When Jenny came home from school that day, the family was all excited about something. Mom, who was usually in an old house dress, was in her Sunday best. She had on one of her two good dresses. This one had big pink roses splashed on a field of black. It was Jenny’s favorite. Her mother was a good looking woman and since dad had left, she had been dating frequently.
“Jenny, go upstairs and make the beds, we are having company.” her mother’s voice was shrill.
“What’s all the commotion?” Jenny asked. Getting a little concerned.
“It is a surprise, will you please do what I asked?”
“Ok, but I don’t know what all the mystery is about.”
Jenny ran upstairs and started making beds. Her two younger sisters were in the small bathroom giggling. She hoped maybe they could shed a little light on the situation but when she asked them, they just ignored her and kept giggling. What can you expect from kids, she thought. Jenny was all of fourteen and as second oldest in the family was very much in control of things. She was blond and blue eyed and rather scrawny yet the boys were beginning to notice her. Her Mother encouraged her in her independence, because she needed Jenny to help at home while she was working. Since Dad left them high and dry when Jenny was seven, she needed every penny she could get to raise her four girls.
Jenny finished making the beds and as she entered her own room, the smell of Summer drifted in through the window. The lace curtains fluttered lazily on the warm breeze. She flopped on the bed and lit a cigarette that she had swiped from her Mother’s purse earlier. Her mind drifted. She evisioned herself a dancer. She and Gene Kelly swayed back and forth to the music and as they swung out and came together, they were lost in each other’s gaze.
Jenny daydreamed more and more lately. It was a way to close out the real world. Ever since Dad had deserted them, there never was enough money but now things were beginning to get better with her and her older sister, Jane working and bringing home some money. Dad had refused even to send home any money from his Army allotment so the decision was taken out of his hands and the Army sent money to us anyway.
Her father was drafted even though he was over forty because he was a deserter of his family and the Army needed all the men they could get. The second world war was in full progress and that’s all that they heard about on the radio. The war! Rationing, black outs, not enough sugar. The last thing is what concerned Jenny the most. She did like to hear President Roosevelt on the radion though. He had a great voice.
Whenever Mom spoke of dad her voice was bitter and Jenny learned to despise his memory even though she didn’t remember him all that much. Mom managed to fill in the blanks with, “We wouldn’t be in this shack with hardly enought to eat if he were any good.” She called him “Mr. Rat” most of the time.
Jenny often wondered if her father would come back and how she would feel if it ever happened. She knew however, with her mom’s attitude, there was slim chance of that happening. As she stubbed out the cigarette, a train whistle blew in the distance and she wondered what it would be like to be on that train. She always dreamed of going to New York and becoming an artist or a dancer.
“Are you finished yet?” Her mother’s voice broke her reverie.
“I’m all done.” She yelled back.
Mom worked hard trying to support the family. She did housework for several people. She was usually tired when she came home and so she put Jenny in charge of watching the kids and cleaning the house in her absence. Jenny liked being in charge. She could boss her younger sisters around whenever she felt like it. They rebelled of course and there was many an argument. Sue was eleven and Mary nine. They clashed loudly with Jenny over who was “in charge.”
“We’re going to tell mom,” was the usual refrain when Jenny pushed too hard.
The house they rented was a two bedroom over a shoemaker shop, Jenny and her older sister, Jane shared one bedroom and the two younger girls shared the other. Mom slept on the couch downstairs. She said she had to keep an eye on the coal stoves so they wouldn’t go out and we would freeze in the Winter. Of course we had to have the stoves going in the Summer to do our cooking. Which made for a very warm house in the Summer.
Jane was sixteen and as the oldest had to quit high school to work and help support the family. As a result of her bringing money in, she became very independent. She assumed no duties at home and paid little or no attention her mother. The younger girls didn’t really remember their father or if they did, it was just a fuzzy outline. Their lives consisted of going to school and playng with their friends.
Jenny had a part time job at a soda fountain not far from home. Her mother knew the owners and helped her get the job for the Summer. She loved the job because she could meet a lot of guys, some of whom were in the service and looked great in their uniforms. She also ate a lot of ice cream sundaes, cokes, burgers and made money besides. She made enough money to buy her clothes for school and even give some to her mother. So between working at home and her part time job, Jenny was kept quite busy.
Jenny’s reverie was interrupted again when she heard her mom’s voice coming from the bottom of the stairs.
“Come on down girls, there’s someone here to see you,” she said.
The younger girls ran down the stairs giggling to see who it was but for some reason Jenny hung back. She had a strange feeling come over her. She really didn’t want to come down and see who it was. She heard a couple of men’s voices that she didn’t recognize. So she stayed in her room until her Mom finally came up and insisted that she come down and meet the visitors.
To be continued.