Authors: Constance C. Greene
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Constance C. Greene
To my Maine friends,
each and every one of them
Schuyler Sweet is anything but. Ask anybody. I ought to know. I
Schuyler Sweet. I'm halfway to twelve, a bad age in a woman. Or in anybody else, for that matter. Sometimes I don't have the sweetest disposition in the world. My mother was like me when she was my age. She told me so herself. But now she's got herself sorted out and she's as sweet as pie. When it behooves her. Right now it's behooving her because she's in love again. She said after the divorce she would never fall in love again as it makes a woman too vulnerable. My father said he had never noticed she had a vulnerable bone in her body. But that was, as I said, right after my mother and father got divorced and they were not themselves. People always say that as if being yourself were a good thing. In my opinion, it depends. Some yourselfs I could mention are very turdy and disagreeable people. In their case, it would be better if they were someone else. In many cases, if you're not yourself, it's an improvement. If you get my meaning.
Take me. Sometimes when I'm myself, I can be very nasty. When I'm not myself, some might think I was a darling girl. I'm not myself very seldom, so my reputation, generally speaking, is not so hot. I don't know why. I like people. Most people. Well, a lot of people. Some people. I don't like people who are slobs, though, or people who are greedy or stuck-up or conceited. Or stingy. Or phony. I guess I hate phonies more than anybody.
As I said, I can be mean. It just pops out, the meanness. Every time I tell myself I've been mean for the last time, something happens andâprestoâI find myself being mean all over again. Once I stuck a rusty needle under my fingernail so I would be reminded not to be mean if I felt a fit of meanness coming on. All that happened was that I got an infection and had to have a tetanus shot, which is no picnic.
I was trying to mortify my flesh, as the saints did in days of yore. No wonder so many saints keeled over in droves back then. They didn't have tetanus shots or any of the advantages of modern medicine in case they too stuck rusty needles under their skin. I think it must be easier to be a saint these days than it was in olden times. However, saints seem to have lost status and no longer occupy a place of honor in our society. A sad state of affairs.
My feet are growing while the rest of me stands still, canceling my immediate plans to be a ballet dancer. Perhaps the rest of me will catch up with my feet in due course, but at the moment it seems unlikely. My best friend, Rowena Hastings, says I remind her of a bull in a china shop. There are plenty of things she reminds me of, but I refrain from mentioning them because at the moment I'm on a kindly kick. It's very odd. Every time I go on a kindly kick someone says something cruel to me and it's a struggle to stay kindly. Rowena, I might add, is developing into the type that has boys writing notes and stuffing them down the back of her sweater or shirt when she's not looking. The notes say clever things like “U R 4 ME” or “Meet you at the Laundromat. Bring suds.” It's not what they say, it's the way they say it, I always say.
My mother is a photographer. She specializes in pictures of wild animals. Next week she's going to Africa to shoot a layout of a famous game reserve for a magazine. The four of usâmy father, my brothers, and Iâwill keep house. My father is an artist, a cartoonist, really. He does the comic strip “Plotsie,” which is about a kid who can't do anything right. Plotsie's been quite a success, so a lot of people must relate to him. My father works at home, one reason he and my mother got a divorce. They suffered from too much togetherness. That's what they said. They had fifteen years of togetherness, and it finally got to them. I can understand that. Most fathers go off to work in the morning and arrive home in time for supper, full of jolly little tales and bits of funny dialogue they've picked up along the way, which they can relate to their wives and children to liven up their day. Not my father. He sits around scratching his head and grousing about how he can't get a good line for Plotsie's next adventure. Cartoonists, by and large, are somewhat eccentric.
We live in Maine in a village that calls itself the prettiest village in the entire state. It even has a sign posted to that effect on the outskirts of town so tourists will see it and write lots of postcards back home to prove they've been to the prettiest village in Maine. Who decides which is the prettiest village, anyway? Do they take a vote? Or does the mayor or some politician say, “This is the prettiest village in the state”? My father says it's the Chamber of Commerce. He's probably right.
