Writing My Life

Now and Then


Leave a comment

Barbershop Saturdays

Based on memories from my childhood, I penned the following poem for my creative writing class. This creation follows the “complex French verse form” called a sestina. While it was difficult to write, it led me in a direction I hadn’t fathomed. I dedicate “Barbershop Saturdays” to my wonderful father and his barber Frenchie Brasseur.
My best to you,  Renae

 

The morning sun highlights customers captured in the giant mirror
that stretches across the back wall, duplicating rows of glass jars –
some filled with liquid green and blue; others with puffs of cotton.
Frenchie, with his pencil-thin moustache, trims and tapers – measured clips.
Scissors snip, gum smacks, chatter snaps; trademarks of the slender man.
The room is warm. Sandalwood scent fills the air. No one minds the wait.

I stand by Dad as he searches the scene, then asks, “How long is the wait?”
“ ’bout fifteen,” answers Frenchie. He whirls the man in the chair towards the mirror,
and Dad sits on a vinyl chair. I sit on his knee. Frenchie whips the cape off the man.
While the client pulls dollars from his wallet, I gaze at the contents of the jars:
all lengths of combs and scissors, razor blades and metal files. And one bottle of clips.
I like it here; the cluttered order of the shop; the informality of khakis and cotton.

On this Saturday trip with Dad, I sport a ponytail, a suntop, and shorts of red cotton.
This man’s world doesn’t intimidate me. I sneak peeks at ARGOSY while we wait
‘til Dad snatches it, then hands me LIFE Magazine. I blush and listen to scissor clips
and talk of weather and baseball. I skim headlines and scan photos, then mirror
“Audrey’s” smile, “Marilyn’s” pout, Khrushev’s scowl. His shoe-pounding jars
me. I fear his words. I fear his threats. I fear his bombs. I fear this man.

I wonder, “Does he take a little girl to the barbershop?” This scary, bald man.
The notion fades as I snuggle onto Daddy’s lap, inhaling Old Spice and pressed cotton.
Dust motes waltz in sunlight’s shafts. I smile at prisms of azure refracting from jars.
The welcome bell jangles me, and I sit up to stare at the boy who joins the wait.
Frenchie nods hello before clicking on the trimmer to buzz the man in the mirror.
He had ordered a crewcut. Tiny hairs drift to the pile of Frenchie’s snips and clips.

The barber whisks away the heap of calico curls. Deftly, he wraps the cape and clips
it closed ‘round the patron’s neck. I think of my ponytail. I am glad I am not a man.
Still, I might like the trimmer’s tickle, spinning in the chair and whirling past the mirror.
Pixie cuts are “in style”. Could Frenchie style a pixie cut on me? Mom would cotton
to the idea. Maybe. She likes curls, and that means home permanents. I think I’ll wait.
Dad slides me off his lap. “My turn, Honey.” I settle into his chair and start counting jars.

Daddy climbs the chrome-plated step and sits. Frenchie draws clean combs from the jars.
I smile when the barber pushes a lever to lower the chair for my tall father. Then he clips
and combs my dad’s dark hair. And soon he will look even more handsome. I can’t wait!
Without his horned-rimmed glasses, he seems so young. But he is our Super Man!
Dad fought a war, found his love, and begot two daughters. All without a red “S” of cotton
on his chest. And Saturdays he gets his haircut as I watch, loving that man in the mirror.

Innocently, I store these gentle memories in the jars of my mind while learning to man
the fast clip of life. I have safely wrapped those faraway Saturdays in layers of cotton:
tender recollections that patiently wait then emerge – blurred images in the mirror.

 


Leave a comment

Vanity, Your Name is Renae: A Halloween Story

OCTOBER – A month of many splendored things: Indian summer punctuated by crimson and golden leaves against crystal blue skies; harvest time accentuated by crisp mornings and crunchy apples; and longer nights that portend coming ghosts and goblins on All Hallows Eve. That latter event reminds me of Halloweens-past, especially since stumbling upon a few childhood photos.

While I don’t remember all the costumes I donned for Halloween parties, parades, and trick or treating, I do recall I wanted to look pretty! No scary ghouls or silly vagabonds for me! If I were a child of this era, I am pretty sure I’d be one of the scores of Disney princesses skipping from house to house with a cape swirling about me.

