Life Was ‘Rich’ When I Was Poor

Growing up as an 80’s kid

Advertisements

The most interesting thing about growing up poor is that I didn’t realize I was poor. As long as I had food in my belly and a place to sleep, life was good.

I loved my childhood. My mother was a waitress and my father was a car mechanic. I don’t have many childhood memories of my father because my parents separated when I was five years old. We moved from a trailer in the hood (although I had many tricycles as you can see), to another trailer located in Hollywood, Maryland with my to-be step-dad.

19172_1239624303691_4148427_n

My step-dad worked in Washington, DC, near the Capitol so he was a bit of a celebrity in my eyes. I had only visited DC once on a school fieldtrip. My friends used to ask me: “Hey, where does your step-dad work?” I’d respond: “He works in Capitol Hill with very important people.” I felt good about my standard response but I’m sure it confused many kids considering we lived in an unflattering trailer. I laugh when I think about that now. My step-dad looked more like a Bounty Hunter than a Capitol Hill employee. Imagine: A trailer in a lonesome field, a big guy living in it who could kick your ass, a German shepherd named “Axel,” and a few beaten down vehicles. Oh yeah, baby.

The trailer was tiny – brown and off-white in color. It wasn’t pretty, certainly nothing to brag about but it was “home.” My bedroom was like a human sweat locker, just big enough to squeeze in a single sized bed and a tiny dresser. Dark brown paneling surrounded me. Didn’t everyone have paneling in the early 80’s? It was hideous yet nothing made me happier than being with my family. I especially adored my little brother, Michael. We didn’t have much but we had love and togetherness. Today, lots of families live in huge homes even though most only use a handful of the rooms. Why do people need all this space?

No one complained there wasn’t central air conditioning or a dishwasher. Nobody whined that there was only one TV console with no remote control. Funny thing is I don’t know how I’d survive today without a remote control. If my remote died in the middle of the day, I’d rather run out to Walmart for new batteries than get up and change the channels.

6d1c2173c823c87a21e5c9fd759de8c0.jpg

Who remembers the TV Guide? It was awesome. I used to sit down and circle every show or movie I wanted to watch. If I missed the opportunity to see a good movie, I might not see it again for another year. That ain’t no joke.

478161cd0cdb8ee888597e16f8bff43b2f69eab0

The Wizard of Oz always left me in “awe.” I didn’t believe dwarves (or little people) were individuals I’d ever see in real life. After all, I did live in a small town. As a kid I felt amazed that TV producers found so many of them for one movie. Am I the only person who thought this way?  🙂 Now, there’s several reality shows starring little people and I love it.  I’m a fan of Little Women LA and The Little Couple.

oz

Another thing I find thought-provoking is that I didn’t hear sexual or foul language on regular TV channels back then. Today, children can turn on the TV and learn more about life’s vulgarities than I knew of at 25 years old. Actors and reality stars can say “ass,” “dick,” “bitch,” and insult others because it’s considered funny to so many people. I don’t get that? Why? I guess saying “Take a step back, jerk!” isn’t as cool as saying “Take a step back, motherf**ker!” Haha.

I remember the enthusiasm I felt when the fat Sears catalog was delivered around Thanksgiving time. I put my marker to work circling a thousand items I wanted, knowing I’d only get a few of them. But that was okay because just the book alone made me feel happy inside. I loved looking at the many colorful pictures. Who feels that way anymore? There are no catalogs for kids any longer. Now children are on Amazon asking their parents to order them things all year long.

1555426_10201937969983824_116912945_n

School days taught me a lot about different cultures. My most influential educator was my 5th Grade Teacher, Ms. Betty Brady. She went above and beyond the typical 5th grade education. She actually cultivated us about life. We wrote poetry and talked about our feelings. We took picnic lunches in the woods, sat in a circle and named positive things we liked about each other. Another cool thing we did was write down our name/address on a piece of paper of which we attached to a balloon. All at once, we released our balloons into the sky hoping someone far away would receive it and become a “pen pal.” A few kids were lucky and it worked! Can anyone imagine doing this now? That’d be like giving a possible child molester your full name and location.

be6fe5ac6100c46b26586d94f5d1b0a9

Hollywood, Maryland was so small that we only had one African American in our class. His name was Jermaine and he was super cool and friendly. I didn’t understand until I was older that racism is something that’s taught by adults to children. It doesn’t naturally exist on its own. We also had one disabled boy in our class. His name was William. I don’t know what condition he had but he wore a sturdy back-brace daily and struggled to walk sometimes. My classmates were helpful and kind to everyone. No one was cruel or obnoxious acting.

10398505_1055086450360_7893236_n

I didn’t have a miraculous wardrobe, and I owned just a few pairs of shoes yet I felt okay with that. None of my buddies made me feel inadequate over it. I’m not sure the same applies in today’s world.

Our elementary school had a special program called “Grand Pals.” It was an incredible experience. Each 5th grader “adopted” two elderly persons living in our local nursing home. Our grand-pals were chosen by drawing names out of a jar. Although I don’t recall their names, I vividly remember who my grand-pals were. One was a blind black man and the other was a disabled veteran (both legs amputated at the knee) who carved wooden ducks as a hobby. I was fascinated by both of these gentlemen. They were so welcoming and kind to me. They shared stories about their lives with me and my letters were posted on their bedroom walls. Those two men will never know how much their wisdom and friendship meant to me. How many elementary kids in this generation can say they’ve had this type of experience?

When I had a school assignment I turned to the Britannica Encyclopedia set in our home. Those books were amazing, filled with color portraits and easy to understand. My parents took out a small loan to buy them. Now, schools basically require you have a computer/Internet at home to research projects and essays. Oh, and a printer.

s-l640

In middle and high school, a fight was just that… a fight. A kid worked off his or her aggression, spoke to the assistant principle, then went home for a few days. Today, most schools have cops permanently located within the school “for your safety.” Now a child could be smeared with a criminal record if he/she gets into a fight. Did bullying become worse or was it there yet ignored because social media didn’t exist?

