Meeting the Stewarts

1958. Babe Stewart walking up to our front door. Jean is in front of her. Spooner High School in the background.

On my first day in Spooner, Jack dashed out the door with excitement to get to his classroom. I stood there alone, looking around our apartment … the bare walls … unfamiliar views out the window … stacks of unpacked boxes. Suddenly, everything felt strange and I missed our cute bungalow in Eau Claire. Thinking about everything that we’d left behind, I became overwhelmed with loneliness. Suddenly, the doorbell rang and startled me out of my daydreaming. I opened the door and my new neighbor, Babe Stewart, introduced herself and welcomed me to Spooner.

Within minutes Babe had me laughing hysterically. I invited her  in for a cup of coffee and, in no time, I knew that I had just met a kindred spirit. Babe’s husband, Bill, owned the local newspaper, Spooner Advocate. They had three daughters: Buzzy (14 years old), Sari (11 years old), and Kathy (4 years old). Babe was also six-months pregnant—and really hoping for a boy. I was barely showing but shared the news of my pregnancy. We had so many things in common. The morning flew by, and I no longer felt lonely.

In no time, Babe and I became best friends. She was so much fun—always cracking jokes and telling funny stories! Not only witty and clever, Babe was also very smart. I admired her for earning a journalism degree from UW-Madison. She helped Bill with the paper a few afternoons a week. I’d never met anyone like her before! We got together every morning, drank coffee, and laughed ourselves silly.

Jack and Bill hit it off, too. They loved to lead sing-alongs. Jack played guitar and sang cowboy/folk tunes, while Bill accompanied him on the harmonica. Hanging out with the Stewarts always involved laughter, excitement, and frivolity. Soon, our families grew quite close. We constantly went back and forth between each other’s homes.

They let their youngest daughter, Kathy, visit me in the afternoons. Kathy talked my head off, chattering non-stop and peppering me with questions. She was a talker! (I think that she still is.) I saw some of myself in her—outgoing, confident, and precocious. Kathy’s visits reminded me of when I rode around my neighborhood on my pony, Betty, visiting the neighbors. Amused by her antics, I let Kathy carry on and feel important.

One of Kathy’s favorite tricks was to hide under our sink whenever she heard Jack coming in the door. Even though she was in plain sight (the sink was not enclosed), he’d pretend not to see her. “Where’s Kathy?” As he hugged me, I’d shake my head, “She’s not here?” Jack would exclaim, “But I thought I heard her. I wonder why she didn’t come to visit today?” When he walked away disappointed, Kathy leaped out of her hiding place, “Here I am!” She ran to Jack for a hug. I whispered to her, “He didn’t find you hiding spot.” We played that game every day.

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