Blackberries, Big Wheels, and “Bleachy Mama”

We use to pick blackberries together, she and I. I didn’t like blackberries, but it was fun picking them along the railroad tracks beside our apartment complex. Our fingers would be stained deep purple, her tongue and lips would match.

She had chubby cheeks and the sweetest smile, made even sweeter by the silver caps in the front. You never see kids with silver caps anymore… I guess they use something else now? We weren’t supposed to walk by the railroad tracks, but my mom didn’t seem to be around much during the day when we were out playing. As long as we were home by the time the street lights came on, we were free to play as we pleased, which is not something we as parents have the luxury of letting our children do today).

“Mandy, you want to play Barbies with me?”

Sigh. Briefly, I was tempted to play my favorite game with my little sister, but I was 10 now, too old for Barbie.

“Let’s play Flashdance instead.”

“No, you always hog the living room floor”

We would bicker back and forth like this all the time. We had a five-year age difference between us, but as we didn’t really have anyone else to play with, we were stuck with each other. Most of the time I was annoyed by her constant presence, but sometimes I was so grateful not to be alone.

Especially late at night, in the dark.

Or when I came home from school and my mom was crying in a corner, overwhelmed by life and betrayal. I’d take my sister’s hand and we’d go outside into a world of make-believe, where we could be anything we wanted, and go wherever our imaginations could take us, far away from being poor and sad.

I use to hold her down, pinning her arms under my knees, straddling her and tickling her until she nearly peed her pants. She would squeal. I loved the feeling of power and dominance I had. Sad, but oh, so true. (Little did I know she would grow up to be about 5 inches taller than I. I wouldn’t attempt that trick now.)

But I was fiercely protective as well. One day,while I was sitting at the top of our stairs, playing, I saw two little neighborhood girls yank my sweet little sister from her Big Wheel bike by her hair. I ran down those stairs two at a time, pulled one of the little girls off the bike by her pigtails, seized the other one, too, and told them to never touch my sister or her things again, unless they wanted me to make them very, very sorry that they did.

They ran away crying, straight to their mom. And about 15 minutes later, a very large woman with badly bleached blond hair and long, blood-red fingernails grab bed me by the arm and started yelling at me about being a role model and not bullying little babies. Ha ─ her “babies” were the biggest bullies in our apartment complex. I christened her “Bleachy Mama.”

She had the intended effect, though. She scared the crap right out of me. I ran home and told my mother what had happened.

And the next chain of events would be forever carved into my memory. My mom, who weighed all of 95 pounds, (if that), pulled a baseball bat from our toy box and stomped down our stairs towards “Bleachy Mama’s” apartment, with my sister and me following.  Banging on the door with the bat (Nice one, Mom!) she had the fiercest look in her eye. And when that big, blonde woman answered her door, my mother, who weighed all of 95 pounds, (if that), growled, “Don’t touch or talk to my daughters again, or I’ll kick your fat ass!”

Those other two little girls stood behind their mama with wide, shocked eyes, and I’m sure my sister and I had similar expressions on our faces, too. Then “Bleachy Mama” slammed the door in my mom’s face, and the three of us went home.

The funny thing is, about three months later, those two girls, my sister and I, all became best friends, picking blackberries together by the railroad tracks. I even taught them how to dance to my Cyndi Lauper tape I dubbed off the radio. But, they never asked to ride my sister’s Big Wheel and I don’t ever remember seeing “Bleachy Mama” again.

Photo, “Bathing Beauties” by Miranda Krebbs

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