Invisible Girlfriends

The Holy Names Sisters had a summer house or retreat next door to our homestead at Portage.  The Nuns called it Holy Names Villa where they all lived in little block houses you could hardly tell a part.  The Villa had been built as a Tuberculosis sanitarium by our Uncle Bill Mattson who had been a surgeon in Tacoma.  The Sisters were all dressed the same, in black habits, so you could hardly tell one from the other.  We didn’t talk to them much because their “retreats” were silent, or because Grandma Ada told all us kids just “Not to bother the Sisters”.  If we stepped into the madrona stand between the nunnery and the homestead, we could hear the nuns giggle or sometimes even sing as they did their chores.

They sure were “nice” unlike the nuns at catechism in Dockton where a person had to dodge a ruler if he stepped out of line.  If Sister Benedict caught you knapping, you had to hold out your hands to her, palms up, as she whacked them several times with her wooden ruler.  She wore a wide brown belt and her rosary beads went around her ample middle, which made her look even meaner.  Cousin Kathy reports, “She wore motorcycle boots.”  She was fat, so she probably didn’t swim, but the other sisters swam and we snuck into the woods to watch them in their heavy, black-wool swimsuits and white caps.  Cousin Judy called them “penguins” because she didn’t know better.

I didn’t have a real girlfriend until the third grade and Pat Bradley was eighteen and our baby sitter, mainly because Bradley’s lived right beside us and they had more than our five acres, I know that for sure.  There was a tall board fence, mostly hidden in the bushes and a seven foot tall wooden gate right between the two yards, though most of the time “the gate” was open, except when our Labrador dog, Pan was in heat and Kit’s collie couldn’t get to her.  Bradley’s parcel extended across a steep canyon and to Joslyn’s south border on the other side.

My brother Mike and Sister Molly and I bunked in a room right above the trash burner in the kitchen, so we had plenty of heat in the winter.  That’s where Pat would chase us when it was time to go to bed.  We had been making too much noise again and I jumped to the covers for the protection the blankets gave me when Pat’s hairbrush descended upon my rump.  I yelled “bloody murder”; though it really didn’t hurt at all.  It was only a year later that Pat gave me her Girl Scout pin, so we were more than just friends.

The next girlfriend didn’t know it until the fifth grade, my having secretly admired the Doctor’s daughter since the fourth grade.  I always thought that Sharon was much smarter than I was and so when Mrs. Clarke nominated Sharon Osborne and me for the P.I Quizdown, which was a yearly affair for the smartest kids in school and put on by an old time Seattle newspaper.  I was sure that she had made a mistake on my part and really meant to choose someone else.  I missed my last question in that old P.I. building, the one that had the world on top.  I told them, “The deepest part of the United States is Lake Superior;” when the answer was “Death Valley.”  I can only remember taking Sharon to the Vashon Theater one time for a John Wayne western when I didn’t think she really liked westerns.  Or, maybe she didn’t like the way I put my arm around her shoulders, not having learned my limits yet, or maybe a young person’s tendency to have “secret crushes.”

John Sweetman:  “remembers that it was a given that ‘your girlfriend’ was not to be known.  John’s old friend, Gene Anundson (island guy) betrayed him in the 6th grade, telling Marylyn MCKeever that ‘I liked her’… so shameful and degrading …no girl should EVER know that she’s … a …girl friend!!!  He got back at Gene for ‘telling’, but can’t remember how.”

Sean@vashonloop.com