Category Archives: Stories from Maybe Boomer

Crawling Through Summer When I Could Have Backflipped

swimming crawl stroke (1) 001The YMCA’s summer swim lessons sucked. They’d never compare to lighting firecrackers or jumping off the roof of our back porch for fun. I hated the long, sweaty bike ride to the Y, then quickly getting into my bathing suit, taking a shower, and waiting in the claustrophobic, damp, echo-filled indoor pool for our mean instructor to yell at us.

“In my Tadpoles course, you will learn the crawl stroke. It’s that simple. Anyone who cannot demonstrate strong crawl stroke technique will not pass my class.”

Is he kidding? I’m still shivering from the shower, and I’ve had ten minutes to recover. All I want to do here is swallow as little water as possible and never have to throw up.

For most of our first lesson, the instructor lined us up in the water to learn the leg kick. The following week, he drilled us on the crawl stroke, repeating several times how the arm motion had to work in precise tandem with our breathing.

After obeying his strict guidelines, my attitude changed. Maybe I was ready to put all the components together into one stroke and swim like other kids.

On the third week, I watched four other classmates swim to the other side and back, performing the crawl stroke adequately. It was my turn now. Standing in the water along the wall, I took one last breath and thrust my body forward into the chlorine sea of opportunity.

The first three strokes went very well. Wow. If I’d already gone halfway across the pool on just three strokes, I’d get to the other side and back with strength to spare.

The fourth and fifth strokes weren’t as spectacular. By the sixth stroke, my head surfaced for air whenever it wanted. My leg strokes took vacations. My arms worked anything but in tandem with my feet or my breaths. Remembering how and when to do all these motions together seemed too hard. My mind had turned to mush. Fortunately, however, I did not throw up.

I hated rules. I hated lessons. They were always complicated. I craved freedom and wanted to have fun like I did on Saturday afternoon family outings at the pool. Don, Doug, Cathy, and Mom would scatter to different areas of the pool to swim, but I’d sink straight to the water’s bottom and sit. Holding my breath for half-minute periods at a time, I’d linger in the clean, sun-warmed water to play with the little rocks on the pool’s bottom that weren’t supposed to be there. I enjoyed life away from lifeguards, swim instructors, and spazzy kids who hovered just above me, not to mention Don, Doug and Cathy who – having made it all the way to the Minnows class echelon – annoyed me with their swimming and diving prowess. They weren’t the type to appreciate things like dangerous tobogganing and jumping off bikes, so we never talked much about sports. In fact, whenever whistled out of the pool for Adult Swim sessions, I sat by the pool’s edge with my siblings in silence, sucking SweetTarts, wondering why adults chose to do grueling laps when instead they could backflip off the high dive and crash in the water back first.

I guess we all know now why adults don’t backflip off the high dive and crash in the water back first. That would hurt.

But nothing like the pain of swim lessons.

The excerpt above is taken from the chapter, “Competition,” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.” Check out the “Stories From Maybe Boomer” archives tab for more posts including memoir excerpts. 

 

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Memorial Day, Mom and Maid Marion

Maid Marion; arroyo dew drops grass 002For me these days, Memorial Day is about recalling memories of my mother, gone ten years now this November. Even as a boy, one who often sized his mom up as the Wicked Witch of the West and Cruella de Vil all in one, I realized Mom was everything, my queen, buried beneath an unfortunate plight.

On one drizzly Saturday afternoon, I stayed inside to watch TV in the basement. Curled up on the couch, basking in the warmth and eternal sunshine of Sherwood Forest, I viewed the entire two hours of The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn as Robin and Olivia deHavilland as Marion. The swashbuckling action and colorful pageantry of the uplifting tale thrilled me. But there was more to the story than that.

I most loved watching the scenes of Robin’s comradeship with the poor townsfolk, and particularly his quest for Maid Marion’s elusive love and attention. Zoned in on this sub-story, only one thing interrupted my focus.

The gentle whir from the sewing machine seemed much louder today than usual. I glanced across the basement at Mom, hunched over in her hard chair, struggling to darn clothes on our antiquated Singer sewing machine.

