I think she had one of those names that a certain type of women (the type for which life has always been way too hard and way too poor) give their daughter’s, the prettiest name they can think of such as Chantelle or Velvet. I’ll call her Velvet.  Like her mother she was tiny, a washed out blond with impossibly fragile bones and a soft apologetic way of speaking.

Velvet talked funny.  She had this nasal monotone sound that grated on the nerves of the other kids in her 4th grade class. Her clothes all seemed to be slightly gray no matter what color they might have started out. She certainly wasn’t the bright blond, tall, athletic, brave and outspoken extrovert I fancied myself to be.  She was an okay kid; she just didn’t register much in my field of vision. I came from a family of extroverts where we all vied for attention or to get a word in edgewise. If you didn’t demand my attention you probably didn’t get it.

Velvet lived with her mother above a decrepit bar in the center of town.  The bar was next to my friend Maria’s house and I remember that a few years later a biker gang showed up and drank there for several hours.  It was exciting because Maria’s mother sat out on the porch, talking in Italian and just waiting for them to cause trouble from which she could then protect us.  

Across the street was the broken down VFW building where all my friends went to take ballet class.  I never did, I guess my parents couldn’t afford the lessons or didn’t want to be bothered to take me.  I asked once or twice and then gave up until a few years later when I went to a class in the city.  Our fortunes must have changed.

 I am sure Velvet didn’t take ballet at that time either.  I am sure it was because her mother couldn’t afford the price.

The funny thing is that she is part of one of my most vivid memories of childhood and except for this one incident I have no real memories of her in class or in social situations.  I think she belonged to my Girl Scout troop.  I think her mom was in charge of cookies and milk at least one week, which would be one week’s more time and attention than my mother was able to give us.  I think she was a very average student, what my step father would call “not too bright”.

One day in spring there was a mob of kids chasing Velvet on the playground.  There must have been about 15 of them.  I don’t know what started “it”, that mob behavior.  Maybe Velvet asked for her turn on the swings or accidentally hit some one with her jump rope.  All I know is I became part of that mob and when we finally ran her down and had her on the ground I made fun of the size of her feet.  I grabbed her foot and I remember making some loud joke about how tiny her shoes were.  I remember that her shoe was orange patent leather.

I also remember Velvet sobbing one word, “no” over and over.

We never got in trouble for that incident.  Maybe it was because we didn’t hurt her physically.  Or maybe no one noticed because it happened so quickly, like a flash fire.  Maybe Violet’s mother never spoke up or maybe Violet protected us and said nothing happened.  I guess in terms of a hundred kids on the playground daily, that four minutes was nothing.  But I have remembered it for almost 40 years.

I’ve thought of her occasionally.  I remember that little mob on the playground with a great deal of shame.  After years of meeting all kinds of people I realize now that Velvet had/has a hearing loss.  She talked exactly like all the hearing impaired people I have ever met. I know that at the time she did not have a hearing aid.  

Sometime during the summer Velvet and her mother moved away.

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