Enjoy a sneak peak into Platt’s just-released novel,
Saint Andrew’s Parish…
Here is the opening chapter:
Bubba Bailey was my best friend. His real name, alas, was Middleton Jackson Bailey, a family legacy such as many boys in the South are saddled with by well-meaning but tradition-burdened parents. He was so well liked by his peers, however, the stilted sound of the silly name on his birth certificate was rarely heard. Instead, with boyhood solidarity we dubbed him “Bubba.” He loved it. Bubba, as a term of endearment, came to represent him and became part of him a long time before its unfortunate stereotyping. Our Bubba was a great wit, but the term buffoon did not aptly describe him. As far as I know, he was never ashamed of, or inclined to disown, his nickname; neither am I inclined to discard it in referring to someone so dear to me.
My name is Andy Bell. My real name is Andrew; but, of course, very few boys in the South are called by their actual given names. “Robert” becomes “Bob,” “Eugene” becomes “Gene,” “James” becomes “Jim” or “Jimmy,” etc. Anyhow, as far as I know, Bubba always considered me to be his best friend, too. His family lived not far from mine in that region of Charleston lying on the west side of the Ashley River, which separates it from the old city. The oldest part of the city is sequestered on a peninsula bordered by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, which according to local wits, come together at its tip to form the Atlantic Ocean. Put more modestly, these relatively short but beloved rivers meet in Charleston Harbor before flowing through a narrow opening between James Island and Sullivan’s Island to merge with the sea.
When Bubba and I were growing up, where we lived was generally known as Saint Andrew’s Parish. Residents of the region, which encompassed a wide variety of neighborhoods with such inviting names as Ashley Forest, Byrnes Downs, Edgewater Park, Wappoo Heights, Windermere, and Orleans Woods tended to have strong affinities with each other and shared a deep parochial pride. In part, that pride came from having an outstanding school system—arguably, the best in the state— thriving churches whose membership included almost everyone, and natural beauty continually complemented by the planting of countless thousands of camellias and azaleas as well as other shrubs and flowers by successive generations of Saint Andrew’s Parish residents.
Saint Andrew’s Parish was a sonorous name. Furthermore, it had staying power. Indeed, it survived several centuries before considerations of political correctness may have made it inconvenient to retain. Apparently, some pragmatic real estate salespeople decided this colonial ecclesiastical designation was too sectarian or otherwise too problematic for good business use and took the lead in changing it to a less lovely but more utilitarian West of the Ashley. But even that was not sufficiently innocuous for them. Eventually they discarded both the poor little preposition of and the article the, further shortening the name to an almost-generic West Ashley.
It is unlikely that this name-tampering was instigated by natives; more likely it was done sneakily by latter-day carpetbaggers, geriatric transplants, and other occasionally likeable immigrants from “off”: a melting-pot mixture of people from Snow Belt places like New York (which I heard had shortened its own name from New Amsterdam because two syllables were better for business than four), Newark, Hartford, Detroit, Youngstown, Chicago, Pittsburgh, places where the preservation of names as well as other traditions is a much lower priority than is the custom in Charleston. In any case, I never got used to the change. It was as if my own given name had been changed without my consent.
Specifically, the Baileys lived in Avondale, one of the nicer Saint Andrew’s Parish subdivisions, one in which most of the houses were built of brick or stone and bigger than our wooden bungalow. But the disparity never bothered me, and I doubt it ever bothered Bubba. After all, the Baileys were expected to live well— they were Episcopalians. In fact, Mrs. Bailey’s uncle, Matthew Middleton Jackson, was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Mr. Bailey was a senior partner in Bailey, Hamilton, Johnson, Morris, Duffy, and Bailey, a prominent law firm with a plush office on Broad Street. Such connections bolstered Bubba’s innate self-confidence.
To my father, his good friend William Bailey would always be known as “Billy Bugle.” This nickname was a lighthearted reference to their college days at The Citadel, where the two had been classmates. During that time, as an assigned special duty, Mr. Bailey roused the corps of cadets every morning by playing reveille on his bugle. Although his performances were noteworthy, they were not particularly popular with his fellow cadets. This motivational music would have made Billy Bugle a pariah among his peers were it not for the fact that he was an outstanding quarterback on the school’s football team, the Bulldogs, as well as a member of its tennis team and captain of the newly formed sailing club.
