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Standing in the Rainbow

Elmwood Springs

Almost everyone in town that had an extra room took in a boarder.
There were no apartment buildings or hotels as of yet. The Howard
Johnson was built a few years later but in the meantime bachelors
needed to be looked after and single women certainly had to have a
respectable place to live. Most people considered it their
Christian duty to take them in whether they needed the few extra
dollars a week or not, and some of the boarders stayed on for
years. Mr. Pruiet, a bachelor from Kentucky with long thin feet,
boarded with the Haygoods so long that they eventually forgot he
was not family. Whenever they moved, he moved. When he finally did
die at seventy-eight, he was buried in the Haygood family plot with
a headstone that read:




The homes on First Avenue North were located within walking
distance of town and school and were where most of the town's
boarders lived.

At present the Smith family's boarder is Jimmy Head, the
short-order cook at the Trolley Car Diner; the Robinsons next door
have Beatrice Woods, the Little Blind Songbird; the Whatleys up the
street have Miss Tuttle, the high school English teacher. Ernest
Koonitz, the school's band director and tuba soloist, boards with
Miss Alma, who, as luck would have it, has a hearing problem. But
soon the Smith family will take in a new boarder who will set in
action a chain of events that should eventually wind up in the
pages of history books. Of course they won't know it at the time,
especially their ten-year-old son, Bobby. He is at the moment
downtown standing outside the barbershop with his friend Monroe
Newberry, staring at the revolving red and white stripes on the
electric barber's pole. The game is to stare at it until they are
cross-eyed, which seemed to them to be some sort of grand
achievement. As far as amusements go, it is on a par with holding
your breath until you pass out or dropping from a rope into the
freezing swimming hole outside of town named the Blue Devil, so
cold that even on a hot day when you hit the water the first shock
jolts you to your eyeballs, stops your heart, and makes you see
stars before your eyes. By the time you come out your body is so
numb you can't feel where your legs are and your lips have turned
blue, hence the name. But boys, being the insane creatures they
are, cannot wait to come crawling out covered with goose bumps and
do it all over again.

These were some of the activities that thrilled Bobby to the core.
However, for Bobby just life itself was exciting. And really at
that time and that place what red-blooded American boy would not
wake up every morning jumping for joy and ready to go? He was
living smack-dab in the middle of the greatest country in the
world—some said the greatest country that ever was or ever
would be. We had just beaten the Germans and the Japanese in a fair
fight. We had saved Europe and everyone liked us that year, even
the French. Our girls were the prettiest, our boys the handsomest,
our soldiers the bravest, and our flag the most beautiful. That
year it seemed like everyone in the world wanted to be an American.
People from all over the world were having a fit trying to come
here. And who could blame them? We had John Wayne, Betty Grable,
Mickey Mouse, Roy Rogers, Superman, Dagwood and Blondie, the
Andrews Sisters, and Captain Marvel. Buck Rogers and Red Ryder, BB
guns, the Hardy Boys, G-men, Miss America, cotton candy. Plus
Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Amos 'n' Andy, Fibber McGee and
Molly, and anybody could grow up and become the president of the
United States.

Bobby even felt sorry for anyone who was not lucky enough to have
been born here. After all, we had invented everything in the world
that really mattered. Hot dogs, hamburgers, roller coasters, roller
skates, ice-cream cones, electricity, milk shakes, the jitterbug,
baseball, football, basketball, barbecue, cap pistols, hot-fudge
sundaes, and banana splits. We had Coca-Cola, chocolate-covered
peanuts, jukeboxes, Oxydol, Ivory Snow, oleomargarine, and the
atomic bomb!

We were bigger, better, richer, and stronger than anybody but we
still played by the rules and were always good sports. We even
reached out and helped pick up and dust off Japan and Germany after
we had beaten them . . . and if that wasn't being a good sport,
what was? Bobby's own state of Missouri had given the world Mark
Twain, Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers, and the great St. Louis World's
Fair, and aboard the battleship Missouri the Japanese had
surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur. Not only that, Bobby's
Cub Scout troop (Bobwhite Patrol) had personally gone all over town
collecting old rubber tires, scrap paper, and aluminum pots and
pans. That had helped win the war. And if that wasn't enough to
make a boy proud, the president of the entire United States, Mr.
Harry S. Truman, was a true-blue dyed-in-the-wool Missourian, and
St. Louis had won the World Series. Even the trees stood a little
straighter this year, or so it seemed to Bobby.

