The Mean Lady

I have a feeling this little story got lost in the blog. I renamed it: “The Mean Lady” Enjoy🙂

Circa 77

I walked inside the rhododendron bush that was two stories high, planted years ago by the hunchback, the first person to live in our blue Ardsley house.

We could walk in to this rhododendron bush as if it were a room. I sat on the “horse,” the long branch with a saddle seat curve that we hopped up and down on to make the tall bush shake.

But today I sat without jumping up and down. I was tired of this horse. I wanted a real horse, and I knew I would not be getting a horse.

Then I heard a Saturday mower.

The noise met me in the shade of the rhododendron. I lifted my chin to it.

Somewhere in the neighborhood, sounding its presence like a cavalry horn, was the first mower of spring. It ignited the sullen kernels of adventure in my ears and I got off…

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Ghost Punch: a Block Island memory

We could hear the waves and we could smell the ocean as the sun watched us slide down the tall bluff.

We scraped the bottoms of our feet, dragging our towels through the hard clay. Rocks hurt our pinky toes. Behind us our parents brought sandwiches in tin foil and bigger blankets, bits of home that we slid from as fast as we could. But for a moment we were all of us on the bluff, spread out and watched by the chandelier sun. We heard “slow down!” and we delighted in the danger we were making.

At the bottom we lifted to standing and ran the rest of the way, our feet on shell pieces and pebbles until the soft sand. We dropped our dirty towels and stood before the churning.

“Wait for us!” from the bluff.

The ocean was curling high and crashing down into white foam. When a wave flattened out we took our cue and ran in and went under. Sound was gone and we opened our eyes to the salty sunny green, but there was foamy commotion above. I knew to brace myself. We held our breath and closed our eyes, tossed in a washing machine, bouncing and scraping against the sandy bottom. I rolled until I stood in the white foam. We all brushed the hair from our faces and ran back in.

Soon we were hungry. We stood eating sandwiches from tin foil, peanut butter on our teeth as our parents spoke on the blanket:

“So how did you sleep last night?” asked my mother.

My aunt sat up straighter. She hugged her knees.

“Well, you know,” she said, “nothing…great.”

My mother was watching her. I could see she was thinking something. She looked worried.

“You didn’t sleep well?” said my mother. “I didn’t sleep well.”

“You didn’t sleep well?” said my aunt.

They were looking at each other.

“I guess I can tell you,” said my aunt. “You’re a nurse. We’re friends.”

“What?” said my mother. “Was something wrong? Did something happen?”

“Well, yes,” said my aunt. She took a deep breath. “I was sound asleep and something…punched me in the middle of the back. Nobody was standing there.”

We chewed.

Oh my gosh!” said my mother. “Pete, did you hear what she just said? I used those same words! The same thing happened to me!”

“You had a punch?” said my aunt.

“In the middle of my back! I used the same words! That’s exactly how I described it! ‘A fist punched me in the middle of my back’!”

“And nobody was there!”

“Nobody was there! We looked! Pete looked everywhere.”

“So did we! Is that why you guys were so quiet this morning at coffee?”


“The same thing happened to you?”


Our mothers were staring at each other, in disbelief. We took bites, chewed. Our fathers were laughing, but it wasn’t a happy laugh.

“Maybe it was a ghost,” said my father. “Let’s name the ghost Grace after that character in Jane Eyre.”’

Our mothers were both frowning. This wasn’t funny to them.

“It was such a strange way to start our vacation yesterday,” said my mother. “Did you hear what that woman said as she left?”

“Yes! She said, ‘You can have this house.’

My uncle laughed.

You weren’t punched in the middle of the night,” said my aunt. “That was a real punch. I felt the knuckles. Nobody was standing there. And now Carroll, too?”

We crumpled our empty tin foil and handed it to our mothers, standing closer to them.

Our parents realized we were listening. They came out of their conversation and stared at us.

We ran back to the ocean.


The Race, circa 1977

I could hear her behind me.

She was nine. I could tell. I think she had brown hair. Her breathing told me somebody in her family wanted her to win. But I wanted to win, and I wanted a trophy. I had seen them lined up on the table at the beginning of the race. I ran faster, so fast I could feel the separation of body and running, my legs now in charge as they took me in the direction of the Hudson River and the finish line.

I ran down the hill. It hurt to run so fast. I knew to hold on and let my legs take me there. When I got to the finish line, a man with a whistle told me I was the first woman. I smiled, held my sides, breathed deeply and nodded.

I walked over to the big trophy table, the tall golden statues.

I looked up at the man standing behind the table. He had stern skin, long eyebrows.

“I’m here for my trophy,” I said.

He looked at me.

“I won,” I said. “I was the first woman.”

The man shook his head. “The trophies are for the men,” he said.

“But I won,” I said.

He repeated himself.

I repeated myself.

I couldn’t understand it. What was he talking about?

People talked behind the table as I stood there. They leaned in to each other, whispering into ears. I watched.

“Here,” said the man. “You can have the third place men’s trophy.”

I smiled as I reached for it. 



The Race, circa 1977

Lady of the Ants

When we got out of the car and stood in the parking lot, Eva and I discovered we were Woodlanders.

“Across the field,” said a big lady.

I heard the word “bye” sprinkled around me like rainfall and I said my own bye – “See you in a week!” said my mother. I could see my sisters in the car, their faces at the window. I turned and followed my cousin across the field.