The Citadel, of course, is a military college in Charleston or, as alumni prefer to identify their storied alma mater, The Military College of South Carolina. At least a few partisans even seem to regard The Citadel as one of the last remaining strongholds of the Confederacy. They reveled in seeing the Rebels’ battle flag fly prominently over the campus, beside the American and state flags—until it, too, fell victim to the ongoing crusade of political correctness.
Some historians, in fact, do credit The Citadel’s cadets with initiating hostilities in the Civil War on January 9, 1861. This still-celebrated event occurred when some of the student-soldiers, whose allegiance was more to their state than to their country, fired on the Star of the West, a Union ship which was attempting to resupply Fort Sumter. It is also notable that, soon after South Carolina’s secession, the entire corps of cadets volunteered for military service with the new Confederate States of America. The cadets could not have known, of course, that the Confederacy was doom-destined; however, those familiar with The Citadel’s history and traditions, proclaim the cadets would have volunteered anyhow.
A century and decades later, this “West Point of the South” received an additional measure of fame, or infamy, when one of its alumni wrote a bestselling novel, which was made into a movie, graphically portraying a number of reprehensible practices at a fictitiously named military school. College officials, recognizing The Citadel as the book’s prototype and trying to protect their institutional image, denied permission to producers of the film to shoot it on campus. Unfortunately, controversies involving allegations of residual racism, hazing, sexism, homophobia, and, more recently, sexual abuse of minors at summer camps, have continued to crop up. These sporadic controversies tend to tarnish the proud school’s “spit and polish” luster.
Bubba was only a month older than I, although in terms of worldliness he was years ahead of me. We looked a lot alike, both of us towheads who could have been cousins, if not brothers. We were about the same height and weight, were about equally strong, and had earned similar grades at Saint Andrew’s Elementary School. We even had similar bicycles (his a Schwinn, mine a Columbia) at nine, BB guns at ten, Lionel trains, and other trappings of Southern boyhood. In fact, Bubba had only one thing I did not but really envied: a sister.
Being with other children at least part of almost every day was no substitute for the sibling I always wanted and never had. For a child there is simply no substitute for sharing living space with another child. Having picture-perfect parents or privileges might mitigate the longing but, again, there is no substitute. Unconsciously, I permitted loneliness to personify itself and adopted it as a surrogate brother. With a perverse loyalty, its vestiges would be my lifelong companion.
One hot July afternoon when it was too sticky to play baseball or to do much of anything else, Bubba and I were lounging in hammocks in his shady backyard. We sipped lemonade and talked about the extraordinary season Charleston’s South Atlantic League baseball team, the Rebels, was having. We were thirteen that summer but, as Bubba’s mother was wont to say, he was “going on twenty-one.”
The Baileys’ backyard was a wonderful place for a boy to be a boy. On one side was a paved tennis court; on the other was an open lawn large enough for the pickup games of baseball or football we played according to the season. In between on a brick patio were a permanent barbeque grill as well as redwood tables and benches. Every year during oyster season, usually from late September until early April—all those months having the letter r in their names—the Baileys hosted a number of backyard oyster roasts. My family was always invited.
There was no swimming pool because, as Mr. Bailey always calmly pointed out whenever his wife suggested it would be nice to have one, with all the beaches around Charleston none was needed. Besides, they were privileged to own a large, cedar-shingled second home on the front beach of Sullivan’s Island. This beautiful beach house had been in Caroline Middleton Jackson Bailey’s family for generations and was affectionately known as “Middleton Manor.” The Baileys stayed there almost every weekend from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The far reaches of the backyard sloped down to the wide marsh on the west side of the Ashley River. Weeping willow and palmetto trees grew in low places along the edge of the marsh and afforded a sense of privacy without blocking much of the river view.
The marsh itself was a haven for a wide variety of wildlife. The list included such majestic wading birds as great white herons, egrets, and ibises. Smaller marsh birds such as coots, rails, and orange-billed oystercatchers fed and nested there as well. Occasionally, they themselves served as meals for roving raccoons, those cute little ring-eyed bandits who should have been, Bubba asserted, the official state symbol.
