Summer in the City, 1943

One summer her parents sent Anna to sleep-away camp in New Hampshire. She didn’t like it. For one thing, she was the only girl from New York in her cabin; all the others were from Boston and knew each other already. Also, the counselor kept pestering her with mineral oil and Ex-Lax because she wasn’t “regular.”  She missed her mother, too. So she much preferred staying home when school let out at the end of June. She could go play with Peggy who lived in Apartment 2C downstairs, and also read a lot.  And in the evening while her father was working, she and her mother could go together to the new movie house in Forest Hills; it was air-conditioned and felt wonderful.

The only not so good thing about summers was when there was a heat wave. It was always very hot in the city in the summer, but during a heat wave it was like an oven. Her mother would fling open all the windows, but their apartment didn’t have cross-ventilation so opening them didn’t help much. It just brought grit to the windowsills. When Anna was little, she was allowed to run around at home on days like that in just her panties. But then her father told her mother she needed a cotton slip over them. And when she got to be ten or eleven, she had to wear shorts and a shirt at home all the time. Which really wasn’t fair, because when her father was home on Sundays in the summer, he sat in the living room in his undershirt and boxer shorts, mopping sweat from his face with one of his big square white handkerchiefs and fanning himself with a cardboard from the Chinese laundry.   If he could wear just underwear when it was hot, why couldn’t she?

“He perspires a lot,” explained Anna’s mother.

“So do I,” said Anna. “You told me I take after him.”

“Well, yes,” said her mother. “You do. But you’re a girl.”

Why should it make a difference that she was a girl and not a boy?

Suddenly Anna’s mother threw up her hands in apparent delight. “Oh, I think I feel a breeze!” she said. With a wad of paper tissue from the pocket of her apron, she wiped off the windowsill that opened on the landing of the firewell.

“Come sit, Anna.” She patted the sill. “It’s better here.”


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