M. Sandra Babcock
© Copyright 2001 by M. Sandra Babcock
Adventures are the essence of childhood. Susie, my older cousin, lived miles away from me, in an exclusive section of Long Island, New York appropriately donning the title of "Huntington." They lived far from the middle class of Levittown, far from the humdrum of making ends meet. They had a swimming pool! They had a game room! They had a pool table! They had everything - Dad was reminded daily.
They also had rules - no eating outside the kitchen, no cookies and milk before bed, the "formal" living room was forbidden territory. "Forbidden", the catch phrase for all-too-inquisitive minds meant "perhaps".
On one of my visits, we were en route to Susie's bedroom when she strung her arm across the entryway to the forbidden formal living room. "We can't go in there," she said. The room was exquisite - sparkly gold things sprung from every corner, the furniture - so crisp and untouched it begged for a Good Humor chocolate-coated ice cream bar to drop onto the fine cream colored fabric or red Lick-a-Stick candy to smear across the gold inlaid flowers. I looked at Susie and she at me; a spark of mischief ran through our minds. We tiptoed into the room. Our Keds, as dirty as the dark soil in their manicured flowerbeds, slipped effortlessly across the white carpet. Oh the thrill - the absolute joy of walking through the forbidden! Until Aunt Janice caught us. I was banned from the house for several months.
On a warm June day in 1962 Uncle Roy came a'callin. He rarely visited our humble abode so this was quite special. Aunt Janice remained at home in her forbidden formal living room. I pictured her walking about the magnificence she called home in high heels, dark brown hair salon smooth with precise curl and a linen suit that snapped at the waist in perfect fit. She was a beautiful woman and I would never know what demons might have been a part of her life particularly the emotional bond she had with formality. But Susie was Susie. She bounced from their Cadillac in a pair of white cotton shorts that emphasized her long tan legs. Her squeaky clean brown hair slipped across her shoulders with a smile that was radiant and infectious. There I stood in peddle-pushers that enveloped my scrawny legs and a brown mop perched on my head epitomizing the "bad hair day" ads. Susie was who I wanted to be - my idol - and she saw no differences between us. We raced to the special spot under the staircase in the kitchen where the two-week old puppies were sleeping. Animals were special to Susie and I.
As late afternoon approached, we began our sneak attack and struck a deal with our parents. Susie was allowed to spend the night, provided I spent the next night at her house. The ban had been lifted! Oh the shear joy, the thrill of sleeping over at the "forbidden" was too much for our eight-year-old and ten-year old minds to handle!
Night descended. We slung on cotton jammies, crawled into my twin bed and waited for our chance. We had plans, Susie and I.
Flashes from the black and white TV bounced off the wall as Dad sat on the couch. The smell of cigarette smoke filtered into my bedroom. Our reign of terror would begin once the familiar snoring resonated throughout the house. An hour passed and still no thunderous snoring. We waited, giggled and waited some more. Another fifteen minutes - nothing. Growing impatient, we drew alphabet letters on each other's backs trying to guess the letter.
"What letter is that?" Susie asked.
"No you silly!" She retraced the letter "B".
"Okay, now what letter is it?"
Until now, I never realized that this gentle touch across skin was a sensual awareness awakened in childhood
We drifted off to sandman land until Dad's blaring snore woke us from restless slumber. Our heads popped up like gophers in a hole and we secretly plotted our escapade of tiptoeing across the isle of the living room to the kitchen and our final destination - the wonderfully warm bundles of fur - the puppies!
Silently, we slipped from the sheets, stood at the living room entrance and stifled the giggling as we watched Dad's head bob and weave from deep slumber. His cigarette smoldered between his fingers. Ashes fell to the black tile floor. The deep, methodical snoring continued. Susie bravely took off running toward the entryway of the kitchen. I stuck my foot out and Dad's head bobbed and weaved upright, eyes shot open. I slipped back into the shroud of the hallway; Susie ducked behind the chair. Dad put out his cigarette. We waited. He coughed. We peeked at each other, stifling the giggles. Dad re-positioned himself. I slumped to the floor in the dark hallway. Susie pushed her back up against the chair. We waited, and lingered, and diddled, I twirled my thumbs with intensity, Susie chewed on her hair. Finally, the snoring pierced the silence once again. I peeked around the corner. Susie waved her hand at me, "Come on!" she mimed impatiently. My fingers formed the 'A-OK' sign and I winked at her for good measure. My sprint across the room would be silent and cautious. I kept my eyes on Dad.
Meanwhile, with the "formal living room" blunder still fresh in my cohort's mind, Susie's bravery turned to an icky form of Jell-O. Her decision to forego the expedition and sprint back in my direction, head cocked in Dad's direction, was soon to be met with dire consequences. Belly flopping across the floor was not my idea of a silent covert operation. Still, when one meets head-on with one's cousin, well . . . a bit of dusting wax on our jammies and the tile flour would've had a brilliant shine. I did mention the giggling that abounds with obscure childhood doings - now we had something concrete. Susie snagged my arm, dragged me across the floor and back to the bedroom admonishing me to "shush!" Miraculously, Dad never woke up. We fell into bed, laughed until it hurt and then laughed some more. Sleep overtook us some time later.
The memories that may
have been, ended all too soon. In 1963 my family moved to California. Gary,
Susie's brother, Uncle Roy and Aunt Janice are shadowy visions, as is Susie.
My mind transposes an outline of her form; her voice lingers from a distant
time and place. I would never recognize her now. Still, this adventure
remains fresh as the formal living room debacle but with more meaning,
more truism of who Susie was and hopefully is today. I wish I could have
known her. I wish I could've been a cousin to her and she to me. Wishes
exist on the fringes of reality. I hope her life is well, her living room
a comfortable mess and her heart as true as our short time together.
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