Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Things we do for Love (by Jeanne Damoff)


Today's post comes from my new friend Jeanne Damoff. Just in case you missed my post from last Thursday, you might want to check it out. It gives a glimpse into who this lovely woman is and why I asked her to guest blog for me: The Picture inside the Picture. And now, here's Jeanne:

This is my first-ever guest post for the lovely and talented katdish, and--even though she pooh-poohs the significance of such an endeavor--I’m slightly intimidated. So here I sit, wondering if that was a good first sentence and contemplating what else to write, when suddenly I’m transported back to 1964.



I’m standing behind a closed curtain on the auditorium stage at William L. Cabell Elementary School in North Dallas. I’m all alone, a tiny waif in a blue dress, white anklets, and Buster Brown oxford shoes. The light is dim and dusty. The curtain is heavy, and it towers far above me. I’m waiting for it to open, and when it does, I’m going to sing. A capella. (I don’t know the term “a capella” yet, but that won’t stop me from singing that way.)

I’m doing this for Miss Carras, our first grade teacher. I’m doing it because I love Miss Carras truly and deeply. You would, too, if you had been riding your bicycle to school, and it started to rain, and your sister and friend took off on their bigger, faster bicycles, leaving you to pedal your tiny, waif-sized bicycle as fast as your tiny waif-like legs could go, all the while watching your companions slowly disappear from sight, and feeling the rain sting your skin and the tears sting your eyes, and then hearing the tardy bell ring when you’re still a block away from the school, and arriving at an empty schoolyard, and seeing your sister’s and friend’s bikes neatly parked at the bike rack, and running through the deserted hallway to your classroom, the pounding of your Buster Browns on linoleum a mere pitter pat compared to your heart as you wonder if you’ll be sent to (insert ominous music) The Principal’s Office, where bad kids go for “licks” (and no, I’m not talking about ice cream), which ranks near the top of your list of worst first-grade fears (you’ve heard the legendary tales of suffering and woe--everyone has), and then finally bursting into the classroom, trying to keep your cool, but catching Miss Carras’ curious eye and dissolving into rain-drenched, late-to-class sobs, because surely she’ll despise you forever and make you bang erasers until eternity or fourth grade, whichever comes sooner, but then . . .

Miss Carras pauses her lesson and scoops you into her lap. She rocks you and asks what happened and dries your tears and, for those few moments while your sobs subside, she doesn’t worry one bit about the twenty other kids who arrived dry and on time. Nor does she call CPS after hearing your story, because this is 1964, long after the invention of kidnappers and perverts, but long before the advent of internet stalkers or Amber Alerts, and frankly, suburbanites don’t worry about that sort of thing.

If Miss Carras tried to call your mom, you never heard about it, possibly because this was also long before answering machines, and Mom wasn’t able to answer the phone due to the intense concentration required to apply false eyelashes, which she had no choice but to wear if her face was going to be enlarged for a billboard that all of Dallas would see as they drove down I-35 S toward town. One cannot expect ordinary eyelashes to suffice when one intends to visually extoll the virtues of a two-storied loaf of Mrs. Baird’s Bread, gently cradled in one’s gigantic manicured hands and held aloft for the viewing pleasure of the Metroplex. No indeed. Which explains why you rode your bicycle about a mile to school. In first grade. In the rain. But, in all fairness, it didn’t start raining till after you were on your way, and your sister had been charged to keep an eye on you, so don’t blame your mom. If you have to blame anyone, blame Mrs. Baird.

That’s why I’m standing on this stage. I don’t know whether to be nervous or excited, but before I can decide, the curtain creaks and groans and then slowly begins to open.

Miss Carras brought our class to the school auditorium today to introduce us to its parts and purposes. We all filed down the long aisle and seated ourselves in the first two rows. The wooden seats are on springs, so you have to hold the seat down and crawl into it before it pops back up. This is no small challenge for miniature waif-like folk, but once we were all seated with our legs sticking straight out in front of us, Miss Carras pointed out the various features of the cavernous room. After talking about the stage and its accessories, she asked, “Would anyone like to go up on the stage and perform for us?”

My hand shot up. I didn’t even pause to think about it. Miss Carras wanted someone to perform on stage, and by golly, this was something I could do for her. She smiled her approval, took my hand, and escorted me up the side stairs and behind the curtain. She pointed to center stage, told me to stand there and wait till the curtain opened, and then she disappeared.

Now that I’m up here and the curtain is opening, it’s all a bit overwhelming. But what else can I do? This is for Miss Carras, after all. At least I know what I’ll sing. That’s a no-brainer. I’ll give them the old classic, “I am a Pretty Little Dutch Girl.” (This is for you, Miss Carras. I’m gonna slay this audience.)

When the curtain creaks to a stop, I gaze out at a vast expanse of seats, all empty except for two rows of first graders and Miss Carras, who is smiling like the sunrise. I smile back at her, open my waif-like mouth, and sing with gusto--even tossing an innocent (bold? brazen?) grin at a classmate named Tommy when the lyrics link him romantically to my pretty little Dutch self.

The song ends. The crowd goes wild. The curtain closes, and I exit stage right, back into the embrace of Miss Carras. Back into my first grade world. Back into a time when motives were pure and love begat simple love with no strings attached.

That’s what I’m thinking as I contemplate this post for katdish. I wonder what I’ll write . . .

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To find out more about Jeanne Damoff in all her wonderfulness, you can find her at one of these places:

her website
her blog
her photo blog
or on the twitter

11 comments:

Annie K said...

I love hearing stories of childhood. And it was a good one Jeanne!

Sarah Salter said...

Oh, Jeanne, that was marvelous! I was so scared for you behind the curtain! "What if she chokes?!" I thought. But you didn't! Hurrah you!

FaithBarista Bonnie said...

"Back into a time when motives were pure and love begat simple love with no strings attached."

Love this line. Loving comes beautifully when we are freely able to receive it. What a wonderful recall of childhood, Jeanne!

Thank you!

Falling Around said...

Beautiful story. I enjoyed every word of it! Wonderful lesson there, as well.

Billy Coffey said...

I've been waiting a while for this post, Jeanne. I wasn't disappointed. That was amazing. I felt like I was sitting right next to Tommy.

bradley j moore said...

What fun! And such a cute little girl...yes, it seems life was somehow more innocent then. Interest hope our kids can write similar stories when they reflect on first grade.

Peter P said...

Well... come on...

What are you going to write?

Enough of what you're thinking about already. For the record, I'm thinking about a nap, a cheeseburger (maybe a double-double from in-n-out) and a new phone because mine died last night.

Good story about your childhood.. now, onto your post please.

jasonS said...

wow, I loved that so much. It's been so much fun talking to you on twitter. Now I have to go quick and add your blog to my reader. :)

Jeanne Damoff said...

Thanks, Annie, Sarah, Bonnie, and FA. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)

Aw, Billy. That's sweet!

Thanks, Bradley. I was a pretty cute little gherkin, wasn't I? (Even though my head looks as big as my torso!)

I still haven't decided, Peter. Any suggestions?

Thanks, Jason! Be forewarned my blog updates are very sporadic, but I'm glad you want to add it to your reader. :)

Thanks again, Katdish. I enjoyed writing this for you. You make a good muse! And I also love the company you keep. This was a privilege.

xo, Jeanne

katdish said...

Jeanne,
The privelege was mine. Thanks again. Now, when is your next book coming out?

Rebecca on The Homefront said...

Absolutely loved this! Now I'll be fighting my way back from elementary school memories of that stage and PTA performances for the rest of the evening. Thanks so much for sharing such a sweet story with us, Jeanne.