writing

Time with Daddy

Ted taught Sara Jean had to ride a bicycle and tried to teach her how to play softball. He bought her the bat she wanted, a navy-blue Louisville Slugger, and a mitt for her left hand. He took her to grassy area in front of J. B. Atkinson School and tossed the ball to her a few times. Finally, he decided she knew what she was doing and told her to pick up the bat and swing it at the ball and hit it. Sara Jean did exactly as she was told. She hit the ball and it went a good way down the grassy area. However, Ted didn’t tell Sara Jean to let go of the bat once she hit the ball. So, Sara Jean completed her swing full circle with the bat still in her hand and hit herself in her head.

Standing up on wobbly legs and feeling the lump beginning to grow on the back of her head, she looked at Ted as if it was his fault. She said, “No,” and walked home leaving the bat, mitt and ball for Ted to pick up. She walked home with such an attitude that Stella asked her what was wrong. Sara Jean just gave her the same look she gave Ted and stomped up the stairs to her room. That was the end of Sara Jean’s softball experience. There would be no more, not even to go to a game. Her answer was always the same, “No.”

Something that worked out better was Sara Jean’s trailing Ted around as he puttered in the garage, tinkered on the cars, or went for his regular walks. In the garage she would hold this or that tool, or steady a certain piece of wood for him, while Ted taught her about the tools, the vise, and what he was doing or making. With the car, it was the same thing, she would hold the tools for Ted and listen while he explained how the engine worked and what he was doing. He showed her simple tips, so much so that once as a teenager when the date’s car stalled and he didn’t know what to do, Sara Jean popped the top and tinkered with it until the engine roared to life again.

Sara Jean enjoyed their regular walks, especially the Saturday ones. She would walk along and just listen to Ted talk about whatever he wanted to talk about. On Saturdays they would walk to the hardware store where Ted would look at a great many things before purchasing something. He would catch up on the local gossip with the guys while having a cup of coffee. Or they would walk to the barber shop where Ted would get his hair trimmed and his neck cleaned up. Again, he would catch up on the local gossip with the guys. Or they would walk to the local bookstore and talk with the owner there. The bookstore was Sara Jean’s favorite place. For every two books that you brought in, you could choose one book to swap and take home. Ted was a voracious reader, a trait he passed on to Sara Jean. While he was trading murder mysteries and westerns, Sara Jean would trade comic books.

Stella would pick up a stack of twenty-five new comic books for Sara Jean at the wholesale place where she went to get food and products for the store every month. Sara Jean would read through them quickly and then be ready to turn them in whenever Ted decided it was time to go to the bookstore. The owner appreciated these books because they were almost new, having only been read by one person, and they were the most recent releases. All of this togetherness, in the garage, in with the cars, and the walks, caused some people to talk. They called Sara Jean the boy Ted never had. Others called her Ted’s Shadow. When she heard that title, she would raise her head and smile with her eyes twinkling bright.

REFERENCE: Sara Jean’s Early Years

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Hershey’s Fudge

Using a recipe from the Hershey’s cocoa can, Stella would make fudge often. Sara Jean was allowed in to watch if she was quiet. She watched as her mother put all the ingredients together in a pot on the stove and stirred and stirred and stirred. Then she would drop a teaspoonful of chocolate into a cup of cold water. If the chocolate formed a soft ball in the water, the temperature was correct, and the fudge was ready for whatever other items you wanted to add such as walnuts or praline pieces. Once the fudge was poured out into a waxed paper lined pan, the hard part began – waiting. Waiting for the fudge to cool was hard for Sara Jean and Stella. More than once, both of them burned their tongues on the spoon and leftover bowl scrapings while waiting for the pan of fudge to cool, to be cut, and to be enjoyed.

Having watched fudge made several times, Sara Jean and Cindy thought that they could make a batch themselves. One afternoon when they were bored they gathered all the ingredients and stirred, and stirred, and stirred. The pot was soon boiling very hot, popping bits of hot mixture over them. Stella previously called this type of high temperature boiling popping cat eyes. Sara Jean tried to move the pot so she could turn off the stove burner, but at the same time a big pop of chocolate mixture burned her again causing her to drop the pot back on the stove causing the mixture to bounce up and out of the pot.

Later, when Stella arrived home and walked into her kitchen, she saw a pot covered in hardened chocolate all over the outside of it. She saw hardened chocolate splattered over the stove, the counter, and the pantry shelf as well as the items on them. She saw hardened chocolate stuck to the kitchen ceiling. What she did not see, but very much wanted to see, was Sara Jean.

The phone rang. It was Gladys saying that Sara Jean was at her house and explaining what happened with the chocolate. When the girls were finally able to turn the stove off, they ran to Cindy’s house where Gladys rubbed butter all over the burns that were on the girls’ forearms. After the phone call, Gladys gave Sara Jean a hug and sent her home. Even though Cindy and Sara Jean’s houses had only one house between them, Sara Jean took a long time walking the distance.

