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The Death of Innocence

Happy Sunday Morning. It’s story time. After last Sunday’s lack of comments, I’m guessing you don’t like war stories. Perhaps this one will show the unexpected dilemmas parents face.

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The Death of Innocence

 

Lily turned 18 in April. She said it was her happiest birthday because she was free. She was finally old enough to do anything she wanted. In my eyes, she’d been “free” since she was 14 when she decided to live with her father after the divorce. Since then, she spent too much time alone unsupervised. This custody arrangement was not good for her, or me. I missed her so much. For the last four years, her anger with me for ending a bad marriage and upsetting her life spewed out every time we were together.

After not hearing from her for over a week, I called her one evening.

“Hello,” I heard her perky voice.

“Hi Lily, it’s Mom.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Hi, Mom.” Her voice was flat.

“I called to say I missed you.”

“Okay,” she paused.

“I was hoping we could get together.”

“I’m pretty busy.”

“So, what have you been up to lately?”

Normally my daughter was an uninhibited chatterbox volunteering information about friends, the funny antics of her two cats, and any other thing that was on her mind. But now, pulling a conversation from her was like running uphill in mud.

I tried again, “How’s the telemarketing going?”

“Ah . . .” she hesitated, “Well . . . I’m not working there any more.”

“Oh? I thought you liked that job.”

“It was a stupid job. I got into a fight with the boss and quit.”

“A fight? About what?”

“It doesn’t matter. I have a new job now.” Her tone is matter-of-fact. She smacked the gum she was chewing.

“Well, that’s good.  Did you go back to the video store? You always liked working there.”

“No. It’s a different job, Mom.” I imagined her shifting her weight from one foot to another.

“So what is it?”

“You won’t like it.” I could hear her take a deep breath. Maybe she was even twisting her hair.

“I won’t like what?”

“You won’t like my new job.” She took another deep breath and blurted, “I’m dancing at Sweet Cheeks.”

Her words stung me like a boxer’s right cross. I fell down into my chair. In an instant, my bones turned to dust. I just heard my daughter admit she was dancing at a strip joint in the next town. All I gasped, “You’re right. I don’t like it.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, “Lily the Lawyer” took over.

“Now Mom, look at it this way. I like dancing, and I’m really good at it! And the money! The money is unbelievable! Last night I made 250 bucks —in one night! I had to work all week to earn that telemarketing. And the girls are nice, and . . .”

“So you go to school during the day and do this at night? What about homework?”

She cut in; “I quit school.”

Another blow. Lily wasn’t a model student, but I hoped she would graduate with her high school class. “Oh, Lily, no,” I moaned, “You’ve only got a month to go. Why would you . . .”

She cut in. “Mom, high school wasn’t working for me. I’ll go to the community college and get my diploma.” As she chattered on about some of the girls she worked with and how great it she felt on stage, I was numb. She said for three or four minutes she was the center of attention, just like a star. As she yammered on and on, I saw her innocence—bright blue eyes, silky blonde hair, pink cheeks fading to black. Her magical smile that always charmed me would now be directed at creepy, ogling men.

Lily kept talking. “Mom, there really isn’t anything wrong with dancing. The only bad thing is the stuff that’s around it — like drugs, alcohol and prostitution.” She was nonchalant like she was making a grocery list!

The first blows hadn’t worn off yet, and here was another upper cut. “Lily. Can you hear yourself? Those things get people killed. I choked on my sobs as I mourned loss of her innocence.

“Yeah,” I coughed.

She proceeded in a calm tone. “Now, Mom, there’s nothing to cry about. I won’t do any of that “other” stuff. Look, I tried pot when I was 15, and I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I tried alcohol when I was 16, and the same thing. And prostitution is stupid. I don’t know how anybody can do that. I guess there’s one girl at the club who turns tricks, but she’s the only one.”

Was I really hearing this? Turning tricks? Smoking pot? Drinking? Where did she learn this stuff? Where was the supervision since I left? Obviously, she was running wild.

Anger churned up from my stomach. “God, Lily. Why are you putting yourself in such danger?”

“Danger? There’s no danger. God, you’re melodramatic, Mom. I’m perfectly safe. There are five bouncers–big guys—all of them are six-foot five or more. Nobody touches me. And, when I leave every night, I make one of them walk me to the car. I’m not stupid.”

I thought, maybe not stupid, but not smart either—just young.

She continued, “I know I can’t do this for the rest of my life, but I’m 18, and I’ve got the body and—”

“Right. You’re 18. A young girl with firm breasts, which is what creeps want to look at when they go to places like Sweet Cheeks.”

“So they look. What’s the big deal? It’s a job.”

I tried another tactic. “Really? You mean to tell me you feel that badly about yourself? I feel sad for you, Lily. Where’s your self-esteem?” I took a tissue out of the box next to the phone and wiped the tears away.

Her tone turned icy. “This is why I didn’t tell you! I knew you’d be like this. Just because you’ve been a goody-two-shoes all of your life, doesn’t mean I have to be one. You don’t have a clue that there’s a whole big world out there. God, get a life!”

“Remember who you’re talking to, Lily!”

Silence. I knew she was sorry for crossing the line. Her tone softened.  “Mom, please don’t hate me. I like dancing, and I’m going to do this . . . no matter what you say.” Her stubborn streak ran deep. There was little I could do about her tantrums at this age. At least when she was three, I could throw cold water at her to get her attention.

“So you’re going to do this no matter what I think about it.”

“That about sums it up.” She said with a bit of sarcasm.

I knew fighting wouldn’t solve anything, but I would not condone her behavior. I tried one last thought. “You know, Lily, someday you’ll probably have a daughter – do you really want her to know that her mother was a stripper?”

“Oh for crying out loud! It’s called an ‘exotic dancer’ nowadays. I guess I’ll just have to solve that problem when I get there.”

“Whatever.” I was defeated. I had exhausted all my sensible arguments.

“Be happy for me. I’m having fun and making tons of money. Isn’t that what you always said, that you wanted me to be happy?

“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

“I know.”

What else could I say? Be careful? Don’t take any wooden nickels? How would we ever be able to talk again with this between us? In one phone call, she changed our relationship. She put a distance between us that would take years to dissolve. But I loved her. I hated her choice. But I loved her. If I turned my back  on her, no one would be in her corner. After all, don’t good mothers provide unconditional love no matter what?

After this horrendous conversation ended. I vowed to stay in her life and to be there when her world fell apart. I knew at some point, this poor choice would leave her damaged, and she’d need me to build her up again. So, I would stay in her life, maybe on the sidelines, but I would keep my mother vigil until she needed me again.

Bobby and Iwo

Sunday’s short story this week is a little bit of historical fiction based on a true account.  I’ve wanted to tell this story since one incredible man shared it with me many years ago.

 

 

Bobby and Iwo

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

Bobby lay in his bunk with pen in hand. Most of the guys in his platoon were doing the same thing after the briefing. He wrote:

My darling, Arlene,

Hi sweetheart. I hope this letter finds you well. I was glad to hear that your mid-term grades were good. I’m doing well, too. Ship life is boring, but soon things will change. By the time you get this letter, the battle will be over.

I’ve gotten used to the rocking and rolling of this tug, the heaves of the rough surf, but I can’t tell you how anxious I am to set my feet back on solid ground again. I just hope my sea legs will remember how to walk. (Ha, ha)

I can’t tell you much; just that we’re sailing to some dinky island in the South Pacific. The Navy guns have been shelling this rock for days, so we’re hoping nothing’s left and the Japs have turned tail and gone home.

Don’t worry about me, sweetie. I’ll come out of this fight just fine because I want to come home and kiss your beautiful face again.

Wait for me. Love, Bobby

Bobby scrawled the familiar address on the airmail envelope, licked it shut and kissed it. He he rolled over and rested his blonde head on a thin pillow. His nervous energy kept his eighteen-old imagination active. It would be his first time to hit the beach for real. He didn’t want to admit he was scared about what would happen tomorrow, but his body confirmed he was. Bobby turned onto his side and punched his pillow to find a comfortable position. Every time he moved he rocked the bunk.

His best friend Danny was below. “Knock it off, Bobby. Jesus!”

Bobby whispered. “I can’t sleep. Every time I close my baby blues, I keep wondering what about tomorrow.”

“I know what you mean. I just hope the Navy blasted the lot of them to death, and we’ll just stroll onto the beach.”

“I doubt that. They chased MacArthur out of the Philippines. Wonder if they kick our asses? They’re mean sons of bitches.”

“Aw, don’t worry, Bobby. We’ll kick the hell out of ‘em and be back on deck before supper.”

“Yeah.” Bobby said unconvinced. “We’d better try and get some sleep.”

Danny agreed. “Yeah. I wonder what we’ll get for breakfast. Somebody said they always feed us good before a battle.”

Bobby let out a belly laugh. “You crack me up! The Marines feeding us well. That’s rich! You must be talking in your sleep and you don’t know it.”

Somewhere else in the compartment another marine shouted, “Shut up you dumb asses – you’ll be wishing you had that comfortable rack when you’re lying on your bellies on that dam rock!”

Bobby rolled over and didn’t say another word. Danny was quiet for the rest of the night, too, but neither slept. Adrenalin was pumping too strong.

***

As sun broke the horizon, the ship came to life. The monotony of revelry at 0600, calisthenics on deck in skivvies, dressing in olive green fatigues, and then hot chow at 0700. But February 19, 1945 was soon to be anything but ordinary. All the soldiers scarfed up the steak and eggs because they all figured it would be a long time before they’d have hot chow again.

After breakfast, Bobby and Danny waited on deck in their gear. The sun beat down on the deck as the two teenagers tried to feel like brave Marines in their camouflaged uniform and helmets. Canteens and pistols hung from their equipment belts and 50 pound packs were strapped on their slender backs. They were told they would be in the second wave to hit the beach.

“God, it’s hot!” Danny exclaimed as he wiped the sweat from his face. “I just wish we could get on the Higgins and get going.”

“Don’t be too anxious.” Bobby said. “Remember how seasick you always get?”

Danny tried to keep things light. “Hell, they probably don’t even need us. The Navy flyboys have been dropping shells on this rock for over 70 days, and the 14” guns from the battleships have been going at it for the last three days. What can be left?”

Bobby stood quietly with his rifle slung over his shoulder. Finally he said, “Why don’t you shut up for two seconds? God, you talk a lot!” After the cross words were out of his mouth, he was sorry when he saw Danny’s face.

“Sorry.” Danny looked away. “God, you’re touchy!”

The two friends waited for the squawk box to bark orders to board the LVT transport.

As Bobby stood in line to descend the cargo nets, he had regrets. “Hey, Danny.”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t mean what I said. I’m sorry, man.”

“No sweat. But thanks for saying so, buddy. I guess we’re all a little testy.”

“Yeah.” Bobby smiled at his friend. “We’ll give ‘em hell.”

“Damn right.” Danny smiled back.

All of a sudden, Bobby’s stomach rolled. It probably was the extra steak and eggs he’d gotten from the guy from Oklahoma. What’s the matter with you, Marine? There will be no puking before battle. Marines aren’t afraid. Buck Up! He took a deep breath and put mind over matter. You’ll be okay. After all, you promised Arlene–

Bobby had no time to finish his thought as he precariously climbed down the flimsy rope ladder on the port side of the ship. At the bottom, he jumped in the small boat that would take them into battle. Bobby and Danny were the last two soldiers to get into the boat, which was already assholes to bellies full of sweaty soldiers.

Danny yelled, “The Marines must be taking orders from the Navy!”

“Why would you say such a stupid thing?” Bobby growled.

“Well they got us packed in here like sardines, don’t they?” Danny grinned.

Bobby laughed. Danny could always break the tension with a joke.

As the transports steered toward the beach, the sailors on the ships saluted the Marines with cups of coffee, waving good luck.

Bobby said, “Maybe you got something there, sport! Look at those assholes!”

The hum of the engines of the small landing boat seemed quiet as the thunder of mortar shells pierced the sea, causing splashes that sent chills down Bobby’s spine. As bullets whizzed over them, Bobby read fear in Danny’s eyes. Others stared ahead with blank eyes, not able to fathom what was happening.

When the ramp dropped, a rush of young male bodies jumped into the water only to sink up to their knees in thick, black, volcanic sand. Bobby slipped in the muck, took in a deep gulp of salt water, and came up sputtering. He struggled under the heavy weight of his pack, while maneuvering through dozens of floating dead kids like him. As he kept his feet pumping toward the beach, Bobby didn’t look at their lifeless faces. Crouching and keeping his head down, he kept going forward. A barrage of bullets ripped through the water and whizzed by his head.

The water was freezing and he struggled for breath. Marines always go forward, Bobby told himself. Marines don’t quit. Get onto that goddamn beach! Finally, the waves were behind him, and he fell on his belly gulping in deep breaths. He turned to see Danny was by his side. “We made it! You OK?”

Danny panted. “Yeah man. I’m fine. Let’s get them bastards!”

What was left of their unit was pinned down on the beach by machine gun fire. Paralyzed by the hellish scene, Danny and Bobby first realized there was a good possibility they could die. Bombs shook the sand and the explosions produced pain pierced their ear drums like ice picks. Thick, choking, white smoke billowed in the air, while a sickening smell of rotten eggs gave Bobby a headache that reminded him of the hangover he got after drinking cheap booze on liberty in Hawaii. When a shell landed close to Bobby, his bones felt like they had turned to metal and somebody had hit him with a sledgehammer.  “Oh my god, oh my god. Danny, you OK?”

“Don’t worry about me, brother. Just protect your own ass!”

They crawled like ugly salamanders to improve their position behind a small sand dune. It was clear there was no glory in war; there was only a battle to stay alive.

After a few hours, the whole unit found itself trapped behind a ridge of black sand. There was no way to dig a foxhole because the loose volcanic sand fell in upon itself. Their only option was to go forward, and that meant confronting exploding shells and machine gun fire.

The sergeant yelled. “We have to get to the top of that ridge. Kowalski and Anderson, stay behind me.”

Inch by inch Bobby and Danny crawled behind Sarge with the rest of the obedient soldiers as the surreal horror of battle surrounded them. Bobby watched guys he had eaten breakfast with that morning explode. Guys he had beaten at poker cried out with pain in their eyes. The dead lay in their wake.

As they inched forward, it was apparent the Japs were “in” the island, not “on” the island, and the American rifles were about as useful as bee-bee guns. To kill this enemy the Marines needed hand grenades and fire throwers to blast the bastards out of their caves. Bobby adopted one mantra. Run, don’t die. Run, don’t die.

