A typical summer morning, circa 1968/69, Christy Street, Pampa, TX ...
"What do you wanna do?"
"I don't know. What do you wanna do?"
"Wanna get up a baseball game?"
"Nah. We'd have to get the Dwight and Wells St. kids to have enough and the girls will say it's too hot."
"Wanna go down to Walter's and hang out in the tree house?"
"Walter had to go to work with his Dad this morning at the laundry."
"I went to the laundry with Walter last Saturday. His Dad let us clean out the drain traps and keep the change we found. I got about 60 cents."
"You still have it?"
"Well, I've got some Black Cats and lady fingers. We could go get some more at the firecracker stand."
"Yeah, do you have any money?"
"No, but I've got some pop bottles we could sell."
"Where do you want to shoot 'em? Last time we shot 'em around here someone called the cops."
"How 'bout motorcycle hills? The pit's full of water."
"Okay, let's go."
We were sitting on the curb in front of my house, poking the melty blacktop with sticks and wrecking the fortifications that we'd built yesterday for the green army men. There should have been grass in the parkway, between where the sidewalk should be and the curb, but for some reason the sidewalk ended on the north edge of our lot and the parkway was more beat down dirt than grass. Lawn care was not high on the family priority list. Just beyond the battle ground was the cemetery, where we buried frogs and cicadas and the occasional water dog, marking the graves with popsicle sticks or colorful rocks we'd found. On the curb, in front of the cemetery area, we'd drawn some skull and crossbones using the ever-present chalk rocks - chunks of caliche if you want to be proper.
"How much did we get for the pop bottles?"
"Duh. Thirty cents. Five times six. It's math."
"Okay, smart ass."
"Rather be a smart ass than a dumb ass."
"Yeah, yeah. So, ninety cents between us ... see, I do math, too! What are we gonna get?"
"All Black Cats. No sparklers or black snakes or pop-its. They're cheap because they're no fun."
"What about bottle rockets?"
"Maybe. Hey, you got any pipe?"
"There's some in the garage. Whattaya need pipe for?"
"I wanna make a rifle that uses bottle rockets for ammo."
"That'd be cool."
Ninety cents later we returned to the garage from the firecracker stand with 75 cents worth of bottle rockets, some nickel packs of Black Cats and the punks that they threw in. A rusted piece of pipe, about two foot long, was converted into a bottle rocket rifle using electrical tape and a couple of pieces of 1x2 pine to make grips, and a hack saw to cut a slot along the top of the pipe for the fuse. We packed up, included a box of strike anywhere matches pilfered from the kitchen, and headed out to motorcycle hills. It was far enough away so that nobody would call the cops plus, we could shoot across the pit which was full of water and hopefully not start a fire. On the way we stopped behind Dean's house, nobody was home, and got a drink from their hose. We picked up a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Brontosaurus that someone had left in the sandbox, too. They'd make good targets.
It was hot and bright and dry. Sweat disappeared quickly in the dry summer air, leaving droplet shaped marks where the sweat washed away dust. The pig weed and johnson grass had that dusty no-rain-for-a-bit sheen about them. There was no shade to be found so we didn't bother even looking. It wasn't a long walk, just across Farley and then maybe a half mile, but there were a lot of distractions along the way. We helped each other through the barbed wire (bob-wahr) fences, by stepping on the third strand and lifting up the second. We felt compelled to stop at a major red ant mound to set off some Black Cat demolition charges. We caught a horny toad, but then turned it loose because we didn't want to go home and make a place to keep him. We checked the rabbit trap box we'd set out a few days ago, too. The carrot was gone, but the trap wasn't tripped. Someone had dumped a refrigerator which wasn't there the last time and we thought about doing some explosive testing, but it was too heavy to mess with so we moved on, discussing target set up and, more importantly, who got to shoot first. We picked a spot at the top of the pit with a clear shot across to a low ledge on the opposite site. I went around to set up the targets on the ledge, the T-Rex and the Bronto. Gary unpacked the fireworks and the pipe-rifle and got the first punk going.
We'd cut the slot on top just right. With the fuse pulled up the end of the bottle rocket was flush with the end of the pipe. From experience we knew it was always best to light your own firecrackers and since Gary was taking the first shot I let him line it up and then handed him the punk.
Despite the precise engineering, the first shot was high, way high, hitting a good ten feet above the dinosaurs. The second shot, after compensating for the first, was even worse, exploding under the water in the pit. It seemed that our "rifle" had some accuracy issues. Despite the avionics supplied by the bright pink stick glued to the engine, we could not predict the trajectory. The T-Rex and Bronto would remain unscathed and, eventually, be returned to the relatively peaceful environs of the sandbox in Dean's back yard, but that didn't prevent us from lighting off every single rocket in one experiment or another.