He had a mother, a father, and a grandmother and had never known
anyone who had died. He had seen only photographs in store windows
of the boys who had been killed in the war. He and his best friend,
Monroe, were now official blood brothers, an act so solemn that
neither one spoke on the way home. His big sister, Anna Lee, a
pretty blue-eyed blond girl, was quite popular with all the older
boys, who would sometimes hang around the house and play catch or
throw the football with him. Sometimes he was able to make a
quarter off the guys just to leave them alone on the front porch
with Anna Lee. In 1946 a quarter meant popcorn, candy, a movie, a
cartoon, and a serial, plus a trip to the projection booth to visit
Snooky, who read Mickey Spillane books. And after the movie he
could go next door to the Trolley Car Diner, where Jimmy, their
boarder, would fry him a burger if he was not too busy.

Or he might stop by the drugstore on the corner and read a few of
the newest comic books. His father was the pharmacist so he was
allowed to look at them for free as long as he did not wrinkle or
spill any food on them. Thelma and Bertha Ann, the girls who worked
behind the soda fountain, thought he was cute and might slip him a
cherry Coke or, if he was lucky, a root-beer float. Downtown
Elmwood Springs was only one long block so there was never any
danger of getting lost, and the year-round weather couldn't have
been more perfect if he had ordered it off a menu. Each October a
nice big round orange harvest moon appeared just in time for
Halloween. Thanksgiving Day was always crisp and cool enough to go
outside and play tag after a big turkey dinner and snow fell once
or twice a year, just when he needed a day off from school.

And then came spring, with crickets, frogs, and little green leaves
on the trees again, followed by summer, sleeping out on the
screened porch, fishing, hot bright sunny days at Cascade Plunge,
the town's swimming pool, and so far every Fourth of July, after
all the firecrackers, whirligigs, and sparklers were gone,
lightning bugs and large iridescent blue-and-green June bugs showed
up in time to make the night last a little longer.

On hot muggy August afternoons, just when you thought you would die
of the heat, clouds would begin to gather and distant thunder
boomed so deep you would feel it in your chest. Suddenly a cool
breeze would come from out of nowhere and turn the sky a dark
gunmetal gray, so dark that all the streetlights in town got
confused and started coming on. Seconds later an honest-to-God
Missouri gully washer would come crashing down hard and fast and
then without warning pick up and run to the next town, leaving
behind enough cool water to fill the gutters so Bobby could run out
and feel it rushing over his bare feet.

Although Mr. Bobby Smith had only been on this earth for a very
short time and at present occupied only four feet eight inches of
it, he was already a man of considerable property. Most of which he
kept in his room on the floor, on the walls, on the bed, under the
bed, hanging from the ceiling, or anywhere there was an empty
space. As the decorators would say, he was going in for that
casual, devil-may-care, cluttered look that his mother had the
nerve to say looked like a Salvation Army junk store. It was only
an average-sized bedroom with a small closet, but to Bobby, it was
his personal and private magical kingdom full of priceless
treasures. A place where he was the master of all he surveyed, rich
as a sultan. Although in truth there was nothing in the room that a
sultan or anybody else, for that matter, would want unless they
were in the market for a box of painted turtles or an assortment of
rocks, a flattened-out penny he and Monroe had put on the streetcar
tracks, or a life-sized cardboard stand-up of Sunset Carson, his
favorite cowboy, that Snooky had given him from the Elmwood
Theater. Or maybe two silver dollars or an artificial yellow fish
eye he had found behind the VFW or a small glass jeep that once had
candy in it, for about five seconds. Among his possessions that
year was a homemade slingshot, a bag of marbles, one little Orphan
Annie decoder pin, one glow-in-the-dark ring, one compass, one
Erector set, three yo-yos, a model airplane, a boy's hairbrush with
a decal of the Lone Ranger on it (a birthday present from Monroe
that Monroe's mother had bought), a cardboard Firestone filling
station complete with pumps, a bookshelf full of ten-cent Terry and
the Pirates, Joe Palooka, and Red Ryder books. Under the bed were
several Spider Man, Porky the Pig, Little Audrey, and Casper the
Friendly Ghost comic books, plus an L&N train set, his plastic
braided Indian bracelet a girl gave him that he thought he had
lost, and one white rubber handlebar cover from an old

