In Evanston when I was a little girl, and we still lived at 1428 Maple Street, I can remember wandering about a small part of the neighborhood to houses of people we knew. Most of them were Websters—there were at least three nearby houses occupied by Webster families, and most of the other houses seemed to be occupied by relatives of the Websters.
There was a house on the next corner and across the street that had a white wooden double swing in its yard, with seats facing each other. I don’t know who lived in that house. I don’t think I ever knew, but I used to go and swing on their swing with one of the Webster children, or with one of my brothers. It took two of us to make it go. I don’t remember ever seeing the people who lived there, but they never came out to stop us from swinging on their swing.
The parents of the Webster kids we used to play with lived only a couple of houses away from the house with the swing. Betty was a little older and Ronnie a little younger than I. Their father, Ronald, Sr., was one of the first people to become sober in AA, just as it was beginning, but that was years later. The grown-up Websters, Ronald and Betty were friends of my parents for many years.
One Webster family lived almost directly across from us on Maple Street. They had a huge white house and a white picket fence enclosing their large yard. One day as I was walking by, their big dog came up to the fence. I reached out to pet him, but Instead of letting me do it, as I expected, he growled and then barked at me so loudly I was terrified. I was also surprised. It was the first time it ever occurred to me to be afraid of a dog, or any other animal. I loved them and expected them to love me back, which they usually did.
Next to this house was another Webster house, with stairs going up to a big veranda. One winter day, I was on my way home, all bundled up in a winter coat, scarf, hat, leggings, and boots. As I passed this house, I suddenly realized I had to go to the bathroom. I started up their stairs intending to ask if I could use the bathroom, but it was too late. I felt embarrassment, failure, and fear as I became aware of the telltale liquid warmth in my pants. I was afraid of what would happen to me when I got home. I was right. My mother was angry, told me I was a bad girl, and sent me to bed without any supper. That part I didn’t mind since I didn’t like to eat then.
At Ronnie and Betty Webster’s house, their father used to create a skating rink in their back yard in winter, and that was where we all learned to skate. At first we had little double runner skates that attached to our shoes just as roller skates did. They were supposed to make it easier for us to balance, but they didn’t glide very well, and we fell down a lot anyway.
Eventually, we all graduated to single runner skates with high lace-up shoes attached. It took a long time to be able to keep our ankles straight, and at first it felt as if we were skating on our ankles instead of on the blades. Still, it made winter great fun whether we skated well or not, and we all learned in the end.
Once, when I was quite small, I ventured down to the corner of our block and got the idea of continuing on around the block. I turned left at the corner and after a house or two, came to some large brick buildings. I had no idea what they were. I continued to the next corner and turned left again.
Along the side of this building there were insets below the level of the sidewalk that admitted light to the basement windows (I found out later). I didn’t know what they were for, and got down into one of them to explore. There wasn’t anything to see, except the dried leaves at the bottom. Then, for some reason, I began to take off my clothes.
A man in a black suit and hat, and a white collar, came and gently lifted me out. He put his suit coat over me and asked me where I lived. I told him and he took my hand and walked me home. He was very nice to me, not threatening at all.
I wish I could say the same for my mother. She was exceedingly angry and had a lot to say. She made me feel like a fallen woman, if you can feel like a fallen woman at three or four years old.
Even though I remember this incident clearly, I have no recollection at all as to what motivated me to take off my dress. I found our later that the man in black who took me home was a Catholic priest.
My father didn't think much of Catholics in general, but he was very grateful to this particular priest for bringing me home. In fact, he made a point of going to find him so he could thank him for his kindness to me.