Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Recap Part 2

When last we saw Margaret, she was wearing the smallest bra available from Lord and Taylor, she was Mavis in the Four PTS’s, and she was preparing to visit temple for the very first time for Rosh Hashanah. Is she going to finally figure out God, boys, and sixth grade? Let’s see!

Chapter 9

Margaret gets a new suit and hat, plus white gloves for Rosh Hashanah. Remember the days when we would dress up to go to church? Not to sound too much like my own grandma, but I can’t get down with the whole casual wear-jeans-to-church atmosphere of these days. It’s been many years since I’ve actually been to a service, mind you, but I think the world is too casual now. I also feel this way about how people dress when they are on airplanes. Remember when you’d dress up to fly? Now we are one step above hobo in our bid to be “comfortable.” There’s a difference between a nice pair of yoga pants and wearing what amounts to pajama bottoms in public, people.

Anyway, back to Margaret. She goes to temple and admires the hats, flowers, and organ music, but can’t understand what’s really going on because the service was in Hebrew. She expected something else, to see God, maybe, but no. Not today. She meets the rabbi, and Grandma is very excited to show off her granddaughter. The rabbi says Good Yom Tov, which means Happy New Year, which is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. Margaret goes home no more spiritually enlightened than when she set out.

Chapter 10

Three important things happen: first, Laura Danker wears a sweater to school, inciting boob-related jealousy throughout the female population, and googly eyes from the male population. Second, Margaret goes to church with Janie and realizes it was just like temple, except in English. She hopes that she’ll see God, but just like in temple, she does not.

Maybe you need to look within, Margaret.

The third important thing to happen is that the PTA is holding a Thanksgiving square dance for the grade six classes…a SQUARE DANCE. Is this a thing that happened in the Seventies? Was square dancing really popular at the time? I feel like this can’t be right, but yes, the Four PTS’s and the rest of the kids are excitedly preparing for a square dance. Nancy’s mother is on the committee so Nancy offers to pair up her friends with the boy of their choice…but all of them choose Philip Leroy, so Nancy renegs on that agreement. She is not a miracle worker, people.

It’s two solid weeks of square dance lessons in gym to prepare for the big event. Mr. Benedict uses Laura Danker as a partner to demonstrate the proper steps, ostensibly because she’s tall, but Nancy raises her eyebrows at that reasoning. In any case, she’s taller than all of the boys in the class – the very tallest only reaches her chin. That was me! I was the tallest girl by far when I was in grade six – in fact, only one boy was taller than me and that guy is now a seven foot tall man, so I think that says something. I feel for Laura. It’s okay, Laura! I’m 5’7″ now and I have never once had to hem a pair of pants.

Anyway, the boys are mostly interested in stomping on the girls’ feet whilst square dancing, which feels like a realistic representation of grade six relationships. But, the day of the square dance is exciting nonetheless. The gym is all decorated with hay and scarecrows, and Nancy’s mother is a chaperone, dressed in a plaid shirt and a straw hat, which – needless to say – is mortifying for Nancy. Hey, in my memory, any time parents were en evidence was mortifying for preteens. I remember once when my parents had to chaperone a dance – they HAD to, because the shortage of chaperones meant that the dance was going to be cancelled – and it was incredibly embarrassing. I’m sure it wasn’t how they wanted to spend their evening, either, inflicting pain and mortification on their only daughter, who pretended to not know them.

The PTA has hired an actual square dance caller – WERE there professional square dance callers in the SEVENTIES? This seems more like a nineteenth century thing. – and Margaret gets to dance with Philip Leroy! Unfortunately, he is one of the jerks who is out to squash girls’ feet, so it was kind of a letdown. Nancy was so upset that Margaret got him for a partner, she almost CRIED, the big baby.

Chapter 11

The Four PTS’s gave up on their exotic secret names (Kimberly!) and their Boy Books, because everyone keeps listing Philip Leroy and it’s getting kind of old. Gretchen gets her father’s old anatomy book out so they can see what a naked boy looks like. Janie mentions that her aunt once spent a month at a nudist colony, to everyone’s shock and amazement. Margaret sneaks her dad’s copy of Playboy to show her friends, and the centerfold inspires them to do fifty rounds of “we must increase our bust” exercises.

Chapter 12

Grandma’s going on a cruise! She goes to the Caribbean every year and gives a bon voyage party in her room on the ship; this year Margaret is allowed to go.

Wait. People could just GO onto the cruise ship and hang out? Those rooms are pretty small. Plus, she’s only going for three weeks! Is a bon voyage party really appropriate in this situation? Oh well, any excuse for party snack food and champagne is a good excuse, in my mind.

