You still making pictures? he said. His voice had turned deep but his eyes were the way I remembered, and looking at me hard, like I was a real person and not just a little girl.
I was reading this in the car, he said, handing me a rolled-up magazine. I thought youd like it. Mad magazine. Forbidden in our family, but my favorite. It was on this visitthe first of what became a nearly annual tradition of strawberry runswhere the word had come out that Valerie was now a vegetarian. This was back in the days when it was almost unheard of for a person not to eat meat. This fact shocked my mother, as so much about the Dickersons did. Some say the American consumer eats too much beef, my father saida surprising view for a farmer to set forward, even if his main crop was vegetables. My father liked his steak, but he possessed an open mind, whereas anything different from how we did things appeared suspect to my mother.
Dana seems like a particularly intelligent girl, didnt you think, Edwin? she said, after they pulled away, in that amazing car of Valeries, a Chevrolet Bel Air with fins that seemed to me like something youd expect to be driven by a movie star, or her chauffeur. Then, to me, she mentioned that my birthday sister had won their school spelling bee that year, and was also enrolled in the 4-H Club, working on a project involving chickens.
Maybe its about time you thought about 4-H, she said to me. This kind of remarkand there were many suchno doubt formed the basis for my early resentment of Dana Dickerson. As the two of us moved through childhood and then adolescence, the girl seemed to provide the standard against which my own development and achievements should be measured. And when this happened, I could pretty much rely on falling short, in anything but the height category.
Most of the time, of coursegiven the irregularity of the reportswe didnt know where things stood with Dana Dickerson. Then my mother made do with speculating. When I learned to ride a bike, my mother had commented, I wonder if Dana can do that yet, and when I got my periodearly, just after turning twelveshe considered what might be going on for Dana now. One time, on my birthdaymine and Dana Dickersonsmy mother gave me a box of stationery with lilacs going up the side. You can use this to write letters to Dana Dickerson, she said. You two should be pen pals.
I didnt write. If there was one girl in the world I didnt want to correspond with, that girl would be Dana Dickerson. Our families had nothing in common and neither did we.
The one Dickerson who interested me was Danas older brother, Ray, four years older than us. He was a tall, impossibly long-limbed person, like his mother, Valerie, and though he wasnt handsome in the regular way of high school boys you saw on TV (Wally Cleaver and the older brothers on My Three Sons, or Ricky Nelson), there was something about his face that made my skin hot if I looked at him. He had blue eyes that always gave you the sense he was about to burst out laughing, or cryby which I mean, I suppose, that there was always so much feeling evidentand eyelashes so long they shaded his face.
Ray had this way of coming into a room that took your breath away. Partly it was the look of him, but more so it was his crazy energy, and all the funny and amazing ideas he thought up. He did things other boys didnt, like building a raft out of old kerosene drums and taking it down Beards Creek, where it got stuck in the mud, and performing magic tricks wearing a cape hed evidently sewed himself. He had taught himself ventriloquism, so one time, at Planks, he made this pair of summer squashes talk to each other without moving his lips. Years before, when I was five or six, he pulled a silver dollar out of my ear, so for the next few days I was forever checking to see what else might be in there, but nothing ever was.
Excerpted from The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard. Copyright © 2010 by Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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