Of Basketball and Chasing Sticks
For the longest time, Imogene Brogden thought she was ugly. What ever would give a young lady that idea? Her parents certainly never said any such thing. It surely wasn’t me. Truth of the matter, Imogene’s dad, Walter Brogden, thought Imogene, or Ginny as he called her, was the most beautiful girl in six counties. The six counties he worked as dairy tester in north Wisconsin. Maybe more of Wisconsin, but Walter didn’t get much chance to see more than his six counties. As far as Walter was concerned, maybe the only person as beautiful as Ginny, was Ginny’s mom. Walter was very careful not to compare Ginny and her mom, Evaline, in that way. Walter was a quite busy but reasonably prudent man.
Evaline Brogden was certainly a beautiful woman. No mistake there. Not only as far as Walter and his six Wisconsin counties were concerned. It was generally accepted she was beautiful inasmuch as Evaline was Wisconsin state Cheddar Queen not too many years before Ginny was born. The important thing was, Evaline thought Ginny way more beautiful than herself. You can’t get a more sincere compliment than that.
Golly. There was a big see-all-yourself-from-head-to-toe mirror in a big walnut frame in the Brogden house in Blue Cedars, Wisconsin. It sat in the vestibule just off the downstairs bathroom. Ginny could certainly see for herself she was a more than handsome young lady. But she didn’t see the truth of.
I bet I know what it was. School. Sometimes at school the school people, not the teachers, the students, say things they probably shouldn’t say. This all goes back to the last school year. I’m pretty sure that’s when all this started.
Oh. I’m Buster Brogden. I’m a passably smart, rather big for my age, black and tan German Shepherd. That’s right, I’m a dog. Most German Shepherds are. I’ll tell you right out; dogs don’t pay much attention to what people look like. It might help if I tell you how I saw Ginny anyway. I mean, since we’re considering that Ginny thought Ginny was “ugly.” While I am a dog, I am sensitive enough that I would never use the word “ugly” to describe anyone. Quite fond of Ginny, and like I said, a German Shepherd, I wouldn’t even ever go so far as to say Ginny was “plain.” Walter and I are in agreement there.
Ginny has red hair. I mean really red hair, almost fire-engine red. She has these freckledy things on her face. Big green eyes that smile at you like nobody’s business. Her ears don’t stick out far enough, at least not as far as I think they should, which makes me wonder how she manages to hear very well. Last year, Ginny wore her red hair in pig tails. You know, one either side of her head.
Last year, Ginny wasn’t tall. She was kind of big for her age, a little short, compared to the other girls at her school. It makes no real difference to me. Ginny could run like the wind, could toss sticks farther I bet, than even her dad. That’s important to me. I am, I modestly tell you, the best stick-chaser you’re ever gonna see. I’m pretty good at bringing-back, too.
Okay, so this was starting Ginny’s last year at elementary school, the fifth grade. I’m not sure why, but that’s some kind of big deal. Going from elementary school to junior high, I mean. An even bigger deal, I guess, is actually starting junior high, but that was a year away. Then, as I understand it, and I really don’t understand it, three years later going to high school is some amazing thing all the elementary and even junior high school kids can’t wait for.
But we’re not there, yet, us Brogdens. Getting ready for high school, I mean. You must realize a lot of what I’m telling you, I heard the Brogden people talk about. It’s hard for me to understand. I’m only twenty-eight years old. That’s real years. It’s about four of your years.
The first day of fifth grade, the girls at school got to talking. If I recall the conversation at the supper table that evening. At supper, I stay in the kitchen. That keeps Walter, Evaline, Ginny, and whoever joins them for supper from tempting me with table scraps. It does make it hard to overhear their conversations sometimes. That’s usually okay, because most times, I don’t pay attention anyway. This particular evening, it seemed important though.
When Ginny came home from school that first day, last year, she was, it seemed to me, sad. She didn’t even care to toss sticks. When I saw her walking down the street from school toward the house, I ran to get my best throwing stick. It’s a beauty. I’ve chewed off all the bark and worn away all the little sticky-outie things that snag clothes and poke the insides of my mouth. Not too big, not too small, and just heavy enough it takes a good tossing. Bobby Smithers can really toss that thing. He threw it so far one time, it bounced twice before I caught up to it!
Ginny’s not wanting to toss my best stick meant she was unhappy about something. I was certainly upset about something. About not chasing the stick for awhile before supper. So I broke my rule and listened to the dining room conversation. Maybe there was something I could help fix. During Brogden supper, this is what I heard:
“Momma, the other girls told me I should go on a diet!” said Ginny. There was a little whine in Ginny’s voice. That was unusual too.
