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Sunday Journal: Hats off to the nature of flirting

I loved the soft white tam the moment Mother pulled it out of the bag. She fitted it on my head, first straight and then slanted. "Ah, my bonnie Scotch girrrl," she said with a burr.

I wasn't sure what that was but could tell from her tone that I must look good.

I hopped upstairs to admire myself in the mirror in Grandma's room. Turning my head from side to side, I flirted with the reflection and fluffed the ringlets that peeked out underneath.

"Bring that downstairs. I don't want you getting it dirty," Mother hollered. "That's for good."

On the bottom step, Mother snatched the tam off my head, slid it back into the paper bag and placed it into the mitten drawer of the chest by the cellar door.

I wore the tam to Sunday School that fall and for our annual Santa Claus picture, downtown at Kaufmann's. The one of me, with my front tooth out, beside my sister Sue, sausaged into a snow suit.

After Christmas vacation, I begged Mother to let me wear the tam to school.

"Just one time," I wheedled.

"You'll lose it or get it dirty," she said. "That's for good, not for school."

"I'll be careful," I promised. "Please, please, please."

I felt so smart the next morning as I tramped through brittle snow, the tam cocked sideways on my head.

In the cloakroom, I pulled the hat by the top loop, smoothed it as I remembered Mother did and pushed it into my coat sleeve.

I would not lose it.

Second-graders at Kelton School did not change classes nor have recess but we did go home for lunch. When the bell rang at 11:45, I slipped on my coat, mittens, red rubber boots and arranged my tam for the milelong hike.

By then, the sun was out and the streets, slushy. I marched beside Linda, a petite friend with a blond bob. I felt just as cute as her and even waved to her mother when Linda entered their house, a block away from mine.

As I stepped over the puddles and across the snow plowed up over the curb, I thought of the bacon sandwich, chicken noodle soup and cup of cocoa waiting for me in the kitchen.

I turned my head when I heard a "rumming" noise, the sound that boys make when they pretend to be a car or an airplane. Glen. He lived at the end of my street in a houseful of older brothers who went to St. Bernard's.

We didn't know them.

Glen was Trouble who always had to stay after school. His face was ruddy from the cold. He wore no hat, boots or mittens and his plaid jacket, too small, flapped open. Snot emanated from both nostrils.

My body tensed. I was almost home.

Glen "rummed" up beside me, stomped his foot in a puddle and splashed mucky water all over my coat. Icy beads rolled down my legs, into my boots and dampened the tops of my anklets.

I screamed. Or thought I did.

He grinned a wicked smile, leaned closer and plucked the tam right off my head.

I froze. "Noooo."

Glen swung the tam back and forth by the loop. "Come and get it girly-girl."

I knew his hands must be grubby. "Give that back." My voice cracked. "Right now."

"Here," he said, then sailed my beautiful white tam into a heap of dirty, wet snow.

I watched him tear down the street. He turned several times, cackled and, each time, stuck out his long, ugly tongue.

I retrieved my tam from the gutter, drenched and sooty, and dragged myself up the front steps, defeated.

"Well, it's no good now. You can't wash felt." Mother said. "I used some of my housekeeping money to buy that. I should have known." She shook her head.

I hung mine, sniffled and blamed the troublemaker.

"I need to make his people pay for it," she threatened, although I knew she wouldn't.

I hated Glen.

"He must be sweet on you," Mother said, after she cooled down.

"He likes me?"

"That's the way some boys act," she said.

Baffled, my mouth hung open.

The rest of the semester, I stayed away from him, even when he smiled or tried to be friends. I couldn't forgive — or forget.

I became wary of all boys, with their gnawed fingernails, wax-encrusted ears, scabby limbs, loud, coarse voices and, more often than not, ripe odors. Savages, I thought. Until we played that game of spin the bottle at Marilyn's birthday party and my hormones kicked in.

I never got another tam.

Donna E. Glausser is a Tampa writer.

How to submit your story to Sunday Journal

We welcome freelance submissions for Sunday Journal, a forum for narrative storytelling. A lot happens in a Sunday Journal piece; someone might describe a driving tour of colleges with her reluctant 18-year-old daughter, or an encounter on a scary street at night. We want stories that take us someplace and make us laugh cry or just raise our eyebrows. The stories must be true, not previously published and 700 to 900 words. Send submissions to Sunday Journal editor Mimi Andelman, mimi@sptimes.com. Please include "Sunday Journal" in the subject line.

Sunday Journal: Hats off to the nature of flirting 01/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 5:59pm]
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