July 19, 1957
Dear Dairy Diary,
Lolly says Sister Elma, my teacher next year for Grade 5, always makes the kids write an essay about what we did last summer. Lolly, she told me to get started on it now, while summer’s here, so I won’t forget come September.
There’s two things I want to do this summer, go on a trip and learn some more French words. Since they probably won’t happen, I ‘m starting to write about anything I do that’s more exciting than running through the sprinklers.
So, here goes.
Yesterday we walked to Rosie’s store in our flip-flops, before the sun got too hot. Mama sent us to buy Swanson dinners, their Chicken Pot Pies. Mama took to her bed when Daddy went on a bender yesterday and she hasn’t been up to fixing us anything since. She just lolls around listening to Hank, Jr., sighing and crying.
So Mama gave us her last five dollar bill for the pot pies and told us to get on down to Rosie’s and to keep the change to buy candies and sunflower seeds, maybe a bottle of R.C. Cola. I picked out a nickel’s worth of Atomic Fireballs. Big ol’ fat Fireballs, better than Red Hots by a mile. Juicier. Bigger. Last a lot longer. Lolly, she gets her Sugar Daddies. I sure don’t like those things. They’re so sticky they make my back molars lock together. Then her and me, we buy a pack of candy cigarettes. Neither of us is crazy about the way they taste, but it is fun to puff on ‘em.
Mikey, he’s the baby in our family so far, we brought him along yesterday. He might choke, so we only got him some zwiebacks to cut his teeth on. Anyways, we were stuffing all this into a sack when in walks Mamie Eisenhower herself.
She looks just like her pitchers in the newspaper, only smaller. She has the same bangs as in the pitchers. Same little poofy pigtail-looking curls coming out both sides of her head. She’s wearing lipstick already, so early in the morning, red, red lipstick, kind of smeary. Her blouse is buttoned a little crooked but it matches, just exactly, her pocketbook. Mamie, she looked around the store, kind of confused. Rosie said can I help, but Mamie shakes her head.
We saw Ike before, too. He gets down here to golf some. Mostly he sneaks into town and we don’t know a thing about it. But the times we do know about it, from the papers and such, Mama gets all nervous and makes us practice “duck and cover”. She’s sure the Reds are tracking him, pointing their A-bombs at whatever neighborhood he’s in.
Walking out of Rosie’s, Lolly and me, pushing Mikey’s stroller into the shade of the palm tree right in front of the store, we keep peeking back at Mamie. Sticking around, even though Mama told us twice not to let the Swanson’s thaw, just hoping we’ll get to say hey to the First Lady.
I peeled the wrapping from one of the Fireballs and popped it in my mouth. Mmm, mmm, that first taste is wonderful evertime. Then the burning starts. Sweet burning. It starts the spit inside my mouth until I am pert-near foaming. I feel a fizzing in my nose, at the spot between my eyes, starting my eyes to water, but in a good way, not like in a crying way. The sticky sweet goop rolls around in my mouth, too hot to swallow. Hot like spicy, not hot like outside.
“Do you think she’s drunk again?” whispered Lolly, smelling like burnt sugar from the candy wadded in her mouth.
“Whadda ya’mean? Drunk?”
“People are always sayin’. Look at her teeter in her shoes…”
“She has on high heels. They gotta be tough to walk in.”
“For you, maybe. You’re only nine. But she’s had lots of practice.”
“Why doesn’t she wear flip-flops? It’s so damn hot.”
“Don’t say damn. I dunno. She would probably walk straighter if she did.”
“We should go get her autograph.”
“Un. Uh. Don’t you do it, Donna Lee. Mama says….”
Lolly stopped. We saw Mamie teetering out the store’s front door. It’s one of them sliding doors, to keep in the cool. It didn’t shut tight behind her and she didn’t pay it any mind. She was holding on with both hands, holding tight to a paper sack.
