The autobiography I read was Sleeping Arrangements, the childhood memoirs of Laura (Lily) Shaine Cunningham. I chose this person simply because I had never heard of her before. Everybody was doing a book on celebrities, and at first I wanted to do Audrey Hepburn. I love her films; I have even already read a biography on her. But many other people were doing their biographies on her, and I realized that if I could find a book by a person who has led a typical childhood I would be different. By finding a book by a person I had never heard of I thought that I would find a normal life, but this book showed me that there isn’t a normal or typical childhood for anyone.
Lily, as she is referred to throughout the book, is not famous. Lily was born the daughter of Larry Moore, though she isn’t sure of the spelling, and Rosie Shaine. Until she was three Lily and Rosie wandered from relative to relative, sleeping under dining room tables or where ever there was room for them. Then they rented an apartment in the Jewish section of the Bronx. Lily made two friends there, Diana and Susan, and they had wild unsupervised fun roaming about the parks and abandoned buildings. When Lily was 6 her mother became very ill and her Uncle Gabe comes to live with them. A couple weeks later Rosie dies in the hospital and Lily’s other uncle, Len, comes to help Gabe. They move to a bigger apartment in the same building, and let Lily decorate it. The walls are painted orange and white stripes in two rooms; pink and white stripes for another room, and for the living room a gold lam? convertible sofa. Eventually the “unkies” mother moves in too, and then their family is complete. Over the years Lily learns about love, life, and death, although not all of it is accurate. Lily has gone on to write many books, plays, and her most famous work, A Place In The Country.
The part of this book that really interested me the most was the first one and a half chapters. “He’s fighting in the war.” (Pg 1) This is what Lily told people when they asked where her father was. This is what her mother told her. He was a Fighter pilot and had a boxer named Butch. “Who is the enemy?”(Pg2) Vague words were always used to answer her questions. In 1950 when Lily was three she saw it on the news – no war. She told her mother this, but Rosie assured her that there were still soldiers fighting WWII. Lily only had one picture of her father, and often would misplace it. The picture showed half of his face, was out of focus, and was way over exposed, but it was “him”. Her mothers war story started to unravel when all of a sudden people stopped asking “what war?”: Korea. But that too came to an end, and Rosie told Lily to stop telling stories about her father. Rosie said that the war, in a way was over for tem, Larry had been killed. Butch the dog had been reassigned. Rosie and Lily were free to move into their own apartment.
The “…move had the effect of a magic trick.”(Pg 7) They moved by subway, everything they owned folded. Rosie’s spirits were lifted by the move, and she and Lily couldn’t believe that they were alone. Only owning one cot, that first night they tried to share, but being a typical four-year-old Lily squirmed to the point where Rosie slept on the ground. Lily felt guilty, but the next day they celebrated like “happy newlyweds” (pg 8) in their new privacy, titled “ecstasy in 3M.”(Pg 9)
The first chapter intrigued me, because throughout her entire life Lily never gets the straight story of her father. Did he really fight in a war? Lily doesn’t even know if she should share his last name. This really interested me, because I realized that in that time period it was not accepted to bear a child without a husband, and while Rosie does mention a wedding I really want to know just what happened to Larry Moore. Lily’s mother makes up an elaborate tale of airplanes and tanks and dogs, to protect her from ridicule. While Rosie wasn’t the most capable parent, she really did all she could for Lily. That really made this chapter stand out through the whole book.
The second chapter was fun to read. It made me laugh when it described Rosie and Lily dancing around their little apartment “with fruit in [their] hands and celebrating the morning” (pg 9) How they turned that small one bedroom apartment into a magical place where everything was perfect and they were the only thing the other needed.
This book has really helped me appreciate my family, as ordinary as it seems. I am so lucky to be raised with both my parents, living in the same stable environment my whole life. I have been so sheltered and protected, my mother reminds me of Rosie. She does anything she can to help my sisters and me, and she loves to have fun. AS I was reading Sleeping Arrangements my dad was away on a business trip, and I found myself missing him. I was very glad to see him when he got back, relieved that he was there for me again.
This book also deals with a lot of the problems that young adults suffered from before quality education systems. Lily was so mixed up about sex, it made me laugh at some of the things she and her friends believed, but it also made me think. If they didn’t know about sex, how could they prevent from getting STDs or pregnant? It made me realize that there are many places in the world, and even in America where people are so uneducated and ignorant that they don’t know about the transfer of diseases. It really made me want to go out and educate someone, as corny as that sounds.
Laura Shaine Cunningham is a remarkably ordinary woman. She had an average childhood for a Jewish child growing up in the poverty of the Bronx in the fifties. But to me, a small town sheltered daughter of a happy couple, Lily is one of the most amazing normal people I will ever get the chance to meet through writing.