I was in third grade. The term they used was, “legally blind.” All I knew was, I couldn’t see the blackboard. Sister Damien got fed up with me needing to come stand up close to it, so she called my mother. Mother took me to the eye doctor in the Utica Square Doctor’s Building. We picked out burgundy frames with little specks of glitter in them. And then …
I remember the moment I put those glasses on.
Wait … was this what other people’s normal was? I could see every tree leaf! I could read the street signs, I could even read the numbers on Mrs. Temples’ front porch. In an instant, my eight year old life took on a whole new meaning. My heart was pounding like a bass drum.
For the first couple of weeks, through those glasses I read everything, everywhere, out loud.
“T G & Y. C. R. Anthony’s. Bekins, we are careful, quick and kind. Meadow Gold Milk, Ice Cream, Beatrice Foods Co. You can trust your car to the man who wears the star; the big red Texaco star. Desert Hills Motel, Guest Laundry, No Pets.” I could read it all.
Finally my Dad hollered into the back seat for me to shut up he was driving. Then he cranked up Frankie Lane on the radio singing Moonlight Gambler.
I looked out the window and whispered to myself,
“Jim’s Coney Island.” I had to, because I could read it.
artwork copyright cece dubois, 2012, all rights reserved. http://www.cecedubois.com
“Those chairs are upsy down.” His shrill young voice echoed across the water, hovered in the air, trailed the heron down river.
I opened one eye to try and locate him. His red hat bobbed in the tall grass and disappeared. I sighed and settled back against the Adirondack.
“Whatever,” I murmured to no one. The sun was hot and high, the locust buzz was steady. I felt a bead of sweat let go and travel slowly down the center, between my bosoms. My fingernail played with the peeling paint on the arm of the chair.
“UPSY!” he crowed. I raised my head, squinted both eyes open.
“YOU! You’re upsydown!” Oh, for god’s sake. I settled back.
“Jasper, STOP. I’m tryin’ to relax.”
“Well, you’re relaxin’ but…” he trailed off. I heard him laugh, then saw him jump in the water, watched him stream across like an alligator, right before the chomp and roll. Just as I started to shut my eyes, his head popped up near my feet, gasping for air.
“You’re upsy down!” I raised my head and looked at him, then noticed something floating down stream.
“There goes your hat.”
He let out a shriek and started paddling madly toward it. He caught up to it, wrestled it for show, poured out the water, and slapped it on his head. I closed my eyes, and listened to the splashing rhythm as he slowly made his way back to shore.
He climbed out, dripping, and slopped his way up to me.
“Did you know?”
“That you’re upsy down.”
I sat upright and stared at him.
“For god’s sake, Jasper, what in hell are you talkin’ about?”
He shrugged his tan shoulders, turned and walked over to the water’s edge. He peered at his reflection.
“Well,” he said, “from here you can’t tell. But from over there,” he pointed a bony finger to the far shore. “Everything is upsy down.”
He looked back at me and grinned.
“In the water.”
photo credit: http://www.catherineandersonstudio.com
We called them bread heels. The ends on loaves of bread. Once a loaf was opened, it was each user’s responsibility to keep the end slapped up against the next slice inside the plastic bag, so the remainder would stay fresh.
When there were no slices left, the two heels took on a life of their own, and a sort of bread heel caste system was born.
Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon my daddy would slather two heels with Miracle Whip, and make a sandwich with slices of raw potato and purple onion. This was the working class life of bread heels.
Then there were the heels that were lined up on a baking sheet, covered with cheese product, and slid under the broiler just long enough for the yellow stuff to char around the edges. Middle class bread heels lived through fire in a gas oven to become the cheesy toast served with potato soup on a Friday night.
Other times they were thrown into the skillet with the broken handle that lived in the oven. The ones that piled up in that skillet got hard as a rock. When there were enough of them, my mother clamped the food grinder to the kitchen table, and ground the petrified heels down to a powder.
She took that bread heel flour, mixed it with eggs and vanilla, buttermilk, molasses, spices, raisins, poured it into a cake pan, and baked it in the oven. This was bread crumb pudding; dark, dense and moist, it was just about the best thing you’d ever want to put in your mouth.
It’s been said that bread heels the world over have talked amongst themselves, and considered with reverence the fact that the heels of breadcrumb pudding had indeed lived the upper crust life of bread heels everywhere.
My altar is secret. I don’t really even have one yet, but I’m getting ready.The things I have for it are tucked away in a box. It’s a shoebox. From Renberg’s. Christmas, 1959. My father’s slippers came in it. If I lower my nose to the box, I can still smell the leather from those slippers.
The box is in the bottom drawer with some other stuff—so that no one can tell it’s something special.
A picture of Susan Van Wyck is in there. Susan Van Wyck’s been on the cover of Seventeen magazine about twenty times. Some people tell me I look like Susan Van Wyck. But she’s so beautiful, it makes me shy to think about it; I can’t believe it. But I keep that picture to remind me.
Then there’s my scapular. I got it in first grade when I made my First Holy Communion. It’s faded and the silk straps are twisted, but it reminds me of the Holy Sacrament. I like to remember when I was seven, and believed everything they told me, without question. Sometimes I sleep with it on, because I need those feelings I had back then. Innocent. Faithful.
There’s a little rock from the time we went to Roman Nose State Park. It was the summer before first grade, and the only vacation we ever took. This stone makes me think of highways, and swimming pools, and places far away.
The four leaf clover is from my boyfriend. Rick gave it to me –or should I say he walked down the aisle at school and dropped it on my desk. That’s how I knew he was my boyfriend. We haven’t talked to each other or anything, but sometimes you just know.
The scrap of brown eyelet material is from Nanny. She taught me how to sew, starting when I was five. When I was ten, She taught me to use the treadle machine on her patio. We made doll clothes all summer that year. Nanny always said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just come up with an idea, then think backwards and you’ll know how to get there.” This piece of fabric reminds me that I can do anything.
The last thing in here is a crystal heart. Daddy gave it to me before the 8th grade dance. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my own heart squeeze when I look at it. When Daddy’s having a bad night and I can hear him through my door, I take the crystal heart out and put it under my pillow. It helps me remember who he really is.