It seems like I always had some money of my own, when I was a little girl. For a short time I got an allowance, but that fell by the wayside. Sometimes I got paid for pulling weeds or chipping mortar off bricks destined to someday be Mom’s fireplace. Sometimes Mom or Dad assigned those things as a kind of punishment for being bored or having nothing to do. No one ever gets paid for punishment. Most of the time chores were just part of being in a family. I started babysitting for other people’s kids when I was ten years old. I suppose parents thought I was a pretty good bet, being I had the Little Kids around me all day long.
I got my first job babysitting for Bonnie-Jo, Marian, and Wade. I told you before about babysitting them while Mrs. D drove around in her Corvair because Wade opened the door and fell out in the gravel when she took a big dog-leg turn. Once Mrs. D had some confidence, me or Deanna stayed with the kids at the Little House, where they lived. Bonnie-Jo had straight chestnut hair, and big brown eyes and a little body heaped full of energy, just like my Bonita. Marian had super-curly hair the color of carrots and was just a tinsy bit chubby. I don’t remember the color of her eyes, ’cause all that hair curling off like that snake-haired lady, Medusa, kinda distracted me from looking at her face. Wade had blonde hair and blue eyes. Bonnie-Jo and Marian were pretty nice kids. Not Wade. He was the awfullest kid I ever knew. Mrs. D let him get away with anything ’cause he was deaf. She was just like the mother in The Miracle Worker.
Mrs. D needed somebody like Annie Sullivan to straighten her out. Mom was just about as good as Annie Sullivan, ’cause she wouldn’t let anyone get away with monkey-business whether if they were blind or deaf or never went to church or broke out in hives or asthma because of allergies. She just said, “Suffer, Jesus did.” That was pretty hard to argue with. Of course Wade couldn’t hear, so Mom just gave him the look: The one where Mom’s brown eyes turned to steel, and looked straight into your brain, and her lips got so tight they were just one straight line, and if she was mad on top of determined, her jaw pulsed in and out ’til ripples went up her cheeks and disappeared into her hair. I don’t care if you were from a different planet, if you saw that look, you would figure out how to straighten up and fly right. Mom never raised her voice. Except when she had a screaming banshee fit, then the lid blew straight off and everybody started jumping and looking for lost shoes or Sunday hats or just moved around fast to look busy, whether they were in trouble or not, just in case the trouble spread.
I never yelled at Wade, ’cause it was no use, he didn’t understand words. I just held his hands and looked him straight in the eyes, and did my best imitation of Mom’s look; plus I added the ‘no’ shake of my head, ’cause nine times out of ten Wade did the opposite of what he was supposed to do. Most of the time my technique worked. I guessed kids knew who they could bamboozle and who could be bowled over. Word got around I knew how to take charge, and next thing you know, I was baby-sitting for Tommy and Cathy and Robby. And before long, for the Bowlings, from Dad’s work, and after that more and more parents wanted a good babysitter. I got 50¢ an hour, and I always, always sat for more than one hour ’cause it took a half hour just to get to the grocery store and back, not counting the shopping time, and a trip to the city took at least half a day.
One time I yelled at Wade, straight in his face; and grabbed him by the arms so I was right up in his face like Sargent Carter on The Gomer Pyle Show.
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Wade deserved it, but I was sorry anyways. Wade and Marian and Bonnie-Jo lived in our Little House so they played in the same yard as all us kids. One day, when I was walking up the driveway from the school bus, just sniffing the air checking for the smell of Mom’s horrid liver or potato pancakes, I heard the most wretched screaming a person should ever be allowed to hear. I never heard anything like that before or since. That screaming sent a chill straight from my heart to my feet and set me on a jittery-legged run toward the garage. Me and Bonita and Vickie found a little lost rabbit in the rye field and kept it in a box in the garage. We were keeping it safe from the foxes, and planned to raise it to a full-grown bunny. I never heard a rabbit make any noise at all, so I never imagined in my wildest dreams something was wrong with that bunny, so small it fit easy in the palm of my hand. I threw back the garage door, and there was Wade dangling the bunny between his two hands, pulling out handfuls of bunny fur, first one hand, then the other, all the while that brown bunny screamed for his life, his brown eyes all wild and darting in every direction.
I grabbed Wade by the wrists, and pulled him close to my face. The bunny dropped to the dirt floor of the garage, silent like a normal rabbit.
“Stop-it!” I yelled at the top of my lungs straight in Wade’s face. “Bad Boy. You’re hurting him. You’re a Bad Boy! No! Do you hear me?” I gave Wade a shake. “Listen to me. You’re a bad, bad boy.” Right about then, I remembered Wade was deaf and he could not hear me. All he knew was that I was full of rage. He smiled a dumb, goofy smile at me, kinda like Gomer was always doing at the Sergeant, except Gomer was really nice and never did anything mean on purpose or even by accident. Still, it made about as much sense for me to yell at Wade, as when the Sergeant yelled at Gomer. I let Wade go and picked up the quivery bunny, cuddled him for a while then put him back in his box.
With the help of Mom’s wisdom, Bonita, Vickie, and I released the bunny back into the rye field, where his instincts could protect him better than three little girls and a cardboard box. I’d like to say that Wade met a miracle worker like Annie Sullivan, but to my knowledge he never did straighten up and fly right.
For my part, I’m still learning to walk the narrow path. Sometimes my wish to be trustworthy, patient and kind fall flat. Some miscarriage of justice, some natural disaster, or some personal hurt overcomes my better judgement and I rail at a foe that cannot hear me, understand me, or respond to my sense of order. Rage gets me nowhere, except maybe looking and feeling like a fool. Forgiveness is the soothing balm that brings me peace.