Written by David Novell –
Until one day Bobby G. stood up for her – right to Orangie’s face – and said (so that Alice and the other kids nearby could hear), “I’m not afraid to stand next to Alice, I like Alice!”
This suddenly made Orangie and the others feel very ashamed for having been so mean about it. I mean you couldn’t blame everyone for trying to avoid the odors, but Bobby’s saying something nice about her made them feel bad, because nobody really wanted to hurt Alice’s feelings.
But apparently she had had some major digestive problems because it was obvious to the whole class that she was the source of the unpleasantness. But then she got some sort of medical help or changed her diet or something because one day she smelled okay.
It’s like maybe her family was too poor to buy much of anything to eat except beans, which had an unusually odiferous effect on her system, or her liver or kidneys or whatever can cause that sort of thing needed some medicine; why exactly things changed, Orangie never found out.
But after Bobby’s outburst of kindness, Orangie actually went and talked to Alice at recess later that very day and said he was sorry for being mean. Then Alice said, “That’s okay, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. But can we be friends?” Orangie agreed, and so began an unexpected friendship that lasted all through the school year and into the following summer.
The very next day after school, in fact, Orangie went over to Alice’s house at her invitation and played hide-and-go-seek with her and a few other kids: Charles Evans who happened to live right next door to Alice, Alice’s younger sister Marilyn (who was in the second grade), and their classmate Maria, whom Alice had befriended a couple of months earlier.
Maria was kind of an outcast like Alice, she for her limited ability to speak English. Orangie was glad to get to play with Maria, too, because he felt a little sorry for her.
At the beginning of the school year the teacher had written an example on the front blackboard of how to lay out your page with your name in the upper left-hand corner and the date in the upper right. Well, Maria had simply written “Name” and “Date” on her paper, and when the teacher saw it and went to explain it to Maria, a lot of the kids had laughed at her, like they thought she must be colossally stupid to fail to understand something so obvious to the rest of us.
But Orangie found out from his dad that Maria’s family migrated from town to town to pick crops, and she had never had been able to spend much time in school. And Orangie thought that Maria was really pretty, with curly black hair, dark brown eyes, brown skin and a big smile with beautiful white teeth. She also had an easy laugh, and seemed very shy.
Orangie knew Charles, too, of course, from class, but he’d never hung around with him. Part of the reason was that Charles had green stuff in his ears. And wore big clompy boots to school. And Orangie discovered on this day that Charles’ house was surrounded by flower beds overgrown with tall weeds, and had a few broken windows as well.
And although Orangie could tolerate all these things, and hide-and-go-seek was fun – it always was – after they had all played for an hour or two they were sitting on Alice’s front lawn talking about their favorite things to do. And Charles was saying how much he liked to capture moths and burn them to death on a light bulb.
That was it for Orangie! Although he was silent about it at the time, he recalled his dad telling him to choose your friends, because you’ll start to become just like whoever you hang around with. I mean, maybe Charles’ family was poor and couldn’t afford to fix up the house, and maybe they had bad hygiene, and Charles had to wear hand-me-down boots from his big brother or whatever, all that was really not that big of a deal. But the moth thing was horrifying to Orangie, so he was sure he didn’t want to be around Charles very much.
Even though later when he talked to his dad about Charles, his dad had suggested that maybe that was just Charles’ way of acting tough, like it could be that Charles had a really terrible father who was mean to him and Charles wanted to prove to everyone how strong he was. Orangie still was certain that he didn’t want to hear any more stories like the ones he heard from Charles that day.
Even so, as Orangie walked the seven or eight blocks back home through the dusk of early evening, he felt happy thinking about his new good friends, Alice and Maria, and he figured maybe he could invite them over to his house soon, where they could all play with Butch, and Mikey from across the street, who had a Doughboy pool set up in his back yard which was about three feet deep, and they could all swim in one direction and create a current so strong that it would be impossible to swim back the other way, even if you wanted to.
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