The smell of the marsh was unique, almost impossible to describe to anyone who has never inhaled it. Simultaneously, it was sweet as well as sour, pleasant as well as pungent. On dark nights, the marsh teemed not only with wildlife of the real world, but also with creatures of our fantasies. Washington State boasted of its “Bigfoot,” but that was nothing compared to our “Marsh Monster.”
A tributary, just barely wide enough and deep enough at high tide for Mr. Bailey’s small sailboat, Merrimac, connected their yard to the river. One day Bubba and I ceremonially christened the tributary “Crustacean Creek” in honor of all the crabs caught there. In practice, naturally, it was always called “Crab Creek” in honor of all the crustaceans. The excretory manner of the christening, I must admit, was characteristically irreverent.
On countless occasions Bubba and I camped out in that backyard, sleeping in a tent close to the marsh. We would build a small fire for hotdogs and later would roast marshmallows over the glowing coals. Inevitably, one of us quipped, “Marshmallows are finger-lickin’ good for marsh fellows!” And before settling in the tent for the night, one or the other announced he had to go “re-christen the creek.” For discreet entertainment that we would never risk within eyeshot of our parents, Bubba would smuggle from his room one or two of those naughty magazines meant for men, and by flashlight we ogled the pictures of naked women until we fell asleep.
Sometimes we were awakened in the middle of the night by exotic sounds coming from the marsh, or plaintive cries of captive animals coming from the zoo across the river at Hampton Park. Sometimes we were awakened by the mournful sounds of a Seaboard Air Line Railroad train crossing the Ashley River on a trestle a mile or so upstream. On Saturday mornings during the school year, we awoke to the martial sound of reveille being played on a bugle at The Citadel, whose campus was right across the river from us. We joked that the bugler was the ghost of Mr. Bailey’s twin brother.
Often, upon awaking we were awestruck by the sight of the sun seeming to rise out of the river. Afterwards, we usually crawled back into our sleeping bags for another hour or two. We were sure our routine was better than the regimen of the Boy Scouts. Moreover, never once did we even fantasize about following in our fathers’ footsteps, marching down Moultrie Street and passing through The Citadel’s guarded gates to don its gray uniforms and military discipline. Years later when Bubba and I bantered about this phase of our lives, an oft-repeated witticism was, “Who me? Live in a gated community? Man, you got to be kidding.”
Anyhow, on the particular sticky summer afternoon already mentioned, Bubba and I were debating whether Raleigh or Jacksonville would be the Rebels’ strongest opponent that season. We had just decided we needed more lemonade when Mrs. Bailey came hurriedly out the house. She called, “Bubba, I have to run to the Piggly Wiggly to get something for supper. Missy’s reading, so don’t harass her while I’m gone. If you and Andy want more lemonade, there a fresh pitcher in the fridge. There’s also a tray of brownies cooling on top of the stove. Help yourselves but please don’t make a mess.”
“Thanks, Mom. And not to worry. We’ll have Missy clean up the mess,” Bubba answered.
“That’s not funny, Bubba. And Bessie’s off until Monday. I’ll be back in about an hour. If your father gets home first, tell him where I’ve gone, okay?”
“Okay, Mom. !Vaya con Dios!”
When Mrs. Bailey had backed her big navy blue Chrysler out of the driveway onto Arcadian Way, Bubba hopped up, saying, “Caroline’s never back from shopping in less than two hours. She’ll run into a friend in the produce section at the Pig, who’ll tell her about bananas being two cents less a pound at Rodenberg’s or Silver Queen corn on special at the A & P, and she’ll have to go there, too. Come on inside, Andy. Got something to show you.”
I followed with some uneasiness, guessing Bubba had a new magazine hidden under his mattress. It was indeed with “uneasiness” because of a strict Southern Baptist upbringing that, for better or worse, informed my sense of right and wrong. In any case, I had long since promised Jesus, when He had spared my dog’s life, that I would not look at those wicked pictures of naked women anymore. I was loath to break any promise to Him. Of course, that was not the kind of information I shared with Bubba. He would not have been impressed. In fact, he often teased by calling me “Saint Andrew” or “John,” as code for John the Baptist.
