As I get older the memories of my childhood have begun to fade. It’s very unfortunate. I have snapshots, pictures in my mind. At times I can remember a smell, taste, sound, or a name. Anna Marie is a name I remember well; the thought of it makes me smile. I know the scent of a Thanksgiving Day turkey, the pine tree needles of a Christmas tree, the smell of the bubble gum that came with a brand new package of baseball cards. I even recall the dusty smell as I clapped together the chalk covered erasers in school when it was my turn to wash the blackboard, (and the sneeze it caused me to hold in which nearly made my head explode!).
I remember, but wish I could forget, the noise the dentists drill made; the faint taste of smoke and the splattering of water on my face as my dentist so cruelly drilled away as if hoping to strike oil and make millions. Novocaine wasn’t provided to kids in the 60’s; in fact I didn’t realize it existed. The dentist told you to act like a brave soldier, all doctors say that, and then the drilling and pain began. My dentist, Dr. Zimmerman, was in Jackson Heights and his office sat right under the elevated subway.
Even though the sound of the drill seemed to grow louder, faster, I wasn’t able to hear it above the clattering, clanging, and the rattling of the subway cars overhead. The noise may have gone away but the pain never did. I can still see my dentist’s hand move the drill away when he was finally finished and the evil device was no longer needed. That sigh of relief I let out will never go away; I can feel it now. As much as I hated the pain I know it made me tougher. It was a battle of wills and I wasn’t going to let Dr. Zimmerman know it hurt like Hell!
People’s faces of years ago stand out; whether it is a frown and look of disapproval, which happened all too often, or an encouraging smile that made my day. Anna Marie’s face is still clear in my mind; yes I won’t forget to tell you about her. I can unmistakably recall the bell that rang when the Good Humor ice cream truck drove through the neighborhood; parking on Haspel street at the corner of 53rd avenue. Good Humor was my favorite; any other ice cream truck was a disappointment; though Bungalow Bar was an acceptable alternative.
My friends and I all had to think, react and move quickly. First we needed to make a mad dash to our homes and hope that our mothers would give us the change we required to make our purchases. If we were lucky to gather together the coins we then stood on line in back of the truck breathing in the gas fumes as we waited our turn. We knew nothing of carbon monoxide poisoning; in fact I remember the fumes smelled good. Each time the Good Humor man opened the small door to get an ice cream bar or an Italian ice a blast of smoke filled cold air hit my friends and me squarely in the face. We’d smile at one another because the coolness was a welcome relief on hot summer days.
I had three choices of ice cream that I stuck to religiously. First was a chocolate eclair. If I felt like something a little sweeter I bought a toasted almond bar. Finally on very hot days I went for the cherry Italian ice. Anyone who has bought one of these little cups knows that at the bottom was a sweet, thick, gel like mixture of ice. My friends and I rarely waited until our wooden spoons, which the girls would later attempt to use to ‘play doctor’, another story entirely, made their way to the bottom. We swiftly dug deep and got to the sweet part, the best part; then we’d flip it over and suddenly the bottom of the ice was resting comfortably on top just waiting for us to scoop it all up. Depending on the flavor we bought our tongues, lips and teeth would turn that color and remain this way for the rest of the day. We proudly opened wide to one another displaying our beautifully painted mouths. One flavor was blue and I remember it made me think; there is no blue food. Of course we have blueberries but I’ve never sat down to a dinner where the main portion was a brightly colored blue. This mystery has lingered with me throughout the years. It’s really funny what I remember, what we all remember. But then again why isn’t there any blue food?
My family took pictures years ago but many have been lost or got discolored over the years. The children of today are very lucky. With all the fancy state of the art gadgets their entire childhoods can be kept safely on discs and they can look back some day when their hair is gray and rediscover the joys, the pains, and the confusion that growing of age brings about.
