I think that I’m like a box of Cracker Jacks. Lots of pieces/parts that are sweet, a little bit nutty at times, and if you dig deep into my heart, you might find a prize. That’s how I feel, today, anyway, about me, myself, and I.
“Watch out! Dog poop!” I yelled as my brother, Todd, bounded through Mrs. Carter’s yard toward her front doorsteps.
Todd braked his speedy feet, but his lanky body didn’t slow. “Dang it, Ashley, why didn’t you warn me sooner? Some’s on my new tennis shoe.” Todd hobbled to the side of the yard, into taller grass and scrubbed his spoiled shoe in high, thick blades. “You’d think people who loved dogs would keep their place cleaner,” Todd said.
I tiptoed around the stinky, brown mound. “Yuck, it’s reeking stronger. You stirred it good,” I said. I pinched my nose.
My BFF, Karen said, “Ashley, remember my weak stomach? Why’d you invite me?” Karen skirted the heap of feces, stood behind my back and buried her nose in my shoulder.
“I didn’t know. Never been to their house before. But, I know you love puppies.”
Today was my brother’s 12th birthday. We’d been to the mall, buying his new Reeboks and now we were about to get him his other present—a puppy.
Karen unburied her nose from my shoulder and said, “I know that Mrs. Carter breeds Lhasa Apsos, but isn’t her son that creepy guy that works at the gas station near your house?”
“Yeah, he’s the one. His name is Chase. People call him Chase “Chasing Cars” Carter,” Todd said, as he strode from the grassy area and sidled up beside Karen."
I quit pinching my nose and sucked a breath before speaking. “He is one weird duck. When we buy gas there he…”
Mom interrupted, “Shhh, they might hear you inside.”
Karen said, “How come y’all are getting this dog for free? I thought they charged $400 or more for ‘em.”
The four of us stepped with caution as we moved closer to the Carter house, hoping to prevent stepping in any unfortunate piles. Todd told Karen, “This puppy is not purebred. It’s a Lhasa and Poodle mix. It’s a female and we heard she was giving it away. If it’s free, it is for me.”
Todd walked up the front steps and reached out to ring the doorbell. Before he pressed the button the door swung wide and there stood Chase Carter. His hair hung in greasy, limp, strands. He wore dirty blue jeans and a wrinkled, blue plaid shirt. The top two buttons were unbuttoned. A rawhide string around his neck had a peace symbol and a rabbit’s foot hanging from it. He scowled at Todd. Then, he fixed his gaze on me. I felt uncomfortable as he kept staring. I put my hands in the pockets of my short and scrunched my shoulders up close to my ears. I sometimes do that when I feel embarrassed. What the heck? It’s Saturday afternoon. Why isn’t he working at the gas station? I wondered. I decided it must be his the day off.
Todd stood on one foot and then the other. He shoved his hands in his pockets, (must be a family trait) cleared his throat and said, “We came about the dog.”
Chase Carter pointed his bony finger in Todd’s face. “What dog? We ain’t got no dogs for sale. She only had one pup and it’s not right; not purebred. The mama got away from us and got in trouble.”
Mom spoke up, “I talked with Mrs. Carter, uh…your mom, on the phone. She said we could come over. She’s giving us that puppy.”
“She what?” Chase Carter’s face fired red. He sneered at Mom, stared freakish at me again, and then turned and stormed off into a back room. We heard loud voices but couldn’t understand any words that were exchanged.
A few moments later plump, middle-aged Mrs. Carter appeared. Wiping her hands on her faded navy blue apron and tucking strands of graying hair behind her ear, she said, “Come with me. The dogs are around back.”
Mom, Todd, Karen and I followed Mrs. Carter down the steps and into the yard. We tromped through grass that needed mowing and stepped around rusty, broken lawn chairs. We were careful to look for more poop, but didn’t find
any. On the back porch, in a cardboard box, we found Todd’s new puppy and the Lhasa mother.
“Oh, look, Ashley. She’s so cute,” Karen said. I agreed.
Todd picked her up and nuzzled her neck. “Hey there, sweet girl,” he said. “You’re coming home with me.”
Mom said, “Mrs. Carter, I can’t thank you enough for giving us this puppy. It’s a wonderful addition to our family, and a great birthday gift for my son.” She pointed to Todd who was completely engrossed in loving the puppy.
“You’re welcome, Ma’m. I just can’t keep feedin’ something that ain’t gonna bring in no money.”
Todd left the porch, strolled around the side of the house toward the car, carefully clutching his new pet. Mom gave Mrs. Carter $20.00 toward buying food for the mother Lhasa. As we backed out of the Carter’s yard I saw
Chase peering out the front window. I thought I saw him make a rude gesture with his finger.
Rattle, Clunk, Bang.
“Oh no, the church air conditioner has conked out again,” I whispered to Karen. Everyone sweated, even our Sunday School teacher.
“It doesn’t believe in working on the Sabbath,” Karen said.
