Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Say cheese!

My cousin called me the other day and asked me if I could do her a favor and take her son’s senior yearbook photo for him.

“Photographers are SO expensive,” she said. “Luckily, the kids can submit their own photos, wearing whatever they want and posing however they want.”

I found myself feeling very envious of the kids of today. Back when I had my senior photo taken for the yearbook, there weren’t any such options. We were given appointments to show up at Rheault Studios on Elm Street in Manchester and were told, per penalty of death, to look neat and well groomed. And the boys had to wear jackets and ties.

I remember how stressed out I was the week before my appointment. I tried on every piece of clothing I owned, and even some of my mother’s. Nothing seemed right.

“How about this?” I asked my mother as I modeled a pink flowered blouse.

“Too busy,” she said. “A solid-colored sweater with a nice necklace is all you need. After all, the photo is going to be in black in white anyway.”

I hadn’t thought about that. No matter what color I wore for the photo, it was going to be black, white or some shade of gray in the photo. I finally chose a light blue sweater and a heart-shaped locket.

The day of my photo, I had to walk to Rheault’s Studio directly from school. I’d worked hard all day to keep my shoulder-length hair in a perfect flip. There had been endless trips to the ladies’ room, where I’d sprayed my hair until it was so stiff, if I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and landed on my head, I wouldn’t have hurt myself because my hair would have acted like a helmet.

On a normal day, I would have been wearing pink lipstick, rose blusher, green eye-shadow and eyeliner, but one of my friends told me that colorful makeup looked terrible in black-and-white photos. “You don’t want to look embalmed,” she said. “Go for the totally natural look instead.”

So there I was, walking across Granite Street Bridge, heading toward Elm Street and feeling less than confident with my stiff hair and colorless naked face, when something completely unexpected happened…it started to rain. By the time I reached Rheault’s, I looked as if I dunked my head in a bucket of lard.

I remember climbing a flight of stairs up to the studio and meeting two of my classmates who were coming down. They took one look at me and started to giggle. Needless to say, I was getting the feeling that my mother probably wasn’t going to be ordering a case of 8x10 enlargements of my senior photo to hand out to the relatives.

The studio was small and dark. The photographer, a man with a friendly voice and a smile to match, greeted me and then said, “Um, there’s a mirror over there if you want to comb your hair and freshen up a bit.”

I was afraid to look into that mirror. When I finally gathered the courage to open my eyes, I saw a stringy-haired, pale-faced girl in a rain-splotched sweater. Even worse, I realized that I’d forgotten to wear the heart-shaped locket. I looked positively drab.

“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “If I look this bad in living color, I can just imagine what I’m going to look like in black and white.”

I combed my hair. The teeth on the comb made a row of lines through my wet hair, especially on my bangs, which were drooping down to my eyebrows. No matter how hard I tried, I still ended up looking as if my hair had just been plowed in preparation for crop planting. I finally gave up and took a seat in front of the camera.

The photographer took a few serious, pensive shots of me and then said, “Now give me a big smile.”

I managed a tight-lipped smirk.

“No, I want to see some teeth!” he said.

“I don’t want to show my teeth,” I protested. “I never smile with them showing…because of the gap.”

“Don’t worry, I can touch up the gap,” he said. “No one will even know it’s there.”

My eyebrows rose. The thought of finally seeing a photo of myself smiling with even, gapless teeth was enough to make me forget about my limp hair. I flashed a toothy smile at the camera.

It seemed like years until I finally received the proofs of my photos. Anxiously, I opened the envelope. My mouth fell open in horror. The photos were hideous, horrible, even worse than I ever could have imagined. My eyes looked like two oysters on the half-shell, and my teeth as huge as a horse’s. My bangs had more ridges than Ruffles potato chips.

“You’re being silly,” my mother said when she looked at the proofs. “I think they came out really nice, especially this one right here.”

I studied the photo she’d selected. Out of all of the proofs, it was the best of the bunch. But that wasn’t saying much. I had wanted to be immortalized looking like Miss America in my yearbook, not like Seabiscuit.

