Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sister Nancy, HOME IS WHERE...

         Nancy, my younger sister, was my constant playmate and roommate until 1963, when I got my own room. We were always together; we got our new bikes at the same time, for our birthdays. I was 12 and Nancy was 10; my bike was red; hers, green. We put a lot of miles on those bikes: uptown, down to the candy store, over to our Cousin Pam‘s, up to the post office, on to Chaffee’s, Watt’s Drugstore for ice cream, or to the Y.M.C. A. for ice cream or candy.

         Nancy and I would sometimes go, to the house we called “The Red House,” next to our yard. It was empty for years. We would go exploring and scaring each other for fun. I guess it was a rooming house for the railroad years ago.

         We would go looking for hickory nuts or berries, and across the street we would look for arrowheads. By the stream, there was watercress that we would pick and take home. Some days, we would be gone all day. There were times when we would pack a lunch, go across the street, up the hill, and sit on the moss; after we ate, we would lie in the sun and watch the cars go by.

         Growing up, we had a toy box in the kitchen. We had Tinker Toys, Pick-up Sticks, little Pocket Books. We also had a  tin doll house, with plastic furniture, Old Maid cards, checkers, roller skates, but mostly we stayed outside, looking for stuff to do, such as tag, kickball, hide-and-seek, dodge ball. There were always things to do inside, also.

         Mommy and Daddy had a cabinet filled with old records. We would look through them and pick out a few to listen to; there were Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Harry James, and Perry Como. Many years later, Mommy started our own record collection off by bringing home Bill Haley and His Comets’  “Rock Around the Clock,” and then came Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Connie Frances, and many, many more. We would turn the record player on in the living room and play them.

      Nancy and I would play upstairs with the wind-up Victrola and we would also roll each other down to the railroad in a wrecked baby stroller. We played out in the chicken coop. There were not many chickens. Grandma would go out to the coop, and we would have chicken for supper. We just didn't see the deed, thank God. Nancy and I would explore out in the shed: old tools, the horse sleigh, a grinder to sharpen tools. A lot of these things Grandma ended up donating to Museum Village.

         Our friends Roseanne and Linda loved to come over. They adored Daddy. A few years later, Linda’s mom, Marge, had a late-in-life baby. I think it was 1963. The baby loved Daddy, too, and when they brought the baby over, he would carry her around. She called Dad “Ernie.” When she married many years later, that was the name of the man she married.

         Nancy and I loved Capt. Kangaroo; every morning at 8 a.m. we would sit in front of the TV. On “crafts day,” we would wait to hear what he was going to make and what we would need in order to make the same thing, for one example: crayons, colored paper, scissors, okay so far, and then he said “a shoe box;" well, that ended that. We only got two pairs of shoes a year when we were young and had no extra shoe boxes. That took care of crafts that day and Capt. Kangaroo; we were off to do something else. 

         Nancy and I would watch television on Saturday, the usual fare: cartoons Fury, Flicka, Sky King, and The Dead-End Kids in the afternoon. We had living room furniture that had wooden arms. We would each take an arm, and use it as a horse for Fury and as an airplane seat for Sky King. We had good imaginations and fun at any time. You could hide in many places in the house: upstairs there was a closet and inside, in the back of the closet, was a door and two steps down were two rooms. We were told years ago they were servant quarters.

            Nancy was great company for me when I was really sick or she was sick. We would play cards or board games. When we weren’t sick, but just bored, we could always find something to do together. When no one was home and Grandma was napping, long before caller I D, we would make prank calls. We would order a taxi for Mrs. Glocker or a pizza delivery for Mrs. Mietta or make that most beloved call to the store, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Well you better let him out."

              Another call was, "Is your refrigerator running? You’d better go after it."

              We didn't do this too often, only when we were really bored. Then we got older and switched to calling boys, only local boys. We couldn’t call long distance, too expensive. I've told you much about Nancy, but I thought of a couple of more things, one of which occurred on a Sunday when Aunt Toddy and Uncle Bill came in the afternoon for a visit; Mommy asked if they would like to stay for dinner.

             There was always enough, but this one day she didn't make any dessert, so to us Mommy said, "All I have is ice cream, and not enough for all, so when I ask you if you want some, say, ‘No thanks, I’m full.’"

             Around the table Mom went, and it was going well until she got to Nancy. 

            “Just one scoop, please, just one scoop,” Nancy said, as Mommy gave her The Look.

            Nancy got her ice cream, though.

            One more Nancy story relates to her closeness to Grandma. She was alone with Gram for two years after I started school, so when Gram began to decline, it was very hard on Nancy. At school we went for a full day, naps included. Nancy initially refused to go to school. No one could get her onto the bus, and when they finally did, she cried, so Grandma went to kindergarten for awhile. I don’t remember for how long.

             We went on a picnic when I was about 3½, over to the swimming hole. I don’t know who we went with, but at some time Nancy became missing. Mommy said that everyone ran in different directions looking for her. It took awhile, but she was found at the end of the road, unharmed.

