By Donna D. Vitucci
In sixth grade the music came to us. Sister Antoinette brought her mouth organ to our classroom. That’s what the boys called it, no matter its official name. The instrument was a piano-like keyboard the nun blew into, while playing the keys. Never saw one before, and haven’t seen one since. To us, she was old but I bet no older than I am now. Hard to gauge a nun’s age when her hair was covered with the wimple and her body hid inside a shapeless dark habit. The old-lady black lace-up shoes and the round rimless glasses she wore didn’t help. Most nuns were sexless and old, in our experience. Sister Antoinette taught all three sixth grade classes music. She brough it to us in Room 206 on Tuesdays after lunch. She changed classrooms, we stayed where we were, all day in that one seat, arranged alphabetically by last name so I sat near the front, with a prime view of Sister’s spit when it leaked out the end of the instrument after fifteen minutes of off and on blowing.
Our school had finally purchased music books. Prior to that year, music instruction had been church hymns and mass hymns and hymns for sacraments we were preparing to receive: First Confession, First Communion, Confirmation, and the school-wide yearly May Crowning. The new books had words and music, the staff and the cleff, whatever those were. Words, to me, mattered, as they do today. What we learned: As Those Caissons Go Rolling Along; Roll On, Columbia, Roll On; This Land is Your Land; I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair; Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal—The American Songbook.
Sister Antoinette may have been hard of hearing, not swift for a music teacher, but Catholic elementary schools invested more in religion than the arts. Her slight deafness, or pretended deafness, allowed the boys to make fun of her, her mouth organ, the songs, and the spit. She was the butt of their jokes, and they piled on while my anger increased like rain in a barrel.
Here, in the person of Sister Antoinette, good was tackled and taken down. Bad would not always be punished. Disrespect slithered along and the boys’ mocking accrued as the music classes added up. I ached for Sister Antoinette, what she acted blind to, or was blind to. That she let bad run riot disgusted me. She was either blind and deaf, or a coward. They were just puny sixth grade boys, who held our lives in their hands, in their words, in the ways they cut us down or spared us. Us being the girls.
At the end of music class one day, Sister left our room for hers. I rushed to Mr. Miller, our usual teacher, who’d returned to assume his class.
“I need to tell Sister something,” I said.
He waved me on. “Well, hurry up.”
I dashed next door, to a classroom like the one I’d just left, full of trapped, mopey sixth graders.
The nun’s bleary eyes took me in their focus.
“Sister,” I said. “I’m not like those others. I’m sorry they won’t listen, won’t behave. But I’m not like them.”
She nodded, she probably thought I was nuts. Or a suck-up. And I guess I was.
Because it was a lie, and not even my best lie. With no spick of rain or salt. The lie lacked the fork. The lie lacked spice. Bold-faced, it was the lie trying to get across the border, the one where an adult would take note of a child, where the spotlight shone down through the young one like a knife pinning her to the earth. The lie was in the child’s mouth, there right now, glinting on her molars, x-ray-ing the wisdom teeth still inside her gums. Nothing else in the world was so shiny as her standing before the woman, and making the child, herself, into a spare truth. She was a tattle tale. She was her own livid dream.
May Crowning arrived, an evening of whole-school procession, class by class, grades one through eight, around the school and church grounds, praying and singing to the Virgin Mary statue in the parking lot, amid her circular bed of flowers. Children were instructed to bring a flower from home, then the flowers were collected in each class and one representative brought the room’s bouquet to the Virgin, stepping out from the rest of the children.
Mr. Miller couldn’t attend, so he sent his wife to organize our class. Mrs. Miller didn’t know us, she was ignorant of who merited the bouquet. She deferred to Sister Antoinette’s choosing.
Thus I earned the great honor with great treachery. I wanted the privilege and I also didn’t want it, a chance to grandstand, to draw my classmates’ attention. I processed with Room 206’s bunch of flowers, for all to see, and who was watching anyway, except God? My skin burned with my-only suspicion Sister had chosen me due to music class piety. I had always been a head-down don’t-make-waves girl, complete your work, do it well, make your parents proud. Up to then, every “A,” every holy card, every gold star I earned, I earned, but I snagged the May Crowning honor by tattling. What’s worse, I bore it alone–punishment of sin, demerit and demotion, demolition of a child’s small will.
