Archives For February 2014

Celebrity Interview

February 28, 2014 — 2 Comments

Hey, everybody! Just because it’s Friday, and just because everybody’s worn slick by Winter 2013-14 (and there’s more wintry weather in the forecast), and just because we like you guys…

Today’s post is a Celebrity Interview!

But who?

One of the royals, perhaps?

kate middleton

A star of stage or screen?

tom hanksanne hathaway

An outstanding professional athlete?

lebron james

Or maybe someone off the Billboard charts?


Nope. None of the above.

We were fortunate enough to engage someone much more relevant to you, the faithful readership of Zero to Sixty in Five!

Today’s Celebrity Interview is with that Star of the PTA Stage, the Queen of Loveliness, the Slam Dunk Winner of the Oatmeal Brigade, and the “author” of the Author!

None other than…

[drum roll…]

Mary Anne!

1-29-09 293crop

When we contacted the mother of Zero to Sixty’s Blogsmith in Residence regarding an interview, she graciously agreed to answer our questions. She wasn’t sure she’d remember all that much, but would give it her best shot. Any concern that she wouldn’t remember enough to provide a good interview was unfounded: she waxed eloquent on topics across a spectrum.

So, without further ado…

ZTSIF: It must have been a challenge to get a family of seven off to work and school. What was your typical morning routine?

Mary Anne: Well, you get up — when you don’t want to. (Laughs). I’ve never been a “it’s-fun-to-get-up” kind of person. But once my feet hit the floor, I was awake. I’m just glad I had kids before snooze buttons on alarm clocks!

Then I probably headed downstairs to make coffee and — this was before microwaves — get some water on the stove for a pot of oatmeal. Then I would begin waking kids. Some were easy to wake up, some weren’t. I remember you as being easy to wake, right?

ZTSIF: I think so. Until high school.

Mary Anne: The kids didn’t eat breakfast all at the same time because time in the bathroom was staggered. I can’t remember what I fixed on school days other than oatmeal. If I had eggs, I usually scrambled them. And toast. I served biscuits mostly at dinner. You know, the big deal was eating dinner together.

ZTSIF: How did you learn about school cancellations on snow days?

Mary Anne: I don’t really remember. Did we have any snow days? Do you remember any?

ZTSIF: No, not really.

Mary Anne: I’m not sure they cancelled school very often because of snow. You know, people didn’t just walk into their attached garages and get in a car and never have to walk in the snow. Everyone had galoshes and you were expected to get out in it and walk. But I’m thinking there must have been some snow days. We probably listened to the radio for cancellations.

ZTSIF: October 2013’s post “Crime and Punishment” makes a reference to the popular child rearing guide, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care”. What was your reaction to Dr. Spock’s advice? Did your pediatrician recommend the book?

Mary Anne: No, our doctor didn’t recommend it. I don’t think I ever read the whole book, probably only excerpts in magazines. But I didn’t like it. He didn’t believe in disciplining children, and I always believed children should be disciplined.

I always enjoyed being a mommy. There were just so many things to do with children. You could study dinosaurs together (even though I didn’t really like dinosaurs all that much) to help your child do well on a school project. Or you could turn an orange crate on its end and find enough empty food containers to set up a little grocery store. Or you could sit everyone around the table and give each of them a needle with a different color thread and have them sew “X”es on the toes of their socks so they could be sorted easily when the laundry was done. There was always something to do together. Remember the winter party decorations when we put the pipe cleaner figurines on top of the little mirror “lake” and sprinkled fake snow all around it on the table?

Years later, when I was working outside the home, it would always make me feel sad when I heard women come in to work and say, “I’m so glad it’s Monday so I can get away from the kids for a while.”

ZTSIF: Do you remember the incident with the Brach’s candy display and making a certain young shoplifter go back into the store and return the candies?

Mary Anne: Vaguely. I knew that it needed to be a lesson. I’m glad you learned from it. That’s not anything you want to fool around with.

ZTSIF: The post “The Porch, Then and Now” (October 2013) describes the front porch on your home in Indianapolis. Talk to us about front porches.

