Childhood adventures with Leslie
Leslie is the consumate perfectionist, the one who wins prizes, ribbons, and approval.
My earliest memory of my sister Leslie is from my kindergarten year and her second grade. We both attended Douglas Valley Elementary School at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The school had what seemed like weekly coloring contests. It was not a drawing or art contest, but a contest to see who could color in a picture already made in black outlines. I remember my sister winning those contests because she colored so perfectly inside the lines. Her strokes were flawless. My coloring pages were wild in comparison. I hated trying to color within the lines, yet I greatly admired my sister’s coloring job and envied it’s beauty and perfection. In so many ways that dynamic has shaped our lives. Leslie is the consumate perfectionist, the one who wins prizes, ribbons, and approval. I wanted all those things, but also hated conforming to outside expectations, rules, and structures.
My sister Leslie Martines was born January 23, 1966 on Otis Air Force Base, Cape Cod Massachusettes. It was my father’s first assignment after pilot training. He was flying the EC-121, an Air-borne Early Warning aircraft. He patrolled the waters of the North Atlantic looking for Soviet airfcraft the Air Force believed would come over the North Pole or down the East coast.
I was born two years later and only have stories from my mom and dad about what Leslie was like as an infant.
My mother said Leslie unnerved my Aunt Mary who felt like Leslie was staring her down with her dark eyes, as if she were reading her mind. My mom describes Leslie as calm, assured, and quiet.
My mom once told me of a time when she was sick and Leslie, just a little girl, gave her a hug and tried to comfort her. My mom remembers Leslie saying, “I’ll take care of you.” I think that really touched my mother because it wasn’t typical of Leslie to show affection.
When Leslie was about three-years-old she learned to answer the phone. But she was worried that she might not answer it in time for the caller to hear, so she would pick up the phone and blurt out “Hello, hello, hello,” over and over again to ensure she was heard. To this day when I call my dad, he will answer his cell phone with a chipper, “Hello, hello, hello!”
Leslie would wake up before my parents and eating cottage cheese, and leave a trail of it behind her as she went out to the play set at the neighbor’s house. I am pretty sure this was a memory of my parent’s from Hill Air Force base in Clearfield, Utah where I was born in 1968. My mother said they would often find Leslie out on the playset wearing only her white undewear in the morning!
Leslie was five years and I was almost three years old when we moved to Colorado Springs. We lived in a cul-de-sac with other junior officers as our neighbors. Leslie and I had two sets of friends that we shared in common: the Sampson sisters, Carolyn and Colleen, and the Nolan siblings, Faith and Chip.
The Sampson’s lived in our cul-de-sac and the Nolan’s lived in the one behind us and up the hill. We went to church with the Nolans. The Sampson’s father was the gymnastics coach at the Air Force Academy. I remember all four girls playing in the Sampson’s basement, mostly dancing around and playing dress up. I used to play out in a sandbox with Chip and other boys from the neighborhood. I remember Leslie and her friends not really wanting anything to do with me and my friends. Leslie and I were never really close as girls. She had her friends, and I had mine, but occassionally there was overlap.
One memorable incident with Leslie in Colorado happened in our carport. It was late summer and my parents had purchased a bushel of the most delicious yellow apples and stored them in an upper bin in our carport. Leslie jumped up to reach for the bag, and a latch swung out and cut her just above her chest. I don’t remember seeing blood, or hearing her scream or cry. But the memory of that latch is seared into my brain — so much so that over the years, I wondered if I was the one cut that day. I remember as we got a little older, Leslie would sometimes show me the scar from that day. When we asked our parents if they remember that incident, they said they don’t. It’s so strange how memories work. Leslie must have bled, because it left a scar.
I remember long summer nights with Leslie and the other kids in the cul-de-sac playing games such as “Ghost in the Graveyard,” Hide-and-Go-Seek, Duck-Duck-Goose, and Red Light-Green Light.
Leslie would walk me and Michael to the base pool where we would spend all day swimming. She walked us to the base movie theater. Leslie must have been very responsible and trustworthy because my parents put her in charge of us a lot as kids.
The summer we moved to Spain in 1974 we lived in a hotel until we could move into our house. My siblings and I literally spent all day, every day at the pool. That is where my dad taught me how to dive. By the time summer ended and we moved into our house, all of us kids were very tan, but Leslie most of all. When our first friend in the neighborhood, an outgoing, vivacious Spanish girl named Virginia saw Leslie, she pointed to her and said yelled, “Mira, negrita!” (Look, a black girl!)
Virginia, Leslie and I had some lively time together. Virginia, who was maybe a year or two older than Leslie liked to lead us around. She would take us on “excursiones” into the “campo.” Our little town section of San Javier had two small stores, similar to a corner store in America. One was Casa de Anita, the other was Casa de Pepe. Casa de Anita was just up the street from our house. Casa de Pepe was on the other side of the town and to get there, we had to walk through “el campo,” basically large empty fields. Virginia would lead us to Casa de Pepe, we never dared go on our own.
But once school started, it seems Leslie and I went our separate ways again, each making our own group of friends. Our only friend in common was Virginia.
In Spain we attended a Catholic school with nuns as teachers. I remember there was great emphasis placed on good handrwriting and drawing skills. We would be graded on how well we could copy a picture of the Virgin Mary. I tried really hard to copy it perfectly. Grades were based on a 1–10 scale, 1 being the worst, and 10 being the best. The first grading period I had mostly 1s and 2s. But by the second grading period I was 8s and 9s. I am pretty sure I remember Leslie had all 10s from the very beginning.
