Five Divided By Seven

“Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery” – Chapter Three

“Smivey Stepward, would you go to the board, please, and do problem number seven for the class?”  The only thing Smivey hates worse than going to the board to figure out a math problem in front of everybody is singing in choir class. Smivey thinks Mrs. Inkley loves causing students to squirm.  Making each student go to the board to work out a problem from the assignment is her favorite way of inflicting pain.  “No wonder so many kids are absent first hour,” Smivey mumbled to himself as he walked to the front. 

Math is not a difficult subject for Smivey.  He’s one of the top students in the class, but no one will ever know it.  Mrs. Inkley believes it is wrong for students to be made aware of the grades given to the rest of the class.   

He returned to his seat after working the problem flawlessly.  “Nice work, Smivey.  Thank you.”   

“You’re welcome, your most royal highness, goddess of pain” he thought without saying a word. 

The only good part about Math class is Elizabeth Musker, his only love since first grade.  He was in the same class as Elizabeth in first, third and fourth grades.  Now he only sees her in Math class and Home Studies, which is where you learn how to cook stuff for when you get older and have to live by yourself.  Smivey heard from other kids they will eventually learn how to sew and iron clothes.  It seems like such a waste.  His mother cooks everything so why does he have to know how to do it? 

Even though Smivey has been in the same class as Elizabeth Musker several times, he has never spoken to her.  He has never been brave enough to speak her name loud enough that she could hear it.  The only time he ever says her name out loud is when he’s alone.  Alone with the thoughts of her beautiful long brown hair, her sparkling eyes, her perfect nose, her lips…he can’t even think about her lips, and her cheeks with just a few freckles sprinkled here and there, not too many, just enough.  Nothing like the smear of freckles on his own face that to him looks like he was too close to an exploding can of red paint.   

Elizabeth spoke to Smivey one time.  It was in the fourth grade.  He was so embarrassed by what she said he nearly died on the spot.  “Smivey, your zipper is down.”  The words still ring in his ears three years later.  He had just returned to class after using the bathroom and she was the first one to see he forgot to zip his pants. 

Smivey writes poems and letters to Elizabeth, thoughts of his abiding love for her that she will never read.  He would be horrified if anyone ever read them, let alone Elizabeth Musker. 

Elizabeth, my flower, my one and only love 
On you my love would shower, like raindrops from above 
How can I ever tell you of the warmth I hold inside 
For you, my lovely flower, don’t know the love I hide. 
 
Smivey would die if anyone ever found the notes and poems he has written to Elizabeth.  He has been writing things and hiding them ever since the first grade.  He still has every single one, hidden in the tin box inside his secret hiding place.  He’s embarrassed by some of the things he wrote when he was seven years old, but to throw them away would be like throwing away part of Elizabeth.  He couldn’t bear to do that.  

One time when he was by himself, Smivey read one of the first poems he wrote to her. 

Oh Elizabeth, Elizabeth, 
I really like your name 
I think it’s good, 
I hope you feel the same. 

Another one he wrote when Elizabeth was sick. 

Elizabeth, today I heard you have the flu 
I hope you feel better, I really do 
It’s not fun to throw up 
I hope it doesn’t happen to you. 
 

Larry doesn’t even know how Smivey feels about Elizabeth.  He won’t tell anyone because he is afraid she will find out.  For now, it is enough for him to share two classes with her. 

Smivey is sad when the bell rings.  He won’t see Elizabeth again until Home Studies class last hour.  Every day he watches her leave the classroom and continues to keep her in sight until she turns down the hall to her next class.  Being near Elizabeth in first hour gives Smivey strength enough to make it through second hour. 

“Why do I have to learn how to sing?  Why does the school need a choir?  Whose idea was this, anyway?” Smivey thought as he walked to choir class.  As he shuffles along, getting closer to the choir room he hears the voice of Luciano Pavorotti wafting through the hall.  Every day it’s the same thing.  Mr. Shermer plays the same music as students enter the room.  

“Choir, just listen to this tremendous voice!” he always says, like it was the first time he ever said it, and the first time the students ever heard it.  “Listen!  Try to drink in the power of his voice, the depth of his emotion, the incredible strength of his spirit!”  As the song concludes, Mr. Shermer continues, “Choir members, listen to me.  Music carries the emotion of the soul like nothing else!  Music communicates when every other voice is silent!  Music can lift the spirit, give strength to the weak, courage to the fearful!”  Smivey thinks maybe Mr. Shermer used to be a preacher.  He doesn’t know where else he could have learned to give speeches like this. 

“Choir, take out Springtime In My Love’s Caress, by Truman Calver” Mr. Shermer said, stepping to the podium.   

“We shouldn’t be singing songs like this” Smivey thought as he found the music in his folder.  “It’s so embarrassing.”   

