Friday, August 29, 2014


Monday, June 10, 1935
     Greetings, dear diary.   Right now you are only a notebook full of blank pages, but get ready to be full of my secrets.  I hope you won’t get claustrophobia when I shove you way, w-a-a-y under my mattress.  There is a certain person in this house who would love to get her hands on you.  Attention Janeth: Snoopers never read good of themselves.
     Janeth is my 10 year old sister.  I am 13, and my hobbies are 1st reading, 2nd going to the movies, and 3rd golf.  My brother is 19, and he doesn’t like me.  Don’t ask me why.   I never tattle on him when he’s mean to me because he gets punished enough by our father.
     I have a darling beautiful mother named Ernestine who is around 40 years old..  She used to be an opera singer and we didn’t see much of her in those days.  We heard her more than we saw her.  She would turn the water on in the bathroom and practice her scales.  I can remember being allowed to stay up late when she sang on the radio. 
     My father David is 13 years older than my mother and has wavy hair that was straight until he got maleria in the Spanish American war.  He is a very strict man, especially with my brother.    I usually didn’t know why my brother was getting punished except when he wet the bed.  I could hear him getting the razor strap almost every morning.  When he got to be 12 and still wet the bed, my father tried a new punishment.  He made Dick stand in the front hall for 2 hours with his wet sheets hanging over his head..   When Vaughan called the family to dinner, he still had to stand there.  I went down the back stairs and through the kitchen to get to the dining-room.  I felt so sorry for him, I didn’t want to walk past him. 
     You're probably wondering who Vaughan is.  When my Aunt Mimmy got sick with cancer, mother hired  Vaughan to help take care of her.    She wore a white uniform and cooked wonderful meals, but my aunt hardly touched the food on her tray..  I never saw her up and around.  All I knew was, she didn’t like noise.  Every morning she would call me into her room and promise Janeth and I a nickel if we’d try not to shout in the back yard.  I’m afraid we often forgot, but she gave us the nickel anyway. 
     No one told me Aunt Mimmy was dying.  To me, she was just a white face on a white pillow.   Then one day she dissapeared.  When I was older, Vaughan described the way she died.     
     “I’ll never forget seeing your mother holding Aunt Mimmy in her lap in the rocking chair.  She had lost so much weight, it was easy to lift her out of bed.  Mother rocked her and sang to her in a soft voice, and after awhile Aunt Mimmy just stopped breathing.  She went very peacefully.”
     That was the end of the nickels, of course.


Wednesday, June 12, 1935
     I stayed home from school today because I didn’t feel well.  I read all morning.  Then Betty Cronin invited me over to play golf and have supper.  The Cronins back yard is on the golf course of the Oakley Country Club.  All you have to do is walk past Toby’s pen, climb over the stone wall, and you’re in the middle of the ninth fairway.  I still wasn’t feeling well, so my game was awful.  When we were walking back to her house, Betty suddenly decided she was going to give me a passionate kiss.  That’s what I got for telling her about a romantic movie I’d seen.  She chased me through the yard and all over the house.   I was working myself up to a point of hysteria when her mother said, “What on earth are you girls doing?”  Betty stopped chasing me, much to my relief.  She’d make a swell boy!
     Mother’s friend Auntie Alma Rush and her son John are here now and are going to stay over night.  I can remember when I was very little I wept and wept because mother said no when I wanted to sleep with him.  I stood on the stairs crying and wanting to know why not.  Because,”  said mother, making me go to bed alone, much to my dissapointment. 
     John and Dicky still kid me about the scene I made.  I pretend I don’t know what they’re talking about.
Saturday, June 22, 1935
     Yesterday was the last day of school.  Betty Cronin made an appointment with me to play golf at 9:30.   I was afraid she’d be mad at me because I was a half hour late.  To my indignance I found her sitting with her dog with her pajamas on.  On Betty, not the dog.  She said she would be dressed in two minutes, but dammit, she wasn’t.  It seemed more like 2 hours.  Dammit.  (Boy, I’m having fun writing this.)  Well, anyway, we finally got out on the golf course to find we couldn’t even play one hole, it was so crowded.  I was dam sore at Betty.  We played tennis instead.
    After supper at my house we went to see Shirley Temple in “Our Little Girl.”  It was adorable.  Betty stayed overnight and kept me awake by chewing gum, whistling through her teeth, etc.
Sunday, June 23, 1935
     This morning I went home with Betty, and she had to go to church because she’s a Catholic.  I’m a Congregationalist, so God doesnt get upset if you miss church.  When she got back, we had dinner.  Then we decided to play tennis, so Betty went up to get dressed.  The time she took getting ready would have been enough for me to read five books! (thick ones)  At last she appeared looking very innocent.  I was about ready to blow up.  We played a couple of sets and then went back to Betty’s house.  Mother was there having a cup of tea and talking to Aunt Emmy.  She took us down to the Happy Daze.  Daddy was puttering around in the middle of the river and said he’d be ready in five minutes.  (LIKE FUN!)  We waited and waited and waited.  We got so sick of waiting that mother left and took us to the island for a swim.
     What island, you ask?  Our island on the Charles River.  Daddy bought some land a couple of  years ago and the island came with it.  Last summer Daddy and Dick built a bridge so we could walk through the woods to a little beach.  Daddy and Dick built a dock and a diving board, too.  I don’t think my brother liked all that hard work, but he knew better than to argue with daddy.


