By Ed Staskus
The good times Brad and Thelma and her sisters had when they were kids were always the day after their family fights, which were always before a holiday. Christmas Day was fun happy joyful because it was right after the big Christmas Eve scrape. All the presents under the tree didn’t hurt, either.
The fights happened before or on the holiday, never afterwards. On Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving there was always a knockdown. Alma or Fred, their parents, or both of them at the same time, would start the fight. Afterwards the family pulled it together for the holiday, to look good for the big day. They had to look better for friends neighbors in-laws.
One Christmas all their cousins from Pennsylvania, Telly’s cousins and all their kids, were at their house in Bay Vilage. The house was warm and cozy and there hadn’t been any fights. They were all looking good. It was an unusual holiday.
It was Christmas Eve morning when Eric from Philadelphia passed gas.
“Oh, that’s a wet one,” somebody said, and that started the whole thing, which turned out to be the flu. It went from Eric to Curtis down to Kim and Skip and the rest of them. Everybody barfed and barfed for days.
Alma was beyond pissed. She was beside herself. She wanted to go to a hotel, even though she was a nurse. She would have jumped ship if she could have, but Fred made her stay.
Every 4th of July there was a street party. They lived on one of the only two cul-de-sacs in Bay Village. In the morning all the kids would decorate their bikes and they would have a bike parade. Their parents judged the bikes and gave out prizes.
They played games all day and later in the afternoon everybody’s parents carried their grills and picnic tables to the end of the cul-de-sac for a party. They had food and the grown-ups had coolers of beer. The kids had soda and burped as loud as they could. Everyone partied and they had a great time.
Alma wore a t-shirt that said JOE BALLS on the front and FROM NEWTON FALLS on the back. It was a family joke. They had an uncle named Harold who lived in Newton Falls, but they called him Joe Balls. Nobody knew why. Everybody called him that.
One summer a waterspout off Lake Erie touched down in town during their street party. They were out in the street playing. All of their parents were trashed. When Telly ran into the house to tell her mother she said, “Go back out there and play.” But they ended up having the rest of the party in the garage once Fred saw what was going on.
When Alma became a nurse, she wore a t-shirt that said THE PUSHER because she was an IV Therapist. She was the one who loaded the IV’s with drugs. She became a nurse when Telly was in 5th grade. She had all her kids still in the house but before they knew it decided she wanted a career. Telly’s grandparents put her through nursing school, paying for it all. She studied at Tri-C and went to work at Lakewood Hospital.
It was the same year, when Telly was at Normandy Elementary School, during the Miracle of Richfield, that she got a pair of tennis shoe roller skates. They had a teacher at school named Mr. Barton and he loved to hoe down dance and dribble basketballs at the same time. He taught them to do it and they got so good at it that they were invited to perform at a Cleveland Cavs game.
It was the year the team was scrappy and good and played the Washington Bullets in the conference finals. The stands were so crazy loud people wore earplugs, and the players on the benches stuck their fingers in their ears.
“The Washington series was the greatest sporting event I will ever see in my life,” said Bill Nichols, who covered the series for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“We want the Cavs! We want the Cavs! We want the Cavs!” Three of the games were decided in the last two seconds. The chant was so loud the chalkboard Cavalier Coach Fitch used to diagram plays shook. “A couple of players had to hold it down,” star guard Austin Carr said.
“If you don’t drop your ball, or double dribble, or anything else helter-skelter during the performance, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” Telly’s dad said. She told him she wanted tennis shoe roller skates.
“Whatever you want,” he said.
They were colossal that night doing their hoe down dribble dance at halftime at the Richfield Coliseum, which isn’t there anymore. It’s just a big empty field full of stink weeds now that it’s been torn down. They danced to the song “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers.
After she got them, Telly lived in her purple skates from that day forward. She put them on first thing in the morning and skated all over the house. She did axles in the streets and figure skated every day in her tennis shoe rollers But, she wasn’t allowed to wear them to school. Even so, she wore them all the time until she got her first pair of high heels.
“The roller skates came off right after that and I’ve never been out of high heels since,” she told Steve, her husband. “The reason is that I stopped growing when I was in 6th grade. After that I found out I was going to be short. My mom was a pygmy, too. I don’t know that she was ever taller than five-foot-one. Everybody else in our family was taller than me. My dad was six-foot-something. I was the shortest of all the kids, shorter even than my brother Bamm Bamm.”
Alma got Telly a pair of Candies heels. They were plastic made to look like wood and had a strap across the top of the foot that stopped about mid-way up. A girl could wear them with anything, shorts, skirts, disco pants. They were the hot shoe. Every girl had to have a pair.
“You’re going to be in these for the rest of your life,” her mom told her. “You will never get out of them.” She made Telly practice walking in them, up and down the driveway, then up and down the street, and finally up and down the stairs. “You don’t want to walk like a clod,” she said. “A lot of girls stomp in their high heels, but you’re going to walk like a lady.”
She got to the point where she could run in them fast. She could chase dogs. She was still fast, not as much as she had been, but still fast if she had to be. She didn’t know who invented high heels, but thought women owed them a lot. You put high heels on, and you change. Everything is different in them. Your body moves to a different kind of tempo.
Her favorite things in life were dogs and shoes. She loved dogs the most, but shoes were a close second. They couldn’t lick your face, but they could kickstart your lady legs.
Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.com.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.