Authors: Augusta Scattergood
For Jane, my own sister and friend.
And for Ivy and Kate and Jay, with appreciation.
Couldn’t Hardly Spit
Laura Lampert Comes to Town
Me and Emma and Nancy Drew
Jesslyn Pitches a Fit
Here’s What’s Broken
Letters to the
A Firecracker Blew Off His Finger
Miss B. Says Hogwash!
Old Lady Simpson Slams the Door
Jesslyn’s Big Fat Lie
Trying to Breathe Under a Blanket
Hot, Squished, Itching
Cross My Heart
The Storm on Sunday
Dinner Table Disaster
If I Lived to Be a Hundred
A Heap of Trouble
For Dang Sure
Black and Blue and Ugly
Hanging Moss Hornets
A Tornado Went Through
A Smile as Big as Mississippi
Books Don’t Care Who Reads Them
What All I Learned This Summer
About the Author
hat was taking Frankie so long?
We needed to hurry.
Franklin Cletus Smith has been my best friend since we hunted doodlebugs together in my backyard. Some people call him Frankfurter ’cause he’s got hair the color of a hot dog. I call him Frankie. I squinted down the sidewalk, and finally here he came, dragging his towel with his bathing suit hiked way up.
“It’s a million degrees out here. I’ve been waiting forever.”
“Well, hey to you, too, Glory,” he said.
I stood up and grabbed my swimming bag. “Where’ve you been?”
“I cut through Mrs. Simpson’s backyard.” He wiped
the sweat off his glasses with the bottom of his T-shirt. “Then I had to turn around and run down the alley when her mangy old hound dog took off after me.”
“Don’t worry about that dog,” I told him. “He’s half blind. Just barks at what he can’t see.”
“Some dogs run forty miles an hour.” He announced that like it was the gospel truth. Frankie was always saying stuff that sounded like it came straight from his World Book Encyclopedia.
“Let’s go,” I said. “It’s so hot I can’t hardly spit. Jesslyn’s already at the pool. She might up and decide she’s bored, and leave before I put my big toe in the water.”
I scratched at a mosquito bite and tugged at the bathing suit under my shorts. The backs of my legs were burning up from sitting on the concrete bench outside the library. I couldn’t wait to feel the water’s coolness, to dive in and flutter-kick all the way to the shallow end.
Frankie yanked at his towel. “I hope the pool’s even open,” he mumbled.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “It’ll be open. I’m going swimming. Why would they close the Community Pool now, when everybody needs a place to swim?”
“I heard something.” He stared up at a noisy mockingbird perched in the shade tree in front of the library. Anybody watching Frankie would have sworn that mockingbird was the most interesting critter in the universe. “About cracks needing fixing.”
“Nobody’s closing our pool. Where’d you hear that?”
“My daddy. But it’s a secret,” Frankie answered, and headed off like he hadn’t said a thing.
“Your daddy? What does he know?” I raced after him, all the time thinking why in tarnation would our pool be closing on the hottest day of the summer, just twelve days before the Fourth of July, my twelfth birthday? And what was the big secret anyhow?
ee there, Frankie. Your daddy doesn’t know everything. Still open.” I read the sign on the fence gate for the umpteenth time. “You suppose they’ll ever change
that rule that makes my bossy big sister in charge? Jesslyn can’t swim half as good as me. Just because she’s fourteen — and I’m only eleven — what difference does it make?”
“You know, Glory, nobody has to know how old you are. You can sneak in.” Frankie looked around to see if anybody was watching us. “Like me.”
“Not hardly. Since my daddy’s been the preacher at First Fellowship United Church for my whole entire lifetime, half the people in this town know how old I am.” I untangled a quarter from my bathing cap and dropped it on the sign-in table. “Let’s go,” I said, and followed Frankie to our special place near the back fence. We sat down on the grass.
I flipped my tennis shoes to the side of my towel and looked out at the pool. Eight ladies floated on their backs in a big circle, one foot in the air, then another, kicking away to some older-than-the-hills song blasting from the loudspeaker. “Look at that. The Esthers, hogging the pool again. Jesslyn says Mrs. Simpson named them after a movie star.”
“My brother says Old Lady Simpson acts like she’s the boss of the Community Pool.” Frankie put his Archie funny book down and nodded toward the swimmers.
“All those ladies have green hair, you know.”
Before he could quote from his fifth-grade science book about why chlorine turns hair green, I yelled, “Last one in’s a monkey’s uncle,” and jumped up.
Frankie set his eyeglasses in his shoe for safekeeping. He took off the black-and-gold lanyard with a whistle hanging from it and laid it on top of his towel. Then Frankie fiddled with his swim goggles, and fastened on his pink plastic nose clip. Finally he slid into the pool, feet first.
