Clubius Contained Part 19 – Fourth Grade (September 1963)

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs Larkin, was different than all the other teachers I had had. I mean, she was a regular grownup like my third grade teacher Mrs Rodney and my second grade teacher Mrs Camden. My first grade teacher, Miss Zimmerman, didn’t even seem like a real grownup. She was more like a really older kid, like Margie but even older, or like one of dad’s “college students”.

Mrs Rodney and Mrs Camden seemed like they had one way to teach you stuff and you had to do it that way and then they liked you and gave you good grades. But Mrs Larkin seemed like she was always looking for different ways to do things and was interested if you had a different way of learning something. Like learning about plants. When Amanda suggested that we all bring in plants we found, a leaf from a tree, a flower, or even just a piece of grass, Mrs Larkin would help us figure out what kind of plant it was and stuff about how it worked, what it did in the winter, stuff like that.

Or when Gabe and I wanted to write a story about a secret submarine traveling all over the world, she got us a world map we could use and helped us go to the library and find books about all those places in the world our sub would go, and even let us tell all the other kids our “stories” about our sub.

Even Mary, who never wanted Amanda to be better than her, did this whole special thing about showing us all how to keep score in bowling, since her mom worked at that Colonial Lanes bowling “alley”, which I had been to for a birthday party. I tried to bowl, but wasn’t very good. Mary even showed everybody in class how the “perfect game” was three hundred points.

Mrs Larkin said she “believed in the principles behind ‘New Math’”, that it was more important to figure out how to do things yourself than have a teacher tell you how to do it. I remember Mrs Rodney talked about that “New Math” stuff too, but I don’t think she liked it very much, because she said it “confuses students”. Mrs Larkin liked “bright” kids like mom and dad did, and she really liked me, Amanda, Jake and Gabe, because we were always coming up with ideas that she wanted to hear. I guess she thought Mary was “bright” too, and liked her, but I tried to avoid Mary and her best friend Diane as much as possible.

Diane still said that I was a “pervert”, because last spring in Mrs Rodney’s class Joey had told everybody that I had told him that I’d, “Pull down my pants for Mary”. I wasn’t even sure what a “pervert” was, but I knew it must be bad, so I wasn’t going to ask anybody. It seemed like it was at least better than being a sissy, which was the worst thing a boy could possibly be. I just wanted everybody else to forget about it, though I would NEVER forget about it!

Diane liked to tell on people. Mary did too, but not as much as Diane did. I wasn’t sure Mary was still even mad at me, except that she didn’t want other girls seeing her talk to me, because I figured she was afraid they’d think she was a pervert too. DIANE was the real problem. I remembered how dad would swear when he hurt himself, like banged a finger accidentally with a hammer. He’d make a hissing sound through his teeth, shake the finger he banged and say, “DAMN it! Damn it to hell!” So about Diane I was thinking, “Damn you Diane! Damn you to hell!” There is no way I would ever say that out loud, but when I thought the words, at least I felt a little bit better.

And at least Mrs Larkin didn’t know about all that bad stuff that happened last year, and I never talked about it, nor luckily any of my friends. I figured the safest thing to do was work really hard to get really good grades and have ideas on everything so Mrs Larkin would keep liking me a lot and think I was really, really good, just in case she found out that Diane was calling me a “pervert”. I don’t think Diane wanted to tell our teacher, or any of the boys, because her and Mary and the girls that were their friends liked to have their girl secrets and I think me being a “pervert” was one of those secrets. If she told Mra Larkin then our teacher might tell her not to talk about it anymore and that might ruin it. Secrets were only fun if they WERE secret, but you could still tell them to your friends.

Joey didn’t talk about it either, and he wasn’t my friend anymore. I would NEVER forgive him for telling on me like that. Damn HIM to hell too!

Gabe and I were still really into submarines. Not just Captain Nemo’s Nautilus or the Hunley sub from the Civil War, but the submarines in World War Two and the American and Soviet Union subs today. And even pretend submarine stories that we made up, like the one that Mrs Larkin helped us with.