Anyway, once they get home from the cruise ship Margaret’s mother gets busy addressing Christmas cards, which she calls “holiday greetings” because the family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Margaret’s mother sends cards to her old friends from Ohio, to keep in touch, and Margaret discovers that this year, she has also sent a card to her estranged parents. Cue ominous music.

Meanwhile, the school is putting on a Christmas-Hanukkah concert, and Margaret’s class is the choir. There’s a bit of a mutiny since one of the Jewish boys refuses to sing the Christmas songs, and one of the Christian girls refuses to sing the Hanukkah songs, despite Mr. Benedict’s assurances that the songs were for everybody, but the aforementioned children bring notes from home saying that they need to be excused from this exercise in religious harmony.

Chapter 13

MARGARET GETS A LETTER. THERE IS A LETTER THAT CAME IN THE MAIL THAT IS ADDRESSED TO HER. I REPEAT: A LETTER FOR MARGARET. There’s a whole page devoted to this: the description of the envelope, Margaret’s stunned and excited reaction to receive a letter, her sense of wonder and excitement about said letter, and the way she very carefully opens it so as not to rip the envelope.

It was an invitation! I knew right away because of the picture – a bunch of kids dancing around a record. Also, it said, HAVING A PARTY.

Who’s having a party, I thought. Who’s having a party and invited me. Naturally I could have found out right away. I could have looked inside. But this was better. I considered the possibilities.

OH MY GOD, MARGARET, JUST OPEN THE CARD ALREADY.

Finally, after wondering and thinking and looking at the postmark on the envelope, Margaret opens the invitation. After all that build-up, we discover it’s from Norman Fishbein, the biggest drip in the class. That’s a bit anticlimactic, but a party is a party, and this is even a supper party! Not only are the Four PTS’s invited, but so is the whole class, which prompts Margaret’s mother to say “Mrs. Fishbein must be crazy!”

I kind of think so too. Twenty-eight sixth graders? I had eight fifth graders over for a birthday party and halfway through I felt like I needed to wash down some Xanax with a nice Syrah.

Margaret gets ready by washing her hair and getting a crème rinse, putting her hair in rollers and going under the dryer, wearing new fancy lace-trimmed underwear, tights, and a velvet dress. Then, she stuffs her bra with cotton balls! She looks in the mirror and likes what she sees.

Chapter 14

Nancy’s father drives the Four PTS’s to the party, and they’re all excited and prettied up. Norman’s mother greets them and she’s super fancy in velvet pants with a sparkly sequined top. See what I mean about people dressing for occasions back then? Their house is huge and they have a maid! Nancy’s been there before and knows the way to the rec room where the party is.

Do people still have rec rooms? Are they called that? When I was a kid we had a little picture that said “Rules for the Rec Room” and one of them was not to use pizzas on the record players. Just in case someone was considering that, I guess. The hilarity.

The boys are all wearing jackets and ties, and Laura Danker is there. She looks gorgeous. Mrs. Fishbein serves the food, and the boys basically destroy the rec room by shooting mustard through a straw at the ceiling. This is why you don’t have twenty-eight sixth graders over for supper, Mrs. Fishbein. As the kids are eating cupcakes, Freddy Barnett and Nancy get into a shouting match, which ends with Freddy ripping Nancy’s pocket off of her new dress. Mrs. Fishbein is shocked at their behaviour and thinks they are all a bunch of ill-mannered hooligans.

Norman suggests games to keep everyone from destroying the family home and ripping parts of their schoolmates’ clothing. It’s Spin the Bottle time! Eeek. GRETCHEN GETS PHILIP LEROY. Then Philip gets LAURA DANKER, who looks shyly down, causing Philip to get a mouthful of hair. At this point, one of the boys suggests “Two Minutes in the Closet” where everyone gets a number (girls odd, boys even) and then each person calls a number, and they go into the bathroom together for a maximum of two minutes. Pervs. After some time, Freddy the creep gets Laura Danker, who is blushing red. Margaret wonders why – she should be used to this kind of action. Hmm…

Then Laura calls number seven, which is Philip Leroy! When they come out of the bathroom Philip is smiling but Laura sure isn’t. Hmmm…

Philip calls twelve, which is Margaret’s number! Philip gives Margaret a really fast kiss on the lips, after she stops nervously giggling. Also, thank God he doesn’t try to cop a feel, since her bra is still stuffed with cotton balls. Margaret calls number nine and gets Norman Fishbein, who tells her he really likes her! Margaret instructs him to kiss her on the cheek.

Later, Nancy tells Margaret she’s totally jealous of her time with Philip, and how was he, as a kisser? Margaret lies and says great, they kissed so many times she lost count.

Chapter 15

Margaret goes to Christmas Eve services with Nancy, and enjoys the music but doesn’t feel like God is there.

Grandma comes home from her cruise and decides to go to Florida, sadly, because New York City is nothing without “her Margaret.” She sends tons of postcards and phones every Friday.

