1977: Transitions

Sometimes I look to the past and think about how an event was “so many lives” ago. In this context, a life is just the length of time it takes you to feel as if you have become someone new, someone distinctly different from your prior self. The first time I can draw such a line between lives is in the summer of 1977, when so many things changed for me, never to change back.

The most obvious change in my life was that my family moved — out of the gentle edges of the city into the green and decidedly fragrant countryside. We changed houses, schools, counties, and friends. My parents must have been preparing for this move for a long time, because I remember going along on visits to several houses that were for sale. I loved inspecting the empty rooms while my parents asked serious questions of the real estate agents. My brother and I explored closets, basements, garages, back yards. I don’t remember visiting the house we bought in Orient before we actually closed the deal, but I do remember taking the long trip to it via Grove City, and the whole family being absolutely overwhelmed by the stench of a road-kill skunk as we approached a small town that was no more than a stoplight and a sign. The sign read “Pleasant Corners.”

Century 21 logo

During the time that my parents were house-hunting, one of my father’s brothers was trying out a career as a real estate agent. It was his company’s sign that was erected in the front yard of our Westgate house, so I assume that he was the selling agent. He was, however, less than impressed with the property that we ultimately purchased. Someone’s sanity was definitely called into question. The acreage was more than we could use, and the parts of the yard that weren’t overgrown were covered in cow manure, goat droppings, and/or chicken…manure. Electric fence ran almost all the way to the house from a cinder-block barn that had basic electric service but no running water. The house itself had one bathroom and two bedrooms for a family of four, a basement that took on water after a hard rain, and lights that dimmed when we made toast. My father rented something called a “bush hog” to clear the land — though he did let us take a few whacks at the tall grass with a rusty sickle — and started improving everything that he could.

The house also came with a dog, Toby, who was the son of the dog of the folks who lived next door. At the time, my romantic mind thought him to be a Gordon Setter based purely on his coloration. His mother Pookie, however, was a tiny scrap of brown and black fur that looked like a Yorkie, and his father could only be imagined. Toby was a real country dog who didn’t hesitate to challenge the local groundhogs, snakes, and raccoons to combat. It didn’t matter — I finally had a dog! Maybe this “moving to the country” thing wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

And now…I even looked different. I had loved my long, thick hair and putting it up into ponytails that flew out behind me from under my baseball cap when I ran the bases, but my mother gradually complained more and more about how hard it was to take care of. One evening before we moved, she sent me down the street so a family friend could cut my hair. I wasn’t in on the plan, and cried when my long waves were cut off and the remaining hair sprang up into tight curls. I didn’t recognize myself, but there wasn’t much that I could do about it.


That 70’s vacation.

And now I was ten years old. We had taken our summer vacation to visit Niagara and Horseshoe Falls and make a brief trip into Canada. We were on the road on my late-June birthday; a waitress brought out a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting on a ceramic plate that rotated and played “Happy Birthday,” and I was embarrassed at being the center of attention. But on the same trip we visited what must have been a corner drugstore, shopping for road food or other supplies. I wandered over to a newspaper stand and picked up a copy of the local paper, and the store owner snapped at me to put it back, as if I were a thief. My parents didn’t hear him. I felt scared and didn’t know what to do. I put the paper back. I was furious at having been falsely accused, and it was decades before it occurred to me that the storekeeper had probably been the victim of young shoplifters and was just looking out for his store. He probably couldn’t imagine that I just wanted to read the newspaper.

Pickaway Darby Twp 1937

The ‘new’ gym was added in 1937.

And now we had a different school to attend. My mother drove us there in the early August heat and let us play on the playground while she attended to the administrative details. My new elementary school, where I would be in fifth grade and my brother would be in second, was an immense brick structure built in the early 1900s as a K-12 institution (replacing a school built in 1886). There was a large central staircase that, supposedly, had been made wide enough to accommodate girls ascending and descending in hoop skirts. The story was utterly credible. In my single year there I wasn’t brave enough to explore much but I found three staircases. I wouldn’t have been surprised to be told there were more. The whole place was a woodworker’s dream, with hardwood floors and walnut-stained railings. But once school started I had a lot of adjustments to make — the new school used different reading books and no one was sure which level I should be in. My classmates all seemed to be related to each other somehow, and even if they weren’t, they had still known each other since they were born. Their country accents were so thick that sometimes I didn’t understand what they were saying, and some of them made fun of me for doing my homework in class instead of taking it home. I became more shy and withdrawn, hesitant to either make a mistake or do well.


And there weren’t Camp Fire Girls in the country — just Girl Scouts and 4-H. I had heard of 4-H groups as the ones who trained seeing-eye dogs, so that was what I picked. Luckily, there was a much wider range of activities under the 4-H umbrella, and it was a good organization for me to join. I took projects to the county fair in birds, cats, dogs (attempting to show Toby in the middle of the sheep barn was a memorable experience), photography, and creative writing over the next several years.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 9.24.42 PM

And the next year…I would be off to the middle school, mingled with kids from the other two elementary schools in the county. Our teacher promised that everything would be harder. And I’d have to make friends all over again.

Knitwise, I finished and gently blocked the Olympic cowl. The colors were bleeding while I was working on it, so I did some Internet research and gave it a cold-water vinegar rinse before laying it out to dry on an old towel. We’ll see if that does the trick. It’s a pretty thing, and now it’s soft as well.


See? I really do knit.

