JENNIFER & SCOTTIE
Like all families, the Donnellys had their secrets. It was the 1960s, and for most Americans, the desire for a middle-class suburban lifestyle was at its height. The Donnellys, second generation Irish, were among the fortunate living out the American Dream in their steel-blue Cape with its attached garage, green manicured lawn, two kids, and a dog. In their bubble of Quinlyn, a Boston bedroom community, they fit right into suburbia. But life is messy and doesn’t fit into a nice neat package. It never has. It never will. And then there are the secrets––all those dirty little secrets hidden for decades. But on that pleasant Memorial Day in 1967, six-year-old Jennifer Grace Donnelly’s main focus was being happy and getting to play with her best friend, Scottie.
Jennifer was upstairs searching for her missing sneaker. She peeked behind her white rocking chair. Nope. Next, she lifted up the pink dust ruffle on her canopy bed, and there it was—her fire-red sneaker lying on its side. She plunked down on her rug and, with several deep breaths, blew off the dust bunnies. Her tiny hands held onto the sole as she wiggled her foot all the way in and then tied a big floppy bow (she was proud of her bows). “I can’t wait to see Scottie!” she squealed. Her heart thumped loudly as she raced down the stairs.
“DON’T RUN DOWN THE STAIRS, YOUNG LADY!” a stern male voice boomed out from the living room. “You could hurt yourself. Now go back upstairs and come down the proper way.”
“Yes, Daddy.” Jennifer’s enthusiasm suddenly waned.
She returned to the top of the wooden steps. When she glanced down, she saw her father standing at the bottom. His dark brown eyes, the color of burnt coffee, were staring at her. She took each step with caution, not wanting to make her father angrier. She tried to slip by him, but he blocked her path. His legs stood strong, trapping her so she could not escape. He was only five feet six inches, but next to Jennifer’s delicate frame, he cut an imposing figure. Kevin Donnelly’s black curly hair and round face made him look younger than his forty years, and so last month he decided to grow a beard. “Beards give men power,” he told his family one day as he trimmed some hairs from the burly growth. But his most distinctive feature was his killer smile, which gave off a warm, knee-weakening feeling that in certain situations could be slightly threatening. And he used it on everyone. It was his secret weapon, and he had perfected the art of using it to get exactly what he wanted.
Jennifer’s father looked down at her and flashed his trademark grin. “Come here and give Daddy a big kiss.” Her father crouched down, and she kissed his cheek. “You can give me more than a little peck.” She gave him another. “Jennie… Jen, you’ll always be my special girl.” Jennifer hated the feeling of his scratchy beard rubbing against her face. She walked quickly to the kitchen.
Jennifer’s mother was standing against the new Formica countertop in her pullover top and fitted striped pants, covering the chip bowls with plastic wrap. The kitchen was her favorite room in the house. She even had a sunny yellow chair next to the counter where Jennifer would sit. Jennifer loved sitting on the chair; she felt cozy there, watching her mom. It was the spot in the house where she felt safe, loved, and comforted. Jennifer’s mom worked part-time as a secretary for the Quinlyn town office, where she liked typing, filing, and keeping everything organized. Just like her kitchen, her typing desk was neat and tidy. Whether it was a stapler or a spatula, typewriter ribbon or a jar of peanut butter, Maureen Donnelly had a place for everything. She was a devoted wife, and every day she prepared Kevin’s breakfast. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, she packed him a ham and cheese sandwich, apple, and chips (he ate lunch at the Quinlyn Country Club on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Even on the days that she worked, she provided a nutritious dinner for her family. Her greatest joy was her two children. She had hoped to have five but after Brandon, she had two miscarriages. Two of her precious children died, and it was all very traumatic for her. Maureen was depressed for several years, but she refused to show it, and no one noticed. It was the last 1950s after all. A time when Doris Day and June Cleaver smiled their wholesome smiles onto TV sets and magazine covers into the living rooms of America, convincing American women that life is always splendid and perfect when you plaster on a cheery face. Maureen applied her smile daily. It was part of her morning routine–she put it on after brushing her teeth, just before her lipstick and mascara. Her smile, just like Doris’ and June’s, tightly sealed in all those hidden emotions. Maureen survived by keeping busy at her job at the town hall. Miraculously, Jennifer was born ten years after her son. Brandon now had a new baby sister. Maureen couldn’t have asked for a better gift than her new child with green eyes and red hair. Maureen and Kevin named her Jennifer Grace Donnelly. Grace was the name of Maureen’s mother. Grace was thrilled to have a granddaughter named after her. “She will always be special to me,” Grandma Grace’s face glowed, as she held the newborn in her kind, strong sixty-year-old arms.
