Tag Archives: Childhood traumas

Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.

But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom.  That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?

I looked around the room in wonder.  It was, of course, huge.  I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.

I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, so I had to use Google Images. Tthanks, Google!

This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities.   You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture.  I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!

A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.

As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.

You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes.  Heroes always use the front door.

Wanna know what happened?

Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard.  It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting.  “A Christmas tree farm.”

Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.

But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere.  I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)

Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”

Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.

So back to the Ballroom.

Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!

“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields.  You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both.  And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*

 

Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember.  But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees.  Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field.  We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.

But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.

You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all.  Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.

And there was another issue.

If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years.  We’re way past that.  The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?

* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White.  So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them.  Then again, it was the 60s.  Everybody didn’t get a trophy.

67 Comments

Filed under Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Dad, Mom would die of embarrassment, Not stealing, Reluctant thief, Stealing

World Polio Day

Dad always described it as the most terrifying day of his life.  Mom almost never spoke of it.

June 1949.

“We had a toddler — Beth was just beginning to walk.  Mom was expecting another baby in December.  It should have been time to celebrate.  Instead, suddenly, I was rushing my wife to the hospital.  I didn’t know what would happen.  I feared the worst.”

Dad had every reason to fear the worst.  Polio can cause death or total paralysis in a matter of hours.

In the U.S. in 1949, more than 40,000 cases of polio were reported, and nearly 3,000 deaths occurred from the horribly contagious, devastating disease.

My mother spent the end of her first trimester and much of the second in the hospital, encapsulated in an iron lung.  An iron lung enables the patient to breathe by using vacuums to force air into and out of the lungs.

Wikipedia Image

Wikipedia Image

Poor mom also received constant electric shock therapy, up and down her body to stimulate the muscles and keep them from atrophy.  Thankfully, the treatments worked.  Not only did my Mom survive, but the combination of treatments she received enabled her to live a normal life — without the paralysis that impacted so many of the disease’s victims..  In fact, to look at Mom, you couldn’t tell that she was a polio survivor.

It was only in photographs that anything appeared amiss.  Mom had always been a beautiful woman — but she was unwilling to have photos taken of her right side — because the camera picked up the remnants of polio’s paralysis.

Mom at my wedding.

Mom at my wedding.

You can bet that as soon as the Salk Polio vaccine was available, Mom and Dad lined up the five of us kids, including my brother Bob, who was in that iron lung with Mom, for those shots.  Because the old adage is true:  An ounce of prevention IS worth a pound of cure.

Saturday, October 24 is World Polio Day.  It is a day that celebrates the incredible progress scientists have made against this horrible, debilitating, deadly disease.

In recent years, many folks have forgotten the devastating effects of these diseases.  Forgotten just what the costs of these disease are — to the individuals infected with them, and to society.

Vaccines are developed to prevent — TO PREVENT! — devastating diseases.  Polio.  Rubella.  Mumps.  Measles.  The safety profiles of the vaccines is excellent.  Far better in fact, than the safety profiles of the most common OTC meds we all pop at the drop of a hat, or the hint of a headache.

64 Comments

Filed under Adult Traumas, Crazy family members, GET VACCINATED, Health, Mom, Mom Stories, Vaccines

The Hit Single

The other day when I rudely posted a link to one of my old blog posts in a comment on Art’s blog, Pouring My Art Out, I started chatting with my blogging buddy Trend, of TrentLewin.com about that piece.  I told him that in an exercise for my memoir writing class, I had to write the same story from two different points of view.  Trend and I figured it would be fun for me to post both pieces.

So tonight, I am re-posting the story of how all my youthful dreams came crashing down on me in a broom closet. Tomorrow night, I will tell the same story, from someone else’s side.

This exercise was really helpful in the class, by the way.  It helped me look at the same story I’d told for years, but with new eyes. And it was a lot of fun to imagine the other side.  Without further ado, here it is:

Door Number Two!

