Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Idol Snark Station: Carol is King

Did you have a Schwinn banana seat bicycle as a kid? The one with the chopper-esque handlebars to which you'd attach, if you were a girl at least, those glittery, multi-colored plastic streamers that would look so cool whenever you sped down a particularly steep hill or the wind was blowing especially hard?

I did. And for the few years of my little kid youth that we spent living in an actual city, I was permanently attached to the thing. Mainly because during the summer my mother forbid us to spend any time inside. We got up, washed, ate breakfast, and our butts were summarily tossed outside until noon, when we were expected to show back up on our front porch, peering through the screen door until our mothers appeared to hand us sandwiches and something cold to drink. The only way we were actually allowed back inside is if we had a medical emergency (bloody nose: not an emergency, hold your head up and wash at the hose outside; broken limb or cracked head: emergency) or it was dinnertime. After which, we were expected to roam around back outside until dark, when mothers' voices across the neighborhood would ring out, calling their children home like errant puppy dogs.

Can you imagine? Parents treating their children like this today? Can you imagine the adventures those children would have, the skills they'd pick up, the things they'd see and do? The freedom of life on the road, afforded by a $25 bike with a ridiculous seat and cramp-inducing handlebars? I loved it.

But what of our mothers? The thousands of suburban housewives who populated our block? What did they do, once their husbands went off to jobs or school and they had abandoned their cubs to the urban veldt, their days a slow unfurling of dishes and laundry and soap operas and grocery shopping and preparing for their husbands' return?

I got a glimpse into this rarefied world only once. It was a muggy summer day in the early 1970s, Eugene, Oregon, coming on mid afternoon, the streets still steaming from a morning rain shower, worms still wiggling in puddles, the smell of exhaust fumes and mold and green grass a pungent cocktail of scent hanging in the air. I was hot and thirsty and wanted a glass of lemonade, not a blast of metallic-tasting water from a hose. So I headed home on my trusty Schwinn to see if I could convince my mother to let me inside our kitchen, but as I walked up the front porch, music stopped me from opening the screen door.

Inside, my mother, clad in a Pucci-esque caftan, her hair piled loosely on top of her head, barefooted, dancing softly to Carol King's "I Feel the Earth Move," her gold hoop earrings bumping against her neck, eyes closed, arms swaying above her head.

For many years whenever I'd hear that song, I'd think of my mother, but it wasn't until I was much older that it occurred to me to wonder if she had actually been happy in her role as housewife extraordinaire. Was that the life she imagined for herself when, as a young girl barely out of her teens, she put an entire ocean between herself, her family, and everything she knew to strike out on her own in the USA? Did she find that freedom or did she find only drudgery?

Of course, my mother did more than cook, clean, and wipe our noses. She had book club meet ups with the neighbors, participated in the community garden, took cooking classes, threw parties, collected antiques, and went out on the town with my father every now and then. And later, much later, she would get a job and her GED, go to school for her bachelor's and then her master's and then teach. Proof that you could reinvent yourself at any time in your life. That you could say, "This is not enough. I want more."

And ever since, Carol King has always sounded just a little bit like freedom to me.


Pam said...

Love this post. It is one part Bridges of Madison County and two parts Wonder Years. Love it.

My bike? Ahem ahem, coolest thing ever! A BOYS Schwinn, gold in color and a leopard banana seat. A hand-me down from my brother's best friend. All the boys at my school envied my bike.

Re Idol: The judges have declared Durbin the winner, so is there any point in watching any more? Not that he wasn't very good last night, certainly the best of the bunch.

Scotty needs to get over himself.

Lauren needs to bake a little while longer. Carrie Underwood worthy? No. Carrie was 19-20 when she was on this show, Lauren is 16 and the maturity (or lack thereof) shows too much

Hailey: Tramp. Irritates me every time I see her. She sings it but doesn't feel it and relies on tight dresses to get her votes.

Jacob: ZZZZZ. Stepped it up some but still, forgettable.

Casey: Too quirky at this point. Might be his night to go home.

Durbin: Best of the lot tonight and I liked how he stayed true to an early rock and roll style. Is the Cougar instinct going to go into protective mother mode? If so, he is the winner of the season.


moi said...

