Another trip to New York, this time including Syracuse and Albany as well as Hollowville and Greenwich Village.
My friend Pat took me to the Stone Quarry Art Park outside of town where an artist had made a room-sized ship out of piled newspapers anchored to living young trees. It had been out there a while and was weathering so it looked like wood and peeling bark till you got up close and saw print in the cracks. Almost like paper turning back into the wood it came from.
My friend Mara took me to coffee at the coffee bar formerly known as Federal Espresso. Federal Express, somewhat lacking in sense of humor, threatened to sue. The coffee bar, sense of humor intact, renamed itself Freedom of Espresso.
I met Mara’s friend Eli, he of “playing Julia Butterfly Hill.” He’s four and, when we met, a serious firefighter. The packing box the water heater came in had become an apartment house he rescued people from. Now, I hear, he’s an astronaut.
Mara and I went to the Children’s Music Network gathering at a Holiday Inn in Albany. Great people, plastic surroundings. Luckily, right next to the hotel, surrounded by strip mall and fast food, was another coffee place, Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary, in one of two remaining real houses on the ticky-tacky street, where we could escape the artificial air and long hallways.
For the last eight years, the Children’s Music Network has given a Magic Penny Award to an outstanding contributor to children’s music. The award is named after my mother’s song and she was, posthumously, the first recipient. I accepted for her, and wrote an article about her for CMN’s journal, Pass It On. This year, the 20th anniversary of the founding of CMN, the award was given to Sarah Pirtle, who first had the idea of an organization of people who used children’s music “as a powerful means of encouraging cooperation, celebrating diversity, building self-esteem, promoting respect and responsibility for our environment, and cultivating an understanding of nonviolence and social justice.” Sarah was the first editor of Pass It On. She has done great work using music, and especially group songwriting, to help children learn to get along with each other and mediate disputes. Her book Linking Up: Using Music, Movement, and Language Arts to Promote Caring, Cooperation, and Communication gives practical suggestions, and songs, for working towards CMN’s goals. The first song of hers I learned was a silly one, “The Woman Who Gobbled Swiss Cheese,” introduced to me by Ginni Clemmens in Chicago in 1976 when I did my first swing around the country in my van telling stories. It was Sarah’s first song.
Hudson and Hollowville:
I took the train down the Hudson River to the town of Hudson, where I met Claudia, who was coming up on the train from New York City. We went then to Claudia’s sister Susan’s house about twenty minutes east in the little village of Hollowville. Hollowville is just houses and a tiny post office, no stores. Alas, the natural food store in Hudson was recovering from a fire so we were shopping in supermarkets...but also eating out in Hudson at the Red Dot, Mexican Radio, and the WonderBar. Here’s the historical marker on the motel across from the WonderBar:
In 1958 on this historic site the first motel ever
converted from a movie theater and located
in a small community was opened.
It’s signed by Warren Inn Mngmt Group 4, which seems to have different standards from mine about what’s historical.
Susan died in April, and we were busy then with her apartment in Greenwich Village. Now we were at her country cottage so Claudia could go through old family photographs and papers and take what she didn’t already have copies of. I was along as dishwasher and hand-holder.
The first weekend we were there Margaret, my best friend from third and fourth and seventh grade drove down from Burlington, Vermont for our first visit in over twenty years. She didn’t mind driving down. Driving is her thing. She was a taxi driver in New York City, then drove an airport limo in Vermont, and now, at seventy-three, she’s driving a van around the university campus in Burlington, taking students from place to place. She’s a great one for the job, outgoing and funny. I reminded her that she used to make faces at me when we were doing arithmetic flash cards in class, making me laugh out loud and get in trouble. She reminded me that I had made up a new letter for the alphabet (this was before Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra). I had entirely forgotten this—neither of us could remember the letter—but it does sound like me. We both remembered spelling our names backward. I envied hers: Teragram NoskcaJ sounded so much better than Ycnan Sdlonyer.