“Altos, I would like to begin with you today.  Please start at measure fourteen.  Miss Kirtz, their note please.”   

Gretchin Kirtz has been taking piano lessons since she was four years old.  Smivey can’t stand to watch her.  She acts like she’s playing in front of thousands of people.  She always sits straight up and nods when Mr. Shermer tells her what to do. She lifts her hand slowly, and gently brings her finger down on the key like she’s afraid it will splinter into a million pieces if she touches it too hard.  “Okay altos, one and two and…” 
 

“Softly, softly, walking through the meadow 
Feeling such a warmth within my breast…” 
 

It’s the word “breast” that is just too much.  “We shouldn’t be singing this.  Why can’t we sing something by the Beatles?  No one has ever heard of Truman Calver or his stupid song about something warm in my breast” Smivey thought as he heard muffled laughter coming from the back row. 

“Gentlemen!”  Mr. Shermer yelled as the altos stopped singing.  “How many times must I tell you that the term “breast” in this song does not mean what you’re thinking!  The breast is referred to as the deepest part of the heart.  The songwriter is expressing his deep feeling for his one true love.  Please choir.  You can do this.” 

“Okay, altos, one more time.  One and two and…” 
 

“Softly, softly, walking through the meadow 
Feeling such a warmth within my breast 
Gently, gently, she comes ever nearer 
Longing for the touch of my caress…” 
 

“Very nice, very nice.  Okay, choir, let’s start at the beginning.  Miss Kirtz, the introduction please, one and two and…”  

Gretchen plays the introduction perfectly, just like she does every time, and the choir began singing.  In spite of Smivey’s thoughts about the song, it actually sounded pretty good.  When Mr. Shermer first gave them the music Smivey decided to just stop singing when they got to the word “breast.”  It reminded him too much of hearing his mother talking about healthy bowels.  

“Softly, softly, walking through the meadow 
Feeling such a warmth within my breast” 
 
Just at that moment there came a loud snort from the back row.  Mr. Shermer stopped the choir.  “Thomas Mindler, you go to the office this instant!  Mr. Stoker, do you want to join him?”   

“No,” Michael Stoker answered.   

Mr. Shermer asked, “Mr. Herney, what is wrong with you?”   

Steven Herney was laughing so hard his face was radish red but he hadn’t made a sound.   

“Answer me!”  Mr. Shermer demanded.   

When Steven tried to talk he sprayed spit all over Smivey’s back.   

“That’s it,” Mr. Shermer hollered, “You go to the office, too!” 

Once the commotion ended, Mr. Shermer started again.  “Okay, choir, from the beginning of Mr. Calver’s piece.  One and two and…”  

Just at that moment the bell rang.  Smivey was never so glad to hear anything in his life.   

“Choir, remember, fall concert is coming up in three weeks.  Make sure your parents have it on their calendar!” Mr. Shermer yelled as everyone hurried out of the classroom. 

Third hour is almost as bad as choir, but not quite.  Smivey’s Science teacher, Mrs. Cloverton, is his only teacher who demands a seating chart.  Smivey has to sit right next to Gretchen Kirtz every day.  He has a feeling she likes him and it makes him wish he could quit school. 

“Good morning, Smivey,” Gretchen said. 

“Hey, Gretch,” he answered, knowing she hates it, but he continues calling her Gretch so that maybe she’ll get the message he doesn’t want her to like him, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.   

“How do you like the song we’re working on in choir?”  Gretchen asked. 

The only thing Smivey could dislike more than singing the song is talking about it.  “I hate it,” he answered.   

“I just love it,” Gretchen said, looking off into the distance.  “I can picture the man and woman coming toward each other in the meadow.  Can’t you?”   

“No,” Smivey said without looking at her.  “I picture two trains crashing into each other high on a bridge and falling down into a deep canyon.” 

Gretchen Kirtz is actually a very nice girl.  There are boys who like her, but she likes Smivey.  She is always dressed very nicely, in fact too nicely.  Smivey thinks it has something to do with her music.  She always looks like she’s on her way to church.  She wears a dress every day, and no girls wear dresses to school.  She always wears shiny black shoes.  She doesn’t look like the kind of girl who has ever ridden a bike or gotten dirty playing in a barn.  Some students make fun of Gretchen.  Smivey doesn’t do that. He just doesn’t want her to like him.  And he sure doesn’t want anyone to think he likes her. 

Smivey doesn’t know very much about Gretchen, only that her father is a doctor and delivers all of the babies in town.  He is pretty sure it is Gretchen’s mother who runs Pretty Petals, the flower shop in town.  Somehow to Smivey it seems only natural that a girl who dresses like Gretchen and likes songs about meadows would have a mother who works in a flower shop.  The only time he was ever in the store was with his mother.  They had just finished the grocery shopping and she had to stop to pick up flowers for Grandma Stepward who was in the hospital.  She had to have her gall bladder taken out.  The smell in the flower shop almost made Smivey sick to his stomach. 

