all of the selves we Have ever been
Growing up, we had chores.
Especially on Saturdays.
There were outside jobs like picking up toys, mowing the lawn, and sweeping the walk. Respectable, satisfying, gross motor activities. Freedom in the sunshine and fresh air. In my time, those good, outdoor jobs went to the boys.
Dusting was an inside job. Women’s work. And if you look under the letter T in the dictionary, you will find dusting mentioned under “tedious” and “thankless.” Also the definition of “women’s work.” To a ten year old, dusting felt like a prison sentence. In my sooty memories, the room was always dark and gloomy as I served my dusting sentence.
First, the duster had to size up the room and come up with a strategy. Dust first or vacuum first? An
age-old conundrum. Take it from me, there is no such thing as removing dust. It is simply an exercise in resettlement. Choose your speed: cloth or motor.
Once the approach was chosen, the sequence had to be determined. Start with the TV on one end of the room and move to the bookcase on the other end? Or start with the bookcase loaded with stuff and hope to have an ounce of life left to wipe down the TV? Maybe a duster could rejuvenate somewhere in the middle with sparkling blue Windex and a clean mirror.
The coffee table and end tables weren’t too bad. Maybe a lamp and a few magazines. Empty dad’s ash tray. But shelves! Removing all those items? Wiping down the shelf. Dusting each object. All those edges, nooks, and crannies?! Replacing the items…I feel overwhelmed thinking about it. Dusting was not a job for the memory-challenged, distractible, clumsy, or anyone with a life on a Saturday.
Thankfully, I was an adult before ceiling fan blades and Venetian blinds entered the interior landscape to gather the most prolific and pernicious forms of dust and require the most tedious and dangerous dusting maneuvers.
The scent of Lemon Pledge still makes me a little queasy, and I can detect waxy build-up from the other side of the door. But I no longer care about dust. When the dust forms a thick layer, I consider it ripe and surgically remove it like a plastic surgeon performing a skin transplant.
Maybe my parents didn’t care that much about dust either. They were probably trying to keep me busy and teach me some life lessons. By the time my own children came along, children’s lives had changed dramatically. Saturdays were busy, but not with dusting. I remember purchasing a t-shirt for my daughter. The shirt was bright teal with white lettering that said: “I am a joyful child. Joy is an inside job.”
Now, that’s the kind of inside job all children need. Boys and girls. Sunday through Saturday.
During my youth,
American suburbs were growing and expanding.
By the time I was a teenager, my family lived in such a development just outside of Pittsburgh. Our suburb was home to the first enclosed mall
in the state of Pennsylvania. The Northway Mall opened in 1962, but I did not get familiar with it until the 1970s when I was in high school.
The mall was my alternate universe. Once inside, there were no reminders of my life on another planet.
Sometimes on a Saturday morning, my mom or dad would drop me off at the mall where I would meet a friend. I usually entered the mall through Woolworth’s, the original five-and-dime store. Woolworth’s had a counter that sold frozen Cokes and giant, soft, salty, pretzels. I would come back later and call that fare my lunch.
Once I caught up with my friend, Spencer Gifts was our first stop. Spencer’s never disappointed, and we spent a significant percentage of our mall-time there. Spencer’s Gifts sold novelty items and gag gifts among other things. As teens, we were pre-occupied with the outrageous novelty items. We found them hilarious. While lava floated and morphed in the lamps all around us, and psychedelic posters glowed on the walls, we howled with laughter over the fake vomit, whoopee cushions, and the crazy expressions printed on t-shirts. Spencer’s definitely had the What?! Factor. The merchandise was generally inexpensive and nothing we needed, so we rarely made a purchase, though I still regret not buying the t-shirt that said, “Dear Auntie Em, Hate you. Hate Kansas. Taking the dog. Dorothy.” I don’t know why that shirt tickled my funny bone back then, but it sure did—enough to remember it to this day. Hanging out in Spencer’s was so much fun that the store could have charged admission, and we would have paid.
Next on our agenda was the National Record Mart. If we did buy something on a mall-Saturday, it was most likely a record album. There were hundreds of albums to flip through. We studied the jackets and the song lists comparing notes about our favorites and judging whether or not there were enough good songs on the album to merit a purchase. We could pick up a 45 RPM if we decided the album wasn’t worth it.
Waldenbooks was nearby and our next stop. It was a tiny shop compared to the giant Borders and Barnes & Noble stores that came much later, but it was books. Never a waste of time! It was an opportunity to find something good to read like Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt, William Blatty’s The Exorcist, or Richard Bach’s Johnathan Livingston Seagull. It was also an opportunity to set eyes on the controversial adult book titles of the times: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask, The Sensuous Woman, The Joy of Sex, and The Total Woman. Of course, we were discreet, taking these books to another section and remaining on the lookout for any parents who might recognize us. I learned then that living a lie can be exhausting. While I didn’t learn much about sex, I did learn to walk the straight and narrow.
We wandered the rest of the mall making shorter stops in the big department stores like Joseph Hornes. Those were usually too pricey for teenagers. We might try on clothes at Marianne’s or shoes at Bakers, but we made few additional purchases.
