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The Lady Bug: Part 2 (of 2)

In The 60's on August 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm

 

This ladybug was short on good luck, no?

Not good Luck

 The beloved tin Ladybug was now burrowed in the front pocket of my corduroy pants. It created a lump by my hip, one I was sure would stand out and alert everyone, including the proper authorities.

  From the moment I plucked the toy up, I was overcome with nerves. And so it was shocking to me that no one noticed or paid any mind at all. I walked gingerly into the dining room- just as Melody was being rewarded for eating a single olive  (standing ovation! sold out crowd!) with a slice of Nan’s frosted cake, one of the prized pieces with a pink confectionery rose on it. Melody only ate the icing, whispered the adults- this news was passed around the table like Secret Service Intel. Evidently, it was not a known fact in the adult world that if they could get away with it-every kid in the world would prefer ‘frosting only!’ Melody was running a complete eating scam, and hers was cute and fascinating-unlike mine which got me yelled out and grounded.

Cakemix1

   I was even less than pleased that one of Nanny’s cakes had been targeted to soothe Melody. Nanny’s cakes were special. I had intimate knowledge of how my grandmother made those roses- the piping bags, cardboard cones and metal decorating tips and nozzles.

  I loved nothing more than ‘helping’ my grandmother with her cakes, standing on a wooden step-stool, wearing one of her hand-me-down aprons. I’d watch in awe as she placed a small square of wax paper on a small plastic spindle, twirling it with her fingers while dropping frosting onto it, spinning butter cream frosting in a halting but precise pattern creating beautiful roses, like magic.

  I was fascinated by her paint brush and little bottles of food coloring, how she could lay two or three colors at a time out of those piping bags. I loved how she’d ‘accidentally’ get flour on her cheeks and nose, sending me into fits of laughter. She’d always play surprised –now how did that get there?-and call me a little rascal for not telling her sooner.

  But the best part of the cake making was when she would open up her special case of cake decorations, which she stored high on a shelf in the kitchen. Inside, lay a treasure trove of plastic figures and novelties: pink ballerinas, seals balancing balls on their noses, cowboys, several renditions of Santa Claus, reindeer, jack o’lanterns, witches, bunnies- even a Cinderella Pumpkin coach and an Apollo spaceship. I loved the clatter as they spilled out onto the table, the examining and sorting, all that went into making and presenting the perfect cake. But I’d always assumed this labor of love was exclusively for our extended family- not strangers like Melody.

CakesOne

  Meanwhile, with the lifted item in my pocket, I was acutely aware of everyone in the house and tried to read their every expression, knowing I’d committed a crime and trying to sense if anyone was wise to it. I’d never stolen anything before, and I didn’t enjoy the buzz of adrenaline rushing through my veins that made me feel extra awake, extra focused on my discomfort.  

  Yet no one paid attention to me in the dining room, which seemed impossible -couldn’t they see the boulder in my pocket? I made my way around the house, in and out of rooms filled with guests and still, no one paid me much mind. I got a few  winks and’ hello, sweeties’ but that’s about it. I considered putting the Ladybug back in the corner of the hallway where I’d found it, no harm, no foul. But what if somebody saw me? I felt stuck with my racy decision. 

   It was right about then that I heard the shriek. I’m not sure if Melody was crying out ‘Bug!’ or ‘Dad!’ but either way, her tear-filled voice filled the hallway. I stood in the living room near my grandmother who sat on the couch chatting with guests. I froze. Though other conversations went on, and much of the company had yet to hear about the bug-snatching, my ears were trained on the distant voices of Melody and her parents, like a dog to a canine whistle.

  Within a minute or two her parents were helping her look for Lu-Lu.  Before long, an ‘official’ announcement was made, and almost everyone joined in, eager to be the hero that returned Melody’s toy to her.

