Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Sixteen Jacket.

the 16 jacket

Author Boo King on the right wearing her Sixteen Jacket.

This is a story I wrote when I was thirty and living in Toronto about a jacket I bought when I was sixteen and living in Northwestern Ontario.

Tuesday and Thursdays were ballet night. Twice a-week, fifty-two weeks, one hundred and four classes, three hundred and and twelve hours, times two years, I endured the art of becoming physically fit. This was my commitment to “ParticipACTION.” I chose ballet because I thought it was a graceful form of exercise and also because as a child I had taken ballet lessons every Saturday morning for six years. I thought it was like riding a bike in that you never forgot how to do it, and that I could resume where I left off at age twelve. I was wrong.

My mind remembered so many fanciful things about those ballet lessons: the plies, the pirouette, the arabesque and the five basic positions of the feet. Unfortunately my body, which was stubborn and lazy at best, didn’t remember anything about those six years. I mean nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. A complete blank. My body was suffering from a bad case of childhood amnesia. There wasn’t a single solitary drop of aching residue in the memory bank.

Had there been some hint, some vague omen or sign of the pain and agony my aging body was facing, I would have chosen something less physical like badminton or lawn bowling. But there was no forewarning, no psychic twinge. So I heedlessly signed up for “introductory ballet” at a school within walking distance of our home.

Every Tuesday and Thursday night I was out there pliéing and pirouetting my popsicle-stick legs off. (I had terribly thin legs, which should have been another clue that perhaps ballet dancing wasn’t a good fit.)

After two years my body didn’t hurt quite so much. I could just about touch my toes without bending my knees and manage a demi-plié with semi-perfection on a good night. And I no longer hyperventilated in the middle of thirty soubresauts. My legs, however, still looked like two popsicle-sticks. And I had also faced the icy truth that I would never be able to do a pirouette nor an arabesque. My body was no longer equipped to do those things and probably never was.

Despite my skinny legs, I still entertained a few fantasies. I saw myself leaping and flying across the stage like Karen Kain or at the very least, Mary Poppins. I daydreamed about being Prima Ballerina for the National Ballet and touring the world, dancing the classics with the most renowned dancers. I mused that audiences would weep at my stunning performances and throw roses. Hundreds of them. White.

I went to Malabars and bought my black leotard and pink tights with matching pink leather slippers. I thought I looked pretty terrific, especially if you squinted with one eye and closed the other and only looked at my derriere. I was all set. I was a ballerina. I was more than ready for my first night of class after thirty years of very little exercise, one husband, two kids, two cats and an unhealthy addiction to Hawkins Cheezies.

I clung irrationally to the fantasy of becoming a dancer because it made me happy and also because it made it easier to drag my sorry ass home at the end of class. The fantasy got me through immeasurable humiliations. Like the sweat-drenched leotard and the run up the side of my pink tights, which lead to a golf-ball-sized hole at the top of my thigh. I didn’t get the hole from doing one too many jetés either, which is probably how Karen got hers, but from the clothesline. The plastic coating had worn off in one spot and I had the misfortune of hanging my tights right on top of the bare wire. The tights clung to the line like a blood-sucking leach and the only way I could pry them free was to cut them. It had been my intention to repair the hole except it was one of those things I never quite got around to. Instead I learned to live with the hole and began saving for an automatic dryer.

The Prima Ballerina fantasy also helped me forget that I didn’t have flat abdominals, my shoulders slouched, my hair was turning grey and the cute laugh lines were actually crow’s feet. It also helped me forget that I was the oldest student in the class and that the others didn’t have runs in their tights, a potbelly from two kids and too much tea, droopy boobs and legs that looked like Good Humor Bar sticks. They all had long muscular – but not too muscular – dancer’s legs with flat tummies and firm perky breasts and bums. It just didn’t seem fair somehow. Everyone was also so much taller. I’ve never felt so short in my life as I did in that class. Gravity seemed to be tugging me closer to the ground with every passing year. I figured by the time I was fifty I’d be three feet tall like the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz.

