For the next two days my sister Romaine will once again be my guest blogger
Today's post and Monday's are excerpts from a family history project that Romaine wrote for a class she's taking.
Our Aunt Mary, around 30 years ago
Fly Homeward, Little Bird
My aunt Mary was my mom’s little sister. She came to live with our family when her father, who had been taking care of her and her wheel chair-bound mother, died suddenly of a heart attack. I was 10 years old at the time. Aunt Mary was mentally disabled. She had the mental capabilities of about an 8 year old, which was pretty good, but not enough to really know how to take care of herself. On top of that she also suffered from mental illness. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when she was a teenager. Aunt Mary was in and out of mental institutions for most of her twenties and thirties until it became apparent that the therapy she was receiving at these places was not helping and probably doing more harm than good. This all happened over 60 years ago – during the dark ages of mental health when the treatment of mental illness was mostly experimental for conditions that were poorly understood. Eventually Aunt Mary moved back in with her parents. She lived with them up until her father died after which her mother was unable to take care of her. As there was no one else to take care of her my mom and dad took her in.
When Aunt Mary moved in it was like having another child for my parents. A child that never grows up. I am the youngest of 5 and Mary made number 6. She was in her early forties when she came to live with us. She continued to live with our family and then with just my mom after all the kids left and our dad died. She lived with my mom until her death at age 85.
Due to her mental illness and mental disability Mary lacked the social filters that we all take for granted in our politically correct and polite society. She was honest to a T and wasn’t capable of lying. With no social filters and no ability to fib, Mary was prone to blurt out the brutal truth and give her forthright yet unasked for suppositions at the most inappropriate of times. She had no problems saying what everybody else was thinking, which could lead to many awkward yet hilarious situations. She never expressed herself to be mean or vindictive, she just wasn’t able to hold in her thoughts or state them in a tactful manner. Once her truth meter went off, there was no stopping it.
Mary unintentionally let loose one zinger after another on a regular basis - many of which have made it into the Rupp Family Hall of Fame of Funny and Embarrassing Stories. For instance: One time when I was just 13 years old I was modeling for my sister and mother a new beige and brown one piece bathing suit I had just got. It took a lot of courage for me to show myself in public with the suit on because I was overweight and very embarrassed to be seen in such skimpy attire. After much encouragement from my mother and sister I shyly walked into the dining room with my new one-piece on. They both showered me with compliments and said every nice thing they could think of to help me improve my bad self-image. They were doing a great job of building my self-confidence to the point where I was beginning to think that it might be OK for me to show up with this bathing suit on at the pool where my girlfriends where hanging out and where there might also be boys – God Forbid! Then Aunt Mary walked into the room. That was end of any false flattery. She took one look at me and proclaimed: “That suit fits you like skin on baloney. You look like a sausage”. At that moment I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and all I saw was a kielbasa in a bathing suit staring back at me. I took that thing off and never wore it again. As bad as it was to be told I looked like a sausage at age 13, 40 years later I can see the humor in the situation and now I burst out into a big belly laugh every time I think about that incident.
Aunt Mary was built kind of like a hobbit. She was short and pudgy and had very long finger nails and toe nails which she took impeccable care of. She had short curly blond hair, bright blue eyes and round apple checks. Her voice was deep and raspy and she had a Scranton accent – which sounds a lot like a mid-west accent.
Aunt Mary’s voice didn’t really go with her hobbit body, but it was her most defining trait. If imitation is the highest form of flattery then Aunt Mary could be one of the most flattered people on the planet. All members of my immediate family including my siblings and their spouses and children and even some of our close friends can all do an Aunt Mary imitation on demand. I have a friend on the West Coast who has never even met her who does one of the best Aunt Mary impersonations in the country. He’s heard me do it enough that he’s picked it up on his own. When any two or more of us Aunt Mary mavens get together it’s not too long before someone starts channeling her. Before you know it everyone is hurling around Aunt Mary-like salvos. They are usually not directed at any one in particular, they just slip out. If you didn’t know us you would probably think we were all nuts, well you’d probably think that if you did know us too. Once we start we just continue to crack each other up and the Aunt Mary-isms can go on for a long while. If you were a fly on the wall you might here some of the following catch-phrases bandied about in deep crackly voices:
“You eat like a pig.”
“That shirt makes you look fat.”
