Monday, October 19, 2009

My Youthful Heart

My mother told me she saw Mr. Yazmer over the weekend at a senior event at the Jewish Community Center. She recognized him and went over to say hello. He’s 87 now and didn’t remember her name, but certainly remembered her and our family.

The conversation with my mother brought back a flood of memories from my youth. The Yazmers were our neighbors in Bloomfield, CT, and the backyard of their white house was diagonal to ours. The Yazmers were there for my first 18 years, sixteen of which I spent on King’s Highway, a four-house dead-end street that bordered the woods. Mr. Yazmer bowled every Wednesday night with my father in the Hartford Mutual Society League. Their daughter Rochelle, who is now about 55 or 56, was one of my all-time favorite babysitters and someone I had a major crush on for many years.

Mr. and Mrs. Yazmer had two other children, Donny and Ronny, both also older than my brother and I. Mrs. Yazmer rarely went outside because, we were told, she was “not well”, but on the few occasions I was at their home she was always very friendly and quiet, offering us cookies or juice.

One time, Ronny, the middle child, who is at least eight years older than I am, told me that I could fly just like Superman if I circled his house three times and then jumped off the back step. I didn’t actually believe him, but at age six or seven and very enamored of the Superman TV show, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to “leap tall buildings in a single bound” or at least get some air.

So I ran around the Yazmer home and then dutifully bounded up their back step, which was only a couple of feet off the ground. I leapt and landed on the grass. I wasn’t hurt, though my pride was wounded and I was somewhat disappointed. Ronny probably went inside and laughed at the prank he’d pulled on his young neighbor. There were other times, though, he played catch with me or talked to me in the backyard, so I wasn’t total fodder for his neighborhood silliness.

But the Yazmer who occupied the bulk of my waking thoughts and the occasional dream was Rochelle, with her shapely figure and long brown hair. She and Barbara Brown, who lived down the street, remain the two babysitters I will never forget until I start drooling into dementia. I was prepared to marry them before I turned 10. My love for each of them was deep and unconditional. I think Rochelle was the more potent object of my affections because she lived so close to us.

Once, when I was six or seven and in the first grade, she (a sixth or seventh grader at that point) and I were playing on the slide in my backyard. My mother called me into dinner, but Rochelle promised we could continue after I finished eating. I floated into the house eager to resume my play-DATE with Rochelle.

My mother noticed some red splotches on my face and feared the worst. “You have the measles,” she said, and then firmly announced that I was going to be homebound for the next few days. I cried in agony. Not because of my illness and certainly not because I was going to miss school. I was shaken up because I wouldn’t be unable to return to Rochelle’s arms at our backyard play structure. To my quite young self, it was as if I had been consigned to the hellish prison of the Count of Monte Cristo.

A few of the neighborhood guys and I spent our preteen and early teen years following Rochelle and her high school boyfriends. We used to hide in the bushes near the Yazmer home and spy on her and her suitors. One of them, whom we dubbed “Muscles” because he wore tank tops and had powerful looking arms, used to arrive in his souped-up Camaro and was quite friendly to the annoying acne-faced adolescents who mysteriously shouted behind a cluster of shrubs on Joyce Street.

Because my father socialized with Mr. Yazmer and I was the oldest of my immediate circle of friends, Rochelle treated me with more respect and courtesy than I deserved. I imagined she secretly longed for me, even though I was either 12 or 13 when she graduated from high school.

But for me, I will never forget her movie star smile and looks and how we panted whenever she sunbathed in her backyard. It was as if a bikini-clad Goddess from Mt. Olympus via Cosmopolitan or Playboy had descended into our midst.

Mrs. Yazmer died about 15 years ago, maybe longer. I wasn’t surprised because she never seemed healthy when I was a kid. Mr. Yazmer spends at least part of the year in Florida, because my father said that he and my stepmother have seen him once or twice.

When my mother said she had news about all the Yazmer kids, I partly hoped she was going to say that Rochelle was divorced. For some reason, Verna wasn’t amused when I got to that part in the story. Yes, I should’ve just shut up about lusting after Rochelle.

But my mother said, “Rochelle and her husband just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in New York City with both their children, who are living there now.”

And I was happy for her because marital bliss is a blessing and an accomplishment. I haven’t seen her in at least 30 years, which means I’ve missed her entire marriage. Thirty years. Verna and I are not quite a year-and-a-half away from 20. Given the metastatic cancer Verna is now dealing with, thirty would be great. Do I hear 40, 50…?

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