My emotions were mixed as we crossed the lawn. I felt I had to feign disinterest, but definitely was curious. Mostly, I was experiencing anxiety at the prospect of breaking a sacred promise. I said, “Man, I sure hope you’re not planning to bore me with more of your titty magazines. See one pair of naked tits, you’ve seen ‘em all.”
Bubba said, “Relax, Andy. No titty magazines today. Got something better, something sure to stimulate your repressed manhood.”
All of a sudden, I felt very anxious. To mask it, I said, “Okay, but let’s take your mom up on her kind offer of the brownies. There’s no need for a repressed appetite, too, is there?”
Entering the kitchen, we paused to fill a plate with warm brownies and refill our glasses with cold sweet lemonade. As he opened the refrigerator, Bubba jested, “Wouldn’t we rather have a couple of my dad’s beers? A couple of Buds would go well with the entertainment I’ve got lined up for us.” I merely grinned and he added, “Oh, I forgot, ‘John,’ you’re the Baptist, aren’t you? Well, we’ll just have to stick with the lemonade and pretend it’s gin and tonic.”
I noticed Missy in the adjacent family room. She was stretched out on the floor, reading a book just as Mrs. Bailey had said, and ostensibly oblivious to us. As discreetly as possible, I glanced in her direction. Missy was twelve, freckled, and as slender and supple as a branch on one of the weeping willows in their backyard. Moreover, she was angelic in some innocent, inarticulable way, and, at least to me, already as covetable as a perfect peach.
On several occasions my parents had insisted on my going with them to see Missy perform in her dance school’s annual recitals. For the sake of my already machismo-infused image, I suppose, I felt I had to protest; inwardly, however, I enjoyed watching her dance. Ironically, while ballroom dancing was frowned upon, we Baptists were permitted with impunity to enjoy ballet, either as participants or as spectators. I would never understand this inconsistency but would always be grateful the Southern Baptist Convention either allowed it or overlooked it. Early on, I began to develop an appreciation for this most sensual of art forms, an appreciation I would never lose.
It being mid-summer, that day Missy was wearing white shorts and a green T-shirt. As usual she was barefooted and her red hair was ponytailed. Already there were budding breasts barely discernable beneath her T-shirt. “Bubba’s a lucky devil,” I was thinking, “to get to live in the same house with a creature like her.”
I had always been intrigued by the opposite sex. Even in early childhood I perceived girls to be somehow mysteriously different from us boys. I never wished I were one—the very idea of being without a boy’s prerogatives was unsettling. Nevertheless, being innately curious about human sexuality even before that term was in my working vocabulary, had I been an only female child in my family, I may well have found little boys to be similarly mysterious and longed for a brother.
I followed Bubba into his bedroom. The walls were decorated with posters and pennants from New York, Washington, D.C., and other places visited on family vacations, as well as newspaper clippings about the Rebels and South Atlantic League baseball teams. There was also a souvenir program from a New York Yankees game the family had seen earlier in the summer. It was an interesting, spacious room with windows on two sides.
Bubba pulled down all the window shades—that was puzzling, but he often did puzzling things—and switched on a rotating red light, which brought to mind those that adorned the roofs of police cars. He said, “Close the door, Andy, and sit there on the edge of the bed. We don’t have any time to waste. You’re about to see something spectacular, something only real men get to see. You ready to become a real man?”
I snapped back, “I’m as much of a man as you, Bubba boy.” Then, because the word heck was not nearly as scary as the word hell, I said, “What the heck are you talking about?”
“Just sit still and relax, Andy man. You’ll see in a minute.”
He turned on his phonograph, which had a record on the turntable already set to play. As bump and grind sounds filled the room, he opened the door and called, “Hey, Missy, you’re on! We’re ready for you.” Bubba looked at me with a mischievous grin and before I could say anything, Missy was standing in the doorway. Bubba closed the door behind her and sat beside me on his bed. “On with the show,” he directed. Then, as easily as if she had been rehearsing this performance for months, Missy began swaying her slender hips and writhing to the music.