Jennifer’s mom had finished up her signature clam dip and placed it in the refrigerator next to the Tab and tonic water when she must have heard the quiet, familiar patter of small feet coming her way.
“How are you doing, honey?”
“Okay. Mommy, can I go out and play?”
“Yes, Jennie. But you need to cover up before you go out.” Her mother went to the bathroom and returned with a green plastic bottle. She unscrewed the orange cap, squeezed some of the white suntan lotion onto her palm, and gently applied it to her daughter’s face, arms, and legs.
“You know, today’s a big day for your father. Some people from work will be here. So, it’s important you be on your best behavior.”
“Like at church? Or the dinner table?”
“Exactly like that. We want to make Daddy proud, don’t we?”
“Yes,” Jennifer nodded and headed outside, all lathered up in suntan lotion. She was ready for the party to begin.
It was the Donnelly’s annual Memorial Day barbecue, and the back yard setup was almost complete. Jennifer’s father was proud he owned the second largest lot in the development and kept it in tip-top shape. He spent many hours mowing the grass to keep it looking picture-perfect. Jennifer frequently heard her father complain after mowing. “I don’t want to be poor like my parents.” His hand slapped the mower. “We’ve got to keep up with the Joneses…no one is ever going to call me poor!” Little Jennifer didn’t know what he meant by “keeping up with the Joneses”—all she knew was that her stomach felt nervous because he used his stern voice and rattled his hand.
On that Memorial Day and for the rest of the summer, Kevin’s entire lawn was as green and manicured as the grounds at Quinlyn Country Club. His yard was the envy of all the neighborhood men. Several neighbors honked their horns at the proud owner earlier that morning. “Nice looking lawn, Kevin,” waved John Fuller, an accountant who lived in a green Cape three houses down.
“Kevin, come over and cut my grass? I’ll pay you,” said their fun-loving, wise-ass neighbor, Al Levine, who lived in a split ranch.
Jennifer’s brother, Brandon, was in the back yard, finishing up the croquet area. He was in tenth grade and a solid decade older than Jennifer. They slept in the same house but lived in vastly different worlds, seldom overlapping. Brandon went to Quinlyn High and was heavily involved in the chess club, the history club, and the model-building club. He sprouted several inches in the last year—he was now five feet nine inches and had hoped to make the basketball team. But he was cut, so he stuck with what he knew best: his brain. Patti Tromelli, the only girl in the chess club, used the trusted attention-getting method of inexperienced, hormonal teenagers and started calling him “Brainiac,” which, unfortunately, like an unwanted disease, caught on and spread quickly. Kids would holler “Hi, Brainiac!” down the school hall, and he hated it. With his thick brown glasses and the stacks of books he carried everywhere, Brandon knew there was no recourse but to trot past and laugh it off. “Someone’s gotta be smart, and it might as well be me,” he’d say, trying to believe in his own words. He was liked well enough, but sometimes he just hated being a geek. Brandon desperately wanted to change things. Underneath the glasses and skinny body was a boy discovering, desiring what was important to most teenagers: the opposite sex.
One afternoon after school he lamented to his mom, “I can’t stand it when they call me Brainiac!” He stormed up to his room and slammed the door.
Later after dinner, she talked to him alone in the kitchen. “Being smart is a great gift. I know you don’t see it, but you will be successful someday. You are the smart one in the family.” She gave him a reassuring hug.
“Do something…anything to make me look less geeky, Mom.”
In early May, Maureen bought her son contact lenses and some fashionable, colorful shirts and new sneakers. He grew his brown hair out to cover up his wide forehead, and all the small changes seemed to add up. Brandon was still the “Brainiac,” but now he was the “tall, cute Brainiac.” Brandon began to see that the girls had taken notice. Particularly Tara Lawrence, the new girl who moved into the raised ranch across the street.
Brandon was busy working on something as Jennifer moseyed over.
“What are ya doing, Brandon?”
“Setting up for the game.”
She grabbed a wicket, imitating him. Her delicate fingers tried to poke the metal edge into the lawn, but the wicket just plopped over on its side.
“Jennie, that’s not the way it goes!”
“I was trying to help…I’m sorry.”
He picked up the wicket and put it in properly. “You’re too little to do this. I don’t have time for you right now,” Brandon said sharply. “Why don’t you go play with Kellie?” he added, trying to get rid of her.
“Okay,” Jennifer whispered. She walked away with her shoulders crumpled and face turned to the ground. He sound’s mad…like Daddy. I don’t think Brandon likes me.
