My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Anglia, shmanglia! Where's the sardines?

“I don’t know if I’m ready, mom,” I said not leaving my chair.
“Sure you are. I have faith in you,” was her answer.  “You’ve studied the book and you’ve done well driving me around.  You should get it now.”
“But I don’t parallel park worth a toot.”
“Just remember to turn when the car is half way and you’ll get it.  It’s a small car.  It shouldn’t be a problem.”  She was smiling and brimming with confidence in my ability. Something I didn’t feel at all.
The car she was talking about was an Anglia, a British Ford product, which was a very small car compared to the models Detroit was sending to the show rooms.  My driving had improved quite a bit but I just hadn’t practice my parking enough to feel truly comfortable taking my test. 
On Wednesday, February 15th, one day after my fourteenth birthday, I had begged to go to the Motor Department to take my written test for a beginner’s permit.  Reluctantly, my mother agreed.
I was going to drive.  I was determined to get my permit.  All the way to North Charleston I read over the material in the SC Driver’s Handbook.  I was oblivious to the traffic on River’s Avenue as mom turned for Dorchester.  The old highway Department loomed ahead as I closed the book eager to enter and take the written test.  Written tests had never been a problem for me.  All I had to do was read the material prior to the test and I usually aced it.  I had no thoughts that I wouldn’t do the same on this one.
There was a long line as well as a crowd of folks sitting and standing around waiting their turn.  No one looked as eager as me as we made our way to the counter.  Our line was very slow but we eventually faced the girl behind the counter who asked what she could do to help.
“I want to take my test to get my learner’s permit!” I blurted out.
“He’s a little excited,” said my mom with a smile.
“He’ll need to fill out these forms then bring them back,” she said looking straight at my mother.
“Thank you.  Do you have a pen?”
“You’ll find some pens over there at that counter. Next!”  Her response was abrupt.  We moved over to the counter which was too high for me so my mother handed me a clip board to fill out my request.
After asking mom several questions I was reminded of my dad’s response to questionnaires.
“All these questions, they want to know the ins and outs of a magpie’s arse,” he’d always say with an exasperated look on his face. 
And they did.  And I had to ask my mother a lot that I didn’t know.  It was a while before I finally signed my official name and looked eagerly to the lady behind the counter who ignored me still.  We had to get back in line to turn in the paperwork.  Everyone in front of us shuffled a step then stopped, shuffled a step then stopped for what seemed hours. Finally I got to the window and looked up with a big grin on my face pushing the papers across the counter to her.  I stood on tiptoes to do so.
“Everything seems in order,” she said not looking at me but my mother.  “Go over to the far corner and you’ll be set up to take the test.  Next!”
Dismissed abruptly for the second time we walked over to the corner.  A disinterested man took my ticket and gave me the test paper.  He showed me to a desk.
“You’ve got thirty minutes, kid.  Answer all the questions on these two pages.  I’ll be back when your time is up.”  He handed me my test. I sat in the desk while he returned to his corner and another applicant. 
Another written test to ace, I thought.  When I looked at the first question my mind was a complete blank.  The next question had no answer coming either, nor the third.  I began to panic.  I looked around but everyone else was bent over their paper circling answers. 
Calm down! screamed my brain. Calm down!  This was too important to freeze up.  I scrunched my eyes shut saying a short silent prayer.  My fidgeting stopped.  My mind slowed down.  The answer to the first question appeared in my head like magic.  I circled the correct answer before it flew away.  Each question opened another memory from the book I’d read on the way in.  They came easily now and I was finished quickly.  I was just checking the last answer when the man came over to collect my paper. I followed him to his desk. He checked my answers against his answer sheet.
“You pass,” he said.  Without a smile he handed me a ticket. “Go over to that counter.  The lady there will issue you your permit.  Remember this is a permit.  You must have an adult driver with you at all times.”
“Yes sir, I’ll remember,” I said grabbing the ticket and running to the counter.
“The man over there gave me this to give to you,” I shouted to the lady behind the counter.
“That’s fine.  Please have a seat while I take care of the gentleman in front of you.”
“He’s excited,” said my mother who had appeared behind me.
“I made it, mom,” I said with wild enthusiasm.
“I see that, sweetheart, but you might want to calm down some.”  She was smiling at my happiness.  She was always happiest when she was able to contribute to another’s happiness.  It was something I took for granted.
“OK young man.  I’ll take your ticket now,” said the lady handing a finished license to the man in front of me.
I stood on tiptoe and pushed the ticket across the counter.  It only took a few minutes for her to prepare my permit. 
That glorious moment came when that piece of paper was in my chubby fingers.
“I got my permit, mom!”  Everyone stopped to see who had shouted that.    
“Shh!” said the man who had given me my test.  “Keep it down over there.”
I dipped my head as I pushed the door outward. I held it for my mother who slipped past.
“You want to drive home?” she asked.
That is when I noticed the traffic.  This wasn’t James Island.  This wasn’t my local neighborhood.  This was highway traffic.  Beads of sweat popped across my forehead.
“Uh…uh…” I was scared.  I lost my confidence.  A written test was one thing, but getting into traffic?  Now?
“It’s OK.  You can wait til we get to the Terrace.  Just pay attention while you are riding.  Kind of get the feel of other cars around you.”  She got into the car cranking it as I slammed my door shut.  Tests were easy.  I wasn’t so sure about the actual driving, in live traffic.  My stomach didn’t feel right.
All the way home I watched mom as she drove.  She told me what she was doing and what to watch out for.  I noticed that she was driving much slower than usual.  Dad always said she had a lead foot.  I guess she didn’t want that passed on to me.  She let me drive my first time in the Terrace.  She pulled over at Joe’s Barbershop to trade places.  Her encouragement helped me with each gear change.  Her guidance was patient and understanding.  I was grateful for her willingness to give me every opportunity for practice.  She was encouraged with my progression from gear grinding amateur to near professional driver.  That was her opinion.  Here it was, the hour of truth upon me and I was chicken to try.
“It’ll be alright,” she said.  “You’ve shown me that you have improved more than enough to pass.”
“You really think so?”
“Of course.”  She grabbed her keys.  “You can drive there to give you some more practice.  I know you’re nervous.  It’s natural.  I know I was.”
“You were?” I said.  That was a shock.
