Betty Lou carried her books chest high with arms crossed in front to form a shield against a world she didn’t like and that obviously didn’t like her. She was the tallest girl in our eighth grade class. Painfully shy, she seldom spoke unless spoken to even though she attended our accelerated Junior High where most of the kids were bright, happy and talkative.
None of her classmates had even tried to form a friendship, put off by her rumpled, ill fitting clothes and careless hygiene. Stringy hair fell to her shoulders and across a homely, blemished face.
We eighth graders were creatures of the pack and sometimes cruel. Differences in manner, dress and conversation were shunned. And Betty Lou was different. The final mark against her was her last name: Shoop – Betty Lou Shoop.
In class she was safe from taunts, but the moment she appeared in the hall, playground or street many of her classmates feigned terror and, pack like, ran away laughing and screaming, "Shoop! Shoop! Shoop!" In the heyday of GODZILLA films, images of crowds fleeing before the monster were firmly etched in our young minds. Not all of the class participated in these headlong rushes but those who didn’t maintained an icy indifference.
Betty Lou disappeared before the end of the term. The teacher told us there had been an accident. She had carelessly stepped in front of a bus late one afternoon after the rest of us had gone home. Shoop would not be returning.
For the few weeks before the semester ended there wasn’t as much laughter or horseplay as before. We all knew just one person could have made a difference; one brave enough to say, "I’ll be your friend."
It could have been me.
I've written ever since I was in the first grade, through several "careers" as public school art teacher, advertising agency exec, ad agency owner, producing artist and cartoonist, artist's representive for fine art publishers and individual artists, and now, as an old fud, able to devote full time to my first love, writing.
I run an on-line limerick contest at www.limerickcontests.com. Depending on how liberal one's definition of book is, or "is" is, thirteen have ended up between covers. Along the way, articles and cartoons in a variety of publications, two nationally syndicate newspaper features and some contest wins and near misses.
A well used but still serviceable one owner husband. Has reached full Biblical allotment but appears to have a few good years left. Well trained but sometimes cranky and needs help in getting started in the morning. Can make own coffee, empty and fill dishwasher, take out trash, fold clothes, open child-proof caps, heat TV dinners and make popcorn. No major flaws, but many minor blemishes. Has own teeth and hair. Can drive, but better during daylight.
Favorite expression is: What did you say? Comes complete with five grand kids and five great grandchildren. Still knows how to fold paper airplanes and remembers most everything that happened when he was that age, but very little of what happened in last 30 seconds. Guarantees and warranties, except Medicare, ran out years ago. Probably worth more dead than alive.
I originally wrote SHOOP! SHOOP! as an exercise in a "life history" seminar several years ago. It was part of a longer piece that worked better as two
stories when revised. I wrote it because sixty-three years after it happened, it still hurts to think about one of the things I should have done, but didn't.