The Parklawnians


Tough Jeans!

I wonder at the tenacity which helped me through my life, and then I see old pictures like this.

This is my mother and her sister, Dorothy. I laugh at how tough they look. Cuffed jeans, barefoot, and the expressions on their faces.

My mother was from a house of five girls. The turmoil they experienced at this time in their lives was very painful. My mother always recounts the experience, being raised by her grandmother, while her mother, was living in the city. My grandfather, had a seven-year affair. My grandmother, tried to chase him down.

In the end, she won him back, but at what cost? My mother was hurt. She tells me that, “My mother never came to my high school graduation.” These are milestones. The lack of our parents, or loved ones, concern, inflicts hurt. I try to keep this in mind when my mother, fails to show natural affection.

This particular sister, of hers, had her own share of problems. She and my mother were, at times, close, and yet almost enemies. The rivalry, caused problems for most of their lives.

My aunt passed away, last year. I remember going into my mother’s bedroom to tell her. She cried. I rarely see my mother cry.

My mom’s sister’s couldn’t relate to her, when she was divorcing. She’d also lost my brother, and we were forced to move out of our home. My father stopped paying her and we were forced to move into a housing project.

The project was called, Parklawn. It was exciting to us. We were kids and it was just a new neighborhood. With all of the kids living right next to each other, it was a kids dream. Although my mother was experiencing so much pain, we seemed to adapt.

I had been extremely close to my baby brother. At the loss, I suffered as well. I watched my mother deteriorating, as I tried to hold myself together. In the end, when my mother had a break-down, I tried to hold myself together again. As her sister’s placed us in the Children’s Home.

We returned to our little home in Parklawn. It was in this place that we saw so much suffering, yet such a tight-knit community. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term, “divorcee.’ It sounded so, exotic. So French. I didn’t think it was supposed to be a demeaning label.

After all, almost all the mother’s in Parklawn, were, divorcee’s. They seemed so strong. So beautiful and courageous. In this I saw, the fabric of this place. The way all of them came together to help each other.

The married couples, had a strength as well. It was a strength born of the poverty, which was our common experience. Struggles, which drew all of us closer.

We were the children of these strong parents. Laughter was our medicine. The women would meet together for coffee and drinks in the evening. We would all go out and play.

The cast of characters was endless. I have fond memories of most of them. These are the people which I affectionately call; The Parklawnian’s.

The first person I met, was Wanda. She was from the big Phillipino, family, next door. We became close friends. She taught me how to braid my hair. Her mother took all of us in, when my mother was sick. Even though her family was quite large. It didn’t matter to her.

My mother’s sister’s, came to take us from her, and later placed us in the home. This is why my mother was so angry with them. She trusted a neighbor, more than her own blood.

I became friends, with Kathy. She lived across, the court. I would play at her house all the time. My brother hung out with two boys, named David and Steve. David had a huge crush on me. I was always shy around him, and he would just sit and stare at me through our screen door. Both boys were very cute, but I was terrified of any boys crush. Years later, I would still write to Steve, when he enlisted in the Marines.

There was a boy named, Johnny Leoconnel, across the court. Another friend of my brother’s. Once, I came home to find my Barbie, melted and hanging out my window, with G.I. Joe, hanging right next to her. I ran into the house and they were cracking up. At this point they had already grown bored and were now experimenting with my brother’s microscope.

As I came up the stairs, I saw my brother gagging and spitting into the toilet. Johnny was laughing so hard, he was crying. “What is going on?” I asked. My brother told me that Johnny placed a booger on the slide. After they were done looking at it, he held my brother down and made him eat it! I almost started gagging myself.

Johnny was the only person I ever knew, who started a fire in his igloo. We had a blizzard one winter, and he built his snow fort. A while later, we saw the fire department arrive and smash it up with fire axes. My brother and I were laughing so hard. “What an idiot!” I said. “How do you start a fire inside an igloo?”

Next to him lived a guy, we all hated. He was the Parklawnian, bully. His name was Robert Machesny. He would pick on everyone. Although when it came to playing, Chase, he was the best. But you couldn’t trust him. He was bigger than all of us, and his mood would change in an instant.

I remembered seeing him years later at a party once. He was now trying to be the nice guy. But it was too late. I knew too much about him.

