It was a cool morning with a soft northern breeze blowing across the lawn. Nancy shivered and drew her housecoat a little closer as she listened to the wail of the 5:30 freight climbing the hill across the holler. She shivered a little from the cold, but mostly from the excitement and joyful anticipation.
Bud had told her he would return only on the 5:30 freight. So, she knew exactly when he would return. That train came through on the second Friday of each month so it was easy to tell the time of his arrival. Or so she thought two years and three months ago when he left. Twenty-seven times, chilly and warm, she had waited like this for him.
She had received only two letters and one postal card from him. It wasn’t much, but her love for him had refused to die. She had lain awake many nights wondering what Bud was doing, wondering if he had a good job, if he had enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. But most of all, she hoped that he hadn’t found someone else to love. The city was a scary place.
Nancy rose and stepped lightly to end of the veranda. She ran her fingers skillfully through the loamy soil of a flower box. Absentmindedly, she plucked the tender blades of grass from around her prize pansy plants.
It’s only a ten-minute walk from the tracks to the front gate. If he’s coming he should be here soon.
Ten minutes … how well she knew. How well she remembered the times they two had spent hours on that trail. Especially just over the hill, in the woods by the little creek where they had eaten many Sunday dinners. She could almost smell the wieners roasting and the taste of egg-salad sandwiches.
A warm salty tear trickled down her cold cheek and splattered over a pansy leaf as she remembered the day she found Bud crying his heart out down by the creek. It was the first time she had ever seen Bud cry. It was the day his dog Butch had died; the day that he became a man and discovered that life has its sorrows.
It was almost three years ago, when they were coming back from one of their moonlight strolls, that he had dedicated his favorite song to his favorite girl. Green Sleeves. The following Monday he had bought her this very housecoat, with its green sleeves, no less.
“Well, guess he isn’t coming. One more Friday of disappointment,” she muttered as she cast one more longing glance over her shoulder toward happiness, and sadly pulled open the screen door.
Bud was thinking hard as he sped along in his new MG; thinking about the last two years and the success he had gained.
He smiled to himself as he remembered the night he had left home with only eighty-three cents in his pocket, most of which he had borrowed from Nancy.
He looked at his watch … 4:40 a.m., he’d have to hurry to get to Sylvan Station before the train pulled out. After all he had promised Nancy that he would return on the freight, just like he left. If he missed it now there wouldn’t be another one for almost a month.
Of course, he could drive the last three miles to her house. He pressed the accelerator, he’d rather keep his promise.
The train was just beginning to move as he swung in behind the station and killed the motor. He snatched his jacket and sprang from the car.
“Just in time,” he mumbled as he climbed aboard the third car from the end. He waved at old John, the switchman, who was shaking his finger at him. He remembered the last time he had seen John, He had tried to talk him out of leaving. Finally, he had given up and wished him luck and success.
Bud wondered if Nancy would be waiting for him this morning.
He looked around, “A beautiful morning!” he thought, “And I’ll bet the trail looks neat with all the Fall leaves lying around.” He wondered whether their little spot by the creek had changed much since he’d left. They were approaching the hill that slowed the train down enough for him to make a safe exit or boarding.
“The ground is still hard,” he mused. His jump confirmed his suspicions.
It had been a long night’s drive to be here on time, but it was worth it. He raced down the hill to wake himself up a little. The cool breeze across his eyes felt good.
The creek hadn’t changed. He paused over Butch’s grave and felt a twinge of grief as he remembered. His thoughts took the form of a rhyme.
“The morning wears it’s usual look,
The heavens show no change.
Water flows on Elder’s Brook,
And only I am strange.”
He turned, crossed the creek and started up the hill toward the Smith’s farmhouse, where he was sure Nancy would be waiting for him. He remembered the night he gave her his favorite song. Involuntarily he started singing in his clear tenor voice:
“I’m in love with the girl in the green sleeves, the green sleeves.
I’m in love with the girl in the green sleeves, she stole my heart away.”
