First seen on FRESHYARN.COM
I was banned from the Brownies.
This was not due to any transgression on my part as, at age seven, my transgressions were few (though I’d make up for lost time in my 20s.) This was at the behest of my father; a University professor, ex-marine turned pacifist, who took one look at the uniforms and deemed them “Fascist.”
“But everyone else is in the troupe!” I protested.
“We’re not everyone else.”
No kidding. Everyone else had Barbie dolls; sleek, buxom beauties that my parents dismissed as sexist, so my sister and I were forced to make do with the “Sunshine Family” – interracial, multi-generational dolls whose females had politically correct flat chests and zero fashion sense. Everyone else watched “Love Boat”, ate potato chips, and believed in Santa Claus. We were TV-free, snack free, and told that Santa was a nice idea, but essentially a myth. Like Jesus.
Of all these deprivations, it was my inability to don the brown beanie that most rankled me and I was vigilant in protest until finally, my parents relented. Sort of. Instead of the Brownies, I was permitted to join 4 H.
Like the Girl Scouts of America, 4 H is a National Organization that sponsors various youth centered activities, but it lacked the slick, media savvy of the GSA. I wanted to be part of that hip, cookie selling inner circle – replete with uniforms, merit badges and sleep away camp. Instead, I got one lousy patch - a cloth four leaf clover, each leaf representing a different “H” (hand, heart, health and…hymen?)
I begrudgingly attended my first 4-H meeting, held in the den of Kim somebody’s house – a nightmare of calico and needlepoint pillows - whereupon I learned that I was the only member who did not live on a farm, who did not know how to sew, and who did not own an animal that weighed over 100 pounds. This last distinction became an important one as I was told that the focus of this group, indeed, it’s very raison d’etre, was to prepare for the Youth Division of the “Animal Husbandry Competition” at the annual County Fair. Along with pumpkins resembling Abe Lincoln and 18 foot sunflowers, my 4 H compatriots would be showcasing award winning Palomino ponies, Yorkshire swine and Holstein cows.
I did not own livestock. I did, however, have a guinea pig.
My first guinea pig, Blackie, lasted all of about five days, falling prey to some mysterious disease that seemed the fate of many an animal coming from the “Fish and Feathers” pet store on Sandusky street. Blackie did not exactly up and die, but lingered on in a comatose state until my Father decided to help him shed his mortal coil.
“Why pay the vet?” he asked. “We’ll DIY it!”
I carefully placed Blackie in an Adidas shoebox lined with fresh picked clover. Dad gouged a hole in one end of the box, which he affixed to the tail pipe of neon orange Volkswagen Camper. While our neighbor Godfrey, a visiting biologist from Guyana, gamely held the shoebox, Dad repeatedly revved the engine. Periodically, Godfrey would peer beneath the box’s lid and then call in his lilting accent, “Not quite yet!” Finally, Godfrey pronounced Blackie dead and we buried him in our back yard, marking the grave with an ersatz Indian arrowhead from Bush Gardens.
For my 4 H project, I showed Rainbow, a handsome guinea pig with a reddish coat of thick, swirled fur and the ability to leap over a chopstick placed between the bars in his cage. My booth, sandwiched between a dolorous eyed cow and a gleaming auburn horse, contained a lone card table upon which I placed Rainbow in his metal cage. I tried to spice up the surroundings with hand made posters sporting magic-marker headings like “Fun Facts about Guinea Pigs” and “Rainbow through the Ages” (upon which I pasted photos of Rainbow as a baby and so forth – each photo looking pretty much identical to the one preceding it) but I had to admit the overall effect of my booth, dwarfed as it was by hulking, pedigreed neighbors, was fairly unimpressive.
The last night of the fair, I skipped the awards ceremony and instead, Dad and I dismantled my booth. We were silent, accompanied only by the buzzing of the florescent lights and the soft rustle of Rainbow, placidly munching celery. We loaded the card table and cage into the VW while fireflies danced around us, their lights blinking on and off, as if to say “Oh Well.” “You Tried.”
Not long after the County Fair, my father’s drinking and my mother’s depression eclipsed their attention to detail so that comic books, processed foods, and pink, plastic Barbie paraphernalia began to drift into our home. After the novelty wore off, these purloined goods ended up in the “junk closet” and were eventually donated to the Salvation Army along with Dad’s Nehru jacket, Mom’s hand knit ponchos, and the politically correct “Sunshine Family” - by now stripped of their heads and limbs - more closely resembling the truncated, disjointed family we were soon to become.