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Rockettes

Family: My father and I loved to watch the variety shows. We would sit in front of the TV for hours watching The Dinah Shore Show, Red Buttons, Jimmy Durante and Ted Max. We watched them all, usually while we watched we ate popcorn and drank Kool-Aid. although sometimes we ate genoa salami. When we ate the salami we drank iced water, Daddy said I made the best iced water. It was while we were watching the Ted Max Amateur Hour that I fell in love with Julius La Rosa. When he sang, ‘when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie it’s amore’, my heart melted. Although I truly loved Julius and vowed that I would one day marry him it was the Rockettes that fully occupied my imagination. I couldn’t get enough of those beautiful ladies prancing around in their feathered bathing suit get-ups, and their extraordinary plumed headdresses.

When Daddy laughed at Red Button’s silly jokes I laughed too; not because  I thought that the jokes were so funny but because nothing made me happier than the sound of my father’s laughter. All in all my dad was full of laughter, jokes and foolishness. My mother however was all business, no foolishness what-so -ever. Mom was a good and kind church going lady, everyone loved her, Daddy adored her. He seldom went to church, but my mother made certain that my brothers and I were regular church goers. . . each and every single time the church doors were open there we were. Actually I really enjoyed church time. There was lots of singing and plenty of time to look out the window, daydream and indulge in church thoughts. That was a big drawing point for me. What I really enjoyed the most was when the choir sang  Praise God from whom all blessings flow as the deacons passed the collection plate. Yes, that was my all time favorite, however. . . I thought that if the preacher could get the Rockettes to dance down the aisle and pass the collection plate, instead of the musty old deacons doing it, he would get a lot more collection.

Friends etc.: I squeezed in beside Jean Ann at her desk. We were both pretty skinny, so I figured we could both fit into the one seat. Besides the entire first session class was still sitting in their seats, so I really didn’t have much  of a choice. Mister Vorus (the most feared sixth grade teacher in the history of Forest Hills Elementary School) sat at his desk twirling his pen between his fingers. Then he stopped twirling the pen and tapped the dreaded write a note home to your parents tablet. Most everyday he just tapped the tablet but when he was feeling particularly cranky he would announce to the class that he really felt like writing a note home and he would be looking for his chance. Jean Ann looked at me, I held my breath. He didn’t say it, maybe he didn’t feel like writing any notes today. Then he spoke.

“Okay class, I want a three page essay on my desk tomorrow about what happened in here today, front and back. Joyce, do you have anything to say? Should I write a note home? he pulled the tablet closer.

“I guess if you feel like it.” I mumbled. A wave of gasps rolled across the room, all eyes were on me. What was the big deal? I was just trying to be polite. Mister Vorus scribbled a note home for both Jean Ann and me.

My mother was hanging clothes on the clothes line when I got home from school. I looked at the note that Mister Vorus had written. I would not be allowed back in class unless she accompanied me the next day. Like I didn’t know that meant it would be a big ‘ol conference between Mom and Mister Vorus, the principal and the Physical Ed coach; and for all I knew everyone else and the janitor. What I did know for sure was that I was going to be in big trouble, and so was Jean Ann. Probably her mother would tell her that she can’t ever hang around with me again; again for the umpteenth time. It wasn’t even all that bad I thought as I durged out to the back yard and over to the clothes line.

“Hi Sweetie, this morning there were six humming birds perched on the clothes line. They were so tiny I thought they were clothes pins.” She smiled and picked a towel out of the basket and hung it up. Then she turned to me. I handed her the note. I wanted to run back to my room lock the door and hide under my bed; but she had long since pounded the lock off the door with a hammer. Oh well, no place to run no place to hide, probably won’t be so bad anyway, maybe.

“What’s this?” it wasn’t a friendly what’s this. And she was in such a good mood before, with the humming birds and clothes pins and all. Oh geeze not good.

“It’s a note from Mister Vorus,” I looked at my feet. I didn’t make eye contact, I was afraid I might turn to stone if I did.

“This says that you can’t come back to class unless I bring you. What on earth did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything, really.” Still not making eye contact.

“You don’t bring a note like this home for not really doing anything. What happened Joyce?” Mom was relentless.

“I found a dragonfly on the playground.”

“And that’s what you are in trouble for? That’s ridiculous.”

“No Mother , I just said hi to Jean Ann through the window.”

