Shake Your Booty

I knew I was forgetting something. I sat with my sisters in the back of Great Aunt Mary’s white Grenada and I was forgetting something important. I chewed on my thumb nail.

“Girls,” said Great Aunt Mary, pulling in to a spot. “I want to teach you something today.”

We got out of the car and looked up at Lyndhurst, beautiful and gray in the blue sky.

Since Great Aunt Mary was wearing her fur coat from John Charles, we knew to be serious, so we followed her in a line: Amy, Laurette, Rene, Jennifer. We each wore white Communion shoes. Mine were tight.

“We’re going in the front door,” she said, lifting the rope for us to go under. “Pay no attention to the sign.”

She breathed up the steps in her fur coat and pushed open the tall front door of the stone mansion once owned by people who made the railroad. The Hudson River twinkled white through giant windows.

“Now girls,” she said, holding the door open for us. “I want you to walk in like you own the place.”

We silently decided this room in front of us was a vestibule because our mother and father used that word at home, at 56 Lincoln. But this vestibule had no ceiling. I looked in. Oh there it is, I thought.

“Go on,” she said. “Shoulders back.”

We stepped into the tall vestibule and walked across the floor, our shoes silent against the rug. For three steps, I knew Lyndhurst was mine.

“MA’AM?”

“Keep going, girls,” she said behind us. “Do not stop.”

I wasn’t sure where I should go but I walked straight and discovered a group with a tour guide in the next room. We stopped in back of that group and took the tour with the MA’AM man following us.

When we were on the third floor, I realized what I had forgotten. I tapped Great Aunt Mary’s fur. She leaned down. The tour guide was talking about style and long skirts.

“We forgot to the make the pork chops,” I whispered.

Great Aunt Mary took in a long backward breath. “What time is it?” she asked.

I looked outside at the sun. “I think around 4 o’clock,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Let’s go,” said Great Aunt Mary.

Back in the car, Great Aunt Mary drove pressing her body into the steering wheel. When we walked in the front door, Great Aunt Mary threw her fur onto the couch and stamped into the kitchen.

“Girls, I need your help,” she said. “We have people coming over tonight.”

“The railroad people?” asked Laurette.

“No, the play people,” said Great Aunt Mary, looking worried. “The people from your parents’ play. We gotta get-a move-on so where does your mother keep the baggies now?”

We pointed to the cabinet.

Great Aunt Mary created an assembly line.

“Girls,” she said, holding up the box, “you need to get the Shake and Bake onto the pork chops and put each pork chop onto these cookie sheets while I peel the potatoes. Do you know that song Shake Your Booty?”

I helped my sisters open their boxes and we each poured the sandy mix into a baggie, some getting on the kitchen floor.

“Should we wash our hands?” I asked from the table assembly line.

“Today you don’t have to wash your hands,” she said, looking for the potato peeler through the drawer, “the oven kills the germs.”

We sang:

The Hugging Pipe

My eyes flew open to the blue wallpaper. I could hear the heat kick on, two floors down. The loud clanging sounds meant one thing, getting louder and faster, sounding as if a lumberjack was locked inside the furnace and swinging his axe.

For three days, our house had no heat. My sisters and I wore hats and complained about the oil man as we played Sandwich between the couch cushions and kept looking out the window for his blue van. When he didn’t show, we trudged outside and our nostril hairs froze. We entertained ourselves by sleigh-riding down the side yard hill.

At the top of the hill, we positioned the long red sled between the rocks and the Mountain Laurel tree that we were not to touch because it was planted by the hunchback. We always sat in the same order: Laurette went first, and Rene was in the middle. Rene, being the baby, was not allowed to push the sled off the rocks using her hands. We didn’t want her fingers to be crushed. So Laurette pushed from the front and I pushed from behind and jumped on.

We started to pick up speed and leaned together to steer the sled into the giant maple tree root, which stopped us from flying onto the road. We went up and down a few times. On our last run we rolled off the sled and sucked the icicles on our scarf fringe. Since it was cold inside, we stayed longer on our stomachs in the snow and talked about when the hugging pipe would be back.

There were rules about the hugging pipe. Whoever got to it first did not have to share. We would wrap legs and arms around the heat pipe and wait for the warmth that rose from the furnace in the basement. We hugged the hugging pipe when we were tired, or cold, or upset, or bored. Or waiting for dinner. Sometimes I would let my little sister Rene hug the bottom if I had the top, which was nice of me.

But now it was morning and I sat in bed listening to the clanging. The oil man had performed a miracle. I ran down the steps to the thermostat in the dining room and pushed the dial to 80 so we would warm up quickly. Then I stood at the hugging pipe near the dark kitchen and waited.

My sisters walked downstairs in their nightgowns and there was no fighting over hugging pipe rights. We improvised and pressed our cheeks against its cold.

“Can you feel it?” said Laurette, worried.
“I can hear it,” said Rene.
“It’s by our toes!” I said.

Furnace pic

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