This is my mother and father at around age 31, and that’s me hoisted in my father’s arms. My mother agreed to take me, leaving my elder sister and brothers in the care of her parents, to live with him near the military complex on the eastern tip of Long Island while he was stationed there just after the war. Fort Hero was located on the point just south of the Montauk Lighthouse. (My research reveals that the complex, closed down for good in 1980, is now a popular state park.)
I remember that dress of my mother’s very well. It was black with tiny white-flocked polka dots on it that I remember constantly trying to peel off with my fingernails, all too successfully sometimes. (Note: All the pictures in this post may be enlarged by clicking on the photograph.)
While my siblings weren’t with us at this time, they told of their living at several army bases, one in Louisiana (where the roaches were monstrous) and another in Florida when I apparently was not there. My brother spoke to me just last year how he and my (now deceased) older brother as boys worked at a base bowling alley hand setting bowling pins for the soldiers. They’d each take home a dime or two in tips on the nights they worked.
I remember snatches of my life from around three or four, after we were all back together living near my father’s family home, but find it very difficult to make all these very early pieces of the puzzle of my early life fit together. I’m surmising had it not been for WWII I might never have been born! From what I’ve been told all my life, when this picture was taken I was between 2- and 3-years-old and we lived in a house or apartment complex owned by an an old couple who lived downstairs. My mother worked for the U.S. Postal Service and while she was at work I was left in their charge.The woman was German and still spoke with a thick German accent, and her Italian husband also spoke with a heavy accent.
According to my mother, the Vanos loved me like one of their own, which I’m sure is the only reason she was comfortable leaving me with them while she worked. (In a series of these pictures from those years my mother’s face looked as happy as she ever looked. Funny how I mostly remember her looking sad for so much of her life.)
While these pictures have been around for as long as I remember, I’m surprised to see now how young the “old couple” probably were–in their fifties perhaps? That’s Mrs. Vano with her daughter Marjorie (or Margie). While Vano is the surname I remember, it may not be entirely accurate–a shortened version perhaps? Look at that cigarette in her hand. An indication of living a real life outside my memories. Somehow I never did think of them all these years as real people but only as paper doll cutouts from these early scenes of my life. Now I wonder about them. Are there members of the Vano tribe, perhaps their grandchildren–Marjorie’s children–still living there?
One story as I was growing up was that my pious southern Baptist parents (okay, my mother was!) took me along with them to a party downstairs at the Vanos one evening. My mother was served a drink and on the first sip realized it had alcohol in it so she slipped it discreetly onto the floor under her chair. Sometime during the evening, I apparently squirmed out of her lap, found it and proceeded to drink every drop. When the Vanos learned what I’d done, they weren’t surprised at all. One or both of them roared with laughter and noted that oh yes, that child can really put away the beer for such a little thing. I’m certain my mother was in a quandary about the suitability of those “alcohol consumers” as babysitters. But as I loved them as much as they adored me, so she chose to ignore it.
Here I am, already destined to be a little fashion setter at such a tender age, dressed in my wool turquoise coat and hat and sensible shoes. What’s missing are the matching pants that I distinctly remember all these years later. They had funny fan looking things at thigh level, and I always wished they weren’t there but who was I to complain? Years later I would learn that they were called jodphurs. They’re still around apparently, but mainly used now as equestrian gear that look nothing like the pants matching this coat, which research reveals were the German style as favored by women aviators of the period.
I’ll be visiting the east coast soon, including New York. While I’m there, and especially if I spend much time in Long Island, where my daughter now teaches in a private university, I’m sure I’ll be peering into faces of people I might pass on the street a little more closely than usual and wonder if any of them know or knew Margie, who would have to be in her nineties now if she were alive–but I’m pretty sure all the principal players in this drama have all passed on now. Too bad I never thought to find connections while it might have still been possible.