August 17, 1935
     Fourteen years old!  But that’s not so old -- 15 is what Im looking forward to, and 16.
I played tennis with Betty Cronin this morning.  We had lunch at the Cronins, and then mother and Aunt Emmy took us to the movies.  We saw “Alice Adams” with Katherine Hepburn and Kenny MacMurray.  It was marvelous.
Sunday, August 18, 1935
     Have I got a lot to tell you!  Betty and I were going to play golf, but we decided it was too hot.  I was telling her about a book I’d been reading.  Betty is a year older than I am but knows absolutely nothing about the facts of life.  I told her she’d learn plenty from a steamy scene in Anthony Adverse.  She said the Carrols (the Cronin’s neighbors and dearest friends) had a copy and they were away for the summer.  Let’s go over and see if we can get in, she said.
     It seemed like an exciting plan to me, so I agreed.  We got a hammer, a saw, and a screw-driver out of the Cronin’s garage.  First we tried to get into the house by the cellar.  It was the kind with a couple of slanting doors that open to each side.  We went down the steps and found the door below didn’t have a lock or anything we could pry open.  We pushed and hammered for a while, but it didn’t do any good.  Then we found a side door.  We undid a lot of screws, but the door wouldn’t open.  We put the screws back and went around front to try the front door.  We unscrewed the screws and took off the door-knob.  Nothing happened.  We were about to put the door-knob back on when Betty said, Look!  There’s a car stopping out front.  Run!
     We rushed around in back of her house and into Toby’s pen.  We turned on the hose and started cooling him off and trying to look innocent when Mrs. Cronin called, Betty and Barbara, you’re in trouble!  Betty ran and looked and gasped, There’s a policeman with her!
     She was all jittery and scared, but I wasn’t very much.  The policeman took us over to Carroll’s and asked us if we’d taken the doorknob off.  We said we had.  He said house-breaking was a criminal offense and we could go to jail for it.  He told Mrs. Cronin that he almost shot us when we started to run, but then he saw we were just young girls.
      They found our tools and asked Mrs. Cronin if she had seen two girls.  She said it was probably us.
     The police-man said he’d have to take us to the station to see the chief.  On the way he said the chief had a reputation for being strict.  Mrs. Cronin came along because she wanted to fix it so it wouldn’t be in the papers.
     We were brought before the chief, who kept saying he couldn’t understand it and wanted to know why we were trying to get into the house.  We couldn’t very well tell him about Anthony Adverse, so we said we’d done it just in fun and didn’t realize it was so serious.  You just can’t explain things like that.  Only a young person would understand.  He sent us out and Mrs. Cronin stayed and talked with him.  She told him about our families, our characters, and our former behavior.  She talked us out of it so we don’t have a police record.  We didn’t even stay over night in a cell.  I was rather dissapointed about that.  Aunt Emmy was awfully upset.  It didn’t bother me much because we knew we weren’t doing anything intentionally wrong.  We were just looking for information.