When we found the Woodlanders section Eva and I walked up the wooden steps of the first platform tent. I chose the cot next to the front tent flaps and Eva took the one close to mine.

Then we heard a rough shout and a whistle. We stopped talking and looked out of the tent. It was the big lady, and she wanted everyone to sit in front of her. She stood with her hands on her hips in a brown T-shirt and dirty jeans and she did not smile. I thought of my mother’s red and white tank top.

We sat cross-legged in the dirt in front of the big lady and she told us her name was Molga.

My cousin laughed.

Molga knew who laughed and held her stare on Eva. I giggled and knew my giggle was wrong. We watched as Molga’s arm raised in the air like a tree branch as she bent down toward Eva, and before I realized what was happening she slapped my cousin’s leg. She said a story about being good and I felt badly for my cousin and scared for me so I stayed quiet.

Soon we walked in a line to the lake in our one-pieces and learned from the swim counselor that the lake had fresh water sharks. I stayed by the edge until someone made me jump in for a swim test. I looked for sharks as I swam, panicking, and wanted to go home.

At bedtime we laughed with the girls in our tent about Molga and imitated her voice and pretended we were Frankenstein. But as the silliness of lights-out turned into dark, a true dark with no access to a kitchen light, the night became a hovering presence outside our tent. Serious questions about Molga began. We tied our tent flaps together and took out flashlights. When animal screams came from the woods we leapt near each other next to Eva’s cot, the dark now owning the tent we were to sleep in and our thoughts reflected the primitive shift – “maybe she’s a woods witch.”

Eva separated a space between the tent flaps and called the name in a spooky way…


We giggled, then crawled under our blankets. I hid my face underneath and held my flashlight.

The next morning I took out my toothbrush and sat on the edge of my cot. I watched Molga at the group sink. Her arm muscles looked like chopped wood. She did not brush her teeth dainty. I realized we had not seen Molga laugh or teach but maneuver around as if she lived in the woods with the screaming animals and did not know people.

“Are you going to brush your teeth?” asked Eva.

“No,” I said.

“Let’s leave now to eat,” said Eva, and walked down the tent’s steps.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Molga?”

My cousin started talking to a tentmate so I followed.

Eva led us through the woods instead of the path. We pushed back branches and crunched on dry leaves, the woods leaving small traces of itself in our hair and scratches on our skin. When we found the food building we ignored the Woodlanders and sat together in the corner. Between us was a nuance of survival, and it replaced our giggles.

A serious lady in a green blouse came over to us, hesitating. “Where’s your counselor?”

“We don’t know,” said Eva. The rest of us stayed silent and watched Eva.

Eva stood and announced she was getting food. We followed.

While we ate, I was quiet, hungry, but then a girl in our group broke the silence. Her open-faced peanut butter sandwich landed in the middle of our table and we laughed. It was funny! Then in a single movement we each grabbed the food on our plates and threw it at each other. Food went everywhere. On the table, in our hair, on the floor, and we laughed and laughed and laughed!

We were stopped as fast as we started and we couldn’t go swimming (who cared). We were given brooms and washcloths and we were to clean the mess. The adults were stern and angry, circling us like wolves as we cleaned. I was still hungry.

As we walked back to our tent, I lagged far behind. I was upset we had gotten into such big trouble. It made me want home more than ever. I hurried back to our tent and saw Eva sweeping the top step, and Molga walking over to her, slowly. I stopped. Other girls did, too.

Molga paused at the bottom of the steps and stared up at Eva. Her hands were in her jean pockets with her elbows sticking out.

Eva continued sweeping.

Molga said something. She placed one boot on the bottom step but in a single movement, Eva swept her pile straight into Molga’s face.


That night, in our tent, we started to get ready for bed. We now had chores amongst ourselves. I went to the rolled-up tent flaps in the back and started to untie them. Did I see rice krispees in the rolled-up flaps? As the roll unfurled a loud waterfall of black ants fell from the roll like hard rain on the tent floor. I screamed. We all screamed.

“Eva!” I screamed.

Big black ants scattered like marbles. The ants crunched under our feet. It was sickening. We pushed and swept and kicked the ants off the platform and back into the woods. We kept screaming as we worked. I don’t know how long it took.

We got rid of the ants by ourselves.

First Kiss

A group of us ran from the house and sprinted into the dusk, a silent getaway. A swell of laughter tried to overcome me but I stayed quiet, sticking with the group plan.

With the dusk so heavy, watching my feet accelerate across the golf course grass, it was then I realized I ran faster in the dark. We landed up in a circle, breathing hard. There was giggling when somebody took out an empty Dr. Pepper bottle and placed it in the middle. He did a test spin. It landed on me but he didn’t look up and didn’t follow through. Bats flittered above.

When the game officially started, I struggled with sitting properly. I wore a dress that was a hand-me-down from my cousin and it was a size too big. Its straps were loose and the blouse underneath had a collar that made me look young, like it spoke for me, and all of a sudden I didn’t like that.

When it was my turn, the kiss I gave and received came from a place of dare but the softness was so surprising, I think for him, too, that we held it longer than expected, and I decided that maybe I loved him. When the kiss was over, I sat back and felt older.

Soon the mother was calling worried through the dark, her voice traveling through the trees, and now that we were a changed group, we took our time acknowledging her. I called the boy I kissed by his first name as we ran back to the house. I stared at him instead of my fast feet. His white T-shirt carried over his frame and glowed with moon as he sprinted ahead of me, pumping his arms.

first kiss picture