Gail Brown and I were on again off again friends when I was six. She lived across the alley from us on South 15th Street. When we were on, she was my best friend. However, as frequently as we were on, we were also off, and then we were bitter enemies. During those days, we would stand along the crack going down the middle of the alley and warn each other not to cross onto one another’s “side”. Gail had bigger ammunition in this territorial war than I did. She had two older brothers, which she would threaten to “go get,” to reinforce her army. I only had neighborhood girls for support, and we all knew that the Brown boys would kick our hinnies so it was a real threat.
Gail and I were playing in our backyard one June day when we decided to walk to Roosevelt Park to play “got it, dropped it” on the merry go round. The park was about ten blocks from our neighborhood so the thought of walking that far by ourselves brought an element of adventure into the day. My mom and dad had taken a trip to Oklahoma to visit my Grandma Hutton so my parents’ friends, the Landers, were staying at our house to tend the flock in their absence. Good sense would have told me to inform Mrs. Landers of our plan to leave the neighborhood, but the woman frightened me so good sense evaporated in the hot summer sun as we headed down the alley toward Union Avenue.
Emerging from the alley, we walked three blocks east on Union toward 12th Street. We looked longingly at Molly’s candy store as we passed by – neither of us possessing even a nickel to spend on penny candy. Our first major obstacle lay in front of us as we prepared to cross Union Avenue. We looked up and down the street awaiting a break in the busy traffic. Finally, the much-awaited pause in traffic came, and our short little six-year-old legs ran full speed across the street. The excitement bubbled from us as our destination awaited five blocks down 12th Street.
We heard the sound of children laughing and baseball bats cracking before we actually saw our mecca. Roosevelt Park consumed much of a city block and was filled with three baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a shelter and a full array of playground equipment. Lying just inside of the northwest corner of the playground stood the merry-go-round.
I grabbed the first large stone I saw and threw myself belly first onto the merry-go-round. I was firmly planted between two of the grab bars with one leg on the ground slowly pushing it around. Gail hopped on in similar fashion, and the game began. “Dropped it,” I shouted merrily as I placed the stone as far under the apparatus as my short arms could reach. Gail precariously slid out on the hot, metal orb and snatched the stone. “Got it,” she loudly exclaimed. “Dropped it,” Gail exclaimed, and it was my turn to retrieve the stone which had been placed almost out of my reach. We repeated these phrases endlessly, and we played on with no regard to time.
I looked up from my spinning world to see Mrs. Landers’ car parked menacingly along the curb with the tall woman marching toward us. Filled with immediate dread, I lost my hold on the grab bar and slid off the merry-go-round onto the hard dirt. A large hand grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet while the other reached for Gail’s arm. We were unceremoniously dragged to Mrs. Landers’ car and shoved into the back seat.
Gail and I looked at each other with fear-filled eyes brimming with tears. Mrs. Landers dropped herself into the front seat and started the car. The only sound present during the short drive home were the sniffling of two very scared little girls. When we pulled up in front of our house, Gail and I immediately jumped out of the car. Gail ran for home, and I darted into the house and planted myself behind the far end of the sofa quivering with fear.
Mrs. Landers called my name. I did not respond. I heard her walk into the bedroom that I shared with my two sisters. Her footsteps took her to the kitchen and into the back hall that led to the backyard. They then returned to the living room and stopped. My heart was racing. I held my breath. I wet my pants.
Suddenly, that very large hand reached behind the sofa and grabbed me. It pulled me from behind the sofa until I stood head down in front of Mrs. Landers. She tipped my face up and I closed my eyes. I would not look at her. “Look at me,” she demanded, but I would not. She turned me around and with her enormous hand, spanked me and sent me to my room.
I cried. Lord, I cried. I cried for my mommy. I cried for my daddy. I cried for someone to save me from this scary lady. I cried until the gulps and the hiccups lulled me to sleep. When I awoke, Mrs. Landers was sitting next to me on the bed stroking my hair. With a soft voice, she said, “You will not leave the yard again until your mom and dad come home.” I buried my head in my blankets.
I spent the next four days hiding in the lilac bushes that surrounded our backyard. Mrs. Landers would occasionally look at me, but her big hand did not pull me out of my hiding place. When my sisters begged her to allow me to come play at the neighbor’s house, she shook her head. In my lilac fortress, I cried big alligator tears and waited for my parents’ return.
At night, I had nightmares of Indians snatching me away in the dark and taking me to their village and tying me to a post. Each night, Mrs. Landers would come in and stroke my hair, but we did not speak. Finally, on the fourth night, I awoke to find my mom stroking my hair. She gently picked me up and hummed me back to sleep.
Mrs. Landers was gone with the morning sun. My parents, fully apprised of the situation, scolded me softly and then handed me an Indian maiden doll and a rubber tomahawk with authentic Indian headdress feathers tied around the wooden handle – souvenirs from their trip to Oklahoma.
The rest of the summer was spent riding bikes and roller skating with my older sister and playing on and off with Gail Brown. The imaginary demilitarized zone was still present in the alley although Gail and I used it far less often. We had been to battle and the experience left us a bit more forgiving toward each other.
I did not return to Roosevelt Park until the summer I turned seven. Although our families continued to get together, I did not talk to Mrs. Landers again until I was a grown woman when I attended a bridal shower for her daughter. The first gruff words out of her mouth were, “Girl, you scared the hell out of me!” I smiled and replied, “I think we’re even. You scared the hell out of me too.”