Money is fine, but my measures of wealth included unlimited ice cream, mountains of comic books, and raccoons.
Barbara Kay’s house was well above average, with two stairways, two bathrooms, a butler’s pantry (but no butler) between the kitchen and dining room, and an upstairs bathtub that I once found overflowing with stuffed animals. Two living rooms each contained a television (unheard of in the 50s), and in a corner of Nancy’s bedroom sat a pair of genuine bongo drums. Another point of interest was the first electric can opener I ever saw, and boy did I want one.
While Nancy (older Nancy, not younger Nancy) attended college, she painted a tropical scene (Nancy remembers it as a cottage, but who would know better, the one who painted it or me?) and gave it to Barbara Kay for her clubhouse. Barbie and I stood admiring it.
“If you were an art professor, what grade would you give Nancy’s painting?” asked Barbie.
I honestly replied, “A-plus.”
“Can you believe her teacher only gave her a B?”
We indignantly defended Nancy and berated her ignorant teacher.Barbie’s house sat beside a river, with a small wooded area behind the garage. This meant wild life lived nearby, such as rabbits, raccoons, and muskrats. Nancy once had a pet raccoon that rode around in the back window of her car.
One spring, Michael and Phil caught a baby raccoon. It lived in a large wire cage outside Barbie’s clubhouse door and ate a healthy diet that included Cocoa Puffs. Its little hands grasped a puff and stuffed it in its mouth. That, along with his masked bandito face, made him too cute to resist.
“Please, Dad, will you catch me a raccoon?” I begged.
“There aren’t any in our woods,” he replied.
“Are you sure? Not even in the big woods at the end of the field?”
“Nope. Have you seen one?”
Hmmm, I hadn’t ever seen one. Why didn’t raccoons want to live in our woods? I didn’t know they are nocturnal. But I bet Dad did.If there was any doubt Barbie was my rich cousin, then the proof was in her refrigerator freezer–all the ice cream sandwiches, creamsicles, and fudgesicles I could eat whenever I wanted, without asking permission. I systematically polished off the creamsicles first, made my way through the ice cream sandwiches, and finished with the fudgesicles. (While pregnant, I once ate a twelve-pack of ice cream sandwiches in less than an hour, and hid the wrappers in the bottom of our garbage.) Another indicator of wealth appeared in large piles of comic books. Each kid got their own copies. Whenever new issues came out, Barbie and I crossed the street to Chapman’s Store and bought however many she wanted. I loved comic books, and once my nose got stuck in them nothing could pull it out. Barbie got frustrated when I wouldn’t budge from her sofa, reading the latest escapades of Archie and Veronica, Little Lotta and Dot, or Casper and Wendy.
Archie looked too much like Howdy Doody for my liking, so I would have picked Reggie. I also liked Veronica’s hairstyle better than Betty’s ponytail.
“Mary Barbara, I invited you here so we could play together,” Barbie complained.
I felt guilty, but the lure of her comics was too strong. Barbie learned to hide them until my parents came to drive me home; then the copies she and her brothers already read became David’s and mine.
I happily partook of Barbie’s clothing, comic book, and ice cream overflow, but I never felt jealousy. I believe this is because Barbie never rubbed her wealth in or teased me, and I was content with my own family and home. But there was definite regret that I couldn’t squeeze into her fabulous Cinderella shoe collection.
Lesson Learned: Don’t let unwarranted envy taint your ice cream or leisure reading.
Related Posts: City and Country Cousins/Creating Cleavage
Now it’s your turn: Did you have a rich cousin?
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