I dressed for warmth on the nights that I went to class, especially when it was really cold. I didn’t dress for fashion. I gave up being fashionable when my daughter was six months old, teething and also had the flu, only I didn’t know it until she threw up all over a new sweater I had just bought. It was the last fashionable thing I had purchased for years. I typically wore a scratchy wool sweater over my leotard and jogging pants over my tights. Just to make things extra cozy and extra awful all at the same time, I piled on wooly socks, wooly mitts, wooly hat, wooly scarf, wooly jacket and hideous but practical boots. I was only walking three blocks but I realized since I turned thirty that I hate winter and can’t stand the cold. Every winter I made a promise to myself that when I became a rich and famous ballerina I was going to spend the winters in Tahiti or anywhere below the forty-ninth parallel. I wanted out of Canada in the winter. Possibly permanently.

I bought the jogging pants because three New Years Eves earlier I resolved to start running to ward off the excess baggage I was carrying around after my second kid. They were grey sweat-shirty material with a drawstring waist that I thought would get drawn tighter and tighter with every mile I ran and every inch I lost. As it turned out, I never exactly ran a mile nor did I lose an inch. I gained one or two because the pants were so comfy and roomy that I never wanted to take them off. They gave me so much room to grow. They became my happy pants.

I tried to run. I really did. But it just didn’t work for me. I guess my body wasn’t equipped to run either. My first run was so full of promise. There I was in my new grey sweatpants and black sneakers, the epitome of running prowess all raring to go. Two blocks later and I swear I could not breathe. I had absolutely no air in my lungs. None.

I started to gasp and wheeze and I had absolutely no feeling in my body from the waist down. My legs were numb. I could see them wobbling like Jell-O beneath the grey jogging pants and I just couldn’t get them to move another inch. My body was treasonous. What could I do but surrender and give up running.

I limped home, collapsed through the door and begged my husband to pull the sneakers from my lifeless feet. I folded up the sweatpants and stuffed them in the back of our linen closet behind the sheets and pillowcases.

I pulled them out one time after that. It was about five months later when I figured I would give running one more try. I put on the pants and a coordinating red t-shirt and immediately broke into a cold sweat. My breathing grew labored and my ankles felt weak. I recognized the symptoms. I had jogger-phobia, aka runners-terror. I was deathly allergic to running and anything associated with it.

The first time I decided to wear the sweatpants to dance class I was so worried that I would be overcome with jogger-phobia that I actually had to psyche myself up for the task. I was determined to overcome all negative associations with the pants. They were just pants after all. Victory would be mine. They were in perfect condition and I hadn’t worn anything in perfect condition since the birth of my second kid. I also thought they were the perfect thing to wear after a sweaty workout. Why else would they be called sweatpants? Besides that, everyone seemed to be wearing them. A fashionable opportunity had presented itself and I could not turn it away. For once in a really long time I would be on-trend.

I survived that first night and the subsequent two years of classes. The grey sweatpants became part of the uniform that I wore to class every week, along with the “sixteen jacket.”

I started wearing the sixteen jacket about nine months after my first class. It was nine months – one winter, one spring and one summer of pliéing my legs off and wearing the grey sweatpants afterwards. It was late September and the summer sun was long gone in the sky. The evenings were growing cool, the leaves were beginning to drop and the first snowflakes were threatening the sky. The time was drawing near when I would have to pull out the old black duffle coat that I had worn for so many years I was seriously considering having my floors carpeted in duffle because it never seemed to wear out. It was like some weird alloy of steel and sheep.

The weather had taken a turn for the worst the day before class that September. I could smell winter coming even though Fall had just begun. It was a strange year. The trees were shedding profusely and my knees were beginning to ache. It was time to pull out the old duffle to wear to class the next night. The morning of the class I foraged through the storage closet in the basement in search of the duffle coat and my black wool hat. That’s when I discovered the sixteen jacket – sandwiched between my husband’s winter parka and my son’s skidoo suit. I called it the sixteen jacket because I bought it the summer I turned sixteen.

There’s something magical about turning sixteen, especially in the summer. Summer has always been a magical time for me anyway so turning sixteen during my favorite season only made it that much better.

I had lots of hopes and dreams for that summer. I hoped I would get a job, which I did. I hoped I would have enough money at the end of the summer to buy the chocolate brown suede jacket I saw in the Fall Sears catalog, which I did. I hoped I would meet a boy and fall in love, which I did. I hoped I would find out what it was like to kiss a boy, which I did. I also hoped my face would clear up, my hair would grow instantly from my shoulders to my waist and that my boobs would grow at least six sizes. None of those things happened. But I wasn’t disillusioned because I was too happy about all the other things that did happen. It was a fabulous summer and I was convinced it was all because I had turned sixteen.

