It’s July and hot, even at night. Cynda and I have gone to bed in the large room we share with Mom and Dad, just off the kitchen in my old second-grade teacher’s house.
Cynda is already asleep, her little three-year-old snores drowned out by the adult voices coming from the kitchen.
“I know this comes as a BOMBSHELL to all of us,” my baggy old teacher says in her loud, foghorn voice. I don’t hear anything after “bombshell.” What? A bombshell? For all of us? Is a bombshell a kind of bomb? Or is it like a bomb? Do bombs have shells?
The door opens. Light floods the room for a second as Mom bursts in and slams the door behind her. She flings herself on the big bed she shares with Dad and lies there, sobbing.
This is some kind of disaster.
Cynda sleeps through it.
I have to do something. I climb out of my bed, go to Mom, and hug her. “Don’t cry, Mommy.”
She rolls over and gathers me in her arms. “Oh, Honey, don’t worry. I’ll be all right. It’s just . . . we’ve been turned out.”
“We have to leave.”
Dad comes in and stands mumbling.
Mom gets up. “Come on, Lloyd.”
We pack all our things there in the dark bedroom. Five minutes later, we’re out the back door, standing in the alley with suitcases. We get into our 1939 Chevrolet and scram out of town, headed for Knoxville, where we know we’ll be good enough.
As my second-grade year at Grant School ended, we faced a dilemma. We were moving out of our nice house at 303 West Stanton June 30 and moving to another place farther west, but the house would not be available until September 1.
The large-framed, loud-voiced woman who had been my second-grade teacher offered to take us in for three months when we would otherwise be homeless. It was a good solution. The teacher’s two children—Freddy and his little sister, whose name now escapes me—were our frequent playmates. The family lived just a block away, on Grant Street. Mom and Dad put our furniture in storage, and we moved in with the teacher’s family.
Things started out amiably, but the arrangement went sour after only a week or so. Maybe we were just too many people to live together in a small house; maybe it was something else. But our invitation to stay the summer was suddenly revoked one night, with the result that we crept out of Streator in the dark of night and fled to our ancestral home of Knoxville.
I never knew why we were set to flight in such a dramatic way—the code was never revealed to me. I figured out later that when my old teacher said it was “a bombshell to all of us,” she didn’t mean it was a bombshell to her—just to us. It seemed we were not worthy to live with my baggy old teacher’s family.
Somehow, for reasons I did not know, we were not good enough.
Our exodus to Knoxville took place on a weekend. Monday morning, Dad was back at work in Streator. He stayed in a rented flat all week, then drove to Knoxville to spend the weekend with us. This became the pattern for the whole summer.
Larry F. Sommers
Your New Favorite Writer