My sister and I were “Navy brats”. Thus, wherever we went, we were considered strange, and perhaps a little frightening, because of our relatively broad background, by our many classmates and friends, who had never traveled beyond the next county. I think even some of our teachers found us intimidating.
I can remember five different homes before my eighth birthday, and I know there were more before that, but my youth at the time spares me the memory. Obviously, Susie, being 8 years older than I, was infinitely more experienced in the ways of the world. But any benefit she might have derived from her age, was undoubtedly cancelled out by her gender. In the era of Bobby Darren, bobby sox, leather jackets and BrylCream, the single most important thing in a girl’s life, at any given moment, was her popularity. Since popularity is a fragile thing, at best, and is gained over a period of time, our frequent relocations at the behest of Uncle Sam, caused her considerable consternation. If we found ourselves living someplace she couldn’t bear, our father would be extended for a second tour. But if, as was more often the case, she had found a comfortable niche, he would invariably receive orders the following week, to report to some other corner of the earth.
On the other hand, I found the continual moving about to be very exciting. New places, new houses, new friends, new schools… all served to whet my appetite for more travel. In fact, after a year in one spot, I would begin to fret, my grades falling, as my boredom factor increased. But as soon as we would arrive at our next new home, I was back to my old self.
I have heard other “Navy brats” complain about the effect all this travel had upon their formative years. But I feel that I received an infinitely better education because of it, both formally, and informally.
Of course, there was undeniably a down-side to all this. The majority of our father’s transfers took him to a new ship, leaving us in the nearest US shore installation, to await his eventual return. This usually meant that he would be gone for anywhere from 6-9 months, leaving our mother to wear two hats.
As far as I remember, my sister helped out a lot while Dad was overseas, which must have made things a little easier for Mom. I, on the other hand, rebelled at every turn. I didn’t understand why my father had to be gone all the time, but I sure didn’t plan to knuckle under to a couple of women. I argued, rebelled, fought, scratched and kicked every step of the way. Then, when Dad got home, I was “nearly” an angel. I certainly never did this with any thought of making my mother look bad. I just knew exactly how much I could get away with when my father was around. With Dad, it wasn’t even worth measuring.
I suppose my behavior in those early years must have caused them to have some harsh words. But I never noticed; as I was too busy having a ball.
When Dad was gone, my mother would stand for very little harassment of my sister on my part, while she allowed me a good bit of leeway with herself. But when Dad got home again, it was open-season on my sister. Since I rarely bothered her when it was just the three of us, my parents weren’t expecting it, and I could generally make up for all the guff I’d had to take from sis for the last few months, before they lowered the boom on me.
On one occasion, she had formed a concrete crush on a young fellow by the name of Charley Shinn. From the little I remember, he was a pretty decent fellow. At least he didn’t punch me in the stomach and tell me to get lost. Well, when Susie was around 16 or so, this relationship seemed to be getting serious, so when Charley finally got up the nerve to ask her out, my Mom pointed out that Dad would be home in a week or so, and it would really please him if she waited to let Dad meet Charley first. For a couple of reasons, this didn’t particularly appeal to Susie. First of all, it meant that she would have to pass on the date for a week or more. But, most of all, it meant that she would have to try to control Dad’s sense of humor, in an already tenuous situation.
Dad often joked about how he could intimidate her suitors to the point of making them leave town, rather than ever ask HIS daughter out again. Of course, it was all in fun, and greatly exaggerated, but Susie was never sure what to expect, and she hadn’t even really set the hook in poor Charley yet. So she argued and pleaded ‘til she was blue in the face, but Mom stood her ground, and Charley was invited over to meet “the folks” a couple of days after Dad returned.
Now, for a couple of weeks, I’d been hearing of how much she adored Charley, and how terrified she was that Dad would do something and embarrass her. So while Mom was calming her fears, I was plotting.
I knew that this situation was getting enough attention from all sides, that I could suffer great bodily harm if I didn’t plan very carefully. A thousand notions came to mind, all hellishly devious, and just as suicidal. Nothing seemed to be as perfect as I wanted.
When Charley arrived on the appointed evening, I was still coming up empty, and my desperation could have easily pushed me into a bad move, except I overheard my father joking with my mother in the kitchen. My problems were over! He had given me the perfect solution.
I put on my most angelic face, and went out into the living room where Charley & Susie were sitting, waiting for “the folks”. Susie was less than thrilled at my entrance, but couldn’t gracefully throw me out. I told her that Mom & Dad wanted her in the kitchen, and when she left the room, I knew I had her!
“So,” I said to Charley, “you must be this Johnny we’ve been hearing so much about.”
Mom and Dad came out with Susie (she was giving me a filthy look for the obvious detour), everybody shook hands, and chatted briefly, and Susie and Charley left for the movies. That was the last time we ever saw him in our home.
I managed to stay out of my sister’s clutches for a couple of weeks, while she cooled down. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely in my best interests. I think that was my first act of plagiarism, but it was just too perfect to pass up. Of course, my father would never have even joked about it, if he had any idea I might overhear. He knew me too well for that.