When we were on the Cape in the summer, we were in a huge house my grandfather built. When we were small my grandparents would be in the house, and there was Jeanette and her sister, Wanda, who would handle the cooking and cleaning, while various aunts would care for my sister and me. It was Aunt Peanut who taught us how to swim, and who took on beach front duty when we were small. Aunt Lucy would come in the summer and, on rare occasions, Aunt Bobbe. They were my dad’s three sisters and made up that generation of family.
When the war took various family members into the Red Cross, the Wacs and Waves, and my dad joined the Navy, my mother did not look forward to being in that big house with just Mary and me. So she invited a friend to join her in the summer. Marge had a daughter, Judy, who was five years younger than me, and a son who was ten years younger. Jeff was small enough that Marge hired a sitter for him, sometimes a young teen about my age and, one year, a young teen age boy named Joe who had the chore.
With five kids in the house during the week, and the two moms, I think we felt we were in charge, but it was the two moms who managed our lives. Momie was the cook and I recall mornings when Momie and Marge would gather in the kitchen after breakfast and plan the meals. In those days a call to the grocery store with a list of items needed brought the arrival of our food in a “wagon” run by the store’s delivery man. His name was Foster Nickerson, and his transport was a motorized wheel chair. He wobbled and wiggled when he walked, and his conversation was limited, but the bags would arrive and if we were at the beach when he came , he would put the refrigerated stuff away so it wouldn’t spoil. What a service it was.
Marge was in charge of the cleaning and we all had our routine chores. Our own rooms and beds were a given, but the whole house was vacuumed, the stairs swept and laundry taken care of in a routine manner. I do recall favoring the chore of sweeping down the back stairs… for the simple reason it was dark and no one could see how well it was done.We also set the table for meals and helped with the dishes. My dad was a super dish washer and would churn out the plates in a very speedy fashion. Sometimes we had to hand it back for a better wash. The pantry was small and it was a ring around the rosy routine to grab a dish, dry it and put it away and circle around for the next dish.
Kitchen dishes were washed in the kitchen and took more time. Marge handled the washing and Momie put away the food. On busy weekends we would have a competition between the kitchen and pantry dish washing. Sometimes my dad would hold out one spoon, considered to be a kitchen spoon and hand it to the kitchen crew at the last minute so they would be last. No fair we would scream!
Granny would check on us occasionally and make sure the wood box was filled in the event we wanted a fire in the living room fire place. By this time Granny and Aunt Peanut had built a little cottage for each by the shore. They would join us for a special dinner when there was company, but they mostly stayed in their own houses. Peanut continued water front duty and on some rainy days we would be invited to have tea in the afternoon with her. We have always called it “Cambridge tea” since they lived in Cambridge, Mass in the winter. This was tea with cream and sipped through a sugar cube. Yum. Peanut was also quite a crafts person and we learned to use shells to make jewelry.
On weekends the dads would come, my dad and Bob, Marge’s husband. Bob was a huge base ball fan and would sit on the platform of Peanut’s little house and listen to the ball games. Peanut’s platform was the gathering place for the adults- only. The kids had the beach and the water. Along with the two dads, there were guests of the family, the aunts, old room mates and occasionally other kids and baby sitters. It would not be unusual for 20 to 25 people to be sitting around the dining room table in the evening. It was only during the week that the kids out numbered the adults.
When we gathered the summer after my mom died, my sister and Judy and I sat on the platform of this little house and reminisced of our summer lives. It was Judy who reminded us we were now the adults. We were in the place the adults gathered, and we were the ones drinking wine. A generation had moved on.