Families, especially large families, tend to have legends, lore and stories about their histories. This is one of those stories.
Until I was four, I lived in a very small house on a very large lot, both constantly filled with children. In our 3-bedroom, 1-bath home there were two adults and five kids. One bedroom (downstairs across from the bathroom) was for the parents, one-bedroom (upstairs under the peaked roof and to the right) was the childrens’ room, and one bedroom (upstairs under the peaked roof to the left) was for my father’s model railroad set.
Downstairs was a small eat-in kitchen, a small living room and a big pantry closet under the stairs. The washer and dryer were out back behind the house in a side room of a large shed and garage building. Our freezer was in a room on the other side of that same shed. In the room with the washer and dryer were an old pump organ, lots of moldy old steamer trunks from the relatives, cans of paint, old appliances and tools, and hundreds of other treasures children couldn’t keep their hands off.
We played outside and in that shed a lot to stay out of the way of Mary Elizabeth Baker Williams, the black woman who took care of us, the current baby, and the house. We played cowboys, army, kick-the-can, tag, and of course, hide-n-seek.
I had only just turned four and was not that good at coming up with hiding places. At three you’ve only recently left the stage of believing if you close your eyes, no one can see you. My sister, Pat, age six, on the other hand was brilliant at hiding. I attribute this partly to her naturally sneaky personality which became highly troublesome in her teen years but that’s another story.
This particular sunny summer afternoon, my brother Warren, age five was IT and Pat and I were the hiders. Chubby little Robin, who had just turned three was toddling around somewhere and Mary Elizabeth was in the house with Robert, not yet two and the baby, Cheryl, only five months old. Pat and I were in the shed as Warren counted down and the pressure was on. Behind the organ was out—overused, wedging between the trunks was possible but fairly easy to find. Further back in the shed was not for me—too many spider webs and I was a rather timid child.
In desperation I asked for guidance from my older sister. Pat never really liked me except for a few years in my 30s and 40s when I was a good place to escape from her own six children. I’m fairly certain at age four I already had a scar on the back of my head where she hit me with a conch shell (stitches) and a scar on my little finger (stitches) where she slammed my hand in the door.
Still when she opened the round glass door of the dryer and said, “Hide in here,” it was not my instinct for self preservation that kicked in but rather my desire to win the game. It was an excellent hiding place. Who would think to look there?
I’m a little shaky on the details after that. From the way the story’s been told, Warren ran into the shed, yelled, “I see Wendy,” and hit the button.
I’m not sure how long I bounced around inside before someone ran to get Mary Elizabeth. If only I had been able to brace myself like in some amusement park ride it would have been way cool, but those protrusions inside the cylinder meant to keep your clothes tumbling nicely whacked me mercilessly as I tried to figure out what was going on.
Mary Elizabeth rescued me and shooed us all into the house frantically telephoning my father the doctor at his clinic in the middle of our small town. He, of course was shocked and appalled. “Mary Elizabeth,” he admonished, “all those cameras around and you didn’t get a picture?”
Later when he came home, he spanked us all. Pat for telling me to get in, Warren for turning it on (and for blaming it on Robin) and me, for being foolish enough to get in.
To this day my family believes my hair is curlier than my siblings from being fluff dried at an early age.