Rivulets oozed from my brow and flowed past my ear onto my already wet neck. The room was filled with various shapes and sizes of 12 year-olds, squirming, murmuring and fanning. The AC was not cooperating this Sunday morning.
“I’m sweltering,” yelled one curly-headed, hairy chested, heavyset boy who seemed to find any opportunity to interrupt the lesson. He made a show of loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt. That’s how I know he was hairy chested.
My mouth gaped at this exposure “Holy Cow,” I said when I found my voice. The teacher’s eyebrows raised, but she ignored him and me.
“You ain’t got muscles, nor tight abs, neither, so don’t be tryin’ to show ‘em,” yelled Richard, the teacher’s son. The teacher ignored him, too. She had more patience than Job.
Next, a tall, lanky boy stood and took off his tie, but he didn’t open his shirt. Instead, he took three Goliath strides that landed him at the window on the south wall. “Mrs. Zimmer, can I pull back these curtains and raise this window? It’s beginning to smells like pig sweat in here,” he said.
Wincing, Mrs. Zimmer said, “Okay, but, it might be a humid, barely-there breeze.” She tucked a hunk of brown, damp hair behind her ear.
The lanky boy yanked the drapes aside. The window seemed stuck, but with a loud grunt and strain from the tall one, it finally raised.
A smidgeon of air circulated, but I wiggled and struggled to pay attention to Mrs. Zimmer’s lesson about how we should uh… yikes, what? My mind was not on the lesson, nor humidity, nor the noisy classmates. It was on Clover.
“Ashley, how can you show kindness to someone at school? Mrs. Zimmer’s voice jolted me out of my thoughts about Clover.
“Well… uh…”More sweat beads popped out on my forehead—which wasn’t difficult in Florida with a broken air conditioner.
“I know,” Karen raised her hand and shouted. Karen was my bestfriend at school and church, always had good answers so I was happy that she was taking the teacher’s focus from me. “You can smile when you’re walking down the hall at school, even if your classmates are not. A smile can cheer people,” Karen said.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Zimmer as she took a tissue from her black leather purse and wiped water beads from her brow. “That is another way to be kind. You never know when someone is having a bad day and a smile might be the thing that will boost them up.”
It seemed to me that Karen smiled perpetually and was always in a good mood, so I wasn’t surprised at her answer. She was the prettiest girl in our class with long, naturally curly, auburn hair. I wished my straight blonde braids were history and that I had curly reddish-hair like Karen. “Be happy you’re healthy,” my mom told me a hundred times. I was trying. Karen stood tall and curvy, whereas I was a shortie with no cute curves to speak of. But, I was happy that I was healthy.
Karen grabbed my arm and shoved it upwards, like I was raising my hand to answer. “Ashley has one,” she said. Although I wasn’t shy, and I often raised my hand, I couldn’t concentrate on the “kindness to people” lesson that day. The stifling heat was not the only reason.
“Yes, Ashley?” Mrs. Zimmer closed the lesson manual and waited for my answer.
Nervously, I twirled my braid. “Well, uh, uhmmm…we got a new dog. Actually my brother, Todd, got her for his 10th birthday yesterday. Y’all know that I got a cell phone when it was my birthday and …”
The tall, lanky boy said, “Yeah, we all know about your cell phone ‘cause you text everybody in the world, so what?”
I ignored him and continued babbling. “Todd got this dog from the dog breeder, Mrs. Carter. She’s the mother of that guy that works at the gas station near our house, Chase Carter. You know Chase Carter?Him and his mama breed Lhasa Apsos but this one is a mix—a Lhasa-Poo.” I felt silly broadcasting private details. Motor Mouth, that was me.
“So, your answer to Mrs. Zimmer’s question is what?” Richard asked.
“Mrs. Zimmer, you say? What don’t you call her Mother? I’m going to answer your mother’s question, Richard. Give me time,” I said. “Since this dog wasn’t a pure breed they couldn’t sell it for a good price. So, it was our good luck to get her. We named her Clover and, uh…I can be kind to Todd and help him give Clover baths, feed and water her and stuff.”
“Yes, being kind to ones siblings is very important in helping to create a happy home,” Mrs. Zimmer said with a smile. I thought my answer was good. I was on a roll.
“Yup, and being kind to animals is good, too. God created all the animals,” I blurted out and then felt redness creeping up my neck and face.
It was time for church to be over and I couldn’t wait to get home and see Clover. Mrs. Zimmer ended the lesson with a few concluding remarks and asked, “Ashley, would you give the closing prayer?”
“Yes, Ma’m.” As I stood and folded my arms I scrunched my eyelids together, but then I peeked to see if the rest of the class members had closed their eyes. Some of the boys still punched and poked one another. One girl was passing a red lollipop to Richard. We were all still slathered in sweat. Another girl pulled out a box of Cracker Jacks from her oversized bag and began eating. I started my prayer anyway. I thanked Heavenly Father for our teacher, our friends, the lesson, and especially for all the sweet animals in the world. I asked Him to please help our air conditioner get fixed.