Then I started to collect yarn for a future project: Nakia’s Infinity Scarf, which is designed by Jeff Giles, featured in “Black Panther,” and free on Ravelry. I have NOT started this project yet, as I have not yet finished the project I said that I would finish before I started my next project. Sheesh. All I did was print out a new pattern and buy one LOUSY FREAKING SKEIN OF YARN and put them in the same project bag. (Okay, it was Noro.)

Nakia Shawl

Gotta finish some stuff before I start some stuff. And I’m in the mood to start some stuff.


1976: Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart

Oh, so many things happened in 1976. It was the country’s Bicentennial, and in our city — as in many others — the fire hydrants were temporarily painted in Bicentennial schemes. I’m willing to bet that, all these years later, there are still a few of them out there that didn’t get painted over.

1976 hydrant

I was in the Camp Fire Girls, and we marched in a Bicentennial parade in which I was dressed as Betsy Ross. Yes, I wore a long skirt (Mom probably made it) and walked down West Broad Street pretending to sew a flag with a giant needle cut from a piece of poster board. I honestly don’t know how I did it with a straight face, as everything involved in the previous sentence was abhorrent to me. At this point I still wanted to be a professional baseball player when I grew up. (No, I hadn’t figured that out yet.) Ah, well. Good times. Our Camp Fire troop (group? squadron? fleet?) also painted Bicentennial pictures on storefront windows at the Great Western Shopping Center. Wo-he-lo to Connie, Becky, Renee, Laurie, Michelle, Dodie, Susan C., and Susan W.!

Oh, yes. I do have photos of this. Somewhere. But I also remember that it must have been unseasonably cold on the day we painted, as I recall that I’m wearing my beloved winter coat in the photo. And it was an iconic 70s winter coat to boot: navy blue, it sported a fake-fur-trimmed hood and about a dozen zippered pockets, one of which I used to keep worms in. (Remember what I said about not being a skirt-wearer? I meant it, and all that it implies. At one point I was using those worms to chase boys around the playground. It was all fun and games until Mom found the worms after the dryer cycle. But I digress.) Oddly enough, on the day of the parade it was quite hot, and after marching for quite some time along the roadway in a long skirt I fainted, probably gracelessly.

From this year I also remember a special school project that didn’t quite turn out as my teacher had planned. Elton John was at the top of the pop charts, and he was still in his super-glam, platform-shoes, funky-glasses phase. (Right now I am trying not to spend too much time wondering how it didn’t even cross my mind that this man was gay. I must not have known what gay was.) My teacher’s idea went along the lines of “Hey, kids! Let’s write fan letters to Elton John and send him our drawings of even funkier glasses for him to wear on stage!”

I threw myself into my drawing, and goodness knows what ridiculous design I came up with. These days a teacher would have been able to make color copies of the kids’ designs, or take digital pictures, or just scan the darned things in and make a CD-ROM to take home to Mom and Dad. Mercifully, none of those technologies existed yet, so you are spared the sight of what a classroom full of nine-year-olds would have designed for the most flamboyant superstar on the Top 40.

For some reason I expected that our fourth-grade class would receive immediate and personal replies from Elton John. Well, we didn’t receive immediate replies. And as the days and weeks went by, we gradually realized that no reply was forthcoming. It was a hard lesson. My teacher stopped mentioning the project, and we moved on to something else. It took years for my resentment to fade, but I did gradually understand that not only did he owe us nothing, he was probably confused and annoyed by the kind of fan mail he likely received at that time. Certainly he had enough going on in his life back then that he didn’t feel much urgency to respond to a bunch of 9-year-olds from Ohio. But for a while, it did sting. Really, how dare he. What a jerk.

That year featured an array of great songs and memorable TV shows, and one of my favorite shows was “One Day at a Time,” starring Bonnie Franklin as the struggling (but honest) single mom of Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli. I don’t know which character I liked the most, but my favorite episode was probably the Christmas 1976 one called “Happy New Year,” in which Phillips and Bertinelli totally costumed up and performed “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” as Elton John and Kiki Dee. This website tells more of the story.

Elton John, of course, went on to change his look and perform about a bazillion more successful songs, including this one that may be familiar:

Okay, Elton… I think I forgive you.

Knitwise, I have almost finished the Olympic cowl. I’m not sure how deep it should be, but I think that another inch will do it. Then it’s time to complete the long-overdue project that may also be long-forgotten by the person for whom I agreed to knit it three years ago. For the sake of all that is good in the world, let’s hope so.

Published in: on March 12, 2018 at 9:09 pm  Comments (1)  

1975: Letters

I loved my years at Westgate Elementary. After conquering kindergarten, I spent two years sitting on the younger side of what were called either “split” or “combined” classes made up of children from different grades. Some fluke of demographics had created this circumstance of first/second and second/third grades, membership in which had been framed as a reward for children who could work independently. Not only did I get to listen to everything the older grade was doing on the other side of the room, but sometimes I was picked to do something like read the spelling test words to the older students. I was absorbing everything I could, and my reading level jumped so high that even the double classroom couldn’t contain it. When it was time to join the new reading group, Joe D. and I picked up our workbooks and went down the hall to read with much older kids.

This was also the year of the Carpenters’ remake of “Please Mr. Postman,” when my father swore I would drive him mad with my constant playing of the Number One single on my box of a record player. I probably came pretty close to sending him over the edge. What can I say? I loved the Carpenters and loved the song. #sorrynotsorry

1975 record player

1970s technology is very 1970s.