Other than Math class and Home Studies when he gets to see Elizabeth, Smivey’s favorite time of the day is lunch.  He always meets Larry in the hallway before going into the cafeteria.   

The lunchroom where they eat is connected to the cafeteria.  Only students who buy hot lunch are allowed to eat in the cafeteria.  Larry and Smivey think it’s unfair they are not allowed to eat in the cafeteria, but each day they file into the lunchroom with all the other students who bring lunch from home.   

All the tables in the lunchroom fold up into the wall when lunch is over.  The same room is used for other things during the day.  One day when lunch was almost over, there was a table where only a few kids were still sitting.  The two girls sitting near the end of the table got up leaving only one boy who was near the wall.  Evidently, the table wasn’t locked in place because when the two girls stood up the table folded in the middle and pinched the boy against the wall.  The janitor had to come and pull the table back down to let him out. 

Smivey and Larry play in the band.  Larry plays the tuba.  He is much shorter than Smivey and is rather heavy.  The bottom of the tuba almost drags on the ground when the band goes outside for marching practice.  They don’t actually get to march in parades or at football games.  They just practice so they will be ready for marching band when they get to high school. Smivey plays the clarinet.  Although he likes playing in the band, he wishes he could play something besides clarinet.  It doesn’t seem like a boy’s instrument.   

When he started band he wanted to play drums but his parents wouldn’t let him.  “I played the clarinet when I was in the band and I still have my instrument.  You can use my clarinet and we won’t have to buy one” his mother said.  “But I want to play drums” he pleaded.  That’s when his father spoke up.  “You will play the clarinet we already have.  Besides, the drums are not an instrument you can play by yourself.” That was the end of the discussion. 

The band teacher, Mr. Norvert, can play all the instruments, but he mostly plays the trumpet.  The kids love to hear him play because he is so good.  Once in a while, if the band is  

having a difficult time playing a song, Mr. Norvert will pick up his trumpet and play it for them.  It’s always easier to play a song once you hear it a few times.   

Mr. Norvert has long, wavy, gray hair and a beard.  He reminds some of the students of Santa Claus and he always seems to be in a good mood.  As if being able to play all the instruments were not enough, Mr. Norvert is a great singer.  Sometimes between classes you can  

hear him singing all the way down the hall. He is the one person who makes Smivey wish he could sing.  Maybe it is a good thing he’s in the choir. 

After Band comes English, and then, finally, Home Studies with Elizabeth.  Mrs. Shinkler has been talking about a project for which the students will be divided into small groups.  Smivey has been hoping, ever since he first heard about the project, that he could be in a group with Elizabeth.  It would be like a dream coming true to finally talk to her. 

“Class, I have been talking to you for quite some time about the home projects you are going to be working on.  You will be divided into groups of four today.  During the project, each group will be responsible for planning a budget for one month, which will include the expenses of a mortgage, food, utilities, car payments, insurance, clothing, and entertainment.  You will have to plan four menus, each covering three meals per day for a week.  You will be required to describe your job from which you will receive the income that will be assigned to you.  At the conclusion of the project your group will be required to actually prepare one of the meals you have chosen.” 

Mrs. Shinkler said, “Now class, each of your groups will include a father and mother, and two children.”   

Smivey’s heart pounded as he thought about Elizabeth.   

“I have chosen the family members randomly.  We have an even number of boys and girls in this class, so it works out nicely.  I have also chosen which of you will be parents, and which will be children.  You all will work together, however, in your groups to complete the project.” 

Smivey felt dizzy as Mrs. Shinkler began reading the names.   

“David Conler and Sarah Micheals, father and mother…” There were snickers and muffled comments throughout the room. “Class, now this requires some maturity from you, please.”  The class quieted down as she continued.  “Peter Soldman, Jennifer Deiter, son and daughter.”   

As Mrs. Shinkler read through each group, Smivey started having the same feeling he had when he swung on the rope for the first time in Larry’s barn.  As the list of names grew longer, Smivey’s breath drew shorter.   

Then Mrs. Shinkler read, “Treighton Harford and Elizabeth Musker…”  

And Smivey blurted out, 

“What!?”   

He didn’t mean to say anything, it just came out.   

“Excuse me, Mr. Stepward, did you have a question?” Mrs. Shinkler asked.   

Smivey’s face felt hot.  “No, I was just thinking of something” he muttered.   

“Treighton Harford and Elizabeth Musker, father and mother, Davis Simpkins and Bonnie Weldman, son and daughter.”  “And finally,” Mrs. Shinkler continued, “we have Smivey Stepward and Gretchen Kirtz, father and mother…”  

Smivey didn’t remember anything that happened after that.  The room started spinning and he almost threw up.  He continued to watch Mrs. Shinkler but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.  His heart was beating so hard he was sure everyone in the class would hear it. 

