The Hill

We lived near the bottom of a long hill, a hill that kept going forever.

From the top of the hill came stories, evasions, mysteries that were never solved. I would sometimes look up the hill and wonder.

Our own house was embedded into the hill. We sledded down our side yard in winter, mowed sideways in summer. We were the blue house with the many front steps, a big old house where kids could roam but today it was summer. Day camp was over. I could hear the kids up on Prospect.

“Can we go up the hill?”

We heard the sigh so we ran.

We flew out the double Dutch door, my younger sister and I, sprinting down the flagstone path and up to Prospect St. We joined the argument. A Prospect boy had a kickball under his arm.

It’s hard to say who saw it first, but the road dust got quiet. I turned, and I took in a breath. We watched it park, its nose pointing down the hill.

I had heard it was up there.

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Second Snow

My mother said we had to get watched by Great Aunt Mary for a few hours. I had a sore throat and I didn’t want to bring a book. So I layed across Great Aunt Mary’s big green TV chair like a blanket, my arms draping over the side.

“Great Aunt Mary,” said my sister, “can I cut your hair?”

“Sure, honey,” she said.  “Go get the scissors.”

I looked up from the rug.

My sister crawled across the top of the couch and slid down the side. She ran into the kitchen and we heard spatulas moving around in the sink drawer.

“I think she’s really gonna cut your hair,” I said.

“It’ll save me a trip,” said Great Aunt Mary.

My sister walked back with big strides holding the scissors high in the air, her fist around the sharp blades. She crawled back up the couch and perched on the arm, cozy next to Great Aunt Mary. My sister started touching Great Aunt Mary’s hair, examining it, seeing where she should cut first.

Our grandmother came out of the bathroom.

“I’m getting a haircut, Gert,” said Great Aunt Mary.

Our grandmother looked at Great Aunt Mary and Great Aunt Mary looked at our grandmother, and they had a shiny laughing look in their eyes, like they were telling a funny story without words.

Hair started to fall onto Great Aunt Mary’s shoulders and on the front of her white sweater.

Our grandmother sat down to watch.

“How does it look, sweetheart?” asked Great Aunt Mary to my sister but looking at our grandmother with laughing eyes.

“It looks beautiful,” said my sister.

More hair dropped from the scissors.

“Are you about finished?” asked our grandmother.

“No,” said my sister. “There’s more.”

“Hey, look!” I said, pointing to the front windows. “It’s snowing again!”

Snow meant the dirt patches on our side hill would be covered when we got home. The sled would be faster. Maybe my sore throat would be gone by then.

“That’s second snow, honey,” said Great Aunt Mary.

I got up from the green chair and went to the front window. I looked up .

“What does second snow do?” I asked.

“It falls from the branches when there’s wind,” she said.

I watched it. She was right. It fell in clumps, the size of white meatballs.

I turned around.

“Can I go outside and look?” I asked Great Aunt Mary.

More hair was falling on her shoulders.

“Sure, honey,” she said. “Just don’t tell your mother.”

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Marathon Day

“Here come the runners!”

The bleacher crowd leaned forward, craning their necks. The road was empty

I leaned over the curb, my fingertips touching.

My heart gave a pop when I saw his legs in the distance. I knew his stride.

The weather was just right. My uncle loved running his races in a light, misty rain and the day had given him that. But sometimes the days were sunny and he still won his races. He won so much we expected it. We’d wait for him, wondering where he was, and when we finally saw him come up over the hill, through the trees, around the corner, we’d shout, “Here comes Uncle San-dy!”

But this race was bigger. There were more people. Food carts with hot dogs and hot pretzels with big salt. My Great Aunt Mary sat on the bleachers with a blanket over her knees that shook up and down. She held a cup of cold hot cocoa and told my grandmother she needed a wine.

“Can you see him, Gert?” she kept asking.

Soon I could hear a swell of noise from the crowds down the road. I ran to find the yellow finish line.

So many adults were swarming in winter jackets and I squeezed through them and stood alone, waiting for my uncle.

Suddenly everything happened. Cameras and clapping as my uncle crossed the yellow line first and my Great Aunt Mary burst out of the jackets. She grabbed the laurel wreath from the official man and ran to my uncle with the wreath high in the air and planted it on his wet head with her two hands, crying.

 

In memory of my Uncle, Dr. Norbert Sander, M.D., who won the 1974 New York Marathon. To this day, he is the only New Yorker to have done so.

 

Uncle Sandy Marathon Day post

 

hey…psst…STAY TUNED FOR: SECOND SNOW (next up)

 

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?”

“Yes!”

“The same thing happened to you?”

Yes!”

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.

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