Innocence and naïveté

When my dad first told me this story it made me laugh, probably because he told it in a way that was humorous. Sometimes, though, I think of it as poignant in its depiction of the simple innocence, naïveté, and basic gratitude of youth.

I think the first time my dad ever went to the movie theatre was the first time he saw an actual moving picture, as TVs were not a common household item when he was growing up in the 30s and 40s.

He must have been about 10 years old because he had his own money by then from a paper route. He and his best buddy, Harry Lamareaux, with coins in their pockets, walked to the theatre on a Saturday afternoon and went to the matinee. They bought their tickets; perhaps they sprang for a bag of popcorn to share and made their way to their seats.

In those days, and when I was young as well, theatres didn’t show 10 to 15 minutes of advertisements in the form of movie trailers before the feature presentation. The theatres showed you a short film, as perhaps you remember, typically a lengthy cartoon, before the movie started.

My dad and Harry, being only 10 or 11, thoroughly enjoyed the cartoon. In fact, they were possibly enthralled with the whole concept of moving pictures. When the screen went blank at the end of the short film, well satisfied, and having never been before, not knowing exactly what to expect, Dad and Harry stood up and left, thinking the movie was over. They missed the entire feature film for which they’d paid their precious coins.

They found out their mistake later when they got home and my grandmother asked about the movie.

My dad probably didn’t think it was funny at the time.

But time softens a lot of things.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

An unfortunate incident and memory of love

A scary thing happened to me when I was in sixth or seventh grade. It was a Sunday and my parents had gone out of town to visit my grandparents for the afternoon. My oldest sister Kathy was babysitting my younger siblings. I didn’t need a sitter, but was in charge of only myself.

Kathy wanted some Oreos and she convinced me to go to the store for them. So I walked about three or four blocks down the street, and then took the shortcut through a sparsely wooded vacant lot and across the bowling alley parking lot to get to the store.

As I was standing in the cookie aisle searching for what appeared to be the elusive Oreos, a man came up and stood behind me.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” he asked.

Since he wasn’t that much older, I thought perhaps he knew my sister.

“Maybe you know my sister,” I said.

He must have asked for my name, but I thought he said, “What’s her name?”

I told him, “Kathy.” and then I started getting nervous.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Close by,” I said, no longer willing to trust him with specific information and thinking that letting him know I was close to home was a good strategy. Right at the same time I spotted the Oreos. I took them off the shelf and hurried to the checkout. The man immediately grabbed something, rather randomly I thought, off the shelf and got behind me in the checkout line.

I admit, I was a little slow on the initial uptake, but all my bells and whistles were going off now. I hurried out of the store and started running through the parking lot when I heard the man yell, “Kathy, do you want a ride?”

I just kept running all the rest of the way home, looking behind me periodically as I went.

Kathy was livid when I told her what happened. She was furious that I gave a stranger her name, and that I nearly told him exactly where I lived. My parents weren’t home and she was in charge. She made sure all the doors were locked, the curtains were closed, and she kept looking out the window every few minutes until my parents returned, at which point she promptly told on me.

I was sitting on a dining room chair against the wall, crying because I was getting yelled at and because I was now completely convinced this man was going to get me, when the phone rang.

I answered it and no one spoke on the other line. Dead silence. “He’s found me!” I thought. I was sure the would-be kidnapper had figured out my phone number based on the first name of my oldest sister and the fact I lived nearby. I got hysterical.

My dad who had worked himself into a tizzy took the phone from me and barked with a voice that shook from restrained fear and anger, “I don’ t know who you are, but you leave my daughter alone.”

Big drama.

I learned my lesson. I wouldn’t be chatty with strangers ever again.

I later found out the phone call was an ill-timed phone prank from a few boys in my grade. They probably learned their lesson too.

