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Bryan Adams’ Apple

Sometimes the right song pops up on a playlist just when you need to hear it.  For me today, that song is a simple, unsophisticated ballad by Bryan Adams from over 30 years ago, when I was a plump, book-wormy, sixth-grade girl who took every opportunity to kneel down on the cranberry wall-to-wall carpeting in the family room in front of the Kenmore stereo, tethered by enormous headphones.

My father came home one evening carrying a copy of Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like a Knife” album.  Yes.  A record.  A round disc, about 12 inches in diameter, with grooves in it where a needle is placed and sound comes out as it revolves on a turntable.  It was a borrowed copy, but I never knew how he came to get it.  My dad often visited the library on Mondays and Thursday evenings, when they were open late, and usually returned with armloads of historical tomes that would make good doorstops.  Only on rare occasions would he come home with records and this might have been one of those times.  I also was never sure why he brought home this particular album.  I owned a few albums by Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar and even though I had seen a few Bryan Adams videos on MTV (I remember one of them involved Bryan Adams cutting an apple with a paring knife and then a girl dove into a swimming pool without water), I was not particularly drawn into his music.  (By the time the “Reckless” album came out a couple of years later…when I was, ahem, beginning to mature, Bryan Adams became a bigger deal for me.  But that’s probably a completely other story.)

Adams Apple

The last track on the “Cuts Like a Knife” album is a short, three-minute ballad called “The Best Was Yet to Come”.  A couple of chords are sustained on a keyboard and the vocals come right in.  Bryan sings (after “Summer of ‘69”, when I fell in love with his raspy voice and rugged Canadianism, I decided we could be on a first-name basis) the first verse:

Just a small-town girl in the city lights

The best was yet to come

Then lonely days turn to endless nights

The best was yet to come.

 Most adults refer to their childhoods as hard.  Reasonably successful or attractive people tell massive sob stories about being tormented by pimples or boredom or their 17-mile walk both ways uphill to go to school.  My upbringing was nowhere near perfect.  Like most normal folks, there were family issues, occasional money woes, and sure, as an adult, I’ve needed the assistance of a therapist to resolve some issues.  I was fortunate that I can count on one hand the times I had been taunted by neighborhood kids (a pack of them once gathered in someone’s yard and chanted together “Ew!  It’s Christine!” over and over as I walked down the street) and by a classmate I had a crush on who called me “Tank”.

Even though these slights were minor compared to those of others, I still felt like an oddball.  I loved to read and was often ashamed that I also carried armloads of books home from the library.  Going to the library was one of the bonding experiences I shared with my dad.  One time in the car, I good-naturedly mocked him for having a biography of Winston Churchill and, in a tone I can hear as if it were yesterday, he mocked me right back, “You got Queen Victoria!”  I didn’t feel comfortable revealing my sick obsession with books until I was an adult.

I believe that my reading habits were partially responsible for developing ideas of how my future would look, but television also played a major role.  We watched a fair amount of cartoons as kids, but my parents were not necessarily child-friendly kind of parents.  We watched shows that adults in the 70s were watching, like All in the Family, Odd Couple re-runs, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart Show.  As time went by, fantasies about my future developed into a lifelong desire to leave my birthplace.  A desire to bust out of there.  To be like Mary Richards and live in a tidy apartment with a big C on the wall (I bought one a few years ago) and be a strong professional woman.  Doing what, I never really knew…but I had to just pack up and get to where the action was.  To live where I could see sparkling lights at night and hear trains hustling people around and feel the rush of the daily grind.  My mind was full of images of the life I wanted…The outdoor scenes of Times Square and Central Park from The Odd Couple;  Mary Tyler Moore stopping in the middle of a bustling Minneapolis intersection to whip her hat skyward;  the swell of “How Deep Is Your Love” at the end of Saturday Night Fever as scenes of Manhattan at sunrise fill the screen.