I don't think anyone can decide what's the prettiest or best or worst of anything. All the citizens should have a vote to see what's the prettiest, ugliest, smelliest. Whatever. As far as I'm concerned, too much importance is put on looks. It's a known fact, however, that pretty gets you further in life than ugly. Ask anybody. Good-looking people have it all over the uglies of this world. They get to play the lead in the school play, sing solos in the glee club even if their voices are mediocre. And they also get to be on the school traffic squad, which means they boss everybody and act like little Hitlers just because they wear arm bands. They shout, “Slow down or I'll report you!” as if they were actual arms of the law. I've noticed when perfectly ordinary people get on the traffic squad, they change overnight. Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If you get my meaning.
If you think from reading the above that I'm not one of the world's good lookers, you're right. My face wouldn't stop a clock. Neither would it launch a thousand ships. I look like my mother. The boys look like my father, who is handsome in an offbeat way. He has a Yankee face, long and lean and rugged. My mother is small, but her posture is excellent so people think she's a lot taller. She's nice looking in a folksy, midwestern way. People are always surprised to learn she's quite famous in her field. She's even been on television. Everybody in town tuned in. Rowena said, “Your mother seemed very nervous.” That's all she said. Not, “Your mother certainly was good,” or, “I thought your mother spoke very clearly.” Just, “Your mother seemed very nervous.”
Rowena's mother is a housewife. She told someone she didn't think it was right for Mary Sweet to be running around the world taking pictures of rhinos and hippos when she should be home checking her husband and children for boils. That's what she said: boils. The Hastings kids have piles of boils. Which is better than piles of piles any day in the week. Piles are gross things that attack your rear end. Their proper name is “hemorrhoids,” which should give you some idea. My father had them once. After that he rigged up a contraption he could lean against while he worked instead of sitting down eight hours a day at his drawing board. He told me people who got piles usually sat down for a large part of the day.
I don't know how I got into this. I certainly didn't intend to discuss hemorrhoids.
One more thing. Some say that boils are due to a vitamin deficiency in the diet. Have I ever hinted at this to Rowena? Never.
My brother Stanley is seven and my brother Sidney is five. We call Stanley Tad, short for tadpole, which is a baby frog. My father said that's what Tad looked like when he was bornâa baby frog. Sidney is called Sidney because it suits him. Sidney is small for his age but, as I say, he's only five. He's got lots of time. I'm named for my father, who is also Schuyler Sweet. What happened was this:
I was the first kid in the family. When I was born, my father took a long, hard look at me and said, “That's it, Mary. No more.” First-time parents have difficulty adjusting to the fact that new babies are frequently repulsive. My father told me that, so I know it's so. My mother, however, said I was darling. “No matter what your father says, you were a darling baby,” she told me. My grandfather came all the way from Indiana to check out me, his first grandchild. He leaned over the crib, stared down at me for a minute, then said, “Feed it and water it and it'll turn out fine.” Then he handed over a check for fifty dollars to take care of my college education, and went back to Indiana to tend his cows.
But, human beings what they are, after a respite Tad came along life's highway. Then, in two more years, Sidney showed up. Sidney was the pick of the litter, with big blue eyes and enough hair for three babies. I don't know why they gave us all names beginning with S. People sometimes have a hard time keeping our names straight. Sometimes the boys and I sit around saying all our names as fast as we can. We sound like a bunch of snakes at a slumber party, all those
sounds. Only my mother, whose name is Mary, as I think I mentioned, lacks an S. And soon, if she marries this man she thinks she loves, she won't even be Sweet any more. I think she'll be sorry, but she says he's the man for her. She said this in front of my father in a loud voice. He only scratched his head and thought about Plotsie.
We live in a Maine-type farmhouse. It's one room deep but stretches out along the top of Blueberry Hill, which is the hill we live on. My mother sleeps in one end in her studio, my father sleeps in the other in his studio, and me and the boys sleep in the middle. It works all right. For the time being.
Tad lost his first tooth last week, and he put it under his pillow so the tooth fairy would come get it and leave him a quarter. He wrapped it up good and tight inside a grubby piece of paper, folding it this way and that so the tooth would fit tight and not get lost. He counted on that quarter. He had about a hundred plans for that quarter. He was proud of losing his first tooth too, because that meant he was on his way to old age. In the middle of the night Sidney got out of bed and stole Tad's tooth and flushed it down the toilet. We only found out about it next morning when Tad let out a roar of rage when he looked under his pillow and saw there was nothing there. Sidney never lies. He doesn't know how. So when Tad went tearing around the house shouting, “Somebody stole my tooth! Who stole my tooth? Who stole it?” Sidney piped up and said, “I did.”