Lincoln Park was the best place in Oklahoma City. Talk about a playground for kids! It was the greatest! What was even better is that it was about a mile from where we lived. There was a zoo and big lake where anybody could fish. There was a golf course. I didn’t play golf, but I sure had a lot of fun stealing the golfers’ golf balls and hiding them.
Families could have picnics and wiener roasts. It was truly a heaven on earth for kids, especially since my parents worked all day, and I could kind of roam around wherever I wanted. The zoo was free, so we spent a lot of time there.
Right across the street there was an amusement park called Spring Lake Park. I think it was a quarter to get in, and most of the rides were a quarter, too. There was a swimming pool where a lot of kids went in the summer. We didn’t always have the money for that, but Lincoln Park was free, so we spent a lot of time there.
It was summer, and I was begging my brother to let us go to the zoo.
“Please, let us go,” I said.
“No, you can’t go by yourselves,” he said.
“Well, you could go with us,” I said.
Margie said, “Yeah you could go, too.”
“I’m not going to that stupid zoo. There is nothing to do out there.”
“Yes, there is; we could go fishing in the lake,” I said.
“I said no, and that is that.”
“I hate you, Junior,” I shot back.
As soon as I said that, I took off running. He was right behind me. He caught me by my braid and yanked me back.
“You better be good today, Ruthie, or you’re gonna get it.”
“You better let me go, or I’m gonna tell on you,” I said.
“Why do you always have to give me trouble? Why can’t you be like Margie?”
“‘Cause I don’t want to be like Margie. She never has any fun.”
“I think I will just give you a spanking.”
“You better not. You’re not allowed to spank us.”
“Well, you’re not going to the zoo, you little brat!”
He pushed me away from him, and I ran out the front door. Margie came right behind me. I went over to the shady side of the house where I kept my insects in jars and sat down to look at them.
Margie asked, “What are we gonna do now?”
“I don’t know; he is so mean.”
I sat for a minute staring at my bugs then said, “Let’s go to the zoo.”
“But Junior said no!” Margie whined.
“Well, he is not the boss of us; Mother is the boss,” I said.
“But she is at work, and she told us not to call her all the time,” Margie reminded me.
“There is no reason we have to tell anyone. We can just go, and when we get back, we will tell Junior that we were at Jeanie Lou’s house playing.”
“I don’t know, Ruthie,” Margie said.
“I’m going; you can do what you want.”
“I’m going; you can’t go by yourself,” she said.
“Let’s get the drop lines so we can fish, too,” I suggested.
We sneaked into the back porch and found the drop lines. We had no bait, but we could dig for worms. We were on our way. We went down a path across from the house and walked down Rhode Island Street to 36th Street then to Eastern Street. Once on Eastern, we didn’t have far to go. There was quite a bit of traffic on Eastern, so we had to be careful. There was no sidewalk, just a grass pathway.
We finally got to the golf course entrance, so we crossed Eastern and went that way because it was real shady from all the big trees. It was pretty hot that day. We stopped and sat down in the grass to rest for a while. I was kind of thirsty. We didn’t have any water, so I planned to get a drink when we got inside the zoo. There was a water fountain by the monkey cage. We decided to cut across the golf course to the front gate of the zoo because it was a shorter walk.
We didn’t see any golfers for a while, but when we did, they started yelling, “Hey, you kids, get off this golf course!”
“Just mind your own business,” I said.
“You kids are gonna get in trouble.”
“You don’t own the golf course,” I hollered back.
We started running then. I picked up one of their golf balls and threw it at them. Boy, that made them mad! They were real picky about those little golf balls. I knew they couldn’t catch us. They were older men. We just laughed and kept on running.
We got to the front gate of the zoo and went in. We stopped at the water fountain to get a drink. I was really thirsty. Margie was, too, so we took turns drinking. We walked over to look at the monkey cage. It was not really a cage; it was a deep concrete pit with a big boat for the monkeys to play on. They had chains to swing on and other things to play with. All of them were rhesus monkeys. Some had babies they were holding. The babies were real cute. We stood there and watched them for a long time. I liked the monkeys, and so did Margie.
We left there and started down the pathway that led to Judy the elephant. The kids that went to the zoo gave money to buy her. They had a wooden box on an empty cage and asked everyone to give money to buy an elephant. It took a long time to get enough to buy her, but finally she came. All of us kids loved her.
Margie said, “I’m getting tired and hungry.”
“Well, we sure don’t have anything to eat; we can sit down though.” I was worried Margie was going to end our zoo trip too soon.
“I wanna go home now; this is no fun,” she complained.
“Not yet, we just got here. We’re gonna walk around the lake soon.”
“I don’t want to walk around the lake,” Margie said.
