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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Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Every Girl Needs A Room Where She Can Dream

The Dreamer.

I have a room of my own.  Virginia Woolf would applaud this I’m sure. I’ve been blessed much of my adult life to have had such a space, a little sanctuary to call my own.  In this room, I get to be me.  Or at least the me, I imagine myself to be.  I’m a self-proclaimed dreamer.

Little back story.  Growing up I shared a bedroom with my older sister.  Not only did we share a room but much of the time we shared the same bed.  A double, which slept two rather comfortably.  Sometimes we were strange bedfellows but mostly we were amiable, considering our 8-year age difference.  The room we shared was downstairs next to our parents.  My two older brothers occupied one of the two upstairs bedrooms. The other room was our “spare” which was cold in winter but a fun place to play, and hang out with Ma while she sewed. By the time my sister moved to the West Coast and my two older brothers were both married, I had moved upstairs to their old room.  I finally had a room of my own. It was divine.

There were four things I especially liked about this room.  The slanted ceilings, the small attic door next to the closet, the brick chimney next to the door, and the wooden vent on the floor that you could peer down and see into the living room. There was something enthralling about these four details that captured my imagination.  I loved to poke around in the attic which was dark and musty and contained the usual things like Christmas ornaments, dance costumes, childhood artwork, old toys and a broken lamp or two.  But what was most beguiling was the possibility that buried deep within all this family memorabilia and junk was some mis-placed and forgotten treasure.  The vent was both scary and practical.  Scary because there was the possibility (although slim) of falling through it and practical because I could drop little notes down to Ma while she was sitting on the couch watching Ed Sullivan. I don’t recall what these messages to Ma said but most likely they were requests for food or drink.

Ma always made our home look lovely.  She didn’t have much to work with financially but what she lacked in cash, she made up for in imagination.  She just had a knack for this sort of thing and like most women of her time took care of “the decorating.”  I use this term loosely because no one spoke that way back then, at least not regular folks like Ma and The Old Man.  Decorating meant Ma made things for the house – curtains, table cloths, pillows.  She sewed and embroidered.  The furniture and appliances were bought on time at Sears or Eaton’s.  We weren’t poor but we were also a few miles from the middle of middle class.  Everyone in our neighborhood was, so it didn’t really matter.  At least not to me.

When it came to my room, Ma graciously handed over the decorating torch and without any strings attached either.  I was given free rein to do whatever my heart desired.  So I did.  I plastered the walls with rock posters and my kitschy-coo personal art.  The Old Man painted the chimney white which became the perfect blank canvas for my poetry, lyrics from folk musicians like Dylan and Leonard Cohen, pithy quotes by the pop psychologists of the day.  “If you love something set it free.  If it comes back, it yours.  If it doesn’t, it never was.”  I somehow found this to have deep meaning back then.  It just baffles me now.  Somehow we came into possession of an over-stuffed antique maroon velvet tub chair that had worn arms and smelled bad.  We put this in the corner for me to curl up in and read.  I had a desk that overlooked our driveway and stared directly into our neighbors upstairs window.  Thankfully they kept their curtains closed allowing us both the privacy we needed and me with the added blessing of natural light. I also had a record player, and by then a fairly decent collection of LPs which I played continuously.  Everything from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Dylan and Joan Baez.  From Rock to Folk, Motown to Blue Eyed Soul. This music comprised the soundtrack of my life.  It was the fire beneath my dreams and it fueled my creative passion.

It was in this little room at the top of a wartime house in the middle of small blue collar town where my dreaming wanderlust began.  I read books and dreamed of becoming a novelist.  I played rock music and dreamed of becoming a musician.  I made my own clothes and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer.  I scribbled poems on brick chimneys and dreamed of becoming a poet. I danced in my pajamas and dreamed of becoming a ballerina.  I doodled on albums and dreamed of becoming an artist. I gazed out at the stars and dreamed of flying.  I cuddled a dog named Sugar Miettinen and dreamed of becoming a mother. I had a typewriter and dreamed of using words to transform lives. I looked down at the street below and dreamed of a life outside of this room and wondered how I would get there.

And here I am.  Thousands of miles and many years away.  In this room, I write novels and blogs.  Play my guitar and write songs.  I sing to myself and dance like a wild woman. I gaze out the window at a sweet little pond and a garden full of Garry Oak trees, and I am in awe.  Full of wide-eye wonder and gratitude. I’m eternally grateful to Ma and The Old Man for giving me that first room and for allowing me a place to plant the very seeds that my dreams were made of.

Here in this room, I am becoming the woman of my dreams.