MY HOUSE ON THE CHURCH SIDE
Being different is not the same as not belonging. It may be a cause for not belonging but being different stands alone. I grew up being told I was different, not because of being the only girl in a neighborhood of boys (and I had two brothers, no sisters) but because we were the only family without a father in the house. It was quite unusual in those days and in our neck of the woods.
We weren’t confined to the back yard but allowed to roam as long as we didn’t cross the busy streets that defined the neighborhood. I didn’t have an ounce of shyness in me then, not even internally. That came later when I would have to push myself forward.
A half block up Liberty Street was a neighbor who also lived in a semi-detached house. He owned two lots alongside his house that were planted in vegetables but mostly in flowers. At 7 years old I would stop my bike and talk to him through the fence while he worked. He never encouraged it but he didn’t reject me either. One summer day I asked, “How come I always see you outside working but I have never seen your wife. You have a wife, don’t you? And how about kids. Do you have kids? I’ve never seen any.”
He explained to me that their children were grown up with households of their own and that his wife was very ill and liked to be quiet. I quickly followed up with, “Why did you build a swimming pool if you don’t have kids?”
These were the days when the only swimming pools were community pools that you needed to pay to get in. Woodlawn was the pool we went to once a week in the summer with the school playground program. It was a 2 mile walk, one way.
He patiently explained that he built his pool (a wooden structure 5 feet high, about 10 feet long and 8 feet wide) for exorcise, told me to never come in the yard without his invitation. I think this came after I told him about my climbing adventures on the church fence. He also invited my brother and me to come swim in his pool on a day he selected, with a written consent from my mother. We went two or three times and loved it, respected his rules and never pushed ourselves on his generosity.
His generosity expanded to giving me fresh flowers for my mother on Mother’s Day after I told him that I rode four blocks away to the cemetery to pick some flowers from the gravestones for Mom on Easter. He kindly but firmly explained why I should never, ever do that again, that if I needed flowers to come ask him. I never picked flowers from the cemetery again.
Category Archives: women writers
MY HOUSE ON THE CHURCH SIDE
I learned early on about not belonging. It came from the 13 boys in the neighborhood and no girls until I was about 9 or 10. That’s a lot of formative years and trying to fit in. It’s what toughened me up and I learned to work harder, hiding my tears when I was hurt, couldn’t let them show, not in a bunch of boys. They would have shunned me for sure.
It was in kindergarten that I found my first friend who didn’t fit in either. He didn’t because Nathaniel was black. In a school of 7 grades, one being kindergarten, and less than 20 kids per grade, there were only 5 black kids in the school. We also had a couple Jewish families, a Mexican family, a couple Irish families, several Italian families, some Polish families, and a family from down south. A block over from my house was Gail, who was blind but she went to a special school for the blind in Trenton.
Our kindergarten class was scheduled to perform on stage at the end of the school year. We had learned to play instruments like triangles, birds (that had water in them and gave a whistle sound) and jingle bells on a string. We also had to perform a dance at which Nathaniel became my partner. I chose him because he was different. I already knew about not belonging and sensed that he knew it too. We remained friends until he moved to Trenton in the fourth or fifth grade.
Of course I did have classmates that were girlfriends even in kindergarten but they lived blocks away. I didn’t get a 2-wheeled bike until I was in second grade. Then I could ride the whole neighborhood (about 8 blocks long and 4 blocks deep surrounded by major roadways) but by then friendships had already been formed and I was always the third person out. I ventured to ride to Nathaniel’s which was on the far side of the square. He only got to my house once because he didn’t have a bike and it was a long way to walk. I pretty much remained a loner until the fourth or fifth grade when Roberta moved a block away from me.
I learned about belonging or not, about being different early in life and it remained with me until I finally embraced it as a blessing. It gave me leadership opportunities, pushed me with courage and taught me to make my own place.
HAVE I TOLD YOU? Booksigning for Ellie Newbauer went beautifully well today at the Rosemont Winery. A good turnout of friends from near and far on a lovely, sunny afternoon raised glasses in tribute to our 92 year old leader of the pack. Many HAVE I TOLD YOU? Conversations were carried on. We each read a page from Ellie’s book before we asked her to do the same.
What are snowy days for? To start a 1,000 piece puzzle of Nancy Drew book covers. That’s what. The puzzle takes me back to when my brother Bob and I put a jigsaw puzzle together on the dining room table. Always after the Christmas holidays were over. We wouldn’t need that table until Easter.
The subject of Nancy Drew took me back, too. I loved her books! I could hardly wait until library day at school, even though the librarian would not allow me more than two books! How unfair! That means I would go for days on end without a good book to read. Of course I wanted to be Nancy Drew.
Fast-forward to the time I opened a new, used & rare bookshop in the 90s. Gary Wheelock offered me the opportunity to meet a Nancy Drew author! WOW! Until then I had no clue that the stories were written by multiply writers. Carolyn Keene was the listed author on the cover of all the series. I went straight to the internet to do some research. Edward Stratemeyer created the series as a female counterpart to the Hardy Boys series.
Well, as least I would have the thrill of meeting one of the esteemed authors. Feeling like a 50 year old groupie I joined Gary in the visit. Some thrill! She was a miserable, unhappy woman who felt no pleasure, no pride in being the writer of the few books about Nancy Drew that she wrote, that were adored by millions of girls. It devastated me. A numbness settled on me. All my happy images of Nancy Drew and all they entailed slapped out of me by this empty woman.
Time passed as I realized that there were many other authors that I could still look up to with anticipation of meeting them. And I have. No more Nancy Drew authors, but there you have it.