Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Haibun: Birthday Party

February 5, 2017

 

 

kohut-Bartels-LS-9

(“Hummers” …watercolor, with gold leaf, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2003)

Over at dversepoets pub, it is Haibun Monday, and Bjorn is presenting the challenge of haiga.  A painting or illustration that relates to the haiku written.  Though this painting of mine might seem scant in relating to the Haibun/haiku below….It does.  At least to me.  The Haibun describes a father’s love, the wars of childhood, and the painting?  His three children: little Hummers which he used to call us. For those who don’t know birds….Hummers are fierce.  They are tiny but survive because of their tenacity.  Sort of like children when we have to.

Lady Nyo

 

Haibun: Birthday Party

Mean, spoiled Nancy Madsen was having her 10th birthday party. Nancy was always turned out in pretty dresses, with petticoats and a clean face. She had blond curly hair, like Shirley Temple, except without the talent. She was the youngest of three, so her mother took special care with her. My mother? Not so much. I was left to my own devices, and those weren’t always the best. There was no fairy godmother hovering over me.

I was sitting on a stool, stupidly too near the drop off onto the road beneath. I was taking a back seat, trying to disappear. Nancy’s mother didn’t like me much. Her dog, Freckles, a Dalmatian, had bit me in the eye the year before. She blamed me for ‘disturbing his nap.’ Back then there were no lawsuits or doctor visits for this ‘small stuff’. You had iodine slapped on the wound and went back to play. I remember being uneasy about her party, as my mother picked the gift herself. I didn’t know what she had wrapped up in gift paper. I was hoping it wasn’t my Betsy-Wetsy doll.

Nancy floated around the tables, playing birthday diva. She decided to sit on me. A big mistake for a lot of reasons, two of which I remember: One, I was deathly afraid Nancy would tip us over the cliff, and two….she was fat. I thought I wouldn’t survive this. I couldn’t breathe.

So I bit her. In the back. Nancy leaped up screaming and a general riot broke out. I couldn’t get to why I had bit her, but by the faces of the adults I knew I was no longer welcome.

My father ordered me to the car. I went, weeping, sitting in the back of the old Studebaker station wagon. I was very worried, mostly about the anger from my mother as soon as she heard what her only daughter had done. Not that she liked any of the adults at the party, and it was generally mutual, but it clearly was another failing of a daughter she really didn’t care for.

My father approached the car, his face beaming. “We won’t tell your mother about this. Let’s go get some Breyer’s ice cream.”

This wasn’t the first time my father stuck up for me. We were in a secret war against my mother until he died. He was my best friend though I didn’t appreciate it then. I do now.

 

Childhood is tough

Adults are the enemy

Kids fodder for wars

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Haibun….”Badges of Childhood”

November 12, 2016

 I’ll be offline after Tuesday for a few days.    See you hopefully at the very end of the week. Snuck this in for dverse Haibun prompt Monday.)

Kohut-Bartels-LS-2

(Spring, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2009, watercolor)

 

Scars are a roadmap of life. Each scar is a badge of some painful event and we wear them whether we want them  or not. Knees are fraught with  badges, at least mine are. One, a white puckered scar about the size of a small fingernail was pinned on my knee when I was four. I remember  a sidewalk, it was autumn, and apartment buildings, maybe a century old, looming over me. I remember rust colors, so it must have been autumn.  I remember the color red. That was pain. That was blood. You don’t get these badges  without the sacrifice of skin and blood. I was wearing a dress, a pinafore, because little girls didn’t wear jeans back then. They wore cotton dresses with petticoats and cotton drawers. Roller skates were the invitation for this scar and that little girls had no protection from concrete made it unavoidable. The concrete was a grating machine, oiled by the pain of little children and stretching for blocks. There was an old Jewish couple who would meet me under the draping pine trees with a Hershey bar every morning like it was my birthday! I was only four years old, but I lived for that candy. They had escaped Nazi Germany by selling off everything, yet every morning they were dressed formally, suit and tie and such lovely dresses, showing such kindness to a mere  child. I still remember that gut-drawing pain of that rusty morning. I tap the scar and know I have survived childhood. The Hershey bars helped.

