Author Archives: ramblingsfromtheleft

About ramblingsfromtheleft

I am unpublished and optimistically waiting for that one magic moment.

Coming of age …

does not happen but once in our life, but several times.

Not at those frequent crossroads … but at the turn of our internal clock … our life moving inexorably forward to a new … although perhaps … frightening new time.

Hormones spill over into our psyche and cause chaos or what the parent of a teenager might see as temporary insanity. Other bouts of insanity might occur during pregnancy or at the mid-life when hormones and other things are drying up.

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Graphic credit

For today, I will concentrate on the first major female change of life … the first time girls realize their internal clocks are moving to midnight of a new day … the on-set of puberty. For each female this is different. And no one can predict how anyone will react.

For our little Antoinette, that new day came early.

Sunset Park-The summer of 1954 …

Carmela tossed and turned at night, grumbled throughout the day in two languages and could not stop the march of time and the effects it was having on her two younger children. More than ever they began to mirror each other in looks and actions, more than ever she was convinced she had given birth to Joseph’s twin when she delivered Antoinette.

Joey had passed his fourteenth birthday and in six months changed sizes two times. His “baby” fat was melting and for the first time in years he was one inch taller than his baby sister.

He was gone from the apartment for longer hours, defied his mother’s rule about being home before the streetlights came on and on three occasions Andrew woke in the middle of the night to find he was gone.

Carmela worried more than ever that he’d find a new brand of mischief; girls. The girls in the neighborhood and the girls in his new school started to swoon and each night calls came in at the candy store.

Five months short of her tenth birthday, Carmella began to notice changes in Antoinette. Subtle at first, her extroverted personality became melancholy. She brooded around the house, only leaving to go to school, begging Joey or Michael to do her errands. She cried for no reason, refused to eat and lost all interest in her skates, in her choir practice and even caused Mother Superior to have the school nurse take her temperature.

Andrew was on the phone at the candy store. “I got your message Mother, is there a problem with Antoinette?”

“Yes there’s a problem. She hardly participates in her classes. She’s lost all interest in her choir practice and not once in the last two weeks has she been on punishment for talking too much. I would say that’s a problem.”

The first week she ditched choir practice, Antoinette roamed down the long hills, listening to the sounds of the factories, the tugs, the foghorns, or traffic on the streets behind her. Factory machinery continued clicking off the hours until another day ended. Inside this cocoon she sat quietly for hours, watching and listening to her world.

When it was almost dusk, she’d head down to the docks walking past the Big Ben on the corner of Second Avenue, in front of the Brooklyn Savings and Loan. She’d wait to hear the long whine of the work whistles, announcing the end of day. Workers rushed from the factories, scurried towards the trolley stop and began the long walk up the hill to home or the Third Avenue Bus.

Other days she’d walk up to Sunset Park and sit on the brick wall at the highest spot watching the soft pastels of the sunset stretch their arms across the horizon.

Carmela and Angelina were sitting in the Gallucci front parlor. “I don’t understand what’s wrong. First she refuses to leave the house. Now she refuses to get home on time for supper.”

“You know what’s wrong.” Angelina smiled. “You have to talk to her about this.”

“I can take it with Joseph. He is fourteen and he’s a boy. But Antoinette doesn’t even turn ten until September.”

Angelina pointed to the window. “Call her up while there is no one else in the house.”

Antoinette was busy listening to Mr. Tafozzoli explain how his pigeons were going to compete the following weekend. “We’re going to get first prize this time.”

Then she heard the voice of her mother calling her. She walked through the French doors.  “Hi mom, did you call me?”

“Several times I believe.”

Angelina put her arm over Antoinette’s shoulder and kissed her on the cheek. “My you are heads above me child. You do grow like a wild flower.”

Antoinette blushed. Angelina didn’t call her a “weed” like so many of the adults in her world. And in her mind, she thought wild flower was a better fit.

Antoinette looked around. “What’s up?”

