Ten Childhood Books

katy

Sharan Newman has challenged me on Facebook to put up ten covers from books that I loved when I was a child. I can’t do it one at a time, because each book I can think of has a personal story that goes with it. Here are all ten of them.

Katy and the Big Snow was an early favorite, not only for its inspiring moral message–oh, let’s face it, not at all for its inspiring moral message, because I was an unregenerately wicked child–but because the snowplow had the same name as I did. In nursery school I wrote my name with a Y. It was easier.

watchbirds

This is a Watchbird, watching you. Are you being bad?

The Watchbirds is an excellent book on correct behavior for bad little girls. For some reason I associate this book with the shoe store. I think the shoe store man must have given out Watchbird pamphlets for us to read after we stood on the Xray machine, watching the green bones in our little toes wiggle.

peterpan

I still have my copy of Peter Pan, gorgeously illustrated by Roy Best, even after seven or eight. moves. I used to think of breaking it up and framing the illustrations to hang in a nursery, but none of my kids loved it the way I did. Something about that story of a gang of wild children without any parents spoke to my heart when I was growing up.

Alice

My mother read to to my sister and me when we were little, before we went to sleep. We would beg for just one more chapter. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were favorites along with the long version of Peter Pan.

brown fairy book

The Brown Fairy Book belonged to my mother when she was a child. It contained many marvelous tales from different cultures and countries, beautifully illustrated. The first story, What did the Rose do to the Cypress, had the hero (probably the third son, it’s always a third son) traveling around Arabia seeking the answer to the eponymous riddle, falling in love with several helpful women and marrying.all of them, and in the end marrying the villainess as well, in order to punish her. To think that I read these stories to find out what life was all about.

That book lived in my grandmother’s house in Canada. We spent every summer there. My sister and I used to hunker down in the big brown velvet chair with glasses of Ovaltine while I read her those strange stories.

Paddle

When I was in fifth grade I spent a week in the hospital in Evanston, Illinois. I had a dreadful stomachache which turned out not to be appendicitis.  It took them a week to figure out what it was and cure me. In the meantime Buddy Sams, who would doubtless have been my boyfriend if we had lived in Crystal Lake for a few more years, lent me his books. Paddle-to-the-Sea was the most memorable, the story of a little Indian boy’s carving of a figure in a canoe and how it traveled through the Great Lakes and on to the ocean.

Turns out Harold also had that book and remembers it with pleasure.

01_blackarrow_cover_wyeth

My Aunt Mildred began sending me books for Christmas. The Black Arrow, a rip-roaring adventure, was my favorite of these, and remains one of my favorite books. I tried to get all my young friends to read it, without success. Robert Louis Stevenson was, I think, a person of great sweetness of character, and his character shines through his writings.

scarletpimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel was another rip-snorter. My mother told me I would like it, and being thirteen, I was inclined to resist her suggestions, but even though it was mother-recommended it turned out to be a thrilling read.

LeaveItToPsmith

Leave it to Psmith was the first Wodehouse book I ever read, but by no means the last. That man warped my prose style for years, I’m ashamed to say. Possibly to this day. What ho.

Lorna Doone

In eighth grade I was one of those girls who would fall into a book and not emerge until the last page. So when I took Lorna Doone out of the library and began to read it, Miss Hansen caught me reading it during morning exercises. We were supposed to be listening to her read a psalm, or announce something edifying. She took it away from me and made me leave it on her desk.

Before long the book became overdue, and I had to go ask for it back. I pleaded for it on the grounds that it was an overdue library book, so she gave it to me. I put it in my locker.

Now the doors of the lockers at North Plainfield Junior High were all attached to each other and locked with a single lock, so that to open one locker was to open them all. Someone needed the lockers opened while I wasn’t there, and Lorna Doone fell out on the floor. David Nichols saw the book on the floor and picked it up.

“Was that your book on the floor?” he asked me later.

“What book?”

“Lorna Doone.”

“Yes. Where is it?”

“I put it on Miss Hansen’s desk.”

Oh, no. I didn’t even swear in those days, but I took such a feeling in the pit of my stomach as I had never felt before, guilt, terror, unease, a feeling that I had somehow screwed up and would never recover. Of course I had to ask for the book back again. It belonged to the library. Miss Hansen assumed that some other teacher had taken it away from me for reading it in class and gave me an extremely hard time.

I was to have that bad feeling again, many times, on many occasions. If only I had known  it, the episode marked the end of carefree childhood.