  My grandmother moved to the side as couch cushions were checked, and lifted her legs for the under-couch inspection. My father and his friends scouted outside, asking the boys if they’d seen the toy, shaking bushes, peering under picnic tables and porches.

    I noticed my grandmother remained seated, calmly sipping tea, not joining in with the hunt, and  suddenly I craved her company. I wished we were back at her house, baking, and cleaning, and taking a break to watch a little ‘I Love Lucy’, having lunches of liverwurst, cottage cheese and dill pickles. I scooted up on the couch next to her, and leaned against her gently, careful of her teacup and saucer. She smelled heavenly, like baby powder and Sen-Sens.

   “Hi Honey!” she said “Aren’t you going to help the girl find her toy?” 

   “No” I said, wondering how sad Nan would be if she knew I was a robber. Tears came to my eyes, so I looked up at the ceiling, hoping they’d plop back in. Melody came through the living room, held on her father’s hip, all red-eyed and sucking her thumb, her silky hair disheveled.

   “She’s got a nice dress” I said to Nan, testing her loyalty. Maybe Nan liked her better, too. She put her cup on the end table and hugged me closer.

   “Yeah, well…..bully for her!” my grandmother said, rolling her eyes. “She couldn’t hold a candle to you” 

  I couldn’t have loved her more in that moment. Even though I pictured Melody literally burning me with a candle, and was glad to hear it was off limits, my grandmother was choosing me! She reached down and picked up her cream colored pocketbook from the floor where it sat. Unclasping it, she asked “Sour Ball or Sen-Sen?” I went with the Sen-Sen like a self imposed penance. I needed cleansing.

   Eventually, the interest in finding the Ladybug waned- after all- a child had  lost a toy- not a limb. More people returned to the living room, and my mother announced she was readying the coffee and dessert table.

  A big silver percolator, perched on the kitchen counter, safely out of the reach of children, began to bubble on top. I knew this because by now, I had wandered into the kitchen to test my mother’s reaction to me and my plight. Surely she would notice the bump in my pocket and save me from myself. But mom was busy, running around, carrying cakes and pies to the dining room, and setting out small pitchers of cream and milk,  white milk-glass bowls of sugar, harvest yellow cloth napkins, and fancy, gold-leaf dessert plates. When we made eye contact, she suggested I go outside and play- she’d call me for in for dessert soon. 

Mom had a show to run...

Mom had a show to run…

   “Do my pants look good?” I asked, pushing  my hip out at a weird angle in an effort to expose Lu-Lu. 

   “Oh for heaven’s sake, you look fine! Pretty soon you can change into something else, so please- just be a good sport about it!” Earlier in the day I’d scoffed at wearing the corduroy pants, and had wanted to wear dungarees instead. 

   Realizing that if my own mother didn’t sense my guilt or notice my bulging pocket, no one else would either, I decided it was time to take the real litmus test. I passed through the dining room, where I noticed all of the lovely desserts spread out like a picture in a magazine, except for Nanny’s rose cake- which already had a slice removed for Melody. The once perfect cake now looked like it was missing a tooth. What a shame.

  I exited out the back door, walked down the porch stairs and kept to the perimeter of the crowds manning the grill. I heard adult laughter, the clinking of ice, and the whoosh! of lighter fluid being poured onto the flames. I kept on through the backyard, and down the steep hill until I came to the stonewall.  I scaled the wall as I had a hundred times before and walked up to Jenni’s  back porch. The screen door opened with a screech, then slammed with a whack once I was inside. I knocked on the inner door.

   Jenni answered and I could tell just by looking at her that she going somewhere. She had a bow in her hair (which I knew she didn’t like) and was wearing a pretty flower print dress (which I knew she didn’t like), white tights (again, no like) and patent leather Buster Browns (these, we liked…the boy and his dog under our heels).  

  I’d been shopping with her and her Mom when she got them. Afterwards we went to Kiddy-Town and looked at all of the beautiful dolls behind glass-the kind of dolls you weren’t supposed to play with, as Jenni’s mom informed us- which made not a lick of sense to us. What’s the point of a doll you can’t play with?

