By Bethany Thornton
stared at the pieces independently writhing on the hot cement and
wanted desperately to put them back together -- to mend it and make
it whole again.
Mr. Leland shoveled each piece into a cardboard box and walked back
across our adjoining lawns to dispose of it. When I'd called for
his help upon first seeing the four-foot reptile in my driveway,
I hadn't expected him to cut it in half. I'd expected something
more heroic, like taking the snake to a nearby field and setting
it free. But before I could state my wishes, he chopped the brown,
scaly thing right in two, dead center with the blade of the shovel.
He wasn't the type to give a snake a proper burial so I didn't follow
him across the lawn.
lawns merged to make one large, rectangular playing field, only
Mr. Leland didn't allow us to play on his side. We tried to observe
the imaginary line between our yards, but in the midst of playing
baseball or Frisbee, it was sometimes hard to recognize. My older
brother, Todd, was especially unaware of the boundaries, which often
resulted in a screeching Mrs. Leland putting an end to our game.
my brother would mumble as we headed to the backyard. The backyard
was not nearly as fun. The small patch of grass was surrounded by
low-maintenance bark chips that stuck to our knees when we fell,
and the overgrown pyracantha bushes swallowed our baseballs like
a black hole. Our mother budgeted only for a gardener to mow and
trim the front. We couldn't afford even this, but the pressure to
keep a meticulous front yard was intense in our small neighborhood.
It was bad enough that we stood out as the family without a dad;
we didn't want to be poorly groomed too.
Unlike our neighbors, we had a single, working mom. Every afternoon
Todd and I were home alone. We were latchkey kids in 1970, a time
when most people in our northern California suburb didn't even lock
their doors. My parents divorced when Todd and I were barely out
of diapers. My dad settled us into a house in a safe neighborhood
with good schools, and then he split.
were certain advantages to being home alone. We had the luxury of
screaming at each other without adult intervention, and we wrestled
over which television show to watch -- Nanny and the Professor
or Star Trek. We didn't start our homework until we saw Mom's
headlights turn into the driveway. "She's home!" one of
us would shout, and we'd run to the table to open our books. Mom
had one rule: no visitors while she was at work. It seemed like
a ridiculous rule to a nine and 11-year-old, but it was to be respected,
just like the Leland's invisible border.
mom worked 40 hours per week in an office, but she made time for
Little League games and root beer floats on Saturdays. She created
grammar sheets as "weekend homework" because "to
get anywhere in this world, you must know the basics of grammar."
She rarely raised her voice; her stern glare was far more effective
than yelling would have been. At times, it stung worse than a belt
on a bare behind. She was quiet and intellectual, and she expected
us to be the same. Sometimes late at night I'd hear her crying in
her bedroom, so without even knowing why, I'd cry too.
brother's friends drooled over Mom's good looks. She resembled Jackie
O. who had also lost her husband, but in a different way, and Mom
was also a Democrat. She dressed professionally, mixing and matching
her jackets and skirts to make it through a whole week without wearing
the same outfit twice. With all of this going for her, some people
still kept their distance; I guess they worried her independence
might rub off on them like a disease or poison oak.
PAGE 1 2
version for easy reading
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission