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  • Writer's pictureMarjorie Robertson


(Port Washington, WI, 1973. Photo: Robert Williams.)

Learning the alphabet: a, e, i, o, u.

The preschool cots had names written in magic marker at the foot. That's how we knew where to nap. But some of the boys didn't nap. They crisscrossed the dark room to swap cots. We sat up to watch and laugh until the teacher caught us.

You came home from school, changed out of school clothes, leaving on the little undershirt, and sat on the floor with your legs in a pretzel to read Where the Wild Things Are. Letters were shapes and then, ah! a short word you knew, a place holder for meaning.

Some numbers are girls---2 and 6. Some are boys---4 and 7. You said this one night to your mother after returning home from ice skating, while your brother and sister stayed behind at the rink with their friends. Your mother was delighted. She knelt on the floor next to you and wrote it down.

With kids on your street, you and your sister and brother raced each other on banana seated bikes down Snake Hill while screaming, "Kamikaze!" You did other things your parents never knew, too.

On the East Side in winter, you and your sister ate lentil soup with Polish sausage and buttered toast before dressing in wool and down to shovel out your mother's car or to see Bogart and Bacall at the old movie theater.

When the house was small, we took turns leaving the city to go up there to walk the gravel road and to feed and stroke lost cats. When it was small, before he and your brother built the living room, we sat in one spot and maneuvered when we got up. So summers we sat outdoors at picnic tables in shade, warmed ourselves in the sun by the kids' pool down the hill, sketched with colored chalk on stones, and pulled tomatoes off vines. Your mother worked his hands with nail cream at night with the t.v. on.

When the house was bigger, many visited. Their presence hung around after they left. We smiled because we didn't know what else to do with our happiness.

The space emptied out significantly. We have slowed some. The kids are on their way. We cheer, we cry! Christmastime you needed black socks to wear with black slacks for church so your mother bought you a pack of five. At dawn, she carried a ten-pound bag of oiled seeds down the back steps to feed birds that don't migrate. Mid-mornings she got hungry so your sister sent her a jug of green mix to smooth out her biting stomach, and it worked.

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