“Oh, so you interrupted the class and got in trouble with Mister Vorus.”

“No, Mister Vorus wasn’t in the classroom.” I made eye contact for just a moment. It sounded like she was going to be reasonable this time. It looked like I could be wrong, time to abort. I quickly broke eye contact.

“Mister Vorus wasn’t even in the room? Joyce just tell me exactly what happened. Start from the beginning, no foolishness.” She hung up the last towel, leaned against the clothesline pole and seemed to brace herself.

“Ok this is what happened Mother,” I began.” I got to school really early today and the first session wasn’t out yet. So I walked around the playground for awhile. Then I found a dragon fly, he was dead, but he was the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen. He was really huge, Mom.” My excitement was lost on her. “Anyway I picked him up and went and sat under the class room window. I was just sitting there under the window looking at him thinking what I would name him when Jean Ann came over to sharpen her pencil. I said hi Jean Ann and she asked me what I was doing. I lifted Bosco up so she could see him. That’s what I named him Bosco. I decided that would be a good name for him.”

“Why did you choose Bosco? That’s the dog’s name.” Her voice cracked.

“Well, I like Bosco but he’s the boys dog so I named my dragonfly Bosco so I would have a Bosco of my own. Don’t you like Bosco Mother?” Deflect defense.

“A dead dragonfly pet named Bosco Joyce? Of course I like Bosco why would you even ask that?” Mom was off topic, this was good. “Just tell me what happened, no more sidetracks Joyce.” Shucks back on topic, curses foiled again. So I continued.

“Then Jean Ann said to put it through the  window so she could see it better. I said ok but for her to be careful and don’t break him because I was going to scare someone with him.”

“Who were you planning to scare Joyce?” Ah, good off topic again.

“Err um, Jimbo I was going to scare Jimbo when he was asleep. I was really planning on scaring mom by putting it on top of the dinner plates, but I decided to keep that gem to myself.

“You shouldn’t tease your little brother. Go on Joyce.”

“Well then I put it through the window.” I hesitated.

“Go on Joyce. I’m sure that isn’t the end of this story.” Mom shook her head. Her flaming red hair flounced. She looked at me over the top of her cat-eye glasses. She reminded me of Lucille Ball when Ricky is desperately trying to ‘splane something. I was going to mention that but decided that might be pressing my luck. I began again.

“Then Jean Ann took Bosco and held him up for the class to see and said, Hey, look at this. That’s when Todd grabbed Bosco away from Jean Ann and started chasing Margie around the room with him. He was running right behind her with Bosco in his hand , and you know she has that really long ponytail that goes all the way down to her waist. Well, Todd put the dragonfly into Margie’s pony tail. Then Margie really started screaming  and running and shaking her head trying to get Bosco out of her hair. What she didn’t know was that he had gotten flung out and landed on Brenda. Then someone put Bosco down Brenda’s blouse, maybe it was Jean Ann, I don’t know. Anyway Brenda’s pretty chubby, and she has really big boobies. So when she started running all the boys started running after her because they wanted to see if Kleenex flew out of her bra. So there she was running and pulling at the neck of her shirt and screaming to high heaven. The boys were still running behind her but there were no Kleenexes that I saw.  By then the whole class was running around back and forth in the room, except Mike. He was swinging around in the rafters like a trapeze guy, it was pretty neat. You know it’s a portable classroom, so it was really starting to rock. That’s when Old Miss Mendez came in. She took one look and turned around and ran to get Mister Vorus; what a tattle tale. I don’t even know how this is all my fault. I wasn’t even in there.”

“Where were you, Joyce? You’re too short to see into that window.”

“Oh, I pushed the playground trashcan to the window so I could put Bosco through and see in. I shouldn’t have done that. I knew he was going to get broken, darn it. And that’s how I scraped my knee.” I lifted the hem of my dress above my knee, I figured I should show the boo-boo now.

“Good lord, How did that happen and who bandaged it?” Mom, the ex army nurse was inspecting the dressing.

“The ambulance guys.” I whispered.

“What, who called the ambulance, and why?”

“The principal because I was stuck, kind of folded over, and they were afraid to move me. But I wiggled free before the guys got there so they just looked at me and said I was okay and bandaged my knee. See it’s alright.” I can-can kicked up my boo-boo leg to prove my point.

“Stuck? What do you mean, where were you stuck?”

