That whole golf episode really made me mad. The first chance I got I decided to get even. One of the things Momma really liked to do was square dance. They used to go every Saturday night until the great, all-powerful Reverend Wright consumed our lives.
Next Wednesday rolled around and Daddy deposited us at Creekwood Nondenominational Church for choir practice and sundry other youth activities. Little did he know that I had other plans. In wide-eyed innocence I suggested to Reverend Frank that the youth group should take up square dancing. I knew the perfect teacher…Momma. It’d kill Daddy if he wasn’t the chosen one. Everyone thought it was a great idea. The reverend vowed to approach Daddy tomorrow. He felt it was improper to ask Momma directly.
My plan worked perfectly. Daddy came home from school the next day sputtering and posturing. Frank had asked his permission for Momma to teach square dancing. Surely the good reverend had made a mistake. After all, he was the teacher with two degrees and the expert square dancer. He just couldn’t understand how Frank had come up with such a dim-witted idea.
This went on the entire school year. Daddy started bringing home asparagus, artichokes and Brussels sprouts because Frank and his wife, Millie, liked them. This was the man who previously wouldn’t eat anything except sauerkraut, green beans and spinach…all smothered with a nasty glob of bacon grease.
Jerry and I scraped together all our change to buy Momma a cookbook at the five and dime. She had to learn to cook all over. No longer could she fry everything, drown it in bacon grease or cook it to a mush. Daddy had suddenly developed a gourmet appetite.
Poor Momma did her best to keep up with all these new demands. She was raised on a small farm in Texas and this was all beyond her. She could wring a chicken’s neck with the best of them and fry it to perfection. Now, she threw up her hands in confusion more often than not.
But when it came down to the wire, I think she really knew what was going on even if she never let on. Momma was a lot smarter than Daddy ever gave her credit for.
The months ground on with no relief in sight. We had pretty much settled into the routine of church and Sunday school every Sunday whether we wanted to be there or not. An overload of homework was our only saving grace from choir practice and youth nights. Daddy always called Reverend Frank to make sure it was all right if we missed one night before giving in to our pleas. Momma was teaching square dancing to the kids and was truly enjoying it, much to Daddy’s chagrin.
And of course there was Daddy’s endless talk about Reverend Frank Wright and his wife. We knew more about them than our own relatives back in Texas. He’d recite every word the man said from the time he picked Frank up in the morning until he dropped him off in the afternoon.
I don’t exactly remember when Daddy started picking Frank up with the excuse that it was right on his way. Funny thing was we only lived two blocks from school and until that year Daddy always walked. Suddenly he started driving six miles right on his way to go pick up Frank so they could have coffee together in the teacher’s lounge before classes started.
That was another first for Daddy. He’d never developed a taste for coffee until Reverend Frank came along. Of course there weren’t any Starbucks or Java Haus back then so it was pretty much straight up Columbian diesel fuel. Some days Daddy was glassy eyed and jittery as hell from too much caffeine. Still, he refused to admit he hated the taste of the stuff all because Frank guzzled it like water.
At last, the first of June rolled around. School would be out the eighteenth. Summer vacation was less than three weeks away and we would no longer have to live and breathe every moment by the hallowed words of Reverend Frank Wright.
Daddy smugly announced that he had invited Frank and Millie for dinner the following Friday. This was to be his pièce de résistance, except he pronounced it peese da resistants (heavy on the ants). He was strutting around like a bantam rooster feeling very amorous. Not only were Frank and Millie coming, but they had asked to bring another couple.
“This is it,” Daddy crowed. “I’ll bet he’s going to announce my promotion. Just you wait and see.”
All Momma could say was, “Should I fix fried chicken, WT?”
Daddy bristled like a porcupine. “Most certainly not! Fried chick
en’s for a bunch of country bumpkins. I’ll stop by the store on my way home Friday for something special. Our guests aren’t coming until 8:00 o’clock so there’ll be plenty of time.”
“You mean country bumpkins like us?” I asked. Where did he get off putting on airs with that bit about our guests?
“Hush, Jordie,” Momma advised. “Don’t antagonize your father. He has a lot on his mind.” I don’t know how she could keep a straight face.
Special was right! That Friday, Daddy came home laden with six live lobsters. Where he got them nobody knows. It sure wasn’t at the Mayfair market where we did all our shopping. Dismayed, Momma wailed, “What am I supposed to do with those?”
“The man at the store said you boil them about ten minutes or until they turn bright red. Serve them with melted butter and that’s all there is to it. Now let’s get the rest of this stuff ready. Our guests will be here soon.”
Frank and Millie arrived with their friends in tow. Bob and Jean Terry were introduced as close acquaintances, but there was an undercurrent I didn’t like. Daddy was too inflated to notice. He was in his element. He’d picked up a gallon jug of Mogen David wine to impress everyone. He didn’t see their grimaces as “his guests” sipped the wicked brew.
At last everyone was seated around the coffee table exchanging banalities while Momma fretted in the kitchen over those very live lobsters. To her credit, she emerged a few minutes later with a glorious smile. “Let’s sit down for salad while the rest of our dinner cooks,” she said.
That was the cue for Jerry and me to retreat to our rooms. Daddy wasn’t about to waste anything as expensive as lobster on us. In reality, we hid around the corner in the hallway to eavesdrop. This promised to be too good to miss.
Still playing the noble host, Daddy proposed, “Here’s to our old friends Frank and Millie and our new friends, the Terrys.”
Not to be outdone, Reverend Frank jumped up, “WT, I want to thank you for your wonderful support throughout this school year. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Next Mr. Terry raised his glass, “To the coming summer and the following school year.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I whispered. Something just didn’t ring true.
“Don’t know,” Jerry shrugged.
In the middle of his salad, Frank suddenly stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth. “WT, since you’ve been such a loyal friend this past year, I want you to be the first to know. I’m retiring from the school system at the end of this term. I’m going to be doing full time missionary work in Tahiti from now on.”
You could see it in his eyes. Daddy just knew he was going to be the next principal at Shirley Avenue Elementary School.
Before he could say anything, Frank continued, “Bob has been appointed as my replacement. I know I can count on you to lend him your support. There’s so much to do as a new principal.”
Stunned…devastated…bewildered…none of these words could describe Daddy’s reaction. But he was saved by a horrendous crash. All the color drained from Momma’s face as she leapt to her feet and ran to the kitchen.
Jerry and I were right on her heels as Daddy sat there like a melting lump of lard. The shallow pan with the live lobsters had turned over. Apparently the water was getting too hot for their liking. The contents had spilled all over the kitchen. Five of the crustaceans scampered for safety while the sixth waved one claw in a weak farewell salute; brained by the falling pot.
Reverend Frank stood in the doorway assessing the scene, “Ahem, I believe you were supposed to boil the water first. Perhaps it would be better if we all left now. We don’t want to put you out further. Come everyone, we’ll stop at Portafino for dinner on our way home.”
“What a pompous ass!” I hissed after they’d hustled out in embarrassment.
“Daddy,” Jerry coaxed, “you’re better off without him.”
“Yeah, he’s just a big phony,” I agreed. “Who does missionary work in Tahiti anyway?”
“The things I did for that man,” Daddy whispered. He looked like he was about to cry. “Go to bed girls. I’m going to help your mother clean up this mess. Then we’re going to a movie. I never want to hear that man’s name again as long as I live.”