Thursday, February 7, 2019

Kids

 (I was the one with crooked bangs on the lower right. K is behind me.)

I didn't know that life was stark when I was a kid. I never felt poor ~ my mom made sure I had all the same things that kids in my classroom had. The early sixties weren't the age of conspicuous consumption. Sure, the clothes she picked out for me must have been clearance items, because they were so ugly. Either that, or Mom had really bad taste. But I never cared about clothes anyway.

We lived in an old farmhouse that was eighty years old (that would be about one hundred and forty years old now, if it's still standing.) I liked it. It had a hard wooden winding staircase leading up to the second floor and there was a cross-hatched vent about midway down that I could peek through and see everything happening in our living room (not that anything was happening). It had a scary unfinished basement that is a prerequisite for kids ~ scary things are de rigueur. How else would we ever learn to navigate life if it weren't for being scared so much that our breath catches in our chest?

I was lousy at making friends. Granted, living in the country precluded sleepovers. I never even had a best friend until I was in the fourth grade, and I met her on a walking bridge on the way to Wednesday catechism. My only real friend 'til then was my cousin K. K's dad was my dad's much younger brother, and Uncle A worshiped my dad (who wouldn't?), so our families spent an inordinate amount of time together. It was one of those rare perfect storms in which my mom and her mom actually liked one another. You know how couple friendships are ~ either the women are best pals and one guy learns to tolerate the other, or through family, the married pairs are thrown together and everybody decides to make the best of it. K's mom brought out the best in Mom ~ taught her to loosen up; not be such a prickly thorn.

K was one year older than me, which was acceptable in the annals of little-kid approval. From about age five, we tagged along together, creating tiny-girl mayhem.

She was one of those flawless beings ~ golden-haired and sky-blue-eyed ~ who couldn't do anything wrong even if the notion had flitted like a fat bumblebee into her mind. I, on the other hand, was a mess of dense red hair with a tangled desire to create something, but no earthly idea how to do it.

My mom actually preferred K to me. It didn't hurt my feelings ~ much. I would prefer K to me. In later years, Mom actually took vacations with her. Nevertheless, my cousin and I bonded over Ricky Nelson songs, like this:


Our eight-year-old paths converged. 

My dad got it into his head that I should take accordion lessons (I was apparently the experimental kid in the family), and thus, K and her brother took lessons, too. Our music teacher thought it would be neat to form a little trio with the three of us. (Of course, K played her accordion perfectly while I was admonished for dragging my basses). 

Somehow we were coerced into buying matching bandolero outfits, with Cordobes hats, white-fringed black felt skirts, and plastic cowboy boots. We may have even had neckerchiefs. Our mothers paraded us out to local nursing homes to ply our trade. By then I had been relegated to snapping brushes against a snare drum (because my accordion skills were so lacking). K's brother claimed the accordion spot and K strummed a guitar. We were the complete package. Our big number was "Bye Bye Love", on which I somehow snagged the solo on the opening verse. We eventually harvested more money than any eight-and-nine-year-olds could dream of reaping ~ through drunken tips ~ not from nursing home residents! (see below).

K and I (and her big brother) actually ended up living together for half a year. Our bachelor uncle had purchased a triple-threat establishment in a small town that featured a bar, a restaurant and a service station; and he sorely needed a cook. So my mom and K's mom rotated weeks of short-order hash-slinging for extra seed money; and thus it only made sense to move us kids there permanently and enroll us in the local parochial school. We were ensconced in Uncle Howard's attached apartment and plied our trade as traveling minstrels, holed up in the service station lobby as drunks exiting the bar threw quarters and dollar bills at us. The three of us purchased glass piggy banks at the local mercantile and stuffed those hogs with loose cash and coin. K and I periodically raided our stash and bought colorful beaded necklaces and miscellaneous scraps at the five-and-dime.

Our first day at Catholic school, K, naturally, was a big hit; while I wanted to crawl inside a culvert. I think I eventually made one friendship ~ a girl who was as mousy as I. K was effervescent. Complete strangers would amass at her feet. She instantly became the most popular girl in her fifth-grade class. At home, she and I were best buds, but out in the real world K had many universes to command, and she precisely ignored me. I didn't have enough friends that I could afford to diss any of them. K was a princess in any company.

Our life in Uncle Howard's apartment was a cornucopia of new rock and roll sounds and images on the black and white TV. There was a syndicated program called The Lloyd Thaxton Show that was the poor itinerant's alternative to Bandstand, but, holy cow, was it great!

Here is what our eyeballs witnessed on our cathode-ray tube:










I guess you had to be there:


Albeit not rock and roll, this guy was everywhere in 1964:


Yep, The Beatles didn't appear on Lloyd Thaxton's show in '64. I guess Lloyd just didn't pay enough. Not that we didn't know who The Beatles were. We had to appease ourselves with our pocket-friendly transistor radios to hear the most influential band of all time.

The last time I saw K, I was eighteen and not quite moved out of my house, and she and some friends came to visit my mom. Not me. My mom.

But one can't sweep away what once was. K was a huge part of my life; at least a very momentous piece of it. 

I bet she's still out there, sweeping strangers off their feet.














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