Pam: Really on Jacob? I liked it a lot. Scotty's, too, because it showed just how good his voice truly is. I agree with you on Casey's performance and on Lauren needing to "bake" a bit. I did like Durbin's performance—straightforward and honest, but really, if I were the remaining contestants, I'd be pissed at Randy. Although to be honest, I'm not sure who else COULD win this at this point. Maybe Scotty.

moi said...

P.S. Ooooo, I SO wanted the leopard print seat! Mine looked exactly like the photo I posted, so at least I had the sparkles :o)

Jenny said...

I had a bike that Iloved because it gave me that kind of freedom you want and need at that age. I loved this post and I love the image of your Mother in her kitchen dancing with herself. Music is so evocative and wouldn't you love to know what she was thinking?

When I was 18 and had just met Mr. Boxer, he returned to college with a tape in his pocket that I made. It was "You've Got a Friend" and he said when he got to his dorm room and played he knew I was "the one." *sigh* So young. Scotty sang "our song" last night and I was happily surprised to see/hear he CAN do more than country.

Back to the bikes.... no banana bikes for us, but oh did I want one. Mine was a blue upright with an awesome basekt on the front that didn't feel so awesome the day I went over the handlebars.

Great post. I loved your images of Eugene.

Anonymous said...

"Can you imagine? Parents treating their children like this today? Can you imagine the adventures those children would have, the skills they'd pick up, the things they'd see and do? The freedom of life on the road, afforded by a $25 bike with a ridiculous seat and cramp-inducing handlebars? I loved it."

Brilliant passage.

Mama Moi must have been part Troll or an admirer of Dr. Troll's book on child-raising.

Buzz Kill said...

I often wonder if my mom's life was fulfilling to her. She had 5 of us in a 6 year time span, so we were undoubtedly a handful. Constant laundry, sewing and cooking for her. I never appreciated that until years later. You were lucky to see your mom's non-mom side, I never did.

And I had a green Huffy that came with a white banana seat that I wore out. I replaced it with a metalic gray grooved seat with 6" sissy bar. I beat the crap out of that thing.

boneman said...

Well, I used to write it down for folks, but got too many complaints about it being to long.

For a birthday gift to an e-quaintance. (oh doesn't matter HOW I spell that, I still get red wavy lines.)

So...I take it you're going out to buy a new leopard seat?
For your bike, I mean.
Good lord, not leopard print spandex tights for the gym.

oh feathers! The danged computer is chattering away at me, again.
I think Firefox is mad at me.
I got mad at the hunting habits of Missy Sarah, just shooting animals and leaving their carcasses to rot in the wilderness. So, since it was legal, I started arming the bears.
(course, that didn't help them during the playoffs this year, eh? Packers walked all over them.

Oh well.
Happy Birthday, MOI.
(say...I think some of the folks are teasing. I think they keep sayinghappy birthday to you because they want you to be the "OLD GAL"...
seems like.
What are you really?
Somewhere in the neighborhood)

Kymical Reactions said...

I'm not following idol this year. I can't turn off Survivor to get into it. However, I did catch the premier of The Voice, and I have to say, the premise of the show is very refreshing compared to Idol, and the talent, I think, superior.

Anyway - haiku theme... you did that just for me, right? wink wink? I'm going to have fun with this one. :)

sparringK9 said...

what a wonderfully written memory. I actually have a photo of myself with my chopper schwinn - it was green with a white sparkley seat. and yeah, my mom locked us out of the house on summer days too. Later, as a 7th grader I would ride my bike (a 10 speed by then) to see my boyfriend that lived across town. i mean really far way. Nobody knew or cared.

whenever i would be at the nursing home and I would see people slumped over in wheelchairs or drooling and out of hit, disheveled and broken, i would imagine them in love and dancing and going off to wars and raising families and making music and art or whatever it was.

and in a way it was that way with the moms, we didnt think of them as women just moms.

I feel bad for todays kids: overprotected, over programmed and over fed. fire up that Kinect, junior!

great post moi. i didnt watch idol.

moi said...