 

Swirling winds of fall

Knees like white bones flashing

Modesty is gone.

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

 

“Bob Dylan and Me”

October 13, 2016

Children playing in a field

Bob Dylan and Me

 

Fifteen and not cool.

Parents off fighting

The war called marriage.

We kids on the battlefield

Carrying water to each side.

 

High school, all four years

Of it brutal.

Sadistic teachers who should

Have been gone, but hung on.

Mr. Martin’s rubber nose

shot off in the war

the only thing good about

geometry.

 

It was the times of Commies

Dropping bombs on our baseball fields

(we hoped…)

The time of ‘squat and hug your knees’

All good training for life to come.

 

Gloria, an outcast for her pimples

A kindred spirit

Got tickets to a ‘real New York folk singer’

Said the wall posters, blowing in the wind.

 

So we primped,

And curled our hair into flips,

Wore best Sunday dresses

Because we weren’t cool.

 

The name of the folk singer

Meant nothing to us

We were too young,

Too wet behind the ears

To know what was ‘too cool’.

 

They took one look

And some wit decided

We were a kink backdrop

And put us on stage behind

The

“New York Folk Singer”

A skinny kid,

With messy hair

Playing a guitar.

With faded blue jeans

That fell off his hips.

 

 

We were right behind him,

Our ankles crossed

Our hands in our laps

Looking at his shapeless ass.

 

Drunken boys from Princeton

Yelled rudely:

“Hey, Bobbie! Play Blowin’ in the Wind”.

“Hey, Bobbie! Get some singing lessons!”

More than a few beer cans were thrown on the stage,

While we kept on smiling and nodding

And Bobbie kept turning, mystified

At the two white clad girls

Who shouldn’t be there.

 

I didn’t know the word then,

But if I had to guess,

His mouth formed “WTF”

At the chaos out front

And the aliens behind.

 

Each time he would turn

We would smile and clap–

He would bow.

A private performance

For two virgins in white.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

“Shirley Temple Gets Hers”…from Collected Short Stories, to be published Spring, 2017

July 7, 2016

Children playing in a field

 

For the past year, I have been working on short stories.  They have some of their own rules, regulations, laws.  In other words, you got to study these things.  I’ve been reading different authors of short story, mostly women writers for the past six months. Whatever these laws are, I’ve thrown most of them out the window.  I just write to tell a story, and what I have found out is the stories that seem possible are the stories from my own life.  Childhood is a good start.  So, with a growing collection of short stories, I hope to fashion a new book for next spring.  We will see how it goes.

Lady Nyo

 

I had few friends when I was a child. At least, I didn’t have many. We lived out in the countryside of New Jersey, in an old Dutch farmhouse. Everyone seemed to have acres of land, and that spaced out the families. I had few choices. School was not much of a choice. Most of the kids in the neighborhood were boys, friends of my two younger brothers. There was one girl, Nancy, but she was a fat, spoiled neighbor and besides, her mother and mine didn’t get along. My mother didn’t get along with any of our neighbors. She was forever complaining to us that the people around her were ‘inferior’. Or snobs. Whether they were or not wasn’t clear to us, but she was convinced. It impacted on our choice of playmates, or at least it did for me. She couldn’t really control my brothers, or she choose not to, because there was a load of boys on that road. There was only Nancy, and as I mentioned, she hated Nancy’s mother. I can’t remember a specific reason, it just was a general hatred that my mother was so good at.

There was another girl, Diane who lived next to us, but she was adopted, and in my mother’s mind, she really didn’t ‘belong’. She was younger than I, and that precluded much contact. Besides, her mother was also under fire from mine. I can’t remember any mother mine liked in those years. Or since. At 96, she’s still happily making enemies.

Another friend, who really couldn’t be considered a friend, was Lauren. She was the same age as I, but taller and stronger. She was a bully (I was wimp) and tormented me all through grammar school. I still have the scars where her sharp nails raked the back of my hands. She probably became a serious sadist later in life.

My mother really hated hers. I heard my mother call her ‘trash’ and that piqued my interest. She did wear wide patent leather belts with off shoulder gypsy blouses, and the wallpaper in her bathroom was black with huge red roses, so there might have been something of ‘truth’ in what my mother said. To me, Ruth was fascinating. Rather a free-spirit. A beatnik of sorts.