Mary Anne: Before air conditioning, people sat on their front porches. If you had a spare moment, you headed for the porch. You got to know your neighbors, you said hello to people who passed by — it was just friendlier.

It was air conditioning that made the difference — everybody went inside. People started using decks — more for picnics and parties, maybe. I think people probably did more relaxing on porches than they do now on decks.

ZTSIF: Tell us about the accident to the porch.

Mary Anne: Two young guys — high school age — completely lost control of their car and ran it right up into the yard and into the corner of the brick porch. Your dad and brothers were gone — together, I think. It was a spring or summer mid-afternoon and you had just been outside playing about a half hour earlier. You could have really been hurt, and I was maybe rattled for a couple of days, but not too long. Life goes on. Fear didn’t grip people like it does today.

ZTSIF: Zero to Sixty in Five has portrayed you as someone who loved dressing nicely and accessorizing. Do you remember the orange corduroy dress mentioned in “The Queen and the Groupie” (September 2013)?

Mary Anne: Yes. I liked it. I can’t remember where I got it — your dad might have bought it for me. I always felt sharp in it. Which is funny, because I don’t really like orange. Which makes me think your dad probably did get it. A few years later I went to apply for a job, and I wore it. For some reason a photo was taken, either before I got the job or after, and I’m wearing that dress in it. I could probably find that picture.

Your dad also bought me a black and white plaid taffeta hostess gown. It was really meant for a woman entertaining in finer surroundings than we had, but he always enjoyed me looking good. Even when I was in my 70’s, he’d look at catalogs and pick out pretty things for me. He really enjoyed doing it.

ZTSIF: What were your thoughts while washing, combing, curling, or braiding your daughter’s hair?

Mary Anne: I know the reasons I did it: I wanted you to look cute; plus you were an extension of me, and our family, and I wanted you to look nice. But what I was thinking about while I was doing it? (Laughs.) Probably what I was going to do next! Or wondering what your younger sister might be getting into while we were doing that! There was always a lot going on in a house with that many kids.

ZTSIF: Well, it’s been a delightful interview. The management and staff at Zero to Sixty in Five thanks you for your willingness to share your reminiscences with our readership and we wish you a very pleasant evening.

(G’night, Mom!)


The one-day wonder

February 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

They say it’s important for young people to discover activities and interests that truly engage them and encourage them to be their best — so they can “express their personalities and make unique contributions to the world.” My mom hadn’t read the research supporting this assertion* — she seemed to just understand it intuitively. The woman single-handedly introduced me to more stuff that I could get excited about than you could shake a stick at. One of those things — which I’ve mentioned before — was sewing. I learned to love sewing. (An earlier post: All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go).

Her teaching style was sort of hands-off, for the most part, because I have no recollections of her hovering as I worked. Of course, that may have had something to do with her caring, not just for me, but for four other siblings plus a big household. All that notwithstanding, whenever I hit an impasse, she was always available to explain the procedure thoroughly and/or demonstrate it, making sure I really understood the concept. This instruction continued for several years, and I gradually increased the level of difficulty with each project, with her providing my safety net all along the way.

Then one day…

…she apparently thought I’d mastered enough skills to recommend my services to a professional. For real. She did. I was about fourteen when she announced that a local woman who did repairs and alterations for a dry cleaners had agreed to let me work for her.

Say what?!! Me?!! But I’m just a kid!

“What kinds of things will she want me to do?”

“I don’t know… maybe replace zippers, mend ripped seams, sew buttons back on, hem skirts and slacks… things like that.”

“Think I can do it?”

“I wouldn’t have told her you were available if I didn’t think so.”

A couple of days later I walked to the woman’s house after school. Her manner was polite, but not at all warm or friendly, which added to my nervousness. I guess she considered this a business relationship. She escorted me to a sewing station in a small room behind her kitchen. Then she pulled out a large stack of cut pockets that I was to sew together using a French seam. (Folks probably don’t pay a lot of attention to the insides of pockets, but you won’t find any cut edges on either the inside or the outside of the pocket on a quality pair of trousers — hence, the need for a French seam, which encases all seam allowances.) She didn’t seemed all that convinced when I indicated I could do what she was asking.

