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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Jilda, the Dancing Nude

Our backyard was big enough.

It offered thick grass, a vegetable garden with chicken wire and a stack of firewood against the clubhouse. In the corner of the backyard sat a picnic table that sank into the soil on one end, a dog pen for John Doe and a tree stump with mint.

As we grew, the backyard went through several moltings. We called it the beach as teenagers and strategically placed Reynolds Wrap in front of our faces, especially if we were going out that night. On Sundays in summer we inhaled my father’s barbecue sauce on charred chicken legs while wedged in between each other and sitting sideways on the picnic table. As kids, we loved the clubhouse.

The clubhouse was a one-room house that the family before us took the time to build. No sink or plumbing, but a shelf area and a wooden floor on which we fought more than played. The clubhouse smelled of wood and dirt and suggestions. It changed along with us and became a rabbit hutch, a private nook for thoughts, a one-night sleepover experiment, a place to hide beer, but as children, we would sit on its front steps and decide what to do next.

Sometimes, great performances came from our thinking on the steps. “Let’s put on a play.” Chairs were dragged out but creative differences were the norm.

One particular day on the steps, when day camp was over, we couldn’t believe how hot it was. I wanted to swim under water with my eyes open and we had no pool. Our neighborhood friends had no pool either and we weren’t allowed to play on their rusty swings that went really high.

The hose? Nobody wanted the hose.

We slumped on the steps and pushed our sneakers in the dirt, making tic-tac-toe that nobody wanted either.

Then someone spotted Jilda over the fence. We peeked around the clubhouse.

Jilda was the lady who lived in back of us. She was putting out her sheets with clothespins. Ralph was her husband. All of a sudden, we realized their names were funny.

Somehow, someone suggested the word “nude.” We put those two words together – Jilda and nude – and it was a miracle!

We needed to laugh because we had no pool and it was so hot out and we were told to “entertain ourselves outdoors.” It was too early to play steal the bacon because we played that after dinner on Lincoln. So we started talking about Jilda being nude, and the words soon found music, and the music soon found new words!

And then we were off the steps and holding hands and dancing in a circle on the sunny grass, singing a song that made us laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Even John Doe got into it.

“Jilda the dancing nude! With Ralph! They’re playing our sonnnggg!”

We sang and sang! We skipped in our circle and it was so fun and funny!

“HEY!”

“Jilda the dancing NUDE! With RALPH! They’re playing our SONNNGGGG!”

Laughlaughlaughlaugh!

“HEY! HEY THERE!”

We trickled to a stop and looked over the fence, up at Ralph.

Ralph was leaning out the second story window, his jowls were long and flappy and his face was red.

“STOP THAT!”

We sang again.

“Jilda the dancing nude! WITH RALPH! They’re playing our SONNNNGGGG!!!”

At some point during our ovations my mother received a phone call.

We were told to come inside the house and sit down at the kitchen table. My mother sent the neighborhood children across the street.

There is no memory of the exact words my mother said, only the vibrations of her emotion that leave on me the meaning of kindness and manners. When she was finished, she looked around for something to give Jilda and Ralph. We found a new game called Boggle but couldn’t find wrapping paper so our mother said to use tin foil.

My sister and I walked up to Prospect and our mother stood behind us as we knocked on the front door.

Jilda barely opened the front door. I thought she would be happy to see us with a game! We held out the tin-foiled game and said sorry.

She took the game and closed the door.

Clothespin on white sheet

Up Next, on June 19: A Ghost Story

The Mean Lady

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 the horse.

I knocked on front doors and said, “Let’s go to the stream.”

We were in walking distance to the “new park” and the stream along its far edge. New houses lined the stream on the other side, and people lived in them, but the stream was ours because we loved it.

Its bottom was soft and cushiony. We loved to lift rocks and peek for crayfish, scoop minnows and longed for its elusive frogs. We laughed and fought in the stream, threw buckets at each other and bounced on the wooden slats and shouted things like “I got one!” When we were hunting, we were careful to lift rocks slowly so we wouldn’t disturb the silt, which might allow an escape route for the living treasures underneath. We didn’t wear water shoes because they didn’t exist. Nor did we bring water bottles. We drank the stream. Sunscreen was for getting a tan at the beach and we actually called it suntan lotion. This was a playground, a safe extension of home that opened its world for us, every time.

But the stream of last year would not be the same stream of this year. Continue reading