Actually the job I got wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. My girlfriend Suzy got a job helping her mother in the cafeteria of the newspaper. And my other girlfriend Terry got a job working as a checkout girl at Safeway and I got Terry’s old babysitting job. It wasn’t such a great job but I was grateful to get anything because I really wanted that jacket. I worked for this family with three kids – two boys, one of which was handicapped, and a girl. They were nice kids. I was an awful babysitter. I sat from eight until noon, Monday to Friday and made twenty-five dollars a week.

I never really liked babysitting. It’s not that I didn’t like the kids because I did; it’s just that it was so tiring. I guess my body was pretty lazy even back then. I was usually more tired in the morning. It was a bad time to be sitting. Sitting is literally all I did. I sat in this La-Z-Boy recliner that they had in their living room and watched the kids. They were studious kids. Brains. The oldest one wasn’t much younger than me and I often wondered why I was even there. They used to like to play games. I hated games. Still do. I would play with them once and a while on one of my better mornings but mostly I just sat there and watched until their mother came home and said I could leave. Then I’d be back the next morning at ten to eight and resume my place in the old recliner. I was a really awful babysitter. And I would have felt guilty about taking the twenty-five dollars every week if I hadn’t been sixteen and wanted that jacket so badly.

I guess falling in love was the most important thing that happened to me that summer. He was my first boyfriend. I hadn’t been too big on boys up until that summer but sometime between March and June I got a bad case of the boy crazies. Suddenly boys were no longer jerks. They were cool and neat and I wanted one. Actually I think I really just wanted to wear one of their rings on my middle finger with gobs of white tape to hold it on more than I really wanted a boyfriend. I also really wanted to kiss one. At least once.

I met mine on a humid July Saturday night walking home from a movie with Suzy and Terry. He was with two of his friends in an old blue Ford with a noisy engine and a jacked-up rear end. I thought it was the grooviest thing I had ever seen. I also thought he was too. His name was John and I fell madly in love at first sight.

It was about a mile walk home from the movie theatre. We were laughing and discussing the merits of the movie when John and his friends pulled up beside us. At first we pretended we didn’t see them because they seemed like a bunch of jerks. But when they kept driving that old Ford along the road beside us, whistling and making catcalls we couldn’t ignore them any longer. Or at least Suzy decided she couldn’t. She was the most daring of the three of us, plus she had a very bad case of the boy crazies, even worse than me. Suzy had caught sight of the driver and was definitely interested in meeting him. When they asked if we wanted a ride Suzy said yes without hesitation and was in the back seat before Terry and I had a chance to refuse. I remember sitting in the back seat thinking this wasn’t a very good idea and that I shouldn’t be there. My mother had warned me at least two thousand times that I shouldn’t get into cars with strange boys. But then they were so darned cute. Especially John.

Nothing happened anyway. At least nothing bad happened. We drove around town, cruised the strip and went to A & W (A ‘n Dub) for teen burgers and root beers. John asked me for my number. I gave it to him and prayed he’d phone. I also prayed I wouldn’t break out into a terminal case of acne from the root beer.

John and I dated that entire summer. He gave me his ring, which I wrapped with white adhesive tape and wore on the middle finger of my left hand. We went to the drive-in where we swore to love each other forever and a day. We shared popcorn, hot dogs, French fries and Cokes. I thought love was sublime except that it was a little hard on the face. I felt very beautiful and grown-up.

By mid-September John was confessing his undying love to someone else. I suspected but didn’t actually know for sure until the other girl came to me and said John wanted me to give her his ring. So I did. White tape and all. I cried one whole night and the next morning at school, which I felt was an appropriate amount of time for a first love.

I bought the sixteen jacket the first week of September. It was the first really major thing I had ever bought with my own money. I ordered it through the Sears catalog. I came home every day from school that week and asked my mother if Sears had phoned yet to say the jacket was in. Sixteen year-olds are very impatient as well as having absolutely no concept of time. Finally after what seemed like months, it came. My mother had Sears deliver it right to our door. It came on a Friday, which was perfect because I would be able to wear it out to the movies with John that night. I was anxious to show it to him. My mother left the unopened Sears package sitting on the kitchen table for me. I spotted it as soon as I walked in and couldn’t wait to open it. I ripped off the scotch tape and tore at the brown wrapping paper. I pulled it out and immediately ran my fingers through the lush suede. I moved the nap of the soft buttery hide in every direction to see all the different shades of brown within the leather. I held it up to my nose and smelled its newness. It had an indescribable sweet smell. It reminded me of a great big velvety Hershey’s bar.

