I was on my seventh circuit around the kitchen table. Past the rotary telephone mounted on the wall; below the tiered wire basket holding one lonely and very overripe banana; making a hard right at the cupboard where the off-brand Cocoa Krispies bought especially for me were kept; steering wide of the sink that reeked of loamy well water; past the stove you had to light with matches and the rusted refrigerator; and under the dangling fly strip.
“Grandma, I’m gonna go outside,” I announced to her back as she hunched over the sink with a vegetable peeler in hand. “Don’t stay out too long,” she replied. “We’ll have Popeye when you get back.”
“Okay!” I called, already bounding down the steps, through the breezeway, and outside. The screen door had just whooshed shut behind me when I stopped dead in my tracks to wonder: Popeye?
I thought of Popeye the Sailor. Grandma must have meant that I could watch the cartoon when I got back to the house. Excitement surged inside me, because the only kind of TV my grandparents ever watched was the 5:00 news and some kind of law and crime show. It didn’t help that they could only get one or two channels out of Bay City, and that was only when the weather was good and clear.
I stood there, eyeing the old iron dinner bell that used to ring the family in from the fields for meals. I wanted like fresh hell to pull on the rope, but the last time I looked there was a wicked hornets’ nest inside of it, and I wasn’t ready to make that kind of trouble. So I set off across the yard, past the gasoline tanks, through the tall weeds that hid the remains of a red Renault Alliance, and around the patch of sunflowers my grandmother had planted. On my way back the grasses parted and Lobo, my grandparents’ German Shepherd, bounded into my path. Together, we headed beyond the old garage and out onto the gravel road.
Queen anne’s lace nodded at us from either side. Butterflies flitted around the thistle as I scanned the fields for deer. I threw a couple of rocks for good measure, then turned to address the dog. “I’m Popeye the sailor maaaan, I live in a garbage caaaan,” I sang. He glanced at me, then turned tail and trotted further down the road, tracking the scent of quail. “I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats my spinach,” I continued quietly to myself.
We continued on, past the woods posted with no trespassing signs; past the house with the horse in the yard and the crazy, yappy dog who once nipped my leg. We went all the way to Sullivan. I stood right in the center of the intersection, circled by four weathered stop signs. Cupping my hands over my eyes, I turned to peer down each road one direction at a time: north, south, east, west. From the west it looked like a car was coming — two, three miles away, maybe. Then it must have turned, because the shimmery grey specter was gone, leaving in its wake only an empty cloud of rising dust. It was just me and the dog, again. Still.
I realized it was getting late. “C’mon, Bo,” I yelled over my shoulder, and broke into a run. Lobo shot up out of a ditch, sneezed, and took off after me. “We’re gonna watch Pop-EYEEEEEEEEEEE!” I squealed, at no one in particular.
I raced into the house and up the stairs, panting. “Wash up,” Grandma said, then gestured at the table to have a seat. I silently complied, rinsing my hands gingerly in the pungent tap water at the kitchen sink. A lineup of ceramic frogs stared at me from the windowsill as I shook my hands dry; I stared back. I pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, confused. Were we going to eat lunch before watching cartoons?
Grandma set what looked like a pastry in a small aluminum container down in front of me. “Here’s your Popeye,” she said.
And that was the first time I ever tasted chicken pot pie.