“Yes, everyone is.  You have a policeman sitting in the seat beside you grading everything you do.  It can make you nervous.”
“A policeman? In the car?”
“He has to be to see how you drive.  It’s just the way it’s done.” She smiled handing me the keys.
I was extra careful on the road.  I reached the turnoff but stayed waiting for traffic until the car behind me beeped loud and long.
“It’s ok to turn now,” mom said.
“It’s two lanes to cross!” I shouted.
“Just calm down and get us over there.  Nothing is coming.”
BEEEEEEPPPPP!!  The person behind was getting impatient.
I made the turn.  It was no more difficult that crossing one lane.  The Motor Vehicle Department came into view nestled beneath the pines.  Needles crunched under my tires as I eased into an open space. My hesitation lasted a moment. I turned the key and geared myself up for the grueling test ahead.  There was no eagerness in my step on this visit.
Inside the same lines stood before the help counter.  The same people were standing around or sitting emitting the same low noise as the previous visit.  It didn’t matter if I checked to see if it was the same group because I was too excited to notice last visit. The person in front of me turned to leave. I faced the lady behind the counter again.
I froze.
My mother had to speak up for me.
“He’s here to take the driving test,” she said to the woman behind the counter.  Her same disinterest was apparent.
“Fill out these forms.  Bring them back when you’re finished. Next!”
The forms were easier this visit since I knew most of the answers, “the ins and outs…“  Once more I stood in line.  Once more the blank face of the woman behind the counter looked over me even though I was on tiptoe.
“These are fine.  Take this ticket and wait for your name to be called. Next!”
We sat in the corner.
“Don’t be nervous,” said my mother.
“I’m trying.”
She continued to give me a pep talk until the moment I heard my name.
I looked up.  There stood a hulking policeman in uniform.  He held a clipboard that looked like a three by five card in his ham-like hands, hamds popped into my mind. Our oak in the back yard had nothing on this guy.
“Here!” I yelled out.
“Come on, son.  I have a lot of people to check out.”
My feet had no desire to follow.  I had to force them.  I caught up with him outside under the pines.
“Well?” He was looking at me quizzically.
“Where’s your car, son?”  He wrote on his paper.
“Uh, right over here.”
The Anglia was white.  It was cute under the pines dappling shade. He stepped to the passenger side.  Its size was dwarfed by this guy who must have been seven foot tall. I climbed in my side, sat and put the key in the ignition. The policeman put one leg in and sat.  He pulled his knee up to his chin, swiveled then eased his right foot under the dash. He tried to pull the door shut but his size was a problem. He had to roll down the window.  He put the door under his left arm trying to close it.  His bulk was such he had to shift in the seat and clutch the door with his left hand as well as his right elbow outside to jerk the door closed.  This done he placed the clipboard on top of his kneecaps which were level with his shoulders.
“How do I move this seat back some?” he asked. 
“There’s a lever under the seat in front.”  I watched him try to lean over his knees to grasp the lever.  He shifted this way then that finally achieving his goal.  The Lever moved and the seat slid back an inch.
“That’s the best it will do?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Well let’s get this show on the road.  The sooner we’re through the sooner I’ll stop being a sardine.  Alright, son, let’s see your skills.”
The engine turned over.  Reverse answered as I looked out the rear window.  No traffic in the parking area so I backed out.  It took first and eased off toward the stop sign and the road.
“Take a right at this stop.”
“Yes sir.”
Easing to a stop I put my hand out the window and crooked it at the elbow so my arm was in an ell shape.  He made a check on his sheet.
One down, I thought.  No traffic.  I eased into the road and went through the three speeds on the gearshift which was on the floor.  Second and third gears scraped along his leg. He tried to move out of the way without success.  He was definitely crammed into his side of the car with very little room to maneuver.
The light ahead was green.  As I came nearer it changed to yellow, my cue to slow to a stop. I hit the gas instead of the brake.  The Anglia shot through the light which turned red when I was under it.
“Oops,” I said.
Scratch, his pen said.
“You are supposed to ease to a stop when you see a yellow light.”
“Yes sir, I know,” I said not wanting him to know I’d hit the gas by mistake.
“Alright, at the next light I want you to turn left.”
“Yes sir,” I said watching the light at the far corner grow closer. I eased into the turning lane with my arm sticking straight out pointing to the left turn I was going to make.  There was a barrier across the turning lane.  Men were working behind it.
“What do I do?” I asked.
“Do something, son. I can’t make the turn for you,” he spit out.
There was oncoming traffic but I thought it was far enough away to make a try at the turn.  I looked at the light. It was still green. I swerved out into the oncoming lane, hit the gas and whipped it into the road.  The officer was thrown back.  The oncoming car blasted his horn veering to his left just missing the working men.
“What are you doing, boy?”
“You told me I had to do something!”
His pen scratched on his sheet again.
“You have to be more careful than that,” he said.
“Yes sir. I never ran into that problem before.”
“You have to be ready for any possibility when you’re driving.  This is an unused road so up ahead when I say stop, you have to make an emergency stop.  Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.”
I drove a bit further when he shouted, “STOP!
I hit the brake and stood on it.  The car squealed to a stop. Everything on the backseat clattered to the floor.
He marked on his paper.
“Alright I want you to make a three point turn here in the road.  You know what that is don’t you?”
“Yes sir. It’s…”
“Don’t tell me, son. Show me.”
“Yes sir.”
My maneuver was perfect in three turns. 
“Alright, go back to the stop light and turn right.  Head back home and let’s see if you can parallel park.”
“Yes sir!”
We approached the building when he pointed over beyond the cars lined up along the side.
 “See those two posts?”
“Yes sir.”
“I want you to parallel park between them.”
“Yes sir.”
I pulled up and beyond the furthest post until my back bumper was aligned with it. 
Halfway. Halfway. I kept telling myself, halfway.  I backed. My foot was heavy on the gas and I shot past the post before halfway registered. Too late I whipped the wheel to the right.  The car never slowed. I rammed the sidewalk. I hit the brake. The car stopped at an angle, my right rear wheel still on the sidewalk.  I looked at him grinning.
“Well, that’s all she wrote, son.  If you can’t park this matchbox you don’t pass.  Pull up over there.”
“Yes sir.” I was a balloon without air.