I walked right up to her, “Mrs. President, I mean, Mrs. Ike, um, Mrs. Eisenhower, good morning to you.” I kind of spit this out with my mouth full of Fireball goo.
Mamie brushed right by me, right by Lolly, right by Mikey. Nobody ever walks right by Mikey ‘cause he’s so cute- or at least that’s what people say. I don’t see it myself.
I kept at it when she got into her car, a midnight-blue T-Bird. Mamie was all by herself, no driver or anything. “May we have your autograph please? Please, Mrs. Eisenhower?”
She looked right through me at a spot behind me, “Excuse me, little girl. I can’t close the door to my car.”
“Sorry, oh, sorry, ma’am,” as I backed away just before she slammed it.
The car pulled out, peeled out really, spitting sand on Mikey’s stroller and making that sound that tires make when they can’t really grab ahold. Mamie Eisenhower was laying rubber. That made me laugh. The Fireball spit started to bubble up into my nose.
“Wait ‘til I tell Sandy,” I shouted at Lolly. A little spit of Fireball landed on her. Sandy is my best friend this summer, one of the weekend people who come visit down here.
“Just don’t let Mama find out. She’ll tan your hide.” Lolly said, puffing on her candy Camel.
So, that is it for now, Dear Diary. I’ll get back here later on when something exciting happens again.
Donna Lee Donnelly
P.S. I am going to look for the key to the diary lock, so nobody’ll peek.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
July 21, 1957
Today, Mama said we were getting on her last nerve so’s we’d all better clear out before she hangs herself with a new rope. As soon as my chores got done, I went over to Sandy’s. Her mama’s T-Bird was in the driveway this morning so I figured they’re back. During the week, they live in some big fancy place up by LA. But now school is out, her mama brings her down early, on a Wednesday or Thursday, and they wait for her Daddy to get here by the weekend.
“You girls may play in Sandy’s bedroom today. It’s extremely warm outside.” Sandy’s mom sounds like that, saying things like “may” and “extremely”. And she wears a necklace in the daytime. Imagine.
“Thanks, Mrs. Abernathy. May I go ahead in?” I like to use her words when I talk to her. “That’s extremely kind of you to allow us.”
“Donna Lee, please remove your Zoris outside the door. I can see some sand on the bottom of them.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Abernathy. I’m extremely sorry.” Even with my flip-flops off, you can see the outline of them where I’m not tan.
“It isn’t necessary to…never mind, Donna Lee. Come in, please.”
“Mrs. Abernathy. Something exciting. Lolly and me, we saw Mamie down at Rosie ‘n she was drunk ‘n me, I asked her…”
“Donna Lee, really? That is our First Lady. Honestly, you do NOT spread rumors about a lady. Besides I read that she has some ear problem, French sounding, like almondine or menuiere, something like that. At any rate, it is extremely rude of you to comment.”
“I guess I got it wrong, Mrs. Abernathy.”
Now I’m wondering if that’s what my Daddy has? Almondine disease?” Then I remember, I am NOT supposed to talk about my Daddy’s drinking to nobody.
“Well, she was weaving a little,” I add quick.
“Sandy, darling, play with your little friend as I must go out for some time this afternoon. Daddy will be down tomorrow and I must stock the bar and refrigerator. We’re having a small soiree. That seedy little store, Rosie’s, doesn’t have anything that I need, even if it is good enough for Mamie, apparently. I’ll be going into town soon. You girls behave yourselves. Oh, Donna Lee, do you think your big sister, what is her name, Lolly? Do you think she can come help serve again?”
“I’m sure she would love to help, Mrs…oh wait, she can’t because she has to take care of Mikey. See my daddy, he is…” Right here I remember that Mama told me to keep our business at home. “Anyway, no she can’t.”
“What a shame. Well, maybe you girls could help tomorrow night?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, we could, right, Sandy? Yes. I would love to be here, to serve at the soiree, I mean, if you think we can. I would extremely like that.”
“Well, run along. Please pick something appropriate from Sandy’s closet, dearie.”
