Backyard in May

Hunkering down behind the Mock Orange bush, almost overcome by the heady scent of the blossoms, laying flat like dad taught me, I hold my breath. All that can be heard in the still evening air are crickets and some lazy birdsong. About 30 yards away is “Fury”, the ugliest Schwinn ever made, my trusty steed. “Allee Allee Otts in free!” yells a 5th grade voice.

She wasn't much to look at. When I was surprised with her, I tried to hide my true feelings. Black, basic, a basket. But, my parents gave me as much as they could. It was their best and I'd never show disappointment. So I baptised her (yes, Catholic church), "Fury" and she did good by me for 20 years. Much dented, much loved and never - not even once - told the many secrets I breathed into her, screeching rubber. Went thru 3 back tires. Kewl.

BANG! I’m up in a heart beat, hop on Fury and peal rubber down Turner “never-ride-there” Street, drop again, roll, shove up running with heart in throat, touch the Free tree! Whoop’s surround the twilight air. “whoop whoop” I yell back! Sweat running down my red-hot face. FREE! I made it. Nobody found me or even guessed. Sliding down on Mrs. K’s day lillies at the bottom of the tree, I am one satisfied, frizzy-haired 3rd going into 4th grader. Not bad. Not bad at all. Beat out all the Kennedy’s 8 school age kids, actually really only 7 cuz Lizzie had to babysit the twins. But still, darned good for the last game before bedtime.

Sweaty, itchy from mosquitoes, I grabbed Fury, and quickly got off Turner onto Bennet Road, and swung into our driveway. Great big old solid house, with an oak front porch that alternated being our club headquarters “no girls allowed”, or my Betty Crocker kitchen. I don’t think it was ever a porch, come to think of it. Put Fury in her paddock, headed for the back door and up the 4 steps to the kitchen, saying “Jinx” as I avoided the damp basement 8 steps down.

Mom hollers the tub is ready, and I head up the stairs, 2 at a time, becoming a mermaid for about 15 minutes, then holding an underwater cowboy and Indians scenario. Jammas on, run down for a plate of warm, homemade oatmeal raisin cookies and an icy cold glass of milk served in a frosty red-brushed aluminum glass. “You can take it in the living room,” Mom says. Quick as can be, I scootch next to Dad, he puts his arm around me, and we watch boxing from Madison Square Garden. I munch contendly on the snack, alternating taking in deep whiffs of his Old Spice aftershave and cozying up next to him, his big arm wrapped around me. Only 2 more weeks of school. Life is good. Even when Dad reaches over and eats my last cookie and finishes off my milk.

It’s been awhile since then, but May twilights still hold mystery and intrigue, the new sounds of grass rustling, leaves popping out, dark black loam losing the fight to new seedlings who break through the barrier. I remember sitting on a downed telephone pole that marked the boundary to our acre of garden with my mom, in her rolled up jeans, plaid blouse – short sleeves rolled up onto her upper arms, hair in pincurls, smoking a cigarette. I’d plop down, she’d give the the ‘shhhh’ sign which meant the corn was going to show. Before there was time lapse photography there was Bev & I on the pole, and suddenly you could hear the corn open, and the plant would poke out. We never got tired of that enterprise, ever.

Today, Papa, the ‘pops’ are all in my memory, my own small garden overrun with weeds. But as one of your Catholic children, the drama and the rituals all are recalled, even with my diminishing brain. And the reality of the occasion comes back in a flash. It’s a good day, Papa. A good day. I’ll watch for you as the sun goes to bed. And you know what? I think you gave me a good choice. I’ll have my memories until the day I die, and the rest will pass away. Fury, stay at the ready.

Papa? It’s me, Vicki.

See her legs, intertwined 2x? She was 90 lbs of fun and fury. On the telephone pole she could interwine them the same way. She did it on her wedding day, forgot she had at the vows, and would've fell if Dad hadn't grabbed. That was Bevvy. Somewhere, in a garage full of 'stuff' or a flood, is a photo that show's her plaid blouse, rolled up jeans - a renagade - long legs and a sense that nothing, I mean nothing, would ever take her down. Nope. Especially not smokes. "When my time comes, it comes," she'd say It came when she was 53 from lung and brain cancer. Before she died, having quit cigarettes, she whispered, "I'm sorry. I was wrong." I miss her from the top of my head to the bottom of my soles. Bevvy, just to let you know, "we all are wrong." Love you, looking forward to the next time.

When you are 17, you think life hasn't even begun. Here all I could think of was the bathing suit competing (hated it) and why oil on my body, Senior Prom, graduation, and a scholarship if this beauty queen thing panned out. Any moment, it all changes.

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