Category Archives: memories

Memory Lane. With Shadows.

“Memory,” as the Barenaked Ladies sing, “is a strange thing.” In the last 24 hours I’ve found that to be very true, indeed.

Like millions of other people, I’m on Facebook. I’ve enjoyed catching up with old friends, sharing stories, sharing memories, and looking at photos, both old and new.

One of my friends recently posted some photos from our high school days on Facebook. I remarked that somewhere around this house, I had a box with similar photos. I vowed to dig it up and scan the images for the world to see.

Last night was that night. I checked all the places I thought the box would be: the spare room closet, under the bed, the dark recesses of the upper reaches of my own closet. But the box wasn’t there. Eventually, after much digging, I found it in the basement, buried under a mass of other boxes. It was old, and dusty, and it made me sneeze.

My son watched with curiosity as I opened the box and pulled out items: A Senior Memory book, corsages from homecomings and prom, old autograph books from 5th through 8th grade, certificates and test results and lots and lots of old photos.

The autograph books were a sight to behold. I didn’t even know I still had them. I didn’t remember EVER having had them. But here they are, solid, proof.

“Never kiss at the garden gate. Love is blind but neighbors ain’t.” Noelle wrote that at the end of 5th grade. What’s all this about kissing? I wondered as I read it. Kissing in 5th grade? It wasn’t until 6th or 7th grade when my friends secretly passed around Judy Blume’s book Forever, that I learned much about kissing. I read those passages with wide eyes. Kisses indeed!

Kathy, my best friend, whom I’ve kept in touch with all these years wrote simply, “Have a nice summer. It was nice nowing (sic) ya!” As if our friendship was over. Ha!

I don’t remember what Ermis did to me, but he wrote, “To Belle, The person I got good on her birthday.”

Alyson simply told me to have a fun summer and “don’t drown while swimming.” I must have taken her advice. I’m still here.

Susan told me to “Stay Cool and Stay High.” If I recall correctly, she had a slew of older sisters. This was the late 70s. I bet they smoked pot.

Shawn wrote: “I really enjoyed being your friend this year. I will always remember you. You have been a close friend and I don’t care what other people say, but I say you’re the best.” What DID other people say about me? I had no idea. The way I remember things with Shawn, well, we rode the bus together, and we had the same 5th grade teacher. One day Shawn had a necklace. It was imitation gold with crystals glued into it to look like diamonds. He was going to give it to his mother for mother’s day, or perhaps her birthday. Somehow, I convinced Shawn to give that necklace to ME instead. Maybe other people thought I was manipulative. How horrible was I? Oh my God, Shawn, I am so sorry. I’m glad you still thought of me as a friend, and for what it’s worth now, some 30 years later, I STILL HAVE THAT NECKLACE! It’s in mint condition, as I could never really bring myself to wear it. That’s how guilty I felt about talking you into giving it to me.

A turn through the pages of my autograph book from my middle school years left my husband asking “What did you DO to those kids?!” Sadly, this is where my memory begins to fail. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember.”

But maybe it gives me a glimpse into what THEY thought of ME.

Somebody who signed their name as “Tuna Fish” wrote “I don’t mean to be mean but you need Listerine, not a sip not a swallow, but the whole damn bottle.”

Andy said I was NOT a goodie goodie. And then he wrote that Damon said I had a big butt. Somebody, be it Andy, or Damon, or perhaps I myself, scratched that last part out with pen, but not so well that I couldn’t make it out.

Mark always thought I was mean. Melissa thought I was weird. Jon thought I was all right, and that must have been what kept me going after more autographs.

Eric “The Great”, David, and Jon, were all in love it with me. “It’s true, honest” someone wrote.

Shelley must have read Forever before me. She wrote “Two in a car, two little kisses, one second later, Mr. and Mrs.”

Linda offered “May your life be as long as Dolly Parton’s bra strap.”

Laura said I had a lumpy head!

Faye said I was conceited, and a few pages later Vivian backs her up with “To Belle, an ugly stupid, dumb, conceited pig!!! Just Kidding!! Your lovely, beautiful great, talented, sweet, friendly, friend. I’ve had a wonderful year with you. (I lie). Vivian.” And still, she wrote down her phone number and asked me to call her.