I must have put together a couple dozen full pockets and another couple dozen half pockets that afternoon — more pockets than I’d ever seen in one place at one time, that’s for sure. They would eventually find their way into men’s trousers as replacement pockets. The extent of damage or wear on the pockets would determine whether a whole pocket or a half pocket was needed.

When I finally finished the last one, I got up to go inform my new boss I was done. We both returned to the sewing station, and she inspected the new pockets.

“This is good work,” she commented.

“Thank you.”

Then she said that was all she had for me to do that day and she’d call me when she wanted me to come back, so I headed for home. When I got there, I filled Mom in on everything: the task I’d been given and how I’d gotten the pockets all done, that she said I’d done a nice job, etc. And it hadn’t been too difficult, after all. I had demonstrated that I was capable, which left me wondering what the woman might have me do next: shorten a hem? take in a waistline? rip out a zipper?

Several days passed. No call. Then one afternoon, I walked through the back door and Mom said she’d called. Oh, boy! But then I heard the rest of the story: turns out, she didn’t want me back. Said she couldn’t afford to pay me by the hour because I worked too slowly. But to be sure and tell me that the pockets I had sewn were the best she’d ever seen.

lkd at sewing machine b&w

At the Singer, a couple of years after my one-day job (perhaps the only picture ever taken of me while sewing, which I did a lot)

Well, color me confused. Being brand new to this employer/employee thing, I imagined that my priority should be to demonstrate I could do quality work. Why didn’t somebody tell me she would also have an interest in efficiency?

So there you have it. A classic “good news-bad news” story: the good news — and I was really proud of this — was that my work had passed muster with a professional alterations seamstress; the bad news — I wouldn’t be making any money beyond the amount she paid me for that one afternoon. In a way, though, I was relieved: she was a little too taciturn for me to relax around. But who knows? She might have warmed up over the long haul, had I proven a suitable understudy.

About ten years later, I did earn money with my sewing — I just put out a shingle and did things on my own terms. I don’t think I ever really bothered to calculate how much I earned per hour, although by then I had gotten much faster than I was as a kid of fourteen. I mostly liked the oohs and aahs that inevitably came when I presented customers with their finished garments: a skirt that was now just the perfect length, jacket sleeves that didn’t cover their knuckles, or a custom fitted dress.

Several years after that, we had begun our family, so the shingle came down. And from that point on, all the sewing I did would be for love, not money. Most recently, my daughter-in-law showed me a picture of her idea for my little grand daughter’s costume, and, once again, I did my thing.

Say hello to Bat Baby.

Bat Girl

[ * Research on this subject at: These guys have great ideas and resources for supporting kids and the communities they live in.]

Cone of Shame

February 20, 2014 — 2 Comments

$(KGrHqR,!m!F!!BqYVQgBQPQD2lTLw~~60_57I suppose it’s time I divulged my criminal past.

I was a fifth grader when my family was shopping at a discount grocery and I spied an island display loaded with bulk candy. There, before my very eyes, was the mother lode of Brach’s. Why, that mound was nearly as tall as me.

Pink jelly bean nougats were my absolute favorite — highly prized and much anticipated in either Easter baskets or Christmas stockings. White jelly bean nougats (pictured) were a close second. These delightful treats were several cuts above the penny candy we bought at the corner delicatessen with money from scavenged Coke bottle refunds. Man, I loved those little nougats.

In our family, special were reserved for special occasions (and in most of the families I knew, as well). Children weren’t indulged every time they turned around. I mean, my idea of a Happy Meal was simply one that did NOT include canned hominy or turnips! All of which made Mount Nougat the greatest temptation I’d ever encountered.

