Toads and Witches and Childhood Angst

When I was a child I had 3 or 4 quite prominent warts on the side of my little finger on my left hand. They disappeared as I grew older, but I can feel them now as I think of it. It was something I was terribly ashamed of, and I despised anyone holding my hand for fear – entirely warranted – they would shrink away, or ask if I’d been touching toads, or scream that I would give them warts. All of those things happened at one time or another, until I was so paranoid that I felt the ‘horror’ of the warts was the only thing anyone could see on my whole hand.

I used to rub them with the thumb of my other hand: not sure why – checking to see if they had gotten smaller, to see if I could rub them away, to focus on my ‘flaws’ because that’s all I could think of – all those things I suppose. I just found myself  rubbing that finger now, unconsciously, even though they have been gone for years.

I tried all kinds of remedies, over the years, to remove them; banana peels, bandaids (to keep out the oxygen), various creams and ointments from the chemist, cutting them out with scissors…nothing worked, and the remedies were frequently painful. The memories of the very specific pain from the cutting, the sight of the blood, the pale, washed-out look of them after removing another bandaid, are very clear, but I can’t remember what ultimately caused them to go. I have a vague memory of a doctor’s implement embedding itself again and again into them, so I suppose they were frozen, but it seems odd that I can remember having them so clearly, but the memory of the removal of them is so fuzzy.

I even hated the word, and I still don’t use it very often (like I’m avoiding it right now). I felt stigmatised, and every time there was a conversation about witches, or toads, or anything else that could be associated, I shrank a little, hoping that no-one would look at me. It seems very silly and overblown now, but I was deeply self-conscious about it then.

Just recently, a close friend and I happened to get to talking about warts and she mentioned that she had had warts in exactly the same place, as a child, and that they, also, had gone away. I was amazed, but even more so when we compared our hands as they currently are, and found a couple of tiny, barely noticeable, warts in, again, exactly the same places as each other.

I have one wart on a finger joint on the palm side of my right hand, that appeared just a few years ago. I often find myself unconsciously rubbing this one in the same way I did as a child, but, this time, strangely, I like it. It’s a quirk that reminds me I’m me.

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Thanksgivy-whaty-hooey?

It feels a little odd to be ordering our 10kg (22 pounds) turkey, stocking up on cranberry sauce, planning pecan pie and green bean casserole, pulling out the harvesty decorations, and investigating new stuffing recipes. We celebrate Thanksgiving every year here in Oz, just like we did in America – except we celebrate on the Saturday after the real Thanksgiving, and we host it, rather than HL’s grandparents. It’s such a lovely connection to our American life, and my parents adore it, but we feel a bit alone.

Usually everybody around is preparing for the same holiday at the same time: hence the million turkeys at Safeway (29c/pound, rather than $7-8/kilo), pumpkin pie recipes in every magazine, the line at the grocery store, the Norman Rockwell-like depictions of family dinners on every tv channel. But, here, Thanksgiving is a novelty. A holiday that very few Australians can grasp (“Well…you have turkey, and gravy, and stuffing, and pie, and…you have the whole family around…and…then you watch sport on tv…and…umm…most people have the Friday off as well…and there’s lots of history about American Indians sharing meals with the new settlers, and things like that…and, that’s Thanksgiving…”).

So, we love the whole hoopla of it – celebrating American culture and history and HL’s background and childhood memories, and etc. – but, we feel a bit far from home.

12 litres of milk…

Mother and Son was a delight, and I remember the anticipation of waiting for the next episode. My family always watched it together when I was a child, and I was thrilled to find out recently that a friend owns the series on DVD. We’ve been watching from the beginning, and we saw the episode below last week. Ruth Cracknell was such a joy, and Garry McDonald the perfect son.

Well, that takes me back…

Was browsing youtube and had to giggle when I saw this ad. When it first aired I was about 13, and, even though I didn’t really like Crunchies at the time, the ‘coolness’ of the older kids, whose lives were so obviously transformed by their Crunchie-consuming experience, always made me long for one.

Dorkiness Will Out

I was kinda a moderately dorky kid; different enough to be on the dorky side, but perceptive enough to be aware I had dorky tendencies, which, surprisingly, dials down dorkitude.

