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Lend A Hand … Give A Cloak

By Nancy A. Clark

The phrase lend a hand took on new meaning when my sister and I volunteered ours to help a neighbor implement his plan to build a sidewalk. Bingo Barney- BB, for short – was a “giver” who was always there when others needed assistance. Now it was his turn to receive.

We girls offered to work as BB’s kitchen crew for the day when six strong men would invest their time and muscles into building a 30-foot long walkway between BB’s driveway and his front door. Bingo Barney, who earned his nickname for yelling “BINGO” when his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates scored a run, dubbed us The Sissy Crew (pun intended). He gave us free reign to create a sustainable lunch for his real work crew, as long as the menu consisted of a battery of baloney sandwiches, a pile of potato chips and a ton of Twinkies. Thirst quenchers included pitchers of iced water, cans of cold soda, and tall, dark-colored glass bottles bearing a Schlitz label. The labor-intensive half of BB’s DIY Dream Team would toil in high humidity and 90-degree July heat, conditions that demanded all the fortification the crew could get.

Project day dawned as expected, but the expected work crew did not: only my hubby reported for duty that morning. Consequently, game plan changes were necessary, and our modus operandi as baloney builders quickly expanded to include sidewalk building.

Wiser women would have read the writing on the wall and said, “See ya later, alligator.” Instead, we ran directly to the driveway next door where a virile young man was preparing to polish his 1972 sky blue Chevy Chevelle SS Coup. We offered enticements – i.e. a free lunch and a cool dip in BB’s backyard pool – if he joined our team, but no cigar. (He said he wasn’t into baloney.)

So we kissed common sense and our manicures goodbye and donned oversized pairs of orange flannel Monkey-Face work gloves. BB’s motley crew of three would have to work fast and furious to get ‘er done in one day as BB had rented a portable cement mixer for just 24 hours.

Gender equality was askew here, but what the hey.

BB, who suffered a chronic back problem, easily slipped into the role of overseer, and my mate took the helm at the cement mixer. There, he blended “girl grunt”- sized portions of dry cement, sand, gravel and water in the belly of the rickety machine. When he was satisfied with the mix, he tipped the “tumbler” and poured the lumpy batter into a wheelbarrow. Sis and I took turns pushing the wheelbarrow to sections of one-by-six- inch form boards that outlined the proposed walkway. Whichever of us was the “barrow pusher” dumped the batter and, using a large garden hoe, coaxed the goop into the space between the boards. Huffing and puffing in the equatorial-like heat, Sis and I alternated roles as “barrow pusher” and “finisher” – the latter working on hands and knees to level out and smooth over the wet surface.

By mid-morning, a well-padded lawn chair beckoned B.B. to sit beneath the shade of an old oak tree. There he snoozed contentedly… the brim of his fishing hat catawampus on his balding pate, a corpulent bumble bee circling the narrow neck of the brown bottle listing in his right hand. At least one of this crew had the good sense to get out of the sun.

Nineteen hours and no-lunch later, when the last batch of gravel gravy was blended, poured, spread and “finished,” three exhausted toilers dropped like stones to the ground and groaned without ceasing. An alert and refreshed BB surveyed (by flashlight) the length of the finished walkway and proclaimed it “a work of art.” Then he acknowledged the skill and strength of the bedraggled artists, declaring us to be “strrrrong, like bull.” From our supine position and semi-conscious state, we cared not whether he was referencing our endurance or our de‘stink’tive scent.

Time has blessed my muscles with memory loss as regards that project-most-arduous; but I pass on, for your consideration, these conclusions forever ingrained in my brain: (1) Volunteer scripturally –be prepared to give your cloak, too; (2) Thirty feet long is no baloney; and (3) Respect the bull – even if you’re standing downwind. For all you know, he may have just spent a day – and a night – building a sidewalk.

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These Legs Are Made for Walkin’

by Nancy A. Clark

Don’t know how it is at your house, but in ours, every pair of scissors carried through our door and assigned drawer space or a hook on a wall will – you can bet your bottom dollar – grow a pair of legs. There’s no other explanation for their disappearance, since none of the “I Didn’t Do It” persons in our house has seen them, or knows what happened to them.

Scissors-with-legs is a curse as old as dirt, an enigma that most likely frustrated even Eve, the gal who lived at One Eden Garden Lane over there in Paradise. Legend has it that one day Eve reached into a designated drawer for her favorite double-bladed scissors to clip a vine wrapped around a piece of something Adam dragged home for dinner, but the scissors were not where she’d left them. At that point in history, there weren’t too many “I Didn’t Do It” kids or cousins to blame for the mysterious disappearance; and as no one fessed up to the crime, the only conclusion Eve could make is that even her scissors grew legs where no legs were ever meant to grow.

The issue of runaway scissors is of little interest to the FBI (except at the airport), worthy of news headlines (except as a suspected weapon) or as the subject of a congressional review (although stranger things have happened). But on the home front, scissors in absentia can be a cause for great consternation. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the root of the rivalry be-tween Cain and Abel had something to do with who swiped the scissors and didn’t put them back where they belonged.