Once he extricated himself from the Anglia, which was no small task for such a big guy, he finished up his paperwork, tore off my copy and handed it to me.
“You can try again next month.  My advice is practice your parallel parking.  Better luck next time.”
He walked into the building.  A few minutes later my mother walked out.
“I failed,” I said.
“It’s alright.  There’s always next time.  And I’m sorry about all the pans in the back.  I spoke to the officer.  He told me they made a heck of a racket when you stopped.  He told me you should work on your parking.  If you’d have done that you would have passed.”
“Even with all the other mistakes?”
“That’s what he told me.”  She smiled.  “You going to drive us home?”

“No, I think I’ve had enough driving for one day.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Release of the Cracking

“It’s the last dance, babe,” I said, rising from my chair. I eased her chair back as she stood.  I took her hand.  The band was playing a waltz as the last song of the night. It was one of that new group’s songs, THIS BOY.  She placed her hand on my shoulder and leaned into me.  I pulled her close and we slipped across the floor boards.  Babs was in my arms once again.  She had come all the way from Newberry to be my date for the Junior-senior, or as we called it, the Senior-Junior.  It was our last dance as a class.
I looked at the clock.  It was 12 midnight.  The last few notes of the song were fading into the past as I dipped her.  She laughed.  I kissed her lightly as we began to part.
“Time to go,” she said walking back to the table.
“I know.  Wish it could last forever.”
“Nothing does,” she said sadly.
“Here let me help you with your wrap,” I said draping it over her shoulders.
She stood four foot eleven in stocking feet but tonight had on high heels bringing her to five foot.
Her smile warmed me as I slipped my jacket on wary not to lose the buttoner she had bought me.  She wore a wrist corsage.  I’d wanted to buy one that attached to her upper garment but, times being what they were, I was worried she’d think I was copping a feel.
The room was thinning out.  GH passed me with a wink.
“See you later?” he said quietly.
“Hell yeah!” I whispered back.
Babs was oblivious to our little chat.  GH gave a salute as he passed with his girl in tow.
JR passed by with his lopsided grin.  He was driving us all to Folly later, whether he knew it or not I wasn’t sure.  We were to meet up at five points in the Terrace.
“See ya,” he said.
“I guess I better get you home,” I said.  She looked up at me.
“I don’t have to go right home,” she said with a smile.
“I know your dad will worry if I don’t get you home soon.” What a surprise.  She wanted to stay out later.
“I’m a college girl now, Rickey. I can stay out later if I want,” she said still smiling.
The girls in our class had rented a beach house.  Our favorite teacher was chaperoning them.  I hadn’t thought to ask Babs if she wanted to go to the beach house.  It was kind of late now to ask so I didn’t but that left me with a bit of a problem.  I didn’t have any plans to spend more time with her.  There was no place to go this late.
“I could see if the girls have room at the beach house if you’d like to go there.” I offered though I didn’t know what I’d do if she said yes.
“I don’t want to spend time with the girls. I came back to spend time with you.”
What the heck?  I hadn’t considered this.  In the past she always had to be in by twelve at the latest and here it was twelve-thirty.  What the heck was I going to do?
“Isn’t there anything you want to do?” she asked.
To myself I thought, yeah, I want to get to five points and hook up with my buddies for the beach house.
“I…uh…I don’t know of anything.  Everybody is going to Folly.  We rented a beach house, too, but we didn’t ask for a chaperone.  There may be drinking going on there.  I don’t want to expose you to that.”
“Oh, Rickey. I see that at frat parties all the time.  It’s old news to me.”
She kept looking at me.  My brain raced with excuses.  I’d never been in this situation before.
“Aren’t any of the seniors going anywhere for after dance fun?” she asked her smile not so prominent now.
“Uh, only to the beach,” I said opening the door to the Tan Can.
“I like the beach,” she said.
I didn’t like the emphasis she was putting on this.
“Uh, I wouldn’t want you to mess up your formal gown,” I said.
“I could slip into my house and change real fast,” she said.
It appeared she was determined to go to the beach.
“I don’t know.  Your dad…”
“Don’t worry about my dad,” she said smiling.
“Well, OK then.  Let’s go to your place.” I pulled the gear shift into first.  She was sitting right next to me and my hand grazed her knee.  It sent shivers up my spine.  This might turn out to be the best night ever, I thought to myself. Yeah, boy.
I pulled it into third and she took my hand from the gearshift and placed it on her knee.  OH, baby!
My speed increased a little over the speed limit to get her home.  This was going to be a sand dune night!  I’d heard about what happened after dark in the sand dunes of Folly but never experienced it for myself.  It appeared those days were over.  I looked over at her. She squeezed my hand pulling it above the knee.  My foot slammed to the floor board.  The Tan Can moved like lightning toward the Terrace.
When I got to her place I hit the brakes skidding along the ditch in front of the house.  Unfortunately the tires on the road squealed to a stop.
“Shhh,” she said touching my left cheek turning my head toward her.  She pulled me into a kiss both startling and over the top.  I couldn’t move. The kiss was lingering and searching.  It was beyond this senior’s kin. She slowly withdrew.  I knew I couldn’t move until I regained control of my body.  She looked at me dreamy eyed. Her smile turned to faint laughter.
“Walk me to the door?” She asked.  She knew the effect she’d had on me with that kiss. Her smile betrayed it.
“Uh, um, uh…maybe I should wait here,” I said apologetically.
“You could stand watch, in case daddy is up,” she smiled.
“Um, uh, well…maybe we should talk about this.”  It was the best stall tactic I could think of.
“It wouldn’t look right if you didn’t walk me to the door.  If daddy’s watching he’ll get suspicious.”  Her smile broadened.
Almost under control.  Almost under control.  Think of baseball.  Think of beer.  Think of the beach.  Yeah, the beach and sand dunes…  NO!NO! Not that!  Oh jeez, how long can I sit here without her getting angry.  Think of baseball…
She woke me from my strong willed attempt to get my body back under control.
“Are you going to walk me to the door or not?”
“Um, uh…”  Maybe I can slouch a bit and turn to the side so my jacket will…
“OK, OK.  Gimme a minute.” I pushed on the door swiveling in my seat. Left foot on the pavement.  Now right foot on the pavement.  Now pull on the door to stand.  I wasn’t the only one standing. I slouched and twisted to the right a little.