Carmela perched on the edge of the wing back chair and shook her head. Of course she knew her friend was right. It was time to have that talk. But how could such a thing be happening to her little girl? “I just can’t Angelina.”

“Oh fiddlesticks … of course you can.” Angelina took Antoinette’s hand. “Come and sit here on the sofa with me.”

Antoinette hesitated. What if one of the women saw her taking the trolley, something she was still forbidden to do without an adult or one of her brothers. What if Sister called and told Andrew she had skipped out on choir practice twice in one week?

“Is something wrong?” Antoinette asked.

“No dear … nothing’s wrong.” Angelina patted the sofa. “Your mom and I want to talk to you about something.”

She sat and asked, “Did something happen to Michael?”

Angelina laughed. “No, it’s about you. You complained to your mom about feeling sore near your underarm?”

She hunched forward, her arms holding her chest. In the bath she saw her chest looking like she had hives and her arms hurt. Too embarrassed to talk about her hives, she quickly commented, “Oh, that’s because I fell off my bike last week.”

Angelina smiled, “Don’t be afraid, sweetheart. I’m going to check. The three of us are alone.”

Angelina put her hands delicately over Antoinette’s chest, moving the palms up and down and then around and around on her thin summer T-shirt. She moved her hand to Antoinette’s underarm. “Does it hurt when I push on them?”

“Not that much.”

“Have any of the little girls in your school or your playmates talked about the ‘period?’”

“Well we have a free period on Tuesday to do our special projects. That’s when we’re allowed to go and borrow from the library.”

Angelina smiled. “No dear … not that type of period.”

“Oh Angelina, I can’t. She’s a baby.”

“Carmela, grow up. She’s a baby with boobs.”

Antoinette jumped off the sofa. “I don’t have those.” She pointed to her mother’s abundant breasts.

“They’re called breasts dear.” Angelina smiled pointing to her rather small breasts. “And yours are more like mine. You know, small?”

Carmela finally spoke, “It means you’re becoming a woman.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “My little baby girl.”

Antoinette and Joey loved puzzles. In her mind she was now connecting the pieces of this puzzle and she didn’t like the picture.

Angelina patted the sofa once again. “Sit down dear and let me tell you about your period.”

Three hours later, Joey found his sister sitting on the fieldstone wall in Sunset Park and called to her, “Waiting for another sunset?”

She turned her face away. “Go away Joey.”

He sat next to her and brushed a wisp of hair off her face. “Mom has sent the Calvary to bring you back.”

“I said go away.” She pushed his hand aside. “Tell her you didn’t find me.”

“You’re upset because Angelina told you about—”

“Don’t say it.”

He shrugged. “You are kinda young, though it sure explains a lot.”

“It’s rotten.”

She started to get off and he pulled her back. “It’s not something to feel rotten about. A little scared or confused … but not rotten.”

She turned to him. “Then why is mom crying like that?”

“Because she doesn’t want you to grow up. She wants you to stay a baby for a while longer. Like they mentally push on the top of your head, thinking they can stop you from growing.”

She looked down at her chest. “I don’t want to grow there.”

“Here, there … you’ll grow all over. And you’ll be dynamite. Aw …”

She was crying. He pulled his sister to him and held her tight. “Mom didn’t mean to make you upset. It’s not what you think. Something wonderful is going to happen to you and … well … it’s the type of thing that makes mothers cry.”

Joey pulled her off the wall. “Let’s go to Fifth Avenue and get an ice-cream soda. That should cheer you up.”

“Joey, it’s not funny.”

“Oh come on, we’ll talk while we walk to the ice-cream parlor.”

“Angelina thinks it’s wonderful too.”

“Well it is.”

By the afternoon of the next day, Antoinette had forgotten where or if she was growing and remembered it was that time of year. Time to do what she did each summer since she was born … go to the beach at Coney Island.

Facebook Photo

Girls to women … women to girls …

Our little girl will adjust and continue to grow in Sunset Park.

