Written by David Novell –
By far the most beautiful girl at Orangie’s school – Polk Elementary – was Diane Harrrison, whose soft brown shiny hair, dimpled smile, and big blue eyes made Orangie go sort of crazy whenever he was around her.
In fact, she was so beautiful that Orangie had never yet been able to speak one single word to her. Once in a while he would be lucky enough to stand close to her in line for lunch or during a fire drill, and from these magical experiences he knew that she even smelled wonderful.
But on these occasions his heart would beat faster and he got kind of a knot in his stomach, and all the noise around him would seem to fade as into a distant echo chamber.
These lovesick reveries would never last long, though, as Butch or Bobby G. or Bobby N. would ask him a question or start talking about going to get a root beer after school or something.
After maybe twenty weeks of complete paralysis around this one-sided romantic entanglement, Orangie formulated a plan. He had thought of a way to have Diane actually come over to his house: he would invite his entire third grade class over for his birthday party!
Of course, he would have to ask his dad first, and it would also mean that he would have to invite Janet, who had bad teeth, and Charles, who had green stuff in his ears, and even Timmy, the fat kid who was mean to almost everybody and had tried to pick a fight with Orangie a time or two. But it would be worth it to have Diane come over, and, who knows, he might even get to have a conversation with her!
“Hey, Dad, y’know what I really want for my birthday?” Orangie boldly asked the next day.
“No, son, what?” Mr. Nolan responded as he lowered his newspaper. “I do hope it’s nothing terribly expensive, though.”
“That’s the great thing about this, Dad! You hardly have to buy anything. Plus I can still get lots of presents!”
“Do tell me your idea, Orangie,” said his father. “You’ve really got me curious now.”
“I want to invite my whole class to my birthday party!”
“Well, that’s a pretty tall order, there, son. I mean, you must be talking about 30 or 35 kids!” said Mr. Nolan, slightly taken aback.
“Only 29, actually, Dad. And I was thinking that maybe we could set up tables in the living room, have hot dogs for dinner, and you and me could make about three Betty Crocker cake mixes!”
“You and I, Orangie,” his father corrected him.
“Yeah, you and I! Then it’s okay, Dad???”
“All right, son,” responded his dad as he laughed and tousled Orangie’s hair a bit. “You do seem to have thought of everything to make a great party.”
“Gee, thanks, Dad! You’re the greatest!” Orangie said joyfully as he started to run for the front door. “Wow! I gotta go tell Butch!”
Mr. Nolan smiled to himself as Orangie let the screen door slam in his joyful wake.
So the party was set for Orangie’s actual birthday, February 9th, which happened to fall on a Tuesday that year. The plan was to have the party start at 4 p.m., a half-hour after school let out.
As the day drew near, Orangie was getting more and more excited. And when he handed out the invitations, Diane had even said, “Thank you, Orangie! I’d love to come!”
And at that moment he thought he might float away, all the way up into outer space, dumbfounded past the moon on his way to the Andromeda galaxy or the Pleiades cluster, or some undiscovered nebula beyond the reach of any telescope on Earth, where he might see a gigantic image of Diane superimposed over a background of beautiful stars that no one will ever reach even if they build an atomic powered spaceship that goes faster than the speed of light.
The big day had finally arrived, Orangie waking up with butterflies in his stomach, and more excited than he’d ever been to go to school.
Through the day Orangie couldn’t help watching the clock, which made the hours drag by. The highlight of the whole school day was when Mrs. Ford announced that it was time to get out their music books to sing a couple of songs. Even then Orangie had to temper his enthusiasm when she told the class to turn to page twenty-three to sing “Merry-Go-Round,” a tune which had some really fun “um-bloop-bloops” as well as evocative lyrics and a really fun melody; but some of the other boys in the class groaned at the announcement and Orangie didn’t want to appear to be uncool.
But even this bit of suppressed pleasure couldn’t dampen Orangie’s sky-high spirits when the bell finally sounded at 3:30. Orangie sprinted out of the school yard and went flying down DeWitt Street all the way home, imagining that he was far out in front of the field of runners in the 440-yard dash at the U.S.-Soviet annual dual track meet.