St. Patrick’s Day

shamrockHere we are on St. Patrick’s day again, the only day on which it was always considered de rigeur to get pie-faced, falling-down drunk. And yet this year the liquor stores are all closed because of the corona virus. For the foreseeable future, probably. What will the serious drinkers do? We ask ourselves.

The first I knew of this sacred tradition was in 1949, when Bill O’Neil was said to have fallen all the way down his cellar stairs, so relaxed that he suffered not a single bruise. When little children hear stories like this they become useful moral tales. If you must drink, drink your face off, so as not to get hurt if you fall down. That’s what we understood by the tale. Luckily I’ve only been that stewed once in my life, and when I fell down it was into the warm embrace of our thick red living room carpet.

My most memorable St. Patrick’s Day, long after that, was spent cold sober, along with my then husband, fetching a little child from Elizabeth, New Jersey,  to be our eldest son. We were in the process of adopting him from the state. Come and take him out for the afternoon, they said. See how you get along together. The social worker told us to go to the Turtle Back Zoo, but we couldn’t find it, so we went to New York City instead. Probably against the rules, taking him over the state line, but the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was going on, a spectacle not to be missed.

A vendor was selling hot dogs. We bought one for the baby. Today I know better than to feed a hot dog to an eighteen-month-old; they are a terrible choking hazard; but we were lucky that day, and he chewed it up and swallowed it just fine. A good time was had by all. When we got back to the Children’s Services office the social worker said, “How would you like to take him home today? His foster mother is ill and it would be a good thing for her.”

When you have your own baby it comes into the world naked. When you adopt an eighteen-month-old from the state, he comes with two huge trash bags filled with assorted possessions, ratty stuffed animals, old stained hand-me-down clothes bearing the names of other foster children written in laundry marking ink, crinkly rubber pants that go over cloth diapers, and diapers. We piled these items into the trunk of my husband’s sister’s car–somehow we never seemed to have our own car, all the years we were married–and started back to South Jersey with the baby rattling around in the back seat. There were no baby seats in those days. There weren’t even any seat belts.

But before we could get out of Elizabeth the right front wheel fell off the car.

Or the axle broke. It was something terrible having to do with the right front wheel. Fortunately we weren’t on the highway yet, but in front of an auto repair shop. We went limping in. The mechanic fixed the car while we sat in the waiting room, my then husband, me, and the patient baby. It took an hour or so.

At last the mechanic came in to announce success, wiping the grease off his hands. The injury to the car had been so severe, he said, that we were lucky we weren’t all killed. He grinned at the baby.

“My son,” he said, “today you were born again.” He got that right, on so many levels.

In honor of having brought him home on St. Patrick’s day we gave our little boy the middle name of Patrick. He’s somebody’s grandpa now. How time flies.

Fireworks

fireworks
I hear they are changing the name of Ely Field (pronounced ee-lee, for you who are non-Lambertvillians) to Ely Park. That’s fine with me. At least no disrespect is meant to the Ely family, who gave the land to the city to be used for recreational purposes. Not like what happened to Walkup’s Woods.

Walkup’s Woods (also named for the family that donated the land) was what the town park was called in Crystal Lake, Illinois, when I was a child there. It was a huge natural amphitheater with a copse of trees in the middle, the perfect place for a Fourth of July fireworks display. Everyone brought blankets and spread them on the grassy slope. The more daring ones sat closer to the bottom, where the noise and the action were most intense. We all brought snacks and drinks.

I have no recollection of anyone’s dog freaking out because of the firework noise. There weren’t a lot of dogs in town, that I remember. We all had cats, and of course we left them at home.

The ones who actually freaked out were WWII veterans.

It seems that one year the organizers of the fireworks arranged a special display in the copse of trees, white flashes and loud bangs simulating a real firefight. Everyone said it was just like a real firefight, including the men who had seen a few. It went on for what seemed like ages. Then we had the colored fireworks that flew up in the air and were pretty, but by that time all the people with PTSD had been well and truly triggered. I think they went home and took aspirin or drank whiskey, or whatever you do for that, even before the good fireworks started.

Shortly afterward the city fathers, noticing that all the Walkups were dead and gone, decided to change the name of the park. They ran a contest for the best name. When the contest was over Walkup’s Woods was changed to Veteran’s Acres, rather unpoetically, I thought.

The Walkups were forgotten. The simulated firefight was never again produced.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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When I was in elementary school in Illinois, back in the olden days, the custom on Valentine’s Day was for each pupil in the class to present a valentine to every other pupil and one to the teacher. Punch-out books were available at the drug store with maybe twenty-five cute little valentines and a bigger one for the teacher, plus envelopes. Twenty kids were as many as we ever had in a single class, so we only needed to buy one book.

