Sunday, July 31, 2011

Look What I Found...

     While cleaning out my parents' garage in preparation for moving my mom to a smaller place, I discovered an old tool, now a new treasure... my old skate key! I recognized its singular shape immediately, but it was the soiled old string-necklace still laced through it that initially caught my eye, as I dug through Dad's battered metal tool box. Memories rushed at me.
     In the weeks since my discovery, I have carried my skate key amongst the coins in my wallet and shared it with friends and family on a variety of occasions. There is a thick, solid, line-in-time that defines those who recognize the key immediately for what it is and those who have not the slightest idea what they are looking at! People born in the '50s or earlier break spontaneously into wide smiles that include the whole of their faces, and then quickly wax into nostalgic childhood anecdotes about skates, skating, skating accidents, favorite skating shoes, skating events... everything skating. Most of these stories were long forgotten until the spark of seeing my lost-and-found treasure sparked their remembrance.
I got a brand new pair of roller skates.
You got a brand new key.
I think that we should get together and try them out, to see ...
     Younger folks, certainly those born after the '60s, sport a puzzled look upon first seeing my skate key. They invariable take it into their hands, flipping it this way and that. They recognize the "toolness" of the object, but see no special purpose for which its bends and holes might have been designed. When the words "skate key" are lovingly spoken by their elders, their heads cock to the side and their puzzled looks deepen, "a what?" A lengthy explanation then ensues, with special emphasis on special facts, akin to advice given by an experienced mentor to a younger protege recently deemed ready to learn how to properly skate.
  • First, those old-fashioned skates require you to don hard-soled shoes with a sole-lip thick enough and firm enough to support the metal clamps of the skates.
  • Second, the skates must be properly fitted to your feet before they are clamped to your shoes. To do so, the various bolts must be loosened with the skate key, the foot piece must be adjusted to the proper length and width, and then bolts must be tightened again with the skate key.
  • Next, to prevent its disastrous loss, the skate key must, at all times, be worn on a string around your neck and tucked into your shirt all summer long, even when not skating.
  • Periodically, you must pause, inspect, and readjust the tightness of the clamps. Failure to do so could easily result in mechanical failure and a painful crash.
  • Finally, the skate key must never, ever, ever be misplaced, or you could never skate again without mooching off a friend.
      I remember... playing follow the leader while skating with the neighborhood kids, going 'round and 'round and 'round the block in our own little parade. We skated downhill on Newton Street's sidewalk, turned right at Library Street, skated back uphill on the sidewalk along Brand Blvd, and turned right again on Fifth Street to get back to Newton and start all over again with a new leader. Sometimes, after getting to speed on the downhill run, we would close ranks, grab one anothers' waists, squat down low to the cement, and glide down the street like a giant careening snake. Care had to be taken over the rough spots, as those metal skate wheels could catch in a crack or on a small stone and launch you head over heels! (I have a pale scar on my forehead to this day that proves that warning!)

     I remember... putting on dramatic performances, performance-art storytelling on skates, complete with princesses and fairies and heroes! MaryAnn Macey, Lynn Monteverde, and I practiced for weeks on Ione and Otis Crawford's perfectly shaped and sloped driveway, distributed handwritten fliers to every home in the neighborhood, set up chairs on the sidewalk, and created both scripts and costumes for our summer evening debut. I remember there were grand entrances from alongside Crawford's house, swirling spins and swift strides in the wide space front of the garage, and deep curtsies at the conclusion.

     I'll wager my elders and contemporaries out there have similar childhood skating anecdotes to share! Do tell...

(The photo above is of my mother, Louise Griffin, age seven, resting during a skating session in front of her house in San Diego in 1932. The lyrics above are from the song "Brand New Key" released by singer/songwriter Melanie in 1971.)

    Peaceful Resting...

         "You're never prepared."

         How many times have I heard that phrase concerning someone's emotional reactions to the death of a loved one? I thought I understood it, and intellectually I did. But physically and emotionally, I couldn't have understood, because I had never actually experienced it before.

         Then Daddy died this year, on Good Friday, on Mom's birthday, on April 22, 2011. Dad wasn't ready to go. Even at 89, after a long and rich life filled with adventure and love, Dad valiantly battled with shrouded Death, determined to win. During his 80's, Dad fought back from the brink several times, escaping Death's clutches in the form of kidney failure, heart disease, "every chronic affliction known to man." Those successes drove him to continue his fight even as his last day approached and he slipped further and further away from us.
         The "apple of Dad's eye," his only grandchild, Dean, hurried home to visit and say goodbye. When he arrived, Dad propped himself up a little higher on his bed cushions, smiled a little more, and became almost "perky" as we all talked about "the good old days." After an hour-and-a-half, Dad slipped into a peaceful sleep. He never regained consciousness, though he responded to the touch of our hands.

         Mom and I camped out at the side of his bed all day and well into the night. We talked to him, believing he could hear us even though he couldn't respond. We recounted stories and discussed important and frivolous things with him. On Friday morning, shortly after we both returned from a sleep break, Dad found enough strength to squeeze Mom's hand (happy birthday? goodbye? both?) just before he breathed his last breath.

         The lovely cards and calls that we have received from friends old and new universally extol his kindness, his humor, his brilliance... and the twinkle in his eye. We miss him everyday.

         Wallace Miles Griffin's obituary is here.

    (The photos above are of 86-year-old Wally on Christmas morning in 2008 at my house; two-year-old Wally in coat and hat on the running board of his father's car in San Fernando; and young married Wally and Louise in the 1950s in San Fernando.)