Viewing: Growing Up - Tripping Down Memory Lane - View all posts

To Mothers & Fathers Everywhere--Past, Present, and Future 

Wishing you all the happiest, most beautiful Mother's Day, and early Father's Day, full of new experiences and sweet memories past, present, and future. So many of us who have lost our parents say the same words - that we think of them every day - that they'll always be a part of us - and that we wish they were physically with us now.

There are shelves of books devoted to parent-child relationship because even the best ones have rocky times. Still, some say that we choose our parents before we are born. If that is true, then I unequivocally made the right choice. And would unequivocally choose mine all over again!!

Frozen Grapes & Fairy Tales 

When a friend texted me that she loves frozen grapes, it flagged a childhood memory of the bunches of "frozen" glass grapes that my mother displayed in a bowl in our living room. Gorgeous ones in the softest greens, and plum tones. Frosted in who-knows-what, but looking as fresh as if she had taken them directly from the freezer to the living room.

I was old enough to know that the grapes weren't real. But I knew that fairy tales weren't real either, and I still believed in them. Soo, just in case, I licked the frost. And do you know what? It tasted good!

And do you know what else? When I told my friend, she said that she had done the same thing when she was growing up! Did you?

Boyfriends / Preschool Through 1st Grade 

My mother teased me once that I had more boyfriends from preschool through first grade than the rest of my life combined! In preschool day camp, my first little crush called me, "my little teapot". Who wouldn't adore someone so sweet?! So I did, until the day camp ended, and we lived too far from one another to get together.

My next crush was my neighbor's cousin, Timmy, who I thought was soooo grown up because he was six-years-old, and I was only four! I wrote him a long love letter, then showed it to my mom for approval. I don't remember what it said - only that Mom was sweet, and didn't laugh as she helped me edit it down to about two lines. But despite my heartfelt, "Can you come over to play?" I never heard back. It  was a double whammy to my ego because Timmy aside, it was my first rejection as a writer! But the sting of it didn't stop me from having crushes on guys, or from writing, so I went outside, played on our swings, and dreamed up stories in my head.

Then, in kindergarten, a little boy with curly hair and a big smile asked me over to play. When my mother said that she'd known his family for years, and would talk to his mom, I was so impressed that you'd think she had said that she'd call a movie star! The guy himself was really sweet, but I remember being shy when Mom dropped me off at his house. And later, sitting uncomfortably at lunch realizing that we had nothing in common except for peanut butter sandwiches, and playing with baby chicks on the rug in kindergarten class one day. I was nice, but counted the minutes in my head until it was time to go home. (Ironically, I still remember that even their pretty kitchen seemed to have a gray light that came through the windows like a shadow, and that totally reflected how I felt. Or like it was foreshadowing for the fact that we never had another play date.)

And then there was first grade! I liked boys, but I was in love with reading, so maybe the guys saw me as a challenge. Whatever the reason, Mom said the guys followed me around like puppies.

One day, I lifted my desktop, and found a beautiful bunch of hand-picked flowers inside. I don't remember what the note said; only that it was unsigned. And that I was so oblivious that I gave them to my teacher, and told her, "Someone must have left these in my desk by mistake, instead of yours." I didn't realize that they were meant for me until I saw the embarrassment on the adorable little redheaded boy's face. But I was six, and didn't know how to fix it, so we both pretended it never happened.

Another day, a cute little boy with a silver-gray crew cut, glasses, and his best friend knocked on my backdoor. When I opened it, he handed me a tiny, clear plastic box with a smooth lime green, red orange, and indigo paint splattered rock inside. Also, a note that read, "Eat it. It's candy." The boy and his friend laughed a little when he handed it to me, so I thought maybe it was a joke that I didn't catch. But I kept his gift in my little pink safe with my other treasures anyway, and every so often touched the smoothness, and wondered why he gave it to me. How was I to know that he'd laughed out of shyness because he liked me?

(Oh!! As I'm writing this, it suddenly dawned on me that not only do I still have that same plastic box, I'm actually sitting five feet away from it all these years, and ten moves later! Only now it has different little childhood treasures in it, and is hidden deep inside my Bawby's cranberry glass sugar bowl - which is shown under Photos on this blog!)

