“I’m going to Connecticut?” I asked in disbelief when my mother gave me the news on an afternoon late in June 1968. I had just walked in the door after riding my bike home from the Antioch High swimming pool where I taught Red Cross swimming lessons in the mornings. I was wet and hungry and needed to eat quickly before heading back to the pool where I lifeguarded in the afternoons.
My first reaction was excitement. My older sister Brenda was expecting twins at the end of the summer and was told by her doctor to take it easy. Brenda already had three other children, aged four, five, and six. Brenda had called Mom and asked if I could help out. Brenda’s husband, Stan, was stationed at the Naval Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut.
How exciting! I was going to fly crosscountry and spend summer with my sister and play with her kids. As a bonus, I would be there when the twins were born!
My second reaction to the news was anguish. I had volunteered every summer as a teacher’s aide since I passed the Junior Lifesaving class when I was eleven years old. I practically lived at the swimming pool during the summers. I even went back after dinner to teach tiny tots and adult swim classes. But this summer was special. I was fifteen, had my work permit, and was going to get paid! And besides, I had my first boyfriend. Blush….
I went back to the pool that afternoon and told the head lifeguard and the rest of the staff that I was heading for Connecticut. They wished me luck and promised I would have a job the next summer for sure. I called my boyfriend who lived in Pittsburg (I was a Girl Scout who met this Boy Scout on a paper drive). He promised to write. I boarded the airplane on the afternoon of the 4th of July and watched fireworks explode below me as I flew across our great nation.
I’m not sure how much help I was to Brenda, but I had a wonderful time! She lived in a two story military multifamily housing unit where there were kids everywhere. Everytime I walked out with my nieces and nephew we were surrounded by neighborhood children who were more than ready to play. Having a teenager on the block who liked playing was a novelty. We played all sorts of games; Red Light Green Light, Simon Says, Dodgeball, and A Tisket a Tasket. I’d take my nieces Teresa and Susan, and nephew Stas (Polish for Stan) down to the playground where we’d spend time swinging on the swings, climbing on the monkey bars, and digging in the sand.
I learned to make kid-size lunches and do laundry for a man. I also learned how to iron clothes, although I was never skilled enough to do Stan’s uniforms. Brenda did those. I also learned how to bake a cake from scratch. Bless her soul – Brenda let me play in the kitchen. I had made the standard cookies – oatmeal and sugar – at home, but Brenda encouraged me to try something new. I made jelly thumbprints, bar cookies, and brownies without a box mix! She also taught me to make shepherd’s pie and lasagna. I had never had lasagna before and fell in love with it at first bite. Brenda gave me a copy of her Better Homes and Garden cookbook as a thank you gift. I still use it.
One day Brenda asked me to mop the kitchen floor again. With three kids running in and out the back door through the kitchen,the floor was always dirty, even minutes after it had just been mopped. While the kids were occupied, I decided to clean that gray linoleum tile floor better than it had ever been cleaned before.
I vigorously mopped the floor and then decided it needed a deeper scrub. I sat down in the middle of the floor with a pan full of Spic and Span and a steel wool pad. I scrubbed one tile until it was almost white. Brenda came in just as I finished it. I looked up expecting praise and was surprised to see a look of horror on her face. There in the middle of her kitchen floor was one twelve inch square tile that stuck out like a sore thumb. My super clean tile made all of the other tiles look terrible! Before I could do another tile, it was time to chase the kids again. It took me all summer to get three tiles as clean. Brenda said she could still see the color difference when she moved out a year later. It was a good lesson for me. A little dirt is okay.
My mother wrote once a week and made my kid sister Johnette write a note at the bottom of her letter. I loved getting my mom’s letters. She wrote about the weather, the neighbors, my cat, my friends that she saw, and how my cousins were doing. I laughed at Johnette’s notes because she complained about having to wash AND dry the dishes, vacuum AND dust the living room. My older sister Karen sent a postcard every week from her many local trips and kept me up to date on happenings at the swimming pool because her kids were on the swim team.
While I loved getting letters from home, I started to dread getting letters from my ‘boyfriend,’ Roy. The longer I was gone, the more frequent and mushier his letters got. I started to not open them and I let them pile up. “Aren’t you going to read them?” Brenda asked one day. I told her about the mushy letters. She laughed and said something about puppy love. And then she explained that I should tell Roy nicely that I’d prefer him not to be so mushy. Honesty was important in relationships, she said. I did my best explaining this in a long letter. It must have worked. The romantic stuff tapered off. We dated for a long time after I got home and he’s still a good friend.
At 7:30 am on August third, my sister came down the stairs with Stan behind holding a little suitcase. “We’re going to have some babies today!” she said and out the door they went. I jumped out of my bed on the couch, got dressed, and started cleaning the house. Not an hour later, Brenda called. “We have a boy and a girl!” I answered incredulously “But you just left the house! How can you already have two babies?”
The twins were eager to enter this world. Janice came first and thirty-eight minutes later John arrived. Janice has never let John forget that she is his older sister. Amazingly, (ahem… with my help of course) the twins were full term, with each weighing over six pounds.
Stan’s parents arrived the day the babies were born. Mary bustled in and took over the household chores while I took the kids out to play every day.
Finally the day came for the twins to come home. To my surprise I was given the honor of carrying one of them home from the hospital. No car seats in those days! Stan drove, Brenda sat in the front seat holding Janice and I sat in the backseat, holding an amazing bundle of joy named John. It was the proudest day of my life up to that point. When I look into my mental archives, I can still see that tiny little face.
You’re probably wondering why I’m reminiscing about a summer in Connecticut. Well, I just got back from a family birthday party. Who’d have thought fifty years ago that I would be raising a glass of craft brew in a toast to celebrate the twins’ 50th birthday?
Happy birthday Janice and John. I’m looking forward to your 75th!