Carol Parry and I crouched in the Becker’s bushes contemplating the crime we were about to commit. Although we were only nine-year-olds, and squatting to make ourselves inconspicuous, it was March, so any one passing would have spotted us hunkering down in our leafless cover. Had we been a little older, we might have thought to bring along a shovel. We felt a shovel would be too obvious; we came armed with a soupspoon.
Whose idea it was to steal the Becker’s gooseberry bush, I don’t remember. I do recall thinking they’d never miss it, since Carol and I had been snatching its berries all summer undetected. The plan was to seize the bush, run down the street to my own yard; and plant the bush way in the back where my mother, an avid gardener, wouldn’t notice it. It had seemed like a wild exciting adventure when we cooked it up indoors but now, squatting in the cold wind, it didn’t seem so brilliant, “Roberta, you’re not going to chicken out, are you?” said Carol, reading my mind. Carol, like my other best friend, (and Carol’s rival) Barbara Walsh, were tough little Irish-Americans who knew how to fight. They belonged to the True Church and had access to Confession followed by Absolution, which may have accounted for their cavalier attitude towards getting into trouble.
“Don’t rush me Carol; I’m just getting ready,” I answered uncomfortably. I was the lone Protestant as well as the sole only child on my block. I was already taller than my peers and, like many tall girls, was teased about my height and was easily bullied. Well aware that nearly half of what I did with my two friends would have been soundly prohibited by my mother (with dire repercussions if discovered), I played my cards close to the vest when at home. “Ok already, let’s go,” I said. Carol and I darted the few yards from the hedge to where the gooseberry bush stood, forlorn and dormant at the edge of the Becker’s yard. I flew into action with the spoon which thunked ineffectively against the semi-frozen soil.
“Hurry up Roberta!” Carol said between laughs and snorts.
“It….won’t ….dig!” I huffed, fruitlessly jabbing the spoon, dislodging a few pebbles. My hands were freezing and the spoon was beginning to bend. I felt a mounting hysteria; sure that at any moment someone would shout, “Hey! What are you kids doing?”
In the throes of panic I finally grabbed the bush at the base of its trunk and tugged. After a few furious yanks the bush’s roots gave way, toppling me over backwards into Carol Parry, showering my eyes and mouth with dirt. “Come on, RUN!” yelled Carol. She and I raced down the sidewalk that circled the development’s identically-built 1950’s ranch houses. Only one house stood in-between the Becker’s and my family’s houses, but our run down the pavement, saddle shoes slapping the sidewalk, winter jackets flapping open, seemed miles long. “Maybe we should say the Acts of Contrition,” Carol suggested, breathlessly.
“Ok… Oh my God…I am heartily sorry… for having offended you…” I gasped, dirt hitting my knees as it shook loose from the bush’s torn roots. I knew all the Catholic prayers, having coached Barbara and Carol on their catechism; “And I detest all my sins…because of…your just punishments….” I swung open the gate of our fence, a corral-style contraption ridiculously oversized for out tiny suburban yard, and we slipped in, fastening the gate behind us. Racing past the kitchen door into the back yard, we rounded the corner of the house, tiptoeing by the dining room windows and making our final sprint to the yard’s furthest corner. We hit the ground breathlessly, hoping my mother hadn’t spotted us.
I had no more luck digging a hole in my own yard than I had at the Becker’s. Frustrated, I pulled up a frozen clod of earth, lay the bush’s roots in the resulting hole and covered it with the frozen dirt, “If we cover it over with twigs and dead leaves, no one will see it. Then maybe it will grow in the spring,” I said, hopefully. But Carol Parry had lost interest. The sun was setting and we were both hungry and chilled.
“If your mother finds it, I hope she doesn’t kill you Roberta,” she said with a laugh. Then she left.
My sleep was disturbed that night when the door to my bedroom burst open and I was blinded by the beams from several policemen’s flashlights. Yanked out of bed in my cowboy-print p.j.’s, (the kind with the feet) I was dragged past my sobbing parents and old grandmother and was handcuffed. Being a skinny kid, the cuff’s slipping off and clattering to the floor awakened me from my nightmare.
Spring came along, thawing the ground. I avoided our garden and the dead gooseberry bush until my mother cleared it away with the Debris of winter. My nightmares gradually changed into wish fulfillments in which I dreamed of the gooseberry bush bursting with fruit, green with promise.