Diary Friday: “EVERYONE joined chorus that year. It was marvelous.”

When I was 12 years old, I wrote my autobiography. It is one of the most complete obsessive documents in my entire history. I remember almost NONE of it – although there are certain things that have made it thru the mists of time … things I’ve written about on the blog from time to time … but the thing that is so funny about this document (and it’s gotta be about 80 pages long) is that I am writing about “childhood” from a much closer vantage point than I would now … I actually still AM a child, although, of course, to a 12 year old, her 4 year old self seems like ancient history. So the games we played, the playground shenanigans – all of that stuff which diminishes with time – is laid out here, clear as day. It’s kind of a creepy document, truth be told – and I feel like it can’t have been ME that wrote it!! But it was.

Here I am, as an 8th grader, recounting the long-ago days of 6th grade. Naturally – to long-time readers, folks like Keith and Andrew will be familiar. (Keith post – Andrew post) Oh, and the whole Artful Dodger thing appears to have its roots back in the 6th grade.


Now sixth grade. I begin a new paragraph because sixth grade was the – it was the best year of my life. It still is. Sixth grade was heaven. Pure and simple. My teacher Mrs. Dickison was funny and “cool”. I had all the best guys in my class – Keith, Andrew … we had a crazy time. We cut down on Mrs. Dickison and we taped little pieces of paper on our desks and counted all of her jokes – we made fun of her about it and she loved it. She was great. We had a substitute – Miss Mullaney. I honestly can’t complain much about her, because she loved me and always complimented me and called me a “real character”. But other than that, she was only nice to the boys who always teased her – but she was terrible to this one girl – Jennifer M. She (Miss Mullaney) would look at Jennifer’s spelling notebook and say to the class, ‘Everyone look! I hope you all work so your spelling book does not look like this.”

I started the year badly, because I was so mad that neither J. or Betsy was in my class. But we met at recess to sing. [hahahahahaha] That year, we began to outgrow orphans [Shorthand: any make-believe game we played always involved us being orphans. We LOVED orphans] but we did have this trend where 4 girls would get together after school and act out Little Women. I HAD to be Jo. Looking back, I really was very bossy! [Ah yes, looking back … way back … to the year before last!!] But, that year – a new girl came to school – Brooke S., and I was terrified that I was going to lose Betsy. [Well. Last weekend showed us how needless my fears were way back then!] All of a sudden, she was really into boys. I mean, she and Brooke went on a date with two guys! [What?? No memory of any of this.] I didn’t spend as much time with Betsy. I don’t think I was jealous. [Ya don’t?] I was just afraid of losing her.

Betsy fainted that year. This was a big event. She just toppled over in Art. Then, she became a heroine, and everyone would drag her over to the sandbox and say, “Faint again, Betsy!”

EVERYONE joined chorus that year. It was marvelous. [“Marvelous”?? What are you, Joan Crawford??] Chorus was always the highpoint of my week. It was so fun skimming down the hall to the Caf to sing for an hour. And we sang all “Oliver” songs which was great. Betsy, J. and I loved it so much we squealed whenever Mrs. Shay announced the song. And when she announced that the play that year was to be Oliver, I remember leaping out of my seat, arms in the air. We were all SO excited. And we auditioned. Betsy almost knew she was going to be Nancy because she heard Mrs. Shay say so, and I wanted so passionately to be the Artful Dodger that I convinced myself I was perfect for the role, and J. didn’t know who she wanted to be.

Then, the day came. We all raced (literally) down the hall and slid into our seats. I remember my heart pounding as I sank low in my seat, suddenly boweled over [I think you mean “bowled over” Sheila. You weren’t toppled by a bunch of hurtling bowel movements.] by the fact that I might not get it. I almost burst into tears right then. [And that feeling persists to this day. I have never ever grown out of that kind of passionate WANTING thing that happens] I closed my eyes the whole time she was reading the cast list. Then she said, “Sheila O’Malley … Artful Dodger” and I screamed and clapped my hand over my mouth. “Betsy … Nancy … and J. – Fagin!” I whirled around to gape at J. and J.’s eyes bugged out and she seemed like a rag doll because she slumped in her seat. It was perfect! Three best friends with three leading roles! When we were dismissed row by row, Betsy was out first, then me. Then J. came hurtling out of the room, arms open wide. We all screamed (I mean, really) and threw our arms around each other to dance and cavort around in a circle. What a day.

