I was sitting on the green bedspread in front of the fan. It wasn't running yet because the month of February had just begun. My cowboy ranch was in front of me. This was my big present from Christmas though a little worse for wear. The ranch house sat on a tray of tin painted green representing grass as well as tan representing the dirt and sand in front of the bunkhouse and inside the corral. There were plastic cacti beyond the fence enclosing the make believe ranch land.
The chimney on the ranch and the bunkhouse were both broken. It was my neighbor's fault. He had come over to play cowboys and indians with my new set of plastic figures the day after Christmas. His first act was to pick up the entire ranch to place it on the table. As he neared the edge of the table it slipped from his hands, bounced of the edge and slammed into the floor butter side down.
“Look what you've done!” I yelled turning it over. Part of the fence remained on the floor along with portions of the two chimneys. A cactus had skittered across the linoleum cracking as it hit the baseboard.
Dad came in to see what the trouble was.
“He broke my Christmas present!” I yelled through tears.
“I'm sorry,” the neighbor boy said. He began to tear up. He shied away from my dad who could be gruff on occasion.
“I think you should tell your friend to go on home now,” dad said. “And you stop your crying. It isn't the end of the world.”
“I think you should tell your friend to go on home now,” dad said. “And you stop your crying. It isn't the end of the world.”
My playmate had slipped out the door and run back home.
It may not have been the end of the world but it had certainly taken the shine of my brand new Christmas present.
The ranch had lost its luster. It stayed in the closet most of the time, but on rainy days like this one I would take it out, especially after hearing The Lone Ranger on the radio.
The rain beat gently on the window with the fan. I was bounce walking the little plastic figures from the ranch house to the bunk house.
“Come on, boys!” I barked, “Rustlers are after our cattle.”
I picked up several pieces tapping the tin as I raced them to the corral.
“Saddle up!” I said opening the corral gate to allow the horses out.
My parents were in the adjoining room. My ears perked up when I heard my name.
“I'd like to see it,” mom said. “I just don't know how we can go because there's nobody to watch over Rickey.”
“We'll take him with us. He'll probably fall asleep like he did last time.”
My dad, for some reason, never seemed to want to leave me with someone else. I remember his saying one time that I was their responsibility and no one else's. So, anywhere they went I went.
“Couldn't we leave him with sis just once?” mom pleaded.
“He's not your sister's responsibility.”
Mom acquiesced. She picked up the paper.
“The paper says the next showing is an hour from now. We have plenty of time to get ready. Can we go?”
Dad was not a person for going out when there was a perfectly good home to remain in. He was just about to say no when mom interjected.
“Jennifer Jones is the star,” she blurted out.
“I'll wash up,” he said.
Mom came to see about me.
“Come on, Rickey. Let's wash your face and change your clothes. We're going to a movie.”
“Dad?” I said, unbelieving. “He's not too tired?”
“He was but the moment I mentioned Jennifer Jones was the star I knew he would go. So let's find something for you to wear before he changes his mind.”
The movie was Ruby Gentry. I did not go to sleep once. The screen had me transfixed. My eyes never left Jennifer Jones. The theme song played over and over in my mind while we drove home. Mom flicked on the radio and there it was filling the car. Even dad hummed along as it played. It was his bent to switch the radio off while driving—too much noise, he'd say—but not this time. Or at least as long as that tune played then, click, off it went. I was still humming it when mom tucked me under the cover. It lulled me to sleep.
When dad left for work I ran to the radio on a daily basis to flick the switch and roll the dial along the face of the radio until I heard it playing.
“You really like that song, don't you?” said my mom.
“Yes ma'am!” I said emphatically.
“You know your birthday is coming up in a few days. You'll be 5 years old. Have you thought about what you might want? And what kind of a cake you want?” This would become a ritual over the years.
“Ruby!” shot out of my mouth which stretched into a broad grin.
“Ruby?” she asked.
“Yes ma'am. Ruby!”
“That's all you want?” She seemed puzzled.
“That's all I want. Ruby!”
“All right. If that's what you want.” She returned to the kitchen.
My face beamed. Mom and dad always tried to give me that one wish when I uttered it. Sometimes they would do without if it was special. And, boy howdy, was this special.
The theme from Ruby Gentry drifted out of the radio's speaker. I ran to sit in front of it mesmerized by the sound.
I woke up early on the 14th. This was the day! Excitement buzzed through me. I could barely sit still.
“Good morning, Sunshine! How's my birthday boy?” Mom stepped out of the kitchen with a plate in her hand. My smile beamed my answer
“Do I have to wait to get my present?”
“Of course you do. You know your daddy wants to see you open your presents.”
“Yes ma'am,” I said. The disappoint shown in my face.
“I did make you waffles for breakfast,” she said laying the plate in front of me. A golden brown dimpled waffle sat on the plate with butter melting into the square holes across its surface.
“Say when,” she said, tilting the bottle of syrup.
I watched it billow over the waffle. The plate began to fill as the syrup reached the edge then flowed over the side.
“When!” I said as drops smacked the table under the plate.
“Thanks mom,” I said, cramming a dripping piece of waffle into my mouth. A sticky sweet smile erupted across my face.
After breakfast I ran to my cousins' house. They each told me happy birthday as I walked through the kitchen.
“Have a seat, Rickey,” said my aunt. “Would you like some bacon?”
I slid into one of the plank bench seats on either side of the table reaching out for the strip of bacon she offered.
“Would you like some eggs?”
“No ma'am. I just ate waffles and I'm stuffed.”
My cousins looked at me with envy.
“Waffles? Why can't we have waffles, mamma?” they all said together.
“Because it isn't your birthday.” She smiled at me.
After they ate breakfast we decided how to start the day. We each went I separate ways. I grabbed a funny book jamming myself against the window elbows on the table and bench back.
