Candy Bombino was one strong, tough girl and mature for her age, in all ways. She was only ten years old but she already had more than the beginnings of breasts visible beneath the same gray dress she wore almost every single day to Whitman Elementary school. She was bulky, short and almost as thick as she was tall. She wore dense wool socks that poked through her tennis shoes and her jet black hair was cropped short. Candy rarely talked and had a mean look that nobody, including the teachers, ignored.
She lived at the Children's Home orphanage with over three dozen other kids near the end of Mill Road, a neighborhood we rarely ventured near. The Children's Home was a huge old building that sat up on a hillside, surrounded by very large untrimmed trees and looked like something Edgar Allan Poe would have ordered built. Scary place.
We always picked her to join in our playground fourth grade football games. She could tackle anyone and if she got her stubby arms around some player he went down and hard. More than a few guys couldn't get up for a minute or two after Candy smashed them into the hard dirt. I urged her on as she pushed all of us on the merry-go-round. She would get in the middle of the ride, grab the bars, grunt and start running with her solid, strong legs and husky bottom supplying the momentum. We all hung on for dear life as the merry-go-round reached speeds that made all of us dizzy.
The Children's Home where Candy lived
One day after one of these wild rides, the lunch recess bell rang and all the kids jumped off laughing and ran toward the cafeteria for lunch. It was a Friday and the lunch staff always served fresh cinnamon rolls on Friday. I had misplaced my coat and was looking around for it when Candy came over and stood by me smiling. I had never seen her smile before. I didn't know what to say but after a pause said: "Thanks for the ride Candy. You got us really ripping around today."
She grabbed me in a bearhug and tried to kiss me on the lips. I turned my head and she laid a quick flurry of smooches on my cheek.
"I love you, Bobby. You are my boyfriend,"she said still smiling.
Dad would give us the belt whenever we cussed at home but nevertheless, my first thought was, "Holy shit!" I knew I was in deep danger. She could break skinny me over her knee if she wanted to. I did the only sensible thing. I ran like hell toward the lunchroom, and it wasn't because of the cinnamon rolls. She yelled after me, words that echoed all around the deserted playground.
"Do you love me too?"
Double holy shit! Those words gave me a charge that almost sent me airborne. I was flying and smacked my head into the metal door but that didn't stop me. I was inside gasping for air and lost for what to do. I grabbed my sack lunch, chugged a milk and ran for home. I didn't stop for any of the sixteen blocks , banged through the basement door and collapsed on the couch huffing and puffing like a bloodhound after an all-night coon hunt. Mom was upstairs baking cookies and heard my less than graceful entrance. She came hustling downstairs.
"Bobby, what are you doing home so early?" she asked still carrying the wooden mixing spoon that had been used a time or two for other things besides mixing peanut butter cookie batter.
"I threw up, Mom. Right after lunch. I puked all over the slide outside. So, I came home. I don't feel so good," I lied.
"Oh, dear. Well, get on the couch and cover up. Here, I'll turn on the TV." She smiled. "I'll go get you a 7-up and some crackers."
I got on the couch and was immediately grossed out by some couple kissing on As the World Turns. I threw off the covers and turned the channel and found some Three Stooges reruns. That was much better.
Mom came down a few minutes later with the pop and crackers. I confessed.
"Mom, I lied. I wasn't sick at all," I said.
"What happened then? You can't skip school," she answered.
I told her about Candy Bombino kissing me and saying she loved me. She listened, nodded, smiled, and went back upstairs carrying the wooden spoon that luckily didn't find my butt. I blew out some air and watched Moe smacking Larry and Curly around when she called me upstairs.
"Bobby, I have an idea," she said to me as I entered the kitchen.
"What Mom?"I said.
"We're going to bake your little girlfriend some cookies."
"Bullshit!" jumped out of my mouth. It was my older brother John's favorite word. This got me a smack on the hand with the wooden spoon.
"You watch your mouth, young man. It will be nice. Get the stool and let's get to work." When I hesitated, she simply raised the spoon. I got the message.
We were mixing a huge bowl of batter and I was adding the chocolate chips when she spoke.
"So, where does your girlfriend live? Do you know?"
"Mom! She is not my girlfriend! She's a Children's Home girl."
"Oh, really?..."Why don't you like her? Do you think she's fat or homely? Or is it because she lives at the Children's Home?" she said.
"I like her fine, mom. She plays with us and she isn't fat. She is super strong; stronger than any two of us. She has this scary, mean look sometimes that would scare the devil, mom. I don't want a girlfriend and kissing and all that junk...."
"Get out two more bowls from cupboard," she ordered.
"How come?" I asked.
"We are going to make a whole bunch of cookies and take them over to the Children's Home for those poor kids," she said and smiled.
At that moment in time, I hated my mother.
"What do you mean, "we", Mom? I ain't going near that damn place."
SMACK...."Oh, yes your are. Do you want me to take that spoon to your backside? Get the bowls."
This was turning out to be one of the worst days of my life. I looked at Skippy, our pet beagle, sleeping underneath the kitchen table and envied him.
We pulled up to the Children's Home in our Nash rambler and Mom straightened her hair and smoothed out her dress. "Get the plates of cookies and be careful," she ordered. I felt like a man in a western show walking up to his own hanging.
"This is bullshit," I mumbled under my breath.
"Say! You watch your mouth," she said and started up the long set of stairs that led to the old mansion.
I was balancing the cookie plates and moving as slowly as a slug on sleeping pills. I actually heard dark organ music in the background. This was, without a doubt, not one of, but the single worst day of my life.
Old, happy Mom was smiling at me as she knocked on the tall dark wooden door and waving for me to hurry up. God, I hated her.
The door swung open and a handsome, gray-haired man answered.
"Good afternoon, Madame. How can I help you this fine day?" he said to mom.
"Bobby and I made some cookies for the kids and are dropping them off," my stupid mother said all happy sounding.
"That is so kind and loving. Thank you so much. The kids will go wild over homemade cookies," the man said. He was all happy, too.
I handed him the plates of cookies but Mom kept one. He nodded and smiled at me. I may never smile again, I thought.
"Oh, one more thing, sir. Could you have little Candy Bombino come down here for a moment?" Mom asked, to my absolute horror.
"Why.... of course," said the startled man. I seriously doubt anyone in history had called her 'Little Candy' before.
Mom glared over at me, evidently reading my mind. The door creaked open and there stood "Little "Candy. Big Hunk would have been a better name.
"Hello, Candy. My name is Dorothy. I am Bobby's mom and we brought these cookies just for you." She handed the unsmiling Candy a full plate of cookies.
Candy gave me her mean look and mumbled, "Thanks." She turned and started to close the door.
"One more thing, Candy. I do not allow Bobby to have any girlfriends. He is too young. He really likes you and I hope you will understand. His Dad and I just don't allow it," Mom said and Candy nodded.
" 'Bye, Bobby," Candy said with a smile.
We got down the stairs and I grabbed my mother in a hug. "Thanks, Mom. You are the best mom in the world!"
"Get in the car. You are grounded for the weekend. You are to mow the lawn, and weed the entire garden by Sunday night and no TV," she said without looking at me.
I didn't care. "That was pretty smart mom," I said.
"Don't you ever doubt your mother again."
Did I mention how much I love my Mom?