Monday, February 20, 2006

Anne Sliker - The Third Adult in our Family

As I mentioned in an earlier post about my mother, her close friend Anne Sliker was a fellow teacher at Wharton High School in New Jersey. Anne and my mother, Alice, shared an apartment for 10 years, until 1942 when my mother and father met. Anne and Alice travelled around the US together, and shared common interests - sports, mutual friends, their teaching community. Here they are together in 1934 at the beach, with my mother's Uncle Nathan in the middle.Anne was a Physical Education teacher and a great athelete. She played tennis, rode horseback, excelled at archery, did both cross-country and downhill skiing, swam, and generally was eager for adventure. She also was an amazingly practical person. She had great common sense and wisdom. She could build things, fix things, and make things. Nothing seemed to daunt her. When my parents married in 1942, they asked Anne to move in with them on the farm they bought in Califon, New Jersey (which was, incidentally, Anne's home town). Anne brought her horses, and joined our family in a relationship that lasted for the next 25 years as the third adult in our home. In the photo above, Anne is riding her horse at the Allamuchy home where my parents lived for the first year of their marriage. The little girl in the foreground is me. Anne fit in as comfortably as could be, and I can't recall a time when her presence was an issue between my parents. She and my father respected each other and often helped each other with farm tasks. Her presence was always a joy for us children, even when she threatened to smack us with her "big, flat hand" - I can't remember her ever actually hitting us.

Early on, Anne began to work at the Califon Post Office, a job she held until retirement. I remember times on snowy winter days when driving was bad, snow plows had not yet come through, and so Anne would set off to work on foot, a distance of a couple of miles. Sometimes she used skis or snowshoes, and sometimes she just walked across the fields, through the snow. She was tough. This photo is of her in 1954 with our dog, Spike.She was the family gardener, and for years cultivated two large (100' long) gardens on the farm. She grew corn, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, squash, string beans, asparagus, and many other items which we ate or froze for later. She also was an amazingly skilled driver. Nothing pleased her more than a road trip, and we had many of them. She never had a dent or a scratch on her Buick, and she drove agressively and with verve. There were memorable trips with Anne (and sometimes my mother) through the New England states, Canada, to Washington DC, and for my brothers, to California. In the photo above, Anne is painting our kitchen cabinets, up on a ladder. Anne and my mother often cooked together, especially before company was coming. I still can see them sitting together in the kitchen snapping beans or hulling strawberries late in the evening, giggling like a couple of kids over some private joke. Some of Anne's specialties were apple dumplings, watermelon pickles, and what she called "graveyard stew" - a piece of buttered toast topped with an egg poached in warm milk. This was always produced when we were sick.

Anne never married and only had one brief brush with dating a man during all the years she lived with us. Now that I can look back, it was obvious that she was a lesbian and that she loved our mother. She dressed in men's clothing, cut her hair like a man, taught PE, played lots of sports, was thoroughly butch in every way. Duh! But during most of her lifetime, there was no language or context for her, no way to be herself, no possibility of talking about who she really was. I know that she and my mother had a lifelong, deep emotional attachment. There is no way to know if they were ever physically lovers during all the years they lived together, but I know for certain that they both knew about the love they had. Here they are together, shopping, in the early 1960's.For me, Anne was the single most important person in my life in the years of growing up. In fact, she and I shared a room for most of my childhood. When I had nightmares, I would run across the room and jump into her bed. She would ask me "do you want to be snug like a bunny?", and then she would cuddle me so tenderly. Although she was not an especially demonstrative person, she was able to love me 100%, unconditionally, unlike my mother who was in a constant critique mode around me. Anne supported everything I tried, everything I cared about. She was the one who taught me about all the important transitions in life. She stood beside me through some hard times, and she never gave up on me for one minute. She paid for music lessons, and numerous other little extras for me and my brothers. I named my first born child, Annie, for her. This photo shows Anne meeting Annie for the first time. The year before she died, we celebrated her 90th birthday with a grand party. I miss her every day - her goodness, her down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth sweetness, her gentle gruffness- all of it. I'd give a lot to just hug her one more time. I loved her so, so, so much.

5 comments:

Rexroth's Daughter said...

What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to her. How amazing it is to have had someone in your family, who lived with you while you were growing up, who was not related except by love. That's extraordinary in itself. She taught you well.

Sigrid Jardin said...

Thanks RD. Yes, I was lucky, and our family was definitely enriched by having this wonderful person in our lives. In fact, throughout most of my adult life I have had extra adults in my household - various housemates who have been fantastic bright lights in our home. I'm not sure I would have done that if not for the very positive experience of living with Anne.

Dotty Stripes said...

How fabulous!

adagio said...

What wonderful recollections. You write so well Sigrid. Evocatively. Such a privilege to have had the positive input of this woman in your life. Your experiences with Anne are, unfortunately I suspect, a rare occurence in our modern western world. My maternal grandmother lived with our family for much of my childhood. My memories of her are fond, although nowhere to the extent of yours towards your Anne.

Sigrid Jardin said...

Thanks Dotty. Your opinion means so much to me, always...

Adagio, it is such a pleasure to get your feedback. Thanks for looking in on my blog and sending me these little notes! I'm enjoying putting these memories down in writing (and photos). Don't know exactly where they are all going, but it seems like a worthwhile thing to honor the memory of the people who meant so much to me. Have you written about your family? I have a feeling we have some other things in common.