Fifth Grade and the Changing of the Guards

5th grade tomboyIn fifth grade I shed my Danskin leisure suits in favor of jeans, chopped off my two big ponytails opting for a small Jewfro and went into full tomboy mode.

My fifth grade teacher also had short hair, albeit much better coiffed than mine. We would watch in amazement as she brushed her hair during group activities.  What inspired such awe was the fact that she brushed her hair from the bottom up. Who knew this was even possible? (Well, actually for me it was not possible because the brush would have become lodged in my hair and required removal by a surgeon or at least someone who knew how to operate heavy machinery.)

During her lunch break, our teacher frequented Loehmann’s department store which was just a hop, skip and a jump away across the Horace Harding Expressway overpass. The wind on the overpass was so strong from all the traffic, even during the warmer months, that our teacher needed a good upside down hair brushing upon her return. She was certainly my best dressed teacher in her marked-down Channel pantsuits, but I can’t help but believe that her couture wardrobe was lost on a bunch of fifth graders who were at least five years away from their first pair of Calvin Klein jeans or Christian Dior handbags.

In addition to her “out there” fashion sense, our teacher was into experimental teaching methods. She once had us do an exercise where we selected a partner and had to pretend one of us was a mirror, mimicking the others’ movements. In hindsight, I think this may have been an exercise to help us become better listeners or better interpret visual cues, but at the time, we assumed this was just something for us to do while she brushed her hair. She had us do this in the hallway, much to the enjoyment and heckling of classmates from other rooms on their way to the bathroom. On another occasion, the principal walked down the hallway as we were working on our “assignments.” She shook her head, turned around and we didn’t see her again until June.

Despite her slight bending of the standard fifth grade curriculum, our teacher did let us do many of the other things the fifth grade classes did such as put on a school play. We performed Tom Sawyer and much to my delight I was cast as Tom rather than Becky, a testament to my new tomboy look or perhaps my less than pretty face.

Fifth grade was probably the year I demonstrated the most athletic prowess. I was a huge basketball fan and Gaby and I challenged two fifth grade boys to a game. We actually won which was pretty amazing considering I was the shortest girl in the class, validated each year when we had to line up in the school yard in size order and by my never changing positioning at the far right in every single freaking class picture.

While I loved basketball, punch ball was generally the game of choice during this time. Amy usually went first, followed by Gaby, Laurie or Jackie. Cha-Cha was in charge of getting the bases loaded. She had this fancy way of bouncing the ball, taking a dainty ballerina leap back and then wham. I was honored to often hit fourth, in clean up position and I usually didn’t disappoint my fellow teammates. Later when we moved on to softball, I often held the same position in the lineup, but once I hit the ball, I often flung the bat, rather than setting it down, once right into Amy’s stomach, knocking the wind out of her. After that, kids climbed up the fence when I was at bat, just to get away from me and protect their vital organs and lady parts.

Although I strove for the tomboy look, my body was beginning to change in ways that I could not come to terms with and never seemed capable of discussing with my mother. Another girl in the class had recently acquired a training bra and me and a few of my flat-chested friends teased her mercilessly about it. The joke was on me because I was perhaps the only girl in fifth grade who actually needed a training bra, but held out until mom basically told me my boobs didn’t need any training and I was ready for the real deal.

While I clung to the tomboy look, I started to admit to myself that I liked boys. Laurie and Gaby had boyfriends (that I secretly had crushes on) that were moving at the end of the school year and they arranged a party for them that was part farewell and part hook up. Feeling sorry for me, they arranged for someone for me to hang out with; a boy with hair as red as mine and boobs that were about the same size. I was terrified and I went to school that last day of fifth grade fearful of accepting my fate but equally fearful of looking like I had looked a gift horse in the mouth. The last day of school was marked by an awards ceremony. The red-headed boob man was to receive an award for perfect attendance that day. But to my surprise and utter relief, he was absent! I went to the party stag and mostly hung out with my fellow classmate Stephen (formerly number nine) listening to William DeVaughn’s ‘s 1974 hit “Be Thankful for What You Got” and feeling just that way.

