Following a visit to New England this winter, my daughter mentioned how dry her hands were there. How well I know, I thought. I remember living in a railroad flat apartment in NYC where the radiator heat dried my hands such that they would crack and bleed. I treated it by applying Vaseline to my hands at night and wearing little white gloves to bed. The gloves must have been left over from the days of my dreaded ballroom dancing lessons in a large formal hall in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, where girls were made to dance with boys, and boys with girls–before we wanted to. Round and round the ballroom we’d go, and when one of the boys stepped all over a girl’s feet, the instructor, Mr. Ryder, would single him out to the center of the dance floor and make the boy dance with him. Oh, the look of devastation on the boy’s face–and the look of delight on Mr. Ryder’s.
The ballroom dancing lessons were scheduled on friday nights, the same time “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” aired on television. T.V.’s best night bar none, and there was no taping then. The only redeeming thing about the evening was the requisite stop at a Friendly’s Ice Cream shop following the lessons, which whatever mother was driving the carpool that week had to make. There, having missed our favorite television programs, we felt entitled to gorge on Friendly’s Big Beef hamburger and fries with a Friendly Cola, or their milkshake, the Fribble.
My bedroom at home was papered in a bright yellow with green leaves and stems and white flowers flying around on it, as if tossed into the air. It was always spring in that room. Not so in New England. Maybe I was meant for more temperate climates, as I insisted on open windows and fresh air no matter what time of year.
Our house was a big old colonial in which every room was heated by a radiator. An oil furnace the size of a Model T automobile churned away in the basement to keep it all going. I liked my corner bedroom for the cross currant of air I could create in it. At night I’d burrow under layers of blankets and read into early hours with a flashlight: Gone with the Wind, On the Beach, Bring Me a Unicorn, and all the journals of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, falling in love not so much with Charles Lindbergh, as with Anne. I loved the way she wrote.
One night–it must have been a Nor’easter outside–wind was whipping through my room so hard the radiator went into overdrive. Hissing its head off and spraying hot steaming water all around the room, I had more reason than ever to stay buried under blankets, head and all. What could I do but scream for help? It was my father that heard my cries and came in and shut it all off (how’d he do that without getting burned?), closing my windows too most likely. An old camper at heart, he understood my craving for fresh air and had no harsh words for me, not that I remember.
Years later, in that railroad flat apartment in NYC, the radiator heat was even worse. Well, everything was. I was trying to recover from a broken marriage and deal with a divorce at the time, and not doing particularly well with either. That might have had something to do with it. So I moved West, choosing California, to put my life into some sort of sunshine. And to get out of those damn white gloves.