Momma asked, “Are these the same girls from your class last year Ginny?”
“Yes, Momma. Irene, Gwen, Lucy, and Donna. All of my friends. Or they used to be my friends.”
“Now, Ginny,” started Momma.
Ginny interrupted, not at all like Ginny. “They said I was… that I was …” Ginny had trouble continuing. Yup, there was something needing fixing.
“Pudgy?” suggested Momma.
“No! Fat! Fat, Momma! They said I was fat!” Ginny blurted out. “They made me feel really bad. Like I am ugly. Like we can’t be friends anymore. They didn’t even want me to sit with them at lunch. I went to another table.”
“Aw, Ginny, I’m sorry. You see sometimes…” Momma started.
I thought Ginny was gonna cry. She didn’t. But she did interrupt Momma again. That for certain meant Ginny was really upset because interrupting wasn’t normal for her. Ginny added, “I met this new girl, Mandy and two of her friends, Maureen and Cynthia. At the table. They were sitting by themselves. I guess, Momma, because they are fat like me.”
Well, then Ginny did cry. I’d not seen Ginny cry a lot. Not before. I mean, a skinned knee, or seeing a baby bird that fell from its nest, sure. But not crying for no reason. Maybe there’s something about ‘fat’ I don’t understand. Her green eyes made the biggest tears I think I’ve ever seen. They rolled down her cheeks, bunched-up on her chin, then splashed onto her favorite after-school tee-shirt. Walter and Evaline talked with Ginny explaining some people things about respect and feelings, and friends and like that. I wanted really bad to go into the dining room to help explain to Ginny that pudgy or even fat was no big deal. Actually, it’s goofy it got any consideration at all. How tall she was didn’t affect her stick-tossing any. That’s a pretty good measure of importance. But I was in the kitchen you know, and they were in the dining room. I thought I’d bark to show what I thought. Decided not to, because most of the Brogdens usually misunderstood.
Last year, fifth grade, was tough for Ginny. That’s when she decided she was ugly, I guess. Probably. What made the year bearable was that Ginny asked Mandy, Maureen, and Cynthia, her “fat” friends to come home with her regularly. They did. Stayed for supper sometimes. Stayed overnight once in a while. The four of them got to be great friends. They spent a lot of time together. Man, we had good times after school. All of those girls could throw sticks. Not as good as Ginny, but passable. And laugh? Those girls knew how to laugh! When the leaves fell into big piles in the yard that fall, they helped me roll around in them. They were good at it too.
Ginny made it through fifth grade. So did Mandy, Maureen, and Cynthia. When fifth grade was over, things started happening during summer. Before time for sixth grade to start. The big deal of junior high school. Seemed to me to happen crazy-fast. What do I know?
It was at first a little sad because Mandy, Maureen, and Cynthia hardly came over to mess around. Ginny reckoned that was okay. You know, with vacations and summers spent on family farms and all. Then, Bobby Smithers, he’s a fourth grader this next year, and an awful good basketball player started coming to the house. He brought his buddy, Desmond, already a sixth grader and a super basketball player with him most days. Desmond’s dad coached the junior high boys’ basketball team and Desmond’s mom coached the girl’s team. In early summer, the boys taught Ginny how to play basketball. Ginny was, they said, “a natural.” Whatever that means.
I wasn’t watching, I guess, but I noticed one day, Ginny was almost as tall as Desmond. She was taller than Bobby. She got ‘skinny’ I believe, is what Bobby said. I’m thinking it was all that basketball. Goodness knows it wasn’t because she was tossing sticks for me. That’s okay. They let me watch them play ball. I’d sit at the end of the drive. If the ball got away from them, which didn’t happen all that often, I stopped it before it escaped to the street. Desmond started calling me “BB Shepherd.” I haven’t figured that out, but it must be a good thing because every time I stopped the ball and heard, “Attaboy BB Shepherd!” and everyone laughed and clapped.
It wasn’t long before some other boys and several gonna-be-seventh-grade girls from the school basketball team started helping play ball in the Brogden driveway. Not a lot of escaped balls after that. Too many basketball people. Then, as it was a little crowded at the house, they’d walk to the asphalt basketball courts outside the school. They played ball almost all day every day. Except when it was raining. Rainy days, I got to chase sticks. Loved rainy days.
Spunky and I liked watching. We’d follow the kids to the schoolyard. You never heard so much laughing. Those kids wore themselves out playing basketball, so they rested now and again. It was easy to get one or the other of them to toss sticks while everyone else rested and told jokes. I had to remember to bring my favorite stick. It was a great summer.
