Friday, May 23, 2008

The Friday Five

1. What were some of the smells and tastes of your childhood?
Until I was 12, we lived in an apartment where the entrance was behind a deli; I remember the smell of baked shells. I remember the smell of all the grapes growing on the vines in the backyard of that apartment (yes, there was a backyard). My great-grandmother used to come and pick them with us. Once my parents got divorced and we moved into my grandmother's house, the smell of my Uncle E's Ivory Soap in the bathroom after he took a bath every night, is still something I vividly remember.

Tastes? Something I actually remembered a couple of weeks ago as my younger son asked me how we'd celebrate our birthdays in school, was Fudgetown Cookies. I couldn't find a photo of the box as it existed when I ate them, but least you can see what the cookies themselves looked like. They were scalloped shaped chocolate cookies with fudge in the middle. Yum!

Here's a cel from a commercial showing the characters they used to advertise them on TV. I can actually remember them!

In the box there were four packages of six cookies, and I'd give out two to each child in my class on my birthday (back in the day when we could still do that). They were great!

Another taste that I remember is a Marathon Bar; an eight inch long braided caramel bar coated in milk chocolate. I wish I could find a photo of what the candy bar itself looked like. Apparently there are some curly candies out there which are supposed to be similar, but the packaging, complete with the ruler on the back to emphasize its large size, was definitely part of the experience.

2. What did you have as a child that you do not think children today have?
Time for free play outside; a neighborhood of friends to call for. I also had a longer time to be a child. People don't protect their children from maturing too early these days. I played with Barbie Dolls till 8th grade. That's 12 years old. Know any 12-year-olds playing with Barbies now? (Barbie has such a giant head and big lips now anyway, who would want to bother?)

3. What elementary grade was your favorite?
Second grade, Sister Mary, St. Luke's School, Whitestone, NY. She was so wonderful I even invited her to my birthday party. She dropped a present off but didn't stay. She was so gentle and kind and I adored her. Otherwise elementary school was filled with cliques and I didn't belong. I was happy to get out.

4. What summer do you remember the best as a child?
My summers from my childhood (before my teens) are all a blur. I guess because they were pretty much all the same. My grandparents had a house on a lake in Maine, and they built another house across the road from it (we still to this day, refer to it as the "back house"). We'd go up for a few weeks every summer. Eventually my parents bought a little summer cottage on a pond in the same area, and once divorced my mother managed to hang on to it. Every single summer my mother packed us all up and we went to Maine the day after school ended in June. And we returned home to NY the day before school started the following September.

Although as an adult I can appreciate that my mother wanted to get my out of "the city" for the summer, the fact is, I was really lonely. We saw my mother's extended family there, but I didn't have any contemporaries. I am the oldest of my generation in my extended family. After me comes my brother and a slew of boys. The girl closest in age to me is nine years younger than me. There were no girls in our area on the pond either.

I was such a bookworm at the time. And I can remember my mother telling me to go outside and play. I remember thinking "doing what, and with whom? Most parents would be thrilled to have a child who reads all the time, what's the problem?" Thank goodness for my books; they kept me sane. I can look back in my diaries today and check the lists of books I read all summer. Someday maybe I'll drag one out and post it here.

I will say that however lonely I was for girls my own age, I did at all times feel very loved. When I think back to those days, especially in my grandparents' back house before my parents' divorce, I feel warm inside. I felt safe and secure and loved.

5. What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self, and at what age?
Don't read Emese's journal.

At age 14 my best friend Emese (pronounced Emma-shay) got her first real boyfriend, where making out was actually part of their regular activities. I kept asking her questions about what it was like. And she'd tell me she wished she could tell, but Jack (I think that was his name) told her not to tell me anything. So one day I said "well, what if I take your journal and read it, so this way you wouldn't have technically told me anything". And she replied "I guess that would be true!". Except that then she got all pissed off at me when I actually did it. We had been friends for nine years. She was my best friend all through elementary school. And she threw it all away on a stupid boy.

I suppose I did too. I threw it all away because of jealousy over a stupid boy. So now I'd tell myself "mind your own business." I so wish that at some point Emese would have forgiven me. I mean, she did tell me I could read the darn thing; I wouldn't have done it if I didn't feel she was okay with it. But when my parents divorced we moved a few blocks away, and we went to different high schools, so we never saw each other.

In the long run, I suppose it was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. Would I be the same person I am today if she were still in my life?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review of the Titanic Exhibit

Yesterday my 11-year-old son and I went to see the Titanic exhibit at the Hartford Civic Center. I couldn't find much online about the exhibit. The page on the Civic Center website is pretty "unappetizing" and I was concerned that it'd be a rip-off. But once we went, we found it was well worth it.

When we got there, we were handed two "boarding passes" and were told that we should look at the wall at the end of the exhibit to see whether we survive or not. We went ahead and purchased two audio tours and headed in. (The audio tours were of the wand-type, and could easily be shared between two or three people. They were $7 each.)

The first "room" was set up to suggest the docking area. Here we saw artifacts having to do with the outside of the boat, including the only piece of rope they have been able to retrieve. They also had big murals depicting people planning and building it.

