When I was growing up, most of the moms didn’t have jobs outside the home.
The Kane family lived directly across the alley from the Nortons, who lived three doors down from us. Jean Kane had her hands full. They had five kids of their own, and her husband, George, traveled with his job a lot. In addition to her own five, there were four Elliott kids who spent every summer with their grandmother, Jean’s mother, who lived next door. The Elliotts had lost their mother quite young, thus spending summers with Grammy Elliott, our neighborhood grandmother.
The Kane house was very small, but the kitchen had been enlarged a bit. The table stood in a kind of bump-out, and there was a large picture window that looked out onto the driveway. From this spot, Jean easily could keep an eye on the kid activity—and there was a lot of it.
There was often a gaggle of kids surrounding her table. The Kane kitchen table just seemed to be magnet for kids. Jean drank green tea. My mother had allowed me to have tea with her sometimes, so I asked Jean one day if I could taste her green tea. I didn’t like it then. And I still don’t. But she let me try it.
As we girls all began to grow into our teenage years, Jean let us pile into her car and go to Sherman Park to lie on the beach, play in the water, and flirt with the boys. There might have been anywhere between five to seven of us girls whose mothers had sent enough change with us to get a Popsicle at the vending stand. We were brown as nuts by the end of the summer. I don’t remember if she took us every day, but it sure seemed like that. It was a generous thing for her to do for the neighborhood kids. But I think back on it now and realize that it probably gave her a much needed break.
I also remember a few birthday parties either in the Kane’s basement or around that magnetic kitchen table. I loved the countless hours spent in the Kane house. When folk music grew in popularity in the 60s, there were many nights we gathered around the table and sang songs like Michael Row the Boat Ashore.
One summer, we planned a nighttime adventure. A couple of the girls and I had a sleepover at my house. I had been stashing rolls of toilet paper for weeks in my bedroom closet. We ¬¬¬¬¬¬plotted our strategy after my mother went to bed. I thought I was clever by turning out the kitchen light as we sneaked out the back door wearing dark clothes and carrying our toilet paper. We were going to cover a neighbor’s lilac bush with it. As we crept across the alley in the dark and cut through Kane’s yard, suddenly the yard was washed in floodlight at Kane’s back door. (She had been ready to lock the back door when she saw shadows coming out my back door. She knew we were up to some kind of mischief.) We scattered and hid. Jean came out the front door and said, “All right, you girls—I know you’re out there!”
We crept out of our hiding places to face her in the dark. She drilled us with questions and scolded us for trying to toilet paper the neighbor’s lilac. She told us that we’d better scoot back across the alley and pick up the phone as soon as she called or my mother would hear about it. Our adventure was foiled, but she admitted many years later that it was all she could do not to laugh at our antics.
That was a very special time. We were Baby Boomers, but we didn’t call ourselves that at the time. I think kids don’t have neighborhood moms anymore where they can gather and play and grow. These days, most mothers work and many kids come home from school to an empty house. We were blessed to have Jean Kane in our lives. I still miss her.