Popular Shoes in the 70’s That We Can’t Seem to Let Go Of

jelly sandalThe 70’s was a decade with its own set of fads and shoes were no exception. Some have come, some have gone and some we can’t seem to get rid of even though every shred of logical thinking says we should. Here are some of my favorite shoe memories of the 70’s.

  1. Earth shoes. This was a shoe that turned the whole footware industry upside down by creating a counter-intuitive design with a sole that was higher than the heel. Walking in these things was freaky, immediately made you lose your balance and quite possibly was the inspiration behind Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk the following decade. Oh and did I mention these shoes were ugly as hell? I had to rally hard for a pair of these clown shoes and I still remember mom’s protests over this purchase. As the daughter of a traveling shoe salesman who owned dozens of shoes by the time she was 16, mom had to swallow hard and beg forgiveness from the illustrious shoe gods before purchasing these ugly suckers for me.
  2. Rubber rain and snow boots. These boots were made of a thin rubber that protected you against neither rain nor snow. But they gave the illusion that your mother was dressing you in weather appropriate outerwear. Girls had red boots, boys had black. Those were the only two colors available as far as I can recall. In recent years, these boots have made an unprecedented comeback with new colors and patterns that us red-booted girls could never have imagined in 1971. Unfortunately, somewhere in between my 8th and 35th birthdays I developed a wicked allergy to rubber and being within ten feet of rubber rain boots makes me want to pass out.
  3. Buffalo Sandals. These sandals with their thick straps and wedged high heel became popular around 1975 when I was old enough to balance in heels, yet too clueless to realize just how ugly these sandals were. They weren’t called buffalo sandals for nothing.
  4. Candies. Previously discussed here and here, these high heeled clogs were a recipe for disaster, but they did afford young women a break from Instant Pants and a foray into purchasing pants that didn’t require a ten inch hem.
  5. Jelly Sandals. Mom would never let us run barefoot in the sprinklers for fear we would contract some virus or step on a piece of gum or glass. However she had no compunction about putting our tender young feet in a sandal made out of hard plastic that routinely drew blood from your skin. Last I checked, these evil shoes were still popular. I actually purchased a pair for my daughter when she was 18 months old. I assumed it was a right of passage.
  6. Converse Sneakers. The period name for these shoes was Keds or Pro Keds because pro basketball players wore them. It’s not like they had a choice. This was the only sneaker available on the market at the time. Running on two pieces of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum would have provided just as adequate foot support. Yet these sneakers made a huge comback about ten years ago at a price point that is easily $40 higher. Now they are considered trendy retro as opposed to the truth; really cheap shoes.
  7. Clogs. Ok, these are shoes that should never go away. My affinity with clogs has already been documented here and I continue to appreciate them as I grow older and it becomes harder to bend down to put on or tie my shoes.
  8. Mary Janes. These were a staple of every young girl’s wardrobe in the 70’s and I looked forward to the annual dose of radiation doled out at the Buster Brown foot X-ray machine that was the prerequisite to purchasing a new pair each year. In the 70’s, Mary Janes were hardcore with a strap and teeny tiny hole to fasten them; none of this lame velcro shit.
  9. Lil Abners. These were a lace up boot that many of my classmates owned. There was no way in hell I was getting a pair of these after I’d made the earth shoe purchase. In retrospect I should have held out for the Lil Abners. They were much cooler and didn’t upset your equilibrium or mess with your Feng Shui.
  10. Flip Flops. After our mothers had inflicted enough pain on us via the jelly sandals, many of us graduated to flip flops as the beach footware of choice. I could never get the hang of these things. I always seemed to be flipping when I should be flopping and after getting lost from my camp group on numerous occasions due to my uncoordinated flip flopping, I was forced to purchase the less trendy slide sandals that only 70 year old Russian immigrants were wearing (with socks). I was chided by my peers and ashamed of my inability to find the ying and the yang within my inner flip and flop. Defeated (pun intended) I abandoned these shoes until the late 80’s when mind over matter triumphed and I retrained my brain and coordinated my steps to make walking in these things possible.

A Room With a View

family terraceWhen I was a kid, the terrace was the best part of my house.  Living in an apartment building, there was no sprawling yard to run and play in, no deck or above ground pool, no barbeque  for grilling burgers and corn. But there was a terrace, and for me, spending the summer months out here was the equivalent of  a month on a beach with crystal blue water.

