Friday, July 24, 2009

Bringing Up Baby

I grew up on the top of a hill, 20 minutes from civilization on either side. There were no sidewalks; there was no public transportation. I was completely dependent on my parents in order to get anywhere. My older brothers and sisters occasionally hitchhiked down the hill to Sunset Boulevard to catch a bus to the beach; but by the time I was old enough to do it, it had been discovered that hitchhiking, like smoking, was bad for you.

I really didn't think about this much when I was little. It was what was. All I knew was that I couldn't ride my bike too far in any direction because I'd end up going down a hill I'd never get back up again.

Then when I was about eight, I read The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Published in 1941, it was about four siblings—Rush, Mona, Miranda (Randy) and Oliver Melendy—who live in a brownstone in Manhattan.

Each Saturday, the kids pool their allowances (50 cents each, plus Oliver's dime), which one of the kids then uses to have an adventure somewhere in New York City. In 1941, you could have an adventure in New York City for $1.60.

Rush goes to the Metropolitan Opera to hear Siegfried, and finds an abandoned puppy on the way home. Mona scandalizes her family by getting a sophisticated haircut and a ruby-red manicure. Randy goes to see a collection of French paintings at an art gallery and discovers an amazing secret about a very old family friend. And Oliver, who was supposed to have an adult chaperone, sneaks out to see the circus at Madison Square Garden.

The Saturday exploits were fantastic—but for me, the true miracle lay in one tiny detail: In New York, you could walk right out of your house and have an adventure.

In New York, there were taxicabs honking outside your door, and snow, and a place called Central Park where you could rent a rowboat (and maybe fall in the lake), and people yelling funny epithets and crowds bustling down the sidewalks. There were sidewalks.

I fell in love with the Melendy family. (I wanted to be in the Melendy family; I even tried changing my name to Miranda for 15 minutes, but my fourth-grade teacher wasn't having it.) And I also fell in love with New York.

All my new what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-ups involved living in New York. I'd be a writer living in New York. I'd be an actress—like Katharine Hepburn—living in New York. I'd be some kind of single career woman living in New York.

Then my un-Katharine Hepburn nature took over. I went to California. After graduation, I moved...back to Los Angeles. I got married. I got one job, then another. I had a child. The child started school. I got divorced. You know the drill.

Now the child is going to college. I have a partner who comes from...New York. He has an apartment in Greenwich Village. This fall, we're moving to...New York.

It took 40 years, but I'm finally getting in touch with my inner Melendy. It's time for an adventure.


Karen said...

How exciting! I think it's a good thing that you're going with a New Yorker -- it might be overwhelming as a newbie on your own. Hope you have more than $1.60 saved up! ;-)

Miss Whistle said...

It's going to be a great adventure!
Wonderful post, thank you.

Titian red said...

I loved "The Saturdays" and have never yet found anyone else who has read it. That anticipation of huge opportunities was so exciting for a child to read about. I still have my copy and although the pages are brown and fragile now the vibrancy is still there. Hope New York offers everything you hope to find, I'm sure it will.