Having survived a slightly unusual childhood, what were my expectations when I came to America? I’m not sure I really had any.
After the years in boarding school, wouldn’t it be nice to have a home? In theory, perhaps. I had got used to being alone and doing my own thing. I certainly was not prepared for what happened.
I had not officially even been admitted to the country when I got a hint of the way things would be. I was waiting for the Immigration agent to process my paperwork, when I heard my uncle’s voice, saying “she’s just a kid, you know…” He had talked his way into the Customs and Immigration area, saying that he was meeting his “little niece”, as if I was helpless.
I was not impressed at being treated like a child after all this time, but I told myself he was just trying to be nice. He did a few things that annoyed me, like telling people I spoke pretty good English for a foreigner. Once was OK, but he did it over and over!
But my major problem was that I was now expected to account for every minute of my time, whereas previously I came and went and did exactly as I pleased all the time. It called for a big adjustment. But it wasn’t the only one.
Kay was my mother’s youngest sister, who had married Ray, an American airman at the end of WW2. She was 47 when she suddenly became my surrogate mother. I don’t know whose original idea it was. I only know that in Kay’s shoes, having not had children myself, I would not have been delighted at the prospect of taking on someone else’s 16 year old daughter. What did she know of me? I had spent the previous Christmas with Kay and Ray, presumably so they could check me out, but was it enough?
I doubt Kay would have refused to accept me even if she had reservations about my living with her, because she wanted to help her sister and she probably felt a bit sorry for me. Dear, sweet Kay. She became so much more than a surrogate mum. I loved her so much, but I don’t know, even now, that she would not have been better off if I had not come to live with her.
When I first came to visit at Christmas, 1963, Kay had lost her beloved Penny and recently acquired two cocker spaniel puppies named Wendy and Jill.
They were just about house trained and no more. They barked at everything. Until they got used to me, which took a few days, I couldn’t move a muscle without setting off the howling.
Another big adjustment for me was the fact that my uncle’s old mother lived with us, upstairs. Granny was not pleased by my coming. After a while she used to say to Kay “you used to do things for me until Carolyn came”. She would smile at my face but then during a meal she would say things like “Carolyn, you’re getting a double chin”, to which I responded “I’m not!” and then she said “well maybe it’s always been that way”.
Just to give you a hint of what living with Granny was like….