When I reconnected with Marion on screen, I saw a woman who – under the lavish headbands and finely darned dresses she wore – reminded me of Mom, her pretty face and petite body trying to reveal their selves.

If only Mom smiled more, I thought. When I looked at her, sometimes I wondered if she’d have been happier born in Marion’s times. I wished she could hold herself higher knowing she, too, was pretty and often kind. Like Marion, she stitched her own clothes and made home a court for her king. Had Dad ever noticed her face, her work, her beauty? Why did she take the disrespect, just to be Official Andberg Family Martyr for all her pain and suffering? I hoped one day she’d let loose of the rules, the ties that bound her, to be more joyful like Marion. Mom and Marion were inseparable to me and would be forever, while Robin became my hero instantly, and role model for life.

In his book, “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,” Howard Pyle wrote, “So passed the seasons then, so they pass now, and so they will pass in time to come, while we come and go like leaves of the tree that fall and are soon forgotten.”

Not forgotten, dear memories of Maid Marion – Mom.

The above excerpt is from my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.

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Sweet Spring, Sweet Surrender

"Maureen," 18 x 24. Conte stick on paper

“Maureen,” 18 x 24. Conte stick on paper

 

Spring.

Flowers bloom. Love blossoms. And dreams get crushed. Sometimes that’s what happens.

Regardless, the power of spring’s beauty is such that hope springs eternal every year. Like this spring. And next spring. And every spring I’m alive.

A particularly sweet spring – my sixteenth – occurred many years ago. The thrill of love, art, girls and winning combined for a lifetime worth of boyhood passion and intensity all in one season.

I’m pleased to share that story with you from this excerpt in Chapter 5, “Artistry,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer.

I liked art class. It was different, a looser, free-flowing experiment in sociability as well as art media. The teacher often asked Maureen, a classmate one year behind me, to sit in a chair so the class could draw her, giving me the opportunity to stare at her freckles, low slung bell-bottoms, long brown hair, and exotic eyes. One minute, I fancied she liked me as more than the casual friends we were, the next minute not. Her penetrating smile always lured me in, either to bang my head against the wall in frustration or to try to get closer to her yet again. I was beginning to understand why the world associated love and art as inseparable, beautiful one minute, unsettling the next.

In this class, learning to dabble in the love of art and the art of love occurred simultaneously, but the art of love took precedence. I hoped my fascination with Maureen might lead to something.

Of all things, the attraction resulted in winning a Gold Key from the National Scholastic Arts Organization for a drawing I did of her in class. Using a fancy Conte’ a’ Paris pastel stick, I sketched Maureen as she posed in innocent, chaste fashion, cross-legged on the floor, writing in a notebook situated on her lap. Apparently, I’d also succeeded in shading her supple lips and tight shirt-covered breasts with a considerable amount of feeling – it sure got the judge’s eye.

It was news of winning the Gold Key that got Maureen’s attention. That night, unannounced, she drove over to my house.

When she said she came by just to say hi, I was flattered.

When we proceeded to go out for ice cream, I was nervous.

When we licked our ice cream cones while parked alone in her car, I froze.

As we sat together in the front seat, looking out over the high school’s tennis courts, even my chilled hand couldn’t keep butter pecan from melting all over the motionless cone.  Despite my statue-like position, thoughts and feelings raced through my mind, and I became oblivious to any signals she was sending.

After thirty long minutes of only coming to know her car’s interior intimately, the right side of her face exclusively, and the uneasiness of love exactly, Maureen released me of my burden by reaching over and kissing me on the cheek. Oversensitive, thinking I’d been weak for not rushing the net to make the first move, I never recovered, never scored as much as a single point. Worse yet, I whiffed showing her any of my heartfelt affection. Forty-love; game, set, match.

If words failed me, if touching scared me, if my own emotions threatened me, at least my passion had been comfortably freed to touch her through the segue of art. The memory of her would surely live on, but perhaps my greatest thrill came in creating a masterful work of art from my own hands for the first time, one inspired by Maureen.  