“It’s like this Mom. When I saw Miss Mendez come in I tried to jump off the trash can real quick, but the lid flipped and I fell into the can. I was afraid to come out and anyway I was stuck in there. Then the coach and the janitor came over to get me out because they saw me fall in. But when they saw me all folded up in the can they didn’t know what to do next in case I was really hurt. Then the janitor ran to get the principal and the rest is history. Sorry Mom.” I finally made eye contact again. There was a tear welling up in my mother’s eye and she was biting her bottom lip. She slid down the clothesline pole to the ground. She sat under the clothesline that afternoon and laughed harder than I ever saw her laugh before. To this day I’m not really certain if it was genuine laughter or hysterics.

Friends And Family Fun

Family: When Nana, my grandsons’ other grandmother, invited them to spend the fourth of July at her place on the lake, they told her they would be spending the fourth with Grammie (that’s me.) I think Nana probably rolled her eyes when she wisecracked “Is she burning a couch again this year?” My sweet boys excitedly drew Nana a word picture. “That’s what we do on the fourth of July. Uncle Scott starts the couch on fire and then we dance around the flames. Then after we dance around awhile we surf down the hill standing on the wagon.” I think Nana fainted then. Not sure about the fainting, just guessing.

A few days ago along the downtown Pensacola sidewalk something happened that just hasn’t happened in years. Hurrying  along I was desperately searching the store fronts for the entrance I was to turn into. Trying my best not to get lost and end up  look like a complete dolt I continued my search. I finally spotted the entrance and sharply turned into it. Yes, I actually did turn right into the side of the building, kind of tripped a little, stumbled a bit, righted myself and kept walking. Luckily, I didn’t get lost, I was glad of that; but unfortunately I really did look rather doltish. Later on I was a little concerned, so I asked my son and his wife if they had ever missed a turn and walked into a wall. They seemed a little confused by the question and I noticed that they were sharing, ‘what’s up with mom now? ‘glances. Slightly perturbed I said “Well, I’ll take that as a no then.” I was just going to let it go but. . . No, my son would have none of it. The next thing that came out of his mouth was “Mom, did you walk into the wall today?” Well, I know it’s okay to lie to save yourself, especially from a premature old folk designation, so I most sweetly answered, “No, I was just wondering.” and smiled. There were more, ‘what’s up with mom,’ looks. Like I can’t see them, Sheese. So, in the morning, still slightly concerned about the previous days’ happenstance, when my daughter came over for coffee I said. “I did something that I haven’t done in years, I walked into a wall yesterday.” To which she answered, “Oh I do that all the time, yeah every day.” I said, “I think you better see a gerontologist about that, Sweetie.” She answered, “Don’t be a dolt, Mom.”

Friends: Jean Ann was my best child hood friend, she and her family moved to my neighborhood when we were both five years old. We were blissfully inseparable that entire year. Then we started first grade and we were separated. Jean Ann told me that her mom told the principal at Lake Magdalene Elementary that she was not to be put in the same classroom with Joyce Muzzio. We certainly made up for that slight inconvenience. Every day after school we disappeared into her play house until it was time for supper, and Saturday mornings we always watched cartoons at her house. We would sit in front of the TV and eat raisins, cheese woozles, malted milk balls and drink fizzies without budging from our spots until well after Mighty Mouse was over. One Saturday morning as we were just getting settled in, Jean Ann’s mom hurried through the living room to the front door. She told us that she would be back very soon and that we were to just sit and watch the cartoons. She explicitly told us not to mess up anything because they were having company coming from Chicago and she had worked very hard cleaning the whole house. With that she put her purse on her arm and left us alone in the house to have our own way.

Now as an adult I know she should have known better, or at least she should have had an inkling of what could transpire in her absence. As the front door closed Jean Ann looked at me and said “I think we should check the house and make sure everything is clean. “Okay, that’s a good idea Jean Ann.” I thought everything she thought of was a good idea. So, we began our search for something dirty. First, we checked the kitchen. Stove check clean, refrigerator, check clean, dishes washed and put away, check. On to the dining room, table cloth clean and ironed, check. Not much to see there. On to the bathroom; the tub, clean check, sink, clean check, clean hand towels, check, plenty of clean washcloths, check. Every things good in the bathroom. On to the bedrooms, but, to get to the bedrooms we had to go past the kerosene heater in the hall. That’s where Jean Ann stopped. Jean Ann slowly turned toward the heater and wondered out loud if her mom had remembered to clean inside of it. I told her that there is a little window that looks in to the heater and if she opened the door she could see in. Jean Ann opened the door and exclaimed how dirty the little window was, and then she bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t even see in there because it was so dirty. She opened the window and smeared her finger over the glass, her finger came back black with soot. She stuck her face up to the opening and peered in.

