sunlight filters warmth into the library windows while Bob works with tiny brown leaves places them on small white papers lines up the leaves rolls all the leaves into a tube my five year old self mesmerized My favorite part he licks his tongue on the white paper so it all stays together
The tubes are my fingers’ size
he make the tubes over and over I love Bob mother calls him father others call him Doctor or the Maj
he sits back in his favorite chair in the library he stretches puts a match to the tiny tube then into his mouth he breaths out puffs of white and gray
“Tommy, Mother has gone to the hospital. Soon we will have a new baby in the family. Maybe even tonight.”
“I hope it is a boy.” said my five-year old brother, Tommy. “Someone I can play ball with.”
“I want a sister. Yes, I think it should be a baby sister. I am sure that she will be able to run and play with you Tommy.”
Ted and Jean Bloch were taking care of us while Mother and Daddy were at the hospital waiting for the baby to pop out. We knew that Mother had a big belly so we thought she would just break like a balloon. We were so excited to have a new family member.
I remember before my brother was born. My father asked me what should we call the baby if it is a boy? I said, “Tommy. Mamie has a Tom, so we need a Tommy.”
Early the next morning, Jean Bloch came to give us the big news.
“You now have a new little sister, Kathleen. She is named for Aunt Sis, Grandmother’s sister.”
“Where is she? I want to see her with my own eyes.” I jumped at this news.
Jean told us that Mother and our new little sister would be home in about two weeks.
“How can we ever wait that long? Can’t we go to see her and mother in the hospital? Why not?
Jean comforted my brother and me. “What you can do is to make sure that the room is ready for her. Let’s go into your mother and father’s bedroom and make some preparations.”
“Is our new sister going to sleep in this cage?” My brother demanded.
Jean explained, “It is not a cage. It is called a crib. It has bars so the baby does not roll out and fall on the floor. It is just for safety. When she is bigger she will sleep in a regular bed like you and Jannie do.”
Tommy brought in some blocks and I went to get a doll for our new sister to play with.
“What about this rubber Ducky that squawks?” Tommy was jumping up and down and squawking the Ducky.
Jean went on to explain, “Kathy won’t need any hard toys for a long time. We also have to be careful about giving her things with germs.”
“Is that like things from Germany?” I asked with remembered messages about the Germans in the war.
“Not at all.” Jean countered. “Germs are things that can make people sick. You can’t see them. New babies have to get used to all sorts of things. Whatever the baby touches, she will want to put in her mouth.”
“Even our fingers?” I asked.
“Yes, so you must make sure that whenever you touch the baby that your hands are clean. Here is a rattle. If you shake it, it makes noise. After the baby is a few months old, you can give this to her. It must be clean.”
“When, when, when are they coming home?” I squeaked.
“Let’s look at the calendar. I think it will be September 23. Let’s circle that day. Everyday you can take turns crossing out the days. So tomorrow you can cross out today, Tommy. Then Jannie you can cross out the next day after it is finished. Everyday you can count to see how many days are left.” Jean offered.
Finally the day arrived. We thought it was a very, very long time even a year but it was about two weeks. Mother was sitting in the car wearing her coat with the fluffy fur that covered her mouth. In her lap was this tiny, tiny little baby. Jean had told us to wait in the house until they came in. Daddy went around to open the door and he took the baby. Then Mother got out. Daddy handed the baby back to Mother. They got out of the car by the driveway where the steps to the porch are. They walked up the steps so so slowly. We could see them from the Music Room window come up the steps. We ran to the front window and got there before them. Then they passed by the window near the front door. Daddy opened the outside door. We opened the inside door.
“Sh, sh, sh.” Mother said. “We need to use very gentle voices. This is your new sister, Kathleen. We will call her Kathy.”
“Oh, Dear little sister, we have loved you from the moment you popped out of Mommy. Can we kiss her? ” I whispered.
“Yes, dear. You and Tommy can welcome your new little sister to our family.”
We were all so happy. After all, I was eight years old and in school. Why couldn’t she be my baby?
My funniest recollection of a stream was while our family was camping in the mountains of Colorado at a fairly high elevation. We were with another family and having so much fun.
My brother Tommy and I wandered off and crossed the stream. Eventually decided we needed to get back to the camp. We had come a long way up the stream and walked back on the opposite side. There were no easy stepping-stones to cross back but we spotted a long log across the stream. It was fairly high off the water but then I was about eleven so it may not have been that high.
As we started across, Tommy was first. One of his legs fell into the stream but he got his balance and continued crawling across the log. I started laughing and then my right leg was in the water. I got back on the log and continued laughing. Then my left leg fell into the stream. The rest of me followed. All I could do was laugh as I walked through the water. “It’s as easy as falling off a log.” That thought kept returning to me as both my brother and are were in near hysteria.
