During the Cold War era following World War II, I was busy growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee—a “secret city” constructed by the federal government wholly and specifically to help develop and produce the world’s first atomic weapon. But as a five-year-old boy in 1957, my duties consisted only of attending school during the week and otherwise staying out of the house whenever my father was off shift from the Y-12 Plant (the nearby facility that made components for modern nuclear weapons). My father’s three rotating shifts meant he slept odd hours, and the thing he needed most in this world was sleep. Staying out of the house so my father could rest undisturbed also meant that my mother and her friends rotated us kids throughout homes in the neighborhood based on the same shifts. I’m sure they were concerned with our after-school enrichment, but perhaps they were as much concerned about keeping the peace at home.
Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi and her mother lived with her Granny and Granddaddy in a comfortable, but small, house on the west end of town. Little Suzi had lived with her grandparents for as long as she could remember and had no reason to think she might one day live anyplace else. But one day, while Suzi was out of school for the summer, her mommy came into the kitchen where Suzi was reading at the table and announced they would be moving.
“Suzi,” the mother told her little girl, “I have something important to tell you.”
“That’s good,” Little Suzi said absentmindedly as she went on reading her new library book, Charlotte’s Web. (She was a very good reader for her age, but Suzi had to concentrate and use Granny’s dictionary to look up the words she didn’t know—hard words like “rummaging” and “spinnerets” and “salutations”!)
“We’ll be moving soon,” Suzi’s mother continued as she sat down at the table next to the girl. “We’ll be moving to a new town not too far from here.”
That got her daughter’s attention, you can bet, and Suzi put down her chapter book and sat straight up in her chair. “But why?!” she asked. Continue reading “‘Little Suzi’ and the New Town”
Photo by Phil Nickell
Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi, her mother Wilma, and her grandparents decided to go for a Sunday afternoon picnic in the mountains of East Tennessee. It was late summer in the city near the mountains where Suzi’s grandparents lived in a small, square house with only a noisy electric fan in the window to help them through the hot and humid days.
Suzi’s granny, Eileen, made special-recipe fried chicken and her grandaddy, Manly, packed the car with the picnic basket, picnic blanket, and heavy fold-up wooden chairs. He put all these things in the trunk of the car so that Suzi, her mommy, and her granny had lots of room to sit inside. They needed lots of room because Suzi always brought her ‘friends’ with her on picnics: a tall baby doll with yellow hair, a monkey sewn from old socks, and a boy named Albert, whom no one else could see but who took up the whole middle seat in the rear of the car.
Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi moved at the end of summer with her mother, Wilma, into a small apartment in a town that was new to them both. At first, Little Suzi didn’t want to move at all, because it meant leaving her grandparent’s house in a city where she had lived all of her seven years so far. And, worse yet, it meant leaving her granny and granddaddy behind.
“You’ll miss me too much,” Suzi told her granddaddy. “You won’t have anyone to play checkers with or watch boxing on TV. And who’ll help you dig dandelions out of the yard before you mow the grass?” And later, Suzi told her granny, “Who’ll lick the big spoon when you make chocolate icing? And who’ll watch the cookies and cakes in the oven so they don’t burn?”
Little Suzi’s mommy didn’t want her daughter to feel sad, but it couldn’t be helped. “I know you don’t want to leave Granny and Granddaddy,” Suzi’s mommy explained. “Neither do I, but we must. The old factory where I work—the one Granny and Granddaddy worked in years ago—well, it’s closing down. I was lucky to find a new job in a town near here. It’s not really very far away. We can visit Granny and Granddaddy on weekends.”
Little Suzi understood, but something else was worrying her now. “How will I get back here to my school after we move?” She liked her school and she liked her teacher at the red brick schoolhouse in the city. And she liked her little friends in her class.
“Will a bus pick me up and bring me there?” she asked her mommy.
“Oh, no, darling!” Suzi’s mommy answered. “It’s much too far away for that.”
“You mean I can’t go to school anymore?”
Little Suzi was nearly in tears at the thought of being alone all day with nothing to do and no grandparents or friends to play with (except, of course, her imaginary, invisible friend Albert).
Suzi’s mommy smiled at her daughter. “I would never move to a town with no schools! You’ll have a new school in our new town and you’ll make new friends.” Then she hugged her daughter close to her skirts and patted her hair to comfort and reassure her.
Little Suzi’s invisible friend Albert had been quiet until now, but he couldn’t hold out any longer: Well, that’s too bad. I could do without any old school. First grade was alright, but now that place takes up a lot of our play time, what with all that useless readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic and such.
Suzi heard what Albert said, but she decided to wait until her mommy left the room to scold him. “I like school,” Suzi told the silly boy. “Besides, you need to go to school. You don’t want to grow up ignorant, do you?!”
But Albert apparently didn’t care about growing up ignorant, because he answered her by crossing his eyes and sticking out his devilish tongue at her.
It was not very long before Little Suzi found herself living in the new town with her mommy and getting ready to start her new school. They did miss Granny and Granddaddy, but Suzi would be very busy in school, so the sunny autumn days would go by quickly. All was well—and even Albert had to admit their new garden apartment in the town was a nice place to live—but there was one big change that Suzi had not expected. Continue reading “‘Little Suzi’ and Ol’ Patch”
Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi traveled downtown to see her doctor with her mommy, Wilma. For this visit, they did not travel the several city blocks there on a bus or in a cab, as they usually did. Instead, they rode in a car that Suzi’s mommy borrowed from her friend Nancy (her best friend from high school days who now lived only one block away).
“We’re running a little late for Suzi’s pediatrician appointment,” Wilma had told her friend over the phone at noon on this beautiful but hot summer day. “Suzi isn’t back from helping her granddaddy tie stakes to his tomato plants next to his backyard shed. I need to borrow your car if we are going to make it to the doctor’s office on time.”
“Well, my little Denny is still taking his nap,” Nancy told her friend, “so why don’t you walk over here to my house and get the keys and drive yourself?”
“That’s wonderful of you,” Wilma replied gratefully. “I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
And so Suzi’s mommy put on her red lipstick, picked up her black clutch purse, put on her sunglasses, tied her new sky blue silk scarf around her hair—to block the wind from the rolled down car windows—and walked briskly up the block to Nancy’s house.
“Thanks so much, Nancy,” Wilma said on the front porch as her friend handed over the keys to the four-door Buick parked on the street outside. “You’re a life saver.”
It was just a week before school would start for Little Suzi in the first grade at the red and white brick schoolhouse only two blocks away from their small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue. And so Suzi’s mommy needed to get her child’s inoculation record up to date to show the school nurse on the first day of class.
“What’s a ‘noculation?” Suzi had asked her invisible friend Albert after hearing her mother talk about it to Miss Nancy on the phone earlier in the week.
I don’t know, Albert told his friend, but I think the nurse sticks medicine in your arm and then gives you a lollypop if you’re good. Can I have one too?
No, a lollypop!
“Sure,” Suzi told Albert. “You can have mine if the nurse won’t give you one of your own.”