You would think that Stella and Sara Jean would have learned from the great fudge fiasco, especially since there were still chocolate spots on the ceiling serving as a constant reminder. However, advertising is stronger, so one day Stella came home with a cotton candy machine for Sara Jean. It consisted of a small container to hold sugar and food coloring, a motor, and a larger circular receiving tray. There was no top.

The idea was to duplicate the motion you saw at the fair or amusement park. You were to pour in the sugar and the food coloring and then turn on the motor. Then you were to catch the strings of cotton candy coming out of the motor into the receiving tray by twirling the paper holders around and around. Anything not caught on the holders had no plexiglass safety guards to catch it, so Stella’s kitchen quickly filled up with spun sugar all over the walls, the counters and all the items therein. After about three tries with this toy, it disappeared never to be seen again.

REFERENCE: Sara Jean’s Early Years

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Weekends

Throughout the 1960s, Sara Jean would swap spending many Saturday nights with her friend from church, which had services that were held on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday nights. And then there were the revivals that could go on for a few weeks, which meant every night at church. On several weekends, her church friend would come to Sara Jean’s house and spend the night, and on several other weekends, Sara Jean would go to her house in the suburbs and spend the night. On many Sunday afternoons, various groups from the church would get together after the Sunday morning service and decide to go to Jerry’s or Frisch’s or Mom’s Café, or Coffee Cup for lunch before going home to rest before the evening service.

It was during these visits that Sara Jean learned about scrambled eggs. She was used to watching Ted dip his half of piece of white bread into the yolk of his over-easy eggs and eat it while Stella and Sara Jean preferred their egg yolks to be well done. So, once while visiting her church friend, the mother asked, “Would you like some eggs?” Sara Jean agreed and said, “Yes please, well done.”

The church mother looked at her strangely and said, “Of course they will be well done!

After Sara Jean cleaned up, brushed her teeth and hair, and dressed for church, she walked out to the table. Her plate was empty. There was no egg on it. She looked around and noticed her friend, and her friend’s parents all helping themselves to a large platter of yellow something. She never had eggs that looked like that before, and, not wanting to be rude if she didn’t like them, she simply did not have any. She just ate her toast with butter. No one at the table encouraged her to try them or even discussed the eggs at all. As they were cleaning the table off to get ready to go to church, the church mother said, “You are just too picky for your own good.”

REFERENCE: Sara Jean’s Early Years

writing

Sara Jean’s Sixth Year of School

Sara Jean’s sixth grade was memorable because Stella was correct, womanhood came with severe cramping that was assisted with a sharp-tasting medicine called Paregoric. Every month, she would be felled with sharp, throbbing pains and a swollen feeling that seemed like there was a big balloon inside of her, moving all around trying to find room to grow. Often these would come when Sara Jean was at school and was not prepared for them. Since she was so young when this started, none of the other girls had anything to help her.

Eventually, the last day of school came, and there was a small graduation held in the cafeteria for the students leaving to go to Western Junior High School in the fall. All the children were there. The sixth-grade students sat in the front row. The other students clapped for them. Then all the grades of children and the parents that had shown up for the graduation stood around drinking fruit punch and eating cookies. Sara Jean was alone at the ceremony, so she said goodbye to her teacher and friends, to Gladys and Cindy, and walked out of J. B. Atkinson Elementary School for the last time. She walked home, changed from her dressy dress and white patent leather shoes, and went outside to play.

During the summer of sixth grade year, Sara Jean’s social life picked up. Her aunt Thelma and uncle Melvin took her on a day trip to Frankfort, Kentucky for her birthday. There they bought her lunch, showed her the large outside floral clock (how did the flowers stay alive in the winter she wondered), and took her inside the Capitol where a guide told her that what she was looking at was the statue of Abraham Lincoln, and even though no one was supposed to touch it, many people rubbed the toe of his shoe for good luck. The guide asked her if she wanted to do so too? Sara Jean tucked her head and shyly responded, “Yes.”

The guide made a big deal of looking left and right to see if anyone was watching and then hoisted her up to rub the toe. Sara Jean did so quickly and came back down to the floor with a big smile on her face. The smile remained throughout the ride back to Louisville. When she arrived home, she told Ted, I rubbed Abraham Lincoln’s toe.

Another time that summer, aunt Thelma and uncle Melvin decided to take Sara Jean to a sleepover in Boonesborough, Kentucky. It was named so because it was part of the area that was founded as Boone’s Station by Daniel Boone and settlers that he led through the mountains from Tennessee up to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. It was one of the first English-speaking communities west of the Appalachian Mountains.

There was a night-time open-air show depicting how the town was settled. It was the first time that Sara Jean had been to one, so she squealed with fear and then delight as people portraying Native Americans and settlers jumped out around her, behind her and in front of her during the show. That evening they spent the night in a cabin. It was part of a local motel chain, and all the rooms were cabins. Sara Jean slept very well and returned home excited to tell Ted about her adventures.