Then my mother had a friend, Betty. She lived two doors down. She had two daughter’s. They were quite a bit older than me. One snow day, when we were off school, I went over to Kathy’s. “Did you hear the news?” She asked. “Betty died.” “What???” I was shocked. Betty had a heart condition and went to the hospital. She died. I had to tell my mother, who was in complete shock.

A story I remember quite well, was the rivalry between Betty and Mary. I didn’t quite understand, but I liked them both. Mary a little bit more, because she was so sensitive. She had two little children. When my brother, with special needs, was around, she always planned something fun for him. We would watch as she had him help her with different crafty projects. She would say, “No this is just for him. You can do something with me later.” I loved it that she singled him out to make him feel special.

Her young son had, cystic fibrosis. It was so sad. Then she went in to the hospital. She was planning her wedding. I was so happy for her. One day we received the news, that she died. We were heart-broken.

I will never forget Betty’s comment after hearing the news. “It couldn’t happen to a nicer person.” I’ve never heard anyone say something so cruel. I always wondered at this remark, as she died about a year later. Children draw natural conclusions, and mine was that of the harmful words returning to the mouth which had spoken them. It was more than a bit of irony.

Mary’s fiancée took her children. A year later, her son died. It was just beyond sad. Yet, having had all of this in my own life, I was already learning that life, is full of surprises and pain.

Next door to us, lived Michael. He was probably the first person, I ever knew that was openly gay. Well, at that time he was referred to as ‘a fem.’ He was in the color guard and he would practice his march and spinning his rifle all day long. He would march and march.He was fascinating to watch. His dedication was amazing.  His mother was fanatical about cleaning their little house. She would definitely be considered obsessive/compulsive by today’s standards.

She ran around with a dustpan or a broom, mop, at all times. Very little time for socializing when her home was constantly being invaded by dirt.

Later, Wanda, moved out. The next family moved in. Lois had four kids.  They were all older too. There was, Paulette, Cindy, Rick and Randy.  Their mother was Italian, and she was very good friends with my mom. She would put Iodine and Baby Oil on her skin and lay in a little kiddie pool, to get tan. I  always thought she was funny. Paulette, later babysat, for my cousins.

At some point, we found out that her son, Rick knew, my wicked stepmother’s son. This creeped me out. But it was the only nice child, my stepmother had. In fact, he had told Rick, that he had nothing to do with his mom or my dad. He made it clear that he didn’t like the way they treated us. And I believe he meant it, as years later, he was never involved with his own mother. We came over for many Christmases and such, and Earl was never present.

One evening I heard, Rick in our house. He was downstairs, and I heard him trying to kiss my mom. My mom kept saying, “Get out of here Rick, before I call your mom!” I couldn’t believe it.

Years later, when I started dating my ex husband, we were sitting with his friend, Donnie. We all seemed to know some of the same people. My ex husband’s mother, was a hilarious woman. But a big flirt. My ex and his friend brought up, Lois and her kids. They were the same age as Rick and they knew him quite well. I said, “Oh, he tried to make out with my mom!” At this they both looked at each other and started cracking up. “Oh my gosh!” My ex said. “My mom told me that he tried to make out with her and I didn’t believe her!” Apparently he had brought him over to hang out, and he tried to grab her. Because she was such a flirt, my ex just assumed she was exaggerating.

I couldn’t wait to see her. I said, “Hey Dorothy you and my mom, have a lot in common. Rick tried to molest both of you!” She finally felt vindicated. “I told you!” She said to her son.

There was Pat Packinella. I loved the sound of his name. He was the ‘hot guy,’ of our court. Yes, it sounds like a castle and the court, but this is how the project was divided up. When we were discussing someone, we would say, “They live in that court.”

Pat asked me to go steady once. I was very flattered. I was about 10 or 11. When I told my mom, she had a fit. My father was coming to visit. When he arrived she said, “Ask your dad what he thinks about this. Well, I thought, it can’t hurt. “Hey dad, a guy down the street asked me to go steady.” “What?” He said. “Go steady?” As if he’d never heard the term. “I’ll give you some, Ex-Lax, that will help you go steady!” Of course, I wasn’t too upset, since I didn’t really understand the whole, steady thing either. Some of the girls were way ahead of me in this department and I sure didn’t want to know about it.