I wrote letters to friends and boyfriends in school. In class or in the hallway, I passed my note to my recipient with a big smile upon my face. Also, back then people wrote addresses down in an actual address book. What have we gained since social media and email began? Swiftness of communication. And for this generation, speed is everything. What have we lost? Closeness, voice contact, the intimate communication of actually knowing what a person is feeling, and that can only come from presence. I don’t know any families that are actually closer as a result of email or social media.

d3eb4e94a055eb97b9d9f88dab1e0d2b

I remember the enjoyment I felt when my favorite song played on the radio. I owned a stack of 45-records and a few albums.  Then cassette tapes came out.  Major improvement! I discovered new music at a local record store called “Can’t Stop the Music.” I eagerly awaited the release of new albums. There were no piracy issues because people were allowed to record songs straight from the radio.  Imagine that!  Who else thought it was incredibly annoying to play their favorite song on their cassette tape? Fast forward. Stop. Play. Rewind. Fast forward. Stop. Play. God forbid you tried this out with your “Walkman.” It was ridiculous. Now a person can just turn on their iPod and hear their favorite tunes whenever they want. The “thrill” is over.

b1b3a067108bce9289bbbc373bafaaef

House phones: I’m reminded of when “call waiting” first emerged. My friends and I were so excited! I told my girlfriend, Sheri: “Okay, call me at exactly 6 p.m.” Then, I’d have my boyfriend call me at 6:05 p.m. just so I could hear the BEEP and try it out. Mission achieved.

If I met someone I wanted to talk to, we exchanged home phone numbers on a piece of paper. If paper wasn’t available I wrote their number down on the back of my hand. If I wanted to ask a guy out, I didn’t start communicating via texting or IM’ing. I called his house. ‘Ring-ring…riiing-riiing…riiinnngggg-riiiinnnngggg’ (Please don’t let it be his mom or dad who picks up the phone… please don’t let it be his mom or dad who picks up the phone…) Then I’d talk to that boy for HOURS on the phone. Time just flew by. What the hell did we actually talk about? Who knows…

80s-clear-phone

I kept my sanity after breakups because back then there was no way to keep tab on your exes. Then the Internet came. Yikes! “Oh no, girllll… He was tagged in a picture where he’s hanging all over some chick. You gotta see this.”

A 35mm camera was the happening thing but if you were poor, Fujifilm invented the modern disposable camera. When I wanted my film developed, I had to take it to a store, drop it off and wait a few days. There were no do-overs. I photographed what I photographed. If I didn’t like the picture and wanted to redo it, too bad. The moment was gone. It’s printed now. If my eyes were closed, my hair was a mess, I had red-eye… oh well. Now, a smartphone takes better pictures than some digital cameras on the market. Constant do-overs make people appear flawless and it takes away the humor of an ugly photograph.

d8f934b0d7daf22d1ba1d66395d37b34

Renting a movie was an adventure! I strutted around the movie store looking at all of the boxes of beta/VHS tapes available. I read the covers from front-to-back and glanced at the actors’ fashion statements. I dreamt of becoming a beautiful woman like the many featured on the movie covers. Who remembers “Be Kind. Rewind.”? Haha. A person had to rewind their tape or else the rental store charged a fee. I was sneaky too because I used to wander into the X-Rated room in the back to check out the naughty porn collection. That is how I learned about porn as a kid since there was no internet at our disposal. It scares me that a kid can easily access a porn site without their parents knowing.

d37f0f87d2fb86f2187c6a91a1b231bd

If I wanted to play a video game I went to the arcade armed with pockets full of quarters. I stood at a big boxy thing squeezed in next to a lot of other big boxy things, put in quarters and played the hell out of the games. And then I went home happier and poorer. Now there’s X-Box, PlayStation, games on our phones… you name it… endless entertainment available right at your fingertips.

galaga-reunion-street

I spent my free time outdoors. Nature was my life. As kids, my aunt, Kristi, and I loved playing on the old railroad tracks behind her house. We caught tadpoles and held them in our hands without thinking “ewww….. gross.” I’ll admit I was afraid to hold a frog in my hand because I was told it would give me warts. I must have some kind of wart-fighting-power because I never did get any warts.

We rode in the back of my step-dad’s pick-up truck. There were endless bicycle journeys; Kickball; Tag; Candy cigarettes; Mello Yellow; Starburst; Scraping change from the couch cushions; fruit flavored Chapstick. We used make forts in hollowed bushes and re-hammer rusty nails into makeshift signs or we made mini sailing vessels with old pieces of wood. We flooded the narrow hillside of my yard using a garden hose and like magic, a “flowing river” appeared for my sailing vessel. Speaking of garden hose, I used to drink water straight from it without hesitation. Now, I’d probably need an immunization shot before pulling such a stunt. I was easily amused with a dirt driveway and a few small rocks to carve out Hopscotch blocks.

6d1dd98efe9c5ac5c1c0ca3c4a5dc4bd

On pretty days, we’d try to catch butterflies. This is totally unrelated, but I have a confession. I’m 42 years old yet I’m still haunted by an act of violence I committed once on a butterfly. I saw a wounded butterfly on the ground and instead of putting it out of its misery I took one wing and ripped it off. I have never forgotten that horrible act, as if it were some Jeffrey Dahmer shit or something. I have no idea why I did it. “I’m sorry, Mr. Butterfly. Please forgive me.”  😦

In the evenings, my grandmother gave us old mason jars and we’d run out in the front yard trapping lightning bugs. We poked holes in the metal lids and kept them overnight. I loved how they lit up the room at night. Some of the breathing holes weren’t big enough so many of my lightning bugs suffocated and died as a result.

Come to think of it, I’m starting to feel like a bug murderer… WTH.

Honeysuckle bushes lined the right side of my grandparent’s yard and we picked many of them for a taste of sweetness. Raspberry bushes were located in the woods right beside my house. Kristi and I picked huge bowls of them. It took hours and the chiggers we were totally worth it because the berries were free and delicious in exchange for the labor.

CHIa0OCWMAA_pOB

I roamed the back streets throughout my neighborhood until sunset without concern from my parents. I wore a watch, the only way to tell time – A Swatch Watch.  Now, if a person doesn’t know where their kid is at all times, there is possible cause for panic — and a call to 911 may be in order.