Third grade was a wonderful time for me, but I combine a lot of my memories with those of fourth grade; the teachers of these grades were new to my school, they were friends who had taught together at a prior school, and I thought they were awesomely cool. I have happy memories of Miss Rood bringing her guitar to school to teach us the song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” of a Christmas play where I got to hide behind the curtain and plug in the Christmas tree at a dramatic moment, of a school visit from a painter who worked from photography, of playing kickball and foursquare and dodgeball on the playground, of Miss Bahorek getting married and including some of my classmates in the ceremony, of a school visit from a published author, and of a class trip to the Columbus Zoo to visit Colo, the gorilla we had raised funds to adopt for a time.

Underwood Leader

My beloved Leader.

It was also around this time that my parents gave me a typewriter. Why? And where did they get this one? Who knows? (Was I an eight-year-old who asked for a typewriter? Do I want the answer to that question?) It may have been the best present ever. I have dim memories of whacking away on a mostly-plastic children’s typewriter, probably from Sears, but this was a real typewriter, a manual Underwood Leader from the 1940s. It was the same model E. B. White posed with on the dust jacket of my copy of Trumpet of the Swan; for me, it might as well have been the very specimen. With it came endless opportunities for storytelling, neighborhood journalism, and labeling; with it also came the occupational hazard of never being able to develop into a true touch typist. The keys required such strength for me to strike that hunt-and-peck became hunt-and-pound out of necessity. Over the years I was able to come up to some respectable speeds. To this day, people who have watched me type at full speed have often called it “interesting.”

This was the typewriter on which I retyped Quotable Quotes from Reader’s Digest, composed newspaper copy, and wrote original (and awful!) short stories. After an incident in eighth grade science class (I hand-wrote an eight-page research paper and developed a callus that never left) I was given permission to use my beloved Leader for homework. I used it constantly in high school and took it with me to college, where it finally locked up halfway through a report on every short story in James Joyce’s Dubliners; I switched to a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter somewhere around page 12, and I held my tongue when my Freshman English professor criticized the inconsistent appearance of the final paper.

I set the Leader aside for several years then, writing on the electronic typewriter until I switched to a Macintosh SE in 1987. From there I went through a series of Macintoshes that culminated in a 2009 iMac, a hand-me-down from my late ex-husband, that I’m using today. The fun bit is that I’m actually typing on a vintage-look Bluetooth-enabled keyboard that has a slight family resemblance to my Leader.

QWERKY Keyboard

“Wine for writing, coffee for editing.”

I have purchased a few other vintage typewriters, usually manuals, in recent years. I still own the Leader, and I even own the little spring that I need to install to return it to full functionality. I have also purchased a complete repair manual for my machine; thank you, Internet! I’ve carried the spring around for over a decade now, but I’ll get around to it. A gift like this, you take care of.

Knitwise, I haven’t been doing very much. I knitted on my Olympic cowl but am still a long way from done. In fact, I made an error early in the last round I knitted and now I must un-knit (so to speak) 110 stitches of [Sl1, P1] before I can again make forward progress. I have looked at a few interesting knit and crochet patterns in the past week, but I know that I am forbidden to cast on anything new until I finish a couple of projects which have been waiting (for an unreasonably long time) to be completed. I’ll take a progress shot of the cowl and get going again. It’s a neat pattern but I would like to FINISH IT and move on to something else.

Published in: on March 5, 2018 at 10:57 pm  Comments (3)  

1974: This is not a drill

If you’re even a casual student of history, you’ll know that several society-shaking events took place in 1974. (I’m not even counting Seth Green’s birth on February 8 or the meteoric rise of Barry Manilow’s recording of “Mandy” on the Billboard charts: thank you, Wikipedia!) Patty Hearst was kidnapped. President Nixon resigned. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. The first UPC code was scanned (in Ohio). And the Cleveland Indians held a Ten-Cent Beer Night they’re probably still trying to forget.

Another event that year shook the ground and the skies. In the first week of April 1974, lines of storm cells formed that were eventually called the “Super Outbreak,” a spawning of 148 tornadoes that ranged from Mississippi to Ontario. The deadliest of them struck Xenia, Ohio on Wednesday, April 3.

Xenia was about an hour’s drive away from where I lived on the West Side of Columbus (okay, the Hilltop). I had never been to Xenia by the tender age of seven, and now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever have been. But on April 4 the mention of the word “Xenia” was enough to give an Ohio kid chills in a way that didn’t happen again until 1981, when a tornado wiped out downtown Cardington in Morrow County.

Our own sky was an odd color, and it was eerily quiet outside. Dad banished us to the basement to take shelter, but stayed on the front porch as long as he could to scan the skies. The next day he let me ride along as he drove around to survey the local damage from the F2 tornado and surrounding storms that had struck Franklin County the previous night. I remember a concrete structure, a beer/wine drive-through, that had been turned into a pile of cinder blocks. It was one block east of Hilltop Hardware and just a few blocks from our house. Dad didn’t say anything, but I sensed that we’d had a narrow escape.


If you grow up in the Midwest, you have to come to terms with two main natural disasters: blizzards and tornadoes. There is nothing you can do to prevent either one, but you can learn to prepare for them and cope with their devastation. If you survive, you’ll have a story to tell. They share an essential unfairness of spirit, as they hit hard and seem determined to cause the maximum amount of damage. Tornadoes in particular seem driven to show you how erratic and cruel they can be: they’ll toss cars through the sky, skip over random houses, and cause power outages and floods when you have no safe place to go. An image from a film shown in elementary school sticks with me: a blade of straw driven into a telephone pole by gale force winds, sticking out boldly as a nail.


