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Thursday, April 5, 2012

No. 100 "Our sissy who was anything but"

If Hurricane Donna brought the erosion of the landing shore to a point that something had to be done to stop it, it also provided us with another amusement park of sorts. Several of the stately oaks that had stood there for hundreds of years did not survive the storm. They were felled by the combination of erosion at their roots and the strong southerly winds that raged at over a hundred mph as they passed directly over the Island.

One of these was at the shoreline edge of the yard of my Aunt Louisa. “Ezzer” as she was called, had lived right beside us until just before the storm. But as she grew older she had given that home to her son, Creston, and his growing family, and she moved into a small home nestled in the backyard of her oldest daughter, Audrey.
A view of the landing after Hurricane Donna. Through the
porch on my grandfather's house can be seen one of the oaks
that remained after the storm had felled many of the others.

The oak that fell in her yard must have been at least seventy-five feet tall. Once the foliage and small limbs fell off or were removed, the skeleton the remained was not all that different from a high adventure climbing apparatus in a modern amusement park. Soon it was laced with ropes that served as both ladders and swings for the neighborhood boys and girls who met there almost every day.

One of those who gathered there to play was a girl we called “Sissy.” She was a year younger than me, but she was nothing at all like what her nickname might imply. Her real name was Laura, and she lived just to the west of where the giant tree had fallen. Perhaps for that reason, she became the unofficial caretaker and curator of our newfound playground. She could climb and swing between the branches like the “Tarzan” characters that we watched on Saturday morning TV shows. Not only that, she had a “tarzan yell” that could be heard for a quarter mile in every direction.

Sissy’s prowess was not limited to the gymnastics and trapeze moves she performed on the oak tree at the landing. She was just as talented and physical as any of the boys she played with every day. In fact, when the older boys were choosing sides to be play baseball in “Rennie’s Field,” she was one of the first ones picked. Without any discussion or direction she would head out to shortstop where everyone knew she belonged.  Not only could she play ball, she could shove a skiff as fast as any of us, and she was often busy working on nets and trawls beside her father and brother.

As might be expected for one of only a handful of girls in our neighborhood that was so dominated by boys, Sissy was sometimes at the center of tussles and even fights for her attention. But in her case, it was because of disagreements over who might get her on their side for whatever game was starting.

As time went on and we all grew older, “Sissy” eventually went back to being one of the neighborhood girls, like her younger sister, Cheryl. But a whole generation of Island boys grew up with a special appreciation for the skills and talents of the “weaker sex” because of our experiences with a “sissy” who was anything but!

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