“If you would stop sh*ting around we could finish our prayers”
“Them French talk funny”
Not everything that came out of Aunt Mary’s mouth was bad. As much as she would fire off her bluntly harsh observations she was just as likely to fire off a nice compliment too. She called ‘em like she saw ‘em. Aunt Mary-isms are part of our family culture now. For most of the time Aunt Mary was a benign and pleasant person, it’s just that these bon-mots would slip out at the most unexpected times in the most inappropriate places – like at a funeral or a church luncheon or during a dinner party when my parents were entertaining the dean from the medical school where my father taught.
To be continued on Monday...
For the past twenty years my mother has lived in Seaford, Delaware, a town of 6,000 where the closest movie theater and meaningful shopping are thirty miles away.
So what do the citizens of Seaford do for entertainment?
Well, as there are probably close to a dozen cozy little restaurants and diners around town, I'm guessing that they eat. In any case, that's what we do when we go to visit my mother and my brother's family in Seaford. We all eat.
During our visit to my mother last week Tom, my mom and I were able to sample several places of local culinary interest :
Friday afternoon we had lunch at the popular Stargate Diner:
Where my mom had a bowl of the lobster bisque and Tom and I opted for the crab cake over macaroni and cheese:
Which I should have resisted with my mac and cheese addiction, right? In truth, I found this macaroni and cheese to be just so-so, or maybe it was that I was still craving my fake Noodles & Company kind. The crab cake was awesome, though.
That evening we were invited to my brother Jim's house:
Right to Left: My mom, Jim's wife Theresa, Jim and Theresa's daughter Cassie, Tom
Where Jim made pasta with olive oil, shrimp, garlic, spinach and red peppers and his secret ingredient: a hunk of cream cheese stirred in at the end. Was it good? OMG, was it!!! Cassie made a chocolate cake for dessert. (See Cassie's cake on the table in the background?) Was the chocolate cake good? The chocolate lovers amongst us attested that it was downright yummy, which was attested to by the fact that there was little left by the end of the evening.
We ate on the porch.
The next day my niece Sarah, her husband Bob and their baby Charlie came from out of town for a visit so my mom ordered taco chicken salads from the local Mexican Restaurant, Plaza Tapatia:
Fran setting out the chicken taco salads. They were delicious, fresh, topped with avocado and sour cream, the chicken was tasty and plentiful, and the shells were light and crispy.
For dinner that night after all the company had left Tom, my mom and I went back to the Stargate. I had a huge Greek salad, which was nicely presented, fresh and really good, my mom had a ham and cheese omlette and Tom had penne pasta with meatballs which he declared to be decidedly mediocre. I'm starting to wonder if pasta might not be the Stargate's forte.
However against one of walls inside the Stargate is this plaque which I liked:
SoI do believe at the Stargate they're doing their best, even with the so-so pasta dishes.
On Sunday morning after church we went out for breakfast at Pizza King, another popular diner that isn't known for it's pizza. I'm not even sure they make pizza there. I don't know, maybe they do.
But if you really want good pizza in Seaford the place to go is Sal's, the local Italian eatery:
Sunday was the last day of our visit, and as my mom had a hankering to go to the movies (as did I, but then I always have a hankering to go to the movies), that afternoon we drove the 30 miles to the movie theater in Salisbury, Maryland and saw "Million Dollar Arm" - a really good movie. Afterwards we had dinner at the Salisbury Red Lobster:
And I guess everybody knows what Red Lobster food is like, right?
My mom and her wingwoman Fran
So here’s my mother at 94 years old, still doing all the things she does including living in her own home where she still throws brunches, lunches, and parties.
My mother obviously has some extraordinary genetics going on, not to mention a joie de vivre that just won’t quit. But the good health and the good attitude are just the power source; I believe the propulsion behind my mother’s ability to continue living an independent, enjoyable and productive life comes from the support system she’s got going on.
There’s my brother Jim and his wife Theresa who live close by and are always calling, stopping over, checking on my mother and having her over for dinner.
Then there are her neighbors, friends, and people from her church who are also always calling, stopping over, checking on her and bringing her food.
“Everybody‘s always coming around and doing everything for me like I’m some old lady,” she jokingly complains.
"Milk it,” I tell her.
Then she has her list of dependable service people to take care of things like the yard work, the snow shoveling, the routine home maintenance and repair work, her finances. She’s got a mechanic who fixes her car and a caterer who fixes the food for her parties.
But of all the invaluable support people in my mother’s life, the one who truly makes it all happen for my mom these days is her housekeeper/companion/friend/guardian angel, Fran.
Fran is the wind beneath my mother’s wings. She’s also a very funny lady. Which is what makes her so great with my mom, who is likewise a very funny lady.
On this past visit when I asked my mom how she and Fran first linked up she told me that Fran just sort of walked into her life. Literally.