Another thing that was different about fourth grade was recess. We got to do recess in the “big playground”, which was across Fifth street from the other “small playground” where we always did recess before. The big playground was like that secret park, Wurster Park, that had houses all around it and you couldn’t really see it from the street. There was this passageway that went from the sidewalk on Fifth street between two houses and into the playground. It was kind of like that passageway by Molly’s house that went into Burns Park, even though that wasn’t a secret park because you could see it from the other streets around it.

It was also interesting that the half of the park you walked into was much higher than the other half, which was down what Mrs Larkin called a “slope”. And the “slope” was pretty big, big enough, Herbie, Jake and Amanda said, to sled down in the winter when there was snow. The three of them had known about this place for a long time, but had never told me about it. At least I don’t remember them telling me about it. I guess that’s because it was “secret”, so that made sense.

So the top part of the playground had some swings and monkey bars, but mostly had a sort of baseball field. It just had a small fence behind home plate but it didn’t have the dirt “diamond” part. At school, we didn’t have our gloves and all the bats and balls to play regular baseball, but we did have larger balls that you could kick, so we played “kickball” instead.

It was kind of like baseball, but the kid pitching rolled the ball to you instead of throwing it, and you ran toward the ball and kicked it instead of hitting it with a bat. Once you kicked it you would try to run around the bases like in regular baseball. You could get out if someone caught the ball you kicked, though that didn’t happen very much, because most kids kicked the ball along the ground. But you could also get out if someone got the rolling ball you kicked and got it to the pitcher before you got to first base, or if someone got the rolling ball and threw it at you and it hit you before you got to first or another base.

Then another thing that was different is that girls played too, and usually each team had boys and girls on it. When we first started playing kickball, some of the boys said that girls shouldn’t play, but Mrs Larkin said that they could. Then some boys thought it should be boys against girls, but there weren’t as many girls that wanted to play as boys did, so it was hard for the girls to have a whole team. And I didn’t like it when it was the boys against the girls, because some of the boys got too crazy about it and it made some of the girls worried that they didn’t want to play. So now we had boys and girls on both teams, which I figured was best, because then the teams would be more fair, and girls and boys played together, which seemed better to me, because usually at school boys and girls at least pretended they were on different teams.

The big playground was also neat because it was so big and there were lots of trees on all the edges, specially in the bottom part, where you could go and hide and talk about secret stuff, which is something that me, Gabe, Jake and Herbie liked to do a lot now. Before fourth grade, the only place to go at recess to talk about secret stuff was inside that big tube thing. But in the lower part of the big playground were lots of places behind trees where we could be far away from anyone else and see others coming before they could get close enough to hear what we were saying.

Sometimes Amanda would come over and join us, but sometimes she didn’t, because there was this new girl in our class, Elaine, who liked Amanda a lot and who Amanda liked too. Amanda said Elaine was shy around boys, so when the two of them played they would do stuff by themselves, or maybe with some of the other girls, though never with Mary or Diane.

So at our secret “meetings” we would talk about different stuff. Maybe submarines, maybe war stuff, maybe baseball, or maybe even about girls. And when we talked about girls, we’d talk about Mary and Diane and what my friends found out when they sneaked around and spied on them. My friends would talk about all the “crazy” stuff that Diane said, like that Theo had a “crush” on Mary and that Joey had a crush on that new girl Elaine. If Amanda was there we’d want to hear what she was thinking about Mary and Diane too. If Amanda wasn’t there, Jake or Herbie would say that Gabe was “in love with” Amanda, because they liked teasing him about that. But he would always say that wasn’t true, though I thought DID they seemed to like each other, though I don’t think he was “in love” or even had a crush on her.


There were a lot of neat shows on TV that I liked to watch when I got home from school, like The Twilight Zone. I liked that guy at the beginning of the show who said…

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

“Imagination” was a grownup word for pretending, so I liked what he said. I mean watching real stuff could be good, like a baseball or football game or about the war. But pretending, “imagination”, was better.

There was also a new show that was like The Twilight Zone called “The Outer Limits”. A voice at the beginning said…

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: There is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.

I thought that was really neat because they said they were telling stories that were pretending, about monsters and aliens that weren’t real, and they were IN CHARGE of the pretending and they could pretend whatever they wanted to, and even pretend that it was real. Since I really liked pretending and making stories, that made sense to me.