When we got back to the camp, we were completely soaked. But still we kept laughing. Mother did not think it was so funny. She gave us dry clothes to put on. Once they were on, I still kept laughing until I saw my mother’s face. She was not happy.
The dining room was the hub of activity for our house. Big dinners were everyday occurrences.
By this time Ted and Jean Bloch had arrived to stay two weeks–that was a month ago. Jean and my mother worked things out well in the kitchen. I loved being in the kitchen with them as they planned the shopping list along with the ration stamps. My job was to set the table. It was to be for 8 this evening.
It was a usual family dinner except this time it was Thanksgiving. We all were gathered round the long dining room table.
A man walked into the dining room, “Good evening, It looks like a delicious meal.” He said.
“Happy Thanksgiving.” my father replied.
The man walked around the table checking out the turkey, vegetables and olives. As he walked by me, he put his hand under my chin and raised my face to look at him. He did the same thing with my brother.
“Who was that?” Ted asked.
“That was Mr. Boyer. He comes to see Miss Peabody who is currently staying in the third floor apartment.” My mother explained.
My father commented, “When we bought the house we agreed to let the previous owner, Mrs. Nordstrom use the third floor apartment for a period of five years whenever she came into town. She asked us later if her friend, Miss Peabody could stay there for a while.”
“We can’t go up the stairs to the third floor. That is off-limits.” I added.
Mother continued, “We don’t know when they are here and it is not very often. It is only Miss Peabody’s gentleman friend who feels free to come into the dining room. We don’t really mind.”
When dessert came it was that wonderful chocolate cake that mother made with the icing my brother and I liked so much. I the habit of taking off the icing to save it and eat it last.
“Jannie, you should eat the cake and the icing together.” My father requested.
“But, Daddy.” I said as my father reached over to take the icing off my plate and eat it himself.
“Oh well,” I thought. “I know where the cake lives after the meal. Everyone in the family would stop by the pantry, take off the lid that covered the cake, cut a sliver of a slice and then put the lid back on.”
I started thinking after the meal was over about how much I liked the dining room. It was a room full of surprises. One time I came in while my parents were having a party in the living room. The dining room was dark. I saw a man lying under the buffet. When I asked my mother she told me that was Buster, a friend of the family. He was fine. He was just tired and was taking a nap and that I should not wake him up.
Then there was the time my father shouted, “Look at those zebras in the back yard.”
Tommy and I raced to the window and saw nothing.
“April Fool.” My father replied.
Sometimes when my mother had really big parties, we put another table next to the regular one. Then put a really long table-cloth over both of them so it looked like one long table. She had me put little cards with people’s names on them at all the places. It was like this: one family person, one guest person, one family person, one guest person. My mother always sat at the end of the table that was near the pantry door. My father sat at the other end near the windows where there were no zebras outside.
Mother and I continued up the backstairs till they joined the front stairs to show Gof his room.
“We have two telephones.” I boasted proudly. “The first phone was in that funny room with the back stairs that we just went through with three doors–one from the kitchen, one from the entry hall, and one to the basement stairs. The second phone is right here on the second floor by the linen closet. It is funny, Sometimes, other people are talking on the phone but they don’t live here.”
My mother added, “Yes, we have a party line but it is not often that other people are on the line.”
I thought to myself, “Well, I will keep on picking up the phone to check to see if someone is on.”
“Gof, this is our room.” Mother continued. “We like it as it in in the back and we don’t hear the street cars on 47th street and can watch out the window to see the children in the back yard.”
Gof asked, “What are all those stone pieces in the the backyard by the swing? They almost look like slabs of marble.”
“Gof, we removed all the marble sinks from the closets. So now most of the bedrooms have two full closets. Your closet still has a sink in it as it is ceramic.”
Even though I am only a child, I did not like the sinks being taken out and thrown away. It seemed like pulling out someone’s eye lashes. They came with the house and they should stay with the house but Mother wanted our house to be modern.
Mother went ahead to show Gof his room at the back of the house. It was right next to the bathroom with only one door.
“I am glad to have the furniture. All I have in that department are my phonograph and records.” Gof commented.
“Yes, this was my brother Tommy’s room but now he will have the middle bedroom. Let’s show Gof Tommy’s new room.”
Tommy was with us but was a bit shy and very quiet. But then he was only four years old.
