Monday, March 7, 2011

Only a Moment Ago

We remember the moments in tiny flashes, usually triggered unexpectedly. Pieced together, they take us back to another time: to a world filled with sounds and smells and sights once a taken-for-granted part of our everyday life.

Last week, I returned to the fall of 1970.

I'm getting ready for school. I yank the pink sponge curlers from my hair and brush out the tangled curls. I pull on the brown leather jumper my mother has laid out on my dresser. My stretched-out knee socks fall to my shins, and I secure a rubber band around the top of each, to hold them into place.

Scanning what remains in the Kellogg's Snack Pack in the cupboard, I select a box of Sugar Smacks. I carefully slice it open on the dotted lines. I pour in the milk and eat the cereal straight from the tiny box.

I thumb through the pink Melmac bowl filled with plastic bus tokens, avoiding the toothmark-riddled ones apparently once gnawed by some nasty boy at my school. I grab my metal Monkees lunch box, containing a wax-paper wrapped bologna sandwich, apple and a Snick-Snack bar from my pillowcase of Halloween candy.

It's an okey-doke school day.Yes, we have to suffer through an hour of Mass, but I stay entertained by staring at the older boy I adore from afar who is serving as an Altar Boy. I sigh, watching him lighting the candles, in his black and white robe. Too bad there is no such thing as Altar Girls; I would surely become one.

It's a warm November day, and after school I grab my roller skates. I slide the metal soles across the bottom of my tennis shoes until they fit snugly. I turn the key, locking them into place. My best friend Joyce and I take a break from skating in the street to jump in the pile of newly raked leaves at her curb. Her father shoos us away. He bends down, lighting the pile afire with his metal Zippo lighter. We watch the flames spark and enjoy the smell of burning leaves before our mothers call us in for dinner.

It's Friday night. Dad's bowling tonight and my two older sisters are at sleep-overs, so Mom and I get a treat: TV dinners. I help Mom pull the two metal trays from the oven and we carefully carry them to the living room where we place them each on a folding TV table. I peel away the foil on top, as Mom turns on the television set.

The TV warms up, a tiny ball of light in the center of the screen glowing and then expanding into a full color picture. We just got the new color TV last year, and I'm still excited every time we turn it on.

We have a choice of five stations. I watch the news with mixed interest until my favorite line-up of shows starts at 7:30: The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, and The Partridge Family.

We take a quick break to make a snack. Mom heats some oil in our biggest iron skillet and pours in a bit of popcorn. I need both hands to shake the covered pan, listening until the kernels stop bursting before emptying the popcorn into a green Tupperware bowl. I grab a large tin can of Hawaiian Punch from the cupboard. I listen to the air hiss out as I punch it open with a can opener. I struggle with the metal ice tray, and Mom takes over. She succeeds in pulling the lever hard enough to loosen the cubes and drops a few in my pink aluminum glass.

Before I head to bed at 9:00, she reminds me to call my grandmother to thank her for my birthday card and the $10 bill slipped inside. I pull the heavy plastic receiver from our phone which hangs on the kitchen wall. The cord is tangled, so I let it dangle for a moment, watching as the receiver twirls from the unraveling cord. My index finger pulls the dial clockwise for each number, and I wait as it slowly ticks backward before I continue dialing.

Grandma is pleased to hear from me. I eagerly tell her everything I bought with the $10 she sent: the Partridge Family record album, a Nancy Drew book, and a Twist N Turn Barbie doll.

Lying in bed, I listen to my new album, singing along from the lyrics on the record sleeve.

I can't imagine a much more perfect day.

I wonder what tomorrow might bring.

What do you remember?


  1. I LOVE the Kellogg's snack pack cereals. Always something different! PLUS who needs a stinkin bowl!? Didn't you have change left over from that $10 too, haha~! How times have changed!

  2. Ah, walking down memory lane! What is it about our pasts that tempt us so? TV dinners, The Brady Bunch, Grandmas sending birthday money in a card, rotary dials. I remember much of the same. I would add running through the streets of NYC, barefoot. Every day Mom would have to ply broken glass from the bottoms of my feet. It was the price I paid for a happy childhood.

  3. Yes! Popcorn, the way it used to be made. That took me back.

    My dad had an aluminum coffee pot with a glass piece at the top where you could see the coffee brewing. It made this delicious gurgling sound. And the smell ... Heaven.

    I'm jealous of the Sugar Smacks. My mom would only buy Cheerios, so every time I went to a friend's house the only thing I wanted to eat was sugared cereal.

  4. i remember cassette tapes (oh mickey you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey mickey, hey mickey)

    i remember cloth covered journals with entries like, "Dear Diary, Today I got in a fight with mom because she still won't let me wear make-up to school. When will I ever get to be an ADULT?!!!

    and twist-a-beads
    and silver flats
    and neon clothing
    and bike rides to a friends house where we would ride through a corn field and steal ears of corn and fresh tomatoes (i know, pirates of the great midwest, right?) to make lunch while watching days of our lives and another world soap operas during summer afternoons.

    Dear Diary,

    When will I ever get to be a kid again?!!!

