Monday, October 22, 2012

It was 50 years ago today...

The news reminds me that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was five years old and remember it like it was just fifty years ago…

My Uncle Jamie in striped shirt, I'm the girl with the headband.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my parents' marriage crisis, we went to live in Miami Florida. We traveled by car from our home in Portsmouth, Virginia.  We went to live with my maternal Grandmother who lived right on the beach. "We" included me, my mom, brother and sister, and baby brother. Being five in Miami was a blast (almost literally if the Cubans had carried out their threat. Thank you, JFK). Life was a beach and it was certainly not a Dick and Jane existence. Dick and Jane never waded with flamingos  They never chased armadillos out from under the car when Grandma wanted to go somewhere. And in no edition of Dick and Jane do I see their Uncle with a monkey named Zeke on his shoulder. My Uncle informs me that said monkey would sometimes “piss in his ear.” I doubt that any edition of Dick and Jane used the word piss, either. More’s the pity as it would've enlivened those dreadful banal readers.

Me at age 5, my Uncle Jamie at age 9.
I remember a happy time of playing on the beach with my brother and Uncles. The Uncles were only 4 and 10 years older than me (I am proud to be born on my favorite Uncle’s 10th birthday!) and we kept my mother and grandmother busy. If there was a television on the premises, I don't remember one. Times were tense with the unfolding crisis and here we are, right in Miami with missiles pointed at us.  But the adults never let on what was happening. They didn't watch news broadcasts endlessly (or at all). We were secure in our innocence of events. We got up in the morning and had breakfast. We played on the beach, and grandma took us to Key Biscayne where I met my first flamingo. I still remember how it smelled (not good!).

We went about our normal daily routine. No one was sticking a microphone in our faces asking us how we felt about the impending ending of life as we knew it. No one was offering us “counseling” for our fears. Because the adults kept it to themselves, we had no fears.

My oldest Uncle, who was 15 at the time, says that we lived only yards from a set of railroad tracks and down those tracks were some of the first Minuteman missiles. Scary to think about today—on the verge of WW3 and I was that close…

My mother, grandmother, and youngest Uncle are gone now. I’m thankful that they allowed us our innocence of those tense, frightening times. They soldiered on with the tasks at hand; taking care of a handful of children and keeping our lives normal. It was a time of courage for world leaders, and for the folks at home. Let’s hope that our world leaders today can summon similar courage.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The typewriter

For many years I've wanted a typewriter. Most of the time I write by hand in a Moleskine notebook with a Mirado Black Warrior pencil, my favorite "tools of the trade." I later transcribe (and edit) into a Word document.

But I've yearned for a typewriter. Real writers used typewriters, after all. I'd look at photos of my favorite writers--Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac. And they all used typewriters. I was shocked at the high prices that a vintage, working condition (the operative requirements) typewriters can command--sometimes more than a new computer! That was not an option.

So I kept looking. At every Goodwill, antiques shop and flea market. Used to be people couldn't give them away; now they are sought after!

I had three vintage typewriters in mind as I kept searching...a Royal, a Hermes, and a Smith Corona. Specifically, a black matte Smith Corona Sterling. The Smith Corona Sterling was at the top of the list because it is what Dorothy Parker used to type her poems, articles, and manuscripts. I was born on Dorothy Parker's birthday (August 22) and she's my favorite female writer. I feel I get my snark from her.

"Dorothy" my recently acquired vintage typewriter! 
A friend recently sent me a link with literally thousands of typewriters listed for sale. I had no hope that I would find The One, but find her I did! I found an affordable, great condition, vintage, Smith Corona Sterling in black matte--a typewriter like Dorothy's!

And of course, I named her Dorothy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Watch

Memory can be a funny thing. If we think something long enough, we can start believing that something that never happened is true. Such is the case involving a watch that was given to my mother in the early 1970’s.

My brother and I wanted to buy our mother a birthday gift. Pooling our meager resources, we went to one of the two jewelry stores in the town where we did our shopping. We looked at all of the things we wanted to give our mother, who, as a recently widowed mother of seven children, didn't have many nice things to call her own.

