There Is Strength in Our Stories: Beneath the Layered Makeup – Rachael Ikins

The July day I turned 8,
we piled into my mom’s green Plymouth, drove to town from camp. Errands.

She parked in front of the butcher shop. Worn stone steps,
doorbell jingled, our feet creaked across a board floor. A man who looked like
Santa’s brother greeted us. Stained
apron tied over his belly,
straw hat, rimless glasses perched on a nose’s redness
underlined with a silver mustache smile.

He said, “How are you, little lady?”
“I am 8 today.” I said.
He reached overhead to choose from the forest of upside-down sausages
and waxed cheeses that dangled from the rafters to cut down a bologna.
Slapped it on the butcher
block, carved a slice, presented to me on tissue.

The scents of spice and dust, his aftershave and cured meats…
My mom collected white paper packages tied with string. Sweat-frosted glass hid cold cuts, liverwurst, other succulent secrets.

We walked next door to the 5 & 10. Penny candy, cheap toys, precious gems
in rings that turned your finger green by bed time, underwear, office supplies,
home goods and paper-dolls. When we were older, a friend and I filled paper
sacks–rock candy, dots, licorice whips and fireballs. A whole bag for a nickel. Meandering home along the lake as the waves chuckled, our gasps, fireballs exploding on our tongues.

We hurried past the doctor’s and dentist’s offices, their stacks of Norman Rockwell
magazines, places smelling of fear and disinfectant, that shared a foyer with the liquor store. Sometimes my mother took me into its dark depths as she chose bottles that chimed in their paper bag. The man behind that counter smelled of gin. At 8 I knew it a familiar smell from dinners, but not its name. I suspected he was a vampire.

As we grew older, my friends and I watched movies in the theater next door on main street. Chewing-gum-cobbled floor, ugly ladies selling popcorn and a giant who patrolled the aisles with a police-sized flashlight, ready to yank a kid out by the collar if she or he had sneakers up on a seat-back. Older teens sat in the last rows, slouched down, making out.
My small town at the head of a lake, tourist attraction,
wore makeup all summer long, summers we idled at our camp,
10 miles away.

Hikes, skinny-dipping, and fires on the beach, crawdads studied in buckets of water released come evening. Lullaby the water fall, whispers of cow-scented wind slipping down the cliffs with screech owl voices through night windows, cooled our bunks.

Lake licking beach stones beneath my bedroom. Canoe trips and rowboat races trailed by a school of carp.

The summer I turned 8, the butcher gifted me a bologna slice. My dad gave me a fishing rod and my grandfather, my own dinghy.

The spa built over the edge-of-town trailer park, not even an architect’s wet-dream.
My school, not the renovated sprawl that rivals a posh airport’s luxury.

The Esso station near my grandparents’ house where Frank made sure my mom had gas during the shortage to drive a sick child daily to the city for care. Boarded up.

The library hasn’t changed much.
I could borrow as many books as I could carry. You’d be surprised how many a kid can carry. Starved for stories, I stayed in the station wagon while she grabbed a few things from Roy’s Red and White, unable to stop myself from plunging into Dr. Seuss, Peter Pan, later, Catcher in the Rye, Nancy Drew, Mark Twain, stunned blinking when my mom knocked on the window to ask me to unlock the car.

I chewed my bologna the summer I turned 8, while we ambled past the drugstore, red and purple colored bottles in the window, $3 record albums, the hardware where you could buy jewelry from a shriveled lady, cigarette permanently screwed in the corner of her lipstick, collectibles in a glass case and tools, nails, screws or have paint mixed, to our car parked in shade of the theater marquee.

Nobody knew that a boy in my class, later it turned out to have been many boys, knelt, bent over in the locked men’s bathroom of that theater. A half block from two churches.
Choking and crying.

The big man with the flashlight.
No relation of Santa’s, and a child will do what he has to when a brush-cut giant and pale blue eyes promises,
“I will kill your mother
if you tell.”


Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

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