But what they needed was sinking in the slippery, black sand back on the beach. Tanks sank to their tracks and Jeeps up to their axles as they were unloaded off the transports. The small beach made it difficult to organize supplies because of the large numbers of dead bodies that clogged the beach. When supplies did get to shore, getting the hand grenades and flame throwers to the soldiers in battle was another laborious and dangerous chore. Lucifer himself couldn’t top this hellish place.

***

It only took a few hours before the smell of death wafted over the land. The metallic smell of blood, the sulfur of the bombs, and the sickening sweetness of cheap cologne mixed to create a nauseating odor that Bobby would never forget. The smell of shit and piss was everywhere because soldiers had no other alternative to relieve themselves in battle. Bobby felt ashamed when he let go of his bowels the first time.

As dusk fell, Bobby’s unit was still on the ridge with little protection. He thought it was crazy that a small bump on the beach would be a life or death problem.

Bobby said, “This hasn’t quite been a stroll onto the beach.”

Danny said, “Yeah. How will I ever tell my mother I pooped in my pants and almost got eaten alive by land crabs and sand fleas?”

“Aw hell, you complain about just about anything, Kowalski! What are a few bug bites when you could more easily get your head blown off?”

“That’s you, Anderson, always thinking on the bright side. God, I hate you.” Danny smiled at his friend.

When darkness fell, fear intensified. Exploding shells sounded like a thousand thunderclaps. Flashed in the blackness sent horrendous, ear splitting pain, while the incessant rapid machine gun fire let them know the enemy wasn’t sleeping, either. The sounds of battle were a curious chorus punctuated with cries of dying men.

After the first day, the first lesson of war set in on the young Marines: Kill the Japs before they kill you. It was as simple as that. The oldest law of the jungle– survival of the fittest would win.

***

The Marines moved up one ridge after another to get to their target—the top of Suribachi Mountain. There was an airstrip up there the fly boys needed to get to Tokyo, and the mission was to take it away from the enemy.

Bobby and Danny were still alive after three days. They were hot, dirty, tired, wet and miserable, but they knew they were the lucky ones. They rested, but never slept; they knew if they wanted to be alive in the morning, sleep wasn’t an option. They began to see K-rations as delicacies.

Danny said, “I thought my mother was the worst cook on the planet, but I think the Marines take the prize.”

“Complain, complain, complain. Geez, Kowalski!” Bobby teased.

“You can’t honestly say you like this crap?” Danny’s voice was incredulous.

“It’s steak and potatoes to me, my friend. Just a little mind over matter.” Bobby smiled as he choked down another bite.

***

On February 22 around ten o’clock in the morning, Bobby and Danny sat behind a yet another small ridge of sand. “Well, will you look at that!” Danny exclaimed.

“Well, I’ll be god-dammed. Isn’t that about the most beautiful thing you ever saw?”

“It sure is.” Danny sounded choked up.

Bobby felt a lump in his throat as a tear rolled down his cheek.

A rousing cheer rose from the Marines who had made it through the battle went up as the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes unfurled on top of the mountain.

“My God, we did it! Some day you can tell your kids that you saw this –“ Bobby joked, “That is, if any girl will have your sorry, Pollock ass.”

“You think you’re so hot because Arlene took pity on you, you dumb Dane. She’ll never wait for you. She’ll marry some rich guy. I guarantee it.”

Bobby smiled. He felt proud for the first time since he crawled onto the island. The sight of the U. S. flag convinced him the Marines would take this rock and then march on toward Tokyo. “I feel like I just had a blood transfusion.”

“What?” Danny said.

“I feel charged up. Energized. Ready to go. Don’t you?”

“I feel something, but I’m not sure what it is.” Danny said.

***

The Marines had a day to rest before starting their charge to the north of the island. Supplies finally caught up to them, and they had a chance to get cleaned up and choke down a K-ration. Once again, Bobby’s imagination got him through the unsavory meal. Danny said he’d never complain about his mother’s cooking again.

Jimmy, the supply officer, offered all the soldiers their choice of a package of cigarettes or a cigar. Having never tried either, Bobby chose the cigar. He lit it and took a long drag. Immediately, he felt light-headed and he coughed up the smoke until his sides hurt. Not wanting to look like a sissy in front of the other guys, he tried again. By the time the stogie was half burned up, Bobby learned how to smoke and enjoyed the calming affect of the tobacco.

As the seasoned Marines rested before they moved north, replacements joined them. These recruits were kids straight off the farm; some hadn’t even fired a gun before. Bobby and Danny knew they would learn quickly or they wouldn’t be leaving the island.

Bobby said, “I’m really glad they brought in such green replacements.”

“Why? The dumb fucks don’t even know how to shoot. What good are they?”

“Yeah, and they don’t know how to play poker, either. I’m really glad they’re here. I’ll go home a rich man!”

“Any man who goes home will be a rich man.” Danny said dryly.

***

The next morning, the Marines pushed northward. After the fierce battle for Suribachi, the whole unit thought taking the rest of the island would be easy. But they were mistaken.

Out of nowhere, a shell hit Danny. “Oh no!”

Bobby watched as his best friend fell. He lay down beside his friend and rolled him over, only to see that awful far-away stare in Danny’s brown eyes. He had gotten it in the chest.

Bobby felt rage rise up from his gut as he yelled, “No!” He fired wildly into the direction where he thought the shots had come from. Sarge pulled Bobby forward. “Don’t think, son. Keep moving. We can’t help him.”

Bobby followed orders and let his training take over. He ran beside his sergeant, and his mantra took over where the training left off. “Run, don’t die. Run, don’t die.

But locking out Danny’s blank stare was impossible. Why did the Pollock get it? Why not me? He ran along in a daze, only to be trapped up against another ridge.

Sarge radioed for air support and a few minutes later, bombers appeared in the sky. The men fought all morning to take 400 yards, only to fall back 500 yards later that afternoon. Nothing was worse for Marines. Falling back, having to give up ground they paid for with blood was not in their nature. Sarge assured them it was better to fight another day.

Another fight tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that? When will it end? I want to go home.

***

After a week of fighting, Bobby believed the Japs were no better than rats. They couldn’t be human. They burrowed in caves and tunnels like rodents, and even when flame throwers burned them to a crisp, there was always another Nip to pick up the fight. They had to be exterminated, just like rats.

Every afternoon torrential rain poured down on the volcanic island. The sun and rain made temperatures rise above 115 degrees, and Bobby felt weak for the first time since landing on the beach. The thick, humid air made it hard to breathe, and Bobby was finding it hard to fight on. Sleep deprivation, living in stinking, filthy clothes and surviving on K-rations was enough to make anyone want to lie down and die. What kept him going was thoughts about Arlene. He wanted to hold her and make love to her; he pictured them married with half a dozen kids. He had to get home.

***

After Danny’s death, Bobby found himself helping a new recruit accept the situation that was too foreign to imagine. George Pulaski was from Milwaukee, and even though Bobby and he were exactly the same age, Bobby felt like the old man of the two. George was grateful for the quick friendship, but Bobby wondered why he attracted another dumb Pollock.

One day when they were eating their noon rations, Bobby heard the high pitch whistle of an incoming shell; he pushed George into a shallow ditch, and as he did, he felt an excruciating surge of pain travel down his back.

“Bobby! Bobby!” George screamed. “Bobby! Come on man! You can’t die! Oh God, Bobby!”

George rolled Bobby over and saw bullets had ripped down his right side. George dropped his rifle and took the roll of gauze he carried in his pocket and did his best to stop the bleeding that seemed to be coming from everywhere. Where Bobby lay, the sand turned red. George pressed as hard as he could to stop the flow, but his little bit of gauze was about as effective as a Cur-Aid bandage. Bobby had little time. He screamed, “Medic!”

Bobby drifted in and out of consciousness. I can’t feel anything. Oh my God! There’s grandpa over there! Am I dead? I can’t be dead! Arlene! I’m coming sweetheart, please wait for me. What’s this? I’m falling back to earth. I’m in a hole. There’s George!

Bobby whispered, “George, are you there?”

“Yeah, buddy. I’m right here.”

“I’m bleeding ain’t I?”

“Yeah man. The Nips got you good. You gotta fight, Bobby. You can’t die. Arlene is counting on you to come home.”

“I don’t feel anything.”

George ordered, “It’ll be okay. Rest easy.” George screamed again, “Medic! Jesus God! Medic!”

Bobby whispered, “We gotta get out of here, Pollock—

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?” Danny yelled.

“We gotta get out of this hole, George. I’m not dying here! I can crawl, just steer me in the right direction.”

George knew there was no crawling out of that hole alive. There was already another nameless dead Marine sharing it with them. All they could do was wait for help.

“Whadda ya waiting for, Marine?” Bobby asked. “Move it, move it. . .” he passed out.

A second later a medic jumped in the hole where the two friends lay. George said, “What took you so long? He’s hit down his back, his arm, leg on the right side.” George started to cry. “I didn’t have enough gauze to do any good.”

The medic said, “You did good, kid. Help me get this IV started; he’s lost too much blood. We have to get this plasma in him.”

George held Bobby’s arm and the medic pierced the vein on the first try. The medic took out large bandages from his pack and wrapped them around Bobby’s wounds. “We have to get him down to the beach for evacuation.”

George nodded as he watched the medic work faster than any nurse.

When the Marines rooted out the sniper, Bobby was rolled onto a stretcher. George and another recruit hauled him over the sharp lava terrain. The medic held the plasma as they moved his bullet-ridden body down to the beach. Bobby was in and out of consciousness, and George prayed they weren’t too late.  He hoisted Bobby’s stretcher onto the transport that would take him to the hospital ship. George jumped in and took his hand. “Bobby, can you hear me?”

Bobby opened his eyes and nodded.

George said, “I’ll see you on the fourth of July next year, buddy. I’ll drive down to Kenosha, and I’ll buy you a ham on rye and a beer.”

Bobby cleared his throat. “Lettuce and tomatoes, too?”

“Of course. Anything you want.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, my friend.” Bobby whispered.

“I’ll keep my promise. You keep yours. No dying.

Bobby gave him a weak smile. He thought George looked exhausted and he should be the one laying on the cot.

“You tell Arlene to bring along her prettiest friend for me, okay.?”

“OK.” Bobby took a deep breath. “Hey George?”

“Yeah, man?”

“Thanks.”

George turned away and didn’t let Bobby see that a tear had escaped his eye.

***

When Bobby woke up 36 hours later, his ears still rang from battle, his back screamed with pain. He opened his eyes to find himself in a plaster cocoon. His right arm and leg were bound in heavy white bandages and his left arm and leg were pieced with IVs—one with saline the other with blood. Even though he couldn’t move, he was thankful he was safe on a hospital ship. He was thankful to be clean again. He was thankful for the coolness of the good smelling white sheets. He was even thankful for the disinfectant odors of bleach and alcohol, which replaced the rancid smell of battle and death.

He heard the smooth wailing of Frank Sinatra singing, “Nancy with the Laughing Face.” His pain was like his body was on fire, but a Navy nurse injected something in his IV and he felt better. He saw George’s face loading him on the transport and vaguely remembered falling into a hole. He searched his memory for details, but when he remembered the exploding shell, he tried to think of something else.

About an hour later a doctor came into his room and checked his chart. “Marine, you awake?”

Bobby opened his eyes. “Yes, sir. Where am I doc?”

“You’re on the Good Samaritan,” the doctor answered.

“Oh.”

“You’re a pretty lucky, guy, soldier. If it hadn’t been for your friend George and that medic, you’d be hearing a choir of angels instead of Sinatra.”

“Where was I hit?”

“One in the arm, six in the leg, three in the back – we had to remove your kidney and you broke your back. That’s why the cast. I’m assuming you fractured your back from a fall – if a bullet ripped though your spine, you’d be a paraplegic or dead.”

“You’re just a ray of sunshine, doc.” He asked. “Am I going home?” Bobby hoped he would never see battle again.

“I don’t know soldier. I just patch you guys up, and then the Marines decide what to do with you.”

“I won’t have to go back into battle, will I?”

“Like I said, son, I don’t know. The Marines will make the decision for you.”

The doctor moved to the next soldier who was wrapped in gauze like a mummy.

Bobby asked, “Hey doc, what happened to him?”

“Burns.”

“Oh,” Bobby took a deep breath. “Doc?”

“Bobby, I really have to get on with my rounds.”

“Just one more thing. Thanks.”

“No thanks necessary, son. You did your job, and I do mine.” The doctor smiled.

Bobby closed his eyes. He knew he’d get through this, and dreamed of the day when George and he would share a beer with Arlene and her prettiest girlfriend.

***

Flag raising at Iwo Jima

Epilogue

Bobby went home some months later, married Arlene, had three children and ran several successful businesses in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Sydney, Australia. He lived a good life well into his 90s.

In the Name of Love

book clipartIt’s Sunday morning and story time. This one is a long one, so sit down with a cup of coffee (or tea) and a cinnamon bun, then enjoy. Feel free to make comments. Constructive feedback is the lifeblood of a striving author.

 

 

In the Name of Love

By

2012 copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

After a long day at school, Debbie picked up an armful of text books and trudged up the back steps into her home. Her mother stood at the kitchen stove preparing dinner. “Oh hi, Hon, how was your day?”

Debbie answered in a flat voice, “Fine.”

Her mother said, “There’s something for you on the dining room table.”

Debbie dumped her books on the kitchen table and went into the dining room. She couldn’t imagine who would be sending her anything. She picked up a small box wrapped in thick brown paper. The label on the box was typewritten and there was no return address. As she held the small box, a feeling of dread overcame her. She tore off the paper, opened the box, and gasped. “Oh my God.” She dropped into a chair like someone had sucked the oxygen out of her lungs. In her hand was a little red diary with a small metal key taped to its top.

Her mother dropped her spatula and raced toward daughter.  “What is it?”

Debbie looked up at her mother with tearful eyes and showed her mother the diary. “Oh, Mom. It’s Beth’s.”

Her mother asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Debbie’s face was somber. “I need to be alone for a while.” Debbie dragged herself up to her room, flopped on her bed, and fingered the gold gilding on the diary. She took the small key and turned the lock on the little book. When she opened it a small piece of folded pink stationery fell to the floor. She leaned over and picked it up. The note read: “Debbie – I’m mailing this on Saturday night because my diary needs to be in your friendly hands. You’re the best friend I ever had, and I want you to know I’ll always love and trust you.” Debbie refolded the personal note and began to read.

