A heartwarming story of a little girl’s time in a safe idyllic setting while her dad served in the Navy.
My children, for a good part of their formative years, were raised in a beautiful neighborhood on Washington Boulevard, Indianapolis. Like my grandchildren now, their “free time” was scheduled with school activities, sports and social commitments like lines on a dance card. Recently I reflected on a time in my early childhood when social activities were not so organized, and nearby neighbors were nonexistent.
We lived at the time in Mt. Vernon, a small city in Westchester County, New York. I had just started Kindergarten when my Dad enlisted in the Navy in 1942. Mom was less than happy when he announced this, since he was thirty-two, already a government employee, and had an exemption. But Uncle Sam said yes; he was off on a ship in the Atlantic in a very short time.
My brother, two years older, myself, and Mom moved to live in Suffern, New York. An army olive green sedan, driven by a uniformed Red Cross lady drove us there, since I had the measles. I felt a certain degree of importance to be conveyed in such a way as we headed to country living.
Suffern was a very rural area then, and we settled into a small cottage rental on Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart’s property of many acres. Bruno, a middle-aged farm hand, kept the landscaped grounds surrounding us, tended the 100 chickens brought in each Spring, and tilled several acres with a horse- pulled plough for the potatoes, beans, peas and tomatoes planted for our use and the Barnhart’s throughout the year. Watching Bruno tend to his many chores fascinated me. Our home was the rustic guest cottage. There was one pot-bellied stove for heat, and many a winter’s night Mom would put a towel-wrapped warm brick between our bed sheets for warmth. The trick was to fall asleep before it cooled off.
Though isolated, for me it was an enchanting time. I loved the country, the woods surrounding our property, the delightful trickling stream that rippled so gently through it, which birthed polliwogs that miraculously turned into frogs every spring. We named the sand bar in it “Solomon Island”. I can still hear those fluffy yellow chicks, purchased each Spring, chirping under the warming lights in the basement. I was horrified months later when Bruno decapitated one or two hens for our dinner. The big barn that housed winter hay, and all sorts of tools, certainly was the BEST playhouse ever provided two children. Mom never caught us when we built giant hay mounds to jump into from the loft ten feet above. It was hide and seek heaven, a pirate’s harbor, and a fort to ward off attacking Indians!
When fall came, my brother Jim and I walked half a mile to catch the school bus. On the way we might pass deer herds, who came out of the woods to forage for breakfast in the open fields. Their heads would snap to attention and stare us down while assessing the degree of danger we presented. Ours was literally a little red school house of four rooms for eight grades. Each room had two grades in it, and somehow young, lovely Miss Crumb kept the twelve or so students in each grade busied with instruction on one side of the room, while the other half did paper work. It was delightful, interesting, and always orderly.
Saturdays were special. Bruno drove us into the small town of Suffern. We’d go to a matinee. My first movie was the never to be forgotten Bambi, followed by an ice cream cone… surely manna from heaven. Mom would carefully count her ration stamps to see if we had enough for a roast at the butcher shop or maybe some real butter or for a pair of new shoes. It seemed that everything was rationed. I remember asking my Mother what did they put in the newspaper when there was no war. Returning to our cottage, the three of us would huddle around our radio, wrapped in blankets to tune in Kate Smith , who always ended the show singing “God Bless America.”
The best of all memories was an annual greyhound bus trip to Ringling Brother’s Barnum and Baily Circus at Madison Square Garden. Dinner followed at the Automat. While the man painted on the huge billboard above Broadway puffed his perfect, gigantic circles of smoke , we could choose whatever we wanted from walls of glass and stainless steel compartments serving individual portions of all kinds of food for our dinner. Just drop in your quarters and out the food came. No rationing stamps needed! There was Magic to me in the big city.
In the Spring of my second grade, I tearfully approached Miss Crumb, and said I had something to tell her. As I sat on her lap at the teacher’s desk, I gave her the news that Dad was coming home from the War and we had to move back to Westchester. Little did I know that she knew my Father had been discharged to be with us. Mom had cancer, and following a double mastectomy, she died the following year in the bedroom of our new home. It was the house which my Grandfather built in the early 1900’s. It was in the small town of Eastchester, 10 miles north on Route 22 from our first home in Mt. Vernon.
Looking back, I believe the independence of country living helped me to adjust well to the new, different life of growing up which lay ahead.
Contributed by: Sandra Hamilton
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