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  • Anne Manson

Those were the days...


Those hot summer nights when the windows were thrown open to the world and the air was full of promise and possibility. When I lay in my bed like a good girl, not able to sleep. When I listened to the big kids playing ball in the street below. The shouts of “Watch it!” and “Car!” as the headlights skimmed across my wall and onto the ceiling and vanished. The pulse of the crickets and the smell of car exhaust and the throb of someone’s window air conditioning unit.


Those nights when I painstakingly laid out crumbs on my dollhouse table for my nightly visitor: that refined mouse who yearned for high living, that mouse not content to live off the sticky strip of linoleum flooring between the stove and the fridge, that mouse who longed to dress up in the doll’s dress I laid out, to sit on my dollhouse chairs and eat off my dollhouse plates. That mouse I never, ever saw, no matter how late I waited up, no matter how quickly I jumped out of bed in the early morning to surprise her. Oh, how I longed to meet that mouse!


Those days we walked to the corner grocery, my mother pushing Liddy in the old English pram, and I, holding my brother’s hand and clutching my oh so carefully husbanded nickel and dime in my sweaty fingers, to choose my penny candy after painstakingly slow deliberation.


That night Dad brought home the new station wagon and we climbed into the “way back” in our pyjamas to take her for a spin up Route 2 to the top of Belmont Hill and fly back down again, sliding all over the back on our bottoms. Seatbelts? We hadn’t heard of them.


The day we put my parents’ wedding march on the turntable and stomped around the tiny living room in Alpine Street in celebration of their anniversary, I with a sheet on my head for a veil and my brother in his changing of the guard soldier costume, brought back from London. And my mother cooking at the hot stove with half an eye on us, blowing her top when we fell about laughing at ourselves. Why? we asked. Because you don’t know what you’re laughing at, she said, and we fell about again, only more guiltily.


And Maine, oh Maine! When we piled into the hot station wagon and drove for hours and hours, the three of us in the back seat nudging and pushing and pinching each other as our damp legs stuck to the vinyl—someone always complaining that someone else was on their side, someone always needing to use the bathroom. And my brother and sister ending up asleep with their heads in my lap by the time we got there.


The narrow cement steps up to the kitchen in Buck’s Harbor, on which I always and inevitably stubbed my bare toe painfully, and my father, who would sit down and examine the toe as seriously as if I were the victim of a bad car crash.


Getting up in the very early morning when everyone was asleep and leaving the house in my pyjamas by the side door, down the toe-stubbing cement steps, and over the little garden bridge, and up the hill in the morning dew to Mrs. Condon’s kitchen. She’d put me on a stool where my challenge was to stay as if an island shipwreck victim in the middle of the sea of her floor, while she mopped around me and pulled oh so wonderful things out of the oven. And my father, inevitably apologizing when he came to get me. Why? We always had a delightful time.


Putting on my party shoes and best dress and walking down to the dusty, chipped yacht club with my family for the Square Dance. The banjo twanging and the violin sawing and the caller shouting out the moves – stomping his big, flat foot on the boards as he chanted: Bow to your partner. Thump, thump! Swing your partner. Thump, thump! Do-Si-Do.


And oh, the sea! The sea! Heavy, creaky wooden rowboats, and faded orange life jackets, and salt and sand in the whorls of our ears, and bare feet on hot tar, and Mr. Condon’s ice cream locker, and Daisy Herrick’s blueberry pie, and scary “frillers” in the closet at night, and peas spat down registers onto babysitters’ heads, and always, always my mother’s worn hands and her loose wedding ring, and my father’s integrity in all things.

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