Saturday, June 10, 1968

Dear Diary,

Why did MY Dad have to have a heart attack? It’s not fair to any of us. Why did God punish us this way? We go to church every Sunday. We all obey the rules. My Dad’s a good man. I’m a good daughter. What did we do that was so horrible to curse him with such a terrible illness?

Daddy never smiles. Mom is sad and angry. I think they’re both scared of what will happen next. Mom is not used to working away from home and her office job seems hard for her. She’s always tired and complains we don’t have enough money. I don’t ask for anything. If I want something for myself, I make the money by babysitting . . . at 50 cents an hour; it takes a while to even buy fabric for a new dress or pair of shorts. Then I have to sew it. My friends say I’m a good seamstress, but I don’t think my clothes are as nice as the ones in the store.

I’m caught in 17 year old hell. This summer has been such a drag. It’s been SO hot and now that I’m home all day, the housework, baking and babysitting little Chrissie, falls on me. When my friends go to the beach, I’m stuck “hanging ten” at the ironing board. I keep telling myself this household experience will come in handy someday. Yeah, right.

Only if I want to be a slave.

Sunday, July 2, 1968

 Dear Diary,

Sorry I haven’t written in a couple of weeks, but my life is so dull I figured it wasn’t worth the ink.

But maybe things are going to change. Last night I met a new guy at the ball diamond! He’s movie-star good looking with butter blonde hair and eyes as blue as Paul Newman. He’s not real tall, maybe about 5’ 10” but he’s got muscles on top of his muscles. I nearly died when he came over to me and said, “Hi, I’m Jeff.”

It was his warm smile that did it for me. And when he asked if he could sit by me, I could barely get out “Yes.” We talked about the game and before the night was over, he asked whether he could call me.

Call me? I thought I was dreaming! Of course, I said “yes.” How could I say no to a perfect boyfriend? Oh Diary, he’s not only great looking, but he’s also polite and funny. He’s easy to talk to and very smart. I haven’t had so much fun all summer!

I’m saying good night, praying that he wasn’t kidding when he said he’d call me for a date.  Do you think God hears prayers like that?  Oh, by-the-way, Jeff is even Catholic, so maybe God will hear me after all.

Monday, July 3, 1968

 Dear Diary,

Guess what? Jeff called! Oh, my god, I thought I died and went to heaven when I heard his voice. He asked me to go celebrate the 4th of July with him, and my parents said Okay . . . only a day to wait. Oh, thank you, God.

Tuesday, July 4, 1968

Dear Diary,

Jeff picked me up this afternoon in his uncle’s beautiful blue Pontiac Bonneville convertible. Jeff told his uncle he was taking out the prettiest brunette in the world and he wanted to impress her. What a crock, huh? I do love it, though, that he thinks I’m pretty.

His friend Bob came with him and Debbie came with me. So, the four of us tooled around in that beautiful convertible like we owned the town. I felt so proud sitting next to Jeff as we drove along the lake, scoping out the perfect spot on the beach to watch the fireworks.

Deb and I brought a picnic lunch, we swam in the icy water of Lake Michigan and then the four of us got comfortable on an old scratchy army blanket as we waited for the fireworks. When it grew dark, Jeff put his arm around me as the night air set in. I felt warm and safe next to him, and as the fireworks finale boomed out a splattering of every color, he kissed me gently on the lips. I loved the taste of his soft lips and wished he would have kissed me again. But being a gentleman, he only took this one shy kiss. Oh, Diary, isn’t summer wonderful?

 Wednesday, July 5, 1968

 Dear Diary,

It’s back to housework and babysitting. But today, I don’t care. Deb came over and we relived every minute of yesterday. She’s nuts about Bob and wants to see him as much as I want to see Jeff. We’re already making plans for next weekend. Jeff works construction for his uncle, so going out during the week is impossible; on top of that, the boys live 40 miles away. We thought a picnic at Petrifying Springs Park on Sunday.

Sunday, July 8, 1968

 Dear Diary,

Jeff and Bob picked us up at noon; this time our transportation wasn’t quite so fancy. Jeff drove his own car this time – a 1958 Chevy he called “The Beast.” The navy blue car has seen better days, and it had a stick shift on the steering column. Our car is an “automatic,” so I was curious as Jeff went through the gears. At one point, Jeff dared me to drop the car into third gear – but oops, I slipped it into first and the beast roared! Grinding and chugging sounds came from under the hood, and Jeff quickly fixed my mistake and said, “I guess I’d better do the shifting.” Then he teased me about being a woman driver.

Our picnic was fun. Deb and I showed the boys our favorite park in the world, and we teased them about a witches’ castle being in the woods. I made up a story about how the witches captured children who got too close to their castle and were never seen again.  Jeff got a real kick out of it when he saw the witches’ castle was nothing more than an old pump house.

When the sun set, we drove home slowly, wishing the day didn’t have to end. Jeff walked me to the door and we kissed. His lips are so tender, I missed him as soon as he drove away.

Monday, July 9, 1968

 Dear Diary,

It’s back to the same old grind. Changing diapers, making peanut butter sandwiches, vacuuming, washing dishes, and so on and so on. I kept reliving yesterday. Even housework can’t spoil my memories. Best of all, I get to share them with Debbie. She keeps me company everyday, and. I think I’d kill myself if she didn’t. Hell (oops), Heck, I feel like I’m 30 already. I watch kids, clean and cook all week. I feel like Cinderella without a fairy godmother.

Sunday, July 15, 1968

 Dear Diary,

The boys made their weekly Sunday trip to see us. Deb and I planned to go to the downtown zoo, which is free and right on the lake, so the cool breeze felt wonderful after a whole week of record heat. Jeff wore a “muscle t-shirt” and a pair of tight jeans that emphasized his great body. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I swear if he went to Hollywood, he’d be discovered by some director and be a movie star as famous as Robert Redford. All I can say is, I’m star-struck. When we’re together, everything is perfect.

Monday, July 16, 1968

 Dear Diary,

My mother said that she and Daddy don’t really want me to go out with Jeff any more. She said he’s not right for me. I couldn’t believe my ears! She said, “What about Tommy?” You remember Tommy, Diary. He’s nice, but when we broke up after school let out, and I haven’t missed him. Besides, I like Jeff. What’s wrong with him?

My mother reminded me that under no circumstances, can I go steady with Jeff or anyone else. Diary, do you think she knows something that I don’t?

Jeff is so sweet to me; he brought me flowers today. I was so surprised to see him! My Dad let us go out for a Coke at the little diner a couple of blocks away. When we’re out, he treats me like a queen. He opens doors and always walks on the outside of the sidewalk. He’s almost old fashioned. Best of all, we have fun together. He’s easy to talk to and I can tell him anything. On top of that, he’s gorgeous, and Catholic. Being with a Catholic boy is SO important to my parents. I don’t know what their problem is. Maybe my parents are worried because he’s two years older than I am. But, Tommy was two years older than me, too. You’d think they would be happy that such a nice guy is interested in me.

 Saturday, July 21, 1968

 Dear Diary,

I always know when my Dad doesn’t feel good because he gets real quiet. Tonight was one of those nights. So when Jeff picked me up for our date, there was no small talk. Instead, my mother yelled at me from the front window, “Behave yourself and don’t get home late!” I was so embarrassed, but I waved goodbye and smiled at Jeff.

“I’m so glad you’re rescuing me to night. “Jeff slipped his arm around my waist and steered me toward the car. He gave me a little peck on the cheek, opened the car door and said, “Hard day?” I nodded. He said, “Maybe the movie will cheer you up.”

I said, “Just being with you cheers me up.” He smiled and we drove to the theater.

We munched on popcorn, and laughed for a couple of hours as we watched The Love Bug. After the movie we went for pizza. Jeff swore DeRango’s pizza was the best in the world. Then we drove down to the lakefront and parked at Wind Point. Jeff drew me close and held me tight. We kissed gently while he held me. I felt like I’ve know him forever, even though it’s only been a few weeks since we met.

As Jeff kissed me again and again, his kisses grew longer and more passionate. He touched my face, and I felt the rough calluses on his finger tips from the hard work he did all week. He stroked my long hair and his breathing got deeper. I felt the strong pulse of his heart as I pressed against him. I loved the smell of his English Leather cologne. He kissed my neck and I wanted to crawl inside of him.

And then he said it. “I love you. I’ve never felt like this before.” I said, “You’ve been so special to me since we first met.” Jeff looked into my eyes and said, “Be my girl?” I searched his face to see if he was serious.

I said, “You want to go steady? With me?” When he said, yes, I couldn’t believe I could be so lucky. That moment my mother’s face appeared and I heard her words. “Under no circumstances are you allowed to go steady.” What was I going to do? What could I say? I wanted to be his girl more than anything in the world!  I whispered, “I can’t.” And then I started to cry.

“Why?” he asked as he brushed away my tears.

“Because of my parents, I can’t go steady with anybody.”

He looked at me with sad, puppy-dog eyes, “Can’t you break the rules for me?”

I didn’t say anything for several minutes. I wanted to be his girl, and then I whispered, “Yes.”

He smiled, slipped his heavy class ring off of his finger, and placed it on the third finger of my right hand. At that moment, I was so happy I could have burst.   At that moment, I just wanted to be happy being Jeff’s girl. I smiled and he held me again. I’d worry about the fallout tomorrow.

He whispered, “I adore, you baby. I’m so happy you said yes.” We kissed again and again, until I felt the strong pressure of his tongue trying to pry open my mouth. I kept my teeth clenched. He pulled back and whispered, “What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t tell him I had no idea what he was tying to do, and I certainly didn’t want him to think I was some stupid kid. I whispered, “I’ve never kissed like this before.” He relaxed back into the seat,  took a deep breath and asked, “You love me, don’t you?”

I whispered, “Yes.”

Then he asked, “Then trust me.”

I admitted, “It scares me.”

He whispered, “I will never hurt you, Beth. If you’re not ready, I’ll wait.”

The next time he kissed me it was softer, and I opened my mouth and let his tongue in. As our tongues danced, my entire body ignited. It was exhilarating, but at the same time my feelings frightened me. He stirred something in my I don’t really understand. I wish I could explain it.  I liked it, but I still pulled away. What’s wrong with me? I said, “I love you so much, Jeff. But I can’t. . .”

Then he said, “Can’t what? We’ve necked lots of times. When I’m with you, you drive me crazy!” He looked out the window.

I was torn in half. I wanted him so much, Diary. But I guess deep down I wasn’t ready, and his reaction broke my heart.

He opened the car door and got out. He walked around for awhile and kicked the tires on the car. When he got back into the car, I told him I was sorry. He said he was the one who needed to be sorry. He got carried away and then added, “Let’s just forget this happened, okay?”

How could I forget? For the first time in my life, I truly loved someone, but was too afraid to let him see how I really felt. We drove home in silence. He kept both hands on the wheel all the way home. I was so glad my parents weren’t up when Jeff walked me to the front porch. “Do you want your ring back?”

He smiled and said, “No. I want you to be my girl. Listen Beth, I’m so sorry about tonight. I didn’t mean to push you or hurt you.” He kissed me gently. “I’ll call you in a couple of days. I promise.” Then he kissed me again.

I flashed his class ring that was still on my finger. “I’m yours forever, Jeff. I do love you so.” I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. Then I went into the house and watched him from the front window. I was so proud he was my guy. He was so self-confident and strong—I adored that about him. I took it from my finger and held it to my heart. How I want to wear it around my neck on a gold chain, and show everybody we’re together. But I know that’s impossible. I have to hide my feelings as well as the ring.

Diary, I only wish my parents could be happy for me.

Sunday, July 22, 1968

 Dear Diary,

I dressed early and went to church after a sleepless night. I thought maybe God might have some answers for me, but if He did, I never heard them. As I sat in the quiet sanctuary, my mind wandered to last night. Should I confess my deception in the name of love? I love Jeff. I know I do. I’ve never felt this way about anyone, not even Tommy. I never kissed him like I’ve kissed Jeff. Why is a French kiss wrong? It’s OK to have tingling feelings when you love someone, right? If I do tell the priest, he’d probably say I’m a sinner, and I should say ten “Hail Mary’s” as a penance. What good would that do?

When I got home from church, my mother cornered me. She commanded me to sit down like a dog, and then told me that she had a big problem with my relationship with Jeff. She said she felt I was getting much too serious about him for a “girl of my age.” She said I was getting in “over my head.” Then she went on about our dates. She said Jeff should be taking me to nice places instead of having picnics and going to places that didn’t cost anything. I explained that he was saving for college. She said I needed to open my eyes and see Jeff for what he was—a guy who was “on the make.” He wanted one thing. She said his body language, gestures, tone of voice and especially the way he looks at me says he won’t be satisfied until he “spoils me.” Finally, she said she watched us necking in the car in front of the house and called me a cheap tramp.

As she went on, every word struck like she was physically hitting me and all I could do was sit there and take it. Even though it hurt, I refused to cry. When she saw her brow beating was bouncing off of me, she took a deep breath and her tone got gentler. “I used to date somebody like Jeff, and one night, he tried to rape her.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more and I shouted, “Jeff would never do anything like that! You haven’t even given him a chance. Because he’s older than me, you think the worst of him and of me. Don’t you trust me?”

She said that she didn’t trust him. I shouted at her, “Why do you hate me? I work all week like a slave, and when I find a little happiness, you want to take it away from me!”

Her retort was to slap me. Hard. I saw the room spin. Then she yelled at me to go to my room like I was some little kid.

I ran down the hall, flopped on my bed and cried until I used up all of my tears. Why does she have to make everything so hard for me? Why can’t she listen? Why doesn’t she care about how I feel? Why doesn’t she see how things really are instead of the way they might look?  Now I know I can never tell her the truth about going steady with Jeff. My body ached, and the only way I could recover from my tears was to picture myself in Jeff’s arms. Oh, Diary, what am I going to do?

Monday, July 23, 1968

 Dear Diary,

I was so glad when my mother left for work and my father went off to the gym for his “heart class.”  I don’t want any more confrontation. I’m worn out.  God I’ve missed Deb. She’s been on vacation for the last week with her family,but today she was supposed to be home. When she’s not around, I feel like I’ve lost the other half of my soul. I called this morning, and she was at the orthodontist, so I buried myself in scrubbing the kitchen floor. When Dad came home around 2 p.m. he said I could go out until supper time. I think he feels sorry for me. I thanked him with a hug and ran all the way to Deb’s house.