The expert analysis of home movie footage from Xenia, shot by some very brave souls with Super 8s, led to the debunking of several tornado-related myths. I remember when our teachers used to tell us to open the windows to help equalize the pressure in the house and potentially reduce the damage. Nowadays the convention wisdom is that the tornado’s winds are going to blow out all the windows anyway, so you would be better off to spend your time taking shelter. But not in the southwest corner of the basement! The next advice was to get under a mattress in the bathtub. I think that these days they just want you to get to the lowest part of the house, away from windows, and if possible under something heavy that probably won’t break. And of course neighborhoods now install and test tornado sirens that will give you an extra minute or two to get to that safe place.

Weather Radio

“Weather station KIG86, broadcasting on a frequency of 162.55 megahertz from the National Weather Service office in Columbus, Ohio.”

Many years later, when I was in graduate school, I wrote an essay titled “Tornado Nights” about the time my family spent taking shelter from potentially dangerous weather. I don’t remember feeling scared; I looked back upon those nights as a time of closeness and security, even if that security was just an illusion my parents felt compelled to provide. (Perhaps I felt a bit too secure; that same year I was playing tennis with friends in some questionable weather when my college roommate uttered the immortal words, “I don’t know about y’all, but where I come from, when the sky turns green we go inside.”)

Time passed; now I was the parent and it was my turn to change scary times into fun times, defusing anxiety with stuffed animals, blankies, video games, and light chatter. And next they became old enough and big enough to bring their own supplies as well as treats to calm a nervous dog who isn’t sure why he’s suddenly being led into the cellar. Now we’re scattered in different locations more often then not, keeping an eye on the sky when the sirens sound, hoping for the winds to pass us by.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 11:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

1973: Here, kitty kitty

When I was little, I desperately wanted a dog. My near-neighbor and default best friend, Joe A., had a succession of dogs: an elegant Collie named Princess and her unworthy and hyperactive successor, a Shetland Sheepdog named Kipper. Though Kipper was probably the right size for a small city house, there was unfortunately no flock of sheep for him to herd. Each time the doorbell rang he flung himself into action, barking furiously as he turned quicker and quicker laps on a short track comprising the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen.

I still wanted a dog. I watched Lassie and Rin Tin Tin on TV — so intelligent! such faithful companions! — and continually lobbied for a dog of my own. Of course I was far too young to think about the more practical concerns of where a dog would stay and who would take care of it. I petted Kipper — when I could catch him — and played with my Ohio grandparents’ dog Simon whenever I visited. Simon liked to fetch but he didn’t like to return whatever it was he had been fetching, so I had to go out into the back yard with two tennis balls at a time: one to throw initially, and a second one to throw to trick him into dropping the first one. Fetching sessions continued until the tennis balls were too wet from dog slobber to try to pick them up.

My West Virginia grandparents had a pair of dogs at this time, but since I only visited a few times a year there was not much satisfaction to be gained. Mickey was a scruffy black terrier mix of some sort, and Annie was a Dachshund. Both of them were getting along in years and not terribly fond of playing with a girl whose other source of fun on vacation was skating on the concrete sidewalk on metal strap-on roller skates.

The memories of my childhood are highlighted by encounters with unexpected dogs — the English Bulldog that Joe D. brought to school for show and tell, the Boxer we found in the park and who waited stoically in our back yard until his owner came to pick him up, when he sprang ecstatically to life. Real dogs, cartoon dogs, storybook dogs, movie dogs — they were all fine with me. I read a book called Follow my Leader that not only offered me practical tips for coping with unexpected childhood blindness but also made me wish, for decades, to raise a seeing eye dog for the blind.

But the dog above all dogs, the dog of my heart, was a Collie. I don’t think Joe A.’s dog was as responsible for this desire as much as the ubiquitous Lassie was. If there was a smarter, friendlier, more beautiful companion on earth I couldn’t think of it, and it seemed a great travesty of justice that I could not have a dog when others could. (Come to think of it, this attitude probably led to my great empathy with Fern Arable in Charlotte’s Web, at just the age it should have.)

Somewhere in the midst of this canine adoration, my father came home one day with a pair of kittens in a cardboard box. They had been left outside the hardware store where he used to work. (Did he still work there every once in a while? Dad always had several jobs as a time, and I’m not sure when some left off and others began. However, when he took me with him to Hilltop Hardware, he was clearly familiar to the current owners.) The other abandoned kittens had found homes, and these last two littermates would be ours: Boots, a grey female with four white paws and a white bib, and Bounce, a male orange tabby. Bounce wasn’t ours for long, as he spent too many of his waking hours climbing up the draperies and being generally incorrigible. But Boots was ours for keeps.

One problem with your first pet is that you tend to assume that its qualities are the qualities of all pets. It turns out that Boots was an unusually jealous animal, exacting a calculated revenge for each infraction you committed, such as petting another animal. Revenge usually consisted of her peeing in an inappropriate location, such as under my bed on the hardwood floor. If you followed her rules, she settled into a kind of benevolent queenship. (Hmm. Now that I think about it, perhaps Bounce was framed!)

Oddly enough, Boots and my father didn’t get along well. She slept on my parents’ bed until one morning when she didn’t get up as usual and my father suspected the worst. “Vickie,” he said, “the cat’s dead. Get a bag and I’ll put her in it.” When the bag was brought over she leapt up with a scream and ran out of the room. They didn’t seem to trust each other after that, and for years the only thing I heard my father say about Boots was, “When that cat dies, we’re never getting another.”


Boots and a boot. Get it?

Boots occasionally went outside in the back yard, and though she had all her claws she really couldn’t climb trees. If something spooked her she would race up the nearest tree trunk, then look around as if puzzled at how she came to be there. I’d have to go out and unhook her from the tree to bring her down.

