Not all of the boys that I knew were my enemies. In fact I had a whole lot more friends that were boys than friends that were girls. I didn’t like dolls and I didn’t like ribbons and I sure didn’t like to be inside when there was a great big world outside to play in. Sometimes, if it was a Sunday and I was away from my house and couldn’t change my Sunday clothes… or if it was bitter cold out or storming, I would play inside or with my girl cousins. But usually I played outside boy games with boys. My brothers and boy cousins didn’t mind because I never would cry and I would always be “it” without a fuss when it was my turn. Boys at school liked me too. They didn’t even mind too much when I won their marbles and their pennies. They liked me a whole lot more than they liked any of the other girls. I think that there were even a few boys that liked me in the way that boys like girls…that special way.
My first kiss happened just two weeks after I started school. Of course I had been kissed by lots of boys …Daddy, Granddaddy, uncles and brothers and cousins. But Wesley Claymore was no relation. He was a brown eyed, brown haired boy with big fat loose curls and slanty cat eyes like my own but slantier. He also had my same dark colored skin. I reckon our attraction somewhat stemmed from seeing what we liked about our own self in each other.
Wesley started bringing me something from the second day of first grade on. He never talked to me except to say, “Katie, I brought you something.” And then he would present me with a buttercup flower or a little white crystal rock, or a cat’s eye marble. Each morning before Mrs. Wainwright wrapped her ruler on her desk to let us know that it was time to begin lessons, Wesley would hand me my treasure for the day. Every day I would say, “Why, Wesley Claymore, thank you so much! You are so sweet.”
I knew it was polite that I had said thank you, but I thought that since he had given me so many good gifts that I should think up something special to give to him. I did a lot of thinking on it, and I decided that I would give him a kiss. After he gave me the best present yet, a genuine arrow head that he had found on his farm, I didn’t tell him that I thought he was “sweet”. Instead, I gave him a genuine full-on-the-lips kiss.
From the look on his face I could tell he was shocked, but pleased. Unfortunately Mrs. Wainwright had seen the whole thing and she was not pleased at all. She sent notes home to both his momma and to mine. Wesley’s momma was as sour as he was sweet and she absolutely forbade Wesley from that moment forward from ever coming near such a “brazen hussy” again. I know that is what she said because she told it all around town. Folks were laughing and talking. Granddaddy almost popped a seam in his overalls when he heard the news down at the post office. He wasn’t angry…he thought it was hilarious.
“That’s my girl.” He boasted to his friends. “She and her grandma are just alike.”
When my momma got the note from my school teacher, Momma’s forehead got all wrinkled up between her eyes as she read. She would look like that when she was puzzling something over or when she was mad. I wasn’t sure which one it was this time.
“Katie Darling, why would you kiss Wesley Claymore?”
“Well Momma, it’s like this. I thought on it and I thought on it and then it came to me that when Granddaddy gives Grandma a gift she gives him a kiss. And when Daddy gives you a gift you give him a kiss. And Granddaddy and Daddy both seem to like the gift you give them back just fine, so that’s what I decided I would do too.”
Momma sucked in her lips and breathed in deep. “Katie, you really are a sweet girl, and I know you love your Granddaddy and your Daddy and your brothers too. And you can kiss them anytime you want because they are yours. But Wesley Claymore’s momma is dead-set and determined that Wesley Claymore belongs to nobody but her. One day maybe Wesley will choose a girl and Wesley’s momma will have to learn how to share. But that’s not gonna happen right now. You and Wesley are too young to be kissin, anyway. Baby girl, your heart was in the right place and you didn’t do anything wrong. But just don’t do it again. Don’t kiss boys…at school or anyplace else unless they are in your family. You need to stick to kissin only those that are your own right now. I know it seems alright to kiss a good friend that you like, but some people just don‘t see it that way. Some people get friend kisses confused for something more. And you are really not ready for that. So just hold off a while.”
Later that evening while they were sittin together on the porch swing I happened to pass near the open living room window and I heard Momma talking to Daddy in a low voice. “One thing is for sure though, if anything good has come out of Katie kissin Wesley Claymore for all the world to see, it’s that maybe now all those busy body woman who don’t have anything better to do than to talk about a little girl who’d rather wear overalls instead of a dress will keep their flapping traps shut!” I hadn’t heard Momma sound that mad since the day me and Billy rode our pony all the way to town.
“That’s the thing about traps isn‘t it?.” Daddy said, “ Sometimes a critter comes along that’s not intended to get snagged, it just gets caught up by accident. And sometimes a trap can’t even hold the poor thing. It just gets hurt and mad. Katie isn’t gonna let herself be caught up in a trap…or hurt. We know who Katie is and even more, she knows who she is.”
I wasn’t sure what they were talking about or why any old ladies would care whether or not I dressed like a boy. It sounded though like Momma and Daddy weren’t plannin on making me change. And I was sure glad of that. I didn’t know why Daddy would say I wasn’t the type to be caught in a trap…truth is anybody can be caught if it is set with the right bait. All I knew was that I didn’t want to get hurt in a trap, and that I didn’t want to wear dresses. So far Momma hadn’t made me dress up for school like my sisters did, and I was glad of that too.
