For the past year, I have been working on short stories. They have some of their own rules, regulations, laws. In other words, you got to study these things. I’ve been reading different authors of short story, mostly women writers for the past six months. Whatever these laws are, I’ve thrown most of them out the window. I just write to tell a story, and what I have found out is the stories that seem possible are the stories from my own life. Childhood is a good start. So, with a growing collection of short stories, I hope to fashion a new book for next spring. We will see how it goes.
I had few friends when I was a child. At least, I didn’t have many. We lived out in the countryside of New Jersey, in an old Dutch farmhouse. Everyone seemed to have acres of land, and that spaced out the families. I had few choices. School was not much of a choice. Most of the kids in the neighborhood were boys, friends of my two younger brothers. There was one girl, Nancy, but she was a fat, spoiled neighbor and besides, her mother and mine didn’t get along. My mother didn’t get along with any of our neighbors. She was forever complaining to us that the people around her were ‘inferior’. Or snobs. Whether they were or not wasn’t clear to us, but she was convinced. It impacted on our choice of playmates, or at least it did for me. She couldn’t really control my brothers, or she choose not to, because there was a load of boys on that road. There was only Nancy, and as I mentioned, she hated Nancy’s mother. I can’t remember a specific reason, it just was a general hatred that my mother was so good at.
There was another girl, Diane who lived next to us, but she was adopted, and in my mother’s mind, she really didn’t ‘belong’. She was younger than I, and that precluded much contact. Besides, her mother was also under fire from mine. I can’t remember any mother mine liked in those years. Or since. At 96, she’s still happily making enemies.
Another friend, who really couldn’t be considered a friend, was Lauren. She was the same age as I, but taller and stronger. She was a bully (I was wimp) and tormented me all through grammar school. I still have the scars where her sharp nails raked the back of my hands. She probably became a serious sadist later in life.
My mother really hated hers. I heard my mother call her ‘trash’ and that piqued my interest. She did wear wide patent leather belts with off shoulder gypsy blouses, and the wallpaper in her bathroom was black with huge red roses, so there might have been something of ‘truth’ in what my mother said. To me, Ruth was fascinating. Rather a free-spirit. A beatnik of sorts.
Nancy was to have a birthday party. I remember it to be her tenth. Now, Nancy was always turned out in crinkly dresses, with petticoats and a clean face. She was the youngest of three, so her mother took special care with her. My mother? Not so much. I was left to my own devices, and those weren’t always the best. There was no fairy godmother hovering over me.
My father took me to Nancy’s party. It was just down the road, three properties from us, but my father drove me. It’s a damn good thing he did, because there was enough tension (see mother above) and the fact that Nancy’s father was a creative drunk. Meaning he was an artist, but still a drunk. More reputations than my own probably would have been ruined.
Of course, Nancy was a picture of a well turned out little ten year old. All those crinkly petticoats and her blond curled hair. My mother paid some attention to me and I presented a clean face and a mostly clean dress. I believe my hair was short, in a bob then. My mother couldn’t take the whining when she tried to comb my long hair and sheared it off. But it was summer so this worked.
I can remember the tables of gifts and food. I was more interested in the food as I seemed to have a hollow leg. I could never get enough. I also remember there were more adults than children attending but that didn’t seem unusual. The countryside had cows and horses, chickens and some goats, but there were few children on River Road back then.
I was sitting on a stool, rather stupidly too near the dropoff on the road beneath. I was taking a back seat, trying to disappear. Nancy’s mother didn’t like me much either. Her dog, Freckles, a Dalmation, had bit me in the eye two years before and she blamed me for ‘disturbing his nap.’ Back then there were no lawsuits or doctor visits for this kind of stuff. You had iodine slapped on the wound and went back to play. I remember being uneasy about her party, as my mother picked the gift herself. I didn’t know what she had wrapped up in gift paper. I was hoping it wasn’t my Betsy-Wetsy doll.
Nancy floated around the tables, looking like Shirley Temple. Then she took it in her head to sit on me. A big mistake for a lot of reasons, two of which I remember: One, I was deathly afraid that Nancy would tip us over the cliff, and two….she was fat. I thought I wouldn’t survive this, I couldn’t breathe.
So I bit her. In the back. Nancy leaped up screaming her head off and a general riot broke out. I couldn’t get out why I had bit her, but by the faces of the adults I knew I was no longer welcome.
My father ordered me in a very stern voice to the car. I went, weeping, sitting in the back of the old Studebaker station wagon. I was very worried, mostly about the anger coming from my mother as soon as she heard what her only daughter had done publically. Not that she liked any of the adults at the party, but it was clearly another failing of a daughter she really didn’t care for.
My father approached the car, his face beaming.
“We won’t tell your mother about this. Let’s go get some Breyer’s ice cream.”
Wow. I had dodged a serious bullet. The first time, but not the last, my father would come to my defense against my mother. To top it off…..”let’s go get some Breyer’s ice cream” meant a road trip of at least 10 miles from home, down in Kendall Park. It was a very special place for us kids, and my father used it when he had the chance. It was his way of expressing his love without many words. And apologies for his own drunkenness.
Many decades later, Nancy moved down to Rex, Georgia. I got one letter from her, unbidden, surprised she looked me up. She was no longer fat, but she was still the bully. An answering letter and I never heard from her again. Good riddance to the Shirley Temple of my childhood.