See this beautiful dead baby photographed outdoors in front of a black drape. He was the cause of my first major social failure. Before you get too outraged with me, bear in mind this child was my grandmother’s baby brother, stillborn in 1898. Even she never knew him. From the time I could remember, whenever I caught Mother busy, I’d slip into her closet and rifle through a small box of pictures and letters, which I enjoyed all the more because they were forbidden. I’d sit cross-legged on her closet floor, pouring over the forbidden loot.
One day when I was in third grade, I ran up to Margaret Green, who played with me if she didn’t have a better offer. I was a friendly kid, the kind who’d have played with a rattlesnake if it hadn’t bitten me too much. Today, Margaret wanted no part of me, having hit the jackpot. She and Rita May Bowers, the snooty daughter of the principal were bonding tearfully, comparing notes upon discovering they each had a long dead stillborn baby sister in their past. They hugged each other and wept luxuriously. Bored, I went on my way.
Determined to compete, I queried Mother that afternoon. “Mother did you ever have a baby born dead?” Hugely pregnant, she wasn’t partial to this question.
“No! What an awful question!”
“Well, did you ever lose a baby?” (I had no idea how one could be so careless, but I’d heard it whispered.)
“That’s enough of that kind of talk! Go do your homework, now!”
Nothing was left but for me to visit the closet, slipping the dead baby picture into my Arithmetic book. At recess the next day, Margaret and Rita May were still deep in mourning, freezing me out as I trotted up. “I have a dead baby sister,too.” I bragged. I happily waved the picture. “Looky here!” They couldn’t deny it. It was a dead baby, alright!
Rita May grabbed the picture, studying it, reluctant to admit me to the club, even with this proof. She was softening when the jealous Margaret grabbed it for a gander. She studied it before flipping it over, to find written on the back, Floyd Franklin Perkins, born and died May 3,1898. I was out!