Nancy was to have a birthday party. I remember it to be her tenth. Now, Nancy was always turned out in crinkly dresses, with petticoats and a clean face. She was the youngest of three, so her mother took special care with her. My mother? Not so much. I was left to my own devices, and those weren’t always the best. There was no fairy godmother hovering over me.

My father took me to Nancy’s party. It was just down the road, three properties from us, but my father drove me. It’s a damn good thing he did, because there was enough tension (see mother above) and the fact that Nancy’s father was a creative drunk. Meaning he was an artist, but still a drunk. More reputations than my own probably would have been ruined.

Of course, Nancy was a picture of a well turned out little ten year old. All those crinkly petticoats and her blond curled hair. My mother paid some attention to me and I presented a clean face and a mostly clean dress. I believe my hair was short, in a bob then. My mother couldn’t take the whining when she tried to comb my long hair and sheared it off. But it was summer so this worked.

I can remember the tables of gifts and food. I was more interested in the food as I seemed to have a hollow leg. I could never get enough. I also remember there were more adults than children attending but that didn’t seem unusual. The countryside had cows and horses, chickens and some goats, but there were few children on River Road back then.

I was sitting on a stool, rather stupidly too near the dropoff on the road beneath. I was taking a back seat, trying to disappear. Nancy’s mother didn’t like me much either. Her dog, Freckles, a Dalmation, had bit me in the eye two years before and she blamed me for ‘disturbing his nap.’ Back then there were no lawsuits or doctor visits for this kind of stuff. You had iodine slapped on the wound and went back to play. I remember being uneasy about her party, as my mother picked the gift herself. I didn’t know what she had wrapped up in gift paper. I was hoping it wasn’t my Betsy-Wetsy doll.

Nancy floated around the tables, looking like Shirley Temple. Then she took it in her head to sit on me. A big mistake for a lot of reasons, two of which I remember: One, I was deathly afraid that Nancy would tip us over the cliff, and two….she was fat. I thought I wouldn’t survive this, I couldn’t breathe.

So I bit her. In the back. Nancy leaped up screaming her head off and a general riot broke out. I couldn’t get out why I had bit her, but by the faces of the adults I knew I was no longer welcome.

My father ordered me in a very stern voice to the car. I went, weeping, sitting in the back of the old Studebaker station wagon. I was very worried, mostly about the anger coming from my mother as soon as she heard what her only daughter had done publically. Not that she liked any of the adults at the party, but it was clearly another failing of a daughter she really didn’t care for.

My father approached the car, his face beaming.

“We won’t tell your mother about this. Let’s go get some Breyer’s ice cream.”

Wow. I had dodged a serious bullet. The first time, but not the last, my father would come to my defense against my mother. To top it off…..”let’s go get some Breyer’s ice cream” meant a road trip of at least 10 miles from home, down in Kendall Park. It was a very special place for us kids, and my father used it when he had the chance. It was his way of expressing his love without many words. And apologies for his own drunkenness.

Many decades later, Nancy moved down to Rex, Georgia. I got one letter from her, unbidden, surprised she looked me up. She was no longer fat, but she was still the bully. An answering letter and I never heard from her again. Good riddance to the Shirley Temple of my childhood.

 

 

 

 

 

“Olsen’s Pond”, and an opinion concerning the tragedy in Paris this week.

January 5, 2015

mignot-winter-skating-scene

What we have seen of the tragedy in Paris this week is heartbreaking.   The insanity of these Islamic terrorists is beyond anything imaginable.  It is the same Nazi mentality that tormented the world decades ago. How do we protect our freedom of speech and also artistic creativity?  And uphill battle to do so, but there is no choice except to continue to write, create and speak out. But with a higher purpose. 

I don’t think it prudent to pull the whiskers of extremists. These cartoons seem  to be not only vulgar, but jejune. That includes all other religions.  It is just tasteless.  Freedom of speech doesn’t include yelling ‘fire’ in a theater, and watching the stampede regardless what some may think. 

