Monday, November 17, 2008

The Ugly Daughter

(I hope you enjoy this true story about a good friend and I the summer we were 12 years old...)

"And this is my ugly daughter," announced Mrs. Hamilton with the calmness born of repetition, as she pulled her 12 year old forward.
I'd gone with my mother to the modest ranch-style house next door to meet the new neighbors from Georgia. Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton met us at the door and it was evident at first glance that, from the scuffed toes of his dusty work boots to the roots of her dyed hair, they were complete opposites. After introducing himself as Claude and inviting us in, taciturn Mr. Hamilton returned to his comfy little "den" in the Florida room. Although he didn't say much, kindness was evident on his plain countenance. Mrs. Hamilton led us on the grand tour of her new home, laying newspaper down before us as if it were her coat over a mud puddle; or in this case, under a mud puddle, since it was her carpet she was trying to protect. As we stopped near the tiny formal dining room overlooking a living room with plastic covering the sofa, three young southern belles appeared from the back bedrooms. Mrs. Hamilton introduced her oldest daughter, Ginger, who displayed the tartness of lemonade in her witty speech. Next came shy little Melanie, sweet and refreshing as a tall glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. When she came to her middle daughter, the pride left her face. I looked curiously at the one who was my age, the one who'd been introduced in such an awfully matter-of-fact way.
Bonnie Claudette looked me straight in the eye and I was startled to see the mischief and intelligence dancing there.
"Take me as I am," she seemed to say, "and let's see where it takes us." That was one of the best bargains I ever made. Bonnie's features may not have added up to traditional Southern beauty, but her personality, imagination and sense of fun made her a peach of a friend.
Her name told the story, really. She was optimistically named Bonnie, which means beauty. But her middle name, Claudette, after the father she favored, was more descriptive of her outward appearance. Bonnie had six toes on each of her completely flat feet. She wasn't skinny, exactly, but she had more angles than curves. Her mousy brown hair frizzed uncontrollably out of its overworked barrette. She had rather bad skin, possibly because she wore a thick hedge of makeup to hide behind. Her large, brown eyes might have been her one beauty had she not had the misfortune of being born severely cross-eyed. By the time I met her, many surgeries had corrected this, but the ugly glasses she wore had lenses as thick as the proverbial coke bottle, creating a weird aquarium effect as if her eyes floated behind them. But Bonnie also means fine, good, robust. These things, I came to discover, described her perfectly.
Perhaps because she had known such casual cruelty from her own mother, Bonnie was very kind to others. She laughed a lot and had many friends. We'd have sleep-overs at her house and she was the perfect hostess. We stayed up late to watch really old horror movies, laughing ourselves silly over the goofy special effects. Our favorite was the Frankenstein hand, scrabbling across the floor while its intended victims stood patiently, screaming hysterically at their fate. "Stomp on it!" we'd yell at the screen. "Run out and close the door!" Giving up on them, we went to the bedroom to hold a beauty pageant, using Bonnie's bed as the runway. We shared our secrets, and then she would whisper, "Watch this," and yank open her bedroom door, causing her eavesdropping mother to fall against her. We laughed together later about the lame excuses her mother gave, but she never allowed bitterness to take root.
Bonnie loved to bake cakes as much as I enjoyed making cookies, so we decided to open a bakery when we grew up. But her real passion was boiled peanuts in a can. She craved them, and I know it was greatly to my credit, in her eyes, that I developed a love for them too. We walked to the little corner store, gathering bottles along the way to redeem for change. We worked hard at this, patiently searching out bottles that had been missed by the other, less ambitious children. Often full of muddy water, we poured out what we could and left the caked-on stuff for the poor, beleaguered store personnel to deal with. When we had enough, usually about 75 cents worth, we could buy a can of boiled peanuts! Clutching our prize with delighted anticipation, we hurried home to the can opener. Eagerly cutting open the can, we reached deep into the slimy interior with our fingers, pulling out soft peanuts that had been boiled in the shell and left in this preservative for brave, southern enthusiasts like us. We ate them with relish, sometimes finding triple nuts that were our version of four-leaf clovers. To our future bakery, we mentally attached a lean-to full of cans of boiled peanuts for our personal sustenance. You can take Bonnie from Georgia, but you can't take Georgia from Bonnie, and this relic from her upbringing was one she relished.
Her imagination made our friendship rich within a secret world all our own. When we played tennis in the road, we weren't two awkward pre-teens. Oh, no, we were Chrissy Everett and the identical twin, Missy, that we invented for her. Our feet were so tough that the hot road sizzled to no avail, and so bad at tennis that we spent most of our time chasing balls in the ditch anyway. The sharp sting of really dry sand spurs only hurt for a moment before we licked our fingers and pulled them out.
When the sun got too hot, we went in and wrote mysteries together. We allowed Chrissy and Missy to be our heroines, but evidently they were better at tennis, because after a few pages we left them to their frightening fate. We were sidetracked by a club we were forming. This was serious business, requiring an initiation, secret code and clubhouse. We decided it would be easier to agree on everything if we were the only ones in the club, voted on it, and it passed unanimously. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon coming up with a two-part poem that was our secret password. We tried it out the very next day. I went to her house, knocked, and was met by her mother. This dampened my enthusiasm briefly, especially when she informed me that, "Bonnie can't play."