Jennifer next went to visit the family’s golden retriever. Kellie, who regularly cheered her up, sat in front of the doghouse that was shaded by a big leafy tree.
“How are you today, Kellie?”
Jennifer patted her head and put her arms around the animal. “I love you so much. You’re such a good dog.”
Jennifer noticed Kellie’s empty water dish. “Are you thirsty? I bet you’re thirsty!” She picked up the bowl and went over to the garden hose, filling it to the tippy-top. As she toddled to the doghouse, water spilled everywhere. She plopped down the bowl with just an inch of water remaining. Jennifer settled herself down on the lawn, nestling her face into the dog’s fur. Here was the love and affection that Jennifer was looking for. “I love you, Kellie.” The golden retriever panted and wagged her tail. “Don’t ever leave, Kellie” said Jennifer, as she continued to give her long, nice pats on her back. Suddenly Kellie barked as a man approached them.
“It’s okay Kellie, it’s Uncle Keith.” The dog kept barking.
Uncle Keith was Kevin’s twin, and though they were identical, Keith was not as academic as Kevin. He didn’t attend college but found a good paying job with the U.S. Post Office. Keith was married to Mary and they had a son, Frank, who was Brandon’s age. Even though the brothers were now thirty, they still acted like teenagers when they got together—they called themselves the “Double Trouble Twins.” It was their private joke. Together they drank lots of Bud and perfected their billiard skills in the basement until the wee hours of the morning.
Uncle Keith was wearing a red sports shirt, khaki pants, and lots of cologne. He beamed down at Jennifer and gave her a wink. Jennifer inhaled the scent of his harsh cologne, which smelled like a rotten pine tree. She almost coughed but stifled it. He grinned and said, “How’s my favorite niece?” Before she could say anything, he lifted her up, propped her on his shoulders, and galloped around the back yard. “Isn’t this fun?” he asked her.
“Yeah,” she meekly replied. Her head felt dizzy. She just had to make-believe she was having fun.
“I’m better than a horse, don’t you think?” he added.
“Yeah,” Jennifer said again, this time in a whisper. Uncle Keith was going way too fast, and it frightened her. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see how fast he was going. Keith could yell, just like her father, so she was too scared to ask to be put down. All the while, Kellie kept barking and didn’t stop until Jennifer was on her feet, standing on the lawn.
“Those ribbons look nice in your braids. You look so pretty today, honey. Give me a big hug and a kiss before I go inside to see how your Aunt Mary is doing.” He spread his arms wide and then wrapped himself around Jennifer’s body, smothering her.
The back door sprang open. Jennifer’s mother headed toward the doghouse. “Guess who’s here, Jennifer?”
Jennifer immediately became exited and chanted, “SCOTTIE! SCOTTIE!”
“That’s right! He’s out front.”
Giving Kellie a pat goodbye, Jennifer dashed past the tree swing and toward the front yard. Guests were strolling around, towering above her in another world of adult conversation. Jennifer instinctively slowed down, trying to be on her best behavior.
“I can’t wait to see that new grill of yours, Kevin,” Mr. Tabor said to her father. When Jennifer walked by, Mr. Tabor smiled and waved. “And who do we have here? How are you doing today, Jennie?” he asked.
“I’m good,” she said, shyly glancing up at him. She liked Mr. Tabor. He was very tall…really, really tall…almost as tall as the ceiling. And he was a nice, kind man. He was gentle and didn’t ask for kisses.
“It’s a fine day for you and Scottie to be playing outside. He’s out front waiting for you,” Mr. Tabor said warmly.
Jennifer jumped down two stone steps and landed in front of the house. There was Scottie, blowing a big pink bubble with his mouthful of Bazooka bubble gum.
“Hi, Scottie!” she said, her voice brimming with excitement.
Scottie popped a large bubble and gave her a big grin. “Hi, Jennie Penny.”
“Hi, Scottie Dog,” she giggled.
“Hello, Jennifer,” said Mrs. Tabor, who was taking a plate of desserts out of their black Buick. “Did you enjoy watching the parade today, honey?”
“Yes, it was fun,” Jennifer replied.
“I think parades are fun too,” Scottie’s mom agreed. “I like it when I see someone I know marching by, and then they wave to me. That’s my favorite part. Parades make me happy.” With an affectionate look, she said, “Well, you two have fun together. Scottie, I’m going help Mrs. Donnelly in the kitchen.”
“Okay, Mom.” Scottie had straight hair the color of root beer soda, and his eyes were as blue as the summer sky. He was tall and slender—like a willow. One of his two front baby teeth had fallen out, but he still grinned without a hint of embarrassment at the gap. Scottie was an easygoing, kind child with a temperament that was a lot like his father’s. He loved comedy with some mischief woven in. But the thing he adored most in this world was his best friend, Jennifer.
