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My new friend, Stan, and I continued playing with his spacemen. We ran down the sidewalk, in and out of the gutter, Stan’s shoelaces flapping, the plastic spacemen whizzing among asteroids and into strange galaxies, fighting space pirates and one another.

Summer days in El Centro were just a bit on the warm side, and after a while, sweating and red-faced, we plopped down on a lawn, which served as a spaceport for a little R &R.

“Let’s go to my house and get a Coke,” Stan suggested.

“You better tie your shoes,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, I guess.” He struggled with the uncooperative laces until he completed the unpleasant task. “I hate tying my shoes,” he said. Hate, of course, was a euphemism for “I’m not very good at it.”

“Yeah, me too,” I commiserated. “Maybe you can get some loafers.” I never liked loafers myself. I’d had one pair, and they always felt loose, while I like my shoes tight on my feet.

“Good idea. I’ll ask my mom. Let’s go.”

Stan’s kitchen was nice and cool, the noisy swamp cooler adding its refreshing moisture to the dry desert air. Stan went to the icebox and got a big bottle of Coca Cola. Real Coke! One of those heavy, greenish glass bottles that we never saw at my house. The soda we got on those rare occasions when we did have soda—it had to be a birthday or a holiday—we got whatever the house brand was at the market where we shopped, most times it seemed like it was Cragmont Cola, Safeway’s economy brand.

At times like this I felt like maybe we were a poor family, though I never thought about it when I was home and Mom was setting the table with a big plate of her fabulous meatballs, along with the pasta and thick red sauce. Oh, those meatballs! They were like heaven to bite into.
While I attended Second Grade at Lincoln Elementary School, Mrs. Edwards was my teacher. Her daughter, Janice, would be my classmate when the school decided to skip me from Third to Fourth Grade. We seemed to have free art time often in Second Grade, and my favorite subject for drawing was Mom’s pasta, a big steaming plate of it, covered with the meatballs and sauce, which Mom had learned to cook from my Sicilian grandmother. Mrs. Edwards often remarked on how realistic my drawing was. I didn’t realize it, but she harbored a secret desire for a plate of that pasta for herself.

In those halcyon days of the Fifties, parents would often invite a teacher over for dinner, which my parents did. I don’t really remember what Mom cooked—maybe chicken or her delicious Swiss steak and gravy—but I do know it was NOT her pasta and meatballs. I distinctly remember Mrs. Edwards expressing her disappointment at not getting to sample the subject of my artwork.

My other fond memory of my year at Lincoln Elementary involved an older woman. Once I laid my eyes on Janie Kinkead, an older third-grader, I experienced my first childhood crush. She was tall and blonde and beautiful! And to top it off, she was on the Safety Patrol, responsible for monitoring the sidewalks and hallways. Alas, I’m sure she was never aware of my ardor for her, which she demonstrated one day by doing her duty and writing me a citation for running on the sidewalk. Needless to say, my little second-grade heart was broken, but I still adored her from afar. We became neighbors, classmates, and friends in later years when my family moved to Lenrey Ave., just down the block from Janie and her sister Jodie. We lost Janie in 2013, but I will always remember her in 1953.