Member Deborah Batterman’s novel Just Like February was published yesterday, April 10th!
Just Like February
The summer I was born Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Ted Kennedy put Chappaquiddick on the map, and my parents, along with my uncle Jake and me, set out on a pilgrimage to Woodstock. Only Jake got there. Midway across the George Washington Bridge, the car began sputtering, losing steam by the second. We made it just to the toll booth. My father, who’d had reservations from the start, saw this as a sign that maybe the trip just wasn’t meant to be. My mother accused him of being smug.
Cars passed by, there were offers of help, but the engine had totally died. Jake, at my mother’s insistence, hitched a ride with a blonde girl in a red Corvette. I want details, she said, kissing him good-bye. It took two hours before a tow truck finally came and carted my parents and me back to Brooklyn. I wailed, my mother was silent, my father and the driver talked. “I could kick myself for not hitching a ride, too,” my mother always says when she tells the story of that infamous day. Her voice is like glass. Cold, clear, transparent with subtext. If it wasn’t for your father . . . Eventually she softens; the news reports, she had to admit, gave her second thoughts about being in a sea of mud with a nursing infant. Besides, my father had recently purchased an elaborate new sound system. All weekend long they listened to the crystal clear voices of their favorite WNEW-FM disc jockeys bring up-to-the-minute coverage right into our living room; it was almost like being there. Irony sets the tone for my father’s perspective. “The last time I saw Jimmy Briggs was on a chopper leaving Saigon, and here he turns up driving the tow truck that takes us back home — that’s more than just coincidence, even for a cynic like me.” All the way back to Brooklyn they talked about the endless nights and rain-drenched days in Vietnam, the buddies who had died and those still alive. They talked about Woodstock, too, which they agreed was nothing more than one big anti-war demonstration masquerading as a party. Not that my father wouldn’t have loved to hear Jimi Hendrix and the Butterfield Blues Band and Santana and the Jefferson Airplane live, on the same stage, within the space of a few days.
The starting point for Jake is a spoon he came across at a small shop in the town of Woodstock. Candy, the girl he drove up with, wanted to go antiquing before heading over to Yasgur’s farm. So they browsed through antique shops — she bought an old piano stool that barely fit in the trunk of her car — had lunch in a funky cafe, and stopped in a gift shop, where Jake found the small wooden spoon that he bought as a present for me.
Shaped like a flower petal and inscribed with the words “Make Love, Not War,” the spoon ended up being more ornament than utensil. My mother kept it on the windowsill in the kitchen, next to the stained glass sun that illuminated the window like a bright smiling orange. Supposedly it was the source of my first word. Squirming in my high chair, I’d point to the spoon. “Boon,” I’d say, refusing to eat until my mother gave me the smooth-as-pearl spoon to hold while she fed me. When it came time for me to start feeding myself, the spoon mysteriously disappeared. My mother accused my father of “accidentally” throwing it away. My grandmother, who had recently bought me a silver spoon from Tiffany’s, said it was just as well. “Wood splinters,” she reminded my mother. The admonishment irked my mother almost as much as the disappearance of her one and only memento from Woodstock. “And silver tarnishes,” she said.
Deborah Batterman is the author of Just Like February (a novel), Shoes Hair Nails (short stories), and Because my name is mother (essays). She is a Pushcart nominee, and her award-winning stories and essays have appeared in anthologies as well as print and online literary journals. A native New Yorker, she has worked over the years as a writer, editor, and teaching artist. Her blog is an exploration of all the small things, and the big ones, that impact our day-to-day lives.