Memories of Life in the Projects

I first became aware of home when I was about four years old. Our house had a front porch that stretched across the width, the front door right smack-dab in the middle. There were no chairs out there, no toys, no swing, but it was my preferred place because it got me out from under the watchful eyes of my mother.

I remember getting splinters every time I was out there, and although I hated the Mercurochrome that my mother applied after each extraction, I returned time after time. Maybe this is why my parents thought I was slow: I never seemed to learn from my errors.

My older brother was really into cowboys, so therefor I was as well. He had a hat, chaps, and a holster. I had a hat and a skirt. When he wanted to play cowboy, he’d get dressed and go out on the porch. He was five, big enough to climb the railings and straddle the top. I couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried. He’d tease: I’d cry.

I wasn’t aware of appliances at that age, but I was mesmerized by the washing machine. It was a huge tub with two tight rollers, which my mom called ringers, on the top. Mom would stir the clothes in the tub, then push them through the ringers one at a time. She was afraid that her hands would get stuck. I sensed her fear, so I tried to stay back far enough, but because I wanted to see, I’d slowly move closer and closer.

One warm day Mom sat on the side steps smoking. I wasn’t supposed to be out there, but I went anyway and sat next to Mom. She wasn’t good at snuggling, so I maintained distance between us. A steady stream of kids came by, each dressed nicely and carrying a metal box. I knew about those boxes because my dad took one to work everyday.

Those kids seemed so happy on their journey, so I stood to join in. Mom pulled me back to the steps. I cried because I wanted to hear what they were laughing about, to be a part of their silliness, to run and hop and skip with them as they passed along the path. But more than anything, I wanted my own lunch box.

Mom told me that the kids were going to school, that I wasn’t old enough, and that my brother would go to school next year. I didn’t know what school was, but I felt that I would love it.

I begged over and over to go, to have a box, but Mom always said no. Eventually she yelled at me, something I earned often, scolded me and sent me away. I was told never to mention those two things again.

One night when my dad came home from work, he brought me a gift. This was an unusual occurrence as we only got gifts at Christmas. Guess what it was? A beat-up blue metal lunch box that someone had left at work. My mom washed it out, my dad gave it a fresh coat of paint, and then it was mine, all mine. My brother stole it from me, but dad forced him to give it back.

For several weeks someone packed a lunch in it for me. Eventually that person must have grown tired because one morning it was empty. After throwing a wonderful temper tantrum I was told it was never going to happen again. I got to keep the box, but I turned it into a keepsake collector where I stored pretty rocks and other such things.

We were seldom allowed off the porch by ourselves. One day Mom was busy doing something and my brother and I snuck around the side of the house. There was a hose on the ground. My brother picked it up and waved it about, telling me it was a snake out to get me. He grew tired of that so moved on to something that would get me in trouble: he turned on the waer.

Because the sun was shining, when he waived the hose up and down, it created a spray that took on the hues of a rainbow. He repeated the action over and over, amazing us both. Of course he grew tired of that and decided to soak me through and through. However, when I ran next to the neighbor’s’ house, the spray hit the window before it got to me.

My brother was old enough to understand that something terrible had happened, so he handed me the hose and disappeared. I was thrilled to be in charge, but only until the neighbor arrived. I was the obvious culprit. I was the one that he dragged to the front door and who was shown to my mother. Even though I pleaded innocence and blamed my brother, I was the one who was punished.

One last memory comes to mind. Someone gave my brother a tricycle that was no longer needed. To celebrate, we all went outside to watch my dad teach him how to ride. It was great fun. My brother learned quickly enough that he could pedal all around the house without falling over. My parents went off to do something important.

My brother, seizing the opportunity to torment me, chased me with the trike. He’d pedal as fast as he could then crash into me, knocking me over. I’d brush off the dirt just in time to be hit again. Over and over he did this. You’d think I would have been smart enough to leave, but I had been told to stay with him for fear of punishment.

Even after me knees, hands and elbows were scratched and my dress filthy, he continued. At some point he got off the trike, so I got on. The problem was that my legs weren’t quite long enough and strong enough to make it move. My brother returned and pushed me. At first it was great fun, but he pushed faster and faster. I must have hit a bump because I toppled over, hurting myself even worse.

My brother didn’t get in trouble but I did.

Much later when I was older and we had moved away I learned that we had been living in the projects, low income housing. Once I understood that, my mother’s protests made sense. She was miserable there and let her displeasure be known whenever my dad was around.

As a kid I saw nothing wrong with the projects. We were on the path to school, we had a wonderful porch and there was a path around the house perfect for riding. We had food, beds and clothes. While I was a whiner and crier, I was comfortable there, sharing space with Mom, Dad and my brother.

My memories are all a mixture of happy and sad, a perfect combination for life in the projects.

Scary Experience

On Monday of this week I had a real scare.

I had eaten lunch and gone to the gym. Then I went to a local store to buy some things I needed. After picking out a nice birthday card, I ran into a friend that I had not seen for many years.

We fell into our old friend patterns, talking, sharing, asking questions. It was wonderful to see her! It reminded me of all the talking did while we played on the same soccer teams, the visits to each other’s houses, and all the good times.

All of a sudden it felt like all the blood was flooding out of my head, pouring down my neck and out of my body. I half expected to see a pool of blood at my feet. Thankfully there wasn’t, but it didn’t alter the fact that I suddenly felt quite woozy.

Most stores do not have chairs placed about, and this was so. I knew I needed to sit. The only thing nearby was a display. As I headed toward that, my friend started calling for help.

A young man came to my assistance. He just happened to be a nursing student and he knew exactly what to do. While he was tending me, my friend called my husband and told him to get over to the store. Someone else called 911.

The store employees also came to my assistance. One got a wheelchair. A couple of others blocked me off from all the lookie-loos that were stopping by to stare.

Somewhere along the way I actually lost consciousness. It was supposedly only for a few seconds, but when I came to, the young man was cradling my head.

Meanwhile several people helped move me to a wheelchair and out of the aisle so that things were a little more private.

My friend told me that employees helped guide the paramedics to me. One stood outside in the cold, without a jacket, until they arrived. Another stood just inside the door and walked them to me. Both of these employees oversaw my care while my friend kept watch for my husband.

The decision was made to transport me to the hospital because my blood pressure was quite low. I heard the numbers, but they mean nothing to me.

In the ambulance the first thing they did was run an EKG, then my blood pressure was monitored and an IV was begun. The paramedics were awesome. The one riding with me kept me calm by explaining everything that he was doing and by asking questions to keep me focused.

By the time we reached the hospital my blood pressure had improved, but was still low. I was taken to the ER. Tests were run. The only thing they could find was that my kidney function was a bit low, a sign of dehydration. I was given fluids. Lots of fluids.

Because of fainting, the ER doctor insisted that I spend the night. It was long and boring. I was not moved to a regular room, but kept in an observation part of the ER. Of course this means all kinds of noise and disruption.

I think I got about four hours sleep, but none of it was in a block.

After running an electrocardiogram on Tuesday and finding nothing, I was released. Actually, the electrocardiogram was the most exciting part of the whole affair. It was pretty neat watching the beating of my heart, from the inside!

The bad news is that I cannot drive until I’ve been cleared by my doctor.

Tuesday afternoon my husband drove me to the store so I could get the items I had intended to buy. While there I asked to speak to a manager. I thanked her and the employees for their care and assistance.

As I was about to leave, two employees who had been there came up to me and asked how I was. This was quite touching.

Today I contacted the store’s website and explained what had happened and how much I appreciate all that the employees did to help me.

I hope this helps the employees. They deserve all kinds of recognition. I just wish I knew their names.