October 30, 2009

My life of crime

When I was a child, Mama Fresh liked to sew many of our clothes. One outfit that vividly stands out was when Mama must have gotten a deal on many yards of olive green extremely wide-waled arctic thickness corduroy. My brothers and I had matching pants and vests constructed of this immovable fabric. We resembled miniature soldiers walking stiffly, not in khaki, but corduroy, needing only a few medals of honor to complete our uniforms.

I used to dread those twice-annual trips to the fabric store, looking for patterns and remnants. I just wished for blue jeans (or dungarees as Grandma called them) and a simple t-shirt from the local Sears. The closest we got to jeans were denim elastic-waisted bottoms. The elastic was ingeniously recycled from Papa's worn out underpants, so the waistband was always quite wide. I tried not to think too much about the underpants recycling. Movie heroines like Scarlett O’Hara used drapes and Maria in Sound of Music used the curtains. Apparently, we had no spare window treatments. We had dad’s underpants. I still hear Mama’s voice, “Nobody will ever know or see the elastic!”

One afternoon, during a particularly long fabric-searching marathon, there was nothing left for me to look at, like patterns or cute fabric that never was on sale anyway. I thought to play hide and seek in the bolts of fabric but nobody was there to look for me. My brothers never had to go on these trips.

I wandered past a bin of buttons and two big shiny brass buttons caught my eye. I do not know if I had heard the phrase about sewing brass buttons on my underpants and thought maybe that would dress up Dad’s elastic? Or perhaps I was determined to put some medals on our military looking outfits?

I am not sure what was so compelling about these two buttons but I was fascinated. I picked them up and studied my reflection, moving the buttons back and forth like a fun house mirror. My face warped, my eyes grew and shrunk. After entertaining myself with the buttons to help pass the time, I eventually decided to go check if Mama was finished.

I was about to return the card of buttons back to their bin but they seemed magnetized to my hand. Rather than put them back, I slipped them in my pocket without a second thought. I never even considered asking if we could get them. We just knew not to ask for anything at the store. I had no idea what I was going to do with the buttons, but suddenly, nothing was more important in my life than having those two shiny gold buttons.

They seemed to glow from my pocket. I held my hand tightly over the jacket pocket, in case they would escape or someone would notice. We bought our fabric and walked out the door and it was as simple as that; the buttons were mine. Nobody knew… no alarms went off; I was now the proud owner of two shiny brass buttons.

I could not wait to get home and study my prize. I scurried up to my room and hid in my closet, carefully removing the contraband from its hidden place. Then the gravity of my crime hit me. I had stolen those buttons. The face that reflected back at me was one of shame and petty crime. I was horrified. The fabric store was over an hour away, so it was not as if we could go back there, and I knew Mama would not be happy with me. Instead I buried the buttons in the bottom of my toy chest.

Every so often, I would pull the buttons out, but that same face stared back at me. Not the fun house face, the face of guilt. I stopped taking the buttons out and let my prize languish in the darkness.

Years later, that particular fabric store was going out of business. I wondered if my life of crime had been a contributing factor. I confessed my crime to the part time clerk while I was checking out, perhaps hoping for a moment of absolution. She looked at me as if I was crazy and I am sure I heard her say, “So?”

(Yeah, sew brass buttons on your underpants, that’s what started this whole mess in the first place).

October 22, 2009

Memories... light the corner of my mind...

I may be mired in a touch of nostalgia meeting the digital age. About two years ago, we moved and I packed up yet another phase of life into boxes that have only emerged this past week: more specifically, today.

If you're like me, unpacking isn't so much an exercise in efficiency, but rather a stroll down memory lane. I moved frequently during my teen years and can name three seperate high schools as my temporary alma mater.

I found my yearbooks and started leafing through them. I recovered memories, and yes, they lit the corners of my mind. My memories of people I once knew or hoped to know or wanted to know or maybe never really knew. Nonetheless, their paths and mine crossed.

I did an experiment. I wanted to find out how mutual those memories were. It's interesting. I found an old neighbor who was thrilled to see my name in her mailbox and I also found a skeptical sort. Both sides of the spectrum, yet both signed the same yearbook page. My old neighbor has moved several times herself and we had touched base in the interim. She went to great lengths pre internet days to track me down. I remember quite well, she called a cousin with the same last name who said, well I've got her grandmother's number, and she called my grandmother who passed the message along to me. Today, it's much easier. We log onto a social network and say "hey, I knew you, remember me?" We take a lot for granted.The skeptic assumed that the memory I had could be found anywhere. I respect that as well. I won't campaign for memories.

Today, it's also more suspect. We ask people to trust us with a click. That's asking a lot. So the girl who tracked me down had a greater investment. The boy who said, "I don't think I remember you" did not. I respect both answers. In a simple click I reminded one person of a long lost friendship and another of one to rekindle.

But trust notwithstanding, our memories remain true.

October 5, 2009

Tale of two cities

Like so many other parents around our nation, my past Friday night was spent under the lights at the traditional high school football game that rallies the community. I am lucky to live in what I consider the sort of town Norman Rockwell captured in his artwork.

We have a town green, a gazebo, and a school rated Excellent by our state. Our kids win in sports, academics and arts. If they didn't occasionally get into mischief, I would wonder if our town were Stepford, like Ira Levin's famous book, though my spouse would assure you, I fail at being a Stepford wife.

We are less than ten miles away from the murder capital of the nation, an area so blighted and depressed that murder must seem a better option than getting out. Our town at times feels like the eye of the hurricane. I got lost once shortly after moving here and purchased a GPS the next day. We're out of touch with our neighbors. I read the newspaper headlines and pretend that I don't understand the reality of "not in my backyard", because it certainly is in my backyard if I peek over my fence. We're lulled into complacency.

Which brings me back to Friday night. Our school hosted one of the city school teams. The juxtaposition was staggering. Their dilapidated buses rolled into the parking lot next to our sparkling astroturfed stadium. Our arrogance was put on the line. The game was tight the first half, ending with us leading 3-0. Then the marching band took the field.

It was a tiny little assembly of 22 students, mostly drums, 4 dancers, and a handful of instruments. With a whisper, they marched in unison and played their music. I looked at our band shell filled with a sea of 150 eager musicians in crisp uniforms and even the city school uniforms seemed to pale. I strained to hear, but they simply didn't have the numbers to make a lot of noise.

For the few minutes they stood in those stadium lights, I looked over to the empty visitor section and realized how hard those kids must work. As our band lined up to follow their halftime show, we paused to listen to the last song the city school kids performed.

The stadium got quiet as the announcer introduced their final number.


They earned mine in spades.


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