We made a big deal out of Valentine’s Day. Joanne Semple and I crafted a frieze of happy dancing hearts out of construction paper and tacked it up over the blackboard. When we got to class we dropped our valentines–one for each kid, for to leave anybody out would have been a shocking breach of etiquette–into a big box, and the teacher passed them out later. Charles Evans, the rich kid, gave out valentines with lollipops attached to them, which was charming, but otherwise one valentine was much like another. Sweet, no?

And then we moved to New Jersey.

I could write a book about my year at Evergreen School in Plainfield, if I could stand to revisit it. Seventh grade. Everybody was thirteen years old, if you know how that works, and I was the green monkey. It was a horror show whose depths I don’t particularly want to plumb right now, but I did want to share the agony of the distribution of the valentines.

Because who knew it wasn’t the same deal as Illinois? Well, I could have figured, I suppose, in a place where it cost more than your weekly allowance to get into the movies, where you had to dial a phone instead of asking the operator for a number, where packs of cub scouts attacked you in the park, where people stepped on your feet and pulled up your dress in the schoolyard, where Patsy Freeman and her rough girlfriends threatened to beat you up on the way home, that the valentine ritual would be different.

But who knew? I bought my book of valentines at the drugstore and made them out to everyone in the class.

I received two, myself, one from the teacher and one from a girl I sort of hung out with because she was bigger than Patsy Freeman and would walk home with me. Only getting two valentines wouldn’t have been so bad, since I didn’t particularly like any of those other people. But come to find out that Valentine’s Day at Evergreen was the day that the hormone-ridden middle-schoolers of Plainfield sorted out who had a crush on who, by means of their valentines. People assumed that I, pathetic green monkey that I was, was making overtures to them.  Romantic overtures. Girls points and giggled. Horrible boys leered and drooled at me because I had sent them a valentine. Patsy Freeman herself smiled and winked. God help me.

After that I was pretty much cured of sending valentines. So if you know that I love you, know that I love you, and don’t expect a card. If you don’t know that I love you, I probably don’t.

The Time I Went to Trenton State Prison

prison1I was reminded today of the time I applied for a job as corrections officer at the Trenton State Prison. What reminded me was the news that people who had done well on certain written tests in the early 1960s were less likely to be suffering from dementia today than those who had done badly. “That’s a good thing,” I thought to myself. “I’ve always done well on tests. Probably I’m safe from losing my wits in my rapidly approaching old age.”

Of course, doing well on tests didn’t always mean that I had good sense. There was one test I took that I hadn’t any business taking to begin with, and the fact that I did well on it caused a lot of trouble.

It was 1974. I was a single mother of two boys, making $4750 a year as a clerk in a stationery store in Trenton, New Jersey, weighing in at 107 pounds due to poverty, misery, and general lack of appetite. Meanwhile the State, that source of infinite bounty, issued a fat book every month filled with remunerative jobs. All one had to do was qualify for them.

I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree then, nor was I proficient in typing and shorthand. But I was good at taking tests. So when the State employment book announced a walk-in test for Corrections Officer, no qualifications needed, salary $8500 a year, I hustled right down to the old Arnold Constable building and took the test.

I forget what the questions were, something along the lines of, “When an inmate gets out of line, should you hit him? how hard? or should you try reasoning sweetly with him?” It seemed easy enough, and indeed I aced it, as we used to say, coming in third of all the people—let’s face it, most of them were men—who took the test. Mired as I was in my own troubles, I did not realize that this was the first time the position of Corrections Officer had been offered to women, that it had been offered to women because a new law said it had to be, and that the people who hired Corrections Officers did not want women. Civil Service regulations mandated that whenever a new employee was hired, the first three candidates to place well on the test had to be considered.

As a result the post card arrived at my door, the one that the State used to send out for job interviews. Report to the Trenton State Prison on Saturday morning, it said. Oh, boy! $8500 a year!

The prison atmosphere seemed curiously familiar. It smelled like the gym at North Plainfield High School. So I sort of felt at home. I entered a large room full of tables and chairs with a ladder running up the middle into a opening in the ceiling. On the left was a counter behind thick bulletproof glass, and behind the glass was the only woman in sight. She greeted me and gave me some papers to fill out, sliding them through the slot under the glass. I found a seat at one of the tables among a sea of young men and began to fill them out. $8500 a year. Whoopee.

