Penny Spencer doesn’t realize how good she has it. The year is 1972 and she is growing up in a snug world on the family ranch in northern Arizona. Her cousin Willa lives just up the road, a built in best friend, but when Penny’s parents decide to take in a foster child from the Navajo reservation, everything changes.
Verna Yazzie is from Lukachukai and she might as well be from Mars. Penny is forced to give up her room and share her family with someone who seems to have nothing to give in return. Verna is never going to fit in.
So far, I have had no luck getting it published, but I thought you might enjoy reading a chapter called...
Happy birthday to Jill
“Verna’s not even invited Mom. We can’t just show up with an extra person.”
“I’ll call Jill’s Mom, I’m sure Sheila won’t mind.”
I was horrified. “Mo-o-o-m.” My voice came out in a mouse squeak. “You can’t you just can’t.”
Willa and I had been counting down the days until Jill’s birthday party. Jill had been queen of our grade since kindergarten, and Willa and I were scared of her. Jill lived in town, shaved her legs, and all her clothes matched. She didn’t even call them clothes. She called them “outfits”. Jill did her shopping in Phoenix and she scorned the Sears catalog that Willa and I loved. She flashed with hardware—hoops in her pierced ears and braces on her teeth. She got her hair done at the New U before picture day every year and her nails were painted not chewed. Jill was the most popular girl in our class and it was the first time Willa and I had been invited to one of her parties. Now Mom was trying to ruin it by making me bring Verna.
“I don’t think Navajos believe in parties Mom.”
“Where in the world did you get that idea?” Mom shook out a towel with a sharp snap.
I tried another tack. “She doesn’t have a swimsuit.”
“Well, since you have a new one, she can borrow your old one.”
“Trust me, she won’t want to do that. It’s unhumane.”
“What in the world is that?”
“You know, germy. She won’t want my private part cooties.” Mom snapped another towel. They were always stiff from being dried outside on the clothesline. “I think you mean “unhygienic”, and I’m sure I could get rid of your cooties in my next batch of laundry.” A cupboard door slammed.
Mom gave me a glare and called out, “Verna, is that you?”
Dang that girl was sneaky. My family clomped around so you could tell where they were. Verna just seemed to appear.
“I don’t want to go to that party.” Verna said.
My face was hot with embarrassment and I mumbled “A…well. I could…”
Verna gave me a disdainful look and turned her back on me. As she left the room she said. “I can’t swim.”
I was flooded with relief (Thank you God!) that my first boy/girl party was not going to be ruined by a weird foster sister. I had enough to worry about.
Willa and I loved swimming, especially since we were finally old enough to go without a parent. We went every week and once in a great while we could talk Jimmy Scott into going with us. If I begged enough, he would pick me up right out of the water, lift me overhead and throw me. Then he would do the same for Willa. It was a blast, being launched through the air and landing with a huge splash. He was willing to do this when older girls were around, because lifting us showed off his arm muscles. He also did crazy dives and tricks off the diving board.
Jill’s parents had rented the community pool just for the party. We were going to swim for an hour and then go to her house for hamburgers, cake and ice cream. I held up the towel for Willa while she changed in the stall that had no door and then she did the same for me. I happily pulled on my new swimsuit, which was bright pink with wavy white lines. I had grown a couple inches and I had been tugging my ratty old suit out of my bum for 6 months. I found a cute two piece in the catalog and Mom said “Why I bet I can make that Penny!” That’s what she said about everything that cost too much. Except for my jeans, Mom had sewed all my clothes since I was born. I’d had my doubts about the swimsuit project, but it had really turned out cute.
When I came out of the stall Willa said, “Gosh Penny, that is sooo darling!”
“Thanks, I like it too.” I admired myself in the cloudy mirror.
We left our towels and our change of clothes in a stack on the bench, carefully hiding our underwear, and hurried out of the dressing room. The smell of chlorine and echoing voices hit us as we turned the corner. There were scads of boys and girls already in the water. They were all in the shallow end batting beach balls around.
We both stood watching for a second, huddling together with our arms wrapped around our stomachs, hands holding our elbows. A boy-girl party, this was really big. I was so glad I had a best friend. It would have been way too scary alone.
Willa elbowed me, “Do you want to do the diving board first?”
“Yeah, let’s do it.” I wondered as I walked on the rough cement deck if any boys were looking at me in my new suit. Did I really look good in it?
Willa climbed up on the diving board first and yelled, “Watch this!” over her shoulder at me. She ran to the end and bounced hard again and again. The bouncing board echoed so loudly that everyone in the shallow end turned to watch her. She went high into the air, spreading her arms and legs out wide. It looked like she was going to do a gigantic belly flop. At the last possible moment she tucked and did a cannonball. It sent a big splash into the air. Everyone cheered.
When she came to the top I yelled, “Oh yeah, watch this!” I ran to the end of the board, took one high bounce and then did a perfect fish flip. This was my specialty, and had taken a lot of practice. I kept my body stretched out, arms above my head and didn’t tuck at all, but flipped completely around once and went in feet first.
I hit the water hard and right away knew I was in big trouble. As I headed for the bottom, the top of my swimsuit stripped completely off over my head and arms. I reached out to grab it as it began to sink in front of my face. As I kicked toward the surface, the bottom half of the suit slipped all the way down my legs. I was just able to snag it with my big toe before it sank to the bottom of the pool. I tried to get my feet back into the leg holes as I came up for air. When I broke through, I was holding onto the waistband of the bottom half with one hand and the top in front of me with the other hand. I wanted to plunge right back to the bottom of the pool to put it all back on, but I had to get a breath.
I blinked water out of my eyes. The kids were all coming toward the deep end!
...to be continued