Log Cabin Chronicles


Jeannie is in yellow, in the third row, far left. I'm in red, same row, next to last on the right, beside Charlie. Jeannie and me, we still talk. A couple of years ago we danced. This stuff has been going on for years.

I dream of Jeannie


It's October, 1942, and I'm in love with Jeannie of the long brown hair.

Jeannie has a cute, turned-up nose and she wears plaid skirts and has this way of walking that makes them swish. I really like to walk behind her and watch how she does it. But mostly I walk beside her on the way to school or sometimes I walk her home. We're in the second grade this year.

She's taller than me and gets better marks in Art because I color over the lines. This irritates Miss Griggs, our circuit-riding art teacher who makes her rounds on a green bicycle with skinny Victory tires.

Mom and me and Earl -- that's my little brother, The Gubber -- we have a huge victory garden. We have all kinds of vegetables growing in there, lettuce and cukes and beans and corn and squash. Me and The Gubber aren't too fussy about the squash. Everybody on the street has a victory garden, and the mothers work hard canning all the food for the winter. That's one of the ways we're helping here on the home front to win the war. That's what Miss Moulton says in class, and that's what our Dad says in his letters home from the army. He writes on this thin paper that folds up to make its own envelope. Victory mail is what Mom calls it. You have to be careful how you open it or you'll tear the writing.

Jeannie and me can write now but The Gubber doesn't write too much. He just scrawls around on the paper, pretending. I take him to school with me when Miss Moulton says it's O.K. She calls him Earl. It's "Earl, would you like to clean the erasers?" and "Earl, would you like to sharpen my pencils?" He'd better watch that stuff when he starts school. Teachers' pets don't have much fun at recess.

So here's Jeannie and me at recess, we'reburied in a pfle of maple leaves under a tree atthe edge of the playground and we'rewatching the clouds safl over.

"That one's our castle," I say.

"Which one?"

"The big one with the turret,I tell her."That''l be your part."

Jeannie is sitting up now, squinting hard at our castle. "Where will you live?"

"By the gate at the moat," I say. "With my horse."

"What horse?"

"The one I ride when I slay dragons. His name is Charger. Look! There he is."

Jeannie thrusts her arm through the leaves and pokes me with her fmger. "Where's my horse? "

"I only see one horse."

"I want a horse;" she insists.

"You can ride Charger."

She picks up a red leaf and strips the color from the veins on the stem. "I want my own horse."

I look hard through the bare branches.They're silhouetted against the blue enamel of the sky. The clouds look as if they're pasted on. The air is crisp and has a tang to it. Everything smells so sharp and looks so sharp it seems as if we're in a painting. I don't see another horse anywhere.

"Queens don't need horses;" I say.

She tosses a handful of leaves in my face and then something heavy lands on me. Everything goes black. I try to breathe and get leaves in my mouth. Someone is shoving leaves down my neck. I hear heavy breathing. I kick and try to yell but only spit out dried leaves.

"Had enough, shorty?" a nasty voice says. "Give up?"

It's Dumb Eugene, up to his old tricks. He's the biggest guy in our grade. The dumbest, too. He's nine years old and still in second grade. He hates being called Dumb Eugene. He tells us to call him Tiger, like his Mom does.

"Get off, dummy," I tell him.

"What's my name?"


He presses harder on my arms. "What's my name, shorty?"

"Eugene," I say. "Dumb, Dumb Eugene."

He covers my face with leaves. I hear Jeannie laugh. He laughs too.

"Wanna go swing?" he says to Jeannie. I don't hear her answer but he gets off me and I hear them walk away through the leaves. I brush the leaves off my face but I don't look at them. I stay in the leaves a long time and look through the branches. The castle is gone.

Back in class, Jeannie and me don't speak. I sit behind her, at the rear of the room. Dumb Eugene sits up front, near Miss Moulton. He turns and smiles at Jeannie. She wiggles her fingers in a little wave. I watch them pass notes while the old Regulator clock on the wall ticks away the long afternoon.

Jeannie has her hair in pigtails today, both tied with a red, white and blue ribbon. The next time he smiles at her I tug the right one. She turns around and gives me a frown.

"You can have a horse, too;' I tell her.

Miss Moulton catches my eye and puts her finger on her lips and shakes her head.

I watch Jeannie take a new yellow pencil from the groove next to her inkwell and walk to the pencil sharpener near the teacher's desk. Her skirt swishes up the aisle and as she passes Dumb Eugene she smiles. He smiles back. She stays at the pencil sharpener for along time. I think she is going to grind it all away.

She sits down and I tap her shoulder. She pulls away. I tug at her pigtail. "Stop it!" she hisses. Old Dumb Eugene sees what's going on and he grins at me. I flash him a magic finger like I've seen the older guys do.

Now Jeannie is slumped in her chair and her pigtails are on my desk. I take one and stick the end of it in my inkwell, right up to the ribbon. She feels the tug at her hair and sits bolt upright. Her inky pigtail sprays me, then flops over her shoulder. She gasps at the ink staining her white blouse.

"Oh, jeez! " I say, touching her shoulder.

Jeannie turns in her seat. She is holding her sharp yellow pencil. She stabs at my hand. The pencil quivers in the ball of my thumb, then drops to the floor. A small drop of blood marks where the point went in. I wipe it off on my pants and hand her the pencil.

"You can still have a horse," I say.

It's July, 1987, and I'm sitting across the table from Jeannie at our local Legion hall overlooking Lake Memphremagog. She has short hair now, and gets professional help with the color. We're partying at a high-school reunion and I'm wondering who those bald-headed guys are out there on the dance floor jitterbugging with those thick-waisted ladies. The music is loud and my eyes sting from the smoke. Jeannie turns to her husband and says, "Tiger, honey, get me another drink, please?"

I'm drumming to the music on the table top and Jeannie scratches the back of my hand with a long red nail, lightly, and I look over at her and smile.

"Remember when you moved back to town when we were 15?" she asks.


"When you first got back I wanted to go right over to see you but I didn't know how to do it. I mean, I just couldn't knock on your grandmother's door or anything like that."

I nod, remembering some soft autumn nights and sweet kisses on her screened porch.

"I asked my mother what to do and she said, 'Tell Mrs. Marquis I want to borrow her shoe tree' "

I'm holding her hand across the table and now I give it a little squeeze.

"Do you know what?" she asks.


"I still have that shoe tree in my closet."

I smile and let go of her hand. "I still have something of yours, too. I've carried it with me since we were in second grade."

Jeannie looks puzzled. I turn my hand over and point to the small black spot on the ball of my thumb. "The day you stabbed me," I say. "The pencil lead broke off in my hand. See it?"

She takes my hand and rubs her finger over the spot. "I didn't ever do that. I wouldn't have..."

I say: "It was right after we talked about our castle and my horse."

"You never had a horse," she says, laughing.


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Copyright © 1996 John Mahoney/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.96