Wow. I can’t believe the amount of candy on that table. Nobody’d miss just a handful of them…

And so, succumbing to the overwhelming desire welling up within me, I plucked some forbidden fruit, stuffed the morsels into my little pink clutch purse, then attempted to exit the store nonchalantly. All seemed to go well enough, until we piled into the car. Before Dad turned the ignition, my mom popped a question.

“You wouldn’t have anything in your purse you want to tell me about, do you, Linda?”

What?!! She was nowhere around when I was snatching the goods. She couldn’t have seen me…


I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth, nor could I issue a lie from the hot seat right there between my brothers. I looked at the lumpy, bulging little clutch purse in my lap. Being the ever vigilant guardian of her brood, she couldn’t have helped but notice the tiny clutch had gotten mysteriously pregnant at some point during our shopping foray. For a fleeting moment, though, I thought about jettisoning the candies onto the floor board, but concluded that plan would surely end worse than just fessing up.

I nodded my mea culpa.

“Come with me.”

As she and I made the long trek back to the scene of the crime, she explained that I would be returning each one of them to the display.

No! Oh, please, no! What if someone sees?!! Everyone will know I’m a crook. Or, God forbid, the manager will think we’re doing something fishy and come over…

Remember the scene from the movie “Up” when the dogs sentence Doug to wear the Cone of Shame? This was me, every painful step of the way back to Mount Nougat. When we finally arrived at the dreaded display, I unzipped the purse, slid the cellophane wrapped contraband back onto the table with a gazillion other little candies, and slinked back out to the parking lot.

I love my sibs for not uttering a word to me the entire way home. In fact, no one ever said another thing about the incident, for which I was very grateful. The whole ordeal had been one big, hot coal on my head. I wanted to permanently delete it from my memory.

Three years later, on the way home from school, I bopped into Woolworth’s dime store with a friend. She wanted to get a notebook. I looked at jewelry and hair accessories while she shopped for her item, then she came over and indicated she was ready to leave the store. Apparently, they didn’t have her item in stock.

22281184i_01As we exited onto the sidewalk and faced the intersection at Arsenal and Grand, I said something about it being too bad they were out of what she wanted. Then she raised the corner of the sweater covering the books in her arm, revealing the very notebook she’d gone in the store to get.

“But you forgot to pay for it!!” I blurted.

“Would you be quiet!” she hissed, grabbing my arm and hustling me to the crosswalk.

And there it was, as big as life. The powerful lesson my mom had impressed on my not-yet-hardened heart. In the moment, it was enabling me to be as sure as Mt. Rushmore that I wanted nothing to do with this nonsense. My face flushed as we hurried. Had anyone seen her theft and questioned us, I didn’t think I could bear the agony of such an interrogation — I knew our parents would surely be contacted. I briefly thought about going back into the store to tell someone, but I knew she’d run. By the time we had crossed the street and walked about half way down the block, I figured she hadn’t been spotted. Exhale.

Sometime between that first instance of shop lifting, when my mom helped me realize the impact of my action: that despite the dizzying height of those candy peaks, mine wasn’t a victimless crime — there were real people connected to the purchase and display of the Brach’s candy from whom I would be stealing… and this next instance of shop lifting, when my friend filched a notebook, I realized I wanted to be trusted more than I wanted illicit things. (The lesson associated with the kitchen radio fiasco probably helped crystallize this notion for me.)

I wish I could say that I adhered to the Trustworthy Code of Conduct to which I aspired for the remainder of my adolescent years, but there would be other temptations on other days that proved more daunting than my fledgling resolve. But one thing I knew for sure: I was determined not to find myself in the company of someone who would steal ever again, if I could help it. The remainder of our walk home was pretty quiet; I think both she and I knew that exchange in front of Woolworth’s had ended our friendship.

And I was sad.

[Current estimates of Americans who shoplift are as high as 1 in 11. Shoplifting costs US retailers $15 billion a year. Retailers’ costs for prevention are also passed along to consumers: closed circuit TV’s, electronic article detection, metal detection, uniformed guards, locked merchandise, dummy cases, fitting room attendants, and test shoppers, whose purpose is to assess a store’s effectiveness in surveillance and detection. All of this takes an estimated $400 out of my pocket, your pocket each year.] 

