Ocean Air



In the time of corona, I long for the sea.kids in ocean (2)

From Philly, where I grew up, it was only about two hours to Atlantic City. As we approached the coast, the air grew cooler and the humidity of the city faded from memory. A stench of sulfur told us we were passing Egg Harbor. Then salt air breezed in, wiping away all unpleasantness of parental tiffs and sibling squabbling and we knew we were almost there.

I practically hung out the window waiting for the Atlantic City skyline to come into view. This was decades before gambling and glitz took over, and I could pick out each grand  old hotel, Steel Pier and Million Dollar Pier, and the spot where Mr. Peanut would bow to passersby and wave them in to a shop filled with the sound and aroma of peanuts clacking around in the roaster, and overflowing with pastel rolls of salt water taffy and an array of souvenirs coveted by visitors each summer.

Once we arrived at our rented flat it would take only a few minutes to toss our stuff into our rooms and head out to the beach. The best moment was climbing the stairs to the boardwalk and viewing the vast sea for the first time. The feeling that anything (and everything) was possible would overtake me for a split second. Then we’d scramble down to the broad expanse of scorching sand and, while our parents searched for the perfect spot for our blankets and umbrella, dive into the gray Atlantic. If we were lucky, the jelly fish and stinging flies had not appeared yet and we could float and swim and ride the waves in bliss.

In the lonely time of corona, my mood lifts when I recall those days.

It is 110 degrees today in the Bay area, smoke from a raging fire in Napa seeps into my little house, and rolling blackouts and even a 3.4 earthquake keep me on edge.

But if I close my eyes and remember the vista of the sea, the breeze enfolding me, my mood lifts with anticipation of a day when I will walk along the water’s edge, cull the oddest shells peeking out of the mud, meet friends for a messy crab dinner, and drink a toast to all we have endured and enjoyed, to life.

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I Wish — May 29, 2020



The murder of Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, produced civic unrest all over America. In Washington, D.C., from ‎April 4 through April 8, 13 deaths and 1,098 injuries were attributed to the uprising.

The murder of Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, produced civic unrest all over America. In Washington, D.C., from ‎April 4 through April 8, 13 deaths and 1,098 injuries were attributed to the uprising.

For four days in 1968, after Martin Luther King was murdered on April 4, a Washington DC neighborhood burned.

We lived in Rockville, Maryland, about 30 minutes from the flaming 14th Street corridor, but were embroiled in the event as our three news channels broadcast frightening images 24 hours a day. Images of the smoking remains of shops and apartments.  Images of people lugging televisions, groceries, even washing machines, from the riots_68 AP photorubble. Looters. The story became more about looters than the murder of an American hero. More about the National Guard aiming their firearms at frenzied, fed-up citizens, than about the murder of an American hero who would become an icon; whose name would be emblazoned on street signs, schools, monuments all over the world; whose birthday would become a national holiday.

When the flames finally had been extinguished, the salvaged delis and appliance stores boarded up, we assessed the damage and hoped those four raging days and the hopeful message of the martyred King had changed America.

We hoped America had seen the light. We wished it so.

I left Washington in 2002, thirty-four years after that apocalypse, just as its burnt-out remnants finally had been cleared away to make room for gentrification, for Whole Foods and over-priced condos. The 14th Street corridor was becoming Washington’s theater district!  Reminders of those four days in 1968 were eradicated.

But today they are resurrected in my memory, as flames engulf neighborhoods across America after another incomprehensible murder of an innocent black man, George Floyd.

Our world has not changed.

And wishing won’t make it so.

The Dance of Love



Philadelphia was teen heaven in the 50s. A music Mecca.
Doo wop on the corner.
Bandstand after school. (Long before it moved to LA and became American Bandstand in living color, it was a Philly staple.)
We had the greatest disc jockeys in the world: Georgie Woods, the man with the goods; Jerry Blavat, the geator with the heater; and my personal favorite, Jock-O — “Oo-poppa-doo, how do you do.”
On Saturdays, radio station 950 held a dance club.

That’s where I met Virgil.

Danny and the Juniors sang “At the Hop” right there, in the studio, and we bopped and screamed.
Then the DJ played a slow one:  “All in the Game,” by Tommy Edwards.
A handsome, broad-shouldered boy led me to the dance floor. He held me close. Very close. And whispered the lyrics into my ear.
donna - slow dancing

“Then he’ll kiss your lips
And caress your waiting fingertips
And your hearts will fly away”

I felt warm and all aflutter. No one had ever held me like that. I was frightened. Thrilled. Overcome.

He led me to a table and got us a couple of Cokes. “What’s your name?” “What school do you go to?” He wanted to know everything about me. And I wanted to know everything about him.  It was like we were alone, in a room vibrating with kids doing The Slop and The Stroll.

Virgil was named for a Roman poet. He lived above his father’s pizzeria in South Philly. The opposite end of the earth from my neighborhood, where the boys I knew were named for their dead uncles: Izzie. Shlomo. Jake.

