From her earliest memories in 1966 to eye-rolling adolescence in
1975, follow Vicki Volester through her first volume of
hide-and-seek between nurturing support and interfering bafflement.
Vicki's earliest pinpointable memories (at age
not-quite-four) are of alarm as her family contemplates a move to
The City; apprehension, when her big sister Tricia tells her a
bedtime story about a Mad Man Who Got Away With Murder; and
awareness—repeatedly—of Something or Other spying on her from the
Big girls could tremble. Big girls
could whimper. Only babies cried.
And Vicki’s Gardening Angel would too
show up in time. Armed with a hoe and rake and pinking shears made of
fire, to scare any old Mad Man right out of his wits.
Or so she told herself.
But the Something or Other had a name now, and
a furious violent hate-filled face, and a presence (for the next
thirty-nine years) in Vicki Volester’s dreams. Which would often
consist of her trying to hide, and trying to yell, and endlessly
Trying to "be strong to get along," Vicki survives a
harrowing trip (by heavily-loaded Corvair) to The City, and the
Volesters's new greystone apartment on Walrock Avenue in Pfiester
Park. Tricia declares it will be a wonderful life for them from now
on—but Vicki privately makes a wish-and-wish-again she could go back
Scary images kept flashing at her whenever she dared peep
over the front seat. They were on a bridge—they were passing
slums—they were heading for a canyon whose cliffs were made of
buildings, the tallest ones she’d ever seen—a jagged line of them
looming up to scrape the horizon, folding in on either side to trap a
swarm of cars and trucks and buses that made their own Corvair
swerve—jolt—lurch—honk—adding to the accumulated racket that
rose and rose till Ozzie and Felicia had to yell to be heard and still
not be understood—
Vicki shrank down as far as the gap would
permit, covering her face with King Leonardo as she wondered just how
bad it was going to hurt when they crashed and burst into flames...
Baby brother Christopher (soon dubbed "Goofus") is
born, to Vicki's further dismay. Whenever possible she escapes with
Hayley Tamworth, her new friend-and-neighbor, to play around the
Walrock greystone; but Vicki can do nothing at night to keep away
from Goofy's siren-like howls.
“There’s a BOY in
the family now. And you just have to look at him to see how impossible
he’s going to be to live with, the older he gets. I wonder how soon
we’ll be able to smack him around?”
The future promptly seemed nearer and
cheerier. “Can we do that?”
“Hey, we’re his big sisters—it’s our job
to do that. We’ll have to work together: you’re too little to do much
yet, and I’ll be too busy to do it all. Maybe we can get your friend
downstairs to help—take blame for things, stuff like that...”
Tricia begins taking dance lessons from Aunt Fritzi (a
former chorine); Vicki vows to learn too, but fears her feet are
stumbly and graceless. She and Hayley are enrolled in nursery
school, where they meet some longtime future classmates—including
Mean Melissa Chiese and weepy-creepy Wernie Ball.
Vicki, kiddycursing her feet as they tangled with the legs
of her chair, found the way blocked by the adult-sized chair and its
sniveling occupant. Who reminded her of Peter Rabbit, caught in the
gooseberry net and dunked in the watering can.
Queasy pity churned Vicki’s stomach.
“Don’t cry,” she muttered at him
while squeezing past.
He raised his head. Confronting her with
startlingly red eyes in a pasty pallid face.
Vicki hurried after Hayley and the other Happy
Marchers. Acutely aware with every awkward step that Wernie Ball was
following her—those creepy-crawly eyes were upon her—their focus
poised like a pair of wet crimson needles...
Other longtime acquaintances are made when the girls
begin kindergarten at Reulbach Elementary School. Among these are
spiteful Stephanie Lipperman and impish Kris Rawberry, the latter
becoming Vicki and Hayley's new best friend. The trio plan their
very first slumber party, but it gets disrupted by fallout from the
death of "a Doctor-King, Leader of Negroes."
“Krissy, get your things. I’ve come
to take you home and we have to leave now.”
The trio wrang their hands and stamped their
feet and wailed about how unjust this was; while frazzled Claire
conferred with the Tamworths in agitated undertones, alluding to fires
and snipers and curfews and Kate manning the phone and Sam being in
the thick of it with his damned camera.
Gasp went the girls at such a word
coming from Mrs. Rawberry’s lips. “Um,” Kris quavered, “is Daddy
Of course he was, sweetheart. The trio needn’t
worry their little angel heads, they had done nothing wrong, this
wasn’t their fault...
The Volesters return to Michigan for a family reunion,
coming home just before The City gets rocked by further riots (which
"the whole world is watching"). Vicki, looking after two-year-old
Goofus, can't prevent him from toddling out of the greystone—nor can
she summon assistance to haul him back.
