At some point it was deemed that a babysitter was necessary to take care of April and me after school. Around this time, Dad was working the 2nd shift at the railroad. This was great because he was there to make breakfast and take us to school in the mornings. It was bad because at night he was at work and didn't get home until around 11:30, long after our bedtimes. This meant that our afternoons were monopolized by a babysitter.
Our sitter's name was Pat. I'm not talking about the hermaphroditic character from Saturday Night Live. This Pat was a fiery old grandmother who babysat kids in her own home. Aside from myself and my sister, she kept a pair of brothers and one older guy who went to a different school. She also regularly had her two grandsons there, one of whom lived with her and her husband.
The in-house grandson carried the last name Costanza. These were the days before Seinfeld entered into our pop culture vocabulary, but if it had, we probably would have been calling him "can't stand ya." I know, it's mean. And we were kids. And we were mean. I know I've railed against bullying on this blog, but I've also admitted that I have been on both sides of that particular neighborhood problem.
Costanza was about a year younger than me, but was slightly bigger. Several of us would often pick on him because he was a little slow. Looking back, there really wasn't anything wrong with him, but that's just how kids are. Especially sarcastic kids who make a mockery out of just about anything in his field of vision. Yeah, I do feel a little guilty about picking at a younger kid. On the other hand, I have no doubt that he would have pounded me if he could only have figured out a little quicker that he was the butt of a joke. As it was, we could verbally jab him, then run away. He couldn't catch up.
There are three very clear things I remember about going to this house after school. One was that Pat and her husband had no problem cussing in front of the impressionable children. They would unapologetically throw around the Lord's name and some GDs. But then they would make a big deal about their church and how they went every Sunday. Makes sense to me.
Another is that Pat had this black cat named Boots. The cat was named this because of the white feet on an otherwise totally black body. That cat threw up more than any domesticated animal I've ever been in contact with. It was a daily ritual. "Oh, the school bus just dropped the kids off. Whose lap should I vomit in today?"
Finally, and best of all, is the two enormous maple trees in the front yard. Most of the year, there was nothing special about these trees. In fact, they may not have even been that large, but to a 7-year-old, they were huge. But during the fall, they would release an unprecedented amount of red leaves. To give us something to do (i.e. occupy us whilst she watched her stories), Pat would have the kids rake the leaves on a daily basis. We'd rake them into huge piles and then, of course, jump into them.
Pat would always warn us about spiders in those big leaf piles. But we never listened. We never listened, that is, until that one fateful day. Poor Kevin was never the same after that. She didn't let us rake leaves anymore.