“See, Tommy gets to have a fireplace in his room and this big closet. We love to climb up the shelves and it is a pretty good place to hide. And this bathroom goes between Tommy’s new room and Mother and Dad’s room. This bedroom has four doors. One from the hall, one to the closet, one to the bathroom and one to the guest room.”
Mother showed Gof the guest room which was usually occupied.
Mother responded, “That is the door to the third floor apartment. When we bought the house, we agreed that the former owners could have use of the apartment for five years.”
“How much space is up there?” Gof asked.
“A bedroom, bathroom, living room and dining room.”
“We can’t go up there. Mother told us it is off limits.” I added.
As we went down the stairs, Gof stated. “Well, I will go to the car and get my things. You won’t mind if I play my music. I have really missed listening to the classics.”
After Gof moved in, my introduction to symphony music began. He played it in the mornings and evenings. At times, the house would shake and that was when my true love of music began.
My uncle, Gof, lived with my family in Chicago for a couple of years. He was tall, fit and walked with a hop to his step. I was glad he lived with us.
He was not one of those adults who asked kids, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” He played classical music at concert pitch, which rattled the whole house. He took bacon from the frying pan right after it had been put in. I thought that was raw. Yuck.
Gof was an idealist. He had been part of the Abraham Lincoln brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War.
My mother hated garlic. My uncle would hide garlic in the back pantry. Mother’s sensitive nose led straight to it. Sheepishly, Gof would fess up when the smelly item was found.
When my parents had parties, Gof would evaporate into his room.
Mother would never permit politics to be discussed with Gof. He belonged to the Communist party. It was known in the family but never discussed. My father was a conservative Republican. My other uncle, Jack, was a liberal Democrat. Occasionally when mother was not present, lively political debate would take place. I liked that.
One Sunday, Gof brought a woman, Joan Place, to the house. She was tall, thin, had large brown eyes, long sharp nose and dark brown hair. Her eyes danced as she talked. Her arms were continuously gesturing as she pulled us in to her stories. Joan was quite a contrast to my quiet, secretive uncle. I liked her a lot.
Gof would bring Joan over every Sunday. He smiled whenever she was there. He just kept looking at her and smiling. Not all the way he was when she wasn’t there.
The classical music at concert pitch stopped. Gof moved out. I thought it probably was to be with Joan, although it was never specifically explained.
After that Gof would come over to our house every Sunday to work on his Volkswagen. From the tall dining room windows I could see him under the car. He seemed to ride a sled to go under the car. He worked on it for hours.
Joan was in the house with the rest of the family. She loved to pick up my little sister and dance around thru the living room, dining room, music room and entry hall. She seemed to give an extra spin in front of all the fireplaces. Kathy loved it. I was too big at ten years old to be picked up. My brother, who was seven, disappeared whenever Joan arrived.
Laundry was one of the things I helped with at home. While Joan washed the clothes, I was close by and fascinated. I loved this magical woman who often danced into the room. She used her arms as magic wands to pull people close to her. When her dance was over, she graciously swooped her long danglely arms to the floor in a magnificent bow.
As I stood on a stool and stretched to put the clothes on the line, Joan said, “The idea of Communism is from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” She explained they gave a lot of money to the Communist party. That was why they lived in a small apartment. She said, “I don’t mind as long as we are helping the workers. If only everyone who could help would, the world would be a better place.”
Everyone in the family seemed happy that Gof and Joan were to be married. I was the flower girl at their wedding.
Soon after Gof and Joan were married, they moved to Beulah, Colorado, the small town where my grandmother lived.
“Today is the day that Daddy will be back with us.” my mother announced.
“Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. Will he wear his white straw hat with the black ribbon like when he worked in the bank in Chicago?” I asked.
“No, I think he will be in uniform and with a different kind of hat.” my mother responded.
“What is uniform, Mother?”
“Well, your father is in the Army. All the men wear the same type of clothes. The shirts and pants are light brown. The hats are like small boats. If you think of a very small boat that you hold in your hands, raise it up over your head and turn it over. It fits right over your head. Your father is in the Infantry.” Mother explained.
“I thought that Infants were babies. How can Daddy be a baby? I questioned.
“Your father is not a baby. The military has several different branches: the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. The Army has people who fight on the ground. They are in the Infantry. People who fight in the air are called “airmen” and are in the Air Force. People who fight on ships on the sea are called seamen. They are in the Navy.” Mother explained.
“Why are they fighting? I don’t understand.”
“That is very complicated. I think what we need to do now is get ready for Daddy’s arrival.”
My father arrived home wearing the clothes Mother told us about but he was the same Daddy as before. He looked so happy. He hugged my mother. I think she was crying. Then he picked up Tommy and swung him into the air. He picked me up too.
