Monday, May 23, 2011

STUPID THINGS I DONE, Part One by Bobby Barresi

The year was 1952, a great summer in Brooklyn for baseball card flipping and stickball in the streets. Our block was populated with mostly Dodger and Yankee fans, and I think all the families on the block were Italian. Me? I was a diehard Giants fan, my father was a Giant fan and I have been one since birth. I spent the entire spring and summer collecting all the New York Giants cards, but had a hard time finding the Willie Mays card. The Topps cards at the time were printed in a series of about 100 cards and were released to stores every two months or so, just to keep us kids interested. My friends had a favorite pastime of ripping up Giants cards in front of me, and laughing in my face, just to bust my balls, and when they ripped up the sacred Willie Mays card, well that was enough. I spent the remainder of the Summer planning my vendetta.

If I had a few pennies in my pocket, I always bought a fresh pack of either the penny pack or rarely, the nickle pack of Topps cards, chew the great tasting bubble gum, and slowly thumb through the cards, and pray for a Duke Snider or Mickey Mantle. Snider cards were found and ripped, with much flair, in front of those rat bastid Dodger fans. But that elusive Mantle was evading me. Summer shifted into Autumn, and I started the first grade.

My daily routine each morning before school, was to go shopping to the corner store, Sam and Archies. My mom would give me fifty cents, for a quart of milk, a loaf of Italian bread, and The Daily News and Daily Mirror. Up the block to 11th. Ave and 66th. Street I go and after buying what was on the list, there was always a few pennies change, so I purchased two penny packs of cards. This was the last series, all in all, a total of 409 Topps cards were needed to complete the 1952 set. I open the first pack, and there it is, #311-Mickey Mantle!! My day, in fact my whole summer was made. Revenge was mine, I'll show those little bastid rats a thing or two, now they will fear me!

The routine in Mrs. Satraino’s class was for every student to stand up and read their homework assignment. I waited my turn, Mickey Mantle card in my shirt pocket. Most of the kids on my block were in my class, so in one fell swoop I would extract my revenge. Like Micheal Corleone in The Godfather, I would settle all family business, in one move.

Finally I get my turn to read, and after doing so , just before I sit down I pull the Mantle out of my pocket, turn to face my class and rip it up, then slam it into the trash pail near the teacher’s desk. The guys were all clenching their fists and about to rush me, when Mrs. Satraino stepped in and ordered us all to our desks, with a few harsh words to me for my act of bravado.

Stupid move? Yeah, that 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311 is now worth somewhere in the neighborhood of five to twenty thousand or even more, depending on its condition, but at six years old, who knew?

In a perfect world a boy will grow to be a man, and lessen his stupid moves, unfortunately, that was just the beginning, there were to be some real doozies being laid out in my future.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

THAT'S HOW IT WAS by DeAnn Louise Daigle

My cousin Fran put together all the moving pictures that Uncle Jerry and she had recorded over the course of some twenty years or so.

Back in 1989, his sister called Fran out on Long Island to come to Bronxville, where our uncle died in his sister’s home, to look through his things to see if she wanted anything.

I was in the convent in Maine at that time and it was just before I’d be moving to New York to study at Fordham University.

Fran gathered the photos and film that were familiar to our side of the family. Aunt Rilla had died about three years previously and they had had no children.

Fran had been diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2006 just shortly after her fifty-first birthday. She created several projects for herself over the course of the three years to her death.

One of them was for us to decide which of the films to keep and which to discard. She would have the ones we’d decided family might enjoy having transferred to DVDs.

The films were old; they went back to the early fifties and none of them had sound. She wondered about a name for the series. She called me and told me the fellow who would be making the transfer suggested Memories.

That’s kind of perfect, isn’t it, Fran? I said. She agreed.

She loved Soldier Pond like I did. We both had this feeling for the land and the air and woods and fields and trees; that’s about what we shared most between the two of us. It was our bond; the love of our childhood memories.

Even though Fran had moved to Long Island in the fifties, she and her parents kept coming back to Maine every year. Fran’s Mom had a large family of siblings and the grandmother was still alive at the time.

