Growing up Juju (part 8 in a series)


Dr. Bullock took a drag off of his cigarette, put in down on the ashtray and walked over to Juju. “You know, everything looks good kid, but you are not where you should be on the weight chart.” Juju was 11, she was asthmatic, and choking on second-hand smoke. I am not fat, I am big-boned, Juju thought…just sign off on the school physical sheet you quack!

Juju and her mother left the doctor’s office for a greener pasture…literally. Her mother had a one acre garden with a friend that was located about 4 blocks from Juju’s house. The garden was flourishing with tall stocks of corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers being the main components. Juju loved going to the garden with her mother to pick bushels of corn and cucumbers..the tomatoes, not so much.

Jewel, Juju’s mother, and her friend Hattie had created a miracle. One acre of organic produce in the middle of a surburban neighborhood that looked like it should be off a farm to market road in Iowa. It was illogical…it was hard work….it was magical.

Jewel and Juju would split the bounty with Hattie and then bid her goodbye. The summer of 1972 was filled with days of sitting at the kitchen table on Oak Street, shucking corn. Jewel loved fresh cucumbers in salads, but most were destined to become pickles. Juju would sit at the table shucking while Jewel regaled her with stories of her own youth, picking vegetables out of her grandmother’s garden in Ardmore, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression.

The ears of corn would then be placed in a large boiling pot of water and Juju would yell from the front porch to see if any neighbor kids were hungry. Dinner would consist of large ears of fresh corn, buttered and salted…with green plastic handles stuck in each end. Juju and her friends would sit around the kitchen table…gnawing on the cobs, giggling, and watching Jewel can her bounty of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Juju’s father, the chef, would get home about 6pm after a long day in his kitchen at work. His bounty would consist of whatever leftovers he was able to gather from his catering job that particular day. His boss didn’t care, the food was going to spoil if not eaten…so many a day he would bring home a mess of peel and eat shrimp or other delectables to compliment the fresh corn cobs. Newspaper would be spread on the table and Juju and her friends would enjoy the feast.

Juju’s refrigerator did not look like her friend’s ice boxes at their houses. No packaged lunch meat for Juju’s house…they would have a large ham to carve. No mac and cheese at her house, more likely a bucket full of beef bourguignon. Juju thought all the good eating probably made her family big-boned. Her mother had told her that eating right out of the garden would build healthy bones she needed to play sports.

After stuffing themselves, Juju and her friends would race outside to play until darkness fell. The eleventh summer of Juju’s life was spent playing softball, touch football in the street…and daily battles with Silly String.

TV was a very small part of Juju’s schedule, usually just Friday night. She watched The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and Room 222, one right after the other on ABC. Love American Style came on at 9pm and that meant relinquishing the tube to the adults. Juju and her friends would retire to the family den to play Twister and listen to the AM radio. Twisted bodies and Cheetos were scattered about the place, as Elton John’s Rocket Man wafted out the open windows and into the night.

The crush in Juju’s life in the summer of 72 was a girl named Lori Partridge. It didn’t matter to Juju that Lori was a fictional character on TV, for the love in her heart was real. Juju had cut out four, Partridge Family, 45 “records” off the back of the Frosted Flakes box and listened to them incessantly. Ironically, the actress playing Lori couldn’t sing a lick, but it didn’t matter to Juju. Yes, it was clear that Lori had replaced Maria Von Trapp for good….Maria had enjoyed a good run….for an ex-nun.

Juju was enjoying Mrs. Threadgill’s class that year at Harrison Lane Elementary. She had been looking at Mrs. Threadgill differently though ever since Juju had seen her at the local drag race and speedway. Juju had visited the racetrack with her older sister Junene and her hippie friends over the summer. She had walked up to the ticket booth with her $1.25 to purchase a ticket and had been quite surpised to see none other but Mrs. Threadgill peering through the other side of the plexiglass ticket booth window….and with a cigarette dangling out the left side of her mouth!! Mrs. Threadgill seemed surprised to see Juju too and had wished her a fun day while quickly removing the cigarette from her sight.

Juju thought it was odd to see her teacher out in the “real world.” Somehow in the back of her mind she imagined all the teachers living at the elementary, eating all their meals in the cafeteria, and hanging out together. Juju thought Mrs. Threadgill probably didn’t have anything else to do in the summer, so she sat in the hot ticket booth just for something to do. And evidently they let her smoke at the racetrack, something that was not allowed at school…..that must be the reason, she thought.

That year in math Juju was learning how to use a “slide-rule” and finding it very difficult. Mrs. Forrester, the math teacher said that there was a new invention out that was going to take the place of the slide-rule…making difficult calculations really fast! It was a fancy little box about the size of man’s hand she said and called a “calculator.” The world’s first hand-held, scientific calculator was going to be released in 1972 and was going to cost $395.00! Juju paid close attention and did her best to understand the slide-rule…..she didn’t see a time in her lifetime when she would be able to afford a calculator.

Juju thought she was pretty scientific and had dreams of becoming doctor. Not like her doctor that came into the room smoking just to tell her she was fat…more like Dr. Kiley. Dr. Kiley was good-looking, rode a motorcycle and helped out his old friend, Marcus Welby on TV. That looked like a good thing to Juju. It would take someone like Dr. Kiley to get a date with Lori Partridge.

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