Category Archives: nostalgia

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”.

I found an envelope with my test results from the California Achievement Test from 11th grade to back up the smart and intelligent statements. Unfortunately, it also seems to refute Andy’s claim that I wasn’t a goody goody. The summary of pupil’s scores states: THIS STUDENTS ACHIEVEMENT IN BASIC SKILLS MAY BEST BE SUMMARIZED BY LOOKING AT THE TOTAL SCORES. IT CAN BE SEEN THAT HER TOTAL SCORES ARE BETTER THAN APPROXIMATELY 98 PERCENT OF THE NATION’S 11TH GRADERS IN READING, 99 PERCENT IN LANGUAGE, 83 PERCENT IN MATHEMATICS, AND 96 PERCENT IN TOTAL BATTERY. SHE HAS STRENGTHS IN CAPITALIZING I/PROPER NOUNS, TITLES, USING END MARKS, COLONS, AND SEMICOLONS, USING COMMAS, USING QUOTATION MARKS.

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

Halloween: Then and Now

Think back a bit.  No, further… further…a little further…  Nice try.  You aren’t THAT young.  Go all the way back to when you were a kid.  Six years old, maybe eight, maybe ten… Remember when you got all overly excited about Halloween?  Remember the costumes that came in a box and consisted of some type of cape or gown and a cheap plastic mask with a really thin elastic strap to hold it in place?  And if you didn’t buy one of those you likely made your costume, or your mother did.  You were a girl from the 50s, or a cheerleader, a vampire or a witch, or for those who waited until the last minute, a ghost or a hobo.

Remember school parties and school parades where you lined up and marched around the school parking lot or the school playground wearing your costume?  When I was in second grade (or was it 4th?) I was Casper the Friendly ghost and I wore my costume to school and my mom packed Cheetos in my lunch and I wiped my orange cheese dusty fingers on my costume.  I remember my mother wasn’t happy about that.  I mean, who ever heard of an orange streaked ghost?  Even a friendly one?

How about trick-or-treating?  Do you remember how it took FOREVER to get dark enough out to go trick-or-treating?  It was only recently that I realized nothing significant had changed with the general flow of time or light and darkness.  Rather, it took forever to get dark back then because I was a kid ripe with anticipation, home from school at 3 p.m., and it didn’t get dark until nearly 7.  I had hours to kill.  Now I’m an adult and driving like a bat out of hell to get home from the office in time to flip the porch lights on, light the jack-o-lantern, and scarf some dinner down before the first band of ghouls come knocking at my door with their little hands all outstretched. 

Remember how it was almost always cold out on Halloween night and your mom always insisted you wear a coat over your costume to keep you warm and how that pissed you off (although you didn’t know “pissed off” because you were too young.  You knew it “wasn’t fair” and nobody would see your costume and “I won’t need a coat! I won’t be cold mom!”).  But often, your mom made you wear a coat anyway, because conventional wisdom and old wives tales said that being out in the cold would give you a cold.  Now we have global warming, thicker skin, and stronger defiance, and coats are rarely seen on Halloween.  Now we know that colds are caused by GERMS. 

Then remember how you would go house to house to house to house trying to collect as much candy as possible?  And sometimes people would go a little crazy and their whole family would be dressed up in scary costumes and sitting on the porch to scare you or they would play frightful music from speakers aimed out their windows?  Sometimes they’d answer the door in costume and that was always a little strange too.  A grown up dressed as a witch, or a pirate and you felt, but couldn’t express how exactly, you found it a bit creepy.  Not scary so much as just wrong somehow.  That was an adult, and adults were too old for Halloween.  They were supposed to open the door and give you the goods and that’s it.

Remember the candy?  The chocolate and peanut butter and caramel gooey goodness?  Remember the candy that you loved and the candy that you hated?  I hated the lollipops and the bubblegum and the hard candies.  Especially the red hots and jaw breakers.  Yuck!  Me, I was all about the chocolate and the peanut butter. Mmmm, mmmm! And years ago candy bars were bigger, weren’t they?  Sure, lots of people gave out snack size bars, but I swear that even those were bigger and then there was always that one house that gave out full size candy bars.  Everyone wanted to go that house, get there before the big candy bars ran out! I always thought the people who gave out the full size candy bars must have been rich to afford that.

Then there was the house where a dentist lived, and it was obvious it was a dentist because they always gave out toothbrushes.  Or the houses where they gave out pencils or stickers or pennies.  BORING!

There were also the houses where the people gave out homemade popcorn balls or candied apples.  They always looked good, but of course your mother wouldn’t let you eat them.  They were homemade.  Maybe the person who made them was a little bit crazy and had poisoned them just for fun, right?

When you got home from trick-or-treating you always had to dump your bag out on the table and let your parents look it over, let them inspect the candy for hidden needles and razor blades before they let you dig in lest you slice your tongue off.  Later on, hospitals started offering to X-ray the candy…

Those were they days, weren’t they?