I could relate to you every single Oliver rehearsal, they are so clear. We got away with murder, but those rehearsals were so much fun. I went through school in a trance of happiness. And it was great, up there performing with all your friends. Of course, we weren’t in all the scenes. What did we do, when left alone? Oh, God. The school was always empty and dark. So we explored to our heart’s content. Mostly J. and I because Betsy didn’t come in until much later scenes and the scenes were split at a certain point. Mrs. Shay did not keep tabs on us at all. We zoomed around. This is not in chronological order. This play happened in June. Anyway, it was positively boiling. I could feel the sweat drip down my back and my chin had sweat dripping off it. It was unbearable. So three of us – me, J. and Jennifer snuck into the kitchen and snooped for so long! We pushed this button and all of a sudden, out of this thing – water was spraying full blast. Such a commotion followed to turn it off. Whenever J. walked by, she’d switch it on and say in this Steve Martin-eyebrows-raised voice, “Hey – wanna take a shower?” We peeked in the refrigerator and lo and behold there was a bucket full of huge chunks of ice. Freezing refreshing ice! We all stared at each other and fearlessly took huge bits. Mmmm, it was good. We took it back into the shadowy caf where rehearsal was going on, and it immediately melted. We snuck into the Nurse’s office and gave each other wild rides up and down the school halls in wheelchairs. [I am howling with laughter.] I remember standing up on stage singing and I glanced out the cafeteria door and saw J. zoom by in a wheelchair, legs up, arms out, head back, hair flying. Poor me! I tried so hard to keep from laughing.

J. and I would sneak around backstage. And we discovered this door and we opened it to peer in. Apparently, it was where the janitor unwound. It was a miniscule little place with one armchair, and shelves of magazines. We dashed for them, hoping to find some dirty ones. We squeezed with GREAT difficulty into the chair with a pile of magazines on our laps that we started to go through. We had the BEST time, even though there were no dirty magazines.

And one time, J. was rehearsing one of her songs. She was onstage alone, pacing up and down. And Steve W. (Bill Sikes) was backstage shooting spitballs at her. Now I WISH that I had been in the audience to see this. J., so involved in her song, glanced backstage, saw a spitball flying at her, screamed and “hit the deck”. Poor Mrs. Shay. Watching this scene when suddenly her actress throws herself on the floor. Betsy and I were falling all over with laughter backstage.

The performances themselves are too vivid to go into detail with now, because it is past midnight. And one day J. and I didn’t have anything to do, and neither did Natasha, so we sat down on some mats and Natasha started telling us about periods. She already had hers, so she was our worldly informer. [“worldly informer” – hahahahahaha] And Natasha kept going, “Well, they have this cardboard applicator that sticks into you” and J. and me were gaping at her and holding our stomachs. I felt so disgusted! So after that J. and I snuck away and ran down to the bathroom where we vowed to tell the other when “it” happened. It was so dumb. The vow went something like this, “We vow to tell each other when ‘bleep’ (that’s what we called it) happens and what it is like. Signing off from CBS News, this is J. and Sheila.” We were so dumb!!

The play was finally put on. It was good, but it had pages of fiascoes. First of all, the curtain broke, so two people had to hide behind it and pull it closed. It was really ruining the dramatic ending, because the curtain closed really jerkily and you could see two pairs of feet underneath it, and when it was closed, this finger was sticking out, holding it together. A repercussion of the broken curtain was that this rope dangled down in the center of the stage from somewhere up in the flies. We just had to work around it, but it looked bizarre. Well, of course, something had to happen. Sally G. played a messenger and she ran on stage, faced ‘Oliver’ and ‘Mr Brownlow’, said her line, and ran off. Sally decided to take matters into her own hands, and casually grabbed the rope and took it off with her. She made it seem like a totally normal thing for her to be doing. But, alas, alas, when she got offstage it swung out of her hands, flew back onstage, and knocked poor Oliver Twist right in the eye.

And, when Mr Bumble was meandering through the audience singing his long sad song, we were all backstage, trying to move off the orphanage scene quietly. Well, someone tried to carry off this huge stack of bowls and of course they fell. The noise was earth-shattering with bowls rolling and bumping. They weren’t breakable, but the whole audience laughed.

Oh, and another thing about rehearsals, there was this really sad ending, and I desperately wanted to be onstage for it. But the ending only involved J. walking sadly off, leaving Bill and Nancy dead behind her. Well, I was pretty headstrong, and I, during rehearsals, stayed onstage anyway, and it was all dark and blue and gloomy with a street lamp, and J. hissed to me, “Mrs. Shay doesn’t want you here!” [I am SHAKING with laughter. Sheila: GET OFF THE STAGE. YOU ARE NOT IN THE SCENE.] And since she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, I said, “I’ll hide in your hood.” Well, that sent us off into hysterics. We both had this vision of J. (Fagin) slowly trudging offstage with me bouncing along in her hood.