I dived in the deep end, flutter-kicked over to Jesslyn, then climbed up the ladder. When I got out of the pool, I stood close enough to drip on her. “Hey, sis. I’m here.”
Jesslyn turned from her pep squad friends. “I see you. Please move. You’re blocking my sun.” She slathered baby oil on her arm.
“Want a hot dog from the snack bar?” I asked. “I’ll get you one. And french fries.” Jesslyn looked at me like I’d offered her liver with onions.
Last summer, my sister taught me to hold my breath and swim the entire length of the pool underwater. Back then we sat on the same big towel while she painted my toenails pink. Not this summer. This summer Jesslyn is fed up with me.
I cannonballed back in, splashing Jesslyn and her snippy friends. When I got out, I headed for my towel. “Come on, Frankie,” I told him. “We got us some spying to do.”
Even underneath our favorite shade tree, it was so hot you couldn’t hardly breathe. But when Jesslyn and her friends started whispering, and words like
two-piece bathing suit
drifted my way, I scooted my towel out from under that tree to get closer. They gossiped about her friend Mary Louise’s party and talked about some new boy in town that Jesslyn seemed real interested in. The way those girls were studying their fancy-colored toenails, you would’ve thought they were paintings hanging in a museum.
When Frankie’s brother, J.T. Smith, Mr. Football Hero, showed up, the toenail studying ended. Every single one of Jesslyn’s pep squad friends started giggling and carrying on. Even with the sun beating down, J.T. had his varsity letter sweater slung over his shoulders. No swimming suit. I guess he was too good to go near the water. He had a toothpick hanging out of his mouth, a football under his arm, and the fiercest look on his face.
Frankie jumped up and ran over to where J.T. was. Maybe he thought his mean big brother was gonna make
those boys playing Marco Polo, splashing left and right under the diving board, ask him to join in. Fat chance they’d let Frankfurter Smith play, even
his brother’s the Hanging Moss Hornets’ biggest star.
“You girls better enjoy this while you can.” J.T. nodded toward the pool. He was grinning bigger than a cat trapping a mouse. “By next week, it’ll be closed.”
Jesslyn propped herself up on her elbows to look out at the turquoise water. “Closed? In the middle of the summer? You don’t know what you’re talking about, J.T.”
“I know exactly what I’m talking about” was all he said.
When I heard that, I couldn’t stop myself. I stormed over to Jesslyn. “Nobody will close our pool. It’s almost July Fourth, the big parade and all.” I started to say how it was my birthday and I’d had swimming parties here since I was little. But I didn’t. I glared at Frankie’s brother. “Why are you lying about our pool?”
J.T. spit out his toothpick and slicked back his black hair. “I ain’t lying. You can blame it on them Freedom Workers. Those people from up North, in town to help the coloreds vote and swim in our pool. We don’t need outside agitators down here making up new rules.” J.T. started to move away from us. He was ending the conversation.
Jesslyn followed J.T. toward the gate, and I was right behind her. Her voice got so loud two lifeguards looked down. “Outside agitators? Do you even know what that means? You’re just using big words. Before you start saying bad stuff about people, you should find out who these so-called outside agitators really are.”
My stomach did a belly flop. Whatever an
was, it didn’t sound good. I didn’t understand what they were arguing about.
“Well, if you want to swim next to a colored person, go on ahead,” J.T. hollered back at Jesslyn. “While you’re at it, why don’t you just hightail it across town to swim in their crummy pool?”
“Maybe I will,” Jesslyn answered, quietly this time. But by now the entire pep squad was listening.
“What are you talking about, J.T.?” I looked up at him standing there, smiling to beat the band. “You don’t know a thing.”
“That’s what you think,” he answered. Then he strolled out of the pool gate like he owned the place.
For a minute everything got so still it felt like the entire Hanging Moss Community Pool was holding its breath, listening. After a while it was swimming pool noises again — mamas calling children, lifeguards’
whistles, radios fighting with each other to see which one could make the most racket. Everything back to normal, seemed like.
I turned to Frankie. “Is something broken? Is that what you meant when you said the pool might be closing to fix stuff? Like a crack in the cement? Must be a teensy crack, right? Or that fence over by our mimosa tree? It’s been broken ever since I can remember.”
“Daddy told us it was closing,” he answered. “My daddy’s on the Town Council, you know.”
“Yeah, well, as the preacher at First Fellowship my daddy knows as much as any old Town Council. He never said anything about this pool closing in the middle of the summer.”
I kneeled down to peer into the pool water gurgling near the drains. Bobby pins, long hair, pink chewed-up bubble gum. No cracks.
