When I was 6 years old, boys often followed me home from school. I think I fascinated them because, while I was not a tomboy, I did things that they never saw girls of the 60s do. Or maybe it was because the beer was always on me.
My dad introduced me at a young age. I played in the mud; danced in the rain; squatted down in my dress to play marbles. I filtered pond scum through my hands to catch tadpoles. I tied bacon to a string and let it down crawdad holes; could pull up an ole crawdaddy almost every time. I knotted thread around the body of a Junebug and let the insect fly high into the air. I took these Junebugs for walks. I would walk along holding the spool of thread, giving the Junebug slack enough to fly about 20 feet above my head; then I could reel him back in if he misbehaved. I never owned a pair of overalls; I did all of these things in cotton summer dresses.
I walked home from school in 1st grade. One day I was late coming home so my mom loaded Clayton into the stroller and went to look for me. We spotted each other when we were about a block apart. I yelled, “mama, mama” and began running toward her with what she thought was a can of soda. Seven or eight boys began running after me. I wasn’t holding a can of soda. It was a beer can.
I’m sure it must have looked to my mom as though I were on the road to a life of crime. Wet and muddy as Caddy Compson, barefoot because I had taken off my shoes to avoid getting in trouble for dirtying them, I was headed straight for hell with a beer can in my hand and with boys in hot pursuit. My side of the story?
On my way home from school I bragged to the boys that I knew how to catch tadpoles and turn them into frogs (as good as kissing a frog and turning it into a prince, to my mind). They didn’t believe me, so when I saw a cul de sac full of thick, stagnant water I stopped there. After taking off my shoes and socks, I entered, letting the cold mud ooze between my toes. The boys stood back and watched. The plump black dots wiggled around my toes—eureka! “Get me something to put them in,” I shouted; the boys found an empty beer can and I began scooping until the can I did not recognize as an intoxicating beverage container was full to the brim. Triumphantly, I continued home to show the boys how to nurture the ebony wigglers into full-fledged frogs that would eventually jump out of a pickle jar of water and hide under our family washing machine where it was likely a little moist.
I often wonder what became of the boys.