Monday, August 19, 1935
     Am I indignant!  Mother called Mrs. Cronin and invited Betty and her to go fishing with us.  Mrs. Cronin said she didn’t think Betty and I ought to play together any more because I was a bad influence for Betty.  Betty was such a quiet, good girl, but I was very lively and adventurous.  She said I rush all over her house.  What a lie.  The only time I remember rushing was when Betty tried to give me a passionate kiss.  Oh, and another time she hit me playfully, but it hurt so much I ran out of the room and downstairs, almost crying.
     Mother immediately defended me and reminded Aunt Emmy that yesterday’s event was Betty’s idea.  Aunt Emmy said Mr. Cronin was very grim with Betty.  He said if he’d been home, he’d of licked us both.  When mother heard that she was mad as anything.  There just children, she said.  I burned down a barn when I was young.
     Daddy was very stern with me, too, but he softened up when I began to cry.     The family went out tonight for a picnic and a ride on the Happy Daze.  I got all the dust in Boston on my arms and legs, so Betty’s Bad Influence is going to take a bath.
Wednesday, August 21, 1935  
     I knit on my dress this morning.  Vaughan showed me how to use the circular needle and helped me pick out the coral colored yarn.  While I was knitting I thought about John and my insides jumped all around.  He’s the first boy I’ve ever really liked.
     I played golf with Betty this afternoon.  My score was all nines to fifteens.  She told me what it would cost to fix the door. $15.00 or seven and a half apiece.  I guess I’ll be broke for the rest of the summer.
Thursday, August 22, 1935
     Ever since our Anthony Adverse mission failed, Betty has been pestering me to tell her the facts of life.  I said we’d have to find the right time. If her mother ever caught us talking about s-x, she’d really think I was a Bad Influence.  Yesterday looked like a good time.  Aunt Emmy was taking Carol to the dentist, so no one would be home except the maid.
     Mother had given me a book called “Growing Up” when I got my period.  What I always liked best about this book is the picture of a tiny little baby sitting in the middle of a black page.  It isnt more than half an inch tall (sitting down), and it is adorable.  Underneath the picture it says this is the babys size after it’s been growing for a month.  Yesterday I put  “Growing Up” in my golf bag, figuring it would be a help in explaining exactly how the egg gets fertilized. 
     Mother dropped me off at about 10:00.   We walked out on the course, played a few holes of golf, then looked through Betty’s yard to see if Aunt Emmy’s car was gone.  We did this three times before the driveway was finally empty.  I said, “Okay, let’s go into the living room, but before we start I want you to get a Bible and the checkerboard.”
    “What on earth for?” asked Betty.
      “The Bible is for you to swear on.  I’m not going to tell you anything until you solemnly swear that you’ll never tell your mother-- and never, never tell your father -- what we talked about today.”  As you can see, I’m still afraid of Mr. Cronin because of what he said after our house-breaking adventure.  Betty got the family Bible and swore she’d keep our conversation a secret. Then she wanted to know what the checkerboard was for.
      “We’ll set it up between us, so if anyone comes in unexpectedly, we’ll be having an innocent game of checkers.  Then we won’t have to worry about looking guilty.”  Betty thought this was a very good idea.


       The first step was to find out how much Betty already knew about s-x.  “Okay, I said, “do you know where babies come from?”
      She said a seed, so I asked her where the seed came from, and she said, “From God, of course.”  I said, well maybe God started the whole business, but once men and women got the idea, they began making babies by themselves.”
      “After Adam and Eve, you mean?”
     “Yes, after Eve ate the apple and told Adam what I’m trying to tell you.”
      “They had to leave the Garden of Eden,” Betty said sadly.  Even a Congregationalist knew that.  I said, Betty, we’re way off the subject, let’s get back to the seed.  I’ll bet you dont know what makes it grow into a baby.  She said she guessed it just grew, like any other seed.
     “Oh, Betty, there’s so much more to it than that.  Have you ever seen your mother and father without their clothes on?”
     “No,” she said, “have you?”
     That made me giggle.  “Not your mother and father, but I’ve seen my mother and father a million times.  Mother says there’s nothing about the human body to be ashamed of.” 
      I began trying to explain how the father fertilizes the mother’s egg.   She had no idea what I was talking about.  I reached into my shirt and pulled out “Growing Up” and turned to the page with the bookmark.  I said, “Read this part, and you’ll understand.”
     Betty read it and then looked at me with a horrified expression.  “My father would never do such a thing to my mother!  Absolutely never, not even if you held a gun to his head.  And can you picture my mother letting him?”
     I pictured Aunt Emmy with her soft white hair and her sweet (most of the time) face, and then I pictured Mr. Cronin, and I had to agree with Betty.  After I pondered for a minute, the answer suddenly came to me  --a fact of life I couldn’t possibly tell my friend.  She and Carol were adopted.  We heard Aunt Emmy’s car in the driveway, so we got busy with our game of checkers.           
Saturday, November 9, 1935
     Since it is Aunt Emmy’s birthday, Betty wanted to make her some candy.  While we were making it, Betty told me she wanted to go in town with me to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but her mother wasn’t very enthusiastic (because of my being Betty’s bad influence).
     Then Betty wiped some red vegetable coloring on my arm.  I waited until she’d forgotten and wiped some across her cheek.  Soon we were both plastered with it, and at that crucial moment, Aunt Emmy called Betty to get ready because they were going out.  Of course she noticed the red on Betty’s face, and without giving her a chance to explain, immediately thought we had been putting on rouge.  Even when Betty told her what had happened, she continued to think we had been painting our faces.  You see, she hates rouge.  I heard her saying, “When you two get together -- always trouble -- etc. etc.”  Then she told Betty to hurry up and get ready. 
     “But I’m busy, mother,” she protested.  
     “Well, if you’re making anything for me, I’ll throw it out the window!  I don’t care a snap for anything your giving me for my birthday, all I want is obedience!”
     Poor Betty felt awful, so I made a joke.  “Well, if she’s going to throw it out the window, let’s eat it ourselves.”  She didn’t crack a smile.  She said she was going to run away and she wanted me to come with her.  I decided I didn’t have a good enough reason to do that.