Andrea said she’s really sorry she met me, and Shannon said I was a wonderful person then wrote “signed, A Just Kidding Person. Shannon.” She’s on Facebook too. Hi Shannon!

By the end of our 8th grade year, Jon wrote that I should “Drop Dead”, and Ted simply wrote: “Fuck You!” (Thanks, Ted, I loved you too!)

But it wasn’t ALL bad. There were plenty of nice things written about me too. In fact, Sandy, whom I’m sad to say I don’t remember AT.ALL. wrote that I was her BEST FRIEND EVER. And my teachers all had good impressions of me. They wrote glowing statements telling me I was “one of the good folks”; one of the “best students ever”; “smart and intelligent”; their “favorite student”.


But I wasn’t perfect, not so perfect as to elicit such mean comments in my autograph book. The statement goes on to say: SHE MAY NEED TO REVIEW SPELLING CONSONANT SOUNDS, SPELLING ALL SOUNDS IN A WORD, SPELLING VOWEL SOUNDS, USING PRONOUNS. Personally, I think the CAT needed to review the use of CAPITILZATION.  And THANK GOD for spell check.

As I scanned photos into the computer to post on Facebook, I marveled at the things I’d glued into my Senior Year Memory book. Ticket stubs from concerts I don’t remember attending: Chicago, Adam Ant, BARRY MANILOW???!!!; from dances I don’t remember dancing at; playbills from school plays I don’t recall, yearbook seminar’s I hardly remember.

Gas was 89 cents a gallon when I graduated from High School in May of 1986. Movie tickets cost $4.50, unless you went to a matinee for $2.00.

I kept a list of the guys I dated (Why?!), and when and how long I dated them. The lengths of time seem off, much shorter than how I remember those days. Marty, 9th grade, 2 months. Brian, 10th grade, 6 months. Mike and Darryl, in turn, 2 months and 3 months respectively in the 11th grade. Lee, 2 months in 12th grade. I remember those days, those guys. But then I come to another name, Steve. Someone I supposedly dated the summer before and through the beginning of my senior year in high school. And I don’t remember him. AT.ALL. A face comes fuzzily to my mind, if I search hard enough. But is it Steve’s face, or is it simply someone I saw on a television commercial? I have no idea. The guys I list after Steve, I remember them. But Steve escapes me. Who was he? Where did we meet? What happened to us?

Memory. It’s a strange thing.

My brother has a great memory. He was able to confirm for me that yes, he remembers that I went to a Chicago concert. And Adam Ant concert. The name Steve, he says, is familiar, but no, he doesn’t remember him.

I had a story published in a magazine.  I didn’t remember this.  I opened the magazine wondering why I had kept it.  I flipped the pages and read poems and stories from other classmates, and then I saw my name.  The story I wrote.  When did I write it?  And who submitted it to the school magazine?

And so I’m left sorting through the stuff that fills this old box in front of me, turning the pages of a memory book. Left feeling like I’m sorting through the memories of someone else’s life. Trying to remember who the hell Steve was. And how the hell did I get to that Adam Ant concert?


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Filed under life, memories, middle school, nostalgia, old times, Steve

Memories of My Grandmother

My Grandmother died yesterday.  She was 98 years old.  I don’t think many people live to see ninety-eight these days.  The average life expectancy in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is 77.9 years old.  But my grandmother passed 77 right on by.  I don’t think she gave it a second glance.  I wished, up until a few weeks ago, when it became apparent that her health was deteriorating rather rapidly, that she’d make it to 100.  We could send her picture in to Willard Scott, have him wish her a Happy Birthday on The Today Show.  Some things just aren’t meant to be, I guess.  It was finally her time.  

My grandmother was from Pennsylvania, and she could speak Slovak.  Still!  Even though she had nobody who knew how to speak it back to her for probably the past 50 years.  My dad, who doesn’t speak Slovak, learned a holiday song or two in that language when he was a child.  Sometimes when the family would gather at Christmas he’d sing it to her, and she’d smile.