I would look at the clock intermittently. The hands never seemed to move. I slipped across the bench and grabbed a few more funny books.
“Your momma making you a cake?” asked my cousin.
“Of course!” I said incredulous that the question was even asked.
“Like a valentine heart?”
“I think so. Chocolate.”
“Mmmmm,” they all hummed.
“And ice cream?”
“Whatcha getting for your present?”
“Oooh, a ruby,” said the girls.
I ignored them. Looking at the clock made me anxious.
“It's never going to be time for daddy to get home,” I said.
“Let's play Monopoly!” someone shouted. “It's the perfect game to make time fly by.”
A great prediction because the next thing I knew the phone rang.
“Rickey, it's your momma. She said your dad is home and you should come for supper.”
I jumped up and ran through the door slamming the screen in my wake.
“Come over later!” I yelled.
Up the steps and into the house I ran. Mom was setting the table. The aroma of fried chicken whomped me in the face. Sniffing the air my smile spread ear to ear. My favorite along with fried potato thins. Plus, no vegetables. The best meal ever.
I looked at dad who was settling into his chair.
“Can I have my present now?” I nearly shouted it in my eagerness. I looked around trying to see into the other rooms where my present was.
“We'll eat first,” said dad. He was always a stickler for things being in a certain order.
“Yes sir,” I said still searching for my gift. I strained for any unusual sound. There was nothing. Well hidden, I thought.
My mother's fried chicken was perfection. My plate was clean within minutes which was too bad because I had to sit still while mom and dad ate theirs. They seemed to be eating more slowly than normal. One of dad's subtle lessons in patience, something he had been attempting to impart to me for some time. So far it hadn't stuck.
“Cuppa tea?” asked mom.
Dad held his cup as she poured. He smiled at me lifting his cup for a sip.
“A good cup of tea is always a comfort.”
It seems I had heard that statement many times but I'm not sure where or when. Right now it was no comfort to me. My dad smiled. He placed his cup back into the saucer. He nodded to mom.
That was her cue to ask.
“Well, birthday boy, would you like some birthday cake?”
“And my present?”
“Of course, right after ice cream and cake.”
That seemed out of place to me but it was dad. No one in this family went against his word.
“Yes sir,” I said.
Mom gathered the dishes, took them to the kitchen, then returned with a platter holding a heart shaped chocolate cake. The decorations were white. Five unlit candles stood up across the top. Next came a brick of ice cream divided into chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. As she returned to the kitchen for a knife, some plates and forks she remembered something.
“Aren't your cousins coming for cake and ice cream?”
“After I get my present,” I said, hopefully.
“They should be here for your presents, too,” she said.
“Oh, OK,” I blurted.
“Pardon?” said my dad leaning toward me.
“I mean yes sir!” Up and out of the house I ran. My departure was punctuated by the screen door slamming.
At their back door I yelled into the kitchen, “Come on over for ice cream and cake. Hurry!”
Back I ran home. Once again the screen door slammed as I reached my seat.
“You have got to stop slamming that screen door,” said dad.
“Yes sir,” I answered. I don't know why everyone always said that. It never happened. Screen doors still slam with my arrival and departure. It's a Southern thing I have always told myself. It's a right of kiddom.
My aunt, uncle and cousins seemed to be moseying in the slowest possible way. Finally, I thought, a knock on the door. The hard brick of ice cream was becoming a hill with a surrounding moat of brown, pink and off white.
There were hellos and greetings of happy birthday followed by plates of cake and saucers of colored milk that used to be frozen. While they all took their merry time enjoying my cake and ice cream mine had been gobbled down immediately in hopes my present would come from behind the wall at which I nervously stared.
“We brought presents!” they chimed in. Each one handed me a brightly wrapped box. I had to force myself to smile as I opened each one secretly wanting my real present to appear. I thanked them for each and every one then turned to my mother in hopes she would fetch my real present, the one I had asked for so many days ago. Now was the time. My dream was about to come true.
I smiled as my mom disappeared behind the wall of the next room. As she returned I watched behind her with transfixed eyes. She had to shake me to get my attention.
“Rickey, are you all right,” she said.
I had to shake my head to return to the present.
“Here is your wished for gift.” Mom smiled and handed me an envelope.
My smile disappeared as I took the proffered envelope. I stared at it for a while then looked up to the doorway into the other room. I looked at the envelope again. Slowly I removed the bow and broke the seal. It slid out. It was a 45 rpm record. On the label in the center was the word Ruby. I couldn't stop staring. I think a tear began to form in my eye as my uncle chimed in.
“My gosh, you'd think he expected Jennifer Jonesherself to come through that door.”
I looked at him. The tear slowly flowing down my cheek.
“I don't have a record player,” I said.
“Funny you should say that.” Mom left the room once more. She came back with a 45 rpm record player in hand. Dad took it from her, placed it on the table then plugged it in.
“Here son. Give me the record.”
I handed it across the table. He placed it on the thick column of the turntable and flipped the switch. The needle dropped on the record.
“Bom bom bomBOM,” it started out. It wasn't even the right recording. I looked up smiling feebly. Everyone began to hum the tune which didn't fade away like it should have because this particular band leader started and finished with the bombast sounds blaring out.
The next year a few days before the 14th of February my mother asked, “What do you want for your birthday?”
A week or so prior to this moment they had taken me to see Singing in the Rain.
“A silver dollar,” I said.
My mother looked at me funny. It was the same look she had given me the year before.
I had been practicing the art of coin flipping since that movie. That guy, the mobster, had been flipping a sliver dollar in that unforgettable scene. If I was going to get Cyd Charisse I would have to do it on my own and I would have to know how to flip a silver dollar. With age comes wisdom I thought to myself.