     Experience has demonstrated that verses for children need not have the simplified vocabularies of a first grader’s primer. Poet Rumer Godden was convinced of this fact after reading poetry in schools and libraries for ten years. “Although children may not comprehend the exact meaning of a word,” she said in an interview, “they are able to comprehend its meaning within the context of a sentence or stanza.”
     Muriel Rukeyser, in The Life of Poetry, maintains: “Use the word that is the right word for the occasion, whether it is a one-letter, two-letter, [or] twenty-eight letter word. (Beginning readers have a speaking vocabulary of several thousand words.) If the child has to learn the word, so much the better.”
     There are many words in my mother’s poems that may seem difficult for younger children, but they are the right words. Children thrive on the painless vocabulary enrichment provided by poetry filled with whimsy, fantasy, and amusing word play.

                                                          Author photo from The Story of Little-Big
Here is the link to the poet's biography in Wikipedia
    Most of us are familiar with the myths, fables, and legends that have been passed along from one wide-eyed generation of youngsters to the next. Ernestine had a special place in her heart for these imaginative stories, but when it came to retelling them, she just couldn’t help herself: they came tumbling out in verse. 
    You’ll notice that she has a twinkle in her eye and her tongue in her cheek when she gives these classic tales a new twist. For example, her version of . . . .
Androcles and the Lion.

Androcles met an old lion, one day,
Who was limping, he instantly saw.
Poor thing! On a ramble, he'd picked up a bramble
Which painfully poisoned his paw.

Androcles ever so gently removed
The cause of the trouble, they say.
The animal yelped, but the manicure helped,
So he happily bounded away.

Many months later, enslaved by the king,
Androcles trembled with fright,
As he heard a deep roar that he couldn't ignore—
Though he heartily wished that he might!

The king owned a lion, a powerful pet,
With a hunger both greedy and crude.
"Andy, my slave," said the royal old knave,
"You shall furnish my lion with food!"

          He opened a cage and the lion sprang out,

            But something was strangely amiss.

         The lion licked Andy as if he were candy,

       And gave him a welcoming kiss!

               "Good friend," said the lion, "I won't eat you up,

  Oh, not that you wouldn't taste nice,

             But one kindly turn rates another, we learn,

        Run quickly before I think twice!" 



                                                    PANDORA'S BOX

                                           Pandora, my dear, on a long-ago day, 
                      Discovered a box slyly hidden away.

                                       Upon it was written: "Don't tamper with me!

      Unfasten my lock, and it's sorry you'll be!"
  Ignoring the words which were scratched on its lid,

   She was tempted to peek at the treasures it hid . . .

     And being Pandora— that's just what she did!

       Turning the key in the rusty old lock,

    Pandora was instantly smitten with shock!

  For out of that box flew mosquitoes and gnats,

   June bugs and hornets and beetles and bats!
    But that wasn't all!  There came horrider ills:

                                    Toothaches and Headaches and Fevers and Chills!

                                                                            Grace Lawrence
                                  Rainstorms and Brainstorms and Measles and Mumps,

                                 Tumbles and Stumbles and Bruises and Bumps!
                                      Skin-itch and Spinach and Worries and Fears—

   And even such things, my unfortunate dears,
                                As Wearing Your Slippers and Washing Your Ears!

                              Just think!  The whole world would be better, indeed,

                                If only Pandora had known how to read!