He dug into the pocket of his red summer shorts and pulled out his last piece of bubble gum. “Jennie, I saved my last piece. Do you want it?”
“Thanks!” She opened the wrapper and popped it into her mouth.
They sat together on the front lawn, trying to blow mammoth bubbles.
“I’m gonna make a really big one this time,” said Jennifer. Out came a huge pink bubble that Scottie tried to burst. But Jennifer was too fast for him—she poked it with her finger and pop! They both screamed with laughter.
As they both continued to chew, Scottie noticed something. “Guess what?”
“We have the same red sneakers. My mom took me to Mr. Mack’s because she didn’t like my old ones. They had holes, and you could see my toes. But I liked them! I wish I had a hole so I could wave hello to you with my big toe.”
Jennifer glanced down at their matching sneakers. “We got mine there too. Mr. Mack says they call them P.F. Flyers.” She jumped up and flew around the front yard, making loops and circles with her arms and feet. She ran up to Scottie. “Mr. Mack says these shoes are like magic and in your dreams, you can fly with them and go anywhere you want. Maybe I can wear them to bed and fly away! Like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell.”
“Yeah!” he exclaimed. “I’ll wear mine and fly over to visit you, Jennie.”
“We can fly around and see the stars. Later I want to visit Billy and Mike. We can do all sorts of stuff. If we fly to the moon, then we won’t have to go to school the next day.”
Their two faces looked up at the clear sky and the bright yellow sun shining down on them.
“The sun’s like a big yellow flower. Look, Scottie… I can almost reach it!” Jennifer continued to jump higher and higher with her flying sneakers. “I almost touched the sun!” Scottie joined her and together they stretched their arms out for what seemed miles, hoping to touch the sun. With their childlike innocence and belief in small acts of magic, they laughed in delight.
“I did it, Jennie! I touched the sun! Now your turn…. Close your eyes and put out your hand. And no peeking!”
Jennifer shut her eyes tight and stood still, waiting with her hand out. Soon she felt a warm hand gently placed in the palm of hers, the fingers unfurling, depositing a tiny, warm object.
“Open your eyes now, Jennie.” She opened her eyes and saw a lovely white round stone.
“Scottie! I feel the sun! It’s nice and warm,” Jennifer beamed. Her heart felt light. She felt free and happy, just like when she was with Kellie. Scottie grinned.
The peace was broken by Tara Lawrence, their neighbor, who came whizzing by on her bike. Her transistor radio dangled from the handle, playing the Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” She sang along with her hand out, as if Paul McCartney was holding her hand. Brandon was no Paul McCartney, but she knew she had more of a chance with Brandon than Paul. She imagined them holding hands at the Quinlyn Cinema on Main Street––with no parents around. She parked her blue Schwinn in the Donnelly driveway and sauntered toward Jennifer and Scottie, hoping to find Brandon. Her blonde ponytail was now swinging in full force. Tara was keenly aware of the attention she could attract now that she was sixteen and more developed.
“Hi, Jennifer. Who’s your friend?”
Scottie said hi and smiled confidently, showing off his missing front tooth.
She walked around the two children to peek at the guests. “Where’s Brandon today? I want to show him my new bike.”
“He’s out back with some people.”
She noted the lineup of parked cars in the newly paved asphalt driveway. “You sure have lots of company today. Anyway, tell Brandon I stopped by.”
“Tara, we’re playing a fun game. Touch the Sun. Wanna play?”
“No, I’m too old to play games like that. Besides, you can’t really touch the sun from earth.”
“Yes, you can,” Scottie and Jennifer replied. “Just believe,” added Jennifer.
Tara laughed. “I won’t ever be able to reach it.” Then she rode off on her Schwinn.
“Scottie, guess what?” Jennifer pointed down at his fire-red sneakers. “Your shoelaces are untied.”
“It’s all the jumping and flying,” he claimed.
“Well, Scottie Dog, I can tie ’em for you.”
“Thanks, Jennie Penny,” he said after she completed two floppy bows.
They headed to the back yard and directly to the kids’ table. Jennifer poured some purple Kool-Aid into two Dixie cups. They gulped down several helpings of the sugary grape liquid.
“Let’s eat these,” said Scottie, as he tore open one of the smaller sized chip bags. His fingers plunged into the clam dip, covering both his hand and a chip. He licked his fingers while crunching. “I love chips and dip. I could eat these all the time, even breakfast,” Scottie said with his mouth full.