And I always liked things that were an “adventure”, that was the word dad liked to use when he, David and I would go somewhere new in the car, so mom could have time by herself. And I liked trying to figure out the “inner mind”, whatever that was, and about “the outer limits”, whatever THAT was.

I also liked watching that “Combat” show, because I got to see what it was like for dad in the war. When we played soldiers it was fun, helping each other and even getting killed sometimes to save your “buddies”. But on the show it didn’t look like much fun, and guys were always messing up and getting wounded or killed, or getting their other guys wounded or killed. I wondered since dad was in charge of his “platoon” if he had to be mad and yell at his guys all the time like that sergeant guy on the show. I just couldn’t imagine dad being like that, yelling at people he was in charge of.

But there was also that funny war show, “McHale’s Navy”, where they were sailors in those small “PT Boats” on the ocean fighting the Japanese. They did silly stuff, but I liked how they tricked the captain guy that was in charge. Dad said it was “obviously a comedy”, but that stuff like that did happen in the real war when guys in his platoon did stuff they weren’t supposed to. He said he usually didn’t get mad at them, because in a war you spend a lot of time waiting for stuff to happen and even though you worried a lot about getting wounded, captured or killed, it could get pretty boring, so his guys needed to “blow off steam”. Just so long as when they had to move, help with an attack, they all worked together and followed orders. Again dad didn’t seem like someone who would give people orders. He never gave mom, me or David orders.

Then there was another comedy show called “The Beverly Hillbillies”. You could tell that they were comedy shows because you could hear people laughing on the TV, like they were watching it too, though you could never see them. I asked dad if those were real people laughing, but he said it was probably just a “laugh track”, which he tried to explain to me but I still couldn’t figure it out. But when you heard those “laugh track” people laughing on the Beverly Hillbillies show, what they were laughing at usually WAS pretty funny.

The show always started out with this really neat song, sung by one of those guys with a Southern “accent”…

Come and listen to my story
‘Bout a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer
Barely kept his family fed
And then one day
He was shootin’ at some food
And up through the ground came a-bubblin’ crude
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea

Gabe and Herbie watched it too, and sometimes we’d sing the song together at recess or in the park. It was fun because the other kids that didn’t watch the show couldn’t figure out WHAT we were doing, and it made us feel like we were super special and neat. Out at recess, if Jake and Amanda were with us when we decided to sing the song, they’d just look at each other and shake their heads.

The show was about these four people that found “oil” and got rich and moved from where they lived to what seemed like a pretend place called “Beverly Hills”. I figured it was pretend because it had these really strange trees that had a trunk part that went up really really high and then just these really big leaves coming out at the very top. It also had these giant houses and front yards with roads and fountains that I couldn’t imagine were real. I think they were from the “south” too, because they talked with those “southern” accents that mom and dad and other grownups were always making fun of.

They all lived in one of those giant houses like they were in the same family, but they weren’t like a regular family, because there wasn’t a mom OR a dad. There were just two really older kids and this older “Uncle Jed” grownup guy and this “Granny” woman who was really old and I guess was their grandma. They were always trying to figure stuff out that was all different in Beverly Hills from where they used to live. And the Beverly Hills guy who was in charge of the bank and wanted all that “Uncle Jed” guy’s money, and the woman that worked for him, were always worrying about them and sometimes even helped them.

One of my favorite shows was the “Flintstones”, which was a cartoon show, but also a comedy, because it had that “laugh track” stuff. They were supposed to live in the “Stone Age”, which mom had read me about in that “Child’s History of the World” book, that was a really long time ago. And they had dinosaurs, that mom said had all “died off” long before there were regular people, even “cavemen”. It was my favorite because it was pretty much all pretending, which made it really neat. Like they had airplanes that had the place where the people sat on top of a giant flying dinosaur, like a Pteranodon. They had cars with stone wheels and everybody in the car used their feet to make the cars go. Also people had dinosaur pets instead of regular dogs and cats.

It also had a song at the beginning that Gabe, Herbie and I would sing…

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones
They’re the modern Stone Age Family
From the town of Bedrock
They’re a page right out of history

Dad said it was a, “Lampoon of modern life”, which meant it made fun of stuff happening right now. “Modern” was that word grownups used to mean stuff happening now, new stuff, rather than stuff that used to happen which they might call “old times” or “a long time ago”. And there was that “ancient” word too for things that happened a long long long time ago, like cavemen, or those guys with chariots.

