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 Race, circa 1977

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. 

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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…

“MOL-GAHHHHH….”

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.