My Tennessee valentine

February 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Picture1gpWasn’t it fun making Valentines for your mom in elementary school? Teachers would go all out to supply froofy craft supplies so the love notes we lovingly created for our mothers would be super jazzy. And didn’t mom always seem totally pleased with these offerings? I also thought it was fun to decorate my Valentine “mailbox” and then read the messages on all the cards I got from my classmates, both during the party and then again several times after I got home from school.

But once I left elementary school I entered a valentine drought. Not a single junior high boy paid me any attention at all, that I could tell. (Might have been that whole counterproductive long jump challenge thing I was into.) Of course, there was that one older guy in the red and black letter jacket who was just messing with me when he said “Linda, Linda, will you marry me; he didn’t count. (He eventually hit valentine status, several years later.)

No, those junior high years were rather bleak. That is, until the fall of eighth grade. I met a boy from Memphis, Tennessee, at our annual denominational gathering in Texas. Our family was staying at a campground, and he took a notion to stop by our tent and invite me to go bowling with him and some of his friends. I liked to have fainted when my dad said okay. His college student brother gave us all a lift into town, and we bowled the afternoon away.

That was when I first fell in love. With folks from Tennessee, that is — the girls in the group treated me like I was their BFF, which struck me as classy. (I also fell in love with pin ball machines that afternoon, too, but that’s another subject for another post.) I think my best game was about 60, and I was hooked. In fact, the boy invited me to join the group for bowling the next couple of afternoons, and each day my game got a little stronger. As did my interest in the boy.

On the last free afternoon that week, his older brother had made arrangements for him to borrow a motorcycle and I was invited to go riding with him. While that was an appealing offer, it was such a warm day, and the lake beckoned, so I opted to join my family for a day of swimming and canoeing. Later that evening, a couple of the Tennessee girls stopped by my tent, visibly shaken. He’d had an accident while riding and was in the local hospital with a punctured lung.

The news catapulted me into a state I’d never before experienced – relief that I had not been on the motorcycle when it went out of control, yet fear and worry about his condition. All of which were compounded by some altogether new feelings aroused by him having shown interest in me. The school boys back home might not have been paying me much attention, but in less than a week, this Tennessee boy had rendered their disinterest moot.

Our family planned to return home the next day, and I was sad and nervous and wistful about his wellbeing and the prospect of not getting to say goodbye. Then my dad did something that blew me away. He offered to stop by the hospital on our way out of town so that I could see the boy, which meant the entire family would sit in the fully packed car and wait for me to visit a sweet kid from Memphis and tell him how sorry I was about his accident, and what a very nice week I’d had with him and his friends.

I walked down the hospital corridor with a quickened pulse and a lump in my throat. I wasn’t any good around blood and stuff, so I was way out of my comfort zone on several counts. The nurse showed me to his room and I just stood there. He was connected to several tubes, and bandaged up, but not looking too bad, all things considered. He was asleep.

“It would be better not to disturb him,” she said.

But I’m leaving town the minute I step foot outside this building! There’ll be NO second chances here…

But at age fourteen, I wasn’t very good at speaking up in the presence of authority figures. The nurse took my name and assured me she’d tell him I’d visited, and then I turned to walk back down the corridor. My goodbye would simply have to be conveyed via the United States Postal Service.

He got back on his feet in short order, and we corresponded for several months, but the distance took a toll on our young and unseasoned relationship. Nevertheless, the impact was felt: a boy from Tennessee liked me. It was enough, and it was everything.

But I wouldn’t get on the back of a motorcycle for a long, long time.

On my last nerve

February 12, 2014 — 2 Comments

The Weather Channel indicates the frigid temps are on their way out of the region. And not a moment too soon. Everyone I’ve run into for the past couple of weeks has had something to say about the weather. Not chirpy little comments, either. No, this arctic spell has us pretty much worn slick. Annoyed. Downright irritated.

