Thursday, August 28, 2008

Norwood Tales, Part One

Posting about childhood influences recently inspired me to pull this piece of writing out, dust it off, and post it. This was my full length essay on the topic of lost love written for Claude Caswell's Memoir class at MECA in 2005.
Lost Love
The Gallogly's lived behind us - their house was on Sargent Street, ours was on Maple. They had six kids, same as us, same many of households in Norwood. Families back then had six, seven, even eight kids - this was the 50's after all, and the peak of the Baby Boom. Norwood was a lower middle class section of Warwick, a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, where I grew up, and its streets were teeming with kids - kids walking to and from school or hanging out together jumping rope, playing Kick the Can, or Red Rover. There was always someone to play with - all you had to do was go to a friend's back door and yell. I learned to do this by following my older sister.
My sister Debby was friends with Barbara Gallogly, the oldest of the Gallogly clan. Debby stood at the Gallogly's back door and yelled, "Hey, Bar-braaaaa!" dragging out the second syllable in the sing song manner reserved for this greeting. When kids got older, they dropped the "Hey" and simply called aloud their friend's name. This was a more casual and grown-up call, and the unspoken rule was that you could only do it this way if you were a teenager.

Barbara's little brother Michael was my age, and he was my best friend. The dirt path that was beaten between our houses led from my back door to his - it ran past the lilac bushes, past the giant cherry tree, and past Mr. Gallogly's dilapidated garage which housed an ancient jalopy. I ran down this path every day and stood at the base of the Gallogly's worn wooden steps and yelled, "Hey, Michael!" like I'd learned from my sister. Mrs. Gallogly would appear at the door, tell me to wait one minute, and after a few seconds Michael would come scrambling down the steps to me.
Michael Gallogly had elfish eyes set in a round face constellated with dark freckles. I attribute my lack of squeamishness about bugs and worms to my friendship with him. Our favorite thing to do was to dig holes in his back yard with kitchen spoons that Mrs. Gallogly handed out to us. We dug through layers of dirt to find purply pink earthworms to use as the drivers for Michael's team of Tonka trucks. We didn't have dolls this small, so we placed the dusty worms on the front seats of the cabs behind the tiny steering wheels. Mrs. Gallogly poked her head out the kitchen window and yelled to us, "Are you digging a hole to China?" then laughed. I never knew what this meant. Some days she'd bring Kool-Aid out to us in those tall shiny aluminum drinking glasses that came in all the colors of an oil spill rainbow.
Michael and I were best friends from the time I could walk, up until first grade. We climbed to the top branches of his cherry tree in the summer to stuff our mouths full of the sweet, red fruit. Sometimes we couldn't wait for the cherries to ripen and we'd eat them crunchy and green, even though his mother would yell at us that we'd get a belly ache. We sat in his father's old jalopy side by side on the cracked leather seats and pretended we were married and going for a drive. We scavanged dirty tin cans out of the trash, and using sticks we mixed together remnants of bacon grease, marshmallow Fluff, grape jelly and ketchup, then poured this "poison" over ants and watched them squirm. One time when I was swinging on his swing, Michael came over and kissed me.
In my parents' photo albums there are black and white pictures of Michael and me. In summer we went barefoot and naked except for our white cotton underpants, and ran through fountains made by the donut shaped sprinkler hooked up to the thick black hose in my back yard. Afterwards, we'd lay down on towels spread out on the grass, our underpants sagging heavily with water, panting and smiling as we faced each other, enjoying the hot sun on our wet backs.

When we started school we were both assigned to Mrs. Jaquolenzer's first grade classroom. We were not seated next to each other: Michael's seat was in the row in front of mine, but I felt glad and comforted to see the back of his head with his fuzzy crew cut and stick out ears. There was a girl seated next to Michael named Janet Tremblay. Each morning we would sing the Good Morning Song: Good morning, good morning, good morning to you! Good morning, good morning, and how do you do? and turn to the person next to us and shake their hand. Every day I watched Michael turn and smile at Janet Tremblay and shake her hand. Then one day in the school yard, just before the bell, a boy in my class ran up and told me that Michael had given Janet a necklace, and that he'd seen him kiss her on the mouth behind the school.

That morning as we sang the Good Morning Song, I studied Janet Tremblay. I looked at her hair and her dress. Then I looked down at her shoes: they were the same style as mine, a Mary Jane with a thick strap and a big buckle, only mine were brown, and hers were red. Suddenly I felt plain and inadequate. I was sure that this was why Michael now loved Janet better than me. It was those shoes. This was the first time that I recall feeling jealous, and it was the beginning of self-consciousness and comparing myself to others and coming up feeling deficient and unlovable.

Michael stopped calling at my door. I made new friends - Patty Gardiner, Susan Bertrum, Janet Mclaughlin - and the year went by. After school let out that summer, I sat looking out my screen window one night, and in the streetlamp light I saw Michael running up Maple Street to catch the ice cream truck. As I watched him, I felt a deep yearning. I knew that I was having a grown up feeling and it confused me. I didn't know what I was yearning for, I was only seven, but I felt old and sad, as if I knew already that this yearning would become familiar, and that it would follow me my whole life the way my eyes followed Michael now, as he ran through the pool of golden lamplight, then disappeared into the dark summer night.

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