It’s 1979, and I’m in second grade. School is much the same as last year, so let’s talk about home life instead.
|My family: Patrick, Mom, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and me. We still talk about her haircut to this day. Oh, seventies, you dismal crime against aesthetics.|
Mom has to get up early, take us to the babysitter, then drive an hour to work. After work she drives an hour to get home, picks us up, and cooks dinner while we watch Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, or The Electric Company on our 14″ Black-and-White television. She might save time if we had a microwave, but who can afford exotic cutting-edge things like that? Microwaves are for rich people. Besides, some people say they might accidentally bombard your face with radiation and melt your skin or give you cancer or something.
Never heard of The Electric Company? I’m talking about this show:
I loved the show. Haven’t seen it since the seventies. I will observe that the humor might not resonate with the current generation as readily as it did with mine. I mean, milkmen. A guy who brings you bottles of fresh, un-homogenized milk to your front door every morning? Those guys were nearly extinct forty years ago. This skit was a bit of an anachronism even then.
Once dinner is over, there are perhaps two hours before it’s time to begin the long, complicated process of getting Patrick and I to bed. (Which itself is simply the preamble to the even more challenging task of “getting Pat and I to go to sleep“.)
She cherishes the hours after we go to sleep, and usually spends them reading in the living room. (She’s a big Tolkien fan.) She sits on one side of the living room, near the window. The houses here are so close that an adult could probably lean out the window and touch the side of the neighbor’s house. If Patrick and I sneak out of bed and turn on the light, it will shine on the neighbor’s house and she will see it right away. It will take us YEARS to figure out how she knows when we turn the light on.
|Bedtime was such a complex ritual that it sometimes required several teams of childhood sleep technicians working round-the-clock to get Pat and I into a state of mind where we might agree to lay down and close our eyes. Here is grandma working a shift.|
She’s a lab technician for Pittsburgh Paint & Glass. She spends her day testing paint in various ways. The job often looks something like this: Paint some bits of aluminum with ten different paint mixtures, stick it in an oven for a couple of hours, then take it out and quantify the behavior of the paint. Or maybe test the paint for viscosity. Or drying speed.
It turns out there are a lot of properties to paint. How smooth it is, how thick it is, how strong the odor is, how long it takes to dry, how it behaves when drying at different levels of humidity, how glossy it is, how long it lasts, how strong it is, how watertight it is, how well it holds color, how evenly it holds color, how it bonds with various surfaces (including other paint!) and how expensive the components are. The chemists can fiddle with their slide rulers and 1-pound $500 calculators to come up with new formulations, but when it comes to fine-tuning the mix and deciding if consumers would benefit from more X or more Y, there really is no substitute for handing the stuff to an army of testers and seeing how the paints perform.
This is technical work, and so most of the other staff are men. Mom is nicknamed “wheels” because she wears dresses. See, the guys ask what she has under the dress, and then conclude she has wheels under there. (Looking back, I strongly suspect they were hoping for evidence to the contrary.) They decorate their shared lab space with cheesecake. (Given the date, it’s extremely probable that one of the pictures was that one shot of Farrah Fawcett.) Mom decides to hang up a picture of a handsome man, to even things out. By the end of the day somebody has taped a piece of paper over part of her man. It covers up his arm, and a crude replacement has been drawn, with the guy dangling a limp wrist. There’s also a word bubble now, proclaiming, “I’m Gay!”.
Mom maintains a very positive attitude through all of this. She complains a bit now and again, but she’s not angry or bitter. These guys annoy her, but she does her job and pays the bills.
|I don’t know what I hate most about that shirt: The fact that the people who made it were not executed for their crimes, or the fact that if Patrick could find it in his size today, he’d wear it every time he left the house. Especially if he was visiting me.|
We live next door to Mr. Love and his wife, a gentle gray-haired couple of retirees. We don’t see Mrs. Love very often, but Mr. Love is constantly working on his yard. The thing is an amazing accomplishment. It’s a perfect blanket of brilliant, meticulously trimmed green, framed with rows of colorful flowers. This is even more impressive given the fact that the yards on either side of his house are made entirely of weeds, dirt, and toys pounded into the weeds and dirt. Every spring we raise a mighty crop of dandelions, and then kick and puff their seeds into a great cloud.
I have never seen a single dandelion grow in his yard.
In the back yard Mr. Love has an entire bank of tulips, and the top of this bank is the edge of our yard. Pat went and ripped the heads off of a bunch of these tulips. He brought the resulting floral carnage to Mom as a “bouquet”, leaving a row of headless tulips on Mr. Love’s hill. She explained to him that:
1) It was a very kind, touching gesture of love.
2) He should not vandalize the neighbor’s yard again.
This exchange makes me curious about the plants. Why do they grow in his yard and not ours? Could we grow tulips of our own? How does this work?
I’m digging around in the dirt one day when I decide to investigate this mystery. I yank up one of his tulips and notice the bulb on the bottom of the plant. How interesting! I’ve seen something like this before, haven’t I? Yes! I toss the uprooted flower on the ground and run inside. I open the fridge and take out another one of these bulbs (an onion) and run back outside to plant it.
There are steps on the back porch, but those face the driveway and nobody ever goes that way. So we just jump off the two-foot drop into the back yard. There is a large patch of dirt where even the weeds don’t dare grow, due to the never-ending onslaught of children disembarking from the porch. This is a nice, open spot, so I decide to bury my tulip-onion there. Then I run off and forget all about it.
Surprisingly enough, planting an onion into endlessly pounded soil did not cause a tulip to spring up. Much later I confessed to Mom that I had planted some of our food in the yard. She was a good sport about it.
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