“This sure is fun,” I said to myself. “But what did Bubba mean about ‘something only real men get to see’?” Then, as if she had been reading my mind, Missy eased her T-shirt high enough to bare her navel. In it a small piece of costume jewelry sparkled in the rotating red light. This was titillating, but I had to show Bubba I was remaining calm. So, I said, “That’s a nice navel—sort of like a third eye—which reminds me, did you know Eve had no navel?”
Bubba chided, “Pay attention, Andy. The best is yet to come.”
Missy’s back was turned to us now as she slowly continued to lift her
T-shirt. There was no way I could not pay close attention. With her back still turned to us, she pulled the T-shirt completely off, tossing it over her head. I fully expected her next movement would be to dart out the door, but she continued to dance.
A moment later I was startled when she turned around, exposing her completely uncovered pre-pubescent breasts. With widening eyes, I stared at the strawberry-sized breasts with their darker, tiny cranberrylike nipples. Like another pair of eyes, they stared back. My jar dropped, my heart raced. I ceased to be conscious of the music.
Bubba gently encouraged his protégé. “You’re doing just fine, Missy ‘Gypsy Rose Lee.’ Now, let’s have act two.” Then, still moving to the music, the precocious performer unbuttoned her shorts, letting them slide tantalizingly down the full length of long-for-her-age legs. She lifted her left foot from the shorts and with the right flicked them aside. This was amazing. Dancing just ten feet from my face was a live girl wearing only panties! But I would be hard pressed to say whether they were pink or white, lacy or plain. I was spellbound by the lithe body whose last remnants of innocence that dainty garment preserved.
The music was building toward a climax, not unlike Bolero, and Missy’s movements remained synchronized. Finally, the moment had come for what would have been unthinkable an hour earlier. Hooking her thumbs over the top of her panties, Missy pulled them down to her ankles. As with the shorts, she lifted her left foot first, then with the right flicked them aside. The music ended.
I was stunned, barely hearing Bubba call to her, “Okay, Missy Baby, you’ve got the part.”
Without looking at us, Missy had already snatched up her clothes and fled from the room. I continued to stare into the space where she had performed. The red light continued to rotate. I felt my heart pounding.
Bubba stood up, turned out the light, and raised the window shades. “Well, my good man, what do you think of that?” he asked.
My best friend had just exposed me to a totally new experience, one of the most exciting of my hitherto-cloistered life. But I could think of nothing manly to say. I turned and saw he was grinning at me, awaiting an appropriate reply. I simply said, “That’s a great record, Bubba, and I sure like your red light.” I paused while groping for an exit line, then added, “Well, I need to be heading home. My mom said we’re having an early supper and I’ve got to cut some grass first.”
Outside, mounting my bicycle, I was still preoccupied with what had transpired inside; nevertheless, I remembered to mention the refreshments. “And thanks a lot for the gin and tonic,” I said.
Bubba replied, “Anytime, old man. By the way, you’re right about Eve not having a navel. Of course, I don’t imagine it mattered to Adam. He wouldn’t have had one either.”
“They were a wild pair, weren’t they?” I mused. “I wonder if, after they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and started to wear those fig leaves, Missy ever did a striptease for Adam.”
“If who ever did a striptease for Adam?”
“I mean Eve,” I said, blushing with embarrassment for having exposed the object of my distraction.
Bubba laughed at my Freudian slip, then said, “But, surely, ‘John,’ you don’t believe Adam and Eve were real people, do you?”
I said, “Of course not—well, I’m not sure. But, it’s in the Bible, you know? And my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Sanders, sure does. I bet if she even suspected I didn’t believe that story, she’d be having a talk with my dad and mom pretty quickly.”
I pedaled off then with what was a standard farewell of kids in those days: “Gotta get going. See ya later, ‘gator’.”
At bedtime that night, I went through the ususal routine: brushed my teeth, read the daily Bible reading decreed in Nashville, Tennessee, the Mecca of Southern Baptists, then turned out the light. In the dim moonlight, kneeling beside my bed, I must have mumbled a prayer but my mind was still stuck in Bubba’s room. I crawled between the clean, cool sheets and lay there not the least bit sleepy, quite conscious of my first erection of which I have any memory.
