In 1961, after 11 years living overseas, my family was stationed in Washington, DC for Dad’s four year tour at the Pentagon. We lived in the suburb of Bethesda, Maryland and in that part of the country, we experienced all four changing seasons. 

We watched the glorious technicolor display of autumn leaves and listened to Dad grumble in the dreary winter while he shoveled gray snow from the driveway. Every spring, we strolled under the cherry blossoms along the banks of the Potomac River and during the steaming summers, treated our frequent vacationing houseguests to historical tours. 

My favorite site was Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate and plantation of George Washington and we visited there several times at the personal invitation of George Washington himself, who two hundred years earlier wrote to a friend, “I have no objection to any sober, & orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, Gardens &ca about Mount Vernon.”

I was in my 8th Grade Civics class in Thomas W. Pyle Junior High when the PA System delivered the jarring news that President Kennedy had been shot and killed; and we sat mute and still at our desks as our horrified teacher, a citizen of Boston, burst into tears. 

In Maryland, I made my first “best friend,” Betty Lou, who lived a few doors up the road with her parents, who in turn became best pals with mine, sharing their predilection for tippling and belly dancing. Summer or winter, Betty Lou and I commuted between our houses on bikes, roller skates or sleds, and one day, at the urging of cute boys wearing Lees and madras shirts, we tried our skills at skateboarding. I had been expressly forbidden by my parents to ride a skateboard, but this being the “Era of Great Disdain” I did so anyway and fractured an elbow. 

From my front yard, we chased after a brand-new Ford Mustang “the grooviest car ever” cruising down the street, and talked about it for days while keeping an eager eye out for its return. At the edge of the woods behind our houses, we picked wild blackberries and usually ate the entire crop on our way home, where we immediately searched our bodies for hitchhiking ticks; and we munched small, hard, sour crabapples from the puny tree by the driveway but they were nothing like real apples and gave us a bellyache.

For my little adolescent self, Bethesda was a time of many firsts: I shaved my legs, removing along with the abundant fur a good deal of skin; plucked my Greek unibrow to within an inch of my temples; received my first confusing and uninspiring kiss to my first slow dance (When I Fall in Love by The Lettermen); broke my arm (karma); got a training bra, stockings and a garter belt; got busted by a truant officer; smoked a cigarette in the bathroom mirror, holding the smoke in my mouth for so long that my tongue turned black, and once climbed out of my second story bedroom window to drink Cold Duck with a couple of no-goodniks.

I was fifteen when after four years stateside we departed for yet another foreign destination, this time Greece, and as we sailed out of New York Harbor on the SS Constitution, I sobbed into my mother’s shoulder as if my red white and true blue American heart would break. 

4 comments on “Seasons”

  1. Boy does this resonate! Leaving for the next overseas post was always fraught with both anxiety and sadness, but with a bit of hope and expectation too. The time you spent in Bethesda coincided with the years we were in Bolivia, those critical coming-of-age years that I will always treasure beyond measure. Thanks for sharing; so well written and one of your best!

  2. Another wonderful story! Love it

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