Betty lived with her mother and father in a Carry Homes duplex in Suitland, Maryland, the same duplex in which I lived with my brother and his family. The units were identical with living room, combination kitchen and dining, two bedrooms and one bath. I was an underdeveloped lad of barely fourteen years, and she was an overdeveloped lass of twelve, but well on the way to thirteen. She had black hair and blue eyes, with a face and figure that—well, let’s just say that she was twelve going on twenty-one.
She spoke with a pronounced lisp, and I teased her unmercifully about it. She seemed to tolerate the teasing, but at some point I went too far with it—that is the subject of this posting.
A fateful day came to pass in my relationship—make that my friendship—with Betty, a day during which I learned an important lesson, namely that if one pushes another too often and too hard something bad may happen, similar to the adage that tells us that even a rat will fight when cornered.
My sister-in-law asked me to go next door and see if our neighbor, Betty’s mother, could spare a cup of laundry powder. I dutifully went next door, rang the bell, stepped back and sat down on the hip-height railing of the small covered porch. Betty came out, slammed the door behind her and told me forcefully in an angry tone, “My teacher thed I do not lithp, tho there!”
I was taken aback by her tone and the words but I recovered nicely, and mindful of my assignment to borrow washing powder I said, “My thister-in-law wanth to borrow thum Thuper Thudth,” and Betty hit me. I never knew whether she slapped me or used her fist, but it made no difference. I flipped over the railing and landed on the ground, shaken but unhurt, extremely remorseful and mortified knowing what a spectacle I made. I looked around carefully but my discomfiture had apparently gone unnoticed. I told my sister-in-law that nobody was home next door.
It took some time to restore my friendship with Betty, with me making all the overtures, but after awhile she forgave me. Her forgiveness was based on my cross my heart and hope to die statement that I would never again mention her lisp, the one that she did not have. We even managed to tolerate each other through a full-length black-and-white movie starring a Hollywood cowboy that many years later would become president of the United States. This would be our one and only sojourn away from the watchful eyes of her mother and father.
Yep, we saw Ronald Reagan in one of his better appearances on-screen—King’s Row, a film in which Reagan is crushed by a boxcar and loses both his legs, amputated needlessly by a surgeon that hated him. Cutting the legs from under Ronald Reagan was quite an accomplishment, something that the Democrats could not accomplish in the eight years that Reagan was president, and they tried very hard over those eight years.
But I digress—Betty wanted to see a certain movie, and my brother allowed me to use his Chevrolet two-ton dump truck to take her to the theater in downtown Washington, D.C. A full-grown dump truck—a really romantic touch, huh?
Thinking back on that evening I am reminded of a little ditty my brother used to sing—I have forgotten the last line of that little ditty, and I can’t think of a word that rhymes with front, and that’s probably a good thing. This is just one stanza of a very long string of stanzas of the same ilk—I’ll share others whenever the opportunity arises. One of them involves an elephant at the circus—that’s one of my favorites.
I took my girl to the movies,
We sat away down in front,
And every time the lights went out,
I’d grab her by the (I’ve forgotten the last word).
Tickets for children under thirteen were half price. I bought two half-price tickets, gave Betty hers and we entered the theater. The old grouch taking tickets inside asked me how old I was, and I said twelve. He sneered and said something on the order of, Yeah, right, twelve years old with a voice like that, sure you are. However, he halved my ticket and returned the stub. He obviously had no problem with Betty’s age, although he lingered long in looking at her, then took her ticket and halved it without comment. The old fellow was obviously biased in favor of young females.
Over the years I have come to suspect that Betty was born to her parents out of wedlock, at least three years before they married—well at least two years and nine months—so they waited almost three years before they started counting her age. Given that supposition, that would make Betty at least fifteen years old when I knew her.
Hey, it sounds plausible to me—I have not seen another twelve year old girl in the ensuing sixty-four years that could hold a candle to Betty in grown-up looks. Evidently the years between twelve and fifteen are quite favorable to the female of the species—the same span of years did very little for me.
More on Betty in a later posting, a rousing tale—so to speak—of the monthly physical exams to which she was required to submit, examinations performed by her father—I’ll bet that got your attention!
Stay tuned—I’ll get back to you later with more details, but just as a teaser, had there been a child protective service in those days the family would be broken up, leaving Betty with her mother and her father in jail.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!