This story is by Kara Bohonowicz and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Gardner Falls’ town tradition of welcoming each new family with a homemade pie changed with Carol Ann. With pig tails and a bicycle, she delivered recycling flyers as soon as realtors posted sold signs. With 80’s hair and a pickup, she brought pooper scoopers and instructions for new dog owners. With a bob and a Buick, she canvassed for the underdog.
Progress could be fine for, say, a California town; but not this New England one. We are so close to our nation’s start, if we stretch far enough we can just, barely, touch.
Although our forefathers were forward thinkers, many in Gardner Falls are resistant to new ideas; therefore, when the news hit, some of us balked and focused our fears on the closest target. Carol Ann.
Our golden retriever and our Dixie dog barked, Daddy’s home! As Gary entered the kitchen, the door banged against the wall. “You guys will never believe this!” he said.
“What is going on?” I asked.
Gary said, “Cole Barry bought ol’ Harvey’s mansion!”
There was a pause. A fly on the wall would see me, beautiful overweight suburban mom, and our Bieber-esque son, Jon, staring at Gary, tall lanky construction worker, with our mouths open.
Jon asked, “The actor?”
I asked, “Cole. Barry. Multi-Oscar-winning Cole Barry?”
“The one and only,” Gary said.
“Gotta tell Tyler. He’s gonna freak.” Jon started texting furiously on his iPhone. A few seconds later, he said, “Instagram is going crazy!” He started taking selfies and sending Snapchats.
Gary’s iPhone jingled. “Oh, it’s Dad,” he said to me before he hit speaker. “Didya’ hear?” Gary asked. Within seconds he was engaged in a fierce debate with his father, Charles, who was an advocate for keeping Gardner Falls steeped in tradition. Charles was adamant that Cole Barry be stopped from moving. Gary pointed out the illegal nature of that act. Charles quickly changed his argument to focus on ways the town could hamper Paparazzi, tourism, or pop-up McDonalds. Gary was touting reasons celebrity status would help, such as increased cash flow, small business success, increased real estate value.
My iPhone pinged. It was Mom texting, which was new for her. Did you hear? I laughed aloud. She was the strongest link in the rumor chain. I imagined that she was on the phone with a neighbor while texting me. Her opinion would strongly mirror Charles’.
The next morning my fellow teachers and the students were frantically imagining a life with Cole: single women became Mrs. Barry, artists used their in to become famous.
Through the lunch ladies, I learned the New York Times was calling around.
During a Special Education meeting, the parents relayed Carol Ann’s newest campaign. She had formed a Welcome Cole committee. For the first time, she had requested tax dollars. It was for an aerial welcome banner and fireworks. The room erupted with vehement disapproval.
I couldn’t see why Cole moving here would change our town, or why welcoming him was offensive.
Silent reading time was interrupted by the janitor and a retiring teacher in the hallway. They spoke of the respectability of the Gardner Falls. Carol Ann’s antics could embarrass us to the world, should the reporters pick up on our stain, the Pooper Scooper Lady.
Peals of laughter echoed throughout the hallway from not only our classroom, but all adjoining rooms. The nickname spread like a voracious virus feeding on selfishness and fear.
By the time Jon and I got to the car after the school bell rang, I was sure half the town would be at Carol Ann’s barn that night, and the other half would be picketing in front of her house. She’d become a symbol of the changes Cole Barry would bring; either you loved or hated her.
Jon carried the excitement of Cole Barry’s move to town like a hot potato—he couldn’t hold on, he couldn’t let go. “Oh! Mom! Do you think Cole Barry has a dog? I wonder if he will shoot a movie in our town.”
Gary called and asked us to grab some ice-cream. He had already picked up pizza because he was on his way to the picket line at Carol Ann’s. I wasn’t surprised. Gary always put up a fight against his father’s opinions, but always chose the same side in the end.
I was beginning to feel defensive of Carol Ann. Her progressive thinking pushed the envelope against the institution of Gardner Falls; but she had been quiet and respectable. Old-timers tolerated her somewhat. Their bark was worse than their bite. They knew that her resilience was eroding their barrier against the future, but Carol Ann was one of many factors wearing down the past—including time.
She had become beloved by the new families to whom she reached out. Her rallies in the barn behind her house were gaining popularity and causing a buzz in the gossip line. Politicians and environmentalists were in and out of there like chickens in a coop.
“Mom! Ice-cream,” Jon said.
“Oh, sorry. I was spacing out.”
While in the checkout line, someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Mrs. Williams?”
“Carol Ann!” I jumped and must have turned red. Had she read my thoughts? I wasn’t tall and I had to look down.
“It’s so nice to see you,” she said. She looked put-together as always. The summer sun had lightened her shoulder length hair.
“You too! What have you been up to these days?” I asked sincerely.
