There are several passages in Maggie Scratch that would be fun to read at a book signing. This is one. In light of the upcoming elections in the United States and all the hullabaloo around Hillary Clinton and her past, present and future, I thought it might be fun to blog one of my first women heros, or, should I say heroines?
The Good Humor Baby Boomer
The spirit of a Baby Boomer is easy to explain.
My first true love was Annie Oakley. Between 1954 and 1956 I watched 81 episodes of The Annie Oakley Show and I never knew that the real Annie’s name was Phoebe Ann Moses. I wore an Annie Oakley cowgirl vest and an Annie Oakley hip riding holster and I had no idea I was watching Gail Davis, the actress who played Annie, whose real name was Betty Jeanne Grayson. I watched cute little blond Betty Jeanne-Gail-Phoebe Ann-Annie ride around on her horse and I was completely ignorant of the fact that the real Annie Oakley had brown hair and was anything but cute. She was big-boned and had a mustache. With no father and five brothers and sisters, Phoebe Ann went to work when she was twelve years old and paid the mortgage on her mother’s house by shooting the heads off quail. I would have been interested in the real story of Annie Oakley. When I was in first grade at Elkins Park Elementary School, if a teacher had told me that a little girl with the last name of Moses had sold quail to the Katzenberger brothers, these names would have rung a bell. I would have known that Phoebe Ann-Annie got married when she was sixteen, changed her name to Mrs. Frank Butler and was so in love with her husband and he with her, that after fifty years of marriage when Phoebe Ann died of natural causes, Frank died too. This kind of history was not being taught at my school. In 1955, when the United States government declared Annie Oakley “the very spirit of personal independence” on their U.S. Savings Bonds posters, I was parading around in my hip riding holster with a pair of Hopalong Cassidy rain boots and I thought everything I saw on TV was real. I went from Annie Oakley to The Howdy Doody Show and screamed, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!” with the Peanut Gallery and Clarabell. “String bean,” my mother called me in the Howdy Doody days. I was bony and raggedy, tomboyish and pixie-like, scrawny as a twig that scratches a hopscotch in the dirt. It was Pop Pop Scratch, “Tell your story walkin!” who named me after his ragamuffin friend, the hobo, Boxcar Maggie, who rode trains at Reading Terminal in his shoe-shining days. Maybe such a namesake explains why I knew Spanky and Alfalfa and Darla and Buckwheat better than I knew my own brothers. I watched The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, Mr. Ed, Topper the Ghost, Susie the Secretary, Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, Davy Crockett, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Zorro, The Honeymooners and Beat the Clock and when I wasn’t watching TV, I was playing with dolls and toys that my Uncle Herman’s law firm owned the patents to. I read Archie comics upstairs in my pink and white bedroom. I listened to 45 RPM records and I knew all the lyrics to My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, Carousel, Gigi and West Side Story. Later, when I got my period, I was singing “Love Me Tender,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Runaway,” “Blue Moon,” “It’s All in the Game,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Sealed With a Kiss” and many, many more, but it was the alto sax my cousin Danny practiced next door that I grew to love most. Every summer I opened all my windows and let his bee-bop notes fly into my room. I looked down at my mother’s rock gardens, the swimming pool, the flowering dogwoods and the damp tangle of woods where the crab apples grew, and I listened to Danny play. His music kept time to the puck-puck-whish of a tennis ball on his father’s court. Danny grew up to become my favorite musician, but in those days his room smelled like hard boiled eggs and dirty socks and he called me stupid when my pool cue scratched the table. Those were the days when I heard the commuter trains whistling in the distance and imagined they were coming from far away places. On snowy mornings, I listened to the radio with my brothers, we held our breath and prayed to hear the announcer say, “Montgomery County! Closed!” Spring buzzed through the neighborhood with chain saws pruning the trees. The rains came. The grass on all the lawns in Elkins Park was as green as the golf courses at Philmont Country Club. If the lights went out in a hurricane, our mother lit the candles in the recreation room. Summer brought the neighborhood gang over to swim. We ran up the street barefoot in our bathing suits as soon as we heard the Good Humor Man’s bell. I loved to watch him in his starched white uniform and his handsome white hat. To me he was Dick Van Dyke. It was a treat to stand at the back of his truck. He fished out fudgicles and creamsicles and the minute the freezer door opened, dry ice blasted my hot muggy face. I tried to get as close as I could to that smoking box. It was a treasure chest. All the good, sweet and delightful treats were hidden away in there like all the good, sweet and delightful treats that were hidden away in me. I knew one day I would go on an adventure, even if I was punished. In the days of the Good Humor Man there were treats and my little brother survived polio and everybody I loved was still alive.
The question I asked myself when I re-read this homey article about Elkins Park was, if it was so homey, why did I leave?
I gave this some thought.
I wanted a good answer.
I got it.
It was homey, it just wasn’t home.