Laugh, laugh, I thought I’d die, it seemed so funny to me*

Pam and I walked the two miles home from Ridgeroad Junior High every day. The city bus which took us all the way out to the edge of town to Indian Hills came so late that we could easily beat it home, even when we stopped for ice cream at the ice cream parlor or for cherry Dr Peppers and taco-flavored Doritos at Hansen’s Drive-in.

(Mr. Hansen, whom we called Sgt. Carter because of his resemblance to the gruff character on Gomer Pyle, USMC, told us every time that our order was a good choice because it “would put hair on our chests.” We thought it was funny every time.)

Kelly, on the other hand, never walked. Her mother strictly forbade her to walk anywhere that could be dangerous. On this day, however, with her mother attending a late class at UCA in Conway, Kelly decided it was safe to buck the rules and join us.

JFK past McCain in those days was Highway 107, a two-lane stretch lined with stately homes, then woods, until you got to our suburb. We walked in grass, since there were no sidewalks and no shoulders to speak of, and felt perfectly safe. On lucky days, we were given rides by the high school boys who passed by — a practice strictly forbidden by my own mother.

I can’t remember what made Kelly decide to walk that day, but I know it’s a walk I’ll never forget. It started out uneventfully enough.

We stopped for ice cream (at what later became a strip mall that has housed Jim Bottin’s Fitness Center and Blockbuster Video), jaywalked across 107 and began trekking homeward. Of course Pam and I were always aware that we were on display as we walked down a busy highway, so we always behaved appropriately — sometimes we walked with limps, sometimes we conversed in “sign language.” You understand the logic: If you’re acting stupid on purpose, you can’t get embarrassed if you accidentally do something stupid.

But this day we were just walking and jabbering away, as 13-year-old girls do. We hadn’t gotten very far (I know this because we had barely made a dent in our ice cream cones) when it happened. In one of those gracious front lawns lay a smallish, but foot-deep, hole. Of course we weren’t looking down, so one of us had to step in it. Kelly was the unlucky one.

I’ll never forget the freeze-frame action of her fall: She thunked into the hole up to her knee, then her knee slammed into the edge of the hole, which in turn propelled her body forward. Her entire body hit the ground, and as she tried to salvage the cone, her right elbow struck the ground with such force that the ice cream shot straight up into the air, did a few graceful turns and landed solidly on the back of her head.

Pam and I began laughing hysterically and helplessly. The power of speech left us, and we literally laughed until we cried. Poor Kelly. In her embarrassment, she started yelling at us. “It’s not funny!! Stop laughing! Stop laughing now!” When that tactic didn’t work, she switched gears to distract us.

“Where’s my ice cream?” she demanded. “Where did it go?”

Our laughter doubled, then tripled at the sight of her looking all around, then deep into her sugar cone for her scoop of vanilla, which was perched perkily on the back of her head. it was even beginning to run in little rivulets down her shiny black hair. All we could do was point, then cry, then point again, then fall down. The communication process took a few moments, but she finally got the point. Poor horrified Kelly.

By this time, Pam and I had almost wet our pants. We knew we’d never make the next mile and a half, so after we regained our voices, we decided we’d ask to use someone’s restroom to clean Kelly’s head. Kelly was mortified, but we were desperate. So Kelly gamely played her part. We had to recross 107 to find someone at home, and we were by then running late getting home.

But at least the excitement was over — or so we thought.]

We made it almost to Pontiac, where Kelly who was barely speaking to us by this point, would turn left to go home. At least no high school boys had come by to see her misery or our hysteria. We were so close, when the unmistakable chugging of a Volkswagen behind us became the unmistakable sound of a stopped Volkswagen idling. Just as we turned to look back, an equally unmistakable voice barked, “Get in the car, girls.”

Who else but Kelly’s mother, who for some reason had gotten back from Conway early. Kelly forlornly got in the front seat, and Pam and I climbed, still snickering, into the back.  “What do you think you were doing walking down 107? You know your’e not allowed to walk home! Just because Laura’s and Pam’s mothers let them walk down such a dangerous road doesn’t mean I let you ….”

And on and on. Then, suddenly, “And look at your hair! What on earth have you been doing?”

Pam and I melted into little puddles in the backseat as Kelly began her tale of woe.

*Footnote 1: Kelly, you know I love you. Don’t kill me.

*Footnote 2: I originally wrote this years ago in my 30s when teaching my creative writing students at NLRHS about memoir writing.

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