"May I please talk to her just for a moment?" I begged, and she relented slightly. Leaving me outside in the carport, I heard her admonishing Bonnie to hurry and get back to her work. Soon Bonnie appeared. Self-consciously aware of her mother listening nearby, I quoted my half of our password poem. Bonnie, eyes dancing with mischief, quoted her part flawlessly. A look of triumph passing between us, I left to work on an invisible lemon-juice letter and Bonnie went back to her chores.
"Look, all we have to do is hold it over a candle," I explained the next afternoon, showing Bonnie her invisible letter. We got the candle from my new wax sealing kit and tried it out, amazed as the letters began appearing on the page. Then we each chose a seal for important club documents, a butterfly for her and the initial "T" for me. That important task taken care of, we began our search for a clubhouse. Luckily it was a Saturday, so we could give our full attention to this matter.
Bonnie's sense of fun was always ready to bubble to the surface, so her idea to use my step-dad's old john-boat as our clubhouse ended up being an hilarious adventure. In many ways, it was perfect. It rested in a shady corner of our yard, had two seats, and we were allowed to use it. The only flaw in its design was a multitude of hiding places for seedy characters like roaches. In fact, it had apparently been appropriated for a roach motel. Unbeknownst to us, they were all sleeping off a night of revelry that very moment. We climbed in and got settled for a meeting, and a few sentries came out to investigate.
"EEEEWWWWW!" we screeched, jumping up. This rocked the boat, so to speak, and a few more alarmed inhabitants came running out in their nightclothes. Well, we weren't going to stand for this! This was our clubhouse and they would simply have to go.
Impulsively breaking off small branches from a pine tree, we began swatting at the roaches. They ran out of the boat; we were winning! Except they kept coming. How many could there be, after all? If we could hurry the process, we could get back to our meeting. So Bonnie climbed up on the back seat and began jumping up and down. This drove the interlopers out and I beat them enthusiastically with my switch. Unfortunately, this caused them to flow over the side of the boat in a fleeing stream, eliciting screams from me and wild laughter from Bonnie. Grossed out, but determined to prevail, we switched places and continued our assault. But there is a reason why roaches survive and we discovered it that afternoon. They multiply and divide, and then they conquer. Our jumping legs and flailing arms could not hold up long enough to defeat them all, and we finally fell in an exhausted heap -- far away from the boat -- at which time they all filed back in and resumed their naps.
But the very next afternoon something wonderful happened! Bonnie's dad, whom we both much preferred, decided to go visit his side of the family on their modest farm, and he invited us to go along! This was too wonderful to be true! First of all, he was taking his truck, which meant we could ride in the back with the wind beating us into a disheveled mess, but even better than that was -- chickens! We had for some time been enamored with the idea of ink jars and quill pens, and had actually gone so far as to purchase tiny bottles of ink with our allowances. But quill pens seemed to be in rather short supply and most birds had the good sense to stay far away from us. This would be our big chance and we didn't intend to blow it. We arrived at the farm, pushed our wildly misplaced hair out of our wind-chapped faces, and got down to business. The grownups were busy, so we wheedled Bonnie's cousin into letting us attempt to get chicken quills, fresh from the factory! A good-natured boy, evidently much amused by us and ready for some fun, he quickly agreed and led us to the chicken pen.
The chickens were out pecking and strutting and doing their little chicken things. The element of surprise was on our side. They didn't act overly alarmed when we stepped into the pen, just "ba-awk"ing a greeting and then ignoring us. We each picked the chicken whose feathers we found the most beautiful and began sneaking up on our prey. This was going to be easy, we thought elatedly, reaching for the business ends of our chosen chickens. Just as we grabbed the tip of a feather, each of our targets hopped indignantly forward, looking as if they'd been goosed. Moving a little more quickly, we tried again, but this time each chicken exploded into movement, eluding us again. We looked at each other questioningly, as Bonnie's cousin chuckled delightedly and called his little sister to watch. Lips tightening in determination, we began running, our quill pens managing to stay just out of reach on the backs of their owners. Round and round we ran, chickens squawking, cousins holding their stomachs while rolling with laughter, and indulgent adults gathering to monitor the situation. They suggested we periodically switch targets, so as not to run the chickens to death. At this point, we were willing to settle for any quill at all, so we agreed, causing us to lurch and spin as we tried to grab any chicken in sight. Eventually our strategy paid off, as an unsuspecting chicken, lulled in to a false sense of security because we were chasing a different bird, allowed himself to stray into the path of our grasping hands. Flush with victory (and running), we climbed wearily, but triumphantly back in the truck, quill pens in hand. Those became our official club pens, used for writing notes, letters and creative stories. There was plenty of time for thought since we had to dip them in the ink every other letter or so.
Bonnie and I had so much fun together that I could never remember that she was considered ugly. It was rather fitting that her glasses magnified her eyes, luminous with kindness, intelligence and fun. I've heard that beauty is only skin deep, but under a thin veneer of weak flesh, Bonnie's beauty lay like a vein of gold, solid to the core.