 

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March Badness

meftbllfrside 48bit 800 color  dust122It was March, 1963. I missed my old school from last year. I longed to have friends like the ones I had there. My new school experience at Oakview Elementary in Silver Spring, Maryland, was one big bore. Tedium. Rote drills. So many things, over and over again. Even air raid drills.

Curled up in a ball under my tiny wooden desk, I wrapped my arms tightly around my knees and bowed head. All I could think was – hadn’t World War II ended twenty years ago? Was sitting under this desk going to save me from our school roof falling down, let alone an H-bomb that landed on the cafeteria? Scarier still was coming face-to-face with sharp, petrified boogers down here, ones that dated back to World War I students.  If that wasn’t scary enough, what about the words, “Hitler was here,” and “Burn this school,” scratched on the underside of my desk?

Suddenly, my teacher said, “All right, children. Get up, now. The drill is over.”

Oh, no. Reading hour was next. Remember the exciting day back in early October when reading period was cancelled? Just to watch TV? That day had such potential.

It was a cloudy morning when a hundred students assembled on Mrs. Clark’s classroom floor, all eyes locked on the RCA Victor TV set showing Mercury Atlas 8 standing straight up against a clear Cape Canaveral sky. I sat cross-legged on the hard linoleum tile, my body forced between other kids’ legs and torsos. The position grew increasingly uncomfortable because the launch went through several delays. Even teachers began to whisper. “What’s taking so long?” “Do you think the rocket’s having technical difficulties?” 

Then the TV screen began to flutter. The picture turned snowy. The horizontal hold went wild.

An assistant librarian rushed to the scene to fix the ever up-scrolling picture. It looked like Mercury Atlas 8 had already blasted off six hundred times. Frustrated teachers fidgeted with foil-wrapped rabbit ears and various loose wires behind the set, all to no avail. If world-famous RCA Victor couldn’t keep its own horizontal hold under control, how was America to keep China from dropping the big one on our cafeteria, let alone Washington DC, worse yet Disneyland?

Out of nowhere, the TV announcer proclaimed the mammoth rocket had taken to the air. Everyone in the class rose to their feet and cheered the incredible news, even though no one actually saw the rocket go anywhere.

Eh. I wasn’t as impressed. Just not the same without seeing it. What a letdown. Even October had been boring. 

I missed my old school. I missed their horizontal hold, their TV sets, and my friends, the few that I had. I could think of nothing else. It was as though I was frozen here, locked in time forever, never to escape the worst month of all – March.

This was an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer. Read more there about my nostalgic look back at the 60s and the Baby Boom generation.

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Why I’m Late, But It’s Not What You Think

sticky bun 2 002I admit it. Sometimes I’m late. I can be late for anything anywhere.

Oh, it’s not that I’m late late, just a few minutes usually. Some people have a hard time living with being late. But if I’m early, I will never be able to live with myself.

You see, to arrive early and have to sit and wait around is a crime. It all started long ago. In my family, wasting anything was a transgression like no other. Even Sunday morning pastries:

To Mom, squandering was a sin, and something God would know you did every time you did it. The minute she placed the bear claws, doughnuts, fruit rolls and sticky buns on the kitchen counter, I instinctively began working on saving the pastry bags.

Promptly folding the grease-stained paper sacks in nice, neat squares, I placed them in the “Used Bag” drawer. Perhaps one of the bags might be used to wrap frozen meat patties, carry my school lunch, or hold all the other saved bags in someday. I knew Mom would leave the pastries out until every leftover pecan bit and dried up doughnut fragment had been eaten (or saved in foil wrap). In the Andberg household, frittering away anything was a sin, anything – wax paper, paper clips, rubber bands, twist ties, nubby pencils, Saran Wrap. The guilt from throwing something out that could be reused – even tissue paper – should be a burden too great to bear.

So, as you and I plan to get together and you watch me arrive a minute or two late, please understand my plight. Thank you.