Now that I’m a middle-aged adult, sitting on an airplane over the ocean off the coast of California, and my dad is in his late seventies and in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, this memory brings me warmth from the love and fear my dad had for me as he charged to my defense all those years ago.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

The Little Sister

I cannot choose but think upon the time
When our two lives grew like two buds that kiss
At lightest thrill from the bee’s swinging chime,
Because the one so near the other is.
—George Eliot from “Brother and Sister”

George Eliots’ poem, “Brother and Sister” touches a place deep in my heart.  Like Eliot, I am a younger sister.  My sister Carol and I were nearly inseparable in our childhood.  In fact, my memory sometimes confuses what happened to her with what happened to me.  I remember that one time my mom left a little red pill on the shelf above the sink, and thinking it was a piece of candy I climbed up on the counter and ate it.  My sister Carol has the same memory, only she remembers she was the one who climbed up and ate it. One of us got in big trouble over that one. Eventually my mom settled the debate when she verified that it was in fact Carol who did it. And this makes sense to me because I was often the watcher while she was the doer.

I have very few childhood memories of which Carol is not an integral part.

People many times thought we were twins as we were only a year apart in age.  My mother often dressed us alike and I was near in size to Carol.  But I never felt I was her equal; she was the older and the wiser one

I held him wise, and when [she] talked to me
Of snakes and birds, and which God loved the best,
I thought [her] knowledge marked the boundary
Where men grew blind though angels knew the rest.
If [she] said “Hush!” I tried to hold my breath;
Whenever [she] said “Come!” I stepped in faith. . .

We lived in a childhood paradise in our humble single-story three bedroom home on the very outskirts of Piqua, Ohio.  We had two cherry trees in the back yard, a swing set, a sandbox made from an old large rubber tractor tire, and a wonderful lilac bush.  We spent long and lazy days in the trees, or in the sand, or on our bikes.  Sometimes we would skate on the sidewalk with metal skates that fit over our shoes and came with a key.  I can still remember the fierce vibrating sensation as we rolled down the rough concrete sidewalk on the little metal wheels of our skates.

One day Carol wanted to make paint.  She had the brilliant idea that if we crushed small colorful pebbles into a fine powder and added water we could use it to paint pictures.  We collected our pebbles and each found a larger stone to use as a grinding or crushing tool and set about our business on the concrete patio beside our kitchen door.  When we finally produced enough crushed rock to mix with water and paint with we ended up with only wet paper covered with tiny rock specks.  We were lucky we didn’t put our eyes out with flying rock chips.

In retrospect I guess Carol wasn’t as wise as I thought she was at the time. But my memories of those days by her side are precious to me.  I can recall them and feel again as I did then; I can almost smell the fresh cool air and hear the birds that used to sing as we’d play outside in the early morning hours.

Long years have left their writing on my brow,
But yet the freshness and the dew-fed beam
Of those young mornings are about me now,
When we two wandered toward the far-off stream . . .

[Her] sorrow was my sorrow, and [her] joy
Sent little leaps and laughs through all my frame. . .

School parted us; we never found again
That childish world where our two spirits mingled. . .

But were another childhood-world my share,
I would be born a little sister there.


Swinging with my two "big sisters" — Carol on the left and Kathy in the middle. 1960.

Photo by Jerry A. Smith

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

 

An excerpt from a paper written September 2004 for the course Survey of Women Writers at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Work Cited: Eliot, George.  “Brother and Sister.”  The Norton Anthology: Literature by Women. Eds. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.  New York: Norton, 1996. 831-835. Pronouns in brackets replace the masculine ones Eliot wrote about her brother.

Midlife crisis ­— or bloom where you’re transplanted

If I live to the age of 90, optimistic but not unheard of, I have already passed my midlife, or halfway point of 45, by at least eight and soon to be nine years. Whatever turbulence the infamous transition through midlife was going to cause should be behind me and I should be cruising in a slow-paced, self-accepting, creative, contented and fulfilled life.

But if I don’t start calculating my midlife point until I reached adulthood, which to make the numbers simple we’ll say is at the age of 20, and if I live to be 90, I am right smack in the middle of my midlife.