As I labored on my papers I was dimly aware of an officer announcing that the first group of men must line up and go downstairs for a physical. I thought, “You don’t suppose I’m going to have to—nah.” But before I could start worrying about that, three uniformed Corrections Officers came running into the room carrying shotguns and swarmed up the ladder that led to the roof. I was alarmed to see the way they carried their shotguns as they followed each other up the ladder. It seemed to me that the slightest jostling might cause them to blow each other’s behinds off. Careless. Would I really be safe, working with these people?

A murmur went around the room. “Molloy is out.” “Oh, Christ. Molloy.” “He killed a guard last year.” The officers disappeared through the hole.

“Well, that’s interesting,” I thought, and turned my attention back to the employment form. About then a little red-headed fellow in uniform came over and addressed me by name, inviting me to come with him to a desk in the corner. Ah. Special treatment.

“I wonder,” he said, addressing me by name again, “whether you understand what this job actually involves.”

I smiled and nodded. $8500 a year.

“This is the Trenton State Prison. The worst bad guys in the state of New Jersey are locked up here.”

Well, I thought, they could hardly be any worse-behaved than my boys.

“You would have to strip search them. You would have to take them to the showers.”

At last the penny dropped. “You don’t think I would be right for this job,” I said.

“I would never say that,” he said. “But if you think that’s true, would you mind signing this release?” and he handed me a pen.

So there went my dream of wealth and prosperity. Fortunately I was able to land another State job a few months later as a clerk-bookkeeper, saving us all from starvation. A story for another day.

Clean Sweep

Last month I tidied the attic/guest room once again to prepare for visiting guests. This time instead of the usual job, where I gather everything and stuff it into the cupboard under the eaves, I gathered everything, took it down to the second floor, and crammed it all into my office. Armload after armload. It took a couple of days.

And this time it isn’t going back. The showdown is now, today. It’s me or my stuff. Thirty-three years we’ve been living in this house, maybe thirty-four, during which time we’ve raised a child and showered him with toys, taken up and dropped a number of hobbies, inherited more stuff, written a number of books and saved all the notes and the foul matter (as the publishers call the old galleys and whatnot), and put everything we didn’t know what to do with in the attic. Harold has been more disciplined about getting rid of things than I have. If I didn’t watch him he would throw out my stuff.

But I can do this. Death cleaning, the Swedes call it.

I hardly sew anymore, and yet I have bushels of yard goods. I’m thinking I’ll make maybe two more projects plus some things for the church.  Saturday is flea market day at St. Andrew’s. If you’re looking for interesting yard goods you will find them there.  Also yarn. Maybe even knitting needles. So that’s one class of stuff I’m getting rid of: craft supplies. The end of an era, folks.

Still, I’m going to hang on to the art materials.  I might paint some little pictures, maybe make another puppet or two. And I can’t bring myself to get rid of the toys, We do have visiting children from time to time.

But the papers–!

The wretched papers. For the old bank records I’m going to crank up the shredder, even though those banks no longer exist under those names and the account numbers on the charge accounts were changed every six months due to somebody hacking the bank’s databases. Shred the old bank records! Shred the old gas bills!

Probably I won’t shred the old galleys. I’m too vain for that. Besides, my first editor, Ray Roberts of Little Brown, told me to keep that stuff. He thought I would eventually be famous. In the old days one’s editor got excited about one’s work and prospects.

letters

The most interesting item I found while clearing out the attic shelves was a box of papers that I can’t recall ever seeing before labeled, in my handwriting, “Kate’s Grandparents’ Things.” I opened it up to discover a jumble of folded papers, some of them dating back to the early nineteenth century. Deeds, grants of land, grocery bills. How elegant was the handwriting of the ancestors, with their quill pens and oak gall ink.

And more recent things as well. A program from my high school graduation. A book of half-used ration coupons with my grandmother’s name on it. Then, mixed up among these antique documents, the letters my father wrote to my mother the year before they were married. In the depth of the Great Depression the Sullivan Machinery Company sent him all over the east coast selling rock drills and drill bits. He was sad to be so far away from his dearest, my mother. He wrote all the time, every letter on the stationery of a different hotel. It would break your heart. He wasn’t sure that Sullivan would even give him time off to attend his own wedding. But they did, luckily, and it took place, and here I am after their long life together, happy ever after, cleaning my office.