“Smivey, are you okay?”  He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Gretchen standing next to him.   

“Mrs. Shinkler wants us to get into our groups and start working,” she said.   

“I don’t feel good,” Smivey said.  He looked over where Elizabeth was sitting in time to see her walking beside Treighton Harford to their group.   

Mrs. Shinkler handed out the instructions and said,  

“Now class, for the remainder of the hour, talk about how your family is going to function.  If you have any questions, please raise your hand and I will help you.”   

Smivey’s group started talking but it sounded like mumbling as if he had cotton in his ears..  He couldn’t believe he had to be with Gretchen Kirtz.   

“Isn’t this great?” Gretchen asked.   

“It’s a disease,” Smivey muttered. 

It was an eternity before the bell rang.  Gretchen did all the talking and was acting all motherly and everything.   

“This is the worst day of my life” Smivey thought as he picked up his books.   

“See you tomorrow, Smivey,” Gretchen said sweetly as she turned toward the door.   

“I don’t ever want to see you, Gretch,” Smivey wanted to say, but didn’t.   

He stood by his chair and watched Elizabeth walk out of the room with Treighton Harford. 

Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery – Chapter Two

CHAPTER 2—LARRY MURFIN 

  

Smivey Stepward and Larry Murfin have been best friends since second grade.  They sat on opposite sides of the room and had never spoken to each other until after Tuesday, October 23.  That was a day they will never forget, and probably no one else will either.  Their second grade teacher, Miss Haverts, will always remember that awful Tuesday. 

It was the middle of the afternoon just before second recess.  Smivey and Larry both threw up all over their desks at the same time.  That made other kids get sick too, especially the girls.  The janitor, Mr. Berkey, had to come to the class with that sawdust stuff and spread it around to clean everything up.  Everyone thought maybe there was something wrong with the food in the cafeteria because it happened so soon after lunch,  but no one else got sick in other classes, and the boys brought their lunch boxes from home just like they did every other day. They both sort of felt sick when they left for school in the morning, but neither wanted to stay home.  They were best friends after that day.  It’s not very often that two boys throw up in class at the same time. 

Smivey and Larry have a lot in common.  They both wish they lived somewhere else, and their birthdays are on the same day.  Smivey wishes he could live with Larry.  His parents have a van and a truck, and they live on a farm.  He wouldn’t have to ride in the old green station wagon anymore and he wouldn’t have to live in town.  The best part is Larry’s mom can whistle so loud it makes the dogs on the next farm start barking when she calls everyone to the house for supper.  Smivey asked Larry’s mom to teach him how to whistle.  He practices all the time, but so far he has only managed to spray spit all over the front of his shirt. 

            Larry hates living on a dairy farm.  “Cows are so stupid” he often complains to Smivey.  “All they do is eat, sleep and poop all day.”  Larry hates getting up every morning before 5 o’clock to help with milking.  He has been out in the barn, helping his dad and “Cob,” the other man who works on the farm, every morning since he was old enough to carry a bucket.  After all this time it is still Larry’s job to wash the cows’ bags and udders before the men begin milking.  “Why can’t someone else do this now?” he once asked his dad.  “That’s your job, son.  You should be proud that you have your very own job.”  He didn’t argue.  It never does any good to try to argue with his dad. 

            “I have a great idea!” Larry shouted. “You come and live at my house and wash udder bags every morning and night, and I will live at your house and ride in your green station wagon!”  

Smivey thought about it for a while.  “My parents would never let me do that.  Besides, I don’t think your mom and dad would let you leave either.”  

“Wouldn’t it be neat though if we could trade places?”  

“I suppose” Smivey replied, kicking a stone across the driveway.  He doesn’t really like the thought of having to get up early every morning and shovel manure, but he does like spending time with Larry at his house.  At least it gets him away from his own spooky house. 

            Larry’s parents like Smivey.  They’re happy Larry finally has a best friend.  After school, Smivey rides his bike over to Larry’s house almost every day.  The only time he doesn’t is when his mother has to go grocery shopping.  She makes Smivey go with her to help carry the bags.  

“Couldn’t I go over to Larry’s house and then help you with the bags when you come home?” Smivey protests.  

“Smivey Stepward, I look forward to the time we spend together grocery shopping.  You can tell me everything that happened at school, and I can tell you everything that happened at home.”  

He already knows everything that happens at home while he’s at school.  It’s the same things that have happened every day since he was born.  It might be different if she bought interesting things at the store, but his mother always buys a half gallon of Haverson’s 2% milk, one loaf of whole grain Homeworthy Bread, Spunker’s Bran Cereal, Baker’s Brown Eggs, celery, carrots, and a pound of Wertzer’s Balogna, sliced thin for sandwiches.  