Look at me, at an age older than then-Sister Antoinette, still flush with this sick memory. Priests and nuns, with their voodoo, they really needled us good.
Boys were smart but girls were smarter, until junior high when boys wised up, quit their high-jinks, or they managed high-jinks and high math like salt and pepper, one in each hand. Where girls suddenly found the allure in dumbing down, noted how not-so-smart girls, even slutty girls, caught the boys’ eyes. We noted and absorbed as if by breathing, that knowing wasn’t all there was to knowledge. We were twelve.
Then the rumored math teacher walked in. Newly-minted, he set to teaching us seventh grade algebra. Mr. Folzenlogen, only the second male teacher the school had ever hired in those heady experimental days of 1970. Even nuns had to nod to the changing times. They let their crow ranks be infiltrated. And we were ready for pants.
Mr. Folzenlogen charmed us from the start. Blue-eyed, almost twinkly blue-eyed if you must know, he had a few freckles across his nose, just the right amount. Black-rimmed glasses were his one cast-back, in this wire-rim time, to his own school days. He had a kind voice, a manner wrought with good cheer, with making math fun, and for the boys, sure for them, utter jokiness, for he knew he had to win them over first, and he did, with a maneuver he displayed on his first day.
Math was for figuring, and figuring was chalk on a blackboard, and chalk was Mr. Folzenlogen’s lasso. My uncle had a wart on the underside of his forearm, about an inch up from the elbow. Look for yourself and you might see a slight dimple on your own arm there. In this spot on Mr. Folzenlogen’s “almost-elbow” he set the stub of chalk he’d chose to write with and then in one motion snapped his arm, let the chalk drop and caught it in his hand. His signature move. First, we were tickled by it, then we took it for granted. It was his nervous tic, his trademark. He roped us in; we were caught.
During out-of-school time, the boys worked at mimicking the move, then perfecting it, doing it swifter and cleaner than Mr. Folzenlogen, if they could, as they bragged they could. What boy doesn’t want to best his brother, his father, his teacher, his boss? Because here was the time when the boys we grew up with—those boys we’d sat alongside in classrooms since first grade, who we’d tottered behind at school skating parties when they rolled past us faster and ten times more recklessly, who we’d passed notes for while trying to earn their favor—these boys were coming into their own knowledge that they were bound to outpace the fastest skaters, the nuns’ crabbiest lectures, the most charming math teacher.
If life was a race—and at that time junior high encompassed all of any life importance to us—then Mr. Folzenlogen drew our starting line with his chalk.
Facts in Five
In a ranch house, in a house of achieving, lived a family of smarts. To you he was a just a boy. A smart boy, but still a boy. Boys didn’t much take notice of you, except that you were smart, too. Not smartest, but among the smart. Also among a group of boys and girls, all smart, in a certain geographic radius within the same Catholic grade school, in the top reading and math groups. All on the accelerated tracks of ninth grade.
It was a wretched time, especially for smart boys and girls. Yes was on the stereo. A cinnamon cake baked in the oven, its welcome aroma in place of the parents who were gone, or at least unseen. Danny was your host for Facts in Five.
Invited were Sue, John, Tim, Danny, Karen, you.
Sue. A girl among brothers, lived just over a short hill, a distance your mother permitted you walk when you were six, if you carefully crossed the street. Sue’s backyard had a tall slide like those at playgrounds, and a sandbox, a fence where the large yard went larger. There were sleepovers at her house. The morning after one slumber party, all were carrying cups of hot chocolate down the stairs to the finished basement. You slipped on the carpeted steps, splashed hot chocolate all over.
Karen. Came to the crowd later, later being fourth grade; the rest started as one group from the first grade gate. She played the flute, she had a beagle named Penny who you adored and petted every time you visited. She enjoyed a free rein that made you green-eyed; she attended Seals & Croft and Yes and Alice Cooper concerts on school nights. As her Biology lab partner, you heard of these escapades, what your mother would never allow.