Here’s why the gap between fourth and seventh grades. My family had lived in apartments around Emerson School in Berkeley for as long as I could remember. Then, in the last years of World War II, when my parents had saved enough money—my carpenter father building the ways to make Liberty Ships in and my mother making bomb casings—they bought a house. In another neighborhood. I loved the house—it was old and big and had a dilapidated barn in the back—but I hated leaving Margaret and our favorite teacher, Mrs. Carney, in the middle of the year to go to a different school. I had a great time with the kids on my new block, playing circus in the big basement of one family, trading comic books, but I don’t remember school at all, except learning to make folded paper cootie catchers and water bombs from the other kids.
Then it got worse. My grandfather, the naval tailor in Long Beach, died the next year. My grandmother came to live with us but couldn’t stand being away from her work and her friends, on top of losing her husband. He had made friends easily while she did not. So we moved to Long Beach, and my parents started running my grandparents’ naval tailor shop. They found a smaller house where I had to share a room with my grandmother instead of having one of my own. I made friends on the block, we somehow survived playing in trenches we’d dug in a sandy lot, but I don’t remember school there either, except that may be the one where we had a pretend bank in the room. We never had a bank in our classroom in Berkeley.
It got worse yet. My parents bought a bigger house, but the people in it still hadn’t moved out when we had to vacate the house we’d just sold, so we had to stay with friends in a raw new subdivision with no lawns or trees. People had moved in faster than schools were built for them, so the schools were on double session. I didn’t have a room of my own in this house that wasn’t our own, and at school I didn’t have a desk of my own. I was in the afternoon session, so there was no time to play after school. I did not make friends with the kids on that block. I don’t remember how many weeks we were there. I don’t remember the people we stayed with nor what the inside of the house looked like nor any of the kids I saw in school. I only remember that the whole neighborhood looked as unsettled as I felt. We finally moved into a substantial old brown-shingle house near the center of town with a real front porch with room for a swing and windows in my bedroom that I could climb out of.
But the school? Not Berkeley. The fifth grade teacher told me I had to paint the background of my paper plate faking Mexican pottery black, not brown, because Mexican pottery was black. Well, some is, but the casserole my parents had bought on one of our trips to Baja was brown. In Berkeley studying the California Indians we’d made real baskets out of reed and raffia, we didn’t fake with paper plates. In Long Beach the sixth grade teacher played a record of the Volga Boat Song and told us all Russian music was sad. I raised my hand. “We go folk dancing,” I said, “to Russian music that’s lively and fun,” or words to that effect. It went on like this. Looking back, I’d call it culture shock.
The naval tailor shop was in Long Beach because the fleet was there. Margaret’s father was in the navy. I didn’t put the two together, so I was completely surprised when Margaret showed up in Long Beach in the seventh grade. Not in the same school, but we could hang out together. Every time we did, we kept saying the same thing at the same time. My mother had taught me a rhyme to say when you do that, each person saying alternate lines:
When a man marries his trouble begins.
What goes up the chimney?
Our wish will never be broke.
Then you make a wish.
In Hollowville, Margaret regaled us with her wheeled adventures. She’d spent a month motorcycle camping down the Maritimes with a friend. When she was on a photo safari in Africa they were short handed and needed another driver. She was the only one with a commercial license, so she got to drive the Land Rover across country on barely visible tracks. I had last visited her about twenty-five years ago when she lived in New York City. Before that, we hadn’t seen each other in thirty-seven years. Here’s how we found each other then:
My mother had a gig at the Full Moon, a women’s coffee house that thrived during the seventies in my neighborhood in San Francisco. I did a feminist paper-folding story as part of the show. Afterwards, a woman came up to me and said, “I bring greetings from Margaret Jackson.” My jaw hit the floor. This was a friend of Margaret’s who knew she had been friends with Malvina Reynolds’ daughter. (Margaret was into music, as well as wheeled vehicles.) She didn’t have Margaret’s address with her, but took mine, and we wrote thirty-seven-year-catch-up letters.
This is another perk of having a famous parent—old friends can find you. (This was Before Google.)
Next time: New York City and back home to Berkeley.
©2007 by Nancy Schimmel
Children’s Music Network met in Albany this year. I was there.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007