We moved from Evanston, Illinois, out to Geneva in the late summer when I was seven. It was a strange move, because my mother was pregnant with my brother John, and had to stay behind in Evanston until the baby was born.
This meant that Norm and I had to start school without having our mother around to do all those things that mothers do at the beginning of a school year, especially at a new school, and, even more especially, if that school is in a brand new town. Norm and I both felt quite strange and abandoned.
I started third grade in a little private school, the Adventure School. I liked it because the classes were small, so it was more interesting than Miller School in Evanston the year before. I can’t remember where Norm went to school that year, but I think it was the Sixth Street Public School, where I also went the following year. Wherever it was, I remember he hated it.
The Adventure School was a new experience, because each student got individual attention instead of being “lost” in a sea of other students. In the middle of the morning, we each got a small bottle of chocolate milk and a graham cracker. The milk came in small glass bottles, frosty from being kept cold in ice, and with round cardboard lids with a tab, so we could pull them open ourselves. I was picky about food and never liked to eat. The chocolate milk and graham crackers we had each morning were the first food I can ever remember looking forward to and savoring.
My brother John was born on the twenty-first of September. I had been hoping and praying (literally) for a little sister. With three brothers, I thought we had more than enough boys in the family already. When the woman who was taking care of us in my mother’s absence got a call from Evanston, and told us we had a new brother, I burst into tears of disappointment. I had to settle for another brother instead of a little sister, who might have helped take the sting out of Norm’s constant reminder, “You’re only a girl!”, a line which was delivered with an air of male superiority and total disgust. However, as soon as I saw Johnny, I accepted him with love, and forgot about needing a little sister.
Our new house was much bigger than the one in Evanston. It had been built in the 1850’s of local fieldstone, which was finished with yellow stucco and white trim. There were three stories, a basement, and a cupola above the attic. That cupola had windows on all sides. Those windows later turned out to be important for an unusual reason. From them, in 1929, we could see the Graf Zeppelin over Chicago 35 miles away. It appeared to be motionless, a long silver tube gleaming in the sky. It was mysterious and exciting. In those days, even hearing an airplane overhead was such a rare occasion, we all rushed outside to see it. They were always biplanes, usually with only one pilot in the open cockpit. Considering the rarity of things in the sky at that time, the sight of the zeppelin made us all gasp in wonder, and left a deep and lasting impression.
Inside our new house there were two large fireplaces downstairs, one in the living room and the other in the dining room. How pleasant it was, when winter came, to have the dining room warmed and cheered by a roaring fire! There were even fireplaces upstairs in the two front bedrooms. We loved the idea of fireplaces upstairs. Sometimes in winter we would all get ready for bed, and my father would read us stories in front of a crackling fire.
The walls of the house were so thick there were window seats at the windows on the first floor. I used to curl up there and read, half hidden by the long window drapes. I loved reading, and when life seemed hard, I would travel far away to some other place and time in a book.
French doors in the living room opened out to a grape arbor that ran all along the side of the house. When the first summer in Geneva came, the vines were loaded with bunches of delicious Concord grapes. We used to eat them and then spit the seeds at each other, thinking we were quite clever. I’m sure our clothes had a great many purple stains on them in those days, and so did the flagstones that lined the floor of the grape arbor!
We had lots of room to play. The yard was large, as the property accompanying the house had originally occupied a whole block. Now there was one house on the east side of the block, and one on the south side. The vacant lots were just left natural, rather like miniature forests, and the rest of the block was ours.
We played "move-up" baseball in our yard with kids from the neighborhood, climbed the crab apple tree and the long-needle pine, and in winter built snow forts and snow men, and threw snow balls at each other.
We all quickly made friends and began to enjoy the relaxed pace of a small town.