Also during that summer, her cousin Laquita invited her to spend a week with her at her house in Fairdale, Kentucky. They played volleyball and badminton. They went to the local swimming pool, and they batted tennis balls around the local tennis court, pretending they knew what they were doing. Laquita and her husband, Bruce, had three little girls, so there was always something to do. During this week, Sara Jean learned there were different ways to keep house. Something that Laquita did differently than Stella was that every night after the evening meal was completed, and the dishes were done and put away, Laquita swept and mopped the floor. Sara Jean was only used to sweeping and moping the floors on Saturdays, so this was different to her and the idea stuck. The rule was that until the nighttime duties were finished, the nighttime games or television watching or whatever activity was planned could not begin.

REFERENCE: Sara Jean’s Early Years

writing

Sara Jean’s Fifth Year of School

Sara Jean’s fifth grade teacher was an older woman, with beautiful white hair. She had a graciousness about her and a graceful style. One day she told Sara Jean that she had also taught Michelle and Jillian. When Sara Jean told Michelle, she found one of her school photos that confirmed the fact.

Fifth grade was a time of change for Sara Jean for several reasons. The nicest reason was when the fifth-grade teacher took the students on quarterly field trips to hear the Louisville Orchestra rehearsals. They would hear beautiful music for free while the conductor explained what they were hearing. He would pick a student out of the audience to conduct the orchestra for a piece of music. She was never chosen as she never raised her hand, but Sara Jean was transfixed. She loved what she was hearing. She loved how the music made her feel. She would close her eyes and see the waves of sound washing over her and go up through the rafters of the arena. When she tried to explain this phenomenon, the other children just laughed or looked at her strangely, but the teacher smiled as if she understood.

Sara Jean loved that all the instruments in the orchestra tuned their sound to just one instrument, the oboe. She didn’t know what an oboe was just that it was a tiny thing. Yet, it was mighty enough to keep all those other instruments in key. She would learn that the oboe was chosen because it was the instrument that resisted weather changes and humidity best. She once wrote a paper for her agency’s leadership once titled, Be the oboe.

Another discovery that Sara Jean had in fifth grade was her womanhood. One Saturday morning, she was sitting on the living room floor, eating cereal, and watching cartoons when she noticed that she was bleeding. She had not been told anything about becoming a woman, so she had no idea what was happening. She walked to the door between the house and the store and yelled for Stella to “Come here a minute.”

Stella was having a cup of coffee with a neighbor, so she told Sara Jean to wait. She went back to the living room and sat down to watch cartoons again. When more blood came, she went back to the door between the store and the house and called to Stella again. Stella yelled back up at the doorway asked, “What is it?”

Feeling embarrassed, she yelled back to her mother, “I’m bleeding.”

Stella yelled back up at the doorway, “Well, then, put a Band-Aid on it.”

After trying to solve the problem with several Band-Aids, Sara Jean was back at the door between the house and the grocery store. She yelled back down to Stella, “They don’t fit.”

Stella and the neighbor shared a look and a big laugh. The neighbor said her goodbyes, and Stella headed up to the house to see what Sara Jean had gotten herself into. Upon assessing the situation, she said, “Ah, I see.”

She took her into the bathroom, gave her a blue Kotex box and one of her white Kotex belts, and explained how to insert the big, bulky, long pad into the belt. Then she went back downstairs to the grocery store. Before she left, she looked at Sara Jean and said, “Well, your childhood is over. Expect lots of pain each month.”

With that, she was gone. Sara Jean sat there and did what she always did when she wanted to understand something. She read. In this case, she read the back of the blue box. There was an ad about a book that parents could buy to explain this time of their lives to their daughters. She wrote the address on an envelope and asked Ted for the fee and Stella for a stamp. She placed the fee in the envelope with a letter asking for the book, sealed it, put the stamp on it, and then mailed the letter. A couple of weeks later, the pamphlet arrived. It was then that Sara Jean gained a vague understanding of what was going on with her body. Of course, when she had sex education in school three years later, things were described in great clinical detail about how and why the body was reacting the way it did once a month. No one ever explained the practicalities of dealing with it. Young ladies, she supposed, were just supposed to figure it all out.

In the same year, Stella took Sara Jean to a local dentist. Her mouth was a mess with many crooked teeth and many cavities. Her mouth was too small for all the adult teeth trying to make their way through. After reviewing it, the dentist told Stella that the best thing to do was to pull all the teeth and give her dentures. Stella mentioned that her oldest daughter had lots of dental trouble too so it must be a family thing. Sara Jean had watched her grandmother take her dentures out at the dinner table regularly and watched one aunt take one of her eyes out at the dinner table a few times. Watching Stella nodding while the dentist talked, Sara Jean closed her mouth tight, tilted her chin up, and with a strong voice as she was running out of the office, said, “No.”

She was halfway down 26th Street headed toward home before Stella caught up with her and disciplined her for embarrassing Stella in front of the dentist. Sara Jean’s face said how she felt very clearly. The two generations of Irish working stock women just glared at each other. It wouldn’t be the last time.

REFERENCE: Sara Jean’s Early Years