There was a shriek, “That’s Bud! He’s back!” The screen door slammed behind Nancy, as she fairly flew to the gate. In a moment she was across the field and in his arms with passion flying high. The 5:30 freight had brought more than passion, more than love … it brought togetherness.
The Skinny Choice
Little Joe Pinkerton, or Pinky, as he was known to me, and most of his other friends, was just an ordinary sort of fellow, with mousy, gray-brown hair.
Probably the only thing that would make him stand out in a crowd of other eleven year-olds would be his height, and he kinda’ liked that.
There were times as we were growing up, that I wondered what I’d ever do without him if we decided to not be best of friends anymore. We did everything as one. We skipped rocks on the pond behind the school, climbed trees, shared our homework with each other, and even “played hooky” together.
No one in our class, except maybe the teachers, could look down on Pinky, so very few kids at school gave him a bad time. Not only was he tall like me, but he was as thin as a pencil, too. Some of the tough
guys called him “Skinny”, but when recess came around and it was time to play softball, he wasn’t called anything of the sort.
The captain with the first choice usually picked Pinky, for he could get a hit from the best or the worst of pitchers, and he could run like he was being chased by a spook.
Pinky’s love for sports began and ended with softball. Basketball, football, kick-ball, and soccer held no glory or attraction for him. In fact he had never even bothered to learn the rules to those confusing and boring games.
One day when the kids went out to play soccer, Pinky hung back with a group of the girls that never played soccer either. This particular day as he dawdled with them discussing the absurdities of the dumb game, he allowed as how he’d rather be playing house under the school building.
That is, if one of them would like to be the Mom, and some of the others would be babies or children.
He would be the fireman, policeman, carpenter, or plasterer. Maybe he would even be the husband if they promised not to give him sloppy kisses when he came home from work.
They would if he would, so that settled it. Now, his carpenter role would be called into action as he pried and pulled at the access door leading to the cavernous area under the old schoolhouse.
The school we attended was a large white, wood-frame building constructed so that the main floor was several feet above the ground.
There were three classrooms, two large restrooms, and a hallway connecting the rooms and separating them from the restrooms. The two end rooms had separate coatrooms where we kept our lunches and coats, and fought over who got to carry the bats out for recess.
As I said, the building was built up off the ground, so that each entrance had seven steps leading up to a covered porch. Two of these porches had loose fitting doors that led to a mysterious shadowy world for make-believe under the building.
Diligence and patience are virtues, but persistence puts virtue to flight. At least it did with an access to the dark underworld of this schoolhouse. So it turned out that Pinky and his playmates did not remain virtuous very long. Four giggling girls yearning for womanhood, and a world of discovery whet Pinky’s appetite, and life would never be the same for any of them.
If sex education had been then what it is today, many of Pinky’s trial and error educational techniques might have taken a different turn.
Take the matter of kissing. There were, we all understood, several different kinds of kisses. For instance, the kiss your mom gave you was quite different from the ones that Aunt Ruthie gave, and both were totally different from the sloppy ones that Grandma forced on you when she handed you a big sugar cookie!
Well, this was the day Pinky discovered a new kiss with Sandy, as in the midst of playing house, he swaggered “home” from “work.” It wasn’t a mamma kiss, nor an Auntie kiss, and most decidedly it was not a Grandma kiss.
It was, well, sort of warm and soft. But the most delightful thing about it was the way it made him feel. It was so nice he immediately kissed her, “Good- bye,” so that he could rush off to “work”, and hurry home for another kiss before they got too involved with their dolls.
In quick succession he had “married” all four of the girls, hurried off to “work” and back again just to see if they all could kiss that same, soft, delightful way. Alas, Vola kissed like his Grandma, except she giggled when she backed away!
When the bell rang signaling an end to recess, the five of them didn’t know what to do. Since they had more or less secreted themselves away, they certainly didn’t want to come out from under the building while everyone else was filing into the classroom right above their secret entrance.
