When you’re a military kid, every house is temporary, usually only lived in for three years or so, then you pack up and move on.
We’d arrive in a new town with almost nothing; no house, no friends, no school, and aside from what we carried with us, no possessions.
It would eventually become a pseudo-home, but it wasn’t a hometown, with history, extended family, and friends that you’ve known since diapers.
Living this nomadic life meant that our parents’ hometowns were designated “home”.
Dad’s from Pittsburgh and on visits, we’d stay with his parents, Granny and Pap-Pap. They lived in a house built right into a steep hill, so the kitchen and basement were on the same level, up the narrow, steep stairs, were the bedrooms and Pap Pap’s workroom, where there was a door which opened up right on to the backyard.
It was as if the house had sprung from of the slightly creepy, Byzantine imagination of Roald Dahl.
My mom’s parents died years before she met my dad.
So, our home base in Jersey was at Mom’s oldest sister, my Aunt Polly and her husband Uncle Bill’s, our surrogate grandparents. They had a huge yard, a damp, cool, slightly mysterious cellar that was under the house, and a kitchen cupboard dedicated to cookies, candy, and chips.
When we lived on the east coast, we would often spend Christmas at both homes; a few days in one, six hours on a turnpike, then a few days in the other.
This particular year we spent the first portion of our trip in Jersey, so we were there when Santa came and opened our presents there.
One of my presents was a baby doll, but not just any old baby doll. She was a Vogue doll, a well-made, beautiful baby with brown hair and bangs like mine, a soft body, and the sweetest expression. Vogue dolls were the Rolls Royce of toy dolls; in today’s dollars, it cost about $100. It was my main gift from the jolly fat man.
A couple of days later our family was in Pittsburgh. Once there, I was happily swilling my grandmother’s homemade grape juice, eating her potato bread, and following my older cousins Cookie and Gerry around like a Christmas puppy.
The first evening after dinner, my two-year-old brother Bud and I went upstairs to change into our pajamas. I came downstairs, and my little brother hurried after, not wanting to be upstairs by himself.
He took the first couple of steps, then lost his footing and tumbled down the rest of those treacherous stairs. He landed in a heap at the bottom. My mom, a world-renown worrywart and nervous mother was a writhing ball of frantic.
Luckily, the only injury was a busted lip. They cleaned him up and settled in for a night of keeping Bud awake to watch for signs of concussion.
Then something rather curious happened.
My bro had been wailing away, non-stop, ever since he fell. When I came over to him, holding my fancy new doll, he suddenly stopped. He was fascinated by her, and the only thing that kept him from hysterics was holding her. I was persuaded to temporarily turn her over to calm him down.
I never got her back.
He named her Susan, shaved her head, and gave her a face tattoo with a magic marker. She was his constant companion for years.
To be honest, I don’t think Susan would have gotten from me anywhere near the love and devotion he showered upon her.
So, that injury-induced change of custody was probably for the best.
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