My mom recalled that one day about six or seven years ago she received a call from a woman from her church whom my mother didn’t know but who appeared to know her. The lady said she’d be over that afternoon to cook my mom a meal. And sure enough that afternoon a lady did breeze in through my mother’s back door, took over her kitchen, whipped together a great meal then cleaned up the whole kitchen like a whirlwind, cracking wise the whole time.
My mother, herself a first-rate cook, human cleaning tornado and connoisseur of reasonably irreverent humor, liked Fran’s style.
It turned out that Fran, who does volunteer work ministering to the elderly, had seen this sweet-looking, frail-looking little old lady at church and decided to find out who she was then visit her with a nice home-cooked meal.
And what she found beneath this aged, fragile-looking exterior was a kindred spirit, saucy, bossy, hard-working and young at heart. Fran liked my mom’s style, too.
So, despite their 24-year age difference, Fran and my mom took an immediate liking to each other.
It happened that my mom was at that time looking for some household help. At that time my mother was still taking care of her mentally disabled younger sister, my Aunt Mary, whom she’d been caring for ever since their father died forty years earlier.
My Aunt Mary
Fran accepted the job of weekly house cleaner, but the job soon expanded to coming over almost every day and doing whatever needed to be done around the house or for my mom, a Jill of all trades and wingwoman, house-and cat-sitter, traveling companion, everything companion.
And most important, best friend. I believe the spine that runs through Fran and my mom's friendship is their shared sense of humor. They keep each other laughing, and Fran always threatens to kick my mother's a** whenever my mother neglects to do her exercises, follow her doctor's orders, drink enough water, or whatever it is she's supposed to be doing.
Sometimes the two are partners in mischief of the sort that only two ladies of a certain age can get away with.
My mother recounted to me the time when she and Fran went to church together to go to confession. They walked up to the priest who was waiting outside the confessional, then as my mother and the priest were entering the confessional Fran called, "You be sure and kick her a** in there, Father".
Father just shook his head.
Sorry for skipping yesterday’s blog. I’ve been out of town visiting my mother whose home is WIFI-less.
Anyway, last Thursday Tom and I drove from Columbus to Seaford, Delaware to spend Memorial Day weekend visiting my mother, who will be 94 on June 24.
Before we left Columbus we’d already turned down my mother’s offer – or rather her several insistent offers -to have dinner ready for us when we arrived. We held our ground that we would not be there for dinner and prevailed upon her not to fix any food for us.
We felt pretty confident that we’d won this food fight until I called my mother on the road to let her know that we’d been stuck in three different traffic jams over and above the standard issue Memorial Day traffic and that we’d be arriving later than we thought, probably not before 10:30 pm.
“You’ll want something to eat when you get here,” she said, as if we hadn’t settled this issue half a dozen times already
I assured her that we wouldn’t want anything to eat, that we’d already stopped for dinner along the way.
“Well, you’ll at least want a snack. Maybe an omlette? Or some sausage and eggs?”
No omlette, I insisted. No sausage and eggs.
“You’ll want a little something,” she bulldozed right over me, “I’ll have a snack ready.” And that was that.
People are always amazed when they learn my mother’s age. But when I hung up it occurred to me that what’s truly amazing about my mother isn’t so much her many years, but that at a few weeks short of 94 my mother hasn’t yet crossed over the line between being able to take care of herself and do for others and no longer being able to do for others and needing others to take care of her. In fact she’s still far from that line:
She attends Mass every morning.
Every Wednesday night she attends her church group meeting.
She plays cards with with her bridge club twice a month.
Every Sunday she drives a (much younger) friend to church.
Two weeks ago she had her church group over to her house for brunch.
Several weeks before that she had her bridge club over for lunch.
The third Sunday of every December she throws a big catered Christmas party in her home to which she invites only her closest friends. All 90 of them. This year only 50 were able to attend, but it was still a wonderful party, as usual.
Here are some photos of my mother’s home:
And of her kitchen, where she was waiting for us when we arrived with the little snack.
We actually were a little hungry.
I'm not someone who normally has anything to do with meals that come in a box off the supermarket shelf, I know they belong to the unhealthy processed food group, just so much
salt, sugar, modified corn starch, hydrolyzed yeast extract, sodium phosphate
and artificial flavor and dye.
And it’s not like there’s any reason why I would have to eat that sort of thing; I know how to cook healthy food from fresh ingredients, so why would I eat processed food from a kit, least of all
macaroni and cheese from a kit?
It’s not that I don’t like macaroni and cheese; I love mac and cheese just the same as every other member of the human race though I seldom indulge in it; I figure
it’s probably one of the most calorific entities you can put into your mouth.