Nor was he crazy enough to come wandering into the classroom with four girls. Why, he’d be the laughing beanstalk of all the guys in his room.
No, he’d make it easy on himself and the girls. They must go into the classroom a few minutes late. He’d stay there under the building and sneak out on the playground just before the lunch recess began. Maybe Mr. Bruce wouldn’t miss him.
Maybe teachers are dumb. Maybe eleven-year old boys are dumber. At any rate, would you believe that Pinky was never called on to read aloud or work Math problems at the chalkboard? I don’t think that the teacher even noticed the empty desk that had been warmed all morning by Pinky.
That crazy skinny kid had pulled off the greatest bluff of all time, and when the rest of us bounded onto the ball diamond he was already bopping grounders out to center field.
That was truly a red-letter day. Not only had he learned that girls were quite capable of kissing him in a way that raised his heart rate, made his hands get sweaty, and made him feel as though he were glowing, but he had learned that teachers don’t necessarily have eyes in back of their heads. And, can sometimes be fooled.
Freddy hadn’t been fooled for a minute though, “Where ya been?” he snarled at first base, “I needed some help with those dumb fractions.”
“Kissing Sandy and the girls.” Pinky hissed with a silly grin on his face.
“You were not, you dumb cluck, they were in class and you weren’t.
“I’ll give you the low-down after school,” shouted Pinky as he made a dash for second base.
Back in the classroom after lunch hour the old wood-burning heater needed some wood added to keep the chill out of the air, so Pinky volunteered to stoke the fire. On the way to the back of the room to do this good deed he was exploring his pockets. From among the
collection of springs, ball bearings, a few nuts and raisins, a complete game of jacks, and at least two jackknives, he pulled out a .22 shell.
For a moment he contemplated the havoc it would create if it were added to the firebox of the stove. Then as though it had a mind of its own, the shell seemed to jump from his hand into the fire. With a gasp of desperation and astonishment at what he had just done, he quickly latched the door and raced for his seat.
“Pinky!” shouted “Chromedome” Bruce, our teacher, “That’s enough running in the room.”
“Ya’sir.” was his weak reply as the teacher dropped back into his monotone with the other grades’ lesson.
For Pinky the near silence was deafening. That awful thing he had done should be having results of some kind by now. Glancing up at the clock on the wall, his mind fell into cadence with the second hand sweeping the face of the clock. Each jerk of the second hand banging at his heart.
“What if the stove isn’t strong enough to hold the bullet in,” grimaced Pinky, “and it come flying out through the side to chase me around and around the room? I’d probably get tired, maybe fall down only to be shot in the butt by my own bullet!”
Suddenly girls were screaming, guys were shouting, and Allan fell completely out of his desk. I looked over at Pinky all hunched down over his desktop trembling uncontrollably from spasms of laughter. Pinky was relieved and still alive. I just knew he had to be at the bottom of this ear-crushing noise.
In an instant a livid-faced, “Chromedome” Bruce had his shoulder in a vise-like grip. Jerking him from his desk in one deft movement, he was marching skinny Pinky like a frightened Ichabod Crane toward the coat room shouting, “What have you done, Pinky? What have you done?”
Poor, terrified Pinky, with his arms wind-milling for balance, and his feet barely touching the floor was screaming, “I don’t know! I don’t know!”
That was a day to be remembered for days, and decades. For when the word of Pinky’s dastardly deed got out, it became a copycat prank.
Three more times that week our classrooms were rocked by the resounding blast of .22 shells in the stove. Much to our credit no one tried any larger ammo, and thanks to the good sense of the teachers, they started stoking the fires themselves and declared the heaters off-limits for us kids.
The other kids were never caught in the act though, it was Pinky alone who carried the Purple Heart of Bravery. He was the originator of a noble diversion.
Dumb, but nevertheless a diversion.
From time to time our teachers would get sick and we occasionally thought that it was not often enough. On those rare and wondrous days we would be blessed with a substitute teacher. Sometimes it was one of our moms, but most often it was someone that none of us knew and it was then that the adventures would brew. Each of us had our particular skill that we would try out with a new substitute.