The thing about dreams is that the crushing, the squelching, the termination of them is so much better in retrospect than when it actually happens.

At 17, I just knew I was going to be an actress.  A stage actress (because, don’t cha know, film work is not true acting. ) And I made that choice even before I realized that the camera brings out the psycho in me.

Now, I was very serious about this dream.  Of course I took my high school’s acting classes.  And, all snark aside, they were really good.  The Players were renown throughout the area for the professional quality of its high school actors.  And the accolades were well deserved.

Me?  Was I the star?  Was I the ingénue lead in all the productions during my high school years?  Was there a reason for my hubris?  Did my classmates look at me, remember my face and say to each other “someday we will remember when the very highly talented Miss Elyse went sledding outside our Algebra class (with that other fab actress, Ray) when she was supposed to be writing her math problems on the blackboard – because now,” sigh, “she’s a STAR.”   Oops, no, I mean they’d think “because now she is a highly successful stage ACTress.”

Uh, no they didn’t.  I was invariably an extra in those acclaimed productions.  At best I got a line or two. But I had heart.  And in the theatRE, that’s all you need, right?

There are no small parts, only small actors.”

Well, I was NOT a small actor.  I just got small parts.  And I was short and thin.  So I was small.  Shit.

But I DID get an audition. Yup!  I had an audition in April of 1974, the spring of my senior year, for the Central School of Speech and Drama, an acting school in London.

Google Image because I don't have any pictures of my own.

Google Image because I don’t have any pictures of my own.

Now, I lived ONE hour outside of New York, so training in NYC might have been a wee bit easier to manage.  But hey, this was a dream, remember?  And I wanted London:  The Globe, The West End, Masterpiece TheatRE (even if it was done on film, it didn’t seem like it). I was ready to take the first step in my path.

My audition was held in a building at Yale University, which in itself was pretty intimidating.

I performed my comedy bit first, a monologue from a comedy so obscure that I have blotted it totally from my brain. I sang “Adelaide’s Lament” under the guidance of my friend Sue, who actually played Adelaide in our school’s production of Guys and Dolls.

I delivered my Juliet speech – hey, what do you want, Lady Macbeth?  I was 17!!!  I chose one that is rarely performed, the one where Juliet is about to take the sleeping potion and is seeing her cousin Tybalt’s ghost:

O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost

Seeking out Romeo,

That did spit his body Upon a rapier’s point:

Stay, Tybalt, stay! (I loved that line)

Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.

I drank the potion and collapsed on the floor in the best Juliet evah.

I was a much better Juliet than Marsha Brady. Much.  Of course, there are no Google Images of me.

I was a much better Juliet than Marsha Brady. Much. Of course, there are no Google Images of me.

I thanked the three faculty judges, repeated my name, made sure they had my completed application and my picture (although how could they forget me?)  I turned and walked to the door to leave.

Only there were two doors.

I opened the one on the right, walked through it and closed the door behind me.

It was a broom closet.

What do I do now, I wondered.

There was no script.  No stage directions.  No help of any kind.  I considered staying in the closet, but knew that eventually I had to exit stage left.

After a minute that lasted forever, I re-opened the closet door and slunk out, saying a line I haven’t heard in too many successful plays:

“That’s the broom closet.”

I opened the other door and left the room, closing my dream back in the room with the judges.

I know that if I’d just gone out singing and dancing, well, this chapter would be the opening scene of my life story. Maybe it still is.  Cause it hasn’t been at all bad.

`

33 Comments

Filed under Acting, Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Bloggin' Buddies, Childhood Traumas, Criminal Activity, Dreams, Humiliation, Memoir writing, Most Embarassing Moments Evah!, Oh shit, Two versions of the same story, Why the hell do I tell you these stories?

… comes around

A friend of mine told me that this weekend was her 20th high school reunion.  Immediately, I was transported back to mine, back to one of the best nights of my life, back to when someone who had bullied me showed everyone else his true colors.

