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I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

What I remember most about the summer I was nine is that box of stationery. The pink paper, embossed with roses in the upper left hand corner, was heavily scented; the box ornately decorated with images of pink, red and white roses. Someone had given it to Mama and since it was reeking of fake rose smell, she passed it on to me.

I, of course, thought it was beautiful. I loved that the box opened like a jewelry box. I spent many nights that summer writing pretend-letters to people, pretend letters because I never sent them. Mainly, I liked playing with the paper and smelling the rose scent that came from the ornate box.

We sat on the front porch in the summer evenings in 1952. Television had not yet taken over our lives and no one had central air. My mother would sit in the swing with my little brother and push it back and forth with her feet in an attempt to cool off. I sat quietly on the floor of the porch because the motion of the swing interfered with my playing with my box of stationery. I fiddled with that box of stationery all summer. First, taking the paper and envelopes out, counting them, and then putting everything back in that box. Unused paper has always made me feel rich. Today, I have probably close to a hundred writing notebooks, all blank, but I still can’t resist buying yet another one when I see one I like the look and feel of. Above almost anything else, I value my notebooks that don’t have anything written in them yet. They’re empty yet full of possibilities. I’d sooner get rid of my jewelry than my blank notebooks. Once I write something in them, the possibilities became more limited. Starting down a path is always serious business for me. I delay beginning to the last possible moment simply because choosing means less somehow.

The girl next door was eight years older than me and when she wasn’t out on a date, she’d be sitting on her porch with her mother and father. I looked up to her and wanted to do all the things that she did. She was my role model and taught me how to dance, how to play cards, and how to sit in the sun and slather my body with baby oil and iodine to get a tan. Before she got boy crazy, she took me for rides on her bicycle handlebars around the neighborhood, stopping at the drugstore a couple of blocks away where we’d each have a cherry coke. Then she’d pedal us home. We hadn’t done that in a few years though. She wasn’t much interested in playing with me now. She did tell me some dirty jokes, though. I didn’t always get them but I always laughed so she’d think I did.

I always liked sitting on my porch with Mama and my little brother when the girl next door was sitting on her porch with her parents mainly because sometimes she’d sing. She was in the chorus in high school where she’d be a senior in the fall. She’d sing while the swing went back and forth and the glow from her father’s cigarette got brighter, then dimmer. We’d listen. The back and forth of their swing as the girl sang was like the sound of wire brushes on drums. The swing kept time. Once she sang ‘I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Right Myself a Letter.’ I was sure it was for me.

A quietness came over the neighborhood when she sang. Other families on other porches were listening, too. Everyone said she should ‘do something’ with her voice. She wasn’t interested though. She was interested in boys. On nights she wasn’t singing and swinging, she’d be out with one of her boyfriends. Mrs. Lelia Butcher, our neighbor and babysitter, said that the girl next door was ‘too wild for her own good.’ She wasn’t the only one who said this.

When she was out with a boyfriend, and there seemed to be many, she’d get back home late. Sometimes I’d be lying awake in my bed, that box of stationery on the table next to me. Since my room was at the front of the house and the windows were open, I’d hear her and her date walking up the street. I could hear them a block away. They walked because not so many people had cars. Her family didn’t have a car. Co-workers always picked her father up in the morning for work. He was a house painter. It wasn’t a long walk to town where there were 3 movie theaters, a few restaurants and pubs.

I’d hear them talking and laughing as they walked up the street. They’d be laughing softly. Sometimes they would laugh raucously and I figured he was telling her one of those dirty jokes. One time one of her boyfriends threw a beer can into a neighbor’s yard. That caused a lot of talk.

They’d sit on her porch for a while and she’d sing her favorite song that summer, Walking My Baby Back Home:

‘Gee, it’s great after being out late,
Walking my Baby back home.
Arm in arm over meadow and farm,
Walking my baby back home.’

Then all got quiet and I drifted off to sleep.

I didn’t have a boyfriend that summer. I didn’t want one. I didn’t need a boyfriend telling me dirty jokes and throwing beer cans in Mrs. Butcher’s flower beds. No. I had a box of rose-scented stationery … and possibilities, a brief moment of having everything I needed.

© Dorothy Kirk, 2009