But if I must have mac and cheese I can whip up a delicious batch of
home made in the crockpot, where the calories at least come from real milk, real
margarine, real cheddar cheese and real – well, sort of real – velveeta. *
But here’s the thing: I also love the Noodles & Company macaroni and cheese, which is how this story beings.
Last week I picked up Tommy at the airport after a business trip and as it was on the late side of dinner time we both agreed that some Noodles & Company would be good.
Tommy got the penne rosa, and I got what I always get, the
macaroni and cheese. And it was, indeed good, with a light but creamy sauce and topped with finely grated cheddar.
So good, in fact, that the next night after work when I was on my own for dinner all I could think
of was another round of Noodles & Company mac and cheese.
I headed for the restaurant, but the traffic was bad on Hamilton
Road, and there was no other route.
While I sat in traffic trying to decide how badly I wanted Noodles & Company mac and cheese, the thought popped into my mind of zipping into the Krogers just up ahead and seeing if I could rustle up the ingredients to whip together a Noodles & Company knock-off.
I pulled into the Krogers parking lot.
But by the time I dragged into the store I’d lost my mojo for cooking or driving, I just wanted to eat.
That’s when I thought of the mac and cheese in a box.
I headed for the boxed-food aisle and checked out the wares. Oh, well, why not just this once? What harm could one fake-food dinner do? Along side the
standard-issue neon orange mac and cheese there was a white variety with a photo
on the box of pipe-shaped pasta that looked just like the Noodles & Company
mac and cheese.
I grabbed the white stuff. The white looked more wholesome than
th orange, though I held no illusions that there was really any difference
between the two, except for the neon orange dye.
So I went home and cooked up my fake white macaroni and cheese
according to instructions: 1/3 cup of milk, ¼ cup of butter – actually I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. It tasted salty even for me, a saltaholic. So I upped the milk to ½ cup and the ICBINB to 1/3 cup and tried it again. OMG. It was smooth; it was light; it was tasty! I scooped some into a bowl and topped it with finely shredded sharp cheddar; it was ICan’t Believe It’s Not Noodles &
I scarfed down half the batch then finished the rest of it for lunch the next day.
That night Tom arrived home and for dinner I fixed fish with my boxed mac
and cheese surreptitiously prepared with the extra milk and ICBINB and topped
with shredded cheddar. I served it up in a blue glass bowl.
Tom didn’t suspect that her’d been served a mac and cheese
The next day we ate the left-over mac and cheese for lunch and
the following day Theresa and Phill arrived for a visit.
“How about some mac and cheese for lunch!” I cried.
“More mac and cheese?” Tom asked as I once again set the blue glass bowl full of shredded-topped pasta on the table.
His question hit me like a wake-up call. I’d been eating
macaroni and cheese for the past four days. And I felt like I wanted to keep eating
it. But not any macaroni and cheese. I only wanted my Noodles
& Company knock-off, full of starch and yeast and
preservatives and whatever addictive additives they put in it that was
giving me this macaroni and cheese Jones.
The next day I read about the study on carbs and processed food
and fat cells. I went upstairs and stepped on my bathroom scale. It
read 132.6 pounds, 2.6 pounds over my fighting weight.
I had to face that I had a mac and cheese Jones, and that I’d taken a hit by the Fat Cell
That was 4 days ago and I haven’t eaten any macaroni and cheese
since. I think I’ve been scared straight.
*If you’d like a really good and easy crock-pot macaroni and
1pound of macaroni, cooked, drained, and
1stick of butter or margarine
3 ½ cups of milk
1 block of velveeta cheese, (the smaller block of the two
possible blocks) cut into cubes
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
Put all ingredients into a crock pot, cook on high for about 3 hours. Enjoy! 8)
Regarding the blog before yesterday Romaine made a comment about carbs that reminded me of a study I read about that hypothesizes that over- consumption of carbohydrates negatively effects how our bodies metabolize calories.
It's kind of a pithy article, but if you'd like to check it out here's the link:
But if you don't feel like plowing through it yourself, the gist of the study as I understand it is that fat cells are like bullies that, when there are a lot of them, band together into a mob and grab a lion's share of the calories that you eat for themselves, not leaving enough to fuel your metabolism relative to the amount of calories you've eaten.
Subsequently not only does your metabolism slow down because it thinks it's not getting enough fuel and wants to conserve what it's getting, but you feel hungry again too soon so you eat more calories which once again gets grabbed by fat cells, which get bigger and more numerous and grabbier.