I tried it on and strutted around the kitchen like Twiggy and struck all her famous poses from Vogue magazine. My mother raved on at how beautiful it was and how it was “definitely you.” If ever there was a jacket that was tailor-made for me, it was. I kept it on until John came to pick me up for the movies. He said it was a “nice” jacket but he wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I had hoped he would be. I figured it was because he was just in a bad mood or something. But it wasn’t that. By then he was already telling the other girl how much he loved her and he didn’t have the guts to tell me that the summer was over. And so was his love for me.

We went to the movies that night and then for Cokes at the local teen hangout afterwards. We sat at the counter because we couldn’t get a booth. Maybe if we had, he would have told me about the other girl and I wouldn’t have had to find out from her instead. But we didn’t get a booth and it was crowded and he was moody and I was giddy about my new jacket. I thought I was so cool.

We ordered Cokes. He sat slumped over his and I sat sipping mine, all the while watching him, hoping and praying he’d say something utterly fantastic. After a few minutes I got bored and pulled the straw from my glass and started playing with it. I pushed my Coke off to the side of the counter to give me more room to twist and contort my straw into goofy shapes, and to keep a close watch on John, who by this time had his nose in his glass. He looked ridiculous. It was then that the guy beside me reached over for the ketchup bottle and spilled my Coke down the front of my brand new suede jacket. I jumped up like a bat out of Hell, screamed and then began mopping up the Coke like mad with piles of serviettes.

It was then that I discovered the resiliency of suede. The Coke seemed to slide right off. We all agreed it looked like it wouldn’t leave a stain. The Coke spilling guy felt awful about the accident and kept apologizing. I felt bad for the dumb jerk and told him I was sure my brand new suede jacket would be just fine once the Coke dried.

John and I left immediately and went straight to my house. I cried all the way home. John kissed me goodnight, which turned out to be our last kiss. I went to bed that night wearing my chocolate brown suede sixteen jacket and nothing else. It was all I needed.

When I found the sixteen jacket that morning tucked away with all the other things I never wear but can’t seem to throw out, I could smell the Hershey’s sweetness of the leather, John’s last kiss and the Coke down the front, the exhaust fumes from the borrowed Ford John drove that night, the tears and the joy. I could smell it all. I don’t remember anything ever in my whole life smelling so good.

I held it up to my nose the same way I did that Friday and I was sixteen all over again. I could feel the magic of that summer. I felt young and happy and it didn’t matter that I had a potbelly or crows feet. It didn’t matter that I would never be a Prima Ballerina. Because every Tuesday and Thursday when I put on the sixteen jacket and made my way to and from that dance class, I had a pocketful of dreams.

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The original manuscript typed in red ink on a Collegian Typewriter.

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Two Ballerinas.

Boo Ballerina (1)

Ballerina Boo.

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Author Boo King on the left wearing the grey sweatpants.

 

 

 

 

Diaries of The Beadman’s Daughter: Life Before Me and You and That Other Guy.

Ma with my big brothers and sister.

Sometimes I find it hard to imagine that my parents had a life before me.  I’m also certain that it’s hard for my children to imagine me having a life before them.  On some level I guess I didn’t.  Not like this anyway.  It’s like my life is divided into two.  Life before kids.  And life after.  Each child changed me.  Made me more.  Expanded my capacity to love.  Larger and richer.  Deeper and unconditionally.

Before I met E I had pretty much given up on the notion of ever finding love.  Much less a husband.  And having another child was seemingly impossible.  Yet both of those things happened.  Proof that miracles do happen. Even if they were just the bland run-of-the-mill types.  Not your water into wine.  Or parting of the seas.  Raising the dead.  But these events were every bit as miraculous to me. This was also the case for Ma.

