Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Goodnight Irene

Nowadays kids can take classes on how to babysit. Classes that can even include CPR training meaning that your babysitter, in effect, may be more qualified to take care of your children than you are. When I was a kid the only real qualification for being a babysitter was that one lived in close proximity to the house at which one was to babysit. So it was with the teenage girl who baby sat for my sister and me. We lived at house #76, she, at house #100.
Her name was Irene and her obituary was in the paper this spring. Just a short obituary, she didn't live in Falmouth anymore. I tried to google her but couldn't get much more information. The brief didn't mention whether or not she had a family, it didn't list her parents, or her two brothers. She was 49. Only seven years older than me but those seven years are an eternity when they are the years between 10 and 17.
Irene came to our house every Wednesday night. My mother was at work and my Dad used to go to the Knights of Columbus for Bingo Night to sell lobster raffle tickets. They were a sort of scratch ticket where if you matched two or more lobsters you won various amounts of cash.
I can't recall a single conversation I ever had with Irene. Her purpose was not to influence me through words rather through deeds and through her very presence. She was the older sister I did not have and in fact I used to carry her wallet-sized school photo around and tell people she that was my older sister.
Irene would let me stay up and watch Charlie's Angels and Starsky and Hutch even though they were on past my bedtime. Sometimes I would run and jump into bed just as the headlights from my mother's car came into view through the living room curtains.
When she wasn't babysitting, Irene used to walk down our street with her boyfriend, another kid from our neighborhood, giving me a glimpse of my own future, or what I hoped my future would look like. From her I learned that the pinnacle of teenage romance in the late 1970s was walking with your boyfriend, arm around each other's waists and one hand in the others back pocket - a plastic comb with a chunky curved handle protruding from the other pocket.
This Wednesday night ritual went on for what seemed liked eternity to me. I don't remember when it changed. I guess I finally got old enough to stay home alone with my younger sister.
Eventually convenience stores started selling scratch tickets, casinos owned by Native American's got built, and people stopped going to Bingo night.
Now the Knights of Columbus has been sold to the Police Athletic League and my childhood babysitter is dead.

song: Goodnight Irene

No comments: