Sometimes I just feel like telling a love story with a happy ending, and none of that conflict that people are told they need in stories.
We had enough of it growing up, you see, and I don’t only mean the stuff what was brewing behind Walter Cronkite’s shoulder on the nightly news. The conflict I am talking about was in our community, almost like the religious poison in Northern Ireland my dad didn’t talk about but my Uncle Ted spewed in accented mouthfuls when he was flying on the whiskey, my mother called it.
The Ford plant was on the west side of our village and the GM plant was on the east. Our parents worked at Ford and we had to be careful who we palled around with. It wasn’t enough our friends had brains, courage, heart, no, they had to be full-blood Fords.
Our village consisted of practically identical houses, two same-faith churches kiddy corner, a public school and a high school, a plaza all lined up with a grocery store on one end, Village Variety, a drug store where the pharmacist looked like Alfred Hitchcock, and my dad used to go in and say good eeeeevvvening, no matter what time of day it was, a hardware store, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, although I can’t figure out in my head where it goes, a Greek restaurant, Hunt’s Bakery, and Judy’s Women’s Wear, where the most elegant mannequins looked like they were frozen on a dance floor.
The bluffs were very big and dangerous, clay cliffs upon which we teetered and climbed. The forbidden Lake Ontario below is how we learned to lie. Let’s see if I can put that into words: In the same way we knew there was no Santa Claus, our parents knew we swam in the lake, but we were able to maintain a beautiful and mutual lack of acknowledgement of both these things throughout our childhood.
Some love story, huh?
We none of us kids wanted conflict, which made us, I don’t know if lackadaisy is the right word, I’ve never tried it out before, but it certainly put us in the lower echelon of ambition and zero competitive urges, except for a few whose parents were teachers or ministers or business people, including Throw Jackson, whose parents owned the hardware store, so it was okay that he was my brother Tommy’s best friend.
Everybody called Throw, Throw, same way we called Shorty, Shorty, and Whitey, Whitey. I mean, one look at him you knew he had an arm, but that was only half of it, there was also his eyes.
Everybody was always trying to start something. My dad had a handful of opening lines he’d bring out after a drink or two, like dangling a fist, but most of the time it was only a tiresome series of jokes and punchlines that never varied. I can’t even bear to type them out.
“I grew up on Fords,” he always said, and he’d pause, look around with that half-smile, waiting for a GMer to contradict him. But Throw had the best line out of all of them I ever heard.
“That’s why you’ll never get scurvy.”
My dad turned to him. “What?”
“All the lemons.”
I’d never seen a kid like Throw, didn’t give a shit who he made fun of and talked to everybody the same, including teachers, parents, cops, pets, beggars, choosers, and even me, Tommy’s pale little sister on the verge of invisibility.
“Whatddya think, Stella?”
I just looked at first, didn’t smile or anything, and he’d say it again like he actually was waiting for an answer.
“Stella. What do you think?”
And he’d wait. He’d actually wait, and my thoughts, so unused to the air, kind of quivered on my lips, you know, my voice so small he’d lean a little my way and sort of nod at every word, you know, acknowledge each of them until I’d finished, and then he’d look at me and smile, close his eyes in conjunction with a little nod or two. He’d squint and say, “Well, that’s interesting.”
All you need is one person to think you’re worth listening to, and you get your voice.
But this was supposed to be a love story.
I saw Throw again by chance just last fall, we both were home for Thanksgiving. He plays ball for the Kansas City Royals, and I hadn’t seen him in five years except on TV. Those eyes came right at me from across the parking lot, and I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m going to Kansas City again next Thursday. There’s no place like it.