I heard from one of my readers that she enjoyed the story about “Chuckie.” Well, this story has three parts, so today in honor of enjoying the weekend, I’m giving you part two.
LIFE WITHOUT CHUCKIE
Part II — Life’s A Beach
2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey
On June 4, 1958 first grade was finally over for Barbie and Chuckie. Both of them had been promoted to the second grade, and both of them were happy they were finally FREE of school for the summer. They celebrated by skipping home together laughing and giggling about their summer plans. Barbie was elated she could be with her friend everyday, but she was especially happy because there would be no more Sister Esther, no more church everyday, and no more having to be quiet all of the time. She was FREE!
Summer offered a recreation program at The North Park which would start on Monday. All of the village children looked forward to the planned activities and crafts that would be available everyday for almost the whole summer, but Barbie was looking forward to the swimming lessons she could take at a special pool in the neighboring city. The Red Cross lessons were given at the Washington Park Pool that was a half a city block in size. There were playground-type slides around the perimeter of the pool, and in the middle there was a deep water island with diving boards which was surrounded by a big fence. It was a swimmer’s paradise.
Bright and early Monday morning, Barbie and Chuckie waited in line to get their applications for swimming lessons.
Barbie boasted, “I’m going to get my Red Cross Beginner’s card so I can go in the deep water and jump off the highest diving board.”
“Yeah, me too.” Chuckie said.
After they got their permission slips, both children hopped on their bikes and took the forms home. For Barbie, waiting for her father to come home that afternoon was harder than getting up for school every morning.
As soon as Barbie’s father took off his work shoes and sat at the table for his afternoon cup of coffee, Barbie slapped down the application and said, “You need to sign right here, Daddy.”
“The lady at the park said you gotta sign this so I can go learn how to swim real good.” She said with a wide smile.
“Oh, I do, do I?” Her father teased as he looked at his girl’s wide eyes.
Barbie pointed to the line at the bottom of the page again. “Yes. If you don’t sign, I can’t go to go to the big pool. You gotta sign here.” She pointed to the line again.
“And, if I sign, do you promise to be good and obey the rules at the pool?”
Barbie shook her head “yes” with her most serious look. “I’ll do whatever they tell me, Daddy.”
Her father laughed. “I swear child, I think you were born with gills.” He picked up the form and signed. He knew that his first child loved the water simply by how much she enjoyed the wading pool in the backyard every summer.
“Thank you, Daddy.” She looked at his signature. “You know, this pool is the biggest one in the whole wide world. The kids say there’s slides and diving boards and—“
Her father cut her off. “You have to promise not to go in the deep water.”
“Even after I pass?”
“After you pass, we’ll talk about it.”
He handed the form back to his smiling daughter. “Do your best.”
“I will, Daddy. You’ll see. I’ll be the bestest swimmer in the world!” She took the form, ran to her bedroom and put it into her underwear drawer so her two-year old brother couldn’t ruin it. In the morning, she’d ride her bike to the park and be first in line to sign up for swimming lessons.
After two weeks of lessons, Barbie proudly looked at her Red Cross Beginner card that her swimming teacher awarded her at the end of the last class.
Chuckie sat beside her on the bus ride home. “You did real good, Barbie,”
“Thanks. Chuckie.” She said and then added, “I’m sorry you didn’t pass.”
“Aw, sucks it’s nothing. The swimming teacher said I could come again next session.” Chuckie then whispered, “Don’t tell anybody, but I’m scared when I have to put my face in the water.”
Barbie said, “Cross my heart, hope to die, I won’t tell, Chuckie.” She paused. “But I’m going to try for my Advanced Beginner next session. Daddy said I could go if I passed.”
“Will you still go if I don’t go?” Chuckie said.
“Yeah.” Barbie felt guilty after she spoke so quickly because she saw the disappointment on her friend’s face. “But it won’t be the same without you.”
“Swimming is not for me.”
“Oh.” Barbie realized this was the first time she was better than Chuckie at something important.