My jacket was long enough.
She was waiting on me to open her door.  I must have been a sight taking baby steps along the fender slouching with a twist to the side.
I opened the door holding it against me.
“What’s that?  Your impression of Igor in Frankenstein?” she asked with a chuckle.
I chuckled in return.  “Yeah.”
I buttoned my jacket and held it off center to the right with my hand.  I was still stooped over some as we began the walk along her pathway to the front door. 
Thinking about baseball was beginning to help now as I slowly began to straighten up.  Walking became more natural by the time we arrived at her door.
The porch light went on.  The door was jerked open from inside.
“Young man, do you know what time it is?” Her father spat the words at me.
“I…I…I…she…I…” the words poured out.
“Oh, daddy.  I’m in college now.  It can’t be all that late,” she said.  “Let me say good night and I’ll be right in.”
“Make it fast,” he said. The door slammed but the light stayed on.
“Uh, I guess you won’t be changing to go to the beach, huh?”
“What do you think? Rickey, you know I wouldn’t sneak out,” she said laughing quietly.
“You’re in college, now.  I thought maybe…”
“Pfft.  You think I’m going into the sand dunes with you on Junior-Senior night.  You got another think coming.  I know what happens out there.”
“Why’d you…”
“Get your hopes up?  Just to see if I could.  And I could Mr. walk-over-bently.” She laughed.
“That was pretty mean,” I said frowning.
“Yeah, I know,” she said reaching up to kiss my lips.
I answered by putting my arms around her and going deep with my return kiss.  A moment later we separated.  Her eyes were clouded over and my intentions were so obvious she pulled away from me quickly.
She went in after whispering good night. I smiled and walked away upright and shoulders squared back.  I didn’t care what the world had to say about my… and then I did, bending over slightly and hot footing it to the car.
I waved at her front window, cranked the car and peeled a wheel around the corner.  The Tan Can could leave rubber on the road as long as it was off kilter on a corner.  My watch showed close to one-thirty in the morning.  I doubted they would wait for me. Another left had me headed for Five Points.  As I approached I saw JR’s car in the triangular area of the AMOCO.
A cop’s car was sitting there as well, with its lights flashing.
Uh oh, I thought.  Somebody’s been caught drinking and driving.
I pulled up just as they were angling Rod’s head under the roof of the back seat.  He looked out the window as the cop walked to his side and slid in behind the wheel.  He cranked it and drove off with Rod smiling and waving from the backseat.
“What the hell?” I asked.
“If you hadn’t been late you’d know,” said GH.
“The cop saw Rod in his Tuxedo standing here alone and pulled over.  Rod just watched him.  The cop got out and asked what he was doing. Rod said he was standing.”
“Not cool,” I said.
“Nope, but that ain’t all. Rod had a small suitcase with his clothes for the beach.  When the cop asked him what was inside Rod said, Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids.”
“Who knows?  We drove up about that time.  We tried to tell the cop he was waiting for us.  He was still in his tux from the dance, but since he called him a Silly Rabbit he decided maybe he wasn’t all there.  And there he goes off to the hoosegow.”
“Are we still going to the beach house?” It was my only question.
“Hell yeah!” everyone chimed in.
“How about picking me up at my house? No sense everyone going in separate cars.”
It was agreed.  I drove to my house, slipped inside and changed. I walked outside easing the screen door back into place.   They weren’t here yet so I snuck over to the hollow tree next door to retrieve a bottle of Canadian Club.  Turning back to the drive JH drove up.
I hopped in back.
“Got any more in the hollow tree?” JH asked.
“Sure. Go help yourself.”
ID and JH jumped out and ran to the source of booze.  Each grabbed a bottle quickly returning to the car.
“Folly Beach here we come!” yelled JH.
I cracked the seal on my bottle.
“Listen to that sound.  Ain’t it music to your ears? Any chaser in the car?  And a plastic cup?”  I looked around.  Not seeing any I upended the bottle.  Burning liquid tore down my throat. A lot of it. I blew fire when I stopped, holding it out for my neighbor.  He took it following my lead. He handed it to JH who took a healthy pull on it.  When I got it back it was half empty. By now I was beginning to feel it along with everyone else.  So I took another slug and we repeated the rounds.
“Wow! A fifth gone fore we even get to Folly Road. Dash pree fass,” I said in liquorese.
“Zat one finissed?” Asked JH.
“Dass sokay.  Gots dissun. Lissin.”
CRACK! went the seal as he twisted the cap.
“Bess soun’ inna whirled,” he said bringing the bottle to his lips.
“Gimme it,” said JH swirving onto Folly Road from Stono River Road.
He up ended it.  The car moved steadily into the left lane.
“Keepyereyesonnaroad!” we all slurred loudly.
“Keepa shirt on,” said JH handing the bottle to the back seaters.
Each of us swallowed three or four fingers.  The effect was becoming very pronounced.
“Dis iz a mighty fine automobile,” I said stroking the seat. “Mighty fine. Howmucha pay frit?”
“Week’s pay,” said JH.  “Fifty-fi’ dollah.”
“You gotta mighty fine deal,” I said.
GH was in the front smiling and nodding his head in agreement.  ID was busy taking another drink and JD was watching the road ahead with wild eyes.
“You know, JH, you might want to slow down some.  Cops’ll be out for Prom night.”  He wasn’t much of a drinker.
“Prom night? Wher’s zhu fum? Das Seenya-Junya dans.  You muss be sum kina yankee.  Prom night, pfft.”
The last bridge before Folly was fast approaching.
“Watch out for the rail!” yelled JD.
“Wassit gon do?” yelled back JH.
“Tear up this fine automobile if you don’t slow down some,” said JD with a laugh.
“K. Folly udda side.  Slow down an’ shhhh.  Don’ wake nobody up,” said JH with his finger to his lips.  “Anybuddy know whe’ we goin’?”
“Next right,” said JD.
“Huh?” said JH.
“Next right. There.”
“Huh? Where?”
Turn! Turn! This one! Here!”
JH turned the wheel with all his strength.  His turn was a might off.
“Oh shit! Now we’ve done it,” said JD.
“Anybody know whose car that is?”
“NO. Nuh uh. Nope.”