She had an epic confrontation in that same back yard. Both sets of next-door neighbors were retired couples, but while the Meginnesses let me come next door to practice on their piano and sit with them to watch the “Lawrence Welk Show,” the Millers were on the grouchy side. Doc Miller surprised us with his acquisition of an English Springer Spaniel, a young purebred whose name was Sonny. I’m sure that as an active child with neighborhood friends I was an annoying neighbor to Doc Miller, but Sonny was insufferable. Every time he was let outside he would race up and down the Millers’ short sidewalk, barking at everything in existence until he was let in again. Usually I would give up first and go inside to get away from him. One afternoon, however, I was in the backyard with Boots while Sonny was out. Boots sat on the sidewalk that ran up the center of the yard, facing the white picket fence that separated her and Sonny as they fell into a staring match. With the tension at its peak, Boots spat at the spaniel, something I never saw her do before or since. Sonny erupted into a fury of barking, lunging ineffectively at the fence while Boots got up and walked to the house with the calm demeanor of a matador.

Boots went on to tolerate a pet goldfish and a pet hermit crab and, after we moved to the country, our own succession of dogs (none of them Collies, alas). But they were outside dogs, and she ruled the interior. She settled into being jealous only of other cats to which we paid attention, and enjoyed the rare indulgence of a sudden romp down the hallway that recalled her more active kittenhood. When she wasn’t dozing in a sunbeam, or surviving the winter’s cold by seating herself directly over the furnace vent, she accompanied me as I wrote my way through high school and college. I have had other cats and now enjoy the company of a dog, but there will be no cat like Boots.

Boots in drawer

Circa 1987.

Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

1972: Big Time

In the fall of 1972 I was off to kindergarten. It was just a part-time gig, and my time slot was chosen so that I could still watch Captain Kangaroo every day. It was a new routine and I loved it. I must have loved it, because in one of the few pictures of me from this year I am looking deliriously happy while wearing a pink and white crocheted poncho. Trust me, I would have to have been even happier before putting on this poncho. Even at age five I wanted to do all the same things the boys did rather than look for one instant like a girly girl who was too dressed up to be able to climb a tree at a moment’s notice. (Those of you who only know me as a baking knitter who wears skirts almost every day should be warned that in my heart of hearts I still imagine that I’m a tomboy who’s playing against type.)

I’m amused to review the scant materials tucked in the pocket of my “school days” book. There is one extra copy of my school picture (another is glued or taped into the book), but no class picture. There is a report card that notes various qualities I displayed Consistently, Most of the Time, Part of the time, or Not yet. “My Kindergarten Skills” were marked with an X when I accomplished them, and I’m so proud to say that by the end of this school year I could not only say my full name and use a crayon, but I could also tie my shoes and “put on and take off my wraps.” (Who says that anymore?) Apparently I also knew how to use paste. That skill has really come in handy.

In the book I list no less than sixteen “New Friends” and can even remember who three or four of them are. I list my two favorite activities as coloring and reading (we’ve already discussed the reading part). Alas, I doubt that any examples of my highly developed coloring skills have been preserved from this year.

I’m also amused to note that my “school days” book was filled out by myself, and in cursive. Judging from my progressively more mature handwriting samples in the rest of the book, I learned to write cursive in the third grade (I asked Mom to teach me at home so I could read the notes I carried from my classroom to the principal’s office!) and backfilled the pages from there.

As satisfying as all these memories are, I also remember the confusion and disorientation I felt on the day when the morning and afternoon kindergarten classes switched time slots. I can understand why the powers that be thought it was a good thing to do, but boy am I glad they only did it once. It was probably intended as a gentle orientation to change, but a longer period of that kind of change would have exposed my deep reliance on routines that would, in some cases, evolve into ritualistic behavior.

And I remember the fear and nervousness I felt at the thought of the trial I would have to undergo; before the year was up, I would be expected to stand up in class and count aloud from one to one hundred. In front of Mrs. Medland and everyone! I don’t know how many times I rehearsed this act in my head before finally getting it over with. Was I already someone who shrank from the spotlight and avoided attention, believing all attention to be negative? Accomplishing this task sure didn’t make me feel more brave or confident.

I accomplished one other task this year, not that I had much to do with it: having my tonsils removed. Society has not yet come up with an accurate name for my generation — I was born between the Baby Boomers and Generation X — but I was born to that narrow demographic of children whose tonsils were removed at age 5 whether or not they had been troublemakers. This window was so narrow that by the time my brother, born just three years after me, turned five years old they simply weren’t doing this any more. (That was so three years ago.) It really was like being on an assembly line: turn five, go to the hospital, go to sleep on a table, wake up with a sore throat and be told that you could have as much ice cream as you wanted. (Totally worth it.) I recovered in the hospital next to my best friend Joe, who was born two days earlier and lived two houses down the street. (The only reason he didn’t make it to my list of kindergarten friends was because the book asked for new friends.) My mother sat up all night in the same room with us, nervous. Joe’s mom, more experienced than mine at this motherhood thing, had come prepared, and we should probably just leave it at that.

In 1972 the world was busy turning inside out and upside down, but I was finding my groove. My inside world was developing, and the outside world wouldn’t have a measurable impact on it for years to come. There were now books to read, bicycles to learn how to ride, and trees to climb.

