June was born in a middle sized southern town and began at an early age to display the type of energy born to one who is bound to succeed. The youngest daughter, in a family where siblings had left the nest to find their way in the business and academic worlds, June was a “miss-thought” as her mother liked to tell her friends when explaining how this late birth could have happened to such an older couple. However, the accident of her birth actually gave June quite an added advantage, unknown to anyone but herself, as her parents no longer cared to discipline another child. Although they totally adored her, they gave her a completely free rein to come and go, as she pleased, at a decidedly young early age. Having heard these words of explanation, as she matured, June accepted that since her birth was different from others so, perhaps, she was also.
Rules never applied to June, within her mind at least. Of course when we were in fifth grade together she had to follow the same disciplines as the rest of us – standing straight and tall as we lined up for our morning bathroom break, behaving in the school cafeteria during lunch time, and not running, screaming to the top of our lungs, when the final school bell signified that the past seven hours was finally coming to an end. These things she did, and she got along well with others having lots of friends – but to her mind she was always in a separate category where friends were mere acquaintances; to her way of thinking, as she considered it unnecessary to share her true nature with anyone else.
And so it happened that one day, on the way to school, while walking by the tennis courts that adjoined the school property, she decided, within her unlimited eleven year old imagination of course, that she was just not cut out for this type of life – wasting precious hours a day in the stupidity of learning what, to her mind, she already knew in a forced study arena labeled school by adults wanting to rid themselves of the presence of children. A plan began to formalize itself in her brain; she needed some space – a lot of space, as a matter of fact, to distance herself from the idiocy of such an institution, as well as the out-dated and out-moded attitude of her parents.
But where could an eleven year old find a secret physical space in which to be alone and how could she begin to make an escape from what she already considered a mediocre and boring life? A plan began to formulate as she skipped along the sidewalk, being sure not to step on the cracks lest she “break her mother’s back”. Back in 1951 schools were not all that strict and absences were only noticed at early morning roll call. Slowly it dawned on her that she would not be able to completely miss school but that if she could devise a strategy where she could interrupt a five day school week with just a few absences perhaps she could remain undetected.
And so a pattern was devised whereby June would attend school on Monday and Tuesday, miss school on Wednesday and Thursday, and then attend again on Friday. Tutoring was rare in those days, but she certainly needed help in math, so a letter explaining that she was receiving help in that field at a prominent center several hundred miles from Richmond, where she lived, should not be that hard to devise. After all, Washington D.C. was the capital in more ways than one and she had recently discovered, in a letter addressed to her parents from her older sister, an academic at Georgetown that the school was setting up a program for slow learners in mathematics. How easy it would be to forge such a letter enabling her to miss each Wednesday and Thursday in order to receive tutoring in this new developmental program.
With that problem mentally solved June turned her attention as to what she would actually do during her two free days. Her parents had acquired their home, a rambling old turn of the century house, during the war years when the family that had owned it decided to downsize because of their son’s death during combat. The memories were too great as they passed his bedroom each day going down the stairs to the kitchen and first floor. June’s parents just happened to be in the right place at the right time and bought the old place for a pittance of its worth.
Located in the middle of a street with the same generation of homes, it was rarely noticed as standing out. And with its large front lawn and bending old oaks attention rarely diverted to behind the house where there stood a decrepit old garage used for years as a storage room. As the sellers had no need for what was in storage yet did not want to decide upon what to leave and what to take, June’s parents offered to let the garage remain as it was and for them to take their time with any decisions they might want to make concerning the contents in storage.
What a perfect secret space that garage would make, thought June as she rounded the corner, running down the sidewalk and up the front stairs of her school, two at a time. Why hadn’t she thought of this before? No one would ever see her in the garage as it faced a dirt alley that was seldom used by anyone now that her parents, as well as her neighbors, preferred a car-port located closer to the entrance of their homes.
June slept little that night. The wheels of her, as yet undeveloped brain, kept visualizing scenes of rapture – days spent within isolation of the dark garage amidst furniture and memorabilia belonging to others. She arranged and rearranged the old room several times, imagining the treasures that lay hidden there. By the time Saturday arrived, when she was to go on a treasure hunt with the local Girl Scout group, she was thoroughly exhausted. At breakfast she told her mother that she was feeling ill and wanted to go to her room to rest and read and because her mother always believed her, she was happy to call the Scout Mistress and report her absence due to health. Her mother then promptly left for a day of grocery shopping, as well as other errands, leaving June on her own until late afternoon.
With visions of a room of her own, away from prying eyes, telephones and such, June quietly let herself out the back door and into the garage. It was a mess, there was no getting around that, but with normal eleven year old energy, she had it moved around and settled in, in virtually no time at all. The old maid’s quarter was one large room that actually opened onto the alleyway behind June’s house. When standing in the alley facing the room you could see the doorway with a small window to the left at midway next to it. Upon entering the room, and directly opposite the door was a solid wall; to the left was a small room containing a sink, toilet and shower while opposite was a wall with a large window in the center of it. June quickly decided to take the old kitchen table, that was against the solid wall and held stacks of boxes, and place it under the window. This was to be the focus of her new life – a room with a view of the lovely green lawn that filled in the back of the house and went up the sides to join, in a most peaceful way, with the front lawn.
