We lived in an L-shaped house, with white siding and black fake shutters. My friend Kim lived across the street. On Saturday mornings, we’d sit cross-legged on the basement floor in front of the TV and watch The Monkees. We’d play Chinese checkers, a game that became one of my favorites because I liked the marbles used for playing pieces. We’d draw hopscotch grids on the sidewalk, where, again, my creativity was on display as I invariably drew the grid the same way every time: one square, then two, then one, then two, until there were ten.
This is a true story. I haven’t changed any names. It will be published over a series of posts in the coming days and weeks. Previous post: Longing For Home.
Of course, like any little girl, there were things that scared me.
We lived close to Dulles Airport and the planes would sometimes fly far too low for my comfort, seeming to come right down our street on their approach to the airport.
Once I skipped up the street to the home of a new little girl who had recently moved to the neighborhood. When her mother answered my knock at the door, she scolded me in a thick accent and told my firmly “You are forbidden!” I didn’t even know what that word meant.
Then there was the time that my dad had an epileptic seizure on the kitchen floor. I remember seeing the ambulance roll up in front of my house, before I was hustled off to a neighbor’s house.But in general, my memories of that time overflow with the delightful joyfulness of being a kid living in suburbia in the 1960s. My father was active with the Jaycees, and I happily took advantage of my position as a child of privilege when it came to things like the Jaycees’ summer carnival or their annual Easter egg hunt. At the carnival, I had all the ride tickets I wanted for free, and I rode the Tilt-A-Whirl until it made me nauseous. For the Easter egg hunt, the lucky finder of one of the five golden eggs would win a giant blow-up bunny. Like all daddies who want only for their little girl to be happy, my father made sure my disappointment in not locating one of the special eggs was short-lived. When we returned home after the festivities, I found that one of the giant bunnies had been reserved just for me.
So, when we suddenly packed into the car one cold winter night, and made a long drive into the mountains, along rough and winding dirt roads, it came as a bit of a shock. I had assumed my father would once again assemble his award-winning Christmas display in our front yard and we would visit Santa in the department store where my grandmother worked and robotic Christmas displays in the windows were legend.Instead, Christmas was in a log cabin. Not one of the fancy log cabin resort homes one finds nowadays nestled into the mountains. This was a real log cabin, built of split logs and plywood.
We had two sources of heat: a wood-burning stove in the kitchen and a large fireplace in the living room. The wood-burning stove was the only thing to cook on, so my mother relied on her electric skillet to prepare meals. She even learned how to make a cake in the skillet. She also learned to dress and fry up the squirrels that my dad hunted. He would sit in a lawn chair in the front yard and pick them off as they scampered across the tall pine trees, until he had enough for dinner. Mom fried them up like pork chops. They were a staple of our existence for months. Then one day, in the batch of squirrels, there was one with a nut in its mouth. Mom told my dad her squirrel frying days were over.
(Next: The New Kid in Town)