Heavens to Murgatroyd!
Going “full-circle” is an expression that implies you begin at point “A," travel along the path for an indeterminate period of time, and then return to the point of origin. That’s where JT and I are at, which means I can finally answer Robert’s question, “Mark, do you know where you’re at?” in a different way than, “Yes, Papa, I’m right here.”
My sister and I arrived on Fellowship Street, 360 days apart from one another, with yours truly having dropped by first. From the time we were able to think, I jack-hammered that little piece of information into the fabric of our relationship, and for those magic six days of the year, from the Glorious Fourth of September, to the tenth, I was two years-take the time to count them-two years older than my little sister. How I lorded it over her.
As preschoolers, JT and I spent endless hours during the winter months (“winter months” has a somewhat oxymoronic connotation in Southern California, a land where the annual average rainfall rarely exceeds the twelve-fifteen inch range) playing together happily. Included in our activities were hours of building forts or castles out of couch cushions and blankets, with chairs and pillows inserted where appropriate.
We constructed a “store” where we would buy and sell a warehouse of items carefully set aside over time by Mama, for us to use in the store. Empty metal Quaker Oats tins jockeyed for position in the store with square metal saltine cracker boxes and a cornucopia of Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Rice, Wheat, and Corn Chex boxes. These items meshed well with an assortment of carefully chosen (more for longevity's sake) empty grocery items for us to stock shelves with, or to put in our shopping bags. Mama was a genius when it came to promoting activities that were long on imagination and play-acting, and short on necessary, exhaustible supplies or direct parental supervision.
In the summertime, we played in our one-acre back yard and the empty lot next door, which burgeoned each year with the most impressive display of mustard greens. They grew as tall as our pre-school height, so we used to make paths, or more accurately, corridors through this forest. From the perspective of an adult, we were two little kids playing in the weeds.
From our view, we were pioneers, or if we chose, Lewis and Clark. We couldn’t see over the top, so it was like being in a fragrant forest, the blooming flowers infusing the heat with an intoxicatingly sweet scent. There was a sense of timelessness which lent itself to the magic of our forest.
We truly were inseparable. I remember JT accompanying Mama and me, as we walked the few long blocks down to Baldwin Elementary for my first day of kindergarten. I didn’t go until mid-day, so we still had our mornings. Afterwards, I would ride the bus, but Mama and JT still walked me to the bus stop, until the imminent arrival of brother Matthew, later in the school year, made that impossible.
Elementary school found us still chums, as we plodded our way through the most unimaginative-almost listless-elementary school imaginable. When Fidel Castro became dictator of Cuba in 1962, he tossed out the Catholic Church, or at least components of it. We ended up with four nuns, que no puede hablar ingles, who sat in the back of the classroom in their respective grade levels, for the second half of my third grade year, and then they became our teachers.
If you can say, “Read de book and answer de questions,” then you have a pretty clear idea of what school was like in a class of 46 (that was me-my brother Tom, later, would have 73 kids in his first grade class.) JT and I were in a carpool that whisked us off to St. Martha’s each morning, arriving in time for eight o’clock mass in the cold church.
Then, along came high school, and I turned into a dick, pure and simple. I didn’t know it at the time, but have since been appraised that my actions left a lot to be desired. The reason I didn’t know I was being mean, is because I never lost my affection or love for her, but my actions suggested otherwise.
Our parochial high school contained an invisible line down the center of campus, which divide the boys’ three wings of classrooms, from those of the girls. My senior year featured two girls in my trig class, and we tortured them unmercifully. I ain’t proud, just factual. Jt and I did not see much of each other, and when we did, I was always surrounded by a sea of my friends, and absolutely, did not want to be seen in my sister’s company.
To this day, I figure it must have been some distorted sense of propriety, which dictated that I not allow my friends to get to know her, because then I would have to contend with the inevitability of one of my friends dating her. Heavens to Murgatroyd-we couldn’t have that.
Moving north from SoCal to attend San Jose State University, in 1974, after I was released from my military cage, JT and I became close buds again, when she had the downstairs floor of a duplex across the street from San Jose State’s library, while I had the top floor. The seventies went by in a blur.
Then I moved up here to a ridge top in Mendocino County, and JT ended up in Sonoma County, living in Sebastopol. Both of us spent our careers in education, at the middle school level, and we didn’t see that much of each other, as she raised her family, and I mine.
And then we reconnected via the Net, and have resumed a daily communication, that belies the three hours distance between us, down Highway 101. It is as though we are back in pre-school, except that we play with words, instead of Quaker Oats boxes. I find it a most enjoyable prospect, that at a time when our bodies are slowing down, that our minds seem to be revving up. That gives me a strong sense of hope.
Now, if I can just get her to quit calling me on my birthday and crowing, “Hey, did you realize that you are now TWO years older than me?” She’s been doing it to me since we were in our twenties, and it’s getting old. I am too, but she doesn’t have to rub it in.