I'd always loved taking trips to Grandma's house, even though the three-hour drive from Detroit to Wayland was absolute torture for a seven year old. The echoing 'Are we there yet?'s that issued from me and my younger brother's throats must have driven my parents nuts. I remember it got so bad that Mom had memorized how many stop signs there were between where we got off the highway and Grandma's house, and the second we started down the side streets, Mom would announce how many signs away we were from our destination, in the hopes that our eager scanning for bright red octagons would keep us occupied for a few precious minutes.
Mom and Dad left us at our grandparents' house to go visit friends and relatives. My brother Greg and I kept ourselves busy climbing trees in Grandma's enormous backyard, exploring the rock pile in the hope of finding the blue racer Dad had told us stories about, and playing a game that vaguely resembled croquet with Grandma's old wooden croquet set.
"Kids!" Grandma stood on the back porch, right behind her garage, and waved to catch our attention. I stopped chasing Greg across the yard with my red mallet long enough to look at her. "Your Aunt Marcia is here with your cousins!" Jill, Ben and Matt squeezed around her and ran out toward us. We decided to go play a board game inside, and they helped us pick up the croquet set. We threw it into the old pea green tool shed and ran back to Grandma's sprawling house. The boys went upstairs to rummage through the game closet, and Jill and I started to follow, but Grandma snagged us with one hand, while she gestured toward the stove with the spoon she held in the other. "Girls, I need some green peppers for supper. Why don't you go get me one from the garden? I can't leave the pots unattended in here."
I gulped in fear, suddenly very grateful indeed that Jill had shown up. Jill had grown up in Moline, in an old farm house. She was used to plants and stuff. I wasn't.
Ever since I could remember, I'd been afraid of plants. We'd lived in a two story house in Dearborn, right across the street from Detroit, and we had a yard that was so small it almost made more sense to use scissors to cut the lawn instead of a lawnmower. We had a small plot in our backyard, where Mom and Dad grew tomatoes and broccoli, but even those harmless looking plants filled me with terror. I would rather go to bed early, dire punishment indeed for a child during the height of summer, than pick a tomato. And the broccoli was worse. Those big leaves, a sickly, pale green, riddled with holes from hungry insects, made my skin crawl. And now Grandma was making me go out to the garden to pick dinner.
Grandma loved plants, had a green thumb, and grew just about every vegetable known to man--green beans, yellow beans, sweet corn, broccoli, dill weed, asparagus, watermelons, muskmelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, carrots, peas and potatoes. And I had to find a green pepper in that mass of vegetation. About all I knew about pepper plants was that they were probably green. And had peppers somewhere on them.
Jill smiled, said "Yes, Grandma," and pulled me out the screen door, through the garage, and into the back yard. I walked across that huge yard toward the garden, my bare feet dragging in the lush grass, making sure I stayed behind Jill. If she got there first, she'd find the peppers, and she'd pick them. My hands twitched nervously at the thought of touching a green pepper. I breathed a sigh of relief as Jill unerringly led us to the back right corner of the garden. There they were! Pepper plants. I stared down at my grubby toes as they wiggled in the sandy soil of Grandma's garden, hoping Jill would do everything. Jill bent over, moved some leaves aside, and found a ripe one. She turned to me with a friendly smile. "Do you want to pick it, Jessica?"
My toes were buried under the dirt. I wished I were down there with them. "No. You can do it."
I frantically shook my head. Jill stared at me for a second, then shrugged and yanked it off the plant. As we slowly wound our way out of the garden, Jill thrust the pepper in my direction. I jumped back with a squeal of fear and put my hands behind my back, away from the fearful thing.
"Why don't you carry it back?"
"I don't want to."
Jill's eyebrows drew together in puzzlement. "What's wrong with you, Jessica? It's just a little ol' green pepper!" She grabbed my hand and stuck the pepper in it. It felt hollow, and light, and I couldn't stand it. I dropped it in the grass and took a hasty step back. Jill's expression grew mischievous when she saw my fear. She slowly bent over and picked it back up, dragging things out as long as possible while looking up into my fear widened eyes. I took another step back.
"Yah!" Jill yelled, making me jump. She started toward me with the green pepper. That was it. My nerve broke. I ran.
Jill chased me all over Grandma's back yard with that green pepper; around the new maple, past the rock pile, through the tractor barn, behind the wood pile, around the new stand of white pines, past Grandma's flower garden and the tin windmill. I churned my legs as fast as they would go, screaming and yelling, looking over my shoulder occasionally to see the green pepper, and my grinning cousin Jill, still chasing me.
"Stop that this instant! What are you two doing with my green pepper?!" I saw a possible ally, and ran up to Grandma, grabbing one of her legs and using my momentum to swing me around behind her. I peeked around her at my cousin, who still held the pepper, and was laughing in short breathed gasps. Jill sputtered out the whole story. Surely Grandma would see how cruel Jill had been to me, and would smother me with understanding hugs and assurances.
As soon as Grandma heard the whole story she snatched the pepper from Jill's hands, and my spirits soared--until she took my hand in the other. She dragged me inside, with her feet stomping in that ominous manner that any child recognizes as a sign of imminent punishment. She picked me up and sat me down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table. She pulled another chair up for herself, and sat down.
"Put out your hand," she ordered, still holding the green pepper. I shook my head and refused. "It's just a green pepper. Don't be ridiculous. Now put out your hand. I want you to hold it" I again refused, and hid my hands behind my back. Grandma snorted with annoyance and pulled my arms in front of me. Then she held one of my hands in one of hers, and dropped the pepper in it. "Hold it." She kept her own hold tight on my hands, not letting me drop that horrid green pepper. "Are you going to hold it?" My hand tingled with fear, and I shook, hating every second of this experience, but I made no protest, no noise at all. Grandma looked at me for a second, nodded in satisfaction, then let my hand go. I immediately dropped the pepper on the carpet. Grandma's face darkened.
"This is ridiculous! It's just a plant. Pick it up!" I refused, and Grandma lost her patience with me. She picked me up, turned me over, and gave me a couple quick whacks on my butt. At first I didn't cry, or make any sort of sound. I was too shocked. My grandma had just spanked me! Was that allowed?
Without another word she sat me down in the corner. "You stay there 'til dinner is ready, and think about how silly you're being." My eyes teared up, and my lip quivered, but I didn't make a sound. Instead I sat in the corner and thought nasty thoughts about how I was going to get back at Jill after supper.
Eventually Jill and I got along again. It helped when she moved to Tennessee. But I still don't like green peppers one bit.