Of course, you might ask, “Why don’t you just show up on time and there’d be no wasted time?”

Yeah, but what if you’re late? Then I’m stuck here wasting time waiting for you.

My waste clock is always running.

 

The excerpt above is from Chapter Six, “Religion,” in my memoir Maybe Boomer.

 

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Friskies, Peas and Bacon Bits – Pets Surviving Human Responsibility

Dexter 48bit 800 dpi 167Pet Dental Health Month is coming in February.

I know. You didn’t know there was one.

I certainly didn’t know when I was a kid. There again, there were a lot of things I didn’t know about pet responsibility then. Because I had two very courageous cats – beloved Dexter and Spanky – I learned on the fly how to take care of my prized kitties. They survived in spite of me.

     Sure enough, Mom brought home a beautiful, sleek, royal-looking, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I immediately named Dexter. She told me my role was to feed and take care of Dexter. So, Number One for me was eliminating foul cat box odors. Not only would Dexter be annoyed by them, but horrific cat stench could wake Dad up to the fact we had a cat, potentially sending Dexter back to the shelter. In time, however, it was Mom who noticed the cat box, always fresh and feces-free.
     “Michael, I’m worried Dexter has a constipation problem. He may need more roughage than we’re giving him.”    
     The following day, Mom mixed a large spoonful of fiber-filled peas into the bowl of Friskies I gave him. These canned peas were the same ones reserved for our Sunday dinners.    
     Sensing a spoonful wasn’t enough, she took charge and switched him over to peas exclusively, justifying the move as a cost savings since our tins of peas were cheaper than pet food (making me wonder what our dinners were worth). Wasn’t Mom being cavalier about our needs? What kind of responsibility was she showing?
     With such high levels of fiber in his system, I had to scoop Dexter’s litter box three times a day. Re-establishing control of the situation, I switched him over to smaller food – Bacon Bits (a risky thing to do since Bacon Bits were the most expensive thing served in our house when weighed by the pound).
     Mom noticed and, without consulting me, overcompensated by feeding Dexter far too rich a combination of peas, Friskies, and Bacon Bits sprinkled on top. As a result, he shat everywhere. Then Dad discovered long, blue, curly strands of wool in Dexter’s droppings on the living room floor and had a conniption fit. How was I to know Dexter would resort to eating Dad’s favorite blue socks, let alone be such a special needs cat? 

Eventually Dexter died (from too much sand grit in Friskies that clogged his urinary tract!). I cried. And cried. Mom took care of the situation from there.

     And so, a few days later, Mom brought home another beautiful, sleek, royal-looking, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I promptly named Spanky.
     I frolicked with my new friend everywhere. Our play included quiet, simple activities like hiding under the dining room table and batting a ball of yarn until it was no more.
     But the third evening of our silent undercover gathering was interrupted when I heard loud words batted back and forth between Mom and Dad from adjoining rooms down the hall.
     “What? It died? When? That’s impossible. I just heard it last night …”
     “Eric …”
     “Seventy-nine dollars?!”
     “Eric, calm down. It’s Dexter’s vet bill.”
     “What? You mean the one that’s out there now isn’t him?”
     “No. That’s Spanky.”
     “Who?”
     “Spanky. The one that died is Dexter.”
     “Who?”
     I couldn’t blame Dad completely. Spanky was all of Dexter’s Siamese twin in appearance. But what made Spanky different was his aloofness.
     Later that night, still steamed, Dad retreated to the living room. To block out the world, just as he did every evening, he embedded himself in his easy chair, then disappeared behind a propped newspaper.
     Hiding in the adjoining dining room, I watched Spanky smell out the detachment in Dad.
     Lining Dad up as an easy mark, Spanky jumped onto his lap. Dad, not one for cats, swiped Spanky away. Spanky, not one for being swiped, jumped back. Go, Spanky, go!
     Dad’s next swipe had more oomph to it, punctuated by “Goddam cat.”
     After the third round of cat and mouse ballet, Dad’s swift arm sweep was so smooth the newspaper didn’t move an inch. Not an inch. What control Dad had! Since he didn’t want to be seen as aligned with a cat in any way, I sensed Dad placed great pressure on himself to act out in this manner. But no way he was going to miss out on his daily allotment of aloof time. After all, that period of detachment was the fix he needed to survive in a world so chockfull of unpredictable animals and kids running around all over the place. (Perhaps it was from Dad I saw the world as unpredictable adults and events spinning about in chaotic, threatening space, ones I feared I’d never be able to handle.)