So we stepped up on board and entered a hall which was set up like the hall would have been in first class, with doors and beautiful carpeting leading the way down to the next area. They had great sound effects too, with what sounded like a crowd cheering the ship off. The hall led to an open area with dozens of artifacts depicting what traveling in first class would've been like. It was fun to read about Margaret Brown who we knew about from the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown. And as students of "Titanicology", we really, really loved seeing all the genuine artifacts that they pulled out of the water.

Next was another hall which depicted third class. We saw a tiny room with two bunk beds in it, and got to hear what it would've sounded like down in the bowels of the ship, so near the motor. After that was one of the boiler rooms. They had a huge chunk of coal which they had retrieved from the site, and rows of furnaces where the coal was inserted (this was actually ingeniously presented with a short row elongated with mirrors). This is the room where the exhibit began to present information about the crash. On the end of it was a "wall of ice" which people were invited to touch, and thereby understand that most people died from hypothermia rather than drowning. (I had to swipe this photo off Google Images, since I actually adhered to the no picture-taking rule.)

The room we arrived in next started the focus on the retrieval efforts; a bunch of items in cases were in the middle of the room, and along the walls were those same items in photographs as they were found at the site of the wreckage. Finally we learned about the people on the ship. Along the walls were written the stories of various passengers, and below each story were artifacts connected to that person. It was really fascinating. They actually had vials of perfume from someone going to the U.S. to sell them, and holes in the exhibit so we could smell them!

Also in the last room were a couple of large panels telling stories of people specifically connected to Connecticut, and of course, the large wall where we could take out our "boarding passes" to find out if we survived.

It took us about two and a half hours to walk through, and we were really sad when it was over. Since they did not allow photographs, I was really disappointed not to find postcards in the gift shop. (Why doesn't anyone sell postcards anymore?) All they had was a book about the exhibit for 15 bucks. I just wanted a few photos so I passed and bought myself a pencil. My son was thrilled when I treated him to a piece of coal from the ship, which even comes with a certificate of authenticity. It was 20 dollars for a piece the size of a marble, but totally worth my boy's excitement at owning something which was actually on the Titanic.

I have to say that this exhibit was phenomenal. It was so well conceived and executed, and truly involved all the senses, which helped make it so memorable. It brought the story alive in a way that all the DVD's and books have only done in a way that we now realize was superficial.

If you are fans of the Titanic, I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Using your brain is hard work

Eight year old E: Hey Mom, I can count to 100 by 2's, wanna hear? 2, 4, 6, 8... 94, 96, 98, 100.

Me: Nice job E, I didn't know you could do that.

E: Wow, that really hurt my brain. There's a big hole in it now where I used it up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Confederate Flag Debate

When we went down south to The Great Smoky Mountains for our vacation a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see so many confederate flags. My husband took this one; the front of a truck. They seem to be on trucks everywhere down there; I saw a plain old pick-up truck with two giant confederate flags waving off the back of each side of the bed.

This was so disturbing to me. I had heard about the confederate flag being used in the south, or perhaps read about it at some point, but honestly never gave it much thought. Until it was right in my face.

For a moment I thought perhaps that I was so disturbed because we had recently visited the National Civil War Museum, and Belle Grove Plantation (a real plantation preserved from that era) on our way down south. But I really think I would have found it disturbing even if we hadn't visited those places.

I understand the south taking pride in where they live, just as I take pride in being a native New Yorker. But I can't understand their needing to do it to the point of insulting others. The implication certainly is that if they don't have a problem waving that flag around, they obviously don't give a crap about the black citizens they share the south with. Worse, it would seem that they believe that black folks should be slaves again. The fact is that there is no separating that flag from its history.

My son and I have recently studied the Civil War. One thing we discussed quite a bit was something I didn't get when I learned about it in school, and that is that the war didn't start out being about slavery. The south fought for their right to secede from the nation. The north fought to prevent the south from doing that. Once the north won, the war was redefined by the north as a fight for the end of slavery, since that was a result. But technically speaking, the flag was not a symbol of slavery to the south, but rather a symbol of southern pride.

That still does not change what it represents today. These days not even the word "nigger" can be used, when discussing the word itself. So in a country where conversations about "the n word" can't even contain the actual word, how can we possibly accept a confederate flag?

Seeing the flag waved around gave me a creepy feeling. Kind of like the drivers of these vehicles were implying "I got a gun inna back here, so don' be srewin' roun' wit me".

I understand freedom of speech. I can remember walking through Times Square many years ago with my best friend, who happened to be a gay man. Well, we passed a guy standing on a milk crate spewing anti-gay crap. He was holding his bible and screaming about how all fags were going to hell. I could not understand how my friend Stephen could remain calm in the face of so much blatant hatred. And he said that he was able to overlook it because he was glad to live in a place where people were allowed to spew that kind of nonsense; that it is better than living in a place where freedom of speech is not allowed, since likely that would include him not being able to live "out".

Yes, I understand the importance of free speech. I just wish I could be as gracious about it as my friend Stephen was. On the one hand I really want that flag outlawed. But what would be next to right to have a bumper sticker which says "Human Milk for Human Babies" on it?

I have lots of bumper stickers on my car. But I've always been careful to keep them positive. The flag just seems so darn MEAN. I have a hard time with mean.

No matter the point of view of the person waving it; the confederate flag comes off as mean.