John. A brainiac in a family of brainiacs. He wore glasses, for many years black-rimmed plastic, but in 1972 they were gold wire rims. You invited him, as your “guest,” to Straight A ticket baseball games once or twice. Double dates, parents still driving, dropping off and retrieving, no romance, no matter how much you wished. The baseball was forget-able.
Danny. His brothers and his baby sister were all freckled. Some few, some many, Danny many. Blond haired, a little bit of a tic in the slight way he often adjusted his head on his neck. A math whiz. A prodigy. You didn’t know the select classifications they have for behaviors and personalities. Your junior high classrooms had acoustic tile ceilings. And Danny counted the length and breadth of dots on one tile, and then counted the tiles and multiplied, or whatever math to determine the number of dots in your classroom ceiling, an astronomical number that didn’t stick with you. Just Danny being Danny.
Tim. Another genius, or maybe he memorized facts and trivia really well, maybe he had everyone snowed. In fifth grade he gave you a gold and crystal ring from the gumball machine, so for a brief time you considered him a boyfriend. He taught you how to roller skate one Saturday afternoon in Price Hill, that roller rink long ago demolished. He took the errant path during the ascendance of grass, those heady high school years, where he got lost in the weeds.
You were all smart, and backward in boy-girl relations. To develop a sexual self, to flirt, to tease, to be honest—where are the books for that? All had sat in the same accelerated classes in Catholic school until age fourteen, then split for sex-segregated high schools, and Danny helped mend the rupture with his Facts in Five.
You stumped each other with questions, five facts, a pre-Trivial Pursuit trivia game. The boys played air guitar. Rod Stewart was Maggie May-ing. Later, you were on the Roundabout.
and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there”
Cinnamon cake that Danny baked—a boy that baked!–and the time it took to devour it. Boys wolfed it down, girls licked fingertips and then pressed fingertips into crumbs, brought crumbs to tongues, tongues being the point. A keep-away game devolved from tossing a ping pong ball, to tickling, wrestling, touching.
No boy dove for the ping pong in your belly or armpits. Karen and Sue whirly-dervish- kicked, the shag carpet electrified their hair. They had tears in their eyes, happy tears, fever tears. Never had they been more clear-eyed. You barely contained your want to suffer a rug burn, a pinch, to tear up from over-tickle. Shrieks– the good kind–crabbed and died in your throat. In your diary you would call the afternoon half-hearted, hard-hearted, a catalogue of rust.
You slumped in Danny’s living room, on the floor because everyone was on the floor, the rug a comfort that equalized heights. It was hotter on the floor since you were closer to the core of the earth. The boys’ top lips, where they would later grow moustaches, dimpled with perspiration. They were in every game to win. And you? You didn’t know one fact, much less five.
There was little color to these memories except…
The pale pink of the fetal pig Karen and you flayed and labeled.
The iron rail you gripped amid skaters shouting and wheeling, and Tim encouraging yes, yes, yes alongside you the whole rink’s circumference, the din-filled cavern where you bloomed.
The blond table where Danny rap-rap-rapped his knuckles. He dumped Facts in Five from its box, and your crowd took the kitchen. Your elbows dug into cake crumbs, as you leaned in with magnificent feigned ardor.
See these poison berries? An elemental player in our summers, in our games, in our imaginary world of princesses and queens. A girl imprisoned, a boy must rescue her. She was carried away in a wagon into the woods. The wicked queen brewed up the poison berries which grew plentiful in every damp corner of the woods, alongside the long hill that was our backyard. The gullies especially favored the pokeberries. In the sandbox, with the muffin tin, we “made” muffins topped with pokeberries. We never thought of eating them. Pokeberries were props, they stained our fingers, they made the birds crap purple.
My Israelite village could not be transported by bus to school. Our classrooms and busses were overcrowded. The bus drivers insisted we sit three to a seat. Small skinny children could pack in like sardines, but we carried school bags and lunch boxes and we wore bulky winter coats, girls clad in uniform skirts and white anklets. Our little bowling pin legs chapped and went numb at the bus stops, so some girls in the coldest of weeks wore leggings but had to shed and store them in their lockers.