Hopefully  moderate Muslims  understand  the world will not tolerate the barbarity of violence much longer.   They also suffer from the savagery of  Islamic extremists, and need to unite with the world against this savagery.  They are also in peril.

Je suis Charlie, aussi.

Jane

Childhood in the country has special memories, good and tragic.  Perhaps today things are different, but when I was a child tragedies happened.  Just a part of life then.  We also rode our bikes without helmets.

Lady Nyo

Olsen’s Pond

I returned to the old house,

now still, vacant,

staring with unshaded eyes

upon a snowy front garden,

shrubs overgrown with the

lustiness of summer and neglect

now split to the ground,

taxed with a heavy snow.

I tried to light the parlor stove,

old cranky cast iron smoker

clanking and rattling

in the best of times

now given up the ghost,

cold metal unyielding to wadded paper

and an old mouse nest.

The silence of the rooms only broken

by hissing wind whipping around  eaves

rattling old bones in the attic,

stirring the haunts sleeping in  corners.

It took  time for twigs to catch,

the water to turn coffee,

bacon and eggs brought from the city

and cooked in an old iron skillet–

tasting far better in the country air.

I looked down at hands cracked

in the brittle winter light,

moisture gone,

hair static with electricity,

feet numb from the chill,

the woodstove not giving

more heat than an icicle.

I walked down to Olsen’s pond,

looked through the glassine surface

remembered the boy who had fallen

through the ice while playing hockey–

slipped under the thin cover, disappearing

without a sound,

only noticed when our puck flew

Up in the air and he, the guard, missing.

We skated to the edge, threw bodies flat

trying to grab him just out of reach,

crying like babies, snot running down chins,

knowing he was floating just under the ice,

silenced as the lamb he was.

Childhood ended that day for most of us.

We drifted away to the city,

our skates and sticks put up,

Olsen’s pond deserted like a haunted minefield.

Fifty years ago I still remember that day

when stretched as far as I could

my belly freezing on treacherous ice,

grasping to reach a life just out of sight,

his muffler and stick floating to the surface–

The boy, the important part,

gone for good from a chilly winter day.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015, originally published in “White Cranes” by Lulu.com

“Coppermine Road”

March 4, 2012

severweatherproject.org

 

Coppermine Road

 

When I was a child

Sitting on a hill

In south-central Jersey,

I would watch the roiling thunderstorms

Shoot daggers of lightning

Across hills of the Sourland Mountains

Setting fires to forests,

Pastures–

Torching the barns.

 

 The hand-cranked siren would yowl

And all men over 21

Would answer the call.

To lurk under jacked-up cars,

To pitch hay,

Run the combine

Or start the evening milking

Would get you the cold shoulder

Or worse…

In the local gin mill.

 

Coppermine Road had

A ton of fires,

This gateway to the Sourlands

Stretching miles into Dutch-elmed darkness

As we watched

First the lightning

Then smoke rise into the air,

And heard the howl of the siren

In the valley below.

 

 Mined out, this coppermine,

 Emptied before the Revolution

The sturdy Dutch taking their

Share from the earth,

Leaving little of worth, just the name,

The scars of digging plastered over in time.

 

Perhaps it was a grand conspiracy

Between storm clouds and copper deeper down

A particular cosmic revenge,

Enough to torch the barns

Scare the milk out of cows

And bedevil the men.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

“Olsen’s Pond” from “White Cranes of Heaven”

January 28, 2012

 

Thank You, Laura Hegfield, “Shine The Divine”, for the “Where  Beauty Grows”…inspiring blogs award. http://orli-shines.blogspot.com

.

 Olsen’s Pond

 

I returned to the old house,

now still, vacant,

staring with unshaded eyes

upon a snowy front garden,

shrubs overgrown with the

lustiness of summer and neglect

now split to the ground,

taxed with a heavy snow.

I tried to light the parlor stove,

old cranky cast iron smoker

clanking and rattling

when heated in the best of times

now given up the ghost,

cold metal unyielding to wadded paper

and an old mouse nest.

The silence of the rooms only broken

by hissing wind whipping around  eaves

rattling old bones in the attic,

stirring the haunts sleeping in  corners.

 .

