Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gaynor Ave., Richmond, 1946

Linda, age 5; Pat, age 12; Lorna, age 9; Bruce, age 7
Only the survival (finally) of some photographs with old labels convinces me that we really did, between two Christmases, live in four houses, Alameda, Rollingwood, Gaynor, North 17th St. We were not long on Gaynor, but apart from actually remembering the taking of the pictures attached here, I was at a new school—an old school I should say (even at that time), which had real hallways and classrooms— and once again I was pedestrian. And no longer in a neighborhood of brand-new houses for brand-new families. I could walk to school, straight up 23rd Street, with Janice Wortman, whose backyard abutted ours, to Longfellow Jr. High School, a great relief after Roosevelt. Janice knelt at her father's knees and was prayed over just before we left for school, but we stopped at a gas station rest room so she could put on lipstick. She wasn't allowed to dance, either, or wear shorts for gym, but I think she got around both of those stipulations, too. On the other hand, she wasn't like the Daughters of Nature who scared me at Roosevelt (and that, I must add, irrespective of color, ethnicity, or religion). She was more like Judy, whom I knew at Lincoln School in Alameda and who told me some really remarkable Folk Facts about sex when we were both about ten years old: it was with Judy I went to catechism, what with being fascinated with nuns, ever since wondering whether the heavily habited ones at the Mission School in San Luis Obispo actually had bodies or not. Besides I liked catechism; like the Gideon's leaflet, the Baltimore catechism was interesting language. And the nuns proved to be nice, just like other teachers. I also liked the Stations in the church and the use of holy water and genuflexion. Judy was too well instructed to tell me that if one bit the host it would bleed, but she was full of analogous thinking about what was entailed if a boy got farther in. Janice astonished me. I had perceived that the nuns in Alameda knew that children aren't angels, but Janice's pastor father seemed to believe that the little gold head at his knees was angelic. Yet Janice and I liked each other's company, and never said what either of us thought was odd about the other.
At Longfellow again we had art and music classes (but no ink wells: N.B., the ball point pen, still expensive, but guaranteed to write under water, had just come on the market; it was forbidden in school: it still made blobs, and its ink was waterproof and indelible, and it might be bad for you if you used it to make fake tattoos). We went to the Army Surplus Store and got leather bullet cases to use as purses, and we had white bandanas made of parachute nylon. By the end of the year even nylon stockings (with seams) were freely available again, and some of the Grade 9 girls wore them. The art teacher that I had first was named Mrs. Penrose, I think. So far as I can judge, her idea of art was prettiness, but she was serene in that preference, not partisan. She let me come to her room while she prepared after school for the next day, just to be there and to talk--not confide, just talk. And I remember being active enough to drive anyone crazy. On the other hand, I never had been a very active child, getting exercise enough by roller skating round the block or playing jump-rope or hopscotch at recess, for the rest preferring to read or draw pictures (when I wasn't helping with housekeeping when M. was ill; I did help, by learning to do the ironing, then the washing; by doing dishes, then by learning to cook). I look back. Anyone would think today that I was ADHD (if those are the right initials) that year, but I think it was just a combination of anxiety and hormones. Luckily, I remained at Longfellow, by zoning alone, I think, so long as in Richmond, though we soon moved, but here I record what I remember of the time we were on Gaynor Ave.
Late one afternoon, I was sent up 23rd St., in the other direction where there was a market that stayed open a little later, to get milk. On the way back a man stopped me and asked if I had a pussy. Not that I'd ever heard the word used amiss, deeply alarmed I replied, No, but a girl I know who lives two blocks that way (west), then turn right, has one, and they have four kittens—but, excuse me, my mother is waiting. I turned on my heel and managed not to panic and run or turn around to look, and I went several blocks out of my way to avoid being followed. I took the milk to the kitchen and went to my room, where I was shaking, but not crying because it was almost dinner time. If I had told my mother, the next month or more would have been worse than any daytime soap opera (radio, not TV, of course, but essentially the same).