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My earliest childhood memory? That would be the morning my younger sister (2) and I (3) took pity on my sleeping mother, left the house early in the morning, and walked a handful of blocks to Pulaski Park in Milwaukee. Mom was tired. Who wouldn’t be with two busy toddlers around the house? So, we didn’t wake her up and ask her silly questions like, “Can we go to the park?”
We also didn’t worry about getting dressed. My sister and I each wore a stylish combination of cotton training pants and summer pajama tops. During a hot Milwaukee summer, we didn’t bother with pajama bottoms.
Pulaski Park was our favorite because Nana Kitty took us there when she came to visit. She put each of us on a swing and pushed us up, up, up, into the always robin’s-egg-blue sky. And, our best, most favorite part? Nana sang “Puff the Magic Dragon” to us while she pushed us on the swings.
It was my favorite song. And on that morning, it was my idea to go to the park. If my nana couldn’t take us, I would take us. I wanted to go to the park because I wanted to sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” just like Nana did, even though I didn’t know all the words like she did.
I held my sister’s hand, and we walked down sidewalks, waited at stoplights, and crossed streets without getting hit by a car. We walked on the path into the park and crossed a concrete bridge over a small creek. I helped my sister into the swing, and I pushed her up, up, up, into the always robin’s-egg-blue sky. I sang some of the words from “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
A woman who was at the park, pushing her child on a swing, asked me, “Where is your mother?”
“In bed,” I replied. “I’m taking care of my sister.” I smiled. I felt proud as I pushed my sister into the sky and sang about Puff, the childhood friend of Little Jackie Paper.
And that’s where my memory stops, and my mom’s memory begins.
When my sister and I were older, Mom told us how our trip to the park ended. She woke up shocked and panicky to find we weren’t anywhere in the house. But she had a good idea where we went. She put our German Shepherd, Fritz, into the car and drove to Pulaski Park. So relieved to find us there, she hugged and kissed us over and over again.
A couple of weeks later, Mom woke up and my sister and I were gone—again. We’d gone back to Pulaski Park on our own—again. Mom and Fritz came to get us—again. But the second time, Mom was so upset to find us there, she gave us spankings!