Allen’s forte was Geography. Boy could he come up with intelligent sounding dumb questions!
“Miss Laird,” (Miss Lard, to us) he would drawl, “How can the Nile River run up hill?”
“Don’t be silly, Allen. No river in the world can run up hill.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” he would return, “But just look at this wall map” tracing the river with his dirty fingernail, “The river goes from the middle of Africa straight
UP to the Mediterranean Sea.”
Amid a chorus of agreements and statements of doubt there would be a long pause and a rustling of papers while she pondered the significance of water running up the map. No matter how intelligent her explanations, he could play dumber. It seemed to him to be great sport.
Freddy’s strength was dates. He had the uncanny knack of knowing what day of the week any date of the year fell on and because he still didn’t know his multiplication facts he loved to show off this skill during Math class. For a new substitute he could easily waste the whole class period exhibiting this “talent.”
“What is your birth date, Miss Laird?”
“July 4, 1931,” she answered.
“Your mamma was really busy that Saturday, wasn’t she?”
And so our fun with substitutes would continue. Some of those days there would be almost nothing worthwhile accomplished except lunch, and recesses.
One Friday in late September Pinky sat brooding, chin on hand, gazing out the classroom windows.
The room was stuffy. The children’s voices and whispers, as they studied intently, blended into a monotone.
Miss Lard, the substitute teacher was intent on some detail at her desk.
Lenny poked my elbow and pointed at Pinky. We grinned at each other, for it had been at least 25 minutes since we came in from morning recess. Math class had convened, problems explained, examples worked at the chalkboard, and assignments given.
Pinky had withdrawn his paper from somewhere in the recesses that messy jumble of a desk and placed it there before him. Then he had looked out the window and died, still holding a pencil in one hand.
That’s right, for all intents and purposes he had died! Except for his eyelids slamming shut in slow motion occasionally, he hadn’t
moved in nearly 20 minutes! We knew he wasn’t dreaming of girls, because he didn’t have a silly grin on his face.
Sometime before lunch he “came to” when Miss “Lard” gripped his shoulder and informed him that it was his turn to read for Reading Class.
“Why don’t you have your book out?” she queried as he winced under the pain of her vice-like grip.
“What have you been doing here?” she demanded.
We all broke out in spasms of laughter, and she glowered around the room at us, bringing silence.
“Joseph Pinkerton,” (boy, he hated to be called Joseph) she growled, “Take out your Reader and turn over to page 179. As Lenny begins reading, find his place.
Raise your hand when you have found it,” she finished as she marched back to her desk.
“You may begin Lenny,” she said with a flourish.
Anger flushed Pink’s face. He hated to follow Lenny at anything.
I guess that all started in about the 2nd grade when the teacher thought that perhaps Lenny was too smart to be in our grade. She had called in the Educational Superintendent to test him. Not wanting the rest of the kids to know what was going on, I guess, she had picked Pinky and me to be tested, also.
Both of us had scored only slightly lower than Lenny, but he was permitted to skip the rest of the 2nd grade. But the crazy part, was why Lenny still got to read with our group three years later!
He in fact, got to read with all four grades in this room, but he only had to do the reading workbook for the grade ahead of us. Grownups sure had funny ways of doing things. That had sort of stuck in Pinky’s “craw.”
“Joseph! Joseph, where are you going?” I was jerked out of my reverie by the rasping voice of Miss “Lard”.
“Well, you told me to take out my Reader,” said Pinky with a deadpan look, “So, I was taking it outside.”
“Shut the door. Get back to your seat, and don’t be such a smart-aleck, or I must send you into the Principal. Now turn over in your reader to page 179!” She hissed between tight teeth.
This time we were giggling a little quieter behind our books. Miss “Lard” was standing on the very edge of her patience, balanced as it were, over the abyss of the unknown. We all somehow sensed it. Most of us wanted to push her over the brink just to see what would happen, but none of us quite had the nerve, nor did we want to be the brunt of her anger.
