I spent the summer of 1963 at my Aunt Sue’s house across the bay from San Francisco. It wasn’t clear to me nor is it now, exactly how Aunt Sue and I were related, but I know that her dead husband shared a name with my maternal grandfather. She was childless, and although she was parent-age, she tried very hard to be hip.
Sadly, I was taken in by that hip persona. It was clear that my dad and stepmother thought I was a problem, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do to win their approval. I was very immature and I did not understand that I needed to be careful about what I shared with Aunt Sue. I had no idea why I was in California staying with her. I did not know that my father had some kind of plans, but he did not bother to share them with me. Instead of understanding or even trying to understand, I was so flattered by being around an adult who actually showed an interest in me, I opened my way up to Sue and later learned what a mistake that was.
Nobody explained to me the reason why I was going to stay with Aunt Sue. My dad allowed me to buy a few new clothes for the first time in the three years since my mother died and put me on a plane to San Francisco. It was exciting to fly and I felt very grown up, although I was not yet thirteen.
Later Dad told me that I was sent to Aunt Sue more or less on approval. I later figured out the Dad was so intent on warehousing me somewhere that he would actually approach a relative of my dead mother. If I had “acted right,” I learned later, I could have stayed there to live, But Dad told me, “You blew it,” spitting out his disgust at my failure as if it were some rotten, maggot-infested fruit that had landed in his mouth.
Did it ever occur to you to inform me about this great plan ahead of time? I can lie with the best of them. I didn’t think I had to do that here. If you wanted me to “act right,” did it ever occur to you to provide some guidelines?
Sue introduced me to a girl my age named Maureen. If good behavior was that summer’s objective, Maureen was not the companion to encourage it. She was a preacher’s kid, and with her bleached blonde hair; tight, short skirts; and sullen, made-up face, Maureen could smoke, drink, swear, and flirt with more vigor than anybody I knew. I was very impressed.
As Sue had introduced me to Maureen, and as Sue continually drove me to Maureen’s house to hang out, I assumed that Aunt Sue was cool with whatever Maureen and I did. I later did not understand why Aunt Sue introduced me to this girl and encouraged me to hang out with her if she expected me to act like a Girl Scout. Mind you, we weren’t doing anything all that shocking. Smoking a few cigarettes, wearing too much makeup, flirting with boys, wishing we could get our hands on some booze. I didn’t think these behaviors were all that terrible, so I didn’t lie about what we were doing.
Maureen and I hung out with her older brother and some of his friends, including I boy named Roger who “liked” me. He was a couple of years older—a real teenager—and he was not very smart. I remember that he scared me with his dull mind and big male body, but because the ultimate accomplishment in my pubescent mind was to have a boy—any boy—notice me, I encouraged Roger’s interest as best I knew how.
I remember the beauty and the excitement of California. It was 1963, and it was a young and golden place, just like the Beach Boys said it was. I was sure that something incredible was bound to happen at any time. There was a sense of life and immediacy to California that transcended the uncertainty outside me and the turmoil inside.
Little surfer little one
Made my heart come all undone
Do you love me, do you surfer girl
Surfer girl my little surfer girl
I have watched you on the shore
Standing by the ocean’s roar
Do you love me do you surfer girl
Surfer girl surfer girl
(Little Surfer. Written by Brian Wilson. 1963. The Beach Boys).
But no sooner than I started to feel some kind of safe, I was put right back onto that plane and sent back to Denver. It’s amazing I didn’t get a whiplash from that boomerang, it all happened so fast. It was as though the entire summer had never happened.
“I just can’t have you here,” was the only explanation offered by Aunt Sue.
What did I do wrong? What was going on?
I saw no reason to ever trust an adult again.
Gardening grandma riddled with radical biophilia in the nice Midwest. Animism. Permaculture. Social Justice. Beauty. Dogs. Photography. Retired Writer-Editor working to raise awareness of child abuse, child neglect, and CPTSD.
I am writing my memoir.