May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


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JANUARY 19, 2009 1:27PM

January 20, 1969

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We lived in Geneva, Illinois for parts of 1968 and 1969. We would move 11 times in 10 years, and sometimes, I have a difficult time placing myself in the proper space and time.

I was in kindergarten then. My best friend was my cousin, Tracey, and we both went to morning kindergarten. I can't remember my teacher's name, but I remember Tracey's teacher was named Miss Eraser. Or at least, that's what I think her name was. That's what we called her.

Kindergarten did not bring out the angels of my better nature. I hated kindergarten. I especially hated when we got out our little mats and lay down upon them for our "rest." We didn't have to sleep, but we did have to lie still for 45 minutes while the other kids slumbered on.

I didn't sleep. Naps seemed kind of silly since I had only been up for a few hours. Besides, I had such horrible insomnia as a kid that I was already resentful of being sent to bed hours before I could fall asleep. If I could barely control myself in my own bed, how was I supposed to lie still on the floor surrounded by 20 sleeping five-year olds?

My dad taught me to read when I was three. By the time I got to kindergarten, I was reading "third-grade level" books. Discussions were carried out among the teacher, my parents, the principal about whether I should skip a grade. I remember the day the principal called me down to his office. He invited me to sit on his lap, and he got down from his shelf some story about a magic carpet ride.

"Read this for me," he said in his principal soft voice. I had heard he had a really grouchy voice if you got in trouble, but I was too scared to get in trouble. I already knew what getting in trouble meant, and I had no desire to be punished by someone who wasn't going to tell me "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" before whacking me on the butt.

I remember I read the passage perfectly, except for one mistake: I read "in" as "is." He corrected me, and I remember thinking that I couldn't go to first grade now because I'd made that mistake. When I told my dad that night about what had happened, he sort of blew air through his teeth when I told him about the mistake. I think I may have disappointed him, but part of me always felt as if I was disappointing him. Try as I might, I was not the perfect daughter.

I wasn't moved up to first grade. (Although I would wind up skipping second grade.) Instead, I had to stay in that room with those kids while they were sleeping. The good thing that came out of my being bored was that it was agreed that I could read a book—quietly—while everyone else slept. And so I did.

My parents were young. When I was five, my mom was 22 and my dad was 25. They were babes in the woods, and the woods were even more frightening because they had emigrated from Northern England to move to the States, where my father felt that he could escape the class system and get the job his advanced degree should allow him.

The apartment we lived in was bare. The living room had a linoleum floor—light green with some kind of pattern on it—and we had a couch and a chair and a black-and-white television that sat on top of a rolling cart. One time, my mother had been sweeping the floor and she had accidentally knocked the television to the floor, smashing it. She had cried then. But my father had gone out and bought a new television—still black and white—so my mom could watch her serials during the day.

January in Illinois bore no resemblance to January in England. My parents had never experienced temperatures that cold, and in the summer, my mother could barely move because of the heat and humidity. My mother didn't know how to drive; she walked everywhere, and I can still see her in her dresses with her ankle boots and coat trying to push my brother's stroller and carry groceries. I tagged along, running to keep up with my mom who just wanted to get home.

One morning in January, I woke up, not feeling well. We didn't have insurance, so most of the time if I was sick, my mom would put me to bed, feed me toast and tea, make me a rice pudding, and expect me to get well by staying in bed. I went to school that day because I didn't look sick, but by the time the school bus took me home, I really felt awful. As it turned out, so did my cousin. And I itched. I sat on the bus and squirmed. I unzipped my coat, and then put my hands under my blouse, where my skirt's waistband was. I scratched and scratched and scratched, but the itches didn't go away.

I got home and told my mom that I didn't feel well. My aunt called. She was a nurse, and it turned out, she told my mom, that my cousin had chicken pox. So, apparently, did I. And within a day, my two-year old brother was covered in spots and pretty miserable too.

My mom didn't know about oatmeal baths or Benadryl. I just remember being painted pink with Calamine lotion. When my mom ran out of cotton balls, she started using toilet paper to apply it to my skin, and I remember that the little bits of tissue stuck, so that I looked like I had been tarred and feathered with Pepto-Bismol.

I was pretty bored. Bored, feverish, and itchy. Bored, feverish, itchy and too sick to read. So my mom put my brother and I on the couch. He lay with his head at one end, and I lay with my head at the other. We were just tall enough that my feet would graze his feet if I stretched my legs long. My mother kept us covered with a blanket, and we lay there, watching her as she swept and mopped the living room floor that was always getting snow and mud tracked all over it.

In 1969, morning television for kids comprised "Captain Kangaroo" and "Romper Room". "Bozo the Clown" was on in the afternoons, but other than that, there wasn't much to watch. Sometimes, I would sit with my mom and watch her serials: "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital." I didn't understand a lot of what was going on, but I knew the characters' names and who they were married to.

But on that day, that day when my brother and I were lying on the couch underneath the blanket and staring at the black-and-white t.v., there was only one thing on. The inauguration. Richard Nixon was becoming president. The images were black, white, and grey, but I remember the black robes of the Chief Justice and the Bible that Nixon put his hand on to say "so help me God."