It took a time for twigs to catch,

the water to turn coffee,

bacon and eggs brought from the city

and cooked in an old iron skillet–

tasting far better in the country air.

 .

I looked down at hands cracked

in the brittle winter light,

moisture gone,  

hair static with electricity,

feet numbed from the chill,

that woodstove not giving up

more heat than a miser.

 .

I walked down to Olsen’s pond,

looked through the glassine surface

remembered the boy who had fallen

through the ice while playing hockey–

slipped under the thin cover, disappearing

without a sound,

only noticed when our puck flew

Up in the air and he, the guard, missing.

We skated to the edge, threw bodies flat

trying to reach him just out of catch,

crying like babies, snot running down chins,

knowing he was floating just under the ice,

silent as the lamb he was.

 .

Childhood ended that day for most of us.

We started to drift away to the city,

our skates and sticks put up,

Olsen’s pond deserted like a haunted minefield.

 .

Fifty years ago I still remember that day

when stretched as far as I could

my belly freezing on treacherous ice,

grasping to reach a life just out of sight,

his muffler and stick floating to the surface–

The boy, the important part,

gone for good from a chilly winter ‘s play .

.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009,2012 

 

A Thanksgiving Memory…..

November 19, 2011
  1.  

     

    In Memory of Marge.

    My father was a tender man.  He came back from WWII, from the Pacific Rim, probably shell shocked, certainly a pacifist.

    It was somewhere in the  50′s.    My parents had bought their dream house: a very old, and badly- needing- restoration pre-Revolutionary War house.  My father, along with my 9 months pregnant mother, moved into this house and began the necessary restoration.  I remember my brother and I were bedded down in what was to be the dining room.

    Both my parents were biting off probably more than they could chew with this property.  There were two barns, a few sheds, and lo and behold!  An outhouse.  That was the toilet…the only toilet.

    My mother, being city bred, and also so heavily pregnant, refused to use that black walnut-built two seater outhouse, and since it was already winter, who could blame her?  My father worked nights  putting in a proper bathroom, and peace reigned again.  Sort of.

    (Black walnut is beautiful wood, and since they were surrounded with acres of it, that particular wood was used for just about everything, including the beautiful curving banister in the front hall.  My father also tore apart the outhouse and used some of the wood in constructing a cabinet under the back staircase,  accessible from the kitchen.  It was a great place for us to play hide and seek as children.)

    Thanksgiving was coming one year, and my father decided he would buy a live turkey, fatten it up and slaughter it for the day.  I vaguely remember going with him one night, when it was already dark and cold,  and what I remember was  a very large, dark room, lit by a bare bulb hardly casting light  on the proceedings.  If I remember correctly, it probably was a poultry farm somewhere in Middlesex County, probably in Millstone.  Back in the 50′s and 60′s, five miles from Princeton, all of this area was farm country.  Very old, English, Scottish then Dutch countryside with huge acreage of farms, dairy and grains.

    So my father brings home a live turkey, and with two  kids and a toddler, he thinks he is going to make “Tom” dinner.

    My father soon realized  his now-country- bred children had made friends with Tom and the idea of eating a friend, well, this wasn’t on the menu for us kids.

    My mother wasn’t about to pluck or clean a turkey.  She was a nurse and ballet dancer and hadn’t education in this.  She didn’t like to even touch fish to be cooked.

    So Tom went to Ham MacDonald in Rocky Hill.  He had 12 children and I am sure Tom served the purpose he was bred for very nicely there.

    My father went to his friend in Millstone, Chester, who was a  butcher, and got a goose.  I think he decided on goose because of the quick disappearance of Tom and he knew any turkey carcass showing up on a plate would have been suspect.

    So that  Thanksgiving we had goose, which was rather strange because Thanksgiving wasn’t called “Goose Day”.

