I feel the sweet, warm candy juice escape my mouth and drip from my chin as my lips instinctively tighten their grip on the candy necklace. I’m 41, but the feel of the candy beads on my tongue, the taste of sugar with the hint of sour rubber band that holds them together, floods me with nostalgia. I can feel the textured dashboard and feel the warm rays coming through the windshield of that 1972 Chevy Nova my mom used to drive. I named her “Suzy” after a cartoon on TV where the boy discovers a junkyard car and fixes her up.
Those were the days when seat belts weren’t required – carseats either. At five years old, I stood – feet on the vinyl bench seat, hands braced on the sloping dashboard, and sang harmony to all the great songs of the 70’s while mom drove me to a magical world called “pre-school.” I faced the sky and the future in lyrical fashion long before Leonardo and Kate did on the bow of the Titanic. Our favorite on the radio dial was an AM channel at 1190; their call sign was WOWO and they played top 40 hits for the time. We especially liked their morning school delay or cancelation announcements. If school was delayed I got to have a much nicer breakfast and spend some morning nap time with mom. If it was cancelled I got to go spend the day with one of my grandparents.
We also liked what I referred to as, “Little Red Barn.” That was the song they played for the Bob Sievers daily talk show. His voice made me feel like words were special, not just things a person (my father) spewed out in anger or let fall carelessly. Sievers’ voice gave me hope for men-folk.
WOWO and Suzy were my healing balms, my post-war era after my early childhood jungles. Before mom packed me and our meager belongings to a small but nice place (an old church converted to apartments), I lived in the attic room of a run-down house with a creaky screen door.
There among the hand-me-down everythings and peeling linoleum, I stuffed my little Pomeranian dog in the handlebar-basket of my tricycle. I pedaled him in tight little circles on the living room floor. He would occasionally topple out and stagger his way (as fast as he could) to the orange upholstered sofa covered in cigarette burns. Poor Toby could never escape. Even if he made it to the subterranean sofa caves, I’d grab his tail and pull him out yelping. Children are cruel; I was no exception. In fairness, boys and girls who grow up in war zones tend to be desensitized to death and explosions. Likewise, I was immune to the sounds of protest and pain. He never bit me. I love him more in hindsight than I ever could have as a child.
When I wasn’t abusing Toby, I was busy watching TV, shutting out the yelling and things shattering around me. An invisible cocoon warped the air around me as a clay pot hit the door frame to the kitchen. The local newscaster told me that Elvis was dead. A beer can retaliated as daddy spit words at mommy that made me blush instinctively. Later, when the front door had slammed, tires had squealed red streaks across the thin curtains, and mommy was crying in a ball on the floor, the comforting voice of Walter Cronkite told me, “That’s the way it is.” He never was one to sugarcoat things.