When my husband asked me what tonight’s topic was and I said irritations, he just laughed and said I had plenty to write about. Apparently the topic was fascinating enough for a couple of science writers to author a book about the who, what, when, why, and how of things that annoy us (Annoying, Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, 2011). I don’t know how they conducted their research, but they could have saved a little time and expense and just asked me. I’d have been more than happy to tell them how it works.

I like to think of annoyances in categories. First off, you’ve got your unexpected mishaps, like paper cuts or stubbing your toe, which can escalate on the aggravation scale to things like stepping in dog poo or finding a flat Empty_Toilet_Paper_Rolltire on your car. Then you’ve got situations that could have been avoided but you just weren’t focused: like washing dark colored pants with a Kleenex in the pocket, burning your toast, or letting the toilet paper roll run out.

Then you move to the things that other people do, like reading over your shoulder, or talking loudly on their cell phones. There are upgrades in this category too: like neighbors’ loud music and people not picking up after their dog. (We won’t even mention mouth-related offenses such as mumbling, chewing with mouths open, or coughing and sneezing in public without covering the mouth.)

Then there are those irritations that didn’t even exist a generation ago, a whole category resulting from our technological “advances”: hard drive crashes, spam email, automated phone systems, and butt dialing. (People stepping into the street in front of my moving vehicle with their faces buried in their phones might be annoying if it weren’t so mind-boggling.)

You’ve got the whole entertainment category: singers who mime, the obsession with Z-list celebs, and reality TV; the traffic/travel category: driving slow in the fast lane, tailgaters, and delays at the airport; and miscellany: leaving the drive-through and realizing they didn’t put any napkins in the sack, plastic packaging on small devices and appliances that requires a chain saw to open, and a cricket in your bedroom.

Quite an array, I’d say. And any one of these irritations is poised to jump us at any moment. Which begs the question: if one defines the “good life” as being relatively free of such negative stimuli, how can a person ever achieve this ideal while being bombarded with such pervasive annoyances? (The question is purely rhetorical, since I intend to speak to it in the next paragraph.)

Here’s one of my favorite tips, from the well-known author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar. I gleaned it from one of his audio recordings my sister shared with me nearly twenty years ago. His advice is as practical today as it was then. I tried to find the exact quote, but had no success. (Or maybe I just got annoyed by how long the search was taking and quit — just kidding!) My paraphrase:

“When life throws you a curve, rather than get upset, turn your frustration into fascination.”

stock-footage-scraping-ice-off-car-real-timeThat means when you walk out to your car for the umpteenth day in a row, and find there’s ice under all the snow and you will have to brush and scrape it off — yet again — you can either get irritated and start the day in a bad mood (as if the negativity will actually change the fact that the ice and snow needs to be removed, regardless), or you can choose to be fascinated by the weather we’ve been having. You could wonder if it is anything close to the weather they have in Antarctica (no, in fact, it is not! * ), or you could observe the properties of the ice and snow you’re removing, or you could just be thankful that you have a scraper to work with or even a vehicle (I know quite a few people who would be more than happy to have a car, even if it meant clearing it off repeatedly).

I’m not saying that doing this is easy, but it is simple. And I promise you that if you actually say the words, “Wow, I’m just fascinated by…. (let’s just say, by just how quickly the toilet paper went) …it will reduces the irritation because you’ve just told your brain to put it in a new category. Granted, you will have to work with it and allow the fascination to kick in. But being fascinated can detach you from the emotional component of the situation and orient you to a more neutral and objective frame of mind. And along with that, lower blood pressure, less constricted arteries, and perhaps fewer headaches, backaches or upset stomachs. I invariably feel better when I let fascination take center stage.

I’ve shared this tactic with quite a few people when they bring up the topic of avoiding irritation, and I have no idea who actually dared to put it to the test and who just blew it off. But I challenge you to


[* Okay, are you ready? Here’s a peek at some seriously serious weather at the South Pole…]

Dial “M” for Mistake

February 7, 2014 — 5 Comments

When Super Storm Beatles tracked across the Atlantic, headed for the states, I missed the first big wave that hit our shores because I had shelter. Boy, did I have shelter.