The finished photo that went into the yearbook didn’t please me at all. For one thing, the gap in my teeth hadn’t been retouched, as the photographer had promised it would be, and I also looked as if I had one solid eyebrow running across my forehead.

Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to take my cousin’s son’s senior photo. I may not be able to suppress the urge to put him through the same torture I went through when I had my photo taken.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If Memory Serves Me...

People often tell me that I must have a good memory because I can recall, in great detail, things that happened to me years and years ago.

To be honest, my “photographic memory” is due to the fact that I have kept a diary (I recently was informed that they now are called “journals”) every day since 1962. So whenever I need to jog my memory about a specific day in my life, I just grab one of my 43 diaries. I don’t suppose I’d remember that I ate Chef Boyardee ravioli for lunch on May 1, 1965 if I didn’t have the momentous event recorded in one of my diaries.

Anyway, there was a man on TV the other day who said he could remember events that occurred all the way back to when he still was in his mother’s womb. He described the music and voices he heard, and how he knew when his mother was having a restless night and tossing and turning.

I didn’t believe a word of it, but I found myself wondering what my earliest memory (without the aid of my diaries) was.

I guess one of my earliest memories dates back to when I was about two-and-a-half and had to be hospitalized for a week. I don’t remember the actual events that led up to my hospitalization…and to be honest, even after all these years and actually seeing my medical records, I still find the whole episode difficult to believe…but I do remember the hospital itself.

According to my mother, it all started when she and I were out in my grandmother’s field one afternoon and I bent over to pick a flower. When I did, a piece of timothy grass poked me in the eye. I whined, rubbed my eye hard, and that was the end of it.

Or so my mother thought.

About 10 days later, my eye began to look red and puffy. My mother examined it closely and saw something green sticking up out of the corner of it. She tugged on the green thing. It wouldn’t budge. My screams nearly broke the sound barrier. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.

The doctor’s theory was that a piece of the timothy grass, which kind of looks like wheat, had lodged in my tear duct or beneath a membrane in my eye when I’d rubbed it, and the damp, moist environment in there had caused it to sprout. The doctor said it would have to be surgically removed and I’d have to stay in the hospital for a few days.

Upon hearing the diagnosis, my mother said she nearly panicked. I suppose it must have been traumatic for her, learning that her child was a walking greenhouse. She probably had visions of my face covered in plant life with roots hanging out of my nostrils.

As I said, the part of all of this that I remember clearly is being in the hospital. I still can picture the big room I was in. It contained rows of metal-barred cribs with kids in them. The tops of the cribs had nets over them. I guess the nets were so we couldn’t escape. We all looked like a bunch of little zoo animals.

I also remember daily “playtime” at the hospital. A woman, pushing a cart loaded with stuffed animals, would stop at each crib and hand an animal to each of us. My crib always was the last one she reached. Just as I would start to play with the stuffed animal, the woman would come back and take it away, saying, “Sorry, dear, playtime is over!” I can remember stubbornly trying to hold onto the animal as she tugged on it. I wasn’t about to let her take MY toy without a fight.

And I remember having to feed myself. A cart with food on it would be rolled up to my crib and left there. I had to reach out through the bars and grab my meals. I ate with my hands and I ate fast because I was sure that the lady who handed out the stuffed animals was going to show up and try to snatch away my food, too. I usually ended up with more food in my ears and hair than in my mouth.

The thing I remember the most clearly about the hospital, though, was the morning a nurse took me into a room that contained a full-sized bathtub and gave me a bath. Halfway through my bath, another nurse, carrying a little boy, walked in and plunked him next to me in the water.

I had no idea what to make of that naked little boy. I knew he looked different than I did, but I couldn’t figure out why. I did a lot of staring. In fact, I stared so much, I made the nurses laugh.

My mother said that when I finally came home from the hospital, I was not the same happy, smiling kid she’d taken there. She said I glared at her and my father, communicated in grunts, and I ate like an animal, shoving food into my mouth with both fists, as if every bite might be my last. And I’d gone to the hospital all potty trained…and came home completely un-potty-trained.