Deb said she spent the week reading Love Story because their family vacation was geared to her younger cousins, and she was bored silly. When I pulled Jeff’s ring from my pocket, she stared in disbelief. “Really?” She hugged me and swore to keep my secret. Then I told her about the fight with Mom. I told her that my mother hated him and thought all he wanted was sex. I told Deb I loved Jeff and she said, “No Kidding! Anybody can see that.”

Sunday, August 21, 1968

 Dear Diary,

Bob, Deb, Jeff and I went to the County Fair today. The only reason my parents let me go was because Bob and Deb were going, too. I guess they figured that we wouldn’t “make out” in front of our friends. My parents have kept us apart for almost a month, so as you might imagine, Jeff and I were elated to be together. Bob drove, so we had the back seat to ourselves. Jeff held me all the way to the fair, and we talked softly. Our conversation was about how much we missed each other and how happy we were to be together again.

The four of us had a blast going on the carnival rides. I just loved it when we stopped at the top of the double Ferris wheel and could look out over the whole fair! Jeff held on for dear life and confessed that he hated heights. When I told he should have said something, he confessed he didn’t want me to think he was a wimp. We had a hot dog and soda for lunch on an old wooden picnic table. Poor Bob got a sliver in his leg and had to go to the nurse’s station to get it removed. The crowning event of the day was when Jeff won a stuffed bear for me by knocking down some bowling pins with a softball. The gray koala bear is so cute. I love to squeeze his fat, soft tummy. The only problem with winning the bear was lugging it around for the rest of the day!

We learned Minnie Pearl was headlining a free grandstand show at 7 p.m. We all agreed to stay, even though it would make us late getting home. I knew I’d probably be grounded for at least a week—but what would really change? I was already imprisoned with housework and babysitting. For me, the decision was easy. After all, when would I ever get to see such a famous comedian again?

It was ten o’clock when we left the fair. Jeff and I kissed cuddled all the way. We’d been apart for so long that we couldn’t get enough of each other. When he tried to French kiss me again, I just enjoyed it. I knew I was a sinner for enjoying his kiss so much, but I couldn’t help myself. His hands rubbed my back as his tongue pushed deeper. He drove me crazy and my back arched. What I felt for him frightened me because I knew I could so easily lose myself in him.  I pulled away. But this time, he didn’t get angry. He just smiled and held me close as we rode home.

When we arrived home at 11 p.m., my parents were livid. My Dad said he considered calling the Sheriff Department to track us down. When we tried to explain, my mother told me to “Shut up.” My father put all the blame on Jeff because he was the oldest and responsible for me. Jeff tried to say he was sorry for making a bad decision, but my father wouldn’t let him. He said he didn’t want to hear his lames excuses. Worst of all, Daddy said that he was disappointed in me.

So, now I’m on lock down for two weeks. At least I have the koala to hug. Nobody needs to know that I’m pretending its Jeff.

September 1, 1968 – Labor Day

 Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is the first day of school. Usually, I look forward to going to school and as a senior this year, I should be ecstatic. But I’m not. Jeff is in college, and I’m stuck in limbo. I don’t fit here any longer. Most of friends graduated last spring. Other friends say summer changed me—they say I’m too serious and no fun. Only Deb understands.

To make things worse, Jeff called tonight and said that it would be another week before we could see each other. He said he’d been in a car accident, but I shouldn’t worry. He just had bumps and bruises, but his “Beast” ended up in a ditch and was pretty banged up. It would take a week to get her fixed. When I asked him what happened, he started by saying, “Don’t worry, baby, I was out drink. . .” then he stopped for a second and said, “I mean I was out with a couple of guys and this drunk ran us off the road.”

When he asked if I told my parents that I was his girl, I admitted I still hadn’t. It hurt when he said, “So you’re ashamed of me?”

Ashamed? Never. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. I loved being in love with him. When my mother walked into the room, I said, “I have to go.” The last thing he said was, “I love you.” I said, “I know.” Then I hung up.

September 8, 1968

 Dear Diary,

One word describes today – Perfect.  It was sunny, warm, blue sky and Jeff was here. We celebrated by going on our last picnic for the year. We lay on a blanket under a huge pine tree, had our lunch and then laid beside each other talking about the college and high school and how we wished we could be going to school together.  He said he had gotten his education deferment and he wouldn’t be drafted. I couldn’t stand it if he had to go to Vietnam. I told him about the fights with my parents, and he was very hurt and disappointed he couldn’t seem to live up to their standards. I saw real pain in his eyes because we are still keeping our commitment a secret.

The warmth of the fall day and Jeff’s affection made me feel alive after being dead for three weeks in my “real” life. We held each other and vowed that we wouldn’t let my parents pull us apart. No matter what.

September 18, 1968

 Dear Diary,

Well, the “shit” hit the fan today. There’s no other way to say it. As soon as I opened the back door, I knew I was in for a battle. I could feel my mother’s anger brewing the second I stepped into the kitchen.  Like a dog, she commanded me to sit. She rolled Jeff’s ring across the kitchen table in my direction. “Explain this to me, young lady.”

I gulped. But before I could answer, she screamed, “I knew something was up!  You deliberately defied me!” I jumped when she screamed, “Say something!”

Tears welled in my eyes when I asked, “How did you find it?”

“I was for a barrette for your sister, and I found it in your jewelry box.”

Naturally. I always kept my baby sister’s barrettes in my jewelry box. Then I yelled, “Yes, I’m going steady with Jeff. I confess. I don’t want to date anyone else. I love him.”

“You don’t even know what love is!” She screamed.

I was shocked. “Just because Jeff’s not your choice, doesn’t mean he’s not mine. I wanted to tell you, but you never listen.” As soon as the last word was out of my mouth, she slapped me across the face harder than she ever had.

She screamed. “I will not have that boy turn you into a tramp! He’s already got you lying to your parents. I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to give him his ring back and tell him you can’t see him any more.”

My cheek felt like a wasp had stung me. I felt it swelling, but I glared in defiance.

Then she said, “This relationship is all wrong and you know it. French kissing? No decent boy kisses a girl that way. And no daughter of mine is going to end up pregnant at 17!”

I couldn’t believe what I just heard. She read my diary! “You read my diary! How could you?”

She towered over me with her hands on her hips. “I’ll do whatever I please to know what’s going on with you. You don’t talk to me, so if I have to read your precious little diary, I’ll do it. I’ll be damned if someone like Jeff is going to shame this family.”

And there it was. She was more concerned about appearances than she was for me. I couldn’t hold back the tears back any longer. How could my own mother betray me like this? She had me convicted without a trial. How could she think such things about me? I am a “good girl,” but where does it get me? Maybe Jeff and I should make love, especially if I’m going to be accused of it.

After she finished her lecture, she commanded me to go to my room. I scowled at her and grabbed my jacket. I bolted out the back door. I heard her scream, “Get back here, young lady! Wait until your father gets home.”

With tears streaming down my face, I ran to Deb’s house as fast as I could. By the time I got there, I was out of breath, my side ached and my face was red and swollen. Deb’s mom took one look at me and said, “Beth are you alright?” I nodded. “Debbie’s upstairs, sweetie.”

I told my best friend everything; she listened and didn’t say a word. “I don’t want to give Jeff his ring back, Deb, I love him. I want to be his girl. He makes me happy.” When I told her that my mother thought I was fucking Jeff, Deb couldn’t believe it. I said, “I don’t want to ever go home, again, Deb. I spent my whole summer like a slave because I know Dad’s heart attack has made life hard for everybody; but my mother spoils everything! Can I please stay here?”

“Of course. My parents love you as much as me. You just take a couple of deep breaths, and I’ll tell my mom what’s going on.” While Deb was downstairs, I went into the bathroom, washed my face and combed my hair. The cold water soothed my bruised cheek. Deb came upstairs with an ice pack and the good news that I could stay for dinner.

I helped Mrs. J set the table and thanked her. She just put her arm around me and said whatever was wrong would be all right. Why do adults do that? Assume everything is be okay when it never will be?

When I got home, my parents were waiting for me. I knew I had to say something, so I looked at my father and said, “I didn’t mean to break the rules, Daddy. I just followed my heart, and if that’s wrong and makes me evil, then I guess I am.” I took a deep breath and said, “I didn’t do anything wrong with Jeff no matter what Mom thinks. I just wish you could see him the way I do.” Before either of them could say anything, I ran down the hallway to my room and slammed the door.

Diary, I keep hoping you can help me sort out my feelings. I’m not a bad girl. My mother says I don’t talk to her. And she’s right. I don’t trust her. How dare she read you! She’s more interested in her reputation than she is in me.

 September 19, 1968

 Dear Diary,

Mom, if you’re reading this – enjoy.  Today was dull. Too much school work and no fun. Whoever said high school was the best time of life must have been drunk. Because if this is the best, kill me now.

 September 20, 1968

 Dear Diary,

I wish Deb would quit asking me if I was okay. She knows I’m not. But she’s a great caring friend.

I tried writing to Jeff in study hall, but the words on the paper seem so lame.

After school, Deb said she was very worried about me. She said she would call Jeff and tell him what happened. I gave her a hug and thanked her.

 

 September 21, 1968

 Dear Diary,

The doorbell rang around five o’clock tonight and to everyone’s surprise, it was Jeff. He apologized to my father for not calling first, but asked whether he could see me and take me out for a hamburger. To my surprise, Dad said it was fine. Jeff took my hand, and we walked to the car. I slid beside him and cuddled next to him. He started the car and kept his hand on my knee as he drove. I rested my head on his shoulder and a silent tear escaped. He finally said, “I’m worried about you, Beth.”

After stopping at the A&W, we went to the beach where the crescent moon gave a sliver of light. At least Jeff couldn’t see the ugly bruise on my cheek. We I took his ring out of my purse and put it in his hand. He said, “What’s this? You’re breaking up with me?”

I started to cry. “No – that’s not it at all. I love you more than ever, but I have to give your ring back to you. My mother found it–” My tears turned to choking sobs. My mother had won. She was the puppet master and I was the puppet.

He put his arm around me and let me cry. In a soothing voice he said, “I know. Deb told me everything.” After a few minutes said, “Baby, why do they hate me? We never did anything wrong!”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. They always believe the worst of me. It doesn’t matter what I say, or what I do. I told them I love you, Jeff. It didn’t matter to them. I still have to give the ring back. This is hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Sometimes I don’t think my parents want me to be happy. They just keep me around for babysitting and housework.”

He kissed me sweetly. “Please don’t cry, Beth. It makes me so sad when you cry.” I buried my head in his cardigan sweater, and he kissed the top of  my head. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed close to him. I whispered, “Let’s run away.”

He kissed me and said, “You make me crazy, girl. I love you so much.” Then he gently pushed me away gently and said, “As much as I want to run away with you, we both know we can’t. You have to finish high school, and think about it. Where would we go? When we go away together, it will be the right way. It won’t be secret. We’ll be married and have nothing to be ashamed of, okay?”

I dropped my arms from around his neck and stared blankly into space. I turned away, knowing what he was saying would never come true.

Jeff put his arm around me as we drove home, but even his warm touch couldn’t cure the numbness that had overcome me. He walked me to the front door, embraced me, tipped my chin and we gazed into each other’s soul. Then it happened. He kissed me, and at that instant I knew his goodnight kiss was a goodbye kiss.

Thursday, September 22

 Dear Diary,

This will be the last time I speak with you. It’s nothing you did. You’ve always been there for me, but I don’t want to talk any more. After my mother read you, I can’t pretend that you can keep my secrets any longer.

My parents expect me to be happy because I’m 17, but I can’t. As I see it, my life here is over.  I’m leaving. Living with my parents will always be a prison, and I have to break out. But how do I do that? Do I get on a bus? And what direction do I go?  Jeff said, running away is not the answer. Maybe he’s right, but I don’t see any other way.

I can’t cry any more. I can’t fight any more. I’m tired. I’m weary of being accused of deeds I haven’t done. Jeff is lost to me because my parents drove him away.

Tell Debbie that I will miss her more than anything, but assure her that somehow I’ll find her again somehow. She’s my best friend, and she knows the truth. I don’t know what I will do without her because she’s always been there for me in every way. I love her – tell her that.

Goodbye, Diary.

Debbie’s eyes were wet as she closed the diary and laid it on her night table. She felt comfort knowing her friendship with Beth had been a source of strength for her best friend. But even Debbie never realized just how distraught Beth really had been. Deep down she felt like she had failed her friend, but after reading the diary, she knew better. Beth had sent the diary to release Deb from any guilt and show her how much their friendship truly meant.

That evening, Bob called Debbie and told her when Jeff heard the news that Beth had thrown herself in front of a train that awful Saturday night, he went out to the barn and shot himself with his hunting rifle.

The only way Debbie could deal with the death of her best friend was to imagine she and Jeff were finally happy together in another place.

Déjà vu Dances

Happy Sunday morning everyone! I’m sitting in front of our space heater that looks like a little fireplace with my loyal Ernie dog sitting beside me. It’s a cozy scene, considering it’s only 29 degrees outside. Today is story day, so here’s the latest installment in “The Collection” that will be published sometime this next year. As always, feedback is welcomed.

Déjà vu Dances

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

After serving over twenty years of marriage, my husband and I parted. Suddenly, I found myself alone for the first time. There were lots of adjustments. Some good. Some bad. Some easy. Some hard. My two-bedroom apartment, which  I put together with the help of friends and hand-me-down furniture, was very different from a four bedroom house in the country where I had spent most of my adult life. Going to work everyday after a life at home with children was a struggle. But yet, life was good. I didn’t have to referee teenagers who decided to live with their father. I didn’t have to clean up after anyone else, and I didn’t have to watch a television program I wanted to watch. My first year after divorce was a year of solitude and navigating through a new life of different experience, responsibilities, and learning how to cook for one.

The mere mention of the word “dating” paralyzed me. Instead, I went on wonderful trips with two East Coast travel agents who befriended me, and I had a wonderful time running away from my reality a week at a time. We traveled to places I never thought I would have a chance to see, as we cruised through the Caribbean, island after island spending hours at a beach, enjoying “girl time,” and the attention of the exotic men who were at our beck and call.

After a year of solitude and escapism, though, I decided I didn’t want to live out the second half of my life alone in a two-bedroom apartment with my cat Henry. If I didn’t do something soon,  I knew I had to make a change, but I didn’t have a clue what to do.

During that first year, I watched four of my friends, who got divorced around the same time I did, struggled with re-entry into this strange world of middle-age dating. Babs plunged forward within a few weeks after her divorce, joining a separated and divorced group in Milwaukee. Connie built a life with her golden retriever and two cats, while Jenny decided she would rather center her life on her career.

