Starlight—a nighttime version of hide-and-seek—outside until long past dark.

On one of Wolfy’s birthdays, I remember, I rashly climbed into his tree house in the party dress my mom had just made me. The skirt caught on one of the wooden steps and tore. When my mom saw the rip, she cried.

Another time I dashed into the street to catch up with Wolfy on our way to the Congregational Church fair—and got hit by a car. Though my arm ached and turned black-and-blue, I hid the injury from my parents, wearing long sleeves for weeks on end, afraid they would punish me for my recklessness.

And then there was the time Wolfy and I were climbing up near the top of his maple tree. The branch under me broke, and Wolfy, who was hanging onto the trunk, grabbed my hand before I could fall—and saved my life.

LIAR, LIAR

I wasn’t always shy. I was introspective as a child, but not introverted. In fact, looking back, I would call myself outgoing—a leader, even…until sixth grade, when I was traumatized by a series of events that have had a lasting impact on me. In first grade, in fact, I was chosen to give a little speech to all the parents for a school occasion, and the whole class sang the following song:

I had a little nut tree.

Nothing would it bear

But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.

The king of Spain’s daughter

Came to visit me.

And all for the sake of my little nut tree.

 These are my only other memories of that year:

  • I was scolded once for whispering during rest time, just as I had been— again, just once—in kindergarten. I was chatty, yes, but being scolded utterly mortified me.

(My first grade teacher told my parents, although I wouldn’t know this until I was an adult, “Cathy won’t guess.” After sixth grade, I would take an I.Q. test at my mom’s insistence, and when I was asked what the word mosaic meant, I wouldn’t venture an answer, though what I saw in my mind was a picture made of bright bits and pieces. All my life, it seems, I’ve been morbidly afraid of being wrong.)

  • I was extremely frightened when—one by one—during rest period we were all examined by a doctor. The girls who went before me said he pulled down their underpants. This incident is significant, perhaps, in light of what I would learn decades later.
  • I was wrongly accused by a classmate—the daughter of friends of my parents—of lying. “Liar, liar, pants on fire, nose as long as a telephone wire,” she chanted in her parents’ car on our way to school. I was stunned—both by the injustice and the cruelty of her accusation.
  • I was embarrassed at my seventh birthday party when someone called to wish me “Happy Birthday.” Flustered with excitement, I responded without thinking, “Happy Birthday!” right back at them. Then, realizing my mistake, I quickly added without missing a beat, “’Happy Birthday!’ That’s all I ever hear!” I don’t think they were fooled, though.

(Actually, this is the only birthday party I can remember ever having. In future years my mom would let me invite a friend to lunch at Dayton’s Sky Room on the very top floor of the department store, where I would invariably order a fruit salad with sherbet, summer fruit being a special treat.)

 

  •  Also at the party, my best friend Maryanne gave me a colorful little suitcase for doll clothes that I still have. This is significant because when Mom moved Doug and me to California, most of my things never arrived. In fact, many of my moves would entail losses, I would find in the coming years.
  • On a visit to a couple my parents knew, I walked through their bedroom to the bathroom and saw on the dresser a little porcelain jar with delicate flowers on the lid. I was so taken with it, I wanted to ask our hostess if I could have it, but I knew that would be impolite. Years later this experience would provide me with the title of a movie script I wrote—The Ring Jar.
  • At school I developed a crush on a little boy named Peter Wright, a redhead like me, who will figure into my story when, a few years later, he will drown in a boating accident.