Sunday, September 22, 2013

Time Travels

Some travels don't take time in space, but in time.

This was recently brought home to me when I was contacted on Facebook by someone I didn't recognize.  When I clicked on her page I saw that she had gone to college in California, where I had lived most of my teen & adult life.  I wrote to her, confessing I did not recognize her, but asked if we had gone to school together.

Her reply stunned me.  No, we did not actually know each other, but she had been long-married to someone with whom I'd had a penpal fling back in the 1950's when he was in prep school & then the Air Force Academy.  He was from my hometown in Illinois, where I'd spent the summer of 1958 with my grandparents.  After his mother had died her husband had found some of my mail to him, along with three photographs I had sent.  She & her husband decided that perhaps my children & grandchildren would get a kick out of seeing my letter & photos from so long ago.  Not having any information other than a 1958 postmark & my maiden name, this persistent lady used her computer to track me down, starting with the alumni site for my high school.  There she discovered my married name, & found me on Facebook.

What a trip down Memory Lane the three of us had!  We all emailed back & forth, & I mentioned the names of two of my girlfriends from times gone by in my home town, & almost immediately I received their current phone numbers.  I had terrific phone reunions with both women, & I reminded one that I had been the culprit in the first grade who'd spilled the beans about Santa not being real.  I remembered that her mother was irate with me, but fortunately my childhood friend forgave me.  In fact, she didn't even recall the incident, & we senior ladies then giggled together about our teen exploits.  Oh, the cokes we had drunk, the afternoons we had danced along to Dick Clark's American Bandstand, & the boys we had kissed!  We caught up on loved ones lost & counted up children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren.  I had thought I didn't have anyone left in my hometown, but now I have reasons to return.

Then just a few days later in my post office box there was an envelope in which I discovered the mail I had sent on 13 October 1958, nearly 55 years after I had sent it.  Enclosed were three photos of me from my early teens.  A couple days after than my long-ago penpal, who is now long-since retired from the Air Force, called me & we had a wonderful chat.  Not only had he & his wife utterly charmed me with their thoughtfulness in returning my mail, my friend told me how much my letters had meant to him when he was away from home for the first time.  I wasn't the love of his life, of course, but our naive mail exchanges had been important to each other at the time.

On 28 February 1958 I attended my second-ever dance, the annual high school Sadie Hawkins.  The photo was taken while I was waiting for my date to arrive, & my dad & I developed it in our bathroom darkroom.  My date had had been my biology lab partner from the previous summer.  We'd had great fun in class, & I still had a crush on him.  I don't remember much about the dance, but I continued to date him off & on through high school & some college, until I got caught also dating his roommate (yes, I am appalled at my teenage self).  His sister is still a friend of mine, though my date & I lost contact a couple of decades ago.  However, his well-reviewed books are available on Amazon, & he is a Distinguished Professor at a prestigious university, & recently received a grant to research what is sure to become a major work.

A couple of months later, my dad took the second photo, just before I left the house with a friend to see the same boy play the lead role in his school production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "The Mikado."  The performance was spectacular, I think much better than the one I saw 30 years later by the legendary British D'Olyly Carte troupe.  The high school group definitely performed with more gusto.  I remember well this dress, made by my mother, as were all of the ones in my closet.  I recall even the iridescent ball buttons down the front, as well as the pleated cummerbund that matched the pink cotton satin of the floral stripes.
Note that the dress was supported by petticoats.  They were always too long so I'd have to wear a belt under my dress to keep them up. I usually wore three at a time, starching them with sugar water every night & they would drip-drip-drip in the shower until morning. My father used to tell my best friend (then & until her death 56 years after we met) & me that we looked "like two bells going someplace to ring." Quarreling with my sister was our morning routine as we battled over who got to wear which petticoats.  It got so bad one spring morning in 1960 that my father decreed that no one would get to wear petticoats again, so that was the end of my full-skirted style statements (except for my hoop-skirted strapless gown, which would soon cause an embarrassing incident at prom).

This final photo was taken in June 1958, when I was was 15-1/2, in my grandparent's yard in Greenview, Illinois.  My girlfriends from grade school & I spent long summer days reuniting that year.  I'm sure the primary topic of conversation that summer was B-O-Y-S, & I learned what the word "parking" really meant.  Every time I hear the songs "One Summer Night" or "Lazy Summer Night" I am taken right back to that sultry summer.  Our primary transportation was an ancient car belonging to the grandfather of one of the girls.  It kept flooding & I still remember my friend's bare foot constantly pumping on the pedals.   Oh, the times we drove it all the way into a Springfield drive-in for Green River drinks & our favorite pork tenderloin sandwiches!

I learned how to get my heart broken for the first time that summer, & one of my friends taught me how to make pizza sort-of from scratch that summer.  I still have that first pizza pan, with 55 years of criss-crossed lines from all the pizza cutters over time.  It is the one I've used to teach three generations of offspring how to make pizza.  (Note to self:  add pizza pan to will.)

I look at this final photo, & remember the exact turquoise color of the plaid dress my mother had made.  I know exactly how the matching leather belt felt when I wore it, & I can smell the
freshly cut grass in the yard.  On the other side of the fence lived a horse named Tony, & my little sister, gone 19 years now, & I would feed him sugar cubes & apples.   I know when we teen girls weren't busy chasing boys that summer I spent hours reading books lying in my grandfather's green hammock.  There would be chicken fried steak for dinner, along with mashed potatoes never served without gravy, creamed corn & red Jell-O with sliced bananas.  We would all pass around a small plate with a big onion that had been scored on top & a paring knife, & we would each cut off tiny chips of onion to top off the gravy on our mashed potatoes.  There would certainly be a pitcher of iced tea on the metal kitchen table & a plate of freshly sliced tomatoes.  I would sprinkle sugar, instead of salt, on mine with a spoon taken from the spoonholder that was always on the table.  Two kinds of pies, maybe one of them my favorite gooseberry, would be served for dessert.  My grandmother would hardly eat a bite because she, in her cobbler's apron printed with tiny sprigs of rosebuds, would be constantly jumping up & down, trying to get more food for everyone.  My grandfather would have left his cap on the back porch, but surely he was still wearing his overalls as he ate a full plate, making jokes & teasing the girls in between bites.  The nearby window sill held sweet African violets planted in coffee cans, & all the girls would chatter as we washed the dishes with water my grandmother heated on the big gas stove she wouldn't let anyone else light.  The years have fallen completely away, & I am home again.

My thanks to my long-lost penpal & his lovely wife for their thoughtfulness.  In a bit of serendipity it turns out they live only a few miles away from my elder daughter & granddaughter.  We are planning a reunion during my next visit.

During my recent journey down Memory Lane I have seen, tasted, smelled & touched my past just as surely as I have anything on a trip that began at an airport.  Despite the creaks in my bones & the evidence in my mirror to the contrary, inside I still feel like the 15 year-old girl in the photos.  All the same feelings, hopes, dreams & uncertainties are still there, along with the knowledge tomorrow will still bring something new & exciting.

To what time in your life would you like to travel?  Do you enjoy visiting often?

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