I was trying not to care about swimming and splashing every single day for the rest of the summer in the cool water with Frankie, my one true friend. Or whether it mattered that Jesslyn just might be the laughingstock of the Hanging Moss Community Pool for hollering at Frankie’s brother. Listening to J.T. talk just now, all the fun had drained right out of the Community Pool.
y the time I walked back to the shade tree, Jesslyn had packed up her towel and transistor radio. I slipped on my unlaced tennis shoes, grabbed my bag, and followed her out the gate. For the rest of the livelong day, Mary Louise, Mrs. Simpson, and the whole dang pool would be whispering about Jesslyn. But I was pretending like they had disappeared into the air like the sound of the lifeguards’ whistles.
“Wait up,” I said when I caught Jesslyn. “Wanna come to the library? We could read together.”
She looked back at her friends. “I’m going home. The pool’s not fun today,” she said.
“You could help me plan my birthday party.” I stopped to take a breath. So far, everybody was
ignoring my birthday. Twelve days away and nobody cared a bit. “My party’s before Mary Louise’s. You think the pool will be open then?”
“I don’t know, Glory. There’s a lot going on around here that you’re too young to understand. But I doubt the pool will close. And I don’t have time to think about your party right now.” Jesslyn turned and headed across the street toward home.
I didn’t care if my sister ever helped me do a thing again. I’d figure this pool problem out. I walked straight to the library. Miss Bloom, the librarian, always knows everything. She’d know if the pool’s got cracks in it.
I pushed open the door and caught my breath inside the big room. Old men sat at the long wooden tables, reading newspapers near the front windows. I looked for Miss Bloom. But what I saw, sitting in a cool, dark corner of the library with a book perched in her lap, was somebody I’d never laid eyes on, just about my age, who I swear didn’t look like she belonged here in Hanging Moss. Instead of a ponytail like mine, one fat braid reached down to her waist. She wore heavy sandals, with socks. No kid in the entire state of Mississippi wore black socks in the summer. Shoot, if I wasn’t standing
smack-dab in the middle of the library,
wouldn’t be wearing shoes.
I tucked my towel from the pool under me and scrunched down in a chair next to that girl’s. I grabbed a book and turned the pages. Someone would have thought I was reading the most interesting thing in the whole wide library.
When I leaned over to see the cover of what the girl was reading, she jumped like I’d shot off a firecracker in the library. “That book good?”
Before the girl could answer, earrings came jangling and high heels clicking around the corner. Miss Bloom never was a librarian who went around shushing people.
“Gloriana, I see you’ve met Laura Lampert. She’s visiting this summer. Just got to Hanging Moss yesterday.” Miss Bloom smiled big as you please, then kept talking. “Her mother’s starting a new clinic out from town; the Freedom Clinic we’re calling it. For folks who don’t have their own doctors or nurses. Laura’s staying with me at the library while her mother works. Maybe you girls can come together tomorrow to help with story time.” Miss Bloom took off her cat’s-eye glasses to rub them clean with her fingers.
Laura smiled a little, then turned away quickly. I smiled back at her.
“What’s that you’re reading, honey?” Miss Bloom asked Laura.
The Secret in the Old Attic
. I love Nancy Drew books. I’ve read them all.” When Laura Lampert said her
, it was in a Yankee voice like Walter Cronkite on the
. And she ran her words together, real quick. Didn’t talk a bit like I was used to.
But that didn’t matter. “I’ve read every single Nancy Drew book in the entire world,” I told her.
“Glory, why don’t you show Laura around, outside where there’s fresh air,” Miss Bloom said. “Just don’t be gone too long. Laura’s mama will be back soon.”
Fresh air, my foot. I was dripping sweat by the time we’d walked to the park behind the library.
“Are you staying all summer?” I asked her. “We could look for some story time books together in the picture book library tomorrow.”
Laura spoke in such a quiet voice. “I’m not sure.” I had to lean closer to hear her. “We drove from Ohio yesterday.”
Wait till I tell Frankie. I’d have to get him to look that up in one of his encyclopedias.
“I’ve never met a real Yankee before,” I said.
Laura scrunched up her forehead, like she didn’t know what I was talking about. “I live across the street,” I said. “Maybe you could come to my house while you’re here visiting from Ohio.”
When we stopped in front of the swing set, I kicked off my shoes to feel the cool grass. There was sun shining on the slide. Its heat made that thing about to burn up. I moved under a shade tree near the little kids’ pool. “See that?” I pointed toward the wading pool. “Don’t ever swim there,” I told Laura. “My friend Frankie and me have a pact to never even put a big toe in the Pee Pool.” Kids splashed water and threw beach balls at each other. One of them was naked as a jaybird, standing by the side crying for his mama. No, sirree, you would not catch me in that baby pool full of pee. “Come on,” I said. “I’ll show you a statue. Supposed to be somebody famous.”
