Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Age 10/11 -- 1963/64.  LOTS happened during that year.

In August, it was a hot-as-hell day, and I was in the playground where we spent our summers.  The tar was soft enough that you could carve your initials into it.  The playground had the requisite basketball court, a dome-shaped steel Jungle Jim, a slide, and several sets of swings.  It also had a circular spot where a spray pole was raised, and the Parks/Rec department would turn on the water for us to dance in on very hot days.  Those days were special.

We all could shimmy up the swing pole to get the swings down, and I used to do it first thing in the morning for everyone else.  The swings were essentially black rubber seats like pieces of car tires hung on chains. We used to have contests to see who could push them hard enough so that they would wrap themselves all the way up around the pole at night -- and in the morning, we would have to climb the pole to get them down, of course.

I climbed the pole that morning and reached my leg across to flip the swing over with my foot so that I could reach it to unwrap it.  Unfortunately, I lost  the seat and ended up falling from the top of the swingset (about 15 feet) to the tar ground below.  I landed on my back with a thud, blacked out, and laid there for I don't know how long until one of the other kids found me.  I distinctly remember them yelling for my mother, but I couldn't move.  Someone carried me home, and my mother took me to the doctor's where I ended up going through months of physical therapy.  They told my mother I'd have problems for the rest of my life and that I wouldn't be able to have kids.  They were wrong.

In November, JFK was shot/killed.  It was the first time I'd ever seen a whole community brought to its knees.  Mothers and fathers alike, everyone crying.  We kids were pretty much forgotten during that week  after the announcement and funeral.  And my mother -- who never put on the TV without complaining about it -- had the TV on nonstop for the next four days.  Since I had written my first published essay about the Cuban Missile Crisis probably just a year before he was assassinated, the death really resonated with me.  Still does.  I can't imagine the pain Jackie must have felt throughout the whole funeral with the world watching as she tried to maintain simply standing up straight.
In early December, my sister was crossing the road in front of the projects to go to the playground and was struck down by a drunk driver in a truck.  He took off like an already convicted felon.  I was outside at the time and when everyone started yelling, I went to the street and saw her lying there: her head on the curb, a slight scratch on her forehead, before the ambulance arrived.  She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.  But they got her back, miraculously.  The operation those doctors performed to save her was the first of its kind:  the main artery to her heart was severed, and they literally sewed it back in place somehow.  People have doubted me when I tell them this story, but it happened and was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Candy was in a coma (no drugs) for almost two weeks, and thoughout that period, my brother and I had a rotating group of babysitters staying with us (aunts, cousins, neighbors) while my mother and father were at the hospital.  I thought it was cool that I could watch TV all the time.  Really had no idea what was going on until we were allowed to see my sister in the hospital on Christmas Day.  It was overwhelming -- the smells, the sounds, seeing my sister in that hospital bed, small and pale and not like my sister at all -- and I passed out cold.  Everyone used to tease me about that. 

Candy's time in the hospital brought about quite a few changes at home.  I think my parents realized all too clearly how close we had come to losing one of us, and they began treating us all just a bit differently.  One of my favorite memories is of a sunny, quiet afternoon when I was alone with my dad and he let me fall asleep cuddled on his lap.  I know this was when Candy was in the hospital, but it wasn't until I became a parent myself that I realized the significance.  My dad wasn't someone who normally let us crawl into his lap.  He worked hard, came home and ate, then fell asleep.  There weren't too many down moments like the one he shared with me.  He must have been feeling especially shaken during that period in our lives when every day was measured in moments rather than hours.

When my sister came home after almost three months in the hospital, she was a spoiled rotten brat, and I couldn't stand her for a long time. I had no clue at that time exactly what she had been through, no understanding of the strength it took for her to survive and to come back to us, so my only thought was that she was getting anything she wanted, whenever she wanted, and that wasn't fair.   (Okay, I was a brat, too.  I was a kid -- so shoot me!)  One thing I can say now that I'm an adult is that I'm really glad she had the strength to pull through, because she's been one of the most special people in my life, and I love her almost as much as I love my own daughter.

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