Mom told me that Margie was going to come over after dinner to babysit David and me. Mom and dad were going to someone else’s house to play that “Bridge” game. I’d seen them play it once, but I’m not sure why they called it “Bridge”, because there weren’t any real or even pretend bridges. I liked real bridges, because they hooked things together and they let you go over something else, or also go under something else, though that could be a tunnel instead, though a tunnel would usually be longer.
I saw them play Bridge once but I could only figure some of it out. They sat at this special “Bridge table” where you had to open up the leg parts. They used those “playing cards” that came in a little box. One person gave everyone else a bunch of those cards and everybody looked at their own cards but didn’t show them to anyone else. Then they did this talking part when they were counting things like “hearts” and “diamonds” and other stuff. After that, one of the four people put all their cards down on the table so everyone else could see them, and then that person didn’t play for a while and just watched. The other people still playing took turns putting cards down on the table so everybody could see them, and then one person kept all the cards they put down. Mom saw me watching and said she would show me how the game worked sometime. I liked games where you had to do thinking and decide which thing to do. I didn’t like games like “Chutes and Ladders” where it was all luck and no thinking, even though the board looked kind of neat.
Mom had shown me the “deck” of cards they played with and I liked looking at how it worked. She put all the cards out on the table for me in the shape of a box so I could see each one by itself, but also how they all fit together. There were four “rows” that went across the table, two were red cards and two were black, and each row was a “suit” and had thirteen cards. Each suit had its own “symbol”; “Clubs”, “Diamonds”, “Hearts” and “Spades”; the Clubs and Spades were black, and the Diamonds and Hearts were red. Each row started with an “A” card, which mom said was an “ace”, and finished with the other three letter cards, which mom said were “jack”, “queen” and “king”.
She said that in some games you played with cards the ace was the “lowest” card, the “one” card, but in most games, like Bridge, it was the “highest” card. Also in Bridge, the suits were lower or higher, and the highest suit was Spades.
She saw that I really liked looking at the cards so she left them on the table for a long time so I could keep looking at them. I liked looking at the symbols. The Spade was an upside down heart that was stuck in the middle on a pointy thing. The Diamond was like a square but it was turned. The club was like that tiny green plant mom showed me growing in our grass. I liked the whole idea of symbols, because other things had other symbols. The flag and many other things had those pointy things they called “stars”, though real stars in the sky were just tiny white dots.
I also liked the way everything was put on each card in the same kind of way. The number and suit symbol were in the top left corner and upside down in the bottom right corner, and whatever the number was, there were that many larger suit symbols in the middle part of the card. Or for the “face cards”, as mom called them, there would be a picture of the top part of a person, and each person looked a little bit different. And what was really neat, is that the card looked the same if you turned it upside down.
And it was interesting that the back part of every card was the same, so if you just saw the back part you didn’t know what card it was. That was important for card games like “Fish”, that mom taught me. If you knew what card numbers the other person had then you could just ask for one of those numbers, and the game would be stupid, instead of having to guess, which was more fun. I figured that was how card games like Bridge were too. Grownups really liked cards and talked about them a lot. Even when they weren’t playing with cards, they might be talking about “playing your cards right”.
With stuff like cards I felt okay asking mom lots of questions, because cards weren’t things grownups worried about, or got worried about when I asked. But stuff like cooties were different, I was sure mom or dad would worry about me if I asked them about that, and maybe not let me do so many things by myself.
So that’s one of the things I liked about Margie coming to babysit, I could ask her about stuff like that and she wouldn’t get worried about me or tell mom and dad so they’d get worried. She would just laugh, make a silly face, and first say that she didn’t know, but then try to figure it out and maybe say something that was really interesting and helped me figure it out too. She also liked being silly, though she didn’t do anything silly when she was talking to mom and dad. Grownups had trouble with silly things, except when they went to parties and drank stuff that made them silly, whether they wanted to be silly or not. And Margie was a lot older than I was, but she was still a kid and not a grownup, and she knew a lot more than I did.
After mom and dad left to play bridge, Margie was doing things mostly with David, changing his diaper, putting him in his pajamas, giving him a bottle, and getting him ready for bed. She asked me if I was ready for bed too and I shook my head. She said that mom and dad had said that I could stay up later if I wanted to. When she read David two stories, I listened too, standing behind the rocking chair in our room that she was sitting in. I liked standing there behind her because I could look at her and she wouldn’t see me and worry about what I was doing. But I also liked when sometimes she would move her head up and look back at me and make a funny face.
Her hair was shorter and darker than mom’s, but it had all those curve parts like mom’s. It was also shinier and it didn’t move around much when she shook her head. Her eyes were so dark I couldn’t tell what color they were. She had that “figure” thing more like a grownup woman, and I wondered about that.
