I grew up in a different world known as the ’50s and ’60s. Men still wore fedoras and women still wore white gloves to church. There was a Green Stamps redemption center downtown, the original cash-back credit scheme. I attended the centralized elementary school from the first year it opened.
One Friday on Lawrence Avenue
The day begins with WPDM’s daily sign-on song:
“I once had a girlfriend, but each time I kissed her
the St. Lawrence River said, ‘keep movin’, mister.’”
My father shaves with an electric razor, his narrow tie
looped loose around his neck. After the farm report,
news of the region and the world, comes Swap Shop.
Mom lays out bowls, cereal, and milk in the kitchen,
brown-bags sandwiches, carrot sticks in waxed paper,
and two-ounce boxes of sweetened California raisins.
My brother and sister sit at the kitchen table already
but the elementary school day starts an hour later,
so I stay in bed, awaiting my turn in the bathroom.
School lies just down the street, but this year, aside
from class books I lug a ‘cello case, although a winter
dodging snowballs will soon cure me of orchestra.
Who remembers now what they actually taught us?
I remember recess best, or the lunch room, or
hanging out on the athletic field before and after school.
Outside by the monkey bars Larry and I fold up
paper army hats. I put five stars on mine, knowing
how a five-star general, like Ike, outranks everybody.
That doesn’t stop Larry from putting stars on every
square inch of his hat, proclaiming himself to be
a 99-star general. I suspect that Larry is an idiot.
I tell him my vote is for Kennedy, because PT-109.
He says his dad said Kennedy’s a Catholic. The Pope,
who wears a dress and a funny hat, would run things.
The lunch room is a weird ‘50s hybrid, an “auditeria,”
with risers, a stage, and theater curtain at one end
and doors into the kitchen and dish room opposite.
Lunch for brown baggers costs two cents, paying for
a thick glass half pint of milk with a cardboard stopper.
The rest pay a quarter for Salisbury steak with fixings.
Larry chews his sandwich into a flipped bird shape and
waves it at the teachers’ table. Wally wads a whole
PB&J on white in his mouth, then pops it out on tongue.
Gary Calhoun laughs so hard a chicken noodle soup
noodle comes out his nose. I gather milk straws and
feathered toothpicks to blowgun into the ceiling tiles.
After lunch I watch out the window as cows from
the farm next door turn grass into tomorrow’s milk.
Eventually school buses queue up along the circle.
I walk home to an empty house: my brother’s off
to JV track practice and my sister is twirling baton.
Mom works late on Friday at Montgomery Ward.
Mrs. Stevens from upstairs keeps one eye out
until someone else gets home, my father, often,
back from his sales territory for Remington Rand.
He makes instant coffee, lights a pipe of Cherry Blend,
and pushes back in the recliner with the daily paper.
I preheat the oven and pop in a casserole of leftovers.
After dinner, it’s still light enough to play guns, or
Kick the Can, but today it’s going to be the TV.
Route 66 follows Rawhide, then Jackie Gleason.
And since Mom is just getting home, a special treat,
Twilight Zone, which runs past my usual bedtime.
My brother scares me sleepless recounting old episodes.
I lie awake under moonshine through Venetian blinds
as dogs bark at mysterious intruders passing by and
the night trains roll through, heading into the future.