I am certain I did many things that made my mother shake her head in disbelief. Sometimes it was amazement; sometimes it was disdain or incredulity. More than once I heard Mom say, “I can’t believe the way your mind works.” Some things I did, in hindsight, surely made Mom’s hair stand on end. I fell in love with David when I was in fourth grade. What was I thinking?
Most of the time, Dad took us kids trick-or-treating down one side of our road and up the other. That was super-fun, getting candy for no good reason, just for dressing up in a good costume and calling out “Trick-or-Treat.” I found out later than “Trick” meant ‘give me candy or I’ll do something mean,’ like soap your windows, or turn over your outhouse, or maybe stick a potato in your car’s tailpipe, like Mom did when she was a kid. I never ‘tricked’ anyone, ’cause for one thing, I never knew that was an option, and for another thing, Dad was there, and he always made me be polite. Besides, nobody ever threw cold water all over me when I yelled “Trick-or-Treat”, like some guy did to Mom and Uncle Ken and Uncle Gene, so those three got thinking about getting even. For Pete’s sake, what an old meanie that man was; he deserved to be tricked. Still, I loved hearing that story, ’cause Uncle Ken and Mom got a little kid face on right underneath all their grown-up wrinkles. I got a peak at what they must have been like back in the olden days. Uncle Gene just laughed his guts out, ’cause for some reason, which he never revealed, he stepped to one side when that mean old man came to the door with the bucket. Somehow Uncle Gene seemed to know what was coming. That made me a little suspicious; he had his own mean streak, that Uncle Gene.
One year, instead of trick-or-treating, Dad took me to the school gym for a party. That’s the year I dressed up like a mummy, and Mom made Bonita the monkey costume from an old furry coat. Deanna dressed up like a hobo. Mom wrapped me round and round and round and round with an old sheet cut into strips. After that, no going to the bathroom without undoing all those strips. Mom left only slits for my eyes, nose and mouth; not one bit of me showed. That was the best costume ever.
Dad picked David up on the way to the party, only I didn’t know it was David yet, and I didn’t know I would fall in love right that very night. David was hitchhiking. Dad almost always picked up hitchhikers, ’cause they were down on their luck, and needed a lift. Sometimes Dad brought a hitchhiker home for dinner. Once Mom made up a bed on the couch and a hitchhiker staid over night, went to church with us in the morning, and stayed for breakfast. The night Dad picked David up was cold and rainy and windy; a super-down-on-your luck day to be hitchhiking.
David climbed in beside me in the back seat; hitchhikers always sat in the back. Once a hitchhiker sat in the front seat and Dad made him get out at the corner. It’s impolite to sit in the front; Dad said so, and I believed him, ’cause I never saw Dad more agitated then when that hitchhiker got in the front seat. Bad manners won’t send you to hell, but it won’t make you any friends either, so it’s way better to be polite. David was polite. Right off the bat he said, “Thank you. I sure appreciated your kindness. I’m David,” and he stuck his hand up over the seat, to shake Dad’s, just like a gentleman. Little waves of those good horse barn smells floated all around David: musty mink oil and leather harnesses and saddles; none of the manure or old horse hair smells that made the back of my mouth itch and my nose want to close up.
“Where you headed?” Dad said.
“To school, for the Halloween party.”
“You go to school there?” Dad’s bottom eyelid pulled up half-way over the blue part of his eye as he searched David’s face through the rear-view mirror. That’s the way Dad looked when he was trying to figure out whether he was getting his leg pulled.
“What’s your name?” David said to me, leaning down and looking straight into the eye slits of my mummy costume. My heart was pounding in my throat, so no sounds came out, even though my brain was telling me to talk. “Is there a girl or a boy in there?” David smiled, and a shock of his slicked back DA hair fell over his forehead. That made me laugh a little, but still no words. Those grey-green eyes of Davids seemed to see right inside my brain and made me feel all wobbly and rubber-legged.
I won second place in the costume contest, even though my costume was the best ever. Well, maybe mine was second best, ’cause Bonita’s monkey costume was super-keen and nothing was close to it. But, Bonita didn’t get called up on stage at all. Sometimes the best doesn’t win.
At school, I found out David lived in town with his brother, Jim, behind the post office which was also a barber shop. He was in ninth grade, just like my best friend Connie’s brother. Most the time the high-schoolers stayed on top floor, but at Noon Hour, they hung out by the drinking fountain, up the four steps outside the six, seventh and eighth-grade classrooms. My friends Betty and Annette and I started going up there, so I could keep an eye on David. Connie said no, we were supposed to stay by our own classroom. I held the drinking fountain for all the high-schoolers just so I could see David smile at me, take a drink, then take his comb out of his back pocket and slick his hair, just like Ephraim Zimbalist Jr. I never said a thing to him; I had too much of a Ferris wheel tummy.
“A little birdie told me you’ve been acting foolish at school,” Mom said to me one day, snapping diapers fresh off the line. Mom had a parakeet named Herbie that she taught to talk, but he only repeated things she said, so I knew Mom was really telling me somebody told on me and she was keeping the source to herself. Still, she was kinda vague about what I did that was foolish, so I just looked at her. “You stay away from that drinking fountain.”
“I was just holding the handle for people,” I said.
“I know what you were doing,” she said. “So does everyone else.” I felt foolish as all get out, and embarrassed, too. After that, I saw David sometimes from the bus window, and from bottom of the stairs. I still loved him, but that was a stupid kind of love if I never talked to him and never saw his smile or his grey-green eyes.
I’m sure glad lots of little birdies lived around me. Mom always seemed to know everything I did, and some things I was just thinking about. I understand now why Mom’s little kid look got replaced by grown-up wrinkles. Sometimes even I find it difficult to explain how my mind works. What was I thinking?