Monday, June 6, 2016

The dead angel at Buba's house

When we would go to Buba's house at 34 Lewis Road in Swampscott, there wasn't a heck of a lot for a little girl to do around all these grown-ups. Sometimes my siblings were with me but, surprisingly, I don't have a lot of memories of being there with them.

I would bring my Barbies and play with them a lot. Buba had an old blue foot stool with embroidered flowers on it that looked like a little bed. I used to put my dolls to sleep on it and cover them in little blankets. Sometimes Buba had some things to play with on her side porch. She always seemed to have paper dolls. They were OK for a short time but I didn't have delicate little hands, and I would end up accidentally tearing the tabs off the tops of the dresses and then they wouldn't stay on the doll. Or I'd color. Or I'd play "secretary" on her old typewriter. I remember writing poems on that typewriter as well.

Many times, though, I would go exploring through her Cape Cod style house. It wasn't an extremely old house, but to me a house from the 1920's seemed ancient.

Grandad in his red chair in his den.
I liked going into Grandad's den and sitting in the red leather chair in the corner. One day in the future that chair would find a loving place in my own home. I liked looking at all the old photos he had on the wall. People I didn't know, but I knew they were connected to me. It was warm and cozy in that den with wood paneling and dark colored furniture.

He had a really cool desk with all these cubby holes in them that I liked to stick my hands in and out of. I think my mother had that for a while.

Buba had some cool things too. In her living room, especially. One of them I was both fascinated by and terrified of. It was a rectangular ceramic tile that sat cradled on a silver plate holder. It depicted Cupid with his golden blond locks, sleeping sweetly by the water.

As an adult now, I can describe it to you that way. The gorgeous colors. The serene beauty of the cherub as he slept so deeply.

As a small child, though, I was convinced it was a dead angel that was shot down by a bow and arrow. No one could convince me otherwise. I was terrified of it. But I couldn't stop walking up to it and looking at it. I never went into that room without looking at it. I'd have anxiety about it while I slept upstairs. Some times I'd be really brave and get up really close to it and study it. I had some logic that it had some sort of spell or magic attached to it. Buba thought I was being ridiculous and she and my mother got a big laugh over my "thing" about that piece.

In 2015 I visited my Aunt Jean's apartment in Reading, Massachusetts. There we were having a nice glass of iced tea in her living room talking about family. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted it. In her dining room.

I hadn't thought of it in years...maybe not since I was a child, even. I surprised my Aunt and jumped up and ran over to it.

"The dead angel!" I said, looking at her with huge eyes and pointing my finger at it.

My aunt, a very gentile and well mannered woman, looked perplexed and annoyed at the same time.
"That," she said indignantly as she walked over to me, "is Eros, or Cupid. It is not a dead angel."

"Yes. It is too a dead angel." I insisted, nodding my head and crouching down to look at it more closely.
Cupid, they tell me. 

This banter went on for a good minute or two.  My 90+ year old Aunt was becoming more and more irate at my seemingly lack of education and appreciation of art.

I snapped a photo of it.

I then told her the story of my encounters with it as a child. How I was enthralled with it and scared to death of it. How I would circle around it to see if it was going to come alive. How I would never play with my back to the dead angel because I wanted to keep an eye on it at all times.

And just like Buba. Just like my mother. My Aunt burst out laughing. "That is the silliest thing I have ever heard of, Jenny!" But she kept laughing.

It is incredible the memories our mind retains. Of good things, of scary things, of long forgotten and fleeting memories. My mother tells me this piece was always displayed in HER grandmother's house (Luta Shrum). She has special memories of it as well. But not scary ones.

I had a similar experience in Buba's scary basement with other family objects. Either I was just a kid that got scared a lot or I just had too much free time when I was there.

 I'll save that for my next post.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hockey makes it all better

Growing up as a child I was never overly interested in sports. My brothers and Dad were more aviation geeks than sport followers. My Dad did like baseball, though, and he would follow the Red Sox. He took me to a game at Fenway when I was a teenager. I remember Carl Yazstremski  and Carlton Fisk were both playing in the game I went to, so I'll leave it to you to narrow down the years. But baseball never really took a strong hold on me. I liked it and I watched it, but I could take it or leave it.

But then came hockey. The Hartford Whalers to be exact. And my love for it and them all happened due to my sister Lynn's divorce. Lynn worked for Travelers and was in a  hockey booster club called the 91 club where she got discounted season tickets and who all drove up I-91 to Springfield, Mass to see the Whalers play.

Yes, I said Springfield, Mass. That January of 1978, the Hartford Civic Center roof caved in and the Whalers were now without a home. The Whalers were actually the New England Whalers at that point in 1978. They belonged to the WHA (World Hockey Association). While the Civic Center was rebuilt, the Whalers were offered the Springfield Civic Center. They stayed there for 2 years until the new Hartford Civic Center re-opened 1980, and the New England Whalers were now the Hartford Whalers and were a part of the NHL.