            When Nancy was a baby, Mommy had her in the baby carriage, all wrapped up. It was winter. We took her down to the railroad and left her there---me, Doreen, and Linda from across the street. There's a photo of us after we brought her back, and Nancy’s eyes were beet red from crying. I don't know if we were trying to get rid of her or not.

             I have heard that when I was born, Doreen tried to take the screws out of my crib. Guess she didn't want me around, either.

            I believe everything happens for a reason, and if it were not for my first diagnosis, I wouldn't have started this book. I started it for my two grandsons. Every time I go up North to their house, they love to have me tell them stories of my childhood, and of course they know Aunt Nancy and Aunt Doreen.

           On one visit, they asked me what Nancy and I did all day when we were kids. I said, "We did this crazy thing. We went outside all day, playing games, and visiting friends and neighbors.”

           Daddy always said that no grass grew under our feet. Nancy and I would sit under the tree and plan our next adventure.

           There was a girl who lived down by the Y.M.C.A., not far from our house. She would come by often and ask if she could play with us. We always said she couldn‘t, but one day when she came over, we said yes; of course, she had no idea what we had planned. You see, she had long curly hair, and to be mean we put bird ox in it. If you don't know what bird ox is, it is little balls of stickers, almost impossible to get out of your hair or off your clothes. I still feel bad about this. It was really mean. We never did anything like that ever again.

         One summer, they were paving a new road through town right past our house. Nancy and I set up a lemonade stand and sold about one dollar’s worth before stopping, then we split the money and went right to Sandy's for some candy and a popsicle. Once in a while, Uncle Bill would take us to Walden for a pizza at the Subway Restaurant or to the Crossroads for a milkshake. We always enjoyed those times.

         Choosing gifts to give was important for us. We thought hard for weeks before Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, or birthdays. Nancy and I would walk up and down the aisles of the local five-and-ten-cent store until we found just the right things. For Daddy, we would get work gloves, hankies, or Old Spice cologne. Grandma would get a pin or hair comb or a figurine. Mommy was the hardest; one time we got her a big bottle of apple perfume; she was very kind to wear it. One anniversary, Nancy and I made dinner for Mom and Dad; we worked on the menu for days: stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy and home-made muffins. They said it was great.

            Nancy and I shared the same bedroom for years. Before this, the three of us slept in the big bed together. One of the first memories I have is being in that bedroom standing next to a painted green dresser, getting my PJs on after a bath, probably at three years old. I was told that either Nancy or I would often wet the bed.

            Doreen moved upstairs to her own room, and we got twin beds. Then, at the age of 15, in November 1963, I got new furniture, a full-size bed and my own room. Nancy moved upstairs across from Doreen.

     That was our practice. When each sister reached 15, she got to pick out a new bedroom suite of furniture. I remember the day I got my turn. It was easy to remember (and I have the best memory in the family), as it was the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. I was excited for myself but sad for the country’s loss. I did get my very own bedroom for myself, the most treasured private space. But---oh, no---I was lonely and missed the before-drifting-off-to-sleep chatting with Nancy.

             Nancy had a few toys that were stuffed animals. One was a dog. We got into a fight over something---I don't remember what it was. I took the stuffed dog down by the railroad where there was a shed that had a big barrel of melted tar in it. I put the toy dog in the tar, and of course it was all over us, too. We got into big trouble.

             I guess we spent a few years in the same bed because we only had potbelly stoves and fireplaces for heat. Mommy went to work to earn the money to put heating and plumbing into the house. I remember the heat’s being put in. It was a happy day. Daddy kept it at 78°. He wanted us to be warm. The big house needed no air conditioner in the summer, as the big door would be shut and the windows closed and the green shades pulled down; when we came in from outside, it was always cool.

            I do not know if we loved winter or summer more. We took the bus to and from school, before we moved to the big school, and we could walk home often on a nice day or on the last day of school. It took us about one half-hour to walk home, and sometimes Grandma would be napping, so the door was locked. There were two windows by the front door that opened, and you could reach in for the big key and then open the door. When Frisky was still alive, he would be at the end of the driveway waiting for us. He seemed to know what time we were coming home, and he would be so excited to see us, then he’d go wait for Dad at the end of the path to the railroad.

            Nancy and I were the Bobbsey twins, always together in good times and bad. We always had each other's back. At night before we went to sleep, we would make plans for the next day, depending on the time of the year and, of course, whether one of us had school.

      Nancy married a friend of Bucky's, Bobby, and they had one son and one granddaughter. Bob was a great guy; he died too early, in 2005, after an illness of one year.

         Nancy and I are still very close emotionally; she lives in Walden around the corner from our daughter and grandsons; they love her to death. We have many great memories that we cherish.


We are serializing the recently published memoir, Home is Where the Story Begins, by Kathleen Blake Shields, one of the "three Blake girls" who were well known while growing up in tiny Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 60s. I am proud to have coached and edited for Kathy's upbeat book, published by Outskirts Press and available from OP as well as from and and other on-line booksellers.

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