My daughter recently published a column in the New York Times about transitional objects for children. It got me thinking about my own history and attachment to a particular object… I did not have a flabby bunny, or well-worn teddy bear, or favorite flannel blanket! Alas! Mine must have been a solitary infancy and lonely early childhood because I never had a “transitional object,” a beloved warm-smelling, familiar possession that I could clutch and sleep with and derive comfort from. Deprived. Or so I thought.
My mother was concerned with kosher, cleanliness, and seemliness, and, of course, not-shocking-the-neighbors; her impoverished busy life absolutely absorbed her. Her days did not afford her the luxury of psychology.
But I have just realized that I HAD and STILL DO HAVE such a beloved object! Carefully cherished and guarded over the years, I still take it out and use it on special celebratory occasions!
It is my silver bugle! It is silver-colored though I think it is disguised brass, but no matter. To me it was and is my silver bugle.
It sits in my closet, at hand, readily. I truly love it.
When I was almost thirteen years old, my father – a World War I veteran – recruited me, along with my older sister, Marilyn – for a new drum and bugle corps his Jewish War Veterans Post was sponsoring. We paid weekly dues (10 cents each) and got weekly lessons on an instrument, I on the bugle and she on the bass drum. Drillmaster Stein, a crusty old army musician, was an exacting teacher. Remarkably, he didn’t mind girls; he treated us all like soldiers. We learned wonderful basic marches: Semper Fidelis, You’re in the Army Now, Pay Day. I mastered all the army bugle calls: Reveille, Mess Call, Taps, etc. Papa was so proud; on holidays he’d march behind us on tired feet (he was a clothing presser and stood all during his working days). His overseas cap was always jaunty on his head.
Summers, I got jobs as camp bugler in Catskill mountain girls camps.
All through adolescence, I bugled and I was good enough to be hired to play “Taps” (solo) on Armistice Day at cemeteries and at other ceremonies. Drillmaster Stein was fond of me and gave me excellent instruction. One Sunday he brought his own old army bugle and let me use it. “I don’t play anymore,” he said to Papa. “See that she takes care of it. ” To me he said, “I want the old horn to be used. You take real good care of it, hear? It’s yours now.”
My eyes were full of tears. I was honored beyond measure. After drill that day he said sternly, “Polish the old horn and keep it clean. Be sure to use plenty of Elbow Grease.”
I went right home and took my small hoard of babysitting earnings and ran to Lee Avenue, where all the Williamsburg shops were. I went into two grocery stores and asked the proprietors for “Elbow Grease.”
Yiddish speakers, both, they had never heard the phrase. One more store left in Williamsburg, this one owned by a non-Yiddish speaking Irishman. When I asked if he carried Elbow Grease, he scratched his head – and asked me what I needed it for.
Then he smiled, rolled up his shirtsleeve and demonstrated what elbow grease was.
Yes, indeed, today’s pediatricians are right. A child needs a transitional object to help her develop independence. And I have a beaut! Want to hear it?
Sheila Klass, I am honoured to connect with you at last. We met long ago in Penal, Trinidad when you stayed at our home while collecting field notes for Morton’s research into the Indian communities in Trinidad.I am Heather Laltoo. I was about 6 at the time. I remember accompanying you to visit the Hindu priest Ramdass Sadhu at the Hindu temple across the road from our home.. I remember your legs were covered with mosquito bites and my Mother washed yor feet in my Grandmother’s baking dish brfore applying an ointment. Later after you returned to Port-of-Spain, you bought me a Potato Head toy. How thoughtful to think of me. I now have several of your books. I reside in New Brunswick Canada where I make my living as a writer as well.My 97 year old Mother still remembers your visit, and recently read your book sbout your time in Felicity. Incidently , before you went to live at the house in Felicity, her brither-in-law lived there as well. He was the village schoolmaster in1947. I do hope this message reaches you. Sincerely, Heather LaltooFerguson
Hi , Heather Laltoo again. Please excuse my typos. In my excitement to reach you, I stupidly tried to go too fast.. If you remember being at the Laltoos of Penal, I would appreciate a reply as I am including my rememberances of your visit in a book I am writing an my childhood home. My e-mail is email@example.com. Sincerely, Heather.