An important bit of context for this story is that I come from a large working class family. There were eight of us born in a little over 10 years’ time. Big family vacations were simply not a part of our upbringing. I don’t think we felt particularly deprived; that was just something ‘other’ families did. For us, vacation activities consisted of day trips to attractions in and around Detroit, e.g., Greenfield Village or the Michigan State Fair.
It was therefore quite an exciting prospect when it was determined that I would spend a night sleeping over at Aunt Rosie and Uncle Andy’s house – just me, not any other siblings. I must have been about 11 or 12 years old. My aunt and uncle lived only a few miles away as the crow flies, but when you’re in a big city, that’s quite a distance. They lived in an entirely different neighborhood from ours. Our neighborhood consisted mostly of solid old houses built in the 1920s, while theirs consisted of smaller, not-so-solid homes that probably dated from the late 1940s.
It was not just our respective neighborhoods that were different, though; the lifestyles of our two families were also quite different. Whereas our packed household of ten was generally winding down and getting pretty quiet by 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., Rose and Andy were definitely night owls. Also, they had stopped after merely two children, so even though their house was substantially smaller than ours, it somehow felt roomier.
For me, the remarkable part of the evening came after Andy and the kids had gone to bed. It was a pleasant summer evening, so Aunt Rosie and I sat on their tiny front porch, sipping our respective beverages and talking far into the night. It was the first adult conversation I’d ever had with her. By ‘adult’ I don’t mean that there was anything of questionable taste or propriety being discussed. I simply mean that we were talking as peers. That was a happy feeling.
Across the street and a couple houses to our left, another group was having a late-night poker party in their living room. We sat there and marveled at how clearly the sounds of their gathering were reaching our ears. Every clink of a glass, clack of a poker chip, and shuffle of playing cards was crisply audible as if we were sitting at the table with them. I suppose some of it could have been accounted for by the thinness of the walls on most of the houses around there, but it seemed odd to the point of being almost surreal and we both remarked on it. We then realized that if we could hear them so clearly, we probably ought to assume that they could hear us just as well, so our conversation went forward in a quieter tone of voice. At some point, we allowed that we were both talked out, so we retired to our respective rooms for a well earned sleep.
There was one small follow-up that came to light some weeks later. Aunt Rosie had been talking to her sister (my mom) and had told her some things that mom felt compelled to pass on to me. Apparently, I had received generally high marks from Rose and she had very much enjoyed my visit, but there was one particular remark that caught my ear. Mom quoted Rosie as saying something like this: “I used to think that Charles was such a brat, but then I finally realized that he was just trying to be funny, and I really enjoy his company!” As I have continued my journey through life, I have noted that this has been a recurring sentiment among various individuals of my acquaintance, including some folks who didn’t even know me in my childhood.