Memories of a Lifetime

Monday, March 30, 2009

In which Gabriella, Susan and I do NOT end up in a ditch somewhere

My Aunt, my mother's sister, lived in a small town in upper New York State with her husband and 5 children.

My cousins are Gabriella, Susan, Daniel, Pam and Geoff. My Aunt is Virginia and my uncle is Dan. Every summer our vacation was to go to visit them and we loved it. We ended up so close - in some ways closer than siblings - and I know my sister Leah and I always cried when it was time to leave because we loved them and would miss them. My mom and dad were both different people when we were there. Daddy had a couple beers with Uncle Dan at night and let it go at that. Mom and Aunt Virginia (Pam, who is 4 years younger than I am, once asked me "Why do you always call her Aunt Virginia?" To which I replied, "Because she is my Aunt and that is her first name". Pam said, "Why don't you call her 'Auntie Ginger-Pie instead?' and so for the rest of that summer visit I did. And Auntie Ginger-Pie would dutifully chuckle each time) would play games, cook, reminisce, and take us shopping and other fun things. We would go on organized family outings, to lakes and parks and have cook-outs. Or, we would just go outside and play.

Our cousins had a lot more freedom than we did because hideous crime hadn't really come to their little corner of the world yet. When I was 12 a man had kidnapped, raped and killed a 12 year old girl who lived not too far from me. Later, a dead girl was found in a Volkswagen in a nearby supercenter parking lot, a pair of crimes immortalized in a book called 'The Girl on The Volkswagen Floor.'

Although not as famous as the Manson case or the MacDonald murders, the tragic and unsolved murder of a young schoolteacher sent shock waves through the town in which it is set. Having grown up in Kettering, Ohio, only a block from where the "girl" of the title is found, I can testify that Clark gives an accurate assessment of the white-bread community, its values and its prejudices. On this background, he paints a compelling mystery that centers not only on the murder itself, but also on Clark's relationship with a psychic who reveals to him insights about himself and the killing. Clark, a skeptic, is eventually persuaded that the psychic is more than a lucky guesser--but how?

Anyway, in the early 70's their town was still quiet with neighborhood grocery stores (something unheard of in the "white bread" suburbs where I grew up) and quiet streets. Some streets were nicer than others as far as upkeep goes, but all in all it was a nice little town.

The summer I was 15 Aunt Virginia had to have her gall bladder taken out. In those days that was major surgery with a 5-day hospital stay. Aunt V asked that Mom and I come up so Mom could take care of us kids and Uncle Dan, keeping house and cooking meals. Of course my mother said yes, because taking care of people was one of the things she liked best.

After supper Gabriella, Susan and I would leave the house and go for walks. We'd walk the streets of town, buy Popsicles and comic books at the newstand downtown, stop and visit their friends, but mostly we would just sing "I'm the Happiest Girl in the Whole USA" which was a GIANT hit that summer (matter of fact, it was the year that song came out which helped me pinpoint this post in time.) Of the 3 of us, Gabe was the only one who could carry a tune, so she sang the loudest to drown Susan and I out.

This was our favorite time of day. It wasn't so hot out, there was always a breeze and we felt perfectly safe within the boundaries of the walks we took. There are beautiful old Victorian houses on the main street of the town and we'd look at them and make up stories about who must have lived in the and why there had been so much money in their town in times past. (We finally found out from Uncle Dan that in some vague fashion it was due to the Railroad.) And we were free of the "little kids". We knew when we got home the little kids would be in bed and the 3 of us along with my mom could play Yahtzee or some other dumb game long into the night.

One night, I don't remember why, we were out particularly late. It might have been, ahem, because we were stalking a boy I thought was cute. Anyway, we didn't get home until long past dark, probably about 10:30, maybe even 11:00. My mother was FRANTIC. Uncle Dan, not so much, of course it took a lot for him to get frantic (still does, in fact). In the midst of her rant about how worried she was and didn't we understand how dangerous it could've been she said "You could've ended up in ditch somewhere!"

I had mostly tuned her out because this is the kind of behavior I got from her every day, so it was nothing new to me. But when she pulled out the "ditch" line, Gabriella actually started laughing! I was dumbfounded! One didn't laugh at my mother when she was in a rage.

Gabe, and bless her heart I will never, ever forget this, said, "This isn't Dayton, Aunt Joan. People don't end up in ditches here."

My mother stood there like a fish out of water with her mouth hanging open. She was completely disarmed! That was when I knew that Gabriella would be one of my favorite people in the whole wide world for the rest of my life!

Uncle Dan chimed in at some point and backed Gabe up. The upshot was that we had a curfew, I think it was 10:00. I guess if we were going to successfully stalk any boys, 3-4 hours would be enough time to get it done.

I loved my time with my cousins. All 5 of them. They don't know it, or maybe they do, but they saved my life.


Blogger Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

As one of the "little ones", may I just say - Thank you so much, Claudia. Being SO young at the time (that summer I was, I think, five or six) my memories are both dim and quite different. This was a wonderful way to hear about something from my childhood I wasn't even aware of.

I had forgotten that song, and after hearing it again, I realize why.

March 30, 2009 3:29 PM  
Blogger gabriella said...

i am posting a comment

March 30, 2009 4:24 PM  
Blogger gabriella said...

I belieive your mother also referenced the Sharon Coston murder. She was a girl from Sayre about our age that was killed and dumped in a ditch in Pa. Her body was found in the spring thaw.

March 30, 2009 4:25 PM  
Blogger Claudia said...

oooh, you're right! She did! I remember her saying something about not finding us until spring. I think that was when your father walked out of the dining room and left the 3 of us on our own with her. LOL
Glad you all are enjoying them, there'll be more to come.

March 30, 2009 6:06 PM  
Blogger Claudia said...

oooh, you're right! She did! I remember her saying something about not finding us until spring. I think that was when your father walked out of the dining room and left the 3 of us on our own with her. LOL
Glad you all are enjoying them, there'll be more to come.

March 30, 2009 6:07 PM  
Blogger Claudia said...

sorry for the double post. What I meant to say was, I think it was at that time that your father walked out of the dining room and left us three girls there to fend for ourselves.

March 31, 2009 12:08 AM  
Blogger Cyn said...

I remember this as if it was yesterday..After the massacre on April 3..brought back memories of Sharon. Her brother went to school with me and she was my sister's best friend. That time was more trying than anyone could ever imagine. Part of me is happy that u remember the good times versus the bad. No one ever imagined that something like that would happen in such a small town...God Bless Cyn

April 9, 2009 5:17 PM  

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