Banquet, 1951

Mom and Dad at banquet 1951

Mom and Dad, before they were married. The note on the picture says “Banquet, 1951.” I remember that this is the dress Mom wore to her engagement party—or maybe it was the dress she was wearing when my Dad asked her to marry him? How am I to know, now? All of those open eyes in the photo, eight of them, six looking right at the camera. Mom’s two focused on someone or something else, seemingly unaware of the table photographer. Likely, she was extracting happiness from a neighboring table, savoring it like a rare but coveted Brandy Alexander. The dress was a favorite of hers—we’d talk about its origins, a department store on 69th Street; Strawbridges, maybe?—and when I pull it out from the back of her closet, sixty-three years after this photo was taken, the black velvet is still soft, the straps are tied in tight, loopy bows. All that’s missing is the channel-set diamondesque necklace, Mom’s full, easy smile, the slow slope of her back, the beginning of a gentle curve that would groove and steepen into a deep ‘C.’ What purse did you use that night? Did Dad tell you that you looked beautiful? Did he kiss you? What did he smell like? What perfume did you wear? What did you have for dessert? The questions. The questions are what kill me. The answers live off-frame, wherever Mom is looking in that moment.

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Southern Charms

How to describe the South without using cliches like “hospitality” and “hydrogenated vegetable oils”? Returning to South Carolina last week gave way to my nostalgia. In 1985, I was a semi-sweet, semi-innocent Yankee, lured to Aiken, SC, with a good job at a bomb plant and the romantic notion that kudzu-wrapped iron gates and secret gardens could be a part of this Philly girl’s future. Of course, it wasn’t quite so.

Part of my husband’s and my visit was a stay in Columbia, where my step-daughter Morgan is attending grad school at USC. In sharp contrast to step-mommy, she is loving the southern life. She was born to primp, taking showers that could drain small water bodies.   Her southern friends have labeled her the “Cowgirl,” and she considers herself low-maintenance, comparatively speaking.

Karl, Morgan and I took a day-trip from Columbia to Aiken, a place I left in 1986 without looking back, not even once. These two people must love me–memory lane crap is admittedly dull for everyone else, unless you find a brew pub. Aiken surely did not have a brew pub in 1985, but they do now. And they deep-fry pretzel nubs. De-Licious.

Nothing in Aiken rang a bell for me– not my old apartment, not the road to the bomb plant, not downtown. Only Hopelands Gardens. It was the only place in the AAA Tour Book in 1985, so I probably went there 6 or 100 times over the course of my 9-month residency. The gardens and its pools were as stunning as ever, and honestly it all came rushing back to me: the 1985 romance with an incredibly fun but unstable man-child from Mo-Town, the Sunday-finest dinner with my visiting parents at the Waffle House, car pools to the bomb plant with go-cups and Funyuns.

Morgan and Karl at Hopelands gardens

The South was a place of contradiction for me, always. Just as I was learning to speak out – compliments of the unstable boyfriend – I was living in a place where it wasn’t really appropriate to say what you were thinking. Southern boys talked slow and moved slow, and I was looking for something fast. The bars were beer-only; wine coolers were exotic and could only be bought if you carried cash and wore a Scarlet Letter. Life—the real stuff that happened and no one talked about—all seemed to be subterranean, tucked away in those hidden gardens with iron gates wrapped in kudzu.

Garden Pool and Goddess

205-H Fairway Ridge—my apartment number from 1985 buzzed into my head out of nowhere, and the iPhone lead us right to it. Staring at an apartment complex that looked as different or the same as any other apartment I’d ever lived in, seeing nothing of the old me anymore, I turned back to the rental car. Morgan was yawning and adjusting her tourmaline-wanded hair. Karl was securing the growler of Aiken’s finest nut-brown ale behind the driver’s seat. I gave one last look at 205-H, at the ghost of me who wasn’t sure whether to cry silently or to scream a big F-you to the cheating creep in Detroit, and gave it a silent, southern goodbye.

