The below was written for and performed at Salonathon: Lex-i-ca series on 7/21/14: I grew up in rentals.
It was just mom, dad, and me
In a garden apartment in a six unit building banished to the edge of the apartment complex. 911 Georgian Drive Apartment E Danville, IL 61832. I remember this because my mom made me memorize it in case I ever got lost.
Living in the garden apartment meant water beetles scuttling around overflowed drains after summer rain. I especially liked the water beetles because my mother did not.
In winter, when the snow covered the steps to our front door and made a snow bank, I would pretend I was climbing a mountain when I went to start my dads plum ford ranger (never say that the ford ranger is purple because at this time of morning, dad hasn’t had enough coffee to think this is funny).
We were there for so long that we did things that only homeowners would do, like converting the strip of dirt where grass won't grow into a pansy garden every spring. My dad would try convince my mom to buy perennials, but she always said the same thing. “It doesn’t matter- we won’t be here next year.”
Pansies are her favorite. They are my favorite too because they look like they have faces and I imagine pansies dancing around in ritualistic loops like they do in Fantasia.
I shuck corn on the landing in the summer, and make sure to leave kernels for the water beetles to eat.
In the garden apartment, Saturday mornings are for sleeping in.
This was an unofficial rule because Friday was the unofficial party day for mom and dad and all of their friends.
On July 18th, 1996, my dad turned 30 and his cake was the torso of a naked woman.
They told me it was a golf course, and they laughed and laughed. I was very popular on Friday nights.
Friday nights were the nights I read myself to sleep in the guestroom of whoever’s house we were visiting.
I had to get to sleep early because my internal alarm clock would wake me up at 5:55 am for my unofficial Saturday morning ritual.
One of my first memories is my dad showing me how to make cereal when I was four. I think that this is important enough to be one of my first memories because it was the first thing I could do by myself
except for going to the bathroom.
No one else in daycare was making their own cereal, and this meant that I had something the other kids did not.
I was winning.
The unofficial Saturday morning ritual goes like this:
Wake up 5 mins before the alarm clock goes off.
Watch alarm clock until it goes off. It is a Lion King alarm clock with Simba lounging on top, with paws that are awkward and too large for his body hanging over the clock face.
When it is time to wake up, Simba pops up. Recently, he has been getting stuck, I have to make sure it is still working because even though I asked my dad to fix it, he didn’t look at it long enough to really fix it.
Then I make my bed, which is already a big girl bed because I am advanced for my age. However, it has a collapsible gate on the side because I am so afraid of falling out that I won’t go to sleep unless there is a barrier between me and the floor.
The gate stays on until age 8. The only reason it went away is because my mom accidentally broke it and refused to replace it because was too old to have, what she calls, a ‘baby gate’.
I am still afraid of falling out of bed.
I am 5, so I can’t collapse the gate down by myself, but I make the bed as best I can, spreading the comforter so that the Simba and the Nala with the green and purple fern motif is perfectly smooth and in the very center of the bed.
Then I change into my Lion king pajamas and matching Simba slippers, which are reserved for Saturday mornings only and are not for sleeping.
Now I am ready to go into the kitchen to make cereal. By this time it is almost 6:20, so I need to hurry if I am going to catch the first rerun of Double Dare with Marc Summers.
I get my plastic Lion King bowl and a regular grown up spoon, because plastic spoons are for babies, and I pour my Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and 2% Dean’s Farm Milk into the bowl. (I recently learned that the Captain Crunch Captain is actually a commander because he only has 3 stripes on the cuffs of his uniform instead of four.)
I am not allowed to eat in the living room, so I put my bowl of cereal down in the kitchen and go to the living room to turn on the TV. Around age 6 or so, I revised this routine to make the cereal AFTER the TV is turned on so that I can watch and make cereal AT THE SAME TIME.
At age 6.5, I realize that my parents never wake up when I am eating, so I can just eat in the living room and they will never know.
I sit in the kitchen doorway with my bowl of cereal and grown up spoon so that I can get as close as I can to Double Dare with Marc Summers without breaking the rules. I eat the cereal from top to bottom, crunchy to soggy. I drink the milk. I put my bowl in the sink during a commercial.
I like to start my day with reruns because I already know what happens, and it feels good to be one step ahead of things.
The next show is Legends of the Hidden Temple. Which is not a rerun, so I have no way of knowing what happens (although, I figured out around age 6 or so that Purple Monkeys win about ⅔ of the time.)
I prefer game shows because they are REAL and I can insert myself into whatever those kids are doing.
Only I am doing it better. And I am always winning.
After 8:30 or so, my parents wake up. They perform their own Saturday morning ritual that includes making coffee, speaking softly over a Marlboro light in the kitchen, and making more coffee. Then they would part ways. My mom would usually turn on dryer to get the wrinkles out of the clothes from the day before, and my dad would turn on CNN Morning News.
I secretly loved CNN Morning News. I could have continued my regular scheduled Saturday morning programming on the TV in what was called the “family room” that only guests stayed in.
Sitting next to my dad drinking his coffee and listening to the craggy old men talk about what the other craggy old men on the other side of the world were doing made me feel like I belonged to a secret society. I was an adult because I was watching the news and I was learning the secrets, and, sometimes, my dad would give me some coffee, and I would pretend to like it, but I think he knew I didn’t.
While writing this, I was trying to remember that one episode when Doug and Patti were almost honest with each other about their feelings, or the time my mom yelled at my dad for turning on Ren and Stimpy when we were supposed to be watching CNN Morning News.
As I was googling episode guides, and watching YouTube videos, I realized that the nostalgia for thoughtful and slightly inappropriate cartoons and game shows isn’t what I carried with me into my adult life. When I think about Saturday morning I remember my first decisions, making my own rules, and foraging an agenda my parents had no say in.
Saturday morning is an island, and these beaches are a refuge, and, on these sands, I am always winning.