Late Monday night, Myrtle finally convinced Vera to go home. “I love you, Vera, and thank you for the homemade meal, but I’m ready to get in bed and sleep. I promise I will call you tomorrow.”
As sad as Myrtle felt, she had not been able to resist dinner. Fried pork chops, potato salad, lima beans, sliced tomatoes and biscuits. A large glass of iced sweet tea washed everything down and Vera even brought over one of her famous pecan pies. With full stomachs, the old friends spent the next several hours talking about Pop and what could have happened. Myrtle was exhausted and just wanted to have some time alone with her thoughts.
Face washed, teeth brushed and nightgown on, she prepared her bed. Myrtle knew that her young granddaughters thought her bedtime rituals were funny but they would understand one day that a good night’s sleep was priceless. Two pillows for her head, one behind her back and one to cushion between her knees – this was all she needed tonight. If one of the girls were sleeping over, she would have added two more between them. After all, a grandmother doesn’t want to get kicked in the back by a 10-year old.
Myrtle laid down and closed her eyes. Then opened them. Squeezed them shut. Opened and stared at the ceiling. ‘Grrrr…is it too much to ask for a good night’s sleep? I guess so.’ Sitting up slightly in bed, she pulled out her journal. ‘Let’s try some of the touchy-feely, get out my emotions writing. Don’t they say that’s supposed to help?’ Putting the pen to the paper, Myrtle’s mind wandered as it always did at night. ‘Focus. Stay on target.’ With a laugh Myrtle realized she had just quoted Star Wars. Those crazy kids made her watch them over and over. ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’ Chuckling, she tried writing again.
The first several lines Myrtle wrote were the standard Today I… Slowly she realized she was writing about the first time she met Pop all those years ago.
The first day back to school after Christmas vacation was always a mixture of sadness, excitement and dread. Sadness that we had to wait another 12 months for Christmas presents. Excitement to show off our new clothes at school. Dread when thinking of the next several months of winter.
Vera and I met outside her house to walk to Pageland Elementary School. My 8th birthday was in a few weeks and I was telling her about the cake Momma had promised to make me. Going into Miss Baker’s 2nd grade classroom, we weren’t paying attention to anything except each other. That’s when I ran into a brick wall. Not really, but it felt like it. Sprawled across the floor with my books everywhere, I could see a pair of brand new name brand sneakers. As I raised my eyes I saw nice pants with no signs of patches and a red sweater covering a blue button down shirt. On top of all this was the cutest face I had ever seen in my life. Blue eyes and blonde hair weren’t uncommon but boy did they look good on him. He looked down at me with a quick smile and reached out a hand to help me up. Before I could react to his outstretched hand, Vera smacked him across the back of the head and said, “You big dummy. You just knocked down my best friend.” She helped me up then, finally, and I could see Miss Baker walking over to check on us. I assured her I was fine but in truth I was mortified. The entire class had seen me fall and I was convinced everyone knew I had an instant crush on the new boy in class.
Quickly taking our seats, Vera and I stole looks at each other. Her smirk told me she hadn’t missed my flushed face. Miss Baker called the class to attention and introduced HIM. Paul Jordan.
Somehow I made it through the rest of the day without embarrassing myself anymore and Vera seemed content to keep her mouth shut for once. On the front steps of the school, I was almost home free and then I heard a voice calling from behind me.
“Hey wait up.”
I knew before I turned around that it was HIM.
“Wait a second.” Catching his breath, Paul said, “I’m sorry I knocked you down earlier. I must not have seen you. My name is Paul.”
Staring at his outstretched hand, I was struck mute. Luckily, that never happens to Vera. “Hey. I’m Vera.” She said as she grabbed his hand. I’m pretty sure she had never shaken hands with anyone before but she pulled it off. “This here is my friend Myrtle. She normally talks but I think you knocked around her brain some.”
“Vera, shut up. He didn’t knock around my brain and he didn’t even knock me down. I ran into him. I’m sorry about that Paul. It’s very nice to meet you.” I then shook hands for the very first time too.
“Would you guys like to go get a soda at the drug store? I’m headed in that direction.” Looking at each other, Vera and I both shrugged.
“Okay. I have to be home in an hour so we’ll need to make it fast and you are buying Paul.” Vera was always bossy. It’s one of the things I love about her.
Paul gladly bought our sodas that day and even told us a little about himself after being grilled by Vera. His father came to Pageland to be the new President of the local bank and they bought the big house on McGregor Street. Of course, his mother stayed home with the kids – Paul and his younger sister, Elizabeth. Vera asked him why they had such stuffy names and he actually laughed. He said that he liked to be called Pop and explained that his sister couldn’t say his name when she was very young; it had come out as “Pop” and it stuck. He called her Libby – mostly to annoy their mother but also because she seemed more like a Libby than Elizabeth.
Pop (yes, we started calling him by his nickname that day) wanted to know more about us but we had to get home. I knew if I were late I would not only risk missing the afternoon snack but also might get a switch to the rear end. Vera and I waved goodbye. As we started running, I looked back at Pop. He seemed sad, standing there alone. I determined then and there that Vera and I would be his friends.
And we were. At least for the next ten years.
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