Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lunch Time

There was no lunch room at Emerson Elementary School. Built in 1885 hot lunch was something you went home to eat and it stayed that way until it closed. By 1966 however two working parent homes had become common so home lunch was not always an option. Emerson figured it out though.

At lunch time my first grade class divided into two lines. Not boys and girls, which was standard at the time but Home Lunch and Sack Lunch lines formed. Once the bell rang both lines left the small annex building that housed the Kindergarten and First Grade classrooms. Upon exit the Home Lunch kids were free to go have lunch at home and scattered in different directions.

The Sack Lunch kids followed the teacher over to the main building and up the expansive dark stairwell and into a classroom that the 1st-3rd graders ate in. There was another room for the 4th - 6th graders. There the Sack Lunchers enjoyed their food while a teacher watched over them. After finishing they would sit (not patiently) and wait until a set time when they were all release to go outside and play until class resumed. Anyone who had not finished their lunch by that set time was out of luck, eating time was over.

I remember eating in that classroom and I am sure I must have eaten at home too on occasion, but what I remember most is the days when my Mother gave my 6th Grade sister a dollar and we “ate out”.

My mother instructed my sister to use that dollar and take us to Red Barn for lunch. On those days we would walk the  2 ½ blocks to Red Barn and for $1 we would get 2 hamburgers, 2 orders of french fries and 2 cokes. We would eat, then walk back to school.

One day my sister felt like something a little different…. McDonalds. We walked the 6 blocks where her dreams of something different were granted. For our $1 we had 2 hamburgers, 2 orders of french fries and 2 cokes that we ate at an outside table. We then walked back to school. 

There was just one problem. Walking 12 blocks round trip takes much longer than walking 5 blocks round trip. I knew we were late the minute we came around the corner and the playground was quiet, not a student in site. My sister started running to the main building “Go to class!” was her parting remark. I had to walk in late, alone.  I remember feeling nervous as I walked into the quiet hallway. I stood outside the door waiting for my courage. When it didn't come,  I walked in anyway.  My teacher looked up at me from her desk, which caused my eyes to drop to the floor as I hurried to my seat. “You are late Maura.” she said.  I just nodded in agreement and sat down. Fortunately that was all she said about it. From then on my sister and I ate our McDonalds walking down Colfax on our way back to school.

My favorite lunches were the Gas Station lunches. On Colfax, north of the playground was a gas station and sometimes my sister would take us there on Dollar Day. She would get change from the gas station attendant and go to the candy machine where she would purchase two Nestle’s Crunch bars at ten cents each and hand me one. She would then go to the soda machine where she would buy two bottles of Pepsi for twelve cents each and open them on the side of the machine. We would sit down on the curb by the gas station bathrooms and eat our lunch. We were never late on those days. Years later when I mentioned those gas station lunches to my sister and how fun they were she said “Oh yea, I used to do that and then keep  the rest of the lunch  money.”

Hmmmm...Two Nestle’s Crunch bars, 20 ¢, two Pepsi’s 24 ¢, total 44 ¢, out of $1.00, 66¢, profit to my sister. Upon reflection 33¢, of that was mine, it really was Mom’s, but if it was being kept half of it should have been mine. Technically. It explained how she had money for candy after school.

Emerson Elementary, the oldest standing school in Colorado was the first Denver school to incorporate space for an in-house library and had the first PTA in the Denver district, as well as the first student council. It was also the only school I went to with no hot lunch and no lunch room.  Thanks Emerson for being so progressive and so behind the times, allowing me, on occasion, to “eat out.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Father's Face

When I look at my hands I know I am my mother’s daughter. 
I have her hands. And her feet. And her fingernails. I also have her passion for equality and her outspoken nature. 

Recently I was looking at an old photo of my Father, a man whose face is not in my direct memory, whose voice I cannot hear in my mind. 

In the few recollections I have of him I cannot see his face so I substitute it with the face from one of the even fewer photos I have seen of him.

I am looking at photo of my Father from a time when I am not in his memory either. A time before I am born, before my sisters or my brother are born.  It is a time when my Father was a young man, not yet married to my mother. A young man but like all men of that time, he looked older than he was. 

He is wearing his US Navy uniform. Navy blue with 3 white stripes on the jumper flaps. On his left sleeve a white eagle, wings spread and below it a Mechanic’s Mate insignia (a propeller). This photo was taken in the early 40’s, a black and white that someone colored and his eyes are a little too blue, his cheeks a little too rouged.  His hair is parted on the left and has a shine from Brylcreem or maybe Vitalis. He has a small Errol Flynn mustache. 

I look, really look at this man, this stranger, my Father, whom I feel no emotional connection to and for the fist time ever I wonder who I am  to him. I am unmistakably my mothers child and I know this each time I look in the mirror but I am also his, technically I am 50% of him, but where? I study the picture looking for me in him or Him in Me. 

As I look at his small attached ears, I see my sister Tara. 
I look at his broad forehead and see my sister Michele.  
The blue eyes, those are my sister Colleen’s. 
Wavy hair, that would be my brother Richard.

I don’t know why at this point in my life, when I am over half a century old I care, but suddenly I do. What parts of me did I get from this stranger-to-me who left when I was 5 never to return?  

What did I get besides the few brief snippets of memories that are my own, not stories passed down. So much time has passed that when I hear his voice, it is not his but my own voice saying his words. My Father, this stranger, what did I get from him?  

I search his face again.

The nose I realize is mine. Not the new nose I got at 21 but I see my old nose on my father’s face. The nose I now see on my daughter’s face as well. 

My square chin, that is from him. 

I start looking more closely, his ears sick out, as do mine. Deep set eyes, yes I got those but bigger, like Moms. Strong jaw, me too. His hair looks thin, that I got from him as well.

I wish there was more to this photo. I know that in addition to hand and feet, I have Mom's knobby knees, her neck and her collar bones. But what about my arms? My legs? My shoulders and back? Should I assume that anything not Mom’s is his? I wish I could see more of him, find other similarities to tie me to him. 

There is no more though and I realize that however limited the image I have of him in this portrait is, I am indeed connected to this man physically but what about personality or traits? 

Was he funny? Did he like to read? Did he like art? Music? Did he love to dance? He loved motorcycles and owned a Harley, I love... Sons of Anarchy?  I know he was a mechanic and I do have a natural aptitude for mechanical things, that must be from him, but is that all I share with him?

One trait I know he had was drinking, or rather his inability to walk away from one. I luckily do not have that. He also had a quick temper something I once had but learned to control, but maybe that was a nurture not nature thing. But maybe his was too??

I have felt family poor much of my life. All around me people had family outside their immediate nucleus. Uncles. Cousins. Nieces. Grandmothers. Aunts. Grandfathers. Nephews. My mother had no living family and because my father was so completely gone, so was my extended family. Even before my father died, when asked about my family I use to say that there were 6 members, my mother and us 5 kids. Such a small family and all I had.

While putting his picture in a frame, my Father has come to life in me. I see now that I am part of this man that I do not know, this man who I have for the most part given little thought to throughout my life. However, when I look in the mirror now I will see his chin, his protruding ears and jaw. When I look at my daughter I will see his nose passed on to her, through me. 

By looking at that photo and seeing parts of me in it,  I now see that I am not family poor. Though I do not have any “family memories” of him I now see that he is just like the Cousins and Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents that I never got to know. They are still MY family. They are a part of me and I am a part of them.  In hundreds of seen and unseen ways I am part of the family collective because no matter what, my father's lifeblood, his DNA gave me this nose and chin and jaw and stand-out ears. Next time I look at my Fathers picture, I will see me and know that I am family-rich.