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Monday, 01 October 2007

Smokin' in the Garage

By Kay Richard of Letters From New England

I grew up in a three-unit tenement on the lower end of Parker Street. We lived on the first floor, the owners above us. The second floor was the main quarters for the Marshall’s, while the small third floor unit housed their two teenaged boys, Butch and John.

John looked like Beaver Cleaver, a perfect Norman Rockwell face of innocence and freckles. To be honest, I barely remember Butch. Their older sister, Carolyn, had dirty blond hair, usually in large white rollers, buck teeth and a boyfriend named Gordy. Gordy was the essence of what a teenage boy looked like in the late 50’s - crew cut, white t-shirt, jeans rolled up at the hem. I watched with envy as he and Carolyn drove off on their dates.

The house was painted yellow with dark green trim. Each floor had a full length side porch where I spent many hours playing. The garage out back, however, is where we went to do those things we were forbidden to do.

The roof was sagging and missing shingles, the doors long gone. The entire structure leaned slightly toward the White’s driveway. It contained a variety of implements of childhood destruction, not the least of which were boards filled with rusty nails, a floor littered with broken glass and old paint cans. The worst (and best) thing though, was the car, a rusted old Ford from the mid-1930’s.

We’d jumped on the roof so many times it was completely sunk in the center. The windows had been blown out by bb guns, their thick fragments scattered in sections on the seats. It was a dark gray color wherever there wasn’t any rust and all four tires lay flat against the stained floor.

If you climbed onto the roof of the car, you could pull yourself up onto a plywood storage area. I’d spent many hours up there reading by flashlight - the Bobbsey Twins mostly - painting with watercolors in my Dennis the Menace coloring book, and hiding from my brother. It was up there that Joe caught Butch and John smoking.

Moe and I had been making mud and sand parfaits in the driveway when we heard Joe telling them to “get their Goddamned asses down here right now”. He could be heard hollering throughout the neighborhood as he hauled them back into the house by their ears. The last thing we heard him say was that, “If you want to smoke, by God I’ll help you”.

It was one of those hot summer nights that bother the hell out of me now, but didn’t seem to do anything more back then than allow me to be outdoors in my seersucker baby dolls. A pack of us were on the side porch, enjoying our penny candy and a glass of cherry Kool-Aid when we heard Joe yell once again, “Boys, you get your Goddamned asses down here right now”.

A few seconds later, the entire Marshall clan was tromping out the front door. I peeked around the corner in time to see Joe point to the grass beside the front steps. Apparently, this sign language was familiar to Butch and John because they immediately sat down near the rose bush.

Joe, usually a man of few words, began to regale them with tales of the fine art of smoking. How it will make a men out of them. How it will put hair on their chests. How he’d learned to smoke in the Army and by God, if his boys wanted to smoke, well, he was going to show them how to do it right.

By now, Moe and I were sitting in the middle of my green hula hoop where we had a bird’s eye view of the event. More neighbors had begun to gather at the outer edge of the property. A young couple crossed the street and stood at the bottom of the steps. The shade of red on Butch’s and John’s faces nearly matched the roses they sat beside. Before they had a chance to protest their embarrassment, Joe put a cigarette in each of their open mouths.

One after another, Joe put the flame of his silver lighter to a cigarette and passed them on to Butch and John. He kept asking, “You boys had enough yet?” and the boys kept shaking their heads. One after another, they were made to inhale the smoke from the pack of Camels in Joe’s t-shirt pocket.

The air in the yard was filled with the scent of lighter fluid, smoke and sweat. I watched their faces go from bright pink to paper white to pea green. I bet Moe three of my punks, half of my Bit ‘O Honey and the rest of my pumpkin seeds that Butch would puke first. She put up a streamer of candy dots, wax lips and my favorite, two Mary Janes.

Joe, taking pity on them, finally told them to stand up. Butch got as far as a squat before he leaned over a patch of dandelions and showed us what he’d had for supper. John began to cry.

As much as I wanted to feel badly about their public humiliation, I couldn’t help but get a bit of satisfaction over having witnessed this lesson. After all, it was John who made fun of me the time I’d forgotten to close the living room window and was signing loudly along to Cathy’s Clown with the Everly Brothers. And Butch - well, there was that time he cast his fishing pole off the second floor porch and snagged the crotch of my bathing suit as I skipped through the sprinkler.

Ha! Serves them right, I thought, picking up my hula hoop. Maybe now they’ll keep their Goddamned asses out of my hiding place.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


lol Toooooooooo funny!!!!! Thanks!

I loved the story and especially all the references to familiar childhood things....Wax lips, bit'o honey, hula hoops, cherry Kool aid, Bobbsey Twins etc.
Good memories brought back by a great story.

This made me remember my childhood smoking sessions, with both tobacco and cornsilks... My mom threatened me with having to smoke a whole pack too, but her language was a bit nicer...LOL

Very funny, Kay. My brother tried smoking and my step -father used a different method, but with the same results. He put my brother in bed with the covers over his head and blew smoke under the covers until my brother got sick. It worked; my brother never smoked from that day to this.

Delightful story, Kay. Thanks for the giggles.

Way to go, Kay, and thanks, Ronni, for posting this. I can sure identify!

I just love stories like this! Did we know we were having so much fun while we were growing up? Thanks for sharing this! Ha ha ha!

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