I don’t remember this, but my mom and dad say Leslie mostly remained silent and didn’t talk in Spain until she could speak the language nearly pefectly. I believe it. I, on the other hand, didn’t care if I spoke pefectly or not. I just wanted to talk! As a result, I probably sounded very dumb at first. Whereas, Leslie always sounded smart.
Because my father was an exchange officer with the Spanish Air Force, we lived far from the closest U.S. military base. About every 6–8 weeks our family would drive the 6 hours to Torrejon Air Force Base, in Madrid, where my parents would shop at the commissary for American groceries. In those days my parents said the base commissaries didn’t allow children, so my parents would leave us kids in the base officer’s quarters while they went shopping. Sometimes they would drop us off at the Stars and Stripes Book store and let us look at books until they picked us up. Other times they dropped us off at the base movie theater. Leslie was always in charge.
After two years in Spain our family moved to Great Falls, Montana. Every time we moved, my siblings and I spent a summer with no friends other than each other. And we seemed to spend most of the summer in a hotel or temporary quarters on the base with little to do! That summer of 1976 in Montana was memorable because our temporary quarters were close to the base youth center. Leslie, Michael, and I would walk over there and play pool. None of us had ever played before, but Michael was a natural. He was really good. Leslie and I put him in competitions against other kids and placed bets on who would win. We got accused of running some kind of “hustle.” We didn’t know what that meant. But when we told our dad, he thought it was hysterical! It didn’t take long for word to get out that Michael was really good and people stopped betting with us.
The night before school started, I was going into third grade, Leslie fifth grade, and we came up with what we thought was a brilliant idea! We would go by new names! We figured it would work great since no one knew us. I forget what name Leslie wanted to go by, but for some strange reason, I let her choose my new name, Myrtle! What a nightmare! We made some sort of agreement that we couldn’t back out of. So, on the first day of school I told everyone my name was Myrtle. It was awful. After that, I either broke my word, or Leslie released me from it, but I reverted to Catherine. However, for the next year, one or two boys would still tease me by calling me Myrtle.
Similarly, that summer, Leslie and I came up with words that we could never forget — each of us picked a word for the other one to remember — and we told each other we’d have to remember it for the rest of our lives! I must have been a dolt, because the word I gave her to remember was “Wesley.” The word she gave me, based on the title of a book we’d both read that summer, “Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo.” Of course, I still remember it! But, Leslie was obviously a much smarter person than I was to come up with that word!
The two years in Montana, Leslie and I again had a few mutual friends, two sisters whose last name was Bell, whom we knew from church. Their father was not in the military. They lived in a small town outside of the base called Belt. It was one of the first friendships I remember with kids whose father was not in the Air Force. On the base, just up the street from us, were a brother and sister Leslie and I ran around with, Amanda and Jason Ziegler.
Leslie had a paper route in Montana. I admired her greatly for the hard work she did. She would get up early, even on cold, snowy days, of which there were many in Montana. A couple of times I went with her and she paid me some of her money. It must have been around that time that she also took me to the base bowling alley, not to bowl, but to buy french fries. We learned that every base bowling alley had the best french fries everywhere we lived. I remember how great those fries were!
Leslie and I also took gymnastics together at the YMCA in Great Falls once or twice a week. Leslie broke her arm doing a cartwheel, and that mostly ended her gymnastics career. We also played soft ball. Leslie was very good, I was not. I was almost always put out in left field, where I mostly did cartwheels because I was bored.
In 1980 we moved to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. That first summer my father’s squadron had a picnic near the base stables. I saw girls on ponies and horses, and wanted nothing more in all the world than to have a pony! I’m not sure if Leslie really wanted to ride horses, but I remember sitting down with her one evening and guessing out how much money our dad earned and trying to figure a way we could afford to lease a pony. I distinctly remember throwing out an even $1,000-a-month as his salary. I think it cost $90/month for a half-lease on a pony. I was sure we could afford it!
We leased three horses over the next two years, Royal Prince, Cannon, and Liberty. I loved the horses more than Leslie did. I think girls kind of outgrow horses after a certain age, and that is probably what happened to Leslie. She became more interested in sports and academics.
As Leslie entered middle school I remember she took Algebra in the seventh grade, which at that time was considered very advanced. That is when I started to appreciate how smart Leslie was. As she moved into high school, Leslie was always in the advanced classes. Her friends were also the smart kids at school. And Leslie was also very athletic, playing volleyball and other team sports.
I remember Leslie was always popular and well-liked everwhere we lived. She made friends easily and fit it. I envied how easily things seemd to come for her.
Leslie is an impressive sister. From my perspective, she did everything right. She always made good choices. She wasn’t always the nicest sister, but she wasn’t mean, either. It seemed she was indifferent toward her siblings. But that’s okay. She set a great example for me and my brothers for which I am grateful.
As adults, I greatly appreciated her opening her home to me and my kids when she lived in Virginia. I graduated from high school in Northern Virginia and loved visiting her there. It was a dream come true for me and my family to move to Fairfax in 2008. Leslie put me in touch with a family from her ward who knew of a townhouse for rent the summer Greg and I were looking for a place to live after I graduated from Harvard. Living in the Kings Park West area of Fairfax has been a great blessing in my life, for which I owe Leslie a debt of gratitude.