The most exciting, life-transforming mall event happened when a company advertised in the newspaper that it would be at the mall to do ear piercings. Pierced ears were a privilege reserved for teenage girls back in that day. The company would come into the mall, set up a kiosk, and pierce ears. It took about two seconds and cost $7.95. Good bye clip-ons! After a couple of days, the company would close up shop and return again in four weeks. After our ears were pierced, we received a post card in the mail asking us to come back and have our piercings checked. Each customer received a pair of tiny gold ball studs with instructions to turn the post, and clean the earlobes with alcohol until healing was complete. We returned when the postcard advised us to. Ever after that, mall shopping involved every store that sold earrings.
For the first generation to grow up in the suburbs, malls were a big deal. Teenagers could safely have some freedom and develop adult consumer skills. The opportunity motivated us to take on small jobs and to save our earnings for the things we wanted. Those shopping-Saturdays allowed us to see items that others talked about so that we could be “cool” too. The mall was a place where teens shared experiences and cemented friendships. It was a great way to pass a quiet Saturday.
The suburbs continued to grow. And grow. The traffic increased and the malls became crowded. Merchandise became more expensive, and the next generations of teenagers had packed schedules that rarely left them with a leisurely Saturday. Increasingly, their world became the internet and shopping was done on-line.
In the years since I first slurped frozen Cokes at Woolworth’s and giggled with girl friends at Spencer’s Gifts, the Northway Mall has gone through several re-inventions, and so have I. But I have stayed true to my brick-and-mortar stores. My earlobes remain pierced. Inside my jewelry box are inexpensive but precious earrings purchased on one of those quiet Saturdays long ago. I continue to giggle with a dear high school friend who wandered those wide corridors with me. I still love books and old record albums. And if I find that t-shirt with the note to Auntie Em, I’m buyin’ it!
Every teen needs an alternate universe, a place that is her own, an out-in-the open space where she can be both cool and safe. We didn’t spend much money at the Northway Mall, certainly not enough to keep it in business. Thankfully, memories didn’t cost much. And they were built to last.
When I was growing up,
each day of the week had a certain structure. The Monday through Friday routines were so similar that they blended into what seemed like one long day, especially during the school year. The weekend was different. Saturday and Sunday each had a unique rhythm and mood.
Hands down, Saturday was the best day of the week. It was like a mini-summer vacation in a 24 hour period. Saturday really began late on Friday afternoon as soon as the school doors slammed shut behind us. Done with classes for the week, we could stay up late and maybe even have a few friends over for a pajama party.
Saturday morning was a glimpse of paradise. Everyone was relaxed and happy. No parental supervision was needed. Mom got up early and went for her regular appointment at the beauty shop. Dad grabbed his coffee and cigarettes and headed down to his workshop in the basement. I and my siblings slept in. There was no need for alarm clocks or pleading parents. Once awake, we lounged in our PJs watching cartoons until noon. There was no official Saturday breakfast. We grazed on cereal and Nestles Quick while parked in front of the television set.
We sprang to life on Saturdays when mom pulled into the driveway. Following her appointment with the hairdresser, she did the grocery shopping for the week. That was back in the days of bigger families who cooked and ate every meal at home and packed lunches for school. It was also the time when stores closed early in the evening and stayed closed on Sundays. There might be one car to a family. During the week, that car was with dad at work all day. If you didn’t get what you needed from the store on Saturday, you just had to wait a week or borrow from a neighbor. Too much borrowing could lead to a bad reputation in the ‘hood. As a result, the weekly trip to the store resulted in a tractor-trailer-sized load of groceries crammed into the back of a station wagon. We groaned at the sound of the car horn.
Getting the groceries from the car into the kitchen was more strenuous than a week of basic training. Back then the shopping bags were made of paper and half the size of a third grader. The bags had flat bottoms and no handles. The bags had to be held from underneath which meant we had to carry them into the house ONE. AT. A. TIME.
Thankfully, unpacking the bags was more rewarding than unloading them from the car. Processed, packaged foods were appearing at a rapid pace, all new and exciting. Each of mom’s trips to the grocery store resulted in some new discovery. There were Ruffles potato chips. It was true; they did have ridges! Chips Ahoy made chocolate chip cookies a treat for the everyday instead of just special occasions. If we wanted to be more sophisticated, we tried the Pepperidge Farm cookies. There were also Pop-Tarts, Bugles, Cool Whip, Spaghetti-Os, Doritos, and that new-fangled potato chip, Pringles. The “treats” were intended “for the week,” but we were lucky if we could scrounge up a single crumb by Sunday night.
We eventually got dressed, but it was Saturday clothes, our most comfortable, worn-out, mismatched play clothes. We had chores to do, but the pace was slow and the chores unique. I sniffed a lot of Lemon Pledge, but the antidote was time spent hanging wet clothes out on the line to dry where I could hear the sounds of lawn mowers and enjoy the scent of freshly cut grass.
Saturdays wound down with dinner together as a family followed by dishes and more television or board games and Nancy Drew books. If the weather was pleasant, we played outdoors until it was too dark to see or until the mosquitoes drove us back inside. We all slept well on Saturday nights.
And then it was Sunday. Sunday was pleasant, but it was no Saturday.