We used yarn for ‘string art’ – ‘Witch’s Broom’ or ‘Cat’s Whiskers’.  Endlessly, we tried to come up with new string tricks.

maxresdefault

I had multiple bundles of colored string of which was used to make friendship bracelets. I pinned the knotted end to a pillow and then braided until it was long enough to fit my wrist.  I loved seeing the final outcome.

braided-friendship-bracelets-banner-600-3-441x441

Kristi and I choreographed dance acts to our favorite songs and performed our synced moves in front of our family in the living room. We looked ridiculous but it was fun and it killed time.

Often times, my grandparents took Kristi and I to the flea market and we loved it!  We frequently came home with multicolored rabbit foot key chains. I wouldn’t want one of those now – how depressing… “Let me cut off an innocent rabbit’s foot and color the fur. Children will love this.” Hell, I’d have PETA beating down my door today for owning such a trinket.

untitled

Yard sales were fun. My mom and I used to hit up every yard sale in town. I’d always come home with a cute top or VHS movie. I wasn’t embarrassed to wear hand-me-downs. Before we left our house, we used to scrape up change from all around the house to treat ourselves to McDonald’s after yardsaling.

My parents used a map to go somewhere… Yes, it’s called a map. Crazy, isn’t it? I bet if I handed my adult son a map today he’d have no clue what to do with it. I recently watched an episode of 20/20 where a college student decided to spend her Spring Break on a solo road trip. She followed her Yahoo Maps app all the way to a dead end dirt road in the blistering desert. She was stuck there for nearly a week without gas or cell phone reception before someone finally found her.  She could have died.  Why aren’t we using maps as backup to GPS?

When I started working at my first job I had to either balance my checkbook or visit the bank to know how much money was left in my account. Pretty wild, isn’t it?

I had to teach my adult child how to write a personal check just last year:

Matt: “Mom, how do I write out a check for the security deposit on my apartment?”

Me: “You fill out who it’s going to, the dollar amount, and write the cash line out as (ex.) “One Thousand two hundred twenty-five dollars and xx/100. Date it. Sign it.”

Matt: “What? I don’t understand.”

Me: “Re-read what I last texted.”

Matt: “Can you just send me a picture of a voided check and pretend you’re writing this out so I can see?”

Me: {Laughing out loud} “Sure.”

If I left my house I didn’t care if someone couldn’t reach me. If I needed to reach out I used a pay phone booth. They were gross but it got the job done.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nearly everything I did in my childhood for entertainment was cheap or free. That’s the intriguing part. What kid can say that now?

Killing time never involved me texting, taking a selfie, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, or Twitter… seeing how many “likes” I had… Instead I took time to think… really “think.” Boredom made room for me to reconnect with myself.

Did technology take over? The Internet came with a lot of knowledge but it also filled our heads with plenty of junk and fluff like YouTube, endless porn, social media, and crimes. It gives people an excuse to stop speaking to others in person. It provides individuals with online bravery to insult or bully other people.

Life seemed simpler and healthier to live with less communication technology than we have today. Most would agree that it creates a sense of dependence that we did not used to have, not only in the form of separation anxiety from the people in our lives, but also from the separation anxiety we have developed for information and technology itself.

0ebdfe303259b12262d7ea61018d57fd

23368b1914e499efc5a1c79da6e1daa1

 

SKATE STATION – TEEN YEARS

THE HAPPIEST DECADE – THE 80S

img1457753604987

A ground-breaking culture had been emerging, totally influenced by music. MTV launched in 1981 and music videos became the coolest movement of that time. Ronald Reagan, one of the most well-liked presidents in United States history, served from 1981 – 1989.  His video puppet starred in Genesis’ music video, “Land of Confusion.”  What other president had been cool enough to land a leading role in a pop music video?  ‘A World Premiere’ of a music video was something teens couldn’t get enough of.  “We Are the World” debuted in 1985, demonstrating how music positively impacted life’s tragedies. Putting together a ‘super-group’ of singers to raise proceeds for Africa was a genius idea.  Who didn’t sit in front of their television watching those icons all performing together in one setting?  Several artists such as The Beatles, David Bowie, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, and Blondie paved the way for the 80s but the world was about to witness artists like they’d never seen before.  Trendsetting musicians were taking over the industry – Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, RUN DMC, Tone Loc, Bon Jovi, and Boy George, just to name a few. Seeing Michael Jackson perform “Billie Jean” live for the first time on national television had been out of this world. The moonwalk had become a mystery dance move everyone wanted to learn overnight. No average dude could make a glitter jacket, ‘expecting-a-flood’ pants, and white socks with loafers look that hip.  When Madonna first performed “Like a Virgin” in her sultry white corset dress, thigh highs and tulle, everyone paid attention. She was every guy and girl’s fantasy. Guys wanted to seduce her while impressionable girls dreamt to look like her. A new breed of big-hair heavy metal glam bands were about to rock the world. Music transformed and divided into different genres. The Grammys didn’t even have a ‘Rap’ music category until 1988 when DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince won for the hit single “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”  Teens were witnessing history in the making. If you were lucky like me, you experienced the 80s during your teenage years – the happiest, most entertaining decade of all time.

Whether you lived on the east coast or west coast, there had been one place where all walks of life gathered for a good time – The roller skating rink. For southern Marylanders, that rink was located in Waldorf or Lexington Park.  The Waldorf rink had been around several years prior to the Lexington Park location. Once the Lexington Park rink was built, there was no stopping the craziness that took over St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  Welcome, the Skate Station.

The Skate Station held a very large skating floor, snack and gaming section with several seated areas throughout.  A hardwood floor made for the best all-around surface for skating.  The line to get in was long, wrapping around the side of the building. Most teenagers were dropped off by their ‘phantom parent.’ A phantom parent was a caregiver who dropped their child off in the far rear of the parking lot. The teen would magically appear out of nowhere, walking toward the building without any signs of previous transportation. A crushed reputation could occur if a teenager was spotted in the passenger seat of their phantom parent’s station wagon, rusted truck or God-forbid a minivan.  The unwritten rules were clear if the teenager wanted to be a part of the in-crowd. Upon entering, he/she first paid a five dollar admission fee. Inside, long wavy rainbows and clouds covered every visible wall surrounding the rink. It was comical because the French kissing, cursing and showing off totally ‘contradicted’ the retro rainbows’ wholesome vibe. Chances were great that a teen experienced their first kiss or first attempt at smoking a cigarette at the Skate Station. Needless to mention, if a teenager wore fashionable, expensive shoes and left them in an ‘unlocked’ locker, he/she stood a decent chance at them being stolen. RUN DMC wrote a few lyrics in “My Adidas” forewarning people their Adidas shoes were a theft hazard – “I like to sport em, that’s why I bought em. A sucker tried to steal em so I caught em and I fought em,” but many didn’t listen. Instead, the lyrics were more like, “My Adidas. Walked through -skate station- floors and roamed all over my-back-home floors.” Haha.