When the second round of swimming lessons came the next week. Barbie went without Chuckie, and like the last session, she passed the requirements for the Red Cross Advanced Swimming card. Her father said he thought she was a fish, and he wasn’t surprised when she asked to go to the lake for her birthday.
The next day, Barbie sat between Chuckie and her brother John Robert as they traveled 45 minutes to Brown’s Lake for her birthday celebration. As they rode along, she thanked God that He put her birthday in July. When the lake appeared around the last curve, Barbie sat on the edge of the seat and said, “You know, Mom, someday I’m going to live on a lake.”
“Only rich people live on lakes, Barbie.” Her mother said flatly.
“Then I’ll be rich!” It seemed simple enough to Barbie.
“OK.” Her mother said without a smile.
As soon as the car stopped, the children grabbed their swim bags and ran for the beach. “Wait for us,” Barbie’s father yelled and then turned to his wife, “Do you believe how much that child loves to swim?”
Her mother said, “I just hope we never find her belly up.”
Barbie and Chuckie found a nice spot with a picnic table under a large tree at the edge of the beach. “How’s this Mom?”
“This is a very good place, dear.” Like Chuckie, going to the beach was not fun for her mother.
But Barbie was in her element as she felt the warm silky sand between her toes. She loved the lake breeze and the bright sunshine. But the best thing was the water. She quickly stripped off her tee-shirt and shorts to reveal her new red swimming suit. She pulled her rubber swimming cap from her bag and tucked her brown hair into it. “Daddy, can we go in now? PLEASE. I’ve been waiting FOREVER!”
Her father smiled, “Don’t go out too far, birthday girl. Just because you can swim in a pool, doesn’t mean you know how to swim in the lake. Be careful.”
“OK,” she yelled as she ran toward the water and dove in. She yelled to Chuckie, “Common slow poke. The water’s warm. It’s heaven.”
“Heaven?” He yelled back.
“Yeah, you know the place you go to when you die.”
He tip-toed into the shallow water. “Where did you learn that?”
“At the dumb old Catholic school.” She moved toward him.
“Boy, they sure do teach you stupid stuff there!” Chuckie said.
Barbie dog paddled out to the buoy that divided the deep water from the shallow and expected Chuckie would follow her. When she got there, he was still wading in the shallow water. “Come on, Chuckie, you can do it! Get your skinny butt out here. The water’s great!”
“It’s too cold. I don’t want to.” He whined.
“For crying out loud! What are you, a sissy girl?” She taunted him. She knew he’d get mad enough to swim out to her. And she was right. Before she knew it, he was paddling like a Labrador. When he got to where she was hanging on the rope, she said, “I knew you could do it. It’s not even deep. Try touching the bottom.”
A smile crossed Chuckie’s face when he realized he could stand on his tip toes. “This isn’t so bad.”
Barbie dove under the rope. She knew Chuckie wouldn’t follow her now that she was in the deep water, but she wanted to really swim where she couldn’t touch the bottom. She remembered everything she learned at her lessons and moved through the water like a slippery eel. Chuckie stood on his toes watching her and feeling jealous she could swim and he couldn’t.
A few minutes later Barbie’s mother stood on the shore yelling, “Barbara Jean, you get in here this minute.”
“Don’t worry Mom,” she yelled back. “I can swim. I’m OK.” The little girl paddled around the water to demonstrate.
“Barbara Jean, you come in right now and play with your brother while I fix lunch.”
Chuckie started to go ashore. “I’ll go watch him, Barbie. You stay in the water.”
Her mother screamed. “Get in here, right now—Barbara Jean, or there will be no more swimming for the rest of the day!”
“I’m coming.” Barbie said defeated, knowing if she pushed it, she’d be heading home before birthday cake. This is not fair! Why did I have to have a dumb little brother, anyhow? He ruins everything. After all, it’s MY birthday and I’m supposed to be the special one–not him!”
Chuckie went to work building a great sand castle with John Robert, while Barbie sat and pouted about being beached. As she watched her best friend play with her brother, she knew Chuckie was the best friend in the world.