When I was in primary school there was already clique-iness stirring, even though our class, school and town were all so small that we’d grown up with each other. I was well aware of my social standing – amongst the ‘smart’, middle-classy kids – so when a ‘cool’, rebel girl, from well outside that group, made friends with me, I was pretty stoked (well, I wouldn’t have used the term ‘stoked’, being only 8 or 9, which would have made it about 25 years ago, and ‘stoked’ wasn’t so big then, but you get the emotion). Let’s call her Kelly.

So, when Kelly invited me to her birthday party I understood that she’d gone outside the ‘norm’ to do so, and I felt like my whole social status was on the cusp of morphing into something more interesting.

The day of the party I spent time getting ready, wrapped a carefully-chosen present, and made certain that my mum drove me to the caravan park where Kelly lived, right on time. After Mum parked, she and I walked to Kelly’s caravan and tentatively knocked on the zip-up awning. There didn’t seem to be a lot of activity, which was a bit worrisome, but I figured that maybe I was just the first to arrive.

After a couple of knocks, Kelly’s mum came out to see us, with a question in her voice and a quizzical eyebrow raise. I, haltingly, stumbled out that I was here for Kelly’s birthday, had I got the time wrong?, was I too early?

There was a little laugh from her mum, ‘It’s not till next Saturday.’

‘Oh. I’m sure the invitation had today’s date, I’m sorry to bother you. See you next week.’ And then I hurried my mum back to the car, shamefaced, red-faced, and having lost face. I was hugely relieved that Kelly hadn’t been there – apparently she was at the pool – but also aware that there was no way that her mum would keep to herself what had transpired.

I can still feel the burning, roiling humiliation in my stomach as we drove home, knowing I would have to go to school on Monday and hear about it. I looked at the invitation when I got home and realised that I must have just been excited about going, and not checked too closely, because the date, very clearly, said next Saturday’s date.

When Monday rolled around there wasn’t a lot of joking at my expense, just a bit of teasing, but it was obvious to me that any burgeoning social status change had been shelved, probably due to my clear (to fellow primary-schoolers) display of dorkiness. I don’t recall a lot about the actual party the next Saturday, just a vague feeling of awkwardness, as the reality of spending a few hours with a party’s-worth of ‘cool’ acquaintances manifested itself.

Kelly and I were polite, even occasionally friendly, with each other through the rest of our concurrent schooling, but we never really got past the awkwardness.

Life is Capricious

I love cicadas. When my brother and I were children, we used to collect their discarded shells from the trunks of the many palm trees at our grandparents’ house, and my mum would tell us about the Green Grocers and Brown Bakers and Black Princes. There’s lots of happy memories associated with cicadas, for me.

A few days ago, after days of bucketing rain, I noticed a cicada, upside-down in his water-filled tunnel, vaguely struggling. After walking past, thinking ‘Hmm, poor thing, shouldn’t interfere with nature.’, I decided that it would be such a simple thing to go back and dig him out of his hole and rescue him. So I did.

Yesterday, after coming home from the grocery store I saw a little blob of squished stuff near where the car usually parks, and had a closer look to see what it was. Sure ’nuff…

Long Ago Teenage Angst

When I was in High School, I would sometimes go to class late because I was afraid that no-one would sit next to me if I sat down first.

Sittin’ in the theatre, readin’ the program, and waitin’…

I posted the poem ‘Effanineffable’ a little while ago, and in the last few days there have been lots of people coming here because of that post. Not quite sure why the sudden interest, maybe there’s an English class somewhere doing a unit on ‘The Poems of T.S. Elliot’, dunno…anyway, I started thinking about the first time I came in contact with Elliot’s ‘cat poems’.

Even though we grew up in a tiny little town, many, many hours away from ‘the big smoke’ my parents, and, in particular, my mum, wanted to make sure that we weren’t disadvantaged culturally. Not only did we go to every possible theatrical, educational, cultural or musical performance within 200 kilometres, we were also periodically taken on the 7 hour trip to Sydney to see the ‘big shows’ – ‘Les Mis.’, ‘Starlight Express’, ‘Cats’

Every production we went to see was amazing and cemented a love and appreciation of performance which is undertaken with high production values, and I could rhapsodise about any of them, but I’ll confine it to the relevant one.