Laura followed me across the street to the County Courthouse, still not saying much of anything. That didn’t stop me from talking, though. I pointed up to the big statue of the soldier.
“Frankie claims he was killed in some battle while riding his horse. ’Course, I don’t believe everything Frankie says anymore. He’s been telling me a lie about
our Community Pool closing. We swim there every single day.” I wiped my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand and looked over at Laura in those black socks and sandals. Didn’t look like she cared much for swimming pools. “You thirsty?” I asked. “Not much to drink around here but water unless the sno-cone truck comes by.”
“Water’s fine,” Laura said. Boy was this girl quiet. She hardly talked.
I stepped up to the tall fountain next to the Courthouse, letting the water drip down my chin, dribbling it on my wrists to cool me off. I guess I must’ve taken too long because before I knew it, Laura was standing at the
Oh, no! I had to do something quick.
I tugged at the back of her shirt. “That’s the wrong fountain. Can’t you read? See the sign?” I pointed to
, big as you please, written above the fountain where she’d just leaned her white face and took a long drink.
Laura stepped back and looked up at the signs above our two Courthouse fountains. She touched one fountain, then the other, turning the handles to make an arc of cold water.
“My mother told me about this,” she said. “But they both work fine. It doesn’t seem right.”
Just then a little colored girl walked up and sat down on the hot sidewalk. When she splashed her white leather sandals in the puddle that had leaked from the fountain, all I could think was how mad her mama was gonna be when she saw the dirt she’d stirred up.
Out of the blue Laura asked that colored girl, “Would you like a drink? Do you need someone to lift you up to reach the water?” She held the girl up to the white people’s fountain to take a sip! I stood there with my mouth hanging wide open.
As long as I’d been alive, there were two fountains side by side here across the street from Fireman’s Park, where I played most every single day of the summer. One was for whites only, the other for coloreds. That’s the way it always had been, and here this Yankee was helping a little colored girl drink out of the wrong fountain.
I looked across to the park. Had anybody caught us breaking the rules?
“Ruth Ann! Get on out of there.” The boy hollering at the little girl must have been her big brother because he grabbed her hand and jerked her away from that whites-only fountain quicker than anything. He held
that little colored girl’s hand, tucked his chin, and took off. He turned around once, making sure we weren’t chasing after them.
Laura looked from the fountain to me and back again as the colored boy and girl disappeared around the corner.
“What difference does it make which one we drink from?” Laura asked. “The water tastes the same.” And she stepped up to the
fountain to get herself another long drink.
Oh, boy. I had a lot to teach this girl about Hanging Moss, Mississippi.
he next afternoon Jesslyn was upstairs with our bedroom door slammed shut, playing a sappy Elvis song on her record player. I plopped down in a kitchen chair to watch our cook, Emma, fixing supper, same as she’d done almost every single day since I was born.
She poured sweet tea into a tall jelly glass full of ice cubes. She sat next to me and stirred milk and two spoons of sugar into the coffee in her plain white cup. When she handed me my tea, I pressed our palms together. “Look here, Emma,” I said. “My hand’s the same as yours.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Glory, sweetie, our hands aren’t a thing alike. But they match up pretty good.”
I looked hard at our hands together. Emma was right — they
different. Mine were getting nearly as big as Emma’s, but her hands were the color of her coffee. Mine were white as Wonder bread. Still, Emma and me, we fit together like that Praying Hands statue over at Daddy’s church.
When Emma pulled our hands apart, she slid a postcard across the kitchen table. “I saved you this, to mark the place we stopped reading our Nancy Drew book,” she said. “Came from one of your daddy’s church people. Says here on the back, they were visiting in Tennessee.”
“‘See Rock City,’” I read out loud. “Maybe someday I’ll see Rock City,” I told Emma. Right now, I could count on one hand the places Jesslyn and me had been. “This postcard’s nice. I’m putting it in my Junk Poker box,” I whispered, then I smiled at Emma. “To bet with.”
“Don’t let me hear you talking about betting, Glory. Your daddy, Brother Joe, will skin you alive if he catches you and your sister playing that Junk Poker card game. And betting! That goes against your daddy’s church teaching.” Emma stood up, opened the icebox, and put the fried chicken inside, for later.
Ever since our mama died, before I could hardly remember, Emma’d been worrying over Jesslyn and me.
Eat your green beans. Stay inside with the shades pulled down when it’s hot. Watch crossing that street.
Mostly, I paid attention and did what Emma said. But when it came to Junk Poker, that was different. I tucked the postcard into our Nancy Drew book to save for my next card game with Jesslyn.