Anyway, the crowning story in first grade was when a tall boy with ruddy cheeks came over to my desk, and unexpectedly planted a kiss on my cheek. And when, just as unexpectedly, I hauled off and slapped him! And then? I told the teacher on him. Because I was livid, "Because he kissed me, and didn't even ask!"

I don't remember if there were others before second grade. And still have no idea what attracted them to me. Maybe it really was because I was busy being in love with first grade! And busy being in love with reading!

Hanging Out With Myself 

Did you ever carve out your own private sanctuaries when you were growing up, and wanted to hang out with yourself? I found nooks and crannies everywhere. At five years old, I tucked myself inside my bedroom closet, then slid the doors closed so I could watch Mickey and Minnie on my little Donald Duck projector.

At eight, I sat with my heels hooked into the slats of our white ranch-style fence as I wove stories in my mind, or painted them with oils from the little art set that was a miniature version of my father's.

At eleven, I woke up early on summer mornings, and threw on my favorite shorts and t-shirt, so I'd feel cute when I rode my bike to Duck Creek Park to draw and write, with the trees and sky wrapped around me (and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich).

And as an adult? Years ago I had a job in a boutique that specialized in high-end men's fashion. One day I looked at a rack of the beautiful designer pieces, and started to laugh. Because I loved the niche where they were displayed far better than any of the clothes - and all I wanted was to curl up in that space, and write.

I will always find those little jewels. Always laugh at myself for wanting to curl up in them. And will do it whenever I can!

An Apple For My Teacher 

Whenever my mother bought apples, she rinsed and polished them until they shone, then artfully arranged them in a bowl. It was a simple gesture, but she loved the ritual of honoring the fruit, and of making it special for all of us. I was too little to see the act as Zen meets art, but I read it on her face. And was always mesmerized by the far-away dreaminess in her eyes, and in her smile.

I wanted to be able to make apples shine - gleam actually - like hers. Especially since, as first graders, a lot of us used to take shiny red apples to our favorite teachers. So one day, I stood by our kitchen window, and polished, polished, polished the biggest red apple that we had. Even with the sunlight pouring in on it, mine looked just all right. And even when I tried harder, it didn't measure up to my mother's.

So I gave up on Mom's method - and polished it with shoe wax instead! I spread the thick, waxy mixture around on the apple, then buffed it as if it were a pair of boots! Finally, finally it looked as perfect as my mothers! With a huge sigh of relief, I wrapped it in Saran Wrap. Tied the clingy "fountain" of plastic at the top with a little bow of yarn. Then proudly viewed my work of art.

And then? Without showing it to anyone, I threw it away! I mean really, would you have given your teacher an apple with shoe wax on it?

Turkey Notes 

When I remember Thanksgiving at my Bawby's and Zady's house, some of my favorite parts were the visuals, and the warmth. The gorgeously set dining table that - to the little girl I was - seemed to stretch on forever. Happily falling into the color of their heavy, cranberry-colored glassware. And the "turkey notes" that my grandmother personalized, and put by each place setting. Notes like, "Turkey red, Turkey blue. Turkey turkey, I love you!"

I still love "turkey notes". Only mine sound more like the one I wrote for one of my best friends years ago:
"Turkey red, turkey blue. Sorry Paul couldn't be here, too!"

We laughed together as she was sorry, too. Because Paul was Paul Newman, who she'd had a crush on for years!

My Boyfriend's Locker 

All my life, people have laughed at my klutziness, but I never understood why until a friend stopped laughing long enough to tell me, "I'm sorry, but it's because you look so sophisticated that it's almost comedic."

To which another friend promptly added, "Yeah, you're like Phoebe from FRIENDS."

And then they both said, "Totally!"

I laugh, too, now. But that wouldn't have helped when I was growing up. I mean, who wants to look sophisticated when everyone else looks cute? Besides, it's tough enough to walk into high school every day, without slipping on ice, and skidding there on your bottom! And then, instead of having people ask normal questions like, "Are you all right?" Kids asked me things like, "How did you get up gracefully?"