Daytime hours had been available on Saturdays and Sundays. Most kids rented their skates; however, there were some strap-over-shoe skaters. Honestly, toddlers who wore plastic Fisher-Price skates were better off than strap-over-shoe skaters because they basically walked around the rink vice skating on a death-trap concoction of a roller shoe.  The Hokey Pokey was in its prime.  A boring, lengthy game had been played which involved a creepy furry mouse character skating around throwing big fluffy dice into the air. Numbers were setup at each corner of the rink.  When the music stopped, skaters had to pause at a numbered corner. Whoever stood at the numbered corner the die landed on was asked to leave the floor.  A painful-to-watch rendition of ‘trios’ had been popular among families. It was like watching a road roller flatten and level a construction site. Kids were falling all over place causing other kids to trip and tumble. Unskillful roller skating parents were stuck holding their kid up by their belt loops giving them embarrassing wedgies. A teenager ONLY joined one of those daytime sessions if (1) Their parents coerced them into attending their sibling’s birthday party, or (2) The teen wanted to practice skating to improve their skills for Friday or Saturday night.  The problem with daytime practicing had been the many amateurs rolling around the rink.  Teenagers had to weave in, out and between the many struggling skaters. He/she was basically starring in their own real-life ‘Frogger’ game. Furthermore, those kid’s swift moves were unpredictable.  A child could be straight-line skating then suddenly dart off the floor for a bathroom break without any warning signal. For teenagers, that was catastrophic if they hadn’t been strong enough to swoop in, lift the little kid up in the air and save them from a bone-breaking collision. If the teen coasted into the kid and knocked him/her down, they instantly gained the title of ‘Douchebag of the Year’ by observing parents. To make matters worse, the DJ would cut off the music so everyone could gather around the desperate child making the teen feel that much more like dog crap.

No other days of the week competed with the excitement of Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night skating hours had been from 7 – 10:30 p.m. Saturday nights were divided with the first half being skating and the second, dancing. Come mid-week, their hyped plans were already in motion of which friend would sleep over, transportation, and what outfit they’d possibly wear. Style mattered more than beauty itself. A teenager couldn’t just roll out of bed with greasy hair, get dressed, and hit the Skate Station feeling confident in their surroundings. Perfected grooming was required before a teenager left their house.

For girls, makeup was essential. It didn’t matter if she had beautiful skin, her face needed to portray the 80s image Madonna had imposed upon our society.  Wet N’ Wild cosmetics were the cheapest around but with any luck her mom upgraded her at least to Cover Girl. Blue, purple, pink and green eye shadow colors were typical.  Navy blue eyeliner and mascara were a plus over black. HAIR – The bigger, the better. Skyscraper bangs yet curled backward at the very tip. Chances were high she had a spiral perm to go along with her outrageous bangs.  At that point, she had to make a hair decision.  Would it be a banana clip tonight or hair down with voluptuous curls and hair wings?  A banana clip was cute but hair down was critical if she wanted to feel sexy.  Most girls were professionals when it came to their hair wings.  After using a glob of gel or mousse, the goal was to hold out the side of hair (just above the ear) while blow drying and hair spraying the hell out of it. Then, stop, tease with a big comb, and repeat. Salon Selectives was a far better choice than Aquanet.  Her hair needed to smell sensual and Aquanet stunk like Lysol. Salon Selectives gave girls a lettering-system to choose from to determine how ‘concrete’ they needed their hair to be. If she was smart, she went with the stiff-as-a-board option in a green apple scent. If green apple wasn’t available, another hair spray with a fruity scent such as watermelon or strawberry sufficed.  The reason hair wings or chick mullets were stylish had been to show off their many ear piercings.  If she didn’t have at least two piercings in each ear, she was slacking and needed to coach her parents a little more. Dangle or hoop earrings were essential. Stud earrings were appropriate for the second or third piercings. For attire, an airbrushed t-shirt with her boyfriend’s name on it was sweet. If her airbrushed t-shirt were part of a matching ‘Best Friends’ set she could only wear it if both she and her BFF were skating together on the same night. Most of those creative airbrushed t-shirts came from Kings Dominion or Ocean City which privileged her with ‘bragging rights.’ Rock band t-shirts were another option.  A chick couldn’t go wrong displaying “Guns n’ Roses” across her chest. Other tops were cropped, striped, laced, and colorful.  LA Gear made a big splash across the nation with their cheesy matching jeans and glitter jean jackets.  “Pegged,” also known as “tight-rolled” jeans had taken over. In hindsight, teens looked ridiculous but everyone had been wearing them so no one asked questions. Coke clothing was very popular and almost every teen owned at least one Coca-Cola shirt. A few pairs of colored scrunchy socks were a must.  Spray on some Liz Claiborne or Love’s Baby Soft perfume and she was set to go.

