*This is my entry for the Dog Days of Summer contest. I wonder if anyone will recognize himself in any of the characters?
We had lived in Eden for a whole year with my grandparents while Dad was flying somewhere in the Pacific. I was happy to picture him in his plane, safe from the gruesome stories of Guadalcanal in Life magazine. Like most of the homes in Eden, we had a Blue Star flag hanging in the front window; a few homes had Gold Star flags as well. Cody’s grandma hung hers when she received it; but his mom, Clara, didn’t get a Gold Star flag.
School was over and summer was finally here. Mornings, Cody worked with the colored people planting tobacco and melons. Thomas and I weeded the Victory garden while we waited for Cody to get off work after lunch. Once a week, the three of us went around the neighborhood collecting scrap metal, aluminum, tin foil from gum wrappers, any kind of metal really. Another day, we would collect the cooking fat which was smellier and messier. All the ladies fell over six-year-old Thomas, but if he got a cookie or a cup of lemonade, Cody and I got the same thing without having to be oohed and aahed over.
The Mortons had moved into the house across from us in April. There were four girls, all with wavy brown hair and blue eyes. My mother called them stair steps. The oldest, Janet, was 13; Marie was 11; Bette was 7; and Luise was 5. Their mother, Mrs. Morton, who was the tallest stair step, was expecting another child. Janet told me that the baby would be named either Joan or Gary as they had all been named after Academy Award winners. “Pop hopes it will be a Gary,” she said and I hoped as well for Mr. Morton’s sake.
Marie was in my class at school. When she came over, she usually had Bette or Luise. My mother was in heaven with the girls, happy to comb their hair, play dolls or just sit and talk. Janet spent a lot of time helping her mother in the house or out with her own friends; she thought she was too old to play with us. It was a shame because she always came up with the best fun.
One afternoon, Cody, Thomas and I had picked all the ripe blackberries in the lane behind the Morton’s house. Our fingers stained with juice, we found Janet in the backyard watching her sisters.
“Oh good!” she said when she saw us. We need you boys to help us excavate this site.” She swept her arms around to the patch behind the garage the Morton’s shared with their neighbors. Like I said, Janet had the best ideas. We were always finding old buttons and bullets in the garden at our house. Granny said that the land had been a soldier camp during the Civil War.
Janet was in charge because she had read a book about archeology. We weren’t digging long before Thomas was working on a deep hole and Luise was throwing clumps of dirt at Bette. Cody, Marie and I followed Janet’s lead and sifted carefully through the dirt, one section at a time. We found marbles, some old coins, nails and lots of rocks.
When Luise threw a worm at Bette, she screamed and ran inside to tell her mother. Marie picked up the worm and said she’d give her marbles to whoever would eat it. Of course, no one volunteered. Then Janet offered the coin she had found if someone would eat the worm.
“I’ll eat it for all the coins,” Thomas offered.
Now we were on to something. Between the four of us, we had found a nickel, four Lincoln pennies and two Indian head pennies. Marie offered to throw in her marbles as well.
Thomas had brushed the dirt off the worm and it wiggled in his hand. We all looked on while he decided. “All the coins, Marie’s marbles and Charlie’s Lou Gehrig card.”
“Not my Lou Gehrig. What about my Joe DiMaggio?” I countered.
Thomas thought for a second. “Deal. All the coins and marbles and Joe DiMaggio.”
“You have to shake on it,” Cody said.
“Cody’s right, Charlie. You have to shake on it. And we’re all witnesses,” Janet said.
Thomas and I shook hands then I said, “The whole worm, no throwing up.”
“The whole worm,” he repeated. We waited while he brushed non-existent dirt off the worm. We heard the back door of the house open and knew we had seconds before Mrs. Morton came out and stopped our fun.
“Hurry,” Janet urged.
Thomas shoved the worm in his mouth and chewed really fast, making all kinds of scrunching faces as he swallowed. Luise screamed and we all shouted, “Ewww!” Thomas opened his mouth to show us it was gone.
“Janet! Marie!” we heard Mrs. Morton yell.
“He did it,” Janet said and we were all impressed. We handed over the coins and the marbles as Mrs. Morton came into the backyard.
“What is going on back here?” she asked.
“You better go,” Janet urged and Cody, Thomas and I slipped over the fence into the back alley so Mrs. Morton wouldn’t see us.
“Who said you could dig back here?” we heard. “You better put all that dirt back where you found it!”
“Thomas ate a worm!” exclaimed Luise.
“Don’t tell tales, Luise. Thomas isn’t even here. Janet, you and Marie put all that dirt back…” We didn’t hear the rest because we were laughing so hard.
Of course Granny didn’t believe Thomas ate the worm, but Mom did. “You shouldn’t torture your brother like that,” she said.
“We paid him to do it,” I protested.
“Thomas,” she called out to him. “Don’t let them pressure you into doing dumb things. Worms are dirty.”
“But Charlie gave me his Joe DiMaggio if I did it.”
“Still,” she said, but she was laughing. Summer was going to be great.