Friday, May 27, 2011

* Songs from the Wood *

Three lefts are all it took to get to Gideon Woods from my house.  I probably could've made it in fifteen minutes.  Maybe even ten. But there was so much to see and do.  It wasn't like I had A.D.H.D. or anything.  Heck, they hadn't even thought of it yet. 
            Back then, Green Oak Drive was cement, not blacktop.  If you looked real close, you could see tee tiny pebbles in it.  It was put down in big, square sections.   If no cars were coming, I liked to run my finger in the little gutter that ran curb to curb between the sections.  When the cement cracked, they patched it with black springy tar.  On hot days, I liked to press my thumbs (or my big toes if I was barefoot) into the warm, smooth, darkness.
            Half a block down, I always stopped to pet Missy, the little black dog with soft curly fur.  I called her Tripod after she lost one of her back legs chasing cars.  She still tried to run after 'em, but with only three legs, she'd get tuckered out quickly and plop down on her rounded, refurred stump.
            Four houses later, I'd wave at Mrs. Meek.  She'd either be sweeping her front porch or sitting in the Adirondack chair out in her yard, reading a library book.  I always wondered what it would be like to have a mom who looked like Barbie with short hair.  Like Cloris Leachman really.
After the second turn, I almost always stopped at the Biebers.'  
            "Should we play whiffleball or kickball this afternoon?" I'd ask Lisa, as we sat on her front porch steps.  Her mom taught fourth grade at our school.
            "Or, we could have a horseshow," she'd say.
            We put on horseshows, on our Schwinn bikes, in the parking lot of Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church.  I didn't always win the blue ribbon for Best in Show, but I always looked the realest 'cause I'd wear one of my brothers' batting helmets.
            I'd say bye to Lisa and walk up the road that ran between her house and the Swisher place.  I liked the Swishers’ house 'cause it had chubby, super tall, white columns in the front.  They had a big, ole RV parked in their extra wide driveway.  I bet they went cool places on the weekends.  
            I'd stare at each of their windows, hoping Jeff Swisher would look out.  When he was younger, people mistook him for a pretty little girl.  Not anymore.  What would it be like if he was your brother?  Or . . . your boyfriend?  I'd swipe the sudden mist of sweat off my upper lip and continue up the hill.

After I made the third left, I'd see Miss Lorna's house.  Miss Lorna was best friends with our next door neighbor, Mrs. McCallister.  Miss Lorna's daughter was a real live Rockette in New York City.  I got to meet her once when she visited.  Her teeth were super white and her lips the color of maraschino cherries.  A couple times, her false eyelashes got stuck in her eyebrows.  I turned my head so she wouldn't see me smile.
            On the corner past Miss Lorna’s, I had a choice.  Make the sharp left down to Gideon Woods, or veer slightly right and walk across the street to the property of the rich people who had two horses.  I only stopped to pet the horses if I'd remembered to bring them a treat.  No carrots, apples, or homemade sugar cubes?  Then it's down the big hill.  I usually ran this part.  You can run faster and longer when it's downhill.
At the bottom of Forest Drive, Gideon Woods was on the right.  There's a trodden and driven down half-circle bald patch by the side of the road.  This was where parents picked up kids who'd scamped around in the woods all day.  This was the spot where teens turned off their headlights and turned toward each other.  This was the place where people dropped twist-tied garbage bags of trash, puppies, or kittens, when they were too lazy to do the right thing.  I always ripped an air hole in the bags.  You know.  Just in case. 
             This spot always made me think of the time John Edwards' giant, super soft, all white sled dog put my whole face in her mouth.  Guess I got a tad too close.  Thankfully, the dents on my forehead and chin went away by bedtime.  Unlike the time when Peaches, our next door neighbors' Peek-a-Poo, gave me puncture wounds on my ankle when I got within nipping range of her.  Had to get a tetanus shot for that.
            Man, I hate shots.  I remember the time Mom tricked me.  Told me we were going downtown to shop at Stone and Thomas.  We were really going to get me a Mump's vaccine.  I flinched so hard I broke the needle and they had to shoot me again.  Mom kept apologizing and she did take me to Shoney's afterwards for a hot fudge cake, extra whipped cream, so it wasn’t all that bad.

There's a slight rise to get into Gideon Woods.  Then, at the top, there are ruts like someone drove a pickup in there awhile back.  And then maybe they changed their mind or thought they'd get stuck, so they backed out.
            Weeds and high grass were everywhere.  Trash too.  I don't think the ad campaign with the Indian guy crying over pollution worked. There were pop and beer cans.  Crushed cigarette packs.  Wadded up, snack-sized chip bags.  Unless the Scouts had been there recently.  Couple times a year, they came and cleaned up that front part.  So it looked nice when the rich people drove by. 

I went to Gideon Woods for lots of reasons.  Sometimes I collected shotgun shells.  The aqua ones were my favorites, but I was always on the lookout for new colors.  If you searched real hard, you could find .22 shells.  I think they're pretty--almost the color of a new penny, or an old one you’ve shined up with lemon juice and salt.  They're dainty looking.  To me anyway.
            I always went to the woods when the warm days started to outnumber the cool.  That's tadpole time.  I'd take a Skippy peanut butter jar with me but first, I'd use one of Dad's Phillips-head screwdrivers and a hammer to jab airholes in the metal lid.
            There were no ponds or creeks in Gideon.  Just really big puddles or places where the ground couldn't hold any more water so it climbed up the rough, sawgrass blades an inch or two.
            I listened.  That's how I knew where to look.  The grown up frogs would make a ton of noise 'til they heard the shush-shush of something coming.  Or, maybe they felt the vibration in the water.  Their peeping would stop.  Everything would get real quiet.  Even the birds hushed.  It's like the danger signal of animals is silence and people's is noise.  "Wheee-oohhh!  Wheee-oohhh!"  or "An! An!  An!  This is a test.  This is just a test, of the emergency broadcast system . . . " or "Clanga!  Clang!  Clang!"  That was the bell on our front porch that Mom or Dad rang when they wanted us in the house.  “Right now.  I mean it!”
            So after I listened, I'd look.  For snot.  I mean really.  That is what frog eggs look like, you know.  Like someone hawked a lugy.  All gelatinous.  Egg whitey.  If you happened to have a magnifying glass with you, you could see the individual transparent spheres with black spots.  They looked just like the googly eyes you get in the craft department of Hill's. 
            At least once every spring I’d get a scoop of muddy water--wiggly egg whites, googly eyes, and all--into my Skippy jar.  Sometimes the eggs had already turned into tadpoles.  I’d speak into the jar.  “Hi, little guys.”  Then I’d screw the lid on.  And grin.  Mission accomplished.

If I didn’t plan on harvesting frog eggs or tadpoles, I’d bring our dog to Gideon Woods.  She was a liver and white Beagle-Spitz mix.  We named her Holly 'cause we got her in December.  Plus, my mom said the mark on her head resembled a holly leaf.
            One day when Holly and I were in the woods, I found this little white container.  It looked like a plastic lip gloss tub.  I picked it up and read the label:  
"Contains 3 prophylactics.  Not intended for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases."  I wrinkled my nose.  Do what?  I unscrewed the top.  Out rolled three slippery, cloudy discs.  I squinted at ‘em.  They look like rolled up balloons.
            I unrolled one.  Thought it looked like a test tube or a sock.  That gave me an idea. 

           "Hey, Holly!  Come here!" 
            I stuck one of the slippery white things on her tail.  Then I let go of her leash and she knew it. She trotted into high grass.  All I could see was her tail.  It stuck straight up with its little see-through rain coat on.  I giggled.  A few minutes later, her tail disappeared.  I heard the crush-schmush of grass and the pleased grunting of dog happiness.  I scowled and ran toward the noise.  Just as I suspected.  She was anointing her back with eau du dead critter.
            I clapped several times.  "Here!  Stop that!" 
            I grabbed her leash and yanked.  She stood and did a get-every-hair-back-in-place shimmy.  The tail decoration was gone.
            I glanced at my Timex and squeaked.  “Criminy!  I’m late for supper.”
            When we stepped out of the woods and onto the trodden down half circle, I frowned at my feet.  Picked up a stick and dug mud out of the treads of my purple Chuck Taylor's.   A car horn honked.  I jumped and straightened.  It was a green Buick Skylark.  My oldest brother rolled down the window. 
            "Mom's been ringing the bell like crazy.  Didn't you hear?"
            I huffed.  "All the way down here?  No."
            "Get in."
            Holly and I climbed in the backseat.  I cranked the window down just enough so her ears and tongue could flap in the wind.  Her wagging tail 'bout put my eye out so I sat back and turned my head away from her.  Shut my eyes.  Listened to my tummy growl.  Won't be long now 'cause there's just three right turns and we'll be home.

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