In grammar school, dull, blunt-tipped paper cutting scissors with matching finger holes (suitable for both lefties and righties) rarely disappeared. Teacher’s shiny, sharp-bladed scissors, on the other hand, rarely lasted very long in our eight-grades classroom. One pair with cobalt blue handles was only a few days old when they went missing from Teacher’s desk. She’d put them next to Larry Montgomery’s subtraction work sheet -a paper Teacher had streaked with bold bands of her bright red marking pencil. It took only a half-turn at the blackboard for Teacher to suspect a possible connection between a small pile of white, black and red confetti litter and her missing shears. After the mysterious disappearance of two more scissors, Teacher locked her cutters in a desk drawer, so fearful was she that the most recently purchased pair would sprout Olympian running legs.

When I was old enough to earn a wage, I vowed to alleviate the obvious pain my mother suffered when scissors went missing and purchased a pair in-tended only for her. Mom’s eyes glistened with tears of joy when on the Christmas morning of my 16th year as she tore open a newspaper comics-wrapped package and lifted high a shiny new pair of scissors bearing her initials – M.O.M. – on one of the blades. For days, she carried them in her apron pocket and slept with them under her pillow, exposing the scissors only to cut something or to show them off to a neighbor. Then, with a mix of confidence and trepidation, Mom hid them in a “secret place” to ensure they’d be there when she needed them. Well, sir, wouldn’t you know? Those treasured scissors grew legs . . . and those legs took a hike.

The Walking Scissors Phenomenon has scientists and cold case detectives the world over studying data that might shed some light on how scissors grow legs and, more importantly, how to keep them from straying. Rumor has it that beleaguered lab techs from the TSA (Traveling Scissors Agency) are developing a sensing device to be molded into a scissor’s handle – a sensor with the ability to detect molecular irregularities indi-cative of appendage development. A second, GPS-like device molded into one of the finger holes would pinpoint the location of scissors that are AWOL.

A few days ago, I reached into the deep recesses of my own scissors hiding place. Instead of the coveted pair of 8″ blades attached to “hunters orange” colored handles that I sought was a note on which was scribbled, “Got Legs! And these legs are made for walkin’. Bye-Bye!”

Between you and me, that GPS thingy can’t come soon enough.

Flocked, Flowered and Fooled

by Nancy Clark

The elementary school Valentine’s Day party has historically been the venue for  prepubescents  to exchange sappy sentiments like “You’re Sweet,” “Be Mine,” and “I LOVE You.” Although the observance is guaranteed to induce giggles and a bit of blushing, the practice rested under the umbrella of friendship and youthful innocence, and accepted as a fun, but genteel way of expressing non-threatening terms of endearment.

I wish someone “back in the day” had made that clear to Antonio Romeo.

Plato, himself, must have had an Antonio in his life when, perhaps in despair, he declared, “Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.” This assessment, when applied to Antonio Romeo, was grossly understated.

As I recall, Tony (only his mother called him Antonio) was in seventh grade and I was in fourth in our one room/eight grades school – circa 1950. He was a loud, brash, fearless boy who crowned himself King of Torment-Nation, setting the bar for hijinks and antics. He had no competition for the title as even “the big kids” cut him a wide swath.

Tony was an adolescent in every sense of the word. He “put a tack on teacher’s chair,” he “tied a knot in Susie’s hair;” he pilfered coins from the Congo Relief jar, and anonymously scribbled obscenities on the out-house walls with chalk he stole from the blackboard tray. Everyone knew that “Tony did it,” but no one dared to snitch.

Boys idolized Tony. The kid could catch a house fly in mid-air and hold his finger in a candle’s flame without wincing. He pinched the girls and made them cry and ran the ball field bases like a speed demon.

To the girls, he was an ill-tempered bully who taunted and teased without mercy. He pulled our hair braids, tugged at our dress ties, and inserted our names in baldy limericks.

I trembled in Tony’s presence, which was probably why he targeted me for some of his nastiest pranks. Among other things, he’d throw my notebooks into the air, sneak up behind me and scream like a banshee, and fire crabapples from the end of a tree limb to hit my bare legs … away from watchful eyes and off the school grounds. Rarely caught; rarely punished.

Tony adopted another persona for the St. Valentine’s Day party, however. On that day he exposed a softer, gentler, totally unfamiliar side, eager to share sugary sentiments antithetic on any of the other 364 days of the year. His cards were the Five and Dime store’s most elegant –flocked and flowery, with verse declaring affection that bordered on undying devotion.

He made a production of depositing his cards into the Valentine’s collection box, enunciating the name on an envelope and shooting the intended recipient “the Tony look” –a lopsided smile and raised eyebrow to a girl, a guffaw-y smirk to a boy –before dropping the card into the red-hearts spattered box. The day Tony won the toss to distribute the cards from the stuffed box, he graced me with an angelic smile and fluttered his long eyelashes as he handed me his card. I took it as a sign that my days of torment were history.

NOT!