The class is going to see a movie! Boys will see one movie, and girls will see another movie, and it’s SEX ED TIME. The movie the girls see is all about menstruation and is sponsored by the feminine product company Private Lady. There is time for questions, and Nancy asks about Tampax. The Private Lady representative is kind of shocked, and says that internal protection is not advised until the girls are considerably older.

Remember when people thought that using tampons would result in a loss of virginity? I had a book called Girltalk, that supposedly answered all your questions about life, body, friendship, etc., and there was a whole section devoted to feminine hygiene products and this EXACT THING was addressed.

The girls in the class all get a booklet that – surprise! – recommended use of Private Lady sanitary supplies.

One week later, Gretchen gets her period! Gretchen holds up her end of the PTS bargain and describes the experience. She feels a little crampy, a little drippy, and her mother gave her a lecture to watch her weight and wash her face with soap. It’s all very anti-climactic for the girls who want to know what it’s like. Margaret’s super jealous: she wants her period too! Don’t rush things, Margaret. One day you too will be sobbing while watching commercials and eating Family Sized bags of chips; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Nancy and her family go away on a trip and Margaret gets a postcard that says only “I GOT IT!!!” Margaret’s devastated. She thinks there’s something wrong with her! She doesn’t want to hear any more about Nancy and Gretchen and their fancy periods.

Chapter 16

Since Grandma’s in Florida, Margaret and her mother use the Lincoln Center subscription, which isn’t as fun, and Margaret writes to tell her grandma so. Grandma writes back and says she’s met a nice man named Mr. Binamin. Mr. Binamin is widowed; he wants to get married again, his grown kids want him to get married again, and Grandma? Grandma’s not saying anything. But she’s WRITING to Margaret to say that she’s not saying anything. I think I can, with certainty, say that Grandma is getting a little action down in Florida. Well, who doesn’t? Isn’t that why all the kids go there for spring break? That and the booze, I guess.

In other exciting news, Grandma thinks Margaret should come and visit her in Florida during spring break. Maybe even meet the fabled Mr. Binamin.  Margaret is over the moon! She’s never even been on an airplane before, let alone head off to Florida – FOR SPRING BREAK. Pack your bikini and some Alka-Seltzer, Margaret! Can I get a what what?

Will Margaret go to Florida for Spring Break? Will she ever get her period? Will she get another letter that will be even more amazing than an invitation showing a bunch of kids dancing around a record player? Tune in next time!

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4 thoughts on “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Recap Part 2

  1. It’s so interesting to me what I remembered of this book before reading the recap–and it’s actually remarkable that I remember anything, given that I was about nine or ten when I read it. Being younger than Margaret, I was mystified by much of her hormonally influenced emotions. From this section, I remembered “I must increase my bust” and Margaret being upset that she didn’t get her period. (I laughed so hard at this line: “Don’t rush things, Margaret. One day you too will be sobbing while watching commercials and eating Family Sized bags of chips; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”) Even at that age, I didn’t long to get my period (I think I was 11 or 12, so I didn’t have to wait too long.)

    And I had forgotten the closet kissing game until I read this! NONE of my childhood parties were like this one. I don’t remember participating in an actual kissing game. I don’t know why not. Probably because we were a pretty supervised group of kids–well past the permissive seventies when parents would just…serve snacks and leave the kids (gasp) alone together.

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  2. I remember loving this book and hiding it. Yup. Oh the taboos!

    I was at boy-girl birthday parties where it was not “spin the bottle”, “2 minutes in the closet”, or “post office”. It was “7 Minutes in Heaven”! Imagine! With Air Supply blasting outside the furnace room or storage room or wherever the heck we were sent, I once went in with a friend, and being me (wysiwyg, even then) was quite upfront about how this was not going to happen because it was ridiculous and we’d never be able to make eye contact ever again as long as we lived. He agreed. I had a lot of respect for that boy and I bet he grew up well!

    I need a Judy Blume box set!

    Have you read her new one yet?

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  3. We had square dancing every year in gym too – Teton Mountain Stomp, the whole deal. I don’t know about the professional callers – maybe it was a thing in New Jersey. Nancy was kind of a crybaby for being such a beeyotch, huh? The other thing is, I don’t remember it being a thing in my school that well-developed girls were considered sluts. I remember seeing a Ready or Not episode where the same thing happened, though, so maybe I was just naive and out of the loop. Actually, just typing that I now realize I’m a total moron with a shit memory because my best friend had a killer figure by twelve and was tormented regularly, and once I remember her saying “I can’t figure out how they can call me a slut and a square within the same day and think they’re making sense.” I don’t think they actually did think she was a slut, though – they were just jealous and using the bad words at their disposal. Ugh.

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  4. Pingback: Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. Recap part 3 | Throwing It Back

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