Three to a seat provided no room for my Israelite village anchored to a very large rectangle of poster board. It would be smashed in transit.
“Your daddy will have to drive you to school,” Mommy said.
My daddy was an up-and-at-‘em guy. As usher at Sunday 8 o’clock Mass, he arrived at the locked church and had to wait for the priest to let him in. Weekdays at work he was first to arrive, and started coffee brewing for his colleagues. He left home in the dark and he came home in the dark, especially during winter. And he dropped me off at the school in the dark—except for the parking lot spotlight and green glowing emergency exit lights– before anyone but Mr. Burke the janitor stirred.
My fourth grade class was in the new annex, off the basement cafeteria, an area that had housed the Undercroft until the summer’s renovation. The rooms down there had windows at the top of the wall where we could observe feet walking by– three fourth grade classrooms and a one-room library. Before that we had Bookmobile visits.
Outside my classroom I slid my back down the wall, tenting my legs and warming them under my uniform skirt. My Israelite village I placed carefully flat on the floor. I straightened the pipe cleaner men and women. I pressed down on the edges of the short cardboard tube that formed the village well. Alongside my project I poised my school bag and my lunchbox, handles straight up and ready to be grabbed once someone came and brought me light.
I was a child who could not bear the spotlight, nor the teacher’s disappointment, my classmates’ rubber necks, the soul-deficient shotgun-shouldered lack. I completed extra credit like a demon. I was already in Sunday night bed when horror struck me. I jackknifed to sitting beside my snoring sister, my heart a mallet beating the bars of my wispy chest cage. I forgot to write a school report due first thing Monday morning!
Daddy lounged on the living room couch watching television, but my mother stood ironing in the kitchen where the glow of the wall lamp my sister made in Girl Scouts turned everything, including Mommy, soft and golden. Soft-gold-Mommy, in her untucked button front shirt and pedal pushers, penny loafers yawning over her insteps. She never slouched at the ironing board; she shoved into the press of the iron, every item flattened, hot perfect percale. Her hands adeptly wielded the sprinkle bottle and the Procter Silex. Solution, heart salve, comfort – Mommy!
“What are you doing up?”
“I have a report to write for tomorrow.” I was unlatching my school bag and fumbling inside for pencil and lined paper.
“Just now you remembered?” Her tone doubtful, or Sunday night-weary.
“I said I forgot.” I sat, the scalloped shaped wood of the kitchen chair cool through my nightgown.
I chewed the eraser, my mind blank, my heart skipping madly along with the elapsing minutes. Time and fear held hands, embedded in Al Schottelkotte’s report from the living room TV. Whenever I heard the 11 o’clock news pipping through the walls, I panicked. Why couldn’t I fall asleep? I was a child insomniac who chewed orange baby aspirin to help me relax and hoodwink sleep into my lair. Panacea, placebo, no words on paper. It was late and I wouldn’t be back to bed for a while. I had no story, no report.
“I can’t think of anything!” Goody-two shoes anguish.
I cried, I chewed baby aspirin, my teeth marks mucked up the pencil that was cramping my hand. My life lacked story, spark, lift, surprise. I had nothing to shape or build a report around.
Mommy said, “Why don’t you tell about Mary and the groundhog?”
Downstairs neighbor Mary Clements, bottom tenant matching we top-floor renters, she’d been about to drop trash into one of her outside metal garbage cans when she was…think of a good apt word—ambushed? surprised? scared out of her wits?—Mommy challenged me to describe it like it happened to me even though I never witnessed the animal popper. The story was my mother’s heresay, and she passed it to me like an heirloom.
“Go on, use it. Make up the rest.”
You might as well accuse me of knitting the fabric surrounding Mary, her groundhog and his shiny barreled hideout. I fashioned my report, and thus a fiction writer was born. Thank you, Mommy. When I sleep, because of you I dream.
A verbal prayer formula, a mantra, its rhythm and pronouncement, bears power. This, the Sisters would have us believe. Prayers have less sense and information inside them and are more like the Essence of God. Such words repeated, or even better, chanted, create a sound temple, a sealed sacred place, a zone of contact with the divine. Spoken prayer surrounds and envelops us in holiness.