So what the researchers who did the study have concluded is that when your body has been taken over by the fat cell mob it's no longer that eating is making you fat; it's that being fat is making you eat.
But merely cutting back on the amount of what you eat won't do the trick; that will just tick off the fat cell mob who, being denied the caloric payoff that they've been extorting, will take their revenge by hoarding themselves and refusing to burn, so that you'll get so hungry and weak that you'll have to cave and give up on your diet.
So what's the answer? How does one fight back against these despicable metabolic extortionists?
Well, according to the researchers the key is in the carbohydrates. The carbs are the enablers of the fat cell mob.
But not all carbs. Some carbs are good. Some are very bad.
The bad carbs, those shady associates that empower the fat cell mob in their nefarious ways, are the ones found in the processed, highly refined, high-fructose and starch-infused foods that are the foundation of what too many of us in this society eat. Potatoes are bad, too.
Anyway, the carbs found in the above foods are big-time producers of insulin, the hormone that keeps fat cells in storage so that they're not burning themselves up for energy like they're supposed to. So the more insulin the fat cells can get their greedy little nuceli on the more greedy and proliferous they become and the less burning up they do.
So then, the key strategy for fighting back against and defeating the fat cell mob is to deny them access to their enablers: cut out the bad carbs. This will put the kibosh on the fat cells' extortionism and turn them into upstanding citizen cells who burn as they're supposed to and don't grab more than their fair share of the calories. Without the bully power of the insulin they'll learn how to share. Thus a person eating more calories but minus the bad carbs will burn more calories than someone who's eating fewer calories but whose calories come from the bad carbs.
It does to me, but alas, I'm finding this information troubling. It's coming to me at a bad time.
Because, heaven, help me... I'm afraid I've fallen in love. With a bad carb. A very bad carb. Tune in tomorrow.
PS - tomorrow's blog might arrive pretty late because I'll be on the road, but I'll try to get it out before the day
1. Ludwig, David S. and Friedman, Mark I., "Always Hungry? Here's Why", The New York Times, Sunday May 18, 2014.
2. Wikipedia: Insulin.
Sluggish Cognitive Tempo.
That's what I've got. I'm sure of it.
Sluggish Cognitive Tempo is related to Attention Hyper Activity Disorder and produces the same result, difficulty in concentrating and focusing, but it's different. In fact, SCT is more the opposite of ADHD. It's having a brain that's actually a little slow on the uptake. A brain that's too busy wandering around, stopping to smell the synapses, so to speak, to get down to business.
I learned about Sluggish Cognitive Tempo from a New York Times article entitled, "Idea of a New Attention Disorder Spurs Research, and a Debate."
According to the article, what the researchers have discovered about children with SCT is that their behavior is characterized by:
".... lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing... things like daydreaming, mind-wandering, those types of behaviors...They’re the daydreamy ones, the ones with work that’s not turned in, leaving names off of papers or skipping questions, things like that, that impinge on grades or performance...up until now (these children) have gone unrecognized because, unlike the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder children, they tend to be quiet and non disruptive."
That is a description of me as a child: excessive daydreaming, mind-wandering, inattentiveness...yep, that was me to a "T".
I struggled through elementary school, not so much with grades - my grades, while not stellar, were generally adequate as I seemed to have the ability to compensate - but with processing instructions and information.
I daydreamed all day long. I looked out the window and saw a world of activity going on in the traffic and the trees. I looked at the blackboard and missed the assignments but saw the most interesting images in the strokes left by the chalk-dust in the erasers. Truly, I seldom knew what was going on in class. As a result I was often missing some homework or an assignment that was due that I had no idea had even been assigned. I missed questions on tests where the test questions were read out loud by the teacher. On top of that I also had a tendency to reverse or miss altogether letters and numbers and sometimes confused the letters "C" and "S". And though I was a quiet, docile student, that was back in the day when children in the Catholic schools got their hands smacked with a ruler for such offenses of inattentiveness. The ruler didn't help me focus. It only made me anxious.
When I look back it seems to me that I spent my elementary school career ten feet under water and in a state of anxiety.
Granted, my monkey's all grown up now and I've trained it to behave a little better but it's still swinging around up there, "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive". (Wikipedia: Mind Monkey).
According to the New York Times article, there are some pediatric experts who doubt that such a thing as Sluggish Cognitive Tempo exists.
But I know it exists. I grew up with it. It's the name of my monkey.
1. The New York Times: "Idea Of A New Attention Disorder Spurs Research, And A Debate", April 11, 2014
2. Wikipedia: Mind Monkey.
I've always been one of those addle-brained people who have a hard time focusing and concentrating. I don't always hear what I'm told the first time and I usually need to have instructions repeated.
