I have a memory of the main staircase at my grandparents “Pinchpenny Farm” in Eastern Massachusetts. I also remember the horse barn and the paddock area where my aunt trained her Morgan horses. I have clear pictures in my memory of my paternal grandparents standing on the train platform as we left the station in Boston headed for Chicago. I remember my father lifting me up to push the call button, and then the train porter in his crisp white jacket coming to turn down the beds for us. I don’t remember everything about the house that we lived in, only the parts that were special to me. In his way of being, Dad had located the family on the outskirts of the city, in the very beginnings of what decades later would become suburbia on the South Side, from which he trained in every day to his downtown Chicago office.
The kitchen of the farmhouse was huge, or maybe it was only that I was not yet two years old and I was small. I can still remember the smell of the cinnamon apple sauce my mother made from the apples she’d pick in the small orchard along the side of the house. It was a large farmhouse with the farm sold off to post war housing. It stood on a large plot of land, set back off the road. The white railing of the porch wrapped around the house, and when the Midwestern storms would start to gather, Dad would sit and watch them blow in. The whole family would join him and would sit out there, counting the seconds between the lightning flashes and the thunder. I became well acquainted with the threshold. I was too “afraid” of the thunder and lightning to go out on to the porch but didn’t want to be in the house by myself. It would not be until I was a young adult that I would understand that what I had been feeling was awe, not fear. Parents so often name feelings for their children without taking the time to investigate. Because it was assumed that my reaction was one of fear, that’s how they treated me and those are the things they said to me. So I learned that I was afraid and the assumption stayed with me for years.
A few “lifetimes in this lifetime” later, I was cautioning my son, Kyle, about the ferocity of Arizona monsoons. It was our first summer in the high desert and I had to leave him alone for a few hours while I went to work. The raucous, thunder-and-lightning-filled monsoons are so much different than the Northern California rains he grew up with. He had experienced many thunderstorms as we traveled through different parts of the country, and I had tried to instill in him a sense of wonder and enjoyment about them. Yet, I wondered if he would be afraid. I can still see the look of his twelve-year-old self saying, “Mom, it’s only hot and cold air crashing together creating an electrical charge.” Better.
The Zekemanns lived across the field to the right of the house. I would brave the chickens in their yard to go and visit them. Mrs. Zekemann baked cookies and served tea and milk while Mr. Zekemann cranked up the Victrola and we danced in the parlor to the blaring “The Yellow Rose of Texas” laced with our laughter and bad singing along with Mrs. Zekemann’s hand clapping. As a pre-schooler I had some knowledge from things being said that they had been troubled in the War, and later, my heart went out to them over and over as I sat in high school history classes and realized what had happened to them and what they had left behind before they came to be living in Flossmoor, Illinois and could become our neighbors and my friends.
My room in the farm house was small and cozy and had its own little attic room which was my indoor play place. The large attic that covered the entire house was hot and smelled of wood and dust. My little attic was clean and I loved the little door with the brass latch that led to it. It was just my size and not very heavy. It was a faerie door in to my own world where I had a living area of child size furniture, stuffed animals, and books. Weekends meant Howdy Doody and Annie Oakley on Saturdays and Walt Disney on Sunday evenings. I fell in love for the first time watching Fess Parker play Davey Crockett. I wanted to be Annie Oakley, and I wanted to marry Davey Crockett. There is a photograph of me that was taken on Christmas 1954. I have shed the velvet dress and the crinoline and silk petticoats of the day and am in my underwear, my cowgirl hat and boots. I am talking on my Mickey Mouse phone as I stand behind my brand new ballerina doll that I have tied in her stroller.
Something happened in that house; something bad, but I do not remember what. I do remember that it happened to me and I could not have been older than four years old when I packed my little Mickey Mouse travel case and put my lariat over my shoulder, my cowgirl boots on my feet, and proceeded to make my first attempt at running away from home. Of course, I did not get far. I am a girl who knows what rules she can break, and at that point, crossing the street alone was not one of them. So, there I sat. My mother was there soon enough and took me home without a word and washed my mouth out with soap. Thus ended my first experience with receiving punishment for standing up for myself after having been the victim.
The happiness of my little world had been disturbed but was somewhat restored when my dad came home from his business trip to Dallas, and brought me a yellow rose with which I immediately ran to the Zekemann’s and incited the dancing and singing to begin. Soon after that, we moved to another house in another place, and I had to say goodbye to the Zekemanns, the apple trees and my faeirie house.