I said before how much I adored my big sister, Deanna. She was at the high school a whole two years before I got there. She was everything I wished I was, without even trying. She was beautiful, just the right amount of smart, popular, musical, athletic, and daring: in a word Deanna was COOL. All her friends were COOL. She even had a COOL boyfriend, who hung around with other COOL guys. I was decidedly NOT COOL. I tried to be like her by wearing the same kind of clothes and getting involved in similar activities; and sometimes I got to ride on her popularity. She was Big Red, I was Little Red: I was in the shadow of the sun.
Deanna did COOL things like play Chicken with her friend, Brenda who lived a half mile away. Brenda rode our bus, and sat with Deanna, in the back with the other cool kids. Sometimes Deanna walked to Brenda’s house, and sometimes they met half-way between. That’s when they played Chicken. They walked right on the road, side by side, even when a car came at them. In the nick of time, they crossed over to the other side of the road. The Chicken challenge happened when a car came from both directions. They had to judge how long they could stay on one side, before crossing to the other. If Deanna was Chicken, she stepped off the road and lost the game. Deanna was never Chicken, she was too COOL.
Mom had her ear to the ground, and eyes in the back of her head, so of course, she found out about Chicken, and Deanna got grounded. That meant no TV, no telephone, no going out anywhere: just to church, to school, to work and home. Man-o-man, I grounded myself, I guessed, ’cause I never did any of those things anyways, except Bonanza on Sunday night. I had homework to do, LadyBird’s coat to brush, and a 4-H project to finish.
Once Deanna got ungrounded, she was free to do all those things that she would never do when she got old. She seemed a little anxious about getting fun stuff done, because once she got to be an adult the fun would be over. She and her cheerleader friends came up with the COOLest plan in the world. Monica and the two Lindas and Deanna, drove to the rich part of The City. They knocked on doors and told the ladies living there they were doing a Home Ec project. Everybody had to take Home Ec or Shop at our High School; the girls all took Home Ec and the boys took Shop, except for Deanna’s old-best-friend, Cleta, who took Shop. Deanna rolled her eyes when she told me Cleta only took Shop to get next to the boys. Cleta was Uncool like me. No boys took Home Ec, If that ever did happened, the poor boy would be two steps below Uncool.
Anyways, the rich ladies welcomed the girls right into their homes; Deanna and her COOL friends got tours all around those houses: giant houses, with no dandelions in the yard, and ivy growing up the big brick chimneys,and if a leaf ever fell in the yards, it got swept up by men paid just to keep the lawn tidy. A red door with a gold knocker smiled a greeting from every front porch. I loved those doors.
Deanna told me all about how the insides of those fancy houses looked: big hallways with dark walnut floors, and bowls of fruit and flowers, just for decoration, in the middle of polished dining room tables that were so big, they didn’t even need leaves. Every house had a china cabinet and carpet on the stairs, and best of all, they were warm as toast and smelled like potpourri. Not a one of those rich ladies wore sweaters to stay warm in a drafty house like we did. I never heard of potpourri, but Deanna’s brown eyes danced and her voice got low and whispery, so the words came out in little gusts of excitement. The whole thing was the COOLest ever. My insides swirled like a swollen creek in springtime. I had to tell somebody, so I told the best listener I knew. I was pretty sure my voice came out in the same kind of gusts of excitement. I sounded COOL, like Deanna.
Maybe I told the story wrong. Deanna’s story was as exciting as any one of Dad’s, but Dad’s stories made Mom laughed with her head thrown back and all her silver fillings showing. My story made Mom’s bottom eyelids squinch up and her lips pressed together so tight they turned white and disappeared. On top of that, each time she clenched her jaws, she sent little ripples up her cheeks into her ear-bones. Not a single word escaped all that clamp-down.
Grounded. On account of me and my big mouth gushing over. Plus, Deanna had to write each of those rich ladies a letter telling them what she did, and apologizing for taking advantage of their hospitality. “But Mom,” she said. “No one else got punished.”
“No one else in your group is my daughter.” No argument there.
Deanna got madder at me then when I threw her Tiny Tears down the stairs and cracked her skull. She never believed I didn’t set out to get her in trouble. I might as well take Shop, I was that Uncool. It was a life sentence, that’s for sure.
It took me a long time to understand that sometimes being comfortable with who you are is just as cool as being COOL. Both Deanna and I have had our share of jaw-clenching moments. Deanna is a lot better at predicting a mother-daughter storm. She like me, hears Mom’s voice come out of her body. I for sure responded many times with “No one else in your group is my daughter.”
One more thing, I am still in love with those red doors. Now I have one of my own.