Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Moving . . . Nothing Easy About It

During the summer before sixth grade, my parents announced we were moving into my grandmother's house.  After my grandfather died, my grandmother took the insurance money he left her and bought a house.  Ironically, it was the first house she had owned since her kids were little.  My grandfather and she had always lived in an apartment when I was growing up.  Now that I think about it, I realize that she bought the house just so we could live upstairs, and it was probably just as well, because we were able to keep her company and take care of her as she aged.

The house on Walnut Street represented the "moving on up" mentality Americans had during the 1960s, but to me, all it meant was that I was leaving the friends I had known since kindergarten and the school where I had been happily ignorant of how poor we were. 

Though the Edward Everett Hale school was right around the corner from the new house, the walk to my sixth grade classroom that first day seemed more fraught with boogeymen and nightmares than the days when I saw the face in the window at the bottom of the hospital hill.  I knew no one, though my parents had both grown up in the neighborhood and told me tales of Miss Dyer, the principal of the school, who had been there when they were little.  I figured she must have been at least 100 years old by that time, since my parents were soooo much older than I was.

The school's windows, reaching to the ceilings of the classroom (probably only about 10 feet tall, though they seemed twice that size at that time), opened with the help of a long pole with a hook on the end.  My most vivid memory of the one year I spent at that school is a smell of lilacs . . . the scent I have since associated with springtime.  The teacher pulled down the top half of the windows and warm air -- and that fresh lilac smell -- floated into the classroom.  No one paid attention to the rest of the History lesson.

I made new friends there, but I was always aware that I was the "new girl."  The group of girls who befriended me lived in the neighborhood and went everywhere together.  We walked to school and home together, tried smoking cigarettes together (hiding the pack we shared in someone's bushes every night and hoping it didn't rain before we reached them again the next morning), dressed up for Halloween together, roamed the neighborhood looking for driveways to shovel after the first snow (I discovered how to make money then), and talked about the boys we met when we started Junior High.

My family's new house, a pea green, three-story buidling, where my grandmother lived on the first floor and we occupied the second and third, was the place where I would spend the rest of my teenage years.  Its small backyard gave my grandmother more room to garden, and she happily created little beds that outlined the square expanse.  In one corner, a huge old lilac tree grew and behind it, the perfect cave where I could bring my books to lie on the cool earth and read for hours on a summer afternoon.

Gone were the days of playing on a hot tar playground.  It took a while to get used to the move and to adjust to being the "new" person.  And I must admit that it made all the difference in how I saw myself as a person.  I was no longer confident and happy.  Instead, I started questioning myself and everything around me, especially the scary visions of war I saw on TV every night.

But that's another story for another blog.

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