But back to the performances – I did have a pretty good costume. A battered jacket with tails, suede shoes, old tweed pants, and about a million vests and a tie. Anyway, during one of my numbers, I had to do a cartwheel. [I love the following anecdote. I love how I was being SO unprofessional – and Betsy called me on it – ONSTAGE. Now that’s a friend!!] I had some problems in this area. The first performance I toppled off the stage and into the chorus. Mass pandemonium. And the second one – I had to stroll onstage counting some money [TWO TOIMES TWO equaows FOW-AH …] and like a dumbie, I unthinkingly put the coins in my pocket. So when the time came for my cartwheel, I suddenly realized what would happen if I turned over so as we all were dancing, I took the coins out and, still singing, I shoved my hand out behind me towards Jen Q., another of my best friends, for her to take them. She didn’t understand, and I was so mean. I glared ferociously at her and she looked terrified because she didn’t know what I wanted. As I soft-shoed with Betsy, I sulked as I sang. And Betsy hissed, “What the hell is wrong with you?” But just then, my cartwheel came, and I plunged in. Well, the money flew out all over the stage with a shattering noise. I was almost crying, but I kept going. Jen, the dear, immediaetly ad-libbed and pounced on the coins, as though she really was a greedy little thief. [GOOD for Jen!!! Bravo!]

Being in that play was the crowning glory of my ‘career’ in elementary school. It made me famous. When I go back to visit, all the little kids know who I am.

Mrs. Dickison was the most popular teacher – she was funny and clever and she put on a Christmas play every year, and she was the leader of the annual gong show that I told you about.

That year I had so much trouble with math. I would slip out of class and sit in the hall crying.

That year I also fell in love passionately – so passionately that it has stuck all the years since. I still have a mild crush. It was on Andrew and it was incredibly severe. He was a long-term neighborhood buddy, and all of a sudden I was madly in love with him. I always think of him as my very first love. It was a glorious year for being in love. [hahahahaha I was 11.] I looked forward to every day and it was terrific because we became friends and he knew I liked him, but that didn’t stop him from being so nice to me. I was in heaven! A new girl came to school that year – Michele L. – and she was short and pretty and nice but I had my suspicions about her and Andrew. Nothing was really happening but if Andrew (he was really smart) went over to help Michele with her math or something, Mrs. Dickison would call over to them, “Hey, you two! Can you continue your love affair some other time” and the whole class would laugh. And I would be thinking, “Oh, why can’t I be Michele?”

But Andrew and I became really close. During the Christmas play, I won the part of Grace, a young orphan [An orphan! My TRUE first love!!] and he got Dicky, my brother. [Dicky? WTF??] I had the best time at reherasals. There was one scene where I had to strut on stage decked out in a coat and hat and I had to prance around yelling “PARADE! PARADE!” and Andrew had to jump up and pick up my train and cavort around with me. I loved that scene so much and I had so much FUN!

And there was one scene where I had to kiss Keith M. – just a little peck on the cheek, but I dreaded it worse than the plague. I did it, and all the little kids in the audience whistled, but I survived. [Yeah, sounds like a real ordeal there …] Rehearsals were fun though. The whole class would file down into the Multi-purpose room and Mrs. Dickison would be so busy with directing, that the rest of us would sprawl on the gymnastics mats and talk. And I remember that once we were painting scenery and the rest of the class had gone to get paint or something, so Keith and I were left alone in the Auditorium, drawing some backdrops. And I remember that I had loved my appearance that morning. I was wearing a yellow collar shirt and jeans. I didn’t realize that my shirt was rather see-through and I was wearing one of those undershirts with the straps, so I guess it looked like a bra. Now, I had nothing up there then. In fact, Andrew often warmly referred to them as mosquito bites. [My language is killing me here. “warmly referred to them as ….”] You see, every other girl in sixth grade had started to develop, but not me. And Andrew would walk by, calling, “Hey, you better put some band-aids on those mosquito bites!” [Ah, young love!] Anyway, Keith said to me that day in the auditorium – and we were totally alone – “So. Are you wearing a bra, Sheila?” Horrified, I stood up and stalked out of the room, embarrassed and mad. Keith was yelling after me, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It just looks like that’s a bra!” [This is hilarious. I am so sending this post to Keith today. Little 11 year old flirting!!]