My worst klutzy experience though (in high school anyway) happened once when the halls were completely still because everyone was in after school meetings. I remember being glad that, since I had to draw attention to myself by slipping out of the meeting early, at least I had on my favorite outfit. A soft straight skirt of butter yellow wool, and a matching sleeveless sweater with its enormous turtleneck collar. Oh, and my shoes - butter yellow Pappagallo's that I adored.

Anyway, I adored them until one heel slipped on the top step, and I skidded down the entire flight of steps to the landing below! People poured out of the classrooms, like the children in THE OLD WOMAN IN THE SHOE, to see what had crashed. And when I tried to get up quickly to cover my embarrassment, and assure them that I was all right? My heel slipped again - and I tumbled head over heels down the second flight of stairs!!

I remember landing like a rag doll gone "splat" on the main floor! Laying there with my arms flung across one another, like an X. With my legs flung across one another, like an X. And as people rushed to help me untangle myself? All I thought was,"I just landed in front of my boyfriend's locker!!"

This time, no one asked me how I got up gracefully. Which was good, because I was beyond mortified. And do you know what the worst part was? Finally, finally I had a chance to show that I was a kid like they were. But I blew it! Because I - being sophisticated - walked away without a bruise, without a rip in my clothes, and without even the slightest smudges on my butter yellow outfit!

A White Purse Without A Green Gun On it 

Have you ever looked at who you were as a child, and felt like you were looking in a mirror? Because you're basically the same person you were then? And because you've returned to doing what you loved back then, or never stopped doing those things in the first place?

I see myself so clearly that I could wave to that little girl. I still love ponytails, but think that headbands should never have been invented. I'll still love blue jeans, black turtlenecks, and cowboy boots when I'm 110, but you'll never see me wearing bows.

And I completely understand why the four-year-old me asked my mom for, "a white purse without a green gun on it". And why I added, "But if it has a green gun on it, I don't want it." Because I'm still not a fan of guns, but will always be pro accessories!

The Lipstick That Could Change My Life 

I'll never forget standing beside a friend in Woolworths, mesmerized by a makeup display of gleaming gold tubes of tangerine colored gloss. Mesmerized, and longing to buy a Tangee Lipstick so badly. Because it was Tangee, the lipstick for seventh grade girls. Tangee, the only lipstick that our mothers would allow us to wear, because while it looked, and felt, very grown-up - once we applied it, the shade paled to almost invisible.

The only problem was that it cost thirty-five cents, and I was trying to be responsible with my allowance.

As I stood, letting the color and texture imprint themselves on my mind, my friend suddenly laughed. "Let's steal it," she whispered. "Quick, while nobody's looking."

Call me sheltered, but no one had ever suggested to me that it would be a lark to steal. Both of our families were very comfortable. And it was a given that stealing was wrong. Period. On top of that, each of us had enough money in our wallets to buy the lipstick. So none of it even made sense.

My thoughts raced past the obvious scenarios like, what if we got caught, and the store called our parents? And how my parents would have ranted, "You're too smart to be that stupid," then grounded me for life, and beyond. But what really convinced me not to tuck the Tangee into my purse, and to risk losing a friend because I wasn't cool enough to play her game? It was that suddenly when I looked at the cherished gloss, all I could think was, "Do I really want to feel guilty for the rest of my life because I stole a thirty-five cent lipstick that I didn't even need?"

So what saved me? I remembered what my mother had once told me. "Joanie, if anyone ever tries to convince you to do something that you know is wrong, or that you don't want to do, just tell them, 'My mother is a mean bitch, and she'll kill me.'" Then she laughed and added, "And you have my permission to use those exact words!'"

Growing Up - Scenes From A Sitcom 

Have you ever looked back at vignettes of your childhood, and teen years, and thought they looked like scenes from a sitcom? Or said, "Awww", because even as an adult you still feel exactly the same at times?

I'm going to be sharing some of the sound bites of my life growing up. Stories like: "A White Purse Without A Green Gun On It" and "My Boyfriend's Locker". If they flag your own memories, or help you and your children laugh, and take life less seriously than I used to, let me know. I'd love to hear from you!


Copyright © 2018 Joanie Strulowitz. All rights reserved. (Photography courtesy of Megan Conrad.)