Knitwise, I seamed up the four slippers last week and have mailed them off to West Virginia without even a thought as to Actually Taking a Picture of Them for the Sake of Posterity. As a matter of fact, several items got shipped off today. I have good intentions, then I search for the right-sized box, and then somehow it’s five years later and the only thing pressuring me to finally send the gosh-darn whatever-it-is is my remaining shred of honor. Over the weekend I prepared five packages that ranged from almost-timely to three-years-late, and a friend took them to the post office today and launched them into the mailstream. Safe passage, tardy objects! May you be appreciated on the other side. I also pawned off the baby blanket items to my crocheting friend, who will make the rest of the squares. We might have to arm wrestle to see who has to gets to seam them all together for Oliver.

Meanwhile, as an apparent delaying tactic to avoid making the finishing touch to a knitted object begun three years ago, I cast on for an Olympics project. I used to participate in Ravelympics and Knitting Olympics events, but have fallen away. But this year I had to do something, as a high school classmate’s son almost qualified for the Olympic speed skating team (you’ll go next time, Austin Kleba!) and I just felt I had to have a project on the needles while I watched my favorite events. I have habitually watched ice skating in all its forms, and gradually expanded my viewing to include skiing and snowboarding events, but for the last few Games curling has been my new love. I wish I could play. Anyway, I chose the Sochi colorway from Cephalopod Yarns and cast on for a slip-stitch cowl. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures of this one, as the pattern shouldn’t get lost in the admittedly vibrant rainbow colorway.

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 9:43 pm  Comments (2)  

1971: Before I could read

A few decades ago, my father asked me if I thought it was possible that someone who knew how to read could view text in their native language and not be able to read it. I never asked him why he had asked the question, but I believe that my answer at the time was No – I didn’t think that a literate person could not be able to read something.

I still think that answer is basically true. A stroke or a bout of aphasia could impair your ability to read for a certain amount of time, and acute trauma could impair your perceptions to a degree that might include reading or speech, but I don’t know that personal literacy is something you can voluntarily disable. (Officer: “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” Driver: “The red sign? I saw it, but I decided not to read it. Did it say something important?”)


When I went off to kindergarten at age five, I could not yet read. I remember the thick workbook that we used that year, full of colorful pictures and words and phrases in simple black type. I remember the meaningless, the flatness of it before I was able to crack the code. I also remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could do it — I could read the words! I could read all the words, including the ones on the previous pages. Yesterday I was going through the motions, but today I could really read!


Because my birthday is in the middle of summer, I can guess that I learned to read when I was about five and a half. But I had been surrounded by words much longer — probably all my life — and my parents thought I already knew how to read. I was outed during a visit to West Virginia, when I sat with my great-grandfather and we read my favorite book, “Hop on Pop.” Everyone was impressed with my precocious abilities until Grandpap turned two pages at once and I proceeded to recite the text printed on the skipped page. (You would think that my family members would have been even more impressed by my ability to memorize an entire book, but that was apparently not the case.)

After I did learn to read I was rarely without a book, or any other collection of words. I strayed from the shelves of books at my reading level so that I could try something more advanced. At the public library this meant moving from the children’s books room to the shelf just outside that held the Encyclopedia Brown series, and later to a book on how to write Chinese characters. At the school library this meant leaving the Matt Christopher sports series (and exciting titles like Catcher with a Glass Arm and Slam Dunk!) for the thickest book on the nonfiction shelf (which turned out to be a stultifyingly dull book about wildflowers or botany or something; ugh). I read voraciously in the two newspapers that came to our house every day, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in the morning and the weightier and more conservative Columbus Dispatch in the evening. I typed up my own attempt at a neighborhood newspaper on my manual typewriter in the fourth grade (there was only one edition; it’s quite the rarity) and eventually I began writing my own short stories and longer pieces.

Kids these days are a bit quicker on the draw than I was, and all of mine learned to read before I did. My third child, probably out of sheer boredom, taught himself to read at age three by playing Pixar movies with the captions on. His younger brother thought this was normal, and duly copied him. But all four of them have discovered, enjoyed, written, and illustrated stories much more complicated than “Hop on Pop,” to which dozens of homemade chapbooks detailing the adventures of Toilet Man, Captain Chale, and the TIME HOLE attest; the elder two are writing fan fiction and moving on to create their own complex and realistic fictional worlds, for which I occasionally serve as a sounding board and consultant.


Can they look at something and not read it? I’ll ask them without telling them why I want to know.



Knitwise, I have finished the two pairs of slippers for my grandmother; I only have to seam them up. That’s close enough to actually being done to let me think about the next project I should finish: Oliver’s blanket. I will have some crocheting to do for that blanket to realize my original vision. (Actually, my original vision called for someone else to crochet the squares.) Alternatively, I could frog the squares I’ve knitted and just knit a regular freakin’ blanket, which might take less time but would have more joins. Where’s the fun in that? (To hasten my work I’ll try to think about how cold that poor newborn child must be during our round after round subzero temperatures, and I’ll ignore all the cuddly, snuggly Facebook pictures already posted by my friend, his doting grandmother.) When I’m done with the baby blanket it will finally be time to finish the Swedish Surprise.

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

1970: The very creaky chair

NOTE: As I find, or take, pictures of this chair I will use them to illustrate this post.

In my home library there is a rocking chair in which no one ever sits. Its spindled back, these days, is draped with a blanket I knitted a year ago; on the seat rests a round gold cushion that I use on the extremely rare occasions I decide to sit zazen. A tote bag with my current knitting projects hangs from one of the back posts. At night, my discarded daytime clothes lay atop the gold cushion; during the day, my pillows sit on the seat after I convert my futon from bed to couch.

