Do you remember the old tale of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse? I think the point of the story was that neither one fit in the other’s world.
The story I am about to tell you concerns two country mice who happen to be sisters. It is a true story and not even the names will be changed to protect the two sisters!
It was the summer of 1964 and Helen and Maureen were living in their somewhat chaotic household in Nova Scotia, with their parents, seven brothers, and two other younger (less fortunate ?) sisters. Maureen was 19 years old and just about to enter her fourth and final year at university. Helen was just about to turn 15, and someone in the family decided that it would be a great idea to send these two young, innocent
babies girls to New York City. On the train. BY THEMSELVES!!!
I don’t remember what the fare was but my sister was pretending to be 11, because it was half-fare for those under 12. She was trying to look younger than she was which wasn’t difficult and I was trying to look older and sophisticated, which was difficult. I know Helen wore her youngest looking dress and wore her hair in two pig-tails. I think she looked a little like Ellie Mae Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies, minus the impressive chest. I thought I knew everything about the world and I guess I did – the world of a small town of less than 5,000 in Nova Scotia. Outside that, I knew nada!
We had to travel via Montreal, which was about 18 hours away. There we were to be met by cousins (whom we had never even seen). We would spend the night with them and go on to New York the next day. I can’t really tell you about it except that we were absolutely shocked by the behaviour and the language of our eldest cousin and her mother, our uncle’s wife (and soon to be ex).
The next day we boarded the train for New York, a nine-hour ride, and since we couldn’t find seats next to each other, we sat across the aisle from one another. We were each seated beside ladies who were younger than than I am now, and of course we chatted all the way. I remember at one point Helen was asked what grade she was in since she was talking about her algebra and Latin courses, and she answered truthfully that she was in grade 9. If she was only 11, that meant she must have started grade one at age two, or she must have skipped several grades on her way to grade 9.
At one point the train stopped to allow two border-patrol officers to board the train. We had no passports, no visas, and very little cash. They asked to inspect our luggage and on top were our Sunday Missals, because of course we would be attending Mass while we were there. The officers just looked at each other and smiled and one said, “I don’t think we have to worry about these two.
Now remember, we had no cell phones and there was no way to get in touch with our parents or our New York cousins, but at least we knew we were going to arrive at 10 p.m. at Penn Station, and we had sent a telegram to our Aunt to let her know where we would be. Imagine our surprise when we were told by other passengers that, Yes, we were arriving at 10 p.m., but at Grand Central Station, not Penn Station. We didn’t know what to do but when we arrived our cousins were waiting. They knew that no trains from Montreal got in to Penn Station at that time of night.
Our Aunt’s house was a wonder to us. She lived in Westchester county and lived next door to some TV star among others. Her children had all left home so Helen and I had the run of the place.
A couple of nights after we arrived, Helen and I decided to go to a movie in Pelham where Aunt Vernie lived. We walked to the theatre and asked for two tickets to the movie and I tried to pay with a Canadian $2 bill! The ticket lady called the manager who asked us where we were from and talked about the fact that there was no $2 bill the US, and they wouldn’t accept it anyway and he asked us tobe his guests! It was an amazing gesture of kindness and understanding and we’ve never forgotten it.
We had such a wonderful visit. Jones Beach. Far Rockaway Beach. The World’s Fair. Radio City Music Hall. Yankee Stadium. And the shopping. Saks Fifth Avenue. Alexanders. Bloomingdale’s. Aunt Vernie wouldn’t let us pay for a thing and when Helen went to get out her purse to pay for lunch with our Aunt and Uncle, he just gruffly said that we didn’t seem used to dining out in a city and here we were in Manhattan where our Uncle and his sons had a business. Of course we weren’t used to dining out! You don’t go to any restaurant, let alone a fancy one, with eleven kids!
We visited cousins in Jamaica, Long Island, and in Mount Kisko, and the Bronx. We will never forget our visit to New York City, although between us, Helen and I have since been to many different countries and Helen has a time-share hotel suite in Manhattan where she stays when she wants to see a play or concert.
The country mice were absolutely amazed at the wonders of New York City in the days before passports, body searches, scanners, and pat-downs became the norm. When people invited to young girls from Canada to be their guests at a movie, with no ulterior motive. We went to Yankees baseball games with our cousins and to the World’s fair with our much younger cousins. We took the subway there and back very easily. Can you imagine that today?
We were thrilled a couple of weeks later when Mom and Dad said they were driving to New York and we could all drive home together. I remember sitting in the backseat and Helen saying, “It’s just like there are only the two of us children in the family.” Dad just smiled and said, “But who would we have to leave out?” No one, Dad. No one.
Thanks for reading. – Maureen