Her 80th birthday—“Surprise!”
She smiles from the party photo, her last...
The first thing I saw when Dad turned our car down Grandma’s street in Merriam Park was the sky-high catalpa tree in her front yard. It was the only “cigar tree” on the block, and when I spied it, I knew we were almost there. It was a beautiful tree, with frilly white flowers in the spring that magically became long, brown seedpods in late summer.
My Hamline-Midway neighborhood is the kind of place where childhood memories are made. Sure, Wisconsin Dells, a Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas, and Disney World all have their fair share of excitement and joyous wonderment. But nothing can compare to the warm feeling you get as sticky chocolate ice cream drizzles down your fingers, while you watch your sister try to feed the dog some of hers.
We had only been living in Saint Paul for a couple of months when my husband told me he’d found somebody else. “Someone from work,” he said. “Can I keep my stuff here until I find a new place?” I put off telling my mom for a couple of weeks, not wanting her and my dad to worry about me and my one-year-old son. When I finally did tell her, I had to repeatedly assure her that my freelance work was actually bringing in enough money to live on, even though it was far from true.
I was living on the street . . . had used up all my clean undergarments . . . and did not have any money or place to wash. One day I was taking what is called a “sponge bath” in the White Castle on University and Lexington, feeling really low . . . hours passed, 2 p.m. . . . traveled down to the Loft Teen Center and filled up on penny candy, sitting on the corner of Oxford and Carroll Avenue. A grey four-door car pulled up slowly . . . right next to me . . . my head was down, very close to the street gutter entrance . . . I could smell the stench of whatever was down there. I heard a deep, smooth, radio personality voice saying, “What’s the matter, man?” I was like, “What?” I couldn’t believe it. “I need some clean draws . . . and socks!” I answered. This voice replied, “Get in.” Wow! My angel on Earth. Steve bought me a pack of clean boxers and socks. Then he allowed me to shower at his house so I could go to school . . . clean.
My father and I used to go door-to-door delivering wafers in a tiny gold case. I imagined my father gave me this job to make me feel special when all of the older kids went to school. When they disappeared behind the doors of St. Mark’s School with their starched uniforms and shiny pencil cases, I felt left out. As a remedy, my father quickly got me started in the business of delivering communion to neighborhood elders...
Gadahlski refers to the garage door of the house I grew up in. The house was a modern rambler sitting on a hill in the pristine, well-educated community of St. Anthony Park. My parents, my sister, and I did whatever we could to fit into the mold of “the Park.” The house expressed this desire for perfection with its regularly mowed lawn, clipped hedges, and fresh paint. Even the flower and vegetable gardens were neat and orderly.
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