Fran’s memories felt like my own. She was six years younger than me and left Soldier Pond as home when she was two, and I left at thirteen, but nature had been etched into my bones and all through me.

The place would never leave me and I would write about it; even when I was not deliberately trying to. Fran felt the same way, and she too wrote. She wrote through her childhood like I did, and I learned about that only later.

She loved everything I wrote, and was proud to share my pieces with her co-workers and friends. Only once did she question the meaning of something I’d written on a card – a quote from someone else, which I felt was thought-provoking.

She was perplexed by it. I guess I was too, and that was part of the reason I’d used it for that year’s Christmas card.

I try to write a poem for my Christmas card each year. That year, I was stumped, and I’d read a quote from another writer I had not previously heard of and used it for the card.

Fran and I did not know how long she would live. The doctors wisely gave no time limit. One doctor just assured her that this cancer would most likely be the cause of her death.

Three and one half years later on July first, 2009 she died; her last words to me on the phone from the hospital, where she had been for two weeks, were, “I love you too, I’m so tired, I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

This past week, I put on one of the several Memories DVDs Fran gave me. Pictures of Soldier Pond, a panoramic sweep of the hills and woods and water; Uncle Eddie’s boat that he’d proudly built and rode with an outboard motor on the lake;

the children, Uncle Eddie’s, the younger ones I’d grown up with. The year was 1959. Mom and Dad walking on the lawn, Aunt Rilla, Uncle Jerry. I was upstairs in my bedroom window waving to them;

I was still getting over the mumps and did not want my picture taken. There was Dad with Mom and he was waving me to come down. I can read his lips, Come down and his arm was beckoning me.

Then there were the pictures of my very first visit to New York. Uncle Jerry and Aunt Rilla were living in Pelham just outside the city.

There I was with them at the Bronx Zoo, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. There we were out on Long Island with Uncle Edmund and Aunt Madeline and Fran.

She was four years old and looked exactly the same as she did as an adult; the smile, always impish and playful. So full of energy, unstoppable little kid that she was.

It was hard to get me to move for the camera but not her. She ran and jumped and played with the kittens and the dog. She climbed on the car and posed.

What a dear and generous thing for her to have done. She’d completed this project and it was for others. She knew I’d treasure these memories and she hoped her living relatives in Maine would as well.

Her mother’s family meant a great deal to her and she had hoped she would die in Maine, but that did not happen. Her aunt told me on the phone.

I just buried my husband two years ago. We struggled with the ravages of his cancer. I cannot go through this again with Fran and my kids don’t want me to either.

I told Dolly, You must tell Fran; you have to be honest with her.

Fran. What made us love that place so much? Does a place have a consciousness? Does a place know we love it? Does the land really speak to us, like the Native Americans say? It must be so. It has been for us.

I knew on my first visit to New York City that I would have to live here someday; that was fifty-two years ago and I’ve been here twenty-two years. It took thirty years of meandering before I finally settled here.

All of this mysterious journey is a wonder.

I love this city too in a different way than I loved Soldier Pond, and I think it’s because of the artist in me and the reconciler and the optimist that dwells right next to the pessimist in me.

It’s all about the contrasts and contradictions and how the non-reconcilable can live with the reconcilable; however tenuous that situation may be.

I remember my friend Teresa saying she never felt out of place. I’m not quite there yet, but I feel closer to this state of being than ever before. I want to feel in-place wherever I am.

Oh, Soldier Pond! Oh, Manhattan!
I heard a hawk yesterday. It was hovering above the tall buildings.
I kind of fancy myself a bird of sorts.

The angle at which Uncle Jerry took some of that panoramic view of Soldier Pond, showed the store, the church, the bridge; I felt he must have taken some of that view from our lawn but also from the hillside I used to love to climb.

He must have gone there. That’s where I’d go to sit still and feel like I was seeing the whole world, it was the highest point from which I felt close and far away all at the same time.

I think Fran’s spirit is there now and so all of our loved ones’ who have gone, and I’m there two even while I’m here. Perhaps there is only a thin veil after all.