“Joyce get me some toilet paper.” Her request echoed out from the belly of the beast. I scurried back into the bathroom and quickly returned with a heaping helping of toilet paper. She took the tissue and said, “I’m going to need a bunch more of this.” She handed me back the wad of toilet paper I had just given her, it was blackened with greasy soot. I dutifully brought her clean wads of toilet paper and returned the dirty soot filled wads to the bathroom sink. When the sink filled I dropped them into the toilet, the paper sunk, the soot just floated and clung to the side of the toilet bowl. I flushed. . . the soot just swirled, the paper stopped the drain. The sooty water began filling the bowl to the top, that’s when I promised God I’d be good forever if it didn’t overflow, it didn’t, I wasn’t. The final few wads I dropped into the bathtub; then Jean Ann rose from the sooty heater like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Jean Ann stood beside me in the bathroom actually looking more like tar baby than a majestic phoenix. “I’ll wash my hands then we’ll rinse all this black stuff off.” She said as she tried in vain to brush the soot from her clothes. You know of course, I said, “Good Idea, Jean Ann. You should rinse your hands.” Well, I learned one thing that Saturday . . . soot doesn’t rinse off, and it doesn’t wipe off with hand towels or face towels or wash cloths.

When Jean Ann’s Mom came home two very sooty little girls were in the midst of rinsing a sooty hall, that lead to a sooty bathroom which was stocked with sooty hand towels, face towels and sooty wash cloths. Jean Ann’s mom cried and told me to go home and not to ever come back. That didn’t last long. I guess I learned one other thing that Saturday; Jean Ann’s ideas weren’t always the best. But she was always my best friend.

The Garden: Each spring my mother and I had a friendly rivalry. We would each race to our respective gardens and plant all sorts of delicious florae to try to entice the humming birds to dine upon our offerings. The rivalry was to be the first to lure the tiny bird into the garden. I most usually was the champion of the game. The very moment I spied the object of our competition, I would hurry to telephone my Mother. As soon as she answered I would say “Guess what?” she would say “What?” and I would break into a vibrating hum of ‘Dixie’. It was great fun. Even though my mother is gone now I still race to my garden in the spring to entice the humming birds. And I always hum Dixie when I see the first.

etc.: A short description, and a bit of the prologue to Jacob’s Ladder the first mystery in the series. Please enjoy Jacob’s Ladder. J.E.

A young nun is found on a park bench in Tampa, Florida, badly beaten and near death. The only word she has uttered is Sandalphon, the name of the spirit that stands on the first rung of Jacob’s Ladder. Who is this vestige of a time gone by, and where did she come from? Is she a prostitute, a threat to Homeland Security, or an unfortunate victim of violent crime? These are the questions of the doctors that care for her, and the authorities who are driven to find the answer.

Jacob’s Ladder Prologue:

November 9, 2014

    Tampa, Florida – The Cigar City where the sun rises over Davis Islands; three islands that were created of sand dredged from the bottom of the polluted Tampa Bay. The sand was then situated upon submerged foundations of garbage, discarded building materials and more than one rotting corpse.

    Davis Islands – the final resting place for victims of gangland slayings, a testimony to Tampa’s claim to infamy. Nonetheless, it has some of the most beautiful sunrises in the country. As dawn burns through the morning fog, a young nun finds herself sitting on a cool, damp cement bench facing a spectacular sunrise. Life is escaping her body from a deep cut along the palm of her hand and across her wrist. Her blood is falling in large droplets and hiding in the folds of her heavy black clothing.The woman’s mind races as she surveys her surroundings. She turns toward the Tampa skyline. The morning sun reflects from mirrored twenty, thirty, and forty-story buildings.

    “If I wrap my hand tightly the bleeding will stop,” she mumbles. She twists her hand into the dark fabric and the bleeding slows. She lays her head on the back of the bench.

    “I am alive. . . alive.” Her eyes close in quiet surrender to pain and fitful dreams that take her to another place and time.