Part of the appeal of the terrace was the fact that the terrace was outside, yet still inside the apartment. You could bask in the sunshine but be just steps away from the phone, the fridge, the television and the bathroom. It had all the comforts of home without actually being in the house.

When we were young, we had a chaise lounge and a glider on our terrace. The furniture was a hideous plastic with an oh so 70’s floral print, but it didn’t have the same skin ripping effect as the furniture inside with the unforgiving plastic slipcovers. The glider swayed back and forth like a swing and my brother Jeffrey and I would sit on the terrace for hours singing and gliding. Mom always got the chaise lounge where she could lie down; at the time I didn’t realize why a woman with three young children would enjoy the opportunity to rest. Silly me.

My father, hardly a man one would call an “outdoorsman,” also sat on the terrace frequently. Part of this was due to the fact that after he had smoked his daily pack of cigarettes, he enjoyed a cigar, a privilege that mom would only allow him to partake in on the terrace.  We would sit on the glider together and I would watch and count the cars going down 99th street and the number of planes that incessantly flew over our apartment building on their way to the airport. I would stare at the Archie Bunker houses across the street wondering who lived in them and fantasizing about what it was like to live in a house (to this day I still don’t know). Sometimes we talked; often we were silent and just enjoyed the scenery. It was here on the terrace that I learned how to just enjoy the moment and that silence doesn’t have to be awkward (well, unless it’s in an elevator).

On the Fourth of July, we could sit on the terrace and see a spectacular unobstructed fireworks show from nearby Flushing Meadow Park. In 1977 when the infrastructure of New York City sucked and there was a blackout,  I sat on the terrace taking in the darkness and wondering if there would be vast reports of looting and what Son of Sam’s plans were for the evening.

The terrace was also a place for “me time.” It provided the closest thing I had to a garden. I planted corn and tomatoes and while I got a few tiny green or mealy tomatoes and a huge stalk with no corn, I still felt a sense of accomplishment for my efforts. It was a great place to blow bubbles and I replenished my supply of bubble fluid frequently. As I got older, it was where I did my dreaded summer reading assignments and suffered reading such classics as Sons & Lovers and Look Homeward Angel; a book that I abandoned after 700 some odd pages because I just didn’t give a crap about what happened to any of the characters.

Cha-Cha’s terrace was directly below mine and we devised an ingenious communications system via the two terraces. We decided the phone was overrated and that a better method of contacting each other would be to take a hollowed out plastic jump rope and swing it up (or down) to the other person’s terrace clanging the hard plastic against the metal terrace railings. Once the signal was detected, the recipient would race out to the terrace to catch the swinging jump rope and speak into it using the greeting we had both agreed on; “one-double nine-three-oh-over” to communicate we were available for conversation. After we got bored of speaking to each other and our ears ached from having a piece of hard plastic shoved inside them, the conversation turned to food and who had good snacks in the house.  Since there was usually chocolate in mine, I perfected the art of hurling bite sized Snickers and Milky Ways down to Cha.  One would argue that her task to hurl treats up to me perhaps required more precision, but she hoisted her imported European jelly-filled sucking candies up to me with apparent ease.

Sometime after the year 2000, a large tree in front of the apartment building that faced the terraces was cut down. The Saxon Hall folklore is that this is where all the pigeons lived and after the tree was cut down they had no choice but to migrate to the apartment terraces. The pigeons are draped all over the terraces and nests have been found on some of the less traveled ones. My family terrace seems to be a favorite hangout and my mom has resorted to acting like a crazy women going out on the terrace and yelling things like “Get the hell off my terrace” as if the pigeons would give a shit…which is actually what they leave before they fly away.

Pigeons or no pigeons, I still love that terrace. It reminds me of a time when people came home and relaxed. A place where there were no cell phones or texts or laptops or social media. A place where you could disappear, regroup, recharge. And a time when sitting next to someone and enjoying the silence was OK. I would give anything to sit next to my father on my terrace in total silence. So every time I visit his house I do just that. And it always makes me smile. The pigeons like it too.