Babs always wanted me  to go with her to one of her dances. She argued I had loved dancing in school and that hadn’t changed. And she was right. I did love dancing. Dancing until dawn on the cruise ships had been a blast. How could this be different?  So, I agreed to go.

When “D” Day – dance day—arrived, I primped like a teenager, trying on every piece of clothing I owned. My bedroom was strewn with my entire wardrobe, and I realized I only owned “nine to five” suits and a couple of pairs of ratty jeans. The closest thing to a party dress I had was a plain, black, A-line, dress I had wore for my aunt’s funeral.

Babs picked me up around 7:30 p. m. to drive the 40 miles to the dance. As we zoomed along the freeway, she laid down the “rules of engagement” for the evening. “You remember why we’re going to this dance, right?”

“Sure, we’re going to dance and have fun.” I smiled innocently.

“Besides that?”

I was confused, “I didn’t know there was a ‘besides that’ connected with our night out.”

She spoke like an Army DI prepping a grunt for combat. “We’re also going to meet ‘new people.’”

“What new people?”

“Men, stupid. I don’t want you hanging around me. You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You mean the minute we enter the door you’re going to abandon me?”  If I had known this, I would have stayed home and watched “I Love Lucy” reruns.

“You’re a big girl. Don’t make it sound like I’m putting you on a doorstep.”

“Well, that’s what it feels like.”

“I want you to mingle. Walk up to people. Make small talk. Jump in the pool.” She took a breath and changed lanes. “Believe me, this is the best way. I’ve tried going with other girlfriends who stuck to me like glue, and I didn’t get a chance to dance with a guy all night. The last thing I want to do is to end up dancing with you.”

I looked out the window at the darkness and mumbled, “So much for a fun time together. I didn’t think we were on a guy reconnaissance mission.”

“Sometimes you are so ridiculous.”

A few minutes later, Babs turned into a church parking lot. “We’re here!” She unbuckled her seat belt and made a beeline toward the door. She turned and motioned for me to follow her.

I pulled up the hood on my coat, put my head down to enter combat, and bravely fought the winter wind as my feet crunched through the hard, Styrofoam snow to a door marked, “S & D Dance.” I followed Babs down a beige, parochial school hallway and hung our coats on hooks on the wall. Then Babs swished over to the sign-in table. She handed a gray-haired man with wireless glasses a $10 bill. “Two,” she said, then slapped a stick-on name tag on my chest that simply said, “Barb”

We walked through the gymnasium door and cigarette smoke hovered overhead like a fog. Paper streamers had been strung from the ceiling. A stale beer smell completed this “grown-up” high school event. Babs ushered me over to a group of mixed company announcing, “Hi guys – I want you to meet Barb.”

“Hi, Barb!” they yelled in unison. When I heard their chorus, all I could think of was the Cheers sitcom bar group yelling, “Norm!!”

Babs said. “It’s her first dance,” She poked a guy with black, slicked-back hair, “so be nice!”

The greasy guy smiled at me as if to say, “Mmmm. Fresh meat.”

I forced a smile and excused myself, saying I needed a drink.

I walked over to the window where the drinks were being served. I smiled at the guy and said, “I’ll have a Coke, please.” Without looking at me, he grabbed the soda hose and pushed the “Coke” button.

“That’s a buck,” he said, pushing the soda toward me without looking.

I paid him and found an empty table on the periphery of the dance floor to watch the crowd. By now, the lights had been turned down low the room was completely dark except for the colored floodlights that were behind the four-piece band. A balding, pot-bellied Mick Jagger wannabee took hold of the microphone and started screaming, “I Can’t Get No, Sat-Tis-Fac-Tion.” Suddenly, the room erupted. Males who had been plastered against the wall, grabbed female partners who were lined up on the opposite wall. They hit the dance floor wiggling, shaking, and jerking to the familiar sounds of the 1960s.

As I watched them, I felt like I had been plopped down in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Babs scowled at me as she hopped and flailed with the rest of the crowd. She whispered something into her partner’s ear after the song ended and came over to me.

“Is this what you’re going to do all night? Sit on the sidelines and watch? Get out there and dance! Go ask somebody!”

Just then the drummer smacked his sticks together and began the old drum solo of “Wipe Out”

Babs screamed, “My favorite!” She hustled over to a wallflower gigolo dressed in a polyester leisure suit and began wiggling, while he jerked like he was having a convulsion. But the pounding beat of this “oldie” made my lonely feet under the table tap out the beat.

A 50-year old hippie with shoulder length gray hair came toward my table, and I prayed, “Oh, God, please – no.”  Thankfully, he grabbed the hand of another woman sitting next to me and pulled her out on to the floor, as the drummer went into a frenzy as he pounded out the drum solo.

After the song ended, the crowd dispersed to their boy and girl groups on opposite walls again. I wondered whether high school routines every died.

Then it happened. I felt a tap on my shoulder. After the hippie and the guy with slick-backed hair, I held my breath and turned around. There stood a good-looking man dressed in a business suit. He smiled. “Hi, my name is Jim. Would you like to dance?”

The band was playing, “Do You Love me, Surfer Girl?” With relief, I answered, “Sure.”

After the dance was over, he said, “Can I buy you a drink?”

“That would be nice.” We walked hand-in-hand to the guy pouring sodas at the window.

I danced with Jim for the rest of the evening, and when the band played the last song, Jim twirled me for the final time . Bright lights came on, signaling it was time to leave. We walked to the coat rack, and he slipped my coat over my shoulders. “I had a really nice time tonight, Barb.”

I laughed and said, “You’re my night in shining armor.”

He looked at me with a puzzled look. “How’s that?”

“You saved me,” was all I could say before Babs came busting in between us.

She looked Jim over from top to bottom and said to me, “See, I told you’d have a great time!”

I just glared at her. Jim broke the silence and said to me, “I hope I see you at the next dance.” He turned and left.

I smiled and said, “Maybe.”

Even though Jim had salvaged a dreary evening, I vowed there would be no “next dance.” It broke my heart to see so many broken souls trying so hard to relive their “glory days” of high school, as they faked having a good time.

I turned to Babs and said, “Don’t you feel like you’re experiencing Déjà vu?”

She looked at me like I was speaking a language she didn’t understand. “What?”

“All evening I feel like I’ve been sent back in time.”

“You watch too much Star Trek. But then, you always have some smartass comment to make, don’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

Babs blasted me. “Why is it so hard for you to try something new? Why do you have to put me down because I love to come to these dances?”

“You call this new? This dance was anything but new! Dancing to same music, in the same way we did when we were 16 years old is just a little too weird.”

Babs shot back. “So you didn’t have a good time?”

“It was okay.” It was really horrible except for meeting a nice man like Jim.

“You’re hopeless. Let’s just go home.” Babs turned in disgust and hustled into the frigid night.

As we rode in silence, I felt a little sorry for her. I had spoiled her good time. I should never have let her talk me into going to this ridiculous dance. Right now watching a rerun of Star Trek, eating a bag of microwave pop corn with my cat Henry sitting on my lap sounded like a much better alternative to what I had just endured. At least those time-continuum stories didn’t leave me feeling like an old fogie whose glory days were in the rear-view mirror.

He Played On

Happy Thanksgiving to all  my friends around the world. To celebrate, here’s a short story to read after you’ve had a good dinner and made memories with friends and family.

HE PLAYED ON

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

For the past 30 years Henry’s life had been beige like his favorite Lazyboy chair. A heart attack before he was 50 took him out of the work force, then several surgeries and piles of medication left him to be a man out of sync. Specialists told him he’d die a young man. But like an old reliable Timex, Henry’s heart just kept on ticking.

Today promised to be just another day. He watched the news on television, had breakfast, showered, and got prepared to check on “his” birds. He shuffled to the front closet, grabbed his plaid flannel jacket and his favorite red cap. He checked his appearance in hallway mirror, smoothed his curly gray hair with his wrinkled hand and cocked the hat to the side, just the way his wife, Mary, had liked it for over 50 years. He put on his jacket, opened the back door, and took a deep breath. The air smelled like freshly washed laundry.

He walked to the bird feeder in the corner of the yard. It was full. Good. The neighborhood squirrels had a taste for the gourmet birdseed before the birds had a chance, so he engineered a plastic shield to keep the pesky gray critters away. Henry continued his backyard reconnaissance, checking the rain gauge and the two other bird feeders. Now that it was spring, he wanted to make sure he did everything he could to bring the bright red cardinals to his yard. He loved their songs. He ended his surveillance by pulling a few weeds along the low hedge that separated his yard from his young neighbor Mike’s yard. Mike had put out his trash early and something caught Henry’s eye. The old man leaned over the hedge for a better look, but from this vantage point, couldn’t tell what the object was. He cursed his new trifocals.

Henry unlatched the gate and went into the alley to take a better look at the item which captured his curiosity. He lifted a cardboard box off the object, and revealed an old record player. Not a Victrola, but a relic from the 60s that had a turntable with a speed selector that said 78-45-33. Henry’s eyes widened. He realized right away that this machine could play his thick, black 78 records he had been rescuing from Mary’s cleaning binges for the past 40 years.

As he checked out the record player, Henry figured all the machine needed was a little Tender Loving Care, a new needle, some WD40 oil. Henry figured that before long, the sweet sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller would fill his house again. He picked up the machine and hummed “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” as he shuffled home.

Mary gasped as she heard him struggling in the back hall. She dropped the handle of the vacuum cleaner as fear rose in her throat. What was it this time? His heart? Could he breathe?  Had he hurt himself again? Her mind raced to the worst-case scenario like it had for too many years. When she opened the sliding door that separated the kitchen from the back hall, she found him breathing hard with his arms wrapped around an old record player.

“Are you all right? She said with panic in her voice.

“Of course I’m all right . . . Will you quit . . . worrying about me?” He took one big breath and tried to calm himself.

When she saw he was all right, she asked.  “More junk? What are you going to do this time?”

He grinned at her. “This isn’t junk! I’m going to fix it up and put it in the den.”

Mary put her hands on her hips. “Well, I don’t care what you do, but it’s not coming upstairs. I keep trying to get rid of junk, and you keep bringing more home.”

“Aw honey, have a heart. If I can get it working, I can play my records again. They don’t make music like they used to. Don’t you remember how we loved those old songs?” His eyes sparkled. “Look,” he went on trying to convince her, “It’s got an 8-track and a radio! It’s a classic.” He gave her a boyish grin, “Like me.”

Henry set the record player on the kitchen table and took Mary in his arms. He nuzzled her neck and whispered, “Remember when we danced to Glenn Miller in that Waukegan ballroom on New Year’s Eve? I was home from the service and you were my blind date?”

“I remember.” She said softly and suddenly was swept away to the night she fell in love to the sounds “Moonlight Serenade.” “We really cut a mean rug, didn’t we?” She brushed his cheek with a soft kiss. “You’re such a charmer, but the machine still stays in the basement—with your other treasures.

“Oh, all right.” He gave her an impish smile, “You’ll change your mind after I fix her up.”

She smiled at him. “Don’t hold your breath.” Mary picked up the handle to her vacuum and went back to her chores.

When Henry saw Mike later that afternoon, he had no objections when Henry asked to keep the record player. In fact, Mike said he had some old speakers in the attic Henry could have.

Later that week, Mike carried the two dusty, oak-trimmed speakers over to Henry’s house. “Here they are, my friend.  Where’s the record player? I’ll hook them up for you.”

“In the basement.” He gave his wife a cocker spaniel look, “Mary won’t let me bring it upstairs. She says its junk.”

“Well, sometimes wives just don’t understand us.” The young man gave Henry a slap on the back and a sympathizing smile.

Henry led the way to his workshop. The record player sat on his work bench, looking new after a good cleaning and a couple of coats of “Pledge.” Henry turned the “On” knob, and the turntable spun around like it had just come out of the box. His chest puffed as Mike complimented his work.  Mike plugged the speakers into the port in the back of the machine, and when he did, he noticed a metal plate that said what kind of needle was required. “Henry, did you see this?”

“See what?” The old man bent down to look where Mike was pointing.

“This plate here. It says the record player needs a J9 needle.”

“No kidding? How did I miss that?” Henry scratched his head.

Mike said with enthusiasm. “Let’s go into town and buy one.”

“OK!” Henry turned off the machine and the two of them climbed up the basement stairs.

A couple of hours later, Henry came home from his excursion with Mike. Mary wondered what had taken so long.

“Sorry I’m so late, honey, but we stopped at the coffee shop, and you know, I got to chewin’ the fat with the guys and before you knew it. . .” his voice trailed off as he put his coat in its place in the closet.

“Yeah, yeah. Did you find a needle for that thing?”

“Sure.” He proudly showed her a small package wrapped in plastic.

“Where’s Mike?”

“He had to go home.”

“Oh.” Mary answered.

“Do you think I need Mike to babysit me to put a simple needle in a record player? Boy, that’s confidence!  You do remember I built two houses with my bare hands!  I get no respect!” Henry raised his wrinkled hands to the ceiling.

Mary looked at the needle. “Are you sure you got the right one? It looks so different from the ones our kids had in their record players.”

Henry grabbed the needle back, “Of course it’s the right one. Do you think I’m stupid? This record player is more sophisticated than the ones our kids had.” He turned to go downstairs. “You wait and see. In a few minutes, you’ll owe me a dance.” He winked at her.

About an hour later, Henry came upstairs muttering, “I wish I had the instruction manual.”

Mary stayed silent as she hide behind her latest romance novel.

Henry thought out loud in a vow voice. “This should be easy. Why in the hell can’t I get it to work?” Henry turned over the strange-looking needle in the palm of his hand. “It’s such a goofy looking thing.”

Mary put her book down and stared at her perplexed husband. “After dinner things will look different.” She consoled.

Henry relented. “Yeah, maybe I’ll take a nap and get a vision or something.” He put the needle on the coffee table and lay down on the plaid living room couch. He closed his eyes, folded his arms across his chest and sighed. If worse came to worse, he’d have to swallow is pride and call Mike.

After supper that night, Henry went to the basement to try again. He walked around the machine a couple of times, checked all the connections, lifted the arm and scratched his head. Then, he saw it. He grabbed a tiny screw driver.

Mary was finishing the dinner dishes when she heard strains of Glenn Miller’s clarinet crooning “Moonlight Serenade.”  She dropped the dish rag, grabbed a towel, and muttered, “Well for crying out loud, he really did it!” She rushed downstairs and found Henry standing by his beloved toy grinning like a teenager.