Little back story.   Before Ma met The Old Man she had been married.  Plus she had three kids.  She met her first husband just before WW2.  The details of this period in Ma’s life are sketchy at best.  All I know is that he was in the air force, flew off to war and evidently came back long enough to conceive children.  In the span of five years, all in one week in April, Ma had three kids.  Then after the war ended he “shacked up” with some woman in Manitouwadge or Wawa, and there he remained until the day he died.  He abandoned Ma and her children and never reappeared in their lives.  In return, Ma rarely spoke of him and my siblings did not preserve any memories of the father they never knew.  He was like “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” in the Harry Potter books.

The Old Man behind the wheel of the Woods Meat truck.

Ma met The Old Man when she was working the 7pm to 3am shift at a restaurant called Porky’s on St Paul Street.  He was working as a deliveryman for Woods Meat Market at the time.  He used to go in there after midnight for coffee.  Given the hour he frequented the joint, I’m assuming it was where he went after the bar closed.  He may have originally gone there for coffee but it was Ma who kept him coming back. Ma never said much about their first encounter except that he was incredibly handsome and had beautiful blue eyes.  She also said it was love at first sight.

My parents were from a generation of folks who didn’t discuss their romance.  Nor did they engage in public displays of affection.  At the most, there was hand holding, quick pecks on the lips when saying goodbye, and occasional awkward hugs.  For photos The Old Man would place his arm around the back of Ma’s waist.  That was it.

Ma in the woods with my two big brothers.

Due to this lack of romantic mythology I have fabricated my own version of their budding courtship.  It goes something like this.  Two incredibly shy people.  One with blond hair and blue eyes.  The other a raven haired dark-eyed beauty.  One Finlander.  One Italian.  Fire and ice.  Yin and yang.  He sits at the counter after midnight and orders a cup of coffee.  Cream and sugar.  Then he orders another.  She bustles around serving coffee and late-night sobering-up food to the other patrons scattered like lost sheep in the ratty Naugahyde booths.  He stays until three when the place closes.  He can’t get his eyes off her.   She steels glances his way.   Bolstered by a few too many drinks from the local watering hole, he’s able to find the courage to say hello.  By morning that false confidence would evaporate.  But for those few fleeting hours after midnight his shyness, especially around women, was held at bay.  She’s exhausted from raising three kids and working nights.  His sweet flirtations revitalize her though and put the youthful bounce back into her step.  She blushes and says hello back.  Their conversation is endearing in its bashful clumsiness.  It doesn’t come easy.  Still they persist.  Night after night.  This goes on for days, weeks, months perhaps.  Then the shy blond blue eyed Finlander musters the courage to ask out the Italian beauty.  After one date she knows he’s trouble but it’s too late.  She’s madly in love.  The sparks fly.  Then there’s me.  And life begins.

While Ma was working the night shift at Porky’s my oldest brother was at home with my other brother and sister.  This was the little family that existed long before I was even a twinkle in The Old Man’s eye.  By the time I was born my brothers were well on their way to adolescence.  My sister was old enough to take me for walks down the street in my carriage and dress me up like one of her dolls.  Because I don’t remember anything before the age of five my first impressions of my siblings is that they were quasi-adults.  Big people.  I knew they weren’t old like The Old Man and Ma but they weren’t kids either.  Definitely not playmates.  It was a peculiar psychological head space.  On the one hand I understood that these big people were my brothers and sister.  Yet on the other, I felt very much like an only child and longed for siblings that were closer in age.  In my childhood fantasies I often pretended that they were.

A hair curling night. They sure knew how to have a good time back then.

Despite the age difference I loved them all dearly.  I idolized my ‘big’ brothers.  They were both handsome, kind and patient with their baby sister.  They called me Babe.  I also loved that they were so different from The Old Man.  They weren’t alcoholics for one thing.  And they were the defenders of Ma, my sister and I.  They were our heroes.  Not cape wearing or white horse riding.  But on those dark nights when The Old Man came home reeking of alcohol and ranting about some past injustice brought upon his late mother at the hands of his old man, they were brave lionhearted men.

They were also boys of that era.  I loved that about them too.  They had slicked-back Brylcreemed hair and drove a mauve colored Harley.  They smoked roll-your-own Export A cigarettes and had do-it-yourself tattoos.  Our neighborhood was full of guys just like them.  Most of them hung out at 204.  But this was all exterior stuff.  The way teenagers looked back then.  Fashion and fads.  Ma always said she had good boys.  She was right.  Good boys who grew into sterling men.  Married their soul mates and big loves. Raised wonderful families and led good lives.  Decent.  Ma taught them well.

