I wouldve given Ray Dickerson my picture for nothing, but I couldnt speak.
After that, whenever we made trips to the Dickersons, I had lots of pictures ready. Things boys might like: spacemen and cowboys, and a portrait of my fathers favorite player on the Red Sox, Ted Williams.
Just a few more hours, girls, my mother would say when we complained about the length of the journey, the discomfort of all those hours in the car. But the most uncomfortable part was what happened when we arrived, and Mrs. Dickerson greeted us with that bemused and irritated expression (even as a child, I could see that), offering us lemonade, but never a meal.
The first year after they moved we drove to Pennsylvania to see them, and though that time we fit in a visit to the Liberty Bell, to round out the trip, most of the later trips we madeto Vermont, Connecticut, Vermont againwere made for the sole purpose of catching up with the Dickersons. My mother told Mrs. Dickerson that we were passing through. (Passing through? To where?) The visit might last an hour. Never more than two.
Dana and I shared nothing (she was a tomboy; I was interested in art), but her mother would always suggest we go upstairs to play, at which point I would ask Dana to show me her BarbiesBarbie being a kind of doll my mother didnt believe in, due to her physique and the provocative clothes the Mattel Company made for her, not that we would have spent the money anyway.
Dana never seemed interested in dolls herself, but Valerie kept giving her new ones, along with an incredible collection of official Barbie outfits, unlike the kind most girls I knew back home hadhome sewn by their mothers and grandmothers, often crocheted and picked up at church fairs.
The real Barbie ensembles all had namesthat I knew from studying the Barbie catalog. My favorite was called Solo in the Spotlighta strapless evening dress with sparkles on the hem that came with a tiny plastic microphone, for nights Barbie performed in nightclubs.
Once, when Dana was in the bathroom, I had stuffed the Barbie gown into my pocket. Dana had so little interest in this kind of thing she hadnt noticed, but as we were leaving their house, Ray had put an arm around my shoulder and whispered, You forgot something. He handed me an odd-shaped package, wrapped in many layers of toilet paper and sealed with tape, and later, when we were on the highway, I opened it. The microphone.
I thought about him all that year. How had he known, for startersthough, of course, it was already proven he was magic. But more important: what did it mean, that Ray Dickerson, so much older than me, and so handsome, had chosen to present me with the treasured item?
The next spring, when we made our pilgrimage to see the Dickersons, I brought him a present of my owna harmonica Id bought with money I earned from weeding the strawberries, with mother-of-pearl on the case. But Raythe main attraction of the tripwas off on his unicycle, so I never got to see him that time. Meanwhile, downstairs, my parents and Valerie Dickerson chatted about people back home, barely known to Valerie, and my mother inquired after Danas religious education, such as it was. Shed brought a Junior Bible as a gift.
That was so thoughtful, Connie, Mrs. Dickerson told her. I wish I could invite you to stay for dinner, but Im taking an art class.
Art lessons, a woman her age, my mother commented to my father as we made our way home along that same long stretch of road, after the lemonade my fathers back straight at the wheel, his eyes on the road and no place else. What is Valerie Dickerson thinking?
I guess shes got talent, he said. Then, after a minutes silence in the car, or even longer, he added, Maybe Ruth should take art lessons. Shes got that gift too.
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.
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