Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Scary Things

Linda cannot remember the time before television. When she entered school for the first time at age six, there was “Howdy Doody Time” during the lunch hour in the apartment with Gus and Tim. The song “It’s Howdy Doody Time,” would stick in Linda’s head, but she cannot remember any of the stories or who the other characters on the show were. Mom’s favorite program was “I Love Lucy,” which Linda watched, sitting beside her mother, fascinated by these examples of how other people dressed, talked and lived. Lucy and her husband, Desi, argued a lot in the television show but always kissed and made up. Linda had never seen Mom and Dad, or for that matter, anyone else, kiss. Lucy and Desi, being real people in “I Love Lucy,” made them more memorable to Linda than the puppets on the “Howdy Doody Show.” For Linda, “I Love Lucy” was a small window into the wider world that she longed to know more about.

Public school was a long walk away from the ethnic ghetto where Linda and her family lived. Each day Linda walked across a foot bridge over an expressway to the other side of downtown where the school was located. On the very first day of school, the teachers dismissed the children for lunch, and Linda didn’t know what to do. Mom had walked Linda to school with Gus and Tim, but her mother was nowhere in sight at lunchtime. There was no big sister or big brother to tell Linda what to do, and she was too scared to ask the teachers, whom she couldn’t understand anyway since they spoke English and Linda spoke her mother’s home country’s language.

Linda finally decided to follow the other kids, got into the lunch line and was led into the lunchroom where she sat down and had a hot lunch of unfamiliar food. Then the teacher noticed Linda, realized that she wasn’t signed up for hot lunch and sent her home for lunch. All the other kids who walked home for lunch had already left, and poor Linda had to run all the way home across the foot bridge by herself. “What a dummy,” Linda thought to herself, as ran into the apartment to eat lunch with Gus and Tim and watch “Howdy Doody Time.” Linda managed to chew and swallow a second lunch without anyone knowing that she had already eaten strange food at school. That was the first of many secrets that Linda would keep.

One summer evening, after Linda and her family had moved to a new apartment across town, because Mom got a job ironing shirts in a laundry, there was a big thunderstorm, and the sky got very black outside even though it was early. Linda and her brothers and Mom were hunched together in the living room watching the black and white television. A murder mystery was on, and the music became very dramatic whenever the story got to a scary part. Since Gus and Tim were leaning on either side of her, Mom couldn’t get up to turn the volume down on the television and asked Linda to do it for her. Linda liked being the eldest child and being helpful; so got up to do as she was asked. But Linda turned the knob the wrong way. The volume got very loud suddenly. The loudness startled Linda so much that Linda shrieked, and Mom had to jump up quickly and turn the volume down herself. Besides the television, the only other electric device in the apartment was the radio. The clock was a wind-up Big Ben that the kids took turns winding for Mom each night.

From that day forward, Linda avoided dealing with electric devices, because she was afraid that they would do unpredictable and scary things. What those unpredictable and scary things were are stories for another telling.

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