“Sweet Adeline … my Ad-e-line.” The entertainment portion of our family get-together had begun. My Uncle Mike started things off with a few notes of this perennial favorite. My father and my other two uncles joined in one at a time, the beginning of the song repeated until all were somewhat in tune with each other.

Stuffed from hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans we kids found front-row seats on the lawn and watched them ham it up for us. Schaefer beer cans served as makeshift microphones, and Dad and my uncles occasionally needled each other about being off key. After “Sweet Adeline,” the next selection was always “Carolina in the Morning” and then on to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

My mother and my aunts were busy in Aunt Cora’s kitchen washing dishes and packing up leftover food for everyone to take home. With their repertoire of songs completed, the men slipped into lawn chairs and finished the last of their beer while Uncle Mike regaled them with a play-by-play critique of the last Yankees game. My brother grabbed a glass jar with holes punched in the lid, and we kids set off into the warm summer evening to catch fireflies. I was the oldest of this group of cousins, and at 12 I found myself drifting away from childhood play. I sat by myself on the concrete retaining wall in the driveway. A light breeze stirred the air, and the deepening twilight wrapped me in a warm embrace carrying me into my daydreams.

“Where’s Jamie?” I heard one of my aunts ask my mother.

“She wants to be alone,” my mother dramatically responded and chuckled at her Greta Garbo impersonation.

I did want to be alone. I had a secret, and I wanted to immerse myself in it. A few weeks ago I had found an empty matchbook with this contest ad: “Hey kids, draw this!” It was the face of Bambi. So I drew a perfect copy and mailed my entry to the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut, confident that I would win. I envisioned myself going to Paris, France, to study art. I would wear a stylish black cape with a beret jauntily perched on my head as I sipped a cup of coffee in a café, discussing art with fellow students. Ah, Paris. Evidently, my parents’ subscription to Life Magazine had opened a world of possibilities to me.

“Let’s go, kids,” my father called out, jolting me out of my daydreams. Reluctantly I left the security of my future me universe and re-entered reality. We all piled into our blue Plymouth coupe and headed for home. The carefree days of summer and its family get-togethers were over until next year; however, my secret was soon to be revealed.

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