The horns honked every Saturday, sometimes driving around the block right by my house. Wedding couples waved from the back seat, with streamers and tin cans sailing in their wake.
The church stood at the entrance of our neighborhood, as much a playground for us children as it was a place of worship. Baptisms, funerals, and all forms of life events in between took place beneath its roof. And on Saturdays, the expected cachaphony of honking horns was as common as the chirping of birds.
Many wedding traditions have their roots in superstition, and the making of noise is one of them. It was thought that the loud clanging of cans trailing behind a carriage and even church bells would scare evil spirits away from the newlyweds. Eventually, the practice became an expression of celebration.
These days limousines are more common than tin cans hanging from the bumper, and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the honking horns. My guess is that the racket brought more evil spirits out of neighboring homes and business than it ever scared away. As for me and my chums, we laughed and waved and imagined someday riding in the back of the noisy getaway car.
My memory lane is a train track. You might say it’s more of a Memory Line than a Memory Lane. The tracks ran less than a block from my house. I can still remember the mournful cries of the whistles announcing their approach in and out of Minneapolis.
We spent hot summer days under trees on a piece of land we called we called the ditch. The ditch was as long as our neighborhood, 100 to 200 feet wide. It ran alongside the tracks, and despite how fearsome it sounds, was the perfect playground for my mates and me. We climbed trees, both upright and felled and made moguls for bicycles. And the trains rumbled by. Sometimes we’d race toward the tracks to see the engineer at his place in front. We’d pump our arms to see if he’d toot the whistle and jump for joy if he did.
Holly Shopping Center is still less than a mile from where I grew up, but several other of our hangouts are gone. We biked or walked, and always crossed the tracks to get anywhere. We played a game to see who could stare at the top of the cars the longest. As they flew by, the wind swooshed against our bodies, and the train seemed to be falling down on top of us. Our screams of delight rivaled the roar of the cars. And always at the end, there was the red caboose.
As a toddler, clean from the bath and dressed in flannel, I’d sit on my mother’s lap looking out at the moon from our big living room window. We snuggled and she bounced me on her lap. Sometimes she’d read The Little Engine That Could. One of the songs she sang was Little Red Caboose. We’d get to the end and I’d join in. “Little red caboose behind the train . . . toot, toot!”
On nights when sleep defied me, I’d wait in the darkness and listen. At night you could hear the trains from miles away, blowing their whistle at each crossing.
I still like to hear the reassuring rumble of a train from my bed. As the cars drift away . . . clickety, clickety, clickety . . . they pull me back to my childhood home, and deep into dreamland.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a flight attendant, a truck driver, a veterinarian and a teacher. None of those things ever came to fruition, but I have never stopped wondering what I could be if I ever grew up.
Sometimes I imagine selling everything to move out to the country and live on a farm. I’d want to have cows and chickens and grow organic food and sell it to people who eat things like wheat grass and chia seeds. I’d have a pasture and a horse, and a big enough yard that Sabbie could run for Frisbees without ripping up our small suburban lawn. The nearest house would be a half mile away, and I’d call them neighbors.
When I told Bubba about this he called me a hippie.
Me: I suppose I would have to stop shaving my legs.
Bubba: I reckon.
Me: Do you think I could keep shaving my pits, or would I have to let that go too?
Bubba: I think that goes along with the gig.
There is always something to discourage me from my big ideas. You can call me a pessimist. I say I’m a realist. A realist with smoothly shaven legs and pits.
One of my earliest memories is that of sitting at story time in nursery school. I was a young 4-year old with hair so long I often found myself sitting on it. To free it, I leaned forward, bowing my head until it came loose, then rolled back to listen to the rest of the story. Men called me Blondie. Women cooed over my golden locks.
We had an old black and silver hair dryer that could either sit on the counter or be held like blow-dryers of today. We used that until it started to emit electrical shocks, then finally updated to an orange plastic model in the seventies. Mom would sit me down in front of it, working the boar’s-bristle brush through the long maze of snarled nests. If her patience wavered, I never knew it. Although years later I learned how much she hated that task.
The Powder Pouf Beauty Salon was a cornerstone of the *Moon Plaza for many years, along with Buzz’s Barber shop, Dave’s Sport Shop, the Marine recruitment office, a dance school, and the Alcohol Anonymous meeting room in Fridley, Minnesota. Every Saturday morning, for several years, I packed coloring books and crayons in a small bag, and scrambled into the back of my mother’s white Chevy with red interior. No seat belt. No video games. I remember the smell of hairspray, the hum of the dryers, and looked forward to the attention from all the ladies in curlers and lipstick. It was a very pink place, as you can imagine.
If business was slow, sometimes Sandi, my mother’s beautician (they weren’t stylists back then), turned a dryer on a low setting and let me feel the tiny jets of air tickle my scalp. The warmth gave me goosebumps. The white noise lulled me into a trance. Sometimes I got a bottle of pop, pulled out of a coin-operated machine, that clinked and clunked as the money fell, the mechanism unlocked, and the bottles rolled into place. It was a magical place where my mom transformed from Saturday morning bed-head into a ravishing washed, curled, teased, and sprayed helmet-clad angel.