“Don’t load up on all those chips, Scottie. You won’t have any room left for anything else,” said his mother’s voice, coming toward them. Jennifer noticed Mrs. Tabor was wearing culottes, a pink striped shirt and a matching headband. Jennifer loved the way her gold earrings gleamed in the sun. “How are you and Jennie doing, honey?”
“And how is your knee doing? That was a big scrape you got yesterday.”
She knelt down and examined her son’s knee. “I think it’s time we put a new Band-Aid on.” Mrs. Tabor, a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, came prepared. She poked around in her purse and took out a small tube of ointment and a fresh bandage.
“Okay, Scottie, I’m going pull off the old one. Ready? One…two… three. Now that didn’t hurt too much, did it?” she asked. She applied some ointment on his cut and put a new bandage over it. “You’re as good as new, sweetie,” and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
Jennifer grinned at Mrs. Tabor as she walked away. “Your mom is nice. She’s nice like my mom. My mom puts suntan lotion on me so I don’t get burned.”
“Yeah, I love my mom. I love my dad too. He’s taking me fishing,” Scottie said. Jennifer peeked over at her father, grilling the hamburgers and franks. She said nothing. Quietly, she finished her chips.
The afternoon sun was still bright when they decided to play hide and seek. Scottie counted to ten, then skipped several numbers, speeding his was to twenty-five. “Ready or not Jennie Penny, here I come!” Even for a young boy, Scottie had the makings of a good detective. First, he checked the spots closest to him: the doghouse, the toolshed, and behind a birch tree. No sign of the little redheaded girl. He then meandered to the front of the house and scanned the trees and shrubs. His eyes detected a spot of red underneath the mountain laurel. He giggled as he pulled away some branches. There, Jennifer was crouching behind a green shrub with a big smile plastered on her face. With great jubilation, he announced, “Jennie, I see you!”
Instead of running to home base, he reached over and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. She grinned and returned him a tiny peck. They laughed while running back to home base together.
“Let’s call this one a tie,” smiled Scottie with that Cheshire-cat grin of his.
Jennifer thought he was just the most fabulous person on the planet. She felt a sense safety with him; that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her.
They decided to take a rest under a mighty oak and sat together quietly. A bright orange butterfly landed on Jennifer’s arm and flew away, a gray squirrel stared at them like he was smiling and ran up a tree, and then some ants marched along one-by-one as if they were walking in their own Memorial Day parade.
“How are the two of you doing?” Jennifer’s mom had stopped by to check on them.
“Good,” they both exclaimed.
Jennifer was beaming. “Mommy, guess what? Scottie kissed me on the cheek. And I kissed him back!”
Maureen smiled to herself. “That’s nice honey. I’m glad the two of you get along so well. Daddy’s finished grilling the kids’ burgers, so they’re all ready.”
Scottie and Jennifer walked around the hedges and past the adults. Several were gathered around the grill with drinks in their hands; others sat in chairs eating cheese and crackers. Jennifer could feel the grown-up talk swirling around her. “Did you see how quickly that house sold last week?” asked Allen Thompson. “How about a refill on that martini, George?” slurred Uncle Keith. “Did I tell you our son is attending Amherst?” bragged Betty Morrell.
When they arrived at the food table, the sounds of the adults vanished. They were presently in their six-year-old world, and Jennifer returned to feeling light again. Mrs. Donnelly stood behind the food table with a serving fork in her hand. “Jennie, would you like a hamburger or a hotdog?”
“A hamburger, please.” Her mother carefully placed a grilled burger and a toasted bun on her daughter’s plate.
“Scottie, what would you like?”
“A hot diggity dog!”
Her eyes twinkled as she served him a hot dog in a warmed bun. Scottie and Jennifer moved down the table. Their eyes gazed across everything before them: pretzels, more chips and dip, baked beans, potato salad, celery, carrot sticks, and watermelon.
“Jennie, wait until I eat this watermelon,” he said as he plopped down at the miniature table. “I’m really good at spitting the seeds really far!”
“Ick!” She then laughed.
Both sat nibbling on their food when Jennifer saw Mrs. Tabor walking toward the food table, carrying a large salad bowl. Jennifer dashed over to tell her the news.
“What is it, honey?” asked Mrs. Tabor, putting down the salad and picking up a drink.
Jennifer looked up at Mrs. Tabor’s face. “Scottie kissed me, right here,” she said pointing to her cheek, “and I kissed him back!”
Mrs. Tabor smiled sweetly at Jennifer. “That’s nice dear, your first kiss.” She took a sip of her diet cola and returned to the adult world.