Tag Archives: childhood

Stars, Stripes and My Bedroom Massacre; Stories From Maybe Boomer

Botanical Garden . Revoltnry War 016The doldrums of summer seem longer and hotter when you’re twelve. June days are whiled away in nervousness about the future. July is hotter, but as the month progresses, you feel less vulnerable somehow. By August, anxiety turns to excitement – you’re no longer an elementary school pip squeak, but big middle schooler, about to start fresh in a better school this fall, that is, if you don’t blow it. Better get ready.

I surveyed the entire space. With just a little help from Mom, maybe I could renovate my bedroom. Time had come to scrap the deplorable furnishings I once thought were cute during elementary school days: grandmother’s old and dirty hand-braided rug; the pastel, curlicue flower wallpaper; the orange curtains that looked like a Halloween costume massacre. What I really wanted was mod wallpaper, something resembling the big, bold, blue vertical stripes I’d seen on shirts the Beach Boys wore. Imagine having my entire room surrounded in stripes! Other guys my age probably had their bedrooms done up just this way. Now it was my turn.

To keep the momentum going, I asked Mom to buy some new wallpaper in exchange for my agreeing to help put it up.

It must have been the rare offer of labor that explained Mom’s drive to the wallpaper store that afternoon, the closest I’d ever come to riding shotgun in an ambulance. Anticipation was building. Modern wallpaper was meant to be.

Energized, I flashed through hundreds of wallpaper sample book pages with Mom, trying to find a design I liked.

As the hours passed, excitement waned, patience thinned, and the quality of selections deteriorated.

“How about this one, Michael?” she asked, her right hand displaying a light orange-striped pattern.

“Mom, I want wallpaper for a boy. This is for a boy’s room.”

“Oh, and look at this one,” a stupid pea-green stripe design. “And this one here is really something,” an implied stripe motif using tiny rabbits. “When you look closely, it’s really tiny little …”

“Mom, Mom, I’m not a girl.”

“Okay, then what is it you want? This?” Her hand slapped the sample sheet of eggshell white.

“No, Mom, I don’t want …”

“Then don’t use that tone of voice with me, young man. Now, what do you want?”

“I dunno, it’s not here, but it’s gotta be around somewhere.”

Ten minutes more and the search was done.  I’d given in. One of her designs won. I hated myself.

A week later, I stared at thin, tiny, microscopic, vertical baby-blue stripes surrounded by large Revolutionary War battle scenes pasted all over my bedroom walls. I knew Mom suffered from Colonial Stylism – the pervasive affliction of many sixties housewives – but this had gone too far. As our home decorator, she’d colonialized everything: pillows, couches, mantle piece decorations, probably her own underwear, and now my room had been captured and sterilized.

Johnny Tremained-out, I didn’t want anyone to witness this massacre – ever, particularly guy friends. What could have been a place to share with them was now a museum of Boston Tea Party scenes. I felt half-dead realizing all my years ahead would be spent gaping at deadly rifles, horses, ships, whips, and men running around in three-cornered hats.

This excerpt is from Chapter Three, “Boys,” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”

4 Comments

Filed under Stories from Maybe Boomer

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Remember This? COD – Cash on Delivery

codfish 003We’d just moved to another city. Change was everywhere in my life. Mom and Dad worked full time now to pay for our new, swanky mortgage, leaving me alone with lots of time on my hands.

That’s when I got into trouble.

“Send no money! COD. Order today!”

Send no money? Get free fish? Codfish? The white meat stuffed in our fish stick dinners?

Then I realized how cod would go bad, really bad, if someone sent it in the mail. Reading the COD magazine ads closer, they weren’t for codfish but all kinds of things, and things you didn’t have to pay for. Wow, how’s that possible? Who cares – what should I get first?

I tinkered with acquiring the incredible weather balloon offered on page eighty-seven. I couldn’t take my eyes off a photo of the tiny man standing next to a huge balloon in his yard. For only $2.98, plus tax, I could get my own balloon and never have to pay a dime in charges, tax, or postage. No wonder the tiny man looked so happy.

Then again, why should I get something so cheap when I wasn’t paying for it?

One Saturday afternoon a few weeks later, I heard footsteps on our front sidewalk. The mailman was here to deliver my package, care of the kind people at COD.

When I looked through the gap in the window curtains, it wasn’t the mailman, but somebody in a dark suit holding a suitcase. Oh, no. Somebody from school. What did I do wrong? Mom and Dad are home. They can’t know he’s here.

I ran to the front door before my suited caller could knock.

“Oh. Hello. How are you? Are you Master Michael Andberg?”

“Uh, no, I’m not.”

“You’re not Master Michael Andberg of 9218 Whitney Street?”

“I think that’s my father, but he’s not home.”

“Your father?”

“Mom’s not home either.

The man looked over at the two cars parked in front of our house.

“I see. Well, I’m from Miracle-ear, and what I have here was ordered by a Master Michael Andberg at this address for cash on delivery $39.95, plus tax.”

“But it’s COD. It’s free. There’s no cost, tax either.”

“May I speak with your parents?”

I wanted to say, “My parents aren’t here. They’re at the polio clinic,” but settled on, “No one here is deaf, sir.”

“Are you sure your parents aren’t home? Because I’d be happy to answer any questions they might have about the revolutionary Miracle-ear.”

“It must be for next door. They’re old.”

“You don’t have to be old, Michael, to use a Miracle-ear and reap the benefits that improved hearing brings for people of all ages.”

