the summer before sixth grade

The car wouldn’t start so Mama shoved a red gas can in my hand, along with a five dollar bill, and told me to go to the gas station across from my school several blocks away. We were about to pile into the car to go to Mama and Melinda’s work where we sat at long tables with telephones, big phone books, paper and pens.

I needed to hurry so we wouldn’t be too late.

Melinda, 7 years older than me, and Mama lit cigarettes and went back to the front porch of the house while I left for the gas station.

It was early so there wasn’t a lot of traffic or people walking about. The sky was clear and the hot sun was making its way over the houses across from us. I walked the sidewalk down our one-way street swinging the gas can in one hand while clutching the five dollar bill in the sweaty palm of my other hand. When I neared the end of the block where my friend Jennifer lived, I crossed the street and looked back toward my house. I noticed someone in a baseball cap crossed the street too.

I kept walking the four blocks to the gas station and every so often, I’d turn around to see if the person in the cap was still there.

He was and he was getting closer to me.

I made my way to the main street where there was a lot of traffic, and half a block from the gas station, I turned around one last time and that’s when it became clear that this man wearing a Chicago White Sox baseball cap was following me.

I quit swinging the gas can and started running as fast as I could.

Just as I turned into the gas station, I felt someone grab my arm that held onto the gas can.

The can dropped to the ground.

I turned to scream and under the baseball cap I could see a face clearly for the first time: it was a man with a mustache and green eyes.

It was my father.

“It’s okay,” he said in his thick Italian accent which added an Ah sound to most words. “I just wanted to see if I could help.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked Papa who hadn’t lived with us for months and should’ve been at his downtown job.

“I saw you were getting gas, I wanted to help.”

He took the can from me and filled it with gas, before paying the cashier.

“You keep that money,” he told me. “But don’t tell your mama you have it.”

“Why were you following me like that? You really scared me.”

“I just wanted to help.”

He gave me a hug and reminded me to tuck the money away so Mama wouldn’t see it.

“I miss you,” he said.

“I do too but that was really scary.”

“Hurry back so they don’t worry. Be a good girl.”

We hugged again and I turned around and walked back home alone where neither Mama nor Melinda could hold back their annoyance over how long they waited for the gas.



48 thoughts on “the summer before sixth grade

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I wish there was a follow up, I want to know more about your family! Tantalizing descriptions and a really smooth narrative. Well done.

  2. You told this story so, so well. I like that you wrote it as a little snapshot of what is obviously a much longer and more involved story. I hope you tell more of it soon.

  3. How scary and how sad that he felt he had to do that in order to talk to you. So very confusing for a young girl. You did a beautiful job in telling this story. I could feel the tension and fear and it was all so visual to me. Well done.

  4. This is so well written. You capture so much with so few words. I was surprised that the man in the cap was your dad. You had me scared. I hope you write more pieces like this – really great stuff.

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