The first hint that I would be routinely sheltered from atmospheric phenomena in the world of rock ‘n roll occurred when I was about five. Elvis Presley was performing “Hound Dog” on TV and about halfway through the song, my dad got up and changed the channel. “Don’t need any of that in this house.” Dang. Most likely was Elvis’s gyrating that did him in.

By the time the Beatles were slated to debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, our family’s hatches had been fully battened down — not a chance that even a drop of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would seep into our living room. No, we had been sealed in our own yellow submarine when the deluge began to pummel the homeland. Protected, I was. Seriously protected.

So on that Monday, when girls ran up to me and asked, with extreme animation, “Did you watch the Beatles last night?!!!!!” my reply was a soft-spoken, “No, missed it.” Then they would proceed to describe in detail the Fab Four’s appearance in all its wonderfulness, and I felt like I’d slept through a coronation or something. (Well, in a way, I sorta did.)

But I didn’t waste any time getting up to speed. A lot of days, I walked home with Roxanne, who had a transistor radio and who frequently bought teen magazines, which were generally plastered with photographs of the mop heads.

“Who do you think is cutest?”

Is she kidding? Like there’s even any contest! 

“Oh, I dunno — who do you think?” I replied, keeping the cards very close to the vest, as if her deeming him cutest too would somehow diminish the verve of my adolescent crush on Paul. You know, Paul — as in, the one who sang “Michelle” — en français. Be still, mon coeur.

Then there was my buddy, Desiree, whose parents not only let her listen to rock ‘n roll, but let her buy the 45’s. My visits at her house included lots of record playing. She was also fond of the Beach Boys, so I became familiar with “California Girls”, “Barbara Ann”, and “Good Vibrations”, too. Oh, help me, Rhonda!


Meanwhile, our home was devoid of any and all Billboard Hot 100’s. The radio perched atop the refrigerator was tuned to easy listening — Robert Goulet, Tony Bennett, Eydie Gorme, et al. Once in a while, a pop performer or group would cross over: Petula Clark’s “Downtown” wended its way into our kitchen via the airwaves, as did The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up, and Away”. (I’d cloak my glee to avert, if at all possible, that whole channel changing scenario.) The stereo in the living room was reserved for classical music, with the occasional big band thrown in. And there’d be no watching the Monkees on TV, either. At times, I thought I’d die for want of a rock ‘n roll fix.

Then one Sunday afternoon, my parents left me to watch my three younger siblings for several hours. I instantly sized up a ripe opportunity. But I generally didn’t violate house rules. Enter: Inner Conflict. I resisted. Temptation mounted. I held out. For a while. Alas, temptation overpowered my resolve.

I reached for the radio dial and turned to the station preferred by every warm-blooded adolescent I knew. And I cranked up the volume. The fall from saint to sinner was as simple as that. But I’m here to tell you, forbidden fruit is sweet, and “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride” never sounded better.

“You’re gonna get in trouble, Linda,” came a little voice from the kitchen doorway.

“Why, you gonna tell Mom and Dad?”

“No, but we’re not supposed to listen to rock music.”

Well, fine. Way to spoil the moment.

The brief exchange succeeded in smiting my conscience, and the next song just didn’t satisfy like the first ones, so I turned off the radio. Score that: Guilt 1; Contraban 0. I decided to turn my attention to the household chores I’d been asked to do, then hung out until Mom, Dad and my older brother returned. I think it was later the same day, and I was in my bedroom, when Mom wanted a little music to cook by and turned on the radio.

Not being a very clever sneak, I failed to return the radio dial to Mom’s easy listening station. And I also forgot to reset the volume control knob. Big lapse. Herman’s Hermits came blaring through the house. For about three seconds. I froze in my tracks waiting for the shoe to drop.

I honestly don’t remember any consequences for my behavior other than the self-inflicted shame of having violated the house rules, and knowing my parents knew I’d exposed the younger kids to musical pathogens. I wanted to be trusted and responsible more than I could ever want stolen pleasure from a handful of popular songs.