Unless I stop and repeat to myself my parking location before I enter a store, I'll end up wandering cluelessly around the parking looking for my car afterwards. I'm bad with directions.
Though I love to read I'm not a partitularly good reader and sometimes have to read passages several times over before absorbing the gist.
Though I teach piano I'm a poor sight reader and the only way I can get through a piece of music is by identifying the chord patterns.
I'm by nature forgetful. And disorganized. And anxious. Whatever I'm doing, I feel like I should be doing something else. My mind is never clear, not even during yoga class when our teacher has told us to put our minds for the next hour between the last thought and the next thought. How refreshing that would be, but I can't turn it off.
I'm always ruminating, figuring, or mentally re-writing some scene from my past with better dialogue and a better ending. Yet I seldom come up with any productive thinking.
When I was young I used to be a constant daydreamer, a mental meanderer, but my full-time daydreaming has grown up into more high-speed cogitating. Nowadays daydreaming is more my fall-back mode.
If I don't always come across this way in my daily work and social exchanges, it's because I've worked at learning memorization, organization and mental tricks that help me keep it all together most of the time. But I've had t work at it. More than most people, I think. And I have improved over time compared to when I was young.
Subsequently I've always felt like there was something wrong with me, something keeping me from reaching my full potential.
Then I learned that the Buddhists have a term for my problem: I've got a mind monkey.
According to Wikipedia, a mind monkey is "...a Buddhist term meaning
unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable."
That's my mind.
Author Daniel Smith in his book "Monkey Mind" described a crowd of monkeys constantly swinging across his mind hooting and throwing banana peels at each other.
That's also my mind.
Is it by chance yours, too?
Which begs the question: What's with this mind monkey? What's going on really?
Though the diagnosis wasn't around in my day, I've wondered in recent years if I'm just plain old garden-variety ADHD.
But now I don't think I am. I believe that my monkey has a different name.
Tune in tomorrow...
Me, May of 1969, the night of my Good Prom.
A few days after my bad prom I got my hair cut short. Somehow I felt like I just couldn't wash out all the hairspray that had been used to shellac my curly upswept prom 'do into place. I think there was something more deeply psychological going on, though. I think that on some level I wanted to change my image from the dumb prom wannabe whom my date found so revolting.
Not that that thinking made any sense; why should I have cared what a guy whom I'd decided was a slug thought about what I looked like? And yet I did. Maybe it was because he was himself such a handsome slug and that gave his opinion some weight.
Who knows? Sometimes at 17 our self-images are still a little skewy and our brains still a little squishy and the most insignificant thing can become so ampilfied up there. Sometimes this is true even when we're older.
But I digress even before I begin.
Anyway, some time between my bad prom in December of 1968 and what would go down as my good prom in May of 1969, I attended a mixer* where I met John.
*A mixer was a kind of school dance common in Philadelphia back in the day when the Catholic high schools were gender segregated. Every Friday night one or another Catholic high school would throw a mixer, a dance opened to all area high school students who would come with the express purpose of dancing with their girl friends if they happened to be a single girl, or hanging out around the edge of the room if they happened to be a single guy. But the main express purpose of going to a mixer was to potentially meet someone of the opposite sex.
There was one school, St. Hillary's, that threw a mixer every Friday night, so that on Friday afternoons the question that bounced through the halls of my girl's school was, "Hey, you wanna go to Hillary's tonight?"
Just for the record, I never once went to Hillary's. I wasn't in with the crowd that went to Hillary's.
Anyway, this particular mixer that I attended was at a boy's school, St. Joseph's College Preparatory School, called The Prep for short and also to distinguish it from the men's college with which it shared a campus, St. Joseph college, called St. Joe's for short.
So I went to this mixer at the Prep and met John, a Prep student.
We danced for a whle, but we spent most of the night talking. John was a really brilliant and interesting guy. Seemed he'd read everything ever written, from the complete content of the newspaper every day to literature to poetry, which he also wrote. He wrote short stories as well, and the first time I ever heard of the word "pollute" was when I read it in one of his stories. He loved the Beatles. He was co-editor of his yearbook or maybe it was his school paper, or maybe both. He was going to College at St. Joe's to major in literature. He would be his class valedictorian. His favorite author was Thomas Wolfe, his favorite book was "Look Homeward, Angel", which he insisted that I read. So I did. It was good. We talked about it a lot.