So as a dreamy young girl, this Bryan Adams song was like a gift.  It spoke of city lights and loneliness, things I both yearned for and experienced, respectively.  It fostered in me a sense of “yeah, I’m gonna make it” and “I can do anything I put my mind to” – sentiments that were not expressed by my parents, but that I called upon deep inside myself.  Self-doubt has often traveled with me, but somehow, the big picture of watching home get smaller from the rear-view mirror was always the goal.  Packing a U-Haul and towing my car behind it for five hours to get to Pittsburgh the summer I turned twenty-one was a really nutso thing to do, but it got me away from where I felt like I never truly belonged.  Twists and turns accompanied me along every journey and between home and the handful of cities I’ve called home these last twenty-odd years.

Sitting still has always been difficult for me, especially mentally and emotionally, and I don’t tolerate stagnancy or passivity in myself or others very well.  I’m sensitive to the most miniscule alteration in my emotional barometer and in those closest to me.  How can I improve?  What is lacking in me?  Am I using my energies in the best way possible?  Maybe it’s yet another birthday on the horizon or it’s the spring showers affecting me.  Being in this space right now and hearing this song are like being tapped on the shoulder.  Hey, the shoulder tapper says, don’t forget about that small-town girl in the city lights.  It sounds so idiotic, but it reminds me to consider where I’m at and that deep down, I’m proud of where I come from.  I’m pretty happy in this part of the world, but maybe it’s time to address the feeling of pushing an ever-enlarging rock up a hill on a regular basis in some areas of my life.

On an unrelated note, and to put this post to bed…Two summers ago, my beau and I took the train to Montreal for vacation.  On the trip home, we noticed two men traveling together, one of whom strongly resembled Bryan Adams.  It made no logical sense for someone of Bryan’s ilk traveling in steerage with the rest of us, but we chuckled between ourselves about Bryan Adams sitting a few rows ahead of us during the 12-hour ride and it still comes up on occasion.  Let’s imagine it really was Bryan Adams and I told him how much that song meant.  He would have thought me a complete Froot Loop.  Which isn’t far from the truth, I guess.



Look, Ma, No Shiner!

What a relief to wake up this morning without a shiner like I did on Easter morning, sometime in the early 80s, when I was in the fourth grade.  Technically, I woke up with it on Holy Saturday, but it was still there on Easter Sunday.

Sleepwalking was once a problem for me. I haven’t done it much in recent years, but as a child, it was a regular occurrence.  Most of the time, I didn’t remember doing it until my mom told me in the morning.  It usually involved just getting out of bed and wandering around, except for a couple of occasions where I tried to leave the house and another time when I turned the thermostat up as high as it would go.

Even though we weren’t a particularly religious family, we were very connected to the Catholic elementary school we attended.  On Good Friday every year, the eighth grade performed Living Stations, a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I’ve attended several of these over the years and in comparison, ours were pretty low-tech by comparison.  I mean, we didn’t know it at the time.  As kids, we idolized the “big kids” who got to be the readers or portrayed various characters wearing costumes. We were awestruck watching Simon barrel out into the aisle to help Jesus carry the cross and to see the image of Jesus’ face on the cloth that Veronica carried.  When Jesus was on the cross, he refused to drink the liquid from the sponge on the popsicle stick that was offered to him.  And when Jesus died, the storm that occurred was portrayed by the flashing on and off of the church lights, the sound of the switches of the circuit breakers audibly clicking throughout.  On top of that, someone in the sacristy shook a sheet of metal to create the sound of thunder.  This was not seen;  we learned these secrets around the time you figured out the truth about the Easter bunny.  In our version of the Stations of the Cross at St. Aloysius, Jesus also rose from the dead at the end.  Two of the prettiest girls were usually angels, emerging from the sacristy in white garments wearing a ring of Christmas garland on their heads and carrying a plastic Easter lily while the Hallelujah chorus played.

The year I was in fourth grade, we attended because my brother was in the Living Stations as part of the eighth grade class.  I don’t remember details and I’m sure it was a nice production.  Nothing out of the ordinary happened.  I guess we probably ate dinner and eventually went to sleep.  In our living room was a marble-top wooden coffee table in the shape of an oval.  There was usually nothing on the table aside from a Polish crystal candy dish with a lid on top.  When the lid was removed to get a piece of candy, it made a heavy pinging sound if it made contact with the sides.  I was roused from sleep by that sound, in the middle of a sleepwalking episode. It turns out, for some mysterious reason, I had been banging my head on the marble table top, hearing the clanging of the candy dish in my head.  I’m uncertain whether the clanging woke me up or if I was discovered making this racket.

