The following is inspired by an excerpt from my memoir. The events and conversations are recorded according to my recollections.
“I know the truth about the Easter Bunny,” Burgess told me one bright blue-skied afternoon following my nap. I was four years old, he’d just turned five. We were in the playroom where big double windows overlooked still-bare trees dotting the hillside behind our apartment in Asheville’s Manor Grounds, dividing our little plastic animals for a round of Little House into his family and mine. Dust motes danced in the streams of late afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows like microscopic snow in a freshly shaken snow globe. I loved to sit where the sunshine warmed my back as we played.
Thinking I was about to hear where the Easter Bunny lived, or how he got into our apartment to deliver baskets of goodies every year, I was curious. “What is it?” I asked, selecting one of my favorite zebras – the “girl,” because she had pink lips.
“He’s not real. And neither is Santa or the Tooth Fairy. It’s just Mom and Dad. They bring everything! They’re the ones who get the stuff and leave it out for us! They’re the ones who leave the money under our pillows!” he announced, looking satisfied with himself.
I didn’t want to know this revelation. I cried.
While I’d been napping, Burgess asked our mother, point blank, for The Truth just before Easter. He wanted to know about the Easter Bunny, and the whole lot of them. Because of the earnestness of his inquiry, she conceded that she and my dad were the ones who left the trinkets and gifts, and traded the money for teeth. He then gleefully relayed this discovery to me.
I recall my mother consoling me – having heard my cries – by saying these special visitors continue to leave gifts for the kids who believe. I told her I wanted to keep believing, whether Burgess did or not.
I had a purple Easter bucket that year, and to my relief, still got something from the Easter Bunny. Burgess did, too. I recall a wooden airplane the size of a ruler, a kite, and a jar of fancy mustard nestled in the shiny plastic green grass.
Burgess’s investigation helped to make sense of our attempts to reconcile the discrepancies between what we received during these special occasions and what our friend Sydney would collect. While we got things like jars of gourmet mustard and a small salami or crock of port wine cheese spread and whole grain crackers alongside a handful of carob nuggets, come Easter morning she’d awaken to over-sized candy bars, giant chocolate bunnies, and enormous bright lollypops. My mother was an avid fan of health food pioneer Adelle Davis, so candy was off limits, even for special occasions. My parents were often low on funds, too. Our take from the Tooth Fairy might be a handful of coins – nickels, dimes, and an occasional quarter – while Sydney received dollar bills of ones and fives. Once I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I discovered a special dime under my pillow – one that was partially coated in something red. I later discovered it to be candle wax, most likely from sitting too close to the candles on the table the previous evening as they burned low into the wee hours, liquid wax overflowing holders. At the time, my mother said it was a magical dime, “touched by the fairies.” I believed it, and saved it for ages.
“Get on the bed,” Burgess instructed blonde-haired Charlie, the son of my parents’ friends who lived on a farm just outside of town.
Charlie stripped down and climbed onto my bed—the lower bunk—while I gathered supplies. My mother was babysitting him for the afternoon and as long as we managed to keep the noise levels down, we pretty much could do whatever we wanted for hours on end without interruption. That afternoon, Burgess and I decided we were doctors, Charlie, the patient. It was a game we played often.
Charlie dutifully lay on the bed and we started the exam. “Shots” were usually given with a black sketch pencil. The pencil also served as a rectal thermometer, as well as a probe for other body orifices, depending on the scope of that day’s exams. Bandages were fashioned out of masking tape. Since our father had recently sprained his ankle, we had an ace bandage if the patient had any “broken bones.” Magic markers provided a means to illustrate cuts and bruises, and, when dipped in a glass of water, created beautifully colored “medicines” the patient would drink.
Red marker in hand, I approached our patient and looked for some good spots to place the wounds. Burgess grabbed his flashlight and turned it on, using its light as a pointer.
“Here,” he instructed, indicating the bend in Charlie’s arm closest to our side of the bed, illuminating the site. I drew a thick red line.
“Over here,” the doctor pointed the light at Charlie’s lower abdomen.
“Let me get the blue,” I offered, eager to make his wounds as realistic as possible, recalling the purples, blues, and greens of my father’s swollen ankle following his sprain.
We finished prepping our patient and started giving him “shots” to ready him for bandaging. One of the shots always had to be administered on the butt and somewhere near the penis or vagina. We had easy access to several anatomy books, as well as The Joy of Sex, so we were familiar with all of the ins and outs of the human body, and clinically explored each and every one. Lifting up Charlie’s penis, there was a small black bug attached firmly to its base.
“Hmm,” said the doctor. “I think this is a bug.”
“Get it off!” Charlie said, startled.
“It won’t come off,” I informed the boys following my attempt to push it off with the tip of the freshly-sharpened pencil, starting to worry. “I think it’s a tick.” I’d seen ticks on the dogs at my cousins’ house in the country, and although this one was not as large, the way it held firm was familiar.
We debated whether or not to simply have Charlie get dressed and go about our play with the tick secured inside his clothing, or to inform my mother. I ended up telling her and by her exasperated sigh, I gathered she would have rather not known. She’s squeamish, but managed to remove the tick and treat our patient appropriately. I do recall that the entire event was not a big deal. We performed and received a lot of exams and conducted intricate experiments during those hours of unsupervised play. Our creativity was never discouraged as long as no one got hurt or made too much noise. Those unspoken rules were ones we learned to follow early.
Charlie’s hippy farmer parents were among the eclectic group of people in my parents’ circle. For a time, my parents were involved in planning a commune with them and several other couples. My mother says she lost interest in the whole thing once she learned that everything was going to be communal – including the multiple-seated bathrooms with no stalls or doors. Thank God she drew that line, although I would imagine sharing other things in the commune could have eventually become problematic, as well.