“Mary, listen.” He glowed. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Her eyes were brighter than they had been in years as she listened to the needle scratch out the old melody that held so many memories.“It’s wonderful!” Tears welled in her eyes.

He moved closer and took her hand, “May I have this dance?”

She dropped her eyes like a shy high school girl and said softly, “I’d love to.”

He twirled her round, pulled her against his body and held her tight. She giggled. He put his cheek on her cheek, and slowly the familiar steps moved their feet. Memories long forgotten flooded back. The moment was too precious to speak. They glided across their painted basement floor, and their love burned like it had for over 50 years.

But before the needle made it to the end of the thick 78, Henry’s chest tightened. His breath grew short. His eyes locked with the only woman he ever loved. He still thought she was so beautiful.  Then he stopped dancing, took a deep breath, and his music played on.

Another Installment of Barbie & Chuckie

The story of Chuckie and Barbie has been a hit, so here’s Part III. Have a wonderful Sunday.

 

LIFE WITHOUT CHUCKIE

Part III – Second Grade and Second Best

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

Second grade turned out to be a better year for Barbie, but Chuckie struggled with reading and stayed after school every afternoon for extra help. Walking home alone was strange for Barbie because she had become accustomed to sharing what happened during the day with Chuckie, and even though she knew she’d surely go to hell, Barbie still wished she had been born a “public” and could go to school with Chuckie.

One Saturday in November, Barbie went to call for Chuckie. His mother answered the door. “Well, hello stranger.” His mother said. “Come in out of the cold. Chuckie’s watching cartoons and eating his breakfast in front of the TV.”

“Thanks, Lois.” Chuckie’s mom was the only grown-up Barbie called by her first name. She ripped off her jacket and hat, hung it on one of the hooks on the wall and then went into the living room. She found Chuckie laying on his stomach staring at the television. “Hey, Chuckie, you gonna lay around all day watching Bugs Bunny?” She teased. “Let’s go outside and build a snowman.”

“Nah.” Chuckie said ignoring her.

“What’s got you so grumpy?” Barbie said.

“You’d be grumpy too if you were dumb and had to stay after school every day.” He didn’t look at her.

“Aw, come on Chuckie. Knock it off. You’re not dumb. It’s Saturday. Let’s go outside and build a snowman.”

“I don’t want to.” He whined. “It’s cold and icky outside, and I just want to watch Bugs and Daffy.” He looked at her briefly and then turned his attention back to the television.

Chuckie always wanted to play outside. This wasn’t like him. “You want to talk about what’s wrong?”

“No.” He said flatly.

“OK.” Barbie lay down on her stomach beside her friend. Several minutes of silence went by before Chuckie said, “Why is reading so hard for me?”

Barbie was surprised by his question. “So that’s it. Chuckie, be serious. Reading is hard for a lotta kids. My cousin Jimmy has trouble with reading, too. And you know what? Mrs. Pink got so mad at him, she shut him in a locker!”

Chuckie turned and looked at Barbie with shock on his face. “Really?”

“Yeah. Just because he read the wrong word out loud. I think she hates Jimmy. I really wanted to sock Mrs. Pink, but then I would have ended up in the locker with Jimmy.”

Chuckie pondered what Barbie told him. “At least my teacher isn’t mean to me. She just makes me do the same thing over and over again.” Chuckie said.

“That’s what teachers do, Chuckie. I have to do it for my spelling words.” Barbie said with seven-year-old wisdom.

“I guess I should feel lucky my teacher likes me.” Chuckie said. “At least she doesn’t put me in a locker.”

“Yeah. So cheer up! I hate it when you’re sad.” Barbie said and she paused before she added, “And don’t forget, you have me, too. We can practice reading together.”

“Nah. When we’re together the last thing I want to do is school work.”

Barbie kept trying. “I’m not talking about school books, silly. I’m talking about library books. There are gillions of fun books out there. I found some at the Bookmobile the other day. Wanna see?” Barbie said with a grin.

“Maybe later.” Chuckie paused. “What kind of fun books?

“Look.”  Barbie pulled out two books from a paper sack.

“You should have seen that bus, Chuckie! I don’t think they could have jammed one more book in that book there! Here, I got this one for you.” She handed him a book with a cover which pictured a frontiersman on the cover.

Chuckie perked up. “This is cool!”

“Yeah, that guy’s got a hat like yours and everything!” She pointed to the coonskin cap on the cover.

Chuckie sat up. “It’s good old Daniel Boone, Barbie. Gee, thanks.” He took the book from her and started looking at the pictures of his hero.

“No problem. All we have to do is bring it back when the book bus comes again.”

Barbie smiled at his interest. “Should we read yours first?”

Chuckie was shy about reading in front of her. “Let’s do yours. Why’d you get one on trains?”

“You know I love trains, silly. Every time I hear the whistle blow on the big trains, I wonder what kind of stuff is in the cars and where its going. Wouldn’t it be great to just jump on a train and end up some place completely different from here?”

“I never thought about it.” Chuckie said.

“I have. A lot. That’s why I want Santa to bring me a train.” Barbie smiled.

“Again?” Chuckie said. “I can’t believe you’re wasting another Christmas wish on a train.”

“But I really want one, Chuckie. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Chuckie shut the book and stared at her like she was stupid. “You haven’t gotten a train, Barbie, because you’re a girl and girls don’t get trains.”

Barbie crossed her arms over her chest. “Sometimes you’re really mean, Chuckie.” Barbie said with tears in her brown eyes.

Chuckie said in a soft voice. “I didn’t mean anything bad. It’s just the way it is. Did you ever see a lady engineer? Think about it.” He gently socked her on the shoulder. “Oh, come on, Barbie. We learned about this way back in Kindergarten – boys do certain stuff and girls do other stuff. Trains are definitely for boys.” He spoke with authority.

Barbie defended herself. “I don’t think Santa will see it that way. I wrote him a letter and told him I had been good all year, and the only thing I want is a Lionel train.” Her eyes widened. “I saw it on television. The engine blows smoke and everything!”

“If you wrote a letter all by yourself, then I’m sure Santa will bring you one.” Chuckie said in a soft voice, knowing he just lied to his best friend.

 

 

The night before Christmas, Barbie carefully placed the Christmas presents she had made for her parents in Brownie Scouts beneath the beautiful fresh pine Christmas tree she and her father had picked out together at the tree lot. She felt happy as she looked at the bright red wrapping paper and white bow that she tied with love. Now she understood why Santa was so jolly all of the time. After all, giving was his job.

Barbie kissed her parents good night and padded off to bed in her warm Dr. Denton pajamas. As she lay under Grandma Ella’s quilt she prayed. “Dear Lord, thank you for Christmas. It’s a beautiful time of the year. Please keep Santa safe on his long journey. And if it’s not too much to ask, please let him bring me a Lionel train.” She squeezed her eyes tight and willed herself to sleep.

The house was dark when her little brother John Robert crept in her room at two o’clock. “Barbie, wake up!” He whispered.

“What are you doing up so early?” She said in a groggy voice.

“Barbie, Santa came. There’s LOTS of presents out there.” John Robert said in his squeaky four-year-old voice.

“Shhhh—if we get up too early, Mom will spank us. Remember last year? Crawl in.” Barbie pulled the covers and her little brother snuggled beside her.

John Robert protested, “But Santa was here!”

“I know. But we’d better wait a little while before we wake up Mom and Daddy.”

“There’s a great big box out there.” He said in a whisper.

“Whose it for?” Barbie held her breath hoping that her name was on the box.

“I don’t know. I can’t read.”

The children waited for what seemed an eternity before John Robert jumped out of bed and ran down the hallway to his parent’s room. He yelled, “Mommy—Santa’s been here! Wake up!”

Barbie thought. Always send the little brother to do the dirty work.

Her mother dragged herself out of bed and went to the living room with John Robert. Barbie followed. Her mother turned on the Christmas lights as John Robert jumped around. When she sorted the presents, the big package wrapped in bright green paper was placed in front of John Robert. Barbie’s present was the size of a shirt box, and she knew before she even opened it that Santa didn’t bring her a train.

Barbie tried to hide her tears as she tore open her gift, which was a brand new Brownie uniform, along with a brown beanie cap and a new shiny brownie pin.

John Robert’s present was a train. Barbie watched in horror as he lifted the bright shiny Lionel with the engine that blew real smoke high in the air. He also got a cattle car, a tanker car and a little red caboose and an engineer’s hat to wear when he ran the train. Her father talked about how they would build a table in the basement and set up the train there.

Barbie ran to her room and threw herself on the bed. She figured Santa must really hate girls.

Christmas afternoon, Chuckie came over to exchange presents. Barbie had saved her allowance for weeks to buy him a red bandana he wanted for his cowboy outfit. He gave her a pretty red ornament that had a picture of a train on it. On the back of the ornament he painted, “From Chuckie, 1958. ”  When she saw it,  she cried. “Oh, Chuckie. It’s beautiful!” She looked at her friend with a lump in her throat. “You knew all along that Santa wouldn’t get me a train, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.” He said softly.

“It’s not fair!” By now the tears streamed down her face. “Why do I have to be a dumb ol’ girl any how?”

“Hey, cut it out! I think you’re a pretty girl and a great pal. Heck, you can do anything! You swim better than me; you play baseball better than me; you read better than me.” He put his hand on your shoulder and looked at her with a serious face. “And you’re my best friend.”

She brushed her tears from her face.

Chuckie felt so bad for her. “I don’t have a train, but do you want to play cowboys and Indians? You can wear my new cowboy hat and holster with my six-shooter. It fires real caps and everything.!”

“At least Santa got your present right.” She said and smiled knowing she had the best friend in the world. “You’d really let me?”

“Sure. You can be just like Anne Oakley!” At that moment, Chuckie was happy he could put a smile back on his best friend’s face, even if she was a girl.

 

Short Story Saturday

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.”

“What’s this?”

“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.

Writer’s Block Cured with a Short Story

I’m having writer’s block this morning. I have no good ideas to pass on to you about writing or teaching, but yet I am compelled to write something. Maybe it’s my sore throat that is blocking my brain today. I woke up with this annoyance in my throat and my first cup of coffee has done little to soothe it. Or maybe it’s because Ken has the television on this morning. He’s watching an old episode of “Perry Mason,” and I’m a sucker for old TV, so my attention is drawn there instead of inside my head to create something fresh and new for you.

So with such a dilemma, I’m just going to pass along a short story for you today. Hope you enjoy.

Life Without Chuckie

Part I – First Grade

Copyright 2012 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

          Barbie and Chuckie were best friends. They lived side-by-side since they were babies, playing on the living room carpet whenever their moms got together for a coffee klatch. As toddlers, they built block towers that they took great joy in knocking down. When they got older, the blocks were replaced by “Lincoln Logs,” and after that Leggos. When they could go outside, they played in the sandbox and flew into the sky on the swing set in the backyard. They climbed trees, roller skated, built snowmen and ice skated together. Every Halloween they went “trick or treating” and giggled when they thought they scared the adults who handed them enough candy to last until Christmas.

Last year, Barbie and Chuckie began their school careers together. They walked through the kindergarten door hand-in-hand; she worn a pretty pink dress with the crinoline, and he wore his favorite western shirt with the pearl snaps. As best friends, they never realized that the public school would change their lives forever. Kindergarten was the first place showed them that they were very different from one another.

Oh, Chuckie knew he was a boy and Barbie a girl, but the children didn’t realize until school was in session that being one or the other gender curbed the activities of what they could do together. Chuckie couldn’t cook with Barbie in the pretend kitchen, and Barbie was banned from the dump trucks and fire engines from the boy’s toy cupboard. When they asked why, their teacher just said, “That’s just the way it is.” And because their parents said to obey the teacher, they unhappily accepted these restrictions and followed the rules.

Before they knew it, they graduated from kindergarten and were “promoted” to first grade. However, when the next school year came, the two children would face another challenge that would upset their world as they had known it.

As six year olds, they spent the summer having fun—riding bikes, climbing trees, playing in the neighborhood park, and roller skating on the cement sidewalks in front of their homes. They took swimming lessons that were sponsored by their small village and held hands as they went on their first bus ride to the pool together. But before they knew it, summer was over and it was time for first grade.

Having such a wonderful time in kindergarten, ordinarily the two would be looking forward to going to school together, but something happened that was out of their six-year-old control. Barbie’s parents decided she should go to the new “parochial” school their Catholic church built, and Chuckie would stay at the public school. Before they knew it, the fun times of summer were over and the big day was upon them.

Barbie lay awake in the pitch blackness of the early morning. Her tummy was shaking inside, and her hands were cold. Usually she liked the quiet of the darkness, but this morning she wished a fairy godmother would rescue her with a wave of a magic wand and make her grown up so she could decide where she would go to school.

She wrapped herself tightly in the patchwork quilt that her Grandma Ella had made for her sixth birthday. The snugness of her warm blankets usually made her feel better. But today, even Grandma’s blanket didn’t help. She reached for her stuffed bear, Rupert, squeezed him around his plump, plush tummy with one chubby arm, and then stuck her right thumb in her mouth. For an instant she was ashamed of succumbing to her “thumb habit.” She had given up thumb sucking the first day of kindergarten and was proud she’d been on the wagon ever since going to school last year. But this morning, she couldn’t help herself.

Barbie heard her mother’s alarm clock buzz and listened to her mother’s scuff slippers shuffle to the bathroom and then the toilet flushed. The water ran. The door squeaked open, and her mother padded down the hallway to the kitchen. Barbie heard the perking of the coffeepot, cupboard doors slamming, ceramic dishes clinking and the rustling of the waxed paper her mother used to wrap her father’s sandwiches. Finally, the latches snapped on the aluminum lunch box and her father began his morning ritual. There was more toilet flushing, water running, and teeth brushing. After he walked to the kitchen, all she could hear were muffled sounds of their hushed morning voices. Barbie clung to Rupert tighter. She heard the backdoor slam, and knew her mother would be coming for her in just a few minutes.

When her mother opened the bedroom door, Barbie squeezed her eyes shut and pretended to be sleeping. She wanted to be a “Mouseketeer” when she grew up, and she knew she was good at acting.

“Come on, sweetheart,” her mother said in a too sweet voice. “It’s time for our first day of school. Rise and shine.”

The little girl groaned and just like her favorite little girl actress, Shirley Temple, she opened her brown cow-like eyes and complained, “But mommy, my tummy hurts and I just can’t go to school.” This excuse usually worked for “The Beaver” on TV, so she thought she’d try it.  And besides, it really wasn’t a lie.