“Daddy, I love it here. How long can you stay? Can you stay forever and live here with us? I am mad at the camp for the boots for making you stay away.”
“I can stay for about ten days. Then I will return to boot camp. I will write you letters.”
“But Daddy, I can’t read.”
“I am sure that Mother will read them to you.”
“Yes. I will also tell her what to write to you.”
“Now let’s have some fun. Now, where is that wheel barrow?” Daddy stated.
It was so exciting to ride in the wheel barrow. My father loaded my brother and me into it. The he started running. It was so fun. We were laughing so hard that we almost fell out. It was even more fun that the train because Daddy was with us.
I was yanked out of kindergarten after only two months. That was fine with me. School did not seem nearly as fun as exploring the fields around our house in Clarendon Hills, Illinois.
That October night was dark and cold. It was so cold that I could even see my breath coming out of my mouth like it was steam. I was the big sister at five. My mother, my 2-year-old brother and I got on a very long train in downtown Chicago headed to Philadelphia.
I could not understand why Daddy had gone on a big trip. Mother told me he wanted to help his country and was going to some type of camp. Maybe it was a camp for boots. She promised us that Daddy would see us in Bethayres, Pennsylvania. That was where my grandmother, Mamie and grandfather, Bob lived. We had gone to the house before but it was in a car.
The train was so much more fun. The steps seemed so high and there were only 3 of them to mount the car. A big man took some of our suitcases.
“Why, Mommy, is that man taking our suitcases?”
” I asked you not to call me ‘Mommy’. The man is not taking our suitcases. He is helping us because we have so many. He has a special job at the train station to help people, especially families with their baggage.”
“Why can’t I call you Mommy? I call my brother Tommy and I call my father, Daddy?”
“Well, it is because your grandmother asked me to call her ‘Mother’ when I was a little girl. My father was a military doctor. We always needed to be very polite.”
My mother stooped down gave me a hug. “I love you so much. Just think of it as being respectful.”
“If I call you ‘Mother,’ do I need to do anything else?”
“No, just a smile will do, Jannie.”
I thought to myself it did not seem fair, she gets to call me Jannie but I have to call her Mother. I do really, really love her a lot. So I will be respectable.
I held my brother’s hand as he held his blankey. We had a very small room that had bunk beds, a pull down sink and a toilet behind another door. The water in the sink would slosh and slosh but did not spill. My heart pounded with excitement every time the train whistle sounded. My eyes were open as wide as they could be. Who wanted to sleep?
Mother climbed into to the upper bunk and seemed to fall asleep right away. My brother and I slept in the lower bunk at least that was my mother’s plan. Good thing she was asleep as I got out of the bed and went to watch out the window all night. It was fun to see the lights along the way. When the train stopped there were whistles and all sorts of shouting. In the morning, the three of us slipped out of our bunks and went to look for breakfast. BREAKFAST ON A TRAIN!!! Who wouldn’t want that? The breakfast car had small tables on each side with really big windows so we could see everything. The tables had white material on them like I remembered from my grandmother’s house. Even little glasses with flowers on the table. I could not understand why people were not looking out the windows. There was so much to see. Towns, cows, big fields and lots of space. To be on a train that was swaying and clanking on its way was so thrilling. I knew we were on a big adventure. When the train went thru towns some sort of gates came down to block cars from crossing. Bells clanged every time we went into a town. Sometimes there were lots of cars waiting for the train to get finished. Other times there were no cars at all.
Mother explained we were moving to Bethayres while Daddy was at his camp. So that is why we had so many baggages.
The Bethayres house was big. It had 3 floors and a basement. What I loved about the yard was that it was so big. The driveway had an island on it with three trees. Then the driveway went past the house to the barn. No animals in the barn but my uncle had a work room there. He had pictures tacked up on the walls. Mommy told me the pictures were of actors and actresses that my uncle worked with. I loved going to see my uncle’s office. He had a typewriter and when he visited he would do a lot of typing. We were not to disturb him when he was typing.
My grandfather, Bob, was a doctor but he was mostly sick now and stayed in bed all the time. I loved to go in and talk with him. His room had a porch attached to it. When he was not in bed he would be in the library where there were books from the floor to the ceiling. More books than I had ever seen. My most favorite thing was to watch Bob roll cigarettes. He put down a small white paper and sprinkled tea leaves on it then carefully rolled the paper around the leaves. He licked the paper so it would stay closed. When he finished it looked like he had made a lot of sticks of chalk–but there were tea leaves inside. He also liked to draw.
For me it was a new beginning that I liked a lot except that I missed Daddy. We had a big letter B on our car so that my mother could get more gas for the car.