    My father was a tender man.  Perhaps WWII and the times had made him tender.  Perhaps having children made him see life through our eyes.  Some men become harder faced with life.  I think it was because of his nature.  He practiced compassion, even to the sensitivities of children.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Jane Kohut-Bartels

     

‘Bob Dylan and Me’, from “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”

July 1, 2011

 

 I’ve been working on this book for a while, and just came back to it recently.  It’s pretty raw, and over three, four years, writing changes and you scramble to make the revisions.  I haven’t done much of that but need to.  This ‘Bob Dylan and Me’ is a true story.  Growing up was a time of extreme awkwardness and a lot of embarrassment.  But there really isn’t a way around this.  I feel affection for that little girl who was so clumsy, so cowed by life and circumstance.  All in all, except for most of the adults, it was a pretty good childhood.  Rotten in some ways, but probably no different than the usual for the times.  Simplier, certainly, we didn’t have Ipods or videos, or anything electronic.  We generally had books and the outdoors.  Not a bad way to grow up.

Lady Nyo

Bob Dylan and Me

I was fifteen years old and not cool.

Fifteen was after dolls, during horses, and way before boys.  I was a slow learner, combined with a timid manner and a few pimples.  My parents were no help, they were off fighting the war called marriage. We three kids were on the battlefield, carrying water to each side.

At fifteen I was barely holding on to daylight.  Life was getting complicated and I was in a permanent daydream. Now, forty years later, I understand all this was the natural process of growing up.  Then it was just massive confusion with a good dose of shame to leaven it all.

On top of this there wasn’t any real guidelines for parents back then.  No Dr. Spock or if he was around, my parents certainly didn’t read him.  Most fathers back then were WWII  veterans  and had their own view on childhood trauma. Fully half the men in my father’s B-24 squadron were under twenty. Babies flying bathtubs.  “Buck up and take it like a man”, “wrap a rag around it, it’ll stop bleeding” was what most of us heard from our fathers, and the mothers just looked away and dropped another Miltown.

I’m not much of a better parent today, just with more guilt.  Genes hold like superglue.

I remember lots of rather ‘beat’ parties at our house, where my mother and father would serve white wines and people would sit on the wide plank pine floors. Each year Halloween masquerades for the adults, my mother in fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, a ballet leotard, and for some reason, cat ears on the top of her head.  I must have been pretty young, because my nursery was set up in the future upstairs bathroom.  I remember her leaning over me and the smell of Woodhue floating off her into my mouth as she kissed me good night.  Must have been some party, because I heard her complain chillingly to my father that he had ‘slipped her a Mickey.’  Apparently she had vomited in the one of the four fireplaces downstairs, and blamed my father for her drunkenness.  My mother never got drunk, so this memory remains strong of my childhood.  These things stick because they are the few times I got noticed. Maybe it’s something sensory with the perfume, but I don’t really know.

I also remember the concrete divisions between adults and children.  There was none of today’s behavior asking kids their opinions around the dinner table.  We didn’t have any. We were trying to swim through the deep waters of childhood and adult issues generally elicited a groan of having to think hard, something we only attempted in math.

High school, sometimes for all four years, was brutal.  Too big, too many stairs and too much distraction complete with cynical teachers who should have retired but were hanging on. Where else could they abuse the unworthy?  They were addicted to the power,  while we, their slaves, went under the wire.  The natural order of life back then.  The time of “squat and hug your knees”, the threat of Commies dropping bombs on our baseball fields- all good training for life.

I had a girlfriend in my sophomore year. I can’t remember her name, but except for getting two tickets to the Bob Dylan concert in McCarter Theater at Princeton University, she was unmemorable. I’ll call her Gloria for this story.

We had no idea who Bob Dylan was except for posters glued to walls calling him a  New York Folk Singer.   Both of us were in band or orchestra, depending upon the need of the teacher.  Violin and clarinet were our only forms of music back then.  Radios were tuned by my parents to classical or their big band music.  In fact, the only time I can remember listening to radio was on a Saturday night, when my brothers and I would listen to WOR in New York, and the crazy dj would try to scare us with stories about the Jersey Pine Barren Devil. Can’t remember his or the Devil’s proper names, though.

So Gloria somehow gets two tickets to a Bob Dylan concert.  We, at fifteen, decide our Sunday best would be appropriate. It’s a concert after all, and this signals dress up. On the afternoon before the event, we curled and sprayed and flipped our hair, put on white dresses with pearls and our white low heeled Sunday shoes and went to McCarter Theater.  I don’t remember much about it, except they set up the stage with chairs, right behind Dylan, for the overflow of audience.  Somebody thought it cute to put the two strange girls in matching white dresses right behind the singer.  I remember sitting there very primly, our hands crossed in our laps, trying to take it all in, watching his ass.