But back to 1978. Lynn and her husband Glen Drake were going through a divorce and Lynn got custody of the hockey tickets. She asked me if I wanted to go see some games. I was 13 at the time. We had just moved to South Windsor and I was having a pretty tough time of it with being bullied. I was extremely unhappy. Looking back on it, I think Lynn suddenly realized I was struggling and decided she would at least try to get me out of the house once in a while. I figured why not. It was something to do. Sure, I'll go, I said.

I loved hockey! It was 90 minutes of fast paced action. I completely forgot about any troubles I had going on in South Windsor, and I threw myself completely into learning everything I could about the game, the players and the league.

Christmas 1977
My favorite player was Mike Rogers. He played center, and he was scrappy and fast and super talented. Lynn and I would go down and sit in the front row seats of our section and watch the warms-ups since the ticket holders never came until the game had started. Thus began me waving and smiling and acting like a complete doofus every time Mike skated by. Eventually, he caught on and every game he would skate by and wave and smile, or tap his stick against the glass to say hello. It was our thing.

In 1978, my favorite Christmas present was the Rogers jersey I received for Christmas. Mike eventually signed it a few years later.

Meeting Mike. Age 13
Then came my chance to meet him in person. The Whalers were doing a meet and greet in the Civic Center center court and Mike was one of the players who would be there. I wasn't even a bit nervous to meet him. I was just so darn happy as you can see in the photo to the right. I was about 13 there. After I told him my name, I started to explain who I was, thinking he wouldn't really get the connection that I was the crazy one who waved at him every warm up. He laughed and said, "I know exactly who you are! I'm so happy to have a name to go with you now. Nice to meet you Jenny!"

How can you not love a guy like that?

Mike was a sweet and special guy. He introduced me to his wife, Ann, at the first Booster Club banquet, and if it were at all possible, she was even nicer than he was. She loved that I adored her husband and was very kind and encouraging to me whenever I would see her at hockey games or at events. She always remembered me by name.

Age 15, Posing with Mike Rogers at a Whaler banquet
When their daughter, Dayna, was born, I sent them a stocking I had made with her name on it and a baby's first Christmas ornament. Mike called me at home. I have no idea how he found my number, but I was beside myself with happiness. I'll never forget it. I was doing my Spanish homework and the phone rang. When he said who he was I didn't believe him. I thought it might have been one of the boys who bullied me at school trying to trick me. Mike kept saying, "No, sweetie, it's really me." I made him tell me his wife and daughter's names, plus how many goals he had scored so far that year to prove that it was really him! He laughed, and thankfully got the answers all right, and I finally believed him. I couldn't believe he was calling me. He said he just wanted to thank me for the gift for Dayna and for being such a caring and loving person. I almost couldn't handle it while I was talking to him. You haven't read yet what I was going through at the time in South Windsor, but for someone to say such nice things to me was something I had a hard time even letting him say out loud. I kept interrupting him and telling him he didn't need to say any of that.

My sister, Lynn, wrote to Mike shortly before my 15 birthday and asked if he could give me a signed hockey stick. I had no idea. So, there we were down in the front seats for warm-ups that night. Mike didn't take his usual lap around to wave or tap the glass to me. I was a little disappointed. But then he came out on the ice and skated straight for the rink door that was right next to us. The Zamboni came out that door. Mike skated over and looked at me and smiled and tapped on the glass to get the ice crew's attention. One of the guys came over and opened the door. Mike handed him a stick and pointed over to me. The guy handed the stick over to me and said, "This is from Mike. He says Happy Birthday Jenny." I was floored! Mike just grinned and skated away. I looked at the stick and not only was it signed by Mike, but by the entire team. Names like Gordie Howe and Mark Howe.

Mike was traded to the New York Rangers when I was a junior in high school. Devastating, to say the least. But I had come a long way since I had first met him and I accepted it quickly and knew that he would do well anywhere he played until he retired or went back to Calgary, Alberta Canada where he and Ann were originally from. I tried to keep up with Rangers, but it just wasn't the same. Mike eventually went on to the Edmonton Oilers and then retired from playing and became a coach in Canadian minor league hockey. The Whalers, of course, left Hartford and moved to North Carolina. Connecticut is still not over it, and you see Whalers memorabilia all over the place.

In 2010, there was a Whalers reunion held at Renchtler Field in East Hartford. Whaler alumni were all getting together for a meet and greet. Thousands of people showed up. I waited in line for 3 hours to see Mike again. When I got up to him I had a photo I had taken of him and Ann at one of the Whalers banquets. I gave it to him. Then I showed him the photo of him and I at the event. I said, to him, "I'm sure you don't remember me, but, I'm Jenny. "  He shook his head and said, "Oh my God, yes! Of course I remember you. How are you?"