With this in mind, June had most of the old furniture and boxes neatly stacked against the solid wall in no time, being careful to dust each with a damp cloth that she kept continually rinsing in the bathroom basin. She carefully washed the windows, having gone into her mum’s kitchen and brought back rags, soap and vinegar, which her mother used for almost all household chores. By noon she had the room arranged to her pleasure and, having secured an old high back chair, settled herself in front of the table to look out of the window onto the lawn.
The former owner of the home had been a British couple transplanted to the Washington area with the government. As a garden lover, the lady of the house had been sure to border the large boxwood hedge that enclosed the entire lawn of the home with Algerian Iris – fragrant, blue-purple flowers that begin to bloom in the fall, Snow Drops with their lovely white-green down-turned bloom and Jelena Witch Hazel which feature wild spirals of orange and red petals. This rainbow of colors was a delight to June’s eyes and put her immediately into a mood of reflective dreaming.
In 1951 television had not yet been introduced into the average American home so other types of diversions were necessary for enjoyment. Card trading was extremely popular among pre-teen girls, for most adults loved playing card games and June’s were no exception. Because of this playing cards were all the rage and there were literally thousands of card faces that were available. All of June’s friends were card collectors with most having them divided into areas such as flowers, scenes, dogs, horses (a favorite with girls of June’s age) and various landscapes – including bodies of water such as oceans and seas. June had almost 300 of these cards in her collection and eagerly looked forward to building up her landscape collection when trading with friends after school and on weekends. She carried them in a cloth envelope, tied tightly with a wide rubber band, and took them with her wherever she went as one could never tell when another card trader would appear.
Sitting down at the table in front of the side window looking out into the rainbow of floral color in her side yard, June picked up her trading cards and quickly shuffled through her favorites featuring landscapes and oceans. There was a particular card that was much loved by her featuring a setting sun throwing out brilliant rays upon a lonely beach being pounded with white surf. As June gazed at the card she could hear the roar of the sea. When her parents took her to Virginia Beach as a child, she would always bring back the largest seashell she could find to keep as a token of this memory in her room. She now had a nice collection of conch shells and when bored would put each up to her ear so that she could listen to the various roars of the sea.
Remembering this, she quickly returned to her house, went up the back stairs to her room and collected her favorite shell, some writing paper and a pencil. With much eagerness, and a glowing face filled with determination, she returned to her secret room and comfortably situated herself in her newly conscribed chair. Picking up her favorite ocean card, she looked at it steadily. Had I been there I would have seen the wheels of her mind turning mindfully in thought. Turning to the window, and facing it straight on, June began to compose a story about a wonderful day in her past when she had been at the beach with her parents playing in the surf. Closing her eyes she thought back as to how the water felt as it played upon her small body, waves cresting, knocking her down into the sand below. The beauty of looking out into the oncoming water and seeing the white mist as the wind blew it upward from the waves filled her vivid imagination.
Before June even realized what was happening her right hand left the card she was holding and began to write on the paper that she had brought down from her room. Feeling the water caressing her body, the wind blowing against her torso and the total joy of being at the edge of the ocean with the pounding surf, she began to write. She was not at all aware of how the words came, formed and were then transposed into sentences, followed by paragraphs and then by pages. She became transferred by the images in her mind and continued with the writing of her thoughts without an awareness of spelling, capitalization or form. She simply wrote of the story that was playing in her mind, as if on a stage, enjoying each new feeling as though she was there in person at that moment, playing in the sea.
Unaware of time, the moments turned into hours – by four o’clock she noticed that the sun was beginning to set as winter was fast approaching. She looked up into a darkening sky and realized that she had to return to the house immediately lest she be missed. Putting her pencil on top of her paper, June returned the ocean trading card to the pack, wrapped the cloth envelope with its rubber band, got up and sliding the chair into place underneath the table, went to the door. Quietly opening it, she let herself out, shut it and then walked steadily into the house, returning to her room by the back stairway.
With thoughts of the sea still occupying her minds she laid down on her bed and looked into the clouded sky out of the window on the side of her bedstead. Not two moments later her mother quietly knocked at her door inquiring as to her health and how she was feeling. Being in a contemplative mood, with the spell of her afternoon adventure still lingering in her mind, she asked her mother to enter, gave her a meaningful kiss and told her that she was feeling better and would love a little something to eat as she was quite hungry. As all mothers love to feed the ones they love, her mother received the kiss, turned and headed out the door and down the back stairs into the kitchen – filled with love in her heart for her daughter.
Thus began the secret life of June, who would grow to be a revered writer in her day. She never really told me of how many actual days of school she missed in her elaborate scheme, but I have a feeling that she finally conformed to what was expected of her and somehow fitted her secret life into the confines of reality. It was with great pleasure that I noted her newest book of short stories listed in the New York Times Best Sellers list last Sunday.