Summertime seemed to last forever, when I was a little girl. By the time the first official day of summer came, it seemed like the weather had blazed hot for months. Hot and humid, the skies threatened thunderstorms and I could smell heat lightning even before I could see it on the horizon. No one wanted to work. No one wanted to cook. No one even cared about playing. Those were days for loading into the car, rolling the window down and going for a drive.
Deanna was almost a teenager when Dad and Mom first took us to get a Kewpee burger. Maybe she was actually a teenager, ’cause she sure acted like one. Deanna was only 13 months older than me, just a little more than a year, but for the two of us that was more like in dog years, ’cause when it came to boys and friends, I was way, way behind her. I was still giving little kids pony-back rides and running on the beach on all fours pretending to be a dog right along with Bonita and Vickie, when Deanna was wearing a bra and rolling her hair in curlers and ratting her hair way up and bobby-pinning a tiny grosgrain bow right at the base of the mountain of hair she made and stuck in place with Aqua Net. She had a whole bag full of those bows, so she had just the right one to match every single thing she wore. I just threw on shorts and a shirt, and let Mom pull my hair back in a ponytail and hoped Deanna or Mom didn’t say I looked like a ragamuffin, which meant go change your clothes. Changing clothes was such a waste of time.
I heard Mom and Dad talk about Kewpee burgers all the time, but they never took us before. Not that I remember, anyhow. I remembered that time with Deanna though, ’cause Dad was marching his magpies into that store proud as a mother duck marching her
ducklings down to the lake for their first swim, only we looked a whole lot less organized than those ducks all in a straight row. Deanna took off a bee-line straight to Kewpee, with her nose in the air sniffing at all that greasy burger and onion smell, mixed in with ginger. Mom shifted Johnny on her hip and called out, “Deanna. Deanna. Wait,” in the voice she used in public that was all calm and sweet, but any kid with a lick of sense knew that tone meant, ‘you’re in trouble missy, and I just might be hollering if we were at home,’ I knew because of that tsking in the back of her throat and because of the rippling on the jaw line on top of her pasted-on smile. Deanna kept on a-walking, patting at her hair, like she never even heard, which I knew she did, ’cause we all had keen ears for Mom’s voice. Dad eyes had that look like bright stars fell right out of the sky and landed as tinsy flecks inside his eyes and a grin crept up one side of his face, even though he tried to pull it down and put on his serious-as-all-get-out look.
“Go on up there and grab you sister’s hand,” Dad said to Loren-dee-dee-bopper. Of course Loren did because Loren always did what Dad said, but he didn’t want to ’cause Loren-dee-dee-bopper didn’t want to be told to do anything. That’s just the way Loren-dee-dee-bopper was. So when Deanna shook her hand to get rid of his, he pitched his usual fit. Deanna walked faster, to get away from us. She sat in the next booth over, with her pretty rosebud bottom lip looking pouty and her big brown eyes looking at her hands for the whole time we were there.
Dad order everybody but himself a Kewpee burger deluxe and a bunch of Boston Coolers which Mom split up between us kids. The secret to a Kewpee burger was green olives. Yuuuh-mee. That tangy-sour flavor sure made a difference in the way a hamburger tasted. I got one all to myself, so did Deanna. Only difference was Deanna was sitting all alone. Dad just watched until it seemed like somebody let up a little slack on the eating, then he took over. I already learned not to take too much time breathing or Dad would ask if I needed some help. I felt stuffed full of the best food I ever tasted when we left that place.
That night, still kneeling down beside my side of the bed after prayers, I looked over at Deanna and asked her if she hated Kewpee, ’cause she seemed so darned glum the whole while. Her eyes narrowed down into slits and she made that clicking sound in the back of her throat just like Mom did when she got aggravated. She slapped both hands down hard on the bed.
“My friends were there,” she said rolling her eyes at me, like I was the dumbest girl on the face of the earth. She rolled over in bed and turned her back to me, which was my signal that I better understand what she was saying, ’cause that’s all I was getting out of her. “And stay on your side of the bed,” she said, just in case I didn’t understand the conversation was over. Period.
Nowadays, when the weather is hot and the humidity seems to glue everything in place, when it’s too hot to cook, and almost too hot to eat, I think of Deanna and those Kewpee burgers. Bonita likes to bring that story up, when we get together during the summer. She laughs with her head thrown back with all her teeth showing. Deanna’s voice cracks like she is thirteen years old again, “For Pete’s sake, I’ve never been more embarrassed in my whole life. A bunch of kids, in hand-me-down clothes, dragging along behind me, hair sticking out all which-away from the open car windows, looking like they’ve never been off the farm.” Her bottom lip pouts out and her eyes get all pleady-looking. “I didn’t want my friends to see me. How uncool can you get?” Then she laughs one of those big body laughs, the kind that makes a baby curl up into a ball. I can see that little-girl-Deanna clear as if she was still sitting right there in front of me.