My memoir, Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in Jazz, Rio, and Beyond was my original incentive for starting this blog. The book was published in 2012, and has done well in terms of excellent, thoughtful reviews, for which I’m very grateful!
Now, as I tentatively begin a sequel to my book, I’d like to share some segments from Getting Down to Brass Tacks. Here’s the first one…from my childhood:
At school I had the reputation of being a weakling and a scaredy cat. First, because I was really small and second, because I was the only kid in my class who wore glasses. The nickname I’d acquired in kindergarten back on Long Island, “four eyes,” had persisted with a vengeance. The older boys and tougher girls teased me mercilessly, not just about the glasses but because I had been blessed with Pop’s aquiline nose, for which I earned the lovely moniker “hawk beak.”
Like any other kid, I wanted to be liked, to be popular, but I had this sinking feeling that it was never going to happen. When I was in the fifth grade I had a teacher named Miss Paquin. The kids all called her “old maid,” but I thought she was very “with it” because every day she used to have us push all the desks and chairs to the sides of the classroom to make a dance floor. Then she’d drag out the record player and put on some music and we’d all partner off and start dancing. She taught us some basic steps and encouraged the shyer boys to ask the girls to dance. She expected the boys to ask all the girls, not just the cute, popular ones like Juney Meyers, with her silky black hair and white angora sweaters, so I had plenty of chances to get out on the floor and cut a rug. Sometimes Miss Paquin would even set up square dances for us.
I remember there was a boy in the class named John Rice who had decided one day to put some firecrackers inside a tin can in his back yard and set them off. He ended up blowing off all the fingers of his left hand. None of the girls wanted to dance with him because they’d have to hold onto his stumpy hand, so I always ended up dancing with John. It kind of gave me the creeps at first, but I got used to it. At least he was a boy and had asked me to dance.
I remember becoming more clothes conscious around this time. Maybe it was because of the dances, but I wanted to look nice. To my mind, Ma had no idea what clothes would look good on me. Sometimes she let me and Bertie pick out our own things, but I remember she bought us some ugly, clunky loafers that I hid in the back of my closet and avoided wearing as much as possible. She still sewed a lot of our clothes, but at least she let us pick out the patterns and the cloth. One of my favorite outfits was a purple corduroy vest and skirt—Ma didn’t make it, she let me choose it from a catalog. I liked the name of the color in the catalog: “wood violet.” But my most favorite outfit of all was my red felt circular skirt with the poodle appliqué on it that I liked to wear with my brown and white saddle shoes. I went through a crinoline phase, too, and even had a hoop skirt for the short time that the rage lasted. Some of the girls I knew in high school wore dog collars on their ankles, on the right ankle if you were going steady and on the left if you were available, but I never got up the nerve to put one on my left ankle.
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