We had a woman with a bunch of kids living at the end of the court. Their grandmother would come over to visit. She was just like a man. She was extremely masculine. I was forever grateful to her, as she taught all of us how to play baseball in the court. She showed us how to bat and field balls. It was kind of a change from playing, 500 off of the dumpster.

We would go to the park and there we learned how to play, Slap. There were long cloth strips, which one person would hold and the other would try to grab them, to being potentially slapped. There were guys there that knew how to do, The Hambone. I loved this.

We would jump rope. Double-dutch and pepper, was extremely fast. We had the hands down, best jumping rope, songs.

Joey and Marie lived on the other corner. Joey had cerebral palsy. He walked like my brother’s. I had a soft spot in my heart for him because of his disability. His father worked hard. He took Marie and Joey, and me, to the circus. He didn’t have much money but was so kind.

Marie taught me all the words to the song, ‘There’s a Kind of Hush.’ I loved this song and would sing it over and over.

Kathy and me, loved The Monkees. We would pretend we were them.It kind of reveals how young we were. We didn’t play their wives or girlfriends. We wanted to be them. She always chose Davey Jones. She could do that shuffle just like him. I would laugh, to watch her. I would be either Peter Torke, or Mike Nesbith. I did not want to be Mickey Dolenze. He was kind of like, Ringo Starr.  And on the rare occasion that my sister, or someone else was there, we would make her, play him.

Kathy and me entered a contest that Coke was having. I’ll never forget how we collected every cap, to fill the little sheet. Then when they realized they were going to have too many winners, they changed the game. My first experience, with game-changing. I began to realize that this is the way of the world.

It didn’t matter, we were The Parklawnian’s. Able to bounce back from any situation. Able to live in a world of suffering, and laugh in spite of our situation. We had the ability hold on to a little bit of joy, in the midst of it all.

I look at these pictures of my mom, once again, and see that this is the one trait in her, which I am the most fond of. She is a fighter. Toughness which, I had mistaken for weakness, many times.

Her ability to get back up. She passed this down to her children.

Fighter!

And I, in turn, have tried to convey this same fighting spirit, to my children. Whatever the obstacle, I remind them to get back up and fight. Use the humor to overcome the odds.

This is what life is about. “Fighting the good fight,” is what makes life worth living.

Still fighter's after all these years!

 

Snapshots of My Mind


A 60's kid

Yea, I was a mishmash of everything. Look at me. Trying to find identity.

This picture was from 8th grade and I still can’t believe I let my friend Ann, chop off my hair like this. I went with my friend, Carol and her, to her house, and she pulled out the scissors, to do her work.Even at that time, I was adventurous. Always willing to experiment.

She was sharing the story about her stepmother, finding this green stuff, called, ‘marijuana, in her brother’s bedroom, and flushing it down the toilet. Then she told us he was into taking, ‘orange sunshine’ (LSD) Hmm, they made it sound so much like a dessert. Kind of like Tang. Don’t even think that stuff is around anymore. I mean, Tang, of course. However, we knew it was taboo, even then. But the stories, were exciting to listen to. We were the next generation.

Then one day we came over for lunch, and her mom gave my friend, Miriam, and me liver! That is the ultimate kiss of death! I mean come on. You know a person’s parent is giving you a pretty clear message with a meal like that.I was almost tempted to ask if they had any of that Tang, around, to doctor it up! My friend Miriam kept telling me, “just cut it up in small pieces and eat it with milk.” Well, I also hate milk. So that was a problem. Yea, I know. I’m from the dairy state, and that should be against the law. But so far, they haven’t charged me. But, I just couldn’t do it. So Miriam, ate mine. But, as much as I insisted, Ann’s mom couldn’t possibly like us, she said, “Oh sure she does. She just loves liver, and assumed we did too. “Yea, right. Cause we all know. Kid’s just love liver.”

Anyway, these were my  friends, at this time in my life. But a few years before, which are like decades, in kid years, it was Romaine Reed. She was my best friend. She was black. Well, of course that wouldn’t even need to be a statement, now, but we were in the midst of racial tensions at that time. But as children, our worlds, didn’t know anything but friendship.

