It was the kind of day that people write stories about. Or at least they should. The sky was the color blue of Nana’s Wedgwood china in some places and it was a pale blue, like the robin’s egg I saw at the Nature Trail museum, in others. It was not hot -- which was weird for June here in Florida -- and there was a little breeze. Not a cloud in the sky. I was imagining floating on the lake at Nana and Papa’s summer house, eyes closed, thinking about nothing.
Unfortunately, what I was really doing was lying on the trampoline in my backyard, looking at the sky and wishing that Porter and his stupid friends hadn’t destroyed the hammock pretending they were soldiers in Vietnam and using it as a net to catch the Viet Cong. The hammock was my place to go and think and read and meditate. Uncle Tommy showed me how to meditate when he was here for Christmas last year -- he took a class on Transcendental Meditation when he was in California. I still don’t really get it, but I still try to do it anyway. Maybe I’m too young and don’t have enough experience or something.
I did a jump bounce dismount off the trampoline and walked over to the patio to grab my book. Pammy had lent me her copy of “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.” There had been a lot of talk by teachers and the PTA about it being in our school library -- I wanted to read it to see what the fuss was all about. Jenny Parker said she thought it was “total trash.” Which probably meant that I would really like it. I’d make sure I did, anyway.
I lay down in the grass near where the hammock should have been, rolled onto my side and began to read.
I hadn’t gotten past page one when I heard the sliding glass door off the patio open and Mama’s voice rising above the door skimming in the track.
“Jack McKey -- you had best stay out of those cookies. If I told you once I’ve told you ten times that they’re not for you, remember.”
Mama came over to where I was lounging in the grass and set a glass of lemonade next to me carefully on the lawn. Fresh squeezed -- none of that powdered Country Time for her. She had a glass for herself in her other hand and pulled a chair with her foot close to the edge of the patio, near where I was laying, and sat down with a sigh.
“Nixie Jean, please do not pull up any more blades of grass. Your father works very hard to keep this yard looking nice -- the least you can do is not destroy it. Your brothers do a nice job of that all on their own.” She kicked a stray basketball away with her bare foot and painted toes. Cherries in the Snow. Her standard summer color.
“Yes ma’am.” I sat up to take a sip of lemonade. Cool, sweet, tart. Just right. As always. Just like Mama.
“Who are those cookies for, by the way.” I was curious, mostly because I wanted one, but was trying to act grownup about it.
“The Junior League gals -- we have an Admissions meeting at Headquarters tonight and since I’m the chairman, I thought I’d make something nice.”
“Ah.” Mama did a lot of volunteer work -- Junior League, PTA, church. Now that Porter and Jack and I were older and more independent, she had more time on her hands and staying active with volunteer jobs helped to keep her busy.
“You don’t need to those cookies anyway,” Mama said after a moment. “You best be watching your figure. Especially now that summer and bathing suit season are here.”
“Uh-huh.” I mumbled. Mama set a great store by a person’s physical appearance. Specifically my physical appearance. I was built like my grandma -- Daddy’s mother. We both were on the curvy side, with hips and a chest. I had been wearing a bra since the fourth grade -- the first girl in my class to do so. Jenny Parker was so jealous that she told everyone I stuffed my bra with toilet paper. Kids would come up and try to bump into me at recess and in the lunch line, just to see if it were true. I think Jenny only wears Her Majesty camisoles with little ribbons and pink rosebuds even now. I haven’t been to one of her slumber parties since elementary school and she always dresses for PE in the bathroom stall, so I don’t know for sure about the bra. I still like to think she’s flat chested underneath it all, particularly when she’s mean -- it makes me feel better somehow.
“I want you to stick to your diet when you’re at Nana’s house -- I know it’s hard, especially with Nana and Aunt Emma Lynn being such good cooks.” Aunt Emma Lynn was Nana’s sister. “But you’re doing so well with it. People are noticing.”
Mama took a long sip of her lemonade and reached for her cigarette case.
I wasn’t sure what “people” she was talking about. Most likely it was just Mama herself. I didn’t think I looked that bad, but after the doctor told me that I was in a higher percentile of weight and height at my last checkup, she got it into her head that I was a “chubby” girl and put me on her version of a diet. Which consisted of her watching every thing that she could go into my mouth. And having me do exercises. And making me get on the scale every other day. I just went along with it -- it was easier to agree than to argue. The school nurse, Miss Rudolph, said I looked just fine for my age and physique and had nothing to worry about -- I went to talk to her about things after my doctor’s checkup. I thought Mama was just not sure how to deal with a daughter who didn’t look just like her -- tall and thin and the same size since college. I had heard Daddy mumble something about “mother/daughter stuff” under his breath more than once when we were having a talk about my diet and exercising.