“You’re just a big baby. You cry all the time. Come on, let’s go see the bears.”
We went to the bear cages. There were black bears, brown bears, and a big polar bear. There were five seals that were so much fun to watch. We went past a giant cage full of all kinds of birds. There was a crow that could say hello. That was pretty neat. They also had a train, but we had no money to ride it, and Margie started to complain again.
Finally I said, “Let’s go; you gripe too much.”
We went out the back way and walked to the lake. It was a big lake with lots of big catfish in it. I saw a man catch one. We saw a nice shady spot, and I dug around with a rock in the mud to find some worms. We baited the drop lines and threw them in the water. Then we just waited for a big fish to come along. After a while, we pulled the line in, but we had no fish – no bait either.
There was a black man fishing near us. He was short and kind of fat. He had on overalls like my daddy wore sometimes. He also wore a big straw hat. He looked like a nice man.
“You need liver to catch catfish,” he said.
“What’s liver?” I asked.
“I’ll let you have some of mine. Here you go.”
He pulled out this bloody, ugly piece of meat. It almost scared me, and I sure didn’t want to touch it. But, he was nice enough to offer, so I put my hand out to take it. It felt soft and squishy. I thanked him and went back to bait the drop lines.
He said, “You need a stick tied on to those drop lines.”
“We don’t have sticks,” I said.
He pulled his knife out of his fishing box, and he cut two limbs off the tree. He trimmed them up a little bit and picked up my drop line. He tied the line to the stick he cut. He handed it to Margie, and he fixed the other one the same way. Then he showed us how to put the liver on the hooks and how to use the stick to toss the line out.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome, little lady.”
We sat down and fished a while but caught no fish.
The man got up, walked over to us, and asked, “Did you get any bites?”
“No, no bites at all.”
“Are you girl’s hungry?”
“No, we are all right,” I said.
“Well, my wife makes good cookies.”
“Thank you, but we are all right”
He opened a paper bag and pulled out two cookies that looked real good. He held them out to us, and Margie grabbed them like she was starving. She handed me one, too.
Margie said, “Thank you, so much. I was really getting hungry.”
“Yeah, me too. We have been out here a long time, and we didn’t bring anything to eat.”
“Well, you better get to eating then,” he said with a grin.
We ate the cookies, and we fished a little while longer. We didn’t catch any fish though. I was thinking that we better go home. Junior was probably wondering where we were. We got up and picked up our fishing sticks and went to tell our new friend good-bye.
“We have to go, Mister. Thank you for all your help and for the cookies,” I said.
“Yes, thank you very much,” Margie added.
“You’re welcome. I enjoyed fishing with you girls.”
“Well, we better go. Hope you catch some fish.”
We started walking. It seemed like a long way home. It was hot, and we were tired. Margie was really in a snit. She got real grouchy when she got tired. I wasn’t in the best of moods either. We usually had so much fun out there, but we usually had other kids to play with. It was just me and grouchy Margie today. Well, we had to make the best of it. We were getting close to the place where we hid the golf balls from the golfers.
I said, “Let’s go wade in the creek where the golfers are.”
“Okay,” said Margie. “Let’s go.”
“That will cool us off a little bit for the walk home,” I told her.
“And, we might find some golf balls to play jacks with,” Margie said.
We got to the little creek. There were lots of trees on each side. There were short bushes we could hide behind so the golfers could not see us. It was fun to watch them looking all over for their ball. Some of them would get red in the face and start cussing. We just stayed in the creek behind the bushes and watched. Sometimes they would start walking towards the creek to look. We would take off running when they did. Then they would start yelling at us.
“You kids better get off this golf course! You’re going to be in big trouble!”
On that day, there were not many golfers playing. “Must be too hot,” I thought.
We found a couple of balls in the creek, so we took them and started home. We were cooled off a little for the walk home. It was so hot that in no time we were sweating again. Plus, we had to worry about what to tell Junior when we got home. We had been gone for about four or five hours.
“Let’s just tell him we were playing at Jeanie Lou’s house,” Margie said, “like you said before.”
“What if he calls her house to make sure we were there?” I asked.
“He won’t,” she said. “He doesn’t care that much where we were.”
“You’re sure right about that, as long as he doesn’t get in trouble is all he cares about. I can’t stand him. Mother treats him like he is the king.”
“He is her favorite ‘cause he is the only boy,” she said.
“Well, who cares?”
“I guess Mother cares.”
We were in the field across the road from our house, and we were looking for Junior. We didn’t see him so we ran as fast as we could to the side of the house.
“Maybe he is sleeping,” I thought. He slept all the time, just like all teenagers. I didn’t want to be one if that’s all they did. We decided to go in the back door, but it was locked.