It had been hard battle won, to be sure… one that I didn‘t want to have to fight about again. “Are you really gonna let her wear Billy’s hand-me-downs to school? Good grief, Momma she is gonna embarrass the whole family to death.”
“Betsy, she doesn’t embarrass us at all.” Tommy said looking to Billy while Billy shook his head in agreement.
“You’ll hate me and Betsy.” Sharon pouted. “You’ll hate all girls!”
“We don’t hate Katie.” Tommy smiled at me and Billy nodded his agreement again.
“But she ain’t even a girl!” Betsy yelled and banged her fist on the table.
“I’ve heard enough of that!” Momma spoke up in her this-conversation-is-over voice. “Katie is a girl through-and -through.”
“But she doesn’t like dolls or ribbons or pretty clothes!” Betsy argued.
“It’s true, a lot of girls do like those things. But Katie would rather play babies with the puppy dogs out in the yard, or chase colorful butterflies or gather up a bouquet of wild flowers. Katie likes playing mommy just fine and she likes pretty things just like you do, she would just rather be outside doing it.”
“And Katie likes to make mud-pies and dig for worms and go fishing in the pond too!” Billy added. “And she likes to climb trees and jump into the haystacks from the loft in the barn… and she likes to help us pull the ticks off the dogs and pop them with a stick.” Billy was on a roll listing my favorite things to do.
“That’s disgusting!” Betsy snarled.
“How would you know? Since you never even play with the dogs! You’ve probably never even seen a tick because that would mean that you’ve actually gone outside and wondered off the road…and we all know that would never happen!”
“Billy, Tommy, Betsy, Sharon…Enough!”
“I like being a girl just fine” I was feeling a little defensive and proud at the same time. “ I know I’m not a boy and I don’t want to be. Dresses just make me itchy and my legs get scraped up somethin terrible if I try to pick blackberries or wrestle without pants on. ”
And it would be hard to climb under the fence to get to the honeysuckle vines with Tommy and Billy. My brothers and me would sit and pick the little white and yellow flowers and suck the sweet juice off the stem one drop at a time. I would have been hard to wade though the creek to get to our favorite climbing tree… or run through the rows of corn playing hide-and-seek. I wouldn’t be able to scare the crows and doves up into the air out of their hiding places between the corn stalks… or crouch behind hay bales or under the smoke house stairs in anticipation of the hide and seek hunt.
“Sharon and Betsy, I’m sorry that I embarrass you at school. You don’t even have to act like you know me if you don’t want. Believe me, if Momma and Daddy didn’t make me, I wouldn’t go to school anyway. I don’t even like being there , except for lunch and recess.”
“See, Momma! All she ever wants to do is eat and run around and wrestle and play ball. It just isn’t right. I wish you would let her stay home. I bet Grandma wouldn’t mind teaching her the three “R’s”! Sharon and Betsy nodded excitedly at one another. The prospect of me being locked away from public view was making them giddy
“What’s ‘the three R’s’?” I accidentally let the question slip out. I didn’t want to make Betsy think I was dumber than she already thought I was.
“It’s reading, writing and arithmetic. Surely you at least know that!”
“You are such a rotten old smarty pants ‘reading writing and arithmetic’! Good grief, Betsy, why can’t you just talk like a normal person and say ‘lessons’. It’s just plain stupid that anybody would call those ‘the three “R’s” anyway? It’s just about as stupid as you two are.” Tommy said pointing to Sharon and Betsy with both pointer fingers stiff and near their faces. I knew that Tommy had really had enough of my sisters now because he almost never had a cross word for anybody.
“Tommy, don’t call your sisters ‘stupid’. Sharon and Betsy, I’m really disappointed in you. You’ll owe your little sister a big apology. You girls should be proud of your sister. She’s a smart girl, and I for one am proud of her for not being afraid to be who God made her to be.”
“Why would we be proud of a freak?” I heard Sharon whisper to Betsy.
“What was that?” Momma said.
“ Sorry, Katie.” Sharon said in a voice that didn’t sound convincing, but loud enough so Momma could hear.
“Sorry.” Betsy said…but I could tell she didn’t mean it. Not only did she not mean it, but she stuck her tongue out at me when she said it. Momma’s back was turned collecting up our lunches to hand to us on the way out the door.
“Now you’ll get your lunch pails and go on. You’re going to be late.” Momma hadn’t seen Betsy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing Momma could say… or Tommy or Billy would change how my sisters felt about me…or how they treated me. I learned early on that not everybody was going to understand or like me… and that I wouldn’t always understand or like people either. But I wasn’t gonna change who God made me to be because a person told me that I wasn’t good enough…and I wasn’t gonna try and change any body else either. Trying to be something I’m not or make somebody else something they’re not is too much to worry with. That’ one of those things to just let God handle.
“Come on Katie. We’ll race you to the oak tree. Last one there is a rotten egg.” And off Tommy, Billy and I ran leaving Sharon and Betsy in our dust while Momma and baby Jack watched through the kitchen window.