Back in the 1950s, however, costumes were most often created from whatever moms could find around the house or were sewed by those dedicated mothers. That’s not to say store-bought costumes were unavailable, but they were usually unimaginative, plastic, and easily torn. Furthermore, I was a costume snob who wouldn’t consider wearing such a thing.

1955: Two little gypsies, a favorite costume and dress-up. Mom made the boleros, but the skirts, jewelry, sashes, and head scarves were from her drawers and closet.

Once my two friends Diane and Leah wanted the three of us to dress up as “hobos” – a vintage word from the Depression era that referred to those who “rode the rails” looking for work or handouts or both. Now such individuals are called homeless, but I really don’t see many neighborhood youngsters dressed as bag-ladies or panhandlers these days. When I was growing up, however, hobos were a popular Halloween choice, and my friends thought it would be fun and easy: pile on some worn-out clothes, maybe adding a few more rips and holes; slather cold cream over the lower part of your face, followed by pressing coffee grains onto the cream to simulate week-old whiskers; and add a sloppy hat and a fake cigar cigar butt, available at most dime-stores, to complete the transformation. I would have none of it! I was a geisha girl instead – not knowing exactly

Mom's "duster" with a simple "obi", recycled Sacajawea wig from a previous Halloween, Kleenex tissue flowers, eyebrow pencil and Voila - a Geisha girl.

1959: Mom’s “duster” with a simple “obi”, recycled Sacajawea wig from a previous Halloween, Kleenex tissue flowers, eyebrow pencil and Voila – a Geisha girl.

what that was, but perhaps being influenced by Sayonaraa popular movie of the time that actually dealt with racism – a rare topic in 1957. I think my friends were not happy with me, and I noticed they are NOT in the photograph with me, but I think I see their shadows lurking near by.

My ALL-TIME favorite costume was Sacajawea or “Bird Woman”, famous Indian American who traveled with Lewis and Clark. She was an early female hero to Idaho students, and I knew the legends about her – many, of which have been revised since my childhood. Nevertheless, I admired her then as I admire her even more now.  So there you have it. Vanity in a nutshell. Thanks, Mom, for helping me feel pretty even at Halloween! Love you!

Sacajewea dividing the bounty with my little sister Connie. Mom made my Indian dress.  I LOVED the wig! Connie wore one of those "plastic" costumes and ended up being the cutest little clown ever!!!

1957: Sacajawea dividing the bounty with my little sister Connie. Mom made my dress, and I LOVED the wig! Connie wore one of those “plastic” costumes and ended up being the cutest little clown ever!!!


3 Comments

First Day of School – September 7, 1954

“School days, school days – those good old golden rule days.

Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

September often takes me back to those years when school actually started in the ninth month of the year – right after Labor Day, and we bid farewell to the school year just before my birthday, May 30 – the traditional Memorial Day. This past August I perused many “back-to-school” pictures that Moms proudly posted on FaceBook, and a few days later while organizing our storage bins, I stumbled upon my own “first day of first grade” photograph, and here it is.

Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

                 Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

I’m standing in the driveway of our new home in Pocatello, Idaho, and I’m wearing a spanking new dress probably purchased at Montgomery Ward, as that’s where I remember buying our clothes. I LOVED this dress with its navy and white pinstriped bodice, bright red belt, and navy skirt. The shiny new shoes – Buster Browns, I think – were “T-straps”, and I image the socks matched the skirt. Mom often shares the story about buying my school clothes when my cute little sister Connie could hardly stand being left out. Once the clothes were in the bag, she decreed that “Renae will have to change her clothes the minute she gets home!”

Another family story involves the lunch bucket/box that I’m carrying: a kind of football shaped silver rocket ship! I know this was the era of early space exploration – pre-Sputnik, mind you – but I don’t remember seeing many of these beauties around. I recently searched the Internet for vintage lunch boxes to see if I could find anything like this one, but failed. Anyway, it seems that Mom decided to treat me to a 7-Up for lunch and poured the beverage into the thermos. You can imagine what happened by the time noon rolled around. Mom and I remember this incident; we’re just not positive that it happened on my first day of first grade. (I don’t see how a thermos jug could fit in that oddly shaped box, and I think the incident involved an Annie Oakley lunch pail.) Regardless, it is an explosive story that had to ruin my cold lunch, especially when you consider that my sandwich was wrapped in wax paper. No Saran wrap or baggies to liquid-proof the contents!