To get Emma’s attention onto something else, I said, “Guess what, Emma. I met a girl at the library. Her name’s Laura and she’s from up north. She drank out of the wrong water fountain over at the Courthouse. I told her not to but she wouldn’t listen.”
Emma didn’t answer. She was listening, though.
“Reckon she’ll be my friend? She doesn’t talk much, and when she does, she talks funny ’cause she’s a Yankee. Miss Bloom says her mama’s here being a nurse. You heard of a place out on the highway, called some Freedom Clinic thing?”
Emma shook her head. She still wasn’t talking, so I started on something new. At least her mind was off my Junk Poker postcard.
“Frankie says the pool’s gonna close,” I told Emma. “He says it’s a secret. Claims there’s cracks needing fixing or a broken fence. You think there’s cracks in our swimming pool?”
I could see Emma’s jaw twitching. She was trying hard not to say something. She stood at the sink washing her coffee cup over and over like the Queen of Sheba might be coming to our house for a tea party.
When Emma finally turned around, I stood up and crossed my arms across my chest. “What?” I stuck my chin out. “Are you mad at me?” I asked her.
Emma reached out and put her arm around my shoulders. “I know about that clinic.” Her voice was soft and low. “And I doubt your swimming pool has half the cracks as some pools I know about. But you stay clear of all that. Don’t be worrying about what you can’t fix, Glory honey,” she said.
I grabbed our Nancy Drew book and stormed off.
hat night after supper, our daddy, Brother Joe Hemphill, head preacher of the First Fellowship United Church, took his second dish of cherry cobbler to the front porch to practice his sermons for preaching on Wednesday night and next Sunday morning. Emma was nowhere to be seen. And it looked to me like Jesslyn was up to no good.
“Why’d you do those dishes all by yourself?” I couldn’t hardly believe my eyes. She hadn’t even asked me to help with drying. “Where’s Emma?”
“Emma went home early.” Jesslyn wiped her hands on the dish towel, slipped the pearl ring that used to be our mama’s back on her finger, then turned around and gave me one of her looks.
“What for?” I asked. “Emma never goes home early.”
“Something about company at her house.” Jesslyn smiled at me like the world was one big happy family. “I wanted to help out.”
If Emma had been standing in our kitchen right then, she would have been telling me, “Gloriana June Hemphill, you are too nosy for your own good.” Even though Emma might call it snooping, I didn’t believe Jesslyn would be washing and drying those dishes for the pure D. niceness of it. I had to be nosy.
Jesslyn pranced upstairs to our room. I followed her. While she primped in front of the mirror, I reached under my bed for my secret shoe box of treasures. Shells from the times we visited our grandma in Florida, two Jesus bookmarks I’d won at Vacation Bible School, my Cracker Jack whistle, a bag of collected bottle caps, ten copper pennies, wax lips. My new Rock City postcard. I’d saved it all to bet with.
“Wanna play Junk Poker?” I asked.
With the way Jesslyn glared, I might have well asked her to play Patty-Cake. “I’ve got better things to do,” she said. “Besides, I dumped my shoe box out.”
“What’d you do that for? You made up Junk Poker
when we were little, before I could hardly count to twenty-one and beat you. Now that I’m getting good and winning all your junk away from you, you don’t want to play with me?”
Jesslyn smiled into her mirror, dug through the mess of lipsticks and bobby pins on her dresser, and pretended I wasn’t in the room.
“Why’re you getting so dressed up?”
“Mind your own business, Glory.” She flipped up the curl of her hair and painted on Persian Melon lipstick. I untied the purple bow on my Buster Brown shoe box and lined up my Junk Poker treasures on the bumpy chenille bedspread.
Jesslyn smeared Vaseline on her eyebrows, a trick she learned from her stuck-up pep squad friends. Says when they march up and down the football field, shiny eyebrows give them “a movie star look.”
I blew on my Cracker Jack whistle. “Where’re you going?” I asked her.
“If you must know,” she said, dabbing Evening in Paris perfume behind her ears, “to the library with Mary Louise. To plan her birthday party.”
“Sure are getting fixed up for the library.” I held a
shell up to my ear, pretending to listen to the ocean, biting my lip thinking about how Jesslyn didn’t care one bit about
Our daddy knocked real quiet on our bedroom door. I stuffed my treasures in my shoe box quick. “Everything okay, girls?” he asked. He never was one for much talk unless he was in front of pews full of people waiting for the Good Word.
“Daddy, now that I’m going to high school, I’m too old to be sharing a room with Glory.” Jesslyn gave him her
I could never do a thing wrong
look. “She’s bothersome. And messy. I want Mama’s old sewing room.”
