As a writer I like to focus on the experiences that aren’t the monuments in our lives; birthdays, graduations, holidays, death of parents, going to college. Of course these things change us. I would say I grew the most going to graduate school in New York City.
However, there was an event in my childhood that shaped who I am more than any other.
When I was five, my family moved to a new house. It was a bigger house with a basement and upstairs. My Grandma P, my mom’s mother, lived with us. There were three of us kids; my older sister, my younger brother and me, the middle kid.
I was the new kid in first grade and every grade until we went to Middle School. I don’t remember when I became friends with Diane Kirda, but by third grade I was a fixture at her house from 3:30 until 4:45. Diane lived a couple blocks from my house. She never came to my house. I’m not sure why. Or she did and I don’t remember. A lot of the kids at school were afraid of my Grandma P. Today you would say she had resting bitch face.
Toward the end of the school year it was very warm and Diane had a pool. I would hang around the outside watching them swim or I’d go home. My Grandma P was very strict about not allowing us to swim in our friend’s pools. One ninety degree Saturday, Diane’s mother told me to ask Grandma again if I could swim. She called my Grandma and she would not relent.
“That’s just stupid.” Diane’s Mom said as she hung-up the phone.”Don’t see what it could hurt.” She gave me one of Diane’s sisters old bathing suites. “If you go swimming and nothing happens, she’ll see it’s okay.” Diane’s Mom reasoned.
“Who would know?” I thought. “As long as I didn’t brag about it. We swim in Uncle Leonard’s pool all the time.” I changed into the bathing suite.
There were several kids over and we had a blast. I played Marco Polo with kids who didn’t dunk me like my cousins. We made tidal waves and a whirl pool. It was fun. It’s funny, my memory of being in the pool is not a vivid as what happened next.
I had trouble tying my shoes, something my Grandma and I fought about. She was constantly telling me if I didn’t learn to tie my shoes people will think I’m an ignoramus. She used the words ignoramus and lummox a lot referring to me and my sister.
When I came home that day, my shoes were tied in long strands of single knots because I was embarrassed to ask Diane’s Mom to tie them after swimming. We had an enclosed porch that acted as a mud room. I could see Grandma through the window that looked out into the porch. She was at the stove with her back to me, stirring. I quietly slipped off my shoes and sat down to untie the knots before she saw. She looked at me over her shoulder. It was the same look you see in the photo of her, “Wait until I get a hold of you.”
My first thought was, “She knows! But how could she? It must be the shoes.” I concentrated on getting the shoes untied. She appeared in the door way with a metal spatula in her hand.
“Where were you?” she said in a calm voice more terrible than if she yelled.
“No where.” I said not looking at her.
“Leave the shoes and look at me.”
I stood but did not look at her.
“What did I tell you?”She said lifting her chin slightly.
I said nothing. “She knows. Some how she knows.” my mind raced.
“I told you, you were not to go swimming in that girl’s pool, didn’t I” Diane was always that girl. “I told that woman.”
“I don’t care. I said you were not to go swimming! Didn’t I? Didn’t I!” She took a step toward me, spatula raised. She never hit us with anything that I remember, but I was never certain she wouldn’t.
“I didn’t swim. I was sitting on the deck.” My throat tightened.
She charged forward a few steps, “Don’t lie. Whose bathing suite did you use? I told that woman!”
The jig was up. I don’t know how she knew, but she knew.
She continued, “You never wear other people’s bathing suites I don’t care who they are. Disgusting pig. You hear me? I don’t know who those people think they are! You can get all kinds of germs from that. Now go sit in your room until your mother comes home. You are grounded until I say so. I can’t look at you. Disgusting.”
I went to my room convinced my Grandma was a witch with special powers. How did she know?
I grew-up in a neighborhood with both good and bad kids. I hung around some of the seedier kids at times because they accepted me. Every time I was faced with making a choice to do right or wrong, I remembered Diane Kirda’s pool and made the right choice. I did not bow to peer pressure either.
In 7th grade, my friend Lori wanted me to steal something with her from Montgomery Ward. I refused. I went home. She got caught. She did not speak to me all summer. She blamed me for not being her lookout.
My friend Charlotte brought a girl to my house after school one time, my parents both worked until 5 and there was a strict no friends rule. Char explained the girl missed her bus and had no where to go. I lived across the street from the school. The girl lived across town. Grandma P was dead by this time. I was mad at Char for bringing her, but did not want to be rude and let them in.
My Mom was a dedicated smoker and kept her cartons of Pall Malls on top the fridge. Char knew this. It didn’t dawn me until years later why Char brought this girl to my house. Char wanted one of my Mom’s Diet Pepsi’s, my Mom always had several 8-packs. I wasn’t allowed to have one. The girl wanted a pack of my Mom’s cigarettes, when I said no, she begged for a single cigarette.
“Please, please, please. Just one? How can she miss just one? Please?” she begged.
“Diane’s Kirda’s pool,” I thought.
They had to leave suddenly when I refused. The next day Char told me I embarrassed her. It was the end of my friendship with Char.
In my early 20s, some friends wanted to go to a bar in Canada because the drinking age was 19. I was always the designated driver because I refused to drink and drive. Diane Kirda’s pool. My friends invited these people along to ride in my car. I was certain they had pot on them. I refused to go cross the border with them in the car. They were all mad at me, but I didn’t care. Diane Kirda’s pool. I would get caught.
Who knows what may have happened to me if I hadn’t had this experience? Would I have got caught stealing? Would I have supplied cigarettes and booze to people to win friends? Would I have been detained at the Canadian border and my car confiscated? There is no way to know. Whenever I’m faced with a No-one-will-know-decision, I think, “Diane Kirda’s Pool.”
I found out years later Grandma P did not have special powers. My sister had a new friend that lived on the same street. She was over her house that day and saw me. She mentioned it to my Grandma is passing. You just never know. Diane Kirda’s pool.
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