Saturday, April 20, 2013

Growing Up

It is a hot, still summer day.  Butterflies flit slowly over the larkspur and zinnias in the backyard.  Even the cicadas sound drugged.  I am seven or eight and already I am warm in my shorts set and sandals.  My mother has had the windows open but has now closed them and drawn the blinds against the heat.  The tea is steeping in its cool water in the kitchen and eggs have been boiled along with potatoes for tonight's potato salad.

I am having breakfast.  The shredded wheat box is separated into two layers by a cardboard divider which has pictures on it to color.  I am already deciding which crayons to use.  Timmy, the cocker spaniel, is sprawled in the corner where the linoleum is still cool.  He has done his chores for the day - running down the cellar stairs when my father puts his coffee cup down hard on the saucer.  Timmy comes up with one work boot in his mouth then brings up the other one.  It's his only trick but impressive nonetheless.  He is definitely my father's dog -- oh, he tolerates my mother and me, but gets all excited when the company Ford coupe pulls up out front in the late afternoons.  He wags his whole backside then.

I am wondering what I am going to do on this hot day when my mother announces that it's time to clean out my toys and get rid of some of them.  She doesn't put it quite like that.  She says I'm too big for certain things and that, if I don't play with them anymore, they should go to someone who could. 

I immediately start to whine and I feel protective of all my things.  We go up the stairs anyway, my mother leading and me following reluctantly.  She makes my bed, not too much work in the summer --two sheets and the cotton spread.  Now we start to separate toys.  There are things I haven't looked at in a long time -- baby books and some wind-up things, old blocks and a rag doll I was once fond of .  I am sure that I love that doll.

"Dawn's little sister doesn't have much to play with and she would love to have these things," my mother says calmly as I watch the growing pile in dismay.  "I'll get them ready and you can take them over this morning."  She talks gently but I know she means it.

I stump downstairs and, in a few minutes, my mother comes down with a bag of toys.  "Take them down now," she says, "before it gets too hot."  "Come on," she adds with a smile, "you still have lots left to play with.

I leave with the bag in one hand and clutching the rag doll in the other.  I see that there are also some shorts and skirts and a dress that are two small for me in the bag.
I go out the door, off the porch to the sidewalk and up to the corner.  I turn down the road and go off into the woods a little way on the path to the Zerbe's house.  Mr. Zerbe works for my father on the mine for the Cameron Coal Company.  They have three children.  There is Wayne who is in the fourth or fifth grade and Dawn who is in my room at school.  She is very shy and quiet.  Then there is her little sister who is going to get all my things.  I am angry when I reach their house.  Why don't they get their own toys?

Mrs. Zerbe greets me with a smile.  "Oh, Sally, come in.  Look, Jeanie (so that's her name) what Sally brought you." The little girl -- well, she's littler than me -- is all excited about the things in the bag.

Wayne is in the back in the kitchen and Dawn is smiling by the table.  They have a smaller house than we do and I can see all of their downstairs at once.

"Oh, these are nice,"  Mrs. Zerbe says.  "Would you like a dish of huckleberries?"

"All right," I said.  I had just had breakfast an hour or so ago, but I never refused food.

She put a saucer of blueberries and cream in front of me and the sugar bowl.  I sprinkled sugar on the berries and began to eat  Everyone watched, smiling.  Oh, they were good.  I felt a little better when I had finished.  I remembered to say thank you and left to go.  They said goodbye and Jeanie waved, clutching the rag doll.

I went out in the hot sunshine feeling noble, virtuous and in much better spirits.  I had done a good thing and I didn't really want that doll anymore.

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