Stories of a Family Christmas, 1963
I loved these pajamas! I wore them until the pants became shorts. I kept the cap, for a favorite stuffed animal. This was the house on Hackney Street in Kettering; I must be about 4, almost 5. Nancy is 6. The metal kitchen set was a shared toy, though I might have appreciated it more. Eventually it got moved to a backyard playhouse where it rusted and one day I opened up the oven door to discover a nest of spiders. After that I never touched the kitchen set.
A rare instance of Nancy and I playing together—though to be exact it might be more parallel play. Growing up we were nothing alike. Never one to fall into gender prescribed roles, she was more a tomboy, at home on a basketball court rather than in a kitchen. My sister was a mystery to me. I think today she might be referred to as on the spectrum. Someone with sensory issues. She could not abide clothes with tags on them; they had to be removed. Clothes in general made her itch. She was picky about fabrics and textures. Physical activity was her language. Nancy could occupy herself for hours shooting hoops, whereas I would hole up reading a book. Years later she would likely unwrap baggy shorts and jerseys and basketballs, while I’d cherish gifts of books. One Christmas I read through my stack of books in one afternoon before turning to a book given to my dad, The Summer of ’42, where I came across the word fuck and a scene involving “rubbers.” This definitely felt like a bridge too far.
I remember this girl! Busy Janie wearing her Christmas Day pajamas, with her skates strapped on, making something at her kitchen set. I’m sure I’m trying to tell my older sister what to do. I could never keep my mouth shut. I always had a bright idea. Going a hundred miles an hour, doing two things at once, trying to be the boss. Driven to go further than anyone else.
–––No wonder most times Nancy wanted nothing to do with me.
Wrapping paper is tossed to the side. Grandpa bushed from an early chaotic morning has fallen asleep on the couch. Days of anticipation have now been realized. The momentous moment has passed, and Nancy and I are busily playing with our new kitchen set. We were meant to “share” this gift, just as the older boys, Steve and Tom, were given shared toys. Ones too expensive to be for just one kid.
I might cook up a breakfast and then tackle the dishes in the play sink. I loved to pretend. I could enter a Jane World to escape just as Pop-pop did when snoozing.
It is a picture of American middle-class security, a time of prosperity, as the “greatest generation” forged ahead.
–––Yet there is so much left unsaid.
We are on the cusp of tumultuous years, the Vietnam War, generational divisions, addiction, shame, mental illness.
In the aftermath we will quietly play house.