The stage lights of course were glaring in our eyes, and drunken frat boys yelling, “Hey! Bobby! Play Blowing in the Wind!”  “Hey, Bobby, get some singing lessons!” “Hey, Bob, …..”  A couple of cans of something were thrown on the stage, probably beer.

I remember Dylan looking mystified as he turned and looked behind him.  I didn’t know the word then, but now I would say his thoughts were clearly: “What the fuck?”  Each time he turned we would beam and clap. He would bow.  We were his own cheering section as the cans of soda and beer came hurling from the balcony.

As I write this, I am laughing but there is also embarrassment I was such a hick.  I got cooler as the 60s progressed.

Really.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2009

“Memories of a Rotten Childhood”, Chapter 2

May 27, 2011

Childhood Fears.....

Two or three years ago I started this memoir.  I was encouraged by a few really good writers, some of them professionals, to continue writing these memories from childhood. When we write about our past, if we are honest, it isn’t easy.  Childhood back them might seem ‘easier’ but the 50’s and 60’s had their own trauma.  Probably in part because there were few child/parent guidance books out there except for Dr. Spock, and my parents never read him.  I don’t know of many parents back then that did.  Perhaps life was safer for children then, but then again, we were just ‘weeds’ and expected to survive and grow with little attention.  Living in the countryside of rural New Jersey had its dangers, but except for falling through the ice and drowning or drowning in the rivers and canals, being thrown by horses, or falling off beams in big barns…there didn’t seem to be the ‘usual’…as in what we find now….of predators out there with us in their sites.  Of course these things happened, but not to us.   Not then. We didn’t have the padding or the helmets back then that our children now have.  So much has changed in our ideas about child-rearing.

I will rewrite all of these chapters later this year and try to make some sense of them.  Until I do, this chapter is for Margie.

Lady Nyo

 MEMORIES OF A ROTTEN CHILDHOOD, CHAPTER 2

On my ninth birthday during a bitterly cold January, my parents organized a party down by the river. The meadow had flooded the nights before, the water freezing, and the whole area was a skating rink.  My father made a bonfire and we roasted hotdogs on sticks.  Children were easy to please then. 

We all had second-hand hockey skates handed down from older brothers. Trying to skate around the stubble of the flooded and frozen meadow, we looked for a clearing of ice.  The morning was frigid but sunny, and the promise of a winter holiday so close after Christmas was a bonus.  My present from my parents was a pair of figure skates.  This is very funny to me now because I was the worse skater around. I had weak ankles and could never propel myself forward.  I spent most of the time on my backside, my legs sprawled out before me.

I will write about Laura in this piece. She was my nemesis from kintergarden to high school when we finally lost each other amongst the two thousand other students.  She tormented me all through grammar school. I still carry the scars on my hands where she scratched me.  Laura loved to hurt, catching my hands and ripping the tops to shreds, screwing up her mouth as she did so.   I looked at my hands the other night and thought fondly of Laura. She would have made a fine sadist. She’s dead now and death gives us a way to think better of the dead.

The birthday party was a flop. Laura, same age as me, started to cry, and wanted to go home.  She couldn’t stand it was my party and I was supposed to be the center of attention.  But it was a lousy party anyway; the sun came out, melting the ice on the meadow, and no one could skate anymore. We were shackled by heavy skates breaking through thin ice to the dried winter grasses below.  That was no fun at all.