Jay Broadhurst Stinks

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Well, of course Jay Broadhurst doesn’t stink, wherever he might be these days, any more than he did when he was eight years old and I was seven. What calls that offensive phrase to my mind is the sight of the newly paved street in front of my house. It stretches forth in its flat blackness like a newly washed chalkboard, begging to have something written on it. Just like our street in Woodbury right after World War II, when the domestic economy was picking up and all the towns were having their streets paved.

There was no traffic on the street. People weren’t so prosperous yet that they had cars to drive around in. Mr. Lammert still had the car that he drove to Deb’s elementary school, where he was the principal–the car whose right front tire I had destroyed in my wickedness, but that’s another story–and Mrs. North’s son Louie had a Jeep he brought home from the war. These vehicles were kept in garages that faced on the alley, though, and they went in and out by Cooper Street, not Woodland Avenue. At dawn the milk wagon drove on the glorious unmarked blackness of the street, and later the bread wagon. But by the time Deb and I got home from school the street was empty. You could lie down in the middle of it in perfect safety. Or you could crouch down and write things.

“I have a piece of chalk,” Deb said.

“Give it to me,” I said.

“What are you going to write?”

What, indeed? “Kilroy wuz here” would have been good, but the humor of it was too subtle for my second-grade mind. Maybe I would write something about Jay Broadhurst, my sidekick. Who am I kidding? I was the sidekick in that relationship. It was Jay who had put me in a cardboard box and dragged me all over the neighborhood in his red wagon, boxed in, unable to see a thing. It was Jay who had said you could start a Jeep by pushing the starter button. We were sitting in the front seat of Louie North’s Jeep at the time, in Mrs. North’s garage.

“Bet you can’t,” I said. So he pushed the button. The Jeep started right up, chugga-chugga, and although it didn’t move except to shake from side to side the effect was terrifying. I never ran so fast in my life. Or Jay either.

So I felt impelled to honor him in some way on this virginal street, my crony, my sometime partner in crime. I wrote his name, in the boldest print I could manage with Deb’s piece of chalk. JAY.

“Jay what?” said Deb.

“Just Jay.”

“You wrote your boyfriend’s name.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“Yes, he is. Katie has a boyfriend, Katie has a boyfriend…”

“Is not.” I finished the inscription. JAY STINKS. It seemed hilariously funny. We both laughed and laughed.

After that I had to make myself scarce for two or three days when the word went around the neighborhood that Jay was looking for me to beat me up. That was an unusual thrill. I used to have dreams of fleeing and hiding out, mostly inspired by sensational radio dramas. Still I hadn’t ever had a real threat to run from that I can remember other than the nuns, who never actually laid hands on me. But Jay Broadhurst was going to beat me up.

He finally found me in Barry Hurff’s back yard, across the street from my house. Face to face, we stared at each other. Now what? All the kids were watching. Honor must be satisfied. Closer and closer he came.

Finally he gave me a good punch on the arm, turned on his heel, and left. Did I cry? I can’t remember.

I guess I took a lesson from that. We who are writers must be careful. A good insult is a delicious thing to craft, satisfying, meaty. Still, it can cause you trouble if you put it in the street.

(The above picture is of Deb, Mary Liz, and me enjoying life in Woodbury.)

 

More about Woodbury

nuns

To go on with my Woodbury stories, I have to confess that I was a very wicked child when we lived there. I mentioned before that I went to Catholic school, St. Patrick’s, to be exact, which is now a good-sized school as I can see from Google Earth. When I attended there was less of it, the school building (a mansion that had belonged to the Greens, patent medicine millionaires in the olden days),  and the nuns’ quarters, the Greens’ old stables and outbuildings, I think. I remember a garden out front of the nuns’ quarters and maybe a stone wall or an iron fence. Behind the mansion was no garden anymore, only a trampled wasteland where the brutish children frolicked during recess.

The thing is I wasn’t Catholic.

I was made to attend St. Patrick’s instead of the public school because it was only three blocks from my house, with no dangerous streets to cross, and I could walk there by myself even as a kindergartner. We did not keep a car. It was wartime. Rubber and gasoline were rationed. My mother neglected to make friends with the other mothers, still less with the nuns. I don’t remember trying to befriend any of the little wretches in my class, but I certainly had no friends there. I hated the nuns. The nuns hated me. As part of our moral education Sister used to draw diagrams of The Soul on the blackboard and then color in the stain of venial and mortal sins. “We’re all going heaven some day if we keep our souls spotless,” Sister said, “Except for Katie here, who is not of our faith.”

