The Writing Mamas Daily BlogEach day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.
If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.
And for that, you are a goddess.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
What Does It ALL Mean?
I was fairly good at sports in elementary school.
But I relinquished that career once I got to junior high and found out how fun it was to skip school, get high and take the train into New York City from our suburban Connecticut town.
If we timed things just right we could leave for school, detour to the train station in Westport, along with most of the fathers dressed in their “Mad Men” Madison Avenue suits, as we giggled at the adventures that awaited us.
I can’t remember ever going to gym in junior high. I got Fs, but I always got As in English and most of my other classes, except for math. Given the times, my mother said it was because I was “a girl.”
In high school there was archery and fencing, two sports that I made the time to attend because they were, well, cool. Otherwise, when I did go to gym, I would sit and gossip about local celebrities with my P.E. teacher. Though she was the instructor, it seemed like she wanted to participate in class even less than me.
There is a store in Norwalk, where I grew up, that is pretty famous. Stew Leonard’s is a grocery store that has animated animals, just like at Disneyland, lots of free food samples and is actually fun to shop in. It’s where Paul Newman introduced his salad dressing to the world. It also has one of the highest financial yields per square foot compared to any other grocery store in America.
I got a job there when I was about 17. By this point, with college quickly approaching, I wanted to increase my GPA, so I made a pact with my gym teacher that I would make up during free periods all the classes that I had missed. She agreed.
My job at Stew Leonard’s was to work in the soft serve ice cream department. It claimed then, as now, to sell the second most soft serve ice cream cones in the country – next to Disneyworld.
Besides serving ice cream to customers, during slow periods I would take napkins, open them flat, place several on top of each other, turn on the ice cream spigot, let the ice cream criss-cross on top of itself until it was piled high, fold the napkin, and then lob the “ice cream bomb” over the machines at my co-workers.
It was war and we would battle – when management wasn’t around -- daily.
One day, my gym teacher came to the ice cream window and said she wanted an ice cream cone.
“Tell you what,” I said. “I’ll give you a free ice cream cone if you give me an A in gym.”
To this day, I can’t believe I said that to my teacher.
She smiled as if telegraphing – y-e-a-hl!!!! – and said, “Sure, but only if you give one to my husband, too.” She pointed to a man who stood behind her. She was a beautiful blonde. Her husband was a big, bear of a man with dark hair who I heard played trombone in a symphony, or at least was often looking for a job to do so.
“Deall!” I said. I turned around and made two enormous cones, careful to ensure that they were swirled perfectly and their tops had immaculate loop-tee-loops.
She handed one cone to her husband and quickly took the other for herself, licking happily away.
“Don’t forget our agreement,” I reminded her. “An A in gym.”
She shook her head up and down, licking the sides of her cone before they dripped under the soon to be summer sun.
My report card came – she was as good as her word – A!
During the summer I ran into her in Westport. I told her I would be attending a small, private college in Boston.
Since high school was over, and my grade already given, I couldn’t resist adding: “I can’t believe you gave me an A for two ice cream cones.”
She stared back at me. “I can’t believe you gave me the ice cream cones. You were getting an A anyway because you made up all the classes you missed.”
She walked away with a “so there,” shrug of her shoulder.
Yeah, she won that one. I sensed she got her way with a lot of things in life. She was the only gym teacher I ever met who refused to swim in the school pool because she didn’t want to get her hair wet. I actually kind of liked that aspect of her.
That first snowy, winter college break from Boston I was reading our hometown newspaper, “The Norwalk Hour.” Above the fold was a headline: Local Gym Teacher Hits Tree and Dies in a Car Accident.
That’s sad, I thought, as I casually unfolded the paper to find most of the bottom half with her smiling photo on it.
I stared at her picture for a long time, unable to move my eyes away. How could she be dead when her photo was so alive? She had been here just a few months earlier. I read the article repeatedly, out loud, to myself, with my lips moving to the irrefutable words. Her mother said they buried her on the farm in Iowa where she had grown up. I read her age. She was really only a few years older than me.
She was only the second person I ever knew who had died. In junior high, I was at a friend’s house. Back then I was introverted. I revealed myself only to my closest friends, preferring instead to observe others. Scott had a girlfriend, but he always intrigued me and I admired him from afar. That day he did something unusually adult for a fourteen-year old. With deliberation in his stride, he walked up to me, placed his hand under my chin, lifted it slightly, looked into my eyes, and carefully studied my face. He even turned it from side to side, never saying a word. I let him. Then he walked away.
Two days later he died in a car crash, a passenger in a car driven by an under-age teenager. To this day, I wonder what intrigued him about my face. Why he studied it. What did it mean?
Since then I’ve experienced the passing of friends and family with some frequency. I said to my husband just yesterday that I still can’t believe that David, his brother, who died suddenly in late May, was gone.
“I know,” he said, stopping as he washed the dishes. “I know.”
I thought of Scott. I thought of my gym teacher. I wondered why their time had each come so early. I think about that every time someone young moves on.
As I do homework with my children, fold laundry or some other mundane daily task, I wonder about life.
I learned about existentialism in an eighth-grade class. We read “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus and “Waiting for Godot,” by Samuel Beckett. More than any other written works, that book and that play have influenced my life profoundly.
I am still trying to figure it all out – with the knowledge that it is unlikely that I ever will.
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