She read “Horton Hears a Who” and “Make Room for Ducklings”, both stories mom had read to us many times. I really liked the pictures of “Whoville”, and that even though it was a tiny place it had just as much stuff as a big place. I liked that the buildings and stairways were all round and curved instead of square and straight like regular houses. I liked the long crooked horns that the Whos blew on. And I liked that Horton wouldn’t stop trying to find them even though it seemed impossible. The duck story was the same way, they just decided to walk through the town, and all the people had to figure out how to let them do that.
After the two stories, David wasn’t ready to go to sleep, and Margie said he probably wouldn’t, because I was there and I wasn’t in my bed going to sleep too. David wanted to do everything I was doing. She said I should go down in the basement and play while she sat with him quietly for a while.
So I ran down to the basement and decided to turn on the TV, and there was a “mercial” on about a turkey called Tom at the A and P, which was that big store where mom and dad went to get food. Then there was that new show, “Bonanza”, where those four grownup men were laughing and shooting at the bad guys and shooting one guy’s hat, another guy’s bag and even one guy’s gun. So then the bad guys got scared and rode away on their horses.
Margie came down the stairs from the kitchen.
“Beddy-bye for little David”, she said as she bounced down the stairs, “Now us cool cats can hang out!” She liked to talk Silly like that to me.
“Whatcha watchin’”, she asked. She looked at the TV. “Bonanza?” The way she said it sounded like she didn’t think I would like it. Then she did that laugh through her nose like a grownup.
“I guess boys love their shoot ‘em up shows”, she said. She sat down next to me where I was looking at the TV. “So you like this show?” she asked.
I shook my head. Dad liked watching these “west” shows, but I couldn’t figure out why they were shooting. Molly’s favorite, “Sky King” was okay, but that show was different. And if they were American soldiers fighting and shooting with Germans during the war, that would have been interesting, but not this.
“It’s stupid”, I said. I wasn’t worried about saying stuff like that to Margie. I had heard her say things were stupid before so I figured I could say that to her and she wouldnt think I was bad.
Margie laughed, a regular laugh with her mouth this time. “You know what you might like better?”, she said standing up again, “Dick Clark’s show is on channel seven, right now. You should check it out!” She walked over to the TV and put her hand on the thing that changed the channel and looked at me, opening her eyes wide. “Shall I?”
I nodded. She changed the channel. It was that “mercial” I kept seeing on TV or hearing on the radio…
Roy O’brien’s got them buying and buying
They come from many miles away
You save yourself a lot of dollars, dollars
By driving out his way today
The TV showed little pretend cars moving on pretend roads toward the middle of the picture. Margie stood by the TV and shook her head and made her eyeballs move around in a circle in her eyes. “Not again!”, she said.
Then she put her hands on her sides with her elbows out and then pointed at me with one of her hands and pretended she was singing the words coming from the TV…
Stay on the right track
To Nine Mile and Mack
To get the best deal in town
Cuz Roy O’brien… has the best deals around
When the song finished the picture changed to this guy holding that thing that lots of people on TV talked with. He was standing among a bunch of older kids like Margie who were sitting. He said, “I’ll get you to a rude awakening now to let you know that school is NOT over, and the man to prove it, professor CHUCK BERRY!” Then the TV showed this guy in a long funny looking robe playing a big guitar in his hands and starting to sing…
Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study ‘em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone
“ALL RIGHT!”, said Margie as she started to dance around me, “ROCK N ROLL!”. Mom also liked to dance when she heard music she liked, but she didn’t dance like that. Margie swung her arms from side to side, while her hips and knees swung the other way at the same time. Her feet went from side to side like she was rubbing something into the floor. Her sneakers squeaked on the basement floor. It all looked pretty crazy.
“C’mon Coop”, she said, “Get up and dance!” She continued to do her crazy dance around me.
Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open your books
Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
Mom had shown me how to do the “Foxtrot” dance, but it didn’t look anything like this. Dancing was not something I just did by myself when I heard music. But I did want Margie to like me and want to answer all of my questions and not treat me like adults treat kids, so I at least got up off the floor.
“That’s it”, she said, “Now swing those arms and hips!”
Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat
Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
I tried to kind of do what she was doing, rubbing and squeaking my shoes against the bare floor and moving my arms from side to side, though my hips didn’t seem to do what hers were doing. I just couldn’t get my body to be crazy enough, but I did like that this seemed like a kid thing, well maybe older kid thing, and not something that grownups were doing. Those grownups, even mom and dad, thought they had everything figured out, but not this.
“That’s it, you’re gettin’ there”, she said, dancing around me as I tried, “Just let your body be kind of loose!”