Halloween now, it’s different.  Costumes are different for one thing.  Masks are considered dangerous, everyone needs a flashlight or a head lamp, the parents are all out supervising the trick-or-treaters (Halloweeners my dad calls them) to make sure nobody grabs their child off a porch and drags them into their house never to be seen again…  And with the parents out, nobody is home to answer the door and hand out candy at at least half the houses!

Schools don’t celebrate Halloween anymore because it’s too scary or too violent or it violates somebody’s religion or it’s not politically correct, or whatever. 

Some towns don’t even encourage trick or treating anymore.  They advise parents to take their youngsters to the mall and the merchants all hand out Dum Dum lollipops and bubble gum in a well lit place and they do this a few days before the real Halloween so the real day can go unmarked.  “You already celebrated Halloween, honey!  We did that three nights ago, remember?  At the mall?”

In my neighborhood we still have Halloween and trick-or-treating.  My son is going out this year dressed as Darth Vader.  He’s got a cool costume with a mask (but he will probably have to take it off to walk between houses) and a red light saber.  And he’s excited, as he should be. It’s kind of funny that he should be so excited considering that he cannot eat the candy he collects.  It’s not that I am afraid someone will have poisoned the candy.  He can’t eat the candy because for him, IT IS POISON.  He’s got food allergies.  He is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.  And there aren’t many candies free of those ingredients.

So milk chocolate is out.  Peanut butter cups, Charleston chews, Mary Janes, Mounds, Almond Joy, Snickers, all out.  Marshmallow candies, out.  Chewy, gooey, caramel goodness, out.  There are a few treats he can eat: Nerds, Twizzlers, Dum Dum lollipops, a few others as well.  So my son will go out on Halloween night.  He will go trick-or-treating.  He will collect candy just like his friends.  And when we gets home I will sort through his bag of poison, (and yes that is how I think of it, he is out collecting poison) and I will take away all that he cannot eat. 

In truth, for all that he can’t eat he might as well be out collecting farm pesticides and household cleaners.  I am just going to take nearly all the candy away.  Some of the candy that I have to take away, I will eat.  Some my husband will eat.  Some of the “unsafe” candy as we call it, candy full of his allergens, we will re-Halloween-gift into our candy dish to had out to the kids still knocking at our door.  What’s left after that we will probably haul in to the office and share amongst co-workers.

As I separate the poison from the few candies my son can eat, I count it all, putting hatch marks on a piece of paper.  I’ll give my son something in exchange for all the candy he cannot eat. Maybe a toy.  Maybe a video.  Maybe we’ll pay him a nickel, maybe a dime per piece of candy we have to take away (hence the reason for the counting).  He did work to collect it, after all.  Anything safe that he collects, any candy that doesn’t contain his allergens, he can eat. Not all in one night of course!  That much about Halloween remains true.

You might wonder, “Why, if she feels like he is collecting poison, does she let her son go trick-or-treating at all?”  Well, because he likes it.  This is life, right?  Halloween is part of life and trick-or-treating is what you DO on Halloween.  My son doesn’t mind all that much about the candy.  He’s never tasted a Reeces Cup so he’s not missing anything.  I’m the one who’s had to make the biggest adjustment, the holiday no longer the same as it was in my youth, and certainly not the same as I’d imagined it would be for my son that day six years ago when he was a tiny infant, just a few weeks old, and I dressed him in a chili pepper costume for Halloween. He was screaming bloody murder but I propped him up on the sofa, next to a Halloween bag filled with baby bottles full of breast milk and a few pieces of candy tumbling out as well, and I took a bunch of photos.  I thought of the future, how one day he would like dressing up in costume, going out and collecting candy, sitting in his room and stuffing his face with chocolate until he was too full for dinner… Ironically, I am the one missing what he can’t have, what I imagined he would one day have.

My son is six now.  He likes choosing a costume and going trick-or-treating with his friends.  He’s excited this year to pretend for a while that he is Darth Vader, that he has the ability to scare others, all the while being a little scared by the scenes outside: the other children in costume, the adults that dress up, the flickering jack-o-lanterns, the frightful music playing at some houses, the mean scary guy down the street who decorates his house in an alluring manner then grabs children’s hands as they reach into his candy bowl.  He’s scared my son two years in a row now, left him crying.  We won’t be fooled a third time. This year we’ll only look at his house from afar. 

My son likes to hurry home after trick-or-treating to help me hand out candy to all the kids that come to our house. I am careful not to let on that I feel a vital part of Halloween has been lost, that I am nostalgic over what he cannot have. I can’t talk about the deliciousness of chocolate and peanut butter mixed together, of Snickers and Almond Joys.  I cannot suggest he is missing out in any way.  I am sure in some way he suspects this, but thankfully he’s never had those candies to know.  He’s happy with the hard candies and lollipops that I despised as a youth (and still despise).  He’s happy with a new toothbrush or some stickers, a pencil, a few pennies.  Those things aren’t boring to him at all, rather, they are things that he can keep.  And that’s fine.  And this is life.  It’s Halloween!  And besides, that’s the whole point of Halloween, right?  It’s supposed to haunt you, just a little.
 

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Filed under costumes, food allergies, Halloween, life, nostalgia, then and now