With the divorce colouring how I saw everything as a child, you may think that I have no happy memories. But you would be mistaken.
I was visiting my dad’s brother and his family. One of my cousins was 4 months older than me, so she and I were almost sisters at one point. Well, it was summertime and we stayed in a tent one night… sneaking out of the tent and walking along the disused train tracks to meet up with a couple of boys. I was of an age when a boy kissing me was a Seriously Big Deal so, looking back as an adult, it seems all very innocent. The worst part about that evening? I could not stop passing wind! Some tall, tanned and rugged boy tried to kiss me and I would have to keep moving because I just couldn’t stop emitting terrible smells. How fast do farts travel? Faster than romance, that’s for sure!
My cousin developed diabetes and died just a few days before my baby sister got married so, although I missed my cousin’s funeral, I was able to console her family. Now I’m older than she will ever be and, when I allow myself to think about it, I steep in melancholy like a teabag in hot water. If you were to draw me, sad wavy lines would emit from my tearful eyes.
Summer weekends with Dad were spent on a lake with a couple of his brothers and their families. The Hammer Entourage would descend upon lakeside in campervan and Winnebago. The children would be turned out to play; the brothers would grab some suds and go fishing and the ladies would sit together giggling.
I spent summer breaks with Dad going to/from Ohio and seeing the whole of the Hammer family. We would stay with Dad’s Aunt and Uncle (It didn’t occur to me to ask why Dad called them Aunt and Uncle until I was older and I discovered that these people were official my Great Aunt and Great Uncle.) and I loved visiting them every summer. Everything about that time was a sweet relief – from the hills that tickled my stomach as I was driven at speed from relative to relative, to the gentle mocking that everyone engaged in. The summer evenings were spent on their screened porch listening to the crickets and cicadas. They had an above-ground pool and, as I got older, I “worked on my tan” in order to try to catch the eye of some unsuspecting but cute boy. When I stood outside Aunt Josephine’s house, I would look across the hills and see fields in a variety of greens spread like a favourite quilt before the bed is made… I always loved visiting because I had no real expectations. If I wanted to hide in the basement from the heat of the day, I could. We all had what my friends now call “a drawl”. The men would talk about hunting, guns, cars and women; and because I hated to feel left out, I listened in and learned how men communicate.
For me, the two visits that Mom and I took to California have become an amalgam in my mind. I was young and remember the sorts of things that a child would remember: calling Koi Carp Kiss-Fish because I thought they were kissing the sides of their pond, my cousins shouting “Mallard!” and then smacking me in the back of the head. (Ouch! I should have ducked!) I made a mental note of where all the doorways were and how quickly I could get to them in case of earthquake. Grandma driving through Los Gatos and, every time, she looked at me and said “Los Gatos means The Cats in Spanish.” Music Box Dancer was on the radio and, as Grandma drove along the beautiful green mountains, I imagined a horse prancing along the mountains around us.
Summers with Mom were spent with Mom, Grandma and Iris until Grandma died and Iris got Alzheimers. Louise was born after Grandma died, but I like to think that Grandma came to see her last and youngest grandchild sometime after Lou-Lou was born.
On one of their visits, they took me to Allerton Park – an English styled Manor House and Garden outside a sleepy village called Monticello. We wandered through the shade around the lake. Grandma was already on great terms with her oncologist- not that I knew what that was at the time. She had been invited to a Halloween party and she threatened to go as a Wood Nymph. I think Grandma and Iris must have thought I was in my own little world but I had been listening and I asked what a wood nymph was. Our poured a nervous laugh! How do you tell a child that you threatened to go to a Halloween party in your birthday suit?! I cannot remember how the told me and I don’t really remember my reaction but it must have been Eewwwwww! Grandma!