Every week at the meat counter Smivey’s mother says, “Please slice the baloney thin.  If it’s sliced too thick it gives my husband gas, and we don’t want that.”  It drives him crazy.  

On the way home, Smivey is always nervous because he is afraid his mother will talk about how important it is to have healthy bowels.  His grandma said something about bowels once at the dinner table on Sunday afternoon, but Smivey wasn’t really paying attention. He was shocked when his mother started talking about it.  She went on and on about fruit and vegetables.  He wanted to jump out of the car. It almost made him sick to hear his mother say the words “healthy bowels.”  He didn’t want it to happen again.  If it gets too quiet Smivey tries to think of things to say before she has a chance to bring it up. 

“Why can’t we drive to Parkersburg once a month and buy all the groceries we need like other people do instead of going to the same place in town every week?”  Smivey asks.  

“It’s important for us to shop right here so people will see us and continue buying at your grandpa’s store too.  And just because other people do things doesn’t mean we should do them” Vivian calmly replies.  

He wants to say, “We don’t do anything anyone else does, so I don’t think it will be a problem” but he doesn’t.  Smivey thinks it would be a good idea for everyone to go to Parkersburg for hardware so he wouldn’t have to hear about owning the hardware store anymore. 

“What do you wanna do Smiv?”  

“I don’t know, what do you wanna do?”  

“I asked you first” Larry answered.  

“Well, we don’t have much time before you have to help with milking…” 

“You mean washing” Larry interrupted.  

“Yea, I know.  Let’s go up in the haymow.”  Smivey loves playing in the haymow.  Even though Larry doesn’t live far from town, to Smivey it’s a different world when goes to Larry’s house. 

The two boys walked into the barn through the milk house.  That’s where the big tank is that holds the milk and chills it.  Smivey likes to look in the tank and see the milk swirling around.  

“At least we have automatic milkers” Larry said.  “It would be awful to have to do it by hand every time.”  The boys walked through the barn and climbed the wooden ladder leading up to the haymow.  Crawling through the trap door, they stepped out onto the floor.  The smell of fresh hay greeted them and they both took a deep breath.  

“I love to smell the hay” Smivey said quietly.  

“I know.  I would miss it if I didn’t live here” Larry said looking up at the mountain of bales. 

The haymow is huge.  One end of the barn is stacked high with straw, the other side with hay.  There is a wide space between, large enough for a wagon full of bales to be pulled in behind a tractor.  High up near the roof there is a clamp that looks like a giant spider with long legs.  It drops down on the bales and lifts them to the top where they are pushed over on the stack, eight bales at a time.  It takes a lot of hay to fill the mow, and it’s scary to be way up on top. 

“Let’s play wrecking ball.  Want to?” Larry asked. “Wrecking ball” is a game the boys made up where they build two walls of bales, then swing across the barn on the rope and knock them down.  Larry and Smivey each chose a side and climbed the ladders leading to the top.  There is a thick rope hanging down from the spider.  When the walls are finished, the two boys take turns swinging across the wide-open space to try to knock each other’s wall down. 

The first time Smivey tried this it took him almost an hour before he found the courage to take hold of the rope and swing out over what seemed like a bottomless pit just waiting for him to fall.  He almost wet his pants, but he didn’t tell Larry.  Now the higher he swings, the better he likes it.  

 Another thing Larry and Smivey love to do is tunnel through the hay.  They have built tunnels all the way across the barn through the straw, complete with side alleys and small rooms to stop in.  It’s dark in the tunnel so the only way they can find their way through is by feeling.  It’s scary to think what might be in the tunnel.  

One time, Smivey was crawling through the tunnel and his hand landed on fur.  The cat squealed and it scared Smivey so bad he tried to stand up, which he couldn’t do because of the bales above him.  He was glad it wasn’t a skunk or a raccoon which Larry has seen before in the barn. 

Just as the boys were getting ready to rebuild their walls they heard Cob’s voice boom up from downstairs.  Neither of the boys knows where Cob got his name, but Larry thinks it’s a nickname, probably for corn on the cob.  Cob is creepy.  He’s tall and thin, and always looks like he needs to shave.  Larry doesn’t know where Cob lives, but he has worked on the farm with his dad for as long as he can remember. 

“Larry!  Are you up there?”  

“Yes!”  

“Come on down, it’s time to get started. Your dad will be out in a minute” Cob yelled.  “Darn it.  I wish I didn’t have to do this all the time.  It’s not fair” Larry grumbled.  

“I should probably go home for dinner anyway” Smivey said.   

 Smivey and Larry swung across the hay mow one more time before climbing down the ladder.  They slipped through the trap door and went down the second ladder.  Larry headed for the milk house to retrieve his bucket and sponge. 

“See you at school tomorrow, Larry” Smivey said.  

“Okay, Smiv” Larry answered without looking up.  

As Smivey started his ride home he thought about how neat it would be to live on the farm with Larry. 