Prayer then is the trance, the ecstasy, an insensible mantra that facilitates rapture—like the trance brought on by praying the Rosary. When I was a little girl I prayed, especially when I couldn’t sleep, Hail Mary after Hail Mary, decade after decade, rote and repletion that ran together in my head like a stream or a train, failing eventually into nonsensical babble, the words eliding, skipping, no thought, no real thought, in the praying. But while babbling, inside the babbling, my mind closed off other things and spiraled me into something both smaller and larger than prayer beads and prayers. The Rosary, as mantra, brought my smallness closer to the bigness. As a child, this ecstasy slayed me. I believed utterly, not a whiff of doubt in God as my Savior, in Jesus my rescue. I’m not much able to get inside that prized babble anymore; too much noise, too much right brain-halt, I’ve lost the naivete and trust. But I’ve got a Rosary stashed somewhere, I know.
Voting on Arrow
Without speaking the words, we somehow knew since the time of President Kennedy that we were Democrats. Mommy and Daddy weren’t political, and it was the rare family discussion that touched on government. We knew that Tricky Dick was mocked and pitied, Bobby Kennedy revered, and Ronald Reagan dissed for being movie-star-folksy. What crested the waves of our supper table talk: Daddy’s commission check, what could be froze from the garden, the knocking noise in the car, quiz me on my vocabulary words, and sign this permission slip. I will say this– and it was not shocking, it was no ripple in the norm, it just was–my parents voted every November.
They did it quietly, without discussion, almost ploddingly. Once they took me with them to vote, this in the days when polling places had sometimes been assembled in the basements of neighbors. It’s true we lived in a rural area. They took me with them to Arrow, a street off Boomer Road, about a mile from our house. I was small because I remember standing among their kneecaps in the tiny lighted booth areas. From over my shoulder in that rearview far-off, I can see me wanting to more than stand alongside them in their civic duty. I wanted to vote, to pull the lever or color in the box (I excelled at coloring!). The Arrow basement appears green-hued in my memory, grassy and with hope. The green lighting in each of the individual voter stations told me “go,” be positive. You there, it’s a privilege.
A gaggle of girls sat on Kreimer’s front slope, that small dip to the Stop sign plugged into their yard, or rather into the ten feet of public property at the intersection of Boomer and Race. The four way Stop slowed plenty of hot rods for our inspection, the drivers and riders offered up, or so we expected, for our perusal. All of us under fourteen, a couple only ten or eleven years old. Tanned summer girls, aimless. Barefoot, short-ed, middy-shirt-ed or haltered, with nothing much to halter. Not smoking yet, but we might as well have held cigarettes. We posed and screamed and shouted to boys as they slowed or screeched to their stop. Race Road had the hills they liked to hop. Hot-rodders passed by, windows all open and they smiled, hooting at us. Or convertibles, maybe on their way down to the Par 3 Golf Course, the driving range, the snack bar, but heavens, no liquor. We tried buying cigarettes there. That didn’t fly. The boys, teenagers, not very often men, but yes, sometimes young men, even old men (in our minds they were old) they slit their eyes at us, estimating, split-second rejected us. But nothing wrong with a little jive at the Stop sign, dusk coming on fast, the clover and onion grass perfuming our butts, the sweat pearling at our hairlines and pasting long hair and ponytails on our necks. We would slouch home to watch innocuous summer re-runs, the riders and the drivers meant for darker, dirtier ruin. We had no truck with that. We tossed it all off like sweat, sweat that blackened the already black road, the newly set tar, just another summer job that brought workers to our street and men into our lives. Men and their whistles, which we craved without understanding.
Aftershave, perfume, leather, cold gusts trapped in molecules of wool and fur collars, mothball smell, heady in the spartan bedroom where the coats were piled on Grandpa’s bed. The cranked heat and the laughter, your grandma’s cackle and the booming baritones of your uncles, the warm light downstairs, curled around your feet in their patent leather shoes, your good shoes. Christmas seeped through the floor boxes for cold air return. You called them radiators, but they were really the opposite. Radiators were free-standing metal monoliths you must not touch lest you burned. They were seething pieces of furniture.
