Taken aback. Nuts and oranges in Christmas stockings hanging from the doorknobs. I remember them, and every year our mother making flannel pajamas for the four of us (and later for the five.) We were one unit, my two older brothers and I. The same pj’s, the same cowboy boots, matching leather holsters and silver cap guns. But this was the year a baby sister entered the picture, and with that, a . . .wha? . . . baby doll from Santa. Apparently for me. How could that be? Where was my army helmet?
I still move through life like that—thinking I am on the army-helmet-path, and being the last to realize the doll waiting under a tree has my name on it. And being among the last to know what’s more appropriate. There’s always been some sort of Santa who knows me better than I know myself.
Who knew I’d end up on the poetry path, for instance? I was the shy one in grade school. Unless. Except when I had a good story to share during Show & Tell: A drunk breaking through our front door when we were eating lunch and Mom grabbing the baby from the high chair and shoving her into our arms. Run to the neighbors and tell Annabelle to send Louie over with his bat.
Or the story about an uncle getting shot at by his jealous wife. And just when I’d get to the good parts of the story—who said what to Paddy and why Paddy hit the cop—the teacher would ask me to take my seat.
But I wasn’t finished yet. On his own Mother’s front door step, I stood up to add.
That was the year Tony Palagi took a deeper interest in me. And that was the year my second-grade teacher made a deal with me. Instead of telling stories, how about spending two weeks making your own poetry book? And when it is all done, you can share that with the class during Show & Tell.
This appealed to me. My second brother was in third grade writing adorable puppy poems and my first brother was on the second floor of our old brick school house, having graduated to fourth grade, learning to write short stories. So I accepted Miss Conry’s deal, thinking my brothers could help out.
By Show & Tell day I had a collection of ten poems written in #2 pencil on paper torn from the Big Chief tablet we kept in the kitchen drawer at home. I wore my lucky red dress, which matched the cover of my Sherry O’Keefe Poetry book. I knew the poems by heart and decided to save the best poem for last. Miss Conry was sure to be taken aback by my brilliance:
There once was a fellow McSweeney . . .