All of this takes me to a memory, and the title of this article. I wish I could describe Anna Marie in greater detail; I’ll do the best I can. Of all the seasons the fall is my favorite; it was in the fall when I met Anna. It may seem odd that I consider the fall to be my favorite season because with autumn comes the beginning of the school year, something I hated. Winter and the snow it brought was fun. After all as a child we didn’t need to worry about driving to work or snow plows. All we required was a trip to the back of the supermarket where they kept the used cardboard boxes. Two of them, placed under our ‘butts’, gave my friends and I a sled to slide down hills. Our favorite hill was on 57th Avenue where there is an incline going up to the Long Island Expressway. At six or seven years old that hill was the size of a mountain. No one had a sled; all we had was our imagination and some ingenuity. Times were so much better then, so much simpler. We took nothing for granted and appreciated the things we had, even if it was just a dirty, used cardboard box.
Autumn in Elmhurst, Queens was special for me in many ways. It brought with it a cool, crisp, refreshing smell to the air. It’s as if the main responsibility of this season is to cleanse us of the heat, sweat and humidity the summer brought. Spring was peaceful and of course it meant the start of another baseball season, but nothing beat the invigoration of the brisk air, the fresh soft breezes of September, October and November.
Oh yes! Anna Marie, I haven’t forgotten! On a cool, bright, Halloween Day in 1960 or 1961, while trick or treating with my friends we came across a very cute, very petite teenager. She introduced herself as Anna, Anna Marie; that’s all she said. Anna had a very sweet, adorable face, rosy cheeks and eyes that smiled, twinkled with each blink. Anna knew how to look someone in the eye and gain their attention; that was clear and she had mine. On this day she was wearing a black, witch-like shawl with a little make-up on her face. She walked on, moving her arms as she went, her shawl flowing around and behind her in a very theatrical way. My friends and I thought nothing of it at the time, and yet one day it all made sense.
Anna was shorter than most teenagers and this fact made me feel more comfortable. Teenagers of the day could be bullies, but Anna wasn’t. It’s funny how little things like that can remain in my mind. Anna was older and very sweet, very pleasant, full of fun. She pranced along with us as we marched upon the homeowners in our different and yet distinctive costumes that were all hand made. With our bags opened wide we repeated the cry of ‘Trick of Treat’.
Anna took hold of my hand, adopting me for the day, as we walked up and down 53rd Avenue; then crossed Haspel Street and headed to Van Horn Street. We stopped at houses, loading our bags with treats, before we made our way to Seabury Street and the Ascension School. We got brave and moved on to 54th Avenue and down towards P.S. 102, my place for learning and overwhelming, incomprehensible anxiety.
Anna stayed with us for quite awhile but eventually she had to leave. We all watched as she gracefully made her exit, it was something she seemed to do so well. My friends and I never saw much of her again. On occasions we got a wave or quick hello but she always seemed to be in a hurry; on her way to somewhere that I imagined was interesting, fun; a place I’d like to go to. Unfortunately I never got to know her well, but then again maybe I did; after all I know a lot about her.
In 1963 a new television series came on the air; it was called The Patty Duke Show. The star, Patty Duke, played identical twin cousins. The show was very popular in my neighborhood; not only because it was funny, but because Patty Duke turned out to be our ‘Trick or Treat’ friend Anna Marie. There she was on my often times fuzzy, black and white television screen and yet my memory allowed me to see her in greater detail and vivid color.
My friends and I were all shocked and amazed with our brush with fame, notoriety. As it turned out the time Patty was in our neighborhood she was working on Broadway in the play the ‘Miracle Worker.’ She was born Anna Marie Duke in Elmhurst, Queens; my hometown, maybe yours. Patty went on to win an Oscar (for the movie version), and an Emmy (for the T.V. version). Anna or Patty never let on about her fame, her talent, her incredible job at such a young age. She was just one of us for the short time we were in her presence.
On that Halloween Day we spent together Anna Marie was very happy being Anna Marie and not Patty Duke the actress, the celebrity. For one day she was a teenager, a friend, not an actress with rehearsed lines and a mark to hit, or a director to yell cut at her. Anna was just one of the gang, walking along in that flowing, graceful black shawl and enjoying a beautiful day, smiling at everyone. Maybe the fall is her favorite season as well. I’d like to think so! I hope she’s well and enjoying life. Elmhurst, Queens is proud of her, and proud to call her one of our own.