Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wardlaw -

As I can remember it, other than the occasional trip to Shop-Rite, the meat market, Dr. Lathrop's, and Fred Lippert's for Children, I don't remember going out much during the week as a child. Part of that was the late 50's/early 60's regime of the one car family and part of it was the roles men and women assigned themselves. (Please don't tell me society gave them those roles ... we can all think for ourselves. Really. Ok ... some are more likely to than others.)

But I DO remember going to Wardlaw for nursery school (imagine my surprise when DECADES later ... like this past summer I learned that part of my birthfamily lived down the street although a few years post my being there). I was four years old, so what did I know about the "status" of the school. I just knew that I didn't fit in. This was and is not an unusual theme in my life ... whether it's my T4 nature, my sworn to family secrecy "bastard" status, my not yet revealed yet suspected Jewish origin, or other things too many to recount at the moment, but I know I Did Not Like It.

I can literally see myself before heading out the door. Short ash blonde/almost gray hair, that killer "do" we all wore where our bangs were so short my "widow's peak" stuck straight out, and a pixie that could NOT be coaxed back into waves as it grows STRAIGHT FORWARD. I wore tights, a shirt w/a Peter Pan collar, a skirt with suspenders attached to them, and sturdy oxfords (ooh, how I BEGGED for "buckle shoes" to no avail!)

I don't remember a single person at Wardlaw but I DO remember the building (old and stone,) the front steps (quite a few) and the windows (LARGE!) Perhaps this is when I fell in love with old architecture. Who knows. I do know that I was deemed "gifted" which only added to my weirdness. I was tested and retested by many experts never "getting" what the big deal was. My mother was slightly embarrassed and my daddy was non-plused. I could have been a savant and he would have loved me just as intensely.

It must have been a fairly progressive place as I don't remember having to be on a certain 'schedule' other than play ground time. I remember two of the"stations" the best ... the reading and the art. In the reading section there were giant pillows on the floor, bookshelves that met a petite 4 year old's gaze, and BLANKETS. This meant I could literally curl up on a floor pillow, cover myself w/a blanket and READ ... which I apparently did more often than "they" would have preferred. If I wasn't reading I was at the easels where it is told I "favored" BOLD colors and geometric shapes. I rarely painted "pictures" but I do remember a lot of linear stuff on the front of my fridge at home. Yet it wasn't my reading ability or preference for mixing my OWN colors that worried the good folk at Wardlaw. It was my penchant for eating paste and my inability to tie my own shoes. Yes. I confess right now: I ate library paste straight from the jar. I can STILL see the paste containers and remember unabashedly digging in with my fingers. No need for a spoon. I don't think it hurt me yet it certainly was disconcerting to those around me. That tiny little girl with the pokey bangs ... there she goes again.

I will say I remember learning how to tie my shoes! My mother gave up after a couple of attempts because I was so PICKY and wouldn't let her HELP me, and my father plain old didn't care. But *I* didn't like being the only one at nursery school who couldn't tie my own shoes! I can see myself sitting on the swings in the playground staring down at my own untied sturdy oxblood oxford filled with 4 year old angst.

Would I ask for help? HECK NO! I never wondered where "THAT" came from when one of the Son's emphatically uttered, "I do it by MYself!" Doing it MYself has been something with which I STILL struggle. I'm not afraid to ask for help, I just don't like it. Even when pretty much bedridden I still tend to do what *I* can do. I will admit I now will quasi freely ask two healthy friends for help when I really NEED it and call the Sons for Tech Support probably more than they'd like, but other than that if I can't do it I DON'T do it!

So there I sat looking at my shoe as the swing slowly came to a stop. And there I sat. I can't remember his name or even what he looked like, but there was a boy on the swing next to me who said, "Tie your shoe." Was there any other possible response other than "No"? I think not. This dear boy then untied his OWN shoe and I watched intently as he tied it by himself. Then he did it again, and AGAIN. Finally, I made two bunny ears with my own laces, crossed one over and under the other and PULLED. Was this the first time I strutted? Swaggered? Nonverbally showed the world how proud I was of myself? I don't know ... but I certainly do remember it!

It was during the late winter at Wardlaw that I became ill. I didn't have the stomach flu and I didn't have a cold. I had a fever of 104 for over a week. During that time Dr. Lathrop came to my house quite frequently and I remember my mother giving me a cold bath every single day I was sick. In reality, it may not have been all that cold but to my 104 body, it felt like ICE. She'd sit me on the side of the tub, slip my nightgown off and me into the tub, pour cold water over my entire body, drag me out, sit me back down on the edge of the tub, towel me off, pour me into a clean nightgown and carry her trembling girl child back to bed. Other than that and my steadfast refusal to eat I mostly remember why I never felt the need to try hallucinogens as a teenager. Nor watch Johnny Depp's "Alice in Wonderland." My very own dresser at the end of my bed bulged oddly and grew to ceiling height while my bedroom curtains billowed out at me so much I was afraid they'd engulf me ... yet the windows were never opened and the house was heated w/radiators. Years later in upstate NY as a teenager my mother would remind me that the brain damaged boy next door suffered a week long fever as I did as a child ... and how BLESSED I was. Please, mom, tell me one more time. Yet when I look back on that week NOW, given my current medical status, I wonder if that's where it all began, the week I Fried My Brain ... and consider it medical foreshadowing.

But the coupe de humiliation was my return to Wardlaw several weeks later when Jersey was in full bloom of riotous spring and the near neon azaleas in our front yard SCREAMED for attention as I got walked out the side door resplendent in my snowsuit, boots, and mittens. Was there a need to pin a label on me stating, "this girl is a nerd now and forever more?" No. It was pretty obvious.


  1. It really is funny how our lives ran somewhat parallel to each other growing up, but not knowing each other. Wardlaw is quite near here with Gordon's neighbors going there, but in High School. I "owned" woods behhind my house too, but we girls took turns with the neighborhood boys "owning " it. We also took trips occasionally to the BSA headquarters in North Brunswick. I'm recalling a mini museum. There was a taxadermied scene behind glass. The squirrels there always freaked me out. I kept waiting for them to dart away, but they stared with their glassy eyes. Creepy. I am enjoying your blog Ruth!

  2. K ... did you ever go to "Trail Side Museum?" I can't remember where it was but I had to walk through the "snake" room to get to my beloved "rock" room.

    Whoever designed that was NUTS.

  3. The bangs! We all wore them. My mother said that a high forehead was a sign of intelligence, and cutting the bangs so short made the forehead, by default, look higher. My string straight pixie was the work of my father (the barber).
    I didn't have a problem with shoelaces, I could tie them when others couldn't. The whole kindergarten class called me "old tie-er" since I went around fixing any loose shoelace I could get my hands on. Oh the memories!