When I was nine Daddy returned from the South Pacific. The war was over and my life, our lives, would change forever. Mother, my brother and I and my cousin who came from Arkansas to live with us, lived in special housing in Wichita. My mother worked at Boeing in a job now classified as Rosie the Riveter. She worked on B-29 bombers.
In a matter of months after the war ended, we bought a house on a dirt street a few blocks off Highway 54 on the west side of Wichita. Us kids changed schools and Daddy went to work for Rowdan, a small airplane manufacturer. They built and serviced recreational planes.
In the neighborhood where we moved there were several vacant lots. The one next to our house had an old horse barn on it. It ran the width of the lot across the back, leaving a perfect place for all the kids to gather and play baseball, football, or anything else we could come up with. Cowboys and Indians was one of our favorite games, and we chased around shooting our cap pistols at each other and playing dead. Far as I know, not one of those boys or girls who played that particular game ever shot anyone or even grew up to be violent or criminals. Makes you wonder, hmmm?
Anyway, it didn’t take me long to discover I liked boys’ games better than girls’ games. I went from paper dolls and making mud pies to football and baseball. Mostly because there were only three girls around my age living close by and about six or seven boys.
My brother, two years younger than me, was a little runt and I was tall and gangly. So it followed that if he got picked on, big sister did payback. I didn’t care how big the kid was either. Once a big boy passing through on our street took it in his head to push my brother around. I tackled him and he threw me over a five foot high fence, ripping my shoes off and tearing my shirt. I went home to change and my mother went ballistic. I must’ve been quite a sight, covered in dirt, both knees bleeding, carrying my shoes and holding my shirt together, laughing about the fight. But she finally got used to it.
My favorite game with the boys was tackle football and they spared nothing tackling me. Usually I was the only girl in the game, while the others sat on the sidewalk playing jacks or dolls or something equally sissified. The only thing I did on that sidewalk was roller skate, flying at top speed, long hair blowing out behind me. I might have grown up to be a roller derby queen if there’d been one around at the time.
I grew to be almost six feet tall during those years. And I guess I was pretty. All the boys said so, and somewhere along there I took up with three boys from a street over who started courting when I was eleven. We climbed trees, played on top of that flat-topped horse barn, secretly built fires out back of the building and pretended we were on campouts. We were inseparable until we all started high school and mostly drifted apart.
But I never quite got over being a tomboy. I always preferred the company of boys. Today you never hear the term tomboy. It’s as if it’s forbidden, or means something else. But back in those days, we girls who indulged in being tomboys were proud of the term. Maybe we just weren’t sensitive enough.