Considering my dramatic personality change, I think my parents should have taken me back to the hospital for an x-ray of my brain. Heck, they may have found a cornstalk growing in there.

So I guess that’s my earliest memory. Although now that I think about it…there was that time back in the womb when I socked my twin sister because she was hogging all the room.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Halloween ghost story

Every year when the Halloween season rolls around, I think about Jimmy.

I met Jimmy late one October night just before my sixth birthday. I was in bed and was supposed to be sleeping, but actually I was hiding under the covers and shining a flashlight on a Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book.

I thought Casper was pretty cool because he was such a nice ghost. All of the other ghosts in the comics seemed to enjoy frightening people and making their hair stand up straight on end, their eyes bulge out of their sockets, and their tongues stick way out of their mouths (at least that’s the way they were drawn in the comic books). But Casper never tried to scare people. Casper always was a kind ghost.

Anyway, as I was looking at my comic book, I suddenly heard a noise in my room. It was like a soft thud and came from somewhere near my bedroom door. I held my breath. I heard it again.

Cautiously, I peered out from underneath the covers. I gasped. Standing there, to the left of my closed bedroom door, was a shadowy figure. It was tall, droopy-shouldered and was wearing a coat. Its hair was long and white. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.

“Don’t be scared.” A young-sounding voice came from the shadowy figure. “I’m Jimmy. What’s your name?”

I was certain that my eyes were bulging, just like the people’s in the comic books. “S-Sally,” I managed to squeak.

Jimmy didn’t move from his spot. In fact, Jimmy didn’t move at all. “I’m a ghost,” he said. “I’ve been a ghost for 100 years.”

At that point, I was pretty sure I wet my bed. So many things were running through my mind. Was he a good ghost like Casper or one of those mean ghosts? Was my hair standing up straight on end? And what did his face look like? Was he a cute ghost or a really ugly one with huge fangs and glowing eyes? The streetlight just outside my bedroom window cast some light on him, but not enough for me to see his face.

“Wh-what are you doing here in my room?” I asked.

“Well, you were born on Halloween and you like Casper,” he said. “That makes you the perfect person for a ghost to visit.”

His voice sounded friendly enough. In fact, he sounded just like my cousin Eddie, who was one of my best buddies. Still, until I could see Jimmy’s face, I wasn’t about to trust him. For all I knew, a Wolfman-like monster was hiding underneath that coat and long white hair.

“How come you don’t move?” I asked him, though I didn’t really want him to come any closer.

“Oh, I’ll be moving in just a few seconds.”

Sure enough, he suddenly looked as if he were floating sideways – kind of like a flag in a soft breeze. I noticed that he had no feet.

“How did you get to be a ghost?” I asked.

“It happened on Halloween. I went out trick-or-treating and I got bags and bags of candy. Then I came home and sat up all night eating it, even though my parents warned me not to. The next thing I knew, I was a ghost.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. My parents frequently had warned me not to eat too much Halloween candy. I’d thought it was because I’d end up with a bellyache or maybe a toothache…not end up being a ghost. As much as I thought Casper was cool, I was in no hurry to become Casperella.

“Can I see your face?” I asked Jimmy.

“I don’t have one,” he said. “You should be getting to sleep now anyway or you won’t be able to get up for school in the morning. Oh…if you get a Hershey bar when you go out trick-or-treating, save it for me, okay? I’ve been craving one for 100 years.”

Before I could say anything else, the door to my bedroom creaked open and Jimmy was gone.

“Who on earth are you talking to?” My mother’s half-asleep voice came from my doorway.

In a frantic rush of words, I told her all about my encounter with Jimmy, the ghost.

She flipped on the bedroom light, looked around, and laughed. “Look, Sally, here’s your ghost!” She pointed to the clothes peg on the back of my bedroom door, where she’d hung my gray flannel coat and a white kerchief earlier that day.

