*Last Spring I took a creative writing class, over the next few months I’m going to share some of the autobiographical pieces that I wrote.*
I met Joni in the sixth grade. I’m not even sure how we met, just that we became friends. I liked Joni because she wasn’t like all the other girls. She wasn’t concerned about which tube socks best matched her Units outfit; but we both still tight rolled our jeans. Her hair was long, thick and wavy. She didn’t wear big outfit matching bows or side pony tails in an attempt to look cool. Joni was her own -remarkable confident for sixth grade-self.
She lived in the older (what would now be referred to as urban regentrification) neighborhood. Her family lived in a great big old Victorian near the community mercantile (the local granola-y grocery store). It was also a perk that she lived a block away from Phillip, our sixth grade heart throb. We spent many afternoons accidentally walking by his house.
Joni’s parents were what I would now call crunchy. I don’t know what her father did for a living, probably worked for the University. I don’t even know if her mother worked outside the home. It wouldn’t surprise me if she worked for the county extension and both grew and ground her own wheat. Joni’s family did not own a television. They would gather in the living room and listen to the radio together.
Despite being an only child Joni’s parents were surprisingly hands off. When we played at Joni’s house we had the freedom to explore and wander at will. They were a very different family from the one I grew up in. My sister and I practically raised ourselves on a steady diet of MTV, Days of Our Lives and taking Happy Meals with us to PG-13 movies. One New Year’s Eve one year I remember Joni’s father going outside and banging a pot while yelling “Free Nelson Mandela”. I was too afraid to ask who that was and why he needed freeing.
I remember the first time I was invited to dinner at Joni’s house. It was early fall and there was a chill in the air. The leaves of the giant Maples in her neighborhood were starting to turn a beautiful shade of orange. Her mother had prepared a homemade chili for us. It was nothing like any chili I had ever had before. I’m sure it tasted good, if your taste buds could still taste anything after the first few bites. After eating a few polite bites I downed my Kool-Aide and refilled it (a drink that in retrospect seems so out of place at that table). Joni’s mother had made a warm pan of cornbread, something I normally didn’t like too much. This time however, I cut myself a large slice and took a big bite hoping the cornbread would neutralize the burning of my mouth. Shortly after I took that bite my eyes began to water. I think I even choked out a few coughs. I gulped what was left of my Kool Aide while her mother asked if I was alright. “I’m fine”, I sputtered as giant tears rolled down my cheeks. I wasn’t fine, I knew it and she knew it. But, I also knew you never criticize or refuse to eat what someone has prepared for you. I was going to be polite if it killed me (which I started to wonder if it would!) Her mother told me the cornbread was made with jalapeno’s and it might be hot for me if I wasn’t used to it. I smiled through my tears and short breath and said, “It’s good, I just wasn’t expecting it”.
I don’t remember how or if I finished that meal, but I do know I never ate at Joni’s house again.