Tuesday Teacher: Mrs. Yalmauer’s English Class

The following excerpt is fiction. There is no Mrs. Yalmauer, at least not that I know of. If there is a Mrs. Yalmauer, somewhere, it is totally by coincidence that I picked her name out of thin air, assigned her to an English class in Amshover, Missouri, and placed Smivey Stepward in her 7th grade class. Amshover, Missouri doesn’t exist either. I checked. Smivey Stepward does exist. He’s very real. I can see his face, and I know his voice.

“Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery” by Dale Parsons, all rights reserved.

“Class, I trust all of you are prepared to give your demonstration speech today” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “This is an important grade during this marking period, I hope you have spent sufficient time preparing. You should have practiced your speech at home for your family so you are not nervous about getting up in front of the class today. You should have brought some props to help you with your demonstration. If, however, you are demonstrating something for which it was not possible to bring a prop, it is acceptable for you to use pantomime. Who can give me a definition of pantomime, class?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked. 

No one responded as quickly as she desired, so Mrs. Yalmauer answered her own question, which she does quite often. The class found out a long time ago that if they just keep quiet, she does most of the talking and seemed not to care that they didn’t answer her questions.  

“Okay, pantomime is acting out something without any visual aids or props. You act as though, for example, you are holding a jar and taking the lid off even though you don’t actually have one.” And as she talks she acts like she’s holding a jar and unscrews the lid, pulls it away and lays it on the desk. Her motions remind Smivey of Gretchen Kirtz getting ready to play the piano. “Does everyone understand?” No one said anything. “Good. All right, then. Let’s begin.” 

“I have placed all of your names in this basket, and I will draw them out one at a time” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “Sylvia Weitzel, you will go first please.”  

Smivey breathed a sigh of relief as the girl who sat right behind him walked to the front of the class. She was carrying what looked like a baby wrapped in a blanket and a zipper bag. She laid the bundle and the bag on the desk and then she began. 

“Mrs. Yalmauer and fifth hour English class, good afternoon to all of you. Today I am going to demonstrate how to change a diaper on a baby.”  

There were a few giggles in the class but when Mrs. Yalmauer cleared her throat they stopped.  

“This doll will represent a baby who is four months old. First, you should determine if the baby is wet or dirty. Sometimes it is easy to tell just by the odor.”  

“Pew!” someone said.  

“Boys!” Mrs. Yalmauer scolds.  

“If there is no odor but the baby is fussy, he may just be wet. The easiest way to tell is to hold the baby and stick a finger down the back of the diaper to see if it’s wet.” 

“Eeewww” came responses from the class.  

“Class?” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

Sylvia continued. “If the baby is wet, first lay him down on a blanket. Next, unsnap the baby’s sleeper. Carefully pull his legs out of the sleeper so you can take off the diaper. Pull the adhesive strips off the front of the diaper and fold the front down onto the bottom. If the baby is a boy, it is a good idea to place a towel or cloth over the area or you may get squirted.”  

Snickers again from the class. 

“After cleaning the area with a warm damp cloth, put the new diaper on the baby. Some people prefer to use baby cream or baby powder before replacing the diaper. Now, if the baby is dirty, there is more to do.”  

“I’ll say” someone said from the back of the class.  

“Boys, that is enough” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

“When the baby is dirty, the diaper should be folded down as before, but this time use it to wipe away as much waste as possible.”  

“You mean poop” someone muttered thinking no one would hear it but several students started laughing loudly.  

“Stephen Linkler! You go out in the hall!” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

“Oh come on, everybody was thinking it!” he said.  

“Instead, go to the office and explain to Mr. Pommer what you said. Now! Go!”  

“I’m going” Stephen said as he shuffled out of the room closing the door loudly.  

“Okay, Miss Weitzel, you may continue.” 

Sylvia Weitzel finished her demonstration and the class gave her polite applause.  

“Okay, Sylvia, very well done. Now all of you should be able to change a baby’s diaper,” Mrs. Yalmauer said. As she was drawing another name from the basket she said, “Next we have Smivey Stepward. Okay, Smivey, would you come to the front, please?” 

Smivey acted as though he was completely prepared. As he walked to the front he still had no idea what he was going to do. As a bead of sweat formed on his upper lip he turned to face the class and a thought hit him like his finger touched a light socket. 

“Today I am going to demonstrate how to play the piano. The piano is a large instrument made of wood. It has a big box with metal strings on the inside. On the front it has white and black keys that are pushed down to make the sounds. To play the piano you sit on a bench in front of the keys.”  

He pretended to pull a bench out in front of the piano and posed in a difficult sitting position.  

“Then, you play.” And using both hands, Smivey pretended to push on the keys with no particular rhythm or grace. He then stood up straight and bowed to the class as they clapped. 