“HELP!” Vicki yelled as
Goofus wrenched loose, a grin of relish spreading over his speckled
face and snouty nose and bristly orange crewcut. Oh good grief, he was
a pig! A yucky runty porker edging his tricky piggy way along a wall
under a NO TRESPASSING sign—
—that the whole world took far too seriously:
there was not a single person in the alley but Vicki. And her
loathsome little brother. Who took refuge behind a telephone pole,
leering around it with a stuck-out tongue...
Vicki, in desperation, tried shouting all the
profanity she knew. Expletives that at any other time would’ve brought
a mob of angry adults on the run, but today: NOBODY. Just dead
silence, except for Goofus gleefully echoing her no-no’s...
Harsh nicknames are handed out by a mean-girl clique
that emerges in first grade, led by Melissa and Stephanie. Vicki
gets tagged as "Klumsy Klutzer"—but counters this by finally
beginning lessons at Aunt Fritzi's dance studio.
In February Vicki had one of those adventures that take
permanent residence in your heart and soul. Aunt Fritzi invited the
“Schmelzettes,” Vicki and Tricia and Mom and Gran, to the Civic Opera
House for a performance by Ruth Page’s International Ballet...
Darkness again. And there was “O Fortuna!”
experienced for the first time, crashing like waves on the Lake As Big
As An Ocean. Turning great wheels and vibrating great strings that
could vanquish winter under the changeable moon: making us merry,
making us joyful, carrying us unchained to be reborn—
I want to dance. I want to be a dancer.
Then you must learn how, Miss...
Belligerent newcomer Brenda Pomerantz spearheads a
second-grade resistance movement by Vicki and her friends (calling
themselves "Peaches" after being initially labeled "Pooches")
against Melissa Chiese's Blue Meanies.
What a great name! The freshly-dubbed Peaches went out on
the landing to exult in it. Peach, according to Sarah-Jill, was the
complete opposite of blue on the color wheel, and Hayley said that
wearing peach clothes would make them look healthy. Kris came up with
the brilliant idea that everyone should bring a peach to school and,
at a signal, throw them at the Blue Meanies.
“Ripe peaches—no, rotten ones!” said
“Oog!” went Vicki. “’Member, we don’t want to
get us in trouble—just Them. Or at least Her!...”
In third grade the class stages a Borrowers
Ballet for the school variety show, with Vicki cast as
Arrietty—and Wernie Ball as the Voice of the Boy, to console him for
harassment by bully Dunk Gunderson.
Vicki’s own opinion of “Teeny-Weenie” hadn’t changed a
whole lot in the four years since Melissa made him cry by swiping his
chair... Same little cobweb-headed paste-eater. It was not a fun
surprise to discover he’d taken the desk directly behind hers in Miss
Steinfeldt’s room. Nor was it a happy adventure to sense him huddled
back there, exhaling whatever ailed him at any moment.
The fact that Vicki hadn’t had to stay home
sick from school for a single day this year meant nothing...
After Aunt Fritzi marries Gross Uncle Doug and leaves
The City, Vicki's grandfather announces he's turning over his used
car lot to the Volesters and retiring to Florida—despite Vicki's
grandmother's refusal to move.
“My femmily said: ‘If you marry this Galitzer, you are dead
to us.’ I did not believe it. He hedd won me, so—! I did marry him.
Waited awhile, then wrote letters. All returned unopened, so—! I wrote
no more. Heard no more. Did not essk.”
“Um… what’s a Galitzer, Gran?”
“Old country foolisssness. ‘Litvak’ nonsense.
Many things they could hevv said against your grenndfather, but that
was what they tzose? Absurd...”
Vicki's father lands a Honda franchise, but struggles
to sell the new subcompact cars till Tricia debuts in a "Daddy &
Princess" TV commercial. Meanwhile, the Peaches and Blue Meanies vie
to win over the most beautiful fourth-grade girl anyone'd ever seen
in real life.
Four Peaches and four Blue Meanies watched Nina head their
way with a tray of meatloaf, green beans and Jell-O. All eight saw
Jimmy’s elbow jab Billy Goldfarb’s ribs—then Jimmy’s hand slide inside
Jimmy’s shirtfront and make it palpitate like a beating heart—then
Jimmy stand and bow and say, “We saved ya a stool, Nina!”
(Snortles from every guy at that table.)
“’Kay,” said Nina. Taking the proffered stool
without the slightest hesitation, and sending shockwaves across the
“She’s sitting with them!” Vicki hissed.