The commentators were confusing me, though. In my house, we still spoke British English. So, for example, a "plaster" was a bandage; a "flannel" was a washcloth. I constantly had to correct my language when talking to my friends or they thought I was speaking a foreign language, which I was. The commentator said that Pat Nixon was wearing a camel coat and high-heeled pumps. Now I was really confused. Pumps were tennis shoes to us. Pumps were the scuffed red canvas things I wore on my feet when I went playing in the creek I wasn't supposed to, or that I hung off the back of my cousin's bike when I was riding on the back. It was my red pump that got stuck when I put my foot in the spoke of the bike and tore most of the flesh off my ankle. So, pumps to me were not what you would wear to this Inauguration thing. Which was boring by the way. And went on for hours. And even though we kept asking my mother to "turn the telly over," on every channel, that's all there was. The new president, his wife in sneakers, and a bunch of people wearing black and grey clothes.

My mom went into the kitchen to fix us tomato soup for lunch. My belly itched, and with her out of the room, I pulled up my p.j. top and scratched and scratched until I felt better.

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This is the first inauguration I remember. And I always see it in black and white, even though i know it must have taken place in colour.
I was 5 in '69 as well and in kindergarten. I remember those days well. Mrs. Stockton was my kindergarten teacher and I was in love with her. :-) I never got chicken pox, but I got the mumps a year later which led to encephalitis that nearly killed me. It's crazy how crystal clear those memories of 40 years ago are when I can't tell you what I had for lunch last week. :-)


interesting, that was my first inauguration as well. I was home sick that day, and remember a slate colored sky ( at least that is what my mind tells me it was). The ironic thing is that prior summer, the summer of 1968 was one of the most memorable of my life the assasinations, the trip to DC, my "blessing" of the Kennedy brothers at Arlington...and in the fall me and my friends had a chant "Humphrey Humphrey he's our man, Nixon belongs in the trash can"...Now as a nearly 50 year old is remarkable how much has changed in those 40 years.
It's not like I don't love the other pieces you write but this is really terrific! Maybe it's the image of Captain Kangaroo on a black and white TV. I remember Nixon being inaugurated too and here's the one image I retain: My parents hated him, so I was programmed to see him as "bad". At some point while taking the oath he had reason to laugh briefly at something. When I saw him do this I thought that maybe he wasn't so bad after all. I wanted to give him a chance. How wrong can you be? I haven't taken a politician's smile seriously since then.
I like how you tied in your childhood memories and the Nixon inauguration. Nice details too - the linoleum, the itchy pox, the pink calamine lotion. I was born in Geneva, IL in '64, but moved to Chicago before I was two.
Thanks for the responses. It's interesting how many of us are in this age group where Nixon was our first inauguration.
Greg--I'm with you. I can remember stuff from being 4 and I have no idea what I did most of yesterday.
stlfilmaker--My dad was aware of the world, and from a young age he was talking to me about MLK and Gandhi. I don't remember the assassinations, but I do clearly remember Jackson State in 1970. I wonder why I can remember that and not Kent State?
hatchet--yeah Nixon blew it for me, too. It wasn't the first inauguration, it was 1972, when he promised to end the war and I thought that's why we all needed to vote for him. Bastard. Lying bastard.
1964 in Geneva? How strange is that? Maybe we passed each other as kids.
How I wish I could take tomorrow off and watch it all unfold.

But for the duration of this post, I was with you, yearning for Romper Room!
What a great post! Loved reading about your childhood days.

That inauguration ('69) I was in Miss Taylor's fourth grade class. She had us watch most of it together. I think she was from Mississippi or Missouri and pointed out a float or something from her state. If there are enough rabbit ears (really--such an embarrassment!) I'll be watching with my 6th graders tomorrow.

Thanks for you memories!
this was really nicely written, I was right there :)
What a great post-- I love getting to see things through other people's eyes, especially when they have some experiences very different from mine (i.e., the British background, but not the constant moving).

I was beginning high school in 1968, and really don't remember much of Nixon's inauguration. Probably, I had other things on my mind.

In just a few short years, though, I would be reading about Nixon, his political dirty tricks (dating from his earlier days in California), and voting for McGovern in my first presidential election.
How perfect to remember Nixon through the chicken pox! Great post, great story, really well told.
Love the trip down memory lane!
What a great story. I'm so glad you put it up today~
Happy to revisit this. The first inauguration I remember well is the JFK inauguration in 1961. Starting with that and for every one since, I have watched on television, but still I associate all inaugurations with that first memorable one. I am rather of the opinion that regardless of your political party or politics, once a president has been elected, he is president for all, for better or worse, and the inauguration is a time we should all participate, for s/he is, our president, president for all, and we are one people.
I voted in that election for the first time. I was in college and I am pretty sure I did not watch a moment of Nixon's inauguration. I am watching Obama's as I type. There are 3 presidents there. All three are Democrats and are the only ones I have ever voted for who won. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Boy I need my daily nap or I am useless over that hour. Thanks for sharing...........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
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