The chair is positioned in the corner of the room, in front of a bookcase that houses sheet music for piano, guitar, and saxophone; books about musicians ranging from John Denver to Leonard Cohen; books about guitar building, playing, and repair; and at least a hundred compact discs, a few cassette tapes, and dozens of record albums. The cherry-laminate bookcase is topped with stereo components and flanked by speakers. If I want to find a disc or an album, I must first drag the rocking chair out of the way; that’s when I see the grooves that the rockers have pressed into my carpet.

Why do I keep this chair in such an awkward spot? The short answer is that it literally won’t fit anywhere else. It’s too wide to fit through the doorways of the upstairs bedrooms (I’ve tried), and none of my sons has expressed a desire to have it in his room. There’s not enough space for it in any other room in this house, and moving it to the basement would probably destroy it through heat and cold cycles, floods, and vermin.

A longer answer is that this chair isn’t something I want to use every day. It’s a family heirloom, and I’m afraid that if it were used more often it would break. When my children where little, just big enough to climb into it and really get it going, I was terrified that they would over-rock it and topple over backwards (they came close). I don’t even remember how it came to be my chair; perhaps when I started living on my own in my twenties, I had room for it when others did not and never subsequently gave it up.

There’s nothing particularly special about this chair’s construction. In fact, if you sat in it you might be convinced that its construction was about to fail at any second. It creaks when you sit in it, creaks when you rise from it, and practically screams if you rock in it. Yet it has surely been in my family for at least a century.

At some point several years ago I did a bit of research and found that this type of chair is called a grandfather chair because of the breadth of its seat; narrower chairs are called, predictably, grandmother chairs. In my family’s case this is a bit ironic, as the story goes that my father, now within one moon of turning 84, was rocked to sleep in this chair as an infant in his grandmother’s lap. I’m not sure which of my father’s grandmothers it was who did the rocking. Grandma Grace had four sons, including my grandpa; Grandma Naomi had two sons and three daughters, including my grandma. Either way, the chair had probably been used to rock many babies before my father came along – perhaps even the entire previous generation.

My great-grandmothers passed on in the 50s and 60s, and then Grandma passed on in the 70s. Her youngest son – of eight boys! – was just twenty years old when she died. Many years later I told him that I had the rocking chair. A smile spread across his face and he asked, “Was it really creaky?” He couldn’t have heard his brothers being rocked in the chair; perhaps he watched and listened as my cousins, his nieces and nephews and maybe even myself, were rocked in it. (If it were that creaky by the 1960s, it must have given us Lamb babies a tolerance for high levels of ambient noise, which is not necessarily a bad thing.)

It’s not a Windsor chair, an Adirondack chair, a Bentwood rocker, a Mission rocker, or anything you can call up on the first (or second) page of a Google Image search. It could be oak, might be maple, might be store-bought, might be homemade (generations of woodworkers and cabinetmakers run through all my family trees). But it’s irreplaceable to me and I will continue to take care of it.

This chair is the source of my first memory. My mother sat in this chair in the summer of 1970, rocking something in her lap that I thought at the time was a kitten. It turned out to be my little brother, and life would never be the same.

In my knitting life, I did in fact miss a day of knitting at least one stitch – last Friday, when all was chaos. That’s not so bad over the course of a month. There’s been more than enough going on to keep me busy and cause plenty of stress, which has driven me to do more with my meditation. It can’t hurt, and neither should the knitting.

I have finished knitting three of four slippers for my grandmother; after I finish the fourth slipper I will seam them all and then work on squares for a baby blanket for a friend who recently became a grandmother. Why is it that I am constantly knitting for grandmothers? I suppose that the blanket is really for Oliver, not Jenny. When Oliver’s blanket is done I will have some project choices to make: cast on for a local knitalong, or finish a project that was promised three years ago? Cast your vote in the comments.

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 9:50 pm  Comments (1)  

1969: To the Moon

Two years after the Summer of Love, it was the summer of ’69. (For those of you who like to keep track of such things, Bryan Adams was a lad of nine years old and Jackson Browne actually was twenty-one.)

Woodstock poster

My parents weren’t hippies and they certainly weren’t about to run off to Woodstock. (In fact, I don’t even know anyone who ran off to Woodstock. When I was in my thirties I worked on a magazine with a senior editor whose hippie friends had invited him to come along with them to this little concert in upstate New York. He considered it, but the date conflicted with his first day of boot camp and he chose the Air Force instead.) My parents did own a couple of Peter, Paul, and Mary albums and a record entitled “Summer of 70” that I might break out for next week’s story, but their form of counterculture was the mid-60s folk song parody as rendered by, variously, Tom Lehrer, the Smothers Brothers, or the New Christy Minstrels. (These performances prepared me for Lehrer’s later work on “The Electric Company,” the fractured fairy tales from “Rocky and Bullwinkle,’ Monty Python, and, ultimately, Weird Al Yankovic. But I digress.)

The other big event in the summer of 1969 was, in some ways, the biggest event of the millennium: the moon landing. Of course, I don’t remember any of it. And by the time I was old enough to remember such things, NASA wasn’t doing such things any more; I wouldn’t see anything so spectacular until the Space Shuttle Columbia’s thrilling launch and safe landing in 1981. I learned about it in two ways: a book about the space program (over which my brother and I later fought) and my stamp collection.

