By Michelle Railey
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
She must be Ernestine, Ruby, or Julia.
Guessing the Color of Cars
15 June 2016
There were days, a long time ago, when my sister and I sat on a porch swing. Eating popsicles, when the sun was shining, after it rained, always summer. We were children. We watched the street. We played a game I call “Guessing the color of cars.”
Here’s how you play: you call out the color of the next car that will drive past. If you’re right, you’re right and your sister knows it. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong and your sister knows that, too. But it’s, pardon the sorta-pun, a two-way street: if she’s right, you know it, and if she’s wrong, you know that, too. And that is how a summer afternoon is passed in the early 1980s or maybe the kids these days still play it. Somewhere. I doubt it, but you never know.
We didn’t keep score, my sister and I. We might have tried to, but after 5 or 6 cars, well, the days were languorous in a Tennessee Williams sort of way, and when time is sticky, the point spread doesn’t matter much. I’m right with a white car and then she’s right with a blue.
What is magnificent isn’t the game: it’s the fact that you’re there with your little sister and time is elastic and you rock on a swing, in the heat of a summer afternoon, and the next car could be black or maroon. You’ll both be right. You’ll both be wrong. No one wins. No one loses.
I miss those summers, swinging on a porch swing with my sister. I miss the times when our only mission in life was to guess the color of the next car that would drive past. I miss the times when it didn’t matter if we were wrong or right, it was just waiting and guessing and seeing and it was downtime: watching the cars while part of our brains were dreaming of other things, any other things. The summer was endless. Anything was possible.
The next car is red.
If there is a heaven, time is like that there. An endless summer afternoon, sharing a swing with my sister, guessing the color of cars in a game that is no game at all. Everyone’s a winner. It’s summer. And the world and your life stretches in front of you, an open book with endless pages.
And perhaps it will be blue. So many of them are blue.
Happy Birthday, TWM. I Wish You Were Here (13 May 2015)
I like, very much, whatever it is that makes certain that nothing ever disappears. Not even a grain of sand. — Coco Chanel
It’s May 13th. There is not a single May 13th that I have never thought of you.
Thank you for asking about my dinosaurs and pretending that you’d never heard of my friends Stegosaur, Brachiosaurus, Trilobite, and Pterodactyl.Thank you for driving me in that yellow Nova and for always smelling like calmness and Aqua Velva, with a hint of Old Spice.
When I sang my first solo ever, you said how my necklace sparkled. (It did. Indeed.)
When I triumphantly showed you my First Rating blue ribbon medal, you asked if I would build a case for the rest.
When I was three, you sat on the kitchen floor like you were my size. When I was five, you hoisted me on your back. You said “good gravy, Davy” at the weight and said I was a bag of potatoes. And you carried me up the stairs. When I was nine, you colored a coloring-book-dachsund with the bittersweet Crayola crayon and you said there was no other color a dachsund could be (And that’s still true. All dachshunds are, in fact, bittersweet). When I was ten, you looked at my acrylic heart earrings and you said you liked them, because the bottom heart was “what do you call that? Ice blue?” Yes, ice blue.) And when I was eleven, you tried to tell me about solar powered cars and electric engines and the car in the magazine was red and you were, well, you were sick. And I tried so very hard to ask something smart and to care about cars.
You used Chapstick every night after dinner. Original, the black wrapper. Your sport coats had leather buttons. Your garage, with its old brooms and its grandfather smells; its nails in old coffee cans and that weird orange-colored epoxy stain on the floor, was one of my favorite places in all the world. Next to your (and Mamaw’s) pantry: paint-stained nineteen-thirties chair and saltines tin and warmth and closeness and safety and wisdom and calm.
I will live my entire life trying to re-find that and you.
You were very fond of that sea turtle coloring contest I completed: you seemed proud when I won and it was displayed at the municipal pool. You are still the only person I ever knew who could create sailboats from Solo party cups. You’re so much like my mom, still, it hurts.
And there has never been a May 13th that I don’t think of you and wish you Happy Birthday.
You liked Anne Murray and Abba. There was a framed photograph, signed or at least stamped, from President Ronald Reagan on your desk. And there are, at least, five radio patents that are registered in your name.
I wish I had known you better.
I never built that case for my medals. But I do still like dinosaurs. But not as much as I like you. I wish you were here. Happy Birthday.
*The “not even a grain of sand” quote is paraphrased from one I read years and years ago in a biography of Coco Chanel. It was written by Axel Madsen. (Whoever wrote or said it, I like it.) I’d have to re-read that book to be certain. And I just don’t feel so fashionable right now.