But Bobby's world was not limited to just what he could see or
touch or to the space inside the four walls of his bedroom. He had
traveled a million miles in the L&N train under his bed, ridden
up treacherous mountains through long black tunnels over raging
rivers, and in the little plane hanging from the ceiling he had
flown around the world, often over Amazon jungles teeming with
alligators. Even the streetlight on the corner provided Bobby with
a wonderful show. As he was lying in bed on breezy summer evenings,
watching the shadows made by the leaves of the poplar tree dancing
on the side of the house next door, they soon became palm trees,
swaying back and forth in the warm trade winds of the nearest
tropical island. Some nights he could hear the faint strains of
Hawaiian music and see rows of hula girls dancing right above the
Robinsons' bedroom window. So enthralled was Bobby with this image
that he had sent off for a ukulele. Nobody was more disappointed.
He had expected it to play a song when strummed but it had not. The
sound it made was a far cry from music, Hawaiian or otherwise, so
he quickly moved on to the harmonica and was convinced he was
really playing a song when he wasn't. So great was his imagination
that when he rode a broomstick handle around the backyard he could
see the dust and hear the sound of the thundering hoofs as he
galloped across the dry western desert. That year he went to sleep
each night with his eyes full of cowboys and Indians and his head
filled with voices. "Tom Mix and the Ralston Straight Shooters are
on the air!" "From out of the West comes America's fighting
cowboy!" "Quaker Oats . . . delicious, nutritious, makes you
ambitious!" "You bet 'um, Red Ryder." "I'm back in the saddle
again." "Well, I'll be a lop-eared kangaroo if it isn't roundup
time." "Me Tonto, you Kemo Sabe." And his favorite, "Hi-yo, Silver,

An outside observer might think his life was just about perfect.
However, to be fair, there were two distinctive and troublesome
drawbacks to being Bobby Smith. One was his appearance. He was a
nice-enough-looking boy with brown eyes and brown hair. His teeth
were straight. His ears stuck out slightly but nothing out of the
ordinary. One problem was that his mouth turned up a bit at both
corners, making him look like he knew a secret and was pleased
about it. This expression caused his mother and his teachers to ask
constantly, "What are you up to?" even when he wasn't up to
anything. No matter how much he professed his innocence, they
always replied, "Don't lie to me, Bobby Smith, I can tell you're up
to something by the look on your face."

The other drawback was his parents. Everybody knew who they were
and would tell on him the minute he did something wrong. His
father, the town's only pharmacist, a Mason, a Rotarian, an Elk,
and a senior elder at the First Methodist Church, was just
naturally on a first-name basis with the entire town. But to make
matters even worse, his mother was a local radio personality known
as Neighbor Dorothy, who five days a week broadcast her show from
their living room. And each year she would send her listening
audience Christmas cards with the family's picture on them, so that
people for miles around knew who he was and what he looked like,
and sometimes when a guest did not show up his mother would grab
Bobby and make him be the guest and ask him all kinds of questions
as if he were a complete stranger. On holidays his mother would put
him on the radio to recite some stupid poem. And to add insult to
injury, his personal and private business was often discussed on
his mother's radio show and everything he did, good or bad, was
talked about for all the world to hear.

His only consolation was that this was a cross both the Smith
children had to bear. This was of little consolation to Anna Lee.
Last year his sister had gotten hysterical when their mother
happened to mention that Anna Lee did not have a date as of yet for
the prom because she was holding out, hoping the boy she thought
looked just like Glenn Ford—her major movie-star crush at the
time—would ask her. Dorothy had always shared things about
her family with her audience before but when Anna Lee heard that
piece of information going out over the airwaves she ran through
the house screaming as if someone had shot her and flung herself on
the bed sobbing, "Oh, Mother, how could you? You've ruined my life.
I'll never get another date as long as I live. I might as well just
kill myself." She stayed in bed wailing with a cold cloth on her
head for two days while her mother, who felt terrible about it,
tried to make it up to her by bringing her homemade peach ice cream
and promising never to mention her name over the air again.

At the time Bobby thought it was pretty funny but Bobby was not yet
at the sensitive stage where what other people thought about you
was a matter of life and death. So for the moment, other than not
being able to get away with much, he didn't have a care in the
world and, like most ten-year-old boys, believed that something
wonderful was always just about to happen.

Excerpted from STANDING IN THE RAINBOW © Copyright 2002 by
Fannie Flagg. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books, a
division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Standing in the Rainbow
by by Fannie Flagg

  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 080411935X
  • ISBN-13: 9780804119351