That afternoon Barbie thought bratwursts were the best she ever had eaten, and to round out the meal, her mother also brought potato salad, dill pickles and melon salad. When it was time for her favorite cake–the poppy seed with butter cream frosting, everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” and Barbie felt she had the best seventh birthday ever.
While the children waited the obligatory 30 minutes after eating in order to go back into the water, Barbie was allowed to open her presents. She chose Chuckie’s gift first. “Wow! Look Mom, a brand new box of 64 color crayons and a new tablet! I’ll bet there’s more colors in there than in the whole world!” She hugged Chuckie. “Thanks, pal!”
He pulled away. “I’m glad you like the present, but geez, don’t get all mushy on me!”
She giggled. “Sorry.”
Then she opened the present from John Robert. “How did you know that I needed new socks and underpants?” She said to her little brother and glared at her mother.
Her mother said, “You’ll need them for school.”
Barbie saved the biggest present for last. She ripped off the paper and stared at the new baseball glove that now lay in her lap. She ran to her father and gave him a big hug. “Oh Daddy, this is the best mitt in the world! Thank you!” She ran back to the mitt and put her small hand into the leather glove and pounded the “pocket” with her tiny fist. “I’ll be the best baseball player at the park!”
“We’d better practice in the backyard first.” Her father said. “I’ll show you how to oil it and soften it up. Then you and Chuckie can practice.”
“But I don’t have a glove,” Chuckie said.
It was the third time this summer Barbie felt sorry for her friend. The first time was when she found out at school that Chuckie was going to HELL because he wasn’t Catholic; the second time was when he didn’t pass the beginning swimming class at Park Pool, and now, when he didn’t have a baseball glove. “That’s OK, Chuckie, you can have my old one.”
“Thanks, Barbie.” Chuckie said while her parents smiled at the generosity of their little daughter.
“You’re my best friend, Chuckie. Baseball wouldn’t be any fun without you.”
This time, he hugged her.
“Hey, watch the mushy stuff.” She laughed.
Before she knew it, her special day at the beach was over. As the family packed up everything to go home, Barbie felt sad, even though it had been a great day. On the way home, she fell asleep between the two boys and dreamed about all the baseball games she would win with her new mitt and all the beautiful art she’d create with her the new crayons. It had been a perfect seventh birthday.
In August, Barbie’s mother sewed a new uniform dress, which signaled going back to school was just around the corner. The dress was exactly like last year’s uniform, except it was a size larger. Barbie groaned when she thought about having to return to the Catholic School and face a teacher like Sister Esther again. She still wanted to go back to the public school with Chuckie—even if it did mean that she would go to HELL with him when she died.
Before she knew it, she was dressed in her new uniform and spiffy saddle shoes for second grade. Chuckie picked her up like usual and waved to her as she crossed the highway with the crossing guard. “Have a good day, Barbie!” Chuckie yelled.
She turned around and gave him a dirty look. “I hope you get an ugly teacher!”
He laughed and went into the public school door. He didn’t say so, but Chuckie was dreading second grade, too, because reading and arithmetic were hard for him.
When Barbie walked into the second grade room, she was pleased to see she had a real lady for a teacher this year. The woman was a tall and skinny. On her long, thin nose, she wore a black pair of glasses that flared out at the edges, which made her eyes look slanty like cat eyes. She wore a petticoat that “poofed out” her dress and made a swishing sound when she walked. Her brown hair was curly and short, and she wore pink lipstick. Barbie thought she looked like one of those TV housewives on the commercials.
“Good morning, class. My name is Mrs. Pink,” the new teacher said in a shrill voice.
It was hard for Barbie to hold back a giggle. Mrs. Pink! What was a very funny name—especially for Mr. Pink.
The teacher continued in her annoying voice. “Before we get started, I have a few rules. There will be no talking at any time, unless I ask you for an answer. You will line up quietly when we pass to through the hallways. There will be—
At that moment, Barbie stopped listening. She knew the rest by heart, and she realized second grade wasn’t going to be much different from first grade. It would be one more year in solitary wearing an ugly uniform.