Then one day it was my turn. Mom turned up the hype. This was my rite of passage. I would be beautiful.
Upon arrival, my woman-friend, Sandi, sat me in a booster seat and wrapped me in a cape. In her hands she held scissors, a rubber band, and my faith. She bound my hair in a pony tail, and in one snip her scissors removed from my head the very essence of my being. Sandi held the bound hair up like a dead rabbit at the end of a day’s hunt, then curled it into a plastic bag that my mother tucked into her perfume-scented purse.
I was Sampson. Stunned. Powerless. My mother sat in the chair next to me, chatting and smiling with Delilah, seemingly oblivious to my loss. Several snips and one Saf-T-Pop later, I was on my way home in the back of the Chev. Mom chatted about the usual things, none of which were important to me in my grief.
At home, I sat on the kitchen floor playing with dolls, or coloring, or something. I have a lot of memories of playing on the kitchen floor for some reason. Gramma and Grampa came through the back door to say hello. Gramma’s eyes shifted from me to my mother and back again. I felt like a specimen. Mom explained that this was a Pixie Cut. It was very popular in those days. Feeling their stares like hot fire on the top of my head, I looked up at Gramma’s speechless face. Never being one to say anything if she couldn’t say something nice, she finally announced, “Well, she’s so homely she’s cute!”
“Well she is, isn’t she?”
I didn’t know what homely meant back then, but I knew from my mom’s reaction it wasn’t good. I filed that word into a special place in my memory called, “Things I don’t want to ask about, but want to know someday.” And when I looked back at my school photo many, many years later, it all came back to me. Mainly, because I thought to myself, “My God. I’m so homely, I’m cute.” Like a frog or a bug.
The following Christmas I got a play wig. It was a long blonde play wig, and it was as if someone had reattached a lost limb. I wore it all the time, glamorously flipping it back with my hands, or whisking it off my shoulder with a toss of my head. Eventually, when I had more voice in the matter, I grew my hair out. Mom chiding, “As long as I don’t have to brush out the knots, you can do whatever you want with it.” Later I cut it again, and permed it. Later yet I grew it out and now still wear it long.
The one thing I have never done is color it. I have few vanities with this old body of mine, so let me have this one. Oh, there is some grey in there, but it’s harder to see against the blonde. Men still call me Blondie and more often Sunshine. Women still ogle, although I suspect they’re looking for roots. And someday I’ll be too old to pull off this long, straight Thirty-something style. But I’m going to rock it as long as I’m able, and maybe a little after that.
In my golden years
I imagine I’ll it cut short again. Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll say I’m so homely I’m cute.
Peace . . .
*Moon Plaza still stands. Although updated, it is much the same.
Buzz the barber celebrated his 50th year in business in 2015, although he quit racing motorcycles at the age of 67.
I’m sad to say that Sandi the beautician died in 2008 at the age of 60. She was eventually the owner of The Powder Pouf and another location in the northeast suburbs of the Twin Cities.
There was something familiar about contemplating my weed to grass ratio last week. I sat on the front step and let my mind wander. It drifted all the way back, to a year in the late ‘60s. My best friend and I were young girls playing down at the ditch.
Anyone from my old neighborhood knows what I mean by the ditch. It was a stretch of land outlined by the street on one side, the railroad tracks on the other. It was our playground, wilderness, bicycle course, sledding hill, place of all dares real and imagined. It was our turf.
One lazy spring day, the kind that makes you think summer is here to stay, I sat with my playmate watching the clouds. We contemplated the kind of reasoning that 9 year-olds will. Our attention was drawn to the petals dancing in the breeze. We knew what our moms grew were flowers. We also knew if either of our moms had seen any of these in the yard, they would be deemed weeds and promptly uprooted.
And so our analysis began. Who exactly determined a blossom was a flower or a weed? We both agreed the blooms around us were just as delicate, vibrant and fragrant as any daffodil at home. Children of our age understood well the injustice of social divisions. How sad for the weeds that they cannot be showcased in a garden. How sad for the flowers in the garden that they cannot mingle with the grasses in the field.
We embarked, that day, on the creation of our first garden. Right there in our wilderness we churned the earth with borrowed tools. We plotted, envisioned, transplanted and dreamed our weed garden into existence. We irrigated with water hauled in pails from home almost a block away. As I remember, the plants responded to the care we gave. We were proud and diligent until childhood distractions lured us away.
Maybe we were just children of the ’60s. Or maybe some lifelong morals were instilled out under the sun that summer. All I know is that I still believe in the childhood convictions we committed to so many years ago.
Don’t judge a flower by its dirt.
Living things, given a little water and fresh air, flourish.
Mingle with the grasses.
Dandelions are pretty too.
If you are a weed in a flower garden, get a good deep root and just keep popping up.
Summer is never here to stay.
Photos were taken at Como Park, St. Paul, Minnesota