I babbled on to him about my life and how I had named my third daughter, Michelle, after him because he had made such a big impact on my life. He looked truly touched and looked me in the eyes and said, "I can't believe that. Wow. Just wow."

Mike Rogers and me, in 2010 at the Whaler reunion
Honestly, he could have just been being polite. But I didn't care. He was genuinely happy to see how excited I was to see him, and when I asked to pose for a photo with him, he didn't hesitate. He hugged me after this photo and said how much he appreciated me remembering him and coming out after so many years.

So hockey was a real saving grace for me through those years I lived in South Windsor. And it continued to be a wonderful part of my life after we moved back to Windsor and my life got so much better. It was like the icing on the cake at that point. And I know Mike really has no concept of how important he was in the life of a 13 year old girl who was struggling so terribly.

Who would have thought hockey would make such a difference?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Through the looking glass

Being the youngest has benefits, trust me.  I was slightly coddled and spoiled and fussed over to a point. But it has its drawbacks. Like being blamed for every naughty thing that goes on and being teased by your older siblings.

In my case, my siblings were quite a bit older than me. The year that I was born, Chuck was 13, Lynn was 12, Robin was 10. Rick was the closest to my age at 6 years older than me.

Me, age 3, with my brother Rick 
So as I've mentioned in previous posts, when I was old enough, and Rick wasn't too old, we would hang out and play together with the other neighborhood kids.

For the most part we got along. But Rick was a teaser. And I was just a tiny bit overly dramatic with a wee bit of temper. One incident when I was 5 would pretty much prove both.

When I went to kindergarten Mom went back to work part time. I think the first job she had was working at Carvelle's restaurant in Wilson as a hostess. I remember going there sometimes to pick her up and hoping she would let me have a soda. Sometime she did. Most times she said I could have water, which of course was absolutely no fun.

On afternoons that she had to work, usually Chuck, who was 18 or Lynn, 17, would babysit me.

On this particular day Chuck was home. Rick and I were outside playing. We went to go inside and Rick ran ahead of me and  he thought it would be funny to run in the house and hold the glass door closed so I couldn't get in. Then he thought it was even funnier to lock the glass door. Then he thought it absolutely hysterical to point at me and say things like, " can't get in. Sorry, see you tomorrow!"

I kicked the door. I rang the bell, I cried and knocked on the door. Then I started getting mad, so I knocked harder. Then I started pounding on the glass door and crying and telling him he'd better let me in.

All of a sudden, my pounding resulted in my right arm crashing through the glass pane of the front door. I don't remember any pain. I just remember the look on Rick's face, and the blood everywhere.
Rick's face went white and he took off to find Chuck. I was in shock, and kept thinking that if I went inside I would get blood all over the floor and Mom would be really mad at me. So I had it in my head that I had to hide.

I crunched over the broken shards of glass and hopped off the front steps and started running. I thought I'd hide out in the woods in the backyard of our house. Maybe I thought my arm would just stop bleeding and I could just come inside later and no one would know. I was 5, remember. Then I remember feeling the blood hitting my legs as I ran and thought maybe this was worse than I thought, and maybe I should just go around to the back door and sit still in the grass--figuring the blood wouldn't do any harm pooling in the grass.

By the time I got to the back door, Chuck was there. I panicked that he was mad at me and I started running around to the front of the house again. Chuck caught up with me and tackled me around the waist. He picked me and ran me across the street to the Long's house. Mrs. Long was a nurse. I don't really remember anything else until I was in the emergency room. I'm guessing Mrs. Long assessed me and then she brought me to the hospital. I remember laying on a table in the emergency room and the nurse cleaning my arm and it was hurting now. They were sewing my arm up with what looked like a sewing needle and brown thread. I remember crying and the nurse gave me a rootbeer lolipop to eat while they finished up. The scar was about 5 inches long and deep.
Two years after "the Incident." Still buddies

They fit me for a soft cast for some reason. My mother thinks it was because of my age and they didn't want me picking at the scar or getting it dirty. What I remember about that cast is that I wasn't allowed to go on the swings or play on the playground during recess. Maybe because they didn't want me to bust any stitches.
I had to pick a quiet toy and I would sit under a tree for recess. I'm sure I picked a different toy every day, but I remember mostly picking one of those Fisher Price yellow buses with the eyes on the front and you pull it along and the eyes move back and forth. .There were people with round bodies and a hole in the bottom that would stick inside of the bus. There was even a dog. I loved that bus.

My Dad fixed the glass window and he put a metal guard across the front of it so that nothing like that happened again. Rick and I continued to hang out. Today, that scar is still pretty visible. My temper is much better.