Anonymous said...

Wait, you can't stop there! I want more adventures of Chrissy and Missy! This was a wonderful treat, Tracie. I hope you'll start a series with these two adventuresome girls :-)

Connie said...

Childhood friends are never forgotten! Great tribute to friendship...a series on the adventurous girls certainly would be fun!

Cherdecor said...

Was that REALLY true? I mean, did her mother actually call her Ugly?
I felt sorry for her all the way through the story.

It was a great read!

Rosezilla said...

Yes, this is the actual way I was introduced to her by her mother. As far as I can remember, everything in here is exactly true. Believe me, Bonnie rose above better than anyone I've ever known. She was a happy girl in spite of her mother's many cruelties.

jenniferw said...

It's hard to believe a parent could be so cruel ... but I know for a fact that they can. Your tribute to your friend is touching, imaginative, funny, and in all respects very honoring to her and to the special bond shared by the two of you! Please write more of your adventures! The roach story had me laughing out loud. I hate bugs and wouldn't have hung around to roust out the beasts! You and Bonnie were quite brave.

Sparky ♥ ∞ and Wiregrass Steve said...

This is a wonderful story! I enjoyed it immensely.

It made me tear up though because it reminded me of how cruel my father was. He was always using such hateful words and hitting me. And how my last step-mother used to always introduce me "This is my step daughter ..." like I didn't even belong there. She also was obsessed with preserving things more than people like Bonnie's mom. Oh well. Glad that part of my life is over.

Poor Bonnie. It's good that she had / has a friend like you to lean on. You're a treasure for sure. :o)

Sparky ♥ ∞

Suzanne said...

Hi... I loved your story and it brought back some much treasured memories from my youth! Are still friends with Bonnie?

Thanks for coming to visit my blog... and for your feedback. I am truly blessed to have such a good man. It only took me 20 years after my first marriage to find him! I am thinking of doing an esty shop... but I think I will start it in the spring if I only do flower pots.

Hugs and warm wishes!

Connie said...

Dearest cyber sister,
A road trip is entirely doable and Dishy would be thrilled I am sure! A lot of the other S.L.O.B.s are close to her....I am thinking Spring :)

Country Girl said...

I loved reading this exceptionally written exerpt of your life. I work with a woman who is about ten years older than me, a cancer survivor, quiet and stoic. She has been beaten down by her husband, but has risen above him and is loved by all of us at school. Her name is Bonnie. And I think she's beautiful.

Ellyn said...

You have a gift for writing.

Bonnie sounds like quite a character. I would love to hear more of your adventures.

Sara said...

This is a wonderful story that leaves me wanting more. You are a good story teller. There is something special about those childhood friendships and you captured yours perfectly.

Anonymous said...

What a great story. You are a very creative writer.

Wanda said...

I so agree...please let this just be the first chapter!!!

What a gift you have and your words paint such pictures, I could see it all in vivid color.

Love and Hugs

Merle said...

Hi Rosezilla ~~ Great story and what fun you and Bonnie had. Her mother was very
cruel to introduce her daughter like that. I am glad she rose above it.

Thanks for your comments and I am glad that you liked the jokes. We do not
celebrate Thanksgiving here or Halloween
so we are looking forward to Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Your writing shines, Tracie, and this one is nothing short of BRILLIANT.


Shimmy Mom said...

Beautiful story! I remember my first best friend as well. Do you still keep in touch?

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