• Summer and My First Kiss

    by Jane Roland

    I left you with our move into Tucson and relocation into a very small apartment from a large house. This was accomplished by my mother who, although fiercely independent, had few physical responsibilities. After a few months she found a house near the University which accommodated her furniture, in storage since a week after my father’s untimely demise.

    The summers were blazingly hot and Mother accepted an invitation to visit her friends, the Eichelsdoerfers (Mary nee Hill was my godmother). Their son, Howard, had been a companion of mine at Governors Island; however he was several years older and, at the time of our visit in 1942 had enlisted in the Army.

    We took The Southern Pacific Railway across country. Those of you who are older (I refuse to use elderly, it sounds SO old) will understand when I say these memories come in flashes, a little here, a little there, a sudden remembrance of names and places. We were in a compartment, but Mother was sociable and ingenious. Before long she had befriended those in the adjoining room; soon there was a “suite” where the adults could play bridge.

    The train released us in Indianapolis, just south of our destination, where we were met by our hosts. I was not an attractive little girl. Long gone were the golden curls and come hither smile.  My hair was brown, straight; I was bespectacled, too tall for my age and slightly chubby. Aunt Mary took one look at the child whom she had last seen years before and determined to make changes.

    The population was just under 10,000 and was around nine miles in circumference. It was a typical small Mid Western town, large old wooden houses on quiet streets. I recall the town square where the businesses thrived. Mary immediately took me to the local beautician for a permanent, told me to remove my glasses when I was in public, shopped for clothing, and put me on a diet. The lack of glasses was a challenge. I was severely myopic and could see nothing more than a few feet away. As I grew older, I removed the spectacles out of vanity. When I did not, even my mother would say “Janie, take off those damn glasses” (a sentiment echoed by my former husband). I walked down the street, passing people whom I knew, and was soon considered a snob, when I simply hadn’t recognized them.

    The clothing part of Aunt Mary’s project I quite liked, as Mother had a penchant for brown and two of everything and she also thought orthopedic oxfords were appropriate. Mary put me in sandals.

    I made friends quickly. There were two children living a block away, George and Jane Breedlove, with whom I became close. We would ride our bikes all over the area, stopping at the covered bridge to toss stones in the river and attempt to catch an errant fish. Once, when riding home I detected a black surface on the road, sensing no problem I rode over and down into the fresh tar.   That mishap involved hours standing in the kitchen with Mary rubbing my body with mineral spirits.  The smell and sticky substance lingered for weeks, or so it seemed. Shelbyville had tomato farms all around. We children would go and pick for a nickel a fruit, we did it for fun and the entertainment lasted very briefly.

    You wonder what my mother was doing all of this time. She was relatively young – early fifties and very attractive. A minx with very blue eyes. There were not many single men around but those who were came courting. Mother had slipped on the sidewalk when we arrived and was relegated to a large degree to sitting on the front porch and holding court. The gentlemen callers would arrive for a drink (Mother’s was strong bourbon or martinis, but never more than two).  One of the suitors brought her a cane with an elk on it (from the club which was the town’s social headquarters and the site of Sunday dinners) … she looked at the stick and said “Oh, in Pebble Beach they used to come and eat the roses.” (How well I understand that comment, we feed our deer dessert often.)

    Mary was not much of a cook. For lunch we always had peanut butter, tomatoes and bacon sandwiches, because I had an expressed a fondness for them early on (but not every day, please!). Her meat was over-cooked and chicken soggy. Ice cream finished the repast. She was a sour woman; her husband had not fared well in retirement. There was not much to do for an Army colonel, an equestrian and adventurer. He succumbed to “demon rum” and often would stumble in the house and up the stairs. He was as kind and gentle as she was cross.

    There was a park in the middle of the town square where they held a Fourth of July picnic. Think of William Inge and you have the dynamics. Folks bid on pies, tossed horseshoes, there were little booths where the unchallengeable could be challenged. A large scale would weigh and tell fortunes, imagine. There were some fireworks. As we approach the celebration this year, I think back – George kissed me on the cheek as we sat under a tree. It was the highlight of my summer and first kiss.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 9, 2013

    Topics: Animal Tales and Other Random Thoughts

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