That’s all I needed to hear. Sandy and me, we’re already down the hall and in her room, lickety- split.
“Here, try this on, Donna Lee,” Sandy says as she pulls some blue and red madras bermudas out of her drawer.
“A little tight around the waist but we haven’t been eating much around the house lately, so I think they’ll fit by tomorrow,” I tell her.
She throws a couple of really cute white shirts with peter pan collars onto her lime green chenille bedspread.
“Mercy Buckets.” That’s our little joke. See, Sandy goes to French school back in L.A. and I’m learning lots of French from her.
Sandy bakes us a little muffin in her Easy Bake oven. After we eat that, she asks me if I want to go in the fallout shelter while her mom’s gone? I say well okay but I don’t want to mess up my chances to serve tomorrow night so does she think it will be okay and she say sure.
We head out for the fallout shelter her Daddy had built for them last year. Mama says good luck to them if an A bomb hits and the neighbors have time to crowd in too. Mama says Lady Bountiful, that is what she calls Mrs. Abernathy, Sandy’s mom, that she would shit gold bricks if someone tried to get in there with them. Sorry about the dirty word, Dear Diary, but that’s how my mama talks.
Anyway, usually, we only get to go down in their shelter when Sandy has to look up something for her fancy French school back in LA. Their encyclopedia set is down there I guess in case they get bored if the A-bomb hits. Sandy’s always making up stuff that she needs to know just so we can go play in there.
It’s like a dollhouse. Everything is smaller than in their house. I guess her Mama used her Singer to make those sheers that hang in front of the fake window. Behind them is a big travel poster of a beach in Hawaii. Sandy’s family been there, too. Hawaii. So lucky!! Down there in the shelter, a milk-glass lamp, like the one in our house that Daddy won by pitchin’ dimes at the Fair, it lights up the room.
The best part is, down there, Sandy’s mama keeps her salt and pepper shaker collection. I have two favorites. The Guernsey cows and the baby kittens. Sandy likes the dice. The pepper comes out of the one dice and the salt comes out of the six. Cool, huh?
When we got outside, we saw the door leading down the steps to the shelter was unlocked so we went ahead in. It was dark at first but then we saw them.
Mrs. Abernathy popped up like a jack-in-the-box from where she was sitting, and started cursing at us. “Get the hell out of here, Sandy. What are you doing down here? I told you time and again this is NOT a playroom. Get out! Get OUT!”
Behind her, some guy, definitely not Mr. Abernathy, was tucking in his khaki shirt. It had his name, Duke, embroidered on the pocket.
Walking barefooted and burning my toots, I hurried on home. Just as I got there, I saw my daddy drive up, looking rough.
I can just hear my mama now, once she gets ahold of him, yelling to beat the band. Maybe when World War III is over at our house, I’ll have time to write more, dear diary.
Donna Lee Donnelly
P.S. I better find that key.
P.P.S. We heard the helicopter taking Mamie back this morning.
. . . . . . . . . . .
July 22, 1957
It’s really late so I can only tell you a little, but guess what? I’m going to have a real-life honest- to- goodness trip to write about my summer vacation. I’m going to Hawaii.
Out of the blue Mrs. Abernathy, she comes up to me while we are serving little canapés (my new French word) tonight and she aks can I go to Hawaii with Sandy and them this summer to keep Sandy some company? And I say that I have to ask my mama but probably she will say yes especially since the Abernathys are paying for it all. And then Mrs. Abernathy, she says to not say anything to Mr. Abernathy about sneaking into the fallout shelter because he will be plenty mad that we disobeyed and might not let me come with them and I say sure, of course. And then we shake on it. I promise her I’ll never tell a single soul. I am very good at keeping secrets.
Anyway, good night, Dear Diary. I’ll write you more from Hawaii.
Donna Lee Donnelly
P.S. I wonder what else Lady Bountiful might wanna give me?
P.P.S. French lessons would be nice.