By Kathleen Pooler
The houses across the road and up the hill on the right were shacks; small, messy tinderboxes with rusty lawn chairs, shovels, pails and garbage cans strewn about the front yards. The house above us on the hill was a large and sprawling white stucco house that peered down on our little white bungalow. It was the home of the CeCes, a family of six children. Nick, the father, was a short, gruff disciplinarian and Marian, the mother, a gentle, mild counterbalance.
Rosemarie (a.k.a. Re-Re) and I were the same age and spent a lot of time with each other playing hide-and-seek inside and outside. The house was always a mess, with clothes piled up in heaps in every bedroom, and papers, coats and boots scattered throughout the living and dining room. That made it easy to find hiding places.
Crowding around the black-and-white TV in the Ceces’ living room, I blended in with the pile of kids to watch the debut of Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 when Re-re and I were ten. We were spellbound, giggling at the sight of him shaking his hips and rubbing his hand down his thigh. Mr. Cece shook his head, implying, “this is vulgar,” but we thought it was cool as we bounced to “Don’t Be Cruel” then sat mesmerized by “Love me Tender.” Old home movies of Re-Re and me jitterbugging to “Blue Suede Shoes,” twirling each other from one corner of the room to the other, captured our gleeful play. I loved to dance as I felt my purple, knitted slippers slide me across the floor.
On warm summer nights, all of the neighborhood kids (most of them CeCes) played hide and seek in the woods on top of the hill.
“Apple, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready holler I” was the chant as we scattered in every direction, up the hill, down the alleys, behind the shacks and woodsheds.
Hiding behind a tree or burrowing under a bush and waiting to be caught had me holding my breath in anticipation. Then, the shrill whistle of Mr. CeCe calling his kids in for the night from his front porch pierced the silence of the evening. With that, every CeCe kid climbed out from his or her hiding space, hurrying back to the white stucco house from every direction, while the rest of us stood around, deflated and annoyed that our fun had to end. We’d linger for a while, directionless and disappointed, then part ways for our own homes.
The radio would be playing as I walked through my back door. The lights would be off and my parents would be sitting in the dark. The kitchen clock was ticking in the background. Dad was smoking his pipe, listening to Edward R Morrow daily radio news program, staring off into space while Mom sat next to him in silent participation. Tom, my four-year old brother, was sleeping in the next room. It was quiet and dark and I melted into the scene, wishing I could have been outside playing and laughing with my friends.
Our home was predictable with a boring, quiet order. There was something about the bedlam and chaos of the Cece’s home—the constant buzz of activity, the giggles and shouting as we’d all run from room to room, slamming doors and squealing—that made me feel gleeful and carefree.
Our house was across the street from a railroad station and we’d hear the loud train whistles at all hours of the day and night. Re-re and I would hang out at the station and watch the people get on and off the trains. Sometimes, we’d hook our metal skates to our shoes and lock them with key so we could roller skate on the pavement near the station and fly kites on the lawn in front of the station.
Although there was always a swarm of kids ready to play hide-and-seek or go trick-or-treating on Halloween, Re-re and I were the oldest girls of the gang and tended to sneak off by ourselves to hang out or talk. She had an older sister, Annette, who was a teenager and we’d watch on in wonder when she’d wear make-up and go out on dates.
“Go ahead,” Re-re waved her sister’s bra in the air and coaxed me to try it on as we lounged in her bedroom one summer afternoon.
“I’m embarrassed,” I said, wanting to try on her older sister’s bra but feeling like I was in forbidden territory. “Annette will k-i-i-ill us.”
“We’ll take turns,” Re-re said, her big brown eyes flashing with excitement. “You go first.”
“OK, but you have to do it, too.” When I looked over at Re-Re she nodded in agreement.
After I fiddled with the straps and figured out how to fasten the clasp in the back, I stuffed each side with a sock.
“I don’t really want anyone to see me,” I said as I hesitated at the bedroom door.
“Come on,” she said as she grabbed my arm and led me down the hallway.
When we walked into the kitchen, Mr Cece did a double-take, but didn’t say anything. His eyes zoned in on my chest and I looked away at the counter. A warmth flushed through my body until my face began to burn. I stood there feeling embarrassed, like I was naked. I glared at Re-re, who was stifling a giggle with her hand over her mouth.
Re-re and I ran back into her room, flopped on the bed and squealed into the pillows.
“OK, now it’s your turn,” I said.
“I’ll wait until Dad leaves.”
“No fair!” I shouted.
But we sat on her bed and waited until Mr. Cece left for work before we walked out of her room. We were both flat-chested this time, and I was mad. I stormed out her front door and ran to my quiet, calm home where, for once, I welcomed the boredom.
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse and a sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. You can find her on her blog, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.