For guys, it was as simple as having a clean image and wearing cologne such as Drakkar Noir or Obsession. It was sexy for their cologne to linger as they sped by the ladies. Black, stonewashed or ripped jeans were hip.  A rock band t-shirt or any colored shirt paired with a jean jacket worked. Logo shirts such as Adidas and OP had become hot on the scene as well. At that time, feathered mullets were in but they weren’t a ‘must’. It wasn’t uncommon to spot a comb in a guy’s back pocket of his jeans to keep his mullet in check. Rat tails were no longer cool.  For a teenage boy it was more about his ‘status’ vice looks.  Two separate all-male skate gangs named ‘The Midnight Express’ and ‘Playboy Express’ had taken root.  Both consisted of four to six males who wore matching jackets displaying their gang’s title on the back.  Both gangs wow’d the girls with their ‘in-sync skating.’  The Playboy Express took championship as the most popular, cutest guys with the best in-sync skate moves.  In comparing the two skating gangs, it was like a ‘Phil Collins / Jon Bon Jovi analogy.’  Meaning, both artists sang brilliantly and had numerous Number 1 Billboard hits but would a girl rather wake up next to Phil Collins or Jon Bon Jovi in the morning?  The answer was simple – Jon Bon Jovi…in essence, the Playboy Express beat the competition. If he wasn’t a member of either gang, his second vote of popularity came if he was a ‘Calvert County’ boy.  Of course St. Mary’s County had many good looking boys but most girls knew them already because the town was so small.  However, dating a St. Mary’s County guy had its perks.  It was easier and more convenient.  A long distance phone bill had been associated with calling Calvert phone numbers then. The Calvert boys were new meat which most St. Mary’s County girls found stimulating.  There wasn’t a boy-toy ‘Samantha Fox’ or ‘Vixen’ rocker babe rolling around the rink for a guy’s eye candy pleasure so they learned to love the pretty St. Mary’s County girls. It was a win-win.

The DJ held the biggest role in the place.  He controlled everyone’s happiness. If his music sucked that night, so did their night of skating.  The DJ booth sat very high on a black platform making it near Impossible to request songs without looking like a total idiot.  Every once in a while a random teenager would jump up and down in front of the DJ booth trying to grab his attention of which he usually ignored.  He played the necessary grooves for the Playboy Express could show off their moves such as “Casanova,” “Rock Steady,” “Lean on Me,” and “Sardines and Pork and Beans.” Cliques felt justified gathering in the center of the rink to scream out the last lyric of Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock!” It was hilarious. Teenagers began associating songs with their music videos to a point that listening to “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake prompted thoughts of a seductive Tawnie Kitaen spread across the hood of a car. It was no different when the crowd heard “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael, then suddenly petite Asians in hot lingerie dashed through their minds.  Teens learned of the word ‘Monogamy’ because he wrote it in lipstick across an Asian’s bare back.  Also, the curiosity of what Slash’s face looked like under that huge hat and piles of hair was a guessing game. There was no Internet so Google wasn’t an option. Any information a teenager learned about music typically came from the ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ store in Lexington Park. Even 80s tragedies had been hilarious. Every teen boogied down to Milly Vanilly’s “Blame It on The Rain” and “Girl You Know It’s True.” Nobody knew it wasn’t actually them singing. Moreover, no one wanted to openly admit to liking two skinny shirtless guys wearing matching spandex shorts with suspenders.

Sometimes the DJ soured a teen’s mood by playing dreadful songs that no roller skater wanted to hear such as “La Bamba,” “The Lady in Red,” and “Breakout (Swing out Sister).”  Although many teens loved Madonna, none of them wanted to hear her annoying “La Isla Bonita” lyrics.  Even worse was hearing “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil or “Stand” by R.E.M.  Even their music videos were lame. A total DJ brain freeze resulted in a song like “Luka” – One of the worst songs of late-80s…”I live on the second floor.  I live upstairs from you. Yes, I think you’ve seen me before.”  “Shoot me now,” a teenager thought to themselves. Who cared where Luka lived or her drama?  Perhaps the DJ purposely played those songs to push the crowd out the door sooner knowing they’d all head to Nicolletti’s to hang out.

Trios allowed teens to cut loose on the skate floor and I learned that firsthand.  There was nothing more daring or foolish than having a muscular teenage boy inner trio, a middle person, then a boney stick-figured 13 year old girl (me) on the end.  When the inner person, Chris, stopped mid-way and swung me and the middle party, Kristi, forward, it was the embodiment of ‘SKATE or DIE’. Kristi let go of my hand and I flew so fast that I was incapable of slowing down let alone stopping. I literally felt my speed skate wheels shaking and vibrating as if the bearings couldn’t keep up.  It’s every skeletal girl’s worst nightmare – flying into a pack of other trios not knowing if you should wipe a few out on the floor or try another means of stopping.  I decided to drop down and slide. I felt the horrendous road rash skinning my butt and thigh alive.  Trios were in front of me and a big wall to the right of me.  One was about to become my up-close-and-personal-date in about three seconds. The last I remember had been waking up to a huge group of teens circled around me, no music, and blood all over my face and shirt. My first reaction was, “Where are my teeth?” Thankfully my teeth were still intact but the gash in my chin was a disaster that needed immediate medical attention. Eight stitches later, I was out of the skating arena for a few weeks which totally sucked. My social life was ruined until I returned.

There were plenty of song opportunities for teenagers to show off their skills or looks – Skating for Ladies Only, Men Only, Backwards Only. Usually the ladies chatted among their friends as they skated around the floor. The mood was completely different for Men Only skating. They were competitive and only the expert skaters dared to enter the rink during that song. A line of guys would soar by at a high speed, selectively slapping the hands of girls that anxiously stood on the sidelines. It was a subtle way of flirting for both parties without having to exchange words.

Slow songs had been a romantic way of ending the evening with couple’s skating. The last slow song gave everyone a chance to communicate or ~make out~ before departing for the night. The DJ would bust out Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There for You” song starting with, “…and this song goes out to Christy and Bobby, Michelle and Kevin, and Jessica and Mike.”  It became apparent that many couples were suffering near-breakups and tears were about to roll. Side-by-side hand holding wasn’t chic but it served its purpose.  If a teen wanted to look super-cool, he/she had to skate backward in front of their companion during the song while holding only one of their partner’s hands.  “Angel” by Aerosmith, “Anything for You” by Gloria Estefan, “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)” by Cinderella, and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison were all well-liked. The only song a teenager didn’t want to hear during couple’s skating had been “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. Yuck. It was the most non-romantic, depressing slow song of the late-80s and it only surfaced when the DJ had suffered another brain freeze.

Virtually everything about the 80s was over-the-top – the fashion, the hairdos, the music, and the movies. We have to appreciate the cheerfulness and bright colors that decade brought to our childhoods. I definitely think the 80s had been one of the most iconic decades for music thus far. As an 80s teen, I’m thankful the Skate Station played such an awesome role in a lot of our memories.