“She’s sitting with boys and eating LUNCH with
In fifth grade the Blue Meanies abandon childhood and
focus on Jonathan Dohr, the dark-brooding-mystic new boy who also
sends shivers down Peach spines, and bests Dunk Gunderson at
Ultimate Frisbee. Dunk wreaks havoc at the school Science Fair.
Sarah-Jill proceeded to the group’s own psychic
experiments, all of which (colossal surprise) revolved around
Jonathan. Whose reserve turned to stricken foreboding as he suddenly
backed away, unnoticed by the Peaches, and “went through himself” (as
Jimmy always said when Jon Dohr entered a washroom)...
“He’s gone to throw up,” said a voice in
Mental telephathy? No: Wernie Ball, in a
hurried nervous whisper.
Vicki recoiled from his lips...
Just before sixth grade starts, Vicki goes through a
growth spurt that impacts her aptitude at the Olivia Fischel Ballet
Academy. She sprains an ankle, doesn't fully recuperate, and has to
abandon her dreams of becoming a ballerina.
Run run run leap (thud).
Run run run leap (THUD).
Run run run leap (THUD).
“Six relevés in first position;
repeat in second position.”
I am a butterfly: I float, I glide. I do
not wobble. I don’t, I DON'T, I DON’T—
Ms. Olivia stood silently, a hawk in human
form: piercing eyes, aquiline nose, predatory cheekbones.
You can demote me to Level Four, I won’t
mind I’ll be such a good example to littler girls of never giving up
no matter how long it takes I’ll do it I will I promise oh please...
A Bengali family moves to Pfiester Park, triggering a
racial confrontation and Dunk Gunderson's downfall. Vicki slowly
pulls through a deep funk, coming out of it much more attractive
("pain becomes her") and inspired to take up jogging.
Hup two three four. Lift those
knees, move those arms, steady that breathing. Watch out for pavement
cracks that could cause a klumsy-klutzer stumble.
Wheet wheet wheet wheet shrilled the
cardinal, like an oddly-timed alarm clock—
—that woke up every muscle in Vicki’s body,
all at once. And made them regain their memory. Not so much of ballet
(my gal is a fancy stepper) as of basic rhythmic forward
motion (ginger with salt and pepper) that could make you
skim, make you glide, make you soar, make you SWOOP
over the Esplanade...
By seventh grade the Peaches have begun drifting
apart. Vicki unexpectedly becomes best friends with Stephanie
Lipperman, and ends up mediating between Steph and Brenda
Pomerantz's dueling Bat Mitzvahs.
She dried her tears, rinsed her
face, declined Vicki’s offer of mascara, and led the way down to the
first floor—where she stupefied Vicki by striding through the east
doors. Out to the parking lot, leaving school before the final bell
had rung, heedless of whether any adults might see.
OhmyGahd she HAS cracked
Stephanie paused while still visible. Looked
back and jerked her head to the left. Was Vicki expected to come too?
What would happen if she didn’t? Might a life be at stake, not to
mention traffic if Stephanie threw herself into it?...
Vicki goes on her first sort-of-date, with the fourth
guy who expresses interest in sort-of-dating her. Tricia stars in a
high school production of The Sound of Music and is
offered a chance to backpack through Europe, but heartbreak
In the end, after sitting beside or
behind Vicki these past three alphabetical years, it was Ordinary Mark
Welk who came through for her. “Hey,” he said one day after lunch.
“You going to the dance?”
“I dunno. You?”
“I will if you will.”
“Mark Welk, hunh?” was Steph’s reaction.
“Well, he’s… nice.”
“He’s okay,” Vicki corrected her. No point
acting all head-in-the-clouds about it.
Unlike Tricia, still very much in a HILLS-ARE-ALIVE!
mood thanks to her European horizon...
The Volesters (minus Tricia) find a house in the
northern suburb of Vanderlund, and prepare to move away from
Pfiester Park after nine years in their apartment on Walrock Avenue.
Vicki rolled down her window and
peered out at the sort of house you’d see inhabited by families in TV
sitcoms. You could almost hear Jan whining Marcia Marcia Marcia
inside it. And the set designers certainly did a good job on the
surrounding neighborhood—every yard had a couple of tall trees, all of
them in full leaf, arching upward to mingle overhead so the Lane
really seemed like a shady Burrow.
She pictured herself living here. Riding a
bike to and from other suburban places. Jogging down to Lesser Drive
and a run across the park, or over to Panama Boulevard and along the
(sweet-scented) canal like a Venetian teen.
Was Tricia in Venice now? How would she react
to this new house, to barely being able to set foot in 3132 Burrow
Lane before college started—
College! As in school.
One of the suburban places Vicki would be
to-ing and from-ing. Though she didn’t know how to get there and back,
or even what is was called, or anybody who attended it. Not a single
solitary soul in all Vanderlund...