Eileen had been late to develop, like all of us Starkey girls, and I suspect John B. was secretly disappointed when she began giving up her companionable tomboy ways and wearing her patent leather Mary Janes even after church and sometimes on the occasional weekday, too. I know he wasn’t ready later for her to transform into a young lady, that he missed the days when they ran barefoot together in Grandpa Starkey’s pasture chasing Phelps, the horse. Spooking the old stud made it fart—every time. As it panicked and fled, it really let ’em rip. We’d all laugh until we had tears streaming down our faces and stitches in our sides.
My God, what passed for entertainment back then. We were just a bunch of hicks who didn’t know a thing about the world beyond our hometown of Cornucopia, Kansas—except El Dorado Springs, Missouri, where Grandma Hainline lived. When you get right down to it, we didn’t know that much about Cornucopia either. John B. claimed it had been burned to the ground by the Confederate rebels in the Civil War for helping the slaves to escape to the North. “Why somebody’d bother to rebuild it is beyond me,” he’d say. Which was more typical of John B. Always a card.
Rather than go clear back to the monkeys, I’ll start with the sultry July day in 1922 when the Drummonds moved into the house behind ours on Cherokee Street from faraway Michigan. John B. was eleven, I’d just finished kindergarten and life brimmed with excitement. Over a shallow creek that separated our yards, Margaret and Rach Drummond told us stories about the world beyond Kansas in their sophisticated Yankee accents. But we thought they were making stuff up to impress us.
(c) 2010 Douglas Armstrong