 

Shout out to our roller skating posse:

Kristi, Tania, Andy L., Eddie A., Chris L., Kelly Y., Toot, Chris B., Ronnie, Kevin M., Kevin L., Bobby R., Sheri R., Christine and Tammy.

Such good times!  Thanks for the memories!

img1457752676979

‘Hollywood’ Roots

The Story of Kristi & Missy

hollywood years

Nestled in southern Maryland is a small town where ‘everybody knows your name’. It’s the kind of town that still makes a resident laugh every time they speak with a telemarketer. Here is the typical pitch: Telemarketer, “Alright, great! I’ll just need your city and state, please.” Me, “Okay, it’s Hollywood, Maryland.” Telemarketer: “I’m sorry. Did you say Hollywood….{silence} Maryland? Did you mean California?” Me: “Yes, I said Hollywood, Maryland. It really does exist.” As a child, I never felt like the neighboring small cities, Lexington Park and Great Mills, were ‘connected’ with our little township.  However, Hollywood and Leonardtown were more like close cousins.  The same remains true today.

When my parents separated I was five years old years old and my brother, Michael, was an infant.  My mother squeezed everything she could fit into her blue Volkswagen Beetle. I recall glancing out the passenger window as we drove away.  We headed to my mother’s hometown of Hollywood where we moved in with my grandparents, Poppop and Mommom, better known in town as ‘John & Mary Lou’. They lived in the heart of Hollywood, which meant you could literally walk to the nearest convenience store (Early Bird) or bar (Toot’s & Dew Drop).  My grandparent’s small quaint white house with a tin roof rested on a hill where tall orange daylilies grew. Those flowers covered your clothing in orange sticky goop if you touched them. Crank-out windows covered a narrow front porch from one end to the other.  Upon entering, you’d see a built-in set of painted white shelves holding old glass dishes and knick knacks.  One dish held very old candy that would crack your teeth apart if you chomped it too aggressively. No one dared to eat that candy.  Straight ahead had been a carpeted living room and two mismatched couches on each side.  A cluttered array of family photos covered the dark wood paneled walls. The remaining wall held a faux wood flower-shaped clock sandwiched between matching sconces. There were three bedrooms and a petite kitchen with an eat-in dining area. Poppop and Mommom were the proud parents of five good-looking children – Janice (my mother), Donnie, Terry, Debbie and Kristi.

Poppop’s favorite pastime was cooking. No matter what day of the week it was, something delicious was cooking on the stove.  The aromas always gave me a cozy feeling.  He was constantly trying to feed us some tasty dish he cooked up and then fished for compliments in return. With an ear-to-ear smile, he’d firmly wrap his arm around you while repeating, “Its good, ain’t it?  Ain’t it good?!”  We’d laugh, hug him back, and praise him for his perfected meals. That man could make a simple cheeseburger and you’d crave five more of them afterward.  After every meal he’d sit outside on the dilapidated concrete front steps smoking cigarettes. It’s a memory of him that I miss. He’d sit there quietly for hours at a time and I often wondered what was going through his mind. I believe it was his way of relaxing and letting go of life’s day-to-day turmoil. He was a man of few words but many smiles. Another one of Poppop’s favorite activities was going to the flea market on Saturday mornings. He often came home from the market bragging about the deals he’d found. So, when he walked in carrying a huge crocheted ceiling-to-floor plant holder made of colored yarn, I smiled with excitement and pretended to like it. His enthusiasm was contagious in that way.  If a day of flea market shopping wasn’t in order, it wasn’t uncommon to find both Mommom and Poppop sitting in the kitchen together listening to ‘The People’s Market’ show on their old wooden radio. It was sort of like a radio talk show except its only listeners had been locals who wanted to buy or sell junk. For example, a person would dial in and say, “I have a high chair for sale. I’d like $10 for it.”  Then a buyer would call in wanting to purchase that item.  As humorous as it sounds, that was a typical way to do business before the internet.

Yard sales were a part of the lifestyle.  If you lived in the County, you most likely enjoyed yard sales, not because you were poor but because it was fun to find good deals. Moreover, you’d see friends and family during your early morning adventures. Occasionally, our family held their own yard sales to sell their accumulated stuff.  My grandparent’s youngest daughter, Kristi, was closest to my age and the joy of my childhood. We were more like sisters. Kristi and I would setup a small food stand to sell our yummy lemonade and cookies. We took great pride in designing our colorful ‘sale sign’ so no one could refuse us without feeling guilty about it. At 10 cents a cup and 25 cents a cookie, you couldn’t beat that deal. Often times, Mommom and Poppop took us to the flea market with them and we LOVED it!  We frequently came home with multicolored rabbit foot key chains, cowgirl hats, or clip-in feather hair accessories.  We clipped the feathers directly onto our hair barrettes or onto the back of our cowgirl hats.  I wish I had pictures of how adorable we looked.

Kristi and I were country girls who’d stay outdoors for hours. It was the kind of weather that made us feel ‘alive’ inside.  The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and we could smell the flowers swaying in the gentle breeze. We took turns riding on the handle bars of Kristi’s bicycle then laughed every time one of us plunged to our demise. Cuts, scrapes and bruises were a stinging reminder of how much fun you had outside that day. Behind the house and down a hill were the old railroad tracks where we used to catch tadpoles and frogs. We’d study their movements for a bit then release them back in their environment.  That notion didn’t apply after we built our first ant farm.  We were proud of our ant farm so we left it on the kitchen counter to show off. That wasn’t a smart move since the ants quickly escaped and found their way into the food cupboards. That had been the only time I ever saw my grandmother truly upset with me and who could blame her?  She grabbed her old wire-ended fly swatter and slapped the backs of our legs with it.  It was comical because we pretended it hurt as we crouched forward with each little swat. Mommom was always a gentle loving soul so when she got angry it was amusing to watch. Surprisingly, she didn’t get mad at us for taking cans of spray paint from the shed to make ‘beautiful’ artwork all over the cement water well cover outside. I guess a multi-colored well cover was more attractive than ant colonies in the kitchen.