Life was predictable with Laura.  I would enter a classroom and she would make farting noises. Walking down the hall, pressing my textbooks to my flat chest, she would stick out her leg and trip me.  All this didn’t seem to stop us from playing together at our houses, and I remember the one bathroom in their small house was papered with huge red roses on a black background.  I was fascinated by that wallpaper because it was strange, exotic,  and nothing my own mother would allow in our house. Mrs. H. fit the wallpaper: a black-haired woman with tight- waisted skirts and petticoats underneath and something I only recognized later as peasant blouses with elastic at the shoulders. She looked like a Gypsy and so did the roses on her bathroom wall:  a touch of the exotic in our beige New Jersey early 60’s life.   I was intrigued by a skirt she wore one Christmas: a red circular skirt with a large white poodle applied in felt.  It was beyond tacky, with a swinging white cord for the leash and a pompom tail sticking out in yarn.   I was horrified to open a present from a neighbor and find the exact skirt, this time in green, with the same damn poodle.  My mother made me wear that skirt all through the holidays.  The Gods work in funny holiday ways.

Laura was a talented pianist, banging away on an upright, playing the testosterone- driven  Tchaikovsky and other 19th century pieces that boys should be playing, not girls. I heard a neighbor whisper that to my mother during a school program. It wasn’t original to me: I knew nothing about testosterone back then.  Laura was also a talented artist, seemed to have a future, probably with a whip. She was a perfectionist and I think that may be one of the qualifications. I saw by the backs of my hands one of her budding talents. Too bad she didn’t live out her years: she had promise in many things.

I remember one day I got on the school bus after being laid low by the death of my horse.  I was weak from a week of crying non stop and fasting.  I walked to the back of the bus, pale with grief, and heard Laura say loudly:  “Well, now she can’t brag about her horse anymore.”

The hatred began in earnest.  I was standing in line in the hallway, and crying with her torment.  She was scratching my hands with her pointed little nails. I think she sharpened them with me in mind. With tears coursing down my cheeks, I slapped her, not so hard, tentatively across the face.  She slapped me back, harder, and to trump that, grabbed my hand, and bit hard.  More tears (mine) and ran from the line. I was such a wuss.

I think I cried all through fourth and fifth grade.  Then I learned disobedience got me attention, especially from Mr. Blessington, our teacher in fifth grade.  These were the years of corporal punishment.  Parents expected the teachers to ‘reform’ you and if you didn’t come home with punishment, the teachers weren’t doing their job.  The 60’s were a tough time for fannies and teachers. 

I would act out, and Mr. Blessington’s ears would open and his antenna would rise up on his head.  All in all he did let me pass on a lot of the back comments, but I pushed it, knowing what was coming.  A public spanking.  At first, I was mortified, enough to shut my mouth for a few weeks, but then the urge for attention and laughter was too great and I would do something he couldn’t ignore.  I can still remember the gleam in both of our eyes as I walked towards him, both of us knowing damn well what would happen.  He would make me lean up against his desk, and then slap me with his ruler over the fanny.  I would either bear it silently, or would cry with grief, depending on my mood and claim for sympathy. I got to go to the girl’s room and spend ten minutes collecting myself.  I spent ten minutes in a bathroom stall thinking of my sins and creating others and after a while, this became routine for both of us.  It was the spanker and the spankee living in a particular balance. 

Mr. Blessington was my teacher in sixth grade again, but by then my brother, one year behind me, had ratted on both of us, and Mr. Blessington never spanked me again.  A visit from my mother stopped all that.  By then I was a grown-up girl with other interests than being class clown.

Laura was still my tormentor, but she had her own issues at home.  Her little and prettier sister Alice for one.  For about five months she left me alone and I began to breathe easier. I wasn’t ever sure just what was going on with Laura and Alice, but I was glad for the breather.

One day, during the summer in this wide-spread farming community, there was a gathering of little girls at Laura’s house.  I was part of the party in the basement. Laura had a big collie named Prince, a beautiful ‘Lassie” dog, yellow and white and a corn field right outside the back yard that stretched for miles. I remember taking a corn cob and lip-synching pop songs from the radio.  Then we all ran amuck in the corn field, the stalks high over our heads.  I remember seeing a silver streak in the sky, and standing in awe of the sight. Of course it was a plane or a jet, and what I was seeing in that blue sky was the exhaust.  But at that age, I didn’t have any knowledge of such things.  It looked like an omen from God.  Perhaps it was, because one of the girls screamed and we ran towards the sound.  Prince, beautiful dog, had dropped dead in that cornfield.  We formed a cortege to carry his warm and lifeless body back to the house, wailing like a miniature Greek chorus.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2011


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