I met her  after I had just moved into Parklawn. This was the project down the street from my school, Atonement Lutheran. She was in my second grade class. I lived on Sherman Boulevard and Congress. My house faced Sherman Boulevard, and I had some vivid memories of those days.

We had a whole cast of characters, living in that project. Although, Romaine was my best friend, I would say, Kathy was also another, best friend, if you could have two. I never liked saying, best, because it always kind of excluded someone. But you seemed to have people for seasons in your life.

Kathy became a best friend by my own stupid actions. I was sitting on a dumpster with a girl, Georganne. Georganne, clearly had a rivalry with Kathy, which I didn’t know about, and I was the new girl. And as Kathy approached, Georganne said, “here come Kathy, she think’s she’s so cool.”so. I really don’t know what it was she said, but she inspired such evil in me, that I took a rock I had in my hand, and I threw it. Never thinking I would actually land it. But land, it did. Right in her eye. I was mortified.

She turned around running into her house, crying. I had never been so mean. I left and ran into my own house to tell my mother what I had done. And my mom, made me go over to say I was sorry. I was scared. I thought she may look like a pirate with a patch or something.

As her mother opened the door, I realized how sweet an soft-spoken she was. There I saw, Kathy laying on the couch with an ice pack on her eye. Her eye was black and blue and swollen. Now I really felt terrible. I couldn’t believe I did that. I had always been extremely shy and compassionate. Yes, I could see how easy it was to swing, from the timid to the bully on the flip of a coin. I was precariously balancing on the need for this girls approval, and I didn’t like the way I was manipulated by her little voice in my ear. I learned a valuable lesson that day which I carried with me. I didn’t need to be liked by someone that much, that I would hurt someone else.

Now all I wanted to do was make it right. I felt so bad and just a little angry that I let Georganne get the best of me. Of course she was long gone and I’ve seen a lot of people like her in my life. Those kind, create trouble. They’re divisive and run at the first sign of trouble. They’ll leave you hanging when the storm begins to blow.  Kathy forgave me, and her and I became very good friends  after that.

I became friends with Georganne too, but always felt she was somewhat insecure, and kept her at arm’s-length Knowing that she couldn’t be fully trusted. I’m sure everyone has friends like this in their lives. And I’ve kind of used this as metaphors in my own. I see them come and go. I’ve been able to assess relationships in this way. The ones you know are keepers, and the ones you know are just around for a good time. But I am very cynical about those, who seem to call when they only need something.

But my friend Romaine and I never had such drama. She didn’t live in Parklawn either. She lived on the other side of the creek. She would come over to visit and I would visit her. I have some vivid memories that I recall and as my cousin was asking a question on Facebook the other day I had to think of one in particular. He said, he had memories of things like pictures in his mind.

I have always thought of one memory with Romaine, which seemed like a picture which should have been on the cover of Time, or some such magazine. I thought of this the other day, when my cousin brought up the vivid memories we carry with us during our lives. I’ve always had this one for some reason. The Snapshot. Frozen in my memory. A piece of history.  Her and I had no idea of what we were experiencing. We were so close. We were sitting on the corner of Congress and Sherman Boulevard and down the street were rumbling army tanks. One after another. We were two little girls. One black and one white. “Wow!” I said. “I wonder what is happening.” We were in awe. But many years later as I learned we were witnessing the National Guard on their way downtown to try to squash the ‘race riots.’

I had to think of the snapshot of that moment. What a picture of us on that corner from up above. And even the names of the streets. A Sherman tanks, and an act of Congress to call out National Guards. All of it a play on words.

This was our favorite corner to play on and once she told me, “Girl, you need to get you some soul! On that corner, she taught me how to dance. She showed me how to do dances of that time. Right before Soul Train had it’s beginnings. Don Cornelius, rest his soul.  There was ‘The Popcorn. The Mother Popcorn, The Hesitation, The Meditation, and who could forget the Funky Chicken? Well, actually how many of you are old enough to remember this? But man when the Bump came along, we were in heaven. That girl taught me everything.

The music was divine. A beautiful mix of love, peace, soul and political activism with,  The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and even Bob Dylan. Songs like ‘Eve of Destruction,’ which, I might add, would be very timely for today. So many artists responsible for the birthing of this great movement.