Me and my big sister on the front porch in winter.

The relationship between my sister and I was akin to oil and water.  We didn’t mix well but we did love each other despite our innumerable differences.  Genetics may have had a hand in this. Just who we were.  But mostly I think we were both products of our own times.  We were imprinted by the decades that informed us most.  The indelible impression.  She was a good girl from the fifties.  Defined by maintaining a high morale code and preserving one’s virginity until marriage vows were exchanged.  I am a product of the sixties and seventies.  Peace.  Love.  And understanding.   Complicated and perplexing.  And yes, there was living in sin.  Nothing was being saved for marriage.

Enough said.  My sister and I were different.  We loved each.  We fought like two female cats in heat.  Ma had to physically stand between us on more than one occasion.  We always made up and made nice.  Because in the end we were both good girls.  Just with different points of view.  Not wrong.  Not bad.  Just different.  As adult women we have come to terms with all of that.  The oil and the water was given a good shake.  It has emulsified.  Ma taught us well.

My parents’ relationship was plagued with challenges right from the start.  Legally she was still married to the man in Manitouwadge or Wawa.  She was raising three kids on her own, money was scarce and at times her world was a dark and frightening place.  The Old Man was four years younger, immature by all accounts, mourning the recent loss of his mother, and ill-tempered when drunk.  Not the best formula for starting a new life.  Yet somehow they made this thing work.  It wasn’t perfect.  But it wasn’t too shabby either.  More proof that miracles do happen.

My two blond blue eyed loves.

Flash forward to 1992.  History repeats itself on the West Coast.  I was a single mother of two.  Working at a little graphic design company owned by an old friend from back in the days at 204. He was the first big heartbreak love of my best friend, the person who introduced me to my ex-husband and my boss.  My mantra back then was “you’ve just gotta love a guy like that.”

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in March of ’92 I met a blond blue eyed alcoholic at a rundown country bar my sister dragged me to because I needed a little fun in my otherwise dull life. It was there that I fell head over heels for one of the jammers on stage.  He played upright bass in a bluegrass band.  There was just something about the way he played that thing that made my toes curl.  After his bit on stage we danced.  And we’ve been dancing ever since.

I dove in with my eyes wide open.  I’d seen this movie before. I knew how it played out having witnessed it up-close and personal my entire life.  There we were.  Just like Ma and The Old Man.  Yet not.  We’ve written our own story.  Everyone does.  This was our shot.  Sacrifices were made and compromises struck.  A beautiful blond blue eyed child was born bearing an uncanny resemblance to both her Dad and The Old Man.

The heart expands. Love grows. And life begins.  Again.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer.

After the photo shoot. Ma, The Old Man and Sugar.

I like to dance.  I’m lousy at it but that’s beside the point.  I have two left feet apparently.  I lack rhythm.  Poise.  And most importantly, grace.  I’m a klutz.  I bang into door frames and stumble farcically over cracks in the sidewalk.  But I flat-out refuse to accept the mountain of corroborating evidence that even though I’m a lousy dancer, I should pack it in altogether.  That’s just not going to happen. I may be in denial but I like it.  Nothing can stop me from shaking my booty.  Strutting my stuff.  Tripping the light fantastic.  And shuffling off to Buffalo.  My personal history has taught me that it may not be such a great idea to dance in public. But in the privacy of my own room, I can boogie on down and dance dance dance.

Little back story.  When I was six or seven I started taking ballet, tap and acrobatic lessons from Mrs. M.  Although I took lessons for seven years I never really got very far.  The writing was on the wall, “This girl needs to take up another activity. Like bowling. Or Paper Mache.”   Ma and The Old Man didn’t see it that way though. Just as I am in denial today, they were equally blind back then to the abysmally obvious. They had no perspective when it came to my talent.  Or lack thereof.  I was their child.  Everything I did delighted them.  As it should be.  But the truth is, I knew, and Mrs. M. knew, that I was never going to be the next Anna Pavlova.

My memories of Mrs. M. are vague and sketchy at best.  Blurry little reveries of wooden floors and pointy toes fused with young girlie scents and self-conscious glances.  Unlike Terpsichore, Mrs. M. did not find me amusing.  No, I was not her muse.  And unlike Ma and The Old Man, she did not take delight in my dance.  But she was my teacher for seven years and I do give her top marks for perseverance and tolerance.  And for not telling my parents to take my ballet shoes and go home.   I was also irrationally terrified of her.  In my mind she was at least 75 years old and monstrous.  Realistically she was probably only 45, but when you’re seven and small, anything over thirty is ancient and intimidating.

