Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My 1950s Self

In the 1950s, my life was made possible by the kindness of one Roz J. and her mother and father whom welcomed me as Roz's best friend into their Bayside, Queens home. My mother at the time was under indictment for embezzlement and was entertaining a particularly invasive, to me, boyfriend. When home, I slept with a knife under my pillow in case he came near me again as well as to ward off the chilling chaos that was my mother. Roz befriended me at school and time and time again, I took refuge in her family's modest home, the first house I had ever entered, the first place I saw a husband and wife in the same bed, the first time I experienced what was a girl's room in the 1950s--Roz's pink flowered wallpapered bedroom. Her father, a large good humored man worked as a kosher butcher in upper Manhattan. I watched with wonder the rhythms of domesticity--the father still in his blood marked apron coming in the door, embracing his daughter and upon seeing me, calling out his little joke--Hi Hershey. Roz's mother, a beautiful and kind woman, always included me in their dinners; in this family setting, comfort food took on new meaning. I still remember the first time I ate at Roz's table macaroni and cheese. That is me, looking funny in what appears to be a kind of cowgirl outfit and a little later, perhaps in 1955, that is me wearing the bobby socs, hush puppies and wide skirt of high school dress. I had never seen these photos before and as far as I know they are the only ones that exist of me from this era and again I owe it all to Roz and her husband, whom I also knew way back then, for sharing them with me. How awkward I look, but how familiar that large body is still to me today, thighs too big, hair a little strange and then the phone call image, me feeling safe enough in Roz's kitchen to flirt with the camera, clad in flannel pajamas which I probably borrowed from Roz. Now a grandmother, Roz kindly had one of her children scan these images and send them to me. Not even the archives in Brooklyn--which has all my papers up until I came to live in Melbourne, Australia--1999 on-- has these images but now they will. Only deprivation can make such things seems so important. Who cares what Joan Nestle looked like in 1953 or who helped make her life possible? If my work has lived in the world in any meaningful way, it is only because people like Roz along the way gave me the comfort, the precious sense that not all was to be protected against, that I did not always have to be a sentinel on my own borders.

1 comment:

lepa mladjenović said...

I love stories from childhood, so we know how we became who we are! ~ i love to look each other old photos and ask friends to tell me what they see on that photo? for example, the photo of the Joan phoning, 'relaxed to flirt' is great!: lesbian fem is already there in her intense self! She watches the photographer not more then she is concerned about herself, as the best fems do!! And the move with the foot makes the image just perfect! !

Another question is why do we need to write to each other about our childhoods? I think it is crucial, because lesbians never have enough models of how we grow, how we makes choices, and how we change throughout life. Having a chance to read autobiographies of each other means: other lesbians cared about themselves and about me when they wrote their intimate stories, i cared about me and about them when i read their stories. It is just perfect, empowering, sisterly, caring.

Living in Belgrade, I live with biographies of feminist lesbians imprinted in my body, i cherish them and keep them there as the light in the shadow.

lepa mladjenovic, belgrade