It was the generation which brought about change.A torch which has been passed down to the next generation. The snapshots were indelibly burned upon my mind and I did ‘get that soul, my friend Romaine talked about. But it was more than the dance.

She inspired so much more in me. I have always loved those who are the underdog. The beaten down. The forgotten ones. My friend Romaine and me, were friends no matter what color our skin.

I can still hear her laugh. I remember our trip to Capitol Court. It was an outdoor mall, before they had indoor malls. We would all go there to hang out when we were kids. We were about 10 years old and I probably was about 80 pounds. I tried on a pantsuit. It was cute. I remember thinking I liked the print. As she watched me put it on I looked down and asked her, “what the heck is this square thing in the front of the pants?” We both started laughing so hard. Everything seemed to fit, but there was this huge panel in the front of the pants, and we were cracking up at this very strange defect.

A saleswoman heard us and started yelling into the dressing room, for us to get out immediately. “Stop fooling around in there right now!” she said. I came out with Romaine, and we were both still laughing so hard, and the woman snatched the outfit from me. “What are you doing with that?” She said. “What is this?”” I asked her. “You know darn well that’s a maternity outfit. Now get out of here!” She said. “Oh my gosh!” Now we started laughing even harder.

Neither Romaine or I had any idea what this thing was. And it’s not like, even with all the kids my mom had, that she had ever worn something like this. That’s what made it even funnier. We were crying by the time we left this store,and the saleswoman made it all the funnier.

The thought of Romaine’s long legs in fetal position, laughing til she was in tears, in that dressing room, leaves me with just one more ‘snapshot,’ for the archives.

What ‘The Tuck?’


Strike a Pose!

Ok man, Jimmy Fallon had this new pose on his show, and I just can’t let him scoop this from our managers. I have been seeing them do this one for years, and I even blogged about this one Christmas years ago. Of course, I didn’t have the name, ‘The Tuck, like The Tebow.’

I called it, “the hand-clasp,bow-stance.”  Except, unlike the football exercise, to celebrate victory, this was the mock humility which comes from a superior, approaching us to reprimand us about something absurd.

I will never forget this incident, as I came up with a whole song in my head, as it was unfolding and a guy that I was working with was rolling in laughter as I started singing it to him, on the flight. He asked for my blog so he could read the post later.

I will try to recall events, to the best of my  knowledge, as this was a blog which has been abandoned and I was so fond of that post. I still remember the supervisor. Our manager’s have the best, “Tuck, which, as I said earlier, are the first, to receive the credit, well that is, after the Asian culture. I would also like to add that in the Asian culture, it is a bow out of authentic respect. In my example, it is only to reprimand, as sort of, submissive appearance.

Here’s the story; I had been wearing a Christmas sweater. It was Christmas.We were told we could wear a ‘tasteful holiday sweater.

A manager approached me in a hall a few days before Christmas. She grabbed her hands in anxiety and did the classic ‘hand-clasp,bow-stance, or ‘The Tuck,’ as it now football jargon. She began, in trembling voice, “I would be remiss if I did not speak to you.” I looked at her, waiting for her to say something very important. She spoke again, “I would be so remiss, if I didn’t speak to you right now!” She said it again. “Wow!” I thought. “This has got to be important! She stood to the side, with her hands wringing. And she said it, once more for effect, “I would be sooo, remiss, if I did not speak to you!” She said. “Oh, ok.” I said.

Now, she looked so serious, I waited, and she said, “Do you have a uniform sweater in your bag?” At this point, I thought I was going to burst out laughing, because, I was beginning to sing a little rap in my head. “We wish you a very remissmas, We wish you a very remissmas!” When she said this, I was totally caught off guard. “Ah, yes, I do. And by the way, I wasn’t wearing one of those, horrible, Jimmy Fallon, Christmas sweater’s either. It was plain black with red trim.

So, at this point, it came out of my mouth. I said, “Merry Remissmas!” I turned and went into my briefing with my crew members.I said, “Hey, I should get a picture of myself in my sweater and say Merry Remissmas to you! and send it to her.   This whole scene was hilarious and when I saw Jimmy Fallon doing this new pose, I had to say, there’s nothing new about this. I’ve seen it many times. And it is the best. But, the NFL tries to claim it, forget it man, it should have been trademarked by manager’s long ago!