“I have been writing my dissertation on political management.” She paused. “You were always so nice to me and seeing you today makes me feel like a little girl again. I always did look to you as another mother figure. Besides Mama and Granny.”
“I had no idea.” I was mumbling awkwardly.
“Oh, yes! Mrs. Williams! I carried your kind words and letters of encouragement with me through my middle-school years. Without you, I may have given up my dream to be a world changer.”
She beamed and threw her little arms around my bulk tenderly. My return hug was stalled by the flipping of my heart; she released her arms before I could embrace her. She whispered, “Especially now, with the town against me, I hear your words, ‘You will face opposition. But listen to your heart and press on.’”
My voice had locked under a lump in my throat. I watched her walk away. I had forgotten the part of myself Carol Ann remembered.
My mind was swirling as Jon and I walked into the kitchen. The smell of the pepperoni pizza warming in the oven told me I was hungry. The dogs bounded over to us, tails wagging, sniffing the air for any hints of treats in our pockets. We both ignored them. I crossed to the refrigerator to put the dessert away.
“Dad! What do you think about the Pooper-Scooper lady? The one Grandpa Charles doesn’t like,” Jon called to the house. Gary came from the living room. I quickly explained to whom Jon referred.
Gary said, “First, her name is Carol Ann Davies. Miss Davies to you. You need to refer to her by her name. Second, I am going to her house tonight to protest her plans to throw a big party for Cole Barry with tax dollars.”
“So, you don’t like her then,” Jon said in confusion.
“It’s not whether I like her or not that is the issue, Jon. It is about what her plans will do for our town. I don’t think it will be good to spend tax money to welcome a celebrity who will change our way of living,” Gary said.
Jon looked even more confused. “I thought we like Cole Barry coming.” He looked at me. “Mom? What do you think about the Pooper, I mean, Miss Davies?”
I hesitated as I plunked pizza onto paper plates. It was that kind of night. “Well, Jon, I am really not sure. I have been thinking about it a lot. Just by being famous, he will change things. There will be paparazzi and people will come to town just to see him.”
I stopped and looked at my son. I saw a world changer. I wondered what aspects of his personality would help him form his opinion. “You know, Jon. When Miss Davies was your age, she was in my class. I taught her to be herself, no matter what. I remember now—“ I stopped and looked at Gary who was looking right back at me with curiosity. “Gary, I’d forgotten about this. It was in my class that she started all this campaigning. She wrote a little essay about it. She was very passionate about recycling and decided to start telling new families how to recycle in our town.” I turned to Jon. “She listened to me and made up her own mind to be herself and take a stand to change the world her way, with her personality.”
“Wow, Mom! That is so cool! You sound like you were a super fun teacher back then. Hey, you didn’t teach my class that stuff!”
“I know. I kind of forgot,” I said looking at Gary through tear-filled eyes. He reached his hand across the table and held my hand.
“What’s my personality? What’s my dream?” Jon asked. His serious look made my heart expand. I thought the feeling of connectedness was going to float me to the ceiling.
“I used to tell my students the best way to find out is to ask yourself. I made dream journals for them to draw or write ideas. I’ll make you one, honey,” I said smiling.
“I have to get going,” Gary said, and licked his spoon clean of chocolate. He winked at me.
Jon said, “Oh, I wanna go.”
I said, “I will bring you after you finish your ice-cream. I have a few things to do first, but we will go visit.”
I drove up the road to Carol Ann’s house and was surprised to see the road flanked by about 200 people holding hateful signs against her. “Wow!” Jon said. His eyes were wide as he stared.
I pulled up carefully and started following the cars that were winding their way along the driveway toward the back of the house. I saw a big wooden barn with its doors open and a large crowd inside. “Cool!” Jon said.
I swerved suddenly to park alone in front of the house. Jon jumped out. He was bouncing so high it looked like he was on a pogo stick.
From where I sat, I could see many familiar faces along the road, including our parents. Gary and I both came from old blood. He was more likely to want things to stay the way they’d been; I was more interested in making ways to move forward—I used to show it.
Jon saw Gary and his grandparents and he started walking toward them. Jon stopped and looked at me, then at Gary. The torn look on his face was endearing.
I said, “Don’t worry about me, honey. Go ahead with Daddy. I just need to do this for me.” I got out of the car and propped my sign against the car. World Changers Unite My sign was bolder than I. I looked at it and a let’s-do-something-crazy feeling bubbled up from a deep place inside.
Jon yelled, “See ya’ later!” to his father and grandparents. He waved to them.
They all waved back and Gary hollered back, “Have fun, you two!”
Jon came over to my side. “Come on, Mom! Let’s change the world.”
“Okay, honey. Will you carry that warm pie for me please?”
“What’s it for? Will there be any left for me?” Jon asked.
I chuckled. “Don’t worry. I made another one for you and Daddy. This one’s for Miss Davies. It’s called a Welcome Pie.”