Sometimes I don’t know what my mother was thinking. She would send me to summer camps; Jewish, Catholic, Protestant…wherever she could get the best deal. She had help: kind relatives, boyfriends and even kindly camp administrators would give her a hand. She was resourceful like that. But it meant often, that not only was I in the minority, sometimes, like at one Jewish summer camp, I was the only one.
But the biggest head scratcher was when she sent me to live with a family of women. Being farmed out wasn’t unusual for me, I lived seven days and nights a week with three different families by the time I was 11. And I always went away to those summer camps. Later, seven years of military school filled the bill. But Nora was a young glamorous mother with two teenage girls. I was in 5th grade, and well, had it been a year later there could have been issues. As it was, I felt drawn to the younger one. I really didn’t understand why, but if I showed it, SHE was certainly old enough to know why. Basically, I had a crush, but had no clue what the hell was going on.
One of the girls had to give up her bedroom and double up with her sister in order to accommodate me. If there was any resentment they never betrayed it which, in retrospect, given their age is pretty remarkable. On the other hand I was sort of the little brother they never had and I functioned as a 24*7 science experiment.
To the girls I was an eating machine. One day they determined to see just how much I could eat at a single seating. They knew I loved French Toast and so that became the test food. I don’t remember how many slices I ate but I know if was well into the teens and they ran out of eggs or patience before I had eaten my fill.
Other than basic oversight, I was pretty much ‘feed and forget’. I made some friends in their neighborhood and when not in school we kept each other occupied with various projects including collecting old newspapers which we could recycle for a little cash and figuring out how to catch frogs at nearby Alley Pond Park. Probably it was good I never caught one because there surely would have been a girl-finds-frog kind of incident.
I remember having to take a couple of buses with my temporary family to go to endless dance recitals. The younger one was taking dance. Normally this would have made me want to blow my brains out, but there was the crush thing so I don’t recall minding all that much.
I don’t remember a whole lot beyond that, but I was treated kindly. It was a little much to ask a single mother of two daughters to oversee a rambunctious boy bent on self-destruction. Plus I was out of walking distance to my school and had to take a city bus everyday to get there and back. Since a city school bus pass would let you travel anywhere in the City of New York by bus or subway this resulted in many un-sanctioned adventures. I don’t know who pulled the plug first, Mom or Nora, but I eventually wound up with a family that had a strong father figure. Good move that.
Nora was not her real name, but recently I connected to someone on one of those old neighborhood nostalgia type sites that remember Nora and the two girls. And his recollection was just the same as mine. (I think he had a crush on one of them too!)
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