Janet Sheridan: Do you remember?
September 4, 2018
My cousin Blake honked as he blew his nose in a red bandana, which he then waved at our excitable third-grade teacher. A few years later, he contributed spitballs to the decorations on the school's Christmas tree — which explains why our great aunts referred to him as "quite the little dickens."
I'd been out of touch with Blake for many years when he sent me an email captioned "How many do you remember?" with several photographs of '40s and '50s memorabilia: Evening in Paris Perfume, bronzed baby shoes, cars with flames on their fenders, bobby pins. I remembered each one: some with a shudder and some with a smile.
I hated the metal pant stretchers guaranteed to create a perfect crease when inserted into each leg of wet jeans before they were hung to dry. I could never adjust the things so they fit jeans that fit me. Once, as I tried to yank, bend, and insult the sadistic contraptions into my proportions, Dad said to Mom, "Looks like Janet's losing another wrestling match with her jeans." Then, they chortled in a raucous manner difficult to forgive.
LePage's drip spreader mucilage routinely ruined my day. I always squeezed too much glue through the slot in the orange rubber cap, then made a mess of my art project and my teacher's mood. And what were the LePages thinking when they gave their glue a name Blake could mispronounce as mucus-age?
Junior high teachers who expected me to keep a three-ring binder tortured me in a sneaky way. I didn't mind organizing my notes and assignments in the binders, but sometimes, the punched holes in the inserted pages ripped, causing my work to protrude willy-nilly, so the edge of my binder looked like my hair. Then, I had to lick and glue tiny, gummed, circular reinforcements around the torn holes: a horrible, messy, futile job, because the reinforcing circles refused to stick or ripped as well. I once dreamed I choked to death on a mouthful of the disgusting, useless, little things.
And I never understood why anyone would want a shiny, aluminum Christmas tree that didn't smell of mountain air and pine trees.
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Happily, Blake's photographs also featured creations I approved. I discovered the delights of ditto machines in first grade, when I detected the intoxicating odor of their fluid on my worksheets and began smelling every handout diligently before subtracting three cookies from four cookies or laboriously copying letters of the alphabet. Then, I compulsively sniffed my way though 12 years of public school, four of college, and 10 of teaching before copy machines replaced ditto machines and improved my productivity.
I liked studying the checkout cards for library books. Tucked in an envelope on the inside back cover of each book, the cards had columns for the borrower's name, the date due, and the date returned. Borrowers signed their names, and busy librarians with bad aim stamped the dates. I scanned the cards to note previous readers, critique their writing, and evaluate their trustworthiness by whether they'd returned the book on time. Those who renewed a book multiple times puzzled me. Did their family read it aloud, one paragraph per day, or were they inordinately slow readers?
For my 10th birthday party, Blake gave me a popular gift of the '50s: a tiny turtle in a shallow glass bowl with a layer of colored chips and a plastic island with a palm tree where the little fellow could crawl out of the water if he wished. But across America, the miniature turtles rarely had time to explore the wonders of their enclosures, because they tended to die, quickly and quietly, as did mine. But the doomed gift had come with a birthday card and a handwritten message that would never earn an A: "To my favorite and smartest and fastest and tallest girl relative."
Which explains why Blake is the thing I miss most about the '50s.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.