“We all had our hearing tests in school this year, and Mom and Dad are still young.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have taken your time, Michael. Perhaps another day soon when your parents are home, all right? Till then, good-bye.”

What if he came and Mom and Dad answered the door first? What if the police came, too, not to mention guys from the magazine? What would I say? “It wasn’t my fault. COD is false advertising. I thought COD meant free fish, free fish for our whole family to eat.”

It was time to cool it for a while, try and be a normal kid for a change.

Change, change, change. I’d need a miracle to get through it.

miracle-ear 002

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Blog, Remember This?

Remember This? February 9?

Last year, this date kept popping into my head and I didn’t know why. Why was February 9 such a big deal to me? It’s a day in the middle of cold, boring, depressing February, so what’s so special about February 9?

Ah-ha. Last year, February 9 marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first Ed Sullivan performance.

That live telecast was a benchmark event in my childhood. I’ve often wondered what the event meant to others. Did girls everywhere really scream when they saw the Beatles sing? Did adults hate them? What did boys think of the group?What do children of those who saw it that night think of the Beatles now?

Remember that night?

With just one enthusiastic yell and sweep of his arms, Ed Sullivan proclaimed, “The Beatles!”

girls scream Beatles 002A roll of screams overtook Ed’s voice, a cavalcade of shrieks that nearly obliterated Paul McCartney’s opening lines, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you ….”

As the four Liverpool lads sang  “All My Loving,” a camera cut to the audience: girls jumping, some pulling their hair, one crying in abject misery.

Cutting quickly back to the stage, the world got an up close and personal view of all four Beatles, each with their first name superimposed on the TV screen. The lads wore matching dark suits, white shirts, black ties, and tight pants. Their hair, completely straight and dry – nothing like Elvis Presley’s – was combed down to their eyes and over their ears, but their handsome faces bore striking differences – John’s long nose, Paul’s pouty lips, George’s angular jaw, and Ringo’s hawkish eyes.

A few minutes later, a close-up zoomed in on Paul as he crooned, “Till There Was You.” How could one guy sing so beautifully and have such great hair? It seemed unfair. Just as any girl wanted to be alone with the Beatles in any way possible someday, this boy – sitting around the old Silvertone TV set inside the basement of his unimportant little Silver Spring, Maryland house – wanted to be them. I, too, wanted to pull my hair out, but couldn’t. Not in front of my family.

I looked behind me at Cathy, my thirteen-year-old sister, sitting on the ottoman, keeping appropriate control of her emotions while watching the cuddly mop tops perform (or was she really leaning in closer and closer with each second, about to slip off the ottoman and crash on our hard, carpet-less floor).

Next to her sat Don and Doug, my seventeen-year-old twin brothers, flopped all over the couch, as if bored by the Beatles. But deep down, what were they really feeling?

And Mom rested in her chair, completely unmoved, except for a quivering upper lip, no doubt brought on by a view of John’s tight pants and crotch area as he led the way on the next song, a rollicking “And I Saw Her Standing There.”

Then I saw Dad standing there, just behind Mom, his arms folded, flattop haircut flat as ever, with not so much as one hair rising over the Beatles’ electrifying act.

What was wrong with my family?  I wanted to jump, kick, twist, shout – anything – but wound up having to wait an hour after the show to even tap my fingers. Finally, in private, while lying in bed, I patted the pillow, but that was all. How pathetic I’d look doing something outrageous like twisting my hips or dancing on the bed.

From that night on, I knew I wanted longer hair. Until I got it, I was a nobody to girls at school. Convinced I’d have hair like Paul McCartney one day, I rocked myself to sleep, savoring images of walking to school with my long hair flying about while I sang, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you ….”

That was my take on the Beatles performance from the Ed Sullivan Show February 9 so many years ago. What was yours?

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Blog, Remember This?

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.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

So Bright as to be Blinding (was my tree decorating delight)

MeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UP“Being a man is about taking on responsibility,” Dad said to me one day in a  low and throaty delivery. “Some day your time will come to prove yourself.”
Thank goodness I was only nine and had a long time to go before proving myself, whatever that meant.

“Michael, I want you to put up the family Christmas tree and decorate it, then take it down at the end of the season,” Mom said to me one day. What? The moment’s here already? And I’m still only nine? And who, me? Given responsibility with tree icicles? Candy canes? AC powered bubble lights? Electricity? I’ll blow up the tree.

After Dad fulfilled his meek part of this year’s tree task – dumping a freshly cut Scotch pine on the basement floor and getting it to stand inside its cheap aluminum base – I initiated my big task.

I smothered the tree in a blinding sheen of bright silver icicles. Then, I covered the pine’s branches with twice their weight in bright ornaments and lights. To top everything off, I placed the heavy star contraption on the uppermost branch, bending it over like a week-old carrot. But it was fun standing on a tall ladder trying to get the wimpy limb to stand straight. When else had I been allowed to use a tall ladder?

I stood back, assessed my completed tree design, slapped my hands together and smirked. Responsibility wasn’t so bad after all – more like pure merriment! Decorating was art, and I loved it. Perhaps the best part was being allowed to create my tree masterpiece without being overseen, especially by Dad. It was all endless joy.

 

Ten 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, surely Mom wouldn’t make me take the tree down now, would she? Would she?

To be continued December 28th with my next installment of “Stories From Maybe Boomer.”

 

3 Comments

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer