Momma was fond of saying, “A little dab of soap will get anything clean.” I never realized how important each word of that statement was until last Saturday.
Momma called me to the kitchen that morning. She was dressed in her Sunday best. As she knelt in front of me to look into my eyes, I knew she was about to say something she wanted me to remember.
“Devin, I have to go to church and help the ladies serve at Mr. Jenkins’ funeral. This is the first time I’ve left you alone at home but I think at nine years you’re old enough that I can trust you.”
I nodded, only half listening.
“Now because I can trust you, I know you’ll stay inside and not make a mess.” She cupped my chin in her hand and smiled. “Right?”
I nodded again, imagining all the fun I was going to have.
She tied a scarf over her hair and kissed the top of my head. I squirmed. Commander Devin Dawson was too grown up to be kissed by his mother!
“If you need anything, you can call Mrs. Victorio next door and she’ll come right over. You know her phone number.”
As soon as the door closed and the car started, I raced to my bedroom. Flopping onto my belly beside my bed, I reached under as far as I could. I held my breath as I dragged out my box of army guys and a few dirty socks besides. Who knew socks could be that stinky? Next stop was my closet floor where my tanks and planes were stationed from the last time I played with them.
With my arms full, I could hardly get the kitchen door open. I piled my army equipment beside the patch of dirt that my mother had smoothed out the day before. I worked at the earth, pushing it into little hills and valleys, then positioned my army men in different areas of the battlefield. Not until after the first battle did I notice the muddy bulbs scattered here and there on the patch of dirt. Why did Momma have to use every available play area in the yard for her flowers?
I went to get some laundry soap so the bulbs would be clean when I replanted them. My army guys could stand a good washing, too. I sprinkled about a cup of soap over the bulbs and army equipment, then unwound the garden hose from its coiled position by the outdoor faucet.
I turned the thingy to get the water flowing, but the water seemed to be stuck in the pipes. I twisted it until it wouldn’t turn anymore. Then I remembered that Momma always did something with the end of the hose to get the water to spray. Those bulbs were so dirty I figured I had better turn the nozzle all the way. Water shot out of that hose like it was from a fireman’s water cannon. Bulbs and army men flew in all directions when the spray hit them and within seconds Momma’s flower bed was a pool overflowing with suds. Sparkly bubbles floated into the air and popped on the lawn. I scrambled to collect Momma’s bulbs in one pile, then ran in the house to get a towel to sop up the soap.
Mrs. Victorio was standing there when I returned. Her gentle blue eyes always reminded me of the wallpaper color in the doctor’s office. Those wallpaper blue eyes were looking first at me, then at the pile of bulbs as she waited for me to speak.
“I didn’t mean to, Mrs. Victorio,” I stammered as I finished explaining.
She didn’t say a word but knelt on the ground and began to dig new holes for Momma’s bulbs. I knelt, too, trying not to let my tears out. Commander Devin Dawson was not a crybaby.
“Hand me those bulbs, one by one, and we’ll see if we can repair this accident.” I loved Mrs. Victorio with all my heart at that moment. Together, we replanted the bulbs and she promised not to tell Momma. “I was young once, too, you know,” she confessed with a tiny smile.
One forgotten army man waist-deep in garden soil gave away our secret. But by then Momma found she could trust me to stay home alone because I had learned my lesson.
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