Adjacent to the house was a strip of woods dividing us from the neighbors. Kristi and I used to make forts under the tree branches, spread out blankets and eat our snacks and candy under the shade. That included Atomic Fireballs. I never did, and still don’t, like fireballs but they had been a ‘hot’ commodity during our childhood.  Every kid liked them so I pretended I enjoyed having my mouth on fire.  Sweet tea was readily available but we were usually covered in dirt so we drank water straight from the garden hose. We were easily amused with a dirt driveway and a few small rocks to carve out our Hopscotch blocks.  An old rusted basketball hoop was located on the side of the yard where we played H-O-R-S-E. On pretty days, we’d try to catch butterflies. It required a lot of patience and was somewhat competitive. Kristi caught some gorgeous, colorful butterflies and I remember feeling envious. My butterflies looked more like unsightly moths dying for some attention. Honeysuckle bushes lined the right side of the yard and we picked many of them for a taste of sweetness. Buttercups grew all over and we’d hold one up to our chin to show our fondness of butter. If our chins didn’t reflect yellow, we’d pick another until it did.  Evidently, some of those buttercups were defective because we were certain we liked butter. Speaking of butter…. Sunburns were a steady occurrence and Mommom’s old regimen had been to rub butter on our sensitive skin. Unfortunately, our skin never felt relieved by that method; however, it did smell nice. I’d like to think we felt like ‘buttered beauties’. In the evenings, Mommom gave us old mason jars and we’d run out in the front yard trapping lightning bugs. We poked holes in the metal lids and kept them overnight. I loved how they’d light up the room at night in a silent, blinking sort of fashion. Some of the breathing holes weren’t big enough so a few lightning bugs suffered as a result but we did our best.  To top the night off, Mommom made us buttered toast sprinkled with cinnamon.  She’d always cut the crust off the bread.  I felt special when she did that which was odd because I actually liked the crust. I was a follower then so whatever Kristi liked, so did I.  Between buttercups, buttered sunburns, and buttered toast, it’s clear that butter played a big role in our lives.

Indoor living had its own set of rules. Mommom reminded us about conserving water so Kristi and I would put on our cutesy one-piece bathing suits and float around in the bath tub making soapy Mohawks on each other. Of course water always escaped onto the floor and then we’d hear Mommom’s stern little lady’s voice, “Kristi! I better not hear any more water splashing out of that tub!”  “Uh oh, she’s a little upset again,” and we’d softly giggle. Occasionally, we’d braid each other’s wet hair after evening bath time so that we’d wake up with wild, wavy hair the next day.  It took hours to do those tiny braids on each other.  We usually sat on the floor in the living room watching shows like Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company, or Hee Haw to kill time while braiding. We were captivated by the beauty of Cheryl Tiegs and Farrah Fawcett.  I dreamt of looking like them someday but that never happened. I was boney and flat chested until adulthood. A TV guide was essential.  We never wanted to miss an airing of Coal Miner’s Daughter or Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta had been one of our many celebrity crushes. But if we really wanted to feel ‘boy crazy’, we watched ‘The Outsiders’. Throughout the movie we’d express our unwavering love for each cast member, even ‘Ponyboy’. I knew I didn’t stand a chance to land Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon or Rob Lowe, but I was willing to settle for Ralph Macchio or C. Thomas Howell if either would have me.  “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold. –Johnny.”

During the winter, Mommom baked more often and Kristi and I helped her. In return, she let us eat the leftover raw cookie dough or cake batter. We never had a problem keeping ourselves occupied. We’d mold a wire hanger into the shape of a poodle then weave and loop yarn through it until it resembled a fluffy little dog.  The yarn kept rolling until our projects became masterpieces. The remaining yarn was used for ‘string art’ – ‘Witch’s Broom’ or ‘Cat’s Whiskers’.  Endlessly, we tried to come up with new string tricks. I would have been great at that if only I had four more sets of hands to help me hold down those strings. If we had extra ribbon lying around, we made braided-ribbon barrettes for our hair. Sometimes, Kristi would lie on the living room floor, bend her knees then press her feet onto my chest, lifting me high in the air. I’d spread my arms out and soar like an eagle in my imagination. That is, until she’d wiggle her toes into my chest and I’d laugh so hard that I’d fall onto the floor. ‘Paybacks’ were guaranteed. The laughter was nonstop until Mommom and Poppop came out ‘shushing’ us.

A special time for us had been when Mommom pulled out an old shoebox filled with letters Poppop had written to her while serving in the war. It was fascinating to hear her read some of the letters out loud to us. I viewed my grandfather as a superhero after that. He fought for our country. That’s something to feel proud of.  Plus, it explained his many quiet hours of sitting on the front steps.

Kristi owned a 45 record of a scary tale about a girl whose head was held on only by a ribbon.  Yellow Ribbon, in which a young girl wears a yellow ribbon around her neck and a young boy asks her about it, but she puts him off. The two grow up together and eventually marry with the boy/man often asking her about the ribbon, but she continues to disregard the subject as “not important” or “not the right time”. Finally when they are very old, she consents to have him untie the ribbon, and her head falls off.  All I remember of that record was, “…..and OFF came her head!”  I’d look at Kristi and cringe.  I couldn’t bear the thought of my own head being attached by a simple ribbon. What was considered scary in the early 80s was a far cry from what’s scary in today’s generation.

On Sundays, we awoke to Poppop coming in the front door with the fat Sunday newspaper. That was a big deal because Kristi and I loved the kid’s portion which included all sorts of trivia and word games.  Poppop knew we’d come hunting for it so he set it aside for us. Kristi typically shared the ‘newspaper fun’ with me unless she was grumpy.  Then, I’d have to watch her solve all the puzzles while I stewed in jealousy. My life would have abruptly ended if she didn’t allow me to assist her with the ‘Find the Object’ game.  Surely, Kristi needed my help in searching for the only hidden apple in a cluttered cartoon picture of ‘Grandma’s Kitchen’. Our whole family gathered on Sundays for dinner.  It’s amusing because ‘dinner’ was held promptly at 1:00 PM yet no one ever referred to it as lunch because our meals were more like entrees. We’d listen to country music from artists like George Jones, Dolly Parton, Alabama and Loretta Lynn. George Jones’ lyrics rejuvenated me every time I heard his sad songs. His music made me feel good about my life. I used to think, “Well, I’m not married. I don’t have any children. My dog isn’t dead and I have no debt to worry about.” Is this what grown-ups had to look forward to, I thought?  Funny, as an adult I no longer find those songs depressing. Instead, they’re pleasant reminders of my youth.  It had been a time when I felt such peace and joy inside. That carefree feeling you had a child never returns once life’s hardships and responsibilities take away the innocence.

