Hey, it’s Thursday and I’m actually blogging! Wow!
It’s been an interesting process, moving my mother into a so-called retirement home (which ended up being more like a warehouse for old folks) and then from there to our place in Connecticut. A lot of sorting took place, as well as a lot of chucking out of stuff she and my dad had held onto for God alone knows what reason. They were children of the great depression and it was something that never altogether left them. Dad saved plastic grocery sacks (neatly folded), twist ties, milk jug caps, clothes pins…oh, the list goes on. Anyway, we had occasion to go through things (usually more than once) and what I found in the course of all that was my mother’s diary from 1964.
Now before some of you jump on me for reading my mother’s secret heart-of-hearts, understand this: my mother has never, ever, ever been the sort to show her true emotions. I can only remember ever seeing her cry twice in the 55 years I’ve been alive — once when she was very ill and the mental confusion that plagues her now was first rearing its ugly head, and once when I visited her in the retirement home. I never saw her cry when her sisters or mother or step-father or brothers died — although I assume that she did. I saw no tears over the years when she buried two grandchildren and a great-grandchild — but they must have been there. She didn’t even cry when my father died (although she admitted to me afterward that she did cry — alone at night in bed, unwilling to share her grief).
So I felt no real hesitation in opening the orange cover of that old diary and taking a walk into not only her past, but my own, seen through her eyes.
January 1, 1964 reads: “Most boring day I have ever spent.” Great way to begin the New Year. On the 11th, I went ice skating for the first time with our neighbors Frank, Thelma, Mark and (my particular pal) Kristin Urbatis. She also notes “Bought some books for Bumps and I to read. Missy got a snow shovel.” I laughed out loud. Yeah, that sounds about right. On the 15th, the temperature was minus 13.
January 17th was momentous: “Missy late from school, didn’t get home until 6:15. I was about crazy.” I remember that day. Back then I was attending first grade in an old three-room school-house in Jonesville, NY that students were bussed to from our main campus in (then) Elnora, NY. Coming home in the afternoon, there was a mix-up with buses and I and another student were placed on the wrong bus by the adult in charge. (Even though I saw my correct bus and told this moron that was the one I was supposed to be on.) The poor bus driver drove all over, back and forth, trying to find our homes. We were little kids and couldn’t help. We didn’t know our street addresses. Although I later learned my street address was written on my lunch box, my mother had never told me that was my address nor what I should do when I was “lost.” (And I didn’t think I was lost. I knew where I was; I was on the bus. The driver was the one who was lost.) By this time it was full dark and here’s this enormous school bus with a worried and tired driver and two kids. When the driver saw a flashlight beam being swung to get his attention, he stopped and opened the doors. My dad stepped in and I said, “Hi, Daddy,” like we went through this every day. He took me home to my frantic mother and a late supper. (And I lied a moment ago: I’ve seen my mother cry on three occasions. That night was the first.) I’ve no memory of who that other kid was or what happened to them, but I assume (I hope) they made it home okay.
March of ’64 was a month of illness for me. I was sick from the 8th until the 19th, first diagnosed with measles and then re-diagnosed with scarlet fever. I got better just in time to attend the Ice Capades on the 21 On the 28th, a 9.2 magnitude megathrust earthquake hit Alaska, at the time the most powerful recorded quake in U.S. and North America history.
In April, my five-year old niece Michelle came to live with us (until May, when her sister Leslie was born). The week after she arrived, she put her head through a small window on our porch. The bottom half of the glass fell out and the top half came down on her neck — not cutting her, but trapping her with her body inside the house and her head outside the window. I can still hear her yelling and I wish to God I had a picture of it. That’s also the visit (remembered by me, although not recorded by my mother) when the cat had kittens and Michelle tried to “ride” one of them. (Fortunately, the kitten survived.)
In May, Leslie arrived, an adorable noodle of a kid.
In June, I had my first bout with strep throat, an ailment that would plague me throughout my childhood. I ran such a high fever that my mother had to hold me down in order for the doctor to give me a shot of penicillin. She managed to knock out one of my baby teeth in the process and I’ve never let her forget it. (That’s what kids are for, right?)
In July, Leslie becomes ill and the dismal spectre of Cystic Fibrosis raises its head for the first time. Later that month, I received my first “big kid’s” bike, a blue beauty I practically wore the tires off riding back and forth along Plant Road. Also, on July 31, this poignant entry: “Jim Reeves killed in plane crash. He was my favorite singer.”
On September 6, we traveled to Asbury Park to visit my sister and brother-in-law, Michelle and Leslie. My mother and sister take Michelle and I to the beach for the first time where we stand in a line to get drenched by waves and Michelle eats her own weight in mud and snails. On the 13th, the temperature in Clifton Park plummeted to 38 degrees. Ten days later, it rose to 85.
October brings the singular joy of chicken pox. Oh, God, I remember that! Wasn’t a spot on me (ugh, no pun intended) that didn’t itch. I even had them inside my ears and throat. (If you’re going to do something, do it up right, yes?)
The 16th of that month is a tiny glimpse of the world in three little lines:
Khrushchev kicked out of office
Chinese test first A bomb
Cole Porter died
And on December 5 came an event that everyone I know who grew up in Clifton Park at the time remembers to this day — the Ice Storm. It was a real “storm of the century” sort of occurrence with ice thick on every tree limb and all the overhead wires. We lost power for several days and had to camp out in the living room with the fireplace going round-the-clock. Our elderly neighbor stayed with us and slept in my dad’s easy-chair, and we roasted hot dogs over the fire. I remember hearing the cracking and popping of branches and watched trees topple in the woods across the road.
There’s other stuff in that diary, a few things that brought back some not-so-great memories, several pages of day-to-day blah — grocery shopping, the curling of my aunt’s hair, relatives visiting for supper. Nothing worth sharing. But it’s been…well, yes, I guess the word fun is correct…walking again through those 365 days, reliving bits of my life and, for a moment, getting a glimpse into my mother’s own.