205-H…farewell.

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Saint Pius X Class of 1977 Grade School Reunion

As I leave Philly this weekend, I can’t help but think that the SPX grade school reunion Saturday night was a true highlight of the trip.  What a great looking group of peeps!  And better yet, what a really nice group of peeps.  Some musings…I want to send a thank you card to John McCann’s wife and/or therapist.  He squeaked out an apology for being a complete dick to me in grade school, and thereby righted eight-years of wrong-doing and thirty+ years of my hating him from afar.  Sister Prune would be proud.  I learned things about Paul Piccari and his magical “skills” that I will certainly try to forget.  Thanks to Gina D. for laughing along!  Paul does rock, though, let’s face it.  Tommy Fam is still my favorite.  Sorry Bob.  I’m starting a rumor that Pasquale Fabrizio is living under an I-95 overpass with Tommy Cunningham.  Pass it on.  Donna Drew looks like she could seriously kick some ass.  If things went awry with John McCann, that was my Plan “B”.  Paul McCreesh stole my award for “traveled the furthest,” but offered to give it to me.  He always was a gem of a guy.  Joe Risi and Michael LoBiondo may tie for damned nicest guys to ever graduate SPX.  One of them is single, ladies!  Seriously loved learning about your life, Joe.  You may rock more than Piccari.  I never stopped to consider what it must have been like for a really nice, really pretty girl named Terry Schnepp to join us so late –8th grade.   Terry, I really enjoyed catching up with you, even though my bladder went from 82 to 99.8% full during our chat!!!  Rose (what happened to the Anne?) Useller, you are an amazing lady! I love your life attitude and wish I lived closer so that we could hang out. Bob G. remains a mystery to me.  Talking to him still feels like flirting, so I sort of avoided him—Sorry Bob!  Next time!  Who the hell was the pony-tail guy hitting on Mary McKenna?  Should I have saved her?  Mark Wagner is the total package—smart, funny, great smile.  He’ll be remarried before our next reunion.  Kathy Bart and Mary Kay are still shorter then me.  Whew.  Kathy was the first face I saw in that crowded bar, and she instantly made me happy!  Love you, Kath!  Joe(y) Herm —I think he dropped the “y” and it’s hanging out with Rose Useller’s “Anne,” Pasquale and Tomm(y) C under the I-95 overpass.  Burt Lawley is a truly passionate dude.  Burt, I want to read your writing—seriously.  Lori (missing Anne #2) Petras finally left St. Pius!  If you heard people say that you look exactly like your mom, that rumor was started by Donna.  Don’t confront her, or she’ll squash you like a stink bug.  Donna, Kim Swick and Nellie Rafferty could be the new Charlie’s Angels.  Bobby Fam could probably make that happen.  Shawn Campbell—why the hell did I think you left us and went to St. Annie’s—sorry about that!!  And thanks for getting me back in touch with the ’77 gang.  Eileen Mason is the Stevie Nicks of our class…whirled in and out like a gypsy.  Lisa LeClair has been genetically altered to look better than ever.  Lisa- you are still a really nice badass!!!  Kevin Kelly, Michael P. and Lori Seifert—my brain obliterated you guys from its memory.  I blame Captain Morgan and the entire period from 1981-1993.  Richie T. is the skinniest chubby kid I’ve ever seen.  Jackie G. was dipped in preservative–I’m jealous.  And who remembered how tall she was (OK, every one was tall compared to Kathy Bart, Mary Kay, and me.  except for maybe Deva M (where is she???).  Larry Miller’s life report card should read “exceeded expectations.”  My mom still thinks you’re cute, Larry, for what that’s worth!   Thanks for organizing the shindig.  I won’t wait 30 years to attend another one, I swear!!!  We “were” the youth of Saint Pius X, loyal, courageous and bold…

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