C'mon, Get Happy! (Chapter 1)
Friday, November 10, 1972
Where did it begin? All these years later, I can close my eyes and see the scene just as it was. Lily and I were doing our homework in the basement.
Finished basements were all the rage in 1972. When we moved into the house in August, our basement was Dad’s first project. He paneled the walls with dark wood, installed a bar for Mom and Dad’s parties, and furnished the room with our old couch and chairs, and an old color television in a massive cabinet used to belong to my grandmother.
Of course, the TV wasn’t on. We were doing our homework, after all. It was nearly seven-thirty, and I was trying to get my Geometry done quickly so I could watch “The Brady Bunch” at eight.
I often day-dreamed about having brothers and sisters like Marsha, Greg, Jan, Peter, Bobby, and Cindy who would support me, even though we didn’t always agree. The only thing my sister and I had in common with the Brady family was that we squabbled all the time—over everything.
I glanced over at Lily, trying to see how far she had gotten on her homework. I knew that Mom and Dad wouldn’t allow us to watch television, even though it was Friday night, unless we finished all of our assignments. I had tried explaining that weekend homework was supposed to be done on the weekend, but Mom didn’t want to hear it. Everything had to be done on Friday.
Lily was writing in her notebook, but it didn’t seem she was doing too well. She would write a few words, look at them, and then cross them out and start again. Finally, I took the chance of asking. “Almost done?”
She looked up at me and scowled.
Really, Lil,” I said. “It’s after seven-thirty.” I tried to peek at her paper, but she had it covered with her arm.
She groaned. “I still have to finish this essay about Macbeth’s wife.” Then a sly look crossed her face. I knew what was coming next. Lily always wanted to copy my homework. “You don’t suppose I could look at yours…”
“Sorry, we’re reading The Good Earth in my class, not Shakespeare.”
Her face fell. For some reason I just couldn’t convince her that, even though we were in the same grade, we would not have the same homework. I was taking Regents classes and she was taking the locals.
At that point, my mother opened the door at the top of the stairs. “Are you girls done with your homework yet?”
The nightly check.
At some time every night during the week, Mom asked if we were done with our homework. That was about the only contact we had with her in those days. She was gone in the morning when we got up and we didn’t see her until she got home at night, usually after dinner.
Because Mom worked in Manhattan, she got on a train at five-thirty in the morning and most nights she didn’t come home until after eight. Although Mom had a home office and would sometimes bring work home, in those pre-cell phone, pre-Internet days, there was a limit on how much could be done outside the office. Dad was the one who arrived home first, and most of the time, he was the one who made our dinner and made sure we had everything we needed for the next day while the stores were still open.
“I just have three more problems for Geometry,” I called out. “I’ll be done in about ten minutes.”
“How about you, Lily?”
“No homework, no television.”
“Mom!” Lily’s tone of voice, the way she drew out that three-letter word, implied that she was in shock. You would think she had no idea that Mom’s rules were absolute. No matter how many times she had missed deadlines, forgotten chores, or left a mess behind herself in the bathroom, it never seemed to register with her that all of these “no big deal” things would bring down a swift punishment.
“Do you really want to go to bed without television?”
“Yes, Mom,” said Lily. She stuck her tongue out at me and bent over her paper.
Mom stood at the head of the stairs for a few seconds more. Then she said, “I’ll be back to check on you in fifteen minutes.”
I felt a little bit sorry for Lily. When I look back, she missed more television than she got to see. I finished my own work as quickly as possible and then said, “What’s holding you up?”:
“This is so dumb,” she cried in exasperation. “I don’t care about Shakespeare at all. Why do I have to read this stuff?”
“You never know,” I replied. “You might need it some day.”
I know I sounded smarmy, but sometimes I just couldn’t help it. Besides, I loved to read and still do. I didn’t mind having to read for English class. I had read Macbeth the year before, and I knew the play pretty well. “What do you need to write about Lady Macbeth?”
“The teacher wants us to write about the hand-washing scene and what inner meaning it might have,” said Lilly. “And all I can think of is that she has blood on her hands, and…” she trailed off with a dismal expression on her face.
I leaned forward and took her paper. “You’ve got the right idea,” I said. “But you’re taking it too literally.”
It didn’t take long to set her on the right path and she returned to her paper with a lot more enthusiasm. While we waited for Mom to come back, I double-checked my work. By the time seven-forty-five came along, I was done. Lily was still writing furiously.