Then there were three other cartoon shows that I liked, that were on other times during the week. The first one was “Supercar”, about this thing that could drive on the road, fly in the sky, go under the water like a submarine, or even go in space like a spaceship. The guy that drove it, Mike Mercury, would fly it out of this laboratory place and try to help people or get badguys, kind of the same stuff that Sky King did. It wasn’t like a regular cartoon, like Felix the Cat or the Flintstones. Dad said it was done with “puppets” that they pretended to have talk.

Another puppet one was “Fireball XL5”, about this spaceship that this guy, Steve, and this girl, Venus, flew. They would fight things trying to destroy Earth but also meet friendly aliens too. At the beginning of every episode before they took off they’d always say to each other…

Steve: Okay Venus?

Venus: Okay Steve!

And the show also had a really neat song at the beginning…

I wish I was a spaceman
The fastest guy alive
I’d fly you ’round the universe
In Fireball XL5
Way out in space together
Conquerors of the sky
My heart would be a fireball, a fireball
Every time I gazed into your starry eyes

And then this part was my favorite. You were going on an adventure all over the solar system with someone you really liked a lot. I thought of me and Molly doing that…

We’d take the path to Jupiter
And maybe very soon
We’d cruise along the Milky Way
And land upon the Moon
To a wonderland of stardust
We’d zoom our way to Mars
My heart would be a fireball, a fireball
Cause you’d be my Venus of the stars

I figured the Steve guy really liked that Venus girl. She was really pretty, at least for a puppet. It seemed grownup men liked women best who were pretty, or “good looking” as grownups usually said. I wondered if dad liked mom because she was good looking, because she wasn’t nice to dad very much anymore. She was always mad at him for buying the wrong kind of grapefruit juice, or worried that he wasn’t making enough money and they couldn’t pay “the bills”. I wondered if because she was pretty, she didn’t have to be nice and he still would like her.

I guess most boys liked girls who were pretty too. The older boys in the park were always talking about girls that were super pretty that they’d like to kiss, which I guess was the beginning part of being kissyface with them, or even marrying them when they were older.

The boys in MY class would talk about girls, but only when there weren’t any girls around and would never say that they liked them, because most of the boys in MY class still thought girls had cooties. They didn’t usually say that, but I think they were thinking that. Because if you told boys you liked a girl, even told boys who were your regular friends, they would tease you about it. Or worse, they would tell on you to your teacher and the girls, like Joey did to me after I told him that I’d “pull down my pants for Mary”, which I guess was like saying I really liked her, and maybe even liked her in a kissyface sort of way. Boy was I STUPID for telling him that, that was the WORST thing that I ever did, even though it didn’t feel bad when I was telling Joey.

There were also those new songs by the Beatles about boys and girls liking each other. Paul’s older brother AND Gabe’s older brother both went to the record store and bought their new record on the first day you could buy it. It was one of those little “45” ones with the big hole in the middle. On one side was “She Loves You” and on the other was “I’ll Get You”. It was interesting, because on the first one this guy tells his friend that this girl still likes him, even though he thought she didn’t.

You think you’ve lost your love
Well, I saw her yesterday
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad

Then on the second side, that guy decides to “get her”, even “get her in the end”. It was strange, that the girl in the first song could tell her friends that she “loved” that guy and then they could tell the guy, but she couldn’t just tell HIM that she did. But the guy in the second song, if HE liked a GIRL, he could just “get her”, like capture her.

I think about you night and day
I need you and it’s true
When I think about you I can say
I’m never, never, never, never blue

So I’m telling you my friend
That I’ll get you, I’ll get you in the end
Yes I will, I’ll get you in the end

Was that how it was supposed to work? Boys were supposed to “get” girls they liked, but girls couldn’t do that, they were supposed to tell their friends about a boy they liked, and their friends would tell the boy so he could “get” her instead if he wanted to. It all seemed so complicated and not fair. Why couldn’t it all be like Molly and me, we just were best friends. I didn’t want to have to “get” her.

