09 January 2013

Eileen at 16 ~ my Grandmother, 1946 - "Remember"

I am going thru a large case of old family photos to scan and digitally save. I came across a 5-page typed piece entitled Remember, with "written at age 16" scribbled across the top. I knew my Gramma wrote little poems here n there over the years but I was never aware of how she got to that place... I can see the budding poet in this sweet, yet spoiled outburst of innocent and wistful prose. I think I know where I got my love for the written word... the whimsy and the romance. She was all those things and she stays with me, not only the glamorous image, but her laugh and tone of her voice. She'll continue to whisper to me until I reach the dimension where her soul resides. I love you Gramma...

I felt compelled to share this with the world. A tribute to the her innocence, the time, and the love that surrounded her entire life. The picture is of her with my Great Grandfather.

Eileen, age 16, 1946. *Transcribed with all original punctuation and grammar.


I've been sitting alone in my room for almost an hour. The lamp beside my chair has spilled a puddle of golden nothingness into my lap and on the floor. From the kitchen the clatter of dishes being washed and put away, reaches with restless, disturbing fingers beneath the crack of my closed door. Outside, our neighbor hammers ceaselessly, nerve wrackingly at the roof of his newly built garage. It must be finished"before the snow flies!" I can see the moon hanging silvery thin in the branches of our poplar tree. I could touch it, almost. If I could dream as I did when I was seven, I could touch the moon! However, I'm past the stage of that kind of dreaming now. Still, I can't help feeling just a little wistful.

A multitude of thoughts keep running, walking, strolling though my mind, each out of step with, unrelated to the other. One, more persistent than the others is jeering derisively at me and insists upon directing my unwilling eyes to the large white envelope lying on the table beside me. Through the tears that have suddenly, without warning welled up in my eyes, I can see the words I wrote many months ago wobbling crazily across the smooth surface of that envelope. PROM FLOWERS NOVEMBER 1945*--DIDN'T GO.
Holding the familiar envelope in my hands, I'm trying in vain to quiet the little voice inside my head. That monstrous Demon! He lilts gleefully over and over again, remember, remember, remember! Why should I live it all over now, a whole year later? Sensibly, another voice is saying, of course you'll remember. Each time you hear the excited what-kind-ofs, who-withs and wheres that come inevitably with the nearing of Prom night, you'll remember. ”

Becoming partly reconciled to this certainty I find myself pulling gently at the contents of the envelope. Once again I'm holding the new brown and brittle bit of ribbon and leaves that is the only tangible thing I have left of last year's Prom. The two gardenias once velvety to the touch, deliciously dreamy cool and headily fragrant are now paper-thin and unlovely, bereft in death, of their former delicacy. Once shining emerald green leaves waxed to perfection are now gray, seamed and old, old! Only the silver ribbons remain intact, rather frayed at the ends but still able to shimmer at me as the light falls on them.

It all started on a July night a year ago. I had been dating one boy since school let out in June. He and I had talked about everything imaginable during the weeks we were learning to know and understand each other. However, we skirted around the subject of school. I suppose we both subconsciously thought that as long as school was out for three blessed months -- forget it!

That July evening we had taken a walk, just leisurely exploring side streets, not talking much, not caring where we were going. Finally we found a mere handkerchief-sized park tucked in among the rows of houses and we stopped. We scorned its border of benches, he sprawling in the soft grass, I leaning back against the foot of a tree near him. It was a soft warm night and the air was full of mysterious rustlings and twitterings.

We began to talk then, about the things we'd done that day about the people we knew and then, unexpectedly, about the Prom... He had been quiet for a moment. Then casually he said, "what kind of formal are you going to wear to the Prom? We're going, you know!" I glanced at him quickly and caught him as he slanted a questioning look my way. I'm afraid my reaction must have disappointed him. Although inside I was whirling round and round on a fluffy, pink cloud, outwardly I managed to appear as calm as if he had just said, "let's go to the show tomorrow night."

The Prom! My dearest wish had been, was, and still is, to be a part of that annual long anticipated affair. From that night on I dreamed outrageous dreams, dreams just a little vain and self-important. But I guess every girl planning to go to the Prom, dreams of being the loveliest girl there. I visualized myself looking exotic in a sheath of black satin, a single strand of pearls enhancing its beauty. Then I saw myself floating on a cloud of white net sprinkled with stars, a halo of stars in my hair to match those in my eyes. I tried on a gown of every color and style imaginable, twirling and turning before the mirror of my mind.

Meanwhile the summer days fled past and lazy, golden September came and with it school again. As the weeks went by, more and more we girls gathered in tight little knots to chatter endlessly concerning formals, "our men" and destinations for after the Prom.

