I know most people are wondering “What the hell could be so interesting about your elementary years you would feel compelled to write about it?” My answer is a major motion picture starring John Travolta, Fluffernutters and a murder!
During my early years we lived in Woburn, MA (pronounced WOO-burn, not WOAH-burn) if you’re not from Massachusetts, but think this sounds familiar, you are probably thinking of either the book or the movie starring John Travolta that was made about this town, “A Civil Action”. Here is the Wikipedia if you are interested A Civil Action. While I was fortunate not to contract Luekemia, many children in my neighborhood did and while it’s not known if it is related, I did contract Hodgkins Lymphoma as an adult.
Prior to moving to Worcester all I really remember is swimming classes at the Y in my yellow swimsuit with a green frog on it and wearing a swimming bubble float with a brown cartoon fabric of minutemen on it. It was 1976 after all, Bicentennial.
We moved to 17 Wetherell St, Worcester, MA just in time for me to start Kindergarten. The years I spent in Worcester are the ones I remember the fondest. I want to give a shout out to the people I remember from this time and what I remember about them:
Cherise – playing at a birthday party at Papa Gino’s,
Kassandra – being at her house and she had a Mickey Mouse phone that was awesome to me at the time,
Nicole – Getting in a fight over caterpillar cocoons in a cool whip container. I think Nicole and I butted heads quite a bit
Shauna & Esther – always together and I remember when they got chicken pox, my mother sent me to play with them in hopes I would get them also (I didn’t get them until I was 12)
Seth – Had a crush on him in K-2 and tore my tights and skinned my knee on my 7th birthday trying to kiss him on the playground. Being at his house with his mom and playing with his Fisher Price Castle, the coolest toy ever!!
Lawrence & Michelle – brother & sister that lived behind us. I don’t think they went to our school though, I think they went to a special Jewish school.
I also remember a boy named Patrick O’(something Irish), the chubby blonde haired girl across the street that always wanted to play with my Mrs. Piggy puppet (maybe Melanie?) and the boy next door who was older and would walk me to school. There was also a kid in class that always had green snot on his face, eww.
Everything was good then. Kindergarten was a half day and I would come home and watch Price is Right with my mom eating “circle” chicken sandwiches. If it was a really good day, Benji would be on TV! The Muppet Show came on after my bedtime, but my mom would leave the TV on in the living room and I would sneak down to the landing on the stairs and watch it through the railing. We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood and didn’t have a care in the world.
My world came crashing down just a month after my 2nd grade year started. My parents decided to divorce. I don’t really remember this event, I just know it happened. Later on I figured it was my fault because they wouldn’t have gotten married if my mother hadn’t been pregnant with me.
Mom couldn’t wait to get as far away from any and all family members as soon as possible and she needed to support us, so she joined the Army. At this time I was 7.5 and my brother was 2.5. My father didn’t want us and I don’t know why my mother didn’t ask another relative to watch us while she was away in Boot Camp, so we ended up staying with a friend of hers from high school Debbie and her husband Richard. This marked my first change of schools (I would eventually attend 17). While we stayed with them I attended Greenwood Elementary and the only solid memories I have during this time are my mother visiting me in the classroom one day and giving me a Cardinal music figure and my cat, Christopher Columbus a fluffy grey tabby, “disappearing” one day when I was at school.
At some point we went to stay with another lady for awhile. She would make Fluffernutters for lunch (even though I hated them) and would place 2 Oreo cookies in front of my plate and made me sit there choking down the sandwich while the other kids had long since finished, teasing me with the Oreo’s.
Still in the 2nd Grade, my mother finished boot camp and whatever else she needed to do and it was at this point I was taken away from my entire family and moved to Columbia, SC. I was enrolled at Forest Lake Elementary where I would actually stay during the last couple months of second grade(3 schools that year), third and fourth, a record!
There was nothing really “wrong” with my childhood at this point. I was too young to really know anything. The only thing I remember feeling weird about was that I had to walk to and from school because the other parents wouldn’t let me ride in the carpool because my mom never drove carpool. My mom was the only single parent and had to report on base by 7 am and didn’t get out until after school let out. Maybe it was that single parents were still less common in the early 80’s or maybe the parents just didn’t like my mom, I don’t know. We never wanted for anything. We didn’t go to bed hungry and we always had presents on Xmas and Birthdays. I didn’t have my father around, but there were plenty of other men around. Mom was a very popular soldier. She kept marijuana in the freezer inside an album cleaning kit, tried to grow it in an aquarium in the living room and my brother could roll a joint before he was in kindergarten. One night her friends gave me a six pack of 16 ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull and told me to stay in my room. I remember Wendy was spending the night with me. The nights were usually like that. My mom even got arrested by the MP’s one night on her way home from the NCO club for DWI. My brother and I were at home alone and asleep. I understand she was young and on her own for the first time but I really wish someone would have taken us to live with them so there would have been some stability.
It was during this time I started having anxiety attacks, but didn’t know what they were at the time. I would be in the park or my room and all of a sudden it was like the volume was turned down low and everything around me looked like I was looking at a photograph, not something real. Everything seemed flat. I was tested for Epilepsy because of the prevelance of Epilepsy in my family but they found nothing. In the early 80’s I don’t think it occured to people that a 9 year old could be having anxiety attacks.
We did go to Wakefield, MA during the summers to spend time with my grandparents. We’d see my dad a couple times maybe. I don’t have any complaints about it, but it was boring. They only brought us around people their age, to church and the lodge. We never hung out with people that were closer to our age. I think that’s where my mom got her lack of family contact from. I don’t remember spending time with much of the rest of the family. The best part was when they would bring us to Priscilla’s pet store, OxBow Pet Store and we could play with her dogs and see the animals, especially the talking parrot.
My dad did drive down once with my stepmother Sandy. I can’t remember if they just drove down to see us or pick us up or what, all I remember is my mother screaming from her bed (back was out) and she was swearing all kinds of obscenities at them like “you better not be bringing that bitch in my house”. I don’t know where the anger came from and I don’t know what precipitated the divorce, but it wasn’t Sandy. My father had dated a nurse before her. She just screamed for what seemed like forever. I don’t even remember anything else. Didn’t see them again until Xmas when I was in 6th grade.
I was definitely a “latch key” child. The most amazing part of that is that Kinder Care would actually let me pick up my 3-4 year old brother on my walk home from school when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade. I guess it was just a different time. We did have a babysitter named Joy for a while who was really nice to me, but she was raped and found with her throat slashed behind a dumpster one night when I was about 9.
For fifth grade my mom was assigned base housing so I went to school on base in Ft. Jackson, SC. Not a very exciting year. Michael Jackson Thriller came out, I was placed in accelerated classes and a special program every Tuesday for smart kids which in addition to my being only one of 2 white girls in my class, made me feel even more insecure and like a social leper. My best friends were Keisha and Toi. The only other thing I remember about that time is my mom dating a guy that was ok, but she seemed to like his daughter Stacey more than me. Later she started dating the man that would eventually become my stepfather. On the positive side, I was tetherball champion of my entire school!
This is the last picture of me I have that my dad took:
And the last picture of my dad I have, I used to keep it framed on my dresser, but took it down after I got cancer. I’ll elaborate on that in another story:
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