In the summer of 1948 Dad moved us to a Navy base twenty miles from San Diego. Val, Chip, and I lived with him, Gammie, Poppy, and Dad’s sister, Aunt Jane in a three-bedroom olive-drab Quonset hut of wood siding, 20 feet by 48 with tongue-and-groove wood floor. The infrequent rain echoed on the curved tin roof. Dad had ignored the Florida order requiring him to send us to Mom for the summer. She came to visit us in Vallejo and found no one at home. She learned where the Navy moved Dad and arrived at the hut in her rented car after Dad had left for work in his khaki Navy Uniform.
Mom knocked on the door. Chip swung it open with me behind. Mom’s blue eyes, a wide smile, and her mellow voice welcomed us and filled me with joy, “Would you like to come to Miami?”
“Yes,” I exclaimed.
“Me too,” Chip added. We ran to her waiting arms, hugged, and kissed her, and got into her rental car.
Aunt Jane heard the commotion and came outside flustered by the turn of events. “Your father will be angry when he comes home this afternoon,” she yelled.
So glad to see Mom and go to Miami, we ignored Aunt Jane’s plea. “Get down out of sight,” Mom said, fearing Dad would have police searching for us. Such a change of custody would be kidnapping except Mom’s right of visitation allowed self-help before courts honored sister-state’s divorce decrees avoiding the expense of another court order.
She drove us to San Diego and returned the car to a rental agency.
She hailed a taxi to the train station where we scrambled onto a train headed for Miami.
Chip and I played cards with Mom in the lounge car, eating sandwiches, drinking root beer or coke, and watching the open spaces, hills, and valleys across California and Arizona until we were tired and went to sleep in the sleeper car. We climbed into bunk beds, Mom kissed us goodnight and we closed the curtains. Soon we drifted asleep to the rocking and rolling of the train.
Three days later we transferred to the Orange Blossom Special for Miami. Grampa and Ruthie met us at the station, hugged and kissed us, and drove us to our home on N.E. 34th street. My prayers had finally been answered: I would live with Mom, Chip, and Sheba at “the cottage.” Ruthie and Grampa were close by. It did not take Chip much time to interrupt this heavenly atmosphere by verbally teasing and physically bulling me. Name calling was his favorite. I was a “puner” or a “weakling.” If I ignored him, he would pound his fist into one of my shoulders to annoy me, but unknowingly he was making me tougher.
One day when we both were visiting Ruthie and Grampa, I complained about Chip’s verbal harassment. Ruthie suggested a way of dealing with hurtful words: “When Chip teases you, think of the words ‘duck’s back.’ Nature provides oil on duck feathers to prevent water from making it cold. They preen their feathers to spread the oil on. Water rolls off their backs when they waddle onto land or when they come to the surface. When Chip calls you a hurtful name, remember the duck’s back and let the words roll off like water rolls off a duck.”
Ruthie’s wisdom helped me realize Chip’s words could no longer hurt me. I was in control of my emotions with a simple strategy, which improved my relationship with Chip because when he could not provoke me. He either ignored me, or found a way to include me in a game or other activity.