Swap Meet: Another Smith Place Story (Part 1)
Roy Cranston looked like a junkman. His stretched to the last thread tee shirt that clung to his big belly body, which his wife Roberta kept fed well and often, gave him a towering, rotund, and Santa Claus appearance which made it easy for kids to approach.
I was not particularly fond of Mr. Cranston, who everyone called Roy and Roberta simply called “her man.” He had made clear to me that he liked the other kids more than me. And he probably had good reason because as a youth I could be handful.
One day when we were going on a chore with him, he happened to leave his lunch pail in the driver’s seat. Roberta had just finished cooking what was inside the pail and the smells coming from the tin box were just too much to resist.
The two other kids seated on the bench seat waiting for Roy to come back warned me to stay away from the lunch pail, but I was chubby and going to get chubbier as the years went by. Smells to a chubby boy, like honey to Pooh.
The other kids kept warning me, but I opened the pail and looked in and saw what looked like four huge sausage sandwiches, a sixteen ounce bottle of Coca-Cola wrapped in cold aluminum foil being held in place by the hook contraption in lunch pails that keeps a thermos in place. Roberta also included two Snicker bars, salt and pepper, napkins, and toothpicks.
The size of the sandwiches gave me youthful confidence to take a bite of one, wrap it back into the foil, and place the bitten one at the bottom. I figured that if he ate them in order, by the time he got to the last one he would wonder whether he had already started eating the last one and would not care too much about the bite.
But I was hungrier than smart. As chubby as I was, I did not have Roy’s mouth width and he would know that a kid had bitten into his lunch. I just kept my head down as Roy returned to the truck, hoping quiet kids would be a surprise to him and keep him in a good mood. But I did not count on Roy’s relationship with food and his constant need to check his pail to make sure he had what he should.
When he opened the pail, his face took on the countenance of a crime scene investigator. All right, everyone out of the truck he hollered. Who went into my lunch? He held a quick kid line-up and started doing a smell your breath identification procedure. I would later learn that I should have objected to the suggestive line-up, but as a kid you don’t think this way. You are just praying to God to get you out of this with the promise of good behavior for the rest of your life.
First kid, skinny with clean breath. Second kid, even skinnier with even fresher breath. Third kid, me, chubby with White Front pants from the husky section and breath that smelled like a New Orleans smoke house. Roy had to say nothing. I stepped out of the line-up and confessed my misdeed before Roy could yell for Roberta to come out, ‘cause I liked Roberta and I did not want her mad at me.
Roy motioned for the other kids to get into the truck, and they obliged while laughing under their breaths at me. Roy gave me a smug look, a chip of which would always be on his face whenever we would see each other again.
As the truck left, Roberta came out to the sidewalk on Smith Place in front of her house. What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be with them? There are people you can lie to and there are others you care for far too much to even try.
Me to Roberta: I took a bite of the sausage sandwich you made for Roy and he kicked me out of the truck.
Robert to me: He did what! Tell me everything that happened. And I mean everything.
Me to Roberta: (I told her everything that happened, even the line-up.)
Roberta got angrier with each word I relayed. I told her it was okay because an angry Roberta I did not want to wish on Roy. Roberta took no prisoners when she was on a roll. And if I was responsible for unleashing this on Roy, I’d never get on the truck again.
Roberta told me to come into the house. She sat me at the kitchen table and proceeded to feed me like she fed Roy. I ate sausage; I ate shrimp; I ate Snicker bars and drank RC Cola (because Roberta hated Coca Cola and loved her RC). I did not know what the future would bring, but I was going to enjoy this answered prayer. God worked funny in that way on Smith Place.
When Roy got home that night, he saw Roberta on the porch. The look on her face quickly signaled to him that he’d done wrong. As he entered the house, Roberta held the screen door. He walked in slow like a man who knew he would be eating tuna on white bread that night. Maybe even sleeping on the couch. Still, he shot a look at me as I was sitting on my porch. I expected hate to come from him, but instead the look just said well-played amigo.