“See? It looks like long white hair and a body with no feet!”

“But he moved!” I protested.

As if on cue, the furnace popped on, and through the grate, which was right near the door, a blast of hot air hit the clothes. They began to sway to the right.

“And I talked to him, and he talked back to me!”

“Honey, I’ll bet you were looking at your Casper comic books again and you fell asleep, or were nearly asleep, with ghosts on your mind. You were dreaming! Nothing about Jimmy was real.”

Mom’s explanation made sense…but still, I refused to believe that Jimmy didn’t exist. And when I went out trick-or-treating a few days later and got a Hershey bar, I saved it for him, just in case he came back.

And that year, I didn’t stuff myself to the usual bursting point with Halloween candy the way I’d always done in the past.

I was too scared I’d end up like Jimmy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

'Tis the season

I was talking to my neighbor the other day and telling him that I have seen more deer this year during my walks in the woods than in all of the past 30 years combined.

“I think the big construction projects in Hooksett, where they’re clearing out all the trees, has something to do with it,” I told him. “It’s pushing the animals in our direction.”

My neighbor, an avid hunter, shook his head. “I’ll bet you anything that you won’t see any more deer now till at least January. It’s hunting season, and the deer know it. They’ll make themselves scarce.”

I pictured the deer gathered around a calendar nailed to a tree in the woods and saying, “Yep, Bambi, it’s hunting season all right. Come on, we’d better get the heck out of here.”

“Is it really hunting season already?” I asked.

My neighbor nodded. “Bow and arrow. Then in late October it’s muzzleloaders, and finally regular firearms. If you’re going out walking in the woods, you’d better wear orange, just to be safe. You don’t want to end up with an arrow in your butt.”

I groaned. Every year at this time, I have to don my Great Pumpkin outfit, which consists of so much fluorescent orange, I swear that people all the way up in Quebec can see me.

Even worse, I also have to deck out my dogs in orange. I bought orange vests, orange neckerchiefs, and even orange collars for them, just to be safe. If I could hook up flashing lights that spell out “DOG” and hang those on their backs, I’d probably do that, too. That’s because a couple times during past hunting seasons, hunters have warned me that my dogs look too much like deer from a distance.

I remember when I used to bring a cassette player with me on my daily hikes and blast rock-music tapes so hunters would hear me approaching and not mistake me for a deer. I’d thought it was a pretty good idea…until I mentioned it to my husband.

“You go around making all that noise in the woods?” he asked. “It’s a wonder the hunters don’t shoot you for scaring all the deer away!”

“That probably would explain why I thought I heard a bush cursing at me one afternoon.”

The thing I like about deer hunters is that they wear bright orange, too, so I usually can spot them from a distance and not be startled by them. Bird hunters, on the other hand, in their camouflage outfits, blend right in with the scenery and become invisible. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out hiking and walked by a tree trunk that suddenly said hello to me. The first time it happened, I nearly needed a defibrillator.

Over the years, however, I have learned how to tell when hunters are around so I can keep an eye out for them. First of all, there will be pickup trucks parked along the edge of the woods. You can just about guarantee that for each one of those trucks, there will be at least one weapon-toting person roaming around.

And then there is the toilet paper. During hunting season, clumps of it seem to magically appear in the woods along the hiking trails. I’ve never actually witnessed how the toilet paper got there (and I pray I never will), but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t due to the animals being on a sudden personal-hygiene kick.

Of course, when there’s snow on the ground, it’s a snap to tell where the hunters are because their footprints are a dead giveaway. I don’t know if this is a proven scientific fact or not, but I have noticed, from years of studying hunters’ footprints in the snow, that most of them walk with their right foot turned outward.

I don’t know which is weirder…the fact that they walk with their right foot turned out…or the fact that I even noticed.

So as much as we hate to, my dogs and I will be wearing our bright orange ensembles for the next couple of months. That way, we should be able to make it through another hunting season without getting shot full of holes.

That is, unless we startle one of the hunters while he’s actually using some of that toilet paper.