In the morning, I had a shiner.  It was never called a “black eye” by my family.  Did “shiner” somehow have more class than “black eye”?  This morning as I participated in Easter Sunday Mass, I realized that there are no pictures of me with a shiner for Easter.  Could it be that my family was embarrassed by my appearance and thus, could not risk sending a photo of me with a shiner out to be developed, out of fear that they might be reported to the authorities?  I remember attending Mass on Easter and remember what I was wearing (a shirt emblazoned with Blueberry Muffin, part of the Strawberry Shortcake cast of characters, on the front).  And I remember that my parents dropped my brother and me off at church, maybe because they didn’t want to be seen with a black-eyed offspring.

Fortunately this morning, I rose bright and early after playing organ at a two-hour Easter Vigil Mass to return to church and do it all over again (three more times, to be exact).  I was very relieved to have appeared at Mass with the eyes of a healthy, 40-something year-woman, with their age-appropriate puffiness and creases due to joyful times laughing and smiling.  Hopefully, the days of sleepwalking – and shiners – are behind me.

How Gozick?

Before divulging my penchant for swiping missalettes from church, I planned to open this blog by explaining how the name How Gozick? came about.

For as long as I’ve been alive, my first and last names have caused confusion.  Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, people named Smith and Jones were vastly outnumbered by names with lots of consonants.  Something in our genetic makeup allows us to pronounce names like Wojciechowski, Przybyszewski, or Kwiatkowski with the greatest of ease.  Some of these names were Americanized due to language issues at ports where immigrants entered, including mine.  My great-grandfather Vasil Godzik came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s after a long journey from what is now Ukraine.  We were told growing up that our name meant “buttons” in some Eastern European language, but I’m not sure whether this is really true.

There are also a bunch of names that are very similar to mine and in spite of our multi-syllabic name-pronouncing superpower, my six-letter last name is confused with people named Gocek, Kozick, Kocek, Kozich (and countless others!). I am also asked if I’m related to people whose last names aren’t even spelled like my own.  Because some of those names are pronounced differently from mine, I have also suffered countless mispronunciations which have caused lots of laughs over the years.  Some of my favorites include names sounding like “Gauze-ick” and “Got-sick”.  My dear friend Michele, who was blessed with a fabulous normal-sounding surname, has taken a life-long pleasure in mocking my name.  The mockery of my last name continued into high school when she gave me a piece of gauze in a paper wrapper, saying “Gauze-ick” aloud while handing it to me.  In freshman year, people started greeting me in the morning by saying “How Gozick?”  I thought of it as a term of endearment.  Some of my childhood friends (and their children!) even call me Gozick as if it were my first name.

My first name has also been the victim of pulverization.  It’s a reasonably uncomplicated name, but so long that on standardized tests, my name was shortened to Christ because there were only six bubbles.  When I need to use my name to order something, I often shorten it or use a different name because for some reason, people often don’t understand it when I say it and I often end up repeating it.

And that’s exactly what happened when I ordered coffee from Starbucks the other day.  I ordered, the guy held up the little device to scan my Starbucks card, and when I presented him cash instead, he kind of slammed the little scanner down on the counter.  As if I were some low-class slob for paying in cash.  (This was the Short Hills Mall, after all!  Anyone without an American Express Centurion Card is a low-class slob!).  When I gave him the name Chris for my order, he asked me three times what my name is.  I’m always prepared for several different spellings, which, in that setting, are forgivable.  Unless I tendered some currency, like the American Express Centurion Card, that would show the correct spelling of my name.  When the barista shouted “grande ice coffee”, I retrieved it and snickered when I saw a name I’ve never been called.

How Gozick, Gracie?
How Gozick, Gracie? 

How the guy got “Gracie” out of “Chris”, I’ll never know.  Incidents like this are so frequent for me that I’ve tried to take extra special care with people’s names.  I always want to say them just right so that I don’t fall into the category of “that girl who always mispronounces my name”.


