The First Time
No, not that first time.
There are lots of things that you do for the first time, that really take some practice to either do it right or even enjoy it – or find out whether you even do enjoy it. (including that.)
So for those things, First Times don’t count.
Ah, bur other things… what a pleasure it is to try something for the first time and discover…Holy Shit, it’s GREAT!!!!
Here are a few of my first time experiences that made me just gasp with pleasure:
1. The first time I wore something that made me feel BEAUTIFUL. I was seven years old. For my birthday, my mother gave me a slip. That’s right. A slip. It was actually called a half-slip, if you are old enough to remember that. Just the skirt part.. no top. A slip for your birthday may not seem like much. But let me set you straight. This was no ordinary slip. It was a CRINOLINE slip.In case you are unfamiliar with crinoline – that’s a slip made out of netting that it very full, so keeps your skirt puffed up. My slip was three layers.. pink, blue, and yellow. I called it my “stiff slip.” I wore it to church on Sunday under every dress I had, and I would have worn it very day if I could have put it under my parochial school navy blue uniform. It was the first time I discovered that what you wear could make you feel good.
2. The first CONCERT I ever attended, and heard a famous recording artist sing live. I was nine, I think, which would have made it about 1960. My family went to Atlantic City for a few days of vacation. This was not today’s Atlantic City with casinos and night life. This was a more-than-slightly seedy past-its-prime poor city – with a nice beach and boardwalk and amusement parks. One day we went to the Steel Pier. I saw the famous diving horse that decades later was memorialized in a sweet Disney movie. And then we went to the concert hall, and headlining that day was – BOBBY RYDELL! We had his records. He was on TV! And he was – he was a real actual PERSON! He sang Volare! He sand to me! I will love Bobby Rydell forever.
3. The first time I rode a FERRIS WHEEL was at the St. Anthony’s carnival when I was about ten. St. Anthony’s was the rival parish to my own St. Anne’s. In my opinion, St. Anne’s was better in every single way. I had great disdain for St.Anthony’s – their school, their basketball team, their ugly uniforms (which were almost identical to ours… but I saw the difference). But one thing St. Anthony’s had that St. Anne’s did not was a Spring carnival. I was big on cotton candy. Not big on carnival rides. I tended to be either terribly frightened or even more terribly nauseated. But that carnival… for some reason I decided to be brave. I bought a ticket (and I had only one dollar for the whole day) for the ferris wheel. And when the wheel got to the top, and we stopped and the basket swung back and forth, and I looked down upon the people and out to the surrounding rooftops – it was complete exhilaration! Brave is good!
4. The first time I had a REUBEN SANDWICH. I was 12, and my mother took me shopping at Lord & Taylor – just the two of us. They had a restaurant right in the store called The Birdcage, I think, but I have no idea why. My mother bought me a jewelry box that day for no reason, which I wrote about a while back, since it was such an amazing, rare treat. But back to the Reuben. Oh my God, corned beef and sauerkraut and cheese and gooey dressing on toast grilled with so much butter it ran down to my wrists when I picked up the sandwich! And with french fries and a cup of coffee. When I was 12, and now when I am 65, I take a bite of a reuben sandwich and it’s heaven in my mouth.
5. The first time I realized that the WRITTEN WORD could move you. I think I was about fifteen when I read a poem that made me cry. I always liked to read. I always liked stories. The public library was my sanctuary. But to cry? To feel real emotion? From a poem of all things? The poem was by Robert Frost, a poet I never especially liked (even now). It is called “Home Burial” and it’s no lyrical, pretty piece. It is mostly dialogue – in the most mundane language – with little discernible meter to me. The dialogue is between husband and wife. They’re grieving for a lost child in very different ways, and they cannot forgive each other for not sharing the same expression of grief. At the point where the husband says to his wife “I do think, though, that you overdo it a little”- that was when I cried.
And it was not long afterwards that the idea occurred to me that I would like to do that – bring real emotion to someone by something I would write. I lost track of that desire for many years – from age 25 to age 50 to be exact.
And then I remembered.
And started again to write.
And I remember it today, 50 years after that little bit of poetry made me cry, because I have just finished the draft for my second novel, and crazy as it seems, and unseemly as it may be for saying it, at the end of the novel, I made myself cry. I am hoping somehow it’s real. That I’m not just sentimental and infatuated with my own words (although I’ll admit that I am both). I hope I have expressed in this new story an emotion that touches someone else.
I have a long way to go before finishing this novel, but for now, I am feeling that FIRST TIME feeling – the first time my own words moved me to weep.
And although it’s sad to cry – the feeling it has given me is extraordinary.
Almost like a reuben sandwich.