Mom came back right on the dot. This time she came downstairs and joined us. Sitting down on the couch, she put her glass of wine on the coffee table. “Who wants to go first?”
I quickly handed her my work so as to give Lily a few more minutes to finish hers. I held my breath. Mom was good. She wouldn’t miss a mistake and she wouldn’t allow one to remain. Everything had to be perfect when we turned it in. Finally, she turned over the last page of my essay and said, “Good job, Jazz.”
Then she turned and held her hand out to Lily.
From the look on her face, I could see she hadn’t made it. Reluctantly, she handed her stack of papers to Mom and then waited quietly for the punishment she must have known was coming.
“Oh, Lily, you’re not done with your essay and you haven’t even started your math” said Mom. Her tone was sad. You could tell she was sorry, but I knew what was coming. “You’ll have to go up to your room where you will finish your assignments and then go to bed. No television for you today.”
As Lily stomped her way up the basement stairs and then the stairs to the second floor, Mom took a long sip of wine and then sighed. “I’m going upstairs,” she said. You can watch for one hour. Then go to bed. We have lots of chores for tomorrow.”
Chores? That could mean anything from dusting to shopping, to mowing the lawn. I groaned, but not too loudly and only after my mother went upstairs. I didn’t want to get in trouble. Any sign of a lack of enthusiasm on our part could lead to a long lecture on “what it means to be part of a family,” or “our responsibility to keep our house nice.”
I don’t remember much about The Brady Bunch episode that night. But I do remember The Partridge Family episode. The family went on a vacation getaway that turned into a disaster.
Once it was over, I reluctantly turned of the television as “Room 222” started. I was tempted to stay a little longer, but Mom’s rules were her rules and you broke them at your peril. The light was still on in our bedroom when I opened the door, but it clicked off as though the mere act of opening the door had caused it to go off. Apparently Lily was still awake.
“How did it go?”
“Mom said no TV all weekend.” She frowned and swiped at angry tears. “I finished the essay and she still punished me.”
She jumped off the bed and started pacing the room. “Mom is totally unfair. I was done before eight-thirty!” Her voice rose higher and then, as if she realized that she was saying something she shouldn’t, she lowered her voice to a whisper. “I was done in time to watch The Partridge Family and, even if I hadn’t finished, I could have done it afterward—or even tomorrow!”
“You know Mom doesn’t make exceptions.”
Then she lost it. I mean she really lost it!
“I’ve had it with Mom and her stupid, inflexible rules. We never get to go anywhere after school or do anything fun, even on the weekends. It’s just work, work, work!”
She was right. Mom was inflexible and Dad backed her up all the way. There was no “if Mom says no, ask Dad” in our family. And Mom had a lot of rules. We had to do all of our homework every day. Had to finish our chores before dinner, and had to be ready to do what we were asked without question. That may sound pretty mild, but it could be frustrating when everyone was going to the movies and we couldn’t becuase it was past our bedtime.
I didn’t mind so much because I wasn’t really one of those popular girls anyway. When everybody else is two years older than you are, people don’t really want to hang around with you. Then again, I told myself that I didn’t care, that I would rather stay home with a book. But Lily was popular. Having to pass up a party or a movie was a horrible punishment to her. Besides, the rules were even stricter for Lily because she was the oldest and was supposed to be setting an example for me.
I spent the next half hour whispering soothing words and finally calmed her down enough so that she turned off her light and lay down. I could hear her muttering to herself occasionally for what seemed to be a very long time before she finally began to snore softly.
Then I heard her again. “Oh, David,” she cooed. “That tickles.”
OK, I'm behind. The good news is that I accepted an offer and I don't have to start until November 22nd. So I've got about two weeks to finish my novel. And if I don't make it, I've got Thanksgiving weekend to finish it off. The preface to this novel was posted as C'mon, Get Happy! several days ago. My plan is to post the rough draft here as I write it, chapter by chapter. Please remember that this IS a first draft! If you find typos, grammar errors, or anything that doesn't make sense, please tell me.
Who is Irene P. Smith? I am an author, programmer, and web designer. A former Contributing Editor to PC Techniques Magazine, I have written about computers and programming since 1989, and began publishing fiction in 2003. My home is in New York State, along the Delaware River, where I live with my husband and son.
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