Her mother gave her a doubtful “mother look” and said, “Oh really. Well let’s just see if you have a temperature.”
Barbie realized that unless she had a temperature of about 108 degrees and could blow up the mercury in the thermometer like the Bugs Bunny cartoons, she’d be going off to the new school, probably with a smack on the butt for making up stories. So, she dragged herself out from the covers and shuffled to the bathroom.

All her mother said was, “Good, you’re up.”

 

 

Chuckie knocked on the door at 7:45 a.m. dressed in his favorite Roy Roger cowboy shirt and new corduroy pants that made a whooshing sound as he walked. Barbie’s mother let him in, and he smiled at the sulking girl sitting at the kitchen table.

“Ready for the big day?” he grinned. They had been talking about going to different schools since her July birthday, and he was doing everything to make their separation sound like a great adventure that they could talk about when class was over.

She stuck out her tongue at him while she played with her cereal.

“Hey, that uniform dress isn’t as ugly as you said.” Chuckie said as he sat down at the table.

Barbie gave him a look that said, “Shut up, stupid,” and continued to stare into the bowl of Sugar Pops that tasted better than candy.  Then she spoke, “You probably wouldn’t think it was great if it was all you can wear for the rest of your life.”

“Oh come on—don’t be so crabby. You’re just scared.” He reached over and patted her shoulder. Then he grabbed a bunch of green grapes off of the fruit bowl on the table without asking first. Barbie’s mom gave him a disapproving look.

“Oh sorry, Mrs. “C.” Do you mind if I have some grapes?”

“No, Chuckie—you go right ahead.”

Barbie grabbed her new school bag and bagged lunch, kissed her mother and sighed. She looked at Chuckie, “It’s time to go.” He said “Okay” and the two of them walked down the sidewalk toward the highway. They walked two blocks in silence before Chuckie said, “As I see it, schools are schools. The teacher will tell you what to do, you do it and you’ll be just fine. My big brother Ronnie said that now that we’re big kids, we’ll get to go out for recess a couple of times a day.”

That brought a smile to her face. Why am I cross with Chuckie? After all, it wasn’t his fault I’m Catholic. “You’re the best pal, Chuckie. I just wish I was coming with you.”

“I know.” He grabbed her hand. “Don’t be afraid.”

When they got to the chain-linked fence that surrounded the public school, Chuckie opened the gate and walked into the playground that surrounded the school. Barbie had to cross the highway at the crossing guard station. Chuckie watched her as she waited for the crossing guard to blow his whistle, put his hand up to stop the cars and then motion for the children to cross safely to the other side.

Chuckie yelled, “Don’t be afraid, Barbie. Just remember that you used to be scared of climbing trees and roller skating and playing hockey and . . .” She kept walking afraid that he’d see the tears going down her face.

As the little girl walked toward the big white brick building, she was torn in two. Part of her wanted the comfort of the familiar surroundings of the public school and to be with Chuckie, but the other part of her—her explorer part—wanted to see what the pretty new building had to offer. Her mother drove past the place last week and told her what door she would go in, but Barbie pouted and pretended not to be interested. Now, deep inside she wanted to know what on the other side of the huge glass doors.

She pushed open the door and walked down a long hallway of tiled in black and white squares. On each side of the hallway there were tall green metal doors with silver handles. Eight doors opened along the hallway; each room had straight rows of wooden desks. Barbie looked for the door with a Number One on it. Even though the hallway wasn’t yellow, she felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, wishing this “road” would take her home. But this wasn’t make-believe, this was school.

When she found the first grade classroom, she anticipated to find a pretty young teacher like Miss Huck sitting at the desk. Her jaw dropped when she found a person, who looked like an overgrown penguin, standing at the blackboard. The person wore a long black dress that went down to black shoes. Over the black dress, there was a long white bib that went down to the floor both in the front and the back. The dress and the bib were cinched at the waist by a thick black leather belt. The person also wore a long strand of black beads that had a four-inch silver cross on one end. A white paper box was perched on the person’s head that was covered with a black veil. The only skin visible was gnarly hands and a pudgy pink face that was framed with rimless glasses. Barbie thought the outfit would be a darn nice Halloween costume because it scared the heck out of her.

This person looked at her with a cross face, “Come in. Don’t dawdle!” She commanded. “What’s your name?”

Barbie stood stunned by the sight and sound of this odd person. She guessed it must be a lady because teachers were ladies, and it had a woman’s voice but Barbie didn’t know for sure. The person repeated, “What is your name, child? Speak when I talk to you.”

“Barbie,” she answered in a barely audible voice.

“Barbie what?” the woman was growing impatient with her. “You must speak louder child, I can hardly hear you.”

“I’m Barbie Celeste,” the child answered in a playground voice.

“There’s no need to be fresh.” The teacher said as she looked at a clipboard. “Oh here you are, Barbara Jean Celeste. You sit here.” She walked to the first desk in the second row. Her cousin Jimmy was already sitting in the seat behind her. His eyes were wide and his usual smile wasn’t on his face. He was as scared as she was.

As soon as all the children were in their desks, the strange person said, “Good morning, class. My name is Sister Esther.” She didn’t smile. “The desk you are sitting in now is where you will sit the entire time you’re in the first grade. Your desks are arranged in alphabetical order, so I can learn your names quickly.”

The nun looked at Barbie, “Some of you I will remember right away.” She turned to the rest of the class and smiled, “And some of you will take me a bit more time.” She took a drink from a glass of water that sat on her desk and cleared her throat before she continued. “We have rules in first grade and you WILL obey all of them. Tomorrow when you come to class, sit in your desks immediately. You are not to speak unless I ask you a question. When you answer me, you are to stand beside your desk and answer the question. You will address me as, “Sister, not teacher.”

As the cross nun laid down the rules, she moved between the rows like a drill sergeant, assessing new recruits on the first day of boot camp. “I expect you all to obey and we won’t have any problems. First grade is harder than Kindergarten. We will be learning how to read and write the alphabet. We’ll also learn how to write all of the numbers and add and subtract them. In first grade, we call this arithmetic. There will be no fooling around in class. The only time you will have to play is when we go outside for recess. And when I ring the bell, you will run to get in line to come back into the building.” She took a breath and Barbie put her head down on her desk. Oh Dear, Jesus, this is worse than I thought. I wanna go home! I don’t like this. Why can’t I be with Chuckie? Why do I have to be Catholic? I bet Chuckie’s teacher isn’t like this penguin!

            Sister Esther went to the front of the room and frowned. Barbie thought she must really hate being a teacher. Miss Huck never frowned in kindergarten. Then the nun said, “Class, open your desks and take out your reader.” She held up a book with a boy and girl’s picture on the cover. “Open it to page one.”

The thirty children in the class obediently opened the book. Barbie wondered what she’d find inside. She didn’t like her new school nor her new teacher, but maybe she could find a place for herself in her new storybook. At that instant, Sister Esther read, “See Dick run. She Jane run. Run, run, run.” Barbie slunk behind her “reader” and groaned. Wait till Chuckie hears about this. He’ll never believe it!

Barbie and Chuckie’s schools dismissal time was the same, so he waited for her at the crossing guard’s corner.

“So, how’d it go?” He said with a big smile.

“You’ll never believe it. My teacher’s a big penguin! And a mean one, too. And we got this dumb book where all the people just run, run, run. We have to be quiet all the time. Jimmy got put in the corner because he talked, and she yelled at me for sneezing! For Pete’s sake, Chuckie, I have to get out of this place!”

“Oh, Barbie. You’re such a kidder.”

“No, Chuckie, I’m serious. I’m telling the truth!”

“Come on.” Chuckie took her hand and they started to walk home.

Barbie continued her protest. “I’m not lying, Chuckie. Good ol’ Sister—that’s what we have to call her, not even teacher.”

“Sister? That’s funny.” Chuckie was sure Barbie had to be making this up.

“And good ol’ Sister Esther thinks she’s the greatest violin player. And I tell you that she’s awful. I bet the violin doesn’t even want her to pick it up. She got the squeakiest sounds out of that thing. It hurt my ears!”

Chuckie laughed.

Barbie punched him in the arm. “It’s not funny.”

Chuckie said, “Ow! Just because you don’t like your teacher, you don’t have to be mean.”

“I’m sorry. I just hate this school. She even yelled at me for singing too loud.”

“But you’re a good singer. I like it when you sing. She really yelled at you?”

“Yeah.”

“You need to come to school with me. We’ve got extra desks in our classroom.”

Barbie shook her head. “My Mom won’t give in. She’ll say, ‘It will be better tomorrow. You just miss Chuckie.’”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Chuckie said. “We need more time to convince your parents. I’ll save you a seat.”

“Thanks. You’re such a good friend, Chuckie.” Barbie smiled and they skipped the rest of the way home.

A Very Worthwhile Project

Today I wanted to share one of my short stories that will soon be part of a collection I’ve been working on for years. I want you to  know about a dear woman who lived next door to my family while I was growing up. She was an extraordinary person who didn’t think she was anything special.

 

 

A Special Neighborhood Watch

2012 Copyright by Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

The thump of car doors slamming came from next door when it was still dark. Next door in Mrs. Sheil’s yard, I heard unrecognizable voices. My curiosity made me jumped out of bed and peek out the curtains. What I saw was disturbing. Two police officers and Mrs. Calvino, another neighbor, were standing in the yard. Next the rescue squad arrived and parked behind the squad cars. I dressed in a panic. Something was terribly wrong.

By the time I got next door, the officers, rescue squad crew and Mrs. Calvino were inside the house. I rang the doorbell and a burly officer came to the door. He stood as tall as a basketball player. My eyes moved up from his black belt with the gun holster and bully club, to his shiny silver buttons, his badge, and finally to his head that sat on his wide shoulders. My mouth became too dry to speak.

He said in a ten-ball voice, “What do you want kid?”

I cleared my throat and my voice cracked. “Is Mrs. Sheil OK?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Barbie from next door.”

“Go home. There’s nothing you can do here.” The cop slammed the door.

I felt like he had slapped my face. My stomach felt sick and my face got hot. I banged on the door again, this time I wouldn’t be dismissed.

The same cop answered the door. “Didn’t I tell you to go home, little girl?”

“Yes, but—

“This is no place for kids. Go home.” He slammed the door again.

I screamed, “I’m not a kid. I’m sixteen, and Mrs. Sheil is my friend. Let me in!” Not knowing what more I could do without getting into real trouble, I walked away from the house with my eyes focused on the ground; I shuffled my feet in the brown, crunchy leaves and let my tears of fear and humiliation drip down my cheeks. I walked to the sidewalk that stretched in front of Mrs. Sheil’s house and stood there like a sentry. I made up my mind I was not leaving without understanding what was going on.

I sat in dry leaves leaned up against one of the tall maples that lined our street, and memories of Mrs. Sheil flashed through my head. She had lived next door to my family for over ten years, and since I was six years old, she was always in my life.

She wasn’t like other adults. I could tell her anything, and she’d keep my confidence. She enjoyed hearing about my young life; she was curious about my friends and what was happening at school; she even helped me understand my parents. Over tea and cookies I’d hear what was interesting on “Donahue,” Mrs. Sheil’s favorite television show, and she’d listen when I told her about learning to drive and my latest boyfriend.

Heck, it was just last week when I ran to her house crying.

I yelled through her opened screen door, “Mrs. Sheil, are you home?”

I heard her jolly voice, “Of course, I’m home—my plane for Tahiti doesn’t leave for another couple of hours!” Then I heard her laugh.

I brushed the tears from my cheeks before I went into the house and tried to smile. My voice cracked when I asked, “How are things today, Mrs. Sheil?”

“For me, not bad. But you look like you need a cup of tea. Sit down.” She motioned for me to sit at the table, while she hobbled to the stove.

After she broke her hip a few years ago, she could never walk normally again because one leg ended up three inches shorter than the other one. Mrs. Sheil was supposed to use crutches, but her stubborn streak proclaimed she didn’t need “those damn things” in her tiny house. Instead, she held on to furniture, tables, chairs, and counter tops as she traveled from her bedroom, through the living room and into the kitchen.

As she scurried around the kitchen, I said, “Instead of tea today, could we please have Ovaltine?”

“An Ovaltine Day! Oh my God, this must be serious. Tell me why your eyes are leaking.”

“You’ll think I’m a baby. Sometimes when I tell you something, after I say the words out loud, it all seems so silly.”

“Have I ever made you feel silly?” She had a look of concern.

“No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just—

“Why don’t you just tell me why your pretty eyes are red and you sound like you’ve got a cold? Nothing that makes you feel like that will ever be silly to me.”

I took a deep breath and began my latest teenage drama. “I promised to babysit for my brothers on Saturday night.” I paused.

“You do that all of the time, why are you upset this time?”

“Any other night wouldn’t matter. But this Saturday—is—well—special.” I twisted my long brown hair around my fingers.

“Okay, out with it. What’s going on?”

“Wednesday, Dan, you remember the basketball player?”

“You mean the very tall Dan with the black dreamy eyes and no brains for Geometry?”

“Yeah, that’s him.” I hesitated, “Well, he asked me to go to the Homecoming dance.”

“That’s wonderful! I’m glad to see the boy finally found some brains.”

“Oh, Mrs. Sheil, sometimes— I laughed.

“Sometimes, what?”

“You’re so funny.”

The kettle whistled. She poured the boiling water into two of her favorite china tea cups and added a couple of spoonfuls of Ovaltine. She pushed one of the cups in my direction and then opened a lower cupboard where she stashed her special treats. She pulled out a plastic bag of miniature marshmallows and threw a handful into her cup. She handed the bag to me. “Forget your diet; marshmallows always help – guaranteed.” She grinned.

“I don’t want to gain back the weight I lost.”

“Oh, sweetie, don’t you know men want a woman who is strong and stout to bear children?”

“Maybe a hundred years ago. Today, in 1967, thin is in. You read the magazines. You watch Donahue on TV. You know I’m right.”

“You’re telling me that my dating days are over?” A broad smile covered the old lady’s face, and she winked. Then she smoothed her house dress over her large hips.

I laughed. Mrs. Sheil always had the magic power to make me giggle.

“So tell me about Mr. Gorgeous.”

I blushed. “When he asked me to go to the dance, my knees nearly buckled. I couldn’t believe it! My dream had come true, and my brain didn’t think. I said, “Yes” right there in the hallway after class! But after he walked away, I remembered I promised Mom and Dad I would babysit for the kids on Saturday night. What am I going to do?”

“I suppose you told your parents about this.”

“The very minute I got home from school that day, I told Mom what happened.”