I spent a fair amount of time with my grandmother when I was a kid.  These are my memories…

She liked to play Bingo. Actually, “like” is too weak a word for what she felt about bingo.  She LOVED Bingo.  That might be why she died.  All those little letters and numbers floating around her bloodstream, one of them just got caught, lodged in a way it couldn’t get loose again…

Actually, the truth is that she had congestive heart failure.  It outpaced her body’s ability and the doctor’s efforts to keep her healthy.  About a week before she died she became very weak, then mostly unresponsive.  She may have suffered a stroke.  If she did, I’d like to think it was a tiny clot in the shape of a Bingo number that got her. B98, maybe.

My grandmother went to the Bingo hall as often as she could; not forgoing a night even when she had company in town.  She’d invite the company to come along and play with her!  I went with her often over years, from the time I was a little kid until I was a teen.  At some point, the smoky hall began to bother me and I spent more time in the bathroom trying to breath than I did sitting there marking numbers on my card.  But my grandmother could play about 25 bingo cards at once, and still point out the numbers you’d failed to mark on your card, and that the people sitting on her other side and across the table from her had failed to mark.  Sometimes she’d win and give some of the money to me, or she’d take me shopping and buy me things with her winnings.

One time she bought me a doll that had a battery compartment in its butt,  The doll crawled and rolled over.  I think I still have that doll, shoved in a box somewhere.  I wonder, if I find her and dig her out, and shove new batteries in her butt, if she’d work again.  I might try that some day.  I could get back at the dog after she’s peed on my floor again.  She’d hate that.  Toys that move, seemingly of their own accord, scare her.  My grandmother liked animals though, and I think it would give her a laugh to see my dog barking like a fool at that doll.

Another time, my grandmother bought me a globe.  I’m not saying she’s responsible, but I did grow up to be a geographer…

She used to cut my bangs, which I hated.  She’d tape an IBM card to my forehead and use it as a guide to cut my bangs straight across.  Only she’d tape it too high, and so I’d come home from my visits with her practically devoid of hair, my forehead visible like a billboard.

She was always, even until she died, busy crocheting or sewing or quilting.  She especially liked to make afghans, usually of two colors and with a zigzag pattern.  I still have one that she made me when I was 4 or 5 years old.  It’s pink and white, just like the poncho she made me.  My son has an afgan that she made for him when he was born. It’s pale blue and white.  My son called her “Great Grandma” and has dubbed the afghan his “too nice blanket” because it’s too nice to mess up.

I wish I had asked my grandmother to teach me how to sew.  It’s a skill that would come in handy.  If I knew how to sew I could hem my son’s pants instead of rolling them up or letting him walk the bottoms off.  All of my grandmother’s neighbors, and half the town, would bring her items of clothing to mend and alter.  She’d replace buttons, hem pants, repair torn linings inside of jackets.  Bring her a pattern and she’d even make you an outfit.  She made my First Communion dress. And I remember one green jumpsuit in particular that she made me, and that I favored.  I think I wore it everyday of my entire 4th grade year.  I felt like a Girl Scout in it, or a jungle explorer.  And there then there was the pair of matching mother-daughter vests and skirts that she made, crochet overlaying another material, and which my mother and I wore back in the 1970s.

My grandmother had an old coffee can full of buttons that I used to play with when I visited her. It’s probably more appropriate to say I lusted after that can of buttons.  Hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful little buttons of plastic and wood!  The colors!  The shapes!  They were like miniature treasures.  I loved to dip my hand in that coffee can and let the buttons run through my fingers before pulling them out and inspecting them, one by one, searching for my favorites.  I don’t know whatever happened to that coffee can and all those buttons, it’s been gone for years now, but I would have loved to have had it. 

