While many children experience a huge disappointment when they finally accept the fact that Santa is not actually real, for Marsha her trauma was a different one. It was the day she finally realized that Liberace was not just winking at her, but at everybody. Marsha is the oldest in our family of eight kids and less than a year older than me. We have always revelled in the fact that we are “twins for a week” each year, when for seven days we share the same age. We are very close sisters, but despite being raised under similar circumstances with the very same parents, we are in fact quite different.
Marsha often tells me that she is amazed by how much I am able to recall from our childhood days, as opposed to her own hazy memories. I’m sure it has a lot to do with our personalities as children; we were polar opposites; she was outgoing and I was shy, actually painfully so. Whenever anyone knocked on the front door in my preschool days, I would crawl into a tiny space under a small cherry- wood desk in our living room and pull the chair in after myself (as if the legs of the chair were much of a screen from curious eyes). Marsha, on the other hand, would gladly run to the door and answer it, batting her eyelashes at a visiting neighbour, the Fuller Brush man, or even total strangers. She was also thoroughly convinced that Liberace was winking just at her, whenever he was flirting with the audience, in his 1950’s TV variety show.
Despite the fact that I was afraid of almost anyone who was taller than me, and I never looked anyone other than my mother and father and a few loving relatives in the eye, I don’t remember ever being afraid of Liberace. Maybe I just figured out before Marsha did, that he couldn’t actually see us through the TV screen. The fact that he was black and white should have suggested something hokey to Marsha a little earlier, but it didn’t.
In order to accommodate the need for politeness in that more formal time when children were actually introduced to people and expected to cooperate, I had worked out a coping strategy of looking off into the distance, over the shoulder of whomever I was being introduced to; I would then quickly return to staring at the buckles on my shoes. That habit seems to have given me a permanent lifelong disability, from the part of my brain responsible for mapping foreheads, noses, eyes and ears getting so little exercise. To this day I have great difficulty recognizing people by their faces, until I have known them for quite awhile, which can at times be a huge embarrassment. As for being able to recognize the many much-aged faces, from those long ago days of my childhood in CaradocTownship? If I didn’t recognize them then, I most assuredly won’t recognize them now that they are even older.
Whenever I am greeted, out in the community, by someone I can only assume is an old neighbour or friend of my parents pausing for a visit, I have resorted to trying to guess their identity through some very awkward one-sided conversations. I willingly answer all their questions about every member of my extended family, hoping they will add some little revealing comments to help me out. So, if the rest of my family is wondering who the family blabbermouth is, and why their bank manager knows already that they’ve just come back from the Bahamas when they ask for an increase on their line of credit, or why their friend, the butcher at the Farmers’ Market, gave them the cold shoulder, a few days after they had hosted a big neighbourhood beef BBQ, that he was unaware of, perhaps I should take the blame.
Choosing the non-stop role of the one who answers in a nice neighbourly game of Twenty Questions is a totally useless strategy for discovering who the questioner is. Not only that, but in retrospect, I’m fairly certain that my lack of reciprocal questions, apart from the initial “I’m fine. How are you?” probably led many to conclude that I had turned into an egotistical self-centred dolt.
Though some may question my credibility in telling you this, I have very often deduced the identity of a person as soon as I saw them walking away. My brain seems to have a talent for identifying gaits, so I’m more a kinesiologist than a cartographer apparently. The problem is that the only way that I could possibly remedy my tarnished image, at that point, so that I wouldn’t appear to be a total self –centred jerk, rather than the altruistic, community–minded, out-going, but genuinely modest person that I am, would be to chase after them. Then I could probably say something like, “Oh, Hey Martin, just in case I forgot to say before, I really enjoyed your taking the time to share some of the neighbourhood news with me.” I’ve never done that yet, but you know I just might; after all I wouldn’t want people to have the wrong impression of me!
Oh, and about Marsha and Liberace. Well, she finally decided that he really couldn’t see her through the TV screen, when the other kids at school told her that TV isn’t real. She came home from school that day and cried on her bed for a little while; and then she took a Kleenex and rubbed the kiss marks off the TV screen. (Sorry, Marsha I made that last part up, but you really can’t expect me to remember everything now can you?)