“Missed me. Missed me.”
“You can’t hit a flea in a coconut tree.”
We sat on the limbs of our favorite tree, intoxicated by the scent of the pink fuzzy bloom that billowed around us. We spent our days climbing trees, jumping the creek bank and taunting Linda, our baby sister. I felt so grown-up hanging out with my big brothers.
Linda was my Irish twin, born the same year but ten months younger. I could climb the tree by myself but she couldn’t; so she stood beneath the beloved mimosa tree and threw rocks at us as we sang. Her throwing was not much better than her climbing. She threatened to tell mama. I said “Well you’re the one throwing rocks and you know you’ll get a whooping for that.” She didn’t tell and we didn’t help her climb the tree.
My two older brothers were not always good to me. Once they tied me up over an ant hill and left me. They wanted to see if the worker ants would carry me to their queen. They said ants were the strongest creatures in the universe. Linda found me. She went and got mama. Boy did they get it. When school started and the big yellow school bus swallowed our brothers up each morning; I taught Linda to climb that tree.
I told Linda where babies came from. We would sit in the tree and watch for the mailman. He is the one that brought them you know. I wanted to make sure if he brought us one that it didn’t have to stay in the mailbox too long. Our mailbox leaned in a row with two others. They kind of sagged into the curve of the road. That’s why I had to be there in case the mailman brought us a baby. It might fall out and get ran over by the school bus when it spit our brothers out again in the afternoon. I couldn’t bear that thought.
Our box leaned on Mr. King’s box. He owned our house. He had a kind round face that looked like my uncle’s bulldog except she was a girl. I know she was a girl because we got one of her puppies. Mr. King lived across the road. He wore glasses and a black fedora with a narrow band that didn’t match his pudgy body. His face was always smiling even if his mouth didn’t. He would bring us a whole bag of candy. We would sit by the fence, and watch Will; the old black man plow Mr. King’s garden with a sweaty old mule named Petie. After we gobbled the candy down; we would go over to Mr. King’s house to swing. His tree went all the way up to where God and Jesus live; if I leaned back in the swing and looked up I couldn’t even see the top.
The other mail box belonged to Annie. Mr. King owned her house too. You had to walk down a long road to get to Annie’s house. Sometimes a big long black snake would be stretched across her road. Mama would squeeze my hand a little tighter. The snake would slither on down into the woods. Mama said it was going to the pond for a drink of water. I guess snakes get thirsty too.
There were two cool things about Annie. Annie dipped snuff and when she had to spit, she put her two fingers like a peace sign over her mouth and let her rip. She said that helped her aim. I tried to spit like Annie but the rabbit tobacco my brother gave me made me sick.
The other cool thing was in Annie’s house. It was in the living room. The room reeked of snuff and peppermint. In the corner stood the most amazing iron bed I had ever seen. It was Annie’s daddy’s bed. What was so special about that bed? Every inch of it was covered in chewing gum. I couldn’t take my eyes off of that bed.
Do you know how many times my mama had to get chewing gum out of my hair? I didn’t just have regular hair like my brothers and sister. I had crazy hair. People predicted the weather by my hair. It was a big mess of blonde curls. One time it even got caught in the wringer of mama’s washing machine. It wound tighter and tighter until I knew by face would be smashed flatter than our bulldog’s face.
My daddy wouldn’t let mama cut my hair, so it took hours to get a wad of gum out. It took even longer to get me out of that wringer. I could stick my gum on the headboard and it would not end up in my hair. No more hours of getting my head jerked off by mama and her vicious comb. I knew she would be glad too. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell her. She would be so pleased. I stiffened when I heard Miss Annie say “Ya’ll want a glass of tea and some of this here blackberry cobbler.”
My heart fell. I knew we would be there for a while. Under other circumstances I would have been delighted to have Miss Annie’s tea and cobbler. She had the best sweet tea in the whole county. She said it was the Lipton tea bags she used. Her cobbler was divine.
Finally we said our goodbyes and headed back down the road toward the bus stop to wait for my brothers. I wanted to wait until after supper to tell mama my plans, but I couldn’t It just all gushed out of me, pouring like the rain out of a gutter during a summer downpour . I told my mama all about my plan for my chewing gum and for my chewing-gum free hair.
Mama rolled her eyes.
“No ma’am. You will not stick your chewing gum all over the bed frame.”
I stomped my foot.
Mama stood her ground.
“I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
My heart sank. I knew I needed to let it go. I stood there in the autumn sunlight, amber colored leaves twirling around me like the reckless thoughts spinning through my mind, my arms crossed over my four-year old chest and my bottom lip sticking out.
When I get big, I will get this crazy hair cut off. I will move out and I will park my chewing gum on the headboard. I can do anything I want to. I will put the chewing gum in the dog’s hair… The dog slept under our bed. I glanced at my mother and I began to smile, as the school bus came to a grinding halt and my brothers tumbled out.