When I was a little child, I
had an imaginary playmate named, “Jeanie.”
Jeanie was a boy and I can’t recall a time in my life that he wasn’t
with me, up until the time that he left. When
I was a little over a year old, I found a doll at the store while my mom was
shopping, grabbed it and wouldn’t let it go.
They bought it for me and the first word I said was, “Jeanie,” the
name for the doll. I still have
that doll boxed up in my garage with other memories.
Its eyes are dull now and barely visible and the filling to its little
stuffed body is grainy. It
was one of those old vinyl babies, long before there was a Cabbage Patch, with
the soft little newborn features on its tiny head and the little vinyl arms and
legs attached disproportionately to its stuffed body.
They probably paid $3-4 for it and I imagine that ate into the grocery
budget for the week as poor as we always were.
To me, then, Jeanie was a baby and so was I.
I grew up with Jeanie, whether out of boredom from there being no other children around where we lived (my brother wouldn’t come along until I was 5 and a half and we lived out in the country) or because he was already there. As we grew older, he developed angelic looks. He was blonde with curly hair that was long for a boy of that time, back when buzzcuts were the norm from the time a malechild had hair to buzz. He looked something like this:
His dress was always
nondescript and he was just always there. There
was never an arrival or departure. It
took me a long time to figure out that other people did not see Jeanie.
I just took for granted that if I could see something so clearly, so
We would play together
endlessly. Jeanie not only knew all of my secrets, but was also
intimately familiar with the old farmhouse where we lived. He was the one who showed me the little door in the back of
the closet under the stairs. There
was nothing *in* the little door, mind you.
It just led into a small, stuffy area, about the size of a modern day
washing machine. God knows what it
was used for, because I can’t imagine. Our
house was on a few acres of land and Jeanie and I had the run of it.
We played outside making mud pies to sell, climbing trees, teasing the
cows, running through rows and rows and rows of corn, playing in the sheets my
mother would hang out on the clothesline and a million other kid things.
I shared my food with him
and he always ate ravenously. For
all of our poverty status, we always had food of some kind.
My grandfather was a janitor at the Owensboro Canning Company for about
100 years and used to bring us bushels and bushels of green beans that would
fall from the conveyor belt, good old Kentucky Runner green beans.
My dad would go in half and half with my uncle and buy a pig to butcher
every couple of years and that would hold us in pork for a while.
We had a huge chest freezer and it would usually have packages of corn,
pumpkin, apples, squash and green beans in it, from the canning company and our
garden’s yields. Mom was a freezer, not a canner. The pork would be in white packages of various sizes and
shapes, labeled in mom’s writing. My
Pappaw came up with a huge, and I mean HUGE bag of dried pinto beans the year
the garden failed and all that winter, we ate pinto beans and ham. I
can’t believe I still love pinto beans and ham.
Another favorite is applesauce and cinnamon toast, which was my breakfast
and lunch every day from the second my mom conceived Allen until she popped the
thankless little brat out. She
couldn’t stand to smell anything cooking (a pregnant trait she lovingly passed
on to me for the first 3 of my 6 kiddies) and cooking the toast and applesauce
didn’t make her puke. We had
chickens most of the time, so eggs were usually around as well.
Jeanie slept in my bed at
night and we’d stay up way past lights out, talking and giggling.
He never got me in trouble as imaginary playmates are prone to do.
In fact, he usually tried to talk me out of it.
Once, I took all of our best stainless steel flatware and poked it
through the vent at the bottom (the ash catcher) of our giant black coal stove
(one of those things that kids quickly learn is not to be hugged or even
courted). He begged me not to do it
the entire time, tears rolling down his face.
Afterwards, my mom cried too as she was pulling the melted lump of metal
out of the stove. I was totally
without remorse to the point that while she was bent over digging, I made my way
up to her sizable ass that was jutted up in the air and took a big ol’ bite. She whacked me so hard that I literally flew back about 2
yards behind her and hit the wall with enough force that some of the plaster
fell out of the tall ceiling and got in my hair.
