Dee Dee was, and still is a character. Never fear, the shotgun didn't work!
|Dee Dee Wants a Puppy|
I have often wondered if every family has a Dee Dee. Our Dee Dee has never been content to collapse into others’ ideas about who she should be. Her spirit, fierce as a wild Montana mustang, rears up at the mere mention of conformity. Always has.
My mama was born with a bold, independent streak, but Dee Dee’s put Mama’s to shame. Mama, at least, knew when she absolutely had to conform. She knew how to finesse a situation, to bend instead of break. That’s how she won a lot of her battles. Dee Dee didn’t bend. She was more like Daddy’s Aunt Sophie. We only knew her when she was much older, of course, but until the day she died, that woman had an unmistakable energy unlike anyone else. Strength seemed to emanate from her, like heat from a cast iron skillet over a campfire.
Aunt Sophie was Daddy’s favorite aunt and he loved telling stories about her – stories that made my imagination soar. Aunt Sophie on the ranch in Zapata, a tomboy in a culture where females were supposed to be the more genteel sex. Aunt Sophie, soft curly hair, red lipstick rimming a big, broad smile, drink and cigarette in hand, blue eyes twinkling. Aunt Sophie, saying and doing whatever she wanted.
One of my favorites featured Sophie as a young woman, riding a horse in broad daylight, right down the big middle of Laredo’s main street. In no hurry, she just trotted that horse along, smiling, hair pulled back under a cowboy hat. She was dressed in a cotton shirt and men’s pants, sitting on a man’s saddle, straddling the animal, acting like it was no big deal. As if daring anyone to say it was. Doesn’t seem so wild now but back then, even in Texas, it was not proper for a lady to ride unless she rode sidesaddle, with a long dress hiding her legs.
Her mother, my great-grandmother, Rutilda, worked hard to teach her proper etiquette. Sophie knew how she was supposed to act all right, she knew she was supposed to act like a lady at all times, especially in public. She just didn’t see any good reason to be like everyone else.
She never had any children, but every one of Aunt Sophie’s genes must have passed straight to Dee Dee. Every now and then I’d wish I was more like Aunt Sophie too, but for the most part, I was happy being me. My sister had a wild streak so wide you could reach out and touch it.
If you could catch her.
And she had no problem ordering folks around. Even when we were quite young, Dee Dee commanded an oversized amount of respect from the other neighborhood kids. When she pointed her finger and said, “Gimme that,” more often than not she got it. All the other kids – and her siblings, for the most part – were scared to death of the hooligan queen. Dee Dee had a look that rarely needed words. When her gaze fixed on a kid, it was like a laser beam boring into the brain. Anyone caught in that beam had no choice but to obey. Usually, we’d obey right away. We didn’t want to risk being hit with the beam.
Our next-door neighbors, the Penas, had four kids, as well. Ranging in age from six to two, they were younger than me but around the same ages as Dee Dee, Pete and Katy. A chain link fence separated our back yard from theirs. It wasn’t a tall fence, about four feet high, with more holes than steel, as chain link fences are. But there may as well have been no separation; there was no need. Prescott and Pena kids, often joined by other neighborhood children, were usually found playing together anyway.
We didn’t have any pets, but the Penas had a dog, a fact which Dee Dee insisted was unfair. “Why can’t we have a dog,” she’d cry. “I want a dog!”
All the crying in the world wouldn’t have mattered, though. The simple fact is Mr. Pena didn’t mind dogs. Our daddy did.
One fall morning after I left for school and our parents went to work, our babysitter ordered Dee Dee and her posse outside, which was fine because back then kids only saw the inside of the house when we were forced to come in for lunch, dinner, or bedtime. Heading down the back porch stairs our kids saw the Pena kids in their backyard, laughing and squealing, huddled around something Dee Dee couldn’t see. Never one to worry about manners, Dee Dee marched over to the fence and demanded, “Hey! What are you doing?” One by one the Pena kids moved back to reveal several furry blobs moving blindly through the grass.
“Puppies,” the Pena kids cried. “We have puppies!”
