‘Little Suzi’ and the Queen’s Cat

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi lived in a cozy house on Magnolia Avenue with her mommy and daddy. Most days, Little Suzi was happy, but on one particular Saturday in March, while the little girl was reading a book to her dolls and stuffed animals, her mommy stopped by her room to tell her to ‘clean it up’: “Your room is very messy; you need to clean it up.”

It was not unusual at all for her mother to say this. In fact, she said it almost every Saturday, unless they both were busy with Campfire Girls or family bowling.

“You have such a nice room with your own bed, your own closet, and lots of toys and stuffed animals,” Suzi’s mommy often reminded her. “You should keep it nice so that when your friends come over, you can be proud of your room.”

And, normally, Little Suzi would reply to her mommy in the customary way, such as “OK, in a minute,” or “In a little while, when I finish this chapter of my book,” or “As soon as Albert finishes using the potty, so that he can clean up his mess too.”

Albert was Suzi’s invisible friend who sometimes helped her do her chores. With Albert’s help, she found it easier to get started and to finish things like putting her toys and books away, folding sheets and pillow cases for her mommy, and washing and drying dishes at the kitchen sink (while standing on stools so they both could reach).

But on this particular day, Little Suzi surprised her mother!

“I don’t want to clean up my room,” Little Suzi replied with her hands on her hips and in a stinky voice. “And, as you can see, I’m very busy right now reading this book about ‘Alice’ to Albert and these other children.”

Little Suzi immediately knew she had gone too far when her imaginary friend Albert said nothing, suddenly sat up stiffly beside her from where he had been looking at the pictures in the storybook as she read, and stared up at her with eyes wide and mouth open. And at that same moment, the little girl also knew it was too late to take it back now.

Stopping in her tracks, one step beyond her daughter’s door, Little Suzi’s mother wasn’t sure at first if she had heard what she thought she had heard.

“I beg your pardon, miss?” Suzi’s mommy pronounced as she stepped back in front of the open door to the room. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Piano Lesson

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi learned to play the piano by taking lessons from the very same teacher who taught her mother, Wilma, to play beautifully when she was a little girl. Wilma learned to play piano so skillfully and so beautifully that she and her teacher often played duets during recitals. Sometimes they even played “Rhapsody in Blue” on two different pianos at the same time!

“Don’t forget to use the bathroom here before you leave for Miss Virginia’s house, Suzi,” her mother told her every Tuesday afternoon before her lesson. “Remember, you can’t stop in the middle of a lesson or Miss Virginia will just send you back home!”

As if that weren’t scary enough, Little Suzi had to walk a whole block down Magnolia Avenue along a crooked old sidewalk shaded by giant magnolia and maple trees all the way to Miss Virginia Lee’s tall, dark old house perched on a low hill surrounded by a black wrought iron fence, like the ones you see around graveyards in the city.

To keep her company on the way, Suzi always brought along her imaginary friend Albert. As Little Suzi clutched her thin “Piano for Beginners” book under her little girl arm, she and Albert walked the long block from her house to Miss Virginia Lee’s house. There weren’t many other houses on the block in those days, so Suzi was glad for Albert’s company.

Suzi held Albert’s hand (or was he holding hers?) so that she could be brave and not scared to walk all the way to the tall house on the corner, up the tall steps from the street to the iron fence, and then up four more high stairs to the front porch of the grey and white house. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Bear’s Picnic

Photo by Phil Nickell

Photo by Phil Nickell

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi, her mother Wilma, and her grandparents decided to go for a Sunday afternoon picnic in the mountains of East Tennessee. It was late summer in the city near the mountains where Suzi’s grandparents lived in a small, square house with only a noisy electric fan in the window to help them through the hot and humid days.

Suzi’s granny, Eileen, made special-recipe fried chicken and her grandaddy, Manly, packed the car with the picnic basket, picnic blanket, and heavy fold-up wooden chairs. He put all these things in the trunk of the car so that Suzi, her mommy, and her granny had lots of room to sit inside. They needed lots of room because Suzi always brought her ‘friends’ with her on picnics: a tall baby doll with yellow hair, a monkey sewn from old socks, and a boy named Albert, whom no one else could see but who took up the whole middle seat in the rear of the car.

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‘Little Suzi’ and Tony the Pony

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi saved a small part of her lunch every day to feed it to her new friend, Tony, the pony who lived in a grassy lot between two tall houses on the city block between her school and her happy little house on Azalea Avenue.

In a lot surrounded completely by a farm fence exactly as tall as Little Suzi was a tiny grey barn. For a long time, Suzi thought it was an empty barn left over from the olden days of the town. She often imagined the pigs, goats, and chickens that must have lived there years ago. Little Suzi wished the animals were there still and that she could feed them and take care of them in the barnyard.

In her mind, Little Suzi saw pigs wallow, baby goats jump up on their mothers’ backs, and sheep dogs herd lambs back to the pen. All these things she had seen in books her mother read to her when she was even more little than now. All these things she saw in her imagination.