But the best one of all the TV shows was Rocky and Bullwinkle. Other than those two, everybody in it was a grownup, and they were all pretty stupid and silly. Bullwinkle was a talking moose, and he was pretty stupid too most of the time too. Rocky was a “flying squirrel” that talked, but he seemed more like a kid because he was always trying to figure stuff out. He wasn’t super smart like Felix the Cat or Tom Swift, but he always tried really hard to figure stuff out so he could save everybody and beat the badguys. I don’t think REAL squirrels could fly, because they were all over the place outside, but I never saw any of them fly. And the main badguys, Boris and Natasha, were pretty stupid too, though unlike Rocky and Bullwinkle, THEY thought they were super smart, but they always messed stuff up. And the badguy in charge of them, Fearless Leader, was pretty stupid too. My friends and I all watched the show, and talked about it too, and we all liked when Boris said “moose and squirrel” with his Russian “accent”.

The show was interesting because the badguys were “spies” for the “Russians”, that was what most people called the Soviet Union team, and Rocky and Bullwinkle were the goodguys on the American team. They didn’t actually say that on the show, but all my friends and I knew that Boris and Natasha were supposed to be Russians, because they talked with that accent. It was hard to worry anymore about nuclear missiles and bombs when the show made it all seem so silly.

Dad kept saying it was “satire”, and I finally asked him what that meant. He said it was, “Using humor, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity and vices. Basically, showing how stupid or bad some people are by pretending they’re NOT stupid or bad, even though you can tell that they are.” That was REALLY interesting. I liked the idea that you could make fun of people, specially grownups, by pretending you’re a grownup and saying all this stuff like you’re super smart or super in charge of everything when you really aren’t and other kids know that.


Last night it was finally Friday night again after a long week of school. Though dad still always sang songs with us when we were in bed, sometimes mom would read us stories instead of dad. She was reading us that “Child’s History of the World” book that she liked so much. She had read the whole thing to me already, from how the Earth started before there were people all the way up to World War Two. But then she started again so she could read it to David, and that was okay, because I liked listening to it again. I could read it myself now, though there were still a lot of words I didn’t know, but I liked listening to her read it.

Mom said all the stories in the book really happened. Most of the stories were about famous people who did stuff to make things different. Usually to make things better but sometimes, like that Hitler guy in Germany, to make things worse. A lot of them were kings or emperors in charge of stuff, though some were just guys that weren’t in charge but came up with really good new ideas, like inventions like the printing press, to make books and newspapers.

But almost all the famous people in the stories were men. I could remember only two women, Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth. Cleopatra tried to save her Egypt country by tricking the Roman guys who were in charge of capturing it because she was so pretty, and those guys wanted to “get her” like in that Beatles song. But I guess she didn’t want them to get her and she let this poisonous snake bite her and she died. Then Queen Elizabeth was in charge of England for a while and she did really good. Mom had read that chapter again a week ago and I could remember the words at the end…

People at that time thought it impossible for a woman to rule as well as a man, but under Elizabeth’s rule England in turn became the leading country of Europe. Then people said Elizabeth ruled like a man, that she had a man’s brain, a man’s will. In fact they said she was more man than woman—that she was a tomboy grown up—that’s why I call her “King Elizabeth.”

And I guess the world was still that way. All the people in charge of our country and the Soviet Union, and all the other countries I had read about in books or seen on TV were men. The only women who were famous were like movie stars or singers, or that Emily Dickinson woman who wrote poems.

But mom hadn’t read to us at night since then, only dad, and tonight it was dad again, reading one of the new Tom Swift books, about the “Triphibian Atomicar”, which was kind of like that “Supercar” on TV. We sang some songs too and then he went back into the other bedroom with mom. Then David and I heard mom and dad arguing in their room. Though I think they were trying to be quiet, we could hear mom’s words sometimes when she got really mad. She was saying stuff like “I don’t have a life”, “I’m just a house frau”, “We had a deal”, “We don’t have any goddamn furniture”, and “I can’t go on like this”. That last one really worried me, and I could tell it worried David too. David even asked me what was wrong with mom. I told him I thought that she was worried that we didn’t have enough money and that she didn’t get to do things that she liked.