I thought it was a good prayer, but a girl sitting on the other side of Karen gave me a weird look.
“What?” I said as I neared my seat and picked up my purse.
“You’re asking God to fix the air conditioner? Like he’s gonna come down here and do that?”
“Forget it,” I said.
Karen and I raced out of the classroom and dashed for the parking lot.
Once outside I felt the humidity hang all over me. “Oh, man, it’s hotter out here as it was in the stuffy classroom,” I complained. Just then a gentle breeze came.
Karen spread her arms as if to let the wind blow through her body. “Ooooh. Feels great,” she said.
“Can’t argue that,” I said. We ambled through the church parking lot weaving our way through the parked cars. We saw Todd sprint out the back door and dart toward our vehicle. Even though Todd was younger than me, he was as tall, and “as thin as a pencil” as Grandma always said. Every time we went to her house for Sunday dinner, she’d say, “Get in here Todd and eat some of my cookin’. I need to put a little meat on your bones. My word, you’re as thin as a pencil.”
Mom would smile, pat Todd on the shoulder and say, “Mind your Grandma.”
Todd had wavy, sandy brown hair, a few freckles on his nose and a tan from going shirtless in the Florida sun.
Todd dashed past us, slinging his suit coat in one hand and his tie in the other. I tried to flick him on his ear as he passed. “Toad,” I yelled. He paid me no attention. I knew he was trying to get to the car first so he could get dibs on the front seat.
Todd said, “I’ll beat you to the car.” And, he did.
When we arrived, Todd had hold of the door handle, even though the door was locked and we didn’t have a key. “I call shotgun. I got here first.”
“Who cares?” I retorted. “Karen is coming home with us. We’ll be fine in the backseat, Mister Thin as a Pencil.”
I sometimes I used that moniker or, even worse, called him Toad when he annoyed me. Karen knew my habit. She yanked my arm. “Ashley, remember our lesson today—about kindness?”
I hopped onto the hood of our car. Karen did too and sat beside me. “Oops, I guess I need to listen better next time. It’s just—well, I kept thinking about Clover.”
Todd leaned against the side of the car. “Clover is the best present I ever got in my entire life.”
“Better than poopy Reeboks,” I said. “Karen, did you feel weird when Chase Carter answered the door yesterday?”
“I did. He’s a strange one.” Karen straightened her skirt and said in a hesitant voice, “I don’t want to scare you, Ashley, but I couldn’t help but notice that he kept staring at you.”
“Oh, yeah. I felt his creepy glare. I was glad when he went into the back of the house and left us alone.”
“I heard that he had a Bipolar Disorder or something like that,” Karen said.
“I don’t know. I guess I would feel sorry for him if he’s not well, but all I know is, I felt weird when he kept staring at me.”
Todd had laid his coat and tie on the trunk of the car, had picked up stones and was trying to skip them across the surface of the little pond behind the church. He overheard our conversation and said, “Everybody stares at you ‘cause you’re so goofy looking. Forget about Mr. Chase ‘Chasing Cars’ Carter. All I can concentrate on is Clover.”
Karen said, “Why did you name her Clover? I’ve never heard of ‘Clover’ as a dog’s name.”
Todd stopped his stone-skipping and threw his handful of rocks in the grass near the pond’s edge. “Karen, my child, you’ve never heard of a dog named Clover? Well, now you have. I decided on that name because I think she’s
better than any luck a four-leaf clover could bring.”
”She is the sweetest dog that ever had fur and four feet--or should I say four paws,” I said. “She’s now four months old. Just right to be weaned from her mother and ready to come to a family that will love her.”
“And, that’s us,” Todd said.
I suggested to Todd, “Since you named her Clover, don’t you think we should buy some barrettes, in the shape of a clover to clip in her hair?”
“Hmmm. Let me think about that for awhile,” Todd said.
Mom’s purple suede high heels click-clacked on the sidewalk as she came out of the church carrying her bible under her arm and her purple suede purse slung over her shoulder. She pressed the remote button on her key and unlocked the car. Todd grabbed his coat and tie. Karen and I hopped off the hood and we all piled in and buckled up.
“Mom, take the short cut. Go on the dirt road that runs through that pine forest near our subdivision. It’s a shorter way home,” Todd said.
As Mom backed out of her parking space she said, “I guess I can today, since it hasn’t rained in awhile. But during the rainy season, it’s so soupy on that road. I’m afraid of getting bogged down.”
When we got home and Mom drove into our carport, Todd, Karen and I jumped out before she shut off the engine.
“Hurry, Mom,” Todd shouted, “Unlock the door. Clover might be hungry. Or thirsty.”
“We’ve only been gone two hours,” Mom replied. “And, we left plenty of food and water in her bowls in the laundry room.”
“Yeah, but she’s not used to our house. We need to check on her,” Todd insisted as he jiggled the knob of the side door that led from the carport, through the laundry room, into the kitchen.