Everything and Nothing: Winsome Beauties

Aïda Rogers

Posted April 7, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

“Isn’t it funny the things you remember,” my mom said to me recently. She’d been recounting some random anecdote from her childhood.

Mom spends a lot of time in her brown chair, much of her churning energy slowed by health and 90 years. So she has time to remember things.

And here I am in bed, wide awake at 3:59 a.m., listening to sirens and Columbia’s famous trains from the open window, remembering … our babysitters. They come streaming into my mind, girls with long straight hair and good manners, in the fashions and names of their day. There was Cathy and her sister Barbara, Barbara from two houses down, Barbara Jo from church. Robin, our neighbor’s exotic way-older sister (she was in college) and beautiful Vera Ann from around the corner. And Frances, one of four sisters we would see each summer at the pool. These winsome beauties held our fascinated attention. For a little girl, can there be a creature more thrilling than a teenaged one? Though I can’t remember much about what we did, I can summon their wonder with no problem. How they’d arrive smiling, frozen chicken pot pies or fish sticks in the oven for our supper while our parents got ready to go out.

Of those times, two memories remain. In our pink bedroom with our three twin beds, Neighbor Barbara confided that she wore socks to bed. I can still feel our faces scrunching when we heard that. And Frances singing a song the high school chorus was preparing for their concert. “Blue, blue, my world is blue,” she sang, “blue is my world since I’m without you.” She looked straight ahead as she sang. My sisters and I were spellbound.

Did she teach us the words? I think maybe so. I lie here and remember, rubbing my socked feet together, listening to the trains.

In time’s weird warping way, it didn’t seem long before my sisters and I were babysitting. Our names and number were probably on some common parental list, because we’d babysit for families who were friends. The moms would pick us up and the dads would drive us back.

These were the days of whiskey and cigarettes, and sometimes the drive back would be a little erratic. The father would park in our driveway, gruffly say thank you and stuff a wad of bills in my hand. I’d politely say thank you and bolt. Mom would be waiting inside, no matter the hour.

I don’t remember much about what I did as a babysitter, but I remember those children – the three boisterous sisters on Lake Murray; the talkative sister-brother team in town, the quiet girl and her artistic sister from church, the adorable cousins. What great kids. What nice parents. Were we cool in their eyes?

So I wonder, as these trains keep running and sleep won’t come, about the long tradition of babysitting. What’s the going rate? Is Venmo preferred? Do sitters sing to their children?

I don’t know. I do know my babysitters experienced life as it is, good and bad. One died of cancer. Another endured a crime so horrific I can’t write about it. Those winsome beauties weren’t exempt any more than the rest of us.

But there was a moment in the lives of three little girls in a 1961 ranch house in Lexington when those teenaged girls were it, all that, and everything they wanted to be. And now it’s 5:50 a.m. and I’m lying here, remembering them.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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