Memory is a Mysterious Master
I admire people who can remember their earliest years in great detail. Memory, for me, is a marvelous mystery. For most of my life, my “toddlerhood” had been lost in a heavy fog. Trying to recapture it would be like looking out a train window during a long journey in a heavy rain.
I am, at 80, quite near the end of my ride. To save my survivors the trouble, I have been discarding the detritus of my life — closets full of papers, some nearly seven decades old. It is there I discovered written in pencil on four sheets of yellow paper this record of the fifth year of my life. I had written it in 1955 when I was 15.
Pembroke Village was a housing project in Bethlehem, PA, completed at the end of World War II. [Today it is part of the Pembroke Historic District.] I don’t know how long my family had been living there in 1945 when I was five years old, but it could not have been very long. There were many, many little kids and each day we would gather at the central playground. I would join Jimmy, my best friend, two not-so-identical twins, an older girl named Janet and her little tagalong sister Nancy, and my tomboy sister, Barbara. We formed the reigning gang of that playground, although I was among the youngest and had very little to say. The older “monarchs” voted and decided who would get to use the box hockey and who pushed who off the jungle gym — and what would be done about it. Children’s justice was fierce.
My favorite pastime was hiding and playing in the little rooms that adjoined every dwelling in the project. I especially liked one next to the field house. It was for storing coal in the winter but in the summer was empty, except for some sand-fine coal dust and a few chunks of coal. I would crawl in with a stick and my trucks. I needed the stick to climb up to the coal chute and to brace myself for the fall when I bounced in. Oh the glorious hours I spent there playing, singing or just enjoying being alone!
Jimmy was also five. He was smaller than me and looked much younger. He was quite loyal to me. As I look back now, I realize how wonderful a little friend he was and how much I loved him. When I was in there, he would stand outside, rarely wandering away, keeping…