Excerpts

A few years ago I began writing my memoir. Periodically I will post excerpts from my real life stories.

“The Mighty Hercules”

— a fat lady sings…

The first time I can actually commit to memory being ridiculed for my size is at the youthful age of ten, pre-adolescent and in the 5th grade. I loomed over the other kids; the skyscraper of the entire class. Not only did the good Lord select me to house all of the fat genes of every kid in Pennsylvania, he bestowed upon me giant feet and a great amount of height.

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It was 1961 and I was ten. At that precise time in my life I was mindful of simply two conditions-I wanted to experiment the stage and I was fat.

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My mother time and again described me as the hypochondriac with the most dramatic appeal of the family.

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My mom, an only child, had this exceptionally strong tie to my grandmother. An unconditional love co-existed between these two, one that was apparent to me by the amount of time I eyed them together. Daily without hesitation, these two grown women sat vigilantly glued to the tiny black and white screen of our first television set. Promptly at twelve noon, they would be seated worshiping their two fifteen minute soap operas, The Guiding Light and Search For Tomorrow. I correlate this demonstration of such a strong affection for their shows as the inception of my immense fixation to become the next ‘Star’ from Captain January or Mary Long of The Donna Reed Show.

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Then it happened. On the Monday of the third week in the fall of 1964. Although the class of girls had been verbally prepped I wasn’t equipped for what was about to take place. It arrived just like the 5th grade weigh-in. Physical Education Dress Out! One-piece prison blue jump suits. My size fourteen and a half body cramming into what appeared a size ten outfit. What was my mother thinking? Why didn’t she have me try this contraption on before the first day of dress out? Just as plain as day I remember standing in the girls’ locker room that Monday. I was abundantly over endowed while the rest of the girls were very much under developed. Little skinny-petite-tiny girls in the little skinny-petite-tiny gym clothes. In a flinch they were completely dressed out. I just stood there – in awe. I locked my two chunky long legs into the opening of my clothes and slithered the suit up to my football girth shoulders. Greatly distress I was twisting one arm down in a circular motion to maneuver it into the much-to-small arm hole. I eventually waddled my way into the right side of my gym-suit. Finally the left arm fell into its fitting. Exhausted, I hadn’t even hit the gym floor yet. Embarrassment consumed me. With the mighty blue garment fitting just a little to snug, my belly became exposed to the air. The snap around the waist did not clamp shut. What took the other kids just a few seconds to ace, appeared to take me a premium fifteen minutes to parlay. Surely this article of clothing was not of my grandmother’s fine and articulate threading.

Physical education class was tough for me. Unable to master the feats of strength proved detrimental to my mindset. Unskilled at chin-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups made it difficult for me to carry a decent grade. Running the track always brought me in last place—and I can’t forget the way-too-small-towel-to-cover-my-much-too-big-butt for a twelve-year-old. What was my mother thinking? My gym suit was too small but a tiny drying off towel?

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Back in the mid-sixties my family didn’t have such worries as $6.70 milk prices, or $4.00 gasoline costs per gallon. Hershey candy bars where only five-cents and believe it or not, Thom McAn Shoes were nine dollars and ninety-five cents per pair.[1] No need to worry about global warning or the ozone layers disintegrating due to out-of-control pollution concerns. Instead I experienced the fear of having to scurry home as quickly as possible due to the unavoidable town-wide air raid drills. They were mandatory exercises and all community streets were required  clear all citizens. I vividly remember my heart pounding faster than the movement of an airplane. I found myself wondering if I would be fast enough to get home with my larger-than-life body. I was down-right scared. I did not teeter along at a snail’s pace on the siren days. I didn’t fully understand the significance of the “Bay of Pigs”.  I could sense though my family’s fear through my parent’s conversations. And then we had the Boston Strangler. The ever popular Ford Mustang was officially introduced on April 17, 1964. Then on August 5, 1965 the US began bombing North Vietnam.[2]

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Grandma gave advice that first day—she didn’t care how chubby I was. She loved me for me. She enlightened me often telling me I could be whatever I set my heart on—and I knew my spirit belonged to the theatre. Oh how I loved that special woman in my life.

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Romanticizing as our eyes met, I fell into a deep trance. Just the two of us, waterside, beachfront, twilight; our lips locked in a long and passionate kiss. Forever. Then the iron curtain fell—the silence was broken and the fantasy obstructed. First befell the compliment, followed by the appeal. “You make A’s in math and I need help.”

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Growing up in New Brighton during the fifties and sixties was a unique experience. We lived with my grandparents in a two-story home. Back then a duplex was uncommon but technically we had just that. My grandfather had transformed the second level of his place into a completely renovated apartment with three bedrooms and a giant living room that actually sat in the back of the house. All this just so my mother didn’t have to experience separation anxiety from her parents when she married my father.

 

 


[1] Flashback 1964

[2] Special Events of ’64 Flashback 1964


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