“Hmmm.” I gave her as much of a response as I thought I could get away with. I didn’t want to pick a fight right now on such a pretty day. I leaned over and took a look to make sure my place in the book was marked. I didn’t have a bookmark and didn’t want to turn down the page of a book that wasn’t mine, so I used a leaf instead.
“It’s a nice day -- really nice for June, isn’t it?” Mama had lit her Virginia Slim and exhaled as she spoke. Daddy didn’t like her smoking at all, but especially hated when she did it in the house and so she would come out into the yard a couple of times a day to sneak a cigarette. She said it was a habit left over from college that she just couldn’t break, but I know that she had read an article in Ladies Home Journal about how smoking helped not make you as hungry and kept you slim. I figured that’s really why she kept on doing it.
“Yep. I miss the hammock though.”
“I know you do, honey. That is your special place, isn’t it. I cannot believe Porter and those Carson boys used it in one of their war games. Honestly. Your father wants to drive up the east coast on our way to Nana and Papa’s after Porter finally finishes with his tournament and Jack is done with American Legion and we’ll stop at Pawley’s Island and get a new one.”
“Oh, you will? Thank you -- that’s great.” I sat up and smiled.
“Nana wants us to get one for the lake house too, although I’m not sure where they want to put it.”
“Maybe between one of those big oak trees between the house and the lake.” I offered.
“Maybe.” Mama took another drag off the Virginia Slim and exhaled slowly, as if gaining energy or power from the motion. It almost seemed as if she wanted to tell me something serious. She often would come out and chat with me about this that or the other, but there was a different feel to this conversation.
We sat in silence for a little while, me trying not to mess with the lawn, her lighting another cigarette.
“What’s that you’re reading?” Mama motioned with her in-need-of-a-manicure hand over to the book beside me. Her standing appointment for hair and nails was a couple of days away
“Um, it’s a book Pammy lent me. She says it’s pretty good.”
“Oh yes -- that’s the one that the PTA was all in an uproar about. I heard about it at tennis. Carolyn Parker wanted me to sign a petition to get it taken out of the school library. Of course I didn’t -- sign it, that is. You know how I feel about censorship.”
I sure did. As much as Mama rode me about my diet and exercise and being a well mannered Southern lady, she was also just as firm about trusting me and what I chose to read or watch on television. Most of my friends had restrictions on what they could or couldn’t watch -- not me. Along with my “facts of life” talk (which was really a waste of time because Pammy’s older brother Shriner told us all about that at one of her slumber parties way before the “talk”) Mama also told me that she wasn’t going to supervise what I read -- that I was a smart girl with good sense and she and Daddy trusted my judgment. I thought that was pretty cool and tried not to abuse their rules.
“Had a call from Tommy today. He’s going to be a few days later than he originally thought getting here.” Mama sat up a little straighter in her chair.
“Oh -- that’s OK. As long as we’re still going -- he is still going to drive me up to the lake house, right?”
We sat in silence for a few minutes, me still looking at the sky, Mama taking thoughtful drags off the Virginia Slim.
She finally finished and rubbed the butt out on the edge of the patio. “Nixie, I want you to make sure that you are nice to your Uncle Tommy -- he’s had a difficult past couple of weeks. Listen to him when he asks you to do something. Be sweet.” Her voice was tight -- it almost sounded like she had something caught in her throat.
“Of course I’ll be nice -- Uncle Tommy and I are pals. I’d love him anyway, ‘cause he’s family and all, but I really love him because he doesn’t treat me like a kid. He’s so cool.”
“Is he OK -- he’s not sick, is he?” Now I was worried. What did a “difficult past couple of weeks” really mean?
“Um, he’s fine. Health-wise. He’s just had a rough time of things lately. This vacation will be good for him. Hopefully.” Mama looked in her cigarette case, trying to decide if she wanted one more smoke or not. “I just wanted you to be aware. That’s all.”
We sat quietly again for a little bit. Finally, she stepped down to pick up my empty lemonade glass and gave me a kiss on the forehead.
“After a while, go down the street and look for Porter. He’s got homework to finish and I want him to have it done before dinner. The Nichols are coming over for pot luck.” The Nichols were our next door neighbors -- Carrie, the daughter, was a couple of years younger than me and had a terrible crush on Porter. It was unrequited, however, as Porter hadn’t yet discovered his interest in girls. I laughed -- no wonder he had wandered off down the street.
“OK. Just let me finish this next chapter and I’ll go find him.”
Mama was opening the sliding glass door to go into the kitchen. “Thank you. Oh, and Nixie.” She turned to look at me, a far away look in her eye.
“You know I’m very proud of you.”
“Yes Mama. Thank you.”
She smiled, and walked in the door just as the phone started to ring.