Oh man.  How am I going to explain this?” JH had sobered immediately, right along with the rest of us.
Four doors flew open. We all inspected the damage.  JH’s car was only slightly bent along the finder.  Those old cars were built to last.  The car in front of it, not so much.
“We better call the police.”  The words hung in the air.
“Yeah, all accidents have to be reported to the police.  You don’t want to be a hit-and-run do you?”
JH looked around searchingly.
“Nobody saw it.”
“Probably not.  Everybody is asleep this hour.”
“No.  The dog?”
“The dog?” asked JD.  “What dog?”
“That dog that was in the road.”
“What dog in the road?”
“The one I swerved to avoid,” yelled JH in exasperation.
“There was a dog?” asked JD.  “I didn’t see no dog”
“Yeah, the dog I swerved to avoid. You saw him didn’t you GH?”
“Sure did. You just missed him.”
“Yeah, I saw him.  He’d be dead now if you hadn’t swerved,” piped in ID.
“Well hell yeah there was a dog,” I chimed in.
“Oh, that dog,” said JD.
“Yeah, that dog,” we all said.
“I’ll walk over to the beach house and call the cops.”
“Get some coffee and breath-mints while you’re there.”
“Maybe we should all get coffee and breath-mints and try and find that dog.”

We all walked from the car, leaving it skewed in the road.  We found a phone and did our civic duty.  Later that morning as the sun came up we carried a loaf of bread and a bottle of PJ to the sea shore to watch the sun rise.  It was Easter Sunday and we had our own private sunrise service there with the waves lapping around our feet.  If ever a bunch needed to have sunrise service it was this one.

Time and tide...

Fifty years ago, 1964, was the year we graduated from James Island High School.  I say we about all of us who pretty much grew up together.  Al of us from Riverland Terrace School moved on to JIHS after sixth grade.  Our reunion is this April.  I’m still trying to understand it.  Where did the time go?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow day without marshmallows

“Rickey, stop staring out the window.”
I turned in my seat so I was facing front once more.
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
The whole morning there had been a steady rain falling from a dismal gray sky.  It was our teacher who had called out to me.  I was afraid it would be followed by a request.  I didn’t have long to wait.
“Now that I have your attention, Rickey, I’d like you to recite the times table for six.”  She smiled at me.  “Or maybe you’d rather come to the front of the room and write it on the board?”
Either way I was in trouble.  I looked around at my fellow classmates.  I could see the relief in their eyes.  They weren’t on the hook.  I was.  I could hear a light tittering of laughter from two or three of them.
I rose from my desk.  My book caught on my belt buckle as I slid from the seat.  It was dragged over the side landing on the floor with a loud boom which brought the laughter up a notch.
“Let’s have none of that,” said my teacher.
I picked up the book then walked to the front reaching for the chalk she held out to me.
“The six table?” I asked.
I turned to the blackboard raising the piece of chalk to its surface.
That’s as far as I got for a minute.  The chuckling behind me began to grow audible.
“Shh!” said my teacher.  “Give him a chance.”
I began to write.  
6 x 1 = 6
6 x 2 = 12
6 x 3 =18
6 x 4 =
I started adding 6’s in my head.  Of course that isn’t what we were supposed to be doing.  These were the multiplication tables and it was our assignment to memorize them.  I hadn’t gotten to the sixes yet.  Actually I hadn’t gotten past the two’s.
“You are supposed to have those numbers memorized by now, Rickey.  The whole purpose behind the exercise is to make you so familiar with these numbers that you don’t have to think or add them in your head.  You should be able to write them down without any effort at all, especially since you have had so long to do it.  Please take your seat.”
My cheeks lit up like Rudolph’s nose.  I handed her the chalk as I turned to go.
“Iris, would you care to show Rickey how it is done?”
Iris arose from her seat a grin from ear to ear firmly on her face.  We passed each other as I returned to my desk.
I sat down as Iris began to write where I had left off.  She took less than three minutes to get to 6 x 12 = 72 at which point the teacher praised her and requested she return to her seat.
Iris grinned in my direction as she walked back.  I crossed my eyes and stuck out my tongue in her direction.
“That, children, is how you should all be able to do it.  I know it’s hard to learn but it is essential that you do because next year it will be expected.”
Next year, I thought.  Who cares? I faced the window again.  The windows were frosting over.  I could hear the rain tapping the panes as it began to turn to ice.
A sixth grader opened the door to the classroom.
“Mrs. Riecke, I’ve been sent from the office to let you know that school will be let out early.  The roads are expected to ice up and the buses need to leave within the hour.  If you can get your students ready to line up for the buses soon it would be good.”
“Thank you, young man. We’ll get ready now.”
He closed the door and the teacher put the chalk down. 
“Alright children, we’ll begin with the first row.  Go one at the time to the coat room.  Get your coat and galoshes then return to your seats.  That’s right.”
I was in that first row.  When my turn came I grabbed my coat and put it on as I returned to my seat.  My book bag was beside my chair.  While the others made their trip in I stuffed my books and papers into my bag then pulled the cinch tight. As the last row made its way into the coat room I slung my bag over my shoulder and sat waiting to depart.  The excitement of half a day away from school was building inside me.  Looking around I could see the same excitement was inside everyone else.
“I see everyone is ready.  Let’s line up single file at the door.”
The noise accompanying everyone’s rising sounded like happiness to me.  We were leaving.  In the middle of the morning!
“Alright everyone follow me to the buses.  When we get there each of you go to your bus and take a seat.”
When I came to the door I continued straight out, right in line with the back gate.
“Rickey!  Follow us to the buses!”
“I walk to school, Mrs. Riecke.  I don’t ride the bus.”
“Well then you be careful walking home.  The roads will be icy.”
“Yes ma’am.” I waved at her and the kids looking my way.  Another of the kids took out after me.  He lived close by the school too.
“Whatcha gonna do with your time off?” asked Brian.
“I don’t know.  Whatchoo gonna do?”
“Guess I’ll see after I get to the house and get rid of these books.  Maybe I’ll come over.”
“OK.”  I leaned into the tiny ice beads that beat against my coat.  My breath billowed out in front of me in great clouds. I faked holding a cigarette as I exhaled.  My hands began to freeze so I jammed them into my pockets.
As we passed through the gate I turned left and he turned right.