"Yeah. Ready to head back?"
"Sure. We can save the Black Cats for later."
"Okay. Hang on a second. I want to get these grassburrs out of my shoelaces."
"You'll just get more on the way back."
"Nuh uh. I'm gonna tuck in the bows."
"Yeah? Me, too."
"Dang, it's hot."
"Yeah. If we see any sprinklers, I'm running through."
"Huh. If we see any sprinklers, I'm gonna lay down in the grass!"
"Yeah, yeah, but don't get the Black Cats wet."
Lunch was bologna sandwiches with mustard on white bread and black cherry Kool-Aid to drink. The bologna wasn't pre-sliced Oscar Mayer. Mom tended to buy the cheaper roll of bologna with the red wrapper that you had to slice yourself. Yes, you had to peel the red wrap off, but you also got to custom slice it, thick enough to fry if you felt like it. We also took the last two freezer pops, though they rightfully belonged to my sisters. They were the orange ones, which no one really liked, so they probably wouldn't complain too much.
"Let's take our bikes and go see if Walter's home. My kickstand is loose and his Dad said it needed a lock washer. He said I could have one."
"Okay. I'm gonna ask Mom for some change. After we fix the bikes, let's go to the Quik Stop."
"Okay. See you at Walter's."
Walter was home, and we puttered around in his garage for a while, using inordinate amounts of WD-40 and never putting the tools up properly. Soon enough we headed to the Quik Stop and thanks to the generosity of Gary's Mom, we had enough money for soda pops and peanuts. We sat on the curb in the shade of the building, arguing about which was better with peanuts, Nehi Red or Pepsi. The trick was to get all the peanuts out of the bottle before you ran out of soda or the peanuts would stick on the bottom. Personally, I thought the Pepsi was better.
"Hey, what time is it?"
Looking at the 7-Up clock in the store window, "It's quarter to three."
"We need to head back. Dark Shadows starts at 3 and it looked like Quentin was dead yesterday."
"Okay, but I don't want to get stuck watching TV with the girls all afternoon, so let's see if they'll play kick-the-can or chase after the show."
Late in the afternoon a full blown kick-the-can game was on. Tommy came over from Dwight and the full Christy St. contingent was out, including my two sisters, Gary's sister, both of the Greens, Tony and his sisters, the twins, Walter, Dean, both Spencer's and even Tonya, who was in town for a few weeks visiting her Grandmother. I couldn't tell you who won or lost, but there was lots of running and shouting and sneaking and strategizing. Around 6 o'clock people started dropping out as the front porch shouting began ... "Tanyan! Time for supper!" ... "Mom says 'get home for supper!'" ... "Supper time! Don't make me come get you!"
Sometimes the game picked up again after supper. It seemed to stay light until the late news came on, but I suspect it was our eyes adjusting to the twilight and the desire to stay up a little bit longer.
"You better get home!"
"It's not even dark yet!"
"Are the street lights on? You better be home before the street lights come on or you'll get a whuppin'!"
Summer days on Christy Street fell into a familiar pattern. Games in the neighborhood. Trips to the Pampa public pool. Scrounging for change for sno-cones and fudgesicles. Card games and jacks and board games and bikes. Running through sprinklers and from each other. Not a moment was wasted. Summertime was precious.
One specific morning, before the typical curbside conference, the telephone rang. My sister answered. No one could get to a ringing phone faster than her.
"Dexter! It's for you!"
"Yeah. Okay. Sure."
"Who was that?"
"Dean's brother? What did he want?"
"I dunno. Wants me to come over."
"Yeah. I'll be back in while. Don't drink the last Mountain Dew, it's mine!"
The day described above is a conglomeration of typical, random, remembered activities. But I remember the phone call morning specifically. It was the day that Frankie molested me.
Until today, I have never said anything to anyone. I don't regret the decision that my kid self made to keep the secret. Afterwards, I felt more like a participant than a victim, that I had somehow given permission. My adult self, however, regrets keeping the secret. I should have said something, at least when I was older and could handle the repercussions. I don't know if he molested anyone else. If he has, then I feel partially to blame.
I only recall one other time of even interacting with him. I was in choir - 5th, 6th, 7th grade - something. Every year there was a spring concert for all the choirs in every school, from elementary through high school, which was held at the high school field house. In line, in some hallway, before filing in to our designated bleacher positions, I saw Frankie standing with the high school choir, in black and white formal attire. He was standing by himself and I watched him, wondering if he remembered that day, wondering how he would react if he saw me staring. He spoke with no one; just stood there alone. His posture, his movements, his fidgeting - they all struck me as effeminate. Eventually, he seemed to have felt my stare and turned, looking directly at me. He smiled, but looked away quickly, still smiling. He knew the secret was safe. And so it was, but now it's not.