Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Childhood Life & Colour Blindness

"Considering who your parents are, it's amazing you turned out as well as you did."

What is the correct response to a comment like that? I have no idea. I guess it would be ok if I only heard it once but I have heard it many times - almost verbatium from each person.

I am the only child of only children -- mother was the spoiled little rich girl, father was the bad boy Harley rider from the wrong side of the tracks. I essentially grew up hanging out with my grandfather, Howard, at his offices in Casa Linda Plaza, which he owned. He began building it when he came back from WWII on some of his father's farm land. He built each corner as he had the money to pay for it. Contrary to what you see on King of the Hill, Casa Linda is not an apartment complex but a shopping center.

The offices were on the 2nd floor of the only 2 floor building in the Plaza. My first job was being perched up on a bar stool at the window to the lobby to collect rent checks. I was about 3 years old. I would announce each check by what I knew the person by -- so Vaverns Bakery translated to "The gingerbread man", the manager of M.E. Moses Dime Store was "The bubble lady," and so on. (I had this weird fixation with "store bought bubbles" as I called them and super balls when I was a kid -- I was a cheap kid compared to kids these days).

I wasn't exposed to kids too often and when I was sent to kindergarten I referred to everyone as "those childrens". I had trouble relating to kids -- but I was fine in an adult environment. I never threw tantrums -- I would negotiate because that's what I saw from what I perceived to be my peers -- the adults.

The homelife was nice. My grandfather had a big house on 2 acres a couple streets from the Plaza. There was a big pool and cabana -- every Sunday was the get together and at least 50 people would show up bringing steaks, beer, cole slaw and deserts. Howard would man the grill and I still vividly recall the sound of the frozen crinkle cut fries as they hit the hot oil in the french fryer.

The yard was perfection at all times with lots of roses along the fence lines. Sammy took care of the yard and I think I only heard him speak on 2 ocassions. Oatha had the primary role of driving my grandmother - the fact that Oatha had no license and didn't know left from right didn't deter anyone. He was given that role after my grandmother drove through the front window of the liquor store with me in the front seat and wiped out the entire front display of liquor, she wasn't allowed to drive anymore. Howard solved that one by coming down to the store with a thick wad of cash -- no police, no insurance, no fuss. I was fine -- they had me up on the counter with a handful of pink Double Bubble.

Not only could Howard make problems vanish by just showing up with his wallet, but he was also connected like nobody's business. Every Christmas he would deck out the Plaza with banners, wreaths and pipe in Christmas carols. I remember one evening he got me into the car and we drove up to the Plaza - there was a huge crowd gathered and TV crews (this is the day when the mobile tv vans first became popular). He drove slowly and then headed towards the back of the Plaza -- it was dark and quiet away from the crowds and kind of spooky. He comes to a stop and gets me out of the car and there before my very eyes was friggin Santa Claus with sled with reindeer.

Howard had set me up with a one-on-one private meeting with the fat man. I was stunned - not by meeting Santa Claus which rocked -- but that my grandfather was so well connected he could pull that off because that had to have taken some clout!

After the meeting we drove out front and watched the official entrance of Santa to the crowd. I was just giddy that whole night.

In the house was Jesse who was wonderful -- everything was immaculate and she was a great cook. I think every recepie began with "..first you take a dollop of bacon grease..." Since the house was at the end of a very long culd-de-sac, I would sometimes walk up to where the street curved as it crossed over White Rock Creek. One day I heard some teen age boys harassing Jesse and calling her derogatory names having to do with her being black. I was about 5 years old when this happened and they hadn't seen me walking up yet, but they got a taste of my wrath when I yelled out, "You leave my Jesse alone -- she ain't black she's cocoa brown!" I took Jesse by the hand, madder than hell at those mean boys and walked with her to the house. I may have been 10 years younger than those boys but they had enough sense to not mess with "Mr. Howard's granddaughter."

For a very shy child I could have one helluva temper when someone I cared about was being treated in a poor manner.

That incident was my first exposure to the concept of "the colour of our skin makes a difference?"

Another recurring incident was when my grandmother and Jesse would get into disagreements. My grandmother and I would come back from the Plaza and I would have a new bottle of store bought bubbles. Jesse would have a fit and say, "Now Miss Mary - you cannot keep buying that child bubbles. We can make our own right here out of the dish soap." But she kept buying them for me at a whole whopping 0.29 a bottle.

Another big bru ha ha was one day at NorthPark Neiman-Marcus. I absolutely had my heart set on these pink fuzzy bedroom slippers. Naturally they were the last pair and they were already snug on my feet -- but I wanted them. Finally my grandmother said to me, "Now honey, I just don't have $8 to buy you those slippers."

As I stood there in the middle of the Neiman's shoe salon, I put my hands on my hips, cocked my head and said, "You mean to tell me that my grandfather owns all of Casa Linda Plaza and you can't afford to buy your only grandchild a pair of $8 slippers?"

My Aunt Anne about choked from laughing, my mother was dumbfounded and the sales guy was stunned. Aunt Anne said she would buy the slippers but after that my grandmother relented and I remember her muttering, "My God and she's only 5."

Like I said, I didn't have tantrums -- I negotiated.

Another incident I recall was when I was about 7 and I was sitting outside my parents house on the porch with 2 friends having a nice little tea party. I don't recall what started the disagreement but I sat there stunned as my two friends began screaming at one another. One called the other one a "honky" and the honky girl replied by calling the other girl a "nigger". I had no idea what a honky or a nigger was but I knew it couldn't be good as I sat there in the midst of my ruined tea party.

In retrospect - it's weird what you forget and the amazing details you can remember from other events.


Red House said...

Once is cool. Back to back isn't so cool. It's greedy. And greedy isn't cool.

Mary Horn said...

Excellent post. I voted for you earlier, but had to come back and finish reading.
The bacon grease memory reminds me of my grandma. She's 90 now, grew up in Kansas. She always had homemade lard soap in her kitchen soap dish.
Have a great weekend!