Oh. Spunky is the other Brogden. She’s a Pomeranian. Whatever that means. All I know is she’s something shorter than me. Sometimes I have to tell her who’s coming down the street when she’s curious. Before she can smell who it is or if it’s a brand-new human. Oh. It seems important to you. Spunky’s two. In your years. Fourteen in real years.
Just before school started – the first year of junior high, sixth grade, Evaline and Ginny went shopping for new clothes for Ginny. Ginny’s t-shirts and blue jeans seemed suddenly too small and too short. The first day of sixth grade, when Ginny came through the vestibule, there was a new lady looking back at her from the big see-all-yourself-from-head-to-toe mirror.
It wasn’t head-to-toe anymore, either. The mirror got smaller. Ginny had to take turns with her top half and her bottom half to see what she looked like all over. I hardly recognized her when she went out to walk with Bobby and Desmond to school. A long red ponytail replaced her pigtails and she wore a regular shirt instead of a tee-shirt over her jeans. Pretty nice, I thought. Always thought she looked nice anyway.
Spunky and I broke the rules the first day. We tagged along when Ginny and her basketball friends walked to school. Ginny’s old friends were all chatting on the wide front steps leading up to the big double main entrance doors. You remember, Gwen, Lucy, Donna, Irene, and a couple others.
“Oh! Hi, Ginny! Good to see you,” said Gwen.
“Uh, hey, Gwen. It’s good to see you too. I hope you had a great summer,” Ginny said, smiling.
“Oh, I did. Boy, you look different!” Gwen smiled back.
“Yeah. I’ll say,” said Donna, “you look, um…”
“Tall?” asked Ginny.
“No,” said Lucy, “more like, thin.”
“And hey,” said Irene, “we hear you’re gonna be on the basketball team! As a sixth grader! Nobody’s ever done that before!”
About then, the seventh-grade basketball girls came over to Ginny, Irene, Gwen, and the others. They joined Ginny and all Ginny’s old fourth-grade friends.”
“Are you ready to go into class, Ginny?” asked Gwen.
“She’s going in with us,” one of the basketball girls said. “We have to get assigned lockers by the gymnasium.”
“No,” said Ginny. “Actually, I’m looking for some friends. I’ll have to catch-up, I guess.”
Just then, Mandy walked up. It looked like Mandy hadn’t played much basketball during the summer. “Wow! Look at you, Ginny!” exclaimed Mandy.
“Yeah. Got tall.” Ginny smiled.
Maureen and Cynthia joined the group. Ginny gave Mandy and her two other fifth grade lunch buddies big hugs. Then the four of them started for the big front doors. It looked to me like maybe Cynthia played some basketball or tossed a lot of sticks over the summer. She wasn’t as tall as Ginny, but she was, what did Bobby say? Skinny? Yeah, skinny.
“Gosh, Ginny’s changed,” said Gwen.
Ruth, one of the other basketball girls said, “No, Gwen, Ginny’s pretty much the same as she’s always been. She’s just really happy to see her friends.”
“We’re her friends,” suggested Lucy.
“Um. Yeah. I meant her special friends. Mandy, Maureen, and Cynthia. Guess those four spent a lot of time together last year at the old school”
“Special friends?” asked Gwen.
“Yeah. Ginny missed them a lot this summer. Talked about them all the time. While we played basketball.”
“Oh,” Gwen frowned.
The basketball girls followed Ginny and Mandy, Cynthia, and Maureen through the front doors. Gwen, Lucy, and the others followed after. Spunky and I knew without being told, it was time for us to go home. So we did.
I’m not one to know, but I heard Walter and Evaline talking about how well the basketball teams are doing this year, especially the girls. Walter says Ginny is a starting forward, whatever that means. Must be important because Walter seems awfully proud of Ginny. Evaline sighs and announces it’s okay so long as piano lessons don’t suffer. I dunno. We all have to make sacrifices. For example, I wait a lot longer for stick-throwing nowadays.
It’s good to have Maureen, Mandy, and Cynthia back now that school has started too. Sometimes, Ginny being so busy and all, she has to practice that piano after school, after basketball practice. Lucky for me, Mandy, Maureen, and Cynthia are becoming much better stick throwers. I’m still the best stick-fetcher you’d ever want to see.
Ginny has learned she’s not ‘ugly.’ Spunky and I have known that for absolutely forever. But then we’re on the whole, a lot smarter than most humans.
© S P Wilcenski 2020