“See you later,” he called out.
“Yeah, see ya later.” I didn’t think we would be getting together since it was getting worse.
I always cut across the golf course on my way to and from school.  The fairway was free of golfers as I trudged toward Maybank Hwy.  The closely cropped grass was coated in ice that crunched beneath my feet with every step.  I danced around to hear the crunching.  My feet turned the gray green of icy grass to a mish mash of wet green shapes.  The icy rain began to come down harder as I played.
I picked up my pace.  My breath began to form a thin layer of ice over my upper lip.  When I reached the tenth green I began to run.  At the corner of Maybank I looked both ways.  Nothing was coming so I sprinted across the road and onto the seventeenth green as I made my way across.  I reached the trees that lined the road and cut through the short path to Lindberg St.
My teeth were beginning to chatter when I got to the porch of my grandmother’s house.  I stamped my feet and jumped up and down on the mat to get rid of the ice layer that had formed on my jacket.  I whacked my book bag to rid it of ice as well.  Then, and only then, did I enter.
“Hey, nef, watch the ice, huh?” said Clyde who was lying on the couch watching TV.
“When did you get home?”
“Me?  I never left.  I listened to the weather report last night.  They said it was going to be bad. “
He smiled at me.
“Why didn’t you tell me to stay home?”
“There wasn’t any official word about staying home.  That’s why.”
“Does grandmother know you didn’t go?”
“She was already gone to work when I decided not to go.”
“You don’t think you’ll get in trouble?”
“No.  You’re home early. How’s she going to know I never went? Unless you plan to tell her.” His look was menacing.
“Heck no.  Why should I?  We got most of the day off anyway.”
He settled back against the pillow on the couch.
I put my books aside and carried my coat back to the bedroom.  Next, I found myself in the kitchen opening the refrigerator door.
“We got milk!” I yelled up to Clyde.  “Would you make us some hot chocolate?”
“I’m watching TV.  You make it,” he yelled back.
“I can barely see the top of the pot on the stove!” I yelled at him.
“Gimme a break, nef.  Get the stool.”
It was under the counter.  I found the pot and put it on the burner. I stepped onto the stool to see if I could look into the pot. 
“You want some?” I yelled again. 
“Yeah, with marshmallows.”
I grabbed the bottle of milk from the refrigerator. The door slammed behind me as I took the stopper from the bottle.  I upended the bottle into the pot splashing milk over the stove top as well.  Standing on tiptoes I watched as the milk came within half an inch from the top then I restoppered the bottle and returned it to the shelf inside the fridge.
I studied the switches on the stove but couldn’t figure which one controlled which burner.
“Which switch do I use?”
“I don’t know, nef.  Just turn it on and it’ll turn red.”
“Oh, yeah.”
To save time I turned them all on.  I pulled the pot over the biggest burner splashing milk over the stove as I did. 
“Where’s the chocolate sauce?” I yelled up front.
“In one of the cupboards,” Clyde yelled back.
I started with the nearest slamming each one shut until I came across the can of Hershey’s.  Now I had to find a church key to open it.  I ransacked the silverware drawer.  It was under a large spoon. It gripped the rim of the can. I tilted it forward and it punctured the top of the can into a triangular opening.  I did the same to the opposite side.  When I turned back to the stove there was smoke rising from the open burners which were all red.
I reached for the switches and burned my forearm.
“YEOW!” I screamed and dropped the can of chocolate sauce which I had in my other hand.
Clyde came flying into the kitchen.
“What the…! You alright, nef?”
“No I burned myself.” I screamed.
“Why do you have all the burners on and what’s that smoke…”
The milk had come to a boil and was bubbling over the sides accompanied by a hissing sound with every wave of milk hitting the burner.
“Get outta the way!” yelled Clyde pushing me to the side and stepping to the stove. His shoe hit a patch of chocolate syrup that had spilled from the dropped can. His feet whipped out from under him and he landed on his back with a thud in the chocolate slick.
I tried to reach over him to move the pot.
“STOP!” he yelled. “You might spill it on me.”
I moved away.  The milk continued to bubble out of the pot.  Clyde slipped again attempting to regain his footing. He thumped back to the floor.  The smoke from burned milk continued to rise to the ceiling.  The stink of burning milk pervaded the air.
Clyde grabbed a drawer handle and eased himself from the floor.  He held the counter while moving the pot from the burner.  The bubbling liquid settled back into the pot. He reached over to the switches and turned them all to off. 
The can of chocolate on the floor sent its last gout of sauce from the tiny triangular opening.  I picked it up.
“Do you think there will be enough for our hot chocolate?” I asked holding the can in front of him.
“I don’t think we’re going to have hot chocolate, nef. The milk is burned. The chocolate is on the floor and the stove is covered in a sheet of black tar.”
“There’s more milk in the bottle,” I said hopefully.
It may have been the smoke from the burned milk but I could have sworn it was coming from his ears like in the cartoons we watch. 
“I think you need to find something to clean the chocolate off the floor while I see about the stove.”
I found a towel in the hamper. I dropped it on the chocolate syrup coating the floor and commenced scrubbing.  I managed to spread it into a larger area without really cleaning much.
“Is that the best you can do?” asked Clyde looking away from the stove top he was struggling to clean.
“You think I need some soap and water?”
“Yes, I do,” he said with some disgust.
I took the towel back to the hamper.  Grabbing a face flannel and a bar of soap I headed back to the kitchen.
As I leaned into the sink to turn on the faucet I heard a car door near the garage.
“Uh oh,” I said. “Grandmother’s home.”
Clyde’s look told me all.  He looked at me then the floor and the stove top. It was going to be his fault no matter what.  Whether he had done it himself of he had let me do it, I was too young to be messing with the kitchen.
It was my turn to smile with a glint in my eye. He was caught and he would catch it.
“Oh my goodness.  What happened in here?” My grandmother stood at the screen door surveying the kitchen.
She looked at Clyde then at me.  She looked at Clyde. She looked at me.
“Rickey, why didn’t you ask Clyde to make hot chocolate?  I know he would have made it for you.  Now you know why I tell you that you are too young to mess with pots and pans and the stove.  Well, get something to help clean this up.  You should have come in as soon as you heard a pot go onto the stove, Clyde.  Oh, Rickey, what am I going to do with you?”