My hometown was a wealthy suburb, a place where rich, well-schooled, successful folks go to raise their families.  A town filled to the brim with liberals who mostly commute to New York City, just a short train ride away.  A town of folks that raise their kids to be liberals too.

My classmates and I were at the tail end of the Baby Boomers, old enough to protest the Vietnam war but not old enough to serve.  Old enough to remember and mourn the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr., to have seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  We participated in protests, celebrated the Women’s Movement, went braless through high school, and believed that all you need is love.

My family landed in town when my father bought a run-down Victorian house, sight unseen, in 1963. Kids in the neighborhood thought it was haunted; we moved in on Halloween.  My two brothers, two sisters and I started school the following Monday.

Within a week, I had ruined my life.

You see, in 2nd grade, every Friday at my new school, we had Show and Tell.  I bet you did too.  But I bet you didn’t, well, show and tell quite like I did that very first week.

You remember Show and Tell, I’m sure.  Everyone gathers together on the floor and everybody raises their hand to perform; three or four kids are chosen every week.  They sing songs, tell jokes, juggle.  That first week I anxiously raised my hand, but the teacher didn’t call on me.  I performed anyway.  There in the middle of the circle, I wet my pants.

I do not recommend “showing” in this manner if your goal is to one day be voted “Most Popular.”

I don’t remember what happened for the rest of the afternoon.  I don’t know if I went home early, if my classmates got wet and ran screaming from me.  I have buried that memory.  I do know that it started four years of hell.

Tommy was the lead bully.  He dubbed me “Weenie Girl” and teased and tormented me through 6th grade.  He was truly cruel, and tried to keep others from being my friend.  I hated him.  I saw him less as we got older, but he was still a classmate when we both graduated in 1974.

But by the time of my 20th reunion, I had more or less gotten over my shame over the incident.  And I did it with a very public therapy session.  One night, when I had had way too much to drink at a bar, I climbed onto a table and told everyone in the bar my hilariously funny/sad story – how I ruined my own childhood during Show and Tell.   I had always feared that someone would find out and ridicule me.  Instead, there I stood, making the room love me, as I showed them the humor and the pain.

It had taken me years, but I had to admit it was funny.  I mean after all, I didn’t do it during naptime.  I didn’t do it during storytime.  I didn’t pee while learning long division.  I wet my pants during Show and Tell!  Why hasn’t anyone put that scene into a sit com?

So on the night of my 20th reunion, when I saw lead bully Tommy heading towards me to say hello, I had forgiven him.  Completely.  And although I thought of all the things I could say to the nasty bully, I smiled politely, chatted amiably to him and his wife, and moved on with my life.  It was a proud moment.

But the night got better.  Much, much better.

You see, Tommy was the MC of the evening.  It was his job to introduce particularly successful classmates, tell who was living in exotic places, and what surprising career choices had been made by a few.  He showed pictures of us when we all still had hair, when we were thin, when we were young.

And Tommy did a good job speaking to that extremely liberal crowd of editors and publishers, doctors, public interest lawyers.  People who still wanted to save the world.  Good people, people with heart and soul.  Liberals.

And then it happened.  Towards the end of the evening, Tommy stood up on the dias and started to wind things down.  And he said to my extremely PC friends and classmates:

“My wife told me not to tell jokes tonight.  But I’m just going to tell the one.”

“Why is a man like a linoleum floor?”

Tommy paused for effect.

“Lay him right the first time;

walk all over him from then on.”

The room went silent, as one by one, each head turned towards the dias and each person either thought or said aloud:

“What an asshole.”

And after realizing that everybody agreed on that one point, I cracked up.

Hell, I’ve known he was an asshole since 2nd Grade!” I said.

I’m pretty sure that when I am taking in my last breath, I will still be smiling about that night, knowing that in this life what goes around really does come around; sometimes it just takes a while.

The scene of the crime

57 Comments

Filed under Childhood Traumas, Humor