I remember that after Oliver, I came back to class and I sat down and Andrew, with his little lopsided grin, asked me, ‘What was your name in that play again?” and I, heart pounding, said, “Artful Dodger” and he went, “No, the other one,” and I said, “Oh. Jack Dawkins.” And then he laughed. I loved how he laughed. For the rest of the year, he called me “Jackie.”

The winter was great, with a lot of snow, and a swamp in the woods froze over, so every day after school I’d go home, get my skates, and tramp down there with the rest of the neighborhood friends. Every single day I’d skate from 3:30 to 5:30 or so. We had so much fun. Katy and Jen. Q. – my best friends since I was five – would be there. We all lived on the same street and were called “The Three Muskateers”. Non-stop movement for two hours, and then we’d go back to the Quinn’s for something warm to eat or drink. Andrew would be there and he is such a great skater. Even now, at the roller rink, he is very light and easy as he goes backwards, and turns. [Andrew was a great athlete, in general]

It got to be a tradition that we would play Chase and the boys would steal the girls’ hats and we’d have to try and get them back. Andrew ALWAYS stole MY hat, nobody else’s – and no matter how hard I tried I could not get it back. I would zoom after him and suddenly, in a flash, he would twirl around and be skating off the other way. The swamp was a gorgeous place to skate. The little streams through the woods had also frozen, so we could skate along the ice through the fairy-land snowy forest. There was a thin tree rising out of the ice, and we would grab onto it and twirl around it. And there was one triumphant day when I got Andrew’s hat. I reached out my arm as he twirled around the tree, and snatched his black and yellow Bruin’s hat. I was ecstatic!! I tore off, clutching it to me, but he was right behind me. He was much faster, so he passed me, and twirled around so he was facing me. Then he stopped abruptly, and I smashed into him, and both of us teetered and fell, all tangled up. I was holding the hat under me, so he was tugging at my arms and sitting on me. I started to get cold and so I wriggled away from him and zoomed off. I raced through the ice path, tore around the corner and there was this enormous crowd of boys waiting for me. They pounced on me. I swear, I was on the bottom of this pile of boys. I was laughing so hard. Of course, they got the hat. All of it was good-natured, except one jerk kept kicking me in the arm with his skate. [Yup. There’s always one douchebag who ruins any good-natured fun.] It hurt, that sharp blade. After laughing, I started to cry – because that jerk was kicking me and I couldn’t get away – I was yelling, “GET OFF ME!” Andrew, my hero, pulled me out from under the crowd – and I skated off to the side. I pulled up my jacket to look at my arm and it was all cut up and purple. I was fuming, because I had been having fun. So the next time the jerk skated by me, I put out my foot and tripped him – watched him topple into the weeds, and laughed out loud and pointed at him. My day improved after that.

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11 Responses to Diary Friday: “EVERYONE joined chorus that year. It was marvelous.”

  1. Jayne says:

    Oh my god Sheila!!!!! I haven’t laughed this hard in ages – all the bits about Oliver especially – you on stage and J. going by in a wheel chair, legs up, arms out and hair flying – hahahahahaha. And the images of the malfunctioning curtain (the feet under it and the finger holding it closed) and that rope – “…and knocked poor Oliver Twist right in the eye.” I can’t stop laughing.

    THANK YOU for posting this!!!

  2. mere says:

    i can’t stop laughing

  3. Brendan says:

    ‘…But, alas, alas, when she got offstage it swung out of her hands, flew back onstage, and knocked poor Oliver Twist right in the eye.’

    I am going to pee my pants.

  4. Jayne says:

    And the spitball flying at Fagan – hahahahahaha

  5. red says:

    And me hiding in J.’s hood. hahahaha Sheila, get off the damn stage. You are not a part of the tragic last scene.

    I am now picturing J. – as she is now – careening by the door in a wheelchair – and I can’t stop laughing!!

  6. red says:

    Also, can I just say that that last moment – when i tripped the jerk and laughed in his face- is STILL satisfying to me.

  7. just1beth says:

    “My day improved after that”

  8. tracey says:

    I am dying at this whole thing!! Totally boweled over!!

    /Being in that play was the crowning glory of my ‘career’ in elementary school. It made me famous. When I go back to visit, all the little kids know who I am./

    Yes, all the little kids. You kill me, Sheila.

    /It was a glorious year for being in love./ Hahahaha! That’s where the novel starts!

    And I seriously, desperately want to “skate along the ice through the fairy-land snowy forest.”

  9. Ann Marie says:

    Oh my God, this is hilarious. You are Anne of Green Gables (you know, with parents, though).

  10. red says:

    Tracey – I STILL remember that time in the fairy-land forest on the ice as one of the happiest times of my life. It was magical!!

    And yes, it still BOWELS me over.

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