And that was the last time I ever did that.

Besides, I still had Roxanne and Desiree.

Well endowed

February 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

So I mentioned there were several neat things about the K-8 school I attended when I was junior high age? And how I got the chance to learn French, and how one day a classmate ended up with a big surprise at the end of French class?

Well, another thing I really liked about going to that school was being a walker. Not that I had anything against riding school buses — it’s just that there were so many cool things to see and do between the school and my home. We lived a block and a half off South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis, which was lined with commercial establishments: dime stores, grocery stores, laundromats, a movie theater. Sprinkled throughout the neighborhood, on the corners of the residential streets, were smaller mom and pop stores: delicatessens, shoe repair shops, dry cleaners, barbers and beauty shops, etc. I especially liked the sounds and smells that emanated through open doors in nice weather: the pounding of the hammer, and the leather, machine oil, and polishes at the shoe shop; the hiss of the steam presser and fresh, clean garments at the dry cleaners; the ring of the cash register and the dill pickle barrel at the deli; or the hum of the hair dryers and the hairspray at the salon. So much entertainment for the savoring.

Those were different times indeed, when school children were rarely chauffeured by parents, but free, instead, to dally on the way home from school. There was one particular stop I made more frequently than the others, and where I probably dallied the longest: the Carpenter Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, right on Grand, about two blocks from my school.

library bookshelf books_wide-44ef18fbad7f4ef4ba0cd513d6c1f3263d7bf073-s6-c30

It had the smell of lemon oiled reference desks and reading tables. The rows and rows of shelves lined with books were absolutely tantalizing — what to read next? I mean, I could take home a new book every single day, if I wanted to, making it pretty easy to keep up with the pack in Mrs. Frenzer’s seventh grade reading contest. For the most part, I hung out in the youth section, rarely venturing into the adult stacks. My face must have become very familiar to the staff.

While they were always helpful and friendly — in a quiet sort of way — I didn’t actually give the staff much thought. Too bad for me. As it turns out, I would have done well to have become better acquainted with one of the employees. He frequently manned the desk at Carpenter Branch during the years I was a regular. But he just didn’t stand out all that much. He was, after all, a… well, a… librarian*. If I ever did know his name, I sure forgot it along the way.

George Kyle2

George Kyle

Then several years ago, an Associated Press article popped up on an internet news site about a long-time employee who left a small fortune to the Carpenter Branch Library. Say what?!! — hey, that’s my library!

Turns out this mild mannered, fairly ordinary man — whose name, I learned, was George Kyle — loved the library and its books so much that he secretly schemed to set aside enough of his modest wages from 46 years of wages from the library to leave a gift of over $350,000 when he died, at age 88. Stunned coworkers and friends suspect that he had invested quite shrewdly over the years, since he would have never brought home more than $20,000 per year during his career.

fred rogers

Fred Rogers

According to a friend, “His passion was books, and he loved to talk about what he read, everything from the big bang theory to calculus.” I instantly recognized the picture that accompanied an article about his gift in a St. Louis periodical. I think he looks pretty happy. Made me think of another modest man who left a rich legacy that will continue to give for generations.

So now every year, as a result of Mr. Kyle’s bequest, new books with plates dedicated to both his mother and his father will be added to the children and adult sections of the library using the interest from the endowment. A regenerating gift from a man of simple lifestyle and huge passion.

So there you have it. A girl who frequented a library on her way home from school. A man who worked the checkout desk regularly during that period. The girl thinking this man was just a librarian. The man stamping due dates inside her borrowed books with a quiet secret tucked away in his heart, one that surely fueled tremendous joy.

I was a kid. And I missed it.

Just goes to show you: you can’t judge a book by its cover.

[Read the full article on Mr. Kyle’s gift here.]

* DISCLAIMER: My sincerest apologies to librarians everywhere for my pin-headed, youthful stereotype of your profession. (That means you, Jacquie, and you too, Tena.) My bad. I now know you guys hang out at wild and crazy librarian conventions