  5. Amanda: I remember record albums were $5 and the Nancy Drew books were $1.50 for a hardcover edition. Barbies were a few bucks. I probably did have change--which was promptly used for penny candy at Don's Carryout on Byrne Road.

    MSB: Yes, bare feet! From April through September. But man, you must have had soles made of steel!

    Glasseye: We had one of those coffee pots too! I totally forgot about that!

    Amy: I remember my sister and her friend stealing a big bag of corn from one of the last farm fields left near our neighborhood. We cooked it all up, slathered the ears in butter and then were sorely disappointed when it turned out to be feed corn. And hey, the good news is we WILL get to be kids again: in about 40 years.

  6. You just wrote a Friday that I remember except maybe I wasn't in school just yet. But close. We didn't have kindergarten where I grew up until the year I started first grade at nearly six years old. But wowowowowow. The Friday night TV line up. Yes! A metal Scooby Doo lunchbox. The rubber bands on knee socks, bare feet, the spinning phone at the end of the tangled cord. TV trays, popcorn on the stove (I still do it that way), roller skates with a key, jumping in leaves and the new TV.

    I can still remember watching news coverage of the Vietnam War on our black and white console in the living room. I have on yellow footie pajamas, the brown sofa fabric is itchy, I just kissed my daddy as he left for work and I'm asking my mom what those names on the TV are and she's trying to explain what Missing in Action means.

    Dear Mary Karr: I take it back. You probably did remember all that stuff.

  7. My mom still gets those boxes of cereal when the kids are up at the lake. They love them as much as I did. TV dinners, what a treat.
    Ans the sound of the ice cracking when you pulled up the aluminum lever on those trays. I had forgotten.
    My memories, jelly shoes, friendship bracelets, tiny beads threaded on tiny pins and given to friends, large beads threaded on my shoelaces, white adidas with gray stripes, shops that put an iron-on on the front, your name in fuzzy letters on the back, white three quarter sleeve shirts with a large rainbow across the front, a Snoopy you could dress up.
    This all could explain why I still love beads so much.

  8. I remember that very Friday, irritated at having to wait through "Nanny" to get to The Partridge Family. The aluminum outer front door still had the screen in, though, so the neighborhood noises still beckoned. Since Partridge wasn't quite as must-see as The Brady Bunch, if Danny wasn't featured, I'd be back outside to use up the day until streetlight time..
    Always knew you came from the high-falutin' end 'o town. $10 and 5 channels!!

  9. Lisa: Wow, your memories of Vietnam are pretty clear for your age. Some things do change. And some things don't.

    Lyra: Can you still eat out of those miniature cereal boxes? I'd eat at the kids' table.

    Zoomie: Yep, should have invested that $10 in plastics.

  10. I remember when laying on a pillow on the floor, watching TV was actually comfortable. And geez, changing the channel by turning the dial on the TV, to one of the 4 channels available.

    I remember when we moved to the farmhouse in Toledo, we had a 40' rotating TV antenna, which meant we could pick up the 3 Detroit channels, plus the CBC in Windsor. We were living large then!

  11. Oh my word, those rotating antennae! At one point our house looked like NASA. My dad was into the CB radio craze and we had that giant thing that looked like a goal post poking out of our roof. I'm trying to remember what those were called.

  12. Bluz: Yep, we always sat on the floor to watch TV. If I tried that now, I'd never be able to get back up. Believe it or not though, I still change the station directly on the TV. HATE the damn remote.

    Lisa: OMG, CB radios! Forgot all about those. Ten-four, good buddy.

  13. Wow, you've triggered so many memories - Brady Bunch and Partridge Family and tv dinners which we never had, but once I went to a friend's up the street and they were having TV dinners that night with the little tray tables. I was so jealous. And I'd completely forgotten that my dad used to bowl too. He had this little pleather black zip shoebag...

    Lisa, one tip I learned on a writing course was to google the top songs, books, news stories from the relevant era. The information acts as a magnet -it's amazing how deeply imbedded memories surface- maybe Mary Karr did that.

  14. Downith: My dad had a "pleather" bowling bag too. Funny that you mention that word: my "leather" jumper surely wasn't real leather either.

    I did have to Google to make sure I remembered the Friday night TV line-up correctly. I never read Mary Karr, so I don't know how detailed she was. I do know I remember 1970 better than I remember last week, in some ways. Guess I'm afflicted with old-timers disease...

  15. I've never read her either, but Lisa has commented about her - might be time to Google her!

  16. In her book The Liar's Club, Mary Karr wrote with such excruciating detail about when she was may 7 years old. I wrote that I had hard time believing it was memoir it was so finely detailed. But now I take it back. It's possible if you really put your mind to it. And I think it's easier to remember some of those things from childhood more because we weren't so mind-cluttered with years of memories and all the distractions of being an adult.

  17. Hey Sherry - You brought back distant and real happy memories! You must not watch much TV now if you don't need to use your remote. Couldn't live without mine.


  18. Downith and Lisa: I've put that one on my TBR list of books. Will let you know what I think.

    Distal: No, I don't watch a lot of TV. And when I do, I justify getting up to switch stations as my exercise of the day.