I wrote this in college for a creative writing class. As much as I’d like to edit it, at the suggestion of my Aunt Susan, I left it alone. The word limit in the class is the only reason I didn’t mention things like Lollie and the bathroom (‘big old long thing’ will make anyone who knows that story laugh), or Fuzzie and the stripper (I was not supposed to be in the room), or a hundred other anecdotes. I remember, and love, all of you.
My grandmother always told me to be observant, look for details, and to keep my mouth shut. I have trouble with that last one, the same as she did. We prefer to call it ‘hoof in mouth disorder,’ and there is only one cure. Patient and careful thought before you speak. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, and I’m much less blunt. This probably only goes to fit me into the norm of society, where people bottle up their feelings until they’re screaming, like a boiling pot. This is, I think, why we have wars, people bottling things up too much. So I still say what I think, and deal with the boiling water as it splashes me.
My grandmother taught me many things when I was small, and nothing she ever taught me have I found to be worthless. She taught me how to add and subtract. One Saturday I did the account books for the “small” dance wear business that she owned and ran. It was not out of kindness, no, it was so she could make me French toast. I couldn’t have been more that six or seven, and I knew that she was pleased that I had done them, and promised to give me the desk she worked at. She took me to the art museums, to see the paintings, mummies and the knights in armor. The knights were always my favorite.
I used to sit and look at them. The Cleveland Museum of Art had them all lined up. First knights on horses, the metal glistening and shining, lances held up by the disembodied armor. Behind them were the ranks of pike men, in their half armor. Helms with nose guards, peaked tops, which seemed ridiculous at the time, but altogether overly fascinating. I adored the knights, but the mummies scared me, and when the real Egyptian sarcophagi came with real mummies inside, I was petrified and wouldn’t go in the room.
Those were my Saturdays. Friday my grandmother would pick me up from elementary school, or one of her employees would, and we would go to Taffy’s Warehouse. See, Taffy was my grandmother, and the warehouse was the head quarters for her small line of dance wear stores which she opened in the 40’s. Mind you, this was back when single mothers didn’t do this sort of thing, but Taffy did. All of the stores were named Taffy’s, even the one on Broadway in New York. I remember my Aunt telling me about calling Taffy and saying “You’re up on Broadway, mom.” And now all the stores have been sold to a larger dance wear store, Capezio, and renamed to that, but still the memory of playing up and down the aisles of the warehouse lingers.
Everyone was my aunt or uncle. There was Eileen who would build me a house out of used cardboard boxes, cut my hair, and let me answer the telephone for her, look at the pictures of her grownup children while she answered the phone, or draw on her blotter. Mary-Lou always had a variety of sweets in her drawers. Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, all the things your parents never want you to eat, and if I asked, I was allowed to have some. The inventory stacks were my private playground. I could be scout, slipping through the woods to find some secret information for my troop. But mostly I ran messages, letters and envelopes back and forth between the various sections, diving through aisles as if my life depended on it. I was the Tsar’s personal courier, I was Michael Stroganoff, the best and the only chance to get the important documents.
Of the warehouse, my favorite place of all was the sewing room. Grandmother Taffy (Just Taffy to everyone, even me) believed in having her outfits handmade by people. There were lines and lines of women at old-fashioned machines, churning out various costumes for companies like the Rockettes and Disney. Perhaps there could have been better ways of working the assembly line but at Taffy’s, there were always smiles. I can never remember anyone being overly upset. E, the head seamstress and designer, used to make me my Halloween costumes, let me help her, and play with her Scottie dog, or read the books she had in her office, just for me.
As I grew older, and eventually moved away to San Diego, California, I never lost touch with my friends at Taffy’s. My father used to bring me on all his business trips, and when ever they were near Cleveland, we would stop by to visit Taffy. Sometimes, when the winter sun was rising, and the ice covered buildings were quiet and sullen, trapped in their frigidness, my father and I would drive with Taffy to work, and open the warehouse for business. In the silence of the immense building, I would sit on reams of cloth and look around, imagining the noises and faces of the people I knew, and amidst the frost, things were warm and full of joy.
I remember taking inventory was a game for me. Lolli would read off what we should have, and I would clamber up the stacks and tell her what we did have. Work was a giant game, and all of my extended family enjoyed having me play with them. I like to think that I helped make their life more enjoyable, by simply having fun, and helping them not have to be studious, and serious adults all the time. Fuzzy sent me on errands, zipping up and down the rows to the offices, in and out of the mail room window until Taffy or Judy brought me lunch from Wendy’s or McDonald’s, and I sat with Taffy’s wire-haired dachshunds beneath antique Virginia Slim’s posters. “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” Then off to the computer room to watch Scooby-Doo on the ten-inch, black and white TV.
Now Taffy’s is Capezio’s, and the people I knew no longer work there, and the family I had, my aunts and uncles are gone. No one is there to pass the children through windows, build them castles, teach them computer games, or let them become the biker babe on their Honda motorcycle. I miss it, but I can revel in the memories of being the Captain of the USS Savior, with the warehouse as my intrepid starship, and the employees as my crew. It was my home.