I remained wide awake, my eyes open in the warm, damp darkness. Hours seemed to pass as I lay there mesmerized by Missy’s image. It did not appear that the attendant hardness pushing up the sheet would ever subside sufficiently to allow sleep. I tried to think about other things, such as baseball, the Rebels game with the Indians that Daddy and I planned to see on Saturday, mowing neighborhood lawns for some spending money, the eerie noises of a midsummer night floating through the open windows. But vivid fantasies of cuddling with Missy could not be overcome so easily.
To redeem these fantasies, I tried to think of activities she and I could enjoy that were—well, that were proper, that could even be talked about in Sunday School, things like visiting the Charleston County Public Library and reading books together, going to the Avondale Drugstore for ice cream sodas, later going to high school sock hops as well as formal dances together, and still later getting married and only then holding her in that special, blessed way husbands are allowed to hold their wives.
The luminous hands on my clock indicated 2:00 a.m., and sleep was nowhere near. I was beginning to feel tired, not to mention frustrated. Then, without forethought, my hand struck out to slap the offending organ. Suddenly every nerve in that part of my body tingled. Something geyser-like began boiling in my lower abdomen. The sensation spread slowly at first, then coursed with the exhilarating speed of a roller coaster as it goes over the highest hump and races downward.
The head of my penis seemed to burst and I to be half-immersed in warm syrup. It was not unlike the warm feeling I had experienced all over upon being baptized at Ashley River Baptist Church several years earlier. For a moment I shall never forget, my whole being was transported as if on a magic carpet into a realm of rapture, a state of new sensations.
While this event was totally unexpected, I had received enough birds-and-bees education from my peers to know what had happened. As significant to me as were the discoveries of new worlds to the explorers of old, I had discovered masturbation.
I should note, however, that just as almost every discovery of Columbus or other explorers can be qualified as a mixed blessing, so could my discovery of my own sexuality. Along with whatever was good about it, there would always be a counterbalance of guilt. That, too, was part of my Southern Baptist heritage. All who have carried on their backs burlap bags filled with bricks of guilt know how this feels.
At some point in time after that serendipitous event, I felt compelled by needs I did not fully understand to give myself relief purposefully. There followed hundreds of such instances before I graduated from high school without knowing (in the Biblical sense) a woman even once. Like my peers, I sometimes sought surrogate relief in bed, more often in the bathroom; unlike them, I always prayed for forgiveness afterward. After all, I did not want to risk blindness by tempting fate. Such is often the case when a Baptist boy is initiated into the Brotherhood of Adam, exchanging as a rite of passage the wisdom of innocence for the knowledge of experience.
At least a couple of times a week—some weeks it was four or five times—the rest of that summer, I got on my bicycle and pedaled the several miles to Bubba’s house, desperately hoping to be treated to an encore of Missy’s stellar performance. Although Bubba knew me well enough to read my mind, I tried to be nonchalant while coveting another look, a second bite of the perfect apple. There was nothing in that season of sensual awakening I wanted more than to taste again what was forbidden fruit in a Baptist boyhood.
Unfortunately or, depending on one’s perspective, fortunately, circumstances were never quite right for a repeat, a re-run. Over and over I kicked myself for not having had the presence of mind, at the one moment in time such may have been possible, to ask Bubba to have Missy perform an encore. At the end of summer while we were lazing away a warm afternoon in their hammocks, Bubba offered to go inside to fetch snacks. He asked, “How about an apple? There are some Red Delicious in the fridge.”
“Sure,” I said. “Sippin’ a cold beer would be better but I wouldn’t mind bitting into a crisp red apple out here in the Bailey-Bell Garden of Eden.”
“I know you and Adam would rather have ‘Forbidden’—me, too, to tell the truth—but Red Delicious is all we have today. And, yes, we ain’t got no bananas.”
Usually, the object of my preoccupation would be off visiting her friends or, if she were home, Mrs. Bailey would be in the house. On one promising occasion, Mrs. Bailey was away for the afternoon and Missy was home. As fate would have it, however, right after I arrived, Ruth Smalls dropped by to visit Missy. Inasmuch as Ruth’s father, like mine, was a deacon in our church, I could not even force a fantasy of her and Missy performing a duo.
