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I was the only one of my friends who had lessons in anything. In our neighborhood -- the triangle bounded by Grand River and Six Mile on the northwest edge of Detroit -- after-school activities for girls consisted of hopscotch and jumprope in our youth, then roller skating and bike riding. By seventh grade, physical exercise was replaced by sitting around, listening to 'Soldier Boy' on a transistor, comparing notes on whether we'd grown bosoms, 'started' yet, or gotten our first bra, not necessarily in that order. My best friend Carole Wotyla was boy-crazy, although all the boys were either shorter than us with squeaky voices or junior thugs with DAs. I had no interest although it might have been preemptive. What's the use of being interested in boys if they wouldn't be interested in you? I wasn't ready to abandon roller-skating and bike riding, although by eighth grade I had to do it alone and on streets where none of my classmates lived. Riding my bike after dinner in evenings stretched out by daylight time was when I thought about the future. I would be a famous artist; I just didn't know what kind.

Carole didn't have a boyfriend although she would, just as soon as she got away from her strict parents. She had 'dish-blonde' hair (her mother's term) and her gray eyes were minutely crossed which made her appear to be concentrating hard on every word you said, something boys would certainly appreciate. Since she couldn't date boys she transferred her boy craziness to cars. She knew all the makes and models of every car produced by Ford, GM and Chrysler, especially the sportier models. We sat on her side stoop which looked out on Six Mile Road and she'd call out the names as her favorites whizzed by ... T-Birds, Corvettes, Impalas. Convertibles of course. When the cars idled by the traffic light she could tell them blindfolded by their unique perfume of exhaust. At the time I thought her preoccupation with cars was silly. After all, my own fantasies were loftier. Van Cliburn had just won the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow.

I was sure that at my age even Van Cliburn was terrified of playing in public, so terrified, that like me, he stiffened his legs to walk to the piano so his knees would not buckle. And he probably also minded that the grand piano rented for recitals was always so shiny, with a high-gloss bench you could easily slide off to the floor, white keys dazzling under the stage lights, keys that got dangerously slippery under all those damp little hands. By contrast my baby grand at home, its keys yellowed like teeth in need of Pepsodent, its varnish clouded by sweating potted plants, felt as cozy as a window seat.

One day in the library of our school eighth grade was having a free period during which we were permitted to talk, and to help each other with homework assignments. The usual interdict of speech which obtained in Catholic schools was suspended here, provided some boy hadn't shot a spitball at the blackboard, invoking group punishment until a scapegoat confessed or was arbitrarily chosen.

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Copyright © 9 April 2008 K C Devereaux, Michigan USA


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