Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Pulley Bone Incident

My daughter cooked chicken for us at lunch today, and it reminded me of one Sunday many years ago when I ate fried chicken for dinner at my grandma’s house.

After we got through eating my cousin Betty and I "pulled the pulley bone" around the leg of Grandma's dinner table. The person getting the shortest piece would get married first, so the old saying went.

I got the smaller piece when the bone broke, and sure enough, I wound up getting married first -- around nine years later.

But that’s not the most important point of this story.

Another old wives’ tale says that if the person with the shorter piece puts it over a doorway, the first “eligible” person who walks under it will be the person the owner of the pulley bone marries. So, anxious to see who I would marry, I had someone lift me up where I could place my pulley bone over the inner kitchen doorway at Grandma and Uncle Louie’s house.

(Uncle Louie was actually my step-grandpa, as well as my great-uncle. After Grandma’s first husband, my biological grandfather, died, she had married Louie, the widower of her sister Maude. He had two children, Betty and Charles, who were several years younger than my daddy and his three sisters.)

But back to the pulley bone.

A few days after the pulley bone incident, I walked next door to Grandma’s and Uncle Louie’s trying to sell fountain pens for my fourth-grade class at school. Although they might not have enough money to buy one, I felt sure their boarder, “Mr. Murray,” would. He always bought things kids sold for school, and in my mind he was rich.

He had a collection of silver dollars in a cedar chest in his room, and Betty, who did his laundry, said he wore silk underwear.

Mr. Murray didn’t let me down. He bought a fountain pen -- and turned and gave it to the strange boy sitting beside him.

I had been conscious of the boy when I first came in, but had managed to keep my cool. I’d only stared at him out of the corner of my eye while he watched me quietly from under a thatch of dark hair falling almost over his dark eyes.

Someone finally introduced us. He was Mr. Murray’s son! I didn’t even know Mr. Murray had a wife.

At the time, I didn’t think about my pulley bone resting over the kitchen doorway. But Grandma, in her teasing manner, later reminded me: I was going to marry Mr. Murray’s son, Kenneth. My fate was sealed.

The fact slipped my mind in intervening years, while I was busy with school, church, friends, casual sweethearts, and learning to be a writer.

Besides, Betty told me that Kenneth didn’t like girls.

My two siblings just younger than I were boys -- Jack two years younger, and James four years younger. Charles next door was three years older, while Betty was a whole five years older than I. Aunt Colamae, who came often on the train from the city to stay a few days, had boys the ages of Jack and me. Thus, during my grammar school years, I played mostly with boys.

When Kenneth, who was the age of Charles, came to visit his dad during the summer and school holidays, he played with the boys and I played with the boys, but we didn’t actually play with each other. I was always acutely aware of his presence, but knowing he didn’t like girls, I tried to
act like one of the boys.

After we grew up -- and the pulley bone prediction came true when I married Mr. Murray Nivens’ son Kenneth -- I learned that he had not disliked girls, but been afraid of them. However, he’d promised himself way back when we were playing in Grandma’s yard, he said, that when we were old enough he was going out with me, because I wasn’t silly and giggly like the girls he knew at school.

The summer I turned twelve, my family moved several miles from Grandma. For several years Kenneth and I saw each other only briefly a few times during chance encounters. I still felt that old awareness, but we never spoke more than a few words to each other.

Then, during my senior year of high school, he suddenly showed up at my door one day (we had no phone) and asked me out.

We were married a year later, November 13, 1955.

Chicken is still my favorite “meat.” But now days we seldom have a pulley bone to pull because we usually buy our chicken already cut up and packaged. The people who half the chicken breasts at the meat factory probably don't even know there's a pulley bone hidden inside it.

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