My first memory of my brother, Chip, and my sister, Val, occurred when they arrived in Miami by train from Chicago when I was four. They stayed with Dad’s parents during the war when Mom needed a break and had only me to deal with while she recuperated from a serious bout of depression. Mom and I went to meet them to bring them to our home in her blue 1945 Ford coupe. As they walked up to Mom’s car I sat in the back seat playing with a toy car. Val wore a pink ribbon in her neatly kept brown hair and blue dress. At nine years old, she towered over both Chip and me. She took the front seat next to Mom. At nearly six, Chip was taller than me, had a husky build and wore a brown short-sleeved shirt with blue trousers. He jumped into the back seat, grabbed my toy car, and ran its wheels back and forth over the carpet. No one had ever taken a toy from me before.
“Give my car back.”He ignored me and kept playing. “Chip took my toy car.”
“Give him back his toy and get along while I’m driving,” Mom said.
“Here’s your car, baby,” he said.
Moving far away from him I continued to play with my car aware of a new threat. His size, strength, and attitude intimidated me, and intruded into my peaceful world. Soon we arrived at our home with a large front yard leading to a two story green and white house we called the cottage. Our black Cocker Spaniel, Sheba, licked both of them on the face as they smiled and bent down to greet her. Val hugged her while Chip stroked her back. Both Val and Chip loved animals, so I felt better about them.
Mom bought us a library full of books that we read, or she would read to us. Chip and I decided to rent some of the books to our friends in the neighborhood for a nickel a piece but later learned that one family of friends called us hustlers for doing this.
Val attended an elementary school in a different part of Miami a long distance away from our house. After Mom put Chip on a bus for his school, she took Val to her school and I rode with them. Val’s elementary class chose her to act the part of Peter Pan in their play after a competition. She and Mom picked out the material for her costume and then Mom made it on her sewing machine. Val tried on her green Peter Pan costume and then waltzed around the house preparing for her role. We loved her performance dancing and pretending to fly in Neverland with the fairies and pirates a few weeks later.
After school let out for the summer, Val went back to Chicago to stay with Dad and his parents. Mom had her hands full with all of us, and Val had spent more time with Dad’s parents than any of us so it relieved Mom of the extra pressure and did something Val wanted.
Mom bought me a cardboard castle for my birthday for use to play with my many toy soldiers. She and Chip put the pieces together like a puzzle setting it up. The large grey castle had spires, a stairway up to a second floor, and looked like it was made of many big rocks painted on the cardboard. On the second floor, I set my toy soldiers with guns ready at many turrets and spent hours playing adventures, battles, and plots.
Chip started a fight when I objected to his incessant teasing after my birthday and somehow convinced Mom it was my fault since she saw me swing at him. She had not seen his hard blow to my arm and restricted me to the house while they went out for awhile. In a fit of frustration and anger, I ripped a part of the spire to the castle. Realizing how foolish that was, I continued to play with my soldiers in it until they returned. When Mom she saw the rip in the castle she said, “Danny what have you done to your castle we spent so much time building for you?
“Mom, I made a big mistake and I’m sorry,” I said failing to explain how the fight began with Chip’s punch.
She became so outraged for my temper tantrum, she picked up the castle and threw it in the trashcan, “I hope you learn your lesson not to destroy something others worked so long on for you.”
“Mom please let me play with my castle. I’m very sorry,” I cried out as she took away my favorite plaything. Because I had played with it despite the damage, I pleaded with her to let me retrieve it. Her final decision made me miserable. Mom had limits my tantrum had violated. I vowed never to do such a foolish thing again.
Often I played near a swing Mom had made tied to a tree through a six-foot high hedge that ran south to the street about one hundred feet away. The hedge separated our front yard from busy Biscayne Boulevard another twenty-five feet to the west. As I moved back and forth on the swing, I felt an awful burning sting on my left ear. I felt another on my face and another on my neck. Three wasps stung me at the same time! I screamed as I ran toward home. “Ouch! Oww Ouch! Mom, Mom, wasps stung me!”
Mom came to my rescue, “Here, I have just the thing for those nasty wasps.” She knew how to treat the stings with a mixture from the medicine cabinet and placed it on each one, “Now lie down and rest, dear.”I had never experienced anything more painful. I must have disrupted the wasps’ home. “Stay away from the swing until I use a strong spray on the hedge.”
One night right after Mom read a story to Chip and me and tucked us into bed a few weeks later, an excruciating pain struck my left foot as bad as a wasp sting. “OUCH! OOOHWW!” I screamed loudly and started crying.
“What’s wrong?” said Mom as she turned on the light and pulled back the covers. A large dark brown scorpion with a curled tail and two claws scurried away. Mom took me to the bathroom medicine cabinet and treated my pain with the medicine she used on the wasp stings. It calmed me down, but the experience frightened, upset, and hurt me. We searched everywhere for that scorpion pulling all the covers off and using a flashlight under the bed. Eventually Mom said, “It must have run away. Go to bed Danny, and we all need to get some sleep. You’ll feel much better in the morning.”
“OK Mom, I’ll try.” Finally after awhile I drifted off. About a half an hour later, another bite worse than the first one pierced me on the inside of my right arm. “OOOWCH OWOW! It got me again!” Mom and I went through the same drill as before. We began a diligent search for the culprit and found the scorpion tucked in the bed between the sheets and mattress. Mom took a broom to it and after a strong swipe, ended it with a stomp of her shoe.
In a few weeks, I contracted scarlet fever that knocked me out for a couple of weeks in bed. Dr. Lowe came for a house visit and gave Mom the instructions on how to handle this situation. “Danny’s fever has risen to 104. I’m forced to place the house under quarantine. Danny must stay inside until we lift the quarantine.” With the medications, ice packs, lots of iced lemonade, water, and good soups, I slowly got better and the fever broke.
Mom said, “What can I get for you to eat at the store now that Dr. Lowe says you can have something you really want?”
After considering the matter and remembering Thanksgiving dinner as one of the best meals Mom ever fixed, I said, “A turkey sandwich with cranberries and mayonnaise.” In an hour, Mom came back from the store with a scrumptious turkey sandwich, French fries, and a glass of seven up. That meal tasted wonderful, as I had not eaten a full meal for two weeks.
Mom smiled after I finished my fabulous meal, “Danny, you can go outside and play tomorrow. You look like you’ve fully recovered. Go to sleep and tomorrow you’ll be playing with Chip again. The quarantine is over.”