Written by David Novell –
He’d gotten to go once before, and Orangie and Bobby always had fun playing, plus Bobby’s father was a doctor and they had an amazing house, with wall-to-wall carpeting, fancy draperies on the windows, a living room that no one was allowed to use, and refrigerators in the kitchen way up high where most people just had regular plywood cabinets, or if you were the real poor people like the Evans or Mendez families, you had all your plates and glasses and stuff on some rough boards nailed up on the wall.
Anyway, Orangie had been looking forward to the end of the school day eagerly, partly because it was the middle of May and he knew it wouldn’t get dark until 7:30 or so, and he could leave Bobby’s at 7:15 and run the eight blocks home and not break his dad’s rule about being home before dark.
Orangie pondered all this as he was working on the finishing touches of carving the “N” of his initials, “ASN” on his wooden desktop. As a matter of fact, this was the second set of his initials he had immortalized by embedding them into the hard birch surface. The first set didn’t look half bad, but the latest version was way better.
Orangie had first penciled out block letters, then had, over a period of several weeks, gone to work on etching deep lines around the edges with his pocket knife. Then he found that he was able to remove a fairly uniform layer of wood from between the lines, making a pretty professional looking carving job, if he didn’t say so himself.
Maybe his teacher would notice the fine work and recommend him for a scholarship to go to Germany or France or Holland or somewhere and study under some world-renowned European master woodcarver and Orangie would be hired right away to make fancy signs for different shops around the town, and then all the pretty young girls of the village would think he was a genius, doing such good work, and at such a young age.
And LIFE Magazine might feature him on the cover and have a big article titled “American Student Masters Old World Craft.” Then he would be rich and he and his dad could afford to buy good peanut butter like Jif or Skippy, and real ice cream instead of imitation ice milk.
So, as his reverie reached these delicious proportions, Orangie suddenly became aware of an unusual and enormous presence very near his left elbow. Startled into dropping his pocket knife onto his desk and sitting up straight, he saw the teacher, Mrs. Forde hovering above him.
“Adlai, I must say that you’ve made some excellent marks in our class.”
Mrs. Forde was one of only a handful of people who called him “Adlai”- most of the teachers, the principal, some of his friends’ parents… also the three guys that made up the panel that decided the fate of kids that had to go to bicycle court.
Orangie had been stopped by a real policeman once and given a ticket for hiking his friend Butch on the back of his bike without a hiker, not having a horn, and having an expired license plate for his bike, and he had had to go to court with his dad and verify that he had taken care of all the violations.
Anyway, Mrs. Forde’s comment got Orangie thinking for just a second that he was about to get some special award for being a good student, or something, like the time he’d gotten an A+ on a paper he wrote in second grade, some stuff about how great it was to live in America because you could grow up to be whatever you wanted here, even president or a baseball player because it’s a free country and all. And the teacher had read Orangie’s paper to the whole class and he had felt real embarrassed and proud at the same time.
“Excellent marks,” Mrs. Forde continued, “in arithmetic, reading, writing, and citizenship… however, the marks you’ve made on your desktop, however excellent they may seem, are an example of nothing more than damaging school property!”
Orangie felt his heart sink to his knees, his throat tighten, and his face burn.. He suddenly wished he could run out the door or crawl inside his desk, or better yet disappear before everyone’s eyes into thin air.
“Mr. Heinsworth and I (Mr. Heinsworth being the principal, mostly a nice old man unless you were caught doing something super bad like getting into a fistfight or stealing stuff out of one of the girls’ purses, for example) have decided that Adlai must stay in and skip recess until he has removed the markings from his desktop with sandpaper!”
This was all pretty unbelievably embarrassing, and Orangie felt like a total fool for being in trouble; and all the glorious imaginings about being proclaimed an artistic prodigy only made it worse.
So anyway, there was to be no swinging, teeter-tottering, monkey bars, or kickball for Orangie for at least six years, or so it seemed, judging from the depth of his desk top carvings! Mrs. Forde would present Orangie with a small block of wood and some sandpaper the next morning and the punishment would began.
But even the initial carving fiasco couldn’t completely ruin Orangie’s day, because he still was going over to Bobby G.’s house, and they would probably stop at the market which was almost on the way to Bobby’s, and his mom and dad had a charge account there, so the boys could get a couple of root beers, and maybe even shake the bottles up and try to spray the soda all over the place, which they had done once before and it had been good for a laugh. And Orangie felt like he needed a laugh on this particular afternoon!
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