Henry Purcell and Voice Potato
Purcell takes at least three weeks of prep, Voice Potato. Everyone knows that.
He Plays the Violin. American Musical and Dramatic Academy, November 1994.
I Kicked Tammy on the Tetherball Court
You might have found yourself, once, in a dress, a winter coat, and your brand-new flocked velveteen/pseudo-suede shoes from Payless Shoe Source (they had small heels!), on a tetherball court, on a winter day, after school. That’s where you might have been.
The wind made your cheeks red and stinging, like being kissed by sandpaper. But winter, what can you do?
So you, if you found yourself freezing in a dress and fancy shoes on the school’s playground, might have discovered you were kicking Tammy. Just into her parka and her book bag. Nowhere that would hurt. But with your new shoes! And she started it and she was kicking back.
Tammy, stop kicking so I can stop kicking back!
Well, luckily, if you’re like me or someone like me, you had a teacher who thought she was leaving for the day; at least until she spotted you (or someone like you) kicking Tammy.
The teacher left for the day anyway, of course. She just hauled you into the school first and asked what the hell you (or someone like you) thought you were doing. In fairness, she asked Tammy, too.
She should have called your parents. She said so. But no one was hurt, and upon closer examination, the incident resulted from a contest about who could sing “Tomorrow” the best. The intrepid teacher made sure no one was bleeding, decided kids were stupid, and left.
And then, Tammy and her fellow Annie-Sun-Will-Come-Out-Wannabe decided that kicking one another in the winter on a tetherball court really was, indeed, stupid. Far better to belt out “Tomorrow” in tandem.
Better still, to walk home from school, sharing Tootsie Pop Drops out of 1980s-lavender-puffy-coated and very cold pockets. Don’t step on a crack, you will break your Mom’s back. Hop over the ice patches, except for the ones with bubbles which make a satisfying and non-slippery rickety-rackety cracking noise when they split. Discuss, with Tammy, the virtues of Danny versus any of the other boys who are not named Danny and, also, how much you enjoy spelling tests. And velvet. And maybe roller-skating on Saturday, if your parents will let you. You’ll ask them when you get home.
At stop signs, you and Tammy decide that “Tomorrow” is a stupid song; but singing “Stop in the Name of Love” will be super-fun. Every single stop sign from school to home (there are about eight of them. But the song and the singing, Tammy and the shoes never, ever, ever get old).
The rest of your walk home, the one after Tammy is dropped off on Dove but you must continue on to Loomis, is sadder and colder and song-free. It is long, trudging, friend-free steps upon steps like a long Russian winter. (Tammy, I miss you, where are you, can’t you live next door to me; when I get home I will write you a note or call.) It’s a longer walk home without Tammy. Long enough to both remember, be guilty, and forget that your friendship is based in heavy-kicking-man-made-sole sins.
You (or someone like you) is heartily sorry you ever kicked Tammy. She’s your best friend, after all. And kicking anyone is just not like you.
For the record, you’ll go skating on Saturday. If you’re like me, or someone like me, you’ll even share your brand-new box of watermelon-fruit punch Nerds, but only with Tammy because she’s your best friend.
The shoes held up longer than they should have (Velveteen from Payless Shoe Store, 1983-ish version of shoes with contact-paper-covered heels should not have lasted at all long. But they did, y’all, the cheap consumer goods held on well into 1985). I (you) kicked really hard (thank god for puffy parkas!). The friendship was strong, so strong, but in the ways of geography and time, it dwindled and got lost, removed by miles and years, but forever extant, forever ready to be reactivated: kick once, sing The Supremes at every stop sign, imagine a red dress and Annie and that damned dog, or just look at a map, or a mirror, or think for a minute. Memory is a beast. It will (if you’re like me) routinely humiliate you, reminding you of the times you might have accidentally kicked Tammy on the tetherball court. (But it will also remind you of the friendship that blossomed from such Taiwan-made and ill-gotten seeds.)
I still love Tammy. You probably do, too. And if friendship is purchased, on occasion, with bad behavior, cheap shoes, and singing, well, some friendships are cheap at any price.
Here’s to you, Tammy. I’m so sorry I kicked you.
And about “Tomorrow?” I’m pretty sure it was… A tie.
At least, when you were fifteen and required to take Industrial Arts, you spent your five months with a razor, balsa wood, and pictures of suspension bridges.
It’s a Small World
Walt Disney World, 1998 (29 April 2017)