Last summer when the ceiling fan stirred up the heat, Jesslyn and me had pushed our beds close together. During the night we kicked off our sheets and flipped our pillows to the cool side. Finally we gave up on sleep, pulled out our secret shoe boxes, and played cards. Now here she was tossing out all her junk for our game and wanting to move to the sewing room!
messy.” I straightened the perfect spines of my Nancy Drew books standing like soldiers on my shelf. “Look at Jesslyn’s stuff.” Mascara wands and
hairbrushes, perfume bottles and powder boxes were piled on a stack of dog-eared movie magazines.
Jesslyn gave me the eye — again. “I have private things.” The way she said
made me want to yank open her dresser drawer and steal her diary.
“Besides, Emma uses the sewing machine in there,” I said. “There’s just that little bed. With my quilt on it. You can’t have my quilt.”
“Now, girls, don’t start fussing.” Daddy raised a hand to hush us. “Let me think on this,” he said, heading back to his sermon.
“I’m fixing to walk over to the library,” Jesslyn told him, smiling. But our daddy was halfway down the steps already.
“I’m going with you.” I pushed my Junk Poker box under the bed.
“You are not. Stop sticking your nosy self into my business.” Jesslyn smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt for the third time.
“How come we never do stuff together anymore? Last summer you bought me a diary for my birthday present and taught me how to jump double Dutch. Now you pitch a fit if I walk to the library with you.”
“Mary Louise and I don’t need you hanging around while we’re planning her party.” Jesslyn smiled in the mirror one last time and did a little dance down the stairs.
Mary Louise, my fanny. I peered in that mirror at my dishwater blond ponytail and tried to imagine myself in Persian Melon lipstick. Or my hair done up in Jesslyn’s big brush rollers. Jesslyn’s hair flipped up at the ends. Mine looked like it hadn’t seen the right side of a brush all day.
I followed Jesslyn down the stairs, but the back door banged shut in my face before I could ask her any more questions.
I grabbed a Dreamsicle from the kitchen freezer and headed for the porch.
“Daddy, I’m going over to the library,” I called.
He looked up from his Bible. “Be careful. It’s getting dark out,” he said. “And maybe you can walk home with your sister?” Then he picked up his pen and started writing on his sermon again.
“Yes, sir,” I answered, wondering whether Jesslyn was even
I skipped down the front steps and headed off to find my sister.
hid behind a giant oak tree and looked into the library window, then over toward Fireman’s Park. Jesslyn was nowhere to be seen. I licked ice cream from my Dreamsicle off my fingers, wiped them clean on my shorts, and pushed open the heavy door into the library.
Still no Jesslyn.
I’d been helping Miss Bloom all summer so I knew my way around the library. I sneaked downstairs past the storerooms. I turned the corner near a box of old newspapers that stunk worse than dead catfish. Just as I was about to give up ever finding my sister, I caught a whiff of Evening in Paris. A rumbling floor fan made it hard for me to hear, but that was definitely Jesslyn’s voice coming from inside a room down the hall. That
was Jesslyn’s perfume, too. Another voice chimed in that didn’t sound one bit like Mary Louise Williams planning a birthday party. I pressed up against the wall, holding my breath.
“I love Elvis Presley. I have every one of his records,” Jesslyn was saying.
“Me, too. But I had to leave them back in North Carolina when I left so fast,” I heard a voice say. “Elvis and me — we even have the same middle name. Aaron. Did you know Aaron is Elvis’s middle name?”
As if Jesslyn didn’t own a scrapbook full of Elvis stuff and even a plaster of paris Elvis statue. She was liable to stand up and start singing “Love Me Tender” right then.
I held my breath and leaned around the door for a look. There was a boy with long sideburns! Sitting real close and talking to Jesslyn! I ducked back before they caught me.
“You look a little bit like Elvis,” Jesslyn was saying. I almost gagged.
“Maybe we can drive up to Memphis to see Elvis’s fancy house,” the voice with the sideburns said. “Or maybe Tupelo, where Elvis was born. You reckon your daddy’d mind?”
Now as sure as I knew
middle name, our daddy, Brother Joe Hemphill, would no sooner let his daughter drive out of town with a strange boy with the same middle name as Elvis than he’d let her fly to the moon.
“My daddy won’t mind a bit,” my sister said.
Lordy, Jesslyn was in trouble for sure.
I hurried out of the library, back across the street, and sat down at the kitchen table to drink a glass of cold milk. Daddy sat next to me, working on his crossword puzzle when Jesslyn waltzed in breathless like she’d seen the real Elvis.
“Hey, honey,” Daddy said. “You get what you needed at the library?” He went back to his puzzle.