Explorer stamp album Freedom stamp album World Wide stamp album

Didn’t everyone have a stamp collection in the 1970s? My stamp albums, Harris Grab Bags, and glassine hinges all came from the Woolworth’s hobby aisle. I spent countless hours soaking them in the bathroom sink, drying them on paper towels, sorting them, and mounting them. I learned that Hungary and Poland had the coolest stamps (thank you, Magyar Posta!). The Queen’s profile, often in silver, was on every stamp of her provinces. Some countries even issued stamps in the shape of TRIANGLES. The mind reels. I traveled around the world on these small pieces of paper, which I catalogued on larger pieces of paper.

When my parents saw how careful I was with my stamp collection, they entrusted me with something precious – a first day cover of the moon landing stamp. I was in awe.

Moon landing first day cover

This one isn’t mine, but mine looks an awful lot like this one.

“Thank you!” I [hope I] exclaimed. Then, after a careful examination of the date on the cancellation, “Did I see this?”

“Yes,” they told me. “It was important, so we sat you down in front of the TV and you watched it.”

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, I was watching. My parents had made sure of it.

Curiously enough, I never actually imagined myself an astronaut or took any steps towards becoming one. I don’t think anyone would have discouraged me – certainly it would not have been the most improbable career I ever entertained – but my goals just didn’t go in that direction. When I was a bit older I saw myself as a scientist, but one doing pure research in a lab somewhere, wearing a blindingly white lab coat. Nevertheless, the moon and the stars have remained objects of fascination for me.

Apollo movie launch

That fascination resurfaces whenever I come across “Apollo 13” and feel compelled to watch it to the end. It resurfaced when I waited for months to watch “Hidden Figures” in the theater, and bought it as soon as the DVD came out. It shows itself again whenever the stars are clear, the moon is dramatic, or the sun is eclipsed.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.

I didn’t give a knitting update last week, but I have finished a sideways striped scarf, a hat to match a scarf previously made, and one pair of slippers for Grandmother (to be honest, I still have to seam them up). I promised myself that this year I would knit at least one stitch every day, and so far I have kept that promise. That does mean that I shall have to knit at least one stitch tonight, and I have had slightly more than my allotment of fermented grapes. Nevertheless, she persisted. Maybe I’ll break out the bubblegum-pink yarn and start knitting a special hat. Who needs?

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

1968: Wee Bonnie

While teenagers were fighting in Vietnam, college students were protesting in Ohio, and athletes were protesting in Mexico City, I was turning one year old. My parents’ photo album has a few pictures of me from this time, happy beyond reason and chubby beyond belief, being held upright by my father in the kiddie pool at Wee Bonnie Swim Club.

As I grew up I spend most of my summertime outside, usually in the immediate neighborhood or just a block away at Westgate Park. But terrestrial charms would inevitably fade as the temperatures rose, and when we could bear it no more we would be gathered with our beach towels and sunscreen to be driven to Wee Bonnie for an afternoon in the water. It was less than two miles away but it felt like going to another world.

Wee Bonnie high dive

Not my photo. Not my dad. And that diving board isn’t half as tall as it is in my memories.

Wee Bonnie actually consisted of a golf course adjacent to a swimming pool. My father, in a previous life, had managed the golf course and also worked as a lifeguard. Whether or not we had an ‘in’ at the place I’m not sure, but in those days Dad was still lifting weights and doing amateur bodybuilding, so he was rather buff. Mom knew she would be able to spread out her beach towel and relax for a little while as my brother and I splashed in the shallow end of the big pool; Dad would keep an eye on us.

As far as amenities go, Wee Bonnie didn’t seem to have very many. There was a large L-shaped pool with a high dive at the deep end, a few lifeguard chairs, and a concession stand. The only building was of cinder blocks, and I remember feeling disoriented at being separated from my family as we passed through the changing areas. Then, ready to swim, I walked out into the sun, and the brilliant green of the grass and the whiff of chlorine pulled me into the chaotic scene of swimming, splashing, running, and yelling.

There must have been music coming from somewhere, but I don’t remember it; I recall, perhaps erroneously, that periodically a siren would sound for a ten-minute rest period. All the kids had to leave the pool, and adults could swim for ten minutes while kids rested. We always hoped to time our arrival at the pool so that we didn’t get there just in time for the rest break.

Wee Bonnie was where I had the snacks I never had at home. After my Wee Bonnie days were over it was many years before I bought a pack of Twizzlers; when I opened that first package I could almost feel the sun on my skin and smell chlorine in the air (and my hair).


Wee Bonnie was where I dared to swim underwater with my eyes open; where I thought that lifeguards were the rulers of the world, and I lived in fear of being the subject of a blast from their whistles; where I eventually climbed up the tall, tall ladder and inched to the end of the long, long board and finally jumped feet-first into the water, going deeper under the water than I had thought possible and emerging, underwhelmed, with a nose full of chlorinated water. It was more fun to sit on my beach towel on the grass and watch Dad do jackknife after jackknife from the high dive.

And Wee Bonnie was the answer after a summer vacation during which my brother and I, without any conscious attempt at synchronization, simultaneously and individually went beyond our depths in the hotel’s swimming pools. Dad pulled me from the pool as I went down for the third time (I remember counting); my brother made a valiant attempt to fight off his rescuer but was, ultimately, rescued. The next year we took swimming lessons at Wee Bonnie; at the end of the summer we posed, grinning, with the patches that proved we had surpassed Tadpole and Minnow status.

We moved away; Wee Bonnie went on without us until times changed. One year we drove past, visiting the old neighborhood, and saw that the gates were locked and the pool had been filled in. Now Wee Bonnie has a Facebook page where the Westgate Park area kids of the 60s, 70s, and 80s can share their memories of the pool, the concessions, and that awe-inspiring high dive.

Published in: on January 15, 2018 at 8:48 pm  Comments (1)