  But this was weeks ago, back when I’d been a good girl- before I’d gone gangster. I’d probably play with those special dolls anyway if I had one. I was lawless.

   “Where are you going?” I asked, deflated that I couldn’t just cocoon myself in Jenni’s room and read books until everyone left my house. 

   “Old McDonald’s Farm” Jenni answered. Lucky! This was a petting zoo/amusement park/restaurant on the other side of town that Nanny sometimes took me to. They had a train ride, and lots of cute animals. Baby chicks and ducks, little turtles, ponies.   

   “You can come in till we leave” she said, and I wanted to hug her. We went to Jenni’s room, which was off the kitchen. I walked directly over to her window, glancing up the hill to my house, on the lookout for traces of the police. I could see gray smoke rising from the grill, and the boys playing catch with a football. Ah- to be my innocent like my brothers!  

   I turned to Jenni, holding my arms out at my sides, like a scarecrow. 

   “Can you see it?” I asked her. 

   “See what?” she asked, as she was packing up her Little People Bus for the trip. 

  “The Ladybug!” I huffed. I was beginning to lose my patience with everyone’s weak powers of observation. Jenni stepped closer and closer, squinting her eyes, scanning my sweater and pants up and down, and across.

   “Where is it?” she asked. I realized she was searching for a real ladybug, which was Jenni and my favorite bug, even though, technically, she’d called it first, on the day we played  favorite bug. I’d settled for dragonfly, reluctantly.

   I reached down into my pocket and pulled Lu-Lu out. Where once I’d seen an innocent red-and-black Ladybug, I now saw something sinister- like a spider atop a ticking time bomb. I quickly put her down onto Jenni’s glossy wooden Mother Goose reading table. Jenni reached over and picked her up. She immediately began revving her up, the wing-ding-ding sound painful to my ears, the sparks signaling the tempers that would flare once I was found out. She eased the spinning wheels onto the table, and once they gripped on, Lu-Lu raced across the table, flew off the side into the air, and landed right in one of Jenni’s Keds sneakers, sitting over by the radiator. She was face forward, back wheels still spinning. Jenni laughed and pointed, but I couldn’t take it anymore- I had to confess!

    It was then that Jenni’s mother opened the bedroom door, purse in hand, all dolled up in a yellow mini-dress with long puffy sleeves. She wore huge sun-glasses and looked like Marlo Thomas in ‘That Girl’. She greeted me warmly, then told Jenni they had to leave right away- Jenni’s dad had the car running, and was waiting for them in the driveway. I picked  Lu-Lu up, carrying her in plain sight, hoping Jenni’s mom would notice and question me, so I’d have to spill the beans. But she didn’t.

  Jenni gathered up her Little People Bus and carried it like a baby towards the front door. Her mom placed a dark blue knit poncho across her shoulders, insisting it was too chilly to go without. Jenni sighed, and we stepped out into the crisp air.

  The Jag hummed in the driveway, steam rushing from it’s tail-pipe, it’s shiny black-onyx paint gleaming in the sun .I could hear ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ from inside the car. I knew Becky would be squished into the back of the two seater, but her Dad loved that car too much to switch it out for the larger family car. He liked to go fast.

  I waved good-bye to them and looked back as I heard the familiar crunch of the pebbles on the driveway, as the Jag’s back tires gripped the gravel fiercely. The brake lights went bright red, as they reached the end of the driveway, where the car stopped short to check for passing vehicles, before  roaring off down the road, ‘Let me take you down, coz I’m going….’ still audible. I walked around to the side of the house and climbed back up the stone wall.  I placed my feet on the proper rocks (which I knew by heart), hoisting my right leg up and over, gripping Lu-Lu in my right hand.

The climb was harder than normal to do in patent leather. I shoved Lu-Lu back into my pocket once I was over the wall. Even though the party crowd was high up on the hill, I wasn’t taking any chances. As much as I’d wanted to be caught (just to get it over with!), I now had my preferences on just how I wanted be caught, and by whom.

I didn’t want to be caught by Melody, her parents, or my father. That would involve yelling. I didn’t want to be caught by my other grandmother, whom I loved dearly, but who was far more intimidating than Nanny C. In later years I would describe her as ‘Maude Findlay.

Jenni's mom's doppleganger

Jenni’s mom’s doppleganger

   I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but the situation had spun out of control- and it no longer had much to do with Melody. It was about me, and my perceived slights and assumptions about what other people were thinking.

  I would come to find out in later years that, indeed, my father and I had very different senses of humor. Whether it was malicious or not no one could say for sure, but through my own actions I had let myself become jealous and petty. I crossed a line- and it wasn’t going to change my father or Melody- it would only change me!  And not for the better.

   I  slowly walked up the hill, skirting the grill crowd- mostly my Dad and his friends drinking beer and flipping hamburgers, and a few tipsy aunts dancing to the a.m radio as it squawked out a tinny version of ‘Georgy Girl’. My Dad called out to me: “Hey Annie!” but I couldn’t bear for him to be nice to me now, and ignored him. He had no idea the burglar he’d spawned. He’d really be cheering for Team Melody once this caper was exposed. It was also inevitable I  would be seeing (and feeling) the Fanny Whacker before sundown.

   I climbed up the porch steps, and pressed my face against the screen door. My mother sat at the head of the dining room table, sipping coffee with my grandmothers and various lady friends flouting bouffants , flips,  pastel colored dresses and capris, as they willed spring to arrive via fashion. (The same thing the men did by breaking out the grills)

  A heavy, gold glass ashtray sat in the middle of the table, filled with lit cigarettes, their smoke intertwining, having a dance, then swirling towards the ceiling,  A few dirty plates sat off to the side, remnants of cake slices and pieces of pie put out to pasture. My mother glanced over at me, no doubt seeing my face imprinted against the screen door like a stocking faced robber (most appropriate) and demanded: “Lisa! Stop that!”

I pulled my face away, and slowly opened the door, plodding over to where she sat. I leaned against her and fidgeted, hinting for attention, but she was engaged in lively conversation with the ladies.

Spring has Sprung!

Spring has Sprung!

   “Mom?” I asked, full-on moping.  I turned and tried to rub my pocket against her leg. Nothing. I was now getting desperate. The bug was beginning to feel like a hot potato. I left the table and went to the front door.  I walked out and down the cement steps, grasping onto the scrolled iron railing listlessly, then slowly followed the slate path across the front lawn to the street. I walked down the hill, dejectedly kicking a small stone, head down in shame, to the bottom of Muffin Lane.

  I stopped when I got to the sewer grate. I peered down into the dark, muddy bottom. I pulled Lu-Lu out of my pocket and looked at her closely- for the first time noting her pretty painted eyelashes and cute smile. I felt awful about what I was going to do. I held her over the sewer, closed my eyes- and let go. I heard a loud ‘ping’ and opened my eyes just as she shot off the grate, then landed on top of it. I had to step over and nudge her into the abyss with the tip of my Mary Jane.

  My heart dropped as she fell. I assumed she would fall endlessly and out of site, but she landed in the mud about four feet down. She stood out like a flower growing up through a tenement sidewalk. She looked so pretty, so innocent- and now she was cold, frightened and dirty! I burst out sobbing. I was the worst person ever.

  I thought of God, and Mary and the lambs, and Nan’s ominous church- and knew that I was a sinner from now on. And not just that: Batman, Robin, Superman, Courageous Cat- they would all hate me…I was a villain. I was Dr. Smith! I was on the wrong side! How was I going to live like this? How long did life go on, anyway? I hoped not too long.