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot
With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go
I kept trying to feel the music in my whole body like that Chuck guy was singing. I kept my arms going from side to side and my feet rubbing into the floor, but when I tried to make my hips move too, everything got messed up and I’d have to start over, getting my arms and feet going again.
“You’re thinking about it too much”, she said, spinning herself around, “Just close your eyes and go with the beat!”
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot
With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go
Still dancing, she took my hand and brought it up over my head and twisted it so I would start turning around. I kind of followed her lead and started turning myself around, making the room spin. I was feeling looser, kind of wobbly. I remembered being on the merry-go-round with Molly, and I wished she and I were dancing together like this.
“That’s it”, Margie said, “You’re gettin’ the hang of it!” As she continued to dance and I continued to try, she stopped twirling me around but held onto my hand and looked into my eyes and sang along with that Chuck guy on TV.
Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul
“Hail, hail rock’n’roll”, Margie and Chuck sang, and it made me think about “Hail, hail to Michigan”, that my dad would sing and my mom liked too. Michigan was mom and dad’s team. Was rock’n’roll Margie and Chuck’s team? Was this the kids’ team against the grownups?
When the song was over that main guy was talking to that Chuck guy. Margie and I stopped dancing and she looked at me, still kind of bouncing on her sneakers.
“So what da ya think Coop?”
I nodded. That was really interesting. But I needed to say something to answer her question, to make sure that she would keep answering my questions.
“I like it”, I said, “And the dancing.”
“Yeah”, she said, then laughing through her nose, “What’s not to like?”
I wondered if that was really another question she wanted me to answer, what I DIDN’T like about it. But she wasn’t looking at me like she expected me to. So I decided to start asking her questions about the whole thing. It seemed okay to do after the singing and dancing.
“Is that Chuck guy an older kid like you?”
She laughed. “Kind of seems like it, doesn’t it”, she said, “I think he’s definitely still a kid at heart.
“So he’s really a grownup?” I asked.
“Well yeah”, she said, “Technically, I guess, but most grownups don’t like his music as much as kids do.”
“So he just pretends to be a kid?” I asked.
She laughed through her nose again. “You ask such wild questions!”
I wasn’t sure if “wild” was good or bad. She saw the worried look on my face.
“It’s just the way it is”, she said, raising her shoulders and holding her arms out in front of her, “We all start out as kids and then we grow up and become adults. Your mom and dad were kids once, and they grew up and now they’re adults. You and I’ll grow up and be adults someday too, me pretty soon. Now that’s a wild thought!” She shook her head and scrunched up her nose like she smelled something bad.
Then she looked at me and put her hands up in the air like she was trying to catch something in each one of them. “It’s just how much of that kid we can hang on to and keep inside us, ‘In our hearts’ as they say.”
“As WHO says?” I asked.
She looked at me and made a funny face. “I don’t know”, she said, shaking her head, “Pretty much everybody I guess.”
So Margie thought mom and dad were kids like us once. I had to think about that some more.
I really wanted to ask her about boys and girls and cooties, since she was a girl, and a lot older than Molly and should know more about it. But I was still kind of worried she might think I was bad if I did, so I couldn’t quite do it, and I decided to ask something else.
“So you go to that giant school place over there?” I asked, pointing towards the basement stairs which was the direction I knew it was.
“Over where?” She looked at the stairs and paused to think, then I saw she finally figured out what I was talking about. “Oh yeah, I guess it is over there. Yep. Pioneer High, that’s where I go. Junior, class of 1961!”
“Do they make you go to school?” I asked, remembering what Ricky said about putting you in jail if you didn’t go.
She put her hand on her chin and looked up at the ceiling. “Yeah, I guess they do”, she said, “I mean I do learn things, and I want to go to college, so I guess I’d go even if I didn’t have to.”
She looked down at me. “You don’t want to go to school?”
I wanted to shake my head, but got worried that she’d think I was a bad kid if I didn’t want to go to school.
“I went to that nursery school place and I didn’t like it”, I said, figuring I’d say that much.
“But now you’re going to Towsley and you like that, don’t you?”, she asked.
I nodded, but she could see I still looked worried.
“You think regular school is going to be more like that first place?”, she asked. I nodded.
“I think you’ll be fine”, she said, “Don’t get a big head or anything, but you’re a really smart kid so school should be easy for you!”
I wondered what a “big head” meant as she continued, “You’ll get to learn how to read, I bet you’ll like that! Anyway next year you’ll be going to kindergarten and that should be a piece of cake for you.” She looked worried for a minute. “Though maybe for you it might be boring.”
Then she waved her hands in front of her face and wrinkled her nose again and said, “I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about… you’ll be fine I’m sure. Don’t worry about it. You’ll figure it out when the time comes!”