That year was especially eventful because Lewis and Clark was a brand new elementary school. Mrs. Rhea was principal, and I was assigned to the most wonderful teacher in the world – Dallas Quidor, master teacher extraordinaire. I remember being so relieved not to “get” Mrs. Allard as she had been my kindergarten teacher for the couple of weeks kids attended in the summer. I think Kindergarten met on the second floor of Alameda Junior High, and the curriculum consisted of graham cracker snacks and naps on rugs, all under the guidance of a very strict, somewhat ornery teacher.

I think Mrs. A. dyed her hair black and wore it in finger waves that were popular in the 1930s, and I seem to recall she also kept every wave in place by wearing a hairnet. Her powdery white make-up, rouged cheeks, and bright red lipstick completed the guise that would frighten any 5 or 6-year-old – much like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte! SCARY!!

Some of the new friends I remember from that far-away time are Paula Lystrup, Donna Partner, Kay Donaldson, and Trudy Halpin. I recall several boys, too, but can only think of their first names. When I find a class picture, I’ll update this post! Gosh, that was so long ago, but tiny flashing moments are so clear that 1954 seems like yesterday. Those were good times just as the present brings much joy to my life as well.

Thanks for walking to school with me today!


Leave a comment

Wishful Thinking

If I could be granted my own “make-a-wish” desire, and if it were truly possible, which Ronald Mallet believes it is,  I would sign up for time-travel. Instead of heading for Swiss Days over the Labor Day weekend, I’d tell the ticket agent me “when” I wanted to go instead of where. For my first trip, I would head back to my own childhood to soak in thousands of details I thought I would remember forever but have sadly eluded me. I would bask in those less-than-significant family moments with Mom, Dad, and Connie  that added up to what I remember as happy times.  time_travel

While I’d enjoy revisiting monumental experiences, I really yearn for those tiny times – eating Dad’s toast and cocoa breakfasts he whipped up for Connie and me; watching Sunday night’s Kennecott Neighborhood Theater but listening to Mom’s rhythmic beating a batch of fudge; or sitting  at the vinyl and chrome kitchenette and talking. I remember the food more than the conversations – why is that? I’d love to listen in to what we chatted about while eating corn fritters, the main course that usually preceded paydays. I hated corn fritters, but I’d eat them again if it meant I could drop into 1958.

Upon my return, I’d record all those particulars that meant little to me then but everything to me now.


1 Comment

… may be LOW-TECH, but homemade Mother’s Day cards are still the best … revisiting a 2011 post

Life being what it is, I decided to repost an entry from a year ago. I’ve also added a comment I entered on FaceBook this morning because I know many moms and non-moms don’t like this day that has been set aside for women. P.S. I revised a couple of phrases from the original FB post.

About Mother’s Day! I decided a LONG time ago that I’ll opt for being loved throughout the year rather than counting on ONE day of spoiling to make up for whatever I think I was short-changed. In other words, if I don’t get breakfast in bed or dawn to dusk attention, I’m just  fine. I am fortunate because I have a great family who loves me – warts and all – 365 days a year. And I love my darling mother 365 days a year! Have a great Mother’s Day – whatever it brings. Love to ALL WOMEN!

2011 ~ This past week I received an email from JibJab – the site where you grab some photos and lop off the heads of friends and family and stick them on the site’s videos or postcards for a hilarious effect. JibJab has all kinds of funny options customers could send their moms, and I will probably send one to my mom.

However, I couldn’t help but think about cards I used to make for her. Here are a couple I created for Mom in 1956 and 1957 or ’58. You will notice the “clip art” is either non-existent or lacking and Spellcheck failed to correct a few words, but the sentiments – strange as they might be came from my 7 and 8 year-old-heart.  Well, maybe I “copied and pasted” one or two lines for the first poem.

Connie and I probably created this poem in 1958 when I was in third grade. I was still writing “r’s” like Mrs. Quidor and the Palmer method taught me.

I went to a little more effort to create this card when I was in 4th grade in 1959. The front of the card is on the left and the inside verse is on the right. I even included a little Hallmark logo on the back to make it official! After all, didn’t card companies create Mother’s Day? (By the way, neither of these creations were school assignments!)