I know the math can be challenging, but feel free to use a pencil and paper, or you can just trust me.

Since I’m not feeling settled-down, contented and fulfilled, I did a google search.

Don’t you just love the internet? In days gone by to obtain this information I would have had to wrap my muffler around my neck, pull on my snow boots and trudge, shivering out to the car to drive to a library, periodically swiping the fogged up windshield with a Taco Bell napkin I located on the floor of the passenger seat until the snail-paced heater and defroster kicked into gear.  At the library I would have to stand in a puddle of dirty water as the gray snow sludge melted from my boots, and search through the card catalog file, which might take quite a while depending how clever I was at searching for the right words and whether I could read the worn-off labels on the little wooden drawers or not. (I have to admit; there was something charming about those wooden chests full of little labeled wooden drawers.) Does anybody know what I am rambling on about?

Back to the point. Sitting in the warmth and comfort of my study, watching the light snowfall drift down outside the window, my internet search for midlife crisis led me to some interesting information about not only midlife (http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/midlife-crisis-opportunity) but also human development which I am sharing, in part, with you below.

“Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages.” http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/psychosocial.htm

The following are excerpts from Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages Summary Chart found here: http://psychology.about.com/library/bl_psychosocial_summary.htm

“Infancy (birth to 18 months): . . .Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.

Early Childhood (2 to 3 years): . . . Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.

Preschool (3 to 5 years): . . . Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.

School Age (6 to 11 years): . . .Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.

Adolescence (12 to 18 years): . . .Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.

Yound Adulthood (19 to 40 years): . . .Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.

Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years): . . .Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.

Maturity (65 to death) . . .Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.”

Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, I wish you success.

Bushes growing through the red rock of Sedona Arizona - 2002


Fiddles, radio broadcasts, signing-off and I-pads

I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve got to get it off my chest. I miss the good old days.

Were people really kinder when times were slower, or is my aging memory fading the harsh colors of reality into softer, gentler images?

Here’s my point, which I think may be undeniable; people had more time for and with each other before the barrage of 24-hour newscasts, sportscasts, movie channels and reality television. People had more silence and fewer disruptions before the cell phones became the most necessary item to carry with you at all times with their jingling or sometimes jarring tunes announcing an undoubtedly urgent call, or a beep or buzz announcing a new text message of vital importance.

My grandmother’s family and a few friends seeking diversions, used to gather around the piano in the parlor. Grandma played the ivory keys while her father and brother coaxed lively tunes from their fiddles. They weren’t professional musicians, just farmers. Camaraderie, laugher, and shared endeavor could all be regularly found in that small parlor of an evening.

My parents used to gather with their respective families around the family radio for the broadcast of Only the Shadow Knows, or another favorite radio show. Intent listening, respectful silence and vivid imagination were all required in that living room of an afternoon.

We always had a television as far as I can remember. It was a big bulky thing that made an awful buzzing noise when my parents turned it on. The screen lit up with random horizontal lines struggling to form themselves into a coherent image.  It turned off in the same fashion—static noise and lines ending with a final pop. We received three major networks all of which signed off sometime in the evening. When something monumental was happening in the world, you waited until the evening newscast with Walter Cronkite to hear about it.

There was no popping in a DVD of Jungle Book to entertain a sick and sleepless child in the wee hours of the morning. What did our grandmothers do with their sick children in the middle of the night? Did you ever wonder about that?

Human interaction, I suppose.

I do believe people were different when things were different. But not always and only for the best. I don’t have to attempt to list for you all the things that are better now because of modern technology.

I just think we make a mistake if we assume that nothing was lost.

Even so, I for one am not now, and likely never will be, willing to part with my laptop and I-pad.

We march on.

 

Circa 1917—Katherine Roecker Adams holding my grandmother Anna behind Raymond, Harold, and Florence beside Harrison Myron Adams and two horses.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote