A Child of the Fifties

by Paul Schroder

Chapter 18

It's early Sunday morning and that is generally a day that sees a relaxed start for the Schroder household. I would stagger into the kitchen while still clad in my pajamas in order to visit a bit with my mother. If my father is home, he will likely be sleeping until noon because of his work schedule. My brothers tend be in a contest with father to see who can sleep the latest. So, it's normally nice and quite when I wonder into the kitchen at 7a.m. for my one on one with the lady of the house. At age six I was still very much attached to some apron strings.

Before I turn the corner into the kitchen, I see my brother Billy sitting at the kitchen table and wearing his good slacks. Coming to a standstill, I stare at him for a minute to see if anything pops up in my memory that might explain this. Then my mother speaks up...

"You know, Billy, if you are going to go to Sunday service with that young lady, you will end up facing a thousand questions from the Bishop, her parents and the other church members. Don't say anything that would embarrass me or your father, okay dear?"

Just then mother spots me still standing in the hallway, not yet into the kitchen, while I'm trying to read the situation. I don't want to mistakenly jump into the middle of something that might not bode well for me. Too late. I see the little fridge light in my mother's head come on as my presence gives her an idea.

"Say Billy," she intones, turning back to my brother, "why don't you and your girlfriend take your little brother to services with you this morning?"

I take one step back, out of view of my mother but still in view of my brother. I commence to shake my head with the rapidity of the school's fire-bell. My message is just as urgent... no, no, no, big brother!"

Billy gives a half smile in my direction and tells mother, "I dunno Mom. I'm trying to make a good impression with her parents and they probably already think I'm a heathen. And, even in slacks, Paul is just one feather away from being a scalping party!"

I blow a kiss as a silent thank you to Billy and then step around the corner into the kitchen proper. I try to force a stern expression onto my face towards my mother regarding her not so brilliant suggestion. My expression cracks into a smile though when I see that she is quietly chuckling over my brother's answer.

"Yes mother," I exclaim, "what Billy said," even though I didn't really understand what a scalping party was. But, then again, I've always liked parties. But, what the heck, if it's something that leaves me free for another Sunday to play, I will gladly admit to anything short of liking girls.

"Sigh..." From my mother. "I'm afraid we are a family of heathens. Paul, you do understand that when you are eight years old, you will have to go to church to be baptized. Your father will take you and your Uncle Lee will baptize you."

Mother sets a plate in front of me. Sunday she almost always makes hotcakes and sausages. Yummm. She scoops up two large pancakes from the griddle and gently sets them down on my plate. As I spread margarine on them and watch her pour on some syrup I ask the obvious question...

"What's baptize, Mother."

Billy jumps in with "that's when your Uncle Lee holds your head underwater so you can't breath. If you don't drown then that means you're worthy of life and God forgives your sins."

I drop my fork and swivel towards my mother. "Is that true, Mother? Is God gonna kill me if I've been bad? Santa didn't put no coal in my stocking! Do you think Santa will tell God that I got him fired?"

Mother is staring daggers at my brother.

"Billy, since when did you turn into your brother Richard and start antagonizing your little brother?"

Billy stops giggling long enough to say, "I'm sorry Paul. But that's the same thing I tol' our brother Dick when it was his turn to get baptized. But he's made of some sterner stuff than you are. Do you know how he answered me?"

I shake my head no.

He said, "if Uncle Lee tries to drown me I'll kick him in the balls!"

"Oh my gosh! I remember that now," my mother says. And now they're both laughing. Well, I figure, that's all just fine and dandy, but it doesn't answer my question now, does it?

"So, Mother, it's okay then if I kick Uncle Lee in his balls? Is that how Dick got away?"

Mom stops chortling and says, "no, Paul. Your Uncle won't try to drown you. He stands behind you in the baptismal pool and quickly dips you under water and back up again. You just hold your breath for a second and then it's all over. Your face hardly even gets wet."

Billy stands up. "Well, Mom, I think I'll wait out front for Rachel and her parents to pick me up.

"Okay sweety. Have a good day." They give each other a quick hug and then Billy reaches over the table to tussle my hair. "Just think, Paul, when you rise up out of the baptism water in two more years you will be free from all sin. A lot of good it did your brothers though... ha, ha, ha."

As he turns to walk to the door I raise my hand, make a cross motion in the air, and say, "bless you my son. Go forth and sin no more."

"What?" he exclaims, turning back around, a surprised look on his face.

Mother, wide eyed, exclaims, "where in the world did you ever learn that from, son?"

"Some guy wearing a black dress and a white collar said it on TV last night, Mother."

"Wheeeww," she replys. "I was afraid for a minute that I'd given birth to a modern day prophet like John the Baptist. And, if you went to church once in awhile, young man, you'd learn who that was."

I was still thinking about our breakfast conversation when I wandered over to Jimmy's. He and his sister were sitting on Jimmy's bed and playing Go Fish. They dealt me in.

Suzie asks me "have you got any twos?"

"Go fish," I responded. We played for probably another fifteen minutes until Suzie cleaned our clocks.

Jimmy looks disgusted. "She always does that," he says. "She wins every single time."

I start giggling and that really irritates him. To double the insult, his little sister is giggling too.

"Thanks a lot, Paul. You're a true friend." He says. He's about to get up from the bed when I say...

"Jimmy, can I show you something about the way you play cards?"

He's quiet for a second and then nods 'okay'.

Let me borrow your glasses for a second. He hands his specs to me and I put them on. Then I pick up some cards and hold them up to my face like he does when he's protecting them.

"What do you see?" I ask.

Being a wee bit nearsighted, he leans in closer to me to see whatever it is he's been asked to see. Then, it hits him!

"Oh my Gosh! I can see your cards in my glasses. She's been reading my cards!"

Suzie falls backwards, cracking up.

Two more rounds of Go Fish and Suzie doesn't win either of them. Suzie's eyes do narrow down to slits though as she stares at me. I think I may face future retribution.

Walking over to Sam's a bit later, Jimmy tells me, "Suzie was looking at you like she wanted to tap dance on your face."

"I know," I reply. "But I didn't want you mad at me for laughing at you when you were mad about always losing at cards with her."

"You're a good friend, Paul. My sister will get even though. It might not be until you're thirty and in an old folks home, but she will remember."

I stop and draw in a big breath. "Sigh, you're right, Jimmy. I remember When she stuck that stick into Barry's spokes and made him wreck his bike!"

"Oh... I remember that. She said it was because Barry and his brother played keep away with her rag doll. But jeeze louise... that was like a year before!"

"So," I sigh again, "I believe you when you say she has a long rememory."

About this time we had made it over to Sam's yard and we're opening her gate when she steps out of her front door. She's wearing actual pants with legs in them and everything.

Sam has been on this dress kick for weeks. It seems some of the boys in her class actually play with her during recess. She says she likes having boys attracted to her and she thinks that's an excuse to go back to being a girl again. Well shoot, I have lots of boys playing with me during recess too, but I don't wanna start wearing dresses. Women... just so darn weird.

"Look, Jimmy, she's back to wearing pants! She skinned her knees up pretty bad. That's prolly why.

When we walk up to her she says, "Jerry Fallow can kiss my wiener!" Of course this causes me n' Jimmy to crack up. She's proved she ain't got no wiener.

"He pushed me down at recess and I skinned up both my knees. It hurt like crazy. Of course I had to beat him up. And I'm the one that got in trouble, not him. It just isn't fair."

Jimmy, grinning, looks at me and says, "well she's dressed like a boy again but she still talks like a girl." This causes Sam to wrinkle her brows and look at Jimmy for a second. "Oh... I mean, it just AIN'T fair!"

"Okay then, that's better."

I reply, "you tol' us this on the bus ride home. But you didn't say what was gonna happen."

"Sigh... I have to take one of my parents to school to talk with the principal. I'd choose my father if I could. He's the one that taught me how to fight. But, he has to work, of course. Mother will go with me and she hates fighting. I'm in so much trouble."

"Ahhh... nuthin bad's gonna happen," Jimmy says. "Girl's don't get into bad trouble at school like us boys do. Just wear a dress again and let the principal see your knees. Walk like they really hurt too. Then say you did it cuz you was in pain and you couldn't help yourself."

"Wow, Jimmy. You're really good at this stuff," she says, "aren't you?"

"Me and Paul are both good at this stuff, Sam. It's cuz we're boys and we always get in trouble. There's more to being a boy than just spitten and peeing standing up."

This has all three of us laughing. But Jimmy's right. Boys work way harder trying to get out of trouble than in trying to prevent trouble in the first place.

Hey, if Peter Pan obeyed all the rules then the lost boys'd vote him out of Never Never Land.

"So, Sam, wanna go ride bikes?" I ask.

"I can't. I'm not allowed to leave the yard cuz I'm grounded."

"Wow... when I'm grounded I hafta stay in my room. You get grounded easy."

"I think mother feels kind of guilty. I told her how the boy was jealous of me cuz I was better at games than him and that's why he pushed me. But she said I didn't handle it like a lady."

"Ladies are losers!" Jimmy says. "You gave him a knuckle sandwich and that's what he deserved.

"Here's a lady," Jimmy says, and starts dancing around on his tip toes, waving his arms all prissy like and saying, in a high pitched voice, "oh dear, oh dear... you have injured me, you cad! You bad, bad fellow!"

I'm laughing my butt off at a grinning Jimmy. Samantha's just kinda shaking her head with a smile on her face. "That would be funnier if it wasn't so true. It ain't fair. I'm not supposed to stick up for myself. I'm supposed to tell someone in authority instead."

But then Samantha grins and says, "I did tell someone in authority. I told our teacher that I just punched Jerry in his fat face and now he's crying like he needs his diaper changed."

"Hahaha... proly not the best way to tell her," Jimmy responds.

She'd painted a picture that has me n' Jimmy laughing. This is a boy that just does not like to lose. His older brother is ten and good at sports. I guess Jerry wants to be too but this dumb girl keeps showing him up.

A yell from her house... "Samantha, come in now. Time to vacuum."

"Sigh," She says, "that's part of my punishment. I have to help mother all weekend doing housework."

"Treat your mother like your gonna treat your teacher," says Jimmy. "Put a dress back on so she can see your knees and then act like you're in pain."

"Okay, thanks Jimmy. I'm gonna try it. I'll say I changed because the pant legs were uncomfortable. I'll let you guys know how it works."

Me n' Jimmy decide to ride up to the gas station and buy two ice cream sandwiches outa the machine. We found out they had that machine when we had the gas station guy fix Sam's tire. We figure if he's working again today that we'd watch him change some tires and stuff.

Patches trotted along side of us. She'd finished all her morning rounds and smelled all the pee spots in the field behind my house.

I'd watched a boy dog pee on every tree in the park one day and I asked my brother Billy what it was doing. "Why doesn't it just do it's business on one tree and get it over with?"

He chuckled and said "they've got prostate troubles like our dad. No, actually, he's just sending messages to other dogs. They don't have fingers to hold a pencil with so they learned to write in pee."

My head snapped back. "A pee message? Well, what did he say?"

"I dunno," Bill answered, "I can't read dog. But I imagine he was saying 'this is my tree, go find your own.'"

So when Patches comes back from making her rounds of the field and the neighborhood I, kiddingly, ask her if anyone left a message for me. She would just "chuuf" and lick my hand. I guess that means a polite no.

There's a huge racket going on at the gas station. It sounds like someones shooting a machine gun! Jimmy looks at me kinda panicky.

"Paul... I think it's the mafia. We better not go over there."

But along with the "rat-a-tat" noise came a whirring sound. It just doesn't sound like the machine guns on TV.

"I think it's okay, Jimmy. It's proly just some garage machine for fixing cars."

We bike up quietly until we can see inside the bay where we heard the racket. The same teenager that fixed Sam's bike tire is there and he has a car on the lift. The guy raised the car just enough to get the tires off the ground. He's removed three tires and is working on the last one. The noise was this air gun thingy that he was using to take off the bolts holding the wheel on.

I heard Jimmy let out a sigh of relief. He still had a dollar left of the money Mr Humphreys gave us to protect Sam when we went skating. He was going to buy us ice cream bars with it. On the ride up we decided that if this teen was working today, we'd get him one too cuz he was nice to us.

Patches is licking her chops. I think she remembers this place cuz the boy even bought one for her. Jimmy giggles at Patches, lays his bike down and disappears into the office.

The boy straightened up, from removing the last wheel, and rolled it over to the tire changing machine when he saw me and Patches just outside the bay. He smiled at me.

"Bent another wheel?" He asked. "Not yet," I responded.

Just then Jimmy walks back from the office, carrying four ice creams. He walks up to the teen and hands him one. He had also bought one for himself, me and even Patches who was wagging her tail like crazy.

"What's this for?" The teen asks.

"It's cuz you was nice to us," Jimmy tells him. "And we wanted to watch you change tires again." Then Jimmy grins and says "and because my friend's dog made us come to get her an ice cream."

Patches was going nuts waiting for me to unwrap the ice cream sandwich for her. Her tail wagging started at the back of her neck and included her entire body! Then she jumps up and down.

The teen is laughing at Patches and then sits on the edge of his changing machine to eat his sandwich.

"So you guys came to watch me change tires. Man, you're way to easy to entertain. Maybe I'll paint a wall next and you can sit and watch the paint dry."

Jimmy pipes up with "Or, we could paint the wall for you. We're good painter-upers."

"Uh, I don't really have a wall to paint. I was just making a funny. Okay, boys. Pay attention! I'm about to put four used, but not badly abused, tires on this old clunker of mine." And he points to the car on the rack. This is the thing that takes me around town."

Clunker seems to be a pretty apt description. I guess being a teenage pump jockey at a corner gas station doesn't come with a big salary. But to a couple of six year olds the car seems very impressive. Wow, he has his own car! Not even my brother Billy has his own car yet.

We offered to help but he said he couldn't let us. "The boss would fire me if I let anyone do any work here. That's why you guys have to stand outside the bay doors. So we watched until we got bored and waved goodbye to our teenage buddy. No sense wearing out your welcome. Who knows when we will have need of a mechanic again. I bought one more ice cream before we left, for Jimmy's sister. I figure it's cheap insurance.

We take our time riding back home and we watch Patches write messages on trees. "Say hello for me" I tell her. Jimmy looks at me like I'm weird. He just doesn't understand dog talk.

You the one that hasn't emailed me? Do you hear my dog Patches barking at you? I tol' her to keep barking until you write! callmepaul@graffiti.net.

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