Friday, May 15, 2015
When I was Eleven
Clyde was buried in Augusta on a very hot summer day. At eleven years of age, this was the first time someone I knew had died and I was not taking death too well. It might be contagious. I couldn’t bear to go into the funeral home and stayed in the car. The next day at his burial my Mom had lathered up my hair with Vitalis and made me stand by the graveside. The hot summer sun in an open field made me feel like my head was on fire.
Only a month after this, an alcoholic man that worked for my Dad passed away. I always felt sorry for Ralph. I used to go to my Dad’s grocery store and work on Saturdays. Yes, I was only eleven, but Mom wanted me to have some “Dad” time. So there, at the store was Ralph, smelling like cheap liquor and Mail Pouch tobacco. He died of cirrhosis. Ralph had a good heart. He used to put his arm around me and call me his “little piss pot”, which gave me a bad case of the jibblies, but I knew he meant well. He was quite a character.
My Cousin Eddie’s father died in the summer of this year. My Uncle George was a grumpy old guy. By this time death seemed like it was everywhere. After the funeral we returned to Eddie’s home and spent the day with my Mom’s brother, Edward and my Aunt Annette, whom I called Auntie as it sounded less cumbersome. We sat around eating sandwiches and drinking Pepsi-Cola. Uncle George’s folded US flag and his glasses were on the buffet. My Uncle Ed gave Eddie the talk, “You are now the man of the house.” Eddie was only twelve years old. Eddie and I watch The Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the 4 o’clock movie. It was a great distraction.
That was the same year my Grandmother moved in with us. She was 74 and she was a very big woman. She was in poor health and needed some help. I had no idea she would never be going back to her apartment. I’m sure she did not either. She and Mom took control of the TV during the day to watch Ruth Lyons and their “soaps.” I called her Dandy, because I could not wrap my two year old tongue around the word Granny. That name stuck. I can remember her vacuuming and crying because her son, Clyde, had passed away at the young age of 54.
Dandy took a turn for the worse in late Fall and she had me write a letter for her to send to her sister to tell her she had a relapse. What did that mean? It sounded frightening. She promised to give me her ancient Zenith table top TV with the 9 inch screen that was powered by vacuum tubes when she died. I did not want her to die. The TV is still in the basement.
November of 1963 came along and President Kennedy was assassinated. I was sitting in the library at Woodfill School when our principal, Sam King, turned on the public address system in time for us to hear Walter Cronkite say, “The President of the United States has just been shot.” This was so surreal. I remember thinking wow, this could not happen. We were living in modern times. It was 1963! We were scurried back to our classrooms and found our teachers crying and hugging us. Within the next few minutes the announcement came on the intercom that President Kennedy was dead. We were sent home from school immediately. The rest of that week and that weekend school was closed.
We spent the days glued to the television which was broadcasting the events of President Kennedy’s passing, the shooting of Lee Oswald and the President’s motorcade and funeral. All of this was in glorious black and white. I believe the whole world must have been in black and white back in those days, just like it was on Dandy's television.
By that December my Grandmother was taken out of our house by an ambulance to St. Luke Hospital and she never returned. Dandy spent her final days there. I believe she passed away from colon cancer. But I never really knew, because death was a taboo topic in our home. I came home from school one day and learned of her death because the death certificate strategically placed on top of our television. I was in shock.
The bright light of this year was my wonderful fifth grade teacher, Virginia Bohn. She was a middle aged nice looking lady and she was a great teacher. She was willing to try anything with her class. Although it was not in the curriculum she taught us some elementary Spanish. She had us all do square dancing. I would not admit it at eleven, but it was kind of fun to dance with the girls. Ginny Bohn read to us every day from books like Snow Treasure, Heidi, A Wrinkle in Time and Kipling’s Jungle Book. I still have horrible cursive script, but Miss Bohn certainly attempted to teach this to me. Bless her heart. She was a treasure.
This same year I learned to play clarinet. Jack Kaiser was never a great teacher, but he gave me a start and I thank him for that. The vocal music teacher was Mrs. Woolfolk. She peaked my interest in music, especially when she strummed her autoharp. Music became my happy place. Yes indeed; 1963, when I was eleven was quite a year. _________________________________________________________________________________