He gave me a napkin and a pen. “Write down your name and address. Tomorrow I’ll come over, after church.” I wrote, though I knew he was forbidden fruit. Taboo. Off-limits. But I was smitten.

The DJ was playing another slow one and we danced again:

“For your love
Oh I would do anything
I would do anything
For your love
For your kiss
Oh I would go anywhere”

We were besotted.

*******

Somehow, he found me.  Via bus, subway, trolley, he landed on my doorstep and I pushed him toward the street before my parents could see who rang the bell.

We strolled along a nearby strip of shops that were vibrant six days a week, but dead as a door nail on Sunday, in the age of Blue Laws.

We couldn’t think of much to say. I was cold; he was thirsty. Then the clatter of a trolley sealed our fate. He hopped on and threw me a kiss.
“Bye, Donna.”
“Bye, Virgil.”

We never saw each other again. I was sad for a long time and finally told my Mother why.
“Don’t worry, honey,” she said. “You’ll know when the right one comes along.”

***

Fast forward.

It’s the 60s.

donna - bossa nova 2I’m doing the bossa nova at a club in Atlantic City with a blind date.
A tall, very tall, guy cuts in.
I crane my neck to smile up at his pretty face.
He’s a great dancer, whirling me around the room with supreme confidence.
The next day he drives me back to Philly in his red Catalina convertible.
The top is down; my hair is blowing in the breeze.

“Where’d you get that pretty name, Donna Brookman?”

“I’m named for my father’s mother, Dora; he calls me Dvoyala. And you?”

“I’m named for my father’s brother, my Uncle Moishe.”

Click.

I invite him in to meet my parents.
I marry him.
Blame it on the bossa nova. The dance of love.

 

The Story Teller



“How come there are no pictures on the walls, no photos?” asked my first date.  “Did you just move in?”

I lopinocchiooked around with alarm, embarrassed. . . .

Did I tell him there was little disposable income in our household for art and frames? That my mother was often depressed and had no interest in home decor?  That my father held maximal frugality in high esteem?

No.  Those stark white walls, that blank slate, took hold of my imagination and I said YES, we had just moved in.

But the next morning I called my friend Rosie Greene, whose house was beautiful, full of paintings and photos, whose mother treated me to plays and concerts, plied me with books I had to read.

“Rosie, can you and your mom help me?  I need to buy pictures to hang in my living room.”

My plea was Mrs. Greene’s command. Within an hour we were in a shop where canvasses were strewn upon tables, stacked in bins.

“Now look at this, girls.” Rosie and I stared, dumbfounded, at a rectangle covered with triangles, a floating eye. Was that an arm???

Noting our disdain, Mrs. Greene tossed that print aside and reached for a cacophony of squiggles.  We groaned.

“GIRLS — you have to broaden your horizons. Modern art is all the rage!”

Not for this girl. I was drawn to a wall of gilded frames. Elegant women gazing serenely from posh velvet chairs.  Dashing caballeros riding Arabian steeds.

New worlds opened before me.  Each painting told a tale.

“Bathsheba at Her Bath,” Rembrandt, said a tiny plaque, below the heroine of my favoritDonna - Bathshebae Bible story. I had always felt sorry for her. Plucked from her husband, by mighty King David, like ripe fruit from a tree. How could a great poet, composer of the Psalms, have such wickedness in his heart?

“No, no, no. That won’t do, dear,” said Mrs.  Greene, steering me away from voluptuous, lost Bathsheba.

“Let’s choose something less .  .  .  imposing.”

She redirected my attention to tangled red roofs and chimney pots, rosy-cheeked babies, a field glowing in bright sun.

Yes.  This time, Mrs.  Greene was right.  These indeed were more appropriate for my cramped rowhouse walls.

I bought the prints with my saved-up baby-sitting money, and in years to come would feel a thrill each time I saw these old friends in the world’s great museums.  I would come to know their makers well: Renoir, Cassatt, Cezanne.

My sweet Mom watched as we transformed her living room, a rare smile on her lovely face. Within a few years, she would be gone. Brain cancer. But that is a story for another time.

She offered us a dusty shoe box filled with old photographs and we culled the best from the stack — my little sisters and I dressed in identical taffeta dresses, my grandparents, a shot of my Mom and Dad at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where they met during the War.

Rosie and I hammered together frames. I cut a picture of Rock Hudson from a Photoplay magazine — he was my heart throb of the moment — and framed that, too.  His teeth sparkled as if this were an ad for Ipana toDonna -Rock Hudsonothpaste.

“Who’s that?” asked my beau on our second date.  “Your brother?”

“Yes,” I answered, fingers crossed.  “He lives in California.”

 

Book Launch Party Announced



CELEBRATE

the publication of
Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown
by Donna Brookman Kaulkin
Orinda Books
Sunday, May 19, 1 pm
Champagne and Nibbles
Reading / Signing
Hope you can come / Please invite friends
 ________________________________________
Orinda Books
276 Village Square
Orinda, CA 94563
RSVP: dk@dkedit.com
(Orinda Books is near Lafayette Reservoir and
other heavenly places for walks and outdoor beauty.)
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