The little girl staring at the doll house is me. I am flanked by my mother and father. The little girl is frowning. I often frowned as a child. My mother doesn’t look terribly happy either. This plywood doll house is really a scale model for the family house my father would start building the following year. The article calls us a “typical American family.” And notes that “daddy” was separated from us for three years while in the South Pacific and Japan. It was more like five if you count the time he was gone after he enlisted until the end of the WWII. I hardly knew “daddy,” even by 1949. He seemed a stranger who came to spoil my idyllic life amid the buckeye trees in Marion, Ohio. But he had built this dollhouse which was represented as a Christmas present for me. Really it represented my parents’ dream to own a place of their own in the country. I didn’t like dollhouses. Or dolls. Except my Jackie Robinson doll. But I learned to smile and say thankyou when I got things like doll houses and handmade doll cradles, and big cushy dolls with blue glass eyes that flapped open when you lifted them out of their prissy cradles. The article says I was “made very happy” by this gift. So I guess I was successfully, insincerely, grateful seeming. My mother was best friends with the society editor who wrote the article. That was untl she got into an argument with her over politics. Mother loved Harry Truman. So it was probably something to do with Harry. She walked out of Mrs. Hance’s house and never spoke to her again. And there were no more articles in the paper featuring the Pattersons. Until we moved to Beavercreek.
Hebble Homes was built as emergency housing for the overflow personnel working at Wright Patterson Air Force Base during WWII. This compound was located in Fairborn, an amalgam of the little towns of Fairfield and Osborne, Ohio. The homes of Hebble Homes were built of plywood. They were simple structures, easily thrown up, inexpensive, homely. Amenities included plumbing and electricity. Most were little white boxes, split down the middle to accommodate a family on either side, each with its own entrance. Many were barracks style, painted a muddy brown. We lived in a white box. Unlike my solitary Marion, Ohio experience– an only child playing amidst hollyhocks in my personal sandbox and surrounded by doting adults and ancient buckeye trees-I was surrounded by hundreds of Pearl Harbor kids. We all had been conceived within months of the bombing, had been raised by Moms and Grandmas and Aunties, and now were living with returned, awkward Dads. No more all day suckers for me. It was a rough ride for the previously sheltered, pinafored, and doted upon LLynie.
I quickly made adjustments and became loud, boisterous and bossy. So my mother complained. “You are the loudest child out there. I can always hear your voice above the others.” My father complained too. I did not walk like a lady. But now life was about survival. We had gangs, you see. The white house gang and the brown house gang. We met in a big open field and played out cowboy movies. We even set up a bar and drank fake whiskey. We threw sticks and stones at each other. We yelled taunts. We got hurt. Once Johnny Zampatti hit me in the head with a very large lump of coal. Johnny’s ferocity did not stop me from having a great interest in Mrs. Zampatti, a dark eyed woman who wore low cut blouses and stiletto heels. I was intrigued by her black hair, her red lips, and the drama in her voice when she called out to Johnny to come in for dinner. Even her dinners, food I had never seen on my table, seduced me. Mother did not like Mrs. Zampatti one bit. I think this was called xenophobia. Or maybe jealousy.
We had to be called in for dinner. It was that kind of life. Out in the narrow roads and cul de sacs, under incandescent street lamps, we played til nearly limp in great herds until the adults forced us into docility. We played hide and go seek, baseball, hold your breath, and throw things at each other. At 5 p.m. each day we gathered outside of Paulette Stutsman’s house and peered through a window, pushing and crowding one another to get a view of the little television inside. The Stutsman’s had the only television within our domain. And on it we watched corners and edges of Captain Video and Howdy Doody.
Paulette Stutsman and Sharon Coleman, the brown and the blond, were best friends. My mother told me so. She said I could never be really a best friend of either of them. Because they each already had a best friend. Try as I may, this seemed true. So in compensation I bullied. And Benny George and I made secret pacts. So what.
Mother compensated too. We couldn’t afford a television so mother went from store to store in the Dayton area and brought them home “on approval.” That way we could watch Sealtest Big Top almost every Sunday. She also packed me and brother into our car on weekend nights and parked us along side a wooden fence so we could watch a movie at the drive in theatre. Of course, since we were outside the theatre proper and hadn’t paid for tickets, we had no sound. And we saw the film from an odd angle. But we had giant tubs of home popped corn and could easily make up dialogue.
Being in a house the size of a farm worker’s cabin had its pleasures and drawbacks. The kitchen and living room and mother and dad’s bedroom were all-in-one. Dad even used the same space as a darkroom. Nobody had secrets. My baby brother and I shared a room. Above my bed hung a plastic glow in the dark cross. Other than that, there was no art in the house. But there was a radio.
Though Hebble Homes was a large compound, it was walking distance to school and to town. I belonged to the Minnihahas, a faux Indian band that encamped on Saturdays at the YMCA. The Minnihahas required initiation. Exotic ritual held we little girls rapt. (These were the days when we ordered secret decoder rings from cereal boxes and wore Broken Arrow scarves. We liked anything that swept us out of our own world and into relationship with the possible or the unknown other.) We wore signature headdresses, chanted, and sang songs about our ears hanging low and King George coming home late at night drunk. Yes, George was still King. Upon much anticipated occasion we crawled through scary dark tunnels and sometimes played an odd form of archery that required us to fire nearly straight up into the air in effort to land an arrow in a distant hoop. I often stopped by the Fairborn Theatre on my way home to watch a Cisco Kid movie featuring Gordito and Pancho. Living in Hebble Homes across from Mrs. Zampatti and watching Cisco Kid movies were, perhaps, my earliest exposure to ethnicity. It seemed to me to have mostly to do with costuming.
Mother sometimes wondered where I was. But if I had a spare nickel, I’d find things to do with it on these Saturday excursions. It was not unusual for a 7 or 8 year old to live as independently as did I. It was a safe little post-war life where kids carried jack knives to school and played mumbly-pegs with them when tired of shooting marbles. I was very good at these recess pastimes and though sometimes not so good at friendships, I had my cadre of pals to swing with while the short-lived “flying wings” menaced us from above.
Being nearly on the Air Force Base, we saw many odd apparitions in the sky, not only the “flying wings.” Of a summer night, adults pulled chairs out onto to their postage stamp lawns and watched for UFOs while drinking ice tea or beer and munching pretzels. It was a favorite sport. The film that ruined my childhood, War of the Worlds, had not yet been released. But even then we were all convinced that space invaders were flying over us, just waiting their best opportunity to land and take us over. And of course, the Russians would certainly drop an A-bomb and kill us.Any time now. In school we saw pseudo-documentaries that depicted the horror we would experience when the bomb arrived. Great winds, flashes of light, deadly gases. I pictured the school hallway swept clean in an instant. The drills, in which we were instructed to stuff ourselves under flimsy wooden desks, were not reassuring. Neither were the dog tags we wore. Surely these too would melt under the extreme heat we all expected would turn us to dust. The water fountain would be poisoned. We would all be blind if we survived at all. I worried about this as I tossed about under the comfortless, disturbing, white-green, glowing cross and listened to my baby brother fuss. I dreamed I could negotiate with the Russians, even as the bomb was on its way down. A net would pull it back to the belly of the plane that dropped it and the world would be saved from this horror. Much later, in spring of 1962, I witnessed an Atom bomb test in the Pacific. Though far away from the detonation site, my night sky turned to day and the mushroom cloud rising over the distant ocean was clearly visible. Then the sky turned a sickly green and orange. People around me cheered. I burst into tears.