My would-be escort had arranged everything with another couple who had a car. So we were all set for "after the Prom." It's a known fact that a car on Prom night is definitely a necessity!

Finally Mom decided it was time to start our search for The Formal. Little fool that I was, I started out, blithely thinking I'd find a perfect dream of a dress at the very first store we went into. Not so! None was so weary and discouraged as I, unless it was poor, harassed Mom, when we finally decided to find a restaurant where we could relax and I could collect my frantic thoughts. Surely, somewhere in Milwaukee, The Formal was hanging just waiting for me to come find it. At helpful, hopeful Mom's suggestion, I fairly shrieked, "I simply can't wear that formal I wore in a Junior High School play - - it's so childish!"

After soothing me with gentle words of reassurance and lunch, Mom remembered a place we hadn't tried. Once she'd gotten a lovely dress there. So we went, we looked, and we found it. I knew the moment I held it up against me that I'd found The Formal! I went back to the little dressing room and slipped it on shivering with delight as the whispering folds of black and rose taffeta settled about my feet. Vaguely I heard the saleswoman murmuring typical saleswomanish phrases, but I was barely conscious of her presence. I was on that fluffy pink cloud again, whirling and whirling.

Of course, we bought the dress. Although it could have been sent to Kenosha, I insisted upon carrying it in it's awkward box. How I struggled on the crowded train! But it was worth my trouble for didn't I have it then, hanging in my closest so that I could look at it, touch it, every hour.

When he called the next day, I began at once to describe the formal in detail. Then I stopped. His voice! "What's the matter," I managed weakly, "You haven't got a cold?" A hoarse "yes" was all I needed. A dreadful feeling of hopelessness came over me. Suppose we couldn't go! Suppose *-- again I stopped. How selfish, how terribly, unthinkably selfish I was being. Certainly his health was more important than six Proms. I tried to assure him that he could most certainly be rid of his cold in a week. In fact I had some really find cold pills that would fix him up in no time. Had he signed up? Yes-- well then, we had nothing to worry about. Everything would turn out. I crossed my fingers as I spoke.

That Saturday morning and we had a date for that night. When I saw him, I knew that my cold pills would have to work miracles. I dosed him with two, and so fortified, we went out. He was miserable, I could see. But he tried so hard to be his gay, normal self that he had me believing things would turn out in our favor.

On Sunday his cold seemed better. I breathed easier, and then --- the following week was an eternity of worry for me. He didn't attend school at all that week and the few times he could call me, his voice told me that he was a very sick boy.

On Friday afternoon, just eight hours before the Prom, he came to school. He could barely talk and he was so weak, I could have cried just watching him. I knew he'd gotten out of a sick bed for me and my throat hurt with the tenderness I felt for him.

At about five o'clock the boy we were about to double with drove him to the house. He came in with a florists box. I opened it with trembling fingers and held my first corsage close to my lips. Oh no, I couldn't cry. I mustn't, not then! For, after one look at his dark eyes, I knew what an effort he had made. They were heavy and dull with fever and his cracked lips couldn't even manage a smile for me. I thanked him with my eyes; I didn't trust myself to speak. He left soon, saying he'd call me or have the other boy call to let me know whether we would go or not.

Then, I began the ritual of bathing, hair combing and making-up, slowly, careful not to think too much. By eight I was ready except for my dress. Then the phone rang. I crossed my fingers and with my heart pounding in my throat, picked up the receiver. Oh, to hear his voice saying we'd go. I listened carefully as the other boy said, "He's in no condition to go anywhere -- in a coma -- doctors." I caught these words and my mind went into a tail-spin. As calmly as I could, I thanked the other boy and hung up. Then not calmly at all, I began to cry -- for myself, for the dress that couldn't be worn, for the night that wouldn't be ours and then not for myself at all.

He was in a coma! Perhaps it was pneumonia! Suddenly I wanted to be near him, to help him in some way. He had gotten out of bed to get my flowers; to bring them to me. How he lay suffering because of that, while I sat crying in self-pity.

I took my flowers from their green tissue paper nest and held them close to my face. If only I could tell him that nothing mattered except that he get well and strong again. I had his flowers, hadn't I.

I slept with those flowers beside me that night. In the morning I called his home and his sister assured me that he was resting easier and was out of danger. The relief that swept over me, left me weak. I pressed the flowers close to my face and cried away the worries that lurked like cobwebs in my mind.

(hand-written ending) He's well and strong now, of course. We've done a lot of dancing and laughing together since then. The dress had been sold and my thoughts very seldom touch on the memory. It's only when I hold the flowers, rather the remainder of the flowers, that it all comes back to me so poignantly again.

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