What women do as they continue to grow is incorporate all the changes from without and within and use them to shape their world. Antoinette grows up to do this with her cameras … others do it with a paint brush and then there are those of us who do it with words.

As writers or mothers … as story-tellers or wives … as sisters and daughters … we use those words to carry a new day to others who can’t express what they are feeling.

The major gift of the misunderstood genre of women’s fiction … is women speaking to and for women. Women using their unique perception to tell the stories no one else can tell.

We are the care-takers and the nurturers of our world … and when we can mold and shape who we are into a story to comfort or entertain or to reach out to give a gal a hug … we are fulfilling our destiny.

What change in your life was most significant?

Did it carry you and someone else to a new day?

fOIS In The City

maxine on getting old.04

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The colors of our world …

Where did that come from, you say?

I left a note last week that I’d be doing another sad tale. Oh, but the sun is out and spring is in the air. It makes me want to dance, to fly, to throw my hands up and shout … Hallelujah !

Doing the backstroke in the pool today , my eyes went skyward seeing a pallet of fluffy white set against a canvas of azure blue … lit by a huge yellow ball and warmed with bright green prongs swaying in a warm breeze.

Colors describe our universe. They are the white heat of anger … the red flash of passion … a pink blush of shy … the green-eyed monster of envy.

Thus … this candy-coated-color detour to City Scapes.

The colors of my world … 

I came from a place called Brooklyn, with its wide-sandy beaches, skirting the blue-gray slate of the Atlantic Ocean. I came from a place of winding rivers and churning waters of the harbor, from small inlets and fishing communities; a salt marsh and natural springs.

I grew up in a factory district with thousands of workers making millions of multi-colored garments, watched hundreds of freight cars and tug boats … flashing kaleidoscopes of signs and logos and world flags.

I played in famous parks and frolicked at one of the most famous beaches in the world … with its amusements and arcades, an artist’s vision of a merry-go-round and a dazzling wonder wheel with bright crayola-crayon-colored cars.

As a girl and a teenager, I took the subway to Manhattan. The City … connected to the other four boroughs by train and bus, car and ferry-boat. As a single mom I settled in one of the most scenic and amazing sights in New York … Washington Heights and Inwood.

I never tired of the patch-work quilt of people and places when I ventured to the parts of the city I loved.

The Great White Way … the New York Broadway Theater District …

Anyone who grew up within decent travel time of Broadway can surely remember their first play … the first time you were dazzled by a live performance. For most, that was probably a musical. And if you didn’t grow up within a decent travel time … you might want to visit one day. No matter what type of play you enjoy, whether you are a tourist of a nature … you would love taking the New York Guided Walking Tour of the theater district.

 broadwayTake a walking tour

 The Technicolor lights of the new Times Square…

Times Square is a major commercial intersection and a neighborhood in midtown Manhattan … located at the junction of Broadway (which has now been converted into a pedestrian plaza) and Seventh Avenue. It stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets.

Times Square in New York City.

The new Times Square

Adorned with brightly-colored billboards and flashing marquis, Times Square is often referred to as the crossroads of the world, the center of the universe or The Great White Way.

It is one of the busiest pedestrian intersections and the hub of the Broadway Theater District. It is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, drawing over 39 million visitors annually … approximately 330,000 people pass through Times Square daily, both tourists and people who work in the area.

Times Square in the 50’s …

I think of the dozens of times our parents took us to mid-town … to show one of our wide-eyed-country-bumpkin-cousins the sights of Times Square.

copacabana

Copa

Roseland, The Paladium, the Copacabana … and of course … everyone loved to stand across from the famous “smoking” Camel sign

 Camel2The old smoking Camel

Tourists with sandals and white socks with their ever-ready cameras … small children with their mouths agape … men hawking main attractions at clubs and dance halls … and though Times Square seems to have changed … it has not.

It was then and is today … a man-made-cotton-candy-colored-marvel.

