by Leah Peterson
© 2003 Leah Peterson
All Rights Reserved
Originally published on Writer’s Monthly
‘You’re kidding! All you have to do is like, make him wear socks!” says Girl Four who is at least three years older than her friends. Girl Four looks the most mature, at least numerically, in the group. She’s the one that ‘knows’ things.
Girl Two, across the table and now wishing she hadn’t said in her out-loud voice: ‘I could like, so never be with a boy who has ugly feet!’ looks properly chastened and begins to practice her extremely interested yet resolute face in case of encountering a boy she likes who has ugly dogs.
Girl Three grabs her Teen Cosmo looking for supporting evidence in the article "Operation Save Your Relationship: Use Our Sock Plan of Defense!"
Girl One absentmindedly picks a zit on her chin. Maybe she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Maybe she doesn’t own any socks. Girl Four adds, ‘But he SO has to have a nice car!’
I chew an end of a breadstick, shift my eyes away from them and up to my boyfriend’s face and wonder, Are your feet ugly?’ Of course, I don’t ask him. That would be rude. I’ll just keep an extra pair of socks with me in case.
I’m sitting in this booth with my boyfriend Joe, eating pretty good noodles with marinara sauce because after driving around for 20 minutes looking for a bookstore and coming up empty handed, we decided eating was a good idea. It’s frustrating though. I know there has to be a good bookstore close by .I can smell it and I just can’t find it. Or possibly that’s the Italian food.
And now those girls, who I think might be a tad older than my original assessment of fourteen (although based on their vocabulary skills and conversation topics I find it hard to believe) get up from the booth, leave, get in a car and drive away. Friends, I think boys with ugly feet are the least of our worries. At least one of them has a driver’s license.
In any case, after feeling uneasy for a few minutes about the safety and well being of Southern California’s roads in general, I decide to ask our server girl, who matches the first Girl Cluster and might be member number Five, where a good bookstore is.
She looks slightly puzzled and says Hhmm. Well, I know there’s one somewhere let me think. Oh! I think there’s one next to Claire’s! I don’t know the name of it, but I think it’s over there ’ I thank her and she leaves with the empty plates. I look at Joe. Joe looks at me. Apparently we’re supposed to know where Claire’s is. We don’t.
Claire’s is a jewelry store chain, usually in the mall. They sell ear, finger, toe and probably many other body-part rings for cheap. Girl Five thinks there might be a bookstore, a nameless obscure-to-her bookstore, over by the store that sells ten pairs of earrings on a blister card next to the glitter makeup and navel piercing paraphernalia. She knows for sure where to buy a purple, fuzzy steering wheel cover with matching rear-view mirror accessory, just not where to buy a book.
I’m not sure at this point if it’s because I’m ten or so more years older than these girls that my priorities are different or if it’s because I grew up in a different environment. Are things so much different now?
My parents read to me and my siblings on Saturday and Sunday nights when I was growing up. I don’t mean little kid books. I’m talking about real literature like Little Women and Little Men by Luisa May Alcott, books by C.S. Lewis, The Secret Garden by Tasha Tudor, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. My father had a never-ending supply of wonderful poetry and prose he would read to us or recite to us from memory. I can still see him in my mind reciting something patriotic with tears in his eyes. The love of books and reading and the proper way to use words as expression was instilled in me very, very young.
My library card was a prized possession. When I was 12, the librarian finally stopped asking me, Are you sure you want to check out 7 books this week? Will you really have time to read them all?’ I read everything I could get my hands on. And I was a fast reader. She used to test me when I came back the next week to find out if I’d really read them or not. What was the name of whoever’s boyfriend?’ or What happened to so and so that made them go crazy?’
In my family, asking what a word was or what it meant was never laughed at, looked down on or brushed away. We were encouraged to understand what we were listening to or reading. We were also encouraged to look it up ourselves. We had a huge, and I mean HUGE dictionary that required its own support stand. That book was easily a foot thick. No wonder my mom didn’t want to wade through it to find the word quagmire’. Sometimes I would just sit down and read that sucker or an encyclopedia or two. Letter B was one of my favorites. Inside its pages were plates of colored butterfly diagrams. And how about H? They had cellophane pages where you could build the human body just by flipping one page onto the next.
I want to thank my parents for a vocabulary of more than the standard fifty words I hear now—including the staples of duh, like, man and dude. What about plethora, gargantuan, voracious and redolent? I love words. I use words. And I have many to pick from because I heard them early on and consistently.
I don’t remember caring about my various boyfriends’ feet in high school. I don’t remember caring what kind of car they drove either. That however could be attributed to the fact that I grew up in a town so small that there wasn’t a McDonald’s or even a stop light. You didn’t need a car. You walked. Everything was just around the corner. And if you were lucky enough to have a friend with a car, there wasn’t much more to see than the cattle down at the neighbors’ ranch.
It might not be fair to compare my reading skills to girls who have wheels and places to go and boys with stockinged, ugly feet to go there with. I didn’t go out much. And where was I going to go anyway? Cow tipping?