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Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell

Sleeping with Nettie Sachs


I liked to think I knew quite a bit about sex by the time I was nine, but in fact I knew very little. So when it was my mother’s turn to be the hostess for the Thursday night canasta group, I used to eavesdrop.

One of the card players was Nettie Sachs, who was pale and skinny with blotches of freckles all over. She wore faded house dresses and often had her hair in pin curls covered with a scarf that kept slipping onto her forehead. And while most mothers had breasts, a subject that was starting to interest me, her house dress just sagged over her concave chest.

Nettie’s favorite topic was germs, which she discussed in her whiny voice. She protected her husband and two pale children by scrubbing them and everything they touched. She also discussed the importance of weekly enemas. Inspired by Nettie, my mother had already bought a nail brush which I had to use every afternoon when I came home from school. I was worried my mother might decide I needed weekly cleansing inside me too.

One night while the card players were in the kitchen and I was eavesdropping in the living room, they started talking about “it.” I’m kind of embarrassed to go into certain details, particularly concerning my own parents, but what I remember clearly is Nettie: “I could go the rest of my life without doing it ever again, but my Irwin, who is such a good man in so many ways, likes his fun. So I insist he take a hot shower and use a lot of soap washing down there. And then right afterwards, I take a hot bath.”

After that night I could hardly look at poor Mr. Sachs who had just celebrated his thirtieth birthday with a plain pound cake because frosting causes gas, according to Nettie Sachs.

© Arlene Mandell, 2009

 
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Welcome to Hemlock StreetBlock PartyBuilding the Ferris WheelCrossing Pitkin AvenueThe KissInvisible BabyAunt Minnie's Second WeddingMurder Inc.A Real Italian Dinner • Sleeping with Nettie Sachs • Duke Snider Breaks Our HeartsCherries in the SnowMy Thirteenth SpringNo Room of My OwnDeeply in LoveHangin' Out and Makin' OutResolutions Made and Broken