“So what did she say?”

“She said to call him back and break the date. She said I made a commitment and I had to learn to take promises seriously.” Tears began forming in my eyes again. “But Mrs. Sheil, I can’t break this date. I’ve wanted to go out with Dan this entire semester and now my parents are screwing it up.”

Mrs. Sheil sat quietly. “You know, your parents don’t go out too often, and they’ve been looking forward to this special evening for weeks.”

“I know, but going to Homecoming with Dan is special, too. It’s one of the biggest dances of the year. And he’s not just any guy.”

“Your parents are counting on you, Barbie. They asked you weeks ago, didn’t they?”

“Yes, but—

“Yes, but nothing. A promise is a promise.”

“But, I thought you’d understand, Mrs. Sheil. This is so unfair!”

“Whoever said life is fair?” She looked at me with a stern face through her wire-rimmed glasses. “If life was fair, would I end up like this? Here I am, in the prime of my 80s, widowed, crippled, still beautiful and sexy and nobody wants me!”

I laughed through my tears. At that moment, I wanted to grow up to be just like her, even though I didn’t like the fact she was telling me what I didn’t want to hear.

“So, what are you going to do?”

I had resignation in my voice. “I’ll go home, call Dan and cancel the date. Maybe he’ll ask me out again some other time.”

Mrs. Sheil looked up from her tea cup and said, “Now just a minute before you do anything drastic.”

I looked at her confused. “But didn’t you just say, a promise is a promise?”

“Yes, but you always have to have a Plan B, too. If I don’t teach you anything else, remember to always have a Plan B.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A compromise.”

“Like what?”

“Well, this is what I want you to do. Go home and tell your Mom I need to see her right away. If I can convince her to let me pinch hit for you on Saturday night, you’ll be able to go to the dance with your Mr. Gorgeous.”

“You’d do that for me?” I got up and hugged her. “You’re the best, Mrs. Sheil.”

“Cinderella isn’t the only girl who has fairy godmother.” She smiled. “Before you go, there’s one more thing.”

“What?”

Mrs. Sheil had a sparkle in her eye. “You have to be home by midnight; otherwise, I’ll turn into a pumpkin and won’t make it to church on Sunday morning.”

I smiled and then put a light kiss on her cheek. “I promise.”

“And one more thing.”

“Yes.”

“Could you wash and set my hair on Saturday morning, so it looks nice for church?”

“Of course.” I kissed her other cheek and left.

Mom agreed to Mrs. Sheil’s Plan “B”, and I had the time of my life with Dan at the dance. I felt Mrs. Sheil had saved my life. But now I sat wondering what was going on inside of her tiny house.

Mrs. Sheil was closer to me than my own grandmother. She never complained even though her life had been very hard. Her only child had been born dead. She survived cancer but went through a radical mastectomy at age 35. She and her husband had lost their business when the new highway went through their property. And she was widowed at 60 and left with very little money. When she tripped and broke her hip at age 75, the neighbors rallied around her.

She called herself “The 97th Street Neighborhood Project.” And she was right. None of the neighbors wanted her to go to a nursing home, so everyone pitched in to help her stay in her house. Once a week, Mrs. Calvino dusted, vacuumed and scrubbed her floors. She also washed Mrs. Sheil’s clothes. Mr. Veenstra took care of all the heavy work around the house, like changing storm windows and screens, fixing leaky faucets and trimming bushes. Mrs. Veenstra invited Mrs. Sheil over for a meal once a week. Bob at Nearing’s Grocery Store brought her groceries after Mrs. Sheil phoned in her weekly order. My brother and I mowed her grass in summer and shoveled her sidewalk in the winter. I washed and set her hair in pin curls every Saturday. My Mom took her to town in Mrs. Sheil’s ’57 Chevy—it was so like Mrs. Sheil to have a cool car! She even said when I got my driver’s license I could drive her downtown and show her how we teenager’s “scooped the loop” on a Friday night.

Sunday was the most important day of the week to Mrs. Sheil. Mr. Calvino faithfully drove her to church. She said she needed all the help she could get to go to heaven. She’d dress up in a pretty tailored suit, fix her hair and then crown herself with a “pillbox” hat that had netting in the front that covered her face. Her purse matched her shoes, and she made sure she had a couple of bucks for the collection plate.

She carried herself with class and dignity as she limped up the main aisle to receive weekly communion. She stood as tall and straight as her 4 foot 10 inch frame could muster. She told me that she prayed every Sunday that God would grant her a happy death. She doubled her efforts for a happy death wish in her nighttime prayers. It made me uncomfortable to find out that she thought that much about dying—after all, what would we all do without her?

After sitting on the ground for over 30 minutes, my butt had gone numb. As I thought about trying to get into the house again, a car came around the corner, squealing the tires. It turned out to be Mrs. Sheil’s nephew Clarence. He ran right past me and was let into the house. Now I was really angry. He never had time for Mrs. Sheil.

A few minutes after Clarence went into the house, Mrs. Calvino and the burly cop came out. The big lug had his arm around the older woman’s shoulders, and she was drying her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief. Two rescue men came out of the house with a wheeled cot. The person lying on the cot was completely covered with a white blanket.

“I thought I told you to go home, girl.” The big stern cop said.

“Knock it off, Joe. She’s not hurting anything.” One of the rescue squad guys said.

After the men put the stretcher into the squad, the nice guy walked toward me.

“Mrs. Calvino said you were very close to Mrs. Sheil.”

“Yes.”

He said softly, “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but she died in her sleep last night.”

“Oh, no.” My throat closed and I choked.

Mrs. Calvino came over to me. “Don’t be sad, Barbara. She went to heaven on the wings of angels in her sleep . . .  Just like she always wanted.”

I wrapped my arms around myself and moaned, “Nooooo—

Mrs. Calvino took me in her arms and let me sob. “Mrs. Calvino, she was my best friend.”

“I know, sweetie. She was mine, too.”

“I never had a friend die before.” I said.

As I cried, I heard Mrs. Sheil scolding me. “Don’t be a silly goose. Crying about things you can’t change is wasting good energy.” I wiped the wetness from my face with my hand and sniffled.

Mrs. Calvino said, “We have to go to the funeral home, now. You should go home; tell your parents I will call them later with the arrangements.”

I turned to the nice rescue squad attendant. “Can I see her?” I asked.

“It won’t do any harm, Mrs. Calvino.” The rescue squad man said. “Come with me.”

After we stepped into the rescue truck, he pulled the blanket back. Mrs. Sheil’s round face was slightly gray, but she was smiling. She looked like she was sleeping, and I half expected her to sit up and say, “Just kidding.”

I bent down and whispered in her ear, “Mrs. Sheil, it’s me. Time to wake up! You’ll be late for church.”

When she didn’t open her eyes, I knew the adults had told me the truth. She was gone. I bent down and kissed her cheek. I whispered, “Mrs. Sheil, please don’t leave me. We haven’t gone for that ride down Main Street. Where’s your Plan “B” for this time?” My tears began to flow again.

Clarence got into the truck and moved beside me. He said softly, “You know, Barbie, she really loved you. Whenever I came to visit, she talked about you all of the time. I know that she’ll never forget you. But it’s time to go now.”

I searched his eyes and saw he was genuinely sad. I couldn’t speak. I nodded and jumped down from the truck. I stood frozen as I watched the squad cars and rescue truck drive away.

I wanted to stomp my feet like a two year old. How could she go? How was I ever going live without her? This wasn’t fair! Then I realized Mrs. Sheil was right. Life wasn’t fair. I prayed a short prayer that her husband Dan would greet her in heaven because she really missed him a lot, and the thought made me feel better to hope she was in his arms again.

Before I went home, I glanced around her front yard and remembered the day we planted the chestnut tree. I watched a squirrel pick up one of the nuts and run away with fat cheeks. One time Mrs. Sheil told me she planted the tree so the squirrels wouldn’t go hungry. And for one second, everything made sense to me. Mrs. Sheil had it wrong. She wasn’t our neighborhood project, we were hers. She enriched all of us, and even in death, she was still taking care of things.

Saddle Shoes Recycled

When I introduced my class to the “writing process” back in September, they were aghast that they would have to “rewrite” their papers after they were “done.” It didn’t help them to know that I rewrite everything I do at least five or six times before I feel it’s ready for someone else to read.  At that point, all of us writers know that a piece is never truly “done”–we either run up against a deadline or we get sick of the piece. Right?

Well, my class looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. They just didn’t understand that good writing doesn’t just plop down on the paper. They didn’t believe me that they couldn’t buy a “magic pen” that would produce good work on the first try.

So, I thought I’d lead by example. I’d show them the process by honing a piece of my own and post the reiterations on the Blackboard Online tool. I thought the idea was brilliant. I know that I would have clambered to read something my teacher had written. The truth is: no one bothered to look at the evolution of my short story. I hesitate to call them lazy, but if the shoe fits . . .

In lieu of letting a good story go to waste, I’m sharing it with you.

Saddle Shoes for Flat Feet

Copyright 2012 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

When I was in first grade, my parents were told by my pediatrician that I had flat feet. My parents accepted the doctor’s word as gospel, so when he wrote a prescription for a pair of “corrective” shoes, my mother marched me off  to Stilb’s Shoe Store where such special footwear was sold. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but the diagnosis scarred my six year old life.

In the front window there was a beautiful display of adult and children’s footwear, and when I saw a pair of red patent leather shoes, I was delighted. My mother opened the glass door to enter the store, and a bell tinkled announcing our arrival. A tall, skinny  man in an ill-fitting brown suit, white shirt and wide tie greeted us with a nasal voice that sounded like a foghorn. My mother handed him the doctor’s prescription and he nodded. Then he led us to a display of children’s shoes and explained to MY MOTHER that SHE had two choices – “Buster Browns” or Stride Rite Saddle Shoes. Hey wait a minute! These are my feet! What happened to the cute Mary Jane’s in the window?

The man ushered us to a couple of chairs, while he sat on a short stool that had a kind of a ramp on it. He told me to take off my shoes, grabbed my right sock-covered foot, and then put it on the measuring tool. He slid a couple of levers on the tool, smiled announcing my size, and then disappeared through a doorway at the back of the store that was covered with a black curtain. I thought it like the scene in the “Wizard of Oz,” when the wizard hid behind the curtain. I wondered if the man had ruby red slippers back there, too.

The shoe salesman returned in a few minutes with one shoebox. He sat down on the little stool again, and put the new shoe on my right foot. “How does that feel, little girl?” If he had asked me, “How does that look, little girl?” I would have told him in no uncertain terms the shoes were ugly. But instead, I shrugged and  he put on  the other shoe. Next he told me to walk around. The shoes were so stiff and heavy, it was hard to bend my feet. I picked up one foot after another like an old field horse.  My mother scowled and scolded me for acting like a clown.

I cried, “But, Mom, I can’t bend ‘em!”

She and the man said, “You just have to break them in, and then they will be fine.” I thought, “Yeah, right. Breaking these shoes in will take at least fifty years!

When Monday morning came around, my new saddle shoes and I had our debut at school. I knew I was doomed. I was a geek before my time. Wearing these white and black clodhoppers would make me stand out from all the other girls who could wear pretty flats, and boys who could wear tennis shoes. I bet no one else had to wear saddle shoes with half-inch thick soles.

When the other girls jumped rope at recess, they leaped like graceful ballerinas, but I landed with a thud the soles as thick as truck tires hit the pavement. I was humiliated because I “missed” after a couple of jumps and had to be a “twirler” for the rest of recess. I needed a strategy to get out of these terrible shoes!

That night, I came up with a brilliant plan that I would employ the very next day. If I could wear out the saddle shoes, my mother would have to buy me a different pair! It was sheer genius!

I left the house with a smile because I looked forward to playing a  rock‘em, sock’em “Red Rover Come Over” in the field . Everybody loved the game, so I knew it would be easy to talk my classmates into playing. In no time at all, I would have the first installment of my “Operation Demolish the Saddle Shoes” in full swing. By the end of the week, I’d have those ugly shoes so scuffed and dirty, my mother would have to do something.

On Friday after a week of rough games, jumping in puddles, and dragging my heels through the dirt, I handed my mother the war-torn shoes only to get a scolding. “Why can’t you act like a girl, Barbara Jean?” Whenever I heard my middle name and first name together, I was one step away from death! She grabbed the shoes muttering something about me not appreciating anything, and I went to my room thinking my ingenious plan had worked! Very soon I’d be on my way to normal girl’s shoes!

A few hours later I was happily coloring in my bedroom, when my mother came into my room with the saddle shoes. She had washed the dirt off and covered the scars with white Griffin Shoe Polish. Then she bushed them to a showroom luster and handed them back to me. “Here you go. Now be more careful ! These shoes cost a lot of money and I expect you to take better care of them.”

I hid my disappointment with a cheesy smile, and promised to do better. After my mother left my room, I threw the shoes in the closet and plopped on my bed.  How was I ever going to get rid of these ugly buggers? My mother and the saddle shoes had won this skirmish, so I fell asleep dreaming of a day when my feet would have arches, and I could run in a pair of PF fliers like the rest of the kids.

Months went by, and it seemed my only recourse for my shoe dilemma was to grow bigger feet. Surely, my tender little six year-old feet would have found their arches by now, and I could get prettier shoes. So as soon as I felt my toes touched the end of the shoe, I put on an exaggerated limp, so my mother would see my severe suffering. “Mom, my toes are squished!” I complained. “Isn’t that more important any old flat feet?”

A few days later, we piled into our old Buick and headed for the shoe store to buy a new pair of shoes for my ever-expanding feet. All the way into town, I knew this time I’d merit a pair of red Mary Jane’s, and I pictured myself skipping merrily out of the store.

When we walked through the door of the store, my mother ordered me to behave. Just like last time the tall, skinny man sized up my foot, and I waited in anticipation as he searched the back of the store for my special new pair of shoes. He returned with a smile, and my eyes were wide-open with anticipation as he opened the box and peeled back the tissue paper that protected my new shoes. And there they were!  I couldn’t believe it! Another pair of saddle shoes—except these were brown and white!  Oh NO! There must be a mistake! These shoes weren’t for me! Where was my Mary Jane’s?

As he laced up the new Stride Rites, I felt my feet crying. This pair of saddle shoes was as stiff as the old saddle shoes had been. And again, I walked out of the store not being able to bend my feet. There were no smiles for me that day. I was licked by flat feet and dumb old corrective saddle shoes. I guessed I would probably have to be as old as my mother before I had any power to dictate what I would wear on my own two feet!