“Holy Ladybug, Batman! Look at that bad girl”

   Still bawling, I ran back towards my house, up the porch stairs and into the living room. Melody sat on her mother’s lap in a chair, still  red-eyed from all of her crying,still sucking her thumb but now looking exhausted as well. I blew by her and made a bee-line to my Mom. Once there, I buried my face in her lap and sobbed even more loudly. 

   “What on earth is wrong?” my mother asked, standing up and pulling me towards the kitchen, away from the crowd at the table. Once there, she crouched down and looked me in the eyes. “What is it?” she asked gently, wiping my tears away with her upturned thumbs under both of my eyes.

   “Mommy!”…. I said, in between big breaths- “I TOOK IT! I TOOK IT!” 

   “Took what?!” she asked, holding me by the shoulders, trying to find a lower angle and meet my down-turned eyes. I just couldn’t face her after I admitted what I did. Shame washed over me in waves.

   “Melody’s Ladybug” I said, then dissolved into tears once more.

   “Where is it?” mom asked, all business.

   “Outside!” I moaned. 

   “Show me!” she said.

   I led her to the front door.  The ink was barely dry on the confession, but the wheels of justice were moving swiftly. And so would the fanny whacker. I felt phantom pain on my rear-end as I walked across the front yard, leading my mom to the sewer grate. I pointed down into the sewer, where Lu-Lu still sat with her cute little smile, and fancy lashes. Smiling at her assailant! You couldn’t beat the nice out of this bug!

  “Oh, for crying out loud, Lisa Anne!” my mother said tersely, shaking her head “What in the world inspired you to do something like this?”

   I shrugged my shoulders, bit my trembling lower lip, and said “It fell” before breaking down yet again. Snot bubbles inflated then popped from my nose,  my turtleneck  damp from the succession of tears.  

   Of course, we had to tell my father, who- along with his  buddies, went to the end of the street, lifted the extremely heavy grate, and fished Lu-Lu out with a metal rake. I ran to my room, and continued to cry, occasionally checking on the progress of the rescue from my second floor window. Lu-Lu was brought into the house, cleaned off in the sink and given back to Melody with much fan-fare and some applause.

  I overheard my father downstairs alluding to a certain ‘walloping’ that was in my near future. I hid under my blankets, fully dressed, anticipating the punishment. I was unable to resist leaving the door to my room open though, to hear the buzz about myself and my fate.

  I overheard several well-meaning theories- that maybe I was just trying to roll the Lady-bug down the street, and since it was a hill,  it got away from me, landing in the sewer. The truth was much worse- I was a monster. And yet- even at the age of six, I  felt something I can only describe as relief…relief  that I had confessed, relief that I was no longer carrying the burden of guilt in the form of a toy in my pocket, relief that Melody would be getting her favorite toy back, and that cute-little Lu-Lu was okay, after all. Had I known the word ‘redemption’ I would have also been relieved to know that it existed, and that it would be offered up to me-eventually-, by my parents, and their friends, and my Nannys, and maybe even Melody, though I never saw her again. 

Cross2

 

  I don’t remember the fanny whacking or the punishment I more than likely got that day, but I’ll never forget the weight of the guilt, and how cumbersome it was to carry. I would remain a person who moved far more freely without the weight of guilt, and one who couldn’t rest until it was absolved. Which of course meant I would never become a great leader, performer, celebrity or politician, but oh could I sleep! I could sleep like a log.

  1. I think I held my breath through the whole thing…as kids we put a lot of pressure on ourselves but when that “desire” to do the right thing happens, we are often more determined to make things right than many adults. Our methods might be more round-a-bout, but still 🙂

    Oh, and the little people bus!!! I loved those back in the day!

    Thank you for sharing this fabulous story.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading! I remember how I just couldn’t stand the guilt! If I wasn’t going to get caught, then I was going to have to turn myself in! haha. Now, what about those mechanical pencils?!

      Like

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