While she stood at the fence beside the sidewalk, Little Suzi absent-mindedly took a red apple from her lunch bag and began to take small bites. She hadn’t had time to finish her lunch at school because Albert, her invisible friend, wasted too much time putting up their paints and glue. Of course, Albert never actually ate any food. He kept Little Suzi company while she ate quickly so that she could sit up close in front of the teacher for story time. That’s why she often had an apple left over from her lunch. Apples take a long time to eat.

It was exactly the apple from her lunch on this particular day that Little Suzi was eating when she first met ‘Tony’ the pony. Of course, he did not introduce himself to Suzi and Albert when he came clip-clopping slowly out of the shadow of his small barn. Suzi and Albert waited excitedly by the fence.

“I wonder what his name is?” Little Suzi said to Albert. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the Rotten Bananas

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi and a little boy named Denny played together behind his house atop Highland Avenue. Suzi’s mother often brought her over for a visit, because her mommy, Wilma, and Denny’s mommy, Nancy, had been best of friends since high school, and they lived only one block away from one another even to this day.

On a particularly nice Tuesday in June, Suzi and her mommy got up early in the morning to have breakfast before getting ready to go to Denny’s house. They decided to have pancakes and maple syrup, which Suzi called maple syrple because it was fun to say. (She learned that from her granddaddy.) When they had finished eating and then scraped their plates into the kitchen garbage can and washed and rinsed them in the sink, Suzi’s mother reminded her to go wash her face and brush her teeth to get ready to go to Denny’s house.

“May I take Albert upstairs with me? Or do you need him to stay here in the kitchen and help you?” Suzi asked her mother that morning.

Albert was Suzi’s imaginary friend. He was a little boy her own age who went with her everywhere—even to school—and sometimes got her in trouble. When she was little, before she grew big enough to go to school, Suzi often talked to Albert out loud. But after she started first grade and some of the kids at school teased her about it, Suzi whispered to Albert, unless she forgot.

“You can take Albert upstairs with you. I won’t miss him,” her mother replied with a slight smile. But then she added, “I don’t want to hear any more sob stories about how you can’t find your hairbrush because Albert used it on the neighbor’s dog or how you can’t clean your teeth because Albert lost your toothbrush…again. I found it between the towels in the linen closet this time, you know.”

“We had better get on upstairs, Albert,” Suzi whispered to her imaginary friend.

Okey dokey, dominokey, Albert replied to Little Suzi. That was one of Albert’s favorite sayings. He also liked ‘easy peazy, lemon squeezy,’ and so did Little Suzi. Continue reading

‘Little Suzi’ and the ‘Noculation

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi traveled downtown to see her doctor with her mommy, Wilma.  For this visit, they did not travel the several city blocks there on a bus or in a cab, as they usually did. Instead, they rode in a car that Suzi’s mommy borrowed from her friend Nancy (her best friend from high school days who now lived only one block away).

“We’re running a little late for Suzi’s pediatrician appointment,” Wilma had told her friend over the phone at noon on this beautiful but hot summer day. “Suzi isn’t back from helping her granddaddy tie stakes to his tomato plants next to his backyard shed. I need to borrow your car if we are going to make it to the doctor’s office on time.”

“Well, my little Denny is still taking his nap,” Nancy told her friend, “so why don’t you walk over here to my house and get the keys and drive yourself?”

“That’s wonderful of you,” Wilma replied gratefully. “I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

And so Suzi’s mommy put on her red lipstick, picked up her black clutch purse, put on her sunglasses, tied her new sky blue silk scarf around her hair—to block the wind from the rolled down car windows—and walked briskly up the block to Nancy’s house.

“Thanks so much, Nancy,” Wilma said on the front porch as her friend handed over the keys to the four-door Buick parked on the street outside. “You’re a life saver.”

It was just a week before school would start for Little Suzi in the first grade at the red and white brick schoolhouse only two blocks away from their small white frame house on Magnolia Avenue. And so Suzi’s mommy needed to get her child’s inoculation record up to date to show the school nurse on the first day of class.

“What’s a ‘noculation?” Suzi had asked her invisible friend Albert after hearing her mother talk about it to Miss Nancy on the phone earlier in the week.

I don’t know, Albert told his friend, but I think the nurse sticks medicine in your arm and then gives you a lollypop if you’re good. Can I have one too?

“A ‘noculation?”

No, a lollypop!

“Sure,” Suzi told Albert. “You can have mine if the nurse won’t give you one of your own.”

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“Bears” in the Camp­ground!

Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a boy named Ken became a Boy Scout because he loved to hike in the mountains among the trees. Before he was old enough for the Scouts, Ken had often imagined himself as a young Daniel Boone in the pioneer days, scouting for deer or bear in the woods and camping by the streams at night. These were great adventures that called on him to use all his bravery and skills to survive. So as soon as he was old enough, Ken joined his friends in sixth grade who were already Scouts. They sometimes hiked all day among the trees and streams, cooked their dinners in the evenings at campfires on the mountain, and pitched their pup tents near streams that ran down over the rocks and into the valley.

In spring and summer, the mountains were cool on hot days. Fog shrouded the creek banks and coves until the mid-morning sun burned off the mists and heated up the trail. Deer ran quietly through the lowlands at dawn and dusk. They were far off and beautiful as they crossed the damp grasses and jumped over old stone or split rail fences in the fields.

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