Poor Jeanie cried then too, as did my mom, so we were all in chorus.
I guess mom had just had enough that day.
Made a mental note to myself not to bite mom on the ass again.
Although I am a firm advocate of nonviolent child discipline and
haven’t spanked any of my three younger children, I must admit that it held
impact and was quite effective, on me, anyway.
One day, we were playing in
the front yard. My dad worked in a
car body shop (It was called “Short Brothers’ Auto Repair and Painting and I
always wondered why the owners, Don Moore and Don Moore, Jr, were not short, but
quite mammoth guys) and he’d come up with some old rubber car floor mats, four
of them, in fact, that had wavy lines all down them, deeply grooved, and another
with tiny squares set into diamond shapes.
At an auction, my parents had picked up a Box of Crap (they were experts
at finding Boxes of Crap at auctions and I think that’s where I got my thrift
shop bug) that had a fruit cake can with about a million six marbles in it,
including some absolutely faboo shooters. Jeanie
and I were hunched over, as only kids can hunch, intently making designs on the
mats by placing marbles of different colors into the grooves and indentations in
the floor mats. I was going to be
starting school (first grade…we didn’t have kindergarten or Head Start or
preschool) in a couple of months and I was nervous, but eager to see what it was
all about. Jeanie asked me if I
thought I would be OK at school and I told him I did, but I was a little scared.
He told me I would be fine and that he would miss me.
That was news to me because since he’d been with me all my life, I
presumed he was coming with me. He
looked sad and told me that he couldn’t go and that he knew I’d be OK, not
to worry. I was processing this, thinking hard in that kid way, while
we went on playing with the marbles. Suddenly,
his head jutted up and he said, “I’ve got to go now.”
That was even more news to me because he’d NEVER gone…never once.
Before I could react, he took off flying for the road, about 200 yards
across our front yard. Down the
road, I could see coming an old clapboard truck.
It was much older than my dad’s pick up and the clapboards were so
rickety that it was weaving and bobbing side to side as it rattled down the one
lane dirt and gravel road that ran in front of our house.
I was horrified as Jeanie ran right for the truck.
It clipped him hard. I saw
his little body fly up into the air (and can see it now as I remember it) and
then both he and the truck were gone.
The next thing I remember,
my mother was carrying me back into the house and I was still screaming.
My mom tells me that I didn’t eat anything for a couple of days and
didn’t want to get out of my bed. I
would lay there with my Jeanie doll, crying sometimes, having nightmares and not
talking to anyone. I don’t
remember anything except seeing the “accident” and my mother carrying me
into the house.
I only saw him two other
times, both times as an adult. The
first was when I was 20-years-old, living on Guam.
It was Joe’s 4th (go
on, do the math, it’s not pretty) birthday and we were having a party for him
with about 8-9 kids there. The
house we lived in was set up with a lanai, which is a large room at the front of
the house, sort of an enclosed, indoor porch where we and the people we knew
kept the kids’ toys like a playroom. We
ran with a group of couples who all had kids and it was great to let the kids
play in the big room with sliding glass doors.
We could watch kids and have some quiet at the same time. I was cutting the cake for Joe when I looked up and saw
Jeanie standing on the other side of the lanai door, looking exactly the same,
chewing on the end of one finger, looking as though he wanted more than anything
to come in and play with the kids and have some cake. I was overwhelmed with memory and emotion.
I hadn’t thought of him, hadn’t remembered him in years and
years. I started to shake from the
intensity of the moment. I cut a
piece of cake and asked Paul to give the kids some.
I went out to the lanai with the cake and when I got there, he was gone.
I realized that what I had seen was not him through the glass, but the
reflection of him in the glass. I
sat on the lanai for a few minutes, ate the cake and let the memories return.
The other time I saw him was
in the dream I had this week that I wrote about in my Nonsoapy