Christmas coats were shed in the spartan bedroom shared by Grandpa and Uncle Joe, your bachelor uncle, the good timer adored by every niece and nephew. Handsome, happy-go-lucky, in service to his mother and father. Only later, many years later, would you consider him chained to this tan room, with tan bedspreads on the twin beds, tan furniture, real wood, but not Grandma’s rich and dark dresser set across the hall. The blonder wood was spare mid-century modern, though you didn’t know that style-name yet. Two beds and a chest of drawers. Atop the chest presided a familiar Virgin Mary statue. Your own chest of drawers at home had one. Mary was blessed and beautiful, hands folded as she stood forever looking down on you, praying for you, because you needed those prayers.
Grandma’s room across the hall was a womb of dark wallpaper, coral pink bedspread and draperies, the dark polished wood of her dresser, which was stocked with glorious perfume bottles, just as your mommy’s dresser. Here Chantilly and Lily of the Valley. Mama’s had Tigress and Ambush. Your mommy was no sexy thing but she bought with the times. Her party dresses would be your dress-ups one day. Till then, you stroked her satiny skirt when you sat on her lap. She drew you close, you little imp, protecting you from what?—the cold? the booming uncles with their sloppy kisses?. Your family was somehow outsiders in this Catholic bosom, though you were as Catholic as children come. Mommy was the outlier, the Protestant who attended no church, and who ushered you girls out the door with Daddy to eight o’clock Christmas Mass so she could enjoy a bath.
Our 1960’s American neighborhood, more rural than suburb, with roads hilly and twisty, no sidewalks, had backyards that declined into woods, ravines, and pastures of cows, sheep, horses. Our neighbor to one side had ponies. Our neighbors’ family names: Sanders, Donahue, Taylor, Griffith, Mueller, O’Donnell—Germans and Irish. We celebrated Sunday Mass one mile up the road at St. Ignatius Church, our parish for church and school. Our—everyone’s–parish. We spoke English, except the Binder’s old German grandmother. That grandmother didn’t count. You only met her, and smelled her, when she opened the door to you peddling Girl Scout cookies.
One across-the-street family had emigrated from Lithuania–a country you’d never heard of. The boy and girl were called Algist and Aldona, with last name Liauba. Their language crunched consonants; the one word I recognized from Mrs. Liauba was her daughter’s name—Aldona. I felt between us a special link, since with my name Donna, we were called nearly the same. Likeness begun and ended. Aldona, blond and fair-eyed, paled beside my dark brown hair and eyes. My hair was curly, hers straight. We were both skinny. She was older, and a loner, you hardly ever saw her.
We didn’t know the word immigrant. Friends at school and on our street were the same in my eyes, our families had been Cincinnatians for at least two generations. Even most of the grandparents spoke English, owned farms or houses, were established Americans. What to think of the Liaubas? Their house smelled like no other house, with their particular cooking. Their language abrupted the scenery. The parents didn’t pal around with neighbors, and the children kept to themselves. Maybe three times at most Aldona invited me to play in her finished basement. It was linoleum-floored, with impossible light for a basement and airy because of block glass windows set high up in the walls, sparsely furnished. Today I would know to call the décor modern. Liaubas were miles ahead of us in style.
The Tall Book
It was a tall book, one that fit only into the double deep desk drawer, bottom right. This book of fairytales had a cover shaped like a tall tree trunk. Depicted around its roots and the ground where it anchored were mushroom, chipmunk, ant, acorn. Halfway up, a hole where a squirrel peeked out and a woodpecker at work on a knot. The branches at the top of the book sprouted off the edge. I carried this book like a log in my armpit.
Each page featured a complete story. There were known stories like the Billy Goats Gruff and The Woodsman, but one story I’d never read or heard before became my favorite: The Pot That Would Not Stop Boiling. A gruesome-looking young girl (horrible drawings on purpose?) was given a magic pot and brought it home to her poor mother, poor home, poor village. All she need say was: “Boil, little pot, boil,” and soon it filled magically with piping hot porridge that satisfied her and her mother. “Stop little pot, stop,” were the words that made the pot cease cooking. But satisfaction was rare, fleeting, if not downright absent, and in that absence rooted greed.