Boxer: I remember Eugene being . . . damp. Also, weekends at Haystack rock, harvesting muscles, my father dropping me in the ocean, me desperately wanting to get back to our ranch and my pony where everything was dry. But I also remember loving scooping up earthworms after a rain and putting them in my jacket pockets, just to feel them wiggling between my fingers. I don't think I ever ate any of them, though.

Troll: My mother was about as German as it gets, so perhaps that means she did share more than a few trollish traits. She certainly wasn't much for hysteria or complaint.

Buzz: I think it was a thin, thin line for our mothers to walk, between mom/wife/caretaker and individual human being with a life outside all that. I don't know if it's any easier today, but certainly the fact that more women work outside the home has shifted that paradigm a bit.

What are you really?
Somewhere in the neighborhood

Oooooo, you're my new best friend :o)

Kym: Actually I WAS thinking of you, and your mom and Aunty, too. I'm glad you like the theme. I'm looking forward to reading what folks come up with.

K9: Boxer and I have a phrase that perfectly describes our childhoods: "Benignly neglectful." Man, the things I used to do, the places I used to go, without my parents ever knowing. Maybe because I had so much freedom as a kid, it remains my life's #1 priority.

Sharon Rudd said...

What a terrific post, on so many levels :)

As it turns out, I tuned into Idol last night for the first time this season. Don’t have a clue who the contestants are. But sure enjoyed me some Carole King tunes. And though I’ve never owned a caftan (or a banana-seat bicycle, for that matter), and I’ve never been a mother, I do recall dancing by myself to that song on more than one occasion.

Happy travels, Moi, and stay out of the path of twisters.

Aunty Belle said...

lovely reverie, Moi.

Granny had one of them Pucci caftans too! (An' Granny could DANCE) But, she kept a tight grip on us'uns. I din't git to ride too far off, an onc't when I'se 12 I "ran away" (another story fer another day) but Granny sent the POlice after me--took a few more years afore I would chance a darin' dash past the boundaries.

@ K9, uh-huh--I seen similar, them ole folks is only aged in body, not in spirit.

Charmin' post!

Aunty Belle said...

P.S. I reckon our Mama's lives had more consolations than ya might think. In them times, the style wuz more toward keepin' private stuff private.

czar said...

Had the Schwinn with the banana seat.

Main thing I remember from mother and my younger days (very few single-digit-age memories) was postdivorce anger. The china-smashing-in-the-sink, pull-out-the-Mexican-divorce-papers, here's-what-a-scumbucket-your-father-was type of anger.

Funny, though, 'cause that's not who my mom was at all. And most of the time after the 1967 divorce, my folks got along rather well.

But that divorce, and the timing, interrupted all kinds of suburban bliss.

And like Mama Moi, Mama Czar went back to school, finished her bachelor's, got a master's, and ended up teaching physically and mentally handicapped and emotionally disturbed kids how to read. As Dad Czar would say, "Sure, she was good at teaching retards. She brought up you and your brother."

Ah, family.

darkfoam said...

hey, what great memories!!
i had one of those 70's folding bikes. it was a german one, i believe. your mama and my mama were both german if i remember some of your history correctly. my mama married an army man who died when i was 7. so, that took us back to city life in germany, a working mom .. can you say latch key .... and that bike i mentioned (which was won, btw). (my mother did have a career before she married. she was a textile engineer).

LaDivaCucina said...

Moi, I had a gold Schwinn bike with gold sparkly banana seat, gold streamers from the huge handle bars and a sissy bar. My bike was bad ass.

Us kids were out all day and out all night. It doesn't get dark until almost 10 pm during the Michigan summers and we would come back for fuel and then head out again. Mom would make home made popsicles out of lemonade. We would come home dirty and sweaty from playing outside all day, ball, Mother may I? and red rover. We'd have to take baths and then go to bed and a Vernor's ginger ale float would be a welcome surprise.

I have a personal story about that particular Carol King song which I'll share with you another time. Great but sad story, that album brings back some bittersweet memories.

Glad I don't have kids so I can be the person I want to be right now. The idea of being "just a mom" never thrilled me.

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