A happily-ever-after view …

If you are going to make it that year … the Romance Writers of America National Conference will once again be housed at the Broadway Marriot Hotel … The Marriot Marquis

Times square marriot

Times Square Marriott Marquis

A treat for visiting tourists or romance-loving-type writers is the New York City Circle line.

Take a two and a half ride around the entire island of Manhattan … from Battery Park up the Hudson … under the George Washington Bridge and around the tip of the island passed the giant Columbia C.

columbia C

 A view from Inwood Park

In the foreground is the Washington Bridge, which carries six lanes of traffic, as well as sidewalks on both sides, over the Harlem River in NYC between the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx; connecting 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights to University Avenue in The Morris Heights neihborhood of the Bronx.

circle line

Circle Line Cruise

 Or take the evening cruise, a magical-carpet-like ride to see parts of the island from water … the sunset cruise of the Circle Line … Harbor Lights Cruise:

For something a bit more romantic, set sail on the same route as the Semi-Circle Cruise as the sun sets and the skyline comes alive at night. Cruise down the Hudson, around the Battery, up the East River, and back to the 42nd Street Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises pier. Along the way, witness the world’s premier skyline and a close-up view of Lady Liberty, and a host of sights.

cruise

It’s not all concrete and steel …

Detective stories on television and in the movies often highlight the shades of gray (and more than 50 I might add) of The City. It depicts what I tell people is not the sum total of what you find when you visit New York.

Fool. New York is not all grime and pollution in charcoal smudges. It is  five fabulous boroughs of gleaming-glittering fun .

If you venture through the dozens of neighborhoods of the island of Manhattan, you will visit hundreds of places of language and culture, of rich tradition and amazing sights and sounds … and of course … there are always the ten thousand restaurants on the east side.

 How about you reader …

How do you color your world?

fOIS In The City

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A change of pace …

two sides

The universal symbols for the theatre are the two masks of comedy and tragedy.

I think of my comic side as my natural hand … the left side.

The left is my dominant hand to write, to eat, to point … and raised a Roman Catholic … before I was corrected dozens of times … it was the hand I used to cross myself.

I might conjecture that therefore, my natural inclination is to be funny and to make you laugh. Ah, but that would be so misleading. For the left-handed among us are also naturally ambidextrous.

Nowhere in my early writing was this more evident than in the two collections of short stories I wrote the first two years after I decided to take this writing thing seriously.

Far from the cry of the sea gull off the beaches of Brooklyn, miles of train tracks from my beloved trolley or the din of the factories, was the small Mid-Hudson Valley town where my parents met and married.

I saw the Bush Terminal Factory District of Sunset Park and the small town of Poughkeepsie as the extremes of my childhood. One minute I was a happy street urchin, a careless Tom Boy and the next, I was transported ninety-miles up-river for my summer vacation with little mischief in sight.

In the same collection where I tell of the rebellious Viola and her uber-large mother, Lucille … the same place where I poke fun at small town idiosyncrasies … is the sad tale of Betty Jean.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The fall of 1961

Not in Mrs. Johns’ House …

A narrow ribbon of light from under the door softened the pitch dark of the tiny space where Betty Jean had spent the last six hours. She should have been thinking about the onerous growl of her stomach or the long essay she surely would have no time to write.

If she had more light and a mirror, she might have seen her face bruised and swollen, and the clear tracks of tears in contrast to the smudges from the dust mop hanging next to her head.

But Betty Jean could not think of food or about Sister Mary Elizabeth’s shock to find her prize pupil had not done the assigned essay for her fifth grade English class. No, in the cramped space of the broom closet, she could process no more than the terrible sounds of assault, the crash of dishes as they hit the walls, and her father’s threats to take the butcher knife and end her mother’s stupid, miserable life.

“You ain’t worth shit. Less than a pig to slaughter. At least the fuckin’ pig would give me a decent meal.”

Betty heard him slap her again, “Move your ass and fix me something to eat.”