Well, what the hell, right? As long as I was destined for The Pit I might as well be perfectly bad. I knew I was developing in the right direction when I was able to lie to Sister to her face without laughing.

Next week: How I Became a Juvenile Delinquent

Early Murders

murder5The Mystery Writers of America is (are?) gathering materials for another swell anthology, a YA this time, I think they want to call it My First Murder. The premise seems to be that dealing with murder, or committing murder, is a normal part of coming of age these days. They have sent out a call to members to submit short stories to be selected. I twitch,  competitive animal that I am, and reach for my word processor. But, adolescents and murder. Do I want to write about this? Have I got the experience? Have I got the right attitude? (Have I got the chops?)

It’s true that I just finished writing a book about an eighteen-year-old girl who killed three people, but they were German agents in 1915 and they deserved whatever happened to them. It’s also true that I know the stories of a number of real young people involved in murder. Their stories are too sordid to write about. A young girl wakes up to find her mother beaten to death, probably by her father. She remembers nothing of the event even to this day, forty years or so later, while the father goes free. (Actually he’s dead, but he was never brought to justice.) Another young girl, after seven years of sexual abuse by a family “friend,” walks in on the “friend” in bed with her father and shoots him. Impossibly sordid.

And then there’s young Skakel. I once collected a dossier of online writings of inmates of Elan, the so-called school his family sent him to to keep him out of the public eye after he murdered Martha Moxley. How the “students” were treated at the “school.”  Sordid to the thirteenth power. I found it fascinating, in a horrible way, but I could never write about it, never sit down with these people’s lives long enough to write even a short story.

I’m no good at writing short stories anyway. So there’s that. When I was younger and had a thicker skin and less understanding of the meaning of life and death I suppose I could have tried my hand at writing about adolescents and murder, but I’m too much of a snowflake now. Contemplating young people and murder causes me to feel distress. I prefer peace and quiet. Good luck to the other writers, blessings on you, knock ’em dead and all that good stuff.

 

 

Woodbury Revisited

mom1945When I was a small child I lived in a town in South Jersey that I moved back to later as a young housewife. I was reminiscing about some aspects of the place to Harold this morning. He told me I should write an essay. Truly my experiences in Woodbury are worth a number of essays. The differences and similarities between the Woodbury of 1943 and the Woodbury of 1963 are worth talking about all by themselves.

Bad plumbing is the first thing that comes to mind. When I was little my family rented the first floor of Doctor and Mrs. Harney’s house on Woodland Avenue, a neighborhood respectable enough to please my mother. The Harneys lived upstairs. The household sewage would back up at inconvenient times and rise up in our bathtub, usually when my mother was about to give a party for the neighbors, or worse, for my father’s fellow naval officers. For some reason I thought it was my fault, because I had dropped some pebbles in a drain in the back yard. For weeks I lived with a crushing sense of guilt (did I mention I was going to Catholic school?) until I dreamed that I confessed everything to my mother and she spanked me. Children were spanked in the old days. That was life.

But bad drains were endemic to the town. Not my fault. Twenty years later my first husband and I rented a second-floor apartment where the landlords lived on the first floor. In a fit of go-go mod enthusiasm I painted the little bathroom in many shades of pink, from deep shocking to palest petal, and it was a sight to see. People remarked on it. To complete the effect I used to buy pink toilet paper until I noticed shreds of pink toilet paper appearing in the gutter out in front of the house. Whatever they used to do for sewage disposal in that town was not awfully effective. Nowadays you can’t even buy pink toilet paper, nor would you want to. It’s bad for the environment, you see.

The tap water, at least the delivery of the tap water, was as bad as the sewage. From time to time the pressure would fail and the water would run backward out of the pipes. Then the air in the pipes would compress. When you turned on the tap at the kitchen sink it would fire a charge of water strong enough to blast whatever you were holding underneath it right out of your hand, smashing it in the sink. And yet I kept forgetting. That’s why I only have three Wedgewood cups left out of the four that my Canadian aunts gave me for a wedding present, along with a teapot, cream pitcher, and sugar bowl, together with instructions on smuggling them all across the border.

One afternoon as I was washing my hair, lathering it all up nicely, the water pressure quit. Luckily I found the landlady at home downstairs when I knocked on her door in my bathrobe. Being on a lower level she had water, and she kindly rinsed my hair out for me in her bathroom sink. Neighbors should take care of each other. If you live in a place where the neighbors don’t take care of each other you should move.

And here I leave you, dripping but squeaky-clean. Perhaps I will continue this reminiscence next week.