My grandmother’s attic floor was forever covered in bits of thread and scraps of material, small squares cut out for whatever quilt she was working on.  Sometimes she’d forget a straight pin or two that she’d inadvertently left in a quilt.  You’d cover yourself up only to get stuck by a pin hidden in a seam.  It’s funny how I remember the scraps of material, but I don’t remember seeing her sewing the quilts.  She probably put them away when she knew the grandchildren would be over, getting into everything.  But I still have the quilt she made for me when I was a child.  It too is pink and white on one side, but it has a fabulously ugly pattern of odd twisted shapes made up of pink and brown circles that I used to look at and see things in — animals, monsters, birds.  I can pick out shapes from the back of the quilt like you might pick shapes out of the clouds in the sky.  The quilt is warm and weighty, heavy enough to pin you to the mattress when you try and sleep under it.  It’s old now, and some stitches have popped, and so I’ve stored it away for safekeeping.  It’s one of those things that can’t be replaced.

My grandmother loved to listen to baseball games on the radio or watch them on TV.  She always rooted for the Pirates and she always watched The Price is Right.

She kept a pot holder I’d woven for her when I was a kid on her refrigerator for years.  I don’t think it was replaced until I was in my 20’s and another granddaughter, one of my younger cousins, had made her one.  I admit I was a little bit jealous to see that mine had been replaced.

Her kitchen was filled with delicious snacks.  In her cupboards she had cans of Pringles which we never had at home. She had the fun sugary cereals like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and Applejacks, whereas at my house, we had only Kix and Cheerios.  Dishtowel covered loaves of Kolache filled her countertop, and plates of it, sliced, appeared at breakfast.  The kind with the apricot filling was, and still is, my favorite. 

Once in a while my grandmother would come to visit us.  She’d spend her days watching my brother and me, while my parents were at work.  She’d do some mending and cooking for us, cleaning, and ironing.  Once, she even saved me from what I envisioned was to be supreme wrath and certain punishment, if not death, for ruining my parents bathtub!  I was in 5th grade, and one of my chores was cleaning the bathrooms.  I hated that job to no end and so I’d often try to make it more entertaining by pretending that I was actually starring in a commercial for tub and tile cleaner.  On that particular day, I remember I’d been pouring everything I found under the bathroom sink into the tub and pretending I was comparing the ability of the various substances to clean the tub.  Only there must have been some type of chemical reaction that occurred, because the white porcelain of the tub turned a bright yellow of which my 5th grade elbow grease could not remove!  My grandmother found me crying in despair and without asking for explanation, she took the scrubby sponge from my hand, got down on her hands and knees, and scoured that yellow stain away.  I don’t think my parents ever knew about it. 

My grandmother was fond of playing cards and taught me how to play her favorite games: Gin Rummy and War.  I remember many, many, many late nights at her house, sitting at her kitchen table and playing War, willing my eyes not to close, my head not to smack the table as I fought off sleep at 1:00 a.m., trying to stay awake while wishing desperately for a game of war to end so I could crawl into bed.

Two weeks ago I took my son to visit my grandmother.  She was in an assisted living facility and she was hooked up to oxygen to help her breath better.  Something, most likely the oxygen, had energized her.  She was out of her wheelchair.  She was walking unassisted, her cane and walker shoved in a corner.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do there in her room so we pulled out her deck of playing cards.  She taught my son, her five year old great-grandson, how to play a card game called Piggy.  We played several rounds of the game with her.  When we tired of that we talked.  But since her hearing was poor, even with her hearing aid, I wrote her notes so I wouldn’t have to shout at her.  She read them and responded.  I told her we had been to Disney World.  When she remarked that she had never been there, my son decided that he would build Disney World in our back yard for her and she could come to our house to see it. Later, he insisted on telling her about a Starship he was building, how he would bring it back and show it to her one day.   She couldn’t really hear what he was saying, so I wrote the words “He’s building a Starship, like a space ship…” on my pad of paper.  I think I rolled my eyes a bit, to let her know “Hey, he’s a kid, it’s unlikely his Starship will even fly.”  But she shared his enthusiasm. “Ah! A Starship!” she said and she nodded at him, vigorously.  Like that was right up her alley.  As if she’d won one playing Bingo before, sewed one from a pattern, or crocheted one perhaps.  Her eyes twinkled and she smiled.   

That’s the last time I saw my Grandmother. But I think, perhaps, it’s my best memory of her.  A 98 year old woman teaching a five year old how to play cards, and smiling about his plans to construct Disney World and a Starship in his own backyard.    


Filed under death, grandmother, life, memories, tribute