As I write, I remember more and more, and one thing I was thinking about was the plane trip we took to Texas to Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Eddie's house. We didn't know them at all, only by letter, and we were seven and nine years old, going by ourselves.
When I saw the big plane and the engines started, I cried, but I got on. The stewardess came around to us, and seeing how scared I was, she asked if I wanted to help pass out napkins. Back then the airline passengers got a full meal. I, of course said yes. After the meal, a woman traveling alone said, "sit with me." I only found out afterward that this was the actress Nanette Fabray. I still remember her white sundress with big red strawberries on it.
We stopped and changed planes in Chicago, met by a friend of Uncle Eddie's. He stayed with us until we boarded. This trip lasted eight hours, a long day.
We would go all day, non-stop, only breaking once in a while for lunch with Dad and Grandma, to hear some railroad stories of the day and listen on the radio to the “Sage of the Shongums,” as he was known locally. Then we were off again to find some fun, which was easy.
There were many things to explore, including the so-called “Haunted House” next door, where we would go for our daily scare and try once again to open the safe that had been left behind in what used to be an office. Then we would go off to the barn behind the house to see the skeleton of a dead dog. This was finally enough, so both of us would go home.
Down at the end of the yard was the old barn cellar, which our father was using as a dump, as had his ancestors. We would find things we thought had been lost only to realize that Dad had thrown them out. We’d joyfully bring our treasures back home much to Dad’s horror.
Nancy and I would go to Aunt Emily's with Grandma in the summer on Fridays. We had fun there. Uncle Ralph had a huge garden and pets. One was a fox named Jenny. You couldn't touch it; it was mean. I don't know where it came from or what happened to it.
Before we had a pool, we went down to Aunt Lila's to swim in the home-made pool fed by the stream. Boy, was that cold! Of course it had snakes, frogs, and crayfish in it, but it still felt good on a hot day.
Daddy's brother, Uncle Ed, lived across the street. He had one daughter, Dorothy, but we didn't see much of them. Aunt Mickey, Dad’s sister, had two boys, much older than we were. We would see them when they would come to see Grandma and, otherwise, once in a while. Aunt Mickey and her second husband, Uncle Denny, would take us for a ride; that was nice because we liked to go.
Grandma's eldest daughter had one child, a girl, Althea, but we hardly ever saw that family. I don't even remember where they lived.
At the top of the hill under the big tree it was moss-covered. We would lie there in the sun for hours. Many years later, I wrote a poem remembering these days:
When I was young and feeling free,
I'd love to go to my favorite tree,
Across the road and up the hill,
Where the sun was hot and the air was still.
There I lay for hours on,
Never caring where time had gone.
Now I'm older and reminisce,
But these are the times I dearly miss.
They were great times! Some days we would pack a lunch, buy a soda, and have a picnic. We always found things to do, alone or with the others. The boys next door would put on puppet shows and charged two cents to attend. You got some raw green beans, too.
We would also go on treasure hunts. We thought once we had found gold. We were excited to think that we were rich. We brought it home for Dad to see, only to be told, “That‘s fool‘s gold.” We were really sad.
We were also looking for arrowheads, but I don't think we ever found any. Nancy and I loved to go exploring and frog catching in the stream by the Y playground. We would always let the frogs go. You could go through the Y playground, over the stream, through Mrs. Glocker's grape vineyard, and next by the body shop, and on over the hill to the house. One summer we had a job picking rocks from the grape vineyard. We got $0.50 for the day and all the grapes we could eat.
One summer, Mommy bought us a tent. We decided we were going to stay in it all night. It was Nancy, me, and our two cousins. We bought chips, soda, candy, and made sandwiches. We got all our blankets, pillows, and went to bed after eating. We lasted until it got really dark and we heard strange sounds. I don't think we even packed up. We just ran right up to Grandma. That was the end of that idea.
Around 1960, Mommy got us our first big pool, 4 feet deep, and we took advantage of that. We spent many hours in it, as it had a deck all around it. In 1963, Doreen was in the Miss Montgomery contest. She would practice walking around the deck of the pool in her heels and swimsuit. She came in third.
We spent summers trying to get a tan. One summer, 1964, someone told me to put on baby oil. We didn't have any, so the closest thing I could find was Vaseline hair tonic. I got one major sunburn and a lot of pain. Two days later was the last day of school. I was beet red with blisters, a lesson learned for sure.
One summer Nancy put a product in her blonde hair, and when she went in the pool, it turned it green; for a long time she was called “Sally the green-haired turtle." Nancy was also called "Uncle Wes." She was a poor sport at losing in games, and would either storm off or drop the board game, much the same as he would, according to Dad.
I wrote of the trip to Texas by Doreen and me one summer when Nancy and I were nine and 11. We also went to New York City to spend a week with a friend of Mommy’s, Ronnie Ryan, a beautiful, slender woman with long, red hair, a pageboy haircut with a bang over one eye (like Veronica Lake), sunglasses, red lipstick, slacks, and white blouses always and flats. We hated the visit and cried the first night, it was so hot in her apartment; we even claimed the mashed potatoes were awful. She took us to Central Park, Rye Playland, and shopping, We stayed for a week, coming and going by bus.
We loved it when Ronnie came to visit. We would watch her clean her face with Pond’s face cream and get ready to go uptown to the local hangout. My mother and father said people would ask "When is Ronnie coming up again?"
We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's delightful memoir, Home is Where the Story Begins; Memoir of a Happy Childhood. Published by Outskirts Press and available from OP and from online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com, the memoir tells of growing up in tiny Maybrook, NY, in the 1950s and 1960s.
I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. You are invited to see my site, http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com.
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