On this particular day, Vicky, Randi
and I skated over to Thrifty Drugs for nickel Crearnsicles.
After, we played jacks on the sidewalk between the
dichondra-- a peculiar, flowerless, low- to no-maintenance
clover, planted in lieu of authentic grass-- on my
front "lawn" and the narrow green strip
that divided the sidewalk from the curb and gutter.
"Going to the library?"
"Nah," I said, collecting
my jacks. "Not today." I went up my front
steps, through the living room and past the bathroom,
into my room.
"That you?" called Mrs.
Rollins, from the bathroom. "Don't be tracking
your dirt in here, keep outside! Not through the kitchen
neither, the floor's wet. Go through the garage."
She returned her attention to my slippery, splashing
sister. Stealthily, I took my pillow and slipped outside.
Our fenced-in yard had three elements:
patio, driveway, and more dichondra, here a spongy,
lima-bean-shaped green expanse, punctuated by the
sprinkler heads that regularly kept it lush. I sat
on the dichondra with my pillow, then stripped the
pillow of its case. The tag tore off easily enough,
but I couldn't rip the ticking; the fabric was stronger
than me. I got my father's screwdriver from the garage
and shoved it into the ticking. Hand clenched around
its handle, I dragged the tool downward. A six-inch
gash in the fabric began oozing feathers.
I put my hand in, wrist-deep. With
a fist full of feathers, scouting fast for the babysitter,
I spun around and threw the feathers up over my head.
Feather-snow fell all around me. I took another fistful,
then another, then two at a time, flinging each upward,
turning face-up to receive the snow. Pretty soon,
Randi and Vicky came by-- they had seen the "snow"
billow over our backyard fence. They stuck their hands
in the pillow and started throwing snow, too, and
then all the kids came, all scooping up snow in handfuls
from where it settled on the dichondra, throwing feather
snowballs and wadding great piles of down into soft,
hand-packed snow bombs. The aquamarine sky turned
white with clouds of feathers, and we raised a racket,
screeching and shouting and hollering in wild delight,
because before too long, Mrs. Rollins came to the
slidingglass door in the den and stopped dead at the
sight of us. "I don't know what to do with you
wild ones," she scolded. To me, "Wait til
your mother gets home."
When the big Buick lumbered into
the driveway, we were still playing in the dichondra,
twirling in the flurries. My immaculate mother emerged
from her car to see us, and her yard, covered in feathers,
and seemed to stumble on the air. She regained her
physical balance but went a little crazy, there on
the hot driveway. Muttering through gritted teeth,
half-Polish, half-English, she took me by the shoulders,
shook me hard, shamed me in front of my friends.
"How could you do this?"
she demanded. "Get rid of them"-- my friends--
"and clean this up." Then, she wept. My
rock-solid, impermeable mother cried, there on her
driveway in July 1963, ensconced in a perfect suburban
world of her own devising, and her shoulders shook
like mine had, only no one was shaking them.
"Clean this up," she said
again, then lit a cigarette, and went inside.
Cleaning up the feathers was more
of a challenge than making the snow had been. Scooping
them back into the pillowcase was slow going. I tried
the rake; all it did was kick up little eddies of
feathers, which settled into the dichondra again.
Meanwhile, my father came home.
"What are you doing?" he
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