Thursday, December 23, 2004

Now We Are Six - For Ever and Ever

I still love these books!Weekend Assignment #40: It's my daughter Athena's sixth birthday today. Celebrate by sharing a story from when you were six.

Extra Credit: No extra credit this week -- I figure most of you will be busy enough the next couple of days, right?

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

--A.A. Milne

Happy Birthday, Athena - for another half hour, your time.

Gee, I've already told my best stories from when I was six.

On last week's Weekend Assignment, I told you about the poem Mrs. Livingston read to us in first grade, in which a child asks Santa for gifts for other people, and forgets to ask for anything for herself.  The point of this little morality tale is muted somewhat by the outcome, in which the kid gets a ton of gifts from Santa as a reward for her generosity.  Anyway, I took the poem to heart, and asked Santa for gifts for Mom and Dad and Steve.  Mom had to talk me into adding stuff for myself  This made me feel considerably less virtuous.  I'm sure it made it easier on my parents, though.

Me, age 6 or 7. Mrs. Livingston is also featured in a much older entry, in which she gives me grief for not completing all the exercises in the Getting Ready to Read workbook.  Had she explained that part of the assignment was to show I could follow directions, not just that I knew the word Mouse starts with M, I might have cooperated better. 

What I didn't mention in the entry was that a classmate named Robert once got so upset with her her he broke into tears and said, "I don't like you!"  She was great with the reading, though.  She read Winnie the Pooh to us, and Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash, and probably lots of other good stuff.

In the same entry, I also mentioned the day JFK died.  Yes, I was six when that happened. My memory of that day involves not just the assassination, but also finishing a Dick and Jane pre-primer, riding down to Syracuse University in my mom's car, drawing headstones as I waited for my parents, and worrying about getting my money or permission slip to Mrs. Clayton, the principal, to see a movie in school the next weekend.

In a different entry, I explained about the semester at Pebble Hill, my being skipped ahead to first grade for about a day, and an April Fool's joke my dad played on me.

Costume for a Happy Holidays dance recital. the girl on the left is Cindy Miller. Okay, what haven't I mentioned?  Well, there was my ballet class.  I think I was six or seven when my mom made me that reindeer costume.  She didn't follow directions properly (yes, I get many of my faults from her). I ended up with snaps instead of zippers, and a flap where I sat down. I was never any good at dancing, and this was the end of my ballet instruction.  I did, however, struggle through a ballet routine as a doll who comes to life in DeManleyville '65.

I also took acting classes at age 6.  I think Mom fudged my age to get me in. I don't remember anything about it except that another girl in the class was afraid of elevators. But I was supposed to be in a revue Mom co-wrote when I was about six, called Porthole 9. I'm not sure whether the play was canceled, or I was fired from it.  I didn't like the sketch, anyway.  The one line of mine that I remember was, "I squandered it."  No six-year-old in 1963 would ever say such a thing, so it's so surprise that I didn't deliver the line very well.

Two other, major things happened when I was six:

1. My mom got polio encephalitis.  Apparently she was bitten by an infected mosquito on Oneida Lake.  At least, that's my memory of it.  She may also have had a nervous breakdown, but that would be in addition to the physical illness.  She was in the hospital several times when I was six.. As a result, I spent a month of so that summer at my Grandma's house in Little Ferry, NJ. I didn't get along with my dad's mother, but I liked Grandpa, and my aunts and cousins, and Mister Softee.  I even got to Freedomland, sort of a precursor to the New York World's Fair, which was the following year.  At Freedomland, I asked a kiddie host "cowboy" whether his gun was a six-shooter or a twelve-shooter, a distinction made by Bluto in an old Popeye cartoon.  The cowboy joked that it was a two-shooter, because he missed a lot.  I also remember a crooked house that used topographical and visual tricks to make water flow upward and stuff like that; and two real cows named Elsie and Elmer, there to promote Borden's milk and Elmer's Glue-All.  Shelly or somebody may know more about what and where Freedomland actually was, but that's my memory of it.

On his pillow he looked like a trophy.  No longer! 2. I was baptized.  As an infant I'd almost died, and had received an emergency baptism by a nurse.  When I was six, it was done by a priest at St. Ann's.  The time in between can probably be attributed to my mom's ambivalence toward the Catholic Church. My godmother was Joan Fagan.  She may have been a relative of my mom's, but always was referred to as Mom's friend (and my godmother).  She taught me Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and the Lord's Prayer.  For my baptism gift, she gave me a plush poodle on a red pillow.  The pillow is long gone, but I still have Trophy, very much the worse for wear.

I'm out of stories for now, but there's one more thing I want to add. I can't find the quote at the moment, but Madeleine L'Engle has said that she remembers every age she's ever been.  She's written about her fourteen-year-old self, and her six-year-old self, and her sixty-year old self and more, transmogrified into Meg and Vicky and Camilla and the rest.  John and I were talking tonight about how we are never quite exactly the people we were, or the people we will be.  We are not static.  We change.  So what remains to make us who we are? John asks.  It's the accretion of memory, of attitudes, and personality.  Part of who I am at age 47 stems from what happened when I was 28, and 18, and 6 years old. The little girl with the reindeer costume lives on in me.



plittle said...

You know, I'm not playing this week because I can't remember a single thing about being six. You're kinda scary.  ;)

ryanagi said...

Good entry! I don't think I'll get to the assignment before the end of Sunday...but I do have one stand-out memory from age 6. :-)