We talked about a lot of things, John and I. He called almost every night and we'd talk for an hour or so about politics, books, music, French existentialist authors (I was intending to be a French major, so I was into that sort of thing back then. John, at 17, just knew about that sort of thing along with everything else he knew about).
We never got together outside our phone conversations except for one time when my mother purloined the phone from my hand and invited John over for lunch. I think she wanted to see what he looked like. Or if he in fact even existed. So he came over for lunch and we sat at the dining room table and talked about, oh I don't remember, probably whether Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" or Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit" was the true metaphor for the human existentialist condition.
I think we were dating. I think John wanted us to be normal and go out sometimes and do things together. I think I thought having intellectually stimulating conversations on the phone every night was fine. I was 17 years old and loved to dissect any cerebral subject, but emotionally I was still playing with my Barbies.
Anyway, one night John interrupted our discussion of whatever arcane literary reference we were chomping on to invite me to his prom.
I said, "Sure", then we got back to what ever it was we were talking about. A promposal circa 1969.
I remember that on the afternoon of prom I'd been invited over to a classmate's house for a pool party.
It was evening by the time I arrived home all sunburned and just in time to toss on my prom dress, jewelry and long white gloves, all of which I still felt funny about wearing after my previous prom fiasco.
But somehow I knew this prom would be better. And it was.
It seems to my memory that, unlike my own senior prom which had been held downtown in a big fancy ballroom at the Ben Franklin hotel and included dinner, The Prep's prom was in the school gym with drinks and chips provided for refreshment.
I'm guessing we must have danced, and I'm guessing we must have talked and I remember meeting some of his friends, including his yearbook or newspaper co-editor.
But what I remember clearly about the night was meeting John's French teacher who was chaperoning the event. John introduced us and told his teacher that I was majoring in French and that I wanted to study in Paris. His teacher and I started conversing in French, and I guess it was decided that I would hang around in the chaperone corner and practice my French with his good sport of a teacher, who was amenable to the idea, while John and his co-editor would go off and talk some yearbook or newspaper shop.
I thought this was a great idea. It wasn't only that I loved speaking, or rather, trying to speak French; it was that a few days earlier my high school French teacher had taken me aside and told me that if I was serious about wanting to study in France then I'd better really work on my speaking when I got to college because, she said, my pronunciation was so bad that my French was barely understandable.
Me - I'm the tallest one standing against the blackboard, president of my high school French club despite my bad French.
And so here at John's prom was a chance to get cracking on upgrading my substandard French.
So I got to sling my hashy French at John's poor patient teacher all night long while John and his friend got to work on their literary production, and a good time was had by all.
Except maybe for the French teacher and the girl who was John's co-editor's date. I noticed that she was looking pretty glum.
Ah well, I guess one person's good prom is another person's bad prom.
The bad prom was my senior prom, which took place one December night in 1968 over Christmas break.
The expressions of my date and myself on this photo, taken by my mom before we left my house*, captures the dynamic of the rest of the evening: that is, me desperately trying to be all happy and friendly and conversational, him acting all sullen and silent and withdrawn.
So how did I end up with this unhappy camper of a prom date?
Well, I'd wanted to go to my senior prom. I was dying to go to my senior prom.
But alas, I had no boyfriend, probably not the least reason being that I went to a small private girls' high school where the pickings were non-existant. Not that, in truth, I really wanted a boyfriend at the time - I was one of those late social bloomers - but I did want to go to my prom, and the boy who up until now had been my fall-back school dance date, the plumber's son who lived up the block from me, a good-natured and accommodating dance-buddy named Scottie, had already graduated from high school and was off in the Navy.
So there I was, desperate and dateless with my prom just weeks away.
I can't remember whose idea it was - my mother's? my brother's? mine? - for me to ask this boy, whom I'll call "Z", to my prom.
I didn't know him well, he was a high school friend of my bother Joe whom I'd met briefly a few times when he came over to the house. I guess he'd seemed nice enough, though all I really knew about him was that he was two years older than me, a college student, and really good looking.
Anyway, it came to pass that Joe asked Z if it was all right for me to call him and invite him to my prom. Z said yes, I could call him. The deal was essentially sealed.
Still, even knowing that at this point my calling Z was just a formality - I mean, the guy had already agreed to go to my prom - I was so nervous over making this phone call that I ended up only being able to make myself call him from the pay phone at my school surrounded by a group of classmates silently cheering me on.
According to the previously agreed upon scenario, Z said yes to my invitation. I was jubilant with relief.
I went gown-shopping, jewely-shopping, shoe-shopping, coat-shopping, purse-shopping, long white glove-shopping. All I could think about was how much fun prom would be, dinner and dancing at the Ben Franklin Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, how all the girls in my class would be there looking beautiful with their dates and, even if it didn't turn out to be the best night of my life, how great it would be to be just to be part of it all.
