Pictured to the right, Salvation Army Cadet Wilma Jean Poorman Woods, the 'Heralds' class of 1947.
As the third day of January snow silently fell on the grey steel mill stacks in the valley below our wood-frame house in Youngstown, Ohio, out of my bedside transistor radio roared the rock band, Three Dog Night singing, ‘Joy to the World, All the boys and girls!’
It was 1971. I was a pimply and awkward adolescent with a high IQ and thick, industrial-strength geek glasses. Can you say ‘bully-target?’
My mother, the stern, under-nourished Salvation Army Officer, showed up at PTA meetings in a red cape and heels, looking like a character out of Guys and Dolls.
My older brother traded in his uniform and trumpet for leadership of the ghetto gang, the same year I decided it was safer in my family and neighbourhood to stay ‘in the closet’ for a few more years.
My plan was simple: I would wear nothing but hippie ‘Earth Shoes’ and blue jeans and get a macho, racing bike, to prove I was not a piano-playing, slide rule pushing gay-boy freak. I dropped subtle hints to my Mom, who was scrubbing floors by day and going to college by night, when she wasn’t leading prayer meetings.
The wintry day had arrived, my 12th birthday — I was sure I would get my bike. My Mom lead me into the tattered but immaculate, lace-covered living room, where my Welsh Grandma sat, next to the matriarchal sewing machine and family Bibles, to unveil my gift.
What’s this? Not an athletic, pump me up and make me butch bike? There, beside Grandma’s cane sat the Polish neighbour lady, Mrs. Szlowkowsky, sipping my Mom’s strong coffee, while smiling and extending her hand.
My church lady Mom and Mrs. Szlowkowsky waved their pasty white hands, like angels guarding the Biblical Arc of the Covenant, over a large, scratched case with broken brass snaps.
Barely breathing, I popped the snaps and caught a vivid vision of my inevitable years of coming persecution: A refurbished, 12-Bass ‘Festival’ Accordion.
The smell of musty billows and mouldy leather made me choke.
“Mrs. Szlowkowsky has agreed to give you lessons, if you agree to help her clean the choir loft at Saint Stanislaw’s Catholic Church on the corner of our street, once a week,” my mother said.
Mrs. Szlowkowsky smiled and offered me a plate of sliced walnut ‘placek’ (Polish coffee cake).
“It’s a ‘festival’ accordion; you’ll like that!” my Grandma said, as I thought to myself, “Whatever ‘festival’ means . . .”
"One day, you'll win the Ohio Welsh Eisteddfod!" my Grandma shouted.
“Thank you, Mrs. Szlowkowsky,” I heard myself saying, as I drifted away, not knowing this quirky, portable polka-playing keyboard was about to doom me to an adult life suspended somewhere between John Candy’s Rustbelt humour and Liberace’s Las Vegas tastes.
And since I mentioned ‘Candy’, have I told how I once knew this girl . . .
Click here to go directly to my personal blog page called Welsh-American Family Genealogy, on the World Wide Web.
Click here to go directly to my personal blog page called Mordechai Razing Ziggurats, on the World Wide Web.
Click here to go directly to my personal blog page called Celtic Cult Cinema on the World Wide Web.
Click here to go directly to my personal blog page called Mordechai's Post-Evangelical-Granola on the World Wide Web.© 2007 Mark Leslie Woods