Monday, August 9, 2010

The Catalogue People

I was born in the dining room before the upstairs was finished on a swelteringly hot day and I was very fat.

Being my mother’s seventh child there really was no need for a doctor as she had done it six times before but he was called anyway and his contribution to the event was to tell Dad, “Well, Mike, maybe this will be the lucky one as she is “seven come eleven.”

You have to know a little bit about the game of Craps, to understand his thinking on this. Craps is a dice game played by gamblers and Dad was famous for his love of the game. In the game of Craps sevens and elevens are game changers and I was the seventh child born in the seventh month on the eleventh day. (July 11)

Shieldsy, our neighbor and Mom’s friend, assisted at my birth and tried hard to keep me cool and happy but the cooler I got the unhappier I became. As soon as Shieldsy left to fix supper for Poppy Shields and her own family Mom got me out of the basket and wrapped me up tight. She said as soon as I started to sweat she never hard another peep out of me.

I guess that’s why winters always seemed so darned cold to me. That big old house only had two zones, frigid and sweltering. Even with the huge basement furnace (as big as a modern day bathroom) that ate up the sooty coal that cost Mom $15 a ton load, the chill in winter never left and a draft always blew around our ankles and knees.

And often, on winter nights..the waiting nights..between Thanksgiving and Christmas..and then through a long was just me, Mom’s sewing scissors and the last year’s Sears and Roebuck Catalogue.

Sitting at the dining room table with my legs tucked up under me and my sweater pulled down over my fingers to keep warm, I spent long, miraculous hours with the Catalogue People.

The Catalogue People were incredibly clever. They spoke, sang, played and danced with each other in an endless variety of dress, carefully selected and cut from the Men’s, Women’s and Children’s Section and played with the most marvelous toys from the Toy Section.

They pushed the baby, chosen form the Infants Section, in the most adorable baby carriage of the season. (after cutting a slit in the buggy top the baby could be slipped right in.)

The children, selected from the underwear page of the Children’s Section, wore every wonderful item of dress that I had ever desired or imagined. With their charming clothing held in place with small tabs cut at the shoulder and waist, they slept in the most exquisite nighties, swam in the most cunning swim garb and played in the brightest, most casual play clothes. For winter only the furriest, most elegant coat and hat would do.

The mother, chosen for her gentle expression and whether her arms stuck out far enough to bend the tabs in at the waist, wore incredible combinations of glamour and servitude from the Women’s Section. She always carried beautiful “Genuine Morocan Leather” purses and wore perky hats with feathers.

The father, a stalwart fellow, wore handsome hats and always faced to the right. I haven’t a clue as to why this requirement was so important but it was and I adhered to it.

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