Because of the drawing, complete with halo AND horns, as well as the guilt-ridden verse, I have to guess that I must have gotten into some big trouble a day or two before Mother’s Day!

My mother NEVER hurt my EAR, but hey, it rhymed with DEAR!

Notice the “horns” on the anGLE’s head holding up her halo. Interesting.


4 Comments

… power sentences that sort of define my life – years birth through 10 …

Dear Self,

I have been an absentee blogger as of late. September was a roller-coaster month, complete with ups, downs, upSIDE-downs, cork-screws, and unsafe speeds. I am happy I survived, and I welcome October.

Before September turned psycho, I responded to one of WordPress’ pretty cool daily prompts:

For each year you have been alive, write a single sentence about the most important thing that happened to you that year. If you don’t want to get too personal, write a sentence about the most important historic event, or event most interesting to you, that happened in the world that year.

I quickly realized that 63 “power sentences” would take a long time to write and read, and so I decided to write 10 a day. I wrote the first 10 before September sabotaged my efforts. I also thought it might be a good idea to reflect upon why that event deserved its “most important” status, but that would double the length and quadruple the thinking. Suddenly, the whole idea seemed overwhelming, and I ended up saving the draft.

I just stumbled upon what I wrote nearly a month ago and decided “what the heck, push ‘Publish!'” And so I am. Whether or not these are the most important events of the year, I don’t know and I don’t want to think about it any more.

Signed, Me

  1. 1948: I was born on Memorial Day – the original, static holiday, not the rotating date that allows for a 3-day weekend to welcome summer.
  2. 1949: I entertained family and neighbors with non-stop jabbering, punctuated by slapping my own chubby knee for emphasis – early indications of the gift of gab and future chubbiness.
  3. 1950: Mom gave me a sister, and then worried that I’d feel displaced. She spent many years making sure we both felt equally loved. 
  4. 1951: I underwent a tonsillectomy, and swear I remember receiving a beautiful “Storybook Doll” from Daddy, but practical Mom insisted he return it as she deemed the luxury as  UNaffordable! 
  5. 1952: Because I have NO sense of direction, my family calls me Amelia (as in Earheart), but when I was four my sister and I found our way back to our new house from Sunday School. (Maybe Connie knew the way, and I followed her.)
  6. 1953: I remember, or at least think I remember, owning a puppy that was killed by a car, but I took solace in the fact that the angels truly flew him up to heaven.
  7. 1954: I started first grade at a brand new elementary school, and Mom packed “exploding” 7-Up in a thermos that drenched the food in my Annie Oakley lunchbox.
  8. 1955: Second grade in Mrs. Quidor’s class was highlighted by the pet parade where my reincarnated puppy showed up so I’d have a pet to parade.
  9. 1956: Third grade brought the beginning and the end to my dancing career as I officially performed in a dance recital and UNofficially presented an original dance number in Mrs. Q’s “Little Theater.”
  10. 1957: I really fell in love with reading because I wanted to earn a gazillion paper fish to win Mrs. Jorgensen’s Reading Fishbowl competition.
  11. 1958: I knew my 5th grade teacher didn’t like me, and so I wouldn’t ask him if I could be excused to go to the bathroom even if it meant wetting my pants – which I did one time.
Important events that should have made the list:
  • 1954: My grandpa died, and I knew that would be the end of sitting on his knee, licking the paper after he rolled his cigarettes, and eating his pink wintergreen mints.
  • 1954: I almost choked myself to death the day I wore Mom’s yellow scarf around my neck. I took it without her permission and kept pulling the knot tighter and tighter until I thought I couldn’t swallow. By that time the knot was so tight and tiny that my teacher had to cut the scarf off my neck. I had some explainin’ to do!
  • 1956: My first trip to the brand new theme park DISNEYLAND. I fell in love with the place and dreamed of working there when I grew up.  


3 Comments

… 50-word sci-fiction: ALTERNATE UniversAL Studios’ Star …

His break came when he landed the dancing lead in Foot-Lost, a musical flick aimed at the younger crowd.

Never one to be type-cast, he later refused to recreate roles like the space cadet in Astro 13.

Now Vinek Coban enjoys playing bad alienoids like Bastian Wash in X-Oids: The First Ones. 

Vinek Coban, star of FOOT-LOST, ASTRO 13, and X-OIDS: THE FIRST ONES