Just before dinner a turquoise Rambler pulls into the driveway. I skip through the screen door as Macky and Donna burst out of the back seat. We all jump and squeal while Bruce stands on the front steps, his hands in the pockets of red seersucker shorts. But he follows us to the tree fort in the mosquitoey backyard, and we all scramble up the big white pine until we are sticky with sap.
After a summer supper of corn on the cob, hamburgers from the charcoal grill, baked beans and homemade watermelon pickles, all us kids run into our long, skinny living room. I pull out Pistol Packin’ Mama, my favorite of all Daddy’s country western 45’s. Macky puts the record on the stereo under the picture window at one narrow end of the room.
I belt out the lyrics while we do-si-do each other as if we’re at a square dance. “Drinking beer in the cabaret,”( whatever a cabaret is.) “Was I havin’ fun…”
We’re all singing the chorus now, even Bruce, “Lay that Pistol down babe, lay that pistol down.”
With the final, “Pistol Packin’ Mama, lay that pistol down,” all the grownups come in to see what the racket is all about. Daddy sits in his naugahyde recliner at the other end of the room, and Uncle Mack sits next to him in Mommy’s flowered armchair. Aunt Ruth and Mommy sit on the gray slipcovered couch opposite the fireplace. Now that we have an audience, we begin again. Macky puts the needle back on the turn table and slings my little elbow around his much beefier forearm. Two kids cooped up in a car all day and two kids amped with anticipation, we let it rip, “Drinking Beer, in the cabaret!”
Donna and Bruce are stomping and circling each other. With barely twelve feet across for four performers, we are all bumping into each other, sweaty faced and drunk with laughter. Bruce and Donna are falling over each other. Macky is swirling me so high, my feet leave the ground. The record skips with the thunder of our collisions.
Yet the lyrics rattle on, “Until one night she caught me right…” The adults heave one unified sigh as my tiny body twirls off my much taller cousin, and flies across the room. I stumble over the marble top coffee table in front of the couch and my plant my forehead squarely on the pointy seat of Grandmother Carey’s beetle black rocking chair. There is a sickening crack.
“Pistol Packin’ Mama lay that pistol down.” No one is singing along with the record anymore. My head swirls. I feel something split above my eyes. Mommy appears at my side with a pink washcloth full of ice cubes. I know it’s bad. I run to the downstairs bathroom where daddy shaves in the morning and stretch my neck to look in the mirror above the sink. Donna stands beside me as I remove the frigid terrycloth. A goose egg has erupted a good half inch off the surface of my skull with a bleeding slit in the middle. The party is over.
All us kids are tucked into our respective trundles. Even in matching baby doll pajamas there are no more somersaults. All pent up energy has popped.
In the morning I am no longer a Cyclops, but a black and blue raccoon, as the blood from the hematoma has begun to seep down my cheeks.
In two weeks I will enter first grade. My cousins will be back in Virginia. The trundles back under the beds. My new school clothes will be bought, and my wounds will have turned from purple to green to yellow. I will meet my new teacher and classmates looking like I’ve been in a honky tonk bar fight. But then it’s been a rough summer: new state, new house, new playmates, new brother, and now for the first time, school. On the inside I am both scared and giddy. On the outside I look like one tough Pistol Packin’ Mama.