At breakfast this morning, mom didn’t look very happy. She wasn’t smiling or talking very much. She helped David make a bowl of Cheerios and milk to eat and I made my own. While we were eating, she went to the top of the basement stairway and called down to dad.

“Eric”, she said loudly, “Can you come up here?”

“Yeah, okay”, I heard dad down in the basement say. Mom came back in the kitchen and I heard dad’s feet banging on the steps as he quickly came up the stairs.

When he got to the kitchen he saw us and said, “Hi guys! What’s up Liz?”

Mom sat in one of the other chairs at the kitchen table and pointed at the last one and said, “Sit down, Eric.” Dad nodded and sat. David and I looked at both of them.

Mom put her elbows on the table and put her hands under her chin. She pushed her mouth together and looked up at the ceiling, thinking. I figured it must be something bad, and I wondered if it was something I had done. Then she looked at David and me.

“I imagine you two heard us arguing last night in our room”, she said, and David and I nodded. “We try to be quiet, but I tend to get louder when I feel strongly about something.” I looked at dad, who didn’t say anything and looked more like a kid than a grownup, like a kid worried about what an angry grownup was about to say about him.

“It’s a challenging time for your dad and I right now”, she said. I could see she was trying to figure out what to say next.

“Well”, she said, closing her eyes for a second, “It’s a particularly difficult time for me. Your dad has finally gotten his PhD and a job both he and I have been working towards for the last few years as a college professor. But I don’t think either of us realized that he still has a lot of work to do getting tenure before they pay him more of what he deserves for all his hard work.” Dad pushed his lips together and nodded.

“It’s all very frustrating”, she said, “For both him AND me. Your dad doesn’t talk about his frustrations, but I do.” She took a deep breath and blew it out. “I HAVE TO, it’s just the way I am. I’d explode if I didn’t share these feelings with somebody. So I share them with your father.” Dad nodded again, still seeming like a kid.

“It’s gonna all work out, Liz”, he said, “It’s just a bump in the road!” Mom closed her eyes again, pushed her lips together and nodded slowly.

Breathing out loudly she said, “I hope so”, then looking at dad, “Getting your dad a tenured professor job was only PART of the plan. The other part was for me then to go back to school and get MY masters degree, most likely in fine art. We are struggling to make that half of the plan happen.” She stopped talking, and dad nodded again and looked down like he’d done something bad.

“So that’s what we’re going through right now”, she said, “And you’re hearing my frustrated words that I’m trying to just share with your father. And I just want… we just want… both of you to know that we love both of you so much, and you two are the best thing that ever happened to us, and we don’t want you to worry about us. We will figure this out like we’ve figured out things before.” Dad was nodding and putting a smile on his face that seemed pretend.

She looked at dad and asked, “Eric, do you have any thoughts?” She looked like she really wanted him to say something, but he looked like he couldn’t figure out what to say.

“Your mom’s having a tough time”, he said, “We all have to help her get through this. And she’s right. We both love you two more than anything in the world and don’t want you to be worried.” They’d said that last thing to us before, and it always made me pretty worried.

Mom looked at David and me and asked, “Do you guys have any questions or things you’re worried about?” I was thinking that mom shouldn’t always be getting mad at dad, because he was doing everything he could. But I wasn’t going to say that because I was afraid mom would get mad at ME like she was always getting mad at dad, so I shook my head.

David asked her, “Why don’t you like dad any more?” Everyone was quiet for a moment. David looked at me like maybe he said the wrong thing. I didn’t know how to look back at him, though I guess I wanted to know that too.

“Oh sweetie”, said mom, “Your dad and I still love each other very much. Almost as much as we love you two.” I wasn’t sure if that was really true.

“So”, mom said, clapping her hands together, “Joan and Molly are coming after lunch and we’ve been invited to ‘tea’ at Joyce’s. And dad’s going to take Mister D over to Killins to get fresh dirt for the dirt pile.” “Mister D” was one of David’s nicknames. I liked thinking up nicknames too, and sometimes called him “Wavey Davey”, or just “Wavey”, but nobody else did. I guess mom and dad were better at thinking up nicknames than I was.