Most everything was way too expensive for the two of us. My brother had just turned thirteen and in three months I would turn 15. I earned a little bit of money babysitting and cleaning house for an older couple on Saturday mornings. My brother helped a local handyman with grass cutting, trash hauling, whatever the man needed an assistant for. In other words, we weren't rich.

But it was our desire to buy something pretty for our mother. After looking at everything and narrowing it down to a few items that we could afford (under the watchful eye of the clerk who was probably thinking we were going to shoplift something), we decided on a watch. It wasn't real gold but rather gold-toned. It had a brown face with a manual wind knob on the side. It was a Caravelle and just the name sounded, to our young ears, beautiful. We thought the watch was beautiful, although it isn't something that I would choose today.

The clerk gift-wrapped the watch and added a card. My brother and I decided that even though we had paid for the watch ourselves, we would present the watch to our mother as a gift from all seven of us children.

Our mother liked the watched and wore it on occasion. It was not an every-day type of watch, which would have probably been more practical. She was pleased that we had given her something that we’d worked hard for and had picked out ourselves. It made us feel rich to look at our mother wearing the watch that we had bought for her.

Some years later, not long after I was married and we were home visiting my mother and the younger girls still at home, mom called me aside and gave me the watch. She asked me to keep it a secret because each of the younger girls wanted the watch and seemed to be under the impression that she would be giving it to them at some point. She thought that rightfully it should go to me, as the oldest girl and as the one who paid for the watch originally. The younger children had no part in the choosing or payment of the watch.

Not long after she gave me the watch we learned that she had cancer. Whether she already knew when she gave me the watch, I do not know. For some reason she asked me to not tell my siblings that I was now the owner of the watch; maybe she knew there would be a fuss over who it should belong to.

After our mother passed away, from time to time a sibling would mention the watch. It was rumored that this one or the other had it. I always feigned innocence. When my various siblings would come to visit, I knew there would be a search for the watch. And so when they visited it was safely wrapped and kept in the pocket of the jeans I was wearing.

I would hear that each sibling thought they should have the watch.  That our mother had “promised” it to each of them was their belief. I doubt that’s the case because a watch cannot be divided 7 ways and still be a watch.

Many of them also held a belief that they had had a part in the choosing and purchase of the watch. But the youngest child was three-years-old. The other children were about 5, 7, 10, 11, just-turned-13, and I was 14-almost-15. They had no jobs; they were too young. As a widow with 7 children, there was no allowance for any of us. As we became old enough we would babysit, clean house, or cut grass for our spending money.

We lived in a tiny place called Weems and it was a great place to live. Friendly people. Not a single traffic light existed in that town and the last time I was there, it still didn't boast one. The town of Kilmarnock, where we bought the watch was six miles away. And it was truly a town, as it boasted many different kinds of stores, restaurants, and banks. Weems only had a gas station, some churches, a marina, a post office, and a couple of oyster houses. What if didn't lack was character; I loved living there.

I am the one in the red bell bottoms! My brother
 who helped buy the watch  is wearing a white T-shirt.
My brother and I, being 13 and almost 15, had no car. So we walked the six miles into town. It was a lovely spring day and we enjoyed each other's company. Our 5 younger siblings did not come to town with us as it was too far for them. Yet the memory persists in some of them that they were also there for the choosing of the watch. Such is memory when we want to believe something badly enough.

My mother passed away at age fifty-one, now more than thirty years ago. I still have the watch. I take it out sometimes to look at it and reminisce about that long ago spring day in a rural Virginia town when we went to buy our mother a present. The watch no longer keeps time. I am no longer that young girl. But I forever will have the memory of my brother and me searching for just the right gift, within our means, for our mother. And of her passing it on to me shortly before she told us that she had been diagnosed with cancer.

My first watch. Given to me by my mother for my 7th birthday.

I keep her watch together with the first watch I ever owned. I received it from my mother for my seventh birthday. I loved it so much, and still do. The numbers and hands on the watch no longer glow in the dark. The passing of time is no longer marked by these two watches. In some ways time has stood still. I am still young. It is still spring. And my mother is still alive.

-Julie Clark 2012

Third draft. 

Copyright Julie P. Clark 2012