Growing Up Juju (part 13 in a series)


The edge of the creek was lined with Maclura Pomifera trees, most people know them as “Horse Apple” trees. The rough and spherical fruits were lying about…as an attorney, I now would call them an “attractive nuisance,” back then at age 7, they looked like green softballs.

My little neighbor friend, Robbie, was riding his bicycle back and forth in front of me, about 3 feet off the edge…in and out of the tree trunks, like a make-shift obstacle course. Let’s make this course a little more difficult, I thought to myself, as I began rolling the apples towards the creek….and directly in the path of the quickly moving Schwinn.

About six weeks earlier a neighbor kid had beaned me on the forehead with a croquet ball, sending me to the ER for 3 stitches. You would have thought that would have been on my mind, but when you are seven…you don’t think about consequences. I actually wanted him to bite the dirt, not get hurt, just fall in a very dramatic crash. We crashed bikes all the time…when both parties were in on the joke…unfortunately, this time I didn’t let poor Robbie in on the caper.

I timed it just right and my last toss connected with the front tire of Robbie’s bike, getting caught up in the spokes, stalling his progress, and sending him over the handle-bars…in a very dramatic fashion. Robbie stood up quickly and I could see blood gushing out of a cut just over his left eye. OH MY GAWD! What have I done?? I grabbed him by the arm and we went running up to the front door of his house.

I rang the bell and his mother, Rita, answered. I quickly told her Robbie had “fallen” while riding his bike. Rita grabbed him up and off they went to the ER. Robbie’s dad wasn’t home, he was a Fort Worth police detective…I remember thinking that he would be hot on my trail! I felt like I was going to throw up as I raced back across the street to my house.

My mother had run to the store and left my older siblings in charge. I didn’t bother to relate the details about what had just happened to my sister Joyce, as I hurried to my room and slammed the door. Well, news traveled fast in a 1960s neighborhood, not as fast as a Google search, but pretty darn fast.

As my mother was getting out of her car, one of the neighbor boys approached her and spilled the beans on what I had done. Rita’s car was not in her drive-way, I am sure my mother either gave a heavy sigh or rolled her eyes….she was heading towards me!

Overcome with guilt and grief…I was crouched and hiding behind the large desk I had in the corner of my room. The door creaked open and my mother stood there for a few seconds, scoping the empty room. “Julie, are you in here?” Silence.

She waited a full sixty seconds before saying,”You did it on purpose,didn’t you?” The desk spoke the truth….yes, was the answer from the dark corner. “Stay in your room until they get back from the hospital, then you and I are going over to apologize.”

Believe it or not, seven was about the age when I started having conversations with my mother about being “different.” At seven you can’t articulate the feelings or thoughts you have streaming through your head…but I knew I was not like the other girls in my first grade class.

At P.E. every day at Harrison Lane Elementary the same division of the sexes occurred without any adult interference, whatsoever. Mrs. Brown marched us down the first grade hall to the back exit door in a single file line. The first kid hit the door, slammed it open and the bisection occurred…created by societal influence, genetics, I don’t know…make your own argument.

The girls ran to the left towards the concrete pad where the rope jumping began immediately….single and even attempts at double-dutch. The boys ran, whooping and hollering towards the ball-field for a lively game of kickball. I stood at the edge of the concrete, refusing to jump rope….longing to join in on the game across the field.

I don’t want to be a boy I remember telling my mother…I just want to do everything they do. She thought she had a budding feminist…but what she had was a baby dyke. Looking back now it was great of her to engage in the conversation, to embrace a kid that was clearly different. She told me I didn’t have to play with the girls, but I should see what the teacher said about joining the boys. My mother told me all girls were different and that comparing me to the other girls was like comparing “apples to oranges.” I didn’t get that then…so she said it another way….she said, “Julie, different doesn’t mean wrong.”

That idiom is often criticized by “scholars” because both apples and oranges are fruits (insert joke), but it actually is spot on. We were all just little girls, but there were far more differences with me and the jumpers than similarities.

I was crying, overcome with remorse, as my mother and I stood in Robbie’s bedroom. The poor kid had four stitches over his eye, was laying in his bed, sucking on a popsicle. I confessed my sin to Rita and asked her if big Rob, the detective was going to take me to jail? The moms laughed and that made me feel a little better. My penance was raking the leaves in Robbie’s backyard that afternoon,…a job he had been scheduled to do..a job I gladly took over.

You just don’t think about cause and effect when you are a kid…but you do when you become an adult reflecting on childhood memories. The horse apple, or the cause, sure did have an effect on little Robbie. And that “apples and oranges” comment left a lasting mark on me as well. My mother isn’t around to give her input here, but I doubt she would recall saying it to me. I think it would surprise her to know how many times I thought of the comment throughout my “growing up queer” years.

I knew I wasn’t meant to be a cookie-cutter, a girly-girl jumping rope after that, and it was okay. It didn’t solve all my problems or future heartaches, but it was just okay after that. I was like any other kid…I could be rotten as hell one day and cause another kid a trip to the hospital, but I could also become the only girl on Mrs. Brown’s 1st grade, kickball team. Soon thereafter, a classmate, Susan mocked me one day in recess and yelled out, “Julya is a boy!” I pretended the ball was her head the next time it was my turn at the plate…”apples to oranges” I thought….as I rounded the bases smiling.

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2 responses to “Growing Up Juju (part 13 in a series)

  1. The day before my 10th birthday I learned the hard way that bb’s don’t bounce off. We lived in a really small town at the time and by sundown they all knew that I had nearly blinded a boy from down the street when I shot him in the eyebrow. My defense? He and his friends were shooting water pistols at me and another girl. I guess he learned that not all girls giggle in this situation and I learned a very important lesson about firearm safety.

  2. Great Story! Never mock a person with skills…

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