I think I was about 10, and my brother 6-ish, when we went to see ‘Cats’. (Actually, I just checked the Wikipedia page, and, yes, I was 10.) There’s a moment, right before a performance begins, when you’re flipping through the program, thinking about the possible plot/music/action, looking at the photos of ‘the principals’, and slowly immersing yourself in the experience, when the possibilities seem uncontained, when you get little glimpses into what the next 3 or so hours could hold, and the anticipation builds.

The set of ‘Cats’ is somethin’ else. The immersion of the audience into the action  environment  world is instant, even as you’re clambering to your seats (in the nosebleeds for us 🙂 ). The rubbish dump that houses these ‘effanineffable’ cats is built to scale and encases the whole theatrical space. As humans play the cats in this colony of strays, all of the props are built to dwarf the humans, so the proportions of the empty cans of Coke and the rotting tires and the old newspapers are huge. And, not only is everything supersized, it doesn’t stay on the stage. All of the seats in the theatre are surrounded by piles of massive and intricate garbage, close enough to touch.

As we were ushered to our seats I was truly aware that there would be no wondering in that moment before the start of the production. It was so apparent that there would be no desire to curl up on the floor and fall asleep during this show. I sat, entranced, feeling engulfed by the elaborate stage dressing that had leaked from the stage into the audience. Even though the excitement and joy was immense during that time of waiting, it was not, in any way, to be compared to the excellence of being swept into the actual show itself.

I remember the delight, even as I was not really understanding the ‘plot’, as Webber’s music and Elliot’s strange and magical and detailed words created something. Something that was about an unknown and obscure, but complex, world, that contained depth and mystery and…completeness, I guess.

I might be overthinking, over-remembering, but I can feel myself – 23 years ago – feeling transported and overjoyed at this glimpse of a world.

I wonder if I forget sometimes that, in terms of eternity, I’m still just sitting in the audience, reading the program, anticipating the world to come. The set’s pretty elaborate, and reminds me that the bit to come – the ‘real’ production – is gonna be overwhelming, and all-encompassing, and characterised by high  perfect production values. Effanineffable…

Childhood was a long time ago, and far away

Yesterday I was playing around on Google maps, street level, and I had a sudden inclination to ‘wander’ ’round the small town I grew up in. I ‘walked’ past my high school, down to the corner where I used to linger with the boy I liked, along the main street, looking in shop windows, past my church, from my house to the pool… The internal reaction was surprisingly visceral.

I was physically back there a year ago, just driving around with HL and a friend, and it was nice, and a bit nostalgic, but not a particularly deep response. This ‘visit’ was different. I felt almost physically ill from the assault of a million, million early memories. The smell of the chlorine, the pebbly feel of the post office foyer, the coffee shop where I had my first ‘grown-up’ birthday party, the crunch of the gravel under my feet as I walked past the 3rd last house before home, the steepness of the hill that I rode my bike up, the tall gateposts at school I would sit on and swing my legs…

I don’t, in any way, want to move back there, or ‘go back to childhood’ in any way, but the gut-wrenching realisation that all of that is past, gone, not even ‘visitable’, was affecting. The linear nature of living is hard.

Knit One, Purl Two…

I’ve taken up knitting. It seemed like a good skill to have and a productive thing to do over winter. I learnt to knit one other time in my life, back in 1985, when I was 10. My school ran a program in our little town called ‘Granny Teaching’. All of Year 5 would troop down to the local retirement home once a week and the residents would teach us various ‘old skills’ that people rarely learn anymore: knitting, crochet, cross-stitch…

I was particularly excited to learn to knit as it had always seemed to be a mysterious thing, unknowable. I chose my wool very careful (a fuzzy periwinkle blue) and picked the right kind of knitting needles, and stored it all, including the growing scarf, in a little basket. Even after ‘Granny Teaching’ finished and the knitting energy had died off a bit I still kept all my knitting stuff for many years – just in case I decided to take it back up again.

I never did finish my simple (and very ugly and messy) scarf. But, I’ve started a new one. Nothin’ fancy, just a plain black, long, narrow rectangle, with no ‘purl’, ‘double basket weave’ or ‘garter rib’, and lots of dropped stitches, but satisfying, none the less. The wool (well, acrylic, really) is feathery and fuzzy enough, and the knitting needles large enough, that the dropped stitches/holes look like they’re s’posed to be there, and it’s been a good lesson that sometimes even simple and far from perfect attempts can be truly satisfying.