Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Projects

Okay, I wanted to fast-forward to age 6/7 today because there were several things that happened, and I'm going to put them all in one entry.
First memory:  We moved to the projects I mentioned earlier when I was in 1st grade.  Finally, I lived across the street from my best friend, Therese.  I couldn't have been more thrilled.  The buildings held four families in what now would be called "townhouse-style" units.  We were on the end and had a patch (really just 4-5') of grass in the front and the back of our unit faced the interior horseshoe-shaped area around which the buildings circled (it was completely tarred and in front of every building was a row of clotheslines so the women could hang out their wet laundry -- and gossip!).
One of the things I did initially was to try to become friends with everyone.  There were five buildings that made a horse-shoe around the area and when the laundry wasn't blocking the way, we kids played Red Rover and learned how to ride bikes.  Most of us only had one per family -- my father brought mine home one day from his trash route.  He was a garbage man and often brought home "goodies" that other families had tossed out.  He painted the bike red with spray paint and put blocks on the pedals so I could reach them.  For a long time, I thought you stopped a bike by falling off!). 
 Most of the families in the projects had at least 4 kids and 2 parents (there was only one single mother in the projects, which often surprises me because today's demographics of project complexes is just the opposite).  That made for a LOT of kids.  I was one of the inquisitive ones and had several close friends (including Therese) who were just as nosy as I was. 
One day I was playing with Gerrie Wesser, who was known as a troublemaker, and she challenged me to a "dare."  On Road B, in front of the playground, was a red iron box with white lettering on it.  We both knew it had something to do with the fire department but had no idea exactly what.  We must have been bored that day, because she proposed she'd give me a five-finger lift up (basically lacing her fingers together so I could step into them, like a stirrup), and I would pull down the handle on the fire alarm in front of the projects and we would both see what happened. 
Never in a million years did we expect half a dozen fire engines to pull into our little neighborhood less than ten minutes later, alarms clanging, firemen in full gear holding axes, and pulling out the (what looked to be) miles of fire hoses.  We both took off in different directions and hid for hours.  When I finally went home, I must have been shaken and white, because my mother immediately knew it had been me who pulled the alarm.  She didn't even bother punishing me!
Second memory:  I loved school and still fondly remember my teachers, even the principal.  Her name was Anna May Johnson, and she always wore dresses and high heels. We always knew she was coming because we could hear the punch of her heels against the wide-pine floors.  She walked kind of pigeon-toed, wore cat's eye glasses, and had manicured short white hair. I think that initial image of a professional woman has stuck with me to this day, and when I think of women in power, I think of dresses and heels.  Go figure. 
In first and second grade, I had the same teacher:  Miss Pecce (pronounced Peach-y).  I was her favorite student, and she was my favorite teacher, as well.  She was young, long brown hair, and very soft and sweet mannerisms.  I'm sure she was Italian, but I never thought about that then nor did we care.  All I cared about was that she paid attention to me and taught me to read.  We had gigantic Dick and Jane books during first grade.  She would sit on one of our little chairs, holding that giant book, pointing out the words with her finger:  See Dick run.  See Jane run.  See Spot run.  (I always wanted to add:  after Dick and Jane, making them run down the street really, really fast.)
I remember sitting at a wooden desk with a lift-up top and hiding behind it as I used our blunt-edge scissors to cut either my hair or my cotton tights (don't ask me why).  My hair was waist-length, always pulled back with barrettes or ribbons or wound into skinny braids (my mother would do them so tight, I'd have a headache by the time I got to school).  The boys loved to grab me by them and dip the ends in our little jars of paint, which pissed my mother off to no end.  That was probably the reason I had really short hair by the third grade (and throughout most of the rest of my school years).
Back to Miss Pecce:  she was the resident "drama director" and since she liked me, I got the best roles in the little plays we performed for special occasions and holidays.  In second grade, I was Goldilocks (as in the Three Bears).  We designed puppets and worked them with sticks and strings behind a screen that was painted to show a forest path.  The play was shown on the auditorium stage for weeks for parents and friends (at least it feels that way now).  My big "moment" was to sing "You Are My Sunshine."  It was at that point that my mother and father decided I couldn't sing, and from then on, it became a family joke to tease me about my singing.  To this day, I LOVE to sing, but I won't do it in front of anyone unless I absolutely trust them.  (And I still love that song :-)

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