I wanted nothing more than to have made my inept body perform better.  But it just wouldn’t.  In addition to lacking rhythm, poise and grace, I lacked flexibility.  Especially in my legs and lower back.  Having pliable stretchy elastic Gumby body parts in these two areas is  undoubtedly advantageous.  This particularly comes in handy when performing moves like “the splits.”  I don’t advise that any human over the age of thirty attempt doing these. At least not without an Emergency Medical Team on hand to revive you and uncork your legs.  Even the sound of the word hurts.  Splits.  OUCH.

I remember practicing. Diligently. Tenaciously.  Willing my legs to  flatten.  Forcing them downwards towards the floor.  Long before I knew what visualization was, I would lie in bed and see my skinny bowed legs getting closer and closer to the floor.  It was painful.  Eventually I got pretty close. If I scootched my bum just right, sort of off-kilter and leaning towards one side, it sorta-kinda looked like I was doing “it.”  And that pretty much summed up everything about my dance career.  I got close, and as Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields put it, “but no cigar.”

In what would be my final year of lessons, I got to participate in the annual dance recital.  The Dance Revue.  Two horrifying nights of performances on a Friday and Saturday, in June. I still have the blue and green program from the evening.  My last name was spelled wrong throughout.  In the program it proclaims that in the first half of the evening I performed in three of the “Varieties” called Recital Time, Destination Moon and Tumblers. After the Intermission, that lasted precisely 3 minutes according to the program, I also performed in a dance called Flowers Awaken in the “In A Flower Garden” feature. It goes without saying, I was a supporting player, not a soloist like Donna M or Bernice H or Barbara C or Wendy W.  I probably secretly hated all of those girls.  A Prima, I was not. I didn’t even make it into the Grand Finale “Around The World” feature, of which there were sixteen.  You think she could have at least thrown me into the back row of Chantez Chantez or Canada The Hop Scotch Polka.  Everyone seemed to be in those little numbers.  Except me.

Ma made all of my costumes. Lovingly. Tenderly. Ardently.  I thought they were divine. Worthy of a Princess.  A Prima Ballerina.  I still have those too.  They’re wrapped in tissue and stored in a McNulty’s box in my storage closet.  I can still feel my mother’s touch on the fabric. And it breaks my heart.

Recital Time was a snappy little tap ditty.  The fabric for this costume looked like it once adorned Ma’s kitchen table.  A hot pink checkered gingham number with puffy little pants and a bib-like top tied in a bow at the nape of my neck.  The piece de resistance was the pointy little hat, that closely resembled a New Year’s Eve Party Favor or a small dunce cap. I think I wore the same costume for Destination Moon because the hat could also work as the nose cone of a rocket.  For Tumblers I wore a simple black leotard with tights and black ballet slippers.  My leotard was the wrong kind.  All the other Tumblers had leotards with short sleeves. I was self-conscious and embarrassed by the lack of sleeves on mine.  I never told Ma she bought the wrong kind but it was plain to see I had four inches of uncovered flesh on my upper arms.  In Flowers Awaken I wore an orangey rust colored tutu made of satin and crinoline with fake silk flowers strategically attached to my torso.  But thankfully there were no hats.

Ma and The Old Man thought I was marvelous, none the less.  Before the recital they took photographs.  They turned our living room into a photography studio.  Truth was, it was nothing like a photo studio.  The developed pictures were proof of that. They draped a white sheet over our floral curtains, moved the chair and end table aside and snapped away with our six-20 Brownie Junior camera.  I posed in front of the sheet in my three costumes.  The serious tap dancer.  The smiling ballerina.  The perplexed tumbler, almost doing the splits.  And then after the photo session, I took a picture of the two of them with our dog Sugar, wedged helplessly between my father’s legs.

There they are, my two biggest fans.  The ones who took me to lessons for seven years.  Made my costumes. Applauded the loudest. Fought back tears of pride.  Cherished my performances.  Showered me in kisses filled with admiration.  I was their tiny dancer.  They were incapable of seeing my flaws. My faulty performance.  And the gap between my skinny bowed legs and the hardwood floor.

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