It wasn’t unusual to leave the porch door open to let the cool night’s breeze flow into the house.  One night, a crazy bat whizzed past Poppop while he was sitting outside on the front steps. It flew into the living room literally like a ‘bat out of hell’. Kristi and I panicked and wrapped our heads up like Hijab girls because we were afraid the bat would flap its way into our hair and get stuck. It flew around the house with such madness. Poppop grabbed a broom and began swatting at it every chance he got. A piece of me felt sorry for the bat.  That creature was stuck in unfamiliar territory with screaming people jumping up and down. I don’t recall Mommom ever losing her cool though. Nothing seemed to scare that woman.  Eventually, the bat succumbed to his injuries.  You’d think Kristi and I would have backed away from the deceased animal but Poppop knew us better than that!  We checked it out a bit, using a stick to look at its pointy little teeth. We did it because we knew that opportunity wouldn’t find us again. Mission accomplished.

On any average day, Donnie used to nonchalantly come in the back door carrying a few dead squirrels that he’d shot with his BB gun. I was grossed out, yet fascinated. He’d cut the skin then peel it backward turning the fur coat inside out, detach, then cook it on the stovetop. As unpleasant as it was, I couldn’t look away because I was too curious.

Poppop used to play horseshoes and he was very good at it.  Back then, it wasn’t unusual to bring your kids inside a bar or in the bar’s backyard to watch a few horseshoe matches.  It felt like a hearty family gathering only folks were tipsy while chatting with your children. It was hilarious. We approached the giddy relatives who easily surrendered their spare change so Kristi and I could buy slices of pizza across the street at the Early Bird. Kristi and I were little hustlers and we knew which people to hit up and when. Life was easy going and rarely did you see the police patrolling around Hollywood.

I have memories of my grandmother and a few of her sisters, Aunt Piggy and Aunt Margaret Jane, clogging together as the country music blasted.  I couldn’t clog because I was too uncoordinated. Clogging is a type of folk dance in which the dancer’s footwear is used percussively by striking the heel, the toe, or both against a floor or each other to create audible rhythms, usually to the downbeat with the heel keeping the rhythm.

Visiting my great-grandmothers was when life got interesting. Mommom’s mother, Louise, lived a typical lifestyle.  She wore pretty jewelry and nice blouses and pants. Her house was near some of our cousins’ homes so we enjoyed prancing around the neighborhood visiting everyone.  Our cousin, Tania, usually came outside to play ‘Red Light, Green Light’ and ‘Mother May I?’ with us.  Then there was Poppop’s mother, Annie Ruth, who had been more of an ‘off the grid’ countryside woman.  Her tiny house had no indoor plumbing. That didn’t impact us because we were always outside playing in the woods. Honestly, I never realized some of our family had been poor. We were all happy-go-lucky so I never noticed anything was missing. Money didn’t matter because we had love and unity which was stronger than any dollar-valued thing.

Eventually, my brother and I moved in with my step-dad, who also lived in Hollywood, so we still had plenty of family togetherness.  My mother, Janice, played softball for the ‘Hollywood Swingers’ which sounds much more glamorous than it actually was.  She held an in-field position, usually short stop.  There was nothing more exciting than being ‘bat girl’ for the games.  Kristi and I switched out after each hitter, retrieving the bat once the player ran to first base. Many games were played at Woodburn’s farm, also located in Hollywood.  That was our favorite softball game location and the only time we didn’t want to be bat girls.  Instead, we’d run over and pet the cows and horses.  We’d take straw and purposely touch the electric fence, then chuckle. When that got old, we’d sneak into the coop and chase the chickens around a bit. I never went near the peacocks. They’re beautiful until they’re pissed off.  Then, you’d better get out of the way before they charged at you.  One time we got brave enough, or shall I say stupid, and grabbed a peacock egg from the coop.  We ran with the large egg thinking we could raise the baby peacock on our own. To keep the egg warm we ‘buried it’.  Obviously neither of us grew up to be gifted scholars because that was a fatal move of course.  The egg was freezing cold by the time we dug it up a week later so we cracked it open. Yup, it was dead. We felt a little sad and guilty but we quickly recovered.

The carnival was held at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD).  I don’t recall seeing anymore than three fire trucks present. It was a small flat top near the only traffic intersection in town. Our entire town attended. By that age, Kristi and I were interested in Terry and Debbie’s dating adventures.  We thought Terry’s now-husband, Mike, was really handsome. Most of our family hung out around the beer stand and dunking booth. Kristi and I actually volunteered to be in the dunking booth one time.  That was so much fun!  A kind, deaf girl always attended the carnival and we used to sign ‘I love you’ to her.  She’d sign back the same to us with a big smile upon her face. She had been so young when she passed away and I remember us feeling somber upon seeing her gravesite at St. John’s Catholic Church.  We stood at her tombstone in silence because our hearts felt sad for her and her family.  The carnival is where we met the many loves of our lives. We dolled ourselves up because chances were high we’d meet a cute boy that night and exchange home phone numbers. It sucked having a wall-mounted telephone connected to a spiral-corded receiver because you couldn’t roam far for privacy.

Kristi and I were friendly, cheerful girls who found appreciation in everything and everyone. We were reliable and many relatives trusted us to babysit their precious children. There isn’t anything I’d change about my childhood or the Hollywood family I grew up with. We learned the value of money as adults because L-O-V-E, not greed, came first in our family.  We compromised but never felt the need for anything. We were rich in God, loyalty, faith, laughter and togetherness.  When Poppop passed, a piece of our hearts went with him, same with Donnie. But we keep going because Life must carry on. After all these years, Mommom and most of our family still live in Hollywood. Our family continues to expand but our roots will forever remain the same – “Yes, we’re from ‘Hollywood,’ Maryland.”