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Phyla, etcetera - Part 2

>> Part 1

Outside of school we of course played games. The summer heat was a challenge so outdoor games began at dusk. “Annie, Annie, Over,” we chanted as we tossed a tennis ball over a barrack. Eva, Tami, Katy and I usually stood on one side and other friends—and we even let boys play—on the other side. The aim was to catch the ball and dash with it to the other side and tag someone. There was something sinister playing in that muted light, as if we were chanting a spell, attempting to raise dead spirits from a hulking mausoleum.

I tossed the ball. Koton, ton.....ton..........ton.......t.........t.
“I command you..........to....t....t....rise..up, up from your grave...”

The ball swished, then tapped down the other side of the roof. Then silence. Did they catch the ball? Did they miss? Are they sneaking around the side? Where? This side? Then, in a burst, the catchers swamped us. Who has the ball? It was too late to wonder as one of us was tagged.

We played over and over.
Koton, ton...ton.......ton......t.......t.
Only when the ball blended with the evening dark did we quit.
We had other games.

I had my jacks and found that the cement floor of the laundry room was the ideal surface to play. It was relatively smooth, but more importantly, it was cool. “We’re too old for this,” we said, but we kept playing. The jacks twinkled into constellations on the gray floor. And although we wiped the floor before playing, we swiped sand with every swoop. We played until our hands were sooty or a woman claimed the space for her laundry.

Baseball games convened in the field south of the high school, and if we chose the right moment, the boys might allow us to take a position, usually outfield. However, the field was often populated by boys and girls from other blocks so we were relegated to be fretful spectators and soon returned to our own block. A volleyball game might be in progress. The net was strung between the barracks and no one complained of the dust and noise we raised. Sometimes adults joined us and we were surprised by their agility. They were so old, in their 20s and 30s.

I claimed the comics page from the papers in the Rec Hall as soon as people were finished with them. My funny paper heroine was Brenda Starr, glamorous reporter. When she appeared in a particularly fetching evening dress, spangled and full, I would cut her out and play “pretend” with the figures. I showed Eva, Tami, and Katy how to draw clothes for them.

Eva scoffed, “What a baby, still playing with paper dolls.”

“It’s not the same thing,” I protested. “I use them to design clothes. See.”

“Call it what you want. Come on, guys,” she said, and walked away with Tami and Katy.

Eva’s opinion wasn’t as important as sketching clothes so I continued adding wardrobes and then went on to create scenarios for Brenda. In the comic strip she had a weird boyfriend named Basil with an eye patch. An eye patch? Pirates wore those, not a partner to heroines. I drew new boy friends, “tall, dark, and handsome,” who escorted her to balls and grand dinners at palaces. For each occasion I designed a new gown, brilliantly studded with jewels, and a new tiara. Less often I designed working clothes, suits and plain dresses for her daily job at the news office. Even years later I found myself creating imaginary outfits for Brenda. Sometimes I would sketch a blouse or dress and my mother would draft a pattern for me. My senior prom dress was one such creation: a glorious ombre lavender chiffon gown.

And then there were weekly movies in the mess hall. Sometimes we walked to the next block, 9K; sometimes to our own. We screamed, as expected of us, when Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby crooned “I’ll Be Around” and “White Christmas,” then giggled in embarrassment, hoping we hadn’t been too loud. I waited and wished fervently for the newly released “Lassie Come Home” with Elizabeth Taylor, but it never showed. I swirled with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and tap danced with Ann Miller and Eleanor Powell. I escaped into their fantasy lives for two hours and their memory lingered into the next day.

Part 3 >>

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Author’s note: This is Chapter 3 of Gallery Four of my yet unpublished book, 18286. It is only one of the photographs and watercolors that accompany the story which are not included here.

© 2010 Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey

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