Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pleasantville, NY

My earliest days as "Ruth" were spent in Pleasantville, NY where my dad worked nearby for the Boy Scouts of America.

I only lived there until I was four although I have some distinct memories ... or at the very least, memories of stories I've been told. I suspect I can remember which are stories and which memories are mine ... as mine just aren't so cute.

1. I had a neighbor from Germany. Her name was Gretchen and her father drove a VW with a stick shift (duh.) Her mother stayed home and had a vast garden and fruit trees. Not too shabby. I was impressed and wanted to have a garden at MY house. We planted rhubarb which I loved w/such great intensity that I ripped it right out of the ground and ate it raw. I never touched the leaves which my mother guaranteed me would kill me INSTANTLY if I ate them. So I threw them aside, shook off the dirt and bit in. Rhubarb. Raw. Yeah.

2. My pediatrician was a woman who lived at the intersection of Martling Ave and Whatever. I don't remember much about her, except she answered all my questions, but I was ASTOUNDED at the fact that every spring she tapped her sugar maple trees and made maple syrup. My daddy would take my up there to watch her and later she would let me watch her boil it on the stove (I would stir) and then take some home for my pancakes. I loved that woman.

3. My best friend was Pammy Barrows whose father was a doctor (apparently there are a lot of those in Westchester Co. How they let a BOY SCOUT in is beyond me, although he was the head of their National AV Dept) Pammy had a COOL mother who let us do all KINDS of things ... like cook, and plant seeds in the ground, and dig in the dirt.

4. My house was on a hill such that the garage was underneath the house. As it was in upstate NY .... my dad had a thing about houses on hills. But I digress. The house had two bedrooms, the one my parents lived in and one over the garage ... which was "saved" for my mother's Son. Where did I sleep, you ask? In a cordoned off area of my parents bedroom.

Here's one of the best stories. For privacy reasons I assume, I was taught, "When the door is closed I am not to go in." Apparently I recited this often, especially when I opened the door. Majorly interruptus.

But I think that's what you get when you decorate and save a bedroom for a child you don't even have; and make the one you do have, despite her gender, sleep in a closet in your own bedroom behind a shower curtain. Yeah.

5. From the back left corner of my fenced in back yard I could see the field where the high school marching band practiced. THIS was most awesome. My dad played many woodwinds and he would hoist me on his shoulders so I could watch ... calling out to him when I'd see or hear a clarinet, an oboe, a saxophone ... never really even thinking that he could see them, too. Nor did he ever tell me. He'd just tell me, "yes, yes, yes ... you have a good ear. You are so talented."

6. My neighbor uphill, to the right of my house, was Jewish and I loved him. Whenever my parents couldn't find me (I had a habit of taking off) they'd look at his house first. Usually I'd be sitting at their kitchen table eating figs and listing to him tell stories of HIS childhood. (Which, compared to mine, was fascinating.)

I supposed I should say that I was a very confident little girl. Overly, in fact, to the point that my dad would tether me to him in crowds as I was likely to go in whatever direction looked most interesting.

Where was my mother? Good question.

7. The Son finally joined the family when I was three. It was the end of the world as I knew it. His arrival involved much fanfare and began the use of his Blue Room Fit for a Prince. All I knew is that my mother was never my mother again. She bragged about how much he needed her. How she had to hold him all the time. She could vacuum with one hand. Fry an egg w/one hand. Change linens with one hand. In the other? Her son.

Cute story time. At one point I had had enough and said quite bluntly, "It's time to take him back now." It was explained to me he wasn't GOING back. I repeated it often enough until reality finally sunk in. My mother had her Son now ... her need for me had been satisfied and discarded. (Ok, that's just sad ... not cute at all. But it is what it is.)

Oh. Did he really "need" her? I think not. What I've learned since is that he, at six months, grieved his own foster family ... particularly the grandmother who held and rocked him all that time. And when he became a drug dealing adolescent? I learned new terms. Reactive attachment disorder. Not mine. His. Yeah. Fry an egg w/one hand. This is something about which to brag? I think not. But she needed to be needed ... and in her mind, with him, she was. What she never seemed to catch on to was that her quiet yet independent daughter needed her too. Maybe even more than a Son who never could attach anyway.

8. My daddy continued to be my Knight in Shining Armor and was until the day he died 2.5 years ago. He took me to concerts in the city, museums, bought me GIGANTIC pretzels and let me squirt the mustard myself. Played house with me. This was HIS favorite memory of our time on Martling Avenue. Playing House w/Ruth. I was never a girly girl and so wondered why on EARTH I'd play HOUSE! He explained it this way. "It was never about playing house. It was about doing it correctly. I'd sit on the couch, you'd sit on my lap and you'd explain it to me. If there came a time you didn't like something you'd said, you'd just change all the rules until it was exactly the way you wanted it. THAT was playing house."

(DYT moment ... when it came to having to pick my "type?" This story came to mind. T4 3 year old.)

9. I vaguely remember the layout of the house. What I mostly remember is that there was one bathroom ... upstairs. The house itself was a bungalow with stairs that turned back on themselves, meaning one could race up a few steps, do the potty dance, and gear up to race up a few steps more. It also gave great meaning to the question, "Do you need to go to the bathroom before you go outside IN YOUR SNOWSUIT?"

10. I do remember "coloring" with wax and stencils on the front windows for holiday decorations, and I know that my "Sunday coat" was burgundy velvet with form fitting leggings I zipped into. Huh. By age four I knew I was totally into clothing ... just not the stuff my mother picked out. Handmedowns from Germany? INCREDIBLE!

11. I loved living outside of NYC. I loved taking the train in with my father and sitting in front of some bandshell listening to music. As I recall a lot of people played the accordion in NY! I loved the smells of NYC in the second half of the 50's. Its elevators with friendly attendants, skating in Rockefeller Center, watching the Nutcracker Suite every Christmas, Barnum and Bailey at Madison Square Gardens, subways, subway TILES. The smells .... hot dogs, pretzels, chestnuts in the winter, steam coming out of grates in the street. Amazing.

And that's pretty much it. What I remember most about Pleasantville is that for the most part, it was indeed, a very pleasant time of life. I also remember it was there that I learned things in my heart that I could not articulate for decades.

But such is the life of a preschooler .... amassing memories and instincts. Pleasantville. Where I began to know my intellectual IQ and my emotional IQ were far, far apart.

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