I was probably 11 or 12, thirteen at the most. My parents let me take the train from the safety of small town New Jersey to Hoboken, then get on the subway to visit my grandmother in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. They had taken trains and subways all their lives, not knowing times had changed. They were still living in The Great Depression even though it was now the 1960's.
Photos of me at that age show the beginnings of the mini-skirt, a Vidal Sassoon haircut, a girl about to rebel big-time. My father was a mathematics professor who golfed and drank too much, played classical music at a volume I would many years later yell at my own children about. My mother was doing her best to raise five children close in age, while losing seven at various intervals. I would escape to my grandmother's to dust her angel collection, water her houseplants, anything she wanted. She knew I needed my space, my time alone, and she gave that to me. It would become something I would lose over and over, in almost every friendship or relationship I've ever had.
One day, my grandmother was not waiting at the top of the subway stairs as usual. I didn't panic; I knew the way to her house past every shop and landmark in my mind. It was only a few blocks to 70th Street, however this day in particular a group of somewhat older boys noticed me and started to follow me. I was carrying a small suitcase and a guitar. They were using words about me that made me uncomfortable and it seemed I couldn't walk fast enough. My thoughts were: ignore them and they'll go away (they didn't, of course), there are four of them and one of me, and if I have to, I'll hit them with my guitar. Now the last thought wasn't really an option since it was a rented instrument, and I wasn't hoping for my barely five foot tall Grandma to appear because I didn't want her to get hurt.
That's when one of them pinched my rear end. That's also when out of nowhere my grandmother appeared with her umbrella. She pushed past me, and started whacking the guy who pinched me. Another guy made the serious mistake of calling her "Granny". He got whacked with the umbrella too. Now, I was used to my grandmother crocheting, playing Canasta, watching Lawrence Welk, and going to church so this was a side of her I'd never seen. After beating off two of the four, she scolded them, then asked the other two if they wanted a whacking as well. That's what I call class. I didn't tell my parents this story until well after my grandmother's death and even then they didn't believe me.