I nodded and felt better, and braver, to ask another question.
“You’re a girl, right?”
She looked worried. “Yeah”, she said, really slowly, like she wasn’t sure why I was asking that.
Then it just came out of me. “Do girls have cooties?”
She made a clicking noise in her mouth, looked up at the ceiling and shook her head. “Do kids still say that?”
I nodded. She made a kind of a growling noise.
“So what do they say happens if you get cooties?”, she asked.
“I don’t know”, I said, “Maybe you become a sissy.”
“Oh geez”, she said, then making kind of a coughing noise, “That is so stupid. Believe me Cooper, there is no such thing as cooties!”
“Listen”, she said, “I know you like playing with Molly cuz she’s your best friend. Do you like playing with other girls too?”
I wasn’t sure if I should say yes, but I wanted her to say more so I said kind of quietly, “Sometimes”.
“Listen kid. If you’re comfortable around girls, when you get to be my age, you’ll be way ahead of the game, BELIEVE me.” She put a hand on each side of her face. “There’s this guy in my English class. He’s pretty nice, but I think he still thinks girls have cooties, or at least I have cooties. So yeah…” She shook her head, “No such thing!”
I nodded. That was good to hear, but I needed to know more to figure things out. So since she seemed okay talking about cooties I asked her my next question.
“Are girls really different than boys, or do they just pretend to be different?”
“Well yeah”, she said, “They’re different. Maybe not so much when they’re your age, but they get more different when they get to be my age.”
She started walking back and forth on the basement floor. Into the part of the basement with my toys then over to dad’s office and back again, looking at things, touching things.
“I’m not sure how much your mom and dad would want me to say on this subject”, she said, but I felt she did want to tell me more.
“I promise I won’t tell”, I said, making her laugh through her nose. I would never tell on another kid, and though Margie was older and looked more like an adult, she was still a kid.
She waved her hand at me while she continued to walk. “Nah… that’s okay”, she said.
“I guess girls your age, like your friend Molly, are not that different than boys. Especially Molly, cuz she’s kind of a ‘Tomboy’.”
“What’s that?” I asked. I’d heard grownups say that before about Molly, though I don’t think Molly’s mom liked it.
“That’s when a girl likes to dress more like a boy and play with stuff that boys like to play with, and is not so much into dolls and that sort of stuff.”
“So are there Tomgirls too?”, I asked.
She looked worried. “You mean boys that like to…”, she moved her hand around in a small circle rather than finishing the words.
I nodded. Yeah dress like girls and play with girls stuff.
“Well that’s one I think you should save for your mom and dad”, she said waving her pointed finger in the air.
I wanted to ask her why but I felt like it might be bad to ask, so I just nodded.
“Anyway”, she said, still walking back and forth across the basement, “It’s when boys and girls get older that they get…”, she waved her hands around, “More different.”
I felt like she was now worrying I was going to ask how boys and girls got more different. I really wanted to know but I was worried she might think I was a bad kid if I asked. So I kind of asked a different question.
“Like mom and dad?”
“Exactly”, she said, looking less worried now, “Like your mom and dad. Your mom has longer hair than your dad. She wears dresses sometimes. She puts makeup on.”
“She has a figure”, I just said it and then worried that maybe I shouldn’t have.
“Okay”, she said, nodding while she continued to walk about, “She has a figure and your dad h… “, she didn’t finish the words, but said instead, “Doesn’t”.
I wondered if she was going to say he had a penis but decided she better not. Margie had a figure too, but I knew that if I said something about that she’d think I was really really bad.
“It’s all kinda complicated”, she said, finally sitting down again on the floor, “I know you like it that Molly is so much like you, but when you get older you may like it that girls have gotten really different than boys.”
I wondered if, just like grownup men, older boys liked older girls having figures, and liked doing things with them like in that Roy Rogers joke about the headlights, holster and pistol.
“But you know what”, she said, standing up again, “I better go check on David.” She looked at me and smiled. “Your mom says you usually go to bed around eight o’clock these days. She said you didn’t have to take a bath tonight, but I will read you a story if you like.”
I nodded. Margie had said answers to some of my questions for me to do more thinking about. I was happy she said that cooties were stupid. I wondered if I could ever be brave enough to say the same thing to those boys who talked about that stuff, right in front of them, that “cooties are stupid”. But on how girls were different than boys and how they got more different, I still had to figure that one out.
I knew I needed to talk to Molly about it. She probably didn’t know much about grownup women or what happened to girls to make them more different, but still she was a girl and maybe would talk about stuff Margie wouldn’t talk about. Because Molly always wanted to be thinking about everything I was thinking about. She didn’t want to be different from me and I didn’t want to be different from her!