I’m not sure where all my cassette tapes went when I was 18, but for a while I only had two tapes: Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and the Clash “London Calling”.
I listened to those two tapes while packing to move for years. I still listen to Ziggy Stardust when packing to move. Which means I’ve listened to it /a lot/.
Mary introduced me to David Bowie’s music. She had as full a collection of his albums as anyone in small town southern Illinois in the mid-1980’s. We would turn off the lights in her bedroom, put on an album and just… listen.
She spray-painted “Rebel, Rebel, I love you so!” on the inside of an abandoned railroad car we adopted as our own. Somehow we moved an old sprung-cushion lounge chair into that railroad car.
It is fascinating how music is so evocative and nostalgic. A few notes will conjure up memories long thought forgotten to the quiet space between now and then.
My 16-year-old self couldn’t see this future.
My almost 45-year-old self can look back and see my young self, listening to Hunky Dory in Mary’s bedroom – then a few years later with Ziggy Stardust, in that warehouse in Oakland where Jason slept in the room below, packing a few bags to return to Carbondale to college and an ambiguous future.
We usually had about a month off school for Winter break when I was a kid. I imagine my mom got pretty tired of me after a while and was probably relieved when she could ship me off to stay with my pop for a week or two.
We never had a tree at my dad’s place, and usually I spent those holidays with him and my paternal grandparents in Brooklyn. If there was overlap in dates, we celebrated Hanukkah. I got yummy melty chocolately gold coins, scarfed grandma’s homemade matzoh ball soup and stuffed myself on latkes.
One of my favorite things to do during those holiday visits was to get in the car with pop to go look at the decorated houses. We would drive up one street and down the next, commenting and oohing and ahhing at the lovely, sparkly Christmasy homes.
It never occurred to me what a Jew from Brooklyn felt about these ecstatic displays. I am Jewish by birth, but not so much by practice, and at my mom’s we had a big Christmas tree and went caroling each year. My dad, however, was raised in a fairly traditional (non-Orthodox) Jewish household.
During those tours he and I did through the neighborhoods, I wonder if he felt like an outsider, peering in to someone else’s philosophy, stealing visions of another’s ritual?
My memory is that he loved the Christmas lights as much as I did. The lit-up houses were wondrous and sentimental, festive and enchanting. We were two kids with big eyes thrilled at the beautiful spectacle.
I loved her back then. She was creative and joyful, full of glee and some deeper sadness. Our visits were something I always anticipated with a happy heart. We traded mixed tapes and whispered our future dreams to each other in the darkness of her bedroom.
Twenty-seven years have passed and I never expected to feel so connected – so re-connected – from the moment she waved at me across the hotel driveway.
You would think that after all those years and all those lives lived, places traveled, heartaches, and heartfelt experiences, we wouldn’t recognize each other. But there she was in all of her … her-ness. The same girl I knew during our oh-so-formative years was standing there, motioning at me to get into her car.
There were extra lines on her face – twenty-seven years has a way of doing that to our bodies, but she was there, creative and joyful, full of glee and lacking that dark undercurrent.
Oh, how wonderful to hear her stories of the past two plus decades! How comfortable it felt to wrap my arms around her in a familiar bear hug! In those moments, we were 16 again, connected and re-connected in a lovely Kansas City summer night.