Kenny, Molly, Paul and me were up in the big cherry tree in Kenny’s backyard picking dark red cherries off the branches and eating them. Below us all our moms sat around a round glass table and drank tea. Tea was kind of like coffee but didn’t taste as bad, at least if it had sugar in it.

“Hey fruit pickers”, mom said, looking up at us above her, “Toss a couple of those little guys down here for us ground dwellers.” Molly and I each “tossed” one to her and she managed to catch both of them. Then Paul tossed one and finally Kenny. Mom caught those too.

“Good catch Jane”, said Paul’s mom, “You haven’t lost your eye-hand coordination.”

“Thanks Til”, mom said. Then she put her hands on her cheeks, slowly shook her head and made that funny sound when things weren’t going like she wanted them to. “Ach…”, she said, “It’s been so long, I don’t know if I even remember how to hit a damn tennis ball!”

“Jane”, said Kenny’s mom, “You’re so free with your colorful language. I always feel like I need to be so formal or it’s disrespectful.”

“Oh geez Joyce I’m sorry”, mom said, “There I go cursing again.”

“Bad Jane”, said Paul’s mom, starting to laugh through her nose, and then patting mom’s hand with hers.

“Jane always speaks her mind and doesn’t mince her words”, said Molly’s mom, “I’ve always admired her for that.”

“Hear, hear”, said Paul’s mom.

“No, no”, said Kenny’s mom, “I agree with Matilda and Joan on your forthrightness. I admire it as well. I wish I could speak so forcefully.” She pointed up at us in the tree. “I just worry about setting a bad example for the children.”

“Are there children up here?” Molly asked looking around, “All I see are us kids!” Her eyes caught mine and she opened them big to let me know she was being silly.

“Molly”, her mom’s voice was fierce, “Don’t be disrespectful of our hostess!”

“No, it’s okay, Joan”, Kenny’s mom said, putting HER HAND on Molly’s mom’s, “You all have taught me to loosen up quite a bit. This is America, not Yugoslavia!”

“Well you’ve certainly come a long way Joyce”, mom said, “From when you called us all Mrs so and so.”

“Yes, thank you”, Kenny’s mom said nodding, “I must have sounded like a fuddy-duddy back then.”

“No!” said mom and Molly’s mom, both making faces and shaking their heads. Then Paul’s mom said, “Well… maybe a little”, while she held her finger and thumb really close to each other. All four of them laughed.

“Well”, said Molly’s mom, “I’m still just sick about the bombing of that church in Birmingham. Those four young girls brutally killed, and now the FBI confirming it was an explosive device.”

“I’m not comfortable talking about this with our children around”, Kenny’s mom said, pointing up at us again.

Molly’s mom shook her head slowly and said, “Joyce, as discomforting as it is for all of us, this is the world our kids are growing up in. I think it does a disservice to their ethical development to not make them aware of what’s going on in the greater world around them and what’s at stake.”

I had seen them talking on TV about those four girls getting blown up. I wondered if stuff like that could happen in our town to us. The four of us kids in the tree all looked at each other but didn’t say anything. Kenny was the first to start looking for cherries again to eat.

“It’s a terrible thing indeed”, mom said, “I’m just heartened by what Doctor King is doing to organize negros to fight for their equal rights.” I had heard about that “Doctor King” guy and “negros” on TV news, but I didn’t know who they were.

Molly spit out a seed and swallowed the cherry she was eating, looked down and asked, “What are ‘negros’?”

Her mom looked worried as she looked up at Molly and asked, “Haven’t we talked about this?”

Molly pushed her lips together thinking and then said, “I don’t remember.” Her mom blew air out of her mouth and shook her head slowly and her head tilted down.

“So much for my grand pronouncements!” she said.

Mom looked up and asked, “Do any of you know what we’re talking about?” Molly, Kenny and I all shook our heads, but Paul nodded.

“I DO”, he said, “Negros are people with dark skin. They used to be slaves a long time ago, but now they’re just supposed to be regular people.” When he said that, I remembered that stuff about the slaves in the Civil War.

“Well Kudos to you Matilda for teaching your son about the world”, Molly’s mom said. Paul’s mom shook her head, and then made a clicking noise.