Ironically, neither Bubba nor I ever mentioned the matter again. I suspect Missy had been embarrassed and had informed her easygoing, although sometimes overbearing, brother in no uncertain terms that her stint as a stripper had ended.
Accordingly, in lieu of learned discussions on the subtleties of striptease and other erotic arts that Bubba and I might have relished the rest of that memorable, transformative summer, we talked mostly about sports. As for baseball, our Rebels won the pennant. Left fielder Frank Rourke hit fifty-one home runs, setting a league record and breaking six bats in the process. Seven players batted over .300. And, as it developed, neither Raleigh nor Jacksonville was runner-up; dark horse Savannah surprised everyone. I had acquired an enthusiasm for this all-American pastime I would never lose. Even in some of the darkest days to come years later, seeing a baseball game could lift my spirits.
* * *
Missy, meanwhile, had become a voracious reader. She read every day and went through thirteen books that summer, including Gone with the Wind, Romeo and Juliet, a primer on human anatomy, and a biology textbook. The latter two may have planted the seed of ambition to be a physician when she grew up.
Missy was maturing in other ways as well. By the time school started again in September, she felt she had already “grown up” enough to need a training bra and asked her mother to buy one for her. “All my friends,” she pleaded, “are wearing them.”
“All?” Mrs. Bailey asked incredulously, pausing to marvel at the transition of her lovely daughter from babe in arms to teenager.
“Well,” Missy assured her, “everyone except maybe Ruth Smalls. She told me she asked her mom and her mom got mad. Can you believe that?”
With an indulgent smile the eminently understanding mother promised, “We will go shopping this afternoon after dropping off those books at the library. I need something from Condon’s, too.”
“And can we stop by the drugstore for an ice cream soda afterward? We haven’t done that all summer.”
“Sure, sweetie. Why not? You’ll help me fix dinner when we get home, won’t you?”
The first time I saw her in school that fall, I was immediately aware of a subtle difference in Missy’s demeanor. I noticed, too, outlines of the narrow straps beneath her stylish blouse. It was, of course, part of a mysterious metamorphosis little girls go through on their journey to womanhood.
Missy was talking with two other girls in the schoolyard when I walked up to them at recess. The others were dressed far less stylishly. I did not know them well but did know they were from poor families who lived “on the wrong side of the tracks.” The father of one, an auto mechanic reputed to have a terrible temper, had been arrested earlier in the year following a drunken brawl in a local bar. It had to have been mortifying for his school-age children.
I said, “Hi, y’all. Everyone enjoying another great day of learning at the best school in South Carolina? During first period this morning Mr. Balmer said today might be our last chance to learn something we should’ve learned last year.”
They all laughed at my friendly attempt to be witty.
Missy said, “Hi, Andy. Nice to see you. You know my friends Molly and Cindy, don’t you? Of course, you do. Everybody knows everybody at Saint Andrew’s.”
I said, “Hi, Molly, Cindy. Hope y’all had a great summer.”
“Hi,” they said.
Missy said, “The three of us have decided to form a sisterhood. Too bad you don’t qualify.”
We all laughed.
Missy continued, “But seriously, Andy, you and Bubba and other good guys could help us with the sisterhood’s first project.”
“Well, tell me about it,” I said.
Missy said, “Although Saint Andrew’s is a great school, there are a few bad apples in the barrel. I’m talking about the bullies. We’re going to get as many students as possible to commit, in writing, that they will confront bullyism wherever and whenever they see it.”
Molly added, “And, you know, racial integration is coming next year or the year after. When it comes we want our student body psyched up for it, ready to accept the black students as our equals.”
Cindy said, “Molly’s right, Andy. Those kids’ll be ‘Rocks’ just like us.”
I said, “Y’all can count on me. I support the sisterhood’s goals and will do anything I can to help.”
I was deeply impressed that Missy had befriended Molly and Cindy. It dawned on me then that Missy, perhaps the most popular girl in our school, could not care less about popularity. That was further evidenced by her being concerned about bullying and racial equality. In that defining moment, I knew she was someone special and that I wanted to know her very well.