When he ran into the living room, letting the screen door slam behind him, he saw that his dad had the tables all set up already. They had borrowed six card tables from various neighbors to add to the two they already had, plus a bunch of folding chairs from the church social hall.
Butch was the first to arrive, naturally, living next door and being Orangie’s best friend.
“Wow! This is neat-o, Orangie!” Butch exclaimed as he came in. “What a great party it’s gonna be!”
“I know it! I think the whole class is really coming!” said Orangie.
In the next few minutes the kids started streaming in, each of them bearing gifts and Orangie greeting them, thanking them as he’d been instructed by his father to do.
Bobby N., Bobby G., Gerald, Billy, Timmy, Janet, Sarah, Luisa, Kim, Charles, Margarita, Donny, Eddy – they all marched in and set their gifts on the hearth of the large brick fireplace in the living room .
“Hurray for Orangie!” shouted Ricky Samosa, a sort of strange kid who had a habit of walking into other peoples’ houses uninvited. There was some laughter, a “yay” here and a “yeah” there in response to Ricky’s spontaneity.
Samosa, according to Orangie’s dad, had a pretty rough home life, even harder than Orangie’s situation with his mother in the looney bin and all. Ricky had three older brothers, two of whom were in prison for burning down a packing house, and the other that had made more than one trip to Juvenile Hall for various minor crimes.
Butch and Orangie still remembered with amazement the time that Ricky had walked into Butch’s house without knocking, apparently looking for the other boys, and stood in the hallway before an open bathroom door finding Mrs. Jorgensen sitting on the toilet. Butch’s mom said that Ricky had stared at her for a couple of seconds then burst into laughter and ran out the front door.
And then there was the time that he had walked up the concrete steps to Orangie’s front door by ducking under a piece of twine strung across the bottom step from which hung a large sign reading “WET PAINT.”
Orangie felt sort of sorry for Ricky, seeing as how he seemed to be monumentally stupid and couldn’t help it. But there was also something about Ricky that drew Orangie and some of the other boys to him. Maybe it was his ability to live outside of the rules, an appearance of freedom and a kind of bravado rare in young boys.
“Everybody out to the back yard for some fun games!” commanded Mr. Nolan in a loud but playful voice. “And I have some great prizes for the winners!”
With that, all the children ran outside cheering and chattering. All, that is, except for Orangie. For at that moment, he caught sight of Diane coming through the front door.
Orangie fell into sort of a trance as she seemed to move in slow motion across the living room floor towards him, beautiful long hair bouncing around her perfect smile. He felt butterflies of ecstasy rising up inside his rib cage and he couldn’t tell whether he was going to flee the scene, or run in slow motion himself towards her like some dumb movie or TV commercial, or just melt away where he stood.
“Happy birthday, Orangie!” Diane said sweetly to him. For he had stayed right where he was, finding his feet stuck to the floor. Not by chewing gum or yesterday’s Kool-Aid, but rather by having been captured and frozen in time by the magic of a dream come true.
“Gee, Diane, thanks for coming to my party!” Orangie managed to stammer as she stood before him.
Then the truly miraculous happened: Diane kissed Orangie softly on the cheek.
As his heart flew up like a helium balloon that someone had let fly, Orangie knew that this was the best day of his whole life. And he knew that he wanted to leave the feeling of that kiss on his cheek for a million years to come.
David Novell was born and raised in and around Fresno, and has lived in North Fork since 1978. David is a local building contractor and has been part of the musical group “Sugar Pine,” entertaining around the area and at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for over 35 years.
“Like any kid growing up in the little San Joaquin Valley towns of Centerville, Sanger, Reedley, Selma, Kingsburg, Exeter, Dinuba, and all the rest, I was privileged to have many innocent ‘adventures.’ Overgrown back yards, vacant lots, and deserted storage sheds were magical places where anything was possible.
“To follow, in this and subsequent issues of Sierra News Online, are some stories loosely based on my experiences as a young boy. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.” ~ David Novell