Thursday, January 7, 2016

Now and Then

Lily and Mike watched the first three (really 4-6) Star Wars movies over break in preparation for viewing The Force Awakens.  I grew up with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Hans Solo.  My brother, Dad and I were big fans and so watching my daughter enjoy the films with her father fills me with warm longing nostalgia.


While they were watching, I dug out a few of my brother's action figures.  They are filed away in boxes in the basement remnants from two childhoods now: mine and my son's.  I am keeping them for the next generation.  Just writing that makes my heart palpate.  For the record, I still have my Honey Hill Bunch Kids and Barbie loot galore.  My future grandchildren are going to love coming to visit me. 


When we were kids, I was relegated to Princess Leia, R2D2 or C3PO and always a storm trooper or two since my brother had at least a dozen of them.  Holding Darth or Chewie still feels foreign and sneaky.  Taboo. We would set up worlds in the small living room of my dad's bachelor apartment, and before we knew it Friday became Sunday. It was time to go back home to my mom's.  There wasn't as much time for playing there because we had school and homework and bedtimes.  We also had our own friends so we didn't hang out as much together.


My kids don't hang out much at all, and that makes me sad.  My brother was almost always my friend.  I think that was partially by design and out of necessity, but those circumstances made us realize we enjoyed being together.  We were quite good at compromise too.  I would play Super Heroes with him and then he would play school with me.  I was always Wonder Woman to his Aqua Man and the teacher to his student. Childhood is so different today.


You would think I would say better, but I'm not so sure.  There are things I envy my kids: having a nuclear family, one bedroom and not having to miss social outings happening across town.  The truth is that I think we were so close because our parents were divorced.  We were shuttled around and in the middle the two of us always together in our aloneness...a family within the family. 


There was a family that lived in a massive two unit apartment in the complex.  The parents managed the Colonial Manor.  Stevie and Sherry were twins who were a tad younger than I was and a tad older than my brother.  We spent a lot of time together swimming, visiting the Stop and Shop across the street for treats and spying on one another.  They had every gadget and toy imaginable so we usually gravitated to their apartment.  As big and nice and inhabited by two parents as it was, I realized even as a child that it was not better than mine.  I could tell their mom and dad were brooding and angry.  I remember thinking that they didn't seem to notice their children or their friends no matter how loud we sang The Bee Gees, how acrimonious the boy versus girl feuds got, or how late we stayed up eating candy and having pillow fights.  They were completely checked out.  My parents argued about more time with us.  We were so wanted that our mom and dad fought over whose turn it was. My dad cooked us hamburgers in his Presto Magic and made us go to bed after Fantasy Island.  He watched us while we swam in the pool, or played in the Rocky Mountain-sized snowbanks the plows cleared from the lot, or sloshed around in the creek looking for crayfish and gold.  He was happy and present.  My mom called us home for a dinner at night that she cooked and then again when it got dark out. She always knew where we were and at least thought she knew what we were doing.  She was positive and positively determined to give us a "normal" childhood despite our bifurcated family unit.


I was on the phone with my dad the other day while Mike was driving home from a store across town.  Although I was scarcely paying attention and clueless as to where we were, suddenly everything felt oddly familiar.  Then I spotted it...the Colonial Manor looking mostly the same as it did when I last saw it thirty odd years ago.  It was like seeing a ghost and not because the buildings are white.  My life ages 5 through 14 were on rewind in my head.  When I told my dad we were driving by he said, "Oh, that dump."  I laughed, but truthfully some of my fondest memories were made at that dump and it made me a little sad.


Mike and Lily haven't seen the new movie yet.  Our one trip to the theater over vacation was to see a movie none of us particularly wanted to see.  Point Break was a compromise, or really more like a quarrel resulting from fierce Irish and German roots. Roots that tend to yield stubborn streaks.  I wanted to see Star Wars, Mike and Lily wanted to see Joy, and Ted wanted to see Concussion.  My how things have changed and yet remained the same.