On the inside of a truly regal card, in very unregal penmanship, Tony had scribbled, “To the ugliest girl in school. I hate you, dog face. Love, Tony Romeo.”

The incongruity of the message was lost on me … my hope to feel safe from Tony’s brand of cruelty dashed. He’d sullied all of his cards with similar sassy sordidness, inducing laughter from some (mostly boys), and deep cuts to others (mostly girls). His sainted mother spent days after the party apologizing to half of the town folk for her son’s mischievousness. “My Antonio really is a fine boy,” she’d said, “but you know …boys will be boys!”

As Tony snickered; Plato sighed.

Fast forward five decades to a class reunion. The handsome and oh-so polite Antonio Romeo who asked me to dance was definitely not the Tony Romeo who “back in the day” tossed my notebooks, broke my pencils and targeted my legs. Mom had always said, “With God’s help, Tony will grow up someday.”

And so he did!

Mom also said, “This, too, shall pass, and one day you’ll write about it.”

And so I have.

Winter Wonders

by Gwen Wolfgang

I vividly remember 28  noses pressed against the windows of Poplar Street Elementary School, in Central City, PA, as my entire fourth grade class marveled at the appearance of the first snowflakes of the season. I am not sure of the reason for this fascination. Living in the mountains of Somerset County, we had all seen more than our share of one-of-a-kind snowflakes. They usually floated into town in late October or early November. Soon their snowflake buddies would crowd the skies, cover the ground, and we wouldn’t see a blade of grass until May. Winter seemed much longer in the fifties.

Everyone in Central City had a coal furnace that was banked at night. We had no heat upstairs except a few adventurous puffs of warm air that found their way up the narrow stairs and into our bedrooms. Most mornings, I could see my breath. The thought of crawling out from under the covers and putting my feet on those frosty hardwood floors still makes me shiver.

By the time I got downstairs, the furnace fire had been stoked and glorious hot air was spewing from the register in the kitchen. That was my favorite place to stand to get dressed. If I ever lost a button, it went straight into the blazing bowels of the furnace, never to be seen again. By the time I was dressed for school, my scrawny little legs were baked to a bright red.

First came the snow pants. My mother took hours starching and ironing my cotton dresses. I wore at least one crisp crinoline slip under my skirt. All of that voluminous material had to be stuffed into my wool snow pants so that I could pull the straps up and adjust them tightly at the shoulder. With my skinny legs and my pants full of cotton and crinoline, I looked a lot like Tweedle-Dum.

Next came the boots. Mine were brown rubber with obviously imitation fur around the top. They were worn over my school shoes and zipped up the front. By the end of winter, they would chafe a black ring around my lower calf. Nothing could be done to wash away the line so my legs always looked dirty.

After putting on my coat, mittens, and hat, my grandmother would pin a white wool scarf around the lower half of my face. As I began to walk to school, my warm breath would condense and the scarf would freeze to my lips. I had perpetual chapping on the lower half of my face for five months every year. It was a nice match to the scaly chafing around my ankles.

When I arrived at school, I hung my coat on a hook in the cloak closet at the back of the room. If I removed my snow pants, my dress and crinoline were a mass of wrinkles. If I left the woolen wonders in place, my legs would sweat all day until the flannel lining of my pants could be wrung out. Neither choice was a very good one.

Every girl wore same rubber and faux fur boots. Every boy wore “artics”, black rubber boots with buckles all the way up the front. How did Mrs. Bantley ever figure out which boots went on which feet? They don’t teach you things like that at State Teacher’s College!

Every day, we put on our coats, boots, hats, and mittens and went outside for recess. Don’t tell Grandma, but I never put my damp scarf around my face. We played in the snow piles until our mittens were soaked and covered with tiny ice balls. In my memory, I can still smell the essence of wet wool. Sometimes we played on the swings and our hands would freeze to the ice coated chains. The wind created by swinging made my chapped face sting and my sweaty snow pants even more uncomfortable.  It never occurred to me to complain.

My trip home was about a mile, all uphill. (I will confess that the morning walk was all downhill.) Plows had cleared the roads and ashes were used to provide traction on the ice. With so many coal furnaces in town, ashes were an endless natural resource. Chains slapped on the ashy pavement as cars passed me on my homeward trek.

When I got home, my friend Donna and I got our sleds and headed out to play. We made snow men and snow angels and enjoyed every minute of the winter.

A wall of icicles formed on the lower side of our back porch. They extended from the roof to the ground, ten feet below.  Often we would break off a chunk of and suck on it like a water flavored Popsicle. The treat would leave a residue in your mouth of little tiny asbestos beads from the shingles. You could either swallow them or take off your mittens and pick them out of your teeth. They were crunchy and had a metallic taste. No one told us they were dangerous.

Now I get in my car in a warm garage and turn on my electric seat heater. It is reminiscent of the hot register. I park near my destination and run for the door. In fact, now that I am retired, I don’t even go out if I don’t absolutely have to. I have much more natural insulation than I did then. You would think it would keep me warmer. But as I shiver today, I will just close my eyes and let my memories keep me warm.

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