Then I started thinking about Z. I really didn't know him or what he thought about me...but what if this handsome older guy turned out to be someone special? What if we ended up really liking each other? What if he became my boyfriend?
In my mind the magic of the night was growing to the point where any wonderful thing could happen.
Then the day arrived and I spent the afternoon in a hair dresser's getting my long hair done up in a bunch of hair-sprayed curls so stiff they could have withstood a tornado.
I spent more time than Elizabeth Taylor on my make up.
Then I was all put together and ready to go and Z arrived, looking like Adonis in a tux.
Only he arrived late and with an expression on his face more sour than a bag of lemons.
Silently he led me to his car and silently he drove to the hotel, and though I tried, tried, tried, to get a conversation going, asking hm about himself, asking him about his family, asking him what he thought about any subject I could pull out of my brain, all I could get our of him was stiff, one-word answers at best.
By the time we reached the prom I was mentally tired and stressed-out.
And mortified. It was obvious that this guy didn't like me at all. In fact, he seemed repulsed by me. I suddenly felt stupid and ridiculous all done up in my gown and my hair and my long white gloves.
To make matters worse, we were so late that we were the last couple to arrive at the hotel ballroom where the prom was.
The ballroom of the Ben Franklin that night looked to me like the most elegant place I'd ever been in, softly lit with chandeliers, the dinner tables set with long white cloths, china, silver, glassware, and floral centerpieces. The tables were set up around the floor where we'd dance after dinner.
But by the time we arrived all the tables were already filled with my classmates and their dates except for one empty table where Z and I had to go and sit by ourselves.
Everybody in the room looked beautiful. I felt hideous.
It was so humiliating, having to sit alone at this table with stone-faced Z, and, though I knew he couldn't stand me, trying for appearance sake to force conversation on him.
I couldn't stand it, so I suggested that we go for a walk in the hallway where we walked up and down the hall until I couldn't stand that anymore, then we went back inside to our outcasts' table.
And then, in an act of generosity and friendship that was to me of such a benevolent magintude that I was grateful almost to the point of tears, three of my friends hauled their dates and themselves over to my table.
I felt as if I'd rejoined the land of the living. I knew now that I'd somehow make it through the evening. And I did. But I had a miserable time.
Later in the evening when a group of us girls met in the ladies' room for a mid-prom analysis, the other girls all oooed and ahhhed over my gorgeous date.
"He's a slug!" I moaned.
And that was how I always thought of Z from then on. As a slug. With no personality. Who found me revolting. I couldn't figure out what my brother saw in him. What anybody saw in him.
As time went by I seldom thought about my bad slug-date prom night except as the funny story that it morphed into over the years.
But about 3 or 4 years ago when I was visiting my brother Joe, somehow we got onto the subject of our high school days.
At one point Joe said, "Well, and then you had guys like Z, who were so friendly and had such outgoing personalities that "
"Whoa!", I cut my bother off, "are you talking about Z? Your friend who I invited to my prom? You're telling me he was friendly? Outgoing?"
"Oh yeah," said Joe, "Z was the most popular guy in school. A really nice guy. Everybody liked him. He was our senior class president."
I was confused. How could this person my brother was describing be the same slug I'd schlepped though my prom night with?
"Oh, yeah, that," Joe replied, sounding a little sheepish. Then he explained to me what had been going on with Z that night, something I had never even considered and couldn't possibly have guessed.
It turned out that there was this girl Z had met on campus and who he liked. They'd been talking, and a few days before my prom they started going together.
But when she found out he was going to my prom with me, she went ballistic. She didn't want him to go.
Z now found himself in a tough spot. He was really smitten by this girl, but he had an obligation to take me to my prom. Finally his new girlfriend relented with this ultimatum: he could take me to the prom if he promised to stay as far from me as possible and not to talk to me at all.
He promised. And believe me, faithful Z conscientiously kept his promise.
I no longer think of Z as a slug. Just a guy who'd do anything for love.
Tune in Monday for the story of my good prom. 8)
*NB: The house in the above photo was not our Barnett Street house, from which we moved the summer before I started 5th grade. It was our Byberry Road house, located a few miles north of where we used to live and also also known from then on as our New House:
My sister Romaine in front of our New House, probably sometime in the mid-70's.
by Patti Liszkay
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by Patti Liszkay
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"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
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I am a traveler just visiting this planet and reporting various and sundry observations,
hopefully of interest to my fellow travelers.