It is 1947 and I am surrounded by boxes on every side. Strange men are loading them into a waiting truck. My brothers and I are shifted to the apartment across the hall. What is going on? What is happening? I don’t like it at all.
It is June of 1942. Pearl Harbor was just eight months ago. Men are leaving every day to fight and die in a war that came to us. My Dad is wearing a khaki uniform and blends in with the rest of the mostly male population who are getting ready to fight for freedom. My parents do not have a place to live and apartments are scarce, so my mother takes the train and travels two days to reach Robinson IL where her parents live and where she will await my birth.
On the morning of July 7th my mother is not feeling well, so her Dad takes her to the hospital down the street, where, just after midnight, Jane Corwin makes her appearance, weighing in at 6# 5 ounces. My mother spends the next few weeks learning how to care for me as she waits to hear the news that my dad has found an apartment so we could live together as a family. It was a banner day when the train pulled into Union Station, where the screaming daughter is met by the brand new Dad. Jane is six weeks old.
At age two we move to a two bedroom apartment in anticipation of another baby. Mom
and I headed to Illinois, by train. I called every man in uniform, Daddy!
The apartment building is dressed in red brick with black shutters; four units in each section, two upstairs and two below, each having two bedrooms. There is an open area in front of our building with a tree. Across the street is a small wall with a little playground beyond containing a teeter totter, a sandbox, and some swings. There were other children in the neighborhood and there are pictures of us at birthday parties, standing before the ice truck sucking on ice, eating ice cream, riding our tricycles and generally enjoying each other and life.
I cannot remember the inside of our apartment, but I DO remember the inside of the apartment next door to ours on the second floor. That apartment was occupied by a childless couple. So, here I am a two year old little girl with softly curling blond hair and a winning smile who has a new brother that is driving her mother crazy, living next door to a woman who wants a little girl more than anything else in the world. It was certainly love at first sight--for both of us. I would head out early. How early? Well, I don’t know but I was often found asleep on the morning newspaper. I would be invited in and would sit on Dot’s lap to eat my second breakfast of hot buttered toast. We did many things together. One of my favorite things was to ride into DC and walk around the department store before having lunch. I called her Dot. She called me “Janie bug.”
One day I fell off the wall and it knocked the wind out of me so I ran to Dot to fix me. My parents left us with a babysitter and I woke up screaming from a nightmare. Dot was summoned. She wrapped me in a blanket and I was soon sound asleep. I can still feel the warmth of her lap that evening. There was a rocking horse in Dot’s bedroom and I would ride the horse while Dot caught “4o winks”--whatever that meant! In her living room was a large cabinet. I would sit on a little stool and listen to a Rupyard Kipling stories such as how the leopard got his spots.
I vividly remember my fifth birthday. When I walked into the apartment next door I was greeted by Dot who encouraged me to follow a string. It took me all around the apartment and then into a closet. The string was attached to a large beautifully wrapped box that contained a lovely blue eyed doll.
Dot was my second mother.
She was the mother that didn’t spank,
or get angry,
who spoke softly and smiled at me,
who had time for me--
the one who allowed me to be a child.
And so the days, months, and years passed. Dot was and is and always would be.
THEN a third baby arrived. The landlord said, “Too many children.” It was 1947, the war was over and my Dad was transferred to what is now Kennedy Airport in New York. It was August when we drove away. We moved and my world flew apart. I spent hours thinking about the past. The day we drove out of Arlington was heart wrenching for both of us. Dot lost a little girl, the desire of her heart, and I lost unconditional trust, value, acceptance and love. I discovered the word “abandonment” even though I did not know that word. I left my childhood behind in that move. The separation left in me deep grief and an inner vow not to trust anyone like that again. I now gained acceptance by doing instead of being. I entered the world of “ought” and “should.” I entered the adult world of failure and the struggle of trying to be accepted through what I accomplished. This part of my being has continued to some extent all my life.
About six months after the move, this grieving, heartsick, lonely five year old was invited by a neighbor to come to a story time, a flannel story. Something touched me deeply as I watched the story played out by the figures that stuck to the board. Who was the story about? Jesus! As I listened to the story I opened my heart to Him and in walked my new best friend. I took Him everywhere I went and talked to Him in my heart. He was alive and real to me. The reality of His friendship ministered to my broken heart and gave me enough hope to keep going, to reach out to life again. Over the years that relationship, that person, has never left me; not when I failed; not in rebellious times or when life sucked; not in times of joy. Lately I have begun to ponder, not so much about the loss of my precious Dot, but just how quickly God found me, took me into His lap, and gave me new life. I think that two things made this connection easier for me than for most people. First, I had known unconditional love when I desperately needed it early in life. Secondly, I lost that connection which left a hole that needed to be filled. The flannel-graph story came along just at the right time for me to find God early in my life. For this I am profoundly grateful.
Jane Corwin Reeves