Girl fight! That's what greeted me as I boarded the subway at 116th this morning. Actually, it took me a few minutes to realize what was going on, as I was busy settling into a seat on the train. The car appeared crowded, and it seemed odd that there were so many vacant seats, but my subway theory is "sit first, figure out what's going on later."
Once the doors closed I noticed the uncommon knot of people a few yards away from me. Then I heard a loud string of profanities and name-calling. Uh-oh. Someone was mighty angry at 7:55 in the morning.
Two ghetto-chicks (and since they were calling themselves that and I'm a proud Spanish Harlem ghetto-chick, I believe I can get away with pinning that moniker on both women) were having it out with each other, but good. One of the other passengers told me that the angry girl in the stocking cap had been lying down, taking up a whole subway seat (very dangerous bid'niz, if you know what I mean), when the girl in the green jacket tried to get her to move over.
It escalated and punches were thrown. No, didn't see it - just heard it, since their mobile wrestling ring was surrounded by interested subway riders. Several large men tried to break it up, but breaking up a cat-fight is a dangerous proposition, whatever your size. When we reached 103rd Street station, the conductor stopped down the train - which angered everyone trying to get to work and school - and stood in the doorway until the police arrived. The women were hauled off the train, still screaming and punching (didn't envy that policeman!), and we were free to go on our merry way.
Such excitement for a Friday morning! I'm always surprised that this kind of thing doesn't happen more often. At any moment the guy or gal next to you on the subway, on the street, in the bank or grocery line could lose it and cause mass chaos. Certainly this can and does happen, no matter the size of the city or town. But it doesn't happen very often. Even in crowded Manhattan. Whatever issues, anger, sadness, or disappointments folks have, they manage to contain them in public.
While New Yorkers are always in a hurry, people here are usually helpful and love to talk. Complete strangers share jokes and laughter. Truly. Even this morning in the midst of our little version of WWE, the rest of us were making wisecracks and calling the punches. We shared a common NYC experience. Because most of us are able to control ourselves for the greater public good (and despite what you see on CSI:NY or Law and Order), we ensure each other's safety.
Here's to the millions of New Yorkers who behaved themselves today on public transport and on the wide avenues and narrow side streets to live their lives and get on with their business. And to our two girl-fight chicks? Well, to quote the woman next to me on the #6 this morning: Grow up, calm down, and show more self-respect. That's how the rest of us do it.
While everyone else is celebrating Abraham Lincoln's birthday today, our family remembers our rambunctious brother David, born this day in 1946. He would be 63 years old if he hadn't died of pancreatic cancer in 1990. He was known as our barefoot boy, because Daddy always quoted lines from the John Greenleaf Whittier poem when referring to David.
So today, on his 63rd birthday, we who loved him dearly (the croquet mallet incident notwithstanding) say, Blessings on thee, little man.
The Barefoot Boy
By John Greenleaf Whittier
BLESSINGS on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,—
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!
Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!
Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!
If my parents were still alive, they’d be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary today. They made it to 55. Daddy died in 1999, Mother in 2004. I’m glad they lived long enough for us to throw them a big, ol' 50th Anniversary party. They deserved it.
They met while serving in the Navy in Jacksonville, Florida. Yup. During the war. (And everyone knows when I say “the war,” I mean WWII. Guess that generational assumption will die off someday.) Daddy managed to escaped the farm in Henrietta, Tennessee, and Mother, an Atlanta native, was talked into joining the WAVES by my Uncle Frank. So I guess we have him to thank for all of this (God rest his soul).
I’m not sure when they met or how long they dated before making the fateful decision to marry. My mother’s mother was still catatonic about one of her girls leaving the bosom of the family for life in the Navy. I understand she took to her bed for several days when she got the news about Mother and Daddy’s wedding. My grandmother liked to control situations, and the marriage was not of her doing.
So. February 10, 1944, Jacksonville, Florida. And here’s the picture (Daddy and Mother on the left). Daddy was 23 and mother 27. Lovin' that hat, Daddy! Their best friends, Tommy and Mary Boyd, acted as witnesses. A few months later, Mother got an Honorable Discharge from the Navy because she was pregnant with my brother Bill. And no, they didn’t have to get married – Bro was born November 21, 1944 (you do the math).
