Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Pinehurst Days

Time has given my girlhood a rosy hue, dimming all but the most pleasant memories.  All, that is, but the memory of Tom Collins' big toe nail.  

His name was really Edwin Thomas Collins, but we called him Tom.  He was smarter than all of us, but never worried about making A's.  He was fun, in an odd way.  I guess today I would say his humor was laconic, although I hadn't even heard of the word then.  Sometimes, because of his initials, we called him "Et Cetera."  To us it seemed such a good joke, but Tom grew tired of it.  "Cut it out, guys!" he would say.  

He lived on Pinehurst Avenue, my street, as did Chata and Gwenny, and Jane Ann, Dorothy, and Theodus.  We were all friends, but my two best buddies were Chata and Gwenny. Another boy, "Junee," short for Junior, lived there, too -- a momma's boy.  He didn't go to Kelton Avenue Grade School, but attended St. Edmund Academy, and was not considered one of us.

Chata lived right next-door to me.  Her name was really Fanelle, but her dad, who had worked a job in Mexico for a time when he was single, had nicknamed her Chata, which means pug-nosed in Spanish.  Our houses were so close that our front porches were within arms-length of each other.  On warm evenings Chata and I, elbows resting on the window sills, talked together from our bedroom windows, discussing the events and solving the problems of our little world before going to sleep.  Gwenny lived directly across the street from us, and the three of us were inseparable, walking together to school, home for lunch, back after lunch, and home again at the end of the day.   

One morning late in May of 1943, Miss Clee Walters, the eighth-grade teacher, said, "Edwin, (at school he was Edwin, not Tom) I have to congratulate you.  In checking through the class records, I find that you are the only student who, in all eight years so far, has never once been absent or tardy.  The school year will be over soon, and in all the years I have been teaching at Kelton, no one has ever had a perfect record before.  We all share in your honor!"

I remember that Tom didn't look up, nor right, nor left, but contemplated the tip of his shoe, which he held out in the aisle.  Shortly thereafter the bell rang, dismissing us for lunch.  We walked home and were due back by 1:00 p.m. Tom didn't join us on our walk back to school at 12:45  that afternoon, but I don't recall that any of us noticed.  We often hurried back after lunch on our own schedules.  At 1:00 p.m. promptly, the bell to start afternoon session rang loud and clear in eighth grade Room 103.  Our beloved Miss Clee Walters sat at her desk before us with a worried air.  She was plump and grandmotherly, and we adored her, and she us.  But today she looked troubled.  

"Where's Edwin?" she asked.  (None of us knew.)  "It's after one o'clock.  Oh dear!  What do you suppose has happened?"

We didn't know, and we began to worry, too.  Eight years' attendance record was on the block.  At ten minutes after one, Tom meandered in and took a seat at his desk.

"Oh, Edwin!" Miss Walters said.  "You've broken your record!  Almost eight whole years and now you've broken it!"   We thought she was going to cry.  I felt like crying, too. 

"I had to trim my big toenail," he said.

"Your TOENAIL?  Oh, Edwin!"

Later, walking home, I said, "Hey, Tom, why were you late today anyway?"   

"I really did have to trim my big toenail," he said.

Hopes dashed, record tarnished, fame aborted!  Thus, for want of an untrimmed toenail, did he deprive us all of the glory we might have shared.