A new neighbor causes friction between 5-year-old Bobby Farrand’s parents, but he's too distracted by all the new technological marvels around him in 1955 to understand what's happening.
Published in Buffalo Carp: Quad Cities Arts’ Journal (Volume 5, published March 14, 2008).
When no one was looking, Bobby liked to sit on the parked cars in front of his apartment building or slide down their fenders. He knew most grownups screamed at kids who touched their cars, so he was suspicious when a lady caught him in the act and simply said, “You look real comfy up there.” His suspicion deepened when she flashed a smile. She seemed nice enough, but she didn’t look like any of the other women in the neighborhood. Her stylish short black hair and fashionable clothing made her look like someone from TV. His mother certainly never wore beautiful dresses like that.
“What’s your name?” she asked sweetly. He wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but he couldn’t resist that smile.
He wasn’t supposed to accept candy from strangers either, but since she offered none, he said, “Bobby Farrand.”
“So, you’re Harry’s boy.” Her smile widened.
“Yup.” He wondered what this pretty lady was up to.
“Harry’s very nice.” She lingered over the thought before suddenly stretching out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Bobby. I’m Peggy Hampton. My husband and I moved into apartment 5-A a few months ago. Your dad helped us move a couple of things in. He’s a great guy. I haven’t met your mom yet, but I bet she’s awfully nice, too.” Catching sight of a tall man stepping out of the lobby, she spoke in an urgent, hushed voice. “Hey, you better scoot off the car. My hubby’s a little touchy about these things.”
Bobby watched as Mr. Hampton opened the car door for his wife, who fanned her dress carefully as she settled into the front seat. After rolling down the window, she called out, “Hey, Bobby! Say ‘hello’ to Mike. Mike loves kids.”
Mr. Hampton tipped his hat vaguely in Bobby’s direction and stood on the sidewalk fiddling with his pipe and tobacco pouch. Once the pipe was filled and lighted, he marched out into the street to the driver’s side of the car and nestled into position in front of the dashboard. With his elbow propped on the open window frame and his pipe clenched firmly in his teeth, he started the engine, moved the gearshift and pulled the car slowly away from the sidewalk. Bobby stepped out into the road to watch the massive machine disappear down the street.
Even at five years old, Bobby had big expectations. He was born smack in the middle of the century. That would make him a nice, round 50 years old when the world made its way to the year 2000. About as old as a person ever ought to get, he figured. In the meantime, he marveled at the way the world was changing rapidly all around him. His parents often talked about the old days, especially The War, but none of that had anything to do with him. Howdy Doody never mentioned these things. Neither did Winky Dink or anyone on Ding Dong School. And they never appeared in TV commercials, his favorite source of information about the world outside of Yonkers, New York.
That world was filled with wonders, like machines that washed and dried dishes and refrigerators with freezers large enough to store all the contents of the Good Humor truck that brought the kids on his block their nightly rations of ice cream all summer long. His mother had to stay behind in the kitchen to do the dishes by hand every night while he and his dad watched TV out in the living room. Their Frigidaire had just a tiny box for a freezer, a funny contraption encrusted in ice, barely big enough between defrostings to hold an ice cream sandwich or two.
On TV, every household had their own washer and dryer right on the premises. His mother had to haul the family laundry down to the basement where all the tenants shared one temperamental washing machine. He hated going down there, where monsters hid in waiting in the dark, dank rooms, but loved accompanying his mother up to the tar-papered roof to watch her hang the laundry on the clothesline and pretend the shirts were kites flapping in the wind.
Then there were the cars. His jaw dropped just at the thought of them. Incredible shiny machines like the Hamptons’ automobile. On TV they were presented by beautiful women in dazzling ballroom gowns. “See the USA in your Chevrolet,” crooned Dinah Shore. He imagined a convertible with four smiling faces tearing across the Painted Desert or zeroing in on the Grand Canyon. There weren’t many cars in his own neighborhood yet, because there was little need. The ramshackle buses of the Mid-City Coach Company took people almost anywhere they needed to go in Southwest Yonkers, and there were elevated subway trains nearby in the Bronx for going into the city. More people were starting to buy cars, though. He could tell, because the parked cars taking up some of the best spots in front of his building were making it harder and harder to play handball.
END OF EXCERPT