Margie said, “Now what?”
“Go to the front; I guess.”
We tried to be quiet as we went back around the house to the front door. I turned the doorknob. It was locked, too. I was starting to get mad because it was hot, and we were thirsty.
“Junior, let us in!” I yelled as loud as I could.
I knew he was in there. I started kicking the door and yelled louder. Margie was yelling, too. We were making a lot of noise.
“I’m gonna go next door and call Mother if you don’t let us in!” I yelled.
“You better not, you little brat. You are in trouble now!” Junior hollered.
“No, we’re not, you big liar! Open this door, or I’ll kick it down!”
I was really kicking the door because he got me real mad. There was glass in the top of the door. I don’t know why it didn’t break. He got me so worked up that when he opened the door, I jumped on him and started pulling his hair and hitting him with my fists. Margie was helping me, too. She was kicking him in his shins. He was yelling for us to stop. He was so much bigger than us that he just picked us up and tossed us on the couch.
“I hate you, Junior! I just hate you!” I screamed.
“I hate you, too!” Margie added.
“You are both in trouble. I know you went to the zoo today.”
“We did not. We were playing at Jeanie Lou’s house,” I lied.
“You’re lying. I went there looking for you.”
“You liar. You sleep all day. You never go out until dark,” I yelled.
“So what? It’s none of your business, brat.”
He had me so mad I was sweating and crying. I was still thirsty. Margie was crying, too. I got up off the couch to go to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Margie started to get up, and he pushed her back down on the couch. When he did that, I jumped on his back and started scratching and punching him. I got mad at my sister, but I never stood by and let him hurt her. She was sickly. We all knew that. My mother told us all the time to be nice to Margie because she was sickly.
About that time, my mother walked in from work. We had forgotten what time it was. Oh boy, we were all in trouble for fighting. I was on Junior’s back when she came in. I just kind of slid down to the floor and stepped away from him. Margie got up and ran to Mother. She started telling her that Junior locked us out and hit us. Mother always believed Margie. She just knew that Margie did not lie to her.
“They went to the zoo today after I told them not to,” Junior said.
“Did you two go to the zoo by yourselves today?” Mother asked.
My mind was going a hundred miles an hour. Should I lie? Boy, I wanted to, but I knew in my heart we were caught. Why lie when I knew that? I decided to fess up and take the spanking.
“Yes, ma’am, we did go to the zoo,” I confessed.
“Haven’t you been told over and over not to do that?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am, we sure have. But we took the drop lines and went fishing, too. We were gonna catch some catfish for supper,” I said.
“Yeah,” Margie said. “We almost did, too. We got some bites.”
“Well, you’re going to get some bites on your bottoms now,” Mother said.
We got the spankings, of course. She took us in the bedroom one at a time and really gave it to us. She used my daddy’s belt on us. Margie screamed and cried to high heaven. I bet you could hear her all the way to 23rd Street. I don’t think it really hurt that bad, but Margie wanted Mother to think it did so she would stop.
When it was my turn, I went in the bedroom, and she told me to bend over the bed. I did, and she whacked me one time. I stood up; I was not going to cry. I was gritting my teeth trying not to cry. Junior said if I didn’t cry, she would stop. I don’t know why I believed that big liar, but I did, and she seemed determined to make me cry. I didn’t cry though.
“Don’t you ever go out there by yourselves again,” she said. “Don’t you know that is dangerous for two little girls to be walking way out there?’
“How come it’s dangerous?” I asked.
“Anyone could grab you and run off with you, and we would never find you.”
“Why would anyone want us?”
“Ruthie, no more questions. Just do as I say. You are to stay around the house when I am at work.”
“Yes, ma’am, we will. But, can we just go play with Jeanie Lou or Annie?”
“Yes, you can, but stay in the neighborhood. You understand?”
“Yes, we understand.”
We never told her about the nice man we met when we were fishing. We were afraid to because of what she said to us. That man wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was one of the nicest men I ever met. He taught me a lot about fishing, and the cookies his wife made were really good. We were allowed to go to the zoo when Junior took us, but that was not too often. He took us fishing a few times, but we didn’t see that nice man ever again.
That was quite a trip that my sister Margie and I took. She was a cry baby, but I loved her a lot. I never stopped wanting to go with her wherever she went. She was my big sister, and she was closer to my age than all the rest of them. We went everywhere together when we were growing up. We had our fights, but we loved each other. So there it is, a very long day in the life of little Ruthie.
Janice Sautter is a great great grandmother who spends her time writing, painting, drawing, and playing video games. She lives with her husband Jim and their two dogs, Daisy and Lilly. She writes under the name of J. R. Carter.
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