Averyell A. Kessler
At the end of March, the glitter of my Christmas presents began to fade. I’d played Risk and Chinese Checkers a hundred times, I knew who done it in my new Nancy Drew books, and Mama tired of the relentless buzz of my Operation game and removed the batteries. Winter weekends were long and sunless as I puttered around the house searching for something to do. My friend Martha and I had exhausted our repertoire of duets from the “Four Hands One Piano” song book and our knuckles were bleeding from trying to replicate a glissando. Cartoons weren’t as amusing as they once were, neither were Spanky and Darla. Sadly, the Saturday morning parade of TV heroes ended promptly at noon. After that, I was on my own. Then, a lucky day. After finishing a weeks-worth of sheets and towels, Mama’s aged washing machine shuddered and collapsed into a useless wreck filling the house with the acrid smell of burnt rubber. A repairman issued the death certificate. “Looks like you need a new one, Lady,” he said. “This old piece’o junk ain’t going one step farther.” That afternoon, Mama and I went to Sears. A shiny new Maytag top loader was installed in our kitchen the following Monday and the old one, wringer and all, was carted away in disgrace.
“You want me to get rid of that too?” the delivery man asked, pointing to a large Maytag box outside on our back steps.
“Yes,” Mama answered.
“Nooooo,” I interrupted. “Let me keep it. Please……….” Plans for the box were already dancing in my ten-year-old brain.
“Alright,” Mama said. “But it’s big, be careful with it.”
Whoopee, I was now is possession of an instant toy that kept me busy for the remainder of winter. I wasn’t a box, it was a store front, a television set, a jack in the box, and a magician’s stage. It eventually evolved into a sled – more on that later – with dire consequences.
That afternoon, Martha and I transformed it into a mini-Jitney. We raided our mother’s pantries for cans of Campbell’s tomato soup, bags of sugar and apples. Martha produced a box of Morton’s salt; I found an unopened bag of Eight O’clock coffee. We took turns selling them to each other using coins from Mama’s change purse and the quarters we emptied out of Martha’s piggy bank.
The next day, we cut a square hole in the wide side of the box and it became a television set. Our version of the Ed Sullivan Show included a yodeling cowboy, an apple juggler ( the same spotted ones from days before), and an Ipana commercial starring Martha as Bucky Beaver.
We were planning a magic show when Martha noticed something.
“Ooh! There’s a big red bump on your leg,” Martha said, pointing to a swelling sore below my left knee. It’ a giant measle. Does it hurt?”
“No,” I answered. But it was thrumming like a bicycle injury and a hornet sting combined. “Mama…………..I yelled. “Something bit me!”
After an intense inspection and a consultation with the World Book Encyclopedia, Mama announced. “It’s a boil. I’m calling Dr. Ward.”
That started it. My boil was the first of many that plagued me throughout the summer. Ouch! I’d already shouldered through measles, mumps, and chicken pox, as well as a scarlet fever scare at Power School and the ever-present specter of Pre-Salk polio outbreaks. I was more than familiar with itching, fever, sore jaws, and ice-cold baths. However, boils were the worst, and I became adept at hiding them. Through it all, the Maytag box never lost its luster. We covered it with finger paint, created a duplicate of the dancing Old Gold pack and blessed our parents weekly bridge games with exceptionally bad tap dancing.
As school ended for the year, bad luck jumped out of my closet and delivered a one-two punch. First, a fresh boil swelled on a critical portion of my backside. Second, my old friend the Maytag box fell apart. Martha and I managed to save the box top as well as the bottom, but we weren’t sure what to do with them. I wasn’t sure what to do about my problem either. I did not want to see Dr. Ward again or feel the cold steel of his scalpel. I closed my eyes and hoped the boil would vanish during the middle of the night. It did not.
“We could use the box top to slide down a hill,” Martha suggested.
“Yeah, that’d be fun,” I answered. No one had noticed that my backside was growing larger, or that I lowered myself carefully into my chair at suppertime.
My ultimate boil humiliation occurred on a Friday night when my parents invited Martha’s family over for a cookout, the first of the year. Our parents were enjoying their first round of drinks and cigarettes when Martha decided the time was right. We’d slide down our front yard hill. Daddy’s newly laid St. Augustine be damned!
“Let’s race,” she said. “First one to the bottom wins!” Off she went, rocketing to the bottom on a piece of slip and slide cardboard. I did not move.
“Come on,” Martha shouted. “It’s fun.”
“OK,” I said. I shoved off, hoping for the best. My fingers clutched my box top sled like a hungry hound guarding a tasty bone. Then, disaster. As I bumped down the hill, my boil exploded like popcorn in a hot skillet. I howled louder than a police siren.
We didn’t have hamburgers that night, but we were not idle. Nothing beats an evening in the Baptist Hospital’s brightly lit emergency room as a young intern stitched up my damaged backside and applied a large bandage.
“You should have told me,” Mama said on the way home.
“I hoped it would go away,” I whispered.
“Trouble won’t go away on its own, sweetheart,” Mama said. “Tell me and we’ll fix it together.”
Happily, hope worked. My backside boil was the finale. I guess I was saving the best for last.