I often find it odd that with all the trappings of amusement modernity has bestowed on our peeps, they much prefer the telling of what 'long ago' was like. Having assured them that when I was little - I'm afraid they'd have trouble forming the "Gigi YOUNG' image, so I go with size - I read by lamps, not candles; we had running water; my Dad drove a car, I can progress to the games we played, the friends we had, the toys we cherished. We lived on a dedicated "Play Street" in Brooklyn. Early each morning two policemen would dutifully roll two tall iron poles, set in bases of cement discs and topped with a round yellow metal sign announcing "Play Street" at each end of the block. So, from six AM until six PM NO cars or trucks could drive on Jewel Street. There were two exceptions: the occasional horse-drawn wagon of a green grocer and Johnny, the ice-cream man, who drove a white "Brinks-looking" refrigerated Good Humor truck in the Summer months. Both were occasions of opportunity. As soon as the green grocer had concluded sales and gently urged his ancient steed forward, there'd be a race of old, babushka'd, shovel-wielding women down their respective stoops to be the FIRST to get to the horse's droppings - the most prized of fertilizers for backyard veggie gardens. (What is it Robin Williams said? "You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it.") Of course Johnny presented the high-point-of-the-hot-day potential - a creamcicle, ice cream cup, fudgecicle and a variety of cones. The peeps can listen endlessly, wide-eyed and alternately grinning or pinching pinching their noses during a fertilization scoop. "Tell us what it was like - you know, playing on YOUR street.
The peeps do remarkably well at reading and, if ability fails them, they've inherited that marvelous quality of "making it up" without skipping a beat - a skill my oldest son had mastered; I had admired; my husband, when he finally caught on, flew into an Irish rage and would grab the textbook and thump the kid on the head with it. SOOO macho. And when he sleep-walked at age fourteen in a three floor plus finished attic house and Mom had to find and lead him back to his bed, I'd spend that thirty minutes of adventure recalling the reading sessions of yore.
But they prefer oral story-telling - which is fine with me. Leave the book reading to the 'teachers' in these pre-schools that run on blatant thievery. And 'street-play' and Brooklyn "toys" are still at the top of the charts. I would say our most valued/versatile 'toy' was the steel/aluminum roller skate that you attached to your shoe with - ready? - your "skate key". Good. We raced, played skate-hockey - no cars on a "Play Street" so we could ALWAYS field a team on Jewel. In the fall, we build 'scooters' from an orange crate, a two by four and worn-out skate wheels. (Crate nailed vertically to board which is mounted on four wheels - two front of board; two rear. Then elaborate, very individual painting/chalking of crate for "The Races". The girls got to sit in the crates and monitor the action, giving their driver tips on dodging, veering, speeding up, stop-spinning 180 degrees for a 'head-on' etc. GREAT sport. Of course there was stick ball year round: Pink Spaulding ball "pitched" off the third or fourth step of a stoop, he swings. Or standard pitching with measured, chalk-drawn bases. Chalk was indeed a mainstay: bases, Potsy, "I declare War", cartoon faces - then rub hand in colors on street and paint own face. Those WERE the days.
(Not long ago, both my husband and I were 'kidnapped' by Bubba in the evening - en route home/wine. "Got a minute? I want you guys to see for yourselves who Opal really is." We both poin- ted to Bridie as the poodles were already raising bloody hell just inside their front door. "Oh, I'll just tie her leash to Opal's chair. She'll have shade, water. She'll be fine." Opal was already doing a slow, tango out of the house with a bowl of iced water. Bubba had launched into a history of Opal's career as an artist - in all media and his own, humble career at the Ford Plant as an engineer from which he started his own international engineering firm post Ford retirement. His accumulated evidence of their dual careers was staggering in amount and a KO bore in delivery.
Then the Tour began. Overwhelming doesn't touch it. Opal's paintings - oil, pastels, palette knife, lithography - was wall to wall times at least seven rooms. The living room had a decided twenties feel - tres Isadora Duncan, flapper, Zelda and Scott, Art Deco and ALL with a haunting attention to detail. Rounding a corner we passed a hallway leading back to the front hall through a door the transom of which had been replaced with a magnificent stained glass window Opal ferreted out of a pile of cast-aways at a yard sale. That hall's walls were all adorned with stills - of edibles. And then the kitchen, looking out on the Buddha Alter-inspired garden apprentice piece but dominated by an island centerpiece the panels of which had been retrieved from a storefront in Rome. Two by four foot panels on either side were each consumed by large, round, brightly-painted faces with Keane-portrait eyes. One end was a very happy young woman; the other a crying young man. The side five by four panel was of two large, round, faces - a smiling version of the happy woman cheek to cheek with a coyly-smiling woman who, the story went, had taken smiley away from crying man. Oye. And Opal had repeated versions of this tragedy on the floor tiles in the kitchen. We processed, Phil and I open-mouthed, down another hall - first into Bubba's "study" - incredible large paintings of horses, races, the Kentucky Derby and his rifle collection, then to Opal's magic room, adorned with old photos in frames like gold, but more burnished, of her and her mother - obviously/admittedly the inspiration for the ladies in the twenties art. Little china dolls, lace dresses, baby-sized, artfully displayed. It was all pastel and floral and soft and OPAL. Then back to the front hall - dominated by an ornately-carved bird cage, as wide as the bay window through which it is seen from the street. SO eerily telling. Opal's art is continual movement - what we know as history whereas Bubba's functionality reaches an omega point where there is no longer a need for material production.