“I wish I could take credit”, she said, “But Pauly just seems to figure everything out for himself, or from his big brother and sister.”

“Sis told me”, Paul said. His mom nodded.

“We watched the march in Washington on the news with Coop”, mom said, “But our TV is black and white and so tiny, so it’s hard to get a sense of the scope of it.”

She looked up at me and said, “Remember Coop? When King spoke and said he had a dream, about a country where everybody’s equal?”

I could tell mom really wanted me to remember, and I kind of did, so I nodded.

“Such powerful words”, said Molly’s mom. Then she looked up at Molly and said, “Molly dear, you remember when we watched the march on TV, don’t you?”

Molly wrinkled her nose and said, “Kind of.”

“I’m afraid we missed it because we were visiting family”, Kenny’s mom said, “But aren’t you concerned about the radical elements in his organization?”

“Joyce”, It was Molly’s mom sounding fierce, “It’s those ‘radical elements’ that catalyze real change.”

“The way I see it you two”, mom said, “Yes there are those radical elements in any social movement, I guess it goes with the territory. But what’s important to me about King, is despite what those Southern bigots have done, beating up peaceful marchers, killing children, King has repeatedly called for only nonviolent protest, and I think we owe him a debt that he isn’t calling for fighting in the streets.”

“Hear hear”, said Paul’s mom, “Jane you always hit the nail on the head. You should be out there leading the charge, running for public office!”

“Thanks Til”, mom said, “If I was a man I probably would. I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s still a man’s world out there!”

“I suppose it is”, Paul’s mom said.

The four grownups below us continued to talk about that kind of stuff while the four of us kids in the trees found more dark super sweet red cherries to eat. We all had fun spitting the pits out, seeing how far we could spit them. Then they started talking about President Kennedy, who mom really liked.

Below us Paul’s mom said, “I was glad to see when Kennedy was interviewed on TV several weeks back, that he said it was up to the Vietnamese to fight their own war against the communists. I hope he sticks to those words, I’d hate to see us sending our young men over there to fight.”

“Agreed”, said Molly’s mom.

“As challenging as these last three years have been for me”, mom said, “I take a lot of solace that a man the quality of Jack Kennedy is sitting in the Oval Office. He’s a man of his word and a smart cookie”, and I trust him to make the right call about Vietnam. We just have to get him reelected next year.”

“Well”, said Kenny’s mom, “I voted for Nixon, and my husband and I have always voted Republican.”

“Jane here convinced me to vote for Kennedy”, Paul’s mom said, “Though Dilly always pulls the lever for the GOP ticket.”

“Forgive me”, Kenny’s mom said, “Dilly is…”

“My husband”, Paul’s mom said, “His given name is Randall, but his buddies call him ‘Dill’, so I like to tease him that OTHER women have a regular husband, but I have a ‘Dilly’. He’s hoping Rockefeller will run against Kennedy in 1964.”

“Rockefeller’s a good man”, mom said, “The Republicans could do much worse.”

“My husband is a Goldwater man”, Kenny’s mom said, “I don’t suppose any of you three care for him.” The other three below us shook their heads.

“I’m concerned that Goldwater will have us in a nuclear war with the Russians”, said Molly’s mom, “If we ever let him anywhere near the White House. We owe it to our children and the rest of the world to make sure that never happens.”

I remembered last year in third grade how we saw those movies about nuclear bombs and did those “duck and cover drills”. Kids in the park still talked about what it would be like if we all got blown up by those “H-bombs”. I still could even remember back to Molly’s fourth birthday party when Ricky talked about the radiation melting the skin off your bones while you were still alive. I could never forget that.

“I think we need someone in charge who’ll stand up to the communists”, Kenny’s mom said, “Joan, don’t you think Kennedy did the right thing by blockading Cuba during the missile crisis last year?”

“Well”, said Molly’s mom, “Kennedy just got lucky that Kruschev was the better man, willing to swallow his pride and walk back from the brink of the apocolypse.”

“Should we even be talking about all this with our children up there listening?” Kenny’s mom asked.

“It’s THEIR world as much or more than it is ours Joyce”, Molly’s mom said, “They need to be aware how much we’ve mucked it up for them.”

“Dear dear”, said Kenny’s mom.

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