“Yessir, Daddy.” She didn’t even look at me. “And Mary Louise and I were talking just now. We need to go to Memphis to buy stuff for her birthday. And our batons for pep squad.”
“Batons? Don’t you already have a baton?” Our daddy glanced up but he kept his #2 pencil perched right on the paper so he wouldn’t lose his place. “Do you know a six-letter word for a mythical creature?”
Jesslyn stood with her hand on her hip. She did that a lot lately. She didn’t answer Daddy’s crossword
question. “The one I need is a fire baton. I’m learning how to twirl fire.” She dragged
out like she was about to star in Mr. Ringling’s big-top circus.
Now, you’d think Daddy would have at least put his pencil down and thought a little bit about his oldest daughter traveling to Memphis to buy a fire baton, but no, he kept on worrying over that six-letter word for a mythical creature.
“I’ll think on it,” Daddy finally said.
“Mary Louise’s cousin is driving. She’s had her license for a long time,” Jesslyn said.
“That her aunt Betty’s girl?” Daddy knew most everybody in Hanging Moss.
My sister paused for one quick second before answering. “No, sir,” she said. “It’s somebody you’ve never met.”
he next morning before anybody woke up, I pulled on my blue shorts and T-shirt from yesterday and tiptoed downstairs to talk to Emma. She was already singing and humming to herself, what sounded like a churchy song. Emma might have been old enough to be my mama, but she wasn’t much taller than me, and her singing voice was high and tinkly. I stopped for a minute outside the kitchen door to listen. I dearly loved hearing Emma sing.
“What’re you doing?” I asked.
Emma smiled. “Cooking biscuits. With bacon, like always.” She took the bacon out of the icebox. “Where are you off to today, honey?” she asked.
I chewed on a hangnail I’d been working on all
week. “I wanted to go swimming, but Jesslyn’s acting ugly, so maybe she won’t let me come with her. Besides, what if the pool’s already closed?”
Emma didn’t answer. Just went back to turning the bacon in her black skillet. I twirled my ponytail and stared at a speck of dust on our red tabletop. My Nancy Drew book sat open to the chapter we’d been reading yesterday. I opened and shut it to the rhythm of Emma’s quiet humming.
“Emma, you think something’s really broken at the pool?” I flipped the book cover back and forth.
She got quiet before she answered. “What’s broken is that some folks don’t seem to like anything changing. Everything’s got to stay the same in this part of town,” she said. “I bet nobody ever thought how it’s just as hot over where I live as it is where you live. Somebody ought to be fixin’ that broken-down slab of concrete they call a swimming pool near me.”
I shut my book. Emma didn’t usually say stuff about her side of town and my side of town. I never even considered how she might not have a nice place to cool off. I
our community pool —
pool, I liked to call it!
pool had a snack bar, lounge chairs, swimming
lessons, and lifeguards. And I’d had my July Fourth birthday party at
pool most every year since I could swim. If I could remember back far enough, I even pictured my mama holding me while I put my face in the water for the very first time.
I started to ask more about Emma’s pool, but when she poked a long fork into the bacon like she was spearing something hateful, I swallowed my questions.
Frankie showed up just when the bacon was cooling on the kitchen table. He’d come right through the back door and made himself at home.
“Frankie, do you hear bacon sizzling all the way down Church Street?” I asked him.
“Can just about smell it,” he answered. He pushed his red hair off his forehead and straightened his glasses. “Smells good.”
“Here. Have yourself one.” Emma handed us toasted biscuits with bacon inside. Frankie and me sat on the back steps eating biscuits and licking butter off our fingers, being quiet together like we do sometimes. Then I got an idea.
“Hey, Emma. Can the girl I met at the library come to supper one night?” I called out. Emma could hear me through the screen door.
“Who’d you meet?” Frankie asked, stuffing the last bite in his mouth.
“A girl visiting from Ohio,” I said. “Name’s Laura. She likes Nancy Drew books, like me and Emma. Miss Bloom asked Laura and me to do story times together at the library. She says she doesn’t have one single friend here. ’Cept me now.”
Frankie leaned in, talked quiet so I could barely hear him. “Wonder if she’s one of those troublemakers in town from up North,” he said. “Here living with the coloreds. Trying to make them vote. Daddy says those long-haired hippies should stay where they belong. Plenty of people up North need help.”
Frankie’s daddy is the
in Bill and James’ Wild West Wear and Clothing Emporium downtown. Besides selling cowboy hats and fancy boots, and telling Frankie what to think, Mr. Smith was once upon a time a big football hero. He still has old pictures and even his jerseys from a zillion years ago hanging all over his store.