“How many did you get,” Dee Dee asked, craning her neck to see which one she liked most.
“Six,” answered Joey.
“Then gimme one,” Dee Dee ordered.
When one of the Pena kids hollered, “No,” everyone else froze in place. Breathing stopped, eyes widened, jaws hung.
“Nooooo?” Dee Dee asked, eyes narrowing.
Then a chorus of Pena kids echoed, “No!”
They had caught Dee Dee off guard, but her surprise didn’t last long. Glaring at the rival gang through slitted eyelids, Dee Dee used her deepest demon voice and snarled, “Pete, go get the gun.”
Pete didn’t have to question Dee Dee’s command; he knew exactly what she meant. Daddy was a baby when his father died and, when he was old enough, he received the only two items his father left him: a small pocketknife and a 16-gauge shotgun that didn’t fire. Now, we all knew that shotgun didn’t work.
But the Penas didn’t.
Even though we all knew we were not to touch that gun, like the dutiful little trooper Dee Dee had trained him to be, Pete took off. He raced across the driveway, up the stairs, and through the back door. Once inside the house, he ran into our parents’ room. Reaching their closet he climbed over shoes, under dresses and suits, shoving purses aside until he reached the gun hidden way in back.
The babysitter didn’t see Pete as he dragged it outside. At five years old, that shotgun was probably as tall as he was but, however he did it, he got it out the back door and down the steps. Dee Dee’s eyes had never left the Penas as she roamed the fence line, searching for the best angle to carry out her plan. She had positioned herself as close as she could get and was sitting in the thick grass on our side of the fence, waiting, when Pete delivered the gun. Katy was standing behind Dee Dee, hands on hips, ready to jump in if she was needed, and Pete joined her.
On the Pena’s side of the fence four kids were glued to their spots. They knew Dee Dee too well to not be scared.
Just like the bad guys in the movies we loved, Dee Dee, without repositioning her gaze, proceeded to cram the gun’s barrel through an opening in the fence.
“I said gimme a puppy.”
Pena kids weren’t moving. Prescott kids weren’t moving.
Mrs. Pena, however, was moving.
She had been looking out her window, watching her little brood enjoy the new puppies. But when she realized they were suddenly standing still, she followed their gaze . . .
. . . and saw the shotgun.
Screaming at her children to “Get in the house NOW,” Mrs. Pena bolted out her back door and gathered them up, shoving them and herself inside within seconds.
Dee Dee pulled the gun out of the fence, stood up, looked back at her little gang, and shrugged. Without speaking, the threesome turned and headed for the house. They had just cleared the back door when the babysitter, looking shaken, stepped out of the kitchen holding the phone.
“Dee Dee, your mama wants to talk to you.”
Taking the phone, Dee Dee switched on her most angelic voice and cooed, “Hello?” Pete and Katy looked on in terror. If Mama was calling from work, she didn’t have anything good to say.
Luckily for Dee Dee, Mama couldn’t leave work right then, and she didn’t get off until five o’clock. But Daddy would be home by four. Until then, the hooligan queen and her gang were confined to bed. They were known for escaping confinement by jumping out bedroom windows, but they stayed put this time. No one wanted to add to the sentence they already knew would be severe.
I was already home when Daddy came in, staying as far away from the prisoners as I could. I already knew the story, but those in the neighborhood who hadn’t already heard about the Prescott kids’ latest adventure got a crash course. No one had air conditioners, so windows stayed open, up and down the block. The spanking that followed the chewing ranked high on the parent “Don’t. You. Eh. Ver. Do. That. Uh. Gain.” scale.
Pete vowed to never even look at the old gun, but Dee Dee wasn’t sorry. She was sorry she got the spanking, sorry her efforts to get a puppy didn’t work, but not sorry she tried. That wild streak knew no bounds.
Wild streak or not, as part of her punishment Dee Dee apologized to Mrs. Pena and her children. It was a condition for parole.
Daddy would have wrapped the shotgun around a tree, except it had been his father’s. Instead, he placed it back in its corner in the closet. Not one Prescott kid, including Dee Dee, ever touched that gun again.