I stood unbelieving.  I was blamed.  True it was my fault but…
Clyde’s grin was accompanied by that ever present glint in his eye. He came out smelling like a rose, as usual.

My grandmother just gave me a lecture and had us clean up the mess.  When we were finished she made us hot chocolate, with marshmallows.  We were warm and snug inside while outside the rain turned to snow which meant we would have another day off from school and another chance to get in trouble.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I heart cake

“What kind of cake do you want?”
Every year around the middle of January my mother would ask me that.
“How about a store bought cake?” I said this without thought. Her face registered shock for a second then disappointment.  She covered her facial tells with a smile.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have me bake one?” she asked, a touch of hope in her eyes.
I ignored the telltale signs.
“Nope.  I’d like a store bought one this year,” I said, with all the carelessness of a child.
“Alright, if that’s what you really want.”
“Yup.  That’s what I want.”  With that I turned and walked away.  It was my birthday and I wanted what I wanted.
Dad watched my mother after I left.
“You look sad.  I’d think you’d be happy not to have to bake one this year.’
She looked at him. I’m positive it was that look married couples give to one another on occasion, the one that comprehends.  That comprehension is the realization that no matter how long you are together your partner in life just doesn’t have a clue.  Similar to a kid who takes everything for granted without thought to another’s feelings.
“I love making birthday cakes.”  I believe what she meant to say is that the love she feels for the recipient is baked into that cake each year.  She can put all the love she feels along with the ingredients into that bowl and then the oven.  The resulting baked good contains a part of that strongest of feelings.
Dad smiled.
“Well, you can love buying one this year.”
“It isn’t the same,” she said her smile fading.  She put away the heart shaped pans she had bought. 
“I found these special pans this year.  I was going to surprise him with a cake shaped like a heart.  I thought he’d like it.”
“They’ll keep til next year,” said dad.  “This is just a phase, you know that.  Probably one of his friends had a store bought cake.  You know how kids are.”
“Yeah,” she said closing the cabinet on the pans.
I left the house, the screen door slamming behind me.  I ran next door to my cousin’s house.  The screen slammed behind me again as I ran in.
“Rickey! Can’t you enter or leave a house without slamming the screen door?” said my aunt.  She was at the stove finishing up breakfast.  “Oh never mind.  Go sit on the bench.  I’ll get you a plate.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said sliding into the bench across from Richie and Linda. Richie was buttering toast.
“Valentine’s day is coming up,” she said. “That means aunt Tinky is making a birthday cake for you.  I hope you decide on a Lady Baltimore cake.  She makes the best Lady Baltimore cake I have ever tasted.”
“Nope,” I said looking up as my aunt handed me a plate of eggs and bacon.
“I bet it’s a Devil’s Food cake,” said Linda, mischief in her eye.  “She makes heavenly Devil’s Food cakes.”
“Nope,” I said stuffing eggs into my mouth.
“Angel Food!” said Hayne.  “It must be Angel Food.  I love her Angel Food cake.”
“Nope,” I said picking up a piece of bacon.
My aunt was at the door drying her hands on the dish towel.  “Well, if it isn’t one of those three what did you choose?” Her question was accompanied with a puzzled look.
“I’m getting a store bought one!” I said triumphantly.
“STORE BOUGHT!!”  Everyone was staring at me.
“Yeah, store bought.  I want one of those Merita cakes like they show on the Lone Ranger.  White icing and coconut all over.
“You hate coconut!” stated Hayne.
“Nuh uh.  Not when it’s store bought.”
“How would you know?  You’ve never had a store bought coconut cake,” said Richie.
“There’s coconut on the Lady Baltimore cake and I like that.  So I bet I’ll love that one from the Lone Ranger show.”  I was really upbeat in my answer.
“But I like aunt Tinky’s cakes,” said Hayne.
“Get her to make your birthday cake then.  This year I don’t want my momma’s cake.  I want what I want and I’m getting it!” I was emphatic to the point of dropping my fork on my plate with loud metal-ceramic clank.
“You won’t like it,” said Richie.
“How do you know?  Have you ever had one?”
“No, but I’ve had aunt Tinky’s and there’s nothing can top that.”
“Yeah, you’re going to be sorry,” said Linda.
“Why are y’all so upset?  It’s my birthday cake.”  I was confused.
“Rickey, your momma makes the best cakes in the world.  We don’t get cake like that often,” said Richie.  She noticed my aunt was staring at her somewhat hurt.
Linda took up the thought. 
“You make delicious cakes, too, momma.”
“I’d say my cakes are pretty good.  I have to admit though that Sister does make a good Lady Baltimore cake.”  She smiled turning back to the dishes in the sink.
“You hurt momma’s feelings,” she whispered to Richie.
“I didn’t mean to.  I was just thinking Lady Baltimore,” she whispered back.
“Does aunt Tinky know you want a store bought?” asked Hayne.
“Sure.  I told her this morning.” I smiled.  I knew that Lone Ranger cake was going to be so good.  The picture on the TV made my mouth water every time.
“I bet she wasn’t happy to hear that,” said Richie.
“She asked me what I wanted.  Why shouldn’t she be happy?”
“Your momma’s Lady Baltimore would be thousand times better that that old Lone Ranger coconut cake. Yuck!” She made a face.  They were all making faces as I looked at each of them.  The face I didn’t like most was the one of disappointment.  They shared that one while I sat grinning.  It was my birthday and my cake and it was going to be sensational.  They’d see.
I wiped my plate clean with the last bit of toast then stuffed it in my mouth.
“It’s about time,” Hayne said.  “How about a game of monopoly?”
Everyone groaned quietly but slid out of the bench seats.  My aunt helped Hayne into his wheelchair.  When he was settled I pushed him into the front room where Richie and Linda were setting up the game board.
Hayne was very adept at this game of finance, not to mention lucky.  He invariably held the most expensive properties early in the game.  With each throw of the dice the rest of us handed over our bank accounts little by little until he had all the money and all the properties while we pushed away from the board empty handed.
“You always win that game,” I whined. 
“I’ll let you win if you ask aunt Tinky to make one of her cakes for your birthday,” he said holding out a fistful of monopoly dollars.
“Not this year.  You wait.  You’re going to love my cake. I better get home.  See you tomorrow.”  I started to run out the door.