One day when the girl was away, the mother wanted to show off to the villagers and got that pot’s magic going. But when the time came for quitting, she couldn’t remember the command. Porridge overflowed the pot, then the kitchen, and onto the streets of the village, sweeping all the people down a huge river of porridge, until the flood rushed past the girl, who’d been visiting a neighbor village. She rushed against the porridge current, all the way up the long tall page to her home where she yelled, “Stop, little pot, stop!” Mother suitably humbled, village destroyed, villagers mollified and ugly girl back “on top.” What was porridge anyway? This story stuck with me, all its elements, down to the white apron the little girl wore, her knobby elbows poking where she had pushed up her sleeves, her hair thin and fastened in a sensible bun, her ears big, even her lips gross in their largeness. The repelling illustrations dizzied. For the first time ever, words came in second.
Santa brought me this book one Christmas. It has long been torn, tossed, lost. If anyone knows it, please please tell me its name or how I can find it.
Rock Of Ages
David Cassidy’s was my first rock concert, the summer between seventh and eighth grade. My then-friend Sharon and I raged with adolescent silly over him, the kind of innocent yearning I doubt exists anymore. Adoring boy-man idols used to be a rite of passage.
I papered one bedroom wall with glossy covers and inserts of David Cassidy from Tiger Beat and Sixteen. I swooned over The Partridge Family TV show and The Partridge Family albums. I knew all their lyrics. David Cassidy’s favorite artist, reported by the teen mags, was BB King. Who, I thought?
David Cassidy announced a summer tour, and I begged, pleaded, whined: “Daddy, please please please, if he comes to Cincinnati, promise me I can go.”
Daddy resisted and then caved, the way he said okay to nearly everything we wanted, a funny and unenforceable response since he was never the final arbiter.
A Friday evening in June would be the breathless event, a night in which I could barely stay in my shoes. I felt sure I’d levitate. But before that, a wedding invitation arrived for the very same Friday, at the very same time. My oldest cousin was getting married. Out of the question, our refusal to attend, or further, my dragging a parent from that wedding so as to drive me to a David Cassidy concert. My dad would not miss his nephew’s wedding. We’d already bought the concert tickets. In my family, if we’d paid good money for something, what had been bought would not be forfeited.
In the back of church, Mommy lingered with me while the bride walked the aisle and met my cousin at the altar. We slipped out before the vows, picked up Sharon, and then drove on to Cincinnati Gardens, where I’d only before been to see the Shrine Circus via free tickets from our landlord. Once we passed through the admission, from the opposite side of the turnstile, Mommy said: “I’ll be right here to pick you up when this is over.”
An opening act played too long, and David Cassidy took the stage later than promised, wearing a white-fringed Elvis-like jumpsuit. With the concert behind schedule, I wondered if Mommy would return and drag us out before the end. I wanted my “money’s worth.”
Driving from the Gardens to Cincinnati’s west side, and traversing the highway, fighting traffic, not to mention parking hassle or cost, meant she never went back to St. Theresa’s Church, or on to the wedding reception. She stood outside Cincinnati Gardens or sat in the car or remained planted at the turnstile where I’d turned my back on her. Waiting for four hours, in place, is what I would have done for my own children. I was just twelve or thirteen then, barricading against her moment by moment. One long, cruel I Think I Love You story, hardly about David Cassidy and all about my mommy.
Donna D. Vitucci has been writing forever, and publishing since 1990. Her latest novel, ALL SOULS, is offered by Magic Masterminds Press, as are her previous 3 — AT BOBBY TRIVETTE’S GRAVE, SALT OF PATRIOTS & IN EUPHORIA. Her work explores the ache and mistake of secrets among family, lovers and friends. She writes whatever in her head sounds good, and then she chops and squishes and compresses until it pleases her. Cadence has a lot to do with it. She lives in North Carolina, where she enjoys her cherished grandsons and burgeoning gardens. Her work appears most recently in Red Coyote and The Sextant Review; forthcoming at MemoryHouse Magazine, SinFronteras, and Gargoyle. Read beginnings from her novels and selected stories at: www.magicmasterminds.com/donnavitucci