Missalette Thief

And now it begins.  This sweet blog o’ mine.  I have no idea what lies ahead of me, nor have I any grand ideas of what might be posted here. The thought of writing my own blog never appealed to me until I met my beau Sam, a blogger himself.  Early in our relationship, after we became friends on Facebook, I clicked on the links that led to his blogs.  And though I am inflating him because he’s the dude who set this thing up for me (and he laughs at pretty much anything mildly amusing that I say), I have to say that I was genuinely blown away by his creativity.  Though he modestly snickers when I compliment what he does, seeing his drawings, pictures, and witty musings on daily life still inspires me.

Today is the Monday of Holy Week and it hit me that this is the best time to begin.  For church musicians like me, this is a hectic time of year.  So why would I take on a project like this now?  Because I had a moment today that rose up from my gut that I couldn’t ignore.  A memory of my grandmother who passed away just before Holy Week last year.  Our beloved Grammy was a devoted Catholic who had a novena for everything.  We knew St. Martha novenas were said on Tuesdays, that St. Dymphna was the lady you prayed to if you had “nerves”, and that it was good luck if the head of a statue fell off.  (It meant that prayers were answered, according to Gram.  When I was about seven, she gave me her Infant of Prague statue whose head popped off so many times that it both freaked me out and amazed me at the same time.  She had also re-painted his face following every disfigurement suffered from falls off the window sill.  She also sewed majestic robes of sequins and velvet for this tiny statue with her arthritic hands.)  Stories of my grandmother’s faith and religious practices could probably fill lots of future posts.

I wonder sometimes how much the influence of my grandmother played in my gravitating toward my current job:  playing organ and piano, directing choirs of children and adults, and coordinating a music program at a local Catholic church.  Even though my use is taken completely out of context, whenever I hear the passage from the Gospel of John that goes, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”, I realize this is how I feel about my work.  Someone greater than myself had a hand in placing me where I am.  My current position came to me by accident and so did learning to play the organ as a child.

My upbringing as a Catholic is kind of slippery.  Even though I was privileged to attend Catholic school from pre-school through high-school (and, I might add, those were amazing years of my life, overflowing with memories and life-long friendships), we didn’t attend Mass regularly.  My folks were not joiners and only supported the parish by popping their envelopes in the collection basket.  My mother went through periods of weekly attendance, but they seemed to be short-lived.  There was also something humorous about religion in our family and when we went with my mother, there always seemed to be something to giggle at during Mass.  Whether it was something in a homily or a funny name in the bulletin (for years, we cracked up at the thought of a guy going through life named Don Rother, as opposed to Dan Rather), we were always laughing in church.

Church provided an endless supply of mystery, especially since we spent lots of time there during school hours.  There were confessions and First Friday Masses and benediction on Friday afternoons at 1PM.  We prayed so much in grade school, it is a miracle that we learned anything.  I found myself attracted to prayer books and eventually, began to swipe a missalette or two from the church.  And a hymnal.  I even had the timing of the thievery down-pat;  I would steal a missalette when I knew it would be the last Mass they would be used at.  My logic was that they would just be tossed anyway.  As I got older and learned to play piano, I would play the music from the missalette.  When my piano teacher began to teach me organ, she endorsed my removal of these items, for educational purposes.

The missalettes from Holy Week gave me a thrill because they were not only thick, but they also contained the full text of the readings and psalms for each day, from Palm Sunday all the way through Easter.  I removed one on Palm Sunday because I couldn’t resist.  I recall being home from school due to illness one day during Holy Week in the third grade. Or I feigned illness to stay home to read my missalette.  I enjoyed reading the prayers out loud (or playing church with my brother), either alone or with my Barbies.  That day, my grandmother was in charge of me and I remember asking her to read the readings aloud with me.  And she said no!  I never knew why she denied upholding the religious practices of her granddaughter at that moment, but I never forgot that day.  She didn’t want to read along with me, but she did provide me with the correct pronunciation of the word ‘evildoer’.

Today I remembered those feelings vividly.  Waking up early to play piano for a school Mass and direct the children’s choir of children of missalette-stealing age, it occurred to me as I accompanied our children’s choir on piano that the word ‘evildoer’ makes an appearance in Psalm 27, today’s psalm.  Maybe my grandmother’s belief in the afterlife impacted me enough to snicker and shake my head today as I imagined her remembering that day – from heaven.