“Mr. Stepward, that was a good start, but tell us about the music you are playing. First of all, how many keys are there on the piano?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“Sixty-seven” he said confidently, not having any idea how many there really are.  

“How do you know which keys to push?” the teacher asked.  

“Uh, well, first you have to know the music you are playing. There are lines on it and lots of notes,” he said, trying to remember his clarinet music. “There are notes on the top and notes on the bottom.”  

“The bottom of what?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“The bottom of the music,” he answers.  

“Okay, what are the notes?”  

“Well, uh, there’s a way to remember them, and it’s, uh, Every Cow Ate Fudge, and then the lines are, uh, Flies Don’t Bother Going East, or something like that I think.”  

Several students were laughing as sweat drops fully formed on his forehead. 

Mrs. Yalmauer, knowing that Smivey was not as prepared as he tried to make himself appear, said, “Well, I play the piano as well, and in the first place there are eighty-eight keys, not sixty-seven. And you’re almost right about the notes except you have them upside down. The acronym is F-A-C-E for the spaces, and Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines in the treble clef. Do you know what the notes are in the bass clef?” she asked.  

“The what?” Smivey asked.  

“The bass clef, which you would normally play with your left hand,” she answered. “No” he answered softly, becoming more embarrassed by the minute.  

“The spaces acronym is All Cows Eat Grass, not “every cow ate fudge”. The lines are Girls Boys Do Fine Always,” she continued. “How long have you played the piano, Smivey?” she asked.  

“I don’t, but I might start,” he answered as the class laughed again.  

“Well, next time you do a demonstration speech, let’s make it about something you know” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons

Scandal At Maple Valley Episode 6

Even though Maple Valley is a tourist destination for thousands of people each year, it is a real town where people live and it does not escape the characteristics of small town life. People know things about their neighbors they probably shouldn’t know. Things the neighbors would rather keep quiet. Some people make it their business to involve themselves in one way or another in everything. And since a lot of folks in Maple Valley are related, they often say things like, “I’m just looking out for the interests of my family,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s often a distant family member who becomes the subject of suspicion among those who feign concern.

If it were possible to capture all of the troubling characteristics of small town life in one person, her name would be Lulane Hilvertosh. No problem, no concern, no circumstance, no question in Maple Valley escapes the probability of being made much larger, providing the capacity to pull in more innocent casualties than when Lulane Hilvertosh gets involved, which is almost always.

Lulane took it upon herself to call the State Police and WREK-TV’s award winning journalist Marty Kue (whose full name is Martin Kuezanskowitz) and asked them to meet her at three tower bridge to discuss the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. She told the State Police she had official authority to discuss the case. Not true. The fine people at WREK know Hilvertosh very well as she considers herself a gifted reporter, a total lack of any journalistic education notwithstanding. The only reason anyone gives her any attention is her ability to cause trouble. It’s more an effort to control the damage than to gain any useable information.

It’s difficult to understand why the State Police don’t arrest her for filing a false police report, or contacting the police under false pretenses. She’s definitely not trying to help.

The photos showing the actual meeting between officers from the State Police and Marty Kue were secretly taken by Mayor Thrashborn’s secretary, Wanda Cablelance. She understands what a danger someone like Lulane Hilvertosh can be.

The State Police will have to meet with Mayor Thrashborn officially, even though it is a waste of time, because a report was officially made by Hilvertosh. If the officers don’t follow through and meet with the mayor, Lulane will find out about it and the end will be far worse than the beginning.

In the process of capturing the photos of the secret meeting, Miss Cablelance happened to catch Stevie Mickletan sitting on a bridge beam. Shortly after the photo was taken, the police officers made Stevie come down and told him not to climb the tower again. That was also a waste of time. Stevie Mickletan climbs the towers every week.

Official photos of Sylvia Meisner’s house were taken by Sheriff Terkinberry’s photographer, which is his wife, Kathy. They took pictures of the front, back, and side of the house. It wasn’t until they looked at the photos, as seen above, they realized how close Sylvia’s house is to the scene where the burned car was found. In fact, if one looks closely enough, you can see three tower bridge in the background just behind Verklin’s Antique Store.

An obvious question hangs over the investigation. How was a heavily damaged burned car placed under the bridge, just beyond an active railroad line without anyone seeing it? No one saw anything. At least no one is willing to say they saw anything. That alone troubles Sheriff Terkinberry even more than the fact Sylvia is still missing. If someone did see, or worse yet, was involved in placing the car under the bridge, that means someone in Maple Valley is involved in the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. The sheriff almost cannot bear to think about it. He knows everyone in town very well. He considers most of them to be his friends.