Time moved to the rhythm of her breathing. The long silence that followed his rage broke with the low moan of her mother’s cries. She pressed her ear to the door. She dared not speak, remembering her sister, Sandy’s warning. “Stay far away from the bastard until he passes out for the night.”

Most nights it ended with her mother taking her out of the closet with a tight hand to her mouth. She would bring her to the bath and put iodine on the latest cut or bruise or to the hospital to set a broken bone. “The girl is so clumsy; she fell off our back porch.” This time there would be no rush to the hospital to set a broken bone.

Betty waited. The next sound was of Mrs. Johns as she entered the kitchen. “I’ll not have any more of this in my house, Virginia.”

The door flung open. Betty covered her eyes against the pain of the sudden burst of light. Mrs. Johns lifted Betty Jean to her feet and guided her towards the bedroom. “Betty Jean get your things. You’ll stay with Cloe and my mom tonight.”

“What about my mother?”

She pushed the girl gently, “Don’t be concerned. Your mother and I will be there in a few moments. Now go on and do as I told you.”

Clarithe Johns stood solid in her resolve and made no effort to comfort Virginia Monihan. She nodded to the two men in brown uniforms behind her and waited until Betty Jean left and she heard her close the door on the first floor.

“Virginia, this is the last time. If you don’t press charges and put that man where he belongs, I’ll call Sandra.”

Virginia Monnihan collapsed in a chair next to the table not far from where her husband’s head sat inside his hands. She trembled, her fear divided between her drunken husband and her older daughter. “Clarithe please, please don’t. He’ll sleep it off. I promise it won’t happen again. You can’t tell Sandra, she’ll take Betty Jean away from me.”

“At least that way she’d be safe.” She leaned over and whispered her next words. “You have to get rid of this man before he kills one or both of you.”

“Sandra can’t take Betty. She’s all I have left.”

A young officer came into the room. “Ma’am, the best thing for you to do is to go down with your little girl. You don’t want to be here when he wakes up.”

The young man went to school with Sandra and Viola. Virginia remembered his face, knew his name and his family. “Please Darrell, don’t hurt him. Don’t hurt my Tom.”

The other officer, older and more familiar with the family’s history of abuse, gently took her by the arm, “Now Virginia, don’t worry about anything but you and that little girl.”

Mrs. Johns nodded, “Thank you so much, Efren.”

“No problem, Mrs. Johns.” The officers waited for the women to get to the first floor. Efren shut and locked the door, and stood for a moment; his head rotating from Darrell to Tom Monnihan. “You know about the Monnihan’s, Darrell?”

“Yeah, I was in the same history class as Sandy Monnihan.”

“Then I won’t have to explain.” Darrell’s young lips curled. “No sir, Efren. When Mr. Monihan here woke up he came at us with that butcher knife over there and we had to defend ourselves.”

Efren patted him on the back. “Good man.”

In the first floor apartment, Mrs. Johns sent the two girls to her daughter’s room and turned on the radio. “What we need are the sounds of the Lord.”

The radio filled the front rooms with the sounds of a gospel choir.

Virginia Monihan heard loud noises above her head. “They won’t hurt him, will they Clarithe?”

Mrs. John’s mother took the hot tea her daughter offered and patted Virginia’s hand. “They are like the Archangel Michael and only do the work of our Lord.”

Mrs. Johns bowed her head, “Amen.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 Sad little girl

For some, there is no happy ending, no rescue, no way out. Often, when the sadness becomes more than a body can withstand, the mind protects itself by shutting down.

I have been blessed with survival and know that when I sink to the depths that I will rise again … laugh and make you smile again.

This other side of me comes in waves. What I love about it the most is to trifle with mood … testing the soul. I dare to walk down a lonely road at night to play with the devil on the dark side. I revel to dance under a moonless sky and tempt fate.

Tell me if you will …

Do you dare to walk down a lonely road at night?

Are you tempted to dance with the devil and give him his due?

fOIS In The City

Note:  Next time I will test the affable and ever-optimistic Antoinette and explore the dark side of my beloved Sunset Park.

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