“For your information, Frankie” — I stood up and looked right at him — “my new friend’s not a troublemaker and she’s not living with any colored people. She’s here with her mama. Laura Lampert, that’s her
name. Laura and me went for a walk. I showed her the Pee Pool and the playground and all. We might make us a lanyard or a friendship bracelet at the park tomorrow.”
No use telling Frankie about the drinking fountains. I didn’t want to give him another reason not to like Laura.
Frankie scrunched up his face, looked hard at a pile of red ants next to the steps. What he said next made my stomach knot up.
“I hate Yankees. You better be careful, Glory. My daddy says they’re trouble.”
Between his daddy and his mean big brother, J.T., somebody’s always trying to tell Frankie what to think. Half the time I wonder if Frankie’s scared to death of J.T. and of his own daddy.
“Does your daddy even know this girl from Ohio?” I asked.
Frankie didn’t answer my question. I sat down again and glared, daring him to say one more thing about Laura.
“All those outsiders here in town might try to make us swim with colored children. And go to school with them. Daddy swears he’ll yank me and J.T. out of school if a colored person’s in my class.”
About that time Jesslyn appeared at the back door. And even as quiet as Frankie talked, she’d heard him. She marched herself around in front of us on the steps.
“Just because somebody talks a little different doesn’t mean you can’t be nice to them.” Jesslyn pointed her pink-painted fingernail at Frankie, then at me. “You think the world would come to an end if you had somebody not exactly like you sitting beside you in school next year?”
“We know plenty of different people. We don’t mind sitting next to them.” I didn’t like Jesslyn thinking Frankie was hateful or stupid, but he was sure acting that way.
Jesslyn looked hard at him. “Some people in this town — your brother included — need to learn a thing or two about getting along with people.” She stormed inside.
“Frankie, what you said, that was about the dumbest thing I ever heard of. Not going to school just because of who’s sitting next to you? What about mean Donnie Drake who steals your homework? Or Kenny. He’s been in our class since kindergarten. He smells like a billy goat and picks his nose. But you sit next to
Frankie wiped butter off his fingers onto his T-shirt
and shrugged his shoulders at me. “That’s not the same.”
“’Cause they’re white? That’s what your daddy thinks.”
Frankie ignored that. “What’s that girl doing at the town library anyhow? Daddy says pretty soon they’ll be letting just anybody come in there.” Frankie stood up and brushed the crumbs off his T-shirt. “Why do you like that Yankee?” he asked.
“I told you, her name’s Laura,” I said. “Call her by her name. She’s nice, and we both love Nancy Drew books, and she needs a friend. She stays at the library while her mother’s a nurse working somewhere out on the highway. Least that’s what Miss Bloom told me.”
What I didn’t tell was about Laura’s mother running that clinic, helping poor people who don’t have any such thing as a doctor or a nurse. And if Miss Bloom says there are people who need this Freedom Clinic thing, whatever it is, then it’s true.
“I like knowing somebody from Ohio,” I said.
“My brother claims they talk and dress funny. And those freedom people try to make people do stuff they shouldn’t.”
Wasn’t freedom something good? What was Frankie talking about?
But before he could tell me another lie that his brother or his daddy swore was the gospel truth, my daddy pushed open the back screen door.
“I’m going over to the church,” he announced. “See you in a while, Glory.”
“Thank you for having me to breakfast, Brother Joe. I sure do love Miss Emma’s biscuits.” Even when he wasn’t exactly invited, Frankie remembered his manners.
“You’re welcome anytime. Oh, and Glory, did I overhear you talking about a visitor girl you met at the library just now? Invite her to supper, why don’t you. You and Jesslyn can get to know people from other places.” Then Daddy headed across to the church.
“I’ll invite Laura Lampert to supper.” I smiled real nice at Frankie. “My sister and I will know somebody from far off.”
That is if Jesslyn would pull herself away from her new boyfriend long enough to pay me any nevermind. Or stop believing that trying out lipsticks with Mary Louise is more fun than playing Junk Poker with me. Then maybe Jesslyn would think having my new friend from Ohio over here to supper was fun.
Frankie let out a big sigh. “My daddy’s gonna be mad,” he said, and scooted home, kicking a rock halfway
down the block. “My brother’s gonna beat me up for playing with somebody who likes Yankees,” he yelled back to me.
J.T. was scary all right, and I hoped he wouldn’t beat Frankie up, I truly did. But right now I needed Frankie about as much as I needed Jesslyn’s fancy orange lipstick.
“Emma, I’ll be back real soon,” I hollered over my shoulder. “I’m going to the library to invite Laura Lampert to supper.”
From inside the kitchen, Emma shut the icebox door so hard, the milk bottles rattled.