This is an excerpt in Chapter Six, “Responsibility,” from my memoir Maybe Boomer.

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So Bright as to be Blinding, Part II

MeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UPMeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UPTen fifteen, Christmas morning, and poof, Christmas was cooked.

Once the last gift had been unwrapped, the entire holiday season was a memory. No more anticipation, no more unbridled glee. With all the weeks of preparation and festivities concluded, Mom wouldn’t make me take down the tree I’d lovingly decorated now, would she? Would she?

She did.

I took a stand and left my masterwork up until April.

Sure, the tree was a little brittle-looking, but I was still in the holiday spirit. However, even I had to admit watching the Masters Golf Tournament on TV next to a still-lit Christmas tree didn’t look right. When was Mom going to explode about the matter, outraged how the pathetic three inches of tinder dry needles below the parched tree were going to make the perfect nest for this year’s Easter egg hunt? Or what if she blew up and asked Dad to remove it, getting him riled at me in the process?

Fearing that scenario, sometime between the golfers turning Amen Corner and the final putt, I began the process of stripping the tree of all its sparkling adornment. In doing so, I made three mental notes about my tree responsibilities for next year. #1. Taking thousands of icicle strands off the tree was a lot less fun than putting them on (Mom insisted we save them all). #2. Trying to recall which boxes the 179 ornaments went back into was torture. #3. Not watering the tree was just an overall bad idea.

As I pulled the dry, browning evergreen out from the corner, a showy display of brittle needles rained to the floor. Just a few feet behind them was a frazzled electric cord plugged into a sparking wall outlet. Imagining the scene of our house going up in flames and Dad yelling, “How could you be so irresponsible!?” I dragged the crackling pine outside as quickly as I could. Then Mom proceeded to complain about the Appalachian Trail of needles that wound through the house all the way to the stack of trees piled in the backyard from previous Christmases. I couldn’t win. As I stared down at what was left of the tree, all I could think was Christmas was over, really over now, and that Mom and Dad were disappointed in my tree removal ability.

Regardless, I reminded Mom about wanting a pet for my next responsibility, suggesting a bear cub, maybe a St. Bernard. She said no. A week later, however, she said yes to a Venus flytrap. What? A plant?

My Venus flytrap lived inside a shiny, clear plastic box of dirt. It looked odd, but fashioned long, pretty lashes, inspiring me to name her Maybelline. I loved to watch her sit perfectly still one second, then snatch a fly inside her lightning-quick jaws the next. Assuming care of a Venus flytrap was Mom’s test to determine whether I could handle responsibility with a living organism (our Christmas tree didn’t count – fortunately), I didn’t want to blow it, and made sure Maybelline stayed on a regular eating schedule.

Soon, however, Maybelline stopped eating. Dead flies I dropped in her mouth sat there. Even bits of protein-fortified hamburger fell in with no change. Not until she turned yellow and her overflowing mouth looked like a dried-up, all-beef taco did I conclude she was actually dead.

“I don’t know what happened. She just died,” I cried to Mom.

“May this be a lesson to you to eat nutritious meals or you might shrivel and die, too.”

An image of Mom’s scary goulash came to mind, but I mustered enough strength to answer with words I absolutely had to deliver if I ever wanted another pet.

“Yes, Mom, I do know. I do. Nutritious meals are important. And the ones you serve are really really good.”

Sure enough, a few weeks later, she brought home a beautiful, royal-looking, sleek, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I immediately named Dexter.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, and the chapter titled, “Responsibility.” You can read more from that chapter and others in the Excerpts section from this website.

 

 

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