Newly-married daughter Kate commented that she looked to her grandparents as a model for marriage. I wish she’d known them longer, before age took its toll on both, because they became kind of crotchety in their later years. But, boy, they were solid as a rock for each other all the way through. Daddy was low-key and patient, though when he’d reached the end of his rope, he could blow (but nothing dangerous). Mother was the more outgoing type. I suspect Daddy let her have her way, up to a point. It worked for them. At any rate, if they ever reached a danger zone in the marriage, I certainly wasn’t aware of it. They were just meant to be.
Happy Anniversary, you two crazy sailors! I know you’re celebrating in high Heaven. Anchors Aweigh!
Safety First. I grew up being reminded of the personal responsibility for my own safety ad nauseum – at home, at school, at church, at Brownie meetings. Most of the time those reminders worked just fine. I’ve always been a smart cookie and could recognize danger when it was staring me down on the playground. On occasion, however, I had to learn the hard way. Maybe I was distracted at the time. Or perhaps I wanted to test my own youthful invincibility. Or maybe I was just being a little smart-ass, and it backfired.
At any rate, once the warnings had been given – many, many times – the adults figured we were on our own from there on out. I don’t recall ever being swaddled in foam rubber or put in a protective plastic bubble. My theory is that our authority figures believed we were smart enough to heed all those safety heads-ups. If not, well, a lesson would be learned the old fashioned experiential way. In short, once we’d been warned, it was up to us not to kill ourselves. I know that I understood that at a very early age.
Fast forward to 2009. Been to a playground or park or pool lately? Tempted to ride a bike or skateboard – even around your backyard – without a helmet and enough padding to shut off the air supply to your pores? In case you haven’t experienced any of these things recently, let me paint the picture for you. There is absolutely nothing death-defying (which was the fun part, if you’ll remember) to any slice of childhood today.
All the fun has been sucked out of life’s most thrilling moments – example, settling into a good old-fashioned wooden-seated swing and trying to get as high off the ground as possible. And, of course, at some point being dare-devil enough to jump out. Woo-hoo! And a sliding board? Please. Atlanta’s parks used to have these mile-high slides. Only the brave attempted the steep ladder (don’t look down). Sheer joy! And at the bottom? Dirt and/or rocks. But we’d go back up time and time again for the sheer thrill of it all.
Remember the guts it took to go off the high-dive at a public swimming pool? Yowser! But, oh! What a sense of accomplishment – the true Red Badge of Courage for a youngster.
Before I go on, I want you to know that I do not have mass death wishes for the children of today. Safety First!, remember? I realize the need for helmet laws for bicycles (grudgingly). I understand parents want to keep their little darlings from feeling the world’s physical pain. And I certainly understand that we live in an ultra-litigious society. Personal safety isn’t my responsibility anymore. It’s, um, somebody else’s. Or I’ll sue.
So playgrounds are plastic and soft. Swings are unswingable. Slides are three feet high, tops. And, God forbid, rocks and dirt! No, playground surfaces must be like those packing peanuts, all foam and soft. No more high-dives, either, unless you’re Olympics-bound. No more breeze in your hair, as you race through the neighborhood on your bike, Leave It to Beaver-style.
Funny thing is that I don’t remember huge death tolls from pre-1970’s playgrounds. In fact, we Baby Boomers seemed to thrive jumping out of high-flying swings and tumbling off high diving boards into the water below. I mean most of us are still around, much to the chagrin of younger generations and Social Security.
One of life’s biggest lessons – and I think most of us learned it somewhere along the way – was getting popped in the teeth with a swing. Did it hurt? You bet. But I’ll wager most of us never stood in back of/in front of a moving swing again, eh? And that one lesson, along with many other playground escapades, prepared us for all the other teeth-bashing life-lessons to come.
Will the children of today know when to get out of the way of all the big, bad swings coming right at them?