As if the mayor and the sheriff needed something more to consider, Beulah Filden gathered her closest friends, all two of them, and started a petition to postpone the opening of tourist season. So far, they have nineteen signatures. Since there are only fifty-one official residents of Maple Valley, they are well on their way to a majority of those supporting the delay of the season. While it might be honorable to make such a gesture, practically, it’s not going to make any difference, other than blocking the necessary finances so needed by Maple Valley to survive. Once the signatures are presented to the mayor, a meeting of the town council will have to be called and a vote taken. We don’t need this!

It’s almost as if everyone in Maple Valley is holding their breath, waiting to see what happens next. There is still talk about having a psychic come in to help. Most folks think it’s a ridiculous idea.

The sheriff is still considering doing a door-to-door search. Since the thought of someone in Maple Valley being involved crowded his mind, he is thinking more seriously of opening every door, whether the residents agree or not.

Sheriff Terkinberry spoke briefly with Dr. Ham Gerlein, the medical examiner from Colmash County. Dr. Gerlein is responsible for several counties including Kertok. The sheriff gave him the details of Sylvia Meisner’s disappearance as they are known today. Since there is nothing to medically examine yet, and official meeting has not been called.

It’s hard to imagine things getting worse in Maple Valley. What we know for sure is that Sylvia Meisner is still missing. The fact that not a single person in town knows anything is becoming harder and harder for Sheriff Terkinberry to accept. While he is not really concerned about his position as sheriff, he is the kind of person who hates to stir something up if it’s not necessary. It is becoming more and more difficult to resist.

Scandal at Maple Valley Episode 5

It is a terrible shame the word “scandal” connects to Maple Valley in any way. The citizens of this small town, completely happy to continue in the ways we know, are now, through no fault of our own, tossed together into a chopper yearning to leave nothing recognizable in its wake.

The very name, Maple Valley, evokes thoughts of sweetness, calm, and rest. Indeed, until two weeks ago, anyone would have agreed with my assessment. Now everything is upside down. Everyone is walking an unfamiliar path. Distrust among life-long friends is beginning to dance around the edges of awareness. This kind of shadow does not belong in Maple Valley. Yet, here it is.

We’re looking over our shoulders. Security is seeping away. It’s amazing how quickly unanswered questions begin scratching at the fabric holding everything together. Sylvia Meisner has been missing sixteen days. Life will quickly return to normal when we know the facts. Maybe.

Be that as it may, today is Father’s Day. The lovely folks of Maple Valley have celebrated Father’s Day in the same manner for the last forty-seven years. Since Deaton Habley created the “Hands-On Father’s Day Project,” everyone knows what to expect year after year. Yesterday, all of Maple Valley gathered at the fire station to sign Father’s Day cards. To be sure no one is left out, each resident receives a card. Men, women, boys, girls, and fathers receive cards delivered personally by volunteers. It’s very important to citizens of Maple Valley that no one is left out of any kind of celebration. Even individual birthdays are a community project. It gets tiring, actually.

Mayor Alvin Thrashborn delivered his annual Father’s Day message to the community gathering at Verklin’s Antique Store. Verklin’s is the best place for the community to gather because Claudia Verklin has a new porch, built two years ago by Wayne and Verle Shones of Shone’s Construction. Mayor Thrashborn is quite a good public speaker. He has learned to use hand gestures since taking the “You Can Speak More Convincingly” class at Kertok County Public Library. The class is taught by Dr. Wilson Erkish, Professor Emeritus, Retired, of the Kertok County Community College, which closed due to lack of students nearly twenty years ago. The mayor has even been invited to speak to the Ladies Who Mean Well group that meets on the first Tuesday of every month.

At the conclusion of Mayor Thrashborn’s speech, the Happy Harmonettes sang, “Daddy Was a Scoundrel,” an original song written by Annimae Twisherman, who sings tenor in the group. She wrote the words and the music, which is quite an accomplishment of which all the residents of Maple Valley are quite proud.

When the ceremony at Verklin’s Antique Store was over, all the folks walked together to the basement of Maple Valley Church where we enjoyed a fine breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and kiwi. This year the breakfast was prepared by the “Golf Innovation League” which is open to men and women. The group meets every week at the Maple Valley Links. The members do not play golf, but share in discussions about how the game might be made more meaningful for those who do not participate.

The meal was enjoyed fully, then we all returned to our homes. We have a lot of work to do in preparation for the tourist season which starts next Friday. The Old General, the 1880 Vintage Steam Engine, will begin pulling fully restored passenger cars loaded with happy visitors to Maple Valley. The Old General was the locomotive derailed by the boys who piled rocks on the tracks. That was not a happy day in Maple Valley.

We are all hoping for the best for Sylvia Meisner. Sheriff Terkinberry is getting almost no rest, and that worries some of the folks who know him well. He is determined to begin his investigation again, from the beginning. He has decided to leave Sylvia’s car where it is until she is found. The thought of missing something that might lead to her return alive keeps him awake. He doesn’t know whether she’s alive or not. No one does. The sheriff is doing everything he possibly can to bring Sylvia home.