“Don’t forget the scary shows late tonight!” yelled Hayne as I slipped out the door.  The screen slammed.
I remembered as I ran to my front porch.  It was the weekend and that meant popcorn, candy and Cocola in front of the TV while we watched Frankenstein or Wolfman or Dracula.
Mom was at the front door holding the screen, so I wouldn’t slam it I reckon.
“It gets on your daddy’s nerves,” she said pulling it shut softly.
“What does?” I asked slipping past her.
“Your slamming the screen every time.”
“Oh,” I said without intent to remember.
“I wanted to ask you something, too,” she said.
I turned with an exasperated look.
“I just wanted to know what kind of store bought cake you wanted.”  There was a tinge of sadness in her face I ignored.
“I want the one advertised on the Lone Ranger show.  The Merita cake with white icing and coconut.”
She made a face that hinted at those made by Richie, Linda and Hayne.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Momma, you asked me already.  That’s what I want.”
“I can’t really decorate that cake like I usually do.”
“You don’t have to.  It’s going to be absolutely gorgeous just like on TV.  All you need is candles.”
“OK then.  If you are sure.”
“Yes ma’am.  Oh, do we have some Jiffy-Pop!  We need some for the movie tonight.”
“I think so,” she said as she walked into the kitchen.  “Yes we do.  Here you go.”
I was set for the late show. 
The days passed by without any further mention of birthdays or cake.  I may not have talked about it but I sure dreamed about it, Merita’s coconut cake.  The anticipation made me smile.
“Wakey, wakey . Rise and shine birthday boy.”  It was my mother shaking me softly.  “I have your favorite breakfast ready for you.”
OH boy!  Sugar Jets!  I loved Sugar Jets.  I threw back the covers and slammed my feet on the floor ready to dress and eat breakfast.
On the table sat my biggest bowl, a quart of milk and the jumbo box of Sugar Jets.  I jumped into my chair and grabbed the box with both hands.  I poured until cereal began to spill over onto the table.
Dad looked up from his paper.
“Is that what you are going to eat for breakfast?” he asked.
“It’s his birthday,” said my mom.
“Well, try not to spill the milk too,” he said returning to his paper.
“Yes sir,” I said sloshing milk across the top of my mound of cereal onto the table.  Mom came over and wiped it up with her dish cloth.
‘I can’t wait til this afternoon!” I yelled.
“We don’t yell at the table,” said my dad peeking over the corner of his paper.
“Yes sir,” I said cramming another spoonful of sugary treats into my mouth.
“I had better wish you a Happy Birthday before it’s over son.”  It was my dad’s belief that if one wasn’t wished a Happy Birthday before noon it was a missed Birthday.
I rushed through my breakfast.  Wiping my mouth on my napkin I asked, “May I be excused?”
“Yes, son, and Happy Birthday,” said dad from behind the News and Courier.
“Thank you, daddy.  I’m going next door, mommy,” I yelled from outside.  The screen door slammed behind me.
The day dragged for this Birthday boy but it finally got to the celebrating part.  Richie and Linda walked ahead as I pushed Hayne along behind.
Mom opened the door letting everyone in.  She helped me with my cousin’s chair.  The house was dark when we entered except for a flickering golden glow from within the living room.  I wheeled Hayne into the golden room and there it was.
The candle glow gave my white coconut frosted store bought cake a hint of gold flecks across the surface with each flicker of the flame.  It gave it the richness of fool’s gold which I was about to discover.
“Better blow out the candles before too much wax gets on the cake.”
Everyone gathered around.  I continued to inhale as I walked around my cousin’s chair to the table.  The cake in all its golden glory sat in the center surrounded by presents.  I was urged on.  With one last pull of air I let it all go directly at the flames atop the shortening candles.  One mighty blast took care of them all.  We were in darkness.
“On with the lights!” came the call from everyone at once.
The lights came on. 
My cake looked different in the stark white light of a hundred watts.  It sat in the plate my mother used for those she made every year.  Hers were always so big the icing began at the rim of the plate.  My Merita cake sat in the middle of the plate.  The rim was in inch or more from the icing.  The icing was thin enough in spots to reveal cake.  And the coconut flakes weren’t sprinkled lightly across the top they were matted into the sugary white covering like a dog left to itself for ages. 
“That’s the cake from the Lone Ranger?” I asked. “That’s not the way it looks on TV.”
“That’s it,” said my mother.  She brought the box from behind her back.  Sure enough, it said Merita.
“But it looks so much bigger on TV.  It looks so much more scrumptious on TV.  That just looks sad.”
“It’s time to cut it,” said my dad.
Mom poked through it with her knife.  She placed a triangular slice on each waiting plate.  I took mine and grabbed a plastic fork.  The slice lay there in all its dryness.
“It’s gonna taste really good,” I said half-heartedly.
As I took my first bite my mother held a glass of milk in front of me.  The cake sucked all the moisture from my mouth. I dropped the plate onto the table and grabbed for the milk.
Half a glass later I could speak.
“That’s awful.  It’s nothing like they say on TV.  The way they talked it was big and plump with thick icing and frosted with a light layer of coconut.  It’s all a lie.”
“Imagine that,” said my dad.
“I will never ask for another store bought cake as long as I live!” I was emphatic.
Everyone put their plates on the table with half eaten slices still remaining.
My mother, who had disappeared, came around the corner with another cake, candles flickering above.  The lights were turned out.
She placed the cake on the table.  It was exactly what I had expected of the one we had just cut.
“Blow out the candles!”  I blew them out.  My breath was accompanied by tears that had fallen from my eyes.  When the lights came on there in front of me was my mother’s famous Lady Baltimore cake.  It was big.  It was in the shape of a heart. The icing began at the plate’s rim and it was covered in a heavy frosting of coconut flakes. It was in the shape of a heart. I looked up at mom through tears.
“I had a feeling you might be disappointed so I made this one just in case.  If you don’t want it I can give it to Richie.  She likes them.”
Richie got up reaching for the plate.  She was smiling.  
“NO!” I shouted.  “I want this one.  It’s better because you made it.”
The rims of her eyes beaded over.  She turned for a tissue.
“Thank you, mommy.  You’re the best.”

Her smile added another hundred watts to the room.