Before Pinky had reached his seat she ordered, “Please continue, Lenny!” Her eyes had dropped to her book to follow Lenny’s reading, but I was engrossed in what Pinky was up to. He had quietly dropped to the aisle and was rolling back and forth across his book. Several of the girls started giggling and pulled their feet back under their desks.
I could hardly believe my eyes; Pinky was nudging her toward the brink! Not defiantly, but pushing all the same! Golly, he was brave!
I couldn’t resist flashing him a grin of admiration. I noticed that several girls looked about ready to swoon over his act of bravery.
Their giggles were like saying “Sic’em” to Buster the dog.
Miss “Lard” looked up at the commotion. Seeing Pinky goofing off again so soon, she turned positively livid. Springing up from her chair, she fairly flew across the room. All eyes riveted upon that huge body moving so gracefully that she seemed not to touch the floor at all, but was being propelled by her wrath alone. I’m sure no one realized that she was capable of such speed and agility.
The look on Pinky’s face could only be described as pure terror as he caught sight of that nightmare baring down on him.
Reaching down with outstretched fingers, she plucked Pinky from the
floor as easily as Mom would pick up my dirty socks. Pinky seemed to float horizontally through the air as she carried him by the nape of the neck in a mad dash for the door.
For weeks Pinky was the reluctant hero, the one who pushed a teacher over the brink of tolerance. He had taken our daydreams and wove them into the reality of a genuine nightmare, and we were all the wiser for it.
Without a doubt she had gotten our attention for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until the end of the day that we found out what happened to Pinky. But, by the next morning his three swats on the rear had developed into a beating that would do justice for the valiant deed he had done.
It was two days before we saw Pinky in the classroom again. He had been suspended, and Miss Lard had gone back to doing whatever substitute teachers do when not at school. We guessed that to be eating and reading, in that order.
This was the lowest, filthiest part of the city, along an alley where the noon-day sun shines only a few time a year. Here was the perfect place to do what had to be done.
Here no one would hear her cries of pain, and fear. He knew it would be that way, he was sure of it. He had watched his big brother Bob do it. He had made his mental notes after close observation. He was confident, but still a little apprehensive.
What would make a sweet girl like her to beg him to do it, like she had only a few hours ago, even when she suspected it would hurt a little.
Yes, this was the perfect place.
He made his way, as inconspicuously as possible to the corner pay phone, and called Mary to tell her where to meet him. She would be there in fifteen minutes. Not much time, he’d have to hurry. He determined in his heart to give her somewhat more than she had bargained for.
In Casey’s Drug Store he wondered which world be better, a piece of clothesline rope, or some less conspicuous nylon twine. He’d need a plastic bag, too. These he stuffed into his pocket and headed back for the alley.
Now he looked for a good heavy brick, heavy enough to do the job in one swift throw. He wondered if anyone could understand why he must do it in this God-forsaken alley. Why he had to go one step farther than his big brother Bob.
Presently, he heard the soft confident step of unsuspecting Mary, up til now his best friend.
His hands were clammy, and he could feel his heart pounding around his eyes. Quickly he made the necessary preparations, then as she was talking, he made his move. With one swift thrust of the brick it was all over. The tooth was out.
Just as he had suspected, she cried. But, he was a little more considerate than his big brother Bob. He held the hand of his nine year old friend while she cried.
By this time most of you have seen or heard about Joe Biden’s educational advice on the controversy over AR-15’s. You know, the one where he tells an interviewer on national TV that you don’t need an AR-15 for protection. Just buy a double barreled shotgun. It’s easier